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Title: Strong as Death
Author: Maupassant, Guy de, 1850-1893
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 "Strong as Death" ***

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STRONG AS DEATH

By Guy De Maupassant



STRONG AS DEATH



PART I



CHAPTER I

A DUEL OF HEARTS

Broad daylight streamed down into the vast studio through a skylight
in the ceiling, which showed a large square of dazzling blue, a bright
vista of limitless heights of azure, across which passed flocks of birds
in rapid flight. But the glad light of heaven hardly entered this severe
room, with high ceilings and draped walls, before it began to grow soft
and dim, to slumber among the hangings and die in the portieres, hardly
penetrating to the dark corners where the gilded frames of portraits
gleamed like flame. Peace and sleep seemed imprisoned there, the peace
characteristic of an artist's dwelling, where the human soul has
toiled. Within these walls, where thought abides, struggles, and becomes
exhausted in its violent efforts, everything appears weary and overcome
as soon as the energy of action is abated; all seems dead after the
great crises of life, and the furniture, the hangings, and the portraits
of great personages still unfinished on the canvases, all seem to rest
as if the whole place had suffered the master's fatigue and had toiled
with him, taking part in the daily renewal of his struggle. A vague,
heavy odor of paint, turpentine, and tobacco was in the air, clinging to
the rugs and chairs; and no sound broke the deep silence save the sharp
short cries of the swallows that flitted above the open skylight, and
the dull, ceaseless roar of Paris, hardly heard above the roofs. Nothing
moved except a little cloud of smoke that rose intermittently toward the
ceiling with every puff that Olivier Bertin, lying upon his divan, blew
slowly from a cigarette between his lips.

With gaze lost in the distant sky, he tried to think of a new subject
for a painting. What should he do? As yet he did not know. He was by
no means resolute and sure of himself as an artist, but was of an
uncertain, uneasy spirit, whose undecided inspiration ever hesitated
among all the manifestations of art. Rich, illustrious, the gainer of
all honors, he nevertheless remained, in these his later years, a man
who did not know exactly toward what ideal he had been aiming. He had
won the _Prix_ of Rome, had been the defender of traditions, and
had evoked, like so many others, the great scenes of history; then,
modernizing his tendencies, he had painted living men, but in a way that
showed the influence of classic memories. Intelligent, enthusiastic, a
worker that clung to his changing dreams, in love with his art, which
he knew to perfection, he had acquired, by reason of the delicacy of his
mind, remarkable executive ability and great versatility, due in some
degree to his hesitations and his experiments in all styles of his art.
Perhaps, too, the sudden admiration of the world for his works, elegant,
correct, and full of distinctions, influenced his nature and prevented
him from becoming what he naturally might have been. Since the triumph
of his first success, the desire to please always made him anxious,
without his being conscious of it; it influenced his actions and
weakened his convictions. This desire to please was apparent in him in
many ways, and had contributed much to his glory.

His grace of manner, all his habits of life, the care he devoted to
his person, his long-standing reputation for strength and agility as
a swordsman and an equestrian, had added further attractions to his
steadily growing fame. After his _Cleopatra_, the first picture that
had made him illustrious, Paris suddenly became enamored of him,
adopted him, made a pet of him; and all at once he became one of those
brilliant, fashionable artists one meets in the Bois, for whose presence
hostesses maneuver, and whom the Institute welcomes thenceforth. He had
entered it as a conqueror, with the approval of all Paris.

Thus Fortune had led him to the beginning of old age, coddling and
caressing him.

Under the influence of the beautiful day, which he knew was glowing
without, Bertin sought a poetic subject. He felt somewhat dreamy,
however, after his breakfast and his cigarette; he pondered awhile,
gazing into space, in fancy sketching rapidly against the blue sky the
figures of graceful women in the Bois or on the sidewalk of a street,
lovers by the water--all the pleasing fancies in which his thoughts
reveled. The changing images stood out against the bright sky, vague and
fleeting in the hallucination of his eye, while the swallows, darting
through space in ceaseless flight, seemed trying to efface them as if
with strokes of a pen.

He found nothing. All these half-seen visions resembled things that
he had already done; all the women appeared to be the daughters or the
sisters of those that had already been born of his artistic fancy; and
the vague fear, that had haunted him for a year, that he had lost the
power to create, had made the round of all subjects and exhausted
his inspiration, outlined itself distinctly before this review of his
work--this lack of power to dream anew, to discover the unknown.

He arose quietly to look among his unfinished sketches, hoping to find
something that would inspire him with a new idea.

Still puffing at his cigarette, he proceeded to turn over the sketches,
drawings, and rough drafts that he kept in a large old closet; but, soon
becoming disgusted with this vain quest, and feeling depressed by the
lassitude of his spirits, he tossed away his cigarette, whistled a
popular street-song, bent down and picked up a heavy dumb-bell that lay
under a chair. Having raised with the other hand a curtain that draped a
mirror, which served him in judging the accuracy of a pose, in verifying
his perspectives and testing the truth, he placed himself in front of it
and began to swing the dumb-bell, meanwhile looking intently at himself.

He had been celebrated in the studios for his strength; then, in the gay
world, for his good looks. But now the weight of years was making him
heavy. Tall, with broad shoulders and full chest, he had acquired the
protruding stomach of an old wrestler, although he kept up his fencing
every day and rode his horse with assiduity. His head was still
remarkable and as handsome as ever, although in a style different from
that of his earlier days. His thick and short white hair set off
the black eyes beneath heavy gray eyebrows, while his luxuriant
moustache--the moustache of an old soldier--had remained quite dark, and
it gave to his countenance a rare characteristic of energy and pride.

Standing before the mirror, with heels together and body erect, he went
through the usual movements with the two iron balls, which he held out
at the end of his muscular arm, watching with a complacent expression
its evidence of quiet power.

But suddenly, in the glass, which reflected the whole studio, he saw
one of the portieres move; then appeared a woman's head--only a head,
peeping in. A voice behind him asked:

"Anyone here?"

"Present!" he responded promptly, turning around. Then, throwing his
dumb-bell on the floor, he hastened toward the door with an appearance
of youthful agility that was slightly affected.

A woman entered attired in a light summer costume. They shook hands.

"You were exercising, I see," said the lady.

"Yes," he replied; "I was playing peacock, and allowed myself to be
surprised."

The lady laughed, and continued:

"Your concierge's lodge was vacant, and as I know you are always alone
at this hour I came up without being announced."

He looked at her.

"Heavens, how beautiful you are! What chic!"

"Yes, I have a new frock. Do you think it pretty?"

"Charming, and perfectly harmonious. We can certainly say that nowadays
it is possible to give expression to the lightest textiles."

He walked around her, gently touching the material of the gown,
adjusting its folds with the tips of his fingers, like a man that knows
a woman's toilet as the modiste knows it, having all his life employed
his artist's taste and his athlete's muscles in depicting with slender
brush changing and delicate fashions, in revealing feminine grace
enclosed within a prison of velvet and silk, or hidden by snowy laces.
He finished his scrutiny by declaring: "It is a great success, and it
becomes you perfectly!"

The lady allowed herself to be admired, quite content to be pretty and
to please him.

No longer in her first youth, but still beautiful, not very tall,
somewhat plump, but with that freshness which lends to a woman of forty
an appearance of having only just reached full maturity, she seemed like
one of those roses that flourish for an indefinite time up to the moment
when, in too full a bloom, they fall in an hour.

Beneath her blonde hair she possessed the shrewdness to preserve all the
alert and youthful grace of those Parisian women who never grow old; who
carry within themselves a surprising vital force, an indomitable
power of resistance, and who remain for twenty years triumphant and
indestructible, careful above all things of their bodies and ever
watchful of their health.

She raised her veil and murmured:

"Well, you do not kiss me!"

"I have been smoking."

"Pooh!" said the lady. Then, holding up her face, she added, "So much
the worse!"

Their lips met.

He took her parasol and divested her of her spring jacket with the
prompt, swift movement indicating familiarity with this service. As she
seated herself on the divan, he asked with an air of interest:

"Is all going well with your husband?"

"Very well; he must be making a speech in the House at this very
moment."

"Ah! On what, pray?"

"Oh--no doubt on beets or on rape-seed oil, as usual!"

Her husband, the Comte de Guilleroy, deputy from the Eure, made a
special study of all questions of agricultural interest.

Perceiving in one corner a sketch that she did not recognize, the lady
walked across the studio, asking, "What is that?"

"A pastel that I have just begun--the portrait of the Princesse de
Ponteve."

"You know," said the lady gravely, "that if you go back to painting
portraits of women I shall close your studio. I know only too well to
what that sort of thing leads!"

"Oh, but I do not make twice a portrait of Any!" was the answer.

"I hope not, indeed!"

She examined the newly begun pastel sketch with the air of a woman that
understands the technic of art. She stepped back, advanced, made a shade
of her hand, sought the place where the best light fell on the sketch,
and finally expressed her satisfaction.

"It is very good. You succeed admirably with pastel work."

"Do you think so?" murmured the flattered artist.

"Yes; it is a most delicate art, needing great distinction of style. It
cannot be handled by masons in the art of painting."

For twelve years the Countess had encouraged the painter's leaning
toward the distinguished in art, opposing his occasional return to
the simplicity of realism; and, in consideration of the demands of
fashionable modern elegance, she had tenderly urged him toward an ideal
of grace that was slightly affected and artificial.

"What is the Princess like?" she asked.

He was compelled to give her all sorts of details--those minute details
in which the jealous and subtle curiosity of women delights, passing
from remarks upon her toilet to criticisms of her intelligence.

Suddenly she inquired: "Does she flirt with you?"

He laughed, and declared that she did not.

Then, putting both hands on the shoulders of the painter, the Countess
gazed fixedly at him. The ardor of her questioning look caused a quiver
in the pupils of her blue eyes, flecked with almost imperceptible black
points, like tiny ink-spots.

Again she murmured: "Truly, now, she is not a flirt?"

"No, indeed, I assure you!"

"Well, I am quite reassured on another account," said the Countess. "You
never will love anyone but me now. It is all over for the others. It is
too late, my poor dear!"

The painter experienced that slight painful emotion which touches
the heart of middle-aged men when some one mentions their age; and he
murmured: "To-day and to-morrow, as yesterday, there never has been in
my life, and never will be, anyone but you, Any."

She took him by the arm, and turning again toward the divan made him sit
beside her.

"Of what were you thinking?" she asked.

"I am looking for a subject to paint."

"What, pray?"

"I don't know, you see, since I am still seeking it."

"What have you been doing lately?"

He was obliged to tell her of all the visits he had received, about
all the dinners and soirees he had attended, and to repeat all the
conversations and chit-chat. Both were really interested in all these
futile and familiar details of fashionable life. The little rivalries,
the flirtations, either well known or suspected, the judgments, a
thousand times heard and repeated, upon the same persons, the same
events and opinions, were bearing away and drowning both their minds in
that troubled and agitated stream called Parisian life. Knowing everyone
in all classes of society, he as an artist to whom all doors were open,
she as the elegant wife of a Conservative deputy, they were experts
in that sport of brilliant French chatter, amiably satirical, banal,
brilliant but futile, with a certain shibboleth which gives a particular
and greatly envied reputation to those whose tongues have become supple
in this sort of malicious small talk.

"When are you coming to dine?" she asked suddenly.

"Whenever you wish. Name your day."

"Friday. I shall have the Duchesse de Mortemain, the Corbelles, and
Musadieu, in honor of my daughter's return--she is coming this evening.
But do not speak of it, my friend. It is a secret."

"Oh, yes, I accept. I shall be charmed to see Annette again. I have not
seen her in three years."

"Yes, that is true. Three years!"

Though Annette, in her earliest years, had been brought up in Paris in
her parents' home, she had become the object of the last and passionate
affection of her grandmother, Madame Paradin, who, almost blind,
lived all the year round on her son-in-law's estate at the castle of
Roncieres, on the Eure. Little by little, the old lady had kept the
child with her more and more, and as the De Guilleroys passed almost
half their time in this domain, to which a variety of interests,
agricultural and political, called them frequently, it ended in taking
the little girl to Paris on occasional visits, for she herself preferred
the free and active life of the country to the cloistered life of the
city.

For three years she had not visited Paris even once, the Countess having
preferred to keep her entirely away from it, in order that a new taste
for its gaieties should not be awakened in her before the day fixed for
her debut in society. Madame de Guilleroy had given her in the country
two governesses, with unexceptionable diplomas, and had visited her
mother and her daughter more frequently than before. Moreover, Annette's
sojourn at the castle was rendered almost necessary by the presence of
the old lady.

Formerly, Olivier Bertin had passed six weeks or two months at Roncieres
every year; but in the past three years rheumatism had sent him to
watering-places at some distance, which had so much revived his love for
Paris that after his return he could not bring himself to leave it.

As a matter of custom, the young girl should not have returned home
until autumn, but her father had suddenly conceived a plan for her
marriage, and sent for her that she might meet immediately the Marquis
de Farandal, to whom he wished her to be betrothed. But this plan was
kept quite secret, and Madame de Guilleroy had told only Olivier Bertin
of it, in strict confidence.

"Then your husband's idea is quite decided upon?" said he at last.

"Yes; I even think it a very happy idea."

Then they talked of other things.

She returned to the subject of painting, and wished to make him decide
to paint a Christ. He opposed the suggestion, thinking that there
was already enough of them in the world; but she persisted, and grew
impatient in her argument.

"Oh, if I knew how to draw I would show you my thought: it should be
very new, very bold. They are taking him down from the cross, and the
man who has detached the hands has let drop the whole upper part of the
body. It has fallen upon the crowd below, and they lift up their arms to
receive and sustain it. Do you understand?"

Yes, he understood; he even thought the conception quite original; but
he held himself as belonging to the modern style, and as his fair friend
reclined upon the divan, with one daintily-shod foot peeping out,
giving to the eye the sensation of flesh gleaming through the almost
transparent stocking, he said: "Ah, that is what I should paint! That is
life--a woman's foot at the edge of her skirt! Into that subject one may
put everything--truth, desire, poetry. Nothing is more graceful or more
charming than a woman's foot; and what mystery it suggests: the hidden
limb, lost yet imagined beneath its veiling folds of drapery!"

Sitting on the floor, _a la Turque_, he seized her shoe and drew it off,
and the foot, coming out of its leather sheath, moved about quickly,
like a little animal surprised at being set free.

"Isn't that elegant, distinguished, and material--more material than the
hand? Show me your hand, Any!"

She wore long gloves reaching to the elbow. In order to remove one she
took it by the upper edge and slipped it down quickly, turning it inside
out, as one would skin a snake. The arm appeared, white, plump, round,
so suddenly bared as to produce an idea of complete and bold nudity.

She gave him her hand, which drooped from her wrist. The rings sparkled
on her white fingers, and the narrow pink nails seemed like amorous
claws protruding at the tips of that little feminine paw.

Olivier Bertin handled it tenderly and admiringly. He played with the
fingers as if they were live toys, while saying:

"What a strange thing! What a strange thing! What a pretty little
member, intelligent and adroit, which executes whatever one
wills--books, laces, houses, pyramids, locomotives, pastry, or caresses,
which last is its pleasantest function."

He drew off the rings one by one, and as the wedding-ring fell in its
turn, he murmured smilingly:

"The law! Let us salute it!"

"Nonsense!" said the Countess, slightly wounded.

Bertin had always been inclined to satirical banter, that tendency of
the French to mingle irony with the most serious sentiments, and he had
often unintentionally made her sad, without knowing how to understand
the subtle distinctions of women, or to discern the border of sacred
ground, as he himself said. Above all things it vexed her whenever he
alluded with a touch of familiar lightness to their attachment, which
was an affair of such long standing that he declared it the most
beautiful example of love in the nineteenth century. After a silence,
she inquired:

"Will you take Annette and me to the varnishing-day reception?"

"Certainly."

Then she asked him about the best pictures to be shown in the next
exposition, which was to open in a fortnight.

Suddenly, however, she appeared to recollect something she had
forgotten.

"Come, give me my shoe," she said. "I am going now."

He was playing dreamily with the light shoe, turning it over
abstractedly in his hands. He leaned over, kissed the foot, which
appeared to float between the skirt and the rug, and which, a little
chilled by the air, no longer moved restlessly about; then he slipped
on the shoe, and Madame de Guilleroy, rising, approached the table,
on which were scattered papers, open letters, old and recent, beside
a painter's inkstand, in which the ink had dried. She looked at it all
with curiosity, touched the papers, and lifted them to look underneath.

Bertin approached her, saying:

"You will disarrange my disorder."

Without replying to this, she inquired:

"Who is the gentleman that wishes to buy your _Baigneuses_?"

"An American whom I do not know."

"Have you come to an agreement about the _Chanteuse des rues_?"

"Yes. Ten thousand."

"You did well. It was pretty, but not exceptional. Good-by, dear."

She presented her cheek, which he brushed with a calm kiss; then she
disappeared through the portieres, saying in an undertone:

"Friday--eight o'clock. I do not wish you to go with me to the door--you
know that very well. Good-by!"

When she had gone he first lighted another cigarette, then he began
to pace slowly to and fro in his studio. All the past of this liaison
unrolled itself before him. He recalled all its details, now long
remote, sought them and put them together, interested in this solitary
pursuit of reminiscences.

It was at the moment when he had just risen like a star on the horizon
of artistic Paris, when the painters were monopolizing the favor of the
public, and had built up a quarter with magnificent dwellings, earned by
a few strokes of the brush.

After his return from Rome, in 1864, he had lived for some years without
success or renown; then suddenly, in 1868, he exhibited his _Cleopatra_,
and in a few days was being praised to the skies by both critics and
public.

In 1872, after the war, and after the death of Henri Regnault had made
for all his brethren, a sort of pedestal of glory, a _Jocaste_ a bold
subject, classed Bertin among the daring, although his wisely original
execution made him acceptable even to the Academicians. In 1873 his
first medal placed him beyond competition with his _Juive d'Alger_,
which he exhibited on his return from a trip to Africa, and a portrait
of the Princesse de Salia, in 1874, made him considered by the
fashionable world the first portrait painter of his day. From that time
he became the favorite painter of Parisian women of that class, the most
skilful and ingenious interpreter of their grace, their bearing, and
their nature. In a few months all the distinguished women in Paris
solicited the favor of being reproduced by his brush. He was hard to
please, and made them pay well for that favor.

After he had become the rage, and was received everywhere as a man of
the world he saw one day, at the Duchesse de Mortemain's house, a young
woman in deep mourning, who was just leaving as he entered, and who, in
this chance meeting in a doorway, dazzled him with a charming vision of
grace and elegance.

On inquiring her name, he learned that she was the Comtesse de
Guilleroy, wife of a Normandy country squire, agriculturist and deputy;
that she was in mourning for her husband's father; and that she was very
intellectual, greatly admired, and much sought after.

Struck by the apparition that had delighted his artist's eye, he said:

"Ah, there is some one whose portrait I should paint willingly!"

This remark was repeated to the young Countess the next day; and that
evening Bertin received a little blue-tinted note, delicately perfumed,
in a small, regular handwriting, slanting a little from left to right,
which said:


"MONSIEUR:

"The Duchesse de Mortemain, who has just left my house, has assured
me that you would be disposed to make, from my poor face, one of your
masterpieces. I would entrust it to you willingly if I were certain that
you did not speak idly, and that you really see in me something that you
could reproduce and idealize.

"Accept, Monsieur, my sincere regards.

"ANNE DE GUILLEROY."


He answered this note, asking when he might present himself at the
Countess's house, and was very simply invited to breakfast on the
following Monday.

It was on the first floor of a large and luxurious modern house in the
Boulevard Malesherbes. Traversing a large salon with blue silk walls,
framed in white and gold, the painter was shown into a sort of boudoir
hung with tapestries of the last century, light and coquettish, those
tapestries _a la Watteau_, with their dainty coloring and graceful
figures, which seem to have been designed and executed by workmen
dreaming of love.

He had just seated himself when the Countess appeared. She walked so
lightly that he had not heard her coming through the next room, and was
surprised when he saw her. She extended her hand in graceful welcome.

"And so it is true," said she, "that you really wish to paint my
portrait?"

"I shall be very happy to do so, Madame."

Her close-fitting black gown made her look very slender and gave her a
youthful appearance though a grave air, which was belied, however,
by her smiling face, lighted up by her bright golden hair. The Count
entered, leading by the hand a little six-year-old girl.

Madame de Guilleroy presented him, saying, "My husband."

The Count was rather short, and wore no moustache; his cheeks were
hollow, darkened under the skin by his close-shaven beard. He had
somewhat the appearance of a priest or an actor; his hair was long and
was tossed back carelessly; his manner was polished, and around the
mouth two large circular lines extended from the cheeks to the chin,
seeming to have been acquired from the habit of speaking in public.

He thanked the painter with a flourish of phrases that betrayed the
orator. He had wished for a long time to have a portrait of his wife,
and certainly he would have chosen M. Olivier Bertin, had he not feared
a refusal, for he well knew that the painter was overwhelmed with
orders.

It was arranged, then, with much ceremony on both sides, that the Count
should accompany the Countess to the studio the next day. He asked,
however, whether it would not be better to wait, because of the
Countess's deep mourning; but the painter declared that he wished to
translate the first impression she had made upon him, and the striking
contrast of her animated, delicate head, luminous under the golden hair,
with the austere black of her garments.

She came, then, the following day, with her husband, and afterward
with her daughter, whom the artist seated before a table covered with
picture-books.

Olivier Bertin, following his usual custom, showed himself very
reserved. Fashionable women made him a little uneasy, for he hardly knew
them. He supposed them to be at once immoral and shallow, hypocritical
and dangerous, futile and embarrassing. Among the women of the
demi-monde he had had some passing adventures due to his renown, his
lively wit, his elegant and athletic figure, and his dark and animated
face. He preferred them, too; he liked their free ways and frank speech,
accustomed as he was to the gay and easy manners of the studios and
green-rooms he frequented. He went into the fashionable world for the
glory of it, but his heart was not in it; he enjoyed it through his
vanity, received congratulations and commissions, and played the gallant
before charming ladies who flattered him, but never paid court to any.
As he did not allow himself to indulge in daring pleasantries and spicy
jests in their society, he thought them all prudes, and himself was
considered as having good taste. Whenever one of them came to pose at
his studio, he felt, in spite of any advances she might make to please
him, that disparity of rank which prevents any real unity between
artists and fashionable people, no matter how much they may be thrown
together. Behind the smiles and the admiration which among women are
always a little artificial, he felt the indefinable mental reserve of
the being that judges itself of superior essence. This brought about in
him an abnormal feeling of pride, which showed itself in a bearing of
haughty respect, dissembling the vanity of the parvenu who is treated
as an equal by princes and princesses, who owes to his talent the
honor accorded to others by their birth. It was said of him with slight
surprise: "He is really very well bred!" This surprise, although it
flattered him, also wounded him, for it indicated a certain social
barrier.

The admirable and ceremonious gravity of the painter a little annoyed
Madame de Guilleroy, who could find nothing to say to this man, so cold,
yet with a reputation for cleverness.

After settling her little daughter, she would come and sit in an
armchair near the newly begun sketch, and tried, according to the
artist's recommendation, to give some expression to her physiognomy.

In the midst of the fourth sitting, he suddenly ceased painting and
inquired:

"What amuses you more than anything else in life?"

She appeared somewhat embarrassed.

"Why, I hardly know. Why this question?"

"I need a happy thought in those eyes, and I have not seen it yet."

"Well, try to make me talk; I like very much to chat."

"Are you gay?"

"Very gay."

"Well, then, let us chat, Madame."

He had said "Let us chat, Madame," in a very grave tone; then, resuming
his painting, he touched upon a variety of subjects, seeking something
on which their minds could meet. They began by exchanging observations
on the people that both knew; then they talked of themselves--always the
most agreeable and fascinating subject for a chat.

When they met again the next day they felt more at ease, and Bertin,
noting that he pleased and amused her, began to relate some of the
details of his artist life, allowing himself to give free scope to his
reminiscences, in a fanciful way that was peculiar to him.

Accustomed to the dignified presence of the literary lights of the
salons, the Countess was surprised by this almost wild gaiety, which
said unusual things quite frankly, enlivening them with irony; and
presently she began to answer in the same way, with a grace at once
daring and delicate.

In a week's time she had conquered and charmed him by her good humor,
frankness, and simplicity. He had entirely forgotten his prejudices
against fashionable women, and would willingly have declared that they
alone had charm and fascination. As he painted, standing before his
canvas, advancing and retreating, with the movements of a man fighting,
he allowed his fancy to flow freely, as if he had known for a long
time this pretty woman, blond and black, made of sunlight and mourning,
seated before him, laughing and listening, answering him gaily with so
much animation that she lost her pose every moment.

Sometimes he would move far away from her, closing one eye, leaning over
for a searching study of his model's pose; then he would draw very near
to her to note the slightest shadows of her face, to catch the most
fleeting expression, to seize and reproduce that which is in a woman's
face beyond its more outward appearance; that emanation of ideal beauty,
that reflection of something indescribable, that personal and intimate
charm peculiar to each, which causes her to be loved to distraction by
one and not by another.

One afternoon the little girl advanced, and, planting herself before the
canvas, inquired with childish gravity:

"That is mamma, isn't it?"

The artist took her in his arms to kiss her, flattered by that naïve
homage to the resemblance of his work.

Another day, when she had been very quiet, they suddenly heard her say,
in a sad little voice:

"Mamma, I am so tired of this!"

The painter was so touched by this first complaint that he ordered a
shopful of toys to be brought to the studio the following day.

Little Annette, astonished, pleased, and always thoughtful, put them in
order with great care, that she might play with them one after another,
according to the desire of the moment. From the date of this gift,
she loved the painter as little children love, with that caressing,
animal-like affection which makes them so sweet and captivating.

Madame de Guilleroy began to take pleasure in the sittings. She was
almost without amusement or occupation that winter, as she was in
mourning; so that, for lack of society and entertainments, her chief
interest was within the walls of Bertin's studio.

She was the daughter of a rich and hospitable Parisian merchant, who had
died several years earlier, and of his ailing wife, whose lack of health
kept her in bed six months out of the twelve, and while still very young
she had become a perfect hostess, knowing how to receive, to smile, to
chat, to estimate character, and how to adapt herself to everyone; thus
she early became quite at her ease in society, and was always far-seeing
and compliant. When the Count de Guilleroy was presented to her as her
betrothed, she understood at once the advantages to be gained by such a
marriage, and, like a sensible girl, admitted them without constraint,
knowing well that one cannot have everything and that in every situation
we must strike a balance between good and bad.

Launched in the world, much sought because of her beauty and brilliance,
she was admired and courted by many men without ever feeling the least
quickening of her heart, which was as reasonable as her mind.

She possessed a touch of coquetry, however, which was nevertheless
prudent and aggressive enough never to allow an affair to go too far.
Compliments pleased her, awakened desires, fed her vanity, provided she
might seem to ignore them; and when she had received for a whole evening
the incense of this sort of homage, she slept quietly, as a woman who
has accomplished her mission on earth. This existence, which lasted
seven years, did not weary her nor seem monotonous, for she adored the
incessant excitement of society, but sometimes she felt that she
desired something different. The men of her world, political advocates,
financiers, or wealthy idlers, amused her as actors might; she did not
take them too seriously, although she appreciated their functions, their
stations, and their titles.

The painter pleased her at first because such a man was entirely a
novelty to her. She found the studio a very amusing place, laughed
gaily, felt that she, too, was clever, and felt grateful to him for the
pleasure she took in the sittings. He pleased her, too, because he was
handsome, strong, and famous, no woman, whatever she may pretend, being
indifferent to physical beauty and glory. Flattered at having been
admired by this expert, and disposed, on her side, to think well of him,
she had discovered in him an alert and cultivated mind, delicacy, fancy,
the true charm of intelligence, and an eloquence of expression that
seemed to illumine whatever he said.

A rapid friendship sprang up between them, and the hand-clasp exchanged
every day as she entered seemed more and more to express something of
the feeling in their hearts.

Then, without deliberate design, with no definite determination, she
felt within her heart a growing desire to fascinate him, and yielded to
it. She had foreseen nothing, planned nothing; she was only coquettish
with added grace, as a woman always is toward a man who pleases her more
than all others; and in her manner with him, in her glances and smiles,
was that seductive charm that diffuses itself around a woman in whose
breast has awakened a need of being loved.

She said flattering things to him which meant "I find you very
agreeable, Monsieur;" and she made him talk at length in order to show
him, by her attention, how much he aroused her interest. He would cease
to paint and sit beside her; and in that mental exaltation due to an
intense desire to please, he had crises of poetry, of gaiety or of
philosophy, according to his state of mind that day.

She was merry when he was gay; when he became profound she tried to
follow his discourse, though she did not always succeed; and when her
mind wandered to other things, she appeared to listen with so perfect
an air of comprehension and such apparent enjoyment of this initiation,
that he felt his spirit exalted in noting her attention to his words,
and was touched to have discovered a soul so delicate, open, and docile,
into which thought fell like a seed.

The portrait progressed, and was likely to be good, for the painter had
reached the state of emotion that is necessary in order to discover all
the qualities of the model, and to express them with that convincing
ardor which is the inspiration of true artists.

Leaning toward her, watching every movement of her face, all the tints
of her flesh, every shadow of her skin, all the expression and the
translucence of her eyes, every secret of her physiognomy, he had
become saturated with her personality as a sponge absorbs water; and, in
transferring to canvas that emanation of disturbing charm which his eye
seized, and which flowed like a wave from his thought to his brush,
he was overcome and intoxicated by it, as if he had drunk deep of the
beauty of woman.

She felt that he was drawn toward her, and was amused by this game, this
victory that was becoming more and more certain, animating even her own
heart.

A new feeling gave fresh piquancy to her existence, awaking in her a
mysterious joy. When she heard him spoken of her heart throbbed faster,
and she longed to say--a longing that never passed her lips--"He is in
love with me!" She was glad when people praised his talent, and perhaps
was even more pleased when she heard him called handsome. When she was
alone, thinking of him, with no indiscreet babble to annoy her, she
really imagined that in him she had found merely a good friend, one that
would always remain content with a cordial hand-clasp.

Often, in the midst of a sitting, he would suddenly put down his palette
on the stool and take little Annette in his arms, kissing her tenderly
on her hair, and his eyes, while gazing at the mother, said, "It is you,
not the child, that I kiss in this way."

Occasionally Madame de Guilleroy did not bring her daughter, but came
alone. On these days he worked very little, and the time was spent in
talking.

One afternoon she was late. It was a cold day toward the end of
February. Olivier had come in early, as was now his habit whenever she
had an appointment with him, for he always hoped she would arrive before
the usual hour. While waiting he paced to and fro, smoking, and asking
himself the question that he was surprised to find himself asking for
the hundredth time that week: "Am I in love?" He did not know, never
having been really in love. He had had his caprices, certainly, some of
which had lasted a long time, but never had he mistaken them for love.
To-day he was astonished at the emotion that possessed him.

Did he love her? He hardly desired her, certainly, never having dreamed
of the possibility of possessing her. Heretofore, as soon as a woman
attracted him he had desired to make a conquest of her, and had held out
his hand toward her as if to gather fruit, but without feeling his heart
affected profoundly by either her presence or her absence.

Desire for Madame de Guilleroy hardly occurred to him; it seemed to be
hidden, crouching behind another and more powerful feeling, which was
still uncertain and hardly awakened. Olivier had believed that love
began with reveries and with poetic exaltations. But his feeling, on the
contrary, seemed to come from an indefinable emotion, more physical
than mental. He was nervous and restless, as if under the shadow of
threatening illness, though nothing painful entered into this fever of
the blood which by contagion stirred his mind also. He was quite aware
that Madame de Guilleroy was the cause of his agitation; that it was due
to the memories she left him and to the expectation of her return. He
did not feel drawn to her by an impulse of his whole being, but he
felt her always near him, as if she never had left him; she left to
him something of herself when she departed--something subtle and
inexpressible. What was it? Was it love? He probed deep in his heart in
order to see, to understand. He thought her charming, but she was not
at all the type of ideal woman that his blind hope had created. Whoever
calls upon love has foreseen the moral traits and physical charms of her
who will enslave him; and Madame de Guilleroy, although she pleased him
infinitely, did not appear to him to be that woman.

But why did she thus occupy his thought, above all others, in a way so
different, so unceasing? Had he simply fallen into the trap set by her
coquetry, which he had long before understood, and, circumvented by his
own methods, was he now under the influence of that special fascination
which gives to women the desire to please?

He paced here and there, sat down, sprang up, lighted cigarettes and
threw them away, and his eyes every instant looked at the clock, whose
hands moved toward the usual hour in slow, unhurried fashion.

Several times already he had almost raised the convex glass over the
two golden arrows turning so slowly, in order to push the larger one on
toward the figure it was approaching so lazily. It seemed to him that
this would suffice to make the door open, and that the expected one
would appear, deceived and brought to him by this ruse. Then he smiled
at this childish, persistent, and unreasonable desire.

At last he asked himself this question: "Could I become her lover?"
This idea seemed strange to him, indeed hardly to be realized or even
pursued, because of the complications it might bring into his life. Yet
she pleased him very much, and he concluded: "Decidedly I am in a very
strange state of mind."

The clock struck, and this reminder of the hour made him start, striking
on his nerves rather than his soul. He awaited her with that impatience
which delay increases from second to second. She was always prompt, so
that before ten minutes should pass he would see her enter. When the ten
minutes had elapsed, he felt anxious, as at the approach of some grief,
then irritated because she had made him lose time; finally, he realized
that if she failed to come it would cause him actual suffering. What
should he do? Should he wait for her? No; he would go out, so that if,
by chance, she should arrive very late, she would find the studio empty.

He would go out, but when? What latitude should he allow her? Would
it not be better to remain and to make her comprehend, by a few coldly
polite words, that he was not one to be kept waiting. And suppose she
did not come? Then he would receive a despatch, a card, a servant or
a messenger. If she did not come, what should he do? It would be a day
lost; he could not work. Then? Well, then he would go to seek news of
her, for see her he must!

It was quite true; he felt a profound, tormenting, harassing necessity
for seeing her. What did it mean? Was it love? But he felt no mental
exaltation, no intoxication of the senses; it awakened no reverie of
the soul, when he realized that if she did not come that day he should
suffer keenly.

The door-bell rang on the stairway of the little hotel, and Olivier
Bertin suddenly found himself somewhat breathless, then so joyous that
he executed a pirouette and flung his cigarette high in the air.

She entered; she was alone! Immediately he was seized with a great
audacity.

"Do you know what I asked myself while waiting for you?"

"No, indeed, I do not."

"I asked myself whether I were not in love with you?"

"In love with me? You must be mad!"

But she smiled, and her smile said: That is very pretty; I am glad to
hear it! However, she said: "You are not serious, of course; why do you
make such a jest?"

"On the contrary, I am absolutely serious," he replied. "I do not
declare that I am in love with you; but I ask myself whether I am not
well on the way to become so."

"What has made you think so?"

"My emotion when you are not here; my happiness when you arrive."

She seated herself.

"Oh, don't disturb yourself over anything so trifling! As long as you
sleep well and have an appetite for dinner, there will be no danger!"

He began to laugh.

"And if I lose my sleep and no longer eat?"

"Let me know of it."

"And then?"

"I will allow you to recover yourself in peace."

"A thousand thanks!"

And on the theme of this uncertain love they spun theories and fancies
all the afternoon. The same thing occurred on several successive days.
Accepting his statement as a sort of jest, of no real importance, she
would say gaily on entering: "Well, how goes your love to-day?"

He would reply lightly, yet with perfect seriousness, telling her of the
progress of his malady, in all its intimate details, and of the depth of
the tenderness that had been born and was daily increasing. He analyzed
himself minutely before her, hour by hour, since their separation the
evening before, with the air of a professor giving a lecture; and she
listened with interest, a little moved, and somewhat disturbed by this
story which seemed that in a book of which she was the heroine. When
he had enumerated, in his gallant and easy manner, all the anxieties of
which he had become the prey, his voice sometimes trembled in expressing
by a word, or only by an intonation, the tender aching of his heart.

And she persisted in questioning him, vibrating with curiosity, her eyes
fixed upon him, her ear eager for those things that are disturbing to
know but charming to hear.

Sometimes when he approached her to alter a pose he would seize her
hand and try to kiss it. With a swift movement she would draw away her
fingers from his lips, saying, with a slight frown:

"Come, come--work!"

He would begin his work again, but within five minutes she would ask
some adroit question that led him back to the sole topic that interested
them.

By this time she began to feel some fear deep in her heart. She longed
to be loved--but not too much! Sure of not being led away, she yet
feared to allow him to venture too far, thereby losing him, since
then she would be compelled to drive him to despair after seeming to
encourage him. Yet, should it become necessary to renounce this tender
and delicate friendship, this stream of pleasant converse which rippled
along bearing nuggets of love like a river whose sand is full of gold,
it would cause her great sorrow--a grief that would be heart-breaking.

When she set out from her own home to go to the painter's studio, a wave
of joy, warm and penetrating, overflowed her spirit, making it light and
happy. As she laid her hand on Olivier's bell, her breast throbbed with
impatience, and the stair-carpet seemed the softest her feet ever had
pressed. But Bertin became gloomy, a little nervous, often irritable. He
had his moments of impatience, soon repressed, but frequently recurring.

One day, when she had just entered, he sat down beside her instead of
beginning to paint, saying:

"Madame, you can no longer ignore the fact that what I have said is not
a jest, and that I love you madly."

Troubled by this beginning and seeing that the dreaded crisis had
arrived, she tried to stop him, but he listened to her no longer.
Emotion overflowed his heart, and she must hear him, pale, trembling,
and anxious as she listened. He spoke a long time, demanding nothing,
tenderly, sadly, with despairing resignation; and she allowed him to
take her hands, which he kept in his. He was kneeling before her without
her taking any notice of his attitude, and with a far-away look upon
his face he begged her not to work him any harm. What harm? She did not
understand nor try to understand, overcome by the cruel grief of seeing
him suffer, yet that grief was almost happiness. Suddenly she saw tears
in his eyes and was so deeply moved that she exclaimed: "Oh!"--ready to
embrace him as one embraces a crying child. He repeated in a very soft
tone: "There, there! I suffer too much;" then, suddenly, won by his
sorrow, by the contagion of tears, she sobbed, her nerves quivering, her
arms trembling, ready to open.

When she felt herself suddenly clasped in his embrace and kissed
passionately on the lips, she wished to cry out, to struggle, to repulse
him; but she judged herself lost, for she consented while resisting, she
yielded even while she struggled, pressing him to her as she cried: "No,
no, I will not!"

Then she was overcome with the emotion of that moment; she hid her face
in her hands, then she suddenly sprang to her feet, caught up her hat
which had fallen to the floor, put it on her head and rushed away, in
spite of the supplications of Olivier, who held a fold of her skirt.

As soon as she was in the street, she had a desire to sit down on the
curbstone, her limbs were so exhausted and powerless. A cab was passing;
she called to it and said to the driver: "Drive slowly, and take me
wherever you like." She threw herself into the carriage, closed the
door, sank back in one corner, feeling herself alone behind the raised
windows--alone to think.

For some minutes she heard only the sound of the wheels and the jarring
of the cab. She looked at the houses, the pedestrians, people in cabs
and omnibuses, with a blank gaze that saw nothing; she thought of
nothing, as if she were giving herself time, granting herself a respite
before daring to reflect upon what had happened.

Then, as she had a practical mind and was not lacking in courage, she
said to herself: "I am a lost woman!" For some time she remained under
that feeling of certainty that irreparable misfortune had befallen her,
horror-struck, like a man fallen from a roof, knowing that his legs are
broken but dreading to prove it to himself.

But, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the anticipation of suffering,
her heart remained calm and peaceful after this catastrophe; it beat
slowly, softly, after the fall that had terrified her soul, and seemed
to take no part in the perturbation of her mind.

She repeated aloud, as if to understand and convince herself: "Yes, I am
a lost woman." No echo of suffering responded from her heart to this cry
of her conscience.

She allowed herself to be soothed for some time by the movement of the
carriage, putting off a little longer the necessity of facing this cruel
situation. No, she did not suffer. She was afraid to think, that was
all; she feared to know, to comprehend, and to reflect; on the contrary,
in that mysterious and impenetrable being created within us by the
incessant struggle between our desires and our will, she felt an
indescribable peace.

After perhaps half an hour of this strange repose, understanding at
last that the despair she had invoked would not come, she shook off her
torpor and murmured: "It is strange: I am hardly sorry even!"

Then she began to reproach herself. Anger awakened within her against
her own blindness and her weakness. How had she not foreseen this, not
comprehended that the hour for that struggle must come; that this man
was so dear to her as to render her cowardly, and that sometimes in
the purest hearts desire arises like a gust of wind, carrying the will
before it?

But, after she had judged and reprimanded herself severely, she asked
herself what would happen next?

Her first resolve was to break with the painter and never to see him
again. Hardly had she formed this resolution before a thousand reasons
sprang up as quickly to combat it. How could she explain such a break?
What should she say to her husband? Would not the suspected truth be
whispered, then spread abroad?

Would it not be better, for the sake of appearances, to act, with
Olivier Bertin himself, the hypocritical comedy of indifference and
forgetfulness, to show him that she had effaced that moment from her
memory and from her life?

But could she do it? Would she have the audacity to appear to recollect
nothing, to assume a look of indignant astonishment in saying: "What
would you with me?" to the man with whom she had actually shared that
swift and ardent emotion?

She reflected a long time, and decided that any other solution was
impossible.

She would go to him courageously the next day, and make him understand
as soon as she could what she desired him to do. She must not use a
word, an allusion, a look, that could recall to him that moment of
shame.

After he had suffered--for assuredly he would have his share of
suffering, as a loyal and upright man--he would remain in future that
which he had been up to the present.

As soon as this new resolution was formed, she gave her address to the
coachman and returned home, profoundly depressed, with a desire to take
to her bed, to see no one, to sleep and forget. Having shut herself up
in her room, she remained there until the dinner hour, lying on a couch,
benumbed, not wishing to agitate herself longer with that thought so
full of danger.

She descended at the exact hour, astonished to find herself so calm, and
awaited her husband with her ordinary demeanor. He appeared, carrying
their little one in his arms; she pressed his hand and kissed the child,
and felt no pang of anguish.

Monsieur de Guilleroy inquired what she had been doing. She replied
indifferently that she had been posing, as usual.

"And the portrait--is it good?" he asked.

"It is coming on very well."

He spoke of his own affairs, in his turn; he enjoyed talking, while
dining, of the sitting of the Chamber, and of the discussion of the
proposed law on the adulteration of food-stuffs.

This rather tiresome talk, which she usually endured amiably, now
irritated her, and made her look with closer attention at the man who
was vulgarly loquacious in his interest in such things; but she smiled
as she listened, and replied pleasantly, more gracious even than
usual, more indulgent toward these banalities. As she looked at him she
thought: "I have deceived him! He is my husband, and I have deceived
him! How strange it is! Nothing can change that fact, nothing can
obliterate it! I closed my eyes. I submitted for a few seconds, a few
seconds only, to a man's kisses, and I am no longer a virtuous woman. A
few seconds in my life--seconds that never can be effaced--have brought
into it that little irreparable fact, so grave, so short, a crime, the
most shameful one for a woman--and yet I feel no despair! If anyone had
told me that yesterday, I should not have believed it. If anyone had
convinced me that it would indeed come to pass, I should have thought
instantly of the terrible remorse that would fill my heart to-day."

Monsieur de Guilleroy went out after dinner, as he did almost every
evening. Then the Countess took her little daughter on her lap, weeping
over her and kissing her; the tears she shed were sincere, coming from
her conscience, not from her heart.

But she slept very little. Amid the darkness of her room, she tormented
herself afresh as to the dangers of the attitude toward the painter that
she purposed to assume; she dreaded the interview that must take place
the following day, and the things that he must say to her, looking her
in the face meanwhile.

She arose early, but remained lying on her couch all the morning,
forcing herself to foresee what it was she had to fear and what she must
say in reply, in order to be ready for any surprise.

She went out early, that she might yet think while walking.

He hardly expected her, and had been asking himself, since the evening
before, what he should do when he met her.

After her hasty departure--that flight which he had not dared to
oppose--he had remained alone, still listening, although she was already
far away, for the sound of her step, the rustle of her skirt, and the
closing of the door, touched by the timid hand of his goddess.

He remained standing, full of deep, ardent, intoxicating joy. He had
won her, _her_! That had passed between them! Was it possible? After the
surprise of this triumph, he gloated over it, and, to realize it more
keenly, he sat down and almost lay at full length on the divan where he
had made her yield to him.

He remained there a long time, full of the thought that she was his
mistress, and that between them, between the woman he had so much
desired and himself, had been tied in a few moments that mysterious bond
which secretly links two beings to each other. He retained in his still
quivering body the piercingly sweet remembrance of that wild, fleeting
moment when their lips had met, when their beings had united and
mingled, thrilling together with the deepest emotion of life.

He did not go out that evening, in order to live over again that
rapturous moment; he retired early, his heart vibrating with happiness.
He had hardly awakened the next morning before he asked himself what he
should do. To a _cocotte_ or an actress he would have sent flowers
or even a jewel; but he was tortured with perplexity before this new
situation.

He wished to express, in delicate and charming terms, the gratitude of
his soul, his ecstasy of mad tenderness, his offer of a devotion that
should be eternal; but in order to intimate all these passionate
and high-souled thoughts he could find only set phrases, commonplace
expressions, vulgar and puerile.

Assuredly, he must write--but what? He scribbled, erased, tore up and
began anew twenty letters, all of which seemed to him insulting, odious,
ridiculous.

He gave up the idea of writing, therefore, and decided to go to see her,
as soon as the hour for the sitting had passed, for he felt very sure
that she would not come.

Shutting himself up in his studio, he stood in mental exaltation before
the portrait, his lips longing to press themselves on the painting,
whereon something of herself was fixed; and again and again he looked
out of the window into the street. Every gown he saw in the distance
made his heart throb quickly. Twenty times he believed that he saw her;
then when the approaching woman had passed he sat down again, as if
overcome by a deception.

Suddenly he saw her, doubted, then took his opera-glass, recognized her,
and, dizzy with violent emotion, sat down once more to await her.

When she entered he threw himself on his knees and tried to take her
hands, but she drew them away abruptly, and, as he remained at her feet,
filled with anguish, his eyes raised to hers, she said haughtily:

"What are you doing, Monsieur? I do not understand that attitude."

"Oh, Madame, I entreat you--"

She interrupted him harshly:

"Rise! You are ridiculous!"

He rose, dazed, and murmured:

"What is the matter? Do not treat me in this way--I love you!"

Then, in a few short, dry phrases, she signified her wishes, and decreed
the situation.

"I do not understand what you wish to say. Never speak to me of your
love, or I shall leave this studio never to return. If you forget for a
single moment this condition of my presence here, you never will see me
again."

He looked at her, crushed by this unexpected harshness; then he
understood, and murmured:

"I shall obey, Madame."

"Very well," she rejoined; "I expected that of you! Now work, for you
are long in finishing that portrait."

He took up his palette and began to paint, but his hand trembled, his
troubled eyes looked without seeing; he felt a desire to weep, so deeply
wounded was his heart.

He tried to talk to her; she barely answered him. When he attempted to
pay her some little compliment on her color, she cut him short in a tone
so brusque that he felt suddenly one of those furies of a lover that
change tenderness to hatred. Through soul and body he felt a nervous
shock, and in a moment he detested her. Yes, yes, that was, indeed,
woman! She, too, was like all the others! Why not? She, too, was false,
changeable, and weak, like all of them. She had attracted him, seduced
him with girlish ruses, trying to overcome him without intending to
give him anything in return, enticing him only to refuse him, employing
toward him all the tricks of cowardly coquettes who seem always on the
point of yielding so long as the man who cringes like a dog before them
dares not carry out his desire.

But the situation was the worse for her, after all; he had taken her,
he had overcome her. She might try to wash away that fact and answer
him insolently; she could efface nothing, and he--he would forget it!
Indeed, it would have been a fine bit of folly to embarrass himself
with this sort of mistress, who would eat into his artist life with the
capricious teeth of a pretty woman.

He felt a desire to whistle, as he did in the presence of his models,
but realized that his nerve was giving way and feared to commit
some stupidity. He cut short the sitting under pretense of having an
appointment. When they bowed at parting they felt themselves farther
apart than the day they first met at the Duchesse de Mortemain's.

As soon as she had gone, he took his hat and topcoat and went out. A
cold sun, in a misty blue sky, threw over the city a pale, depressing,
unreal light.

After he had walked a long time, with rapid and irritated step, elbowing
the passers-by that he need not deviate from a straight line, his great
fury against her began to change into sadness and regret. After he
had repeated to himself all the reproaches he had poured upon her, he
remembered, as he looked at the women that passed him, how pretty and
charming she was. Like many others who do not admit it, he had always
been waiting to meet the "impossible she," to find the rare, unique,
poetic and passionate being, the dream of whom hovers over our hearts.
Had he not almost found it? Was it not she who might have given him
this almost impossible happiness? Why, then, is it true that nothing
is realized? Why can one seize nothing of that which he pursues, or can
succeed only in grasping a phantom, which renders still more grievous
this pursuit of illusions?

He was no longer resentful toward her; it was life itself that made him
bitter. Now that he was able to reason, he asked himself what cause
for anger he had against her? With what could he reproach her, after
all?--with being amiable, kind, and gracious toward him, while she
herself might well reproach him for having behaved like a villain!

He returned home full of sadness. He would have liked to ask her pardon,
to devote himself to her, to make her forget; and he pondered as to how
he might enable her to comprehend that henceforth, until death, he would
be obedient to all her wishes.

The next day she arrived, accompanied by her daughter, with a smile so
sad, an expression so pathetic, that the painter fancied he could see in
those poor blue eyes, that had always been so merry, all the pain, all
the remorse, all the desolation of that womanly heart. He was moved to
pity, and, in order that she might forget, he showed toward her with
delicate reserve the most thoughtful attentions. She acknowledged them
with gentleness and kindness, with the weary and languid manner of a
woman who suffers.

And he, looking at her, seized again with a mad dream of loving and
of being loved, asked himself why she was not more indignant at his
conduct, how she could still come to his studio, listen to him and
answer him, with that memory between them.

Since she could bear to see him again, however, could endure to hear
his voice, having always in her mind the one thought which she could not
escape, it must be that this thought had not become intolerable to her.
When a woman hates the man who has conquered her thus, she cannot remain
in his presence without showing her hatred, but that man never can
remain wholly indifferent to her. She must either detest him or pardon
him. And when she pardons that transgression, she is not far from love!

While he painted slowly, he arrived at this conclusion by small
arguments, precise, clear, and sure; he now felt himself strong,
steady, and master of the situation. He had only to be prudent, patient,
devoted, and one day or another she would again be his.

He knew how to wait. In order to reassure her and to conquer her once
more, he practised ruses in his turn; he assumed a tenderness restrained
by apparent remorse, hesitating attentions, and indifferent attitudes.
Tranquil in the certainty of approaching happiness, what did it matter
whether it arrived a little sooner, a little later? He even experienced
a strange, subtle pleasure in delay, in watching her, and saying to
himself, "She is afraid!" as he saw her coming always with her child.

He felt that between them a slow work of reconciliation was going
on, and thought that in the Countess's eyes was something strange:
constraint, a sweet sadness, that appeal of a struggling soul, of a
faltering will, which seems to say: "But--conquer me, then!"

After a while she came alone once more, reassured by his reserve. Then
he treated her as a friend, a comrade; he talked to her of his life, his
plans, his art, as to a brother.

Deluded by this attitude, she assumed joyfully the part of counselor,
flattered that he distinguished her thus above other women, and
convinced that his talent would gain in delicacy through this
intellectual intimacy. But, from consulting her and showing deference to
her, he caused her to pass naturally from the functions of a counselor
to the sacred office of inspirer. She found it charming to use her
influence thus over the great man, and almost consented that he should
love her as an artist, since it was she that gave him inspiration for
his work!

It was one evening, after a long talk about the loves of illustrious
painters, that she let herself glide into his arms. She rested there
this time, without trying to escape, and gave him back his kisses.

She felt no remorse now, only the vague consciousness of a fall; and to
stifle the reproaches of her reason she attributed it to fatality.

Drawn toward him by her virgin heart and her empty soul, the flesh
overcome by the slow domination of caresses, little by little she
attached herself to him, as do all tender women who love for the first
time.

With Olivier it was a crisis of acute love, sensuous and poetic. It
seemed to him sometimes that one day he had taken flight, with hands
extended, and that he had been able to clasp in full embrace that winged
and magnificent dream which is always hovering over our hopes.

He had finished the Countess's portrait, the best, certainly, that
he ever had painted, for he had discovered and crystallized
that inexpressible something which a painter seldom succeeds in
unveiling--that reflection, that mystery, that physiognomy of the soul,
which passes intangibly across a face.

Months rolled by, then years, which hardly loosened the tie that united
the Comtesse de Guilleroy and the painter, Olivier Bertin. With him
it was no longer the exaltation of the beginning, but a calm, deep
affection, a sort of loving friendship that had become a habit.

With her, on the contrary, the passionate, persistent attachment of
certain women who give themselves to a man wholly and forever was always
growing. Honest and straight in adulterous love as they might have been
in marriage, they devote themselves to a single object with a tenderness
from which nothing can turn them. Not only do they love the lover, but
they wish to love him, and, with eyes on him alone, they so fill their
hearts with thoughts of him that nothing strange can thenceforth enter
there. They have bound their lives resolutely, as one who knows how to
swim, yet wishes to die, ties his hands together before leaping from a
high bridge into the water.

But from the moment when the Countess had yielded, she was assailed by
fears for Bertin's constancy. Nothing held him but his masculine will,
his caprice, his passing fancy for a woman he had met one day just as
he had already met so many others! She realized that he was so free,
so susceptible to temptation--he who lived without duties, habits, or
scruples, like all men! He was handsome, celebrated, much sought after,
having, to respond to his easily awakened desires, fashionable women,
whose modesty is so fragile, women of the demi-monde of the theater,
prodigal of their favors with such men as he. One of them, some evening
after supper, might follow him and please him, take him and keep him.

Thus she lived in terror of losing him, watching his manner, his
attitudes, startled by a word, full of anguish when he admired another
woman, praised the charm of her countenance or her grace of bearing. All
of which she was ignorant in his life made her tremble, and all of which
she was cognizant alarmed her. At each of their meetings she questioned
him ingeniously, without his perceiving it, in order to make him express
his opinion on the people he had seen, the houses where he had dined, in
short, the lightest expression of his mind. As soon as she fancied
she detected the influence of some other person, she combated it with
prodigious astuteness and innumerable resources.

Oh, how often did she suspect those brief intrigues, without depth,
lasting perhaps a week or two, from time to time, which come into the
life of every prominent artist!

She had, as it were, an intuition of danger, even before she detected
the awakening of a new desire in Olivier, by the look of triumph in his
eyes, the expression of a man when swayed by a gallant fancy.

Then she would suffer; her sleep would be tortured by doubts. In order
to surprise him, she would appear suddenly in his studio, without giving
him notice of her coming, put questions that seemed naïve, tested his
tenderness while listening to his thoughts, as we test while listening
to detect hidden illness in the body. She would weep as soon as she
found herself sure that some one would take him from her this time,
robbing her of that love to which she clung so passionately because
she had staked upon it all her will, her strength of affection, all her
hopes and dreams.

Then, when she saw that he came back to her, after these brief
diversions, she experienced, as she drew close to him again, took
possession of him as of something lost and found, a deep, silent
happiness which sometimes, when she passed a church, urged her go in and
thank God.

Her preoccupation in ever making herself pleasing to him above all
others, and of guarding him against all others, had made her whole life
become a combat interrupted by coquetry. She had ceaselessly struggled
for him, and before him, with her grace, her beauty and elegance. She
wished that wherever he went he should hear her praised for her charm,
her taste, her wit, and her toilets. She wished to please others for his
sake, and to attract them so that he should be both proud and jealous of
her. And every time that she succeeded in arousing his jealousy, after
making him suffer a little, she allowed him the triumph of winning her
back, which revived his love in exciting his vanity. Then, realizing
that it was always possible for a man to meet in society a woman whose
physical charm would be greater than her own, being a novelty, she
resorted to other means: she flattered and spoiled him. Discreetly
but continuously she heaped praises upon him; she soothed him with
admiration and enveloped him in flattery, so that he might find all
other friendship, all other love, even, a little cold and incomplete,
and that if others also loved him he would perceive at last that she
alone of them all understood him.

She made the two drawing-rooms in her house, which he entered so often,
a place as attractive to the pride of the artist as to the heart of the
man, the place in all Paris where he liked best to come, because there
all his cravings were satisfied at the same time.

Not only did she learn to discover all his tastes, in order that,
while gratifying them in her own house, she might give him a feeling of
well-being that nothing could replace, but she knew how to create new
tastes, to arouse appetites of all kinds, material and intellectual,
habits of little attentions, of affections, of adoration and flattery!
She tried to charm his eye with elegance, his sense of smell with
perfumes, and his taste with delicate food.

But when she had planted in the soul and in the senses of a selfish
bachelor a multitude of petty, tyrannical needs, when she had become
quite certain that no mistress would trouble herself as she did to watch
over and maintain them, in order to surround him with all the little
pleasures of life, she suddenly feared, as she saw him disgusted with
his own home, always complaining of his solitary life, and, being
unable to come into her home except under all the restraints imposed
by society, going to the club, seeking every means to soften his lonely
lot--she feared lest he thought of marriage.

On some days she suffered so much from all these anxieties that she
longed for old age, to have an end of this anguish and rest in a cooler
and calmer affection.

Years passed, however, without disuniting them. The chain wherewith she
had attached him to her was heavy, and she made new links as the old
ones wore away. But, always solicitous, she watched over the painter's
heart as one guards a child crossing a street full of vehicles, and
day by day she lived in expectation of the unknown danger, the dread of
which always hung over her.

The Count, without suspicion or jealousy, found this intimacy of his
wife with a famous and popular artist a perfectly natural thing. Through
continually meeting, the two men, becoming accustomed to each other,
finally became excellent friends.



CHAPTER II

TWIN ROSES FROM A SINGLE STEM

When Bertin entered, on Friday evening, the house of his friend, where
he was to dine in honor of the return of Antoinette de Guilleroy, he
found in the little Louis XV salon only Monsieur de Musadieu, who had
just arrived.

He was a clever old man, who perhaps might have become of some
importance, and who now could not console himself for not having
attained to something worth while.

He had once been a commissioner of the imperial museums, and had found
means to get himself reappointed Inspector of Fine Arts under the
Republic, which did not prevent him from being, above all else, the
friend of princes, of all the princes, princesses, and duchesses of
European aristocracy, and the sworn protector of artists of all sorts.
He was endowed with an alert mind and quick perceptions, with great
facility of speech that enabled him to say agreeably the most ordinary
things, with a suppleness of thought that put him at ease in any
society, and a subtle diplomatic scent that gave him the power to judge
men at first sight; and he strolled from salon to salon, morning and
evening, with his enlightened, useless, and gossiping activity.

Apt at everything, as he appeared, he would talk on any subject with
an air of convincing competence and familiarity that made him greatly
appreciated by fashionable women, whom he served as a sort of traveling
bazaar of erudition. As a matter of fact, he knew many things without
ever having read any but the most indispensable books; but he stood very
well with the five Academies, with all the savants, writers, and learned
specialists, to whom he listened with clever discernment. He knew how to
forget at once explanations that were too technical or were useless to
him, remembered the others very well, and lent to the information thus
gleaned an easy, clear, and good-natured rendering that made them as
readily comprehensible as the popular presentation of scientific facts.
He gave the impression of being a veritable storehouse of ideas, one of
those vast places wherein one never finds rare objects but discovers
a multiplicity of cheap productions of all kinds and from all sources,
from household utensils to the popular instruments for physical culture
or for domestic surgery.

The painters, with whom his official functions brought him in continual
contact, made sport of him but feared him. He rendered them some
services, however, helped them to sell pictures, brought them in contact
with fashionable persons, and enjoyed presenting them, protecting them,
launching them. He seemed to devote himself to a mysterious function of
fusing the fashionable and the artistic worlds, pluming himself on
his intimate acquaintance with these, and of his familiar footing with
those, on breakfasting with the Prince of Wales, on his way through
Paris, or dining, the same evening, with Paul Adelmant, Olivier Bertin,
and Amaury Maldant.

Bertin, who liked him well enough, found him amusing, and said of him:
"He is the encyclopedia of Jules Verne, bound in ass's skin!"

The two men shook hands and began to talk of the political situation and
the rumors of war, which Musadieu thought alarming, for evident reasons
which he explained very well, Germany having every interest in crushing
us and in hastening that moment for which M. de Bismarck had been
waiting eighteen years; while Olivier Bertin proved by irrefutable
argument that these fears were chimerical, it being impossible for
Germany to be foolish enough to risk her conquest in an always doubtful
venture, or for the Chancelor to be imprudent enough to risk, in the
latter years of his life, his achievements and his glory at a single
blow.

M. de Musadieu, however, seemed to know something of which he did not
wish to speak. Furthermore, he had seen a Minister that morning and had
met the Grand Duke Vladimir, returning from Cannes, the evening before.

The artist was unconvinced by this, and with quiet irony expressed doubt
of the knowledge of even the best informed. Behind all these rumors was
the influence of the Bourse! Bismarck alone might have a settled opinion
on the subject.

M. de Guilleroy entered, shook hands warmly, excusing himself in
unctuous words for having left them alone.

"And you, my dear Deputy," asked the painter, "what do you think of
these rumors of war?"

M. de Guilleroy launched into a discourse. As a member of the Chamber,
he knew more of the subject than anyone else, though he held an opinion
differing from that of most of his colleagues. No, he did not believe in
the probability of an approaching conflict, unless it should be provoked
by French turbulence and by the rodomontades of the self-styled patriots
of the League. And he painted Bismarck's portrait in striking colors, a
portrait a la Saint-Simon. The man Bismarck was one that no one wished
to understand, because one always lends to others his own ways of
thinking, and credits them with a readiness to do that which he would
do were he placed in their situation. M. de Bismarck was not a false and
lying diplomatist, but frank and brutal, always loudly proclaiming the
truth and announcing his intentions. "I want peace!" said he. That was
true; he wanted peace, nothing but peace, and everything had proved it
in a blinding fashion for eighteen years; everything--his arguments,
his alliances, that union of peoples banded together against our
impetuosity. M. de Guilleroy concluded in a tone of profound conviction:
"He is a great man, a very great man, who desires peace, but who has
faith only in menaces and violent means as the way to obtain it. In
short, gentlemen, a great barbarian."

"He that wishes the end must take the means," M. de Musadieu replied. "I
will grant you willingly that he adores peace if you will concede to me
that he always wishes to make war in order to obtain it. But that is
an indisputable and phenomenal truth: In this world war is made only to
obtain peace!"

A servant announced: "Madame la Duchesse de Mortemain."

Between the folding-doors appeared a tall, large woman, who entered with
an air of authority.

Guilleroy hastened to meet her, and kissed her hand, saying:

"How do you do, Duchess?"

The other two men saluted her with a certain distinguished familiarity,
for the Duchess's manner was both cordial and abrupt.

She was the widow of General the Duc de Mortemain, mother of an only
daughter married to the Prince de Salia; daughter of the Marquis de
Farandal, of high family and royally rich, and received at her mansion
in the Rue de Varenne all the celebrities of the world, who met and
complimented one another there. No Highness passed through Paris without
dining at her table; no man could attract public attention that she did
not immediately wish to know him. She must see him, make him talk
to her, form her own judgment of him. This amused her greatly, lent
interest to life, and fed the flame of imperious yet kindly curiosity
that burned within her.

She had hardly seated herself when the same servant announced:

"Monsieur le Baron and Madame la Baronne de Corbelle."

They were young; the Baron was bald and fat, the Baroness was slender,
elegant, and very dark.

This couple occupied a peculiar situation in the French aristocracy due
solely to a scrupulous choice of connections. Belonging to the polite
world, but without value or talent, moved in all their actions by an
immoderate love of that which is select, correct, and distinguished;
by dint of visiting only the most princely houses, of professing
their royalist sentiments, pious and correct to a supreme degree; by
respecting all that should be respected, by condemning all that should
be condemned, by never being mistaken on a point of worldly dogma or
hesitating over a detail of etiquette, they had succeeded in passing
in the eyes of many for the finest flower of high life. Their opinion
formed a sort of code of correct form and their presence in a house gave
it a true title of distinction.

The Corbelles were relatives of the Comte de Guilleroy.

"Well," said the Duchess in astonishment, "and your wife?"

"One instant, one little instant," pleaded the Count. "There is a
surprise: she is just about to come."

When Madame de Guilleroy, as the bride of a month, had entered
society, she was presented to the Duchesse de Mortemain, who loved her
immediately, adopted her, and patronized her.

For twenty years this friendship never had diminished, and when the
Duchess said, "_Ma petite_," one still heard in her voice the tenderness
of that sudden and persistent affection. It was at her house that the
painter and the Countess had happened to meet.

Musadieu approached the group. "Has the Duchess been to see the
exposition of the Intemperates?" he inquired.

"No; what is that?"

"A group of new artists, impressionists in a state of intoxication. Two
of them are very fine."

The great lady murmured, with disdain: "I do not like the jests of those
gentlemen."

Authoritative, brusque, barely tolerating any other opinion than
her own, and founding hers solely on the consciousness of her social
station, considering, without being able to give a good reason for it,
that artists and learned men were merely intelligent mercenaries charged
by God to amuse society or to render service to it, she had no other
basis for her judgments than the degree of astonishment or of pleasure
she experienced at the sight of a thing, the reading of a book, or the
recital of a discovery.

Tall, stout, heavy, red, with a loud voice, she passed as having the
air of a great lady because nothing embarrassed her; she dared to say
anything and patronized the whole world, including dethroned princes,
with her receptions in their honor, and even the Almighty by her
generosity to the clergy and her gifts to the churches.

"Does the Duchess know," Musadieu continued, "that they say the assassin
of Marie Lambourg has been arrested?"

Her interest was awakened at once.

"No, tell me about it," she replied.

He narrated the details. Musadieu was tall and very thin; he wore
a white waistcoat and little diamond shirt-studs; he spoke without
gestures, with a correct air which allowed him to say the daring
things which he took delight in uttering. He was very near-sighted, and
appeared, notwithstanding his eye-glass, never to see anyone; and when
he sat down his whole frame seemed to accommodate itself to the shape
of the chair. His figure seemed to shrink into folds, as if his spinal
column were made of rubber; his legs, crossed one over the other, looked
like two rolled ribbons, and his long arms, resting on the arms of the
chair, allowed to droop his pale hands with interminable fingers. His
hair and moustache, artistically dyed, with a few white locks cleverly
forgotten, were a subject of frequent jests.

While he was explaining to the Duchess that the jewels of the murdered
prostitute had been given as a present by the suspected murderer to
another girl of the same stamp, the door of the large drawing-room
opened wide once more, and two blond women in white lace, a creamy
Mechlin, resembling each other like two sisters of different ages, the
one a little too mature, the other a little too young, one a trifle
too plump, the other a shade too slender, advanced, clasping each other
round the waist and smiling.

The guests exclaimed and applauded. No one, except Olivier Bertin, knew
of Annette de Guilleroy's return, and the appearance of the young girl
beside her mother, who at a little distance seemed almost as fresh
and even more beautiful--for, like a flower in full bloom, she had
not ceased to be brilliant, while the child, hardly budding, was only
beginning to be pretty--made both appear charming.

The Duchess, delighted, clapped her hands, exclaiming: "Heavens!
How charming and amusing they are, standing beside each other! Look,
Monsieur de Musadieu, how much they resemble each other!"

The two were compared, and two opinions were formed. According to
Musadieu, the Corbelles, and the Comte de Guilleroy, the Countess and
her daughter resembled each other only in coloring, in the hair, and
above all in the eyes, which were exactly alike, both showing tiny black
points, like minute drops of ink, on the blue iris. But it was their
opinion that when the young girl should have become a woman they would
no longer resemble each other.

According to the Duchess, on the contrary, and also Olivier Bertin, they
were similar in all respects, and only the difference in age made them
appear unlike.

"How much she has changed in three years!" said the painter. "I should
not have recognized her, and I don't dare to _tutoyer_ the young lady!"

The Countess laughed. "The idea! I should like to hear you say 'you' to
Annette!"

The young girl, whose future gay audacity was already apparent under an
air of timid playfulness, replied: "It is I who shall not dare to say
'thou' to Monsieur Bertin."

Her mother smiled.

"Yes, continue the old habit--I will allow you to do so," she said. "You
will soon renew your acquaintance with him."

But Annette shook her head.

"No, no, it would embarrass me," she said.

The Duchess embraced her, and examined her with all the interest of a
connoisseur.

"Look me in the face, my child," she said. "Yes, you have exactly the
same expression as your mother; you won't be so bad by-and-by, when you
have acquired more polish. And you must grow a little plumper--not very
much, but a little. You are very thin."

"Oh, don't say that!" exclaimed the Countess.

"Why not?"

"It is so nice to be slender. I intend to reduce myself at once."

But Madame de Mortemain took offense, forgetting in her anger the
presence of a young girl.

"Oh, of course, you are all in favor of bones, because you can dress
them better than flesh. For my part, I belong to the generation of fat
women! To-day is the day of thin ones. They make me think of the lean
kine of Egypt. I cannot understand how men can admire your skeletons. In
my time they demanded more!"

She subsided amid the smiles of the company, but added, turning to
Annette:

"Look at your mamma, little one; she does very well; she has attained
the happy medium--imitate her."

They passed into the dining-room. After they were seated, Musadieu
resumed the discussion.

"For my part, I say that men should be thin, because they are formed
for exercises that require address and agility, incompatible with
corpulency. But the women's case is a little different. Don't you think
so, Corbelle?"

Corbelle was perplexed, the Duchess being stout and his own wife more
than slender. But the Baroness came to the rescue of her husband, and
resolutely declared herself in favor of slimness. The year before that,
she declared, she had been obliged to struggle with the beginning of
_embonpoint_, over which she soon triumphed.

"Tell us how you did it," demanded Madame de Guilleroy.

The Baroness explained the method employed by all the fashionable women
of the day. One must never drink while eating; but an hour after the
repast a cup of tea may be taken, boiling hot. This method succeeded
with everyone. She cited astonishing cases of fat women who in three
months had become more slender than the blade of a knife. The Duchess
exclaimed in exasperation:

"Good gracious, how stupid to torture oneself like that! You like
nothing any more--nothing--not even champagne. Bertin, as an artist,
what do you think of this folly?"

"_Mon Dieu_, Madame, I am a painter and I simply arrange the drapery, so
it is all the same to me. If I were a sculptor I might complain."

"But as a man, which do you prefer?"

"I? Oh, a certain rounded slimness--what my cook calls a nice little
corn-fed chicken. It is not fat, but plump and delicate."

The comparison caused a laugh; but the incredulous Countess looked at
her daughter and murmured:

"No, it is very much better to be thin; slender women never grow old."

This point also was discussed by the company; and all agreed that a very
fat person should not grow thin too rapidly.

This observation gave place to a review of women known in society and
to new discussions on their grace, their chic and beauty. Musadieu
pronounced the blonde Marquise de Lochrist incomparably charming,
while Bertin esteemed as a beauty Madame Mandeliere, with her brunette
complexion, low brow, her dusky eyes and somewhat large mouth, in which
her teeth seemed to sparkle.

He was seated beside the young girl, and said suddenly, turning to her:

"Listen to me, Nanette. Everything that we have just been saying you
will hear repeated at least once a week until you are old. In a week you
will know all that society thinks about politics, women, plays, and
all the rest of it. Only an occasional change of names will be
necessary--names of persons and titles of works. When you have heard us
all express and defend our opinions, you will quietly choose your own
among those that one must have, and then you need never trouble yourself
to think of anything more, never. You will only have to rest in that
opinion."

The young girl, without replying, turned upon him her mischievous eyes,
wherein sparkled youthful intelligence, restrained, but ready to escape.

But the Duchess and Musadieu, who played with ideas as one tosses a
ball, without perceiving that they continually exchanged the same ones,
protested in the name of thought and of human activity.

Then Bertin attempted to show how the intelligence of fashionable
people, even the brightest of them, is without value, foundation,
or weight; how slight is the basis of their beliefs, how feeble and
indifferent is their interest in intellectual things, how fickle and
questionable are their tastes.

Warmed by one of those spasms of indignation, half real, half assumed,
aroused at first by a desire to be eloquent, and urged on by the sudden
prompting of a clear judgment, ordinarily obscured by an easy-going
nature, he showed how those persons whose sole occupation in life is to
pay visits and dine in town find themselves becoming, by an irresistible
fatality, light and graceful but utterly trivial beings, vaguely
agitated by superficial cares, beliefs, and appetites.

He showed that none of that class has either depth, ardor, or sincerity;
that, their intellectual culture being slight and their erudition a
simple varnish, they must remain, in short, manikins who produce the
effect and make the gesture of the enlightened beings that they are not.
He proved that, the frail roots of their instincts having been nourished
on conventionalities instead of realities, they love nothing sincerely,
that even the luxury of their existence is a satisfaction of vanity and
not the gratification of a refined bodily necessity, for usually their
table is indifferent, their wines are bad and very dear.

They live, as he said, beside everything, but see nothing and study
nothing; they are near science, of which they are ignorant; nature, at
which they do not know how to look; outside of true happiness, for they
are powerless to enjoy it; outside of the beauty of the world and the
beauty of art, of which they chatter without having really discovered
it, or even believing in it, for they are ignorant of the intoxication
of tasting the joys of life and of intelligence. They are incapable
of attaching themselves in anything to that degree that existence is
illumined by the happiness of comprehending it.

The Baron de Corbelle thought that it was his duty to come to the
defense of society. This he did with inconsistent and irrefutable
arguments, which melt before reason as snow before the fire, yet which
cannot be disproved--the absurd and triumphant arguments of a country
curate who would demonstrate the existence of God. In concluding, he
compared fashionable people to race-horses, which, in truth, are good
for nothing, but which are the glory of the equine race.

Bertin, irritated by this adversary, preserved a politely disdainful
silence. But suddenly the Baron's imbecilities exasperated him, and,
interrupting him adroitly, he recounted the life of a man of fashion
from his rising to his going to rest, without omitting anything. All the
details, cleverly described, made up an irresistibly amusing silhouette.
Once could see the fine gentleman dressed by his valet, first expressing
a few general ideas to the hairdresser that came to shave him; then,
when taking his morning stroll, inquiring of the grooms about the health
of the horses; then trotting through the avenues of the Bois, caring
only about saluting and being saluted; then breakfasting opposite his
wife, who in her turn had been out in her coupe, speaking to her only to
enumerate the names of the persons he had met that morning; then
passing from drawing-room to drawing-room until evening, refreshing his
intelligence by contact with others of his circle, dining with a prince,
where the affairs of Europe were discussed, and finishing the evening
behind the scenes at the Opera, where his timid pretensions at being a
gay dog were innocently satisfied by the appearance of being surrounded
by naughtiness.

The picture was so true, although its satire wounded no one present,
that laughter ran around the table.

The Duchess, shaken by the suppressed merriment of fat persons, relieved
herself by discreet chuckles.

"Really, you are too funny!" she said at last; "you will make me die of
laughter."

Bertin replied, with some excitement:

"Oh, Madame, in the polite world one does not die of laughter! One
hardly laughs, even. We have sufficient amiability, as a matter of
good taste, to pretend to be amused and appear to laugh. The grimace
is imitated well enough, but the real thing is never done. Go to the
theaters of the common people--there you will see laughter. Go among the
_bourgeoisie_, when they are amusing themselves; you will see them laugh
to suffocation. Go to the soldiers' quarters, you will see men choking,
their eyes full of tears, doubled up on their beds over the jokes of
some funny fellow. But in our drawing-rooms we never laugh. I tell you
that we simulate everything, even laughter."

Musadieu interrupted him:

"Permit me to say that you are very severe. It seems to me that you
yourself, my dear fellow, do not wholly despise this society at which
you rail so bitterly."

Bertin smiled.

"I? I love it!" he declared.

"But then----"

"I despise myself a little, as a mongrel of doubtful race."

"All that sort of talk is nothing but a pose," said the Duchess.

And, as he denied having any intention of posing, she cut short the
discussion by declaring that all artists try to make people believe that
chalk is cheese.

The conversation then became general, touching upon everything, ordinary
and pleasant, friendly and critical, and, as the dinner was drawing
toward its end, the Countess suddenly exclaimed, pointing to the full
glasses of wine that were ranged before her plate:

"Well, you see that I have drunk nothing, nothing, not a drop! We shall
see whether I shall not grow thin!"

The Duchess, furious, tried to make her swallow some mineral water, but
in vain; then she exclaimed:

"Oh, the little simpleton! That daughter of hers will turn her head. I
beg of you, Guilleroy, prevent your wife from committing this folly."

The Count, who was explaining to Musadieu the system of a
threshing-machine invented in America, had not been listening.

"What folly, Duchess?"

"The folly of wishing to grow thin."

The Count looked at his wife with an expression of kindly indifference.

"I never have formed the habit of opposing her," he replied.

The Countess had risen, taking the arm of her neighbor; the Count
offered his to the Duchess, and they passed into the large drawing-room,
the boudoir at the end being reserved for use in the daytime.

It was a vast and well lighted room. On the four walls the large and
beautiful panels of pale blue silk, of antique pattern, framed in white
and gold, took on under the light of the lamps and the chandelier a
moonlight softness and brightness. In the center of the principal one,
the portrait of the Countess by Olivier Bertin seemed to inhabit, to
animate the apartment. It had a look of being at home there, mingling
with the air of the salon its youthful smile, the grace of its pose, the
bright charm of its golden hair. It had become almost a custom, a sort
of polite ceremony, like making the sign of the cross on entering a
church, to compliment the model on the work of the painter whenever
anyone stood before it.

Musadieu never failed to do this. His opinion as a connoisseur
commissioned by the State having the value of that of an official
expert, he regarded it as his duty to affirm often, with conviction, the
superiority of that painting.

"Indeed," said he, "that is the most beautiful modern portrait I know.
There is prodigious life in it."

The Comte de Guilleroy, who, through hearing this portrait continually
praised, had acquired a rooted conviction that he possessed a
masterpiece, approached to join him, and for a minute or two they
lavished upon the portrait all the art technicalities of the day in
praise of the apparent qualities of the work, and also of those that
were suggested.

All eyes were lifted toward the portrait, apparently in a rapture of
admiration, and Olivier Bertin, accustomed to these eulogies, to which
he paid hardly more attention than to questions about his health when
meeting some one in the street, nevertheless adjusted the reflector lamp
placed before the portrait in order to illumine it, the servant having
carelessly set it a little on one side.

Then they seated themselves, and as the Count approached the Duchess,
she said to him:

"I believe that my nephew is coming here for me, and to ask you for a
cup of tea."

Their wishes, for some time, had been mutually understood and agreed,
without either side ever having exchanged confidences or even hints.

The Marquis de Farandal, who was the brother of the Duchesse de
Mortemain, after almost ruining himself at the gaming table, had died
of the effects of a fall from his horse, leaving a widow and a son. This
young man, now nearly twenty-eight years of age, was one of the most
popular leaders of the cotillion in Europe, for he was sometimes
requested to go to Vienna or to London to crown in the waltz some
princely ball. Although possessing very small means, he remained,
through his social station, his family, his name, and his almost royal
connections, one of the most popular and envied men in Paris.

It was necessary to give a solid foundation to this glory of his youth,
and after a rich, a very rich marriage, to replace social triumphs by
political success. As soon as the Marquis should become a deputy, he
would become also, by that attainment alone, one of the props of the
future throne, one of the counselors of the King, one of the leaders of
the party.

The Duchess, who was well informed, knew the amount of the enormous
fortune of the Comte de Guilleroy, a prudent hoarder of money, who lived
in a simple apartment when he was quite able to live like a great lord
in one of the handsomest mansions of Paris. She knew about his always
successful speculations, his subtle scent as a financier, his share in
the most fruitful schemes of the past ten years, and she had cherished
the idea of marrying her nephew to the daughter of the Norman deputy, to
whom this marriage would give an immense influence in the aristocratic
society of the princely circle. Guilleroy, who had made a rich marriage,
and had thereby increased a large personal fortune, now nursed other
ambitions.

He had faith in the return of the King, and wished, when that event
should come, to be so situated as to derive from it the largest personal
profit.

As a simple deputy, he did not cut a prominent figure. As a
father-in-law of the Marquis of Farandal, whose ancestors had been the
faithful and chosen familiars of the royal house of France, he might
rise to the first rank.

The friendship of the Duchess for his wife lent to this union an element
of intimacy that was very precious; and, for fear some other young girl
might appear who would please the Marquis, he had brought about the
return of his own daughter in order to hasten events.

Madame de Mortemain, foreseeing and divining his plans, lent him her
silent complicity; and on that very day, although she had not been
informed of the sudden return of the young girl, she had made an
appointment with her nephew to meet her at the Guilleroys, so that he
might gradually become accustomed to visit that house frequently.

For the first time, the Count and the Duchess spoke of their mutual
desires in veiled terms; and when they parted, a treaty of alliance had
been concluded.

At the other end of the room everyone was laughing at a story M. de
Musadieu was telling to the Baroness de Corbelle about the presentation
of a negro ambassador to the President of the Republic, when the Marquis
de Farandal was announced.

He appeared in the doorway and paused. With a quick and familiar
gesture, he placed a monocle on his right eye and left it there, as if
to reconnoiter the room he was about to enter, but perhaps to give those
that were already there the time to see him and to observe his entrance.
Then by an imperceptible movement of cheek and eyebrow, he allowed to
drop the bit of glass at the end of a black silk hair, and advanced
quickly toward Madame de Guilleroy, whose extended hand he kissed,
bowing very low. He saluted his aunt likewise, then shook hands with
the rest of the company, going from one to another with easy elegance of
manner.

He was a tall fellow, with a red moustache, and was already slightly
bald, with the figure of an officer and the gait of an English
sportsman. It was evident, at first sight of him, that all his limbs
were better exercised than his head, and that he cared only for such
occupations as developed strength and physical activity. He had some
education, however, for he had learned, and was learning every day, by
much mental effort, a great deal that would be useful to him to know
later: history, studying dates unweariedly, but mistaking the lesson to
be learned from facts and the elementary notions of political economy
necessary to a deputy, the A B C of sociology for the use of the ruling
classes.

Musadieu esteemed him, saying: "He will be a valuable man." Bertin
appreciated his skill and his vigor. They went to the same fencing-hall,
often hunted together, and met while riding in the avenues of the Bois.
Between them, therefore, had been formed a sympathy of similar tastes,
that instinctive free-masonry which creates between two men a subject of
conversation, as agreeable to one as to the other.

When the Marquis was presented to Annette de Guilleroy, he immediately
had a suspicion of his aunt's designs, and after saluting her he ran his
eyes over her, with the rapid glance of a connoisseur.

He decided that she was graceful, and above all full of promise, for
he had led so many cotillions that he knew young girls well, and could
predict almost to a certainty the future of their beauty, as an expert
who tastes a wine as yet too new.

He exchanged only a few unimportant words with her, then seated himself
near the Baroness de Corbelle, so that he could chat with her in an
undertone.

Everyone took leave at an early hour, and when all had gone, when the
child was in her bed, the lamps were extinguished, the servants gone
to their own quarters, the Comte de Guilleroy, walking across the
drawing-room, lighted now by only two candles, detained for a long time
the Countess, who was half asleep in an armchair, to tell her of his
hopes, to suggest the attitude for themselves to assume, to forecast all
combinations, the chances and the precautions to be taken.

It was late when he retired, charmed, however, with this evening, and
murmuring, "I believe that that affair is a certainty."



CHAPTER III

A FLAME REKINDLED


"_When will you come, my friend? I have not seen you for three days, and
that seems a long time to me. My daughter occupies much of my time, but
you know that I can no longer do without you._"


The painter, who was drawing sketches, ever seeking a new subject
re-read the Countess's note, then, opening the drawer of a writing-desk,
he deposited it on a heap of other letters, which had been accumulating
there since the beginning of their love-affair.

Thanks to the opportunities given them by the customs of fashionable
society, they had grown used to seeing each other almost every day. Now
and then she visited him, and sat for an hour or two in the armchair in
which she had posed, while he worked. But, as she had some fear of the
criticisms of the servants, she preferred to receive him at her own
house, or to meet him elsewhere, for that daily interview, that small
change of love.

These meetings would be agreed upon beforehand, and always seemed
perfectly natural to M. de Guilleroy.

Twice a week at least the painter dined at the Countess's house, with
a few friends; on Monday nights he visited her in her box at the Opera;
then they would agree upon a meeting at such or such a house, to which
chance led them at the same hour. He knew the evenings that she did
not go out, and would call then to have a cup of tea with her, feeling
himself very much at home even near the folds of her robe, so tenderly
and so surely settled in that ripe affection, so fixed in the habit of
finding her somewhere, of passing some time by her side, or exchanging
a few words with her and of mingling a few thoughts, that he felt,
although the glow of his passion had long since faded, an incessant need
of seeing her.

The desire for family life, for a full and animated household, for the
family table, for those evenings when one talks without fatigue with
old friends, that desire for contact, for familiarity, for human
intercourse, which dwells dormant in every human heart, and which every
old bachelor carries from door to door to his friends, where he installs
something of himself, added a strain of egoism to his sentiments of
affection. In that house, where he was loved and spoiled, where he found
everything, he could still rest and nurse his solitude.

For three days he had not seen his friends, who must be very much
occupied by the return of the daughter of the house; and he was already
feeling bored, and even a little offended because they had not sent for
him sooner, but not wishing, as a matter of discretion, to be the first
to make an approach.

The Countess's letter aroused him like the stroke of a whip. It was
three o'clock in the afternoon. He decided to go immediately to her
house, that he might find her before she went out.

The valet appeared, summoned by the sound of Olivier's bell.

"What sort of weather is it, Joseph?"

"Very fine, Monsieur."

"Warm?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"White waistcoat, blue jacket, gray hat."

He always dressed with elegance, but although his tailor turned him out
in correct styles, the very way in which he wore his clothes, his manner
of walking, his comfortable proportions encased in a white waistcoat,
his high gray felt hat, tilted a little toward the back of his head,
seemed to reveal at once that he was both an artist and a bachelor.

When he reached the Countess's house, he was told that she was dressing
for a drive in the Bois. He was a little vexed at this, and waited.

According to his habit, he began to pace to and fro in the drawing-room,
going from one seat to another, or from the windows to the wall, in the
large drawing-room darkened by the curtains. On the light tables with
gilded feet, trifles of various kinds, useless, pretty, and costly, lay
scattered about in studied disorder. There were little antique boxes of
chased gold, miniature snuff-boxes, ivory statuettes, objects in dull
silver, quite modern, of an exaggerated severity, in which English taste
appeared: a diminutive kitchen stove, and upon it a cat drinking from a
pan, a cigarette-case simulating a loaf of bread, a coffee-pot to hold
matches, and in a casket a complete set of doll's jewelry--necklaces,
bracelets, rings, brooches, ear-rings set with diamonds, sapphires,
rubies, emeralds, a microscopic fantasy that seemed to have been
executed by Lilliputian jewelers.

From time to time he touched some object, given by himself on some
anniversary; he lifted it, handled it, examining it with dreamy
indifference, then put it back in its place.

In one corner some books that were luxuriously bound but seldom
opened lay within easy reach on a round table with a single leg for a
foundation, which stood before a little curved sofa. The _Revue des Deux
Mondes_ lay there also, somewhat worn, with turned-down pages, as if it
had been read and re-read many times; other publications lay near it,
some of them uncut: the _Arts modernes_, which is bought only because of
its cost, the subscription price being four hundred francs a year; and
the _Feuille libre_, a thin volume between blue covers, in which appear
the more recent poets, called "_les enerves_."

Between the windows stood the Countess's writing-desk, a coquettish
piece of furniture of the last century, on which she wrote replies to
those hurried questions handed to her during her receptions. A few books
were on that, also, familiar books, index to the heart and mind of a
woman: Musset, Manon Lescaut, Werther; and, to show that she was not a
stranger to the complicated sensations and mysteries of psychology,
_Les Fleurs du Mal_, _Le Rouge et le Noir_, _La Femme au XVIII Siecle_,
_Adolphe_.

Beside the books lay a charming hand-mirror, a masterpiece of the
silversmith's art, the glass being turned down upon a square of
embroidered velvet, in order to allow one to admire the curious gold and
silver workmanship on the back. Bertin took it up and looked at his
own reflection. For some years he had been growing terribly old
in appearance, and although he thought that his face showed more
originality than when he was younger, the sight of his heavy cheeks and
increasing wrinkles saddened him.

A door opened behind him.

"Good morning, Monsieur Bertin," said Annette.

"Good morning, little one; are you well?"

"Very well; and you?"

"What, are you not saying 'thou' to me, then, after all?"

"No, indeed! It would really embarrass me."

"Nonsense!"

"Yes, it would. You make me feel timid."

"And why, pray?"

"Because--because you are neither young enough nor old enough--"

The painter laughed.

"After such a reason as that I will insist no more."

She blushed suddenly, up to the white brow, where the waves of hair
began to ripple, and resumed, with an air of slight confusion:

"Mamma told me to say to you that she will be down immediately, and to
ask you whether you will go to the Bois de Boulogne with us."

"Yes, certainly. You are alone?"

"No; with the Duchesse de Mortemain."

"Very well; I will go."

"Then will you allow me to go and put on my hat?"

"Yes, go, my child."

As Annette left the room the Countess entered, veiled, ready to set
forth. She extended her hands cordially.

"We never see you any more. What are you doing?" she inquired.

"I did not wish to trouble you just at this time," said Bertin.

In the tone with which she spoke the word "Olivier!" she expressed all
her reproaches and all her attachment.

"You are the best woman in the world," he said, touched by the tender
intonation of his name.

This little love-quarrel being finished and settled, the Countess
resumed her light, society tone.

"We shall pick up the Duchess at her hotel and then make a tour of the
Bois. We must show all that sort of thing to Nanette, you know."

The landau awaited them under the porte-cochere.

Bertin seated himself facing the two ladies, and the carriage
departed, the pawing of the horses making a resonant sound against the
over-arching roof of the porte-cochere.

Along the grand boulevard descending toward the Madeleine all the gaiety
of the springtime seemed to have fallen upon the tide of humanity.

The soft air and the sunshine lent to the men a festive air, to the
women a suggestion of love; the bakers' boys deposited their baskets on
the benches to run and play with their brethren, the street urchins; the
dogs appeared in a great hurry to go somewhere; the canaries hanging in
the boxes of the concierges trilled loudly; only the ancient cab-horses
kept their usual sedate pace.

"Oh, what a beautiful day! How good it is to live!" murmured the
Countess.

The painter contemplated both mother and daughter in the dazzling light.
Certainly, they were different, but at the same time so much alike that
the latter was veritably a continuation of the former, made of the same
blood, the same flesh, animated by the same life. Their eyes, above all,
those blue eyes flecked with tiny black drops, of such a brilliant blue
in the daughter, a little faded in the mother, fixed upon him a look so
similar that he expected to hear them make the same replies. And he was
surprised to discover, as he made them laugh and talk, that before him
were two very distinct women, one who had lived and one who was about
to live. No, he did not foresee what would become of that child when her
young mind, influenced by tastes and instincts that were as yet dormant,
should have expanded and developed amid the life of the world. This was
a pretty little new person, ready for chances and for love, ignored and
ignorant, who was sailing out of port like a vessel, while her mother
was returning, having traversed life and having loved!

He was touched at the thought that she had chosen himself, and that she
preferred him still, this woman who had remained so pretty, rocked in
that landau, in the warm air of springtime.

As he expressed his gratitude to her in a glance, she divined it, and he
thought he could feel her thanks in the rustle of her robe.

In his turn he murmured: "Oh, yes, what a beautiful day!"

When they had taken up the Duchess, in the Rue de Varenne, they spun
along at a swift pace toward the Invalides, crossed the Seine, and
reached the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, going up toward the Arc de
triomphe de l'Etoile in the midst of a sea of carriages.

The young girl was seated beside Olivier, riding backward, and she
opened upon this stream of equipages wide and wondering eager eyes.
Occasionally, when the Duchess and the Countess acknowledged a
salutation with a short movement of the head, she would ask "Who is
that?" Bertin answered: "The Pontaiglin," "the Puicelci," "the Comtesse
de Lochrist," or "the beautiful Madame Mandeliere."

Now they were following the Avenue of the Bois de Boulogne, amid the
noise and the rattling of wheels. The carriages, a little less crowded
than below the Arc de Triomphe, seemed to struggle in an endless race.
The cabs, the heavy landaus, the solemn eight-spring vehicles, passed
one another over and over again, distanced suddenly by a rapid victoria,
drawn by a single trotter, bearing along at a reckless pace, through
all that rolling throng, _bourgeois_ and aristocratic, through all
societies, all classes, all hierarchies, an indolent young woman, whose
bright and striking toilette diffused among the carriages it touched in
passing a strange perfume of some unknown flower.

"Who is that lady?" Annette inquired.

"I don't know," said Bertin, at which reply the Duchess and the Countess
exchanged a smile.

The leaves were opening, the familiar nightingales of that Parisian
garden were singing already among the tender verdure, and when, as the
carriage approached the lake, it joined the long file of other vehicles
at a walk, there was an incessant exchange of salutations, smiles, and
friendly words, as the wheels touched. The procession seemed now like
the gliding of a flotilla in which were seated very well-bred ladies and
gentlemen. The Duchess, who was bowing every moment before raised hats
or inclined heads, appeared to be passing them in review, calling
to mind what she knew, thought, or supposed of these people, as they
defiled before her.

"Look, dearest, there is the lovely Madame Mandeliere again--the beauty
of the Republic."

In a light and dashing carriage, the beauty of the Republic allowed to
be admired, under an apparent indifference to this indisputable glory,
her large dark eyes, her low brow beneath a veil of dusky hair, and her
mouth, which was a shade too obstinate in its lines.

"Very beautiful, all the same," said Bertin.

The Countess did not like to hear him praise other women. She shrugged
her shoulders slightly, but said nothing.

But the young girl, in whom the instinct of rivalry suddenly awoke,
ventured to say: "I do not find her beautiful at all."

"What! You do not think her beautiful?" said the painter.

"No; she looks as if she had been dipped in ink."

The Duchess, delighted, burst into laughter.

"Bravo, little one!" she cried. "For the last six years half the men
in Paris have been swooning at the feet of that negress! I believe that
they sneer at us. Look at the Comtesse de Lochrist instead."

Alone, in a landau with a white poodle, the Countess, delicate as a
miniature, a blond with brown eyes, whose grace and beauty had served
for five or six years as the theme for the admiration of her partisans,
bowed to the ladies, with a fixed smile on her lips.

But Nanette exhibited no greater enthusiasm than before.

"Oh," she said, "she is no longer young!"

Bertin, who usually did not at all agree with the Countess in the daily
discussions of these two rivals, felt a sudden irritation at the stupid
intolerance of this little simpleton.

"Nonsense!" he said. "Whether one likes her or not, she is charming; and
I only hope that you may become as pretty as she."

"Pooh! pooh!" said the Duchess. "You notice women only after they have
passed the thirtieth year. The child is right. You admire only _passee_
beauty."

"Pardon me!" he exclaimed; "a woman is really beautiful only after
maturing, when the expression of her face and eyes has become fully
developed!"

He enlarged upon this idea that the first youthful freshness is only the
gloss of riper beauty; he demonstrated that men of the world were wise
in paying but little attention to young girls in their first season, and
that they were right in proclaiming them beautiful only when they passed
into their later period of bloom.

The Countess, flattered, murmured: "He is right; he speaks as an artist.
The youthful countenance is very charming, but it is always a trifle
commonplace."

The painter continued to urge his point, indicating at what moment a
face that was losing, little by little, the undecided grace of youth,
really assumed its definite form, its true character and physiognomy.

At each word the Countess said "Yes," with a little nod of conviction;
and the more he affirmed, with all the heat of a lawyer making a plea,
with the animation of the accused pleading his own cause, the more she
approved, by glance and gesture, as if they two were allied against
some danger, and must defend themselves against some false and menacing
opinion. Annette hardly heard them, she was so engrossed in looking
about her. Her usually smiling face had become grave, and she said no
more, carried away by the pleasure of the rapid driving. The sunlight,
the trees, the carriage, this delightful life, so rich and gay--all this
was for her!

Every day she might come here, recognized in her turn, saluted and
envied; and perhaps the men, in pointing her out to one another, would
say that she was beautiful. She noticed all those that appeared to
her distinguished among the throng and inquired their names, without
thinking of anything beyond the mere sound of the syllables, though
sometimes they awoke in her an echo of respect and admiration, when she
realized that she had seen them often in the newspapers or heard stories
concerning them. She could not become accustomed to this long procession
of celebrities; it seemed unreal to her, as if she were a part of some
stage spectacle. The cabs filled her with disdain mingled with disgust;
they annoyed and irritated her, and suddenly she said:

"I think they should not allow anything but private carriages to come
here."

"Indeed, Mademoiselle!" said Bertin; "and then what becomes of our
equality, liberty and fraternity?"

Annette made a moue that signified "Don't talk about that!" and
continued:

"They should have a separate drive for cabs--that of Vincennes, for
instance."

"You are behind the times, little one, and evidently do not know that we
are swimming in the full tide of democracy. But, if you wish to see this
place free from any mingling of the middle class, come in the morning,
and then you will find only the fine flower of society."

He proceeded to describe graphically, as he knew well how to do, the
Bois in the morning hours with its gay cavaliers and fair Amazons, that
club where everyone knows everyone else by their Christian names, their
pet names, their family connections, titles, qualities, and vices, as if
they all lived in the same neighborhood or in the same small town.

"Do you come here often at that hour?" Annette inquired.

"Very often; there is no more charming place in Paris."

"Do you come on horseback in the mornings?"

"Yes."

"And in the afternoon you pay visits?"

"Yes."

"Then, when do you work?"

"Oh, I work--sometimes; and besides, you see, I have chosen a special
entertainment suited to my tastes. As I paint the portraits of
beautiful women, it is necessary that I should see them and follow them
everywhere."

"On foot and on horseback!" murmured Annette, with a perfectly serious
face.

He threw her a sidelong glance of appreciation, which seemed to say:
"Ah! you are witty, even now! You will do very well."

A breath of cold air from far away, from the country that was hardly
awake as yet, swept over the park, and the whole Bois, coquettish,
frivolous, and fashionable, shivered under its chill. For some seconds
it caused the tender leaves to tremble on the trees, and garments on
shoulders. All the women, with a movement almost simultaneous, drew up
over their arms and chests their wraps lying behind them; and the horses
began to trot, from one end of the avenue to the other, as if the keen
wind had flicked them like a whip.

The Countess's party returned quickly, to the silvery jingle of the
harness, under the slanting red rays of the setting sun.

"Shall you go home?" inquired the Countess of Bertin, with whose habits
she was familiar.

"No, I am going to the club."

"Then, shall we set you down there in passing?"

"Thank you, that will be very convenient."

"And when shall you invite us to breakfast with the Duchess?"

"Name your day."

This painter in ordinary to the fair Parisians, whom his admirers
christened "a Watteau realist" and his detractors a "photographer
of gowns and mantles," often received at breakfast or at dinner the
beautiful persons whose feature he had reproduced, as well as the
celebrated and the well known, who found very amusing these little
entertainments in a bachelor's establishment.

"The day after to-morrow, then. Will the day after to-morrow suit you,
my dear Duchess?" asked Madame de Guilleroy.

"Yes, indeed; you are charming! Monsieur Bertin never thinks of me
when he has his little parties. It is quite evident that I am no longer
young."

The Countess, accustomed to consider the artist's home almost the same
as her own, replied:

"Only we four, the four of the landau--the Duchess, Annette, you and I,
eh, great artist?"

"Only ourselves," said he, alighting from the carriage, "and I will have
prepared for you some crabs _a l'alsacienne_."

"Oh, you will awaken a desire for luxury in the little one!"

He bowed to them, standing beside the carriage door, then entered
quickly the vestibule of the main entrance to the club, threw his
topcoat and cane to a group of footmen, who had risen like soldiers at
the passing of an officer; mounted the broad stairway, meeting another
brigade of servants in knee-breeches, pushed open a door, feeling
himself suddenly as alert as a young man, as he heard at the end of the
corridor a continuous clash of foils, the sound of stamping feet, and
loud exclamations: _"Touche!" "A moi." "Passe!" "J'en ai!" "Touche!" "A
vous!"_

In the fencing-hall the swordsmen, dressed in gray linen, with leather
vests, their trousers tight around the ankles, a sort of apron falling
over the front of the body, one arm in the air, with the hand thrown
backward, and in the other hand, enormous in a large fencing-glove, the
thin, flexible foil, extended and recovered with the agile swiftness of
mechanical jumping-jacks.

Others rested and chatted, still out of breath, red and perspiring, with
handkerchief in hand to wipe off faces and necks; others, seated on
a square divan that ran along the four sides of the hall, watched the
fencing--Liverdy against Landa, and the master of the club, Taillade,
against the tall Rocdiane.

Bertin, smiling, quite at home, shook hands with several men.

"I choose you!" cried the Baron de Baverie.

"I am with you, my dear fellow," said Bertin, passing into the
dressing-room to prepare himself.

He had not felt so agile and vigorous for a long time, and, guessing
that he should fence well that day, he hurried as impatiently as a
schoolboy ready for play. As soon as he stood before his adversary he
attacked him with great ardor, and in ten minutes he had touched him
eleven times and had so fatigued him that the Baron cried for quarter.
Then he fenced with Punisimont, and with his colleague, Amaury Maldant.

The cold douche that followed, freezing his palpitating flesh, reminded
him of the baths of his twentieth year, when he used to plunge head
first into the Seine from the bridges in the suburbs, in order to amaze
the bourgeois passers-by.

"Shall you dine here?" inquired Maldant.

"Yes."

"We have a table with Liverdy, Rocdiane, and Landa; make haste; it is a
quarter past seven."

The dining-room was full, and there was a continuous hum of men's
voices.

There were all the nocturnal vagabonds of Paris, idlers and workers, all
those who from seven o'clock in the evening know not what to do and dine
at the club, ready to catch at anything or anybody that chance may offer
to amuse them.

When the five friends were seated the banker Liverdy, a vigorous and
hearty man of forty, said to Bertin:

"You were in fine form this evening."

"Yes, I could have done surprising things to-day," Bertin replied.

The others smiled, and the landscape painter, Amaury Maldant, a thin
little bald-headed man with a gray beard, said, with a sly expression:

"I, too, always feel the rising of the sap in April; it makes me bring
forth a few leaves--half a dozen at most--then it runs into sentiment;
there never is any fruit."

The Marquis de Rocdiane and the Comte Landa sympathized with him. Both
were older than he, though even a keen eye could not guess their age;
clubmen, horsemen, swordsmen, whose incessant exercise had given them
bodies of steel, they boasted of being younger in every way than the
enervated good-for-nothings of the new generation.

Rocdiane, of good family, with the entree to all salons, though
suspected of financial intrigues of many kinds (which, according
to Bertin, was not surprising, since he had lived so much in the
gaming-houses), married, but separated from his wife, who paid him an
annuity, a director of Belgian and Portuguese banks, carried boldly upon
his energetic, Don Quixote-like face the somewhat tarnished honor of a
gentleman, which was occasionally brightened by the blood from a thrust
in a duel.

The Comte de Landa, a good-natured colossus, proud of his figure and
his shoulders, although married and the father of two children, found it
difficult to dine at home three times a week; he remained at the club on
the other days, with his friends, after the session in the fencing-hall.

"The club is a family," he said, "the family of those who as yet have
none, of those who never will have one, and of those who are bored by
their own."

The conversation branched off on the subject of women, glided from
anecdotes to reminiscences, from reminiscences to boasts, and then to
indiscreet confidences.

The Marquis de Rocdiane allowed the names of his inamoratas to be
guessed by unmistakable hints--society women whose names he did not
utter, so that their identity might be the better surmised. The banker
Liverdy indicated his flames by their first names. He would say: "I was
at that time the best of friends with the wife of a diplomat. Now,
one evening when I was leaving her, I said to her, 'My little
Marguerite'"--then he checked himself, amid the smiles of his fellows,
adding "Ha! I let something slip. One should form a habit of calling all
women Sophie."

Olivier Bertin, very reserved, was accustomed to declare, when
questioned:

"For my part, I content myself with my models."

They pretended to believe him, and Landa, who was frankly a libertine,
grew quite excited at the idea of all the pretty creatures that walked
the streets and all the young persons who posed undraped before the
painter at ten francs an hour.

As the bottle became empty, all these gray-beards, as the younger
members of the club called them, acquired red faces, and their kindling
ardor awakened new desires.

Rocdiane, after the coffee, became still more indiscreet, and forgot the
society women to celebrate the charms of simple cocottes.

"Paris!" said he, a glass of kummel in his hand, "The only city where
a man never grows old, the only one where, at fifty, if he is sound and
well preserved, he will always find a young girl, as pretty as an angel,
to love him."

Landa, finding again his Rocdiane after the liqueurs, applauded him
enthusiastically, and mentioned the young girls who still adored him
every day.

But Liverdy, more skeptical, and pretending to know exactly what women
were worth, murmured: "Yes, they tell you that they adore you!"

"They prove it to me, my dear fellow," exclaimed Landa.

"Such proofs don't count."

"They suffice me!"

"But, _sacrebleu!_ they do mean it," cried Rocdiane. "Do you believe
that a pretty little creature of twenty, who has been going the rounds
in Paris for five or six years already, where all our moustaches have
taught her kisses and spoiled her taste for them, still knows how to
distinguish a man of thirty from a man of sixty? Pshaw! what nonsense!
She has seen and known too many of them. Now, I'll wager that, down in
the bottom of her heart, she actually prefers an old banker to a young
stripling. Does she know or reflect upon that? Have men any age here?
Oh, my dear fellow, we grow young as we grow gray, and the whiter our
hair becomes the more they tell us they love us, the more they show it,
and the more they believe it."

They rose from the table, their blood warmed and lashed by alcohol,
ready to make any conquest; and they began to deliberate how to spend
the evening, Bertin mentioning the Cirque, Rocdiane the Hippodrome,
Maldant the Eden, and Landa the Folies-Bergere, when a light and distant
sound of the tuning of violins reached their ears.

"Ah, there is music at the club to-day, it seems," said Rocdiane.

"Yes," Bertin replied. "Shall we listen for ten minutes before going
out?"

"Agreed."

They crossed a salon, a billiard-room, a card-room, and finally reached
a sort of box over the gallery of the musicians. Four gentlemen,
ensconced in armchairs, were waiting there already, in easy attitudes,
while below, among rows of empty seats, a dozen others were chatting,
sitting or standing.

The conductor tapped his desk with his bow; the music began.

Olivier adored music as an opium-eater adores opium. It made him dream.

As soon as the sonorous wave from the instruments reached him he felt
himself borne away in a sort of nervous intoxication, which thrilled
body and mind indescribably. His imagination ran riot, made drunk
by melody, and carried him along through sweet dreams and charming
reveries. With closed eyes, legs crossed, and folded arms, he listened
to the strains, and gave himself up to the visions that passed before
his eyes and into his mind.

The orchestra was playing one of Haydn's symphonies, and when Bertin's
eyelids drooped over his eyes, he saw again the Bois, the crowd of
carriages around him, and facing him in the landau the Countess and her
daughter. He heard their voices, followed their words, felt the movement
of the carriage, inhaled the air, filled with the odor of young leaves.

Three times, his neighbor, speaking to him, interrupted this vision,
which three times he began again, as the rolling of the vessel seems to
continue when, after crossing the ocean, one lies motionless in bed.

Then it extended itself to a long voyage, with the two women always
seated before him, sometimes on the railway, again at the table
of strange hotels. During the whole execution of the symphony they
accompanied him, as if, while driving with him in the sunshine, they had
left the image of their two faces imprinted on his vision.

Silence followed; then came a noise of seats being moved and chattering
of voices, which dispelled this vapor of a dream, and he perceived,
dozing around him, his four friends, relaxed from a listening attitude
to the comfortable posture of sleep.

"Well, what shall we do now?" he asked, after he had roused them.

"I should like to sleep here a little longer," replied Rocdiane frankly.

"And I, too," said Landa.

Bertin rose.

"Well, I shall go home," he said. "I am rather tired."

He felt very animated, on the contrary, but he wished to go, fearing
the end of the evening around the baccarat-table of the club, which
unfortunately he knew so well.

He went home, therefore, and the following day, after a nervous night,
one of those nights that put artists in that condition of cerebral
activity called inspiration, he decided not to go out, but to work until
evening.

It was an excellent day, one of those days of facile production, when
ideas seem to descend into the hands and fix themselves upon the canvas.

With doors shut, far from the world, in the quiet of his own dwelling,
closed to everyone, in the friendly peace of his studio, with clear eye,
lucid mind, enthusiastic, alert, he tasted that happiness given only
to artists, the happiness of bringing forth their work in joy. Nothing
existed any more for him in such hours of work except the piece of
canvas on which was born an image under the caress of his brush; and he
experienced, in these crises of productiveness, a strange and delicious
sensation of abounding life which intoxicated him. When evening came he
was exhausted as by healthful fatigue, and went to sleep with agreeable
anticipation of his breakfast the next morning.

The table was covered with flowers, the menu was carefully chosen, for
Madame de Guilleroy's sake, as she was a refined epicure; and in spite
of strong but brief resistance, the painter compelled his guests to
drink champagne.

"The little one will get intoxicated," protested the Countess.

"Dear me! there must be a first time," replied the indulgent Duchess.

Everyone, as the party returned to the studio, felt stirred by that
light gaiety which lifts one as if the feet had wings.

The Duchess and the Countess, having an engagement at a meeting of the
Committee of French Mothers, were to take Annette home before going to
the meeting; but Bertin offered to take her for a walk, and then to the
Boulevard Malesherbes; so both ladies left them.

"Let us take the longest way," said Annette.

"Would you like to stroll about the Monceau Park?" asked Bertin. "It is
a very pretty place; we will look at the babies and nurses."

"Yes, I should like that."

They passed through the Avenue Velasquez and entered the gilded and
monumental gate that serves as a sign and an entrance to that exquisite
jewel of a park, displaying in the heart of Paris its verdant and
artificial beauty, surrounded by a belt of princely mansions.

Along the wide walks, which unroll their massive and artistic curves
through grassy lawns, throngs of people, sitting on iron chairs, watch
the passers; while in the little paths, deep in shade and winding like
streams, groups of children crawl in the sand, run about, or jump the
rope under the indolent eyes of nurses or the anxious watchfulness
of mothers. Two enormous trees, rounded into domes, like monuments of
leaves, the gigantic horse-chestnuts, whose heavy verdure is lighted up
by red and white clusters, the showy sycamores, the graceful plane-trees
with their trunks designedly polished, set off in a charming perspective
the tall, undulating grass.

The weather was warm, the turtle-doves were cooing among the branches,
and flying to meet one another from the tree-tops, while the sparrows
bathed in the rainbow formed by the sunshine and the spray thrown over
the smooth turf. White statues on their pedestals seemed happy in the
midst of the green freshness. A little marble boy was drawing from his
foot an invisible thorn, as if he had just pricked himself in running
after the Diana fleeing toward the little lake, imprisoned by the woods
that screened the ruins of a temple.

Other statues, amorous and cold, embraced one another on the borders of
the groves, or dreamed there, holding one knee in the hand. A cascade
foamed and rolled over the pretty rocks; a tree, truncated like a
column, supported an ivy; a tombstone bore an inscription. The stone
shafts erected on the lawns hardly suggest better the Acropolis than
this elegant little park recalled wild forests. It is the charming
and artificial place where city people go to look at flowers grown in
hot-houses, and to admire, as one admires the spectacle of life at the
theater, that agreeable representation of the beauties of nature given
in the heart of Paris.

Olivier Bertin had come almost every day for years to this favorite spot
to look at the fair Parisians moving in their appropriate setting. "It
is a park made for toilettes," he would say; "Badly dressed people are
horrible in it." He would rove about there for hours, knowing all the
plants and all the habitual visitors.

He now strolled beside Annette along the avenues, his eye distracted by
the motley and animated crowd in the gardens.

"Oh, the little love!" exclaimed Annette. She was gazing at a tiny boy
with blond curls, who was looking at her with his blue eyes full of
surprise and delight.

Then she passed all the children in review, and the pleasure she felt in
seeing those living dolls, decked out in their dainty ribbons, made her
talkative and communicative.

She walked slowly, chatting to Bertin, giving him her reflections on the
children, the nurses, and the mothers. The larger children drew from
her little exclamations of joy, while the little pale ones touched her
sympathy.

Bertin listened, more amused by her than by the little ones, and, always
remembering his work, he murmured, "That is delicious!" thinking that
he must make an exquisite picture, with one corner of this park and a
bouquet of nurses, mothers and children. Why had he never thought of it
before?

"You like those little ones?" he inquired.

"I adore them!"

He felt, from her manner of looking at them, that she longed to take
them in her arms, to hug and kiss them--the natural and tender longing
of a future mother; and he was surprised at this secret instinct hidden
in this little woman.

As she appeared ready to talk, he questioned her about her tastes. She
admitted, with pretty naivete, that she had hopes of social success and
glory, and that she desired to have fine horses, which she knew almost
as well as a horse-dealer, for a part of the farm at Roncieres was
devoted to breeding; but she appeared to trouble her head no more about
a fiance than one is concerned about an apartment, which is always to be
found among the multitude of houses to rent.

They approached the lake, where two swans and six ducks were quietly
floating, as clean and calm as porcelain birds, and they passed before
a young woman sitting in a chair, with an open book lying on her knees,
her eyes gazing upward, her soul having apparently taken flight in a
dream.

She was as motionless as a wax figure. Plain, humble, dressed as a
modest girl who has no thought of pleasing, she had gone to the land of
Dreams, carried away by a phrase or a word that had bewitched her heart.
Undoubtedly she was continuing, according to the impulse of her hopes,
the adventure begun in the book.

Bertin paused, surprised. "How beautiful to dream like that!" said he.

They had passed before her; now they turned and passed her again without
her perceiving them, so attentively did she follow the distant flight of
her thought.

"Tell me, little one," said the painter to Annette, "would it bore you
very much to pose for me once or twice?"

"No, indeed! Quite the contrary."

"Look well at that young lady who is roaming in the world of fancy."

"The lady there, in that chair?"

"Yes. Well, you, too, will sit on a chair, you will have an open book
on your knee, and you will try to do as she does. Have you ever had
daydreams?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Of what?"

He tried to confess her as to her aerial flights, but she would make
no reply, evaded his questions, looked at the ducks swimming after some
bread thrown to them by a lady, and seemed embarrassed, as if he had
touched upon a subject that was a sensitive point with her.

Then, to change the conversation, she talked about her life at
Roncieres, spoke of her grandmother, to whom she read aloud a long time
every day, and who must now feel very lonely and sad.

As he listened, the painter felt as gay as a bird, gay as he never
had been. All that she had said, all the doings, the trifling everyday
details of the simple life of a young girl, amused and interested him.

"Let us sit down," he said.

They seated themselves near the water, and the two swans came floating
toward them, expecting some fresh dainty.

Bertin felt recollections awakening within him--those faded remembrances
that are drowned in forgetfulness, and which suddenly return, one knows
not why. They surged up rapidly, of all sorts, and so numerous at the
same time that it seemed to him a hand was stirring the miry depths of
his memory.

He tried to guess the reasons of this rising up of his former life which
several times already, though never so insistently as to-day, he had
felt and remarked. A cause always existed for these sudden evocations--a
natural and simple cause, an odor, perhaps, often a perfume. How
many times a woman's draperies had thrown to him in passing, with the
evaporating breath of some essence, a host of forgotten events. At the
bottom of old perfume-bottles he had often found bits of his former
existence; and all wandering odors--of streets, fields, houses,
furniture, sweet or unsavory, the warm odors of summer evenings, the
cold breath of winter nights, revived within him far-off reminiscences,
as if odors kept embalmed within him these dead-and-gone memories, as
aromatics preserve mummies.

Was it the damp grass or the chestnut blossoms that thus reanimated the
past? No. What, then?

Was it his eye to which he owed this alertness? What had he seen?
Nothing. Among the persons he had met, perhaps one might have resembled
some one he had known, and, although he had not recognized it, it might
have rung in his heart all the chords of the past.

Was it not a sound, rather? Very often he had heard by chance a piano,
an unknown voice, even a hand-organ in the street playing some old
air, which had suddenly made him feel twenty years younger, filling his
breast with tender recollections, long buried.

But this appeal, continued, incessant, intangible, almost irritating!
What was there near him to revive thus his extinct emotions?

"It is growing a little cool; we must go home," he said.

They rose, and resumed their walk.

He looked at the poor people sitting on benches, for whom a chair was
too great an expense.

Annette also observed them, and felt disturbed at the thought of their
lives, their occupations, surprised that they should come to lounge in
this beautiful public garden, when their own appearance was so forlorn.

More than ever was Olivier now dreaming over past years. It seemed to
him that a fly was humming in his ear, filling it with a buzzing song of
bygone days.

The young girl, observing his dreamy air, asked:

"What is the matter? You seem sad."

His heart thrilled within him. Who had said that? She or her mother?
Not her mother with her present voice but with her voice of long ago, so
changed that he had only just recognized it.

"Nothing," he replied, smiling. "You entertain me very much; you are
very charming, and you remind me of your mother."

How was it that he had not sooner remarked this strange echo of a voice
once so familiar, now coming from these fresh lips?

"Go on talking," he said.

"Of what?"

"Tell me what your teachers have taught you. Did you like them?"

She began again to chat pleasantly. He listened, stirred by a growing
anxiety; he watched and waited to detect, among the phrases of this
young girl, almost a stranger to his heart, a word, a sound, a laugh,
that seemed to have been imprisoned in her throat since her mother's
youth. Certain intonations made him tremble with astonishment. Of course
there were differences in their tones, the resemblance of which he had
not remarked immediately, and which were in some ways so dissimilar that
he had not confounded them at all; but these differences rendered all
the more striking this sudden reproduction of the maternal speech. He
had noted their facial resemblance with a friendly and curious eye, but
now the mystery of this resuscitated voice mingled them in such a way
that, turning away his head that he might no longer see the young girl,
he asked himself whether it were not the Countess who was speaking thus
to him, twelve years earlier.

Then when he had woven this hallucination, he turned toward her again,
and found, as their eyes met, a little of the shy hesitation with which
the mother's gaze had met his in the first days of their love.

They had already walked three times around the park, passing always
before the same persons, the same nurses and children.

Annette was now inspecting the buildings surrounding the garden,
inquiring the names of their owners. She wished to know all about them,
asked questions with eager curiosity, seeming to fill her feminine mind
with these details, and, with interested face, listening with her eyes
as much as with her ears.

But when they arrived at the pavilion that separates the two gates of
the outer boulevard, Bertin perceived that it was almost four o'clock.

"Oh," he said, "we must go home."

They walked slowly toward the Boulevard Malesherbes.

After the painter had left Annette at her home he proceeded toward the
Place de la Concorde.

He sang to himself softly, longed to run, and would have been glad to
jump over the benches, so agile did he feel. Paris seemed radiant to
him, more beautiful than ever. "Decidedly the springtime revarnishes the
whole world," was his reflection.

He was in one of those periods of mental excitement when one understands
everything with more pleasure, when the vision is clearer and more
comprehensive, when one feels a keener joy in seeing and feeling, as if
an all-powerful hand had brightened all the colors of earth, reanimated
all living creatures, and had wound up in us, as in a watch that has
stopped, the activity of sensation.

He thought, as his glance took in a thousand amusing things: "And I said
that there were moments when I could no longer find subjects to paint!"

He felt such a sensation of freedom and clear-sightedness that all his
artistic work seemed commonplace to him, and he conceived a new way of
expressing life, truer and more original; and suddenly he was seized
with a desire to return home and work, so he retraced his steps and shut
himself up in his studio.

But as soon as he was alone, before a newly begun picture, the ardor
that had burned in his blood began to cool. He felt tired, sat down on
his divan, and again gave himself up to dreaming.

The sort of happy indifference in which he lived, that carelessness of
the satisfied man whose almost every need is gratified, was leaving his
heart by degrees, as if something were still lacking. He realized that
his house was empty and his studio deserted. Then, looking around him,
he fancied he saw pass by him the shadow of a woman whose presence was
sweet. For a long time he had forgotten the sensation of impatience
that a lover feels when awaiting the coming of his mistress, and now he
suddenly felt that she was far away, and he longed, with the ardor of a
young man, to have her near him.

He was moved in thinking how much they had loved each other; and in
that vast apartment he found once more, where she had come so often,
innumerable reminders of her, her gestures, words, and kisses. He
recalled certain days, certain hours, certain moments, and he felt
around him the sweetness of her early caresses.

He got up, unable to sit quietly any longer, and began to walk, thinking
again that, in spite of this intimacy that had so filled his life, he
still remained alone, always alone. After the long hours of work, when
he looked around him, dazed by the reawakening of the man who returns to
life, he saw and felt only walls within reach of his hand and voice.
Not having any woman in his home, and not being able to meet the one he
loved except with the precautions of a thief, he had been compelled to
spend his leisure time in public places where one finds or purchases the
means of killing time. He was accustomed to going to the club, to the
Cirque and the Hippodrome, on fixed days, to the Opera, and to all sorts
of places, so that he should not be compelled to go home, where no doubt
he would have lived in perfect happiness had he only had her beside him.

Long before, in certain hours of tender abandon, he had suffered cruelly
because he could not take her and keep her with him; then, as his ardor
cooled, he had accepted quietly their separation and his own liberty;
now he regretted them once more, as if he were again beginning to love
her. And this return of tenderness invaded his heart so suddenly, almost
without reason, because the weather was fine, and possibly because a
little while ago he had recognized the rejuvenated voice of that woman!
How slight a thing it takes to move a man's heart, a man who is growing
old, with whom remembrance turns into regret!

As in former days, the need of seeing her again came to him, entering
body and mind, like a fever; and he began to think after the fashion of
a young lover, exalting her in his heart, and feeling himself exalted in
his desire for her; then he decided, although he had seen her only that
morning, to go and ask for a cup of tea that same evening.

The hours seemed long to him, and as he set out for the Boulevard
Malesherbes he was seized with a fear of not finding her, which would
force him still to pass the evening alone, as he had passed so many
others.

To his query: "Is the Countess at home?" the servant's answer, "Yes,
Monsieur," filled him with joy.

He said, with a radiant air: "It is I again!" as he appeared at the
threshold of the smaller drawing-room where the two ladies were working,
under the pink shade of a double lamp of English metal, on a high and
slender standard.

"What, is it you? How fortunate!" exclaimed the Countess.

"Well, yes. I feel very lonely, so I came."

"How nice of you!"

"You are expecting someone?"

"No--perhaps--I never know."

He had seated himself and now looked scornfully at the gray
knitting-work that mother and daughter were swiftly making from heavy
wool, working at it with long needles.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Coverlets."

"For the poor?"

"Yes, of course."

"It is very ugly."

"It is very warm."

"Possibly, but it is very ugly, especially in a Louis Fifteenth
apartment, where everything else charms the eye. If not for your poor,
you really ought to make your charities more elegant, for the sake of
your friends."

"Oh, heavens, these men!" said the Countess, with a shrug of her
shoulders. "Why, everyone is making this kind of coverlets just now."

"I know that; I know it only too well! Once cannot make an evening call
now without seeing that frightful gray stuff dragged over the prettiest
gowns and the most elegant furniture. Bad taste seems to be the fashion
this spring."

To judge whether he spoke the truth, the Countess spread out her
knitting on a silk-covered chair beside her; then she assented
indifferently:

"Yes, you are right--it is ugly."

Then she resumed her work. Upon the two bent heads fell a stream
of light; a rosy radiance from the lamp illumined their hair and
complexions, extending to their skirts and their moving fingers. They
watched their work with that attention, light but continuous, given
by women to this labor of the fingers which the eye follows without a
thought.

At the four corners of the room four other lamps of Chinese porcelain,
borne by ancient columns of gilded wood, shed upon the hangings a soft,
even light, modified by lace shades thrown over the globes.

Bertin took a very low seat, a dwarf armchair, in which he could barely
seat himself, but which he had always preferred when talking with the
Countess because it brought him almost at her feet.

"You took a long walk with Nane this afternoon in the park," said the
Countess.

"Yes. We chatted like old friends. I like your daughter very much. She
resembles you very strongly. When she pronounces certain phrases, one
would believe that you had left your voice in her mouth."

"My husband has already said that very often."

He watched the two women work, bathed in the lamplight, and the thought
that had often made him suffer, which had given him suffering that day,
even--the recollection of his desolate home, still, silent, and cold,
whatever the weather, whatever fire might be lighted in chimney or
furnace--saddened him as if he now understood his bachelor's isolation
for the first time.

Oh, how deeply he longed to be the husband of this woman, and not her
lover! Once he had desired to carry her away, to take her from that man,
to steal her altogether. To-day he was jealous of him, that deceived
husband who was installed beside her forever, in the habits of her
household and under the sweet influence of her presence. In looking at
her he felt his heart full of old things revived, of which he wished
to speak. Certainly, he still loved her very much, even a little more
to-day than he had for some time; and the desire to tell her of this
return of youthful feeling, which would be sure to delight her, made him
wish that she would send the young girl to bed as soon as possible.

Obsessed by this strong desire to be alone with her, to sit near her and
lay his head on her knee, to take the hands from which would slip the
quilt for the poor, the needles, and the ball of wool, which would roll
under a sofa at the end of a long, unwound thread, he looked at the
time, relapsed into almost complete silence, and thought that it was
a great mistake to allow young girls to pass the evening with grown-up
persons.

Presently a sound of footsteps was heard in the next room, and a servant
appeared at the door announcing:

"Monsieur de Musadieu."

Olivier Bertin felt a spasm of anger, and when he shook hands with
the Inspector of Fine Arts he had a great desire to take him by the
shoulders and throw him into the street.

Musadieu was full of news; the ministry was about to fall, and there
was a whisper of scandal about the Marquis de Rocdiane. He looked at the
young girl, adding: "I will tell you about that a little later."

The Countess raised her eyes to the clock and saw that it was about to
strike ten.

"It is time to go to bed, my child," she said to her daughter.

Without replying, Annette folded her knitting-work, rolled up her ball
of wool, kissed her mother on the cheeks, gave her hand to the
two gentlemen, and departed quickly, as if she glided away without
disturbing the air as she went.

"Well, what is your scandal?" her mother demanded, as soon as she had
gone.

It appeared that rumor said that the Marquis de Rocdiane, amicably
separated from his wife, who paid to him an allowance that he considered
insufficient, had discovered a sure if singular means to double it.
The Marquise, whom he had had watched, had been surprised _in flagrante
delictu_, and was compelled to buy off, with an increased allowance, the
legal proceedings instituted by the police commissioner.

The Countess listened with curious gaze, her idle hands holding the
interrupted needle-work on her knee.

Bertin, who was still more exasperated by Musadieu's presence since
Annette had gone, was incensed at this recital, and declared, with the
indignation of one who had known of the scandal but did not wish to
speak of it to anyone, that the story was an odious falsehood, one of
those shameful lies which people of their world ought neither to listen
to nor repeat. He appeared greatly wrought up over the matter, as he
stood leaning against the mantelpiece and speaking with the excited
manner of a man disposed to make a personal question of the subject
under discussion.

Rocdiane was his friend, he said; and, though he might be criticised for
frivolity in certain respects, no one could justly accuse him or even
suspect him of any really unworthy action. Musadieu, surprised and
embarrassed, defended himself, tried to explain and to excuse himself.

"Allow me to say," he remarked at last, "that I heard this story just
before I came here, in the drawing-room of the Duchesse de Mortemain."

"Who told it to you? A woman, no doubt," said Bertin.

"No, not at all; it was the Marquis de Farandal."

The painter, irritated still further, retorted: "That does not astonish
me--from him!"

There was a brief silence. The Countess took up her work again.
Presently Olivier said in a calmer voice: "I know for a fact that that
story is false."

In reality, he knew nothing whatever about it, having heard it mentioned
then for the first time.

Musadieu thought it wise to prepare the way for his retreat, feeling
the situation rather dangerous; and he was just beginning to say that
he must pay a visit at the Corbelles' that evening when the Comte de
Guilleroy appeared, returning from dining in the city.

Bertin sat down again, overcome, and despairing now of getting rid of
the husband.

"You haven't heard, have you, of the great scandal that is running all
over town this evening?" inquired the Count pleasantly.

As no one answered, he continued: "It seems that Rocdiane surprised
his wife in a criminal situation, and has made her pay dearly for her
indiscretion."

Then Bertin, with his melancholy air, with grief in voice and gesture,
placing one hand on Guilleroy's shoulder, repeated in a gentle and
amicable manner all that he had just said so roughly to Musadieu.

The Count, half convinced, annoyed to have allowed himself to repeat
so lightly a doubtful and possibly compromising thing, pleaded his
ignorance and his innocence. The gossips said so many false and wicked
things!

Suddenly, all agreed upon this statement: the world certainly accused,
suspected, and calumniated with deplorable facility! All four appeared
to be convinced, during the next five minutes, that all the whispered
scandals were lies; that the women did not have the lovers ascribed to
them; that the men never committed the sins they were accused of; and,
in short, that the outward appearance of things was usually much worse
than the real situation.

Bertin, who no longer felt vexed with Musadieu since De Guilleroy's
arrival, was now very pleasant to him, led him to talk on his favorite
subjects, and opened the sluices of his eloquence. The Count wore the
contented air of a man who carries everywhere with him an atmosphere of
peace and cordiality.

Two servants noiselessly entered the drawing-room, bearing the
tea-table, on which the boiling water steamed in a pretty, shining
kettle over the blue flame of an alcohol lamp.

The Countess rose, prepared the hot beverage with the care and
precaution we have learned from the Russians, then offered a cup to
Musadieu, another to Bertin, following this with plates containing
sandwiches of _pate de foies gras_ and little English and Austrian
cakes.

The Count approached the portable table, where was also an assortment of
syrups, liqueurs, and glasses; he mixed himself a drink, then discreetly
disappeared into the next room.

Bertin found himself again facing Musadieu, and felt once more the
sudden desire to thrust outside this bore, who, now put on his mettle,
talked at great length, told stories, repeated jests, and made some
himself. The painter glanced continually at the clock, the hands of
which approached midnight. The Countess noticed his glances, understood
that he wished to speak to her alone, and, with that ability of a clever
woman of the world to change by indescribable shades of tone the whole
atmosphere of a drawing-room, to make it understood, without saying
anything, whether one is to remain or to go, she diffused about her,
by her attitude alone, by the bored expression of her face and eyes, a
chill as if she had just opened a window.

Musadieu felt this chilly current freezing his flow of ideas; and,
without asking himself the reason, he felt a sudden desire to rise and
depart.

Bertin, as a matter of discretion, followed his example. The two men
passed through both drawing-rooms together, followed by the Countess,
who talked to the painter all the while. She detained him at the
threshold of the ante-chamber to make some trifling explanation, while
Musadieu, assisted by a footman, put on his topcoat. As Madame de
Guilleroy continued to talk to Bertin, the Inspector of Fine Arts,
having waited some seconds before the front door, held open by another
servant, decided to depart himself rather than stand there facing the
footman any longer.

The door was closed softly behind him, and the Countess said to the
artist in a perfectly easy tone:

"Why do you go so soon? It is not yet midnight. Stay a little longer."

They reentered the smaller drawing-room together and seated themselves.

"My God! how that animal set my teeth on edge!" said Bertin.

"Why, pray?"

"He took you away from me a little."

"Oh, not very much."

"Perhaps not, but he irritated me."

"Are you jealous?"

"It is not being jealous to find a man a bore."

He had taken his accustomed armchair, and seated close beside her now
he smoothed the folds of her robe with his fingers as he told her of the
warm breath of tenderness that had passed through his heart that day.

The Countess listened, surprised, charmed, and gently laid her hand on
his white locks, which she caressed tenderly, as if to thank him.

"I should like so much to live always near you!" he sighed.

He was thinking of her husband, who had retired to rest, asleep, no
doubt, in some neighboring chamber, and he continued:

"It is undoubtedly true that marriage is the only thing that really
unites two lives."

"My poor friend!" she murmured, full of pity for him and also for
herself.

He had laid his cheek against the Countess's knees, and he looked up at
her with a tenderness touched with sadness, less ardently than a short
time before, when he had been separated from her by her daughter, her
husband, and Musadieu.

"Heavens! how white your hair has grown!" said the Countess with a
smile, running her fingers lightly over Olivier's head. "Your last black
hairs have disappeared."

"Alas! I know it. Everything goes so soon!"

She was concerned lest she had made him sad.

"Oh, but your hair turned gray very early, you know," she said. "I have
always known you with pepper-and-salt locks."

"Yes, that is true."

In order to dispel altogether the slight cloud of regret she had evoked,
she leaned over him and, taking his head between her hands, kissed him
slowly and tenderly on the forehead, with long kisses that seemed as if
they never would end. Then they gazed into each other's eyes, seeking
therein the reflection of their mutual fondness.

"I should like so much to pass a whole day with you," Bertin continued.
He felt himself tormented obscurely by an inexpressible necessity
for close intimacy. He had believed, only a short time ago, that the
departure of those who had been present would suffice to realize the
desire that had possessed him since morning; and now that he was alone
with his mistress, now that he felt on his brow the touch of her hands,
and, against his cheek, through the folds of her skirt, the warmth of
her body, he felt the same agitation reawakened, the same longing for
a love hitherto unknown and ever fleeing him. He now fancied that, away
from that house--perhaps in the woods where they would be absolutely
alone--this deep yearning of his heart would be calmed and satisfied.

"What a boy you are!" said the Countess. "Why, we see each other almost
every day."

He begged her to devise a plan whereby she might breakfast with him, in
some suburb of Paris, as she had already done four or five times.

The Countess was astonished at his caprice, so difficult to realize now
that her daughter had returned. She assured him that she would try to
do it as soon as her husband should go to Ronces; but that it would be
impossible before the varnishing-day reception, which would take place
the following Saturday.

"And until then when shall I see you?" he asked.

"To-morrow evening at the Corbelles'. Come over here Thursday, at three
o'clock, if you are free; and I believe that we are to dine together
with the Duchess on Friday."

"Yes, exactly."

He arose.

"Good-by!"

"Good-by, my friend."

He remained standing, unable to decide to go, for he had said almost
nothing of all that he had come to say, and his mind was still full of
unsaid things, his heart still swelled with vague desires which he could
not express.

"Good-bye!" he repeated, taking her hands.

"Good-by, my friend!"

"I love you!"

She gave him one of those smiles with which a woman shows a man, in a
single instant, all that she has given him.

With a throbbing heart he repeated for the third time, "Good-by!" and
departed.



CHAPTER IV

A DOUBLE JEALOUSY

One would have said that all the carriages in Paris were making a
pilgrimage to the Palais de l'Industrie that day. As early as nine
o'clock in the morning they began to drive, by way of all streets,
avenues, and bridges, toward that hall of the fine arts where all
artistic Paris invites all fashionable Paris to be present at the
pretended varnishing of three thousand four hundred pictures.

A long procession of visitors pressed through the doors, and, disdaining
the exhibition of sculpture, hastened upstairs to the picture gallery.
Even while mounting the steps they raised their eyes to the canvases
displayed on the walls of the staircase, where they hang the special
category of decorative painters who have sent canvases of unusual
proportions or works that the committee dare not refuse.

In the square salon a great crowd surged and rustled. The artists,
who were in evidence until evening, were easily recognized by their
activity, the sonorousness of their voices, and the authority of their
gestures. They drew their friends by the sleeve toward the pictures,
which they pointed out with exclamations and mimicry of a connoisseur's
energy. All types of artists were to be seen--tall men with long hair,
wearing hats of mouse-gray or black and of indescribable shapes,
large and round like roofs, with their turned-down brims shadowing
the wearer's whole chest. Others were short, active, slight or stocky,
wearing foulard cravats and round jackets, or the sack-like garment of
the singular costume peculiar to this class of painters.

There was the clan of the fashionables, of the curious, and of artists
of the boulevard; the clan of Academicians, correct, and decorated
with red rosettes, enormous or microscopic, according to individual
conception of elegance and good form; the clan of bourgeois painters,
assisted by the family surrounding the father like a triumphal chorus.

On the four great walls the canvases admitted to the honor of the
square salon dazzled one at the very entrance by their brilliant tones,
glittering frames, the crudity of new color, vivified by fresh varnish,
blinding under the pitiless light poured from above.

The portrait of the President of the Republic faced the entrance; while
on another wall a general bedizened with gold lace, sporting a hat
decorated with ostrich plumes, and wearing red cloth breeches, hung in
pleasant proximity to some naked nymphs under a willow-tree, and near
by was a vessel in distress almost engulfed by a great wave. A bishop
of the early Church excommunicating a barbarian king, an Oriental street
full of dead victims of the plague, and the Shade of Dante in Hell,
seized and captivated the eye with irresistible fascination.

Other paintings in the immense room were a charge of cavalry;
sharpshooters in a wood; cows in a pasture; two noblemen of the
eighteenth century fighting a duel on a street corner; a madwoman
sitting on a wall; a priest administering the last rites to a dying man;
harvesters, rivers, a sunset, a moonlight effect--in short, samples of
everything that artists paint, have painted, and will paint until the
end of the world.

Olivier, in the midst of a group of celebrated brother painters, members
of the Institute and of the jury, exchanged opinions with them. He
was oppressed by a certain uneasiness, a dissatisfaction with his own
exhibited work, of the success of which he was very doubtful, in spite
of the warm congratulations he had received.

Suddenly he sprang forward; the Duchesse de Mortemain had appeared at
the main entrance.

"Hasn't the Countess arrived yet?" she inquired of Bertin.

"I have not seen her."

"And Monsieur de Musadieu?"

"I have not seen him either."

"He promised me to be here at ten o'clock, at the top of the stairs, to
show me around the principal galleries."

"Will you permit me to take his place, Duchess?"

"No, no. Your friends need you. We shall see each other again very soon,
for I shall expect you to lunch with us."

Musadieu hastened toward them. He had been detained for some minutes in
the hall of sculpture, and excused himself, breathless already.

"This way, Duchess, this way," said he. "Let us begin at the right."

They were just disappearing among the throng when the Comtesse de
Guilleroy, leaning on her daughter's arm, entered and looked around in
search of Olivier Bertin.

He saw them and hastened to meet them. As he greeted the two ladies, he
said:

"How charming you look to-day. Really, Nanette has improved very much.
She has actually changed in a week."

He regarded her with the eye of a close observer, adding: "The lines of
her face are softer, yet more expressive; her complexion is clearer.
She is already something less of a little girl and somewhat more of a
Parisian."

Suddenly he bethought himself of the grand affair of the day.

"Let us begin at the right," said he, "and we shall soon overtake the
Duchess."

The Countess, well informed on all matters connected with painting, and
as preoccupied as if she were herself on exhibition, inquired: "What do
they say of the exposition?"

"A fine one," Bertin replied. "There is a remarkable Bonnat, two
excellent things by Carolus Duran, an admirable Puvis de Chavannes, a
very new and astonishing Roll, an exquisite Gervex, and many others, by
Beraud, Cazin, Duez--in short, a heap of good things."

"And you?" said the Countess.

"Oh, they compliment me, but I am not satisfied."

"You never are satisfied."

"Yes, sometimes. But to-day I really feel that I am right."

"Why?"

"I do not know."

"Let us go to see it."

When they arrived before Bertin's picture--two little peasant-girls
taking a bath in a brook--they found a group admiring it. The Countess
was delighted, and whispered: "It is simply a delicious bit--a jewel!
You never have done anything better."

Bertin pressed close to her, loving her and thanking her for every word
that calmed his suffering and healed his aching heart. Through his mind
ran arguments to convince him that she was right, that she must judge
accurately with the intelligent observation of an experienced Parisian.
He forgot, so desirous was he to reassure himself, that for at least
twelve years he had justly reproached her for too much admiring the
dainty trifles, the elegant nothings, the sentimentalities and nameless
trivialities of the passing fancy of the day, and never art, art alone,
art detached from the popular ideas, tendencies, and prejudices.

"Let us go on," said he, drawing them away from his picture. He led them
for a long time from gallery to gallery, showing them notable canvases
and explaining their subjects, happy to be with them.

"What time is it?" the Countess asked suddenly.

"Half after twelve."

"Oh, let us hasten to luncheon then. The Duchess must be waiting for us
at Ledoyen's, where she charged me to bring you, in case we should not
meet her in the galleries."

The restaurant, in the midst of a little island of trees and shrubs,
seemed like an overflowing hive. A confused hum of voices, calls, the
rattling of plates and glasses came from the open windows and large
doors. The tables, set close together and filled with people eating,
extended in long rows right and left of a narrow passage, up and down
which ran the distracted waiters, holding along their arms dishes filled
with meats, fish, or fruit.

Under the circular gallery there was such a throng of men and women as
to suggest a living pate. Everyone there laughed, called out, drank and
ate, enlivened by the wines and inundated by one of those waves of joy
that sweep over Paris, on certain days, with the sunshine.

An attendant showed the Countess, Annette, and Bertin upstairs into
a reserved room, where the Duchess awaited them. As they entered, the
painter observed, beside his aunt, the Marquis de Farandal, attentive
and smiling, and extending his hand to receive the parasols and wraps of
the Countess and her daughter. He felt again so much displeasure that he
suddenly desired to say rude and irritating things.

The Duchess explained the meeting of her nephew and the departure of
Musadieu, who had been carried off by the Minister of the Fine Arts, and
Bertin, at the thought that this insipidly good-looking Marquis might
marry Annette, that he had come there only to see her, and that he
regarded her already as destined to share his bed, unnerved and revolted
him, as if some one had ignored his own rights--sacred and mysterious
rights.

As soon as they were at table, the Marquis, who sat beside the young
girl, occupied himself in talking to her with the devoted air of a man
authorized to pay his addresses.

He assumed a curious manner, which seemed to the painter bold and
searching; his smiles were satisfied and almost tender, his gallantry
was familiar and officious. In manner and word appeared already
something of decision, as if he were about to announce that he had won
the prize.

The Duchess and the Countess seemed to protect and approve this attitude
of a pretender, and exchanged glances of complicity.

As soon as the luncheon was finished the party returned to the
Exposition. There was such a dense crowd in the galleries, it seemed
impossible to penetrate it. An odor of perspiring humanity, a stale
smell of old gowns and coats, made an atmosphere at once heavy and
sickening. No one looked at the pictures any more, but at faces and
toilets, seeking out well-known persons; and at times came a great
jostling of the crowd as it was forced to give way before the high
double ladder of the varnishers, who cried: "Make way, Messieurs! Make
way, Mesdames!"

At the end of ten minutes, the Countess and Olivier found themselves
separated from the others. He wished to find them immediately, but,
leaning upon him, the Countess said: "Are we not very well off as it
is? Let them go, since it is quite natural that we should lose sight of
them; we will meet them again in the buffet at four o'clock."

"That is true," he replied.

But he was absorbed by the idea that the Marquis was accompanying
Annette and continuing his attempts to please her by his fatuous and
affected gallantry.

"You love me always, then?" murmured the Countess.

"Yes, certainly," he replied, with a preoccupied air, trying to catch a
glimpse of the Marquis's gray hat over the heads of the crowd.

Feeling that he was abstracted, and wishing to lead him back to her own
train of thought, the Countess continued:

"If you only knew how I adore your picture of this year! It is certainly
your _chef-d'oeuvre_."

He smiled, suddenly, forgetting the young people in remembering his
anxiety of the morning.

"Do you really think so?" he asked.

"Yes, I prefer it above all others."

With artful wheedling, she crowned him anew, having known well for a
long time that nothing has a stronger effect on an artist than tender
and continuous flattery. Captivated, reanimated, cheered by her sweet
words, he began again to chat gaily, seeing and hearing only her in that
tumultuous throng.

By way of expressing his thanks, he murmured in her ear: "I have a mad
desire to embrace you!"

A warm wave of emotion swept over her, and, raising her shining eyes to
his, she repeated her question: "You love me always, then?"

He replied, with the intonation she wished to hear, and which she had
not heard before:

"Yes, I love you, my dear Any."

"Come often to see me in the evenings," she said. "Now that I have my
daughter I shall not go out very much."

Since she had recognized in him this unexpected reawakening of
tenderness, her heart was stirred with great happiness. In view of
Olivier's silvery hair, and the calming touch of time, she had not
suspected that he was fascinated by another woman, but she was terribly
afraid that, from pure dread of loneliness, he might marry. This fear,
which was of long standing, increased constantly, and set her wits
to contriving plans whereby she might have him near her as much as
possible, and to see that he should not pass long evenings alone in the
chill silence of his empty rooms. Not being always able to hold and
keep him, she would suggest amusements for him, sent him to the theater,
forced him to go into society, being better pleased to know that he was
mingling with many other women than alone in his gloomy house.

She resumed, answering his secret thought: "Ah, if I could only have you
always with me, how I should spoil you! Promise me to come often, since
I hardly go out at all now."

"I promise it."

At that moment a voice murmured "Mamma!" in her ear.

The Countess started and turned. Annette, the Duchess, and the Marquis
had just rejoined them.

"It is four o'clock," said the Duchess. "I am very tired and I wish to
go now."

"I will go, too; I have had enough of it," said the Countess.

They reached the interior stairway which divides the galleries where
the drawings and water-colors are hung, overlooking the immense garden
inclosed in glass, where the works of sculpture are exhibited.

From the platform of this stairway they could see from one end to the
other of this great conservatory, filled with statues set up along the
pathway around large green shrubs, and below was the crowd which covered
the paths like a moving black wave. The marbles rose from this mass of
dark hats and shoulders, piercing it in a thousand places, and seeming
almost luminous in their dazzling whiteness.

As Bertin took leave of the ladies at the door of exit, Madame de
Guilleroy whispered:

"Then--will you come this evening?"

"Yes, certainly."

Bertin reentered the Exposition, to talk with the artists over the
impressions of the day.

Painters and sculptors stood talking in groups around the statues and
in front of the buffet, upholding or attacking the same ideas that were
discussed every year, using the same arguments over works almost exactly
similar. Olivier, who usually took a lively share in these disputes,
being quick in repartee and clever in disconcerting attacks, besides
having a reputation as an ingenious theorist of which he was proud,
tried to urge himself to take an active part in the debates, but the
things he said interested him no more than those he heard, and he longed
to go away, to listen no more, to understand no more, knowing beforehand
as he did all that anyone could say on those ancient questions of art,
of which he knew all sides.

He loved these things, however, and had loved them until now in an
almost exclusive way; but to-day he was distracted by one of those
slight but persistent preoccupations, one of those petty anxieties which
are so small we ought not to allow ourselves to be troubled by them, but
which, in spite of all we do or say, prick through our thoughts like an
invisible thorn buried in the flesh.

He had even forgotten his anxiety over his little peasant bathers in the
remembrance of the displeasing idea of the Marquis approaching Annette.
What did it matter to him, after all? Had he any right? Why should he
wish to prevent this precious marriage, already arranged, and suitable
from every point of view? But no reasoning could efface that impression
of uneasiness and discontent which had seized him when he had beheld
Farandal talking and smiling like an accepted suitor, caressing with his
glances the fair face of the young girl.

When he entered the Countess's drawing-room that evening, and found her
alone with her daughter, continuing by the lamplight their knitting
for the poor, he had great difficulty in preventing himself from saying
sneering things about the Marquis, and from revealing to Annette his
real banality, veiled by a mask of elegance and good form.

For a long time, during these after-dinner evening visits, he had often
allowed himself to lapse into occasional silence that was slightly
somnolent, and was accustomed to fall into the easy attitudes of an old
friend who does not stand on ceremony. But now he seemed suddenly to
rouse himself and to show the alertness of men who do their best to be
agreeable, who take thought as to what they wish to say, and who, before
certain persons, seek for the best phrases in which to express
their ideas and render them attractive. No longer did he allow the
conversation to lag, but did his best to keep it bright and interesting;
and when he had made the Countess and her daughter laugh gaily, when he
felt that he had touched their emotions, or when they ceased to work in
order to listen to him, he felt a thrill of pleasure, an assurance of
success, which rewarded him for his efforts.

He came now every time that he knew they were alone, and never, perhaps,
had he passed such delightful evenings.

Madame de Guilleroy, whose continual fears were soothed by this
assiduity, made fresh efforts to attract him and to keep him near her.
She refused invitations to dinners in the city, she did not go to balls,
nor to the theaters, in order to have the joy of throwing into the
telegraph-box, on going out at three o'clock, a little blue despatch
which said: "Come to-night." At first, wishing to give him earlier the
tete-a-tete that he desired, she had sent her daughter to bed as soon
as it was ten o'clock. Then after one occasion when he had appeared
surprised at this and had begged laughingly that Annette should not
be treated any longer like a naughty little girl, she had allowed her
daughter a quarter of an hour's grace, then half an hour, and finally a
whole hour. Bertin never remained long after the young girl had retired;
it was as if half the charm that held him there had departed with her.
He would soon take the little low seat that he preferred beside the
Countess and lay his cheek against her knee with a caressing movement.
She would give him one of her hands, which he clasped in his, and the
fever of his spirit would suddenly be abated; he ceased to talk, and
appeared to find repose in tender silence from the effort he had made.

Little by little the Countess, with the keenness of feminine instinct,
comprehended that Annette attracted him almost as much as she herself.
This did not anger her; she was glad that between them he could find
something of that domestic happiness which he lacked; and she imprisoned
him between them, as it were, playing the part of tender mother in such
a way that he might almost believe himself the young girl's father; and
a new bond of tenderness was added to that which had always held him to
this household.

Her personal vanity, always alert, but disturbed since she had felt in
several ways, like almost invisible pin-pricks, the innumerable attacks
of advancing age, took on a new allurement. In order to become as
slender as Annette, she continued to drink nothing, and the real
slimness of her figure gave her the appearance of a young girl. When her
back was turned one could hardly distinguish her from Annette; but
her face showed the effect of this regime. The plump flesh began to be
wrinkled and took on a yellowish tint which rendered more dazzling by
contrast the superb freshness of the young girl's complexion. Then the
Countess began to make up her face with theatrical art, and, though in
broad daylight she produced an effect that was slightly artificial, in
the evening her complexion had that charmingly soft tint obtained by
women who know how to make up well.

The realization of her fading beauty, and the employment of artificial
aid to restore it, somewhat changed her habits. As much as possible,
she avoided comparison with her daughter in the full light of day, but
rather sought it by lamplight, which, if anything, showed herself to
greater advantage. When she was fatigued, pale, and felt that she looked
older than usual, she had convenient headaches by reason of which she
excused herself from going to balls and theaters; but on days when she
knew she looked well she triumphed again and played the elder sister
with the grave modesty of a little mother. In order always to wear gowns
like those of her daughter, she made Annette wear toilettes suitable
for a fully-grown young woman, a trifle too old for her; and Annette who
showed more and more plainly her joyous and laughing disposition, wore
them with sparkling vivacity that rendered her still more attractive.
She lent herself with all her heart to the coquettish arts of her
mother, acting with her, as if by instinct, graceful little domestic
scenes; she knew when to embrace her at the effective moment, how to
clasp her tenderly round the waist, and to show by a movement, a caress,
or some ingenious pose, how pretty both were and how much they resembled
each other.

From seeing the two so much together, and from continually comparing
them, Olivier Bertin sometimes actually confused them in his own mind.
Sometimes, when Annette spoke, and he happened to be looking elsewhere,
he was compelled to ask: "Which of you said that?" He often amused
himself by playing this game of confusion when all three were alone in
the drawing-room with the Louis XV tapestries. He would close his eyes
and beg them to ask him the same question, the one after the other, and
then change the order of the interrogations, so that he might recognize
their voices. They did this with so much cleverness in imitating each
other's intonations, in saying the same phrases with the same accents,
that often he could not tell which spoke. In fact, they had come to
speak so much alike that the servants answered "Yes, Madame" to the
daughter and "Yes, Mademoiselle" to the mother.

From imitating each other's voices and movements for amusement,
they acquired such a similarity of gait and gesture that Monsieur de
Guilleroy himself, when he saw one or the other pass through the shadowy
end of the drawing-room, confounded them for an instant and asked: "Is
that you, Annette, or is it your mamma?"

From this resemblance, natural and assumed, was engendered in the mind
and heart of the painter a strange impression of a double entity, old
and young, wise yet ignorant, two bodies made, the one after the other,
with the same flesh; in fact, the same woman continued, but rejuvenated,
having become once more what she was formerly. Thus he lived near them,
shared between them, uneasy, troubled, feeling for the mother his old
ardor awakened, and for the daughter an indefinable tenderness.



PART II



CHAPTER I

A WILLING ENVOY


"Paris, July 20, 11 P. M.

"MY FRIEND: My mother has just died at Roncieres. We shall leave here at
midnight. Do not come, for we have told no one. But pity me and think of
me. YOUR ANY."


"July 21, 12 M.

"MY POOR FRIEND: I should have gone, notwithstanding what you wrote, if
I had not become used to regarding all your wishes as commands. I have
thought of you with poignant grief ever since last night. I think of
that silent journey you made, sitting opposite your daughter and your
husband, in that dimly-lighted carriage, which bore you toward your
dead. I could see all three of you under the oil lamp, you weeping and
Annette sobbing. I saw your arrival at the station, the entrance of
the castle in the midst of a group of servants, your rush up the stairs
toward that room, toward that bed where she lies, your first look at
her, and your kiss on her thin, motionless face. And I thought of your
heart, your poor heart--that poor heart, of which half belongs to me and
which is breaking, which suffers so much, which stifles you, making me
suffer also at this moment.

"With profound pity, I kiss your eyes filled with tears.

"OLIVIER."


"Roncieres, July 24.

"Your letter would have done me good, my friend, if anything could do me
good in the horrible situation into which I have fallen. We buried her
yesterday, and since her poor lifeless body has gone out of this house
it seems to me that I am alone in the world. We love our mothers almost
without knowing or feeling it, for such love is as natural as it is
to live, and we do not realize how deep-rooted is that love until the
moment of final separation. No other affection is comparable to that,
for all others come by chance, while this begins at birth; all the
others are brought to us later by the accidents of life, while this
has lived in our very blood since our first day on earth. And then, and
there, we have lost not only a mother but our childhood itself, which
half disappears, for our little life of girlhood belonged to her as
much as to ourselves. She alone knew it as we knew it; she knew about
innumerable things, remote, insignificant and dear, which are and which
were the first sweet emotions of our heart. To her alone I could still
say: 'Do you remember, mother, the day when--? Do you remember, mother,
the china doll that grandmother gave me?' Both of us murmured to each
other a long, sweet chapter of trifling childish memories, which no
one on earth now knows of but me. So it is a part of myself that is
dead--the older, the better. I have lost the poor heart wherein the
little girl I was once still lived. Now no one knows her any more; no
one remembers the little Anne, her short skirts, her laughter and her
faces.

"And a day will come--and perhaps it is not far away--when in my turn I
too shall go, leaving my dear Annette alone in the world, as mamma has
left me to-day. How sad all this is, how hard, and cruel! Yet one never
thinks about it; we never look about us to see death take someone every
instant, as it will soon take us. If we should look at it, if we should
think of it, if we were not distracted, rejoiced, or blinded by all that
passes before us, we could no longer live, for the sight of this endless
massacre would drive us mad.

"I am so crushed, so despairing, that I have no longer strength to do
anything. Day and night I think of my poor mamma, nailed in that box,
buried beneath that earth, in that field, under the rain, whose old
face, which I used to kiss with so much happiness, is now only a mass of
frightful decay! Oh, what horror!

"When I lost papa, I was just married, and I did not feel all these
things as I do to-day. Yes, pity me, think of me, write to me. I need
you so much just now.

"ANNE."


"Paris, July 25.

"MY POOR FRIEND: Your grief gives me horrible pain, and life no longer
seems rosy to me. Since your departure I am lost, abandoned, without
ties or refuge. Everything fatigues me, bores me and irritates me. I am
ceaselessly thinking of you and Annette; I feel that you are both far,
far away when I need you near me so much.

"It is extraordinary how far away from me you seem to be, and how I miss
you. Never, even in my younger days, have you been my _all_, as you are
at this moment. I have foreseen for some time that I should reach this
crisis, which must be a sun-stroke in Indian summer. What I feel is so
very strange that I wish to tell you about it. Just fancy that since
your absence I cannot take walks any more! Formerly, and even during the
last few months, I liked very much to set out alone and stroll along the
street, amusing myself by looking at people and things, and enjoying
the mere sight of everything and the exercise of walking. I used to walk
along without knowing where I was going, simply to walk, to breathe, to
dream. Now, I can no longer do this. As soon as I reach the street I
am oppressed by anguish, like the fear of a blind man that has lost his
dog. I become uneasy, exactly like a traveler that has lost his way
in the wood, and I am compelled to return home. Paris seems empty,
frightful, alarming. I ask myself: 'Where am I going?' I answer myself:
'Nowhere, since I am still walking.' Well, I cannot, for I can no longer
walk without some aim. The bare thought of walking straight before me
wearies and bores me inexpressibly. Then I drag my melancholy to the
club.

"And do you know why? Only because you are no longer here. I am certain
of this. When I know that you are in Paris, my walks are no longer
useless, for it is possible that I may meet you in the first street I
turn into. I can go anywhere because you may go anywhere. If I do not
see you, I may at least find Annette, who is an emanation of yourself.
You and she fill the streets full of hope for me--the hope of
recognizing you, whether you approach me from a distance, or whether
I divine your identity in following you. And then the city becomes
charming to me, and the women whose figures resemble yours stir my heart
with all the liveliness of the streets, hold my attention, occupy my
eyes, and give me a sort of hunger to see you.

"You will consider me very selfish, my poor friend, to speak to you in
this way of the solitude of an old cooing pigeon when you are shedding
such bitter tears. Pardon me! I am so used to being spoiled by you that
I cry 'Help! Help!' when I have you no longer.

"I kiss your feet so that you may have pity on me.

"OLIVIER."


"Roncieres, July 30.

"MY FRIEND: Thanks for your letter. I need so much to know that you
love me! I have just passed some frightful days. Indeed, I believed that
grief would kill me in my turn.

"It was like a block of suffering in my breast, growing larger and
larger, stifling me, strangling me. The physician that was called to
treat me for the nervous crisis I was enduring, which recurred four or
five times a day, injected morphine, which made me almost wild, and the
great heat we have had aggravated my condition and threw me into a state
of over-excitement that was almost delirium. I am a little more calm
since the great storm of Friday. I must tell you that since the day of
the funeral I could weep no more, but during the storm, the approach
of which upset me, I suddenly felt the tears beginning to flow from my
eyes, slow, small, burning. Oh, those first tears, how they hurt me!
They seemed to tear me, as if they had claws, and my throat was so
choked that I could hardly breathe. Then the tears came faster, larger,
cooler. They ran from my eyes as from a spring, and came so fast that my
handkerchief was saturated and I had to take another. The great block of
grief seemed to soften and to flow away through my eyes.

"From that moment I have been weeping from morning till night, and that
is saving me. One would really end by going mad or dying, if one could
not weep. I am all alone, too. My husband is making some little trips
around the country, and I insisted that he should take Annette with
him, to distract and console her a little. They go in the carriage or on
horseback as far as eight or ten leagues from Roncieres, and she returns
to me rosy with youth, in spite of her sadness, her eyes shining with
life, animated by the country air and the excursion she has had. How
beautiful it is to be at that age! I think that we shall remain here a
fortnight or three weeks longer; then, although it will be August, we
shall return to Paris for the reason you know.

"I send to you all that remains to me of my heart.

"ANY."


"Paris, August 4th.

"I can bear this no longer, my dear friend; you must come back, for
something is certainly going to happen to me. I ask myself whether I am
not already ill, so great a dislike have I for everything I used to take
pleasure in doing, or did with indifferent resignation. For one thing,
it is so warm in Paris that every night means a Turkish bath of eight
or nine hours. I get up overcome by the fatigue of this sleep in a hot
bath, and for an hour or two I walk about before a white canvas, with
the intention to draw something. But mind, eye, and hand are all empty.
I am no longer a painter! This futile effort to work is exasperating. I
summon my models; I place them, and they give me poses, movements, and
expressions that I have painted to satiety. I make them dress again and
let them go. Indeed, I can no longer see anything new, and I suffer from
this as if I were blind. What is it? Is it fatigue of the eye or of the
brain, exhaustion of the artistic faculty or of the optic nerve? Who
knows? It seems to me that I have ceased to discover anything in the
unexplored corner that I have been permitted to visit. I no longer
perceive anything but that which all the world knows; I do the things
that all poor painters have done; I have only one subject now, and only
the observation of a vulgar pedant. Once upon a time, and not so very
long ago, either, the number of new subjects seemed to me unlimited, and
in order to express them I had such a variety of means the difficulty of
making a choice made me hesitate. But now, alas! Suddenly the world of
half-seen subjects has become depopulated, my study has become powerless
and useless. The people that pass have no more sense for me. I no longer
find in every human being the character and savor which once I liked so
much to discern and reveal. I believe, however, that I could make a very
pretty portrait of your daughter. Is it because she resembles you so
much that I confound you both in my mind? Yes, perhaps.

"Well, then, after forcing myself to sketch a man or a woman who does
not resemble any of the familiar models, I decide to go and breakfast
somewhere, for I no longer have the courage to sit down alone in my
own dining-room. The Boulevard Malesherbes seems like a forest path
imprisoned in a dead city. All the houses smell empty. On the street the
sprinklers throw showers of white rain, splashing the wooden pavement
whence rises the vapor of damp tar and stable refuse; and from one
end to the other of the long descent from the Parc Monceau to Saint
Augustin, one sees five or six black forms, unimportant passers,
tradesmen or domestics. The shade of the plane-trees spreads over the
burning sidewalks, making a curious spot, looking almost like liquid, as
if water spilled there were drying. The stillness of the leaves on the
branches, and of their gray silhouettes on the asphalt, expresses the
fatigue of the roasted city, slumbering and perspiring like a workman
asleep on a bench in the sun. Yes, she perspires, the beggar, and she
smells frightfully through her sewer mouths, the vent-holes of sinks and
kitchens, the streams through which the filth of her streets is running.
Then I think of those summer mornings in your orchard full of little
wild-flowers that flavor the air with a suggestion of honey. Then I
enter, sickened already, the restaurant where bald, fat, tired-looking
men are eating, with half-opened waistcoats and moist, shining
foreheads. The food shows the effect of heat--the melon growing soft
under the ice, the soft bread, the flabby filet, the warmed-over
vegetables, the purulent cheese, the fruits ripened on the premises. I
go out, nauseated, and go home to try to sleep a little until the hour
for dinner, which I take at the club.

"There I always find Adelmans, Maldant, Rocdiane, Landa, and many
others, who bore and weary me as much as hand-organs. Each one has his
own little tune, or tunes, which I have heard for fifteen years,
and they play them all together every evening in that club, which is
apparently a place where one goes to be entertained. Someone should
change my own generation for my benefit, for my eyes, my ears, and my
mind have had enough of it. They still make conquests, however, they
boast of them and congratulate one another on them!

"After yawning as many times as there are minutes between eight o'clock
and midnight, I go home and go to bed, and while I undress I think that
the same thing will begin over again the next day.

"Yes, my dear friend, I am at the age when a bachelor's life becomes
intolerable, because there is nothing new for me under the sun. An
unmarried man should be young, curious, eager. When one is no longer
all that, it becomes dangerous to remain free. Heavens! how I loved my
liberty, long ago, before I loved you more! How burdensome it is to me
to-day! For an old bachelor like me, liberty is an empty thing, empty
everywhere; it is the path to death, with nothing in himself to prevent
him from seeing the end; it is the ceaseless query: 'What shall I do?
Whom can I go to see, so that I shall not be alone?' And I go from one
friend to another, from one handshake to the next, begging for a little
friendship. I gather up my crumbs, but they do not make a loaf. You, I
have You, my friend, but you do not belong to me. Perhaps it is because
of you that I suffer this anguish, for it is the desire for contact with
you, for your presence, for the same roof over our heads, for the
same walls inclosing our lives, the same interests binding our hearts
together, the need of that community of hopes, griefs, pleasures,
joys, sadness, and also of material things, that fills me with so much
yearning. You do belong to me--that is to say, I steal a little of you
from time to time. But I long to breathe forever the same air that you
breathe, to share everything with you, to possess nothing that does
not belong to both of us, to feel that all which makes up my own life
belongs to you as much as to me--the glass from which I drink, the chair
on which I sit, the bread I eat and the fire that warms me.

"Adieu! Return soon. I suffer too much when you are far away.

"OLIVIER."


"Roncieres, August 8th.

"MY FRIEND: I am ill, and so fatigued that you would not recognize me at
all. I believe that I have wept too much. I must rest a little before I
return, for I do not wish you to see me as I am. My husband sets out for
Paris the day after to-morrow, and will give you news of us. He expects
to take you to dinner somewhere, and charges me to ask you to wait for
him at your house about seven o'clock.

"As for me, as soon as I feel a little better, as soon as I have no more
this corpse-like face which frightens me, I will return to be near you.
In all the world, I have only Annette and you, and I wish to offer to
each of you all that I can give without robbing the other.

"I hold out my eyes, which have wept so much, so that you may kiss them.

"ANY."


When he received this letter announcing the still delayed return,
Olivier was seized with an immoderate desire to take a carriage for the
railway station to catch a train for Roncieres; then, thinking that M.
de Guilleroy must return the next day, he resigned himself, and even
began to wish for the arrival of the husband with almost as much
impatience as if it were that of the wife herself.

Never had he liked Guilleroy as during those twenty-four hours of
waiting. When he saw him enter, he rushed toward him, with hands
extended, exclaiming:

"Ah, dear friend! how happy I am to see you!"

The other also seemed very glad, delighted above all things to return
to Paris, for life was not gay in Normandy during the three weeks he had
passed there.

The two men sat down on a little two-seated sofa in a corner of the
studio, under a canopy of Oriental stuffs, and again shook hands with
mutual sympathy.

"And the Countess?" asked Bertin, "how is she?"

"Not very well. She has been very much affected, and is recovering too
slowly. I must confess that I am a little anxious about her."

"But why does she not return?"

"I know nothing about it. It was impossible for me to induce her to
return here."

"What does she do all day?"

"Oh, heavens! She weeps, and thinks of her mother. That is not good for
her. I should like very much to have her decide to have a change of air,
to leave the place where that happened, you understand?"

"And Annette?"

"Oh, she is a blooming flower."

Olivier smiled with joy.

"Was she very much grieved?" he asked again.

"Yes, very much, very much, but you know that the grief of eighteen
years does not last long."

After a silence Guilleroy resumed:

"Where shall we dine, my dear fellow? I need to be cheered up, to hear
some noise and see some movement."

"Well, at this season, it seems to me that the Cafe des Ambassadeurs is
the right place."

So they set out, arm in arm, toward the Champs-Elysees. Guilleroy,
filled with the gaiety of Parisians when they return, to whom the city,
after every absence, seems rejuvenated and full of possible surprises,
questioned the painter about a thousand details of what people had been
doing and saying; and Olivier, after indifferent replies which betrayed
all the boredom of his solitude, spoke of Roncieres, tried to capture
from this man, in order to gather round him that almost tangible
something left with us by persons with whom we have recently been
associated, that subtle emanation of being one carries away when
leaving them, which remains with us a few hours and evaporates amid new
surroundings.

The heavy sky of a summer evening hung over the city and over the great
avenue where, under the trees, the gay refrains of open-air concerts
were beginning to sound. The two men, seated on the balcony of the Cafe
des Ambassadeurs, looked down upon the still empty benches and chairs of
the inclosure up to the little stage, where the singers, in the mingled
light of electric globes and fading day, displayed their striking
costumes and their rosy complexions. Odors of frying, of sauces, of hot
food, floated in the slight breezes from the chestnut-trees, and when
a woman passed, seeing her reserved chair, followed by a man in a black
coat, she diffused on her way the fresh perfume of her dress and her
person.

Guilleroy, who was radiant, murmured:

"Oh, I like to be here much better than in the country!"

"And I," Bertin replied, "should like it much better to be there than
here."

"Nonsense!"

"Heavens, yes! I find Paris tainted this summer."

"Oh, well, my dear fellow, it is always Paris, after all."

The Deputy seemed to be enjoying his day, one of those rare days of
effervescence and gaiety in which grave men do foolish things. He looked
at two cocottes dining at a neighboring table with three thin young men,
superlatively correct, and he slyly questioned Olivier about all the
well-known girls, whose names were heard every day. Then he murmured in
a tone of deep regret:

"You were lucky to have remained a bachelor. You can do and see many
things."

But the painter did not agree with him, and, as a man will do when
haunted by a persistent idea, he took Guilleroy into his confidence on
the subject of his sadness and isolation. When he had said everything,
had recited to the end of his litany of melancholy, and, urged by the
longing to relieve his heart, had confessed naively how much he would
have enjoyed the love and companionship of a woman installed in his
home, the Count, in his turn, admitted that marriage had its advantages.
Recovering his parliamentary eloquence in order to sing the praises of
his domestic happiness, he eulogized the Countess in the highest terms,
to which Olivier listened gravely with frequent nods of approval.

Happy to hear her spoken of, but jealous of that intimate happiness
which Guilleroy praised as a matter of duty, the painter finally
murmured, with sincere conviction:

"Yes, indeed, you were the lucky one!"

The Deputy, flattered, assented to this; then he resumed:

"I should like very much to see her return; indeed, I am a little
anxious about her just now. Wait--since you are bored in Paris, you
might go to Roncieres and bring her back. She will listen to you, for
you are her best friend; while a husband--you know----"

Delighted, Olivier replied: "I ask nothing better. But do you think it
would not annoy her to see me arriving in that abrupt way?"

"No, not at all. Go, by all means, my dear fellow."

"Well, then, I will. I will leave to-morrow by the one o'clock train.
Shall I send her a telegram?"

"No, I will attend to that. I will telegraph, so that you will find a
carriage at the station."

As they had finished dinner, they strolled again up the Boulevard, but
in half an hour the Count suddenly left the painter, under the pretext
of an urgent affair that he had quite forgotten.



CHAPTER II

SPRINGTIME AND AUTUMN

The Countess and her daughter, dressed in black crape, had just seated
themselves opposite each other, for breakfast, in the large dining-room
at Roncieres. The portraits of many ancestors, crudely painted, one in a
cuirass, another in a tight-fitting coat, this a powdered officer of the
French Guards, that a colonel of the Restoration, hung in line on the
walls, a collection of deceased Guilleroys, in old frames from which the
gilding was peeling. Two servants, stepping softly, began to serve the
two silent women, and the flies made a little cloud of black specks,
dancing and buzzing around the crystal chandelier that hung over the
center of the table.

"Open the windows," said the Countess, "It is a little cool here."

The three long windows, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, and
large as bay-windows, were opened wide. A breath of soft air, bearing
the odor of warm grass and the distant sounds of the country, swept in
immediately through these openings, mingling with the slightly damp air
of the room, inclosed by the thick walls of the castle.

"Ah, that is good!" said Annette, taking a full breath.

The eyes of the two women had turned toward the outside and now gazed,
beneath the blue sky, lightly veiled by the midday haze which was
reflected on the meadows impregnated with sunshine, at the long and
verdant lawns of the park, with its groups of trees here and there, and
its perspective opening to the yellow fields, illuminated as far as the
eye could see by the golden gleam of ripe grain.

"We will take a long walk after breakfast," said the Countess. "We might
walk as far as Berville, following the river, for it will be too warm on
the plain."

"Yes, mamma, and let us take Julio to scare up some partridges."

"You know that your father forbids it."

"Oh, but since papa is in Paris!--it is so amusing to see Julio pointing
after them. There he is now, worrying the cows! Oh, how funny he is, the
dear fellow!"

Pushing back her chair, she jumped up and ran to the window, calling
out: "Go on, Julio! After them!"

Upon the lawn three heavy cows, gorged with grass and overcome with
heat, lay on their sides, their bellies protruding from the pressure of
the earth. Rushing from one to another, barking and bounding wildly, in
a sort of mad abandon, partly real, partly feigned, a hunting spaniel,
slender, white and red, whose curly ears flapped at every bound, was
trying to rouse the three big beasts, which did not wish to get up. It
was evidently the dog's favorite sport, with which he amused himself
whenever he saw the cows lying down. Irritated, but not frightened, they
gazed at him with their large, moist eyes, turning their heads to watch
him.

Annette, from her window, cried:

"Fetch them, Julio, fetch them!"

The excited spaniel, growing bolder, barked louder and ventured as far
as their cruppers, feigning to be about to bite them. They began to
grow uneasy, and the nervous twitching of their skin, to get rid of the
flies, became more frequent and protracted.

Suddenly the dog, carried along by the impetus of a rush that he could
not check in time, bounced so close to one cow that, in order not to
fall against her, he was obliged to jump over her. Startled by the
bound, the heavy animal took fright, and first raising her head she
finally raised herself slowly on her four legs, sniffing loudly. Seeing
her erect, the other two immediately got up also, and Julio began to
prance around them in a dance of triumph, while Annette praised him.

"Bravo, Julio, bravo!"

"Come," said the Countess, "come to breakfast, my child."

But the young girl, shading her eyes with one hand, announced:

"There comes a telegraph messenger!"

Along the invisible path among the wheat and the oats a blue blouse
appeared to be gliding along the top of the grain, and it came toward
the castle with the firm step of a man.

"Oh, heavens!" murmured the Countess; "I hope he does not bring bad
news!"

She was still shaken with that terror which remains with us a long time
after the death of some loved one has been announced by a telegram.
Now she could not remove the gummed band to open the little blue paper
without feeling her fingers tremble and her soul agitated, believing
that from those folds which it took so long to open would come a grief
that would cause her tears to flow afresh.

Annette, on the contrary, full of girlish curiosity, was delighted to
meet with the unknown mystery that comes to all of us at times. Her
heart, which life had just saddened for the first time, could anticipate
only something joyful from that black and ominous bag hanging from the
side of the mail-carrier, who saw so many emotions through the city
streets and the country lanes.

The Countess ceased to eat, concentrating her thoughts on the man who
was approaching, bearer of a few written words that might wound her as
if a knife had been thrust in her throat. The anguish of having known
that experience made her breathless, and she tried to guess what this
hurried message might be. About what? From whom? The thought of Olivier
flashed through her mind. Was he ill? Dead, perhaps, too!

The ten minutes she had to wait seemed interminable to her; then, when
she had torn open the despatch and recognized the name of her husband,
she read: "I telegraph to tell you that our friend Bertin leaves for
Roncieres on the one o'clock train. Send Phaeton station. Love."

"Well, mamma?" said Annette.

"Monsieur Olivier Bertin is coming to see us."

"Ah, how lucky! When?"

"Very soon."

"At four o'clock?"

"Yes."

"Oh, how kind he is!"

But the Countess had turned pale, for a new anxiety had lately troubled
her, and the sudden arrival of the painter seemed to her as painful a
menace as anything she might have been able to foresee.

"You will go to meet him with the carriage," she said to her daughter.

"And will you not come, too, mamma?"

"No, I will wait for you here."

"Why? That will hurt him."

"I do not feel very well."

"You wished to walk as far as Berville just now."

"Yes, but my breakfast has made me feel ill."

"You will feel better between now and the time to go."

"No, I am going up to my room. Let me know as soon as you arrive."

"Yes, mamma."

After giving orders that the phaeton should be ready at the proper hour,
and that a room be prepared, the Countess returned to her own room, and
shut herself in.

Up to this time her life had passed almost without suffering, affected
only by Olivier's love and concerned only by her anxiety to retain
it. She had succeeded, always victorious in that struggle. Her heart,
soothed by success and by flattery, had become the exacting heart of a
beautiful worldly woman to whom are due all the good things of earth,
and, after consenting to a brilliant marriage, with which affection had
nothing to do, after accepting love later as the complement of a happy
existence, after taking her part in a guilty intimacy, largely from
inclination, a little from a leaning toward sentiment itself as a
compensation for the prosaic hum-drum of daily life, had barricaded
itself in the happiness that chance had offered her, with no other
desire than to defend it against the surprises of each day. She had
therefore accepted with the complacency of a pretty woman the agreeable
events that occurred; and, though she ventured little, and was troubled
little by new necessities and desires for the unknown; though she
was tender, tenacious, and farseeing, content with the present, but
naturally anxious about the morrow, she had known how to enjoy the
elements that Destiny had furnished her with wise and economical
prudence.

Now, little by little, without daring to acknowledge it even to herself,
the vague preoccupation of passing time, of advancing age, had glided
into her soul. In her consciousness it had the effect of a gnawing
trouble that never ceased. But, knowing well that this descent of life
was without an end, that once begun it never could be stopped, and
yielding to the instinct of danger, she closed her eyes in letting
herself glide along, that she might retain her dream, that she might not
be seized with dizziness at sight of the abyss or be made desperate by
her impotence.

She lived, then, smiling, with a sort of factitious pride in remaining
beautiful so long, and when Annette appeared at her side with the
freshness of her eighteen years, instead of suffering from this
contrast, she was proud, on the contrary, of being able to command
preference, in the ripe grace of her womanhood, over that blooming young
girl in the radiant beauty of first youth.

She had even believed that she had entered upon the beginning of a
happy, tranquil period when the death of her mother struck a blow at
her heart. During the first few days she was filled with that profound
despair that leaves no room for any other thought. She remained from
morning until night buried in grief, trying to recall a thousand things
of the dead, her familiar words, her face in earlier days, the gowns she
used to wear, as if she had stored her memory with relics; and from the
now buried past she gathered all the intimate and trivial recollections
with which to feed her cruel reveries. Then, when she had arrived at
such paroxysms of despair that she fell into hysterics and swooned, all
her accumulated grief broke forth in tears, flowing from her eyes by day
and by night.

One morning, when her maid entered, and opened the shutters after
raising the shades, asking: "How does Madame feel to-day?" she answered,
feeling exhausted from having wept so much: "Oh, not at all well!
Indeed, I can bear no more."

The servant, who was holding a tea-tray, looked at her mistress, and,
touched to see her lying so pale amide the whiteness of the bed, she
stammered, in a tone of genuine sadness: "Madame really looks very ill.
Madame would do well to take care of herself."

The tone in which this was said pierced the Countess's heart like a
sharp needle, and as soon as the maid had gone she rose to go and look
at her face in her large dressing-mirror.

She was stupefied at the sight of herself, frightened by her hollow
cheeks, her red eyes, the ravages produced in her by these days of
suffering. Her face, which she knew so well, which she had often looked
at in so many different mirrors, of which she knew all the expressions,
all the smiles, the pallor which she had already corrected so many
times, smoothing away the marks of fatigue, and the tiny wrinkles at the
corners of the eyes, visible in too strong a light--her face suddenly
seemed to her that of another woman, a new face that was distorted and
irreparably ill.

In order to see herself better, to be surer with regard to this
unexpected misfortune, she approached near enough to the mirror to touch
it with her forehead, so that her breath, spreading a light mist over
the glass, almost obscured the pale image she was contemplating. She was
compelled to take a handkerchief to wipe away this mist, and, trembling
with a strange emotion, she made a long and patient examination of the
alterations in her face. With a light finger she stretched the skin of
her cheeks, smoothed her forehead, pushed back her hair, and turned the
eyelids to look at the whites of her eyes. Then she opened her mouth and
examined her teeth which were a little tarnished where the gold fillings
shone, and she was disturbed to note the livid gums and the yellow tint
of the flesh above the cheeks and at the temples.

She was so lost in this examination of her fading beauty that she did
not hear the door open, and was startled when her maid, standing behind
her, said:

"Madame has forgotten to take her tea."

The Countess turned, confused, surprised, ashamed, and the servant,
guessing her thoughts continued:

"Madame has wept too much; there is nothing worse to spoil the skin.
One's blood turns to water."

And as the Countess added sadly: "There is age also," the maid
exclaimed: "Oh, but Madame has not reached that time yet! With a few
days of rest not a trace will be left. But Madame must go to walk, and
take great care not to weep."

As soon as she was dressed the Countess descended to the park, and for
the first time since her mother's death she visited the little orchard
where long ago she had liked to cultivate and gather flowers; then she
went to the river and strolled beside the stream until the hour for
breakfast.

She sat down at the table opposite her husband, and beside her daughter,
and remarked, that she might know what they thought: "I feel better
today. I must be less pale."

"Oh, you still look very ill," said the Count.

Her heart contracted and she felt like weeping, for she had fallen into
the habit of it.

Until evening, and the next day, and all the following days, whether she
thought of her mother or of herself, every moment she felt her throat
swelling with sobs and her eyes filling with tears, but to prevent them
from overflowing and furrowing her cheeks she repressed them, and by
a superhuman effort of will turned her thoughts in other directions,
mastered them, ruled them, separated them from her sorrow, forced
herself to feel consoled, tried to amuse herself and to think of sad
things no more, in order to regain the hue of health.

Above all, she did not wish to return to Paris and to receive Olivier
Bertin until she had become more like her former self. Realizing that
she had grown too thin, that the flesh of women of her age needs to be
full in order to keep fresh, she sought to create appetite by walking
in the woods and along the roads; and though she returned weary and not
hungry she forced herself to eat a great deal.

The Count, who wished to go away, could not understand her obstinacy.
Finally, as her resistance seemed invincible, he declared that he would
go alone, leaving the Countess free to return when she might feel so
disposed.

The next day she received the telegram announcing Olivier's arrival.

A desire to flee seized her, so much did she fear his first look. She
would have preferred to wait another week or two. In a week, with care
one may change the face completely, since women, even when young and in
good health, under the least change of influence become unrecognizable
from one day to another. But the idea of appearing in broad daylight
before Olivier, in the open fields, in the heat of August, beside
Annette, so fresh and blooming, disturbed her so much that she
decided immediately not to go to the station, but to await him in the
half-darkened drawing-room.

She went up to her room and fell into a dream. Breaths of warm air
stirred the curtains from time to time; the song of the crickets filled
the air. Never before had she felt so sad. It was no more the great
grief that had shattered her heart, overwhelming her before the soulless
body of her beloved old mother. That grief, which she had believed
incurable, had in a few days become softened, and was now but a sorrow
of the memory; but now she felt herself swept away on a deep wave of
melancholy into which she had entered gradually, and from which she
never would emerge.

She had an almost irresistible desire to weep--and would not. Every time
she felt her eyelids grow moist she wiped them away quickly, rose, paced
about the room, looked out into the park and gazed at the tall trees,
watched the slow, black flight of the crows against the background of
blue sky. Then she passed before her mirror, judged her appearance with
one glance, effaced the trace of a tear by touching the corner of her
eye with rice powder, and looked at the clock, trying to guess at what
point of the route he must have reached.

Like all women who are carried away by a distress of soul, whether real
or unreasonable, she clung to her lover with a sort of frenzy. Was he
not her all--all, everything, more than life, all that anyone must be
who has come to be the sole affection of one who feels the approach of
age?

Suddenly she heard in the distance the crack of a whip; she ran to the
window and saw the phaeton as it made the turn round the lawn, drawn
by two horses. Seated beside Annette, in the back seat of the carriage,
Olivier waved his handkerchief as he saw the Countess, to which she
responded by waving him a salutation from the window. Then she went down
stairs with a heart throbbing fast but happy now, thrilled with joy at
knowing him so near, of speaking to him and seeing him.

They met in the antechamber, before the drawing-room door.

He opened his arms to her with an irresistible impulse, and in a voice
warmed by real emotion, exclaimed: "Ah, my poor Countess, let me embrace
you!"

She closed her eyes, leaned toward him and pressed against him, lifted
her cheek to him, and as he pressed his lips upon it, she murmured in
his ear: "I love thee!"

Then Olivier, without dropping the hands he clasped in his own, looked
at her, saying: "Let us see that sad face."

She felt ready to faint.

"Yes, a little pale," said he, "but that is nothing."

To thank him for saying that, she said brokenly,

"Ah, dear friend, dear friend!" finding nothing else to say.

But he turned, looking behind her in search of Annette, who had
disappeared.

"Is it not strange," he said abruptly, "to see your daughter in
mourning?"

"Why?" inquired the Countess.

"What? You ask why?" he exclaimed, with extraordinary animation.
"Why, it is your own portrait painted by me--it is my portrait. It is
yourself, such as you were when I met you long ago when I entered the
Duchess's house! Ah, do you remember that door where you passed under my
gaze, as a frigate passes under a cannon of a fort? Good heavens! when
I saw the little one, just now, at the railway station, standing on the
platform, all in black, with the sun shining on her hair massed around
her face, the blood rushed to my head. I thought I should weep. I tell
you, it is enough to drive one mad, when one has known you as I have,
who has studied you as no one else has, and reproduced you in painting,
Madame. Ah, I thought that you had sent her alone to meet me at the
station in order to give me that surprise. My God! but I was surprised,
indeed! I tell you, it is enough to drive one mad."

He called: "Annette! Nane!"

The young girl's voice replied from outside, where she was giving sugar
to the horses:

"Yes, yes, I am here!"

"Come in here!"

She entered quickly.

"Here, stand close beside your mother."

She obeyed, and he compared the two, but repeated mechanically, "Yes,
it is astonishing, astonishing!" for they resembled each other less when
side by side than they did before leaving Paris, the young girl having
acquired a new expression of luminous youth in her black attire, while
the mother had for a long time lost that radiance of hair and complexion
that had dazzled and entranced the painter when they met for the first
time.

Then the Countess and Olivier entered the drawing-room. He seemed in
high spirits.

"Ah, what a good plan it was to come here!" he said. "But it was your
husband's idea that I should come, you know. He charged me to take you
back with me. And I--do you know what I propose? You have no idea, have
you? Well, I propose, on the contrary, to remain here! Paris is odious
in this heat, while the country is delicious. Heavens! how sweet it is
here!"

The dews of evening impregnated the park with freshness, the soft breeze
made the trees tremble, and the earth exhaled imperceptible vapors
which threw a light, transparent veil over the horizon. The three cows,
standing with drooping heads, cropped the grass with avidity, and four
peacocks, with a loud rustling of wings, flew up into their accustomed
perch in a cedar-tree under the windows of the castle. The barking of
dogs in the distance came to the ear, and in the quiet air of the close
of day the calls of human voices were heard, in phrases shouted across
the fields, from one meadow to another, and in those short, guttural
cries used in driving animals.

The painter, with bared head and shining eyes, breathed deeply, and, as
he met the Countess's look, he said:

"This is happiness!"

"It never lasts," she answered, approaching nearer.

"Let us take it when it comes," said he.

"You never used to like the country until now," the Countess replied,
smiling.

"I like it to-day because I find you here. I do not know how to live any
more where you are not. When one is young, he may be in love though far
away, through letters, thoughts, or dreams, perhaps because he feels
that life is all before him, perhaps too because passion is stronger
than pure affection; at my age, on the contrary, love has become like
the habit of an invalid; it is a binding up of the soul, which flies now
with only one wing, and mounts less frequently into the ideal. The heart
knows no more ecstasy, only selfish wants. And then I know quite well
that I have no time to lose to enjoy what remains for me."

"Oh, old!" she remonstrated, taking his hand tenderly.

"Yes, yes, I am old," he repeated. "Everything shows it, my hair, my
changing character, the coming sadness. Alas! that is something I never
have known till now--sadness. If someone had told me when I was thirty
that a time would come when I should be sad without cause, uneasy,
discontented with everything, I should not have believed it. That proves
that my heart also has grown old."

The Countess replied with an air of profound certainty:

"Oh, as for me, my heart is still young. It never has changed. Yes, it
has grown younger, perhaps. Once it was twenty; now it is only sixteen!"

They remained a long while thus, talking in the open window, mingled
with the spirit of evening, very near each other, nearer than they ever
had been, in this hour of tenderness, this twilight of love, like that
of the day.

A servant entered, announcing:

"Madame la Comtesse is served."

"Have you called my daughter?" the Countess asked.

"Mademoiselle is in the dining-room."

All three sat down at the table. The shutters were closed, and two large
candelabra with six candles each illumined Annette's face and seemed
to powder her hair with gold dust. Bertin, smiling, looked at her
continually.

"Heavens, now pretty she is in black!" he said.

And he turned toward the Countess while admiring the daughter, as if to
thank the mother for having given him this pleasure.

When they returned to the drawing-room the moon had risen above the
trees in the park. Their somber mass appeared like a great island, and
the country round about like a sea hidden under the light mist that
floated over the plains.

"Oh, mamma, let us take a walk," said Annette.

The Countess consented.

"I will take Julio."

"Very well, if you wish."

They set out. The young girl walked in front, amusing herself with the
dog. When they crossed the lawn they heard the breathing of the cows,
which, awake and scenting their enemy, raised their heads to look.
Under the trees, farther away, the moon was pouring among the branches
a shower of fine rays that fell to earth, seeming to wet the leaves that
were spread out on the path in little patches of yellow light. Annette
and Julio ran along, each seeming to have on this serene night, the same
joyful and unburdened hearts, the gaiety of which expressed itself in
graceful gambols.

In the little openings, where the wave of moonlight descended as into
a well, the young girl looked like a spirit, and the painter called her
back, marveling at this dark vision with its clear and brilliant face.
Then when she darted away again, he took the Countess's hand and pressed
it, often seeking her lips as they traversed the deeper shadows, as if
the sight of Annette had revived the impatience of his heart.

At last they reached the edge of the plain, where they could just
discern, afar, here and there, the groups of trees belonging to the
farms. Through the milky mist that bathed the fields the horizon
appeared illimitable, and the soft silence, the living silence of that
vast space, so warm and luminous, was full of inexpressible hope, of
that indefinable expectancy which makes summer nights so sweet. Far
up in the heavens a few long slender clouds looked like silver shells.
Standing still for a few seconds, one could hear in that nocturnal peace
a confused, continuous murmur of life, a thousand slight sounds, the
harmony of which seemed like silence.

A quail in a neighboring field uttered her double cry, and Julio, his
ears erect, glided furtively toward the two flute-like notes of the
bird, Annette following, as softly as he, holding her breath and
crouching low.

"Ah," said the Countess, standing alone with the painter, "why do
moments like this pass so quickly? We can hold nothing, keep nothing. We
have not even time to taste what is good. It is over already."

Olivier kissed her hand, and replied, smiling:

"Oh, I cannot philosophize this evening! I belong to the present hour
entirely."

"You do not love me as I love you," she murmured.

"Ah, do not--"

"No," she interrupted, "in me you love, as you said very truly before
dinner, a woman who satisfies the needs of your heart, a woman who never
has caused you a pain, and who has put a little happiness into your
life. I know that; I feel it. Yes, I have the good consciousness, the
ardent joy of having been good, useful, and helpful to you. You have
loved, you still love all that you find agreeable in me, my attentions
to you, my admiration, my wish to please you, my passion, the complete
gift I made to you of my whole being. But it is not I you really love,
do you know? Oh, I feel that as one feels a cold current of air. You
love a thousand things about me--my beauty, which is fast leaving me, my
devotion, the wit they say I possess, the opinion the world has of me,
and that which I have of you in my heart; but it is not _I_--I, nothing
but myself--do you understand?"

He laughed in a soft and friendly way.

"No, I do not understand you very well. You make a reproachful attack
which is quite unexpected."

"Oh, my God! I wish I could make you understand how I love you! I am
always seeking, but cannot find a means. When I think of you--and I am
always thinking of you--I feel in the depths of my being an unspeakable
intoxication of longing to be yours, an irresistible need of giving
myself to you even more completely. I should like to sacrifice myself in
some absolute way, for there is nothing better, when one loves, than to
give, to give always, all, all, life, thought, body, all that one has,
to feel that one is giving, to be ready to risk anything to give still
more. I love you so much that I love to suffer for you, I love even my
anxieties, my torments, my jealousies, the pain I feel when I realize
that you are not longer tender toward me. I love in you a someone that
only I have discovered, a you which is not the you of the world that
is admired and known, a you which is mine, which cannot change nor grow
old, which I cannot cease to love, for I have, to look at it, eyes that
see it alone. But one cannot say these things. There are no words to
express them."

He repeated softly, over and over:

"Dear, dear, dear Any!"

Julio came back, bounding toward them, without having found the quail,
which had kept still at his approach; Annette followed him, breathless
from running.

"I can't run any more," said she. "I will prop myself up with you,
Monsieur painter!"

She leaned on Olivier's free arm, and they returned, walking thus, he
between them, under the shadow of the trees. They spoke no more. He
walked on, possessed by them, penetrated by a sort of feminine essence
with which their contact filled him. He did not try to see them, since
he had them near him; he even closed his eyes that he might feel their
proximity the better. They guided him, conducted him, and he walked
straight before him, fascinated by them, with the one on the left as
well as the one on the right, without knowing, indeed, which was on the
left or which on the right, which was mother, which was daughter.
He abandoned himself willingly to the pleasure of unpremeditated and
exquisite sensuous delight. He even tried to mingle them in his heart,
not to distinguish them in his thought, and quieted desire with the
charm of this confusion. Was it not only one woman beside him, composed
of this mother and daughter, so much alike? And did not the daughter
seem to have come to earth only for the purpose of reanimating his
former love for the mother?

When he opened his eyes on entering the castle, it seemed to him that he
had just passed through the most delicious moments of his life; that he
had experienced the strangest, the most puzzling, yet complete emotion
a man might feel, intoxicated with the same love by the seductiveness
emanating from two women.

"Ah, what an exquisite evening!" said he, as soon as he found himself
between them in the lamplight.

"I am not at all sleepy," said Annette; "I could pass the whole night
walking when the weather is fine."

The Countess looked at the clock.

"Oh, it is half after eleven. You must go to bed, my child."

They separated, and went to their own apartments. The young girl who did
not wish to go to bed was the only one that went to sleep at once.

The next morning, at the usual hour, when the maid, after opening the
curtains and the shutters, brought the tea and looked at her mistress,
who was still drowsy, she said:

"Madame looks better to-day, already."

"Do you think so?"

"Oh, yes. Madame's face looks more rested."

Though she had not yet looked at herself, the Countess knew that this
was true. Her heart was light, she did not feel it throb, and she felt
once more as if she lived. The blood flowing in her veins was no longer
coursing so rapidly as on the day before, hot and feverish, sending
nervousness and restlessness through all her body, but gave her a sense
of well-being and happy confidence.

When the maid had gone she went to look at herself in the mirror. She
was a little surprised, for she felt so much better that she expected
to find herself rejuvenated by several years in a single night. Then
she realized the childishness of such a hope, and, after another glance,
resigned herself to the knowledge that her complexion was only clearer,
her eyes less fatigued, her lips a little redder than on the day
before. As her soul was content, she could not feel sad, and she smiled,
thinking: "Yes, in a few days I shall be quite myself again. I have gone
through too much to recover so quickly."

But she remained seated a very long time before her toilet-table, upon
which were laid out in graceful order on a muslin scarf bordered
with lace, before a beautiful mirror of cut crystal, all her little
ivory-handled instruments of coquetry, bearing her arms surmounted by a
coronet. There they were, innumerable, pretty, all different, destined
for delicate and secret use, some of steel, fine and sharp, of strange
shapes, like surgical instruments for operations on children, others
round and soft, of feathers, of down, of the skins of unknown animals,
made to lay upon the tender skin the caresses of fragrant powders or of
powerful liquid perfumes.

She handled them a long time with practised fingers, carrying them from
her lips to her temples with touches softer than a kiss, correcting
imperfections, underlining the eyes, beautifying the eyelashes. At last,
when she went down stairs, she felt almost sure that the first glance
cast upon her would not be too unfavorable.

"Where is Monsieur Bertin?" she inquired of a servant she met in the
vestibule.

"Monsieur Bertin is in the orchard, playing tennis with Mademoiselle,"
the man replied.

She heard them from a distance counting the points. One after the other,
the deep voice of the painter and the light one of the young girl,
called: "Fifteen, thirty, forty, vantage, deuce, vantage, game!"

The orchard, where a space had been leveled for a tennis-court, was
a great, square grass-plot, planted with apple-trees, inclosed by the
park, the vegetable-garden, and the farms belonging to the castle. Along
the slope that formed a boundary on three sides, like the defenses of
an intrenched camp, grew borders of various kinds of flowers, wild and
cultivated, roses in masses, pinks, heliotrope, fuchsias, mignonnette,
and many more, which as Bertin said gave the air a taste of honey.
Besides this, the bees, whose hives, thatched with straw, lined the
wall of the vegetable-garden, covered the flowery field in their yellow,
buzzing flight.

In the exact center of this orchard a few apple-trees had been cut down,
in order to make a good court for tennis, and a tarry net, stretched
across this space, separated it into two camps.

Annette, on one side, with bare head, her black skirt caught up, showing
her ankles and half way up to her knee when she ran to catch a ball,
dashed to and fro, with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks, tired, out of
breath with the sure and practised play of her adversary.

He, in white flannels, fitting tightly over the hips, a white shirt,
and a white tennis cap, his abdomen somewhat prominent in that costume,
awaited the ball coolly, judged its fall with precision, received and
returned it without haste, without running, with the elegant pose, the
passionate attention, and professional skill which he displayed in all
athletic sports.

It was Annette that spied her mother first.

"Good morning, mamma!" she cried, "wait till we have finished this
play."

That second's distraction lost her the game. The ball passed against
her, almost rolling, touched the ground and went out of the game.

Bertin shouted "Won!" and the young girl, surprised, accused him of
having profited by her inattention. Julio, trained to seek and find the
lost balls, as if they were partridges fallen among the bushes, sprang
behind her to get the ball rolling in the grass, seized it in his jaws,
and brought it back, wagging his tail.

The painter now saluted the Countess, but, urged to resume the game,
animated by the contest, pleased to find himself so agile, he threw only
a short, preoccupied glance at the face prepared so carefully for him,
asking:

"Will you allow me, dear Countess? I am afraid of taking cold and having
neuralgia."

"Oh, yes," the Countess replied.

She sat down on a hay-stack, mowed that morning in order to give a clear
field to the players, and, her heart suddenly touched with sadness,
looked on at the game.

Her daughter, irritated at losing continually, grew more animated,
excited, uttered cries of vexation or of triumph, and flew impetuously
from one end of the court to the other. Often, in her swift movements,
little locks of hair were loosened, rolled down and fell upon her
shoulders. She seized them with impatient movements, and, holding the
racket between her knees, fastened them up in place, thrusting hairpins
into the golden mass.

And Bertin, from his position, cried to the Countess:

"Isn't she pretty like that, and fresh as the day?"

Yes, she was young, she could run, grow warm, become red, let her hair
fly, brave anything, dare everything, for all that only made her more
beautiful.

Then, when they resumed their play with ardor, the Countess, more and
more melancholy, felt that Olivier preferred that game, that childish
sport, like the play of kittens jumping after paper balls, to the
sweetness of sitting beside her that warm morning, and feeling her
loving pressure against him.

When the bell, far away, rang the first signal for breakfast, it seemed
to her that someone had freed her, that a weight had been lifted from
her heart. But as she returned, leaning on his arm, he said to her:

"I have been amusing myself like a boy. It is a great thing to be, or to
feel oneself, young. Ah, yes, there is nothing like that. When we do not
like to run any more, it is all over with us."

When they left the table the Countess, who on the preceding day had for
the first time omitted her daily visit to the cemetery, proposed that
they should go there together; so all three set out for the village.

They were obliged to go through some woods, through which ran a stream
called "La Rainette," no doubt because of the frogs that peopled it;
then they had to cross the end of a plain before arriving at the church,
situated in the midst of a group of houses that sheltered the grocer,
the baker, the butcher, the wine-merchant, and several other modest
tradesmen who supplied the needs of the peasants.

The walk was made in thoughtful silence, the recollection of the dead
weighing on their spirits. Arrived at the grave, the women knelt and
prayed a long time. The Countess, motionless, bent low, her handkerchief
at her eyes, for she feared to weep lest her tears run down her cheeks.
She prayed, but not as she had prayed before this day, in a sort of
invocation to her mother, a despairing appeal penetrating under the
marble of the tomb until she seemed to feel by the poignancy of her
own anguish that the dead must hear her, listen to her, but a simple,
hesitating, and earnest utterance of the consecrated words of the _Pater
Noster_ and the _Ave Maria_. She would not have had that day sufficient
strength and steadiness of nerve necessary for that cruel communion that
brought no response with what remained of that being who had disappeared
in the tomb where all that was left of her was concealed. Other
anxieties had penetrated her woman's heart, had agitated, wounded, and
distracted her; and her fervent prayer rose to Heaven, full of vague
supplications. She offered her adoration to God, the inexorable God who
has made all poor creatures on the earth, and begged Him to take pity on
her as well as on the one He had recalled to Himself.

She could not have told what she had asked of God, so vague and
confused were her fears still; but she felt the need of Divine aid, of a
superhuman support against approaching dangers and inevitable sorrows.

Annette, with closed eyes, having also murmured the formulas, sank into
a reverie, for she did not wish to rise before her mother.

Olivier Bertin looked at them, thinking that he never had seen a
more ravishing picture, and somewhat regretful that it was out of the
question for him to be permitted to make a sketch of the scene.

On their way back they talked of human life, softly stirring those
bitter and poetic ideas of a tender but pessimistic philosophy, which is
a frequent subject of conversation between men and women whom life has
wounded a little, and whose hearts mingle as they sympathize with each
other's grief.

Annette, who was not ripe for such thoughts, left them frequently to
gather wild flowers beside the road.

But Olivier, desiring to keep her near him, nervous at seeing her
continually darting away, never removed his eyes from her. He was
irritated that she should show more interest in the colors of the
plants than in the words he spoke. He experienced an inexpressible
dissatisfaction at not being able to charm her, to dominate her, as he
had captivated her mother; and he felt a desire to hold out his hand
and seize her, hold her, forbid her to go away. He felt that she was too
alert, too young, too indifferent, too free--free as a bird, or like
a little dog that will not come back, will not obey, which has
independence in its veins, that sweet instinct of liberty which neither
voice nor whip has yet vanquished.

In order to attract her he talked of gayer things, and at times he
questioned her, trying to awaken her feminine curiosity so that she
would listen; but one would think that the capricious wind of heaven
was blowing through Annette's head that day, as it blew across the
undulating grain, carrying away and dispersing her attention into space,
for she hardly uttered even the commonplace replies expected of her,
between her short digressions, and made them with an absent air, then
returned to her flowers. Finally he became exasperated, filled with a
childish impatience, and as she ran up to beg her mother to carry her
first bouquet so that she could gather another, he caught her by the
elbow and pressed her arm, so that she could not escape again. She
struggled, laughing, pulling with all her strength to get away from
him; then, moved by masculine instinct, he tried gentler means, and, not
being able to win her attention he tried to purchase it by tempting her
coquetry.

"Tell me," said he, "what flower you prefer, and I will have a brooch
made of it for you."

She hesitated, surprised.

"What, a brooch?"

"In stones of the same color; in rubies if it is the poppy; in sapphires
if it is the cornflower, with a little leaf in emeralds."

Annette's face lighted up with that affectionate joy with which promises
and presents animate a woman's countenance.

"The cornflower," said she, "it is so pretty."

"The cornflower it shall be. We will go to order it as soon as we return
to Paris."

She no longer tried to leave him, attracted by the thought of the jewel
she already tried to see, to imagine.

"Does it take very long to make a thing like that?" she asked.

He laughed, feeling that he had caught her.

"I don't know; it depends upon the difficulties. We will make the
jeweler do it quickly."

A dismal thought suddenly crossed her mind.

"But I cannot wear it since I am in deep mourning!"

He had passed his arm under that of the young girl, and pressed it
against him.

"Well, you will keep the brooch until you cease to wear mourning," said
he; "that will not prevent you from looking at it."

As on the preceding evening, he was walking between them, held captive
between their shoulders, and in order to see their eyes, of a similar
blue dotted with tiny black spots, raised to his, he spoke to them in
turn, moving his head first toward the one, then toward the other. As
the bright sunlight now shone on them, he did not so fully confound the
Countess with Annette, but he did more and more associate the daughter
with the new-born remembrances of what the mother had been. He had a
strong desire to embrace both, the one to find again upon cheek and neck
a little of that pink and white freshness which he had already tasted,
and which he saw now reproduced as by a miracle; the other because he
loved her as he always had, and felt that from her came the powerful
appeal of long habit. He even realized at that moment that his desire
and affection for her, which for some time had been waning, had revived
at the sight of her resuscitated youth.

Annette went away again to gather more flowers. This time Olivier
did not call her back; it was as if the contact of her arm and the
satisfaction of knowing that he had given her pleasure had quieted him;
but he followed all her movements with the pleasure one feels in seeing
the persons or things that captivate and intoxicate our eyes. When
she returned, with a large cluster of flowers, he drew a deep breath,
seeking unconsciously to inhale something of her, a little of her breath
or the warmth of her skin in the air stirred by her running. He looked
at her, enraptured, as one watches the dawn, or listens to music, with
thrills of delight when she bent, rose again, or raised her arms to
arrange her hair. And then, more and more, hour by hour, she evoked in
him the memory of the past! Her laughter, her pretty ways, her motions,
brought back to his lips the savor of former kisses given and returned;
she made of the far-off past, of which he had forgotten the precise
sensation, something like a dream in the present; she confused epochs,
dates, the ages of his heart, and rekindling the embers of cooled
emotions, she mingled, without his realizing it, yesterday with
to-morrow, recollection with hope.

He asked himself as he questioned his memory whether the Countess in
her brightest bloom had had that fawn-like, supple grace, that bold,
capricious, irresistible charm, like the grace of a running, leaping
animal. No. She had had a riper bloom but was less untamed. First, a
child of the city, then a woman, never having imbibed the air of the
fields and lived in the grass, she had grown pretty under the shade of
the walls and not in the sunlight of heaven.

When they reentered the castle the Countess began to write letters at
her little low table in the bay-window; Annette went up to her own room,
and the painter went out again to walk slowly, cigar in mouth, hands
clasped behind him, through the winding paths of the park. But he did
not go away so far that he lost sight of the white facade or the pointed
roof of the castle. As soon as it disappeared behind groups of trees or
clusters of shrubbery, a shadow seemed to fall over his heart, as when a
cloud hides the sun; and when it reappeared through the apertures in
the foliage he paused a few seconds to contemplate the two rows of
tall windows. Then he resumed his walk. He felt agitated, but content.
Content with what? With everything.

The air seemed pure to him, life was good that day. His body felt once
more the liveliness of a small boy, a desire to run, to catch the yellow
butterflies fluttering over the lawn, as if they were suspended at the
end of elastic threads. He sang little airs from the opera. Several
times he repeated the celebrated phrase by Gounod: "_Laisse-moi
contempler ton visage_," discovering in it a profoundly tender
expression which never before he had felt in the same way.

Suddenly he asked himself how it was that he had so soon become
different from his usual self. Yesterday, in Paris, dissatisfied
with everything, disgusted, irritated; to-day calm, satisfied with
everything--one would say that some benevolent god had changed his soul.
"That same kind god," he thought, "might well have changed my body
at the same time, and rejuvenated me a little." Suddenly he saw Julio
hunting among the bushes. He called him, and when the dog ran up to put
his finely formed head, with its curly ears, under his hand, he sat down
on the grass to pet him more comfortably, spoke gentle words to him,
laid him on his knees, and growing tender as he caressed the animal, he
kissed it, after the fashion of women whose hearts are easily moved to
demonstration.

After dinner, instead of going out as on the evening before, they spent
the hours in the drawing-room.

Suddenly the Countess said: "We must leave here soon."

"Oh, don't speak of that yet!" Olivier exclaimed. "You would not leave
Roncieres when I was not here; now what I have come, you think only of
going away."

"But, my dear friend," said she, "we three cannot remain here
indefinitely."

"It does not necessarily follow that we need stay indefinitely, but just
a few days. How many times have I stayed at your house for whole weeks?"

"Yes, but in different circumstances, when the house was open to
everyone."

"Oh, mamma," said Annette, coaxingly, "let us stay a few days more, just
two or three. He teaches me so well how to play tennis. It annoys me to
lose, but afterward I am glad to have made such progress."

Only that morning the Countess had been planning to make this mysterious
visit of her friend's last until Sunday, and now she wished to go away,
without knowing why. That day which she had hoped would be such a
happy one had left in her soul an inexpressible but poignant sadness, a
causeless apprehension, as tenacious and confused as a presentiment.

When she was once more alone in her room she even sought to define this
new access of melancholy.

Had she experienced one of those imperceptible emotions whose touch has
been so slight that reason does not remember it, but whose vibrations
still stir the most sensitive chords of the heart? Perhaps? Which? She
recalled, certainly, some little annoyances, in the thousand degrees of
sentiment through which she had passed, each minute having its own. But
they were too petty to have thus disheartened her. "I am exacting," she
thought. "I have no right to torment myself in this way."

She opened her window, to breathe the night air, and leaned on the
window-sill, gazing at the moon.

A slight noise made her look down. Olivier was pacing before the castle.
"Why did he say that he was going to his room?" she thought; "why did he
not tell me he was going out again? Why did he not ask me to come with
him? He knows very well that it would have made me so happy. What is he
thinking of now?"

This idea that he had not wished to have her with him on his walk, that
he had preferred to go out alone this beautiful night, alone, with a
cigar in his mouth, for she could see its fiery-red point--alone, when
he might have given her the joy of taking her with him; this idea that
he had not continual need of her, that he did not desire her always,
created within her soul a new fermentation of bitterness.

She was about to close the window, that she might not see him or be
tempted to call to him, when he raised his eyes and saw her.

"Well, are you star-gazing, Countess?"

"Yes," she answered. "You also, as it appears."

"Oh, I am simply smoking."

She could not resist the desire to ask: "Why did you not tell me you
were going out?"

"I only wanted to smoke a cigar. I am coming in now."

"Then good-night, my friend."

"Good-night, Countess."

She retired as far as her low chair, sat down in it and wept; and her
maid, who was called to assist her to bed, seeing her red eyes said with
compassion:

"Ah, Madame is going to make a sad face for herself again to-morrow."

The Countess slept badly; she was feverish and had nightmare. As soon as
she awoke she opened her window and her curtains to look at herself
in the mirror. Her features were drawn, her eyelids swollen, her skin
looked yellow; and she felt such violent grief because of this that
she wished to say she was ill and to keep her bed, so that she need not
appear until evening.

Then, suddenly, the necessity to go away entered her mind, to depart
immediately, by the first train, to quit the country, where one could
see too clearly by the broad light of the fields the ineffaceable marks
of sorrow and of life itself. In Paris one lives in the half shadow
of apartments, where heavy curtains, even at noontime, admit only a
softened light. She would herself become beautiful again there, with the
pallor one should have in that discreetly softened light. Then Annette's
face rose before her eyes--so fresh and pink, with slightly disheveled
hair, as when she was playing tennis. She understood then the unknown
anxiety from which her soul had suffered. She was not jealous of her
daughter's beauty! No, certainly not; but she felt, she acknowledged for
the first time that she must never again show herself by Annette's side
in the bright sunlight.

She rang, and before drinking her tea she gave orders for departure,
wrote some telegrams, even ordering her dinner for that evening
by telegraph, settled her bills in the country, gave her final
instructions, arranged everything in less than an hour, a prey to
feverish and increasing impatience.

When she went down stairs, Annette and Olivier, who had been told of her
decision, questioned her with surprise. Then, seeing that she would
not give any precise reason for this sudden departure, they grumbled a
little and expressed their dissatisfaction until they separated at the
station in Paris.

The Countess, holding out her hand to the painter, said: "Will you dine
with us to-morrow?"

"Certainly, I will come," he replied, rather sulkily. "All the same,
what you have done was not nice. We were so happy down there, all three
of us."



CHAPTER III

A DANGEROUS WARNING

As soon as the Countess was alone with her daughter in her carriage,
which was taking her back to her home, she suddenly felt tranquil
and quieted, as if she had just passed through a serious crisis. She
breathed easier, smiled at the houses, recognized with joy the look of
the city, whose details all true Parisians seem to carry in their eyes
and hearts. Each shop she passed suggested the ones beyond, on a line
along the Boulevard, and the tradesman's face so often seen behind his
show-case. She felt saved. From what? Reassured. Why? Confident. Of
what?

When the carriage stopped under the arch of the porte-cochere, she
alighted quickly and entered, as if flying, the shadow of the stairway;
then passed to the shadow of her drawing-room, then to that of her
bedroom. There she remained standing a few moments, glad to be at home,
in security, in the dim and misty daylight of Paris, which, hardly
brightening, compels one to guess as well as to see, where one may show
what he pleases and hide what he will; and the unreasoning memory of
the dazzling glare that bathed the country remained in her like an
impression of past suffering.

When she went down to dinner, her husband, who had just arrived at home,
embraced her affectionately, and said, smiling: "Ah, ha! I knew very
well that our friend Bertin would bring you back. It was very clever of
me to send him after you."

Annette responded gravely, in the peculiar tone she affected when she
said something in jest without smiling:

"Oh, he had a great deal of trouble. Mamma could not decide for
herself."

The Countess said nothing, but felt a little confused.

The doors being closed to visitors, no one called that evening. Madame
de Guilleroy passed the whole of the following day in different shops,
choosing or ordering what she needed. She had loved, from her youth,
almost from her infancy, those long sittings before the mirrors of
the great shops. From the moment of entering one, she took delight in
thinking of all the details of that minute rehearsal in the green-room
of Parisian life. She adored the rustle of the dresses worn by the
salesgirls, who hastened forward to meet her, all smiles, with their
offers, their queries; and Madame the dressmaker, the milliner, or
corset-maker, was to her a person of consequence, whom she treated as an
artist when she expressed an opinion in asking advice. She enjoyed
even more to feel herself in the skilful hands of the young girls who
undressed her and dressed her again, causing her to turn gently around
before her own gracious reflection. The little shiver that the touch of
their fingers produced on her skin, her neck, or in her hair, was one of
the best and sweetest little pleasures that belonged to her life of an
elegant woman.

This day, however, she passed before those candid mirrors, without
her veil or hat, feeling a certain anxiety. Her first visit, at
the milliner's, reassured her. The three hats which she chose were
wonderfully becoming; she could not doubt it, and when the milliner
said, with an air of conviction, "Oh, Madame la Comtesse, blondes should
never leave off mourning" she went away much pleased, and entered other
shops with a heart full of confidence.

Then she found at home a note from the Duchess, who had come to see
her, saying that she would return in the evening; then she wrote some
letters; then she fell into dreamy reverie for some time, surprised
that this simple change of place had caused to recede into a past that
already seemed far away the great misfortune that had overwhelmed her.
She could not even convince herself that her return from Roncieres dated
only from the day before, so much was the condition of her soul modified
since her return to Paris, as if that little change had healed her
wounds.

Bertin, arriving at dinner-time, exclaimed on seeing her:

"You are dazzling this evening!"

And this exclamation sent a warm wave of happiness through her being.

When they were leaving the table, the Count, who had a passion for
billiards, offered to play a game with Bertin, and the two ladies
accompanied them to the billiard-room, where the coffee was served.

The men were still playing when the Duchess was announced, and they
all returned to the drawing-room. Madame de Corbelle and her husband
presented themselves at the same time, their voices full of tears. For
some minutes it seemed, from the doleful tones, that everyone was about
to weep; but little by little, after a few tender words and inquiries,
another current of thought set in; the voices took on a more cheerful
tone, and everyone began to talk naturally, as if the shadow of the
misfortune that had saddened them had suddenly been dissipated.

Then Bertin rose, took Annette by the hand, led her under the portrait
of her mother, in the ray of light from the reflector, and said:

"Isn't this stupefying?"

The Duchess was so greatly surprised that she seemed dazed; she repeated
many times: "Heavens! is it possible? Heavens! is it possible? It is
like someone raised from the dead. To think that I did not see that when
I came in! Oh, my little Any, I find you again, I, who knew you so well
then in your first mourning as a woman--no, in your second, for you had
already lost your father. Oh, that Annette, in black like that--why, it
is her mother come back to earth! What a miracle! Without that portrait
we never should have perceived it. Your daughter resembles you very
much, but she resembles that portrait much more."

Musadieu now appeared, having heard of Madame de Guilleroy's return,
as he wished to be one of the first to offer her the "homage of his
sorrowful sympathy."

He interrupted his first speech on perceiving the young girl standing
against the frame, illumined by the same ray of light, appearing like
the living sister of the painting.

"Ah, that is certainly one of the most astonishing things I ever have
seen," he exclaimed.

The Corbelles, whose convictions always followed established opinions,
marveled in their turn with a little less exuberant ardor.

The Countess's heart seemed to contract, little by little, as if all
these exclamations of astonishment had hurt it. Without speaking, she
looked at her daughter standing by the image of herself, and a sudden
feeling of weakness came over her. She longed to cry out: "Say no more!
I know very well that she resembles me!"

Until the end of the evening she remained in a melancholy mood, having
lost once more the confidence she had felt the day before.

Bertin was chatting with her when the Marquis de Farandal was announced.
As soon as the painter saw him enter and approach the hostess he rose
and glided behind her armchair, murmuring: "This is delightful! There
comes that great animal now." Then, making a detour of the apartment, he
reached the door and departed.

After receiving the salutations of the newcomer, the Countess looked
around to find Olivier, to resume with him the talk in which she had
been interested. Not seeing him, she asked:

"What, has the great man gone?"

"I believe so, my dear," her husband answered; "I just saw him going
away in the English fashion."

She was surprised, reflected a few moments, and then began to talk to
the Marquis.

Her intimate friends, however, discreetly took their leave early, for,
so soon after her affliction, she had only half-opened her door, as it
were.

When she found herself again lying on her bed, all the griefs that had
assailed her in the country reappeared. They took a more distinct form;
she felt them more keenly. She realized that she was growing old!

That evening, for the first time, she had understood that, in her own
drawing-room, where until now she alone had been admired, complimented,
flattered, loved, another, her daughter, was taking her place. She had
comprehended this suddenly, when feeling that everyone's homage was paid
to Annette. In that kingdom, the house of a pretty woman, where she will
permit no one to overshadow her, where she eliminated with discreet and
unceasing care all disadvantageous comparisons, where she allows the
entrance of her equals only to attempt to make them her vassals, she saw
plainly that her daughter was about to become the sovereign. How strange
had been that contraction of her heart when all eyes were turned upon
Annette as Bertin held her by the hand standing before the portrait!
She herself felt as if she had suddenly disappeared, dispossessed,
dethroned. Everyone looked at Annette; no one had a glance for her any
more! She was so accustomed to hear compliments and flattery, whenever
her portrait was admired, she was so sure of eulogistic phrases, which
she had little regarded but which pleased her nevertheless, that
this desertion of herself, this unexpected defection, this admiration
intended wholly for her daughter, had moved, astonished, and hurt her
more than if it had been a question of no matter what rivalry under any
kind of conditions.

But, as she had one of those natures which, in all crises, after the
first blow, react, struggle, and find arguments for consolation, she
reasoned that, once her dear little daughter should be married, when
they should no longer live under the same roof, she herself would
no longer be compelled to endure that incessant comparison which
was beginning to be too painful for her under the eyes of her friend
Olivier.

But the shock had been too much for her that evening. She was feverish
and hardly slept at all. In the morning she awoke weary and overcome by
extreme lassitude, and then within her surged up an irresistible longing
to be comforted again, to be succored, to ask help from someone who
could cure all her ills, all her moral and physical ailments.

Indeed, she felt so ill at ease and weak that she had an idea of
consulting her physician. Perhaps she was about to be seriously
affected, for it was not natural that in a few hours she should pass
through those successive phases of suffering and relief. So she sent him
a telegram, and awaited his coming.

He arrived about eleven o'clock. He was one of those dignified,
fashionable physicians whose decorations and titles guarantee their
ability, whose tact at least equals mere skill, and who have, above all,
when treating women, an adroitness that is surer than medicines.

He entered, bowed, looked at his patient, and said with a smile: "Come,
this is not a very grave case. With eyes like yours one is never very
ill."

She felt immediate gratitude to him for this beginning, and told him
of her troubles, her weakness, her nervousness and melancholy; then she
mentioned, without laying too much stress on the matter, her alarmingly
ill appearance. After listening to her with an attentive air, though
asking no questions except as to her appetite, as if he knew well the
secret nature of this feminine ailment, he sounded her, examined her,
felt of her shoulders with the tips of his fingers, lifted her arms,
having undoubtedly met her thought and understood with the shrewdness of
a practitioner who lifts all veils that she was consulting him more for
her beauty than for her health. Then he said:

"Yes, we are a little anemic, and have some nervous troubles. That is
not surprising, since you have experienced such a great affliction. I
will write you a little prescription that will set you right again. But
above all, you must eat strengthening food, take beef-tea, no water, but
drink beer. I will indicate an excellent brand. Do not tire yourself by
late hours, but walk as much as you can. Sleep a good deal and grow a
little plumper. This is all that I can advise you, my fair patient."

She had listened to him with deep interest, trying to guess at what his
words implied. She caught at the last word.

"Yes, I am too thin," said she. "I was a little too stout at one time,
and perhaps I weakened myself by dieting."

"Without any doubt. There is no harm in remaining thin when one has
always been so; but when one grows thin on principle it is always at the
expense of something else. Happily, that can be soon remedied. Good-bye,
Madame."

She felt better already, more alert; and she wished to send for the
prescribed beer for her breakfast, at its headquarters, in order to
obtain it quite fresh.

She was just leaving the table when Bertin was announced.

"It is I, again," said he, "always I. I have come to ask you something.
Have you anything particular to do this afternoon?"

"No, nothing. Why?"

"And Annette?"

"Nothing, also."

"Then, can you come to the studio about four o'clock?"

"Yes, but for what purpose?"

"I am sketching the face of my _Reverie_, of which I spoke to you when
I asked you whether Annette might pose for me a few moments. It would
render me a great service if I could have her for only an hour to-day.
Will you?"

The Countess hesitated, annoyed, without knowing the reason why. But she
replied:

"Very well, my friend; we shall be with you at four o'clock."

"Thank you! You are goodness itself!"

He went away to prepare his canvas and study his subject, so that he
need not tire his model too much.

Then the Countess went out alone, on foot, to finish her shopping.
She went down to the great central streets, then walked slowly up the
Boulevard Malesherbes, for she felt as if her limbs were breaking. As
she passed Saint Augustin's, she was seized with a desire to enter the
church and rest. She pushed open the door, sighed with satisfaction in
breathing the cool air of the vast nave, took a chair and sat down.

She was religious as very many Parisians are religious. She believed
in God without a doubt, not being able to admit the existence of the
universe without the existence of a creator. But associating, as does
everyone, the attributes of divinity with the nature of the created
matter that she beheld with her own eyes, she almost personified the
Eternal God with what she knew of His work, without having a very clear
idea as to what this mysterious Maker might really be.

She believed in Him firmly, adored Him theoretically, feared Him very
vaguely, for she did not profess to understand His intentions or His
will, having a very limited confidence in the priests, whom she regarded
merely as the sons of peasants revolting from military service.
Her father, a middle-class Parisian, never had imposed upon her any
particular principles of devotion, and she had lived on thinking little
about religious matters until her marriage. Then, her new station in
life indicating more strictly her apparent duties toward the Church, she
had conformed punctiliously to this light servitude, as do so many of
her station.

She was lady patroness to numerous and very well known infant asylums,
never failed to attend mass at one o'clock on Sundays, gave alms for
herself directly, and for the world by means of an abbe, the vicar of
her parish.

She had often prayed, from a sense of duty, as a soldier mounts guard
at a general's door. Sometimes she had prayed because her heart was
sad, especially when she suspected Olivier of infidelity to her. At such
times, without confiding to Heaven the cause for her appeal, treating
God with the same naïve hypocrisy that is shown to a husband, she asked
Him to succor her. When her father died, long before, and again quite
recently, at her mother's death, she had had violent crises of religious
fervor, and had passionately implored Him who watches over us and
consoles us.

And, now behold! to-day, in that church where she had entered by chance,
she suddenly felt a profound need to pray, not for some one nor for some
thing, but for herself, for herself alone, as she had already prayed the
other day at her mother's grave. She must have help from some source,
and she called on God now as she had summoned the physician that very
morning.

She remained a long time on her knees, in the deep silence of the
church, broken only by the sound of footsteps. Then suddenly, as if a
clock had struck in her heart, she awoke from her memories, drew out her
watch and started to see that it was already four o'clock. She hastened
away to take her daughter to the studio, where Olivier must already be
expecting them.

They found the artist in his studio, studying upon the canvas the pose
of his _Reverie_. He wished to reproduce exactly what he had seen in the
Parc Monceau while walking with Annette: a young girl, dreaming, with an
open book upon her knees. He had hesitated as to whether he should make
her plain or pretty. If she were ugly she would have more character,
would arouse more thought and emotion, would contain more philosophy. If
pretty, she would be more seductive, would diffuse more charm, and would
please better.

The desire to make a study after his little friend decided him. The
_Reveuse_ should be pretty, and therefore might realize her poetic
vision one day or other; whereas if ugly she would remain condemned to a
dream without hope and without end.

As soon as the two ladies entered Olivier said, rubbing his hands:

"Well, Mademoiselle Nane, we are going to work together, it seems!"

The Countess seemed anxious. She sat in an armchair, and watched Olivier
as he placed an iron garden-chair in the right light. He opened his
bookcase to get a book, then asked, hesitating:

"What does your daughter read?"

"Dear me! anything you like! Give her a volume of Victor Hugo."

"'_La Legende des Siecles_?'"

"That will do."

"Little one, sit down here," he continued, "and take this volume of
verse. Look for page--page 336, where you will find a poem entitled 'Les
Pauvres Gens.' Absorb it, as one drinks the best wines, slowly, word by
word, and let it intoxicate you and move you. Then close the book, raise
your eyes, think and dream. Now I will go and prepare my brushes."

He went into a corner to put the colors on his palette, but while
emptying on the thin board the leaden tubes whence issued slender,
twisting snakes of color, he turned from time to time to look at the
young girl absorbed in her reading.

His heart was oppressed, his fingers trembled; he no longer knew what
he was doing, and he mingled the tones as he mixed the little piles of
paste, so strongly did he feel once more before this apparition,
before that resurrection, in that same place, after twelve years, an
irresistible flood of emotion overwhelming his heart.

Now Annette had finished her reading and was looking straight before
her. Approaching her, Olivier saw in her eyes two bright drops which,
breaking forth, ran down her cheeks. He was startled by one of those
shocks that make a man forget himself, and turning toward the Countess
he murmured:

"God! how beautiful she is!"

But he remained stupefied before the livid and convulsed face of Madame
de Guilleroy. Her large eyes, full of a sort of terror, gazed at her
daughter and the painter. He approached her, suddenly touched with
anxiety.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"I wish to speak to you."

Rising, she said quickly to Annette; "Wait a moment, my child; I have a
word to say to Monsieur Bertin."

She passed swiftly into the little drawing-room near by, where he
often made his visitors wait. He followed her, his head confused,
understanding nothing. As soon as they were alone, she seized his hands
and stammered:

"Olivier! Olivier, I beg you not to make her pose for you!"

"But why?" he murmured, disturbed.

"Why? Why?" she said precipitately. "He asks it! You do not feel it,
then yourself? Why? Oh, I should have guessed it sooner myself, but I
only discovered it this moment. I cannot tell you anything now. Go and
find my daughter. Tell her that I am ill; fetch a cab, and come to see
me in an hour. I will receive you alone."

"But, really, what is the matter with you?"

She seemed on the verge of hysterics.

"Leave me! I cannot speak here. Get my daughter and call a cab."

He had to obey and reentered the studio. Annette, unsuspicious, had
resumed her reading, her heart overflowing with sadness by the poetic
and lamentable story.

"Your mother is indisposed," said Olivier. "She became very ill when she
went into the other room. I will take some ether to her."

He went out, ran to get a flask from his room and returned.

He found them weeping in each other's arms. Annette, moved by "Les
Pauvres Gens," allowed her feelings full sway, and the Countess was
somewhat solaced by blending her grief with that sweet sorrow, in
mingling her tears with those of her daughter.

He waited for some time, not daring to speak; he looked at them, his own
heart oppressed with an incomprehensible melancholy.

"Well," said he at last. "Are you better?"

"Yes, a little," the Countess replied. "It was nothing. Have you ordered
a carriage?"

"Yes, it will come directly."

"Thank you, my friend--it is nothing. I have had too much grief for a
long time."

"The carriage is here," a servant announced.

And Bertin, full of secret anguish, escorted his friend, pale and almost
swooning, to the door, feeling her heart throb against his arm.

When he was alone he asked himself what was the matter with her, and why
had she made this scene. And he began to seek a reason, wandering around
the truth without deciding to discover it. Finally, he began to suspect.
"Well," he said to himself, "is it possible she believes that I am
making love to her daughter? No, that would be too much!" And, combating
with ingenious and loyal arguments that supposititious conviction, he
felt indignant that she had lent for an instant to this healthy and
almost paternal affection any suspicion of gallantry. He became more and
more irritated against the Countess, utterly unwilling to concede
that she had dared suspect him of such villainy, of an infamy so
unqualifiable; and he resolved, when the time should come for him to
answer her, that he would not soften the expression of his resentment.

He soon left his studio to go to her house, impatient for an
explanation. All along the way he prepared, with a growing irritation,
the arguments and phrases that must justify him and avenge him for such
a suspicion.

He found her on her lounge, her face changed by suffering.

"Well," said he, drily, "explain to me, my dear friend, the strange
scene that has just occurred."

"What, you have not yet understood it?" she said, in a broken voice.

"No, I confess I have not."

"Come, Olivier, search your own heart well."

"My heart?"

"Yes, at the bottom of your heart."

"I don't understand. Explain yourself better."

"Look well into the depths of your heart, and see whether you find
nothing there that is dangerous for you and for me."

"I repeat that I do not comprehend you. I guess that there is something
in your imagination, but in my own conscience I see nothing."

"I am not speaking of your conscience, but of your heart."

"I cannot guess enigmas. I entreat you to be more clear."

Then, slowing raising her hands, she took the hands of the painter and
held them; then, as if each word broke her heart, she said:

"Take care, my friend, or you will fall in love with my daughter!"

He withdrew his hands abruptly, and with the vivacity of innocence which
combats a shameful accusation, with animated gesture and increasing
excitement, he defended himself, accusing her in her turn of having
suspected him unjustly.

She let him talk for some time, obstinately incredulous, sure of what
she had said. Then she resumed:

"But I do not suspect you, my friend. You were ignorant of what was
passing within you, as I was ignorant of it until this morning. You
treat me as if I had accused you of wishing to seduce Annette. Oh,
no, no! I know how loyal you are, worthy of all esteem and of every
confidence. I only beg you, I entreat you to look into the depths of
your heart and see whether the affection which, in spite of yourself,
you are beginning to have for my daughter, has not a characteristic a
little different from simple friendship."

Now he was offended, and, growing still more excited, he began once more
to plead his loyalty, just as he argued all alone in the street.

She waited until he had finished his defense; then, without anger, but
without being shaken in her conviction, though frightfully pale, she
murmured:

"Olivier, I know very well all that you have just said to me, and I
think as you do. But I am sure that I do not deceive myself. Listen,
reflect, understand. My daughter resembles me too much, she is too much
what I was once when you began to love me, that you should not begin to
love her, too."

"Then," he exclaimed, "you dare to throw in my face such a thing as that
on this simple supposition and ridiculous reasoning: 'He loves me; my
daughter resembles me; therefore he will love her'!"

But seeing the Countess's face changing more and more, he continued in a
softer tone:

"Now, my dear Any, it is precisely because I do find you once more in
her that this young girl pleases me so much. It is you, you alone, that
I love when I look at her."

"Yes, and it is just that from which I begin to suffer, and which makes
me so anxious. You are not yet aware of what you feel, but by and by you
will no longer be able to deceive yourself regarding it."

"Any, I assure you that you are mad."

"Do you wish proofs?"

"Yes."

"You had not come to Roncieres for three years, in spite of my desire to
have you come. But you rushed down there when it was proposed that you
should come to fetch us."

"Oh, indeed! You reproach me for not leaving you alone down there,
knowing that you were ill, after your mother's death!"

"So be it! I do not insist. But look: the desire to see Annette again is
so imperious with you that you could not pass this day without asking me
to take her to your studio, under the pretext of posing her."

"And do you not suppose it was you I wished to see?"

"At this moment you are arguing against yourself, trying to convince
yourself--but you do not deceive me. Listen again: Why did you leave
abruptly, the night before last, when the Marquis de Farandal entered?
Do you know why?"

He hesitated, very much surprised, disturbed, disarmed by this
observation. Then he said slowly:

"But--I hardly know--I was tired, and then, to be candid, that imbecile
makes me nervous."

"Since when?"

"Always."

"Pardon me, I have heard you sing his praises. You liked him once. Be
quite sincere, Olivier."

He reflected a few moments; then, choosing his words, he said:

"Yes, it is possible that the great love I have for you makes me love
so much everything that belongs to you as to modify my opinion of that
bore, whom I might meet occasionally with indifference, but whom I
should not like to see in your house almost every day."

"My daughter's house will not be mine. But this is sufficient. I know
the uprightness of your heart. I know that you will reflect deeply
on what I have just said to you. When you have reflected you will
understand that I have pointed out a great danger to you, while yet
there is time to escape it. And you will beware. Now let us talk of
something else, will you?"

He did not insist, but he was much disturbed; he no longer knew what to
think, though indeed he had need for reflection. He went away after a
quarter of an hour of unimportant conversation.



CHAPTER IV

SWEET POISON

With slow steps, Olivier returned to his own house, troubled as if he
had just learned some shameful family secret. He tried to sound his
heart, to see clearly within himself, to read those intimate pages of
the inner book which seemed glued together, and which sometimes only
a strange hand can turn over by separating them. Certainly he did not
believe himself in love with Annette. The Countess, whose watchful
jealousy never slept, had foreseen this danger from afar, and had
signaled it before it even existed. But might that peril exist
to-morrow, the day after, in a month? It was the frank question that
he tried to answer sincerely. It was true that the child stirred his
instincts of tenderness, but these instincts in men are so numerous that
the dangerous ones should not be confounded with the inoffensive. Thus
he adored animals, especially cats, and could not see their silky fur
without being seized with an irresistible sensuous desire to caress
their soft, undulating backs and kiss their electric fur.

The attraction that impelled him toward this girl a little resembled
those obscure yet innocent desires that go to make up part of all the
ceaseless and unappeasable vibrations of human nerves. His eye of the
artist, as well as that of the man, was captivated by her freshness, by
that springing of beautiful clear life, by that essence of youth that
glowed in her; and his heart, full of memories of his long intimacy with
the Countess, finding in the extraordinary resemblance of Annette to
her mother a reawakening of old feelings, of emotions sleeping since the
beginning of his love, had been startled perhaps by the sensation of an
awakening. An awakening? Yes. Was it that? This idea illumined his mind.
He felt that he had awakened after years of sleep. If he had loved the
young girl without being aware of it, he should have experienced near
her that rejuvenation of his whole being which creates a different man
as soon as the flame of a new desire is kindled within him. No, the
child had only breathed upon the former fire. It had always been the
mother that he loved, but now a little more than recently, no doubt,
because of her daughter, this reincarnation of herself. And he
formulated this decision with the reassuring sophism: "One loves but
once! The heart may often be affected at meeting some other being, for
everyone exercises on others either attractions or repulsions. All these
influences create friendship, caprices, desire for possession, quick
and fleeting ardors, but not real love. That this love may exist it is
necessary that two beings should be so truly born for each other, should
be linked together in so many different ways, by so many similar tastes,
by so many affinities of body, of mind, and of character, and so many
ties of all kinds that the whole shall form a union of bonds. That which
we love, in short, is not so much Madame X. or Monsieur Z.; it is a
women or a man, a creature without a name, something sprung from Nature,
that great female, with organs, a form, a heart, a mind, a combination
of attributes which like a magnet attract our organs, our eyes, our
lips, our hearts, our thoughts, all our appetites, sensual as well as
intellectual. We love a type, that is, the reunion in one single person
of all the human qualities that may separately attract us in others."

For him, the Comtesse de Guilleroy had been this type, and their
long-standing liaison, of which he had not wearied, proved it to him
beyond doubt. Now, Annette so much resembled physically what her mother
had been as to deceive the eye; so there was nothing astonishing in the
fact that this man's heart had been surprised, if even it had not been
wholly captured. He had adored one woman! Another woman was born of her,
almost her counterpart. He could not prevent himself from bestowing on
the latter a little tender remnant of the passionate attachment he had
had for the former. There was no harm nor danger in that. Only his eyes
and his memory allowed themselves to be deluded by this appearance of
resurrection; but his instinct never had been affected, for never had he
felt the least stirring of desire for the young girl.

However, the Countess had reproached him with being jealous of the
Marquis! Was it true? Again he examined his conscience severely, and
decided that as a matter of fact he was indeed a little jealous. What
was there astonishing in that, after all? Are we not always being
jealous of men who pay court to no matter what woman? Does not one
experience in the street, at a restaurant, or a theater, a little
feeling of enmity toward the gentleman who is passing or who enters
with a lovely girl on his arm? Every possessor of a woman is a rival,
a triumphant male, a conqueror envied by all the other males. And then,
without considering these physiological reasons, if it was natural that
he should have for Annette a sympathy a little excessive because of his
love for her mother, was it not natural also that he should feel in his
heart a little masculine hatred of the future husband? He could conquer
this unworthy feeling without much trouble.

But in the depths of his heart he still felt a sort of bitter discontent
with himself and with the Countess. Would not their daily intercourse
be made disagreeable by the suspicion that he would be aware of in
her? Should he not be compelled to watch with tiresome and scrupulous
attention all that he said and did, his very looks, his slightest
approach toward the young girl? for all that he might do or say would
appear suspicious to the mother. He reached his home in a gloomy mood
and began to smoke cigarettes, with the vehemence of an irritated man
who uses ten matches to light his tobacco. He tried in vain to work. His
hand, his eye, and his brain seemed to have lost the knack of painting,
as if they had forgotten it, or never had known and practised the art.
He had taken up to finish a little sketch on canvas--a street corner, at
which a blind man stood singing--and he looked at it with unconquerable
indifference, with such a lack of power to continue it that he sat down
before it, palette in hand, and forgot it, though continuing to gaze at
it with attention and abstracted fixity.

Then, suddenly, impatience at the slowness of time, at the interminable
minutes, began to gnaw him with its intolerable fever. What should he
do until he could go to the club for dinner, since he could not work at
home? The thought of the streets tired him only to think of, filled
him with disgust for the sidewalks, the pedestrians, the carriages
and shops; and the idea of paying visits that day, to no matter whom,
aroused in him an instantaneous hatred for everyone he knew.

Then, what should he do? Should he pace to and fro in his studio,
looking at the clock at every turn, watching the displacement of the
long hand every few seconds? Ah, he well knew those walks from the door
to the cabinet, covered with ornaments. In his hours of excitement,
impulse, ambition, of fruitful and facile execution, these pacings had
been delicious recreation--these goings and comings across the large
room, brightened, animated, and warmed by work; but now, in his hours of
powerlessness and nausea, the miserable hours, when nothing seemed
worth the trouble of an effort or a movement, it was like the terrible
tramping of a prisoner in his cell. If only he could have slept, even
for an hour, on his divan! But no, he should not sleep; he should only
agitate himself until he trembled with exasperation. Whence came this
sudden attack of bad temper? He thought: "I am becoming excessively
nervous to have worked myself into such a state for so insignificant a
cause."

Then he thought he would take a book. The volume of _La Legende des
Siecles_ had remained on the iron chair where Annette had laid it. He
opened it and read two pages of verse without understanding them. He
understood them no more than if they had been written in a foreign
tongue. He was determined, however, and began again, only to find that
what he read had not really penetrated to his mind. "Well," said he
to himself, "it appears that I am becoming imbecile!" But a sudden
inspiration reassured him as to how he should fill the two hours that
must elapse before dinner-time. He had a hot bath prepared, and there he
remained stretched out, relaxed and soothed by the warm water, until his
valet, bringing his clothes, roused him from a doze. Then he went to
the club, where he found the usual companions. He was received with open
arms and exclamations, for they had not seen him for several days.

"I have just returned from the country," he explained.

All those men, except Musadieu, the landscape painter, professed a
profound contempt for the fields. Rocdiane and Landa, to be sure, went
hunting there, but among plains or woods they only enjoyed the pleasure
of seeing pheasants, quail, or partridges falling like handfuls of
feathers under their bullets, or little rabbits riddled with shot,
turning somersaults like clowns, going heels over head four or five
times, showing their white bellies and tails at every bound. Except for
these sports of autumn and winter, they thought the country a bore. As
Rocdiane would say: "I prefer little women to little peas!"

The dinner was lively and jovial as usual, animated by discussions
wherein nothing unforeseen occurs. Bertin, to arouse himself, talked a
great deal. They found him amusing, but as soon as he had had coffee,
and a sixty-point game of billiards with the banker Liverdy, he went
out, rambling from the Madeleine to the Rue Taitbout; after passing
three times before the Vaudeville, he asked himself whether he should
enter; almost called a cab to take him to the Hippodrome; changed his
mind and turned toward the Nouveau Cirque, then made an abrupt half
turn, without motive, design, or pretext, went up the Boulevard
Malesherbes, and walked more slowly as he approached the dwelling of
the Comtesse de Guilleroy. "Perhaps she will think it strange to see me
again this evening," he thought. But he reassured himself in reflecting
that there was nothing astonishing in his coming a second time to
inquire how she felt.

She was alone with Annette, in the little back drawing-room, and was
still working on her coverlets for the poor.

She said simply, on seeing him enter: "Ah, is it you, my friend?"

"Yes, I felt anxious; I wished to see you. How are you?"

"Thank you, very well."

She paused a moment, then added, significantly:

"And you?"

He began to laugh unconcernedly, as he replied: "Oh. I am very well,
very well. Your fears were entirely without foundation."

She raised her eyes, pausing in her work, and fixed her gaze upon him, a
gaze full of doubt and entreaty.

"It is true," said he.

"So much the better," she replied, with a smile that was slightly
forced.

He sat down, and for the first time in that house he was seized with
irresistible uneasiness, a sort of paralysis of ideas, still greater
than that which had seized him that day as he sat before his canvas.

"You may go on, my child; it will not annoy him," said the Countess to
her daughter.

"What was she doing?"

"She was studying a _fantaisie_."

Annette rose to go to the piano. He followed her with his eyes,
unconsciously, as he always did, finding her pretty. Then he felt the
mother's eye upon him, and turned his head abruptly, as if he were
seeking something in the shadowy corner of the drawing-room.

The Countess took from her work-table a little gold case that he had
given her, opened it, and offered him some cigarettes.

"Pray smoke, my friend," said she; "you know I like it when we are alone
here."

He obeyed, and the music began. It was the music of the distant past,
graceful and light, one of those compositions that seem to have inspired
the artist on a soft moonlight evening in springtime.

"Who is the composer of that?" asked Bertin.

"Schumann," the Countess replied. "It is little known and charming."

A desire to look at Annette grew stronger within him, but he did not
dare. He would have to make only a slight movement, merely a turn of
the neck, for he could see out of the corner of his eye the two candles
lighting the score; but he guessed so well, read so clearly, the
watchful gaze of the Countess that he remained motionless, his eyes
looking straight before him, interested apparently in the gray thread of
smoke from his cigarette.

"Was that all you had to say to me?" Madame de Guilleroy murmured to
him.

He smiled.

"Don't be vexed with me. You know that music hypnotizes me; it drinks my
thoughts. I will talk soon."

"I must tell you," said the Countess, "that I had studied something for
you before mamma's death. I never had you hear it, but I will play it
for you immediately, as soon as the little one has finished; you shall
see how odd it is."

She had real talent, and a subtle comprehension of the emotion that
flows through sounds. It was indeed one of her surest powers over the
painter's sensibility.

As soon as Annette had finished the pastoral symphony by Mehul, the
Countess rose, took her place, and awakened a strange melody with her
fingers, a melody of which all the phrases seemed complaints, divers
complaints, changing, numerous, interrupted by a single note, beginning
again, falling into the midst of the strains, cutting them short,
scanning them, crashing into them, like a monotonous, incessant,
persecuting cry, an unappeasable call of obsession.

But Olivier was looking at Annette, who had sat down facing him, and he
heard nothing, comprehended nothing.

He looked at her, without thinking, indulging himself with the sight of
her, as a good and habitual possession of which he had been deprived,
drinking her youthful beauty wholesomely, as we drink water when
thirsty.

"Well," said the Countess, "was not that beautiful?"

"Admirable! Superb!" he said, aroused. "By whom?"

"You do not know it?"

"No."

"What, really, you do not know it?"

"No, indeed."

"By Schubert."

"That does not astonish me at all," he said, with an air of profound
conviction. "It is superb! You would be delightful if you would play it
over again."

She began once more, and he, turning his head, began again to
contemplate Annette, but listened also to the music, that he might taste
two pleasures at the same time.

When Madame de Guilleroy had returned to her chair, in simple obedience
to the natural duplicity of man he did not allow his gaze to rest longer
on the fair profile of the young girl, who knitted opposite her mother,
on the other side of the lamp.

But, though he did not see her, he tasted the sweetness of her presence,
as one feels the proximity of a fire on the hearth; and the desire to
cast upon her swift glances only to transfer them immediately to the
Countess, tormented him--the desire of the schoolboy who climbs up
to the window looking into the street as soon as the master's back is
turned.

He went away early, for his power of speech was as paralyzed as his
mind, and his persistent silence might be interpreted.

As soon as he found himself in the street a desire to wander took
possession of him, for whenever he heard music it remained in his brain
a long time, threw him into reveries that seemed the music itself in
a dream, but in a clearer sequel. The sound of the notes returned,
intermittent and fugitive, bringing separate measures, weakened, and far
off as an echo; then, sinking into silence, appeared to leave it to the
mind to give a meaning to the themes, and to seek a sort of tender and
harmonious ideal. He turned to the left on reaching the outer Boulevard,
perceiving the fairylike illumination of the Parc Monceau, and entered
its central avenue, curving under the electric moons. A policeman
was slowly strolling along; now and then a belated cab passed; a man,
sitting on a bench in a bluish bath of electric light, was reading a
newspaper, at the foot of a bronze mast that bore the dazzling globe.
Other lights on the broad lawns, scattered among the trees, shed their
cold and powerful rays into the foliage and on the grass, animating this
great city garden with a pale life.

Bertin, with hands behind his back, paced the sidewalk, thinking of his
walk with Annette in this same park when he had recognized in her the
voice of her mother.

He let himself fall upon a bench, and, breathing in the cool freshness
of the dewy lawns, he felt himself assailed by all the passionate
expectancy that transforms the soul of youth into the incoherent canvas
of an unfinished romance of love. Long ago he had known such evenings,
those evenings of errant fancy, when he had allowed his caprice to roam
through imaginary adventures, and he was astonished to feel a return of
sensations that did not now belong to his age.

But, like the persistent note in the Schubert melody, the thought of
Annette, the vision of her face bent beside the lamp, and the strange
suspicion of the Countess, recurred to him at every instant. He
continued, in spite of himself, to occupy his heart with this question,
to sound the impenetrable depths where human feelings germinate
before being born. This obstinate research agitated him; this constant
preoccupation regarding the young girl seemed to open to his soul the
way to tender reveries. He could not drive her from his mind; he bore
within himself a sort of evocation of her image, as once he had borne
the image of the Countess after she had left him; he often had the
strange sensation of her presence in the studio.

Suddenly, impatient at being dominated by a memory, he arose, muttering:
"Any was stupid to say that to me. Now she will make me think of the
little one!"

He went home, disturbed about himself. After he had gone to bed he felt
that sleep would not come to him, for a fever coursed in his veins, and
a desire for reverie fermented in his heart. Dreading a wakeful night,
one of those enervating attacks of insomnia brought about by agitation
of the spirit, he thought he would try to read. How many times had a
short reading served him as a narcotic! So he got up and went into his
library to choose a good and soporific work; but his mind, aroused in
spite of himself, eager for any emotion it could find, sought among the
shelves for the name of some author that would respond to his state of
exaltation and expectancy. Balzac, whom he loved, said nothing to him;
he disdained Hugo, scorned Lamartine, who usually touched his emotions,
and fell eagerly upon Musset, the poet of youth. He took the volume and
carried it to bed, to read whatever he might chance to find.

When he had settled himself in bed, he began to drink, as with the
thirst of a drunkard, those flowing verses of an inspired being who
sang, like a bird, of the dawn of existence, and having breath only for
the morning, was silent in the arid light of day; those verses of a
poet who above all mankind was intoxicated with life, expressing his
intoxication in fanfares of frank and triumphant love, the echo of all
young hearts bewildered with desires.

Never had Bertin so perfectly comprehended the physical charm of those
poems, which move the senses but hardly touch the intelligence. With his
eyes on those vibrating stanzas, he felt that his soul was but twenty
years old, radiant with hopes, and he read the volume through in a state
of youthful intoxication. Three o'clock struck, and he was astonished to
find that he had not yet grown sleepy. He rose to shut his window and to
carry his book to a table in the middle of the room; but at the contact
of the cold air a pain, of which several seasons at Aix had not cured
him, ran through his loins, like a warning or a recall; and he threw
aside the poet with an impatient movement, muttering: "Old fool!" Then
he returned to bed and blew out his light.

He did not go to see the Countess the next day, and he even made the
energetic resolution not to return there for two days. But whatever
he did, whether he tried to paint or to walk, whether he bore his
melancholy mood with him from house to house, his mind was everywhere
harassed by the preoccupation of those two women, who would not be
banished.

Having forbidden himself to go to see them, he solaced himself by
thinking of them, and he allowed both mind and heart to give themselves
up to memories of both. It happened often that in that species of
hallucination in which he lulled his isolation the two faces approached
each other, different, such as he knew them; then, passing one before
the other, mingled, blended together, forming only one face, a little
confused, a face that was no longer the mother's, not altogether that
of the daughter, but the face of a woman loved madly, long ago, in the
present, and forever.

Then he felt remorse at having abandoned himself to the influence of
these emotions, which he knew were powerful and dangerous. To escape
them, to drive them away, to deliver his soul from this sweet and
captivating dream, he directed his mind toward all imaginable ideas, all
possible subjects of reflection and meditation. Vain efforts! All the
paths of distraction that he took led him back to the same point, where
he met a fair young face that seemed to be lying in wait for him. It was
a vague and inevitable obsession that floated round him, recalling him,
stopping him, no matter what detour he might make in order to fly from
it.

The confusion of these two beings, which had so troubled him on the
evening of their walk at Roncieres, rose again in his memory as soon as
he evoked them, after ceasing to reflect and reason, and he attempted to
comprehend what strange emotion was this that stirred his being. He said
to himself: "Now, have I for Annette a more tender feeling than I should
have?" Then, probing his heart, he felt it burning with affection for a
woman who was certainly young, who had Annette's features, but who was
not she. And he reassured himself in a cowardly way by thinking: "No, I
do not love the little one; I am the victim of a resemblance."

However, those two days at Roncieres remained in his soul like a source
of heat, of happiness, of intoxication; and the least details of those
days returned to him, one by one, with precision, sweeter even than at
the time they occurred. Suddenly, while reviewing the course of these
memories, he saw once more the road they had followed on leaving the
cemetery, the young girl plucking flowers, and he recollected that he
had promised her a cornflower in sapphires as soon as they returned to
Paris.

All his resolutions took flight, and without struggling longer he took
his hat and went out, rejoiced at the thought of the pleasure he was
about to give her.

The footman answered him, when he presented himself:

"Madame is out, but Mademoiselle is at home."

Again he felt a thrill of joy.

"Tell her that I should like to speak to her."

Annette appeared very soon.

"Good-day, dear master," said she gravely.

He began to laugh, shook hands with her, and sitting near her, said:

"Guess why I have come."

She thought a few seconds.

"I don't know."

"To take you and your mother to the jeweler's to choose the sapphire
cornflower I promised you at Roncieres."

The young girl's face was illumined with delight.

"Oh, and mamma has gone out," said she. "But she will return soon. You
will wait for her, won't you?"

"Yes, if she is not too long."

"Oh, how insolent! Too long, with me! You treat me like a child."

"No, not so much as you think," he replied.

He felt in his heart a longing to please her, to be gallant and witty,
as in the most successful days of his youth, one of those instinctive
desires that excite all the faculties of charming, that make the peacock
spread its tail and the poet write verses. Quick and vivacious phrases
rose to his lips, and he talked as he knew how to talk when he was at
his best. The young girl, animated by his vivacity, answered him with
all the mischief and playful shrewdness that were in her.

Suddenly, while he was discussing an opinion, he exclaimed: "But you
have already said that to me often, and I answered you--"

She interrupted him with a burst of laughter.

"Ah, you don't say '_tu_' to me any more! You take me for mamma!"

He blushed and was silent, then he stammered:

"Your mother has already sustained that opinion with me a hundred
times."

His eloquence was extinguished; he knew no more what to say, and he now
felt afraid, incomprehensibly afraid, of this little girl.

"Here is mamma," said she.

She had heard the door open in the outer drawing-room, and Olivier,
disturbed as if some one had caught him in a fault, explained how he
had suddenly bethought him of his promise, and had come for them to take
them to the jeweler's.

"I have a coupe," said he. "I will take the bracket seat."

They set out, and a little later they entered Montara's.

Having passed all his life in the intimacy, observation, study, and
affection of women, having always occupied his mind with them, having
been obliged to sound and discover their tastes, to know the details
of dress and fashion as they knew them, being familiar with the minute
details of their private life, he had arrived at a point that
enabled him often to share certain of their sensations, and he always
experienced, when entering one of the great shops where the charming
and delicate accessories of their beauty are to be found, an emotion
of pleasure that almost equaled that which stirred their hearts. He
interested himself as they did in those coquettish trifles with which
they set forth their beauty; the stuffs pleased his eyes; the laces
attracted his hands; the most insignificant furbelows held his
attention. In jewelers' shops he felt for the showcases a sort of
religious respect, as if before a sanctuary of opulent seduction; and
the counter, covered with dark cloth, upon which the supple fingers
of the goldsmith make the jewels roll, displaying their precious
reflections, filled him with a certain esteem.

When he had seated the Countess and her daughter before this severe
piece of furniture, on which each, with a natural movement, placed one
hand, he indicated what he wanted, and they showed him models of little
flowers.

Then they spread sapphires before him, from which it was necessary to
choose four. This took a long time. The two women turned them over on
the cloth with the tips of their fingers, then lifted them carefully,
looked through them at the light, studying them with knowing and
passionate attention. When they had laid aside those they had chosen,
three emeralds had to be selected to make the leaves, then a tiny
diamond that would tremble in the center like a drop of dew.

Then Olivier, intoxicated with the joy of giving, said to the Countess:

"Will you do me the favor to choose two rings?"

"I?"

"Yes. One for you, one for Annette. Let me make you these little
presents in memory of the two days I passed at Roncieres."

She refused. He insisted. A long discussion followed, a struggle
of words and arguments, which ended, not without difficulty, in his
triumph.

Rings were brought, some, the rarest, alone in special cases; others
arranged in similar groups in large square boxes, wherein all the
fancifulness of their settings were displayed in alignment on the
velvet. The painter was seated between the two women, and began, with
the same ardent curiosity, to take up the gold rings, one by one, from
the narrow slits that held them. He deposited them before him on the
cloth-covered counter where they were massed in two groups, those that
had been rejected at first sight and those from which a choice would be
made.

Time was passing, insensibly and sweetly, in this pretty work of
selection, more captivating than all the pleasures of the world,
distracting and varied as a play, stirring also an exquisite and almost
sensuous pleasure in a woman's heart.

Then they compared, grew animated, and, after some hesitation, the
choice of the three judges settled upon a little golden serpent holding
a beautiful ruby between his thin jaws and his twisted tail.

Olivier, radiant, now arose.

"I will leave you my carriage," said he; "I have something to look
after, and I must go."

But Annette begged her mother to walk home, since the weather was so
fine. The Countess consented, and, having thanked Bertin, went out into
the street with her daughter.

They walked for some time in silence, enjoying the sweet realization of
presents received; then they began to talk of all the jewels they had
seen and handled. Within their minds still lingered a sort of glittering
and jingling, an echo of gaiety. They walked quickly through the crowd
which fills the street about five o'clock on a summer evening. Men
turned to look at Annette, and murmured in distinct words of admiration
as they passed. It was the first time since her mourning, since black
attire had added brilliancy to her daughter's beauty, that the Countess
had gone out with her in the streets of Paris; and the sensation of that
street success, that awakened attention, those whispered compliments,
that little wake of flattering emotion which the passing of a pretty
woman leaves in a crowd of men, contracted her heart little by little
with the same painful feeling she had had the other evening in her
drawing-room, when her guests had compared the little one with her
own portrait. In spite of herself, she watched for those glances that
Annette attracted; she felt them coming from a distance, pass over her
own face without stopping and suddenly settle upon the fair face beside
her own. She guessed, she saw in the eyes the rapid and silent homage
to this blooming youth, to the powerful charm of that radiant freshness,
and she thought: "I was as pretty as she, if not prettier." Suddenly the
thought of Olivier flashed across her mind, and she was seized, as at
Roncieres, with a longing to flee.

She did not wish to feel herself any longer in this bright light, amid
this stream of people, seen by all those men who yet did not look at
her. Those days seemed far away, though in reality quite recent, when
she had sought and provoked comparison with her daughter. Who, to-day,
among the passers, thought of comparing them? Only one person had
thought of it, perhaps, a little while ago, in the jeweler's shop. He?
Oh, what suffering! Could it be that he was thinking continually of that
comparison? Certainly he could not see them together without thinking
of it, and without remembering the time when she herself had entered his
house, so fresh, so pretty, so sure of being loved!

"I feel ill," said she. "We will take a cab, my child."

Annette was uneasy.

"What is the matter, mamma?" she asked.

"It is nothing; you know that since your grandmother's death I often
have these moments of weakness."



CHAPTER V

A WANING MOON

Fixed ideas have the tenacity of incurable maladies. Once entered in the
soul they devour it, leaving it no longer free to think of anything, or
to have a taste for the least thing. Whatever she did, or wherever she
was, alone or surrounded by friends, she could no longer rid herself
of the thought that had seized her in coming home side by side with her
daughter. Could it be that Olivier, seeing them together almost every
day, thought continually of the comparison between them?

Surely he must do it in spite of himself, incessantly, himself haunted
by that unforgettable resemblance, accentuated still further by the
imitation of tone and gesture they had tried to produce. Every time he
entered she thought of that comparison; she read it in his eyes, guessed
it and pondered over it in her heart and in her mind. Then she was
tortured by a desire to hide herself, to disappear, never to show
herself again beside her daughter.

She suffered, too, in all ways, not feeling at home any more in her
own house. That pained feeling of dispossession which she had had
one evening, when all eyes were fixed on Annette under her portrait,
continued, stronger and more exasperating than before. She reproached
herself unceasingly for feeling that yearning need for deliverance,
that unspeakable desire to send her daughter away from her, like
a troublesome and tenacious guest; and she labored against it with
unconscious skill, convinced of the necessity of struggling to retain,
in spite of everything, the man she loved.

Unable to hasten Annette's marriage too urgently, because of their
recent mourning, she feared, with a confused yet dominating fear,
anything that might defeat that plan; and she sought, almost in spite
of herself, to awaken in her daughter's heart some feeling of tenderness
for the Marquis.

All the resourceful diplomacy she had employed so long to hold Olivier
now took with her a new form, shrewder, more secret, exerting itself to
kindle affection between the young people, and to keep the two men from
meeting.

As the painter, who kept regular hours of work, never breakfasted away
from home, and usually gave only his evenings to his friends, she often
invited the Marquis to breakfast. He would arrive, spreading around
him the animation of his ride, a sort of breath of morning air. And he
talked gaily of all those worldly things that seem to float every day
upon the autumnal awakening of brilliant and horse-loving Paris in the
avenues of the Bois. Annette was amused in listening to him, acquired
some taste for those topics of the days that he recounted to her, fresh
and piquant as they were. An intimacy of youth sprang up between them,
a pleasant companionship which a common and passionate love for horses
naturally fostered. When he had gone the Countess and the Count would
artfully praise him, saying everything necessary to let the young girl
know that it depended only upon herself to marry him if he pleased her.

She had understood very quickly, however, and reasoning frankly with
herself, judged it a very simple thing to take for a husband this
handsome fellow, who would give her, besides other satisfactions, that
which she preferred above all others, the pleasure of galloping beside
him every morning on a thoroughbred.

They found themselves betrothed one day, quite naturally, after a clasp
of the hand and a smile, and the marriage was spoken of as something
long decided. Then the Marquis began to bring gifts, and the Duchess
treated Annette like her own daughter. The whole affair, then, had been
fostered by common accord, warmed over the fire of a little intimacy,
during the quiet hours of the day; and the Marquis, having many other
occupations, relatives, obligations and duties, rarely came in the
evening.

That was Olivier's time. He dined regularly every week with his friends,
and also continued to appear without appointment to ask for a cup of tea
between ten o'clock and midnight.

As soon as he entered the Countess watched him, devoured by a desire to
know what was passing in his heart. He gave no glance, made no gesture
that she did not immediately interpret, and she was tortured by this
thought: "It is impossible that he is not in love with her, seeing us so
close together."

He, too, brought gifts. Not a week passed that he did not appear bearing
two little packages in his hands, offering one to the mother, the other
to the daughter; and the Countess, opening the boxes, which often held
valuable objects, felt again that contraction of the heart. She knew so
well that desire to give which, as a woman, she never had been able to
satisfy--that desire to bring something that would give pleasure,
to purchase for someone, to find in the shops some trifle that would
please.

The painter had already been through this phase, and she had seen him
come in many times with that same smile, that same gesture, a little
packet in his hand. That habit had ceased after awhile, and now it had
begun again. For whom? She had no matter of doubt. It was not for her!

He appeared fatigued and thin. She concluded that he was suffering. She
compared his entrances, his manner, his bearing with the attitude of the
Marquis, who was also beginning to be attracted by Annette's grace. It
was not at all the same thing: Monsieur de Farandal admired her, Olivier
Bertin loved! She believed this at least during her hours of torture;
then, in quieter moments she still hoped that she had deceived herself.

Oh, often she could hardly restrain herself from questioning him when
she was alone with him, praying, entreating him to speak, to confess
all, to hide nothing! She preferred to know and to weep under certainty
than to suffer thus under doubt, not able to read that closed heart,
wherein she felt another love was growing.

That heart, which she prized more highly than her life, over which she
had watched, and which she had warmed and animated with her love for
twelve years, of which she had believed herself sure, which she had
hoped was definitely hers, conquered, submissive, passionately devoted
for the rest of their lives, behold! now that heart was escaping her by
an inconceivable, horrible, and monstrous fatality! Yes, it had suddenly
closed itself, upon a secret. She could no longer penetrate it by
a familiar word, or hide therein her own affection as in a faithful
retreat open for herself alone. What is the use of loving, of giving
oneself without reserve, if suddenly he to whom one has offered her
whole being, her entire existence, all, everything she had in the world,
is to escape thus because another face has pleased him, transforming him
in a few days almost into a stranger?

A stranger! He, Olivier? He spoke to her, as always, with the same
words, the same voice, the same tone. And yet there was something
between them, something inexplicable, intangible, invincible, almost
nothing--that almost nothing that causes a sail to float away when the
wind turns.

He was drifting, in fact, drifting away from her a little more each day,
by all the glances he cast upon Annette. He himself did not attempt
to see clearly into the depths of his heart. He felt, indeed, that
fermentation of love, that irresistible attraction; but he would not
understand, he trusted to events, to the unforeseen chances of life.

He had no longer any other interest than that of his dinners and his
evenings between those two women, separated from the gay world by their
mourning. Meeting only indifferent faces at their house--those of the
Corbelles, and Musadieu oftener--he fancied himself almost alone in the
world with them; and as he now seldom saw the Duchess and the Marquis,
for whom the morning and noontimes were reserved, he wished to forget
them, suspecting that the marriage had been indefinitely postponed.

Besides, Annette never spoke of Monsieur de Farandal before him. Was
this because of a sort of instinctive modesty, or was it perhaps from
one of those secret intuitions of the feminine heart which enable them
to foretell that of which they are ignorant?

Weeks followed weeks, without changing this manner of life, and autumn
came, bringing the reopening of the Chamber, earlier than usual because
of certain political dangers.

On the day of the reopening, the Comte de Guilleroy was to take to the
meeting of Parliament Madame de Mortemain, the Marquis, and Annette,
after a breakfast at his own house. The Countess alone, isolated in
her sorrow, which was steadily increasing, had declared that she would
remain at home.

They had left the table and were drinking coffee in the large
drawing-room, in a merry mood. The Count, happy to resume parliamentary
work, his only pleasure, talked very well concerning the existing
situation and of the embarrassments of the Republic; the Marquis,
unmistakably in love, answered him brightly, while gazing at Annette;
and the Duchess was almost equally pleased with the emotion of her
nephew and the distress of the government. The air of the drawing-room
was warm with that first concentrated heat of newly-lighted furnaces,
the heat of draperies, carpets, and walls, in which the perfumes of
asphyxiated flowers was evaporating. There was in this closely shut
room, filled with the aroma of coffee, an air of comfort, intimate,
familiar, and satisfied, when the door was opened before Olivier Bertin.

He paused at the threshold, so surprised that he hesitated to enter,
surprised as a deceived husband who beholds his wife's crime. A
confusion of anger and mingled emotion suffocated him, revealing to
him the fact that his heart was worm-eaten with love! All that they had
hidden from him, and all that he had concealed from himself appeared
before him as he perceived the Marquis installed in the house, as a
betrothed lover!

He understood, in a transport of exasperation, all that which he would
rather not have known and all that the Countess had not dared to tell
him. He did not ask himself why all those preparations for marriage had
been concealed from him. He guessed it, and his eyes, growing hard, met
those of the Countess, who blushed. They understood each other.

When he was seated, everyone was silent for a few seconds, his
unexpected entrance having paralyzed their flow of spirits; then the
Duchess began to speak to him, and he replied in a brief manner, his
voice suddenly changed.

He looked around at these people who were now chatting again, and said
to himself: "They are making game of me. They shall pay for it." He
was especially vexed with the Countess and Annette, whose innocent
dissimulation he suddenly understood.

"Oh, oh! it is time to go," exclaimed the Count, looking at the clock.
Turning to the painter, he added: "We are going to the opening of
Parliament. My wife will remain here, however. Will you accompany us? It
would give me great pleasure."

"No, thanks," replied Olivier drily. "Your Chamber does not tempt me."

Annette approached in a playful way, saying: "Oh, do come, dear master!
I am sure that you would amuse us much more than the deputies."

"No, indeed. You will amuse yourself very well without me."

Seeing him discontented and chagrined, she insisted, to show that she
felt kindly toward him.

"Yes, come, sir painter! I assure you that as for myself I cannot do
without you."

His next words escaped him so quickly that he could nether check them as
he spoke nor soften their tone:

"Bah! You do well enough without me, just as everyone else does!"

A little surprised at his tone, she exclaimed: "Come, now! Here he is
beginning again to leave off his 'tu' to me!"

His lips were curled in one of those smiles that reveal the suffering of
a soul, and he said with a slight bow: "It will be necessary for me to
accustom myself to it one day or another."

"Why, pray?"

"Because you will marry, and your husband, whoever he may be, would have
the right to find that word rather out of place coming from me."

"It will be time enough then to think about that," the Countess hastened
to say. "But I trust that Annette will not marry a man so susceptible as
to object to such familiarity from so old a friend."

"Come, come!" cried the Count; "let us go. We shall be late."

Those who were to accompany him, having risen, went out after him, after
the usual handshakes and kisses which the Duchess, the Countess, and her
daughter exchanged at every meeting as at every parting.

They remained alone, She and He, standing, behind the draperies over the
closed door.

"Sit down, my friend," said she softly.

But he answered, almost violently: "No, thanks! I am going, too."

"Oh, why?" she murmured, entreatingly.

"Because this is not my hour, it appears. I ask pardon for having come
without warning."

"Olivier, what is the matter with you?"

"Nothing. I only regret having disturbed an organized pleasure party."

She seized his hand.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "They were just about to set out, since
they were going to be present at the opening of the session. I intended
to stay at home. Contrary to what you said just now, you were really
inspired in coming to-day when I am alone."

He sneered.

"Inspired? Yes, I was inspired!"

She seized his wrists, and looking deep into his eyes she murmured very
low:

"Confess to me that you love her!"

He withdrew his hands, unable to control his impatience any longer.

"But you are simply insane with that idea!"

She seized him again by the arm and, tightening her hold on his sleeve,
she implored:

"Olivier! Confess, confess! I would rather know. I am certain of it, but
I would rather know. I would rather--Oh, you do not comprehend what my
life has become!"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"What would you have me do? Is it my fault if you lose your head?"

She held him, drawing him toward the other salon at the back, where
they could not be heard. She drew him by his coat, clinging to him and
panting. When she had led him as far as the little circular divan, she
made him let himself fall upon it; then she sat down beside him.

"Olivier, my friend, my only friend, I pray you to tell me that you love
her. I know it, I feel it from all that you do. I cannot doubt it. I am
dying of it, but I wish to know it from your own lips."

As he still resisted, she fell on her knees at his feet. Her voice
shook.

"Oh, my friend, my only friend! Is it true that you love her?"

"No, no, no!" he exclaimed, as he tried to make her rise. "I swear to
you that I do not."

She reached up her hand to his mouth and pressed it there tight,
stammering: "Oh, do not lie! I suffer too much!"

Then, letting her head fall on this man's knees, she sobbed.

He could see only the back of her neck, a mass of blond hair, mingled
with many white threads, and he was filled with immense pity, immense
grief.

Seizing that heavy hair in both hands he raised her head violently,
turning toward himself two bewildered eyes, from which tears were
flowing. And then on those tearful eyes he pressed his lips many times,
repeating:

"Any! Any! My dear, my dear Any!"

Then she, attempting to smile, and speaking in that hesitating voice of
children when choking with grief, said:

"Oh, my friend, only tell me that you still love me a little."

He embraced her again, even more tenderly than before.

"Yes, I love you, my dear Any."

She arose, sat down beside him again, seized his hands, looked at him,
and said tenderly:

"It is such a long time that we have loved each other. It should not end
like this."

He pressed her close to him, asking:

"Why should it end?"

"Because I am old, and because Annette resembles too much what I was
when you first knew me."

Now it was his turn to close her sad lips with his fingers, saying:

"Again! I beg that you will speak no more of that. I swear to you that
you deceive yourself."

"Oh, if you will only love me a little," she repeated.

"Yes, I love you," he said again.

They remained a long time without speaking, hands clasped in hands,
deeply moved and very sad. At last she broke the silence, murmuring:

"Oh, the hours that remain for me to live will not be gay!"

"I will try to make them sweet to you."

The shadow of the clouded sky that precedes the twilight by two hours
was darkening the drawing-room, burying them little by little in the
gray dimness of an autumn evening.

The clock struck.

"It is a long time since we came in here," said she. "You must go, for
someone might come, and we are not calm."

He arose, clasped her close, kissing her half-open lips, as he used
to do; then they crossed the two drawing-rooms, arm in arm, like a
newly-married pair.

"Good-by, my friend."

"Good-by, my friend."

And the portiere fell behind him.

He went downstairs, turned toward the Madeleine, and began to walk
without knowing what he was doing, dazed as if from a blow, his legs
weak, his heart hot and palpitating as if something burning shook within
his breast. For two or three hours, perhaps four, he walked straight
before him, in a sort of moral stupor and physical prostration which
left him only just strength enough to put one foot before the other.
Then he went home to reflect.

He loved this little girl, then. He comprehended now all that he had
felt near her since that walk in the Parc Monceau, when he found in her
mouth the call from a voice hardly recognized, the voice that long ago
had awakened his heart; then all that slow, irresistible renewal of
a love not yet extinct, not yet frozen, which he persisted in not
acknowledging to himself.

What should he do? But what could he do? When she was married he would
avoid seeing her often, that was all. Meantime, he would continue to
return to the house, so that no one should suspect anything, and he
would hide his secret from everyone.

He dined at home, which he very seldom did. Then he had a fire made in
the large stove in his studio, for the night promised to be very cold.
He even ordered the chandeliers to be lighted, as if he disliked
the dark corners, and then he shut himself in. What strange emotion,
profound, physical, frightfully sad, had seized him! He felt it in his
throat, in his breast, in all his relaxed muscles as well as in his
fainting soul. The walls of the apartment oppressed him; all his life
was inclosed therein--his life as an artist, his life as a man. Every
painted study hanging there recalled a success, each piece of furniture
spoke of some memory. But successes and memories were things of the
past. His life? How short, how empty it seemed to him, yet full. He had
made pictures, and more pictures, and always pictures, and had loved one
woman. He recalled the evenings of exaltation, after their meetings, in
this same studio. He had walked whole nights with his being on fire with
fever. The joy of happy love, the joy of worldly success, the unique
intoxication of glory, had caused him to taste unforgettable hours of
inward triumph.

He had loved a woman, and that woman had loved him. Through her he
had received that baptism which reveals to man the mysterious world of
emotions and of love. She had opened his heart almost by force, and now
he could no longer close it. Another love had entered, in spite of him,
through this opening--another, or rather the same relighted by a new
face; the same, stronger by all the force which this need to adore takes
on in old age. So he loved this little girl! He need no longer struggle,
resist, or deny; he loved her with the despairing knowledge that he
should not even gain a little pity from her, that she would always be
ignorant of his terrible torment, and that another would marry her!
At this thought constantly recurring, impossible to drive away, he was
seized with an animal-like desire to howl like chained dogs, for like
them he felt powerless, enslaved, imprisoned. Becoming more and more
nervous, the longer he thought, he walked with long strides through
the vast room, lighted up as if for a celebration. At last, unable to
tolerate longer the pain of that reopened wound, he wished to try to
calm it with the recollection of his early love, to drown it in evoking
his first and great passion. From the closet where he kept it he took
the copy of the Countess's portrait that he had made formerly for
himself, then he put it on his easel, and sitting down in front of it,
gazed at it. He tried to see her again, to find her living again, such
as he had loved her before. But it was always Annette that rose upon the
canvas. The mother had disappeared, vanished, leaving in her place that
other face which resembled hers so strangely. It was the little one,
with her hair a little lighter, her smile a little more mischievous, her
air a little more mocking; and he felt that he belonged body and soul
to that young being, as he never had belonged to the other, as a sinking
vessel belongs to the waves!

Then he arose, and in order to see this apparition no more he turned the
painting around; then, as he felt his heart full of sadness, he went
to his chamber to bring into the studio the drawer of his desk, wherein
were sleeping all the letters of the mistress of his heart. There they
lay, as if in a bed, one upon the other, forming a thick layer of little
thin papers. He thrust his hands among the mass, among all that which
spoke of both of them, deep into that bath of their long intimacy. He
looked at that narrow board coffin in which lay the mass of piled-up
envelopes, on which his name, his name alone, was always written. He
reflected that the love, the tender attachment of two beings, one for
the other, were recounted therein, among that yellowish wave of papers
spotted by red seals, and he inhaled, in bending over it, the old
melancholy odor of letters that have been packed away.

He wished to re-read them, and feeling in the bottom of the drawer, he
drew out a handful of the earlier ones. As soon as he opened them vivid
memories emerged from them, which stirred his soul. He recognized many
that he had carried about on his person for whole weeks, and found
again, throughout the delicate handwriting that said such sweet things
to him, the forgotten emotions of early days. Suddenly he found under
his fingers a fine embroidered handkerchief. What was that? He pondered
a few minutes, then he remembered! One day, at his house, she had
wept because she was a little jealous, and he had stolen and kept her
handkerchief, moist with her tears!

Ah, what sad things! What sad things! The poor woman!

From the depths of that drawer, from the depths of his past, all these
reminiscences rose like a vapor, but it was only the impalpable vapor of
a reality now dead. Nevertheless, he suffered and wept over the letters,
as one weeps over the dead because they are no more.

But the remembrance of all his early love awakened in him a new and
youthful ardor, a wave of irresistible tenderness which called up in
his mind the radiant face of Annette. He had loved the mother, through a
passionate impulse of voluntary servitude; he was beginning to love
this little girl like a slave, a trembling old slave on whom fetters
are riveted that he never can break. He felt this in the depths of
his being, and was terrified. He tried to understand how and why she
possessed him thus. He knew her so little! She was hardly a woman as
yet; her heart and soul still slept with the sleep of youth.

He, on the other hand, was now almost at the end of his life. How, then,
had this child been able to capture him with a few smiles and locks of
her hair? Ah, the smiles, the hair of that little blonde maiden made him
long to fall on his knees and strike the dust with his head!

Does one know, does one ever know why a woman's face has suddenly the
power of poison upon us? It seems as if one had been drinking her with
the eyes, that she had become one's mind and body. We are intoxicated
with her, mad over her; we live of that absorbed image and would die of
it!

How one suffers sometimes from this ferocious and incomprehensible power
of a certain face on a man's heart!

Olivier Bertin began to pace his room again; night was advancing, his
fire had gone out. Through the window-panes the cold air penetrated
from outside. Then he went back to bed, where he continued to think and
suffer until daylight.

He rose early, without knowing why, nor what he was going to do,
agitated by his nervousness, irresolute as a whirling weather-vane.

In seeking some distraction for his mind, some occupation for his body,
he recollected that on that particular day of the week certain members
of his club had the habit of meeting regularly at the Moorish Baths,
where they breakfasted after the massage. So he dressed quickly, hoping
that the hot room and the shower would calm him, and he went out.

As soon as he found himself in the street, he felt the cold air, that
first crisp cold of the early frost, which destroys in a single night
the last trances of summer.

All along the Boulevards fell a thick shower of large yellow leaves
which rustled down with a dry sound. As far as could be seen, they fell
from one end of the broad avenue to the other, between the facades of
the houses, as if all their stems had just been cut from the branches
by a thin blade of ice. The road and the sidewalks were already covered
with them, resembling for a few hours the paths in the woods at the
beginning of winter. All that dead foliage crackled under the feet,
and massed itself, from time to time, in light waves under the gusts of
wind.

This was one of those days of transition which mark the end of one
season and the beginning of another, which have a savor or a special
sadness--the sadness of the death-struggle or the savor of rising sap.

In crossing the threshold of the Moorish Baths, the thought of the heat
that would soon penetrate his flesh after his walk in the cold air gave
a feeling of satisfaction to Olivier's sad heart.

He undressed quickly, wrapping around his body the light scarf the
attendant handed to him, and disappeared behind the padded door open
before him.

A warm, oppressive breath, which seemed to come from a distant furnace,
made him pant as if he needed air while traversing a Moorish gallery
lighted by two Oriental lanterns. Then a negro with woolly head, attired
only in a girdle, with shining body and muscular limbs, ran before
him to raise a curtain at the other end; and Bertin entered the large
hot-air room, round, high-studded, silent, almost as mystic as a temple.
Daylight fell from above through a cupola and through trefoils of
colored glass into the immense circular room, with paved floor and walls
covered with pottery decorated after the Arab fashion.

Men of all ages, almost naked, walked slowly about, grave and silent;
others were seated on marble benches, with arms crossed; others still
chatted in low tones.

The burning air made one pant at the very entrance. There was, within
that stifling and decorated circular room, where human flesh was heated,
where black and yellow attendants with copper-colored legs moved about,
something antique and mysterious.

The first face the painter saw was that of the Comte de Landa. He was
promenading around like a Roman wrestler, proud of his enormous chest
and of his great arms crossed over it. A frequenter of the hot baths,
he felt when there like an admired actor on the stage, and he criticised
like an expert the muscles of all the strong men in Paris.

"Good-morning, Bertin," said he.

They shook hands; then Landa continued: "Splendid weather for sweating!"

"Yes, magnificent."

"Have you seen Rocdiane? He is down there. I was at his house just as he
was getting out of bed. Oh, look at that anatomy!"

A little gentleman was passing, bow-legged, with thin arms and flanks,
the sight of whom caused the two old models of human vigor to smile
disdainfully.

Rocdiane approached them, having perceived the painter. They sat down
on a long marble table and began to chat quite as if they were in a
drawing-room. The attendants moved about, offering drinks. One could
hear the clapping of the masseurs' hands on bare flesh and the sudden
flow of the shower-baths. A continuous pattering of water, coming from
all corners of the great amphitheater, filled it also with a sound like
rain.

At every instant some newcomer saluted the three friends, or approached
them to shake hands. Among them were the big Duke of Harrison, the
little Prince Epilati, Baron Flach, and others.

Suddenly Rocdiane said: "How are you, Farandal?"

The Marquis entered, his hands on his hips, with the easy air of
well-made men, who never feel embarrassed at anything.

"He is a gladiator, that chap!" Landa murmured.

Rocdiane resumed, turning toward Bertin: "Is it true that he is to marry
the daughter of your friend?"

"I think so," said the painter.

But the question, before that man, in that place, gave to Olivier's
heart a frightful shock of despair and revolt. The horror of all
the realities he had foreseen appeared to him for a second with such
acuteness that he struggled an instant or so against an animal-like
desire to fling himself on Farandal.

He arose.

"I am tired," said he. "I am going to the massage now."

An Arab was passing.

"Ahmed, are you at liberty?"

"Yes, Monsieur Bertin."

And he went away quickly in order to avoid shaking hands with Farandal,
who was approaching slowly in making the rounds of the Hammam.

He remained barely a quarter of an hour in the large quiet resting-room,
in the center of a row of cells containing the beds, with a _parterre_
of African plants and a little fountain in the center. He had a feeling
of being pursued, menaced, that the Marquis would join him, and that he
should be compelled, with extended hand, to treat him as a friend, when
he longed to kill him.

He soon found himself again on the Boulevard, covered with dead leaves.
They fell no more, the last ones having been detached by a long blast of
wind. Their red and yellow carpet shivered, stirred, undulated from one
sidewalk to another, blown by puffs of the rising wind.

Suddenly a sort of roaring noise glided over the roofs, the animal-like
sound of a passing tempest, and at the same time a furious gust of wind
that seemed to come from the Madeleine swept through the Boulevard.

All the fallen leaves, which appeared to have been waiting for it, rose
at its approach. They ran before it, massing themselves, whirling, and
rising in spirals up to the tops of the buildings. The wind chased them
like a flock, a mad flock that fled before it, flying toward the gates
of Paris and the free sky of the suburbs. And when the great cloud
of leaves and dust had disappeared on the heights of the Quartier
Malesherbes, the sidewalks and roads remained bare, strangely clean and
swept.

Bertin was thinking: "What will become of me? What shall I do? Where
shall I go?" And he returned home, unable to think of anything.

A news-stand attracted his eye. He bought seven or eight newspapers,
hoping that he might find in them something to read for an hour or two.

"I will breakfast here," said he, as he entered, and went up to his
studio.

But as he sat down he felt that he could not stay there, for throughout
his body surged the excitement of an angry beast.

The newspapers, which he glanced through, could not distract his mind
for a minute, and the news he read met his eye without reaching his
brain. In the midst of an article which he was not trying to comprehend,
the name of Guilleroy made him start. It was about the session of the
Chamber, where the Count had spoken a few words.

His attention, aroused by that call, was now arrested by the name of the
celebrated tenor Montrose, who was to give, about the end of December, a
single performance at the Opera. This would be, the newspaper stated,
a magnificent musical solemnity, for the tenor Montrose, who had
been absent six years from Paris, had just won, throughout Europe and
America, a success without precedent; moreover, he would be supported by
the illustrious Swedish singer, Helsson, who had not been heard in Paris
for five years.

Suddenly Olivier had an idea, which seemed to spring from the depths
of his heart--he would give Annette the pleasure of seeing this
performance. Then he remembered that the Countess's mourning might be an
obstacle to this scheme, and he sought some way to realize it in spite
of the difficulty. Only one method presented itself. He must take a
stage-box where one may be almost invisible, and if the Countess should
still not wish to go, he would have Annette accompanied by her father
and the Duchess. In that case, he would have to offer his box to the
Duchess. But then he would be obliged to invite the Marquis!

He hesitated and reflected a long time.

Certainly, the marriage was decided upon; no doubt the date was settled.
He guessed the reason for his friend's haste in having it finished soon;
he understood that in the shortest time possible she would give her
daughter to Farandal. He could not help it. He could neither prevent,
nor modify, nor delay this frightful thing. Since he must bear it,
would it not be better for him to try to master his soul, to hide his
suffering, to appear content, and no longer allow himself to be carried
away by his rage, as he had done?

Yes, he would invite the Marquis, and so allay the Countess's
suspicions, and keep for himself a friendly door in the new
establishment.

As soon as he had breakfasted, he went down to the Opera to engage one
of the boxes hidden by the curtain. It was promised to him. Then he
hastened to the Guilleroys'.

The Countess appeared almost immediately, apparently still a little
moved by their tender interview of the day before.

"How kind of you to come again to-day!" said she.

"I am bringing you something," he faltered.

"What is it?"

"A stage-box at the Opera for the single performance of Helsson and
Montrose."

"Oh, my friend, what a pity! And my mourning?"

"Your mourning has lasted for almost four months."

"I assure you that I cannot."

"And Annette? Remember that she may never have such an opportunity
again."

"With whom could she go?"

"With her father and the Duchess, whom I am about to invite. I intend
also to offer a seat to the Marquis."

She gazed deep into his eyes, and a wild desire to kiss him rose to her
lips. Hardly believing her ears, she repeated: "To the Marquis?"

"Why, yes."

She consented at once to this arrangement.

He continued, in an indifferent tone: "Have you fixed the date of their
marriage?"

"Oh, yes, almost. We have reasons for hastening it very much, especially
as it was decided upon before my mother's death. You remember that?"

"Yes, perfectly. And when will it take place?"

"About the beginning of January. I ask your pardon for not having told
you of it sooner."

Annette entered. He felt his heart leap within him as if on springs,
and all the tenderness that drew him toward her suddenly became bitter,
arousing in his heart that strange, passionate animosity into which love
changes when lashed by jealousy.

"I have brought you something," he said.

"So we have decided to say 'you'?" she replied.

He assumed a paternal tone.

"Listen, my child, I know all about the event that is soon to occur. I
assure you that then it will be indispensable. Better say 'you' now than
later."

She shrugged her shoulders with an air of discontent, while the Countess
remained silent, looking afar off, her thoughts preoccupied.

"Well, what have you brought me?" inquired Annette.

He told her about the performance, and the invitations he intended to
give. She was delighted, and, throwing her arms around his neck with the
manner of a little girl, she kissed him on both cheeks.

He felt ready to sink, and understood, when he felt the light caresses
of that little mouth with its sweet breath, that he never should be
cured of his passion.

The Countess, annoyed, said to her daughter: "You know that your father
is waiting for you."

"Yes, mamma, I am going."

She ran away, still throwing kisses from the tips of her fingers.

As soon as she had gone, Olivier asked: "Will they travel?"

"Yes, for three months."

"So much the better," he murmured in spite of himself.

"We will resume our former life," said the Countess.

"Yes, I hope so," said he, hesitatingly.

"But do not neglect me meanwhile."

"No, my friend."

The impulse he had shown the evening before, when seeing her weep, and
the intention which he had just expressed of inviting the Marquis to the
performance at the Opera, had given new hope to the Countess.

But it was short. A week had not passed ere she was again following
the expression of this man's face with tortured and jealous attention,
watching every stage of his suffering. She could ignore nothing, herself
enduring all the pain that she guessed at in him; and Annette's constant
presence reminded her at every moment of the day of the hopelessness of
her efforts.

Everything oppressed her at the same time--her age and her mourning.
Her active, intelligent, and ingenious coquetry, which all her life had
given her triumph, found itself paralyzed by that black uniform which
marked her pallor and the change in her features, while it rendered the
adolescence of her daughter absolutely dazzling. The time seemed far
away, though it was quite recent, when, on Annette's return to Paris,
she had proudly sought similar toilets which at that time were favorable
to her. Now she had a furious longing to tear from her body those
vestments of death which made her ugly and tortured her.

If she had felt that all the resources of elegance were at her service,
if she had been able to choose and use delicately shaded stuffs, in
harmony with her coloring, which would have lent a studied power to her
fading charms, as captivating as the inert grace of her daughter, she
would no doubt have known how to remain still the more charming.

She knew so well the influences of the fever-giving costume of
evening, and the soft sensuousness of morning attire, of the disturbing
_deshabille_ worn at breakfast with intimate friends, which lend to a
woman until noontime a sort of reminiscence of her rising, the material
and warm impression of the bed and of her perfumed room!

But what could she attempt under that sepulchral robe, that convict's
dress, which must cover her for a whole year? A year! She must remain
a year imprisoned in that black attire, inactive and vanquished. For a
whole year she would feel herself growing old, day by day, hour by hour,
minute by minute, under that sheath of crape! What would she be in a
year if her poor ailing body continued to alter thus under the anguish
of her soul?

These thoughts never left her, and spoiled for her everything she might
have enjoyed, turned into sadness things that would have given her joy,
leaving her not a pleasure, a contentment, or a gaiety intact. She was
agitated incessantly by an exasperating need to shake off this weight of
misery that crushed her, for without this tormenting obsession she would
still have been so happy, alert, and healthy! She felt that her soul was
still fresh and bright, her heart still young, the ardor of a being
that is beginning to live, an insatiable appetite for happiness, more
voracious even than before, and a devouring desire to love.

And now, all good things, all things sweet, delicious and poetic, which
embellish life and make it enjoyable, were withdrawing from her, because
she was growing old! It was all finished! Yet she still found within
her the tenderness of the young girl and the passionate impulses of the
young woman. Nothing had grown old but her body, that miserable skin,
that stuff over the bones, fading little by little like the covering
of a piece of furniture. The curse of this decay had attached itself
to her, and had become almost a physical suffering. This fixed idea
had created a sensation of the epidermis, the sensation of growing old,
continuous and imperceptible, like that of cold or of heat. She really
believed that she felt an indescribable sort of itching, the slow march
of wrinkles upon her forehead, the weakening of the tissues of the
cheeks and throat, and the multiplication of those innumerable little
marks that wear out the tired skin. Like some one afflicted with
a consuming disease, whom a continual prurience induces to scratch
himself, the perception and terror of that abominable, swift and secret
work of time filled her soul with an irresistible need of verifying
it in her mirrors. They called her, drew her, forced her to come, with
fixed eyes, to see, to look again, to recognize incessantly, to touch
with her finger, as if to assure herself, the indelible mark of the
years. At first this was an intermittent thought, returning whenever she
saw the polished surface of the dreaded crystal, at home or abroad. She
paused in the street to gaze at herself in the shop-windows, hanging
as if by one hand to all the glass plates with which merchants ornament
their facades. It became a disease, an obsession. She carried in her
pocket a dainty little ivory powder-box, as large as a nut, the interior
of which contained a tiny mirror; and often, while walking, she held it
open in her hand and raised it to her eyes.

When she sat down to read or write in the tapestried drawing-room, her
mind, distracted for the time by a new occupation, would soon return
to its obsession. She struggled, tried to amuse herself, to have
other ideas, to continue her work. It was in vain; the prick of desire
tormented her, and soon dropping her book or her pen, her hand would
steal out, by an irresistible impulse, toward the little hand-glass
mounted in antique silver that lay upon her desk. In this oval, chiseled
frame her whole face was inclosed, like a face of days gone by, a
portrait of the last century, or a once fresh pastel now tarnished by
the sun. Then after gazing at herself a long time, she laid, with a
weary movement, the little glass upon the desk and tried to resume her
work; but ere she had read two pages or written twenty lines, she
was again seized with the invincible and torturing need of looking at
herself, and once more would extend her hand to take up the mirror.

She now handled it like an irritating and familiar toy that the hand
cannot let alone, used it continually even when receiving her friends,
and made herself nervous enough to cry out, hating it as if it were a
sentient thing while turning it in her fingers.

One day, exasperated by this struggle between herself and this bit of
glass, she threw it against the wall, where it was broken to pieces.

But after a time her husband, who had it repaired, brought it back to
her, clearer than ever; and she was compelled to take it, to thank him,
and resign herself to keep it.

Every evening, too, and every morning, shut up in her own room, she
resumed, in spite of herself, that minute and patient examination of the
quiet, odious havoc.

When she was in bed she could not sleep; she would light a candle again
and lie, wide-eyed, thinking how insomnia and grief hasten irremediably
the horrible work of fleeting time. She listened in the silence of
the night to the ticking of the clock, which seemed to murmur, in its
monotonous and regular tic-tac: "It goes, it goes, it goes!" and her
heart shrank with such suffering that, with the sheet gripped between
her teeth, she groaned in despair.

Once, like everyone else, she had some notion of the passing years and
of the changes they bring. Like everyone else, she had said to herself
every winter, every spring, and every summer, "I have changed very much
since last year." But, always beautiful, with a changing beauty, she
was never uneasy about it. Now, however, suddenly, instead of admitting
peacefully the slow march of the seasons, she had just discovered and
understood the formidable flight of the minutes. She had had a sudden
revelation of the gliding of the hour, of that imperceptible race,
maddening when we think of it--of that infinite defile of little
hurrying seconds, which nibble at the body and the life of men.

After these miserable nights, she had long periods of somnolence that
made her more tranquil, in the warmth of her bed, when her maid had
opened the curtains and lighted the morning fire. She lay there tired,
drowsy, neither awake nor asleep, in the torpor of thought which brings
about the revival of that instinctive and providential hope which gives
light and life to the hearts of men up to their last days.

Every morning now, as soon as she had risen from her bed, she felt moved
by a powerful desire to pray to God, to obtain from Him a little relief
and consolation.

She would kneel, then, before a large figure of Christ carved in oak, a
gift from Olivier, a rare work he had discovered; and, with lips
closed, but imploring with that voice of the soul with which we speak to
ourselves, she lifted toward the Divine martyr a sorrowful supplication.
Distracted by the need of being heard and succored, naïve in her
distress, as are all faithful ones on their knees, she could not doubt
that He heard her, that He was attentive to her request, and was perhaps
touched at her grief. She did not ask Him to do for her that which He
never had done for anyone--to leave her until death all her charm, her
freshness and grace; she begged only a little repose, a little respite.
She must grow old, of course, just as she must die. But why so soon?
Some women remain beautiful so long! Could He not grant that she should
be one of these? How good He would be, He who had also suffered so much,
if only He would let her keep for two or three years still the little
charm she needed in order to be pleasing.

She did not say these things to Him, of course, but she sighed them
forth, in the confused plaint of her being.

Then, having risen, she would sit before her toilet-table, and with
a tension of thought as ardent as in her prayer, she would handle the
powders, the pastes, the pencils, the puffs and brushes, which gave her
once more a plaster-like beauty, fragile, lasting only for a day.



CHAPTER VI

THE ASHES OF LOVE

On the Boulevard two names were heard from all lips: "Emma Helsson" and
"Montrose." The nearer one approached the Opera, the oftener he heard
those names repeated. Immense posters, too, affixed to the Morris
columns, announced them in the eyes of passers, and in the evening air
could be felt the excitement of an approaching event.

That heavy monument called the National Academy of Music, squatted under
the black sky, exhibited to the crowd before its doors the pompous,
whitish facade and marble colonnade of its balcony, illuminated like a
stage setting by invisible electric lights.

In the square the mounted Republican guards directed the movement of
the crowds, and the innumerable carriages coming from all parts of
Paris allowed glimpses of creamy light stuff and fair faces behind their
lowered windows.

The coupes and landaus formed in line under the reserved arcades, and
stopped for a moment, and from them alighted fashionable and other
women, in their opera-cloaks, trimmed with fur, feathers, and rare
laces--precious bodies, divinely set forth!

All the way along the celebrated stairway was a sort of fairy flight, an
uninterrupted mounting of ladies dressed like queens, whose throats and
ears scattered flashing rays from their diamonds, and whose long trains
swept the stairs.

The theater was filling early, for no one wished to lose a note of the
two illustrious artists; and throughout the vast amphitheater, under the
dazzling electric light from the great chandelier, a throng of people
were seating themselves amid an uproar of voices.

From the stage-box, already occupied by the Duchess, Annette, the Count,
the Marquis, Bertin and Musadieu, one could see nothing but the wings,
where men were talking, running about, and shouting, machinists in
blouses, gentlemen in evening dress, actors in costume. But behind
the great curtain one heard the deep sound of the crowd, one felt the
presence of a mass of moving, over-excited beings, whose agitation
seemed to penetrate the curtain, and to extend even to the decorations.

They were about to present _Faust_.

Musadieu was relating anecdotes about the first representatives of
this work at the Theatre Lyrique, of its half success in the beginning
followed by brilliant triumph, of the original cast, and their manner of
singing each aria. Annette, half turned toward him, listened with that
eager, youthful curiosity with which she regarded the whole world; and
at times she cast a tender glance at her fiance, who in a few days would
be her husband. She loved him, now, as innocent hearts love; that is
to say she loved in him all the hopes she had for the future. The
intoxication of the first feasts of life, and the ardent longing to be
happy, made her tremble with joy and expectation.

And Olivier, who saw all, and knew all, who had sounded all the depths
of secret, helpless, and jealous love, down in the furnace of human
suffering, where the heart seems to crackle like flesh over hot coals,
stood in the back of the box looking at them with eyes that betrayed his
torture.

The three blows were struck, and suddenly the sharp little tap of a
bow on the leader's desk stopped short all movement, all coughing and
whispering; then, after a brief and profound silence, the first measure
of the introduction arose, filling the house with the invisible and
irresistible mystery of the music that penetrates our bodies, thrills
our nerves and souls with a poetic and sensuous fever, mingling with the
limpid air we breathe a wave of sound to which we listen.

Olivier took a seat at the back of the box, painfully affected, as
if his heart's wounds had been touched by those accents. But when the
curtain rose he stood up again, and saw Doctor Faust, lost in sorrowful
meditation, seated in his alchemist's laboratory.

He had already heard the opera twenty times, and almost knew it by
heart, and his attention soon wandered from the stage to the audience.
He could see only a small part of it behind the frame of the stage which
concealed their box, but the angle that was visible, extending from the
orchestra to the top gallery, showed him a portion of the audience in
which he recognized many faces. In the orchestra rows, the men in white
cravats, sitting side by side, seemed a museum of familiar countenances,
society men, artists, journalists, the whole category of those that
never fail to go where everyone else goes. In the balcony and in
the boxes he noted and named to himself the women he recognized. The
Comtesse de Lochrist, in a proscenium box, was absolutely ravishing,
while a little farther on a bride, the Marquise d'Ebelin, was already
looking through her lorgnette. "That is a pretty debut," said Bertin to
himself.

The audience listened with deep attention and evident sympathy to the
tenor Montrose, who was lamenting over his waning life.

Olivier thought: "What a farce! There is Faust, the mysterious and
sublime Faust who sings the horrible disgust and nothingness of
everything; and this crowd are asking themselves anxiously whether
Montrose's voice has not changed!" Then he listened, like the others,
and behind the trivial words of the libretto, through that music which
awakens profound perception in the soul, he had a sort of revelation as
to how Goethe had been able to conceive the heart of Faust.

He had read the poem some time before, and thought it very beautiful
without being moved by it, but now he suddenly realized its unfathomable
depth, for it seemed to him that on that evening he himself had become a
Faust.

Leaning lightly upon the railing of the box, Annette was listening with
all her ears; and murmurs of satisfaction were beginning to be heard
from the audience, for Montrose's voice was better and richer than ever!

Bertin had closed his eyes. For a whole month, all that he had seen,
all that he had felt, everything that he had encountered in life he
had immediately transformed into a sort of accessory to his passion. He
threw the world and himself as nourishment to this fixed idea. All
that he saw that was beautiful or rare, all that he imagined that was
charming, he mentally offered to his little friend; and he had no longer
an idea that he did not in some way connect with his love.

Now he listened from the depths of his soul to the echo of Faust's
lamentations, and the desire to die surged up within him, the desire to
have done with all his grief, with all the misery of his hopeless
love. He looked at Annette's delicate profile, and saw the Marquis de
Farandal, seated behind her, also looking at it. He felt old, lost,
despairing. Ah, never to await anything more, never to hope for anything
more, no longer to have even the right to desire, to feel himself
outside of everything, in the evening of life, like a superannuated
functionary whose career is ended--what intolerable torture!

Applause burst forth; Montrose had triumphed already. And Labarriere as
Mephistopheles sprang up from the earth.

Olivier, who never had heard him in this role, listened with renewed
attention. The remembrance of Aubin, so dramatic with his bass voice,
then of Faure, so seductive with his baritone, distracted him a short
time.

But suddenly a phrase sung by Montrose with irresistible power stirred
him to the heart. Faust was saying to Satan:

     "Je veux un tresor qui les contient tous--
     Je veux la jeunesse."

And the tenor appeared in silken doublet, a sword by his side, a plumed
cap on his head, elegant, young, and handsome, with the affectations of
a handsome singer.

A murmur arose. He was very attractive and the women were pleased with
him. But Olivier felt some disappointment, for the poignant evocation of
Goethe's dramatic poem disappeared in this metamorphosis. Thenceforth he
saw before him only a fairy spectacle, filled with pretty little songs,
and actors of talent whose voices were all he listened to. That man in a
doublet, that pretty youth with his roulades, who showed his thighs
and displayed his voice, displeased him. This was not the real,
irresistible, and sinister Chevalier Faust, who was about to seduce the
fair Marguerite.

He sat down again, and the phrase he had just heard returned to his
mind:

"I would have a treasure that embraces all--Youth!"

He murmured it between his teeth, sang it sadly in the depths of his
soul, and, with eyes fixed always upon Annette's blonde head, which rose
in the square opening of the box, he felt all the bitterness of that
desire that never could be realized.

But Montrose had just finished the first act with such perfection that
enthusiasm broke forth. For several minutes, the noise of clapping,
stamping, and bravos swept like a storm through the theater. In all
the boxes the women clapped their gloved hands, while the men standing
behind them shouted as they applauded.

The curtain fell, but it was raised twice before the applause subsided.
Then, when the curtain had fallen for the third time, separating the
stage and the interior boxes from the audience, the Duchess and Annette
continued their applause a few moments, and were specially thanked by a
discreet bow from the tenor.

"Oh, he looked at us!" said Annette.

"What an admirable artist!" said the Duchess.

And Bertin, who had been leaning over, looked with a mingled feeling of
irritation and disdain at the admired actor as he disappeared between
two wings, waddling a little, his legs stiff, one hand on his hip, in
the affected pose of a theatrical hero.

They began to talk of him. His social successes had made him as famous
as his talent. He had visited every capital, in the midst of feminine
ecstasies of those who, hearing before he appeared that he was
irresistible, had felt their hearts throb as he appeared upon the
stage. But it was said that he appeared to care very little for all this
sentimental delirium, and contented himself with his musical triumphs.
Musadieu related, in veiled language because of Annette's presence,
details of the life of this handsome singer, and the Duchess, quite
carried away, understood and approved all the follies that he was able
to create, so seductive, elegant, and distinguished did she consider
this exceptional musician! She concluded, laughing: "And how can anyone
resist that voice!"

Olivier felt angry and bitter. He did not understand how anyone could
really care for a mere actor, for that perpetual representation of
human types which never resembled himself in the least; that illusory
personification of imaginary men, that nocturnal and painted manikin who
plays all his characters at so much a night.

"You are jealous of them!" said the Duchess. "You men of the world
and artists all have a grudge against actors because they are more
successful than you." Turning to Annette, she added: "Come, little one,
you who are entering life and look at it with healthy eyes, what do you
think of this tenor?"

"I think he is very good indeed," Annette replied, with an air of
conviction.

The three strokes sounded for the second act, and the curtain rose on
the Kermesse.

Helsson's passage was superb. She seemed to have more voice than
formerly, and to have acquired more certainty of method. She had,
indeed, become the great, excellent, exquisite singer, whose worldly
fame equaled that of Bismarck or De Lesseps.

When Faust rushed toward her, when he sang in his bewitching voice
phrases so full of charm and when the pretty blonde Marguerite replied
so touchingly the whole house was moved with a thrill of pleasure.

When the curtain fell, the applause was tremendous, and Annette
applauded so long that Bertin wished to seize her hands to make her
stop. His heart was stung by a new torment. He did not speak between the
acts, for he was pursuing into the wings, his fixed thought now become
absolute hatred, following to his box, where he saw, putting more white
powder on his cheeks, the odious singer who was thus over-exciting this
child!

Then the curtain rose on the garden scene. Immediately a sort of fever
of love seemed to spread through the house, for never had that music,
which seems like the breath of kisses, been rendered by two such
interpreters. It was no longer two illustrious actors, Montrose and
Helsson; they became two beings from the ideal world, hardly two beings,
indeed, but two voices: the eternal voice of the man that loves, the
eternal voice of the woman that yields; and together they sighed forth
all the poetry of human tenderness.

When Faust sang:


"Laisse-moi, laisse-moi contempler ton visage,"


in the notes that soared from his mouth there was such an accent of
adoration, of transport and supplication that for a moment a desire to
love filled every heart.

Olivier remembered that he had murmured that phrase himself in the park
at Roncieres, under the castle windows.

Until then he had thought it rather ordinary; but now it rose to his
lips like a last cry of passion, a last prayer, the last hope and the
last favor he might expect in this life.

Then he listened no more, heard nothing more. A sharp pang of jealousy
tore his heart, for he had just seen Annette carry her handkerchief to
her eyes.

She wept! Then her heart was awakening, becoming animated and moved, her
little woman's heart which as yet knew nothing! There, very near him,
without giving a thought to him, she had a revelation of the way in
which love may overwhelm a human being; and this revelation, this
initiation had come to her from that miserable strolling singer!

Ah, he felt very little anger now toward the Marquis de Farandal, that
stupid creature who saw nothing, who did not know, did not understand!
But how he execrated that man in tights, who was illuminating the soul
of that young girl!

He longed to throw himself upon her, as one throws himself upon a person
in danger of being run over by a fractious horse, to seize her by the
arm and drag her away, and say to her: "Let us go! let us go! I entreat
you!"

How she listened, how she palpitated! And how he suffered. He had
suffered thus before, but less cruelly. He remembered it, for the stings
of jealousy smart afresh like reopened wounds. He had first felt it at
Roncieres, in returning from the cemetery, when he felt for the first
time that she was escaping from him, that he could not control her, that
young girl as independent as a young animal. But down there, when she
had irritated him by leaving him to pluck flowers, he had experienced
chiefly a brutal desire to check her playful flights, to compel her
person to remain beside him; to-day it was her fleeting, intangible
soul that was escaping. Ah, that gnawing irritation which he had just
recognized, how often he had experienced it by the indescribable little
wounds which seem to be always bruising a loving heart. He recalled all
the painful impressions of petty jealousy that he had endured, in little
stings, day after day. Every time that she had remarked, admired,
liked, desired something, he had been jealous of it; jealous in an
imperceptible but continuous fashion, jealous of all that absorbed
the time, the looks, the attention, the gaiety, the astonishment or
affection of Annette, for all that took a little of her away from him.
He had been jealous of all that she did without him, of all that he did
not know, of her going about, her reading, of everything that seemed to
please her, jealous even of a heroic officer wounded in Africa, of whom
Paris talked for a week, of the author of a much praised romance, of
a young unknown poet she never had seen, but whose verses Musadieu
had recited; in short, of all men that anyone praised before her, even
carelessly, for when one loves a woman one cannot tolerate without
anguish that she should even think of another with an appearance of
interest. In one's heart is felt the imperious need of being for her the
only being in the world. One wishes her to see, to know, to appreciate
no one else. So soon as she shows an indication of turning to look at or
recognize some person, one throws himself before her, and if one cannot
turn aside or absorb her interest he suffers to the bottom of his heart.

Olivier suffered thus in the presence of this singer, who seemed to
scatter and to gather love in that opera-house, and he felt vexed with
everyone because of the tenor's triumph, with the women whom he saw
applauding him from their boxes, with the men, those idiots who were
giving a sort of apotheosis to that coxcomb!

An artist! They called him a artist, a great artist! And he had
successes, this paid actor, interpreter of another's thought, such as
no creator had ever known! Ah, that was like the justice and the
intelligence of the fashionable world, those ignorant and pretentious
amateurs for whom the masters of human art work until death. He looked
at them, applauding, shouting, going into ecstasies; and the ancient
hostility that had always seethed at the bottom of his proud heart of
a parvenu became a furious anger against those imbeciles, all-powerful
only by right of birth and wealth.

Until the end of the performance he remained silent, a prey to thought;
then when the storm of enthusiasm had at last subsided he offered his
arm to the Duchess, while the Marquis took Annette's. They descended the
grand stairway again, in the midst of a stream of men and women, in a
sort of slow and magnificent cascade of bare shoulders, sumptuous gowns,
and black coats. Then the Duchess, the young girl, her father, and the
Marquis entered the same landau, and Olivier Bertin remained alone with
Musadieu in the Place de l'Opera.

Suddenly he felt a sort of affection for this man, or rather that
natural attraction one feels for a fellow-countryman met in a distant
land, for he now felt lost in that strange, indifferent crowd, whereas
with Musadieu he might still speak of her.

So he took his arm.

"You are not going home now?" said he. "It is a fine night; let us take
a walk."

"Willingly."

They went toward the Madeleine, in the mist of the nocturnal crowd
possessed by that short and violent midnight excitement which stirs the
Boulevards when the theaters are being emptied.

Musadieu had a thousand things in his mind, all his subjects for
conversation from the moment when Bertin should name his preference; and
he let his eloquence loose upon the two or three topics that interested
him most. The painter allowed him to run on without listening to him,
and holding him by the arm, sure of being able soon to lead him to
talk of Annette, he walked along without noticing his surroundings,
imprisoned within his love. He walked, exhausted by that fit of jealousy
which had bruised him like a fall, overcome by the conviction that he
had nothing more to do in the world.

He should go on suffering thus, more and more, without expecting
anything. He should pass empty days, one after another, seeing her from
afar, living, happy, loved and loving, without doubt. A lover! Perhaps
she would have a lover, as her mother had had one! He felt within him
sources of suffering so numerous, diverse, and complicated, such an
afflux of miseries, such inevitable tortures, he felt so lost, so far
overwhelmed, from this moment, by a wave of unimaginable agony that he
could not suppose anyone ever had suffered as he did. And he suddenly
thought of the puerility of poets who have invented the useless labor
of Sisyphus, the material thirst of Tantalus, the devoured heart of
Prometheus! Oh, if they had foreseen, if they had experienced the mad
love of an elderly man for a young girl, how would they had expressed
the painful and secret effort of a being who can no longer inspire love,
the tortures of fruitless desire, and, more terrible than a vulture's
beak, a little blonde face rending a heart!

Musadieu talked without stopping, and Bertin interrupted him, murmuring
almost in spite of himself, under the impulse of his fixed idea:

"Annette was charming this evening."

"Yes, delicious!"

The painter added, to prevent Musadieu from taking up the broken thread
of his ideas: "She is prettier than her mother ever was."

To this the other agreed absent-mindedly, repeating "Yes, yes, yes!"
several times in succession, without his mind having yet settled itself
on this new idea.

Olivier endeavored to continue the subject, and in order to attract his
attention by one of Musadieu's own favorite fads, he continued:

"She will have one of the first salons in Paris after her marriage."

That was enough, and, the man of fashion being convinced, as well as the
Inspector of Fine Arts, he began to talk wisely of the social footing on
which the Marquise de Farandal would stand in French society.

Bertin listened to him, and fancied Annette in a large salon full of
light, surrounded by men and women. This vision, too, made him jealous.

They were now going up the Boulevard Malesherbes. As they passed the
Guilleroys' house the painter looked up. Lights seemed to be shining
through the windows, among the openings in the curtains. He suspected
that the Duchess and the Marquis had been invited to come and have a cup
of tea. And a burning rage made him suffer terribly.

He still held Musadieu by the arm, and once or twice attempted to
continue, by contradicting Musadieu's opinions, the talk about the
future Marquise. Even that commonplace voice in speaking of her caused
her charming image to flit beside them in the night.

When they arrived at the painter's door, in the Avenue de Villiers,
Bertin asked: "Will you come in?"

"No, thank you. It is late, and I am going to bed."

"Oh, come up for half an hour, and we'll have a little more talk."

"No, really. It is too late."

The thought of staying there alone, after the anguish he had just
endured, filled Olivier's soul with horror. He had someone with him; he
would keep him.

"Do come up; I want you to choose a study that I have intended for a
long time to offer you."

The other, knowing that painters are not always in a giving mood, and
that the remembrance of promises is short, seized the opportunity. In
his capacity as Inspector of Fine Arts, he possessed a gallery that had
been furnished with skill.

"I am with you," said he.

They entered.

The valet was aroused and soon brought some grog; and the talk was for
some time all about painting. Bertin showed some studies, and begged
Musadieu to take the one that pleased him best; Musadieu hesitated,
disturbed by the gaslight, which deceived him as to tones. At last he
chose a group of little girls jumping the rope on a sidewalk; and almost
at once he wished to depart, and to take his present with him.

"I will have it taken to your house," said the painter.

"No; I should like better to have it this very evening, so that I may
admire it while I am going to bed," said Musadieu.

Nothing could keep him, and Olivier Bertin found himself again alone in
his house, that prison of his memories and his painful agitation.

When the servant entered the next morning, bringing tea and the
newspapers, he found his master sitting up in bed, so pale and shaken
that he was alarmed.

"Is Monsieur indisposed?" he inquired.

"It is nothing--only a little headache."

"Does not Monsieur wish me to bring him something?"

"No. What sort of weather is it?"

"It rains, Monsieur."

"Very well. That is all."

The man withdrew, having placed on the little table the tea-tray and the
newspapers.

Olivier took up the _Figaro_ and opened it. The leading article was
entitled "Modern Painting." It was a dithyrambic eulogy on four or
five young painters who, gifted with real ability as colorists, and
exaggerating them for effect, now pretended to be revolutionists and
renovators of genius.

As did all the older painters, Bertin sneered at these newcomers, was
irritated at their assumption of exclusiveness, and disputed their
doctrines. He began to read the article, then, with the rising anger
so quickly felt by a nervous person; at last, glancing a little further
down, he saw his own name, and these words at the end of a sentence
struck him like a blow of the fist full in the chest: "The old-fashioned
art of Olivier Bertin."

He had always been sensitive to either criticism or praise, but, at the
bottom of his heart, in spite of his legitimate vanity, he suffered
more from being criticised than he enjoyed being praised, because of
the uneasiness concerning himself which his hesitations had always
encouraged. Formerly, however, at the time of his triumphs, the incense
offered was so frequent that it made him forget the pin-pricks.
To-day, before the ceaseless influx of new artists and new admirers,
congratulations were more rare and criticism was more marked. He felt
that he had been enrolled in the battalion of old painters of talent,
whom the younger ones do not treat as masters; and as he was as
intelligent as he was perspicacious he suffered now from the least
insinuations as much as from direct attacks.

But never had any wound to his pride as an artist hurt him like this.
He remained gasping, and reread the article in order to grasp its every
meaning. He and his equals were thrown aside with outrageous disrespect;
and he arose murmuring those words, which remained on his lips: "The
old-fashioned art of Olivier Bertin."

Never had such sadness, such discouragement, such a sensation of having
reached the end of everything, the end of his mental and physical
being, thrown him into such desperate distress of soul. He sat until two
o'clock in his armchair, before the fireplace, his legs extended toward
the fire, not having strength to move, or to do anything. Then the need
of being consoled rose within him, the need to clasp devoted hands, to
see faithful eyes, to be pitied, succored, caressed with friendly words.
So he went, as usual, to the Countess.

When he entered Annette was alone in the drawing-room, standing with
her back toward him, hastily writing the address on a letter. On a table
beside her lay a copy of _Figaro_. Bertin saw the journal at the moment
that he saw the young girl and was bewildered, not daring to advance!
Oh, if she had read it! She turned, and in a preoccupied, hurried way,
her mind haunted with feminine cares, she said to him:

"Ah, good-morning, sir painter! You will excuse me if I leave you?
I have a dressmaker upstairs who claims me. You understand that a
dressmaker, at the time of a wedding, is very important. I will lend you
mamma, who is talking and arguing with my artist. If I need her I will
call her for a few minutes."

And she hastened away, running a little, to show how much she was
hurried.

This abrupt departure, without a word of affection, without a tender
look for him who loved her so much--so much!--quite upset him. His eyes
rested again on the _Figaro_, and he thought: "She has read it! They
laugh at me, they deny me. She no longer believes in me. I am nothing to
her any more."

He took two steps toward the journal, as one walks toward a man to
strike him. Then he said to himself: "Perhaps she has not read it, after
all. She is so preoccupied to-day. But someone will undoubtedly speak of
it before her, perhaps this evening, at dinner, and that will make her
curious to read it."

With a spontaneous, almost unthinking, movement he took the copy, closed
it, folded it, and slipped it into his pocket with the swiftness of a
thief.

The Countess entered. As soon as she saw Olivier's convulsed and livid
face, she guessed that he had reached the limit of suffering.

She hastened toward him, with an impulse from all her poor soul, so
agonized also, and from her poor body, that was itself so wounded.
Throwing her hands upon his shoulders, and plunging her glance into the
depths of his eyes, she said:

"Oh, how unhappy you are!"

This time he did not deny it; his throat swelled with a spasm of pain,
and he stammered:

"Yes--yes--yes!"

She felt that he was near weeping, and led him into the darkest corner
of the drawing-room, toward two armchairs hidden by a small screen of
antique silk. They sat down behind this slight embroidered wall, veiled
also by the gray shadow of a rainy day.

She resumed, pitying him, deeply moved by his grief:

"My poor Olivier, how you suffer!"

He leaned his white head on the shoulder of his friend.

"More than you believe!" he said.

"Oh, I knew it! I have felt it all. I saw it from the beginning and
watched it grow."

He answered as if she had accused him: "It is not my faulty, Any."

"I know it well; I do not reproach you for it."

And softly, turning a little, she laid her lips on one of Olivier's
eyes, where she found a bitter tear.

She started, as if she had just tasted a drop of despair, and repeated
several times:

"Ah, poor friend--poor friend--poor friend!"

Then after a moment of silence she added: "It is the fault of our
hearts, which never have grown old. I feel that my own is full of life!"

He tried to speak but could not, for now his sobs choked him. She
listened, as he leaned against her, to the struggle in his breast. Then,
seized by the selfish anguish of love, which had gnawed at her heart
so long, she said in the agonized tone in which one realizes a horrible
misfortune:

"God! how you love her!"

Again he confessed: "Ah, yes! I love her!"

She reflected a few moments, then continued: "You never have loved me
thus?"

He did not deny it, for he was passing through one of those periods in
which one speaks with absolute truth, and he murmured:

"No, I was too young then."

She was surprised.

"Too young? Why?"

"Because life was too sweet. It is only at our age that one loves
despairingly."

"Does the love you feel for her resemble that which you felt for me?"
the Countess asked.

"Yes and no--and yet it is almost the same thing. I have loved you as
much as anyone can love a woman. As for her, I love her just as I
loved you, since she is yourself; but this love has become something
irresistible, destroying, stronger than death. I belong to it as a
burning house belongs to the fire."

She felt her sympathy wither up under a breath of jealousy; but,
assuming a consoling tone, she said:

"My poor friend! In a few days she will be married and gone. When you
see her no more no doubt you will be cured of this fancy."

He shook his head.

"Oh, I am lost, lost, lost!"

"No, no, I say! It will be three months before you see her again. That
will be sufficient. Three months were quite enough for you to love her
more than you love me, whom you have known for twelve years!"

Then, in his infinite distress, he implored: "Any, do not abandon me!"

"What can I do, my friend?"

"Do not leave me alone."

"I will go to see you as often as you wish."

"No. Keep me here as much as possible."

"But then you would be near her."

"And near you!"

"You must not see her any more before her marriage."

"Oh, Any!"

"Well, at least, not often."

"May I stay here this evening?"

"No, not in your present condition. You must divert your mind; go to the
club, or the theater--no matter where, but do not stay here."

"I entreat you--"

"No, Olivier, it is impossible. And, besides, I have guests coming to
dinner whose presence would agitate you still more."

"The Duchess and--he!"

"Yes."

"But I spent last evening with them."

"And you speak of it! You are in a fine state to-day."

"I promise you to be calm."

"No, it is impossible."

"Then I am going away."

"Why do you hurry now?"

"I must walk."

"That is right! Walk a great deal, walk until evening, kill yourself
with fatigue and then go to bed."

He had risen.

"Good-by, Any!"

"Good-by, dear friend. I will come to see you to-morrow morning. Would
you like me to do something very imprudent, as I used to do--pretend
to breakfast here at noon, and then go and have breakfast with you at a
quarter past one?"

"Yes, I should like it very much. You are so good!"

"It is because I love you."

"And I love you, too."

"Oh, don't speak of that any more!"

"Good-by, Any."

"Good-by, dear friend, till to-morrow."

"Good-by!"

He kissed her hands many times, then he kissed her brow, then the corner
of her lips. His eyes were dry now, his bearing resolute. Just as he was
about to go, he seized her, clasped her close in both arms, and pressing
his lips to her forehead, he seemed to drink in, to inhale from her all
the love she had for him.

Then he departed quickly, without turning toward her again.

When she was alone she let herself sink, sobbing, upon a chair. She
would have remained there till night if Annette had not suddenly
appeared in search of her. In order to gain time to dry her red eyelids,
the Countess answered: "I have a little note to write, my child. Go
up-stairs, and I will join you in a few seconds."

She was compelled to occupy herself with the great affair of the
trousseau until evening.

The Duchess and her nephew dined with the Guilleroys, as a family party.
They had just seated themselves at table, and were speaking of the opera
of the night before, when the butler appeared, carrying three enormous
bouquets.

Madame de Mortemain was surprised.

"Good gracious! What is that?"

"Oh, how lovely they are!" exclaimed Annette; "who can have sent them?"

"Olivier Bertin, no doubt," replied her mother.

She had been thinking of him since his departure. He had seemed so
gloomy, so tragic, she understood so clearly his hopeless sorrow, she
felt so keenly the counter-stroke of that grief, she loved him so
much, so entirely, so tenderly, that her heart was weighed down by sad
presentiments.

In the three bouquets were found three of the painter's cards. He had
written on them in pencil, respectively, the names of the Countess, the
Duchess, and Annette.

"Is he ill, your friend Bertin?" the Duchess inquired. "I thought he
looked rather bad last night."

"Yes, I am a little anxious about him, although he does not complain,"
Madame de Guilleroy answered.

"Oh, he is growing old, like all the rest of us," her husband
interposed. "He is growing old quite fast, indeed. I believe, however,
that bachelors usually go to pieces suddenly. Their breaking-up comes
more abruptly than ours. He really is very much changed."

"Ah, yes!" sighed the Countess.

Farandal suddenly stopped his whispering to Annette to say: "The
_Figaro_ has a very disagreeable article about him this morning."

Any attack, any criticism or allusion unfavorable to her friend's talent
always threw the Countess into a passion.

"Oh," said she, "men of Bertin's importance need not mind such
rudeness."

Guilleroy was astonished.

"What!" he exclaimed, "a disagreeable article about Olivier! But I have
not read it. On what page?"

The Marquis informed him: "The first page, at the top, with the title,
'Modern Painting.'"

And the deputy ceased to be astonished. "Oh, exactly! I did not read it
because it was about painting."

Everyone smiled, knowing that apart from politics and agriculture M. de
Guilleroy was interested in very few things.

The conversation turned upon other subjects until they entered the
drawing-room to take coffee. The Countess was not listening and hardly
answered, being pursued by anxiety as to what Olivier might be doing.
Where was he? Where had he dined? Where had he taken his hopeless heart
at that moment? She now felt a burning regret at having let him go, not
to have kept him; and she fancied him roving the streets, so sad and
lonely, fleeing under his burden of woe.

Up to the time of the departure of the Duchess and her nephew she had
hardly spoken, lashed by vague and superstitious fears; then she went to
bed and lay there long, her eyes wide open in the darkness, thinking of
him!

A very long time had passed when she thought she heard the bell of her
apartment ring. She started, sat up and listened. A second time the
vibrating tinkle broke the stillness of the night.

She leaped out of bed, and with all her strength pressed the electric
button that summoned her maid. Then, candle in hand, she ran to the
vestibule.

Through the door she asked: "Who is there?"

"It is a letter," an unknown voice replied.

"A letter! From whom?"

"From a physician."

"What physician?"

"I do not know; it is about some accident."

Hesitating no more, she opened the door, and found herself facing a
cab-driver in an oilskin cap. He held a paper in his hand, which
he presented to her. She read: "Very urgent--Monsieur le Comte de
Guilleroy."

The writing was unknown.

"Enter, my good man," said she; "sit down, and wait for me."

When she reached her husband's door her heart was beating so violently
that she could not call him. She pounded on the wood with her metal
candlestick. The Count was asleep and did not hear.

Then, impatient, nervous, she kicked the door, and heard a sleepy voice
asking: "Who is there? What time is it?"

"It is I," she called. "I have an urgent letter for you, brought by a
cabman. There has been some accident."

"Wait! I am getting up. I'll be there," he stammered from behind his
bed-curtains.

In another minute he appeared in his dressing-gown. At the same time
two servants came running, aroused by the ringing of the bell. They were
alarmed and bewildered, having seen a stranger sitting on a chair in the
dining-room.

The Count had taken the letter and was turning it over in his fingers,
murmuring: "What is that? I cannot imagine."

"Well, read it, then!" said the Countess, in a fever.

He tore off the envelope, unfolded the paper, uttered an exclamation of
amazement, then looked at his wife with frightened eyes.

"My God! what is it?" said she.

He stammered, hardly able to speak, so great was his emotion: "Oh,
a great misfortune--a great misfortune! Bertin has fallen under a
carriage!"

"Dead?" she cried.

"No, no!" said he; "read for yourself."

She snatched from his hand the letter he held out and read:


"MONSIEUR: A great misfortune has just happened. Your friend, the
eminent artist, M. Olivier Bertin, has been run over by an omnibus,
the wheel of which passed over his body. I cannot as yet say anything
decisive as to the probable result of this accident, which may not be
serious, although it may have an immediate and fatal result. M. Bertin
begs you earnestly and entreats Madame la Comtesse de Guilleroy to come
to him at once. I hope, Monsieur, that Madame la Comtesse and yourself
will grant the desire of our friend in common, who before daylight may
have ceased to live.

"DR. DE RIVIL."


The Countess stared at her husband with great, fixed eyes, full of
terror. Then suddenly she experienced, like an electric shock, an
awakening of that courage which comes to women at times, which makes
them in moments of terror the most valiant of creatures.

Turning to her maid she said: "Quick! I am going to dress."

"What will Madame wear?" asked the servant.

"Never mind that. Anything you like. James," she added, "be ready in
five minutes."

Returning toward her room, her soul overwhelmed, she noticed the cabman,
still waiting, and said to him: "You have your carriage?"

"Yes, Madame."

"That is well; we will take that."

Wildly, with precipitate haste, she threw on her clothes, hooking,
clasping, tying, and fastening at hap-hazard; then, before the mirror,
she lifted and twisted her hair without a semblance of order, gazing
without thinking of what she was doing at the reflection of her pale
face and haggard eyes.

When her cloak was over her shoulders, she rushed to her husband's room,
but he was not yet ready. She dragged him along.

"Come, come!" said she; "remember, he may die!"

The Count, dazed, followed her stumblingly, feeling his way with his
feet on the dark stairs, trying to distinguish the steps, so that he
should not fall.

The drive was short and silent. The Countess trembled so violently that
her teeth rattled, and through the window she saw the flying gas-jets,
veiled by the falling rain. The sidewalks gleamed, the Boulevard was
deserted, the night was sinister. On arriving, they found that the
painter's door was open, and that the concierge's lodge was lighted but
empty.

At the top of the stairs the physician, Dr. de Rivil, a little gray man,
short, round, very well dressed, extremely polite, came to meet them. He
bowed low to the Countess and held out his hand to the Count.

She asked him, breathing rapidly as if climbing the stairs had exhausted
her and put her out of breath:

"Well, doctor?"

"Well, Madame, I hope that it will be less serious than I thought at
first."

"He will not die?" she exclaimed.

"No. At least, I do not believe so."

"Will you answer for that?"

"No. I only say that I hope to find only a simple abdominal contusion
without internal lesions."

"What do you call lesions?"

"Lacerations."

"How do you know that there are none?"

"I suppose it."

"And if there are?"

"Oh, then it would be serious."

"He might die of them?"

"Yes."

"Very soon?"

"Very soon. In a few minutes or even seconds. But reassure yourself,
Madame; I am convinced that he will be quite well again in two weeks."

She had listened, with profound attention, to know all and understand
all.

"What laceration might he have?"

"A laceration of the liver, for instance."

"That would be very dangerous?"

"Yes--but I should be surprised to find any complication now. Let us go
to him. It will do him good, for he awaits you with great impatience."

On entering the room she saw first a pale face on a white pillow. Some
candles and the firelight illumined it, defined the profile, deepened
the shadows; and in that pale face the Countess saw two eyes that
watched her coming.

All her courage, energy, and resolution fell, so much did those hollow
and altered features resemble those of a dying man. He, whom she had
seen only a little while ago, had become this thing, this specter!
"Oh, my God!" she murmured between her teeth, and she approached him,
palpitating with horror.

He tried to smile, to reassure her, and the grimace of that attempt was
frightful.

When she was beside the bed, she put both hands gently on one of
Olivier's, which lay along his body, and stammered: "Oh, my poor
friend!"

"It is nothing," said he, in a low tone, without moving his head.

She now looked at him closely, frightened at the change in him. He was
so pale that he seemed no longer to have a drop of blood under his skin.
His hollow cheeks seemed to have been sucked in from the interior of his
face, and his eyes were sunken as if drawn by a string from within.

He saw the terror of his friend, and sighed: "Here I am in a fine
state!"

"How did it happen?" she asked, looking at him with fixed gaze.

He was making a great effort to speak, and his whole face twitched with
pain.

"I was not looking about me--I was thinking of something else--something
very different--oh, yes!--and an omnibus knocked me down and ran over my
abdomen."

As she listened she saw the accident, and shaking with terror, she
asked: "Did you bleed?"

"No. I am only a little bruised--a little crushed."

"Where did it happen?" she inquired.

"I do not know exactly," he answered in a very low voice; "it was far
away from here."

The physician rolled up an armchair, and the Countess sank into it. The
Count remained standing at the foot of the bed, repeating between
his teeth: "Oh, my poor friend! my poor friend! What a frightful
misfortune!"

And he was indeed deeply grieved, for he loved Olivier very much.

"But where did it happen?" the Countess repeated.

"I know hardly anything about it myself, or rather I do not understand
it at all," the physician replied. "It was at the Gobelins, almost
outside of Paris! At least, the cabman that brought him home declared to
me that he took him in at a pharmacy of that quarter, to which someone
had carried him, at nine o'clock in the evening!" Then, leaning toward
Olivier, he asked: "Did the accident really happen near the Gobelins?"

Bertin closed his eyes, as if to recollect; then murmured: "I do not
know."

"But where were you going?"

"I do not remember now. I was walking straight before me."

A groan that she could not stifle came from the Countess's lips; then
oppressed with a choking that stopped her breathing a few seconds, she
drew out her handkerchief, covered her eyes, and wept bitterly.

She knew--she guessed! Something intolerable, overwhelming had just
fallen on her heart--remorse for not keeping Olivier near her, for
driving him away, for throwing him into the street, where, stupefied
with grief, he had fallen under the omnibus.

He said in that colorless voice he now had: "Do not weep. It distresses
me."

By a tremendous effort of will, she ceased to sob, uncovered her eyes
and fixed them, wide open, upon him, without a quiver of her face,
whereon the tears continued slowly to roll down.

They looked at each other, both motionless, their hands clasped under
the coverlet. They gazed at each other, no longer knowing that any other
person was in the room; and that gaze carried a superhuman emotion from
one heart to the other.

They gazed upon each other, and the need of talking, unheard, of hearing
the thousand intimate things, so sad, which they had still to say, rose
irresistibly to their lips. She felt that she must at any price send
away the two men that stood behind her; she must find a way, some ruse,
some inspiration, she, the woman, fruitful in resources! She began to
reflect, her eyes always fixed on Olivier.

Her husband and the doctor were talking in undertones, discussing the
care to be given. Turning her head the Countess said to the doctor:
"Have you brought a nurse?"

"No, I prefer to send a hospital surgeon, who will keep a better watch
over the case."

"Send both. One never can be too careful. Can you still get them
to-night, for I do not suppose you will stay here till morning?"

"Indeed, I was just about to go home. I have been here four hours
already."

"But on your way back you will send us the nurse and the surgeon?"

"It will be difficult in the middle of the night. But I shall try."

"You must!"

"They may promise, but will they come?"

"My husband will accompany you and will bring them back either willingly
or by force."

"You cannot remain here alone, Madame!"

"I?" she exclaimed with a sort of cry of defiance, of indignant protest
against any resistance to her will. Then she pointed out, in that
authoritative tone to which no one ventures a reply, the necessities of
the situation. It was necessary that the nurse and the surgeon should be
there within an hour, to forestall all accident. To insure this, someone
must get out of bed and bring them. Her husband alone could do that.
During this time she would remain near the injured man, she, for whom
it was a duty and a right. She would thereby simply fulfil her role of
friend, her role of woman. Besides, this was her will, and no one should
dissuade her from it.

Her reasoning was sensible. They could only agree upon that, and they
decided to obey her.

She had risen, full of the thought of their departure, impatient to know
that they were off and that she was left alone. Now, in order that she
should commit no error during their absence, she listened, trying to
understand perfectly, to remember everything, to forget nothing of the
physician's directions. The painter's valet, standing near her, listened
also, and behind him his wife, the cook, who had helped in the first
binding of the patient, indicated by nods of the head that she too
understood. When the Countess had recited all the instructions like a
lesson, she urged the two men to go, repeating to her husband:

"Return soon, above all things, return soon!"

"I will take you in my coupe," said the doctor to the Count. "It will
bring you back quicker. You will be here again in an hour."

Before leaving, the doctor again carefully examined the wounded man, to
assure himself that his condition remained satisfactory.

Guilleroy still hesitated.

"You do not think that we are doing anything imprudent?" he asked.

"No," said the doctor. "He needs only rest and quiet. Madame de
Guilleroy will see that he does not talk, and will speak to him as
little as possible."

The Countess was startled, and said:

"Then I must not talk to him?"

"Oh, no, Madame! Take an armchair and sit beside him. He will not feel
that he is alone and will be quite content; but no fatigue of words,
or even of thoughts. I will call about nine o'clock to-morrow morning.
Good-bye, Madame. I salute you!"

He left the room with a low bow, followed by the Count who repeated:

"Do not worry yourself, my dear. Within an hour I shall return, and then
you can go home."

When they were gone, she listened for the sound of the door below being
closed, then to the rolling wheels of the coupe in the street.

The valet and the cook still stood there, awaiting orders. The Countess
dismissed them.

"You may go now," said she; "I will ring if I need anything."

They too withdrew, and she remained alone with him.

She had drawn quite near to the bed, and putting her hands on the two
edges of the pillow, on both sides of that dear face, she leaned over
to look upon it. Then, with her face so close to his that she seemed to
breathe her words upon it, she whispered:

"Did you throw yourself under that carriage?"

He tried to smile still, saying: "No, it was _that_ which threw itself
upon me."

"That is not true; it was you."

"No, I swear to you it was _it_!"

After a few moments of silence, those instants when souls seem mingled
in glances, she murmured: "Oh, my dear, dear Olivier, to think that I
let you go, that I did not keep you with me!"

"It would have happened just the same, some day or another," he replied
with conviction.

They still gazed at each other, seeking to read each other's inmost
thoughts.

"I do not believe that I shall recover," he said at last. "I suffer too
much."

"Do you suffer very much?" she murmured.

"Oh, yes!"

Bending a little lower, she brushed his forehead, then his eyes, then
his cheeks with slow kisses, light, delicate as her care for him. She
barely touched him with her lips, with that soft little breath that
children give when they kiss. This lasted a long time, a very long
time. He let that sweet rain of caresses fall on him, and they seemed to
soothe and refresh him, for his drawn face twitched less than before.

"Any!" he said finally.

She ceased her kissing to listen to him.

"What, my friend?"

"You must make me a promise."

"I will promise anything you wish."

"If I am not dead before morning, swear to me that you will bring
Annette to me, just once, only once! I cannot bear to die without seeing
her again. . . . Think that . . . to-morrow . . . at this time perhaps
I shall have . . . shall surely have closed my eyes forever and that I
never shall see you again. I . . . nor you . . . nor her!"

She stopped him; her heart was breaking.

"Oh, hush . . . hush! Yes, I promise you to bring her!"

"You swear it?"

"I swear it, my friend. But hush, do not talk any more. You hurt me
frightfully--hush!"

A quick convulsion passed over his face; when it had passed he said:

"Since we have only a few minutes more to remain together, do not let us
lose them; let us seize them to bid each other good-by. I have loved you
so much----"

"And I," she sighed, "how I still love you!"

He spoke again:

"I never have had real happiness except through you. Only these last
days have been hard. . . . It was not your fault. . . . Ah, my poor Any,
how sad life is! . . . and how hard it is to die!"

"Hush, Olivier, I implore you!"

He continued, without listening to her: "I should have been a happy man
if you had not had your daughter. . . ."

"Hush! My God! Hush! . . ."

He seemed to dream rather than speak.

"Ah, he that invented this existence and made men was either blind or
very wicked. . . ."

"Olivier, I entreat you . . . if you ever have loved me, be quiet, do
not talk like that any more!"

He looked at her, leaning over him, she herself so pale that she looked
as if she were dying, too; and he was silent.

Then she seated herself in the armchair, close to the bed, and again
took the hand on the coverlet.

"Now I forbid you to speak," said she. "Do not stir, and think of me as
I think of you."

Again they looked at each other, motionless, joined together by the
burning contact of their hands. She pressed, with gentle movement, the
feverish hand she clasped, and he answered these calls by tightening
his fingers a little. Each pressure said something to them, evoked some
period of their finished past, revived in their memory the stagnant
recollections of their love. Each was a secret question, each was
a mysterious reply, sad questions and sad replies, those "do you
remembers?" of a bygone love.

Their minds, in this agonizing meeting, which might be the last,
traveled back through the years, through the whole history of their
passion; and nothing was audible in the room save the crackling of the
fire.

Suddenly, as if awakening from a dream, he said, with a start of terror:

"Your letters!"

"What? My letters?" she queried.

"I might have died without destroying them!"

"Oh, what does that matter to me? That is of no consequence now. Let
them find them and read them--I don't care!"

"I will not have that," he said. "Get up, Any; open the lowest drawer of
my desk, the large one; they are all there, all. You must take them and
throw them into the fire."

She did not move at all, but remained crouching, as if he had counseled
her to do something cowardly.

"Any, I entreat you!" he continued; "if you do not do this, you will
torture me, unnerve me, drive me mad. Think--they may fall into anyone's
hands, a notary, a servant, or even your husband. . . . I do not
wish. . . ."

She rose, still hesitating, and repeating:

"No, that is too hard, too cruel! I feel as if you were compelling me to
burn both our hearts!"

He supplicated her, his face drawn with pain.

Seeing him suffer thus, she resigned herself and walked toward the desk.
On opening the drawer, she found it filled to the edge with a thick
packet of letters, piled one on top of another, and she recognized on
all the envelopes the two lines of the address she had written so often.
She knew them--those two lines--a man's name, the name of a street--as
well as she knew her own name, as well as one can know the few words
that have represented to us in life all hope and all happiness. She
looked at them, those little square things that contained all she had
known how to express of her love, all that she could take of herself to
give to him, with a little ink on a bit of white paper.

He had tried to turn his head on the pillow that he might watch her, and
again he said: "Burn them, quick!"

Then she took two handfuls, holding them a few seconds in her grasp.
They seemed heavy to her, painful, living, at the same time dead,
so many different things were in them, so many things that were now
over--so sweet to feel, to dream! It was the soul of her soul, the heart
of her heart, the essence of her loving self that she was holding there;
and she remembered with what delirium she had scribbled some of them,
with what exaltation, what intoxication of living and of adoring some
one, and of expressing it.

"Burn them! Burn them, Any!" Olivier repeated.

With the same movement of both hands, she cast into the fireplace the
two packets of papers, which became scattered as they fell upon the
wood. Then she seized those that remained in the desk and threw them on
top of the others, then another handful, with swift movements, stooping
and rising again quickly, to finish as soon as might be this terrible
task.

When the fireplace was full and the drawer empty, she remained standing,
waiting, watching the almost smothered flames as they crept up from all
sides on that mountain of envelopes. They attacked them first at the
edges, gnawed at the corners, ran along the edge of the paper, went
out, sprang up again, and went creeping on and on. Soon, all around that
white pyramid glowed a vivid girdle of clear fire which filled the room
with light; and this light, illuminating the woman standing and the man
dying, was their burning love, their love turned to ashes.

The Countess turned, and in the dazzling light of that fire she beheld
her friend leaning with a haggard face on the edge of the bed.

"Are they all there?" he demanded.

"Yes, all."

But before returning to him she cast a last look upon that destruction,
and on that mass of papers, already half consumed, twisting and turning
black, and she saw something red flowing. It looked like drops of blood,
and seemed to come out of the very heart of the letters, as from a
wound; it ran slowly toward the flames, leaving a purple train.

The Countess received in her soul the shock of supernatural terror, and
recoiled as if she had seen the assassination of a human being; then
she suddenly understood that she had seen simply the melting of the wax
seals.

She returned to the wounded man, and lifting his head tenderly laid
it back in the center of the pillow. But he had moved, and his pain
increased. He was panting now, his face drawn by fearful suffering, and
he no longer seemed to know that she was there.

She waited for him to become a little calmer, to open his eyes, which
remained closed, to be able to say one word more to her.

Presently she asked: "Do you suffer much?"

He did not reply.

She bent over him and laid a finger on his forehead to make him look at
her. He opened his eyes then, but they were wild and dazed.

Terrified, she repeated: "Do you suffer? Olivier! Answer me! Shall I
call? Make an effort! Say something to me!"

She thought she heard him murmur: "Bring her . . . you swore to me."

Then he writhed under the bedclothes, his body grew rigid, his face
convulsed with awful grimaces.

"Olivier! My God! Olivier!" she cried. "What is the matter? Shall I
call?"

This time he heard her, for he replied, "No . . . it is nothing."

He appeared to grow easier, in fact, to suffer less, to fall suddenly
into a sort of drowsy stupor. Hoping that he would sleep, she sat down
again beside the bed, took his hand, and waited. He moved no more, his
chin had dropped to his breast, his mouth was half opened by his short
breath, which seemed to rasp his throat in passing. Only his fingers
moved involuntarily now and then, with slight tremors which the Countess
felt to the roots of her hair, making her long to cry out. They were no
more the tender little meaning pressures which, in place of the weary
lips, told of all the sadness of their hearts; they were spasms of pain
which spoke only of the torture of the body.

Now she was frightened, terribly frightened, and had a wild desire
to run away, to ring, to call, but she dared not move, lest she might
disturb his repose.

The far-off sound of vehicles in the streets penetrated the walls; and
she listened to hear whether that rolling of wheels did not stop before
the door, whether her husband were not coming to deliver her, to tear
her away at last from this sad tete-a-tete.

As she tried to draw her hand from Olivier's, he pressed it, uttering
a deep sigh! Then she resigned herself to wait, so that she should not
trouble him.

The fire was dying out on the hearth, under the black ashes of the
letters; two candles went out; some pieces of furniture cracked.

All was silent in the house; everything seemed dead except a tall
Flemish clock on the stairs, which regularly chimed the hour, the
half hour, and the quarter, singing the march of time in the night,
modulating it in divers tones.

The Countess, motionless, felt an intolerable terror rising in her
soul. Nightmare assailed her; fearful thoughts filled her mind; and she
thought she could feel that Olivier's fingers were growing cold within
her own. Was that true? No, certainly not. But whence had come that
sensation of inexpressible, frozen contact? She roused herself, wild
with terror, to look at his face. It was relaxed, impassive, inanimate,
indifferent to all misery, suddenly soothed by the Eternal Oblivion.





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