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Title: Notre Coeur or A Woman's Pastime - A Novel
Author: Maupassant, Guy de
Language: English
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NOTRE CŒUR

OR

A WOMAN'S PASTIME

_A NOVEL_


_By_

GUY DE MAUPASSANT


SAINT DUNSTAN SOCIETY

AKRON, OHIO

1903



    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    GUY DE MAUPASSANT - Critical Preface: Paul Bourget
    INTRODUCTION - Robert Arnot, M. A.

    NOTRE CŒUR

    CHAPTER I.
    THE INTRODUCTION

    CHAPTER II.
    "WILL YOU WALK INTO MY PARLOR?"

    CHAPTER III.
    THE THORNS OF THE ROSE

    CHAPTER IV.
    THE BENEFIT OF CHANGE OF SCENE

    CHAPTER V.
    CONSPIRACY

    CHAPTER VI.
    QUESTIONINGS

    CHAPTER VII.
    DEPRESSION

    CHAPTER VIII.
    NEW HOPES

    CHAPTER IX.
    DISILLUSION

    CHAPTER X.
    FLIGHT

    CHAPTER XI.
    LONELINESS

    CHAPTER XII.
    CONSOLATION

    CHAPTER XIII.
    MARIOLLE COPIES MME. DE BURNE


    ADDENDA

    THE OLIVE GROVE
    REVENGE
    AN OLD MAID
    COMPLICATION
    FORGIVENESS
    THE WHITE WOLF


ILLUSTRATIONS

HENRI RENE GUY DE MAUPASSANT
"THEY WERE ALONE ... SHE WAS WEEPING"


[Illustration]

[Illustration]


GUY DE MAUPASSANT


Of the French writers of romance of the latter part of the nineteenth
century no one made a reputation as quickly as did Guy de Maupassant.
Not one has preserved that reputation with more ease, not only during
life, but in death. None so completely hides his personality in
his glory. In an epoch of the utmost publicity, in which the most
insignificant deeds of a celebrated man are spied, recorded, and
commented on, the author of "Boule de Suif," of "Pierre et Jean," of
"Notre Cœur," found a way of effacing his personality in his work.

Of De Maupassant we know that he was born in Normandy about 1850; that
he was the favorite pupil, if one may so express it, the literary
_protégé_, of Gustave Flaubert; that he made his _début_ late in 1880,
with a novel inserted in a small collection, published by Emile Zola
and his young friends, under the title: "The Soirées of Medan"; that
subsequently he did not fail to publish stories and romances every year
up to 1891, when a disease of the brain struck him down in the fullness
of production; and that he died, finally, in 1893, without having
recovered his reason.

We know, too, that he passionately loved a strenuous physical life
and long journeys, particularly long journeys upon the sea. He owned
a little sailing yacht, named after one of his books, "Bel-Ami," in
which he used to sojourn for weeks and months. These meager details are
almost the only ones that have been gathered as food for the curiosity
of the public.

I leave the legendary side, which is always in evidence in the case
of a celebrated man,--that gossip, for example, which avers that
Maupassant was a high liver and a worldling. The very number of his
volumes is a protest to the contrary. One could not write so large
a number of pages in so small a number of years without the virtue
of industry, a virtue incompatible with habits of dissipation. This
does not mean that the writer of these great romances had no love for
pleasure and had not tasted the world, but that for him these were
secondary things. The psychology of his work ought, then, to find an
interpretation other than that afforded by wholly false or exaggerated
anecdotes. I wish to indicate here how this work, illumined by the
three or four positive data which I have given, appears to me to demand
it.

And first, what does that anxiety to conceal his personality prove,
carried as it was to such an extreme degree? The answer rises
spontaneously in the minds of those who have studied closely the
history of literature. The absolute silence about himself, preserved by
one whose position among us was that of a Tourgenief, or of a Mérimée,
and of a Molière or a Shakespeare among the classic great, reveals, to
a person of instinct, a nervous sensibility of extreme depth. There
are many chances for an artist of his kind, however timid, or for one
who has some grief, to show the depth of his emotion. To take up again
only two of the names just cited, this was the case with the author of
"Terres Vierges," and with the writer of "Colomba."

A somewhat minute analysis of the novels and romances of Maupassant
would suffice to demonstrate, even if we did not know the nature of the
incidents which prompted them, that he also suffered from an excess of
nervous emotionalism. Nine times out of ten, what is the subject of
these stories to which freedom of style gives the appearance of health?
A tragic episode. I cite, at random, "Mademoiselle Fifi," "La Petite
Roque," "Inutile Beauté," "Le Masque," "Le Horla," "L'Épreuve," "Le
Champ d'Oliviers," among the novels, and among the romances, "Une Vie,"
"Pierre et Jean," "Fort comme la Mort," "Notre Cœur." His imagination
aims to represent the human being as imprisoned in a situation at once
insupportable and inevitable. The spell of this grief and trouble
exerts such a power upon the writer that he ends stories commenced in
pleasantry with some sinister drama. Let me instance "Saint-Antonin,"
"A Midnight Revel," "The Little Cask," and "Old Amable." You close the
book at the end of these vigorous sketches, and feel how surely they
point to constant suffering on the part of him who executed them.

This is the leading trait in the literary physiognomy of Maupassant,
as it is the leading and most profound trait in the psychology of his
work, viz., that human life is a snare laid by nature, where joy is
always changed to misery, where noble words and the highest professions
of faith serve the lowest plans and the most cruel egoism, where
chagrin, crime, and folly are forever on hand to pursue implacably our
hopes, nullify our virtues, and annihilate our wisdom. But this is not
the whole.

Maupassant has been called a literary nihilist--but (and this is the
second trait of his singular genius) in him nihilism finds itself
coexistent with an animal energy so fresh and so intense that for a
long time it deceives the closest observer. In an eloquent discourse,
pronounced over his premature grave, Emile Zola well defined this
illusion: "We congratulated him," said he, "upon that health which
seemed unbreakable, and justly credited him with the soundest
constitution of our band, as well as with the clearest mind and the
sanest reason. It was then that this frightful thunderbolt destroyed
him."

It is not exact to say that the lofty genius of De Maupassant was that
of an absolutely sane man. We comprehend it to-day, and, on re-reading
him, we find traces everywhere of his final malady. But it is exact
to say that this wounded genius was, by a singular circumstance, the
genius of a robust man. A physiologist would without doubt explain
this anomaly by the coexistence of a nervous lesion, light at first,
with a muscular, athletic temperament. Whatever the cause, the effect
is undeniable. The skilled and dainty pessimism of De Maupassant was
accompanied by a vigor and physique very unusual. His sensations are
in turn those of a hunter and of a sailor, who have, as the old French
saying expressively puts it, "swift foot, eagle eye," and who are
attuned to all the whisperings of nature.

The only confidences that he has ever permitted his pen to tell of
the intoxication of a free, animal existence are in the opening pages
of the story entitled "Mouche," where he recalls, among the sweetest
memories of his youth, his rollicking canoe parties upon the Seine,
and in the description in "La Vie Errante" of a night spent on the
sea,--"to be alone upon the water under the sky, through a warm
night,"--in which he speaks of the happiness of those "who receive
sensations through the whole surface of their flesh, as they do through
their eyes, their mouth, their ears, and sense of smell."

His unique and too scanty collection of verses, written in early youth,
contains the two most fearless, I was going to say the most ingenuous,
paeans, perhaps, that have been written since the Renaissance: "At
the Water's Edge" (Au Bord de l'Eau) and the "Rustic Venus" (La
Venus Rustique). But here is a paganism whose ardor, by a contrast
which brings up the ever present duality of his nature, ends in an
inexpressible shiver of scorn:


    "We look at each other, astonished, immovable,
    And both are so pale that it makes us fear."
     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
    "Alas! through all our senses slips life itself away."


This ending of the "Water's Edge" is less sinister than the murder
and the vision of horror which terminate the pantheistic hymn of the
"Rustic Venus." Considered as documents revealing the cast of mind
of him who composed them, these two lyrical essays are especially
significant, since they were spontaneous. They explain why De
Maupassant, in the early years of production, voluntarily chose, as
the heroes of his stories, creatures very near to primitive existence,
peasants, sailors, poachers, girls of the farm, and the source of the
vigor with which he describes these rude figures. The robustness of
his animalism permits him fully to imagine all the simple sensations
of these beings, while his pessimism, which tinges these sketches of
brutal customs with an element of delicate scorn, preserves him from
coarseness. It is this constant and involuntary antithesis which gives
unique value to those Norman scenes which have contributed so much
to his glory. It corresponds to those two contradictory tendencies
in literary art, which seek always to render life in motion with the
most intense coloring, and still to make more and more subtle the
impression of this life. How is one ambition to be satisfied at the
same time as the other, since all gain in color and movement brings
about a diminution of sensibility, and conversely? The paradox of his
constitution permitted to Maupassant this seemingly impossible accord,
aided as he was by an intellect whose influence was all powerful upon
his development--the writer I mention above, Gustave Flaubert.

These meetings of a pupil and a master, both great, are indeed rare.
They present, in fact, some troublesome conditions, the first of
which is a profound analogy between two types of thought. There must
have been, besides, a reciprocity of affection, which does not often
obtain between a renowned senior who is growing old and an obscure
junior, whose renown is increasing. From generation to generation, envy
reascends no less than she redescends. For the honor of French men of
letters, let us add that this exceptional phenomenon has manifested
itself twice in the nineteenth century. Mérimée, whom I have also
named, received from Stendhal, at twenty, the same benefits that
Maupassant received from Flaubert.

The author of "Une Vie" and the writer of "Clara Jozul" resemble
each other, besides, in a singular and analogous circumstance. Both
achieved renown at the first blow, and by a masterpiece which they
were able to equal but never surpass. Both were misanthropes early in
life, and practised to the end the ancient advice that the disciple of
Beyle carried upon his seal: μεμνήσο απιστἔιν--"Remember to distrust."
And, at the same time, both had delicate, tender hearts under this
affectation of cynicism, both were excellent sons, irreproachable
friends, indulgent masters, and both were idolized by their inferiors.
Both were worldly, yet still loved a wanderer's life; both joined to
a constant taste for luxury an irresistible desire for solitude. Both
belonged to the extreme left of the literature of their epoch, but kept
themselves from excess and used with a judgment marvelously sure the
sounder principles of their school. They knew how to remain lucid and
classic, in taste as much as in form--Mérimée through all the audacity
of a fancy most exotic, and Maupassant in the realism of the most
varied and exact observation. At a little distance they appear to be
two patterns, identical in certain traits, of the same family of minds,
and Tourgenief, who knew and loved the one and the other, never failed
to class them as brethren.

They are separated, however, by profound differences, which perhaps
belong less to their nature than to that of the masters from whom
they received their impulses: Stendhal, so alert, so mobile, after a
youth passed in war and a ripe age spent in vagabond journeys, rich
in experiences, immediate and personal; Flaubert so poor in direct
impressions, so paralyzed by his health, by his family, by his theories
even, and so rich in reflections, for the most part solitary.

Among the theories of the anatomist of "Madame Bovary," there are two
which appear without ceasing in his Correspondence, under one form
or another, and these are the ones which are most strongly evident
in the art of De Maupassant. We now see the consequences which were
inevitable by reason of them, endowed as Maupassant was with a double
power of feeling life bitterly, and at the same time with so much of
animal force. The first theory bears upon the choice of personages and
the story of the romance, the second upon the character of the style.
The son of a physician, and brought up in the rigors of scientific
method, Flaubert believed this method to be efficacious in art as in
science. For instance, in the writing of a romance, he seemed to be as
scientific as in the development of a history of customs, in which the
essential is absolute exactness and local color. He therefore naturally
wished to make the most scrupulous and detailed observation of the
environment.

Thus is explained the immense labor in preparation which his stories
cost him--the story of "Madame Bovary," of "The Sentimental Education,"
and "Bouvard and Pécuchet," documents containing as much _minutiæ_
as his historical stories. Beyond everything he tried to select
details that were eminently significant. Consequently he was of the
opinion that the romance writer should discard all that lessened this
significance, that is, extraordinary events and singular heroes. The
exceptional personage, it seemed to him, should be suppressed, as
should also high dramatic incident, since, produced by causes less
general, these have a range more restricted. The truly scientific
romance writer, proposing to paint a certain class, will attain his
end more effectively if he incarnate personages of the middle order,
and, consequently, paint traits common to that class. And not only
middle-class traits, but middle-class adventures.

From this point of view, examine the three great romances of the
Master from Rouen, and you will see that he has not lost sight of this
first and greatest principle of his art, any more than he has of the
second, which was that these documents should be drawn up in prose of
absolutely perfect technique. We know with what passionate care he
worked at his phrases, and how indefatigably he changed them over and
over again. Thus he satisfied that instinct of beauty which was born of
his romantic soul, while he gratified the demand of truth which inhered
from his scientific training by his minute and scrupulous exactness.

The theory of the mean of truth on one side, as the foundation of
the subject,--"the humble truth," as he termed it at the beginning
of "Une Vie,"--and of the agonizing of beauty on the other side, in
composition, determines the whole use that Maupassant made of his
literary gifts. It helped to make more intense and more systematic
that dainty yet dangerous pessimism which in him was innate. The
middle-class personage, in wearisome society like ours, is always a
caricature, and the happenings are nearly always vulgar. When one
studies a great number of them, one finishes by looking at humanity
from the angle of disgust and despair. The philosophy of the romances
and novels of De Maupassant is so continuously and profoundly
surprising that one becomes overwhelmed by it. It reaches limitation;
it seems to deny that man is susceptible to grandeur, or that motives
of a superior order can uplift and ennoble the soul, but it does so
with a sorrow that is profound. All that portion of the sentimental and
moral world which in itself is the highest remains closed to it.

In revenge, this philosophy finds itself in a relation cruelly exact
with the half-civilization of our day. By that I mean the poorly
educated individual who has rubbed against knowledge enough to justify
a certain egoism, but who is too poor in faculty to conceive an ideal,
and whose native grossness is corrupted beyond redemption. Under his
blouse, or under his coat--whether he calls himself Renardet, as does
the foul assassin in "Petite Roque," or Duroy, as does the sly hero
of "Bel-Ami," or Bretigny, as does the vile seducer of "Mont Oriol,"
or Césaire, the son of Old Amable in the novel of that name,--this
degraded type abounds in Maupassant's stories, evoked with a ferocity
almost jovial where it meets the robustness of temperament which I
have pointed out, a ferocity which gives them a reality more exact
still because the half-civilized person is often impulsive and, in
consequence, the physical easily predominates. There, as elsewhere,
the degenerate is everywhere a degenerate who gives the impression of
being an ordinary man.

There are quantities of men of this stamp in large cities. No writer
has felt and expressed this complex temperament with more justice than
De Maupassant, and, as he was an infinitely careful observer of _milieu_
and landscape and all that constitutes a precise middle distance, his
novels can be considered an irrefutable record of the social classes
which he studied at a certain time and along certain lines. The
Norman peasant and the Provençal peasant, for example; also the small
officeholder, the gentleman of the provinces, the country squire, the
clubman of Paris, the journalist of the boulevard, the doctor at the
spa, the commercial artist, and, on the feminine side, the servant
girl, the working girl, the _demi-grisette_, the street girl, rich
or poor, the gallant lady of the city and of the provinces, and the
society woman--these are some of the figures that he has painted at
many sittings, and whom he used to such effect that the novels and
romances in which they are painted have come to be history. Just as it
is impossible to comprehend the Rome of the Cæsars without the work
of Petronius, so is it impossible to fully comprehend the France of
1850-90 without these stories of Maupassant. They are no more the whole
image of the country than the "Satyricon" was the whole image of Rome,
but what their author has wished to paint, he has painted to the life
and with a brush that is graphic in the extreme.

If Maupassant had only painted, in general fashion, the characters and
the phase of literature mentioned, he would not be distinguished from
other writers of the group called "naturalists." His true glory is in
the extraordinary superiority of his art. He did not invent it, and his
method is not alien to that of "Madame Bovary," but he knew how to give
it a suppleness, a variety, and a freedom which were always wanting in
Flaubert. The latter, in his best pages, is always strained. To use the
expressive metaphor of the Greek athletes, he "smells of the oil." When
one recalls that when attacked by hysteric epilepsy, Flaubert postponed
the crisis of the terrible malady by means of sedatives, this strained
atmosphere of labor--I was going to say of stupor--which pervades his
work is explained. He is an athlete, a runner, but one who drags at his
feet a terrible weight. He is in the race only for the prize of effort,
an effort of which every motion reveals the intensity.

Maupassant, on the other hand, if he suffered from a nervous lesion,
gave no sign of it, except in his heart. His intelligence was bright
and lively, and above all, his imagination, served by senses always on
the alert, preserved for some years an astonishing freshness of direct
vision. If his art was due to Flaubert, it is no more belittling to him
than if one call Raphael an imitator of Perugini.

Like Flaubert, he excelled in composing a story, in distributing the
facts with subtle gradation, in bringing in at the end of a familiar
dialogue something startlingly dramatic; but such composition, with
him, seems easy, and while the descriptions are marvelously well
established in his stories, the reverse is true of Flaubert's, which
always appear a little veneered. Maupassant's phrasing, however
dramatic it may be, remains easy and flowing.

Maupassant always sought for large and harmonious rhythm in his
deliberate choice of terms, always chose sound, wholesome language,
with a constant care for technical beauty. Inheriting from his master
an instrument already forged, he wielded it with a surer skill. In the
quality of his style, at once so firm and clear, so gorgeous yet so
sober, so supple and so firm, he equals the writers of the seventeenth
century. His method, so deeply and simply French, succeeds in giving an
indescribable "tang" to his descriptions. If observation from nature
imprints upon his tales the strong accent of reality, the prose in
which they are shrined so conforms to the genius of the race as to
smack of the soil.

It is enough that the critics of to-day place Guy de Maupassant among
our classic writers. He has his place in the ranks of pure French
genius, with the Regniers, the La Fontaines, the Molières. And those
signs of secret ill divined everywhere under this wholesome prose
surround it for those who knew and loved him with a pathos that is
inexpressible.

                                                         Paul Bourget



INTRODUCTION


Born in the middle year of the nineteenth century, and fated
unfortunately never to see its close, Guy de Maupassant was probably
the most versatile and brilliant among the galaxy of novelists who
enriched French literature between the years 1800 and 1900. Poetry,
drama, prose of short and sustained effort, and volumes of travel and
description, each sparkling with the same minuteness of detail and
brilliancy of style, flowed from his pen during the twelve years of his
literary life.

Although his genius asserted itself in youth, he had the patience of
the true artist, spending his early manhood in cutting and polishing
the facets of his genius under the stern though paternal mentorship of
Gustave Flaubert. Not until he had attained the age of thirty did he
venture on publication, challenging criticism for the first time with a
volume of poems.

Many and various have been the judgments passed upon Maupassant's work.
But now that the perspective of time is lengthening, enabling us to
form a more deliberate and therefore a juster, view of his complete
achievement, we are driven irresistibly to the conclusion that the
force that shaped and swayed Maupassant's prose writings was the
conviction that in life there could be no phase so noble or so mean, so
honorable or so contemptible, so lofty or so low as to be unworthy of
chronicling,--no groove of human virtue or fault, success or failure,
wisdom or folly that did not possess its own peculiar psychological
aspect and therefore demanded analysis.

To this analysis Maupassant brought a facile and dramatic pen, a
penetration as searching as a probe, and a power of psychological
vision that in its minute detail, now pathetic, now ironical, in its
merciless revelation of the hidden springs of the human heart, whether
of aristocrat, _bourgeois_, peasant, or priest, allow one to call him a
Meissonier in words.

The school of romantic realism which was founded by Mérimée and
Balzac found its culmination in De Maupassant. He surpassed his
mentor, Flaubert, in the breadth and vividness of his work, and one
of the greatest of modern French critics has recorded the deliberate
opinion, that of all Taine's pupils Maupassant had the greatest command
of language and the most finished and incisive style. Robust in
imagination and fired with natural passion, his psychological curiosity
kept him true to human nature, while at the same time his mental eye,
when fixed upon the most ordinary phases of human conduct, could see
some new motive or aspect of things hitherto unnoticed by the careless
crowd.

It has been said by casual critics that Maupassant lacked one quality
indispensable to the production of truly artistic work, viz.: an
absolutely normal, that is, moral, point of view. The answer to this
criticism is obvious. No dissector of the gamut of human passion and
folly in all its tones could present aught that could be called new, if
ungifted with a view-point totally out of the ordinary plane. Cold and
merciless in the use of this _point de vue_ De Maupassant undoubtedly
is, especially in such vivid depictions of love, both physical and
maternal, as we find in "L'histoire d'une fille de ferme" and "La
femme de Paul." But then the surgeon's scalpel never hesitates at
giving pain, and pain is often the road to health and ease. Some of
Maupassant's short stories are sermons more forcible than any moral
dissertation could ever be.

Of De Maupassant's sustained efforts "Une Vie" may bear the palm. This
romance has the distinction of having changed Tolstoi from an adverse
critic into a warm admirer of the author. To quote the Russian moralist
upon the book:

    "'Une Vie' is a romance of the best type, and in my judgment
    the greatest that has been produced by any French writer
    since Victor Hugo penned 'Les Misérables.' Passing over the
    force and directness of the narrative, I am struck by the
    intensity, the grace, and the insight with which the writer
    treats the new aspects of human nature which he finds in the
    life he describes."

And as if gracefully to recall a former adverse criticism, Tolstoi adds:

    "I find in the book, in almost equal strength, the three
    cardinal qualities essential to great work, viz: moral
    purpose, perfect style, and absolute sincerity....
    Maupassant is a man whose vision has penetrated the
    silent depths of human life, and from that vantage-ground
    interprets the struggle of humanity."

"Bel-Ami" appeared almost two years after "Une Vie," that is to say,
about 1885. Discussed and criticised as it has been, it is in reality
a satire, an indignant outburst against the corruption of society
which in the story enables an ex-soldier, devoid of conscience, honor,
even of the commonest regard for others, to gain wealth and rank.
The purport of the story is clear to those who recognize the ideas
that governed Maupassant's work, and even the hasty reader or critic,
on reading "Mont Oriol," which was published two years later and is
based on a combination of the _motifs_ which inspired "Une Vie" and
"Bel-Ami," will reconsider former hasty judgments, and feel, too, that
beneath the triumph of evil which calls forth Maupassant's satiric
anger there lies the substratum on which all his work is founded, viz:
the persistent, ceaseless questioning of a soul unable to reconcile or
explain the contradiction between love in life and inevitable death.
Who can read in "Bel-Ami" the terribly graphic description of the
consumptive journalist's demise, his frantic clinging to life, and his
refusal to credit the slow and merciless approach of death, without
feeling that the question asked at Naishapur many centuries ago is
still waiting for the solution that is always promised but never comes?

In the romances which followed, dating from 1888 to 1890, a sort of
calm despair seems to have settled down upon De Maupassant's attitude
toward life. Psychologically acute as ever, and as perfect in style
and sincerity as before, we miss the note of anger. Fatality is
the keynote, and yet, sounding low, we detect a genuine subtone of
sorrow. Was it a prescience of 1893? So much work to be done, so much
work demanded of him, the world of Paris, in all its brilliant and
attractive phases, at his feet, and yet--inevitable, ever advancing
death, with the question of life still unanswered.

This may account for some of the strained situations we find in his
later romances. Vigorous in frame and hearty as he was, the atmosphere
of his mental processes must have been vitiated to produce the dainty
but dangerous pessimism that pervades some of his later work. This was
partly a consequence of his honesty and partly of mental despair. He
never accepted other people's views on the questions of life. He looked
into such problems for himself, arriving at the truth, as it appeared
to him, by the logic of events, often finding evil where he wished to
find good, but never hoodwinking himself or his readers by adapting or
distorting the reality of things to suit a preconceived idea.

Maupassant was essentially a worshiper of the eternal feminine. He was
persuaded that without the continual presence of the gentler sex man's
existence would be an emotionally silent wilderness. No other French
writer has described and analyzed so minutely and comprehensively
the many and various motives and moods that shape the conduct of a
woman in life. Take for instance the wonderfully subtle analysis of a
woman's heart as wife and mother that we find in "Une Vie." Could aught
be more delicately incisive? Sometimes in describing the apparently
inexplicable conduct of a certain woman he leads his readers to a point
where a false step would destroy the spell and bring the reproach of
banality and ridicule upon the tale. But the catastrophe never occurs.
It was necessary to stand poised upon the brink of the precipice to
realize the depth of the abyss and feel the terror of the fall.

Closely allied to this phase of Maupassant's nature was the peculiar
feeling of loneliness that every now and then breaks irresistibly forth
in the course of some short story. Of kindly soul and genial heart, he
suffered not only from the oppression of spirit caused by the lack of
humanity, kindliness, sanity, and harmony which he encountered daily in
the world at large, but he had an ever abiding sense of the invincible,
unbanishable solitariness of his own Inmost self. I know of no more
poignant expression of such a feeling than the cry of despair which
rings out in the short story called "Solitude," in which he describes
the insurmountable barrier which exists between man and man, or man and
woman, however intimate the friendship between them. He could picture
but one way of destroying this terrible loneliness, the attainment of a
spiritual--a divine--state of love, a condition to which he would give
no name utterable by human lips, lest it be profaned, but for which
his whole being yearned. How acutely he felt his failure to attain his
deliverance may be drawn from his wail that mankind has no universal
measure of happiness.

"Each one of us," writes De Maupassant, "forms for himself an illusion
through which he views the world, be it poetic, sentimental, joyous,
melancholy, or dismal; an illusion of beauty, which is a human
convention; of ugliness, which is a matter of opinion; of truth,
which, alas, is never immutable." And he concludes by asserting that
the happiest artist is he who approaches most closely to the truth of
things as he sees them through his own particular illusion.

Salient points in De Maupassant's genius were that he possessed the
rare faculty of holding direct communion with his gifts, and of writing
from their dictation as it was interpreted by his senses. He had no
patience with writers who in striving to present life as a whole
purposely omit episodes that reveal the influence of the senses. "As
well," he says, "refrain from describing the effect of intoxicating
perfumes upon man as omit the influence of beauty on the temperament of
man."

De Maupassant's dramatic instinct was supremely powerful. He seems
to select unerringly the one thing in which the soul of the scene is
prisoned, and, making that his keynote, gives a picture in words which
haunt the memory like a strain of music. The description of the ride of
Madame Tellier and her companions in a country cart through a Norman
landscape is an admirable example. You smell the masses of the colza
in blossom, you see the yellow carpets of ripe corn spotted here and
there by the blue coronets of the cornflower, and rapt by the red blaze
of the poppy beds and bathed in the fresh greenery of the landscape,
you share in the emotions felt by the happy party in the country cart.
And yet with all his vividness of description, De Maupassant is always
sober and brief. He had the genius of condensation and the reserve
which is innate in power, and to his reader could convey as much in a
paragraph as could be expressed in a page by many of his predecessors
and contemporaries, Flaubert not excepted.

Apart from his novels, De Maupassant's tales may be arranged under
three heads: Those that concern themselves with Norman peasant life;
those that deal with Government employees (Maupassant himself had
long been one) and the Paris middle classes, and those that represent
the life of the fashionable world, as well as the weird and fantastic
ideas of the later years of his career. Of these three groups the tales
of the Norman peasantry perhaps rank highest. He depicts the Norman
farmer in surprisingly free and bold strokes, revealing him in all his
caution, astuteness, rough gaiety, and homely virtue.

The tragic stage of De Maupassant's life may, I think, be set down as
beginning just before the drama of "Musotte" was issued, in conjunction
with Jacques Normand, in 1891. He had almost given up the hope of
interpreting his puzzles, and the struggle between the falsity of the
life which surrounded him and the nobler visions which possessed him
was wearing him out. Doubtless he resorted to unwise methods for the
dispelling of physical lassitude or for surcease from troubling mental
problems. To this period belong such weird and horrible fancies as
are contained in the short stories known as "He" and "The Diary of a
Madman." Here and there, we know, were rising in him inklings of a
finer and less sordid attitude 'twixt man and woman throughout the
world and of a purer constitution of existing things which no exterior
force should blemish or destroy. But with these yearningly prophetic
gleams came a period of mental death. Then the physical veil was torn
aside and for Guy de Maupassant the riddle of existence was answered.


                                                        Robert Arnot



NOTRE CŒUR



CHAPTER I.


THE INTRODUCTION


One day Massival, the celebrated composer of "Rebecca," who for fifteen
years, now, had been known as "the young and illustrious master," said
to his friend André Mariolle:

"Why is it that you have never secured a presentation to Mme. Michèle
de Burne? Take my word for it, she is one of the most interesting women
in new Paris."

"Because I do not feel myself at all adapted to her surroundings."

"You are wrong, my dear fellow. It is a house where there is a great
deal of novelty and originality; it is wide-awake and very artistic.
There is excellent music, and the conversation is as good as in the
best salons of the last century. You would be highly appreciated--in
the first place because you play so well on the violin, then because
you have been very favorably spoken of in the house, and finally
because you have the reputation of being select in your choice of
friends."

Flattered, but still maintaining his attitude of resistance, supposing,
moreover, that this urgent invitation was not given without the young
woman being aware of it, Mariolle ejaculated a "Bah! I shall not
bother my head at all about it," in which, through the disdain that he
intended to express, was evident his foregone acceptance.

Massival continued: "Would you like to have me present you some of
these days? You are already known to her through all of us who are on
terms of intimacy with her, for we talk about you often enough. She is
a very pretty woman of twenty-eight, abounding in intelligence, who
will never take a second husband, for her first venture was a very
unfortunate one. She has made her abode a rendezvous for agreeable men.
There are not too many club-men or society-men found there--just enough
of them to give the proper effect. She will be delighted to have me
introduce you."

Mariolle was vanquished; he replied: "Very well, then; one of these
days."

At the beginning of the following week the musician came to his house
and asked him: "Are you disengaged to-morrow?"

"Why, yes."

"Very well. I will take you to dine with Mme. de Burne; she requested
me to invite you. Besides, here is a line from her."

After a few seconds' reflection, for form's sake, Mariolle answered:
"That is settled!"

André Mariolle was about thirty-seven years old, a bachelor without
a profession, wealthy enough to live in accordance with his likings,
to travel, and even to indulge himself in collecting modern paintings
and ancient knickknacks. He had the reputation of being a man of
intelligence, rather odd and unsociable, a little capricious and
disdainful, who affected the hermit through pride rather than through
timidity. Very talented and acute, but indolent, quick to grasp the
meaning of things, and capable, perhaps, of accomplishing something
great, he had contented himself with enjoying life as a spectator, or
rather as a _dilettante_. Had he been poor, he would doubtless have
turned out to be a remarkable or celebrated man; born with a good
income, he was eternally reproaching himself that he could never be
anything better than a nobody.

It is true that he had made more than one attempt in the direction of
the arts, but they had lacked vigor. One had been in the direction of
literature, by publishing a pleasing book of travels, abounding in
incident and correct in style; one toward music by his violin-playing,
in which he had gained, even among professional musicians, a
respectable reputation; and, finally, one at sculpture, that art in
which native aptitude and the faculty of rough-hewing striking and
deceptive figures atone in the eyes of the ignorant for deficiencies in
study and knowledge. His statuette in terra-cotta, "Masseur Tunisien,"
had even been moderately successful at the Salon of the preceding year.
He was a remarkable horseman, and was also, it was said, an excellent
fencer, although he never used the foils in public, owing, perhaps, to
the same self-distrustful feeling which impelled him to absent himself
from society resorts where serious rivalries were to be apprehended.

His friends appreciated him, however, and were unanimous in extolling
his merits, perhaps for the reason that they had little to fear from
him in the way of competition. It was said of him that in every case he
was reliable, a devoted friend, extremely agreeable in manner, and very
sympathetic in his personality.

Tall of stature, wearing his black beard short upon the cheeks and
trained down to a fine point upon the chin, with hair that was
beginning to turn gray but curled very prettily, he looked one straight
in the face with a pair of clear, brown, piercing eyes in which lurked
a shade of distrust and hardness.

Among his intimates he had an especial predilection for artists of
every kind--among them Gaston de Lamarthe the novelist, Massival the
musician, and the painters Jobin, Rivollet, De Mandol--who seemed to
set a high value on his reason, his friendship, his intelligence,
and even his judgment, although at bottom, with the vanity that
is inseparable from success achieved, they set him down as a very
agreeable and very intelligent man who had failed to score a success.

Mariolle's haughty reserve seemed to say: "I am nothing because I have
not chosen to be anything." He lived within a narrow circle, therefore,
disdaining gallantry and the great frequented salons, where others
might have shone more brilliantly than he, and might have obliged him
to take his place among the lay-figures of society. He visited only
those houses where appreciation was extended to the solid qualities
that he was unwilling to display; and though he had consented so
readily to allow himself to be introduced to Mme. Michèle de Burne, the
reason was that his best friends, those who everywhere proclaimed his
hidden merits, were the intimates of this young woman.

She lived in a pretty _entresol_ in the Rue du Général-Foy, behind the
church of Saint Augustin. There were two rooms with an outlook on the
street--the dining-room and a salon, the one in which she received her
company indiscriminately--and two others that opened on a handsome
garden of which the owner of the property had the enjoyment. Of the
latter the first was a second salon of large dimensions, of greater
length than width, with three windows opening on the trees, the leaves
of which brushed against the awnings, a room which was embellished
with furniture and ornaments exceptionally rare and simple, in the
purest and soberest taste and of great value. The tables, the chairs,
the little cupboards or _étagères_, the pictures, the fans and the
porcelain figures beneath glass covers, the vases, the statuettes, the
great clock fixed in the middle of a panel, the entire decoration of
this young woman's apartment attracted and held attention by its shape,
its age, or its elegance. To create for herself this home, of which she
was almost as proud as she was of her own person, she had laid under
contribution the knowledge, the friendship, the good nature, and the
rummaging instinct of every artist of her acquaintance. She was rich
and willing to pay well, and her friends had discovered for her many
things, distinguished by originality, which the mere vulgar amateur
would have passed by with contempt. Thus, with their assistance,
she had furnished this dwelling, to which access was obtained with
difficulty, and where she imagined that her friends received more
pleasure and returned more gladly than elsewhere.

It was even a favorite hobby of hers to assert that the colors of the
curtains and hangings, the comfort of the seats, the beauty of form,
and the gracefulness of general effect are of as much avail to charm,
captivate, and acclimatize the eye as are pretty smiles. Sympathetic
or antipathetic rooms, she would say, whether rich or poor, attract,
hold, or repel, just like the people who live in them. They awake the
feelings or stifle them, warm or chill the mind, compel one to talk or
be silent, make one sad or cheerful; in a word, they give every visitor
an unaccountable desire to remain or to go away.

About the middle of this dimly lighted gallery a grand piano, standing
between two _jardinières_ filled with flowers, occupied the place of
honor and dominated the room. Beyond this a lofty door with two leaves
opened gave access to the bedroom, which in turn communicated with a
dressing-room, also very large and elegant, hung with chintz like a
drawing-room in summer, where Mme. de Burne generally kept herself when
she had no company.

Married to a well-mannered good-for-nothing, one of those domestic
tyrants before whom everything must bend and yield, she had at
first been very unhappy. For five years she had had to endure the
unreasonable exactions, the harshness, the jealousy, even the violence
of this intolerable master, and terrified, beside herself with
astonishment, she had submitted without revolt to this revelation of
married life, crushed as she was beneath the despotic and torturing
will of the brutal man whose victim she had become.

He died one night, from an aneurism, as he was coming home, and when
she saw the body of her husband brought in, covered with a sheet,
unable to believe in the reality of this deliverance, she looked at his
corpse with a deep feeling of repressed joy and a frightful dread lest
she might show it.

Cheerful, independent, even exuberant by nature, very flexible and
attractive, with bright flashes of wit such as are shown in some
incomprehensible way in the intellects of certain little girls of
Paris, who seem to have breathed from their earliest childhood the
stimulating air of the boulevards--where every evening, through the
open doors of the theaters, the applause or the hisses that greet the
plays come forth, borne on the air--she nevertheless retained from her
five years of servitude a strange timidity grafted upon her old-time
audacity, a great fear lest she might say too much, do too much,
together with a burning desire for emancipation and a stern resolve
never again to do anything to imperil her liberty.

Her husband, a man of the world, had trained her to receive like a mute
slave, elegant, polite, and well dressed. The despot had numbered among
his friends many artists, whom she had received with curiosity and
listened to with delight, without ever daring to allow them to see how
she understood and appreciated them.

When her period of mourning was ended she invited a few of them to
dinner one evening. Two of them sent excuses; three accepted and
were astonished to find a young woman of admirable intelligence and
charming manners, who immediately put them at their ease and gracefully
told them of the pleasure that they had afforded her in former days
by coming to her house. From among her old acquaintances who had
ignored her or failed to recognize her qualities she thus gradually
made a selection according to her inclinations, and as a widow, an
enfranchised woman, but one determined to maintain her good name, she
began to receive all the most distinguished men of Paris whom she could
bring together, with only a few women. The first to be admitted became
her intimates, formed a nucleus, attracted others, and gave to the
house the air of a small court, to which every _habitué_ contributed
either personal merit or a great name, for a few well-selected titles
were mingled with the intelligence of the commonalty.

Her father, M. de Pradon, who occupied the apartment over hers, served
as her chaperon and "sheep-dog." An old beau, very elegant and witty,
and extremely attentive to his daughter, whom he treated rather as
a lady acquaintance than as a daughter, he presided at the Thursday
dinners that were quickly known and talked of in Paris, and to which
invitations were much sought after. The requests for introductions
and invitations came in shoals, were discussed, and very frequently
rejected by a sort of vote of the inner council. Witty sayings that
had their origin in this circle were quoted and obtained currency in
the city. Actors, artists, and young poets made their _débuts_ there,
and received, as it were, the baptism of their future greatness.
Longhaired geniuses, introduced by Gaston de Lamarthe, seated
themselves at the piano and replaced the Hungarian violinists that
Massival had presented, and foreign ballet-dancers gave the company a
glimpse of their graceful steps before appearing at the Eden or the
Folies-Bergères.

Mme. de Burne, over whom her friends kept jealous watch and ward and
to whom the recollection of her commerce with the world under the
auspices of marital authority was loathsome, was sufficiently wise
not to enlarge the circle of her acquaintance to too great an extent.
Satisfied and at the same time terrified as to what might be said
and thought of her, she abandoned herself to her somewhat Bohemian
inclinations with consummate prudence. She valued her good name, and
was fearful of any rashness that might jeopardize it; she never allowed
her fancies to carry her beyond the bounds of propriety, was moderate
in her audacity and careful that no _liaison_ or small love affair
should ever be imputed to her.

All her friends had made love to her, more or less; none of them had
been successful. They confessed it, admitted it to each other with
surprise, for men never acknowledge, and perhaps they are right, the
power of resistance of a woman who is her own mistress. There was a
story current about her. It was said that at the beginning of their
married life her husband had exhibited such revolting brutality toward
her that she had been forever cured of the love of men. Her friends
would often discuss the case at length. They inevitably arrived at the
conclusion that a young girl who has been brought up in the dream
of future tenderness and the expectation of an awe-inspiring mystery
must have all her ideas completely upset when her initiation into the
new life is committed to a clown. That worldly philosopher, George de
Maltry, would give a gentle sneer and add: "Her hour will strike; it
always does for women like her, and the longer it is in coming the
louder it strikes. With our friend's artistic tastes, she will wind up
by falling in love with a singer or a pianist."

Gaston de Lamarthe's ideas upon the subject were quite different.
As a novelist, observer, and psychologist, devoted to the study of
the inhabitants of the world of fashion, of whom he drew ironical
and lifelike portraits, he claimed to analyze and know women with
infallible and unique penetration. He put Mme. de Burne down among
those flighty creatures of the time, the type of whom he had given
in his interesting novel, "Une d'Elles." He had been the first
to diagnose this new race of women, distracted by the nerves of
reasoning, hysterical patients, drawn this way and that by a thousand
contradictory whims which never ripen into desires, disillusioned of
everything, without having enjoyed anything, thanks to the times, to
the way of living, and to the modern novel, and who, destitute of all
ardor and enthusiasm, seem to combine in their persons the capricious,
spoiled child and the old, withered sceptic. But he, like the rest of
them, had failed in his love-making.

For all the faithful of the group had in turn been lovers of Mme. de
Burne, and after the crisis had retained their tenderness and their
emotion in different degrees. They had gradually come to form a sort of
little church; she was its Madonna, of whom they conversed constantly
among themselves, subject to her charm even when she was not present.
They praised, extolled, criticised, or disparaged her, according as she
had manifested irritation or gentleness, aversion or preference. They
were continually displaying their jealousy of each other, played the
spy on each other a little, and above all kept their ranks well closed
up, so that no rival might get near her who could give them any cause
for alarm.

These assiduous ones were few in number: Massival, Gaston de Lamarthe,
big Fresnel, George de Maltry, a fashionable young philosopher,
celebrated for his paradoxes, for his eloquent and involved erudition
that was always up to date though incomprehensible even to the most
impassioned of his female admirers, and for his clothes, which were
selected with as much care as his theories. To this tried band she had
added a few more men of the world who had a reputation for wit, the
Comte de Marantin, the Baron de Gravil, and two or three others.

The two privileged characters of this chosen battalion seemed to be
Massival and Lamarthe, who, it appears, had the gift of being always
able to divert the young woman by their artistic unceremoniousness,
their chaff, and the way they had of making fun of everybody, even of
herself, a little, when she was in humor to tolerate it. The care,
whether natural or assumed, however, that she took never to manifest
a marked and prolonged predilection for any one of her admirers, the
unconstrained air with which she practiced her coquetry and the real
impartiality with which she dispensed her favors maintained between
them a friendship seasoned with hostility and an alertness of wit that
made them entertaining.

One of them would sometimes play a trick on the others by presenting
a friend; but as this friend was never a very celebrated or very
interesting man, the rest would form a league against him and quickly
send him away.

It was in this way that Massival brought his comrade André Mariolle
to the house. A servant in black announced these names: "Monsieur
Massival! Monsieur Mariolle!"

Beneath a great rumpled cloud of pink silk, a huge shade that was
casting down upon a square table with a top of ancient marble the
brilliant light of a lamp supported by a lofty column of gilded bronze,
one woman's head and three men's heads were bent over an album that
Lamarthe had brought in with him. Standing between them, the novelist
was turning the leaves and explaining the pictures.

As they entered the room, one of the heads was turned toward them,
and Mariolle, as he stepped forward, became conscious of a bright,
blond face, rather tending to ruddiness, upon the temples of which the
soft, fluffy locks of hair seemed to blaze with the flame of burning
brushwood. The delicate _retroussé_ nose imparted a smiling expression
to this countenance, and the clean-cut mouth, the deep dimples in
the cheeks, and the rather prominent cleft chin, gave it a mocking
air, while the eyes, by a strange contrast, veiled it in melancholy.
They were blue, of a dull, dead blue as if they had been washed out,
scoured, used up, and in the center the black pupils shone, round and
dilated. The strange and brilliant glances that they emitted seemed to
tell of dreams of morphine, or perhaps, more simply, of the coquettish
artifice of belladonna.

Mme. de Burne arose, gave her hand, thanked and welcomed them.

"For a long time I have been begging my friends to bring you to my
house," she said to Mariolle, "but I always have to tell these things
over and over again in order to get them done."

She was tall, elegantly shaped, rather deliberate in her movements,
modestly _décolletée_, scarcely showing the tips of her handsome
shoulders, the shoulders of a red-headed woman, that shone out
marvelously under the light. And yet her hair was not red, but of the
inexpressible color of certain dead leaves that have been burned by the
frosts of autumn.

She presented M. Mariolle to her father, who bowed and shook hands.

The men were conversing familiarly together in three groups; they
seemed to be at home, in a kind of club that they were accustomed
to frequent, to which the presence of a woman imparted a note of
refinement.

Big Fresnel was chatting with the Comte de Marantin. Fresnel's frequent
visits to this house and the preference that Mme. de Burne evinced for
him shocked and often provoked her friends. Still young, but with the
proportions of a drayman, always puffing and blowing, almost beardless,
his head lost in a vague cloud of light, soft hair, commonplace,
tiresome, ridiculous, he certainly could have but one merit in the
young woman's eyes, a merit that was displeasing to the others but
indispensable to her,--that of loving her blindly. He had received the
nickname of "The Seal." He was married, but never said anything about
bringing his wife to the house. It was said that she was very jealous
in her seclusion.

Lamarthe and Massival especially evinced their indignation at the
evident sympathy of their friend for this windy person, and when they
could no longer refrain from reproaching her with this reprehensible
inclination, this selfish and vulgar liking, she would smile and answer:

"I love him as I would love a great, big, faithful dog."

George de Maltry was entertaining Gaston de Lamarthe with the most
recent discovery, not yet fully developed, of the micro-biologists.
M. de Maltry was expatiating on his theme with many subtile and
far-reaching theories, and the novelist accepted them enthusiastically,
with the facility with which men of letters receive and do not dispute
everything that appears to them original and new.

The philosopher of "high life," fair, of the fairness of linen, slender
and tall, was incased in a coat that fitted very closely about the
hips. Above, his pale, intelligent face emerged from his white collar
and was surmounted by smooth, blond hair, which had the appearance of
being glued on.

As to Lamarthe, Gaston de Lamarthe, to whom the particle that divided
his name had imparted some of the pretensions of a gentleman and man
of the world, he was first, last, and all the time a man of letters,
a terrible and pitiless man of letters. Provided with an eye that
gathered in images, attitudes, and gestures with the rapidity and
accuracy of the photographer's camera, and endowed with penetration
and the novelist's instinct, which were as innate in him as the faculty
of scent is in a hound, he was busy from morning till night storing
away impressions to be used afterward in his profession. With these
two very simple senses, a distinct idea of form and an intuitive one
of substance, he gave to his books, in which there appeared none of
the ordinary aims of psychological writers, the color, the tone, the
appearance, the movement of life itself.

Each one of his novels as it appeared excited in society curiosity,
conjecture, merriment, or wrath, for there always seemed to be
prominent persons to be recognized in them, only faintly disguised
under a torn mask; and whenever he made his way through a crowded salon
he left a wake of uneasiness behind him. Moreover, he had published a
volume of personal recollections, in which he had given the portraits
of many men and women of his acquaintance, without any clearly defined
intention of unkindness, but with such precision and severity that
they felt sore over it. Some one had applied to him the _sobriquet_,
"Beware of your friends." He kept his secrets close-locked within his
breast and was a puzzle to his intimates. He was reputed to have once
passionately loved a woman who caused him much suffering, and it was
said that after that he wreaked his vengeance upon others of her sex.

Massival and he understood each other very well, although the musician
was of a very different disposition, more frank, more expansive, less
harassed, perhaps, but manifestly more impressible. After two great
successes--a piece performed at Brussels and afterward brought to
Paris, where it was loudly applauded at the Opéra-Comique; then a
second work that was received and interpreted at the Grand Opéra as
soon as offered--he had yielded to that species of cessation of impulse
that seems to smite the greater part of our contemporary artists like
premature paralysis. They do not grow old, as their fathers did, in the
midst of their renown and success, but seem threatened with impotence
even when in the very prime of life. Lamarthe was accustomed to say:
"At the present day there are in France only great men who have gone
wrong."

Just at this time Massival seemed very much smitten with Mme. de Burne,
so that every eye was turned upon him when he kissed her hand with an
air of adoration. He inquired:

"Are we late?"

She replied:

"No, I am still expecting the Baron de Gravil and the Marquise de
Bratiane."

"Ah, the Marquise! What good luck! We shall have some music this
evening, then."

"I hope so."

The two laggards made their appearance. The Marquise, a woman perhaps a
little too diminutive, Italian by birth, of a lively disposition, with
very black eyes and eyelashes, black eyebrows, and black hair to match,
which grew so thick and so low down that she had no forehead to speak
of, her eyes even being threatened with invasion, had the reputation of
possessing the most remarkable voice of all the women in society.

The Baron, a very gentlemanly man, hollow-chested and with a large
head, was never really himself unless he had his violoncello in his
hands. He was a passionate melomaniac, and only frequented those houses
where music received its due share of honor.

Dinner was announced, and Mme. de Burne, taking André Mariolle's arm,
allowed her guests to precede her to the dining-room; then, as they
were left together, the last ones in the drawing-room, just as she was
about to follow the procession she cast upon him an oblique, swift
glance from her pale eyes with their dusky pupils, in which he thought
that he could perceive more complexity of thought and more curiosity of
interest than pretty women generally bestow upon a strange gentleman
when receiving him at dinner for the first time.

The dinner was monotonous and rather dull. Lamarthe was nervous, and
seemed ill disposed toward everyone, not openly hostile, for he made a
point of his good-breeding, but displaying that almost imperceptible
bad humor that takes the life out of conversation. Massival, abstracted
and preoccupied, ate little, and from time to time cast furtive glances
at the mistress of the house, who seemed to be in any place rather than
at her own table. Inattentive, responding to remarks with a smile and
then allowing her face to settle back to its former intent expression,
she appeared to be reflecting upon something that seemed greatly to
preoccupy her, and to interest her that evening more than did her
friends. Still she contributed her share to the conversation--very
amply as regarded the Marquise and Mariolle,--but she did it from
habit, from a sense of duty, visibly absent from herself and from her
abode. Fresnel and M. de Maltry disputed over contemporary poetry.
Fresnel held the opinions upon poetry that are current among men of
the world, and M. de Maltry the perceptions of the spinners of most
complicated verse--verse that is incomprehensible to the general public.

Several times during the dinner Mariolle had again encountered the
young woman's inquiring look, but more vague, less intent, less
curious. The Marquise de Bratiane, the Comte de Marantin, and the Baron
de Gravil were the only ones who kept up an uninterrupted conversation,
and they had quantities of things to say.

After dinner, during the course of the evening, Massival, who had
kept growing more and more melancholy, seated himself at the piano
and struck a few notes, whereupon Mme. de Burne appeared to awake and
quickly organized a little concert, the numbers of which comprised the
pieces that she was most fond of.

The Marquise was in voice, and, animated by Massival's presence, she
sang like a real artist. The master accompanied her, with that dreamy
look that he always assumed when he sat down to play. His long hair
fell over the collar of his coat and mingled with his full, fine,
shining, curling beard. Many women had been in love with him, and they
still pursued him with their attentions, so it was said. Mme. de Burne,
sitting by the piano and listening with all her soul, seemed to be
contemplating him and at the same time not to see him, and Mariolle
was a little jealous. He was not particularly jealous because of any
relation that there was between her and him, but in presence of that
look of a woman fixed so intently upon one of the Illustrious he felt
himself humiliated in his masculine vanity by the consciousness of the
rank that _They_ bestow on us in proportion to the renown that we have
gained. Often before this he had secretly suffered from contact with
famous men whom he was accustomed to meet in the presence of those
beings whose favor is by far the dearest reward of success.

About ten o'clock the Comtesse de Frémines and two Jewesses of the
financial community arrived, one after the other. The talk was of a
marriage that was on the carpet and a threatened divorce suit. Mariolle
looked at Madame de Burne, who was now seated beneath a column that
sustained a huge lamp. Her well-formed, tip-tilted nose, the dimples in
her cheeks, and the little indentation that parted her chin gave her
face the frolicsome expression of a child, although she was approaching
her thirtieth year, and something in her glance that reminded one of
a withering flower cast a shade of melancholy over her countenance.
Beneath the light that streamed upon it her skin took on tones of blond
velvet, while her hair actually seemed colored by the autumnal sun
which dyes and scorches the dead leaves.

She was conscious of the masculine glance that was traveling toward her
from the other end of the room, and presently she arose and went to
him, smiling, as if in response to a summons from him.

"I am afraid you are somewhat bored," she said. "A person who has not
got the run of a house is always bored."

He protested the contrary. She took a chair and seated herself by
him, and at once the conversation began to be animated. It was
instantaneous with both of them, like a fire that blazes up brightly
as soon as a match is applied to it. It seemed as if they had imparted
their sensations and their opinions to each other beforehand, as if a
similarity of disposition and education, of tastes and inclinations,
had predisposed them to a mutual understanding and fated them to meet.

Perhaps there may have been a little artfulness on the part of the
young woman, but the delight that one feels in encountering one who is
capable of listening, who can understand you and reply to you and whose
answers give scope for your repartees, put Mariolle into a fine glow of
spirits. Flattered, moreover, by the reception which she had accorded
him, subjugated by the alluring favor that she displayed and by the
charm which she knew how to use so adroitly in captivating men, he
did his best to exhibit to her that shade of subdued but personal and
delicate wit which, when people came to know him well, had gained for
him so many and such warm friendships.

She suddenly said to him:

"Really, it is very pleasant to converse with you, Monsieur. I had been
told that such was the case, however."

He was conscious that he was blushing, and replied at a venture:

"And _I_ had been told, Madame, that you were----"

She interrupted him:

"Say a coquette. I am a good deal of a coquette with people whom I
like. Everyone knows it, and I do not attempt to conceal it from
myself, but you will see that I am very impartial in my coquetry, and
this allows me to keep or to recall my friends without ever losing
them, and to retain them all about me."

She said this with a sly air which was meant to say: "Be easy and don't
be too presumptuous. Don't deceive yourself, for you will get nothing
more than the others."

He replied:

"That is what you might call warning your guests of the perils that
await them here. Thank you, Madame: I greatly admire your mode of
procedure."

She had opened the way for him to speak of herself, and he availed
himself of it. He began by paying her compliments and found that she
was fond of them; then he aroused her woman's curiosity by telling
her what was said of her in the different houses that he frequented.
She was rather uneasy and could not conceal her desire for further
information, although she affected much indifference as to what might
be thought of herself and her tastes. He drew for her a charming
portrait of a superior, independent, intelligent, and attractive
woman, who had surrounded herself with a court of eminent men and
still retained her position as an accomplished member of society. She
disclaimed his compliments with smiles, with little disclaimers of
gratified egotism, all the while taking much pleasure in the details
that he gave her, and in a playful tone kept constantly asking him for
more, questioning him artfully, with a sensual appetite for flattery.

As he looked at her, he said to himself, "She is nothing but a child
at heart, just like all the rest of them"; and he went on to finish a
pretty speech in which he was commending her love for art, so rarely
found among women. Then she assumed an air of mockery that he had not
before suspected in her, that playfully tantalizing manner that seems
inherent in the French. Mariolle had overdone his eulogy; she let him
know that she was not a fool.

"_Mon Dieu!_" she said, "I will confess to you that I am not quite
certain whether it is art or artists that I love."

He replied: "How could one love artists without being in love with art?"

"Because they are sometimes more comical than men of the world."

"Yes, but they have more unpleasant failings."

"That is true."

"Then you do not love music?"

She suddenly dropped her bantering tone. "Excuse me! I adore music; I
think that I am more fond of it than of anything else. And yet Massival
is convinced that I know nothing at all about it."

"Did he tell you so?"

"No, but he thinks so."

"How do you know?"

"Oh! we women guess at almost everything that we don't know."

"So Massival thinks that you know nothing of music?"

"I am sure of it. I can see it only by the way that he has of
explaining things to me, by the way in which he underscores little
niceties of expression, all the while saying to himself: 'That won't be
of any use, but I do it because you are so nice.'"

"Still he has told me that you have the best music in your house of any
in Paris, no matter whose the other may be."

"Yes, thanks to him."

"And literature, are you not fond of that?"

"I am very fond of it; and I am even so audacious as to claim to have a
very good perception of it, notwithstanding Lamarthe's opinion."

"Who also decides that you know nothing at all about it?"

"Of course."

"But who has not told you so in words, any more than the other."

"Pardon me; he is more outspoken. He asserts that certain women
are capable of showing a very just and delicate perception of the
sentiments that are expressed, of the truthfulness of the characters,
of psychology in general, but that they are totally incapable of
discerning the superiority that resides in his profession, its art.
When he has once uttered this word, Art, all that is left one to do is
to show him the door."

Mariolle smiled and asked:

"And you, Madame, what do you think of it?"

She reflected for a few seconds, then looked him straight in the face
to see if he was in a frame of mind to listen and to understand her.

"I believe that sentiment, you understand--sentiment--can make a
woman's mind receptive of everything; only it is frequently the case
that what enters does not remain there. Do you follow me?"

"No, not fully, Madame."

"Very well! To make us comprehensive to the same degree as you, our
woman's nature must be appealed to before addressing our intelligence.
We take no interest in what a man has not first made sympathetic to us,
for we look at all things through the medium of sentiment. I do not say
through the medium of love; no,--but of sentiment, which has shades,
forms, and manifestations of every sort. Sentiment is something that
belongs exclusively to our domain, which you men have no conception
of, for it befogs you while it enlightens us. Oh! I know that all this
is incomprehensible to you, the more the pity! In a word, if a man
loves us and is agreeable to us, for it is indispensable that we should
feel that we are loved in order to become capable of the effort--and
if this man is a superior being, by taking a little pains he can make
us feel, know, and possess everything, everything, I say, and at odd
moments and by bits impart to us the whole of his intelligence. That
is all often blotted out afterward; it disappears, dies out, for we
are forgetful. Oh! we forget as the wind forgets the words that are
spoken to it. We are intuitive and capable of enlightenment, but
changeable, impressionable, readily swayed by our surroundings. If I
could only tell you how many states of mind I pass through that make
of me entirely different women, according to the weather, my health,
what I may have been reading, what may have been said to me! Actually
there are days when I have the feelings of an excellent mother without
children, and others when I almost have those of a _cocotte_ without
lovers."

Greatly pleased, he asked: "Is it your opinion that intelligent women
generally are gifted with this activity of thought?"

"Yes," she said. "Only they allow it to slumber, and then they have a
life shaped for them which draws them in one direction or the other."

Again he questioned: "Then in your heart of hearts it is music that you
prefer above all other distractions?"

"Yes! But what I was telling you just now is so true! I should
certainly never have enjoyed it as I do enjoy it, adored it as I do
adore it, had it not been for that angelic Massival. He seems to have
given me the soul of the great masters by teaching me to play their
works, of which I was passionately fond before. What a pity that he is
married!"

She said these last words with a sprightly air, but so regretfully that
they threw everything else into shadow, her theories upon women and her
admiration for art.

Massival was, in fact, married. Before the days of his success he had
contracted one of those unions that artists make and afterward trail
after them through their renown until the day of their death. He never
mentioned his wife's name, never presented her in society, which he
frequented a great deal; and although he had three children the fact
was scarcely known.

Mariolle laughed. She was decidedly nice, was this unconventional
woman, pretty, and of a type not often met with. Without ever tiring,
with a persistency that seemed in no wise embarrassing to her, he kept
gazing upon that face, grave and gay and a little self-willed, with
its audacious nose and its sensual coloring of a soft, warm blonde,
warmed by the midsummer of a maturity so tender, so full, so sweet that
she seemed to have reached the very year, the month, the minute of
her perfect flowering. He wondered: "Is her complexion false?" And he
looked for the faint telltale line, lighter or darker, at the roots of
her hair, without being able to discover it.

Soft footsteps on the carpet behind him made him start and turn his
head. It was two servants bringing in the tea-table. Over the blue
flame of the little lamp the water bubbled gently in a great silver
receptacle, as shining and complicated as a chemist's apparatus.

"Will you have a cup of tea?" she asked.

Upon his acceptance she arose, and with a firm step in which there was
no undulation, but which was rather marked by stiffness, proceeded to
the table where the water was simmering in the depths of the machine,
surrounded by a little garden of cakes, pastry, candied fruits, and
bonbons. Then, as her profile was presented in clear relief against the
hangings of the salon, Mariolle observed the delicacy of her form and
the thinness of her hips beneath the broad shoulders and the full chest
that he had been admiring a moment before. As the train of her light
dress unrolled and dragged behind her, seemingly prolonging upon the
carpet a body that had no end, this blunt thought arose to his mind:
"Behold, a siren! She is altogether promising." She was now going from
one to another, offering her refreshments with gestures of exquisite
grace. Mariolle was following her with his eyes; but Lamarthe, who was
walking about with his cup in his hand, came up to him and said:

"Shall we go, you and I?"

"Yes, I think so."

"We will go at once, shall we not? I am tired."

"At once. Come."

They left the house. When they were in the street, the novelist asked:

"Are you going home or to the club?"

"I think that I will go and spend an hour at the club."

"At the Tambourins?"

"Yes."

"I will go as far as the door with you. Those places are tiresome to
me; I never put my foot in them. I join them only because they enable
me to economize in hack-hire."

They locked arms and went down the street toward Saint Augustin. They
walked a little way in silence; then Mariolle said:

"What a singular woman! What do you think of her?"

Lamarthe began to laugh outright. "It is the commencement of the
crisis," he said. "You will have to pass through it, just as we have
all done. I have had the malady, but I am cured of it now. My dear
friend, the crisis consists of her friends talking of nothing but of
her when they are together, whenever they chance to meet, wherever they
may happen to be."

"At all events, it is the first time in my case, and it is very natural
for me to ask for information, since I scarcely know her."

"Let it be so, then; we will talk of her. Well, you are bound to fall
in love with her. It is your fate, the lot that is shared by all."

"She is so very seductive, then?"

"Yes and no. Those who love the women of other days, women who have a
heart and a soul, women of sensibility, the women of the old-fashioned
novel, cannot endure her and execrate her to such a degree as to speak
of her with ignominy. We, on the other hand, who are disposed to look
favorably upon what is modern and fresh, are compelled to confess that
she is delicious, provided always that we don't fall in love with
her. And that is just exactly what everybody does. No one dies of the
complaint, however; they do not even suffer very acutely, but they fume
because she is not other than she is. You will have to go through it
all if she takes the fancy; besides, she is already preparing to snap
you up."

Mariolle exclaimed, in response to his secret thought:

"Oh! I am only a chance acquaintance for her, and I imagine that she
values acquaintances of all sorts and conditions."

"Yes, she values them, _parbleu!_ and at the same time she laughs at
them. The most celebrated, even the most distinguished, man will not
darken her door ten times if he is not congenial to her, and she has
formed a stupid attachment for that idiotic Fresnel, and that tiresome
De Maltry. She inexcusably suffers herself to be carried away by those
idiots, no one knows why; perhaps because she gets more amusement out
of them than she does out of us, perhaps because their love for her is
deeper; and there is nothing in the world that pleases a woman so much
as to be loved like that."

And Lamarthe went on talking of her, analyzing her, pulling her to
pieces, correcting himself only to contradict himself again, replying
with unmistakable warmth and sincerity to Mariolle's questions, like a
man who is deeply interested in his subject and carried away by it; a
little at sea also, having his mind stored with observations that were
true and deductions that were false. He said:

"She is not the only one, moreover; at this minute there are fifty
women, if not more, who are like her. There is the little Frémines
who was in her drawing-room just now; she is Mme. de Burne's exact
counterpart, save that she is more forward in her manners and married
to an outlandish kind of fellow, the consequence of which is that her
house is one of the most entertaining lunatic asylums in Paris. I go
there a great deal."

Without noticing it, they had traversed the Boulevard Malesherbes, the
Rue Royale, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and had reached the Arc de
Triomphe, when Lamarthe suddenly pulled out his watch.

"My dear fellow," he said, "we have spent an hour and ten minutes in
talking of her; that is sufficient for to-day. I will take some other
occasion of seeing you to your club. Go home and go to bed; it is what
I am going to do."



CHAPTER II.


"WILL YOU WALK INTO MY PARLOR?"


The room was large and well lighted, the walls and ceiling hung with
admirable hangings of chintz that a friend of hers in the diplomatic
service had brought home and presented to her. The ground was yellow,
as if it had been dipped in golden cream, and the designs of all
colors, in which Persian green was predominant, represented fantastic
buildings with curving roofs, about which monstrosities in the shape of
beasts and birds were running and flying: lions wearing wigs, antelopes
with extravagant horns, and birds of paradise.

The furniture was scanty. Upon three long tables with tops of green
marble were arranged all the implements requisite for a pretty woman's
toilette. Upon one of them, the central one, were the great basins
of thick crystal; the second presented an array of bottles, boxes,
and vases of all sizes, surmounted by silver caps bearing her arms
and monogram; while on the third were displayed all the tools and
appliances of modern coquetry, countless in number, designed to serve
various complex and mysterious purposes. The room contained only two
reclining chairs and a few low, soft, and luxurious seats, calculated
to afford rest to weary limbs and to bodies relieved of the restraint
of clothing.

Covering one entire side of the apartment was an immense mirror,
composed of three panels. The two wings, playing on hinges, allowed
the young woman to view herself at the same time in front, rear, and
profile, to envelop herself in her own image. To the right, in a recess
that was generally concealed by hanging draperies, was the bath, or
rather a deep pool, reached by a descent of two steps. A bronze Love, a
charming conception of the sculptor Prédolé, poured hot and cold water
into it through the seashells with which he was playing. At the back
of this alcove a Venetian mirror, composed of smaller mirrors inclined
to each other at varying angles, ascended in a curved dome, shutting
in and protecting the bath and its occupant, and reflecting them in
each one of its many component parts. A little beyond the bath was her
writing-desk, a plain and handsome piece of furniture of modern English
manufacture, covered with a litter of papers, folded letters, little
torn envelopes on which glittered gilt initials, for it was in this
room that she passed her time and attended to her correspondence when
she was alone.

Stretched at full length upon her reclining-chair, enveloped in a
dressing-gown of Chinese silk, her bare arms--and beautiful, firm,
supple arms they were--issuing forth fearlessly from out the wide folds
of silk, her hair turned up and burdening the head with its masses of
blond coils, Mme. de Burne was indulging herself with a gentle reverie
after the bath. The chambermaid knocked, then entered, bringing a
letter. She took it, looked at the writing, tore it open, and read the
first lines; then calmly said to the servant: "I will ring for you in
an hour."

When she was alone she smiled with the delight of victory. The first
words had sufficed to let her understand that at last she had received
a declaration of love from Mariolle. He had held out much longer than
she had thought he was capable of doing, for during the last three
months she had been besieging him with such attentions, such display
of grace and efforts to charm, as she had never hitherto employed
for anyone. He had seemed to be distrustful and on his guard against
her, against the bait of insatiable coquetry that she was continually
dangling before his eyes.

It had required many a confidential conversation, into which she had
thrown all the physical seduction of her being and all the captivating
efforts of her mind, many an evening of music as well, when, seated
before the piano that was ringing still, before the leaves of the
scores that were full of the soul of the tuneful masters, they had
both thrilled with the same emotion, before she at last beheld in his
eyes that avowal of the vanquished man, the mendicant supplication of
a love that can no longer be concealed. She knew all this so well, the
_rouée!_ Many and many a time, with feline cunning and inexhaustible
curiosity, she had made this secret, torturing plea rise to the eyes of
the men whom she had succeeded in beguiling. It afforded her so much
amusement to feel that she was gaining them, little by little, that
they were conquered, subjugated by her invincible woman's might, that
she was for them the Only One, the sovereign Idol whose caprices must
be obeyed.

It had all grown up within her almost imperceptibly, like the
development of a hidden instinct, the instinct of war and conquest.
Perhaps it was that a desire of retaliation had germinated in her
heart during her years of married life, a dim longing to repay to men
generally that measure of ill which she had received from one of them,
to be in turn the strongest, to make stubborn wills bend before her, to
crush resistance and to make others, as well as she, feel the keen edge
of suffering. Above all else, however, she was a born coquette, and as
soon as her way in life was clear before her she applied herself to
pursuing and subjugating lovers, just as the hunter pursues the game,
with no other end in view than the pleasure of seeing them fall before
her.

And yet her heart was not eager for emotion, like that of a tender and
sentimental woman; she did not seek a man's undivided love, nor did
she look for happiness in passion. All that she needed was universal
admiration, homage, prostrations, an incense-offering of tenderness.
Whoever frequented her house had also to become the slave of her
beauty, and no consideration of mere intellect could attach her for any
length of time to those who would not yield to her coquetry, disdainful
of the anxieties of love, their affections, perhaps, being placed
elsewhere.

In order to retain her friendship it was indispensable to love her,
but that point once reached she was infinitely nice, with unimaginable
kindnesses and delightful attentions, designed to retain at her
side those whom she had captivated. Those who were once enlisted in
her regiment of adorers seemed to become her property by right of
conquest. She ruled them with great skill and wisdom, according to
their qualities and their defects and the nature of their jealousy.
Those who sought to obtain too much she expelled forthwith, taking them
back again afterward when they had become wiser, but imposing severe
conditions. And to such an extent did this game of bewitchment amuse
her, perverse woman that she was, that she found it as pleasurable to
befool steady old gentlemen as to turn the heads of the young.

It might even have been said that she regulated her affection by the
fervency of the ardor that she had inspired, and that big Fresnel, a
dull, heavy companion who was of no imaginable benefit to her, retained
her favor thanks to the mad passion by which she felt that he was
possessed. She was not entirely indifferent to men's merits, either,
and more than once had been conscious of the commencement of a liking
that no one divined except herself, and which she quickly ended the
moment it became dangerous.

Everyone who had approached her for the first time and warbled in
her ear the fresh notes of his hymn of gallantry, disclosing to her
the unknown quantity of his nature--artists more especially, who
seemed to her to possess more subtile and more delicate shades of
refined emotion--had for a time disquieted her, had awakened in her
the intermittent dream of a grand passion and a long _liaison_. But
swayed by prudent fears, irresolute, driven this way and that by her
distrustful nature, she had always kept a strict watch upon herself
until the moment she ceased to feel the influence of the latest lover.

And then she had the sceptical vision of the girl of the period, who
would strip the greatest man of his prestige in the course of a few
weeks. As soon as they were fully in her toils, and in the disorder
of their heart had thrown aside their theatrical posturings and their
parade manners, they were all alike in her eyes, poor creatures whom
she could tyrannize over with her seductive powers. Finally, for a
woman like her, perfect as she was, to attach herself to a man, what
inestimable merits he would have had to possess!

She suffered much from _ennui_, however, and was without fondness for
society, which she frequented for the sake of appearances, and the
long, tedious evenings of which she endured with heavy eyelids and
many a stifled yawn. She was amused only by its refined trivialities,
by her own caprices and by her quickly changing curiosity for certain
persons and certain things, attaching herself to it in such degree as
to realize that she had been appreciated or admired and not enough to
receive real pleasure from an affection or a liking--suffering from
her nerves and not from her desires. She was without the absorbing
preoccupations of ardent or simple souls, and passed her days in an
_ennui_ of gaieties, destitute of the simple faith that attends on
happiness, constantly on the lookout for something to make the slow
hours pass more quickly, and sinking with lassitude, while deeming
herself contented.

She thought that she was contented because she was the most seductive
and the most sought after of women. Proud of her attractiveness, the
power of which she often made trial, in love with her own irregular,
odd, and captivating beauty, convinced of the delicacy of her
perceptions, which allowed her to divine and understand a thousand
things that others were incapable of seeing, rejoicing in the wit that
had been appreciated by so many superior men, and totally ignoring the
limitations that bounded her intelligence, she looked upon herself as
an almost unique being, a rare pearl set in the midst of this common,
workaday world, which seemed to her slightly empty and monotonous
because she was too good for it.

Not for an instant would she have suspected that in her unconscious
self lay the cause of the melancholy from which she suffered so
continuously. She laid the blame upon others and held them responsible
for her _ennui_. If they were unable sufficiently to entertain and
amuse or even impassion her, the reason was that they were deficient
in agreeableness and possessed no real merit in her eyes. "Everyone,"
she would say with a little laugh, "is tiresome. The only endurable
people are those who afford me pleasure, and that solely because they
do afford me pleasure."

And the surest way of pleasing her was to tell her that there was no
one like her. She was well aware that no success is attained without
labor, and so she gave herself up, heart and soul, to her work of
enticement, and found nothing that gave her greater enjoyment than to
note the homage of the softening glance and of the heart, that unruly
organ which she could cause to beat violently by the utterance of a
word.

She had been greatly surprised by the trouble that she had had in
subjugating André Mariolle, for she had been well aware, from the
very first day, that she had found favor in his eyes. Then, little by
little, she had fathomed his suspicious, secretly envious, extremely
subtile, and concentrated disposition, and attacking him on his
weak side, she had shown him so many attentions, had manifested
such preference and natural sympathy for him, that he had finally
surrendered.

Especially in the last month had she felt that he was her captive; he
was agitated in her presence, now taciturn, now feverishly animated,
but would make no avowal. Oh, avowals! She really did not care very
much for them, for when they were too direct, too expressive, she found
herself obliged to resort to severe measures. Twice she had even had
to make a show of being angry and close her door to the offender. What
she adored were delicate manifestations, semi-confidences, discreet
allusions, a sort of moral getting-down-on-the-marrow-bones; and she
really showed exceptional tact and address in extorting from her
admirers this moderation in their expressions.

For a month past she had been watching and waiting to hear fall from
Mariolle's lips the words, distinct or veiled, according to the nature
of the man, which afford relief to the overburdened heart.

He had said nothing, but he had written. It was a long letter: four
pages! A thrill of satisfaction crept over her as she held it in her
hands. She stretched herself at length upon her lounge so as to be more
comfortable and kicked the little slippers from off her feet upon the
carpet; then she proceeded to read. She met with a surprise. In serious
terms he told her that he did not desire to suffer at her hands, and
that he already knew her too well to consent to be her victim. With
many compliments, in very polite words, which everywhere gave evidence
of his repressed love, he let her know that he was apprised of her
manner of treating men--that he, too, was in the toils, but that he
would release himself from the servitude by taking himself off. He
would just simply begin his vagabond life of other days over again.
He would leave the country. It was a farewell, an eloquent and firm
farewell.

Certainly it was a surprise as she read, re-read, and commenced to read
again these four pages of prose that were so full of tender irritation
and passion. She arose, put on her slippers, and began to walk up and
down the room, her bare arms out of her turned-back sleeves, her hands
thrust halfway into the little pockets of her dressing-gown, one of
them holding the crumpled letter.

Taken all aback by this unforeseen declaration, she said to herself:
"He writes very well, very well indeed; he is sincere, feeling,
touching. He writes better than Lamarthe; there is nothing of the novel
sticking out of his letter."

She felt like smoking, went to the table where the perfumes were and
took a cigarette from a box of Dresden china; then, having lighted it,
she approached the great mirror in which she saw three young women
coming toward her in the three diversely inclined panels. When she was
quite near she halted, made herself a little bow with a little smile,
a friendly little nod of the head, as if to say: "Very pretty, very
pretty." She inspected her eyes, looked at her teeth, raised her arms,
placed her hands on her hips and turned her profile so as to behold her
entire person in the three mirrors, bending her head slightly forward.
She stood there amorously facing herself surrounded by the threefold
reflection of her own being, which she thought was charming, filled
with delight at sight of herself, engrossed by an egotistical and
physical pleasure in presence of her own beauty, and enjoying it with a
keen satisfaction that was almost as sensual as a man's.

Every day she surveyed herself in this manner, and her maid, who had
often caught her at it, used to say, spitefully:

"Madame looks at herself so much that she will end up by wearing out
all the looking-glasses in the house."

In this love of herself, however, lay all the secret of her charm and
the influence that she exerted over men. Through admiring herself and
tenderly loving the delicacy of her features and the elegance of her
form, by constantly seeking for and finding means of showing them to
the greatest advantage, through discovering imperceptible ways of
rendering her gracefulness more graceful and her eyes more fascinating,
through pursuing all the artifices that embellished her to her own
vision, she had as a matter of course hit upon that which would most
please others. Had she been more beautiful and careless of her beauty,
she would not have possessed that attractiveness which drew to her
everyone who had not from the beginning shown himself unassailable.

Wearying soon a little of standing thus, she spoke to her image that
was smiling to her still, and her image in the threefold mirror moved
its lips as if to echo: "We will see about it." Then she crossed the
room and seated herself at her desk. Here is what she wrote:

    "DEAR MONSIEUR MARIOLLE: Come to see me to-morrow at four
    o'clock. I shall be alone, and hope to be able to reassure
    you as to the imaginary danger that alarms you.

    "I subscribe myself your friend, and will prove to you that
    I am..... MICHÈLE DE BURNE."

How plainly she dressed next day to receive André Mariolle's visit! A
little gray dress, of a light gray bordering on lilac, melancholy as
the dying day and quite unornamented, with a collar fitting closely to
the neck, sleeves fitting closely to the arms, corsage fitting closely
to the waist and bust, and skirt fitting closely to the hips and legs.

When he made his appearance, wearing rather a solemn face, she came
forward to meet him, extending both her hands. He kissed them, then
they seated themselves, and she allowed the silence to last a few
moments in order to assure herself of his embarrassment.

He did not know what to say, and was waiting for her to speak. She made
up her mind to do so.

"Well! let us come at once to the main question. What is the matter?
Are you aware that you wrote me a very insolent letter?"

"I am very well aware of it, and I render my most sincere apology. I
am, I have always been with everyone, excessively, brutally frank. I
might have gone away without the unnecessary and insulting explanations
that I addressed to you. I considered it more loyal to act in
accordance with my nature and trust to your understanding, with which I
am acquainted."

She resumed with an expression of pitying satisfaction:

"Come, come! What does all this folly mean?"

He interrupted her: "I would prefer not to speak of it."

She answered warmly, without allowing him to proceed further:

"I invited you here to discuss it, and we will discuss it until you are
quite convinced that you are not exposing yourself to any danger." She
laughed like a little girl, and her dress, so closely resembling that
of a boarding-school miss, gave her laughter a character of childish
youth.

He hesitatingly said: "What I wrote you was the truth, the sincere
truth, the terrifying truth."

Resuming her seriousness, she rejoined: "I do not doubt you: all my
friends travel that road. You also wrote that I am a fearful coquette.
I admit it, but then no one ever dies of it; I do not even believe that
they suffer a great deal. There is, indeed, what Lamarthe calls the
crisis. You are in that stage now, but that passes over and subsides
into--what shall I call it?--into the state of chronic love, which does
no harm to a body, and which I keep simmering over a slow fire in all
my friends, so that they may be very much attached, very devoted, very
faithful to me. Am not I, also, sincere and frank and nice with you?
Eh? Have you known many women who would dare to talk as I have talked
to you?"

She had an air of such drollness, coupled with such decision, she was
so unaffected and at the same time so alluring, that he could not help
smiling in turn. "All your friends," he said, "are men who have often
had their fingers burned in that fire, even before it was done at your
hearth. Toasted and roasted already, it is easy for them to endure the
oven in which you keep them; but for my part, I, Madame, have never
passed through that experience, and I have felt for some time past that
it would be a dreadful thing for me to give way to the sentiment that
is growing and waxing in my heart."

Suddenly she became familiar, and bending a little toward him, her
hands clasped over her knees: "Listen to me," she said, "I am in
earnest. I hate to lose a friend for the sake of a fear that I regard
as chimerical. You will be in love with me, perhaps, but the men of
this generation do not love the women of to-day so violently as to do
themselves any actual injury. You may believe me; I know them both."
She was silent; then with the singular smile of a woman who utters a
truth while she thinks she is telling a fib, she added: "Besides, I
have not the necessary qualifications to make men love me madly; I
am too modern. Come, I will be a friend to you, a real nice friend,
for whom you will have affection, but nothing more, for I will see to
it." She went on in a more serious tone: "In any case I give you fair
warning that I am incapable of feeling a real passion for anyone, let
him be who he may; you shall receive the same treatment as the others,
you shall stand on an equal footing with the most favored, but never
on any better; I abominate despotism and jealousy. I have had to endure
everything from a husband, but from a friend, a simple friend, I do not
choose to accept affectionate tyrannizings, which are the bane of all
cordial relations. You see that I am just as nice as nice can be, that
I talk to you like a comrade, that I conceal nothing from you. Are you
willing loyally to accept the trial that I propose? If it does not work
well, there will still be time enough for you to go away if the gravity
of the situation demands it. A lover absent is a lover cured."

He looked at her, already vanquished by her voice, her gestures, all
the intoxication of her person; and quite resigned to his fate, and
thrilling through every fiber at the consciousness that she was sitting
there beside him, he murmured:

"I accept, Madame, and if harm comes to me, so much the worse! I can
afford to endure a little suffering for your sake."

She stopped him.

"Now let us say nothing more about it," she said; "let us never speak
of it again." And she diverted the conversation to topics that might
calm his agitation.

In an hour's time he took his leave; in torments, for he loved her;
delighted, for she had asked and he had promised that he would not go
away.



CHAPTER III.


THE THORNS OF THE ROSE


He was in torments, for he loved her. Differing in this from the
common run of lovers, in whose eyes the woman chosen of their heart
appears surrounded by an aureole of perfection, his attachment for
her had grown within him while studying her with the clairvoyant
eyes of a suspicious and distrustful man who had never been entirely
enslaved. His timid and sluggish but penetrating disposition, always
standing on the defensive in life, had saved him from his passions. A
few intrigues, two brief _liaisons_ that had perished of _ennui_, and
some mercenary loves that had been broken off from disgust, comprised
the history of his heart. He regarded women as an object of utility
for those who desire a well-kept house and a family, as an object of
comparative pleasure to those who are in quest of the pastime of love.

Before he entered Mme. de Burne's house his friends had confidentially
warned him against her. What he had learned of her interested,
puzzled, and pleased him, but it was also rather distasteful to him.
As a matter of principle he did not like those gamblers who never pay
when they lose. After their first few meetings he had decided that she
was very amusing, and that she possessed a special charm that had a
contagion in it. The natural and artificial beauties of this charming,
slender, blond person, who was neither fat nor lean, who was furnished
with beautiful arms that seemed formed to attract and embrace, and with
legs that one might imagine long and tapering, calculated for flight,
like those of a gazelle, with feet so small that they would leave
no trace, seemed to him to be a symbol of hopes that could never be
realized.

He had experienced, moreover, in his conversation with her a pleasure
that he had never thought of meeting with in the intercourse of
fashionable society. Gifted with a wit that was full of familiar
animation, unforeseen and mocking and of a caressing irony, she would,
notwithstanding this, sometimes allow herself to be carried away by
sentimental or intellectual influences, as if beneath her derisive
gaiety there still lingered the secular shade of poetic tenderness
drawn from some remote ancestress. These things combined to render her
exquisite.

She petted him and made much of him, desirous of conquering him as
she had conquered the others, and he visited her house as often as he
could, drawn thither by his increasing need of seeing more of her. It
was like a force emanating from her and taking possession of him, a
force that lay in her charm, her look, her smile, her speech, a force
that there was no resisting, although he frequently left her house
provoked at something that she had said or done.

The more he felt working on him that indescribable influence with which
a woman penetrates and subjugates us, the more clearly did he see
through her, the more did he understand and suffer from her nature,
which he devoutly wished was different. It was certainly true, however,
that the very qualities which he disapproved of in her were the
qualities that had drawn him toward her and captivated him, in spite
of himself, in spite of his reason, and more, perhaps, than her real
merits.

Her coquetry, with which she toyed, making no attempt at concealing
it, as with a fan, opening and folding it in presence of everybody
according as the men to whom she was talking were pleasing to her
or the reverse; her way of taking nothing in earnest, which had
seemed droll to him upon their first acquaintance, but now seemed
threatening; her constant desire for distraction, for novelty, which
rested insatiable in her heart, always weary--all these things would
so exasperate him that sometimes upon returning to his house he would
resolve to make his visits to her more infrequent until such time as he
might do away with them altogether. The very next day he would invent
some pretext for going to see her. What he thought to impress upon
himself, as he became more and more enamored, was the insecurity of
this love and the certainty that he would have to suffer for it.

He was not blind; little by little he yielded to this sentiment,
as a man drowns because his vessel has gone down under him and he
is too far from the shore. He knew her as well as it was possible
to know her, for his passion had served to make his mental vision
abnormally clairvoyant, and he could not prevent his thoughts from
going into indefinite speculations concerning her. With indefatigable
perseverance, he was continually seeking to analyze and understand
the obscure depths of this feminine soul, this incomprehensible
mixture of bright intelligence and disenchantment, of sober reason and
childish triviality, of apparent affection and fickleness, of all those
ill-assorted inclinations that can be brought together and co-ordinated
to form an unnatural, perplexing, and seductive being.

But why was it that she attracted him thus? He constantly asked himself
this question, and was unable to find a satisfactory answer to it,
for, with his reflective, observing, and proudly retiring nature,
his logical course would have been to look in a woman for those
old-fashioned and soothing attributes of tenderness and constancy which
seem to offer the most reliable assurance of happiness to a man. In
her, however, he had encountered something that he had not expected to
find, a sort of early vegetable of the human race, as it were, one of
those creatures who are the beginning of a new generation, exciting
one by their strange novelty, unlike anything that one has ever known
before, and even in their imperfections awakening the dormant senses by
a formidable power of attraction.

To the romantic and dreamily passionate women of the Restoration had
succeeded the gay triflers of the imperial epoch, convinced that
pleasure is a reality; and now, here there was afforded him a new
development of this everlasting femininity, a woman of refinement,
of indeterminate sensibility, restless, without fixed resolves, her
feelings in constant turmoil, who seemed to have made it part of her
experience to employ every narcotic that quiets the aching nerves:
chloroform that stupefies, ether and morphine that excite to abnormal
reverie, kill the senses, and deaden the emotions.

He relished in her that flavor of an artificial nature, the sole
object of whose existence was to charm and allure. She was a rare and
attractive bauble, exquisite and delicate, drawing men's eyes to her,
causing the heart to throb, and desire to awake, as one's appetite is
excited when he looks through the glass of the shop-window and beholds
the dainty viands that have been prepared and arranged for the purpose
of making him hunger for them.

When he was quite assured that he had started on his perilous descent
toward the bottom of the gulf, he began to reflect with consternation
upon the dangers of his infatuation. What would happen him? What would
she do with him? Most assuredly she would do with him what she had
done with everyone else: she would bring him to the point where a man
follows a woman's capricious fancies as a dog follows his master's
steps, and she would classify him among her collection of more or less
illustrious favorites. Had she really played this game with all the
others? Was there not one, not a single one, whom she had loved, if
only for a month, a day, an hour, in one of those effusions of feeling
that she had the faculty of repressing so readily? He talked with them
interminably about her as they came forth from her dinners, warmed
by contact with her. He felt that they were all uneasy, dissatisfied,
unstrung, like men whose dreams have failed of realization.

No, she had loved no one among these paraders before public curiosity.
But he, who was a nullity in comparison with them, he, to whom it was
not granted that heads should turn and wondering eyes be fixed on him
when his name was mentioned in a crowd or in a salon,--what would he
be for her? Nothing, nothing; a mere supernumerary upon her scene,
a Monsieur, the sort of man that becomes a familiar, commonplace
attendant upon a distinguished woman, useful to hold her bouquet, a man
comparable to the common grade of wine that one drinks with water. Had
he been a famous man he might have been willing to accept this rôle,
which his celebrity would have made less humiliating; but unknown as he
was, he would have none of it. So he wrote to bid her farewell.

When he received her brief answer he was moved by it as by the
intelligence of some unexpected piece of good fortune, and when she had
made him promise that he would not go away he was as delighted as a
schoolboy released for a holiday.

Several days elapsed without bringing any fresh development to their
relations, but when the calm that succeeds the storm had passed, he
felt his longing for her increasing within him and burning him. He
had promised that he would never again speak to her on the forbidden
topic, but he had not promised that he would not write, and one night
when he could not sleep, when she had taken possession of all his
faculties in the restless vigil of his insomnia of love, he seated
himself at his table, almost against his will, and set himself to put
down his feelings and his sufferings upon fair, white paper. It was not
a letter; it was an aggregation of notes, phrases, thoughts, throbs of
moral anguish, transmuting themselves into words. It soothed him; it
seemed to him to give him a little comfort in his suffering, and lying
down upon his bed, he was at last able to obtain some sleep.

Upon awaking the next morning he read over these few pages and decided
that they were sufficiently harrowing; then he inclosed and addressed
them, kept them by him until evening, and mailed them very late so that
she might receive them when she arose. He thought that she would not be
alarmed by these innocent sheets of paper. The most timorous of women
have an infinite kindness for a letter that speaks to them of a sincere
love, and when these letters are written by a trembling hand, with
tearful eyes and melancholy face, the power that they exercise over the
female heart is unbounded.

He went to her house late that afternoon to see how she would receive
him and what she would say to him. He found M. de Pradon there, smoking
cigarettes and conversing with his daughter. He would often pass whole
hours with her in this way, for his manner toward her was rather that
of a gentleman visitor than of a father. She had brought into their
relations and their affection a tinge of that homage of love which she
bestowed upon herself and exacted from everyone else.

When she beheld Mariolle her face brightened with delight; she shook
hands with him warmly and her smile told him: "You have afforded me
much pleasure."

Mariolle was in hopes that the father would go away soon, but M. de
Pradon did not budge. Although he knew his daughter thoroughly, and
for a long time past had placed the most implicit confidence in her as
regarded her relations with men, he always kept an eye on her with a
kind of curious, uneasy, somewhat marital attention. He wanted to know
what chance of success there might be for this newly discovered friend,
who he was, what he amounted to. Would he be a mere bird of passage,
like so many others, or a permanent member of their usual circle?

He intrenched himself, therefore, and Mariolle immediately perceived
that he was not to be dislodged. The visitor made up his mind
accordingly, and even resolved to gain him over if it were possible,
considering that his good-will, or at any rate his neutrality, would
be better than his hostility. He exerted himself and was brilliant
and amusing, without any of the airs of a sighing lover. She said to
herself contentedly: "He is not stupid; he acts his part in the comedy
extremely well"; and M. de Pradon thought: "This is a very agreeable
man, whose head my daughter does not seem to have turned."

When Mariolle decided that it was time for him to take his leave, he
left them both delighted with him.

But he left that house with sorrow in his soul. In the presence of
that woman he felt deeply the bondage in which she held him, realizing
that it would be vain to knock at that heart, as a man imprisoned
fruitlessly beats the iron door with his fist. He was well assured
that he was entirely in her power, and he did not try to free himself.
Such being the case, and as he could not avoid this fatality, he
resolved that he would be patient, tenacious, cunning, dissembling,
that he would conquer by address, by the homage that she was so greedy
of, by the adoration that intoxicated her, by the voluntary servitude
to which he would suffer himself to be reduced.

His letter had pleased her; he would write. He wrote. Almost every
night, when he came home, at that hour when the mind, fresh from the
influence of the day's occurrences, regards whatever interests or moves
it with a sort of abnormally developed hallucination, he would seat
himself at his table by his lamp and exalt his imagination by thoughts
of her. The poetic germ, that so many indolent men suffer to perish
within them from mere slothfulness, grew and throve under this regimen.
He infused a feverish ardor into this task of literary tenderness by
means of constantly writing the same thing, the same idea, that is,
his love, in expressions that were ever renewed by the constantly
fresh-springing, daily renewal of his desire. All through the long day
he would seek for and find those irresistible words that stream from
the brain like fiery sparks, compelled by the over-excited emotions.
Thus he would breathe upon the fire of his own heart and kindle it into
raging flames, for often love-letters contain more danger for him who
writes than for her who receives them.

By keeping himself in this continuous state of effervescence, by
heating his blood with words and peopling his brain with one solitary
thought, his ideas gradually became confused as to the reality of this
woman. He had ceased to entertain the opinion of her that he had first
held, and now beheld her only through the medium of his own lyrical
phrases, and all that he wrote of her night by night became to his
heart so many gospel truths. This daily labor of idealization displayed
her to him as in a dream. His former resistance melted away, moreover,
in presence of the affection that Mme. de Burne undeniably evinced
for him. Although no word had passed between them at this time, she
certainly showed a preference for him beyond others, and took no pains
to conceal it from him. He therefore thought, with a kind of mad hope,
that she might finally come to love him.

The fact was that the charm of those letters afforded her a complicated
and naïve delight. No one had ever flattered and caressed her in that
manner, with such mute reserve. No one had ever had the delicious idea
of sending to her bedside, every morning, that feast of sentiment in
paper wrapping that her maid presented to her on the little silver
salver. And what made it all the dearer in her eyes was that he never
mentioned it, that he seemed to be quite unaware of it himself, that
when he visited her salon he was the most undemonstrative of her
friends, that he never by word or look alluded to those showers of
tenderness that he was secretly raining down upon her.

Of course she had had love-letters before that, but they had been
pitched in a different key, had been less reserved, more pressing, more
like a summons to surrender. For the three months that his "crisis" had
lasted Lamarthe had dedicated to her a very nice correspondence from a
much-smitten novelist who maunders in a literary way. She kept in her
secretary, in a drawer specially allotted to them, these delicate and
seductive epistles from a writer who had shown much feeling, who had
caressed her with his pen up to the very day when he saw that he had no
hope of success.

Mariolle's letters were quite different; they were so strong in their
concentrated desire, so deep in the expression of their sincerity, so
humble in their submissiveness, breathing a devotion that promised to
be lasting, that she received and read them with a delight that no
other writings could have afforded her.

It was natural that her friendly feeling for the man should increase
under such conditions. She invited him to her house the more frequently
because he displayed such entire reserve in his relations toward
her, seeming not to have the slightest recollection in conversation
with her that he had ever taken up a sheet of paper to tell her of
his adoration. Moreover she looked upon the situation as an original
one, worthy of being celebrated in a book; and in the depths of her
satisfaction in having at her side a being who loved her thus, she
experienced a sort of active fermentation of sympathy which caused her
to measure him by a standard other than her usual one.

Up to the present time, notwithstanding the vanity of her coquetry she
had been conscious of preoccupations that antagonized her in all the
hearts that she had laid waste. She had not held undisputed sovereignty
over them, she had found in them powerful interests that were entirely
dissociated from her. Jealous of music in Massival's case, of
literature in Lamarthe's, always jealous of something, discontented
that she only obtained partial successes, powerless to drive all before
her in the minds of these ambitious men, men of celebrity, or artists
to whom their profession was a mistress from whom nobody could part
them, she had now for the first time fallen in with one to whom she
was all in all. Certainly big Fresnel, and he alone, loved her to the
same degree. But then he was big Fresnel. She felt that it had never
been granted her to exercise such complete dominion over anyone, and
her selfish gratitude for the man who had afforded her this triumph
displayed itself in manifestations of tenderness. She had need of him
now; she had need of his presence, of his glance, of his subjection,
of all this domesticity of love. If he flattered her vanity less than
the others did, he flattered more those supreme exactions that sway
coquettes body and soul--her pride and her instinct of domination, her
strong instinct of feminine repose.

Like an invader she gradually assumed possession of his life by a
series of small incursions that every day became more numerous. She got
up _fêtes_, theater-parties, and dinners at the restaurant, so that he
might be of the party. She dragged him after her with the satisfaction
of a conqueror; she could not dispense with his presence, or rather
with the state of slavery to which he was reduced. He followed in
her train, happy to feel himself thus petted, caressed by her eyes,
her voice, by her every caprice, and he lived only in a continuous
transport of love and longing that desolated and burned like a wasting
fever.



CHAPTER IV.


THE BENEFIT OF CHANGE OF SCENE


One day Mariolle had gone to her house. He was awaiting her, for she
had not come in, although she had sent him a telegram to tell him
that she wanted to see him that morning. Whenever he was alone in
this drawing-room which it gave him such pleasure to enter and where
everything was so charming to him, he nevertheless was conscious
of an oppression of the heart, a slight feeling of affright and
breathlessness that would not allow him to remain seated as long as she
was not there. He walked about the room in joyful expectation, dashed
by the fear that some unforeseen obstacle might intervene to detain her
and cause their interview to go over until next day. His heart gave a
hopeful bound when he heard a carriage draw up before the street door,
and when the bell of the apartment rang he ceased to doubt.

She came in with her hat on, a thing which she was not accustomed to
do, wearing a busy and satisfied look. "I have some news for you," she
said.

"What is it, Madame?"

She looked at him and laughed. "Well! I am going to the country for a
while."

Her words produced in him a quick, sharp shock of sorrow that was
reflected upon his face. "Oh! and you tell me that as if you were glad
of it!"

"Yes. Sit down and I will tell you all about it. I don't know whether
you are aware that M. Valsaci, my poor mother's brother, the engineer
and bridge-builder, has a country-place at Avranches where he spends a
portion of his time with his wife and children, for his business lies
mostly in that neighborhood. We pay them a visit every summer. This
year I said that I did not care to go, but he was greatly disappointed
and made quite a time over it with papa. Speaking of scenes, I will
tell you confidentially that papa is jealous of you and makes scenes
with me, too; he says that I am entangling myself with you. You will
have to come to see me less frequently. But don't let that trouble you;
I will arrange matters. So papa gave me a scolding and made me promise
to go to Avranches for a visit of ten days, perhaps twelve. We are to
start Tuesday morning. What have you got to say about it?"

"I say that it breaks my heart."

"Is that all?"

"What more can I say? There is no way of preventing you from going."

"And nothing presents itself to you?"

"Why, no; I can't say that there does. And you?"

"I have an idea; it is this: Avranches is quite near Mont Saint-Michel.
Have you ever been at Mont Saint-Michel?"

"No, Madame."

"Well, something will tell you next Friday that you want to go and
see this wonder. You will leave the train at Avranches; on Friday
evening at sunset, if you please, you will take a walk in the public
garden that overlooks the bay. We will happen to meet there. Papa
will grumble, but I don't care for that. I will make up a party to
go and see the abbey next day, including all the family. You must be
enthusiastic over it, and very charming, as you can be when you choose;
be attentive to my aunt and gain her over, and invite us all to dine
at the inn where we alight. We will sleep there, and will have all the
next day to be together. You will return by way of Saint Malo, and a
week later I shall be back in Paris. Isn't that an ingenious scheme? Am
I not nice?"

With an outburst of grateful feeling, he murmured: "You are dearer to
me than all the world."

"Hush!" said she.

They looked each other for a moment in the face. She smiled, conveying
to him in that smile--very sincere and earnest it was, almost
tender--all her gratitude, her thanks for his love, and her sympathy as
well. He gazed upon her with eyes that seemed to devour her. He had an
insane desire to throw himself down and grovel at her feet, to kiss the
hem of her robe, to cry aloud and make her see what he knew not how to
tell in words, what existed in all his form from head to feet, in every
fiber of his body as well as in his heart, paining him inexpressibly
because he could not display it--his love, his terrible and delicious
love.

There was no need of words, however; she understood him, as the
marksman instinctively feels that his ball has penetrated the
bull's-eye of the target. Nothing any longer subsisted within this man,
nothing, nothing but her image. He was hers more than she herself was
her own. She was satisfied, and she thought he was charming.

She said to him, in high good-humor: "Then _that_ is settled; the
excursion is agreed on."

He answered in a voice that trembled with emotion: "Why, yes, Madame,
it is agreed on."

There was another interval of silence. "I cannot let you stay any
longer to-day," she said without further apology. "I only ran in to
tell you what I have told you, since I am to start day after to-morrow.
All my time will be occupied to-morrow, and I have still half-a-dozen
things to attend to before dinner-time."

He arose at once, deeply troubled, for the sole desire of his heart was
to be with her always; and having kissed her hands, went his way, sore
at heart, but hopeful nevertheless.

The four intervening days were horribly long ones to him. He got
through them somehow in Paris without seeing a soul, preferring silence
to conversation, and solitude to the company of friends.

On Friday morning, therefore, he boarded the eight-o'clock express.
The anticipation of the journey had made him feverish, and he had not
slept a wink. The darkness of his room and its silence, broken only by
the occasional rattling of some belated cab that served to remind him
of his longing to be off, had weighed upon him all night long like a
prison.

At the earliest ray of light that showed itself between his drawn
curtains, the gray, sad light of early morning, he jumped from his bed,
opened the window, and looked at the sky. He had been haunted by the
fear that the weather might be unfavorable. It was clear. There was a
light floating mist, presaging a warm day. He dressed more quickly than
was needful, and in his consuming impatience to get out of doors and
at last begin his journey he was ready two hours too soon, and nothing
would do but his valet must go out and get a cab lest they should all
be gone from the stand. As the vehicle jolted over the stones, its
movements were so many shocks of happiness to him, but when he reached
the Mont Parnasse station and found that he had fifty minutes to wait
before the departure of the train, his spirits fell again.

There was a compartment disengaged; he took it so that he might be
alone and give free course to his reveries. When at last he felt
himself moving, hurrying along toward her, soothed by the gentle and
rapid motion of the train, his eagerness, instead of being appeased,
was still further excited, and he felt a desire, the unreasoning desire
of a child, to push with all his strength against the partition in
front of him, so as to accelerate their speed. For a long time, until
midday, he remained in this condition of waiting expectancy, but when
they were past Argentan his eyes were gradually attracted to the window
by the fresh verdure of the Norman landscape.

The train was passing through a wide, undulating region, intersected
by valleys, where the peasant holdings, mostly in grass and
apple-orchards, were shut in by great trees, the thick-leaved tops of
which seemed to glow in the sunlight. It was late in July, that lusty
season when this land, an abundant nurse, gives generously of its sap
and life. In all the inclosures, separated from each other by these
leafy walls, great light-colored oxen, cows whose flanks were striped
with undefined figures of odd design, huge, red, wide-fronted bulls
of proud and quarrelsome aspect, with their hanging dewlaps of hairy
flesh, standing by the fences or lying down among the pasturage that
stuffed their paunches, succeeded each other, until there seemed to be
no end to them in this fresh, fertile land, the soil of which appeared
to exude cider and fat sirloins. In every direction little streams were
gliding in and out among the poplars, partially concealed by a thin
screen of willows; brooks glittered for an instant among the herbage,
disappearing only to show themselves again farther on, bathing all the
scene in their vivifying coolness. Mariolle was charmed at the sight,
and almost forgot his love for a moment in his rapid flight through
this far-reaching park of apple-trees and flocks and herds.

When he had changed cars at Folligny station, however, he was again
seized with an impatient longing to be at his destination, and during
the last forty minutes he took out his watch twenty times. His head
was constantly turned toward the window of the car, and at last,
situated upon a hill of moderate height, he beheld the city where she
was waiting for his coming. The train had been delayed, and now only
an hour separated him from the moment when he was to come upon her, by
chance, on the public promenade.

He was the only passenger that climbed into the hotel omnibus, which
the horses began to drag up the steep road of Avranches with slow and
reluctant steps. The houses crowning the heights gave to the place from
a distance the appearance of a fortification. Seen close at hand it
was an ancient and pretty Norman city, with small dwellings of regular
and almost similar appearance built closely adjoining one another,
giving an aspect of ancient pride and modern comfort, a feudal yet
peasant-like air.

As soon as Mariolle had secured a room and thrown his valise into it,
he inquired for the street that led to the Botanical Garden and started
off in the direction indicated with rapid strides, although he was
ahead of time. But he was in hopes that perhaps she also would be on
hand early. When he reached the iron railings, he saw at a glance that
the place was empty or nearly so. Only three old men were walking about
in it, _bourgeois_ to the manner born, who probably were in the habit
of coming there daily to cheer their leisure by conversation, and a
family of English children, lean-legged boys and girls, were playing
about a fair-haired governess whose wandering looks showed that her
thoughts were far away.

Mariolle walked straight ahead with beating heart, looking
scrutinizingly up and down the intersecting paths. He came to a great
alley of dark green elms which cut the garden in two portions crosswise
and stretched away in its center, a dense vault of foliage; he passed
through this, and all at once, coming to a terrace that commanded a
view of the horizon, his thoughts suddenly ceased to dwell upon her
whose influence had brought him hither.

From the foot of the elevation upon which he was standing spread an
illimitable sandy plain that stretched away in the distance and blended
with sea and sky. Through it rolled a stream, and beneath the azure,
aflame with sunlight, pools of water dotted it with luminous sheets
that seemed like orifices opening upon another sky beneath. In the
midst of this yellow desert, still wet and glistening with the receding
tide, at twelve or fifteen kilometers from the shore rose a pointed
rock of monumental profile, like some fantastic pyramid, surmounted
by a cathedral. Its only neighbor in these immense wastes was a low,
round backed reef that the tide had left uncovered, squatting among
the shifting ooze: the reef of Tombelaine. Farther still away, other
submerged rocks showed their brown heads above the bluish line of the
waves, and the eye, continuing to follow the horizon to the right,
finally rested upon the vast green expanse of the Norman country lying
beside this sandy waste, so densely covered with trees that it had
the aspect of a limitless forest. It was all Nature offering herself
to his vision at a single glance, in a single spot, in all her might
and grandeur, in all her grace and freshness, and the eye turned from
those woodland glimpses to the stern apparition of the granite mount,
the hermit of the sands, rearing its strange Gothic form upon the
far-reaching strand.

The strange pleasure which in other days had often made Mariolle
thrill, in the presence of the surprises that unknown lands preserve to
delight the eyes of travelers, now took such sudden possession of him
that he remained motionless, his feelings softened and deeply moved,
oblivious of his tortured heart. At the sound of a striking bell,
however, he turned, suddenly repossessed by the eager hope that they
were about to meet. The garden was still almost untenanted. The English
children had gone; the three old men alone kept up their monotonous
promenade. He came down and began to walk about like them.

Immediately--in a moment--she would be there. He would see her at the
end of one of those roads that centered in this wondrous terrace. He
would recognize her form, her step, then her face and her smile; he
would soon be listening to her voice. What happiness! What delight! He
felt that she was near him, somewhere, invisible as yet, but thinking
of him, knowing that she was soon to see him again.

With difficulty he restrained himself from uttering a little cry. For
there, down below, a blue sunshade, just the dome of a sunshade, was
visible, gliding along beneath a clump of trees. It must be she; there
could be no doubt of it. A little boy came in sight, driving a hoop
before him; then two ladies,--he recognized her,--then two men: her
father and another gentleman. She was all in blue, like the heavens in
springtime. Yes, indeed! he recognized her, while as yet he could not
distinguish her features; but he did not dare to go toward her, feeling
that he would blush and stammer, that he would be unable to account for
this chance meeting beneath M. de Pradon's suspicious glances.

He went forward to meet them, however, keeping his field-glass to his
eye, apparently quite intent on scanning the horizon. She it was who
addressed him first, not even taking the trouble to affect astonishment.

"Good day, M. Mariolle," she said. "Isn't it splendid?"

He was struck speechless by this reception, and knew not what tone to
adopt in reply. Finally he stammered: "Ah, it is you, Madame; how glad
I am to meet you! I wanted to see something of this delightful country."

She smiled as she replied: "And you selected the very time when I
chanced to be here. That was extremely kind of you." Then she proceeded
to make the necessary introductions. "This is M. Mariolle, one of my
dearest friends; my aunt, Mme. Valsaci; my uncle, who builds bridges."

When salutations had been exchanged. M. de Pradon and the young man
shook hands rather stiffly and the walk was continued.

She had made room for him between herself and her aunt, casting upon
him a very rapid glance, one of those glances which seem to indicate a
weakening determination.

"How do you like the country?" she asked.

"I think that I have never beheld anything more beautiful," he replied.

"Ah! if you had passed some days here, as I have just been doing, you
would feel how it penetrates one. The impression that it leaves is
beyond the power of expression. The advance and retreat of the sea
upon the sands, that grand movement that is going on unceasingly, that
twice a day floods all that you behold before you, and so swiftly that
a horse galloping at top speed would scarce have time to escape before
it--this wondrous spectacle that Heaven gratuitously displays before
us, I declare to you that it makes me forgetful of myself. I no longer
know myself. Am I not speaking the truth, aunt?"

Mme. Valsaci, an old, gray-haired woman, a lady of distinction in her
province and the respected wife of an eminent engineer, a supercilious
functionary who could not divest himself of the arrogance of the
school, confessed that she had never seen her niece in such a state
of enthusiasm. Then she added reflectively: "It is not surprising,
however, when, like her, one has never seen any but theatrical scenery."

"But I go to Dieppe and Trouville almost every year."

The old lady began to laugh. "People only go to Dieppe and Trouville to
see their friends. The sea is only there to serve as a cloak for their
rendezvous." It was very simply said, perhaps without any concealed
meaning.

People were streaming along toward the terrace, which seemed to draw
them to it with an irresistible attraction. They came from every
quarter of the garden, in spite of themselves, like round bodies
rolling down a slope. The sinking sun seemed to be drawing a golden
tissue of finest texture, transparent and ethereally light, behind the
lofty silhouette of the abbey, which was growing darker and darker,
like a gigantic shrine relieved against a veil of brightness. Mariolle,
however, had eyes for nothing but the adored blond form walking at
his side, wrapped in its cloud of blue. Never had he beheld her so
seductive. She seemed to him to have changed, without his being able to
specify in what the change consisted; she was bright with a brightness
he had never seen before, which shone in her eyes and upon her flesh,
her hair, and seemed to have penetrated her soul as well, a brightness
emanating from this country, this sky, this sunlight, this verdure.
Never had he known or loved her thus.

He walked at her side and could find no word to say to her. The rustle
of her dress, the occasional touch of her arm, the meeting, so mutely
eloquent, of their glances, completely overcame him. He felt as if
they had annihilated his personality as a man--felt himself suddenly
obliterated by contact with this woman, absorbed by her to such an
extent as to be nothing; nothing but desire, nothing but appeal,
nothing but adoration. She had consumed his being, as one burns a
letter.

She saw it all very clearly, understood the full extent of her victory,
and thrilled and deeply moved, feeling life throb within her, too, more
keenly among these odors of the country and the sea, full of sunlight
and of sap, she said to him: "I am so glad to see you!" Close upon
this, she asked: "How long do you remain here?"

He replied: "Two days, if to-day counts for a day." Then, turning to
the aunt: "Would Mme. Valsaci do me the honor to come and spend the
day to-morrow at Mont Saint-Michel with her husband?"

Mme. de Burne made answer for her relative: "I will not allow her to
refuse, since we have been so fortunate as to meet you here."

The engineer's wife replied: "Yes, Monsieur, I accept very gladly, upon
the condition that you come and dine with me this evening."

He bowed in assent. All at once there arose within him a feeling of
delirious delight, such a joy as seizes you when news is brought that
the desire of your life is attained. What had come to him? What new
occurrence was there in his life? Nothing; and yet he felt himself
carried away by the intoxication of an indefinable presentiment.

They walked upon the terrace for a long time, waiting for the sun to
set, so as to witness until the very end the spectacle of the black
and battlemented mount drawn in outline upon a horizon of flame. Their
conversation now was upon ordinary topics, such as might be discussed
in presence of a stranger, and from time to time Mme. de Burne and
Mariolle glanced at each other. Then they all returned to the villa,
which stood just outside Avranches in a fine garden, overlooking the
bay.

Wishing to be prudent, and a little disturbed, moreover, by M. de
Pradon's cold and almost hostile attitude toward him, Mariolle withdrew
at an early hour. When he took Mme. de Burne's hand to raise it to his
lips, she said to him twice in succession, with a peculiar accent:
"Till to-morrow! Till to-morrow!"

As soon as he was gone M. and Mme. Valsaci, who had long since
habituated themselves to country ways, proposed that they should go to
bed.

"Go," said Mme. de Burne. "I am going to take a walk in the garden."

"So am I," her father added.

She wrapped herself in a shawl and went out, and they began to walk
side by side upon the white-sanded alleys which the full moon,
streaming over lawn and shrubbery, illuminated as if they had been
little winding rivers of silver.

After a silence that had lasted for quite a while, M. de Pradon said in
a low voice: "My dear child, you will do me the justice to admit that I
have never troubled you with my counsels?"

She felt what was coming, and was prepared to meet his attack. "Pardon
me, papa," she said, "but you did give me one, at least."

"I did?"

"Yes, yes."

"A counsel relating to your way of life?"

"Yes; and a very bad one it was, too. And so, if you give me any more,
I have made up my mind not to follow them."

"What was the advice that I gave you?"

"You advised me to marry M. de Burne. That goes to show that you are
lacking in judgment, in clearness of insight, in acquaintance with
mankind in general and with your daughter in particular."

"Yes I made a mistake on that occasion; but I am sure that I am right
in the very paternal advice that I feel called upon to give you at the
present juncture."

"Let me hear what it is. I will accept as much of it as the
circumstances call for."

"You are on the point of entangling yourself."

She laughed with a laugh that was rather too hearty, and completing the
expression of his idea, said: "With M. Mariolle, doubtless?"

"With M. Mariolle."

"You forget," she rejoined, "the entanglements that I have already had
with M. de Maltry, with M. Massival, with M. Gaston de Lamarthe, and a
dozen others, of all of whom you have been jealous; for I never fall in
with a man who is nice and willing to show a little devotion for me but
all my flock flies into a rage, and you first of all, you whom nature
has assigned to me as my noble father and general manager."

"No, no, that is not it," he replied with warmth; "you have never
compromised your liberty with anyone. On the contrary you show a great
deal of tact in your relations with your friends."

"My dear papa, I am no longer a child, and I promise you not to involve
myself with M. Mariolle any more than I have done with the rest of
them; you need have no fears. I admit, however, that it was at my
invitation that he came here. I think that he is delightful, just as
intelligent as his predecessors and less egotistical; and you thought
so too, up to the time when you imagined that you had discovered that
I was showing some small preference for him. Oh, you are not so sharp
as you think you are! I know you, and I could say a great deal more
on this head if I chose. As M. Mariolle was agreeable to me, then, I
thought it would be very nice to make a pleasant excursion in his
company, quite by chance, of course. It is a piece of stupidity to
deprive ourselves of everything that can amuse us when there is no
danger attending it. And I incur no danger of involving myself, since
you are here."

She laughed openly as she finished, knowing well that every one of her
words had told, that she had tied his tongue by the adroit imputation
of a jealousy of Mariolle that she had suspected, that she had
instinctively scented in him for a long time past, and she rejoiced
over this discovery with a secret, audacious, unutterable coquetry. He
maintained an embarrassed and irritated silence, feeling that she had
divined some inexplicable spite underlying his paternal solicitude, the
origin of which he himself did not care to investigate.

"There is no cause for alarm," she added. "It is quite natural to make
an excursion to Mont Saint-Michel at this time of the year in company
with you, my father, my uncle and aunt, and a friend. Besides no one
will know it; and even if they do, what can they say against it? When
we are back in Paris I will reduce this friend to the ranks again, to
keep company with the others."

"Very well," he replied. "Let it be as if I had said nothing."

They took a few steps more; then M. de Pradon asked:

"Shall we return to the house? I am tired; I am going to bed."

"No; the night is so fine. I am going to walk awhile yet."

He murmured meaningly: "Do not go far away. One never knows what people
may be around."

"Oh, I will be right here under the windows."

"Good night, then, my dear child."

He gave her a hasty kiss upon the forehead and went in. She took a
seat a little way off upon a rustic bench that was set in the ground
at the foot of a great oak. The night was warm, filled with odors from
the fields and exhalations from the sea and misty light, for beneath
the full moon shining brightly in the cloudless sky a fog had come up
and covered the waters of the bay. Onward it slowly crept, like white
smoke-wreaths, hiding from sight the beach that would soon be covered
by the incoming tide.

Michèle de Burne, her hands clasped over her knees and her dreamy eyes
gazing into space, sought to look into her heart through a mist that
was as impenetrable and pale as that which lay upon the sands. How many
times before this, seated before her mirror in her dressing-room at
Paris, had she questioned herself:

"What do I love? What do I desire? What do I hope for? What am I?"

Apart from the pleasure of being beautiful, and the imperious necessity
which she felt of pleasing, which really afforded her much delight, she
had never been conscious of any appeal to her heart beyond some passing
fancy that she had quickly put her foot upon. She was not ignorant of
herself, for she had devoted too much of her time and attention to
watching and studying her face and all her person not to have been
observant of her feelings as well. Up to the present time she had
contented herself with a vague interest in that which is the subject of
emotion in others, but was powerless to impassion her, or capable at
best of affording her a momentary distraction.

And yet, whenever she had felt a little warmer liking for anyone
arising within her, whenever a rival had tried to take away from her a
man whom she valued, and by arousing her feminine instincts had caused
an innocuous fever of attachment to simmer gently in her veins, she had
discovered that these false starts of love had caused her an emotion
that was much deeper than the mere gratification of success. But it
never lasted. Why? Perhaps because she was too clear-sighted; because
she allowed herself to become wearied, disgusted. Everything that at
first had pleased her in a man, everything that had animated, moved,
and attracted her, soon appeared in her eyes commonplace and divested
of its charm. They all resembled one another too closely, without ever
being exactly similar, and none of them had yet presented himself to
her endowed with the nature and the merits that were required to hold
her liking sufficiently long to guide her heart into the path of love.

Why was this so? Was it their fault or was it hers? Were they wanting
in the qualities which she was looking for, or was it she who was
deficient in the attribute that makes one loved? Is love the result of
meeting with a person whom one believes to have been created expressly
for himself, or is it simply the result of having been born with the
faculty of loving? At times it seemed to her that everyone's heart
must be provided with arms, like the body, loving, outstretching arms
to attract, embrace, and enfold, and that her heart had only eyes and
nothing more.

Men, superior men, were often known to become madly infatuated
with women who were unworthy of them, women without intelligence,
without character, often without beauty. Why was this? Wherein lay
the mystery? Was such a crisis in the existence of two beings not
to be attributed solely to a providential meeting, but to a kind of
seed that everyone carries about within him, and that puts forth its
buds when least expected? She had been intrusted with confidences,
she had surprised secrets, she had even beheld with her own eyes the
swift transfiguration that results from the breaking forth of this
intoxication of the feelings, and she had reflected deeply upon it.

In society, in the unintermitting whirl of visiting and amusement,
in all the small tomfooleries of fashionable existence by which the
wealthy beguile their idle hours, a feeling of envious, jealous, and
almost incredulous astonishment had sometimes been excited in her
at the sight of men and women in whom some extraordinary change had
incontestably taken place. The change might not be conspicuously
manifest, but her watchful instinct felt it and divined it as the
hound holds the scent of his game. Their faces, their smiles, their
eyes especially would betray something that was beyond expression in
words, an ecstasy, a delicious, serene delight, a joy of the soul made
manifest in the body, illuming look and flesh.

Without being able to account for it she was displeased with them for
this. Lovers had always been disagreeable objects to her, and she
imagined that the deep and secret feeling of irritation inspired in her
by the sight of people whose hearts were swayed by passion was simply
disdain. She believed that she could recognize them with a readiness
and an accuracy that were exceptional, and it was a fact that she
had often divined and unraveled _liaisons_ before society had even
suspected their existence.

When she reflected upon all this, upon the fond folly that may be
induced in woman by the contact of some neighboring existence, his
aspect, his speech, his thought, the inexpressible something in the
loved being that robs the heart of tranquillity, she decided that
she was incapable of it. And yet, weary of everything, oppressed by
ineffable yearnings, tormented by a haunting longing after change and
some unknown state, feelings which were, perhaps, only the undeveloped
movements of an undefined groping after affection, how often had she
desired, with a secret shame that had its origin in her pride, to meet
with a man, who, for a time, were it only for a few months, might by
his sorceries raise her to an abnormally excited condition of mind and
body--for it seemed to her that life must assume strange and attractive
forms of ecstasy and delight during these emotional periods. Not
only had she desired such an encounter, but she had even sought it a
little--only a very little, however--with an indolent activity that
never devoted itself for any length of time to one pursuit.

In all her inchoate attachments for the men called "superior," who
had dazzled her for a few weeks, the short-lived effervescence of
her heart had always died away in irremediable disappointment. She
looked for too much from their dispositions, their characters, their
delicacy, their renown, their merits. In the case of everyone of them
she had been compelled to open her eyes to the fact that the defects of
great men are often more prominent than their merits; that talent is a
special gift, like a good digestion or good eyesight, an isolated gift
to be exercised, and unconnected with the aggregate of personal charm
that makes one's relations cordial and attractive.

Since she had known Mariolle, however, she was otherwise attached to
him. But did she love him, did she love him with the love of woman for
man? Without fame or prestige, he had conquered her affections by his
devotedness, his tenderness, his intelligence, by all the real and
unassuming attractions of his personality. He had conquered, for he
was constantly present in her thoughts; unremittingly she longed for
his society; in all the world there was no one more agreeable, more
sympathetic, more indispensable to her. Could this be love?

She was not conscious of carrying in her soul that divine flame that
everyone speaks of, but for the first time she was conscious of the
existence there of a sincere wish to be something more to this man than
merely a charming friend. Did she love him? Does love demand that a
man appear endowed with exceptional attractions, that he be different
from all the world and tower above it in the aureole that the heart
places about its elect, or does it suffice that he find favor in your
eyes, that he please you to that extent that you scarce know how to do
without him? In the latter event she loved him, or at any rate she was
very near loving him. After having pondered deeply on the matter with
concentrated attention, she at length answered herself: "Yes, I love
him, but I am lacking in warmth; that is the defect of my nature."

Still, she had felt some warmth a little while before when she saw him
coming toward her upon the terrace in the garden of Avranches. For
the first time she had felt that inexpressible something that bears
us, impels us, hurries us toward some one; she had experienced great
pleasure in walking at his side, in having him near her, burning with
love for her, as they watched the sun sinking behind the shadow of Mont
Saint-Michel, like a vision in a legend. Was not love itself a kind
of legend of the soul, in which some believe through instinct, and in
which others sometimes also come to believe through stress of pondering
over it? Would she end by believing in it? She had felt a strange,
half-formed desire to recline her head upon the shoulder of this man,
to be nearer to him, to seek that closer union that is never found, to
give him what one offers vainly and always retains: the close intimacy
with one's inner self.

Yes, she had experienced a feeling of warmth toward him, and she still
felt it there at the bottom of her heart, at that very moment. Perhaps
it would change to passion should she give way to it. She opposed too
much resistance to men's powers of attraction; she reasoned on them,
combated them too much. How sweet it would be to walk with him on an
evening like this along the river-bank beneath the willows, and allow
him to taste her lips from time to time in recompense of all the love
he had given her!

A window in the villa was flung open. She turned her head. It was her
father, who was doubtless looking to see if she were there. She called
to him: "You are not asleep yet?"

He replied: "If you don't come in you will take cold."

She arose thereupon and went toward the house. When she was in her room
she raised her curtains for another look at the mist over the bay,
which was becoming whiter and whiter in the moonlight, and it seemed to
her that the vapors in her heart were also clearing under the influence
of her dawning tenderness.

For all that she slept soundly, and her maid had to awake her in the
morning, for they were to make an early start, so as to have breakfast
at the Mount.

A roomy wagonette drew up before the door. When she heard the rolling
of the wheels upon the sand she went to her window and looked out,
and the first thing that her eyes encountered was the face of André
Mariolle who was looking for her. Her heart began to beat a little more
rapidly. She was astonished and dejected as she reflected upon the
strange and novel impression produced by this muscle, which palpitates
and hurries the blood through the veins merely at the sight of some
one. Again she asked herself, as she had done the previous night before
going to sleep: "Can it be that I am about to love him?" Then when
she was seated face to face with him her instinct told her how deeply
he was smitten, how he was suffering with his love, and she felt as
if she could open her arms to him and put up her mouth. They only
exchanged a look, however, but it made him turn pale with delight.

The carriage rolled away. It was a bright summer morning; the air was
filled with the melody of birds and everything seemed permeated by the
spirit of youth. They descended the hill, crossed the river, and drove
along a narrow, rough, stony road that set the travelers bumping upon
their seats. Mme. de Burne began to banter her uncle upon the condition
of this road; that was enough to break the ice, and the brightness that
pervaded the air seemed to be infused into the spirit of them all.

As they emerged from a little hamlet the bay suddenly presented itself
again before them, not yellow as they had seen it the evening before,
but sparkling with clear water which covered everything, sands,
salt-meadows, and, as the coachman said, even the very road itself a
little way further on. Then, for the space of an hour they allowed the
horses to proceed at a walk, so as to give this inundation time to
return to the deep.

The belts of elms and oaks that inclosed the farms among which they
were now passing momentarily hid from their vision the profile of the
abbey standing high upon its rock, now entirely surrounded by the sea;
then all at once it was visible again between two farmyards, nearer,
more huge, more astounding than ever. The sun cast ruddy tones upon the
old crenelated granite church, perched on its rocky pedestal. Michèle
de Burne and André Mariolle contemplated it, both mingling with the
newborn or acutely sensitive disturbances of their hearts the poetry
of the vision that greeted their eyes upon this rosy July morning.

The talk went on with easy friendliness. Mme. Valsaci told tragic tales
of the coast, nocturnal dramas of the yielding sands devouring human
life. M. Valsaci took up arms for the dike, so much abused by artists,
and extolled it for the uninterrupted communication that it afforded
with the Mount and for the reclaimed sand-hills, available at first for
pasturage and afterward for cultivation.

Suddenly the wagonette came to a halt; the sea had invaded the road. It
did not amount to much, only a film of water upon the stony way, but
they knew that there might be sink-holes beneath, openings from which
they might never emerge, so they had to wait. "It will go down very
quickly," M. Valsaci declared, and he pointed with his finger to the
road from which the thin sheet of water was already receding, seemingly
absorbed by the earth or drawn away to some distant place by a powerful
and mysterious force.

They got down from the carriage for a nearer look at this strange,
swift, silent flight of the sea, and followed it step by step. Now
spots of green began to appear among the submerged vegetation, lightly
stirred by the waves here and there, and these spots broadened, rounded
themselves out and became islands. Quickly these islands assumed the
appearance of continents, separated from each other by miniature
oceans, and finally over the whole expanse of the bay it was a headlong
flight of the waters retreating to their distant abode. It resembled
nothing so much as a long silvery veil withdrawn from the surface
of the earth, a great, torn, slashed veil, full of rents, which left
exposed the wide meadows of short grass as it was pulled aside, but did
not yet disclose the yellow sands that lay beyond.

They had climbed into the carriage again, and everyone was standing in
order to obtain a better view. The road in front of them was drying and
the horses were sent forward, but still at a walk, and as the rough
places sometimes caused them to lose their equilibrium, André Mariolle
suddenly felt Michèle de Burne's shoulder resting against his. At first
he attributed this contact to the movement of the vehicle, but she did
not stir from her position, and at every jolt of the wheels a trembling
started from the spot where she had placed herself and shook all his
frame and laid waste his heart. He did not venture to look at the young
woman, paralyzed as he was by this unhoped-for familiarity, and with
a confusion in his brain such as arises from drunkenness, he said to
himself: "Is this real? Can it be possible? Can it be that we are both
losing our senses?"

The horses began to trot and they had to resume their seats. Then
Mariolle felt some sudden, mysterious, imperious necessity of showing
himself attentive to M. de Pradon, and he began to devote himself to
him with flattering courtesy. Almost as sensible to compliments as his
daughter, the father allowed himself to be won over and soon his face
was all smiles.

At last they had reached the causeway and were advancing rapidly toward
the Mount, which reared its head among the sands at the point where the
long, straight road ended. Pontorson river washed its left-hand slope,
while, to the right, the pastures covered with short grass, which the
coachman wrongly called "samphire," had given way to sand-hills that
were still trickling with the water of the sea. The lofty monument now
assumed more imposing dimensions upon the blue heavens, against which,
very clear and distinct now in every slightest detail, its summit stood
out in bold relief, with all its towers and belfries, bristling with
grimacing gargoyles, heads of monstrous beings with which the faith and
the terrors of our ancestors crowned their Gothic sanctuaries.

It was nearly one o'clock when they reached the inn, where breakfast
had been ordered. The hostess had delayed the meal for prudential
reasons; it was not ready. It was late, therefore, when they sat down
at table and everyone was very hungry. Soon, however, the champagne
restored their spirits. Everyone was in good humor, and there were
two hearts that felt that they were on the verge of great happiness.
At dessert, when the cheering effect of the wine that they had drunk
and the pleasures of conversation had developed in their frames the
feeling of well-being and contentment that sometimes warms us after a
good meal, and inclines us to take a rosy view of everything, Mariolle
suggested: "What do you say to staying over here until to-morrow? It
would be so nice to look upon this scene by moonlight, and so pleasant
to dine here together this evening!"

Mme. de Burne gave her assent at once, and the two men also concurred.
Mme. Valsaci alone hesitated, on account of the little boy that she had
left at home, but her husband reassured her and reminded her that she
had frequently remained away before; he at once sat down and dispatched
a telegram to the governess. André Mariolle had flattered him by giving
his approval to the causeway, expressing his judgment that it detracted
far less than was generally reported from the picturesque effect of the
Mount, thereby making himself _persona grata_ to the engineer.

Upon rising from table they went to visit the monument, taking the
road of the ramparts. The city, a collection of old houses dating back
to the Middle Ages and rising in tiers one above the other upon the
enormous mass of granite that is crowned by the abbey, is separated
from the sands by a lofty crenelated wall. This wall winds about the
city in its ascent with many a twist and turn, with abrupt angles and
elbows and platforms and watchtowers, all forming so many surprises
for the eye, which, at every turn, rests upon some new expanse of the
far-reaching horizon. They were silent, for whether they had seen this
marvelous edifice before or not, they were equally impressed by it,
and the substantial breakfast that they had eaten, moreover, had made
them short-winded. There it rose above them in the sky, a wondrous
tangle of granite ornamentation, spires, belfries, arches thrown from
one tower to another, a huge, light, fairy-like lace-work in stone,
embroidered upon the azure of the heavens, from which the fantastic
and bestial-faced array of gargoyles seemed to be preparing to detach
themselves and wing their flight away. Upon the northern flank of the
Mount, between the abbey and the sea, a wild and almost perpendicular
descent that is called the Forest, because it is covered with ancient
trees, began where the houses ended and formed a speck of dark green
coloring upon the limitless expanse of yellow sands. Mme. de Burne and
Mariolle, who headed the little procession, stopped to enjoy the view.
She leaned upon his arm, her senses steeped in a rapture such as she
had never known before. With light steps she pursued her upward way,
willing to keep on climbing forever in his company toward this fabric
of a vision, or indeed toward any other end. She would have been glad
that the steep way should never have an ending, for almost for the
first time in her life she knew what it was to experience a plenitude
of satisfaction.

"Heavens! how beautiful it is!" she murmured.

Looking upon her, he answered: "I can think only of you."

She continued, with a smile: "I am not inclined to be very poetical,
as a general thing, but this seems to me so beautiful that I am really
moved."

He stammered: "I--I love you to distraction."

He was conscious of a slight pressure of her arm, and they resumed the
ascent.

They found a keeper awaiting them at the door of the abbey, and they
entered by that superb staircase, between two massive towers, which
leads to the Hall of the Guards. Then they went from hall to hall, from
court to court, from dungeon to dungeon, listening, wondering, charmed
with everything, admiring everything, the crypt, with its huge pillars,
so beautiful in their massiveness, which sustains upon its sturdy
arches all the weight of the choir of the church above, and all of the
_Wonder_, an awe-inspiring edifice of three stories of Gothic monuments
rising one above the other, the most extraordinary masterpiece of the
monastic and military architecture of the Middle Ages.

Then they came to the cloisters. Their surprise was so great that they
involuntarily came to a halt at sight of this square court inclosing
the lightest, most graceful, most charming of colonnades to be seen in
any cloisters in the world. For the entire length of the four galleries
the slender shafts in double rows, surmounted by exquisite capitals,
sustain a continuous garland of flowers and Gothic ornamentation of
infinite variety and constantly changing design, the elegant and
unaffected fancies of the simple-minded old artists who thus worked out
their dreams in stone beneath the hammer.

Michèle de Burne and André Mariolle walked completely around the
inclosure, very slowly, arm in arm, while the others, somewhat
fatigued, stood near the door and admired from a distance.

"Heavens! what pleasure this affords me!" she said, coming to a stop.

"For my part, I neither know where I am nor what my eyes behold. I am
conscious that you are at my side, and that is all."

Then smiling, she looked him in the face and murmured: "André!"

He saw that she was yielding. No further word was spoken, and they
resumed their walk. The inspection of the edifice was continued, but
they hardly had eyes to see anything.

Nevertheless their attention was attracted for the space of a moment
by the airy bridge, seemingly of lace, inclosed within an arch thrown
across space between two belfries, as if to afford a way to scale the
clouds, and their amazement was still greater when they came to the
"Madman's Path," a dizzy track, devoid of parapet, that encircles the
farthest tower nearly at its summit.

"May we go up there?" she asked.

"It is forbidden," the guide replied.

She showed him a twenty-franc piece. All the members of the party,
giddy at sight of the yawning gulf and the immensity of surrounding
space, tried to dissuade her from the imprudent freak.

She asked Mariolle: "Will you go?"

He laughed: "I have been in more dangerous places than that." And
paying no further attention to the others, they set out.

He went first along the narrow cornice that overhung the gulf, and she
followed him, gliding along close to the wall with eyes downcast that
she might not see the yawning void beneath, terrified now and almost
ready to sink with fear, clinging to the hand that he held out to her;
but she felt that he was strong, that there was no sign of weakening
there, that he was sure of head and foot; and enraptured for all her
fears, she said to herself: "Truly, this is a man." They were alone in
space, at the height where the sea-birds soar; they were contemplating
the same horizon that the white-winged creatures are ceaselessly
scouring in their flight as they explore it with their little yellow
eyes.

Mariolle felt that she was trembling; he asked: "Do you feel dizzy?"

"A little," she replied in a low voice; "but in your company I fear
nothing."

At this he drew near and sustained her by putting his arm about
her, and this simple assistance inspired her with such courage that
she ventured to raise her head and take a look at the distance. He
was almost carrying her and she offered no resistance, enjoying the
protection of those strong arms which thus enabled her to traverse the
heavens, and she was grateful to him with a romantic, womanly gratitude
that he did not mar their sea-gull flight by kisses.

When they had rejoined the others of the party, who were awaiting them
with the greatest anxiety, M. de Pradon angrily said to his daughter:
"_Dieu!_ what a silly thing to do!"

She replied with conviction: "No, it was not, papa, since it was
successfully accomplished. Nothing that succeeds is ever stupid."

He merely gave a shrug of the shoulders, and they descended the
stairs. At the porter's lodge there was another stoppage to purchase
photographs, and when they reached the inn it was nearly dinner-time.
The hostess recommended a short walk upon the sands, so as to obtain a
view of the Mount toward the open sea, in which direction, she said,
it presented its most imposing aspect. Although they were all much
fatigued, the band started out again and made the tour of the ramparts,
picking their way among the treacherous downs, solid to the eye but
yielding to the step, where the foot that was placed upon the pretty
yellow carpet that was stretched beneath it and seemed solid would
suddenly sink up to the calf in the deceitful golden ooze.

Seen from this point the abbey, all at once losing the cathedral-like
appearance with which it astounded the beholder on the mainland,
assumed, as if in menace of old Ocean, the martial appearance of a
feudal manor, with its huge battlemented wall picturesquely pierced
with loop-holes and supported by gigantic buttresses that sank their
Cyclopean stone foundations in the bosom of the fantastic mountain.
Mme. de Burne and André Mariolle, however, were not heedless of all
that. They were thinking only of themselves, caught in the meshes of
the net that they had set for each other, shut up within the walls of
that prison to which no sound comes from the outer world, where the eye
beholds only one being.

When they found themselves again seated before their well-filled
plates, however, beneath the cheerful light of the lamps, they seemed
to awake, and discovered that they were hungry, just like other mortals.

They remained a long time at table, and when the dinner was ended
the moonlight was quite forgotten in the pleasure of conversation.
There was no one, moreover, who had any desire to go out, and no one
suggested it. The broad moon might shed her waves of poetic light down
upon the little thin sheet of rising tide that was already creeping up
the sands with the noise of a trickling stream, scarcely perceptible
to the ear, but sinister and alarming; she might light up the ramparts
that crept in spirals up the flanks of the Mount and illumine the
romantic shadows of all the belfries of the old abbey, standing in
its wondrous setting of a boundless bay, in the bosom of which were
quiveringly reflected the lights that crawled along the downs--no one
cared to see more.

It was not yet ten o'clock when Mme. Valsaci, overcome with sleep,
spoke of going to bed, and her proposition was received without a
dissenting voice. Bidding one another a cordial good night, each
withdrew to his chamber.

André Mariolle knew well that he would not sleep; he therefore lighted
his two candles and placed them on the mantelpiece, threw open his
window, and looked out into the night.

All the strength of his body was giving way beneath the torture of an
unavailing hope. He knew that she was there, close at hand, that there
were only two doors between them, and yet it was almost as impossible
to go to her as it would be to dam the tide that was coming in and
submerging all the land. There was a cry in his throat that strove to
liberate itself, and in his nerves such an unquenchable and futile
torment of expectation that he asked himself what he was to do, unable
as he was longer to endure the solitude of this evening of sterile
happiness.

Gradually all the sounds had died away in the inn and in the single
little winding street of the town. Mariolle still remained leaning upon
his window-sill, conscious only that time was passing, contemplating
the silvery sheet of the still rising tide and rejecting the idea of
going to bed as if he had felt the undefined presentiment of some
approaching, providential good fortune.

All at once it seemed to him that a hand was fumbling with the
fastening of his door. He turned with a start: the door slowly opened
and a woman entered the room, her head veiled in a cloud of white lace
and her form enveloped in one of those great dressing-gowns that seem
made of silk, cashmere, and snow. She closed the door carefully behind
her; then, as if she had not seen him where he stood motionless--as if
smitten with joy--in the bright square of moonlight of the window, she
went straight to the mantelpiece and blew out the two candles.



CHAPTER V.


CONSPIRACY


They were to meet next morning in front of the inn to say good-bye
to one another. André, the first one down, awaited her coming with a
poignant feeling of mixed uneasiness and delight. What would she do?
What would she be to him? What would become of her and of him? In
what thrice-happy or terrible adventure had he engaged himself? She
had it in her power to make of him what she would, a visionary, like
an opium-eater, or a martyr, at her will. He paced to and fro beside
the two carriages, for they were to separate, he, to continue the
deception, ending his trip by way of Saint Malo, they returning to
Avranches.

When would he see her again? Would she cut short her visit to her
family, or would she delay her return? He was horribly afraid of what
she would first say to him, how she would first look at him, for he had
not seen her and they had scarcely spoken during their brief interview
of the night before. There remained to Mariolle from that strange,
fleeting interview the faint feeling of disappointment of the man who
has been unable to reap all that harvest of love which he thought was
ready for the sickle, and at the same time the intoxication of triumph
and, resulting from that, the almost assured hope of finally making
himself complete master of her affections.

He heard her voice and started; she was talking loudly, evidently
irritated at some wish that her father had expressed, and when he
beheld her standing at the foot of the staircase there was a little
angry curl upon her lips that bespoke her impatience.

Mariolle took a couple of steps toward her; she saw him and smiled.
Her eyes suddenly recovered their serenity and assumed an expression
of kindliness which diffused itself over the other features, and she
quickly and cordially extended to him her hand, as if in ratification
of their new relations.

"So then, we are to separate?" she said to him.

"Alas! Madame, the thought makes me suffer more than I can tell."

"It will not be for long," she murmured. She saw M. de Pradon coming
toward them, and added in a whisper: "Say that you are going to take a
ten days' trip through Brittany, but do not take it."

Mme. de Valsaci came running up in great excitement. "What is this that
your father has been telling me--that you are going to leave us day
after to-morrow? You were to stay until next Monday, at least."

Mme. de Burne replied, with a suspicion of ill humor: "Papa is nothing
but a bungler, who never knows enough to hold his tongue. The sea-air
has given me, as it does every year, a very unpleasant neuralgia, and I
did say something or other about going away so as not to have to be ill
for a month. But this is no time for bothering over that."

Mariolle's coachman urged him to get into the carriage and be off, so
that they might not miss the Pontorson train.

Mme. de Burne asked: "And you, when do you expect to be back in Paris?"

He assumed an air of hesitancy: "Well, I can't say exactly; I want to
see Saint Malo, Brest, Douarnenez, the Bay des Trépassés, Cape Raz,
Audierne, Penmarch, Morbihan, all this celebrated portion of the Breton
country, in a word. That will take me say--" after a silence devoted to
feigned calculation, he exceeded her estimate--"fifteen or twenty days."

"That will be quite a trip," she laughingly said. "For my part, if my
nerves trouble me as they did last night, I shall be at home before I
am two days older."

His emotion was so great that he felt like exclaiming: "Thanks!" He
contented himself with kissing, with a lover's kiss, the hand that she
extended to him for the last time, and after a profuse exchange of
thanks and compliments with the Valsacis and M. de Pradon, who seemed
to be somewhat reassured by the announcement of his projected trip, he
climbed into his vehicle and drove off, turning his head for a parting
look at her.

He made no stop on his journey back to Paris and was conscious of
seeing nothing on the way. All night long he lay back in the corner
of his compartment with eyes half closed and folded arms, his mind
reverting to the occurrences of the last few hours, and all his
thoughts concentrated upon the realization of his dream.

Immediately upon his arrival at his own abode, upon the cessation of
the noise and bustle of travel, in the silence of the library where
he generally passed his time, where he worked and wrote, and where he
almost always felt himself possessed by a restful tranquillity in the
friendly companionship of his books, his piano, and his violin, there
now commenced in him that unending torment of impatient waiting which
devours, as with a fever, insatiable hearts like his. He was surprised
that he could apply himself to nothing, that nothing served to occupy
his mind, that reading and music, the occupations that he generally
employed to while away the idle moments of his life, were unavailing,
not only to afford distraction to his thoughts, but even to give rest
and quiet to his physical being, and he asked himself what he was to
do to appease this new disturbance. An inexplicable physical need of
motion seemed to have taken possession of him--of going forth and
walking the streets, of constant movement, the crisis of that agitation
that is imparted by the mind to the body and which is nothing more than
an instinctive and unappeasable longing to seek and find some other
being.

He put on his hat and overcoat, and as he was descending the stairs
he asked himself: "In which direction shall I go?" Thereupon an idea
occurred to him that he had not yet thought of: he must procure a
pretty and secluded retreat to serve them as a trysting place.

He pursued his investigations in every quarter, ransacking streets,
avenues, and boulevards, distrustfully examining _concierges_ with
their servile smiles, lodging-house keepers of suspicious appearance
and apartments with doubtful furnishings, and at evening he returned
to his house in a state of discouragement. At nine o'clock the next
day he started out again, and at nightfall he finally succeeded in
discovering at Auteuil, buried in a garden that had three exits, a
lonely pavilion which an upholsterer in the neighborhood promised to
render habitable in two days. He ordered what was necessary, selecting
very plain furniture of varnished pine and thick carpets. A baker who
lived near one of the garden gates had charge of the property, and an
arrangement was completed with his wife whereby she was to care for the
rooms, while a gardener of the quarter also took a contract for filling
the beds with flowers.

All these arrangements kept him busy until it was eight o'clock, and
when at last he got home, worn out with fatigue, he beheld with a
beating heart a telegram lying on his desk. He opened it and read:

    "I will be home to-morrow. Await instructions. "MICHE."

He had not written to her yet, fearing that as she was soon to leave
Avranches his letter might go astray, and as soon as he had dined
he seated himself at his desk to lay before her what was passing in
his mind. The task was a long and difficult one, for all the words
and phrases that he could muster, and even his ideas, seemed to him
weak, mediocre, and ridiculous vehicles in which to convey to her the
delicacy and passionateness of his thanks.

The letter that he received from her upon waking next morning confirmed
the statement that she would reach home that evening, and begged him
not to make his presence known to anyone for a few days, in order that
full belief might be accorded to the report that he was traveling. She
also requested him to walk upon the terrace of the Tuileries garden
that overlooks the Seine the following day at ten o'clock.

He was there an hour before the time appointed, and to kill time
wandered about in the immense garden that was peopled only by a few
early pedestrians, belated officeholders on their way to the public
buildings on the left bank, clerks and toilers of every condition.
It was a pleasure to him to watch the hurrying crowds driven by the
necessity of earning their daily bread to brutalizing labors, and to
compare his lot with theirs, on this spot, at the minute when he was
awaiting his mistress--a queen among the queens of the earth. He felt
himself so fortunate a being, so privileged, raised to such a height
beyond their petty struggles, that he felt like giving thanks to the
blue sky, for to him Providence was but a series of alternations of
sunshine and of rain due to Chance, mysterious ruler over weather and
over men.

When it wanted a few minutes of ten he ascended to the terrace and
watched for her coming. "She will be late!" he thought. He had scarcely
more than heard the clock in an adjacent building strike ten when
he thought he saw her at a distance, coming through the garden with
hurrying steps, like a working-woman in haste to reach her shop. "Can
it indeed be she?" He recognized her step but was astonished by her
changed appearance, so unassuming in a neat little toilette of dark
colors. She was coming toward the stairs that led up to the terrace,
however, in a bee-line, as if she had traveled that road many times
before.

"Ah!" he said to himself, "she must be fond of this place and come to
walk here sometimes." He watched her as she raised her dress to put her
foot on the first step and then nimbly flew up the remaining ones, and
as he eagerly stepped forward to meet her she said to him as he came
near with a pleasant smile, in which there was a trace of uneasiness:
"You are very imprudent! You must not show yourself like that; I saw
you almost from the Rue de Rivoli. Come, we will go and take a seat on
a bench yonder. There is where you must wait for me next time."

He could not help asking her: "So you come here often?"

"Yes, I have a great liking for this place, and as I am an early walker
I come here for exercise and to look at the scenery, which is very
pretty. And then one never meets anybody here, while the Bois is out of
the question on just that account. But you must be careful not to give
away my secret."

He laughed: "I shall not be very likely to do that." Discreetly taking
her hand, a little hand that was hanging at her side conveniently
concealed in the folds of her dress, he sighed: "How I love you! My
heart was sick with waiting for you. Did you receive my letter?"

"Yes; I thank you for it. It was very touching."

"Then you have not become angry with me yet?"

"Why no! Why should I? You are just as nice as you can be."

He sought for ardent words, words that would vibrate with his emotion
and his gratitude. As none came to him, and as he was too deeply moved
to permit of the free expression of the thought that was within him, he
simply said again: "How I love you!"

She said to him: "I brought you here because there are water and boats
in this place as well as down yonder. It is not at all like what we saw
down there; still it is not disagreeable."

They were sitting on a bench near the stone balustrade that runs along
the river, almost alone, invisible from every quarter. The only living
beings to be seen on the long terrace at that hour were two gardeners
and three nursemaids. Carriages were rolling along the quay at their
feet, but they could not see them; footsteps were resounding upon the
adjacent sidewalk, over against the wall that sustained the promenade;
and still unable to find words in which to express their thoughts,
they let their gaze wander over the beautiful Parisian landscape that
stretches from the Île Saint-Louis and the towers of Nôtre-Dame to the
heights of Meudon. She repeated her thought: "None the less, it is very
pretty, isn't it?"

But he was suddenly seized by the thrilling remembrance of their
journey through space up on the summit of the abbey tower, and with a
regretful feeling for the emotion that was past and gone, he said: "Oh,
Madame, do you remember our escapade of the 'Madman's Path?'"

"Yes; but I am a little afraid now that I come to think of it when it
is all over. _Dieu!_ how my head would spin around if I had it to do
over again! I was just drunk with the fresh air, the sunlight, and the
sea. Look, my friend, what a magnificent view we have before us. How I
do love Paris!"

He was surprised, having a confused feeling of missing something that
had appeared in her down there in the country. He murmured: "It matters
not to me where I am, so that I am only near you!"

Her only answer was a pressure of the hand. Inspired with greater
happiness, perhaps, by this little signal than he would have been by a
tender word, his heart relieved of the care that had oppressed it until
now, he could at last find words to express his feelings. He told her,
slowly, in words that were almost solemn, that he had given her his
life forever that she might do with it what she would.

She was grateful; but like the child of modern scepticism that she
was and willing captive of her iconoclastic irony, she smiled as she
replied: "I would not make such a long engagement as that if I were
you!"

He turned and faced her, and, looking her straight in the eyes with
that penetrating look which is like a touch, repeated what he had
just said at greater length, in a more ardent, more poetical form of
expression. All that he had written in so many burning letters he now
expressed with such a fervor of conviction that it seemed to her as she
listened that she was sitting in a cloud of incense. She felt herself
caressed in every fiber of her feminine nature by his adoring words
more deeply than ever before.

When he had ended she simply said: "And I, too, love you dearly!"

They were still holding each other's hand, like young folks walking
along a country road, and watching with vague eyes the little
steamboats plying on the river. They were alone by themselves in Paris,
in the great confused uproar, whether remote or near at hand, that
surrounded them in this city full of all the life of all the world,
more alone than they had been on the summit of their aerial tower, and
for some seconds they were quite oblivious that there existed on earth
any other beings but their two selves.

She was the first to recover the sensation of reality and of the flight
of time. "Shall we see each other again to-morrow?" she said.

He reflected for an instant, and abashed by what he had in mind to ask
of her: "Yes--yes--certainly," he replied. "But--shall we never meet
in any other place? This place is unfrequented. Still--people may come
here."

She hesitated. "You are right. Still it is necessary also that you
should not show yourself for at least two weeks yet, so that people may
think that you are away traveling. It will be very nice and mysterious
for us to meet and no one know that you are in Paris. Meanwhile,
however, I cannot receive you at my house, so--I don't see----"

He felt that he was blushing, and continued: "Neither can I ask you to
come to my house. Is there nothing else--is there no other place?"

Being a woman of practical sense, logical and without false modesty,
she was neither surprised nor shocked.

"Why, yes," she said, "only we must have time to think it over."

"I have thought it over."

"What! so soon?"

"Yes, Madame."

"Well?"

"Are you acquainted with the Rue des Vieux-Champs at Auteuil?"

"No."

"It runs into the Rue Tournemine and the Rue Jean-de-Saulge."

"Well?"

"In this street, or rather lane, there is a garden, and in this
garden a pavilion that also communicates with the two streets that I
mentioned."

"What next?"

"That pavilion awaits you."

She reflected, still with no appearance of embarrassment, and then
asked two or three questions that were dictated by feminine prudence.
His explanations seemed to be satisfactory, for she murmured as she
arose:

"Well, I will go to-morrow."

"At what time?"

"Three o'clock."

"Seven is the number; I will be waiting for you behind the door. Do not
forget. Give a knock as you pass."

"Yes, my friend. Adieu, till to-morrow."

"Till to-morrow, adieu. Thanks; I adore you."

They had risen to their feet. "Do not come with me," she said. "Stay
here for ten minutes, and when you leave go by the way of the quay."

"Adieu!"

"Adieu!"

She started off very rapidly, with such a modest, unassuming air, so
hurriedly, that actually she might have been mistaken for one of Paris'
pretty working-girls, who trot along the streets in the morning on the
way to their honest labors.

He took a cab to Auteuil, tormented by the fear that the house might
not be ready against the following day. He found it full of workmen,
however; the hangings were all in place upon the walls, the carpets
laid upon the floors. Everywhere there was a sound of pounding,
hammering, beating, washing. In the garden, which was quite large and
rather pretty, the remains of an ancient park, containing a few large
old trees, a thick clump of shrubbery that stood for a forest, two
green tables, two grass-plots, and paths twisting about among the beds,
the gardener of the vicinity had set out rose-trees, geraniums, pinks,
reseda, and twenty other species of those plants, the growth of which
is advanced or retarded by careful attention, so that a naked field may
be transformed in a day into a blooming flower garden.

Mariolle was as delighted as if he had scored another success with his
Michèle, and having exacted an oath from the upholsterer that all the
furniture should be in place the next day before noon, he went off to
various shops to buy some bric-à-brac and pictures for the adornment
of the interior of this retreat. For the walls he selected some of
those admirable photographs of celebrated pictures that are produced
nowadays, for the tables and mantelshelves some rare pottery and a few
of those familiar objects that women always like to have about them.
In the course of the day he expended the income of three months, and he
did it with great pleasure, reflecting that for the last ten years he
had been living very economically, not from penuriousness, but because
of the absence of expensive tastes, and this circumstance now allowed
him to do things somewhat magnificently.

He returned to the pavilion early in the morning of the following day,
presided over the arrival and placing of the furniture, climbed ladders
and hung the pictures, burned perfumes and vaporized them upon the
hangings and poured them over the carpets. In his feverish joy, in the
excited rapture of all his being, it seemed to him that he had never in
his life been engaged in such an engrossing, such a delightful labor.
At every moment he looked to see what time it was, and calculated how
long it would be before she would be there; he urged on the workmen,
and stimulated his invention so to arrange the different objects that
they might be displayed in their best light.

In his prudence he dismissed everyone before it was two o'clock, and
then, as the minute-hand of the clock tardily made its last revolution
around the dial, in the silence of that house where he was awaiting
the greatest happiness that ever he could have wished for, alone with
his reverie, going and coming from room to room, he passed the minutes
until she should be there.

Finally he went out into the garden. The sunlight was streaming through
the foliage upon the grass and falling with especially charming
brilliancy upon a bed of roses. The very heavens were contributing
their aid to embellish this trysting-place. Then he went and stood by
the gate, partially opening it to look out from time to time for fear
she might mistake the house.

Three o'clock rang out from some belfry, and forthwith the sounds
were echoed from a dozen schools and factories. He stood waiting now
with watch in hand, and gave a start of surprise when two little,
light knocks were given against the door, to which his ear was closely
applied, for he had heard no sound of footsteps in the street.

He opened: it was she. She looked about her with astonishment. First
of all she examined with a distrustful glance the neighboring houses,
but her inspection reassured her, for certainly she could have no
acquaintances among the humble _bourgeois_ who inhabited the quarter.
Then she examined the garden with pleased curiosity, and finally placed
the backs of her two hands, from which she had drawn her gloves,
against her lover's mouth; then she took his arm. At every step she
kept repeating: "My! how pretty it is! how unexpected! how attractive!"
Catching sight of the rose-bed that the sun was shining upon through
the branches of the trees, she exclaimed: "Why, this is fairyland, my
friend!"

She plucked a rose, kissed it, and placed it in her corsage. Then they
entered the pavilion, and she seemed so pleased with everything that
he felt like going down on his knees to her, although he may have felt
at the bottom of his heart that perhaps she might as well have shown
more attention to him and less to the surroundings. She looked about
her with the pleasure of a child who has received a new plaything, and
admired and appreciated the elegance of the place with the satisfaction
of a connoisseur whose tastes have been gratified. She had feared that
she was coming to some vulgar, commonplace resort, where the furniture
and hangings had been contaminated by other rendezvous, whereas all
this, on the contrary, was new, unforeseen, and alluring, prepared
expressly for her, and must have cost a lot of money. Really he was
perfect, this man. She turned to him and extended her arms, and their
lips met in one of those long kisses that have the strange, twofold
sensation of self-effacement and unadulterated bliss.

When, at the end of three hours, they were about to separate, they
walked through the garden and seated themselves in a leafy arbor where
no eye could reach them. André addressed her with an exuberance of
feeling, as if she had been an idol that had come down for his sake
from her sacred pedestal, and she listened to him with that fatigued
languor which he had often seen reflected in her eyes after people had
tired her by too long a visit. She continued affectionate, however,
her face lighted up by a tender, slightly constrained smile, and she
clasped the hand that she held in hers with a continuous pressure that
perhaps was more studied than spontaneous.

She could not have been listening to him, for she interrupted one of
his sentences to say: "Really, I must be going. I was to be at the
Marquise de Bratiane's at six o'clock, and I shall be very late."

He conducted her to the gate by which she had obtained admission. They
gave each other a parting kiss, and after a furtive glance up and down
the street, she hurried away, keeping close to the walls.

When he was alone he felt within him that sudden void that is ever
left by the disappearance of the woman whose kiss is still warm upon
your lips, the queer little laceration of the heart that is caused by
the sound of her retreating footsteps. It seemed to him that he was
abandoned and alone, that he was never to see her again, and he betook
himself to pacing the gravel-walks, reflecting upon this never-ceasing
contrast between anticipation and realization. He remained there until
it was dark, gradually becoming more tranquil and yielding himself more
entirely to her influence, now that she was away, than if she had been
there in his arms. Then he went home and dined without being conscious
of what he was eating, and sat down to write to her.

The next day was a long one to him, and the evening seemed
interminable. Why had she not answered his letter, why had she sent him
no word? The morning of the second day he received a short telegram
appointing another rendezvous at the same hour. The little blue
envelope speedily cured him of the heart-sickness of hope deferred from
which he was beginning to suffer.

She came, as she had done before, punctual, smiling, and affectionate,
and their second interview in the little house was in all respects
similar to the first. André Mariolle, surprised at first and vaguely
troubled that the ecstatic passion he had dreamed of had not made
itself felt between them, but more and more overmastered by his senses,
gradually forgot his visions of anticipation in the somewhat different
happiness of possession. He was becoming attached to her by reason of
her caresses, an invincible tie, the strongest tie of all, from which
there is no deliverance when once it has fully possessed you and has
penetrated through your flesh, into your veins.

Twenty days rolled by, such sweet, fleeting days. It seemed to him
that there was to be no end to it, that he was to live forever thus,
nonexistent for all and living for her alone, and to his mental vision
there presented itself the seductive dream of an unlimited continuance
of this blissful, secret way of living.

She continued to make her visits at intervals of three days, offering
no objections, attracted, it would seem, as much by the amusement she
derived from their clandestine meetings--by the charm of the little
house that had now been transformed into a conservatory of rare exotics
and by the novelty of the situation, which could scarcely be called
dangerous, since she was her own mistress, but still was full of
mystery--as by the abject and constantly increasing tenderness of her
lover.

At last there came a day when she said to him: "Now, my dear friend,
you must show yourself in society again. You will come and pass the
afternoon with me to-morrow. I have given out that you are at home
again."

He was heartbroken. "Oh, why so soon?" he said.

"Because if it should leak out by any chance that you are in Paris your
absence would be too inexplicable not to give rise to gossip."

He saw that she was right and promised that he would come to her house
the next day. Then he asked her: "Do you receive to-morrow?"

"Yes," she replied. "It will be quite a little solemnity."

He did not like this intelligence. "Of what description is your
solemnity?"

She laughed gleefully. "I have prevailed upon Massival, by means of the
grossest sycophancy, to give a performance of his 'Dido,' which no one
has heard yet. It is the poetry of antique love. Mme. de Bratiane, who
considered herself Massival's sole proprietor, is furious. She will be
there, for she is to sing. Am I not a sly one?"

"Will there be many there?"

"Oh, no, only a few intimate friends. You know them nearly all."

"Won't you let me off? I am so happy in my solitude."

"Oh! no, my friend. You know that I count on you more than all the
rest."

His heart gave a great thump. "Thank you," he said; "I will come."



CHAPTER VI.


QUESTIONINGS


Good day, M. Mariolle."

Mariolle noticed that it was no longer the "dear friend" of Auteuil,
and the clasp of the hand was a hurried one, the hasty pressure of a
busy woman wholly engrossed in her social functions. As he entered the
salon Mme. de Burne was advancing to speak to the beautiful Mme. le
Prieur, whose sculpturesque form, and the audacious way that she had
of dressing to display it, had caused her to be nicknamed, somewhat
ironically, "The Goddess." She was the wife of a member of the
Institute, of the section of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres.

"Ah, Mariolle!" exclaimed Lamarthe, "where do you come from? We thought
that you were dead."

"I have been making a trip through Finistère."

He was going on to relate his impressions when the novelist interrupted
him: "Are you acquainted with the Baronne de Frémines?"

"Only by sight; but I have heard a good deal of her. They say that she
is queer."

"The very queen of crazy women, but with an exquisite perfume of
modernness. Come and let me present you to her." Taking him by the arm
he led him toward a young woman who was always compared to a doll, a
pale and charming little blond doll, invented and created by the devil
himself for the damnation of those larger children who wear beards
on their faces. She had long, narrow eyes, slightly turned up toward
the temples, apparently like the eyes of the Chinese; their soft blue
glances stole out between lids that were seldom opened to their full
extent, heavy, slowly-moving lids, designed to veil and hide this
creature's mysterious nature.

Her hair, very light in color, shone with silky, silvery reflections,
and her delicate mouth, with its thin lips, seemed to have been cut by
the light hand of a sculptor from the design of a miniature-painter.
The voice that issued from it had bell-like intonations, and the
audacity of her ideas, of a biting quality that was peculiar to
herself, smacking of wickedness and drollery, their destructive charm,
their cold, corrupting seductiveness, all the complicated nature of
this full-grown, mentally diseased child acted upon those who were
brought in contact with her in such a way as to produce in them violent
passions and disturbances.

She was known all over Paris as being the most extravagant of the
_mondaines_ of the real _monde_, and also the wittiest, but no one
could say exactly what she was, what were her ideas, what she did. She
exercised an irresistible sway over mankind in general. Her husband,
also, was quite as much of an enigma as she. Courteous and affable
and a great nobleman, he seemed quite unconscious of what was going
on. Was he indifferent, or complaisant, or was he simply blind?
Perhaps, after all, there was nothing in it more than those little
eccentricities which doubtless amused him as much as they did her.
All sorts of opinions, however, were prevalent in regard to him, and
some very ugly reports were circulated. Rumor even went so far as to
insinuate that his wife's secret vices were not unprofitable to him.

Between her and Mme. de Burne there were natural attractions and fierce
jealousies, spells of friendship succeeded by crises of furious enmity.
They liked and feared each other and mutually sought each other's
society, like professional duelists, who appreciate at the same time
that they would be glad to kill each other.

It was the Baronne de Frémines who was having the upper hand at this
moment. She had just scored a victory, an important victory: she
had conquered Lamarthe, had taken him from her rival and borne him
away ostentatiously to domesticate him in her flock of acknowledged
followers. The novelist seemed to be all at once smitten, puzzled,
charmed, and stupefied by the discoveries he had made in this creature
_sui generis_, and he could not help talking about her to everybody
that he met, a fact which had already given rise to much gossip.

Just as he was presenting Mariolle he encountered Mme. de Burne's look
from the other end of the room; he smiled and whispered in his friend's
ear: "See, the mistress of the house is angry."

André raised his eyes, but Madame had turned to meet Massival, who just
then made his appearance beneath the raised portière. He was followed
almost immediately by the Marquise de Bratiane, which elicited from
Lamarthe: "Ah! we shall only have a second rendition of 'Dido'; the
first has just been given in the Marquise's _coupé_."

Mme. de Frémines added: "Really, our friend De Burne's collection is
losing some of its finest jewels."

Mariolle felt a sudden impulse of anger rising in his heart, a kind
of hatred against this woman, and a brusque sensation of irritation
against these people, their way of life, their ideas, their tastes,
their aimless inclinations, their childish amusements. Then, as
Lamarthe bent over the young woman to whisper something in her ear, he
profited by the opportunity to slip away.

Handsome Mme. le Prieur was sitting by herself only a few steps away;
he went up to her to make his bow. According to Lamarthe she stood
for the old guard among all this irruption of modernism. Young,
tall, handsome, with very regular features and chestnut hair through
which ran threads of gold, extremely affable, captivating by reason
of her tranquil, kindly charm of manner, by reason also of a calm,
well-studied coquetry and a great desire to please that lay concealed
beneath an outward appearance of simple and sincere affection, she had
many firm partisans, whom she took good care should never be exposed
to dangerous rivalries. Her house had the reputation of being a little
gathering of intimate friends, where all the _habitués_, moreover,
concurred in extolling the merits of the husband.

She and Mariolle now entered into conversation. She held in high esteem
this intelligent and reserved man, who gave people so little cause to
talk about him and who was perhaps of more account than all the rest.

The remaining guests came dropping in: big Fresnel, puffing and giving
a last wipe with his handkerchief to his shining and perspiring
forehead, the philosophic George de Maltry, finally the Baron de
Gravil accompanied by the Comte de Marantin. M. de Pradon assisted his
daughter in doing the honors of the house; he was extremely attractive
to Mariolle.

But Mariolle, with a heavy heart, saw _her_ going and coming and
bestowing her attentions on everyone there more than on him.

Twice, it is true, she had thrown him a swift look from a distance
which seemed to say, "I am not forgetting you," but they were so
fleeting that perhaps he had failed to catch their meaning. And then
he could not be unconscious to the fact that Lamarthe's aggressive
assiduities to Mme. de Frémines were displeasing to Mme. de Burne.
"That is only her coquettish feeling of spite," he said to himself,
"a woman's irritation from whose salon some valuable trinket has
been spirited away." Still it made him suffer, and his suffering was
the greater since he saw that she was constantly watching them in a
furtive, concealed kind of way, while she did not seem to trouble
herself a bit at seeing _him_ sitting beside Mme. le Prieur.

The reason was that she had him in her power, she was sure of him,
while the other was escaping her. What, then, could be to her that love
of theirs, that love which was born but yesterday, and which in him had
banished and killed every other idea?

M. de Pradon had called for silence, and Massival was opening the
piano, which Mme. de Bratiane was approaching, removing her gloves
meanwhile, for she was to sing the woes of "Dido," when the door again
opened and a young man appeared upon whom every eye was immediately
fixed. He was tall and slender, with curling side-whiskers, short,
blond, curly hair, and an air that was altogether aristocratic. Even
Mme. le Prieur seemed to feel his influence.

"Who is it?" Mariolle asked her.

"What! is it possible that you do not know him?"

"No, I do not."

"It is Comte Rudolph de Bernhaus."

"Ah! the man who fought a duel with Sigismond Fabre."

"Yes."

The story had made a great noise at the time. The Comte de Bernhaus,
attached to the Austrian embassy and a diplomat of the highest promise,
an elegant Bismarck, so it was said, having heard some words spoken in
derogation of his sovereign at an official reception, had fought the
next day with the man who uttered them, a celebrated fencer, and killed
him. After this duel, in respect to which public opinion had been
divided, the Comte acquired between one day and the next a notoriety
after the manner of Sarah Bernhardt, but with this difference, that
his name appeared in an aureole of poetic chivalry. He was in addition
a man of great charm, an agreeable conversationalist, a man of
distinction in every respect. Lamarthe used to say of him: "He is the
one to tame our pretty wild beasts."

He took his seat beside Mme. de Burne with a very gallant air, and
Massival sat down before the keyboard and allowed his fingers to run
over the keys for a few moments.

Nearly all the audience changed their places and drew their chairs
nearer so as to hear better and at the same time have a better view of
the singer. Thus Mariolle and Lamarthe found themselves side by side.

There was a great silence of expectation and respectful attention;
then the musician began with a slow, a very slow succession of notes,
something like a musical recitative. There were pauses, then the
air would be lightly caught up in a series of little phrases, now
languishing and dying away, now breaking out in nervous strength,
indicative, it would seem, of distressful emotion, but always
characterized by originality of invention. Mariolle gave way to
reverie. He beheld a woman, a woman in the fullness of her mature youth
and ripened beauty, walking slowly upon a shore that was bathed by the
waves of the sea. He knew that she was suffering, that she bore a great
sorrow in her soul, and he looked at Mme. de Bratiane.

Motionless, pale beneath her wealth of thick black hair that seemed to
have been dipped in the shades of night, the Italian stood waiting, her
glance directed straight before her. On her strongly marked, rather
stern features, against which her eyes and eyebrows stood out like
spots of ink, in all her dark, powerful, and passionate beauty, there
was something that struck one, something like the threat of the coming
storm that we read in the blackening _sky._

Massival, slightly nodding his head with its long hair in cadence with
the rhythm, kept on relating the affecting tale that he was drawing
from the resonant keys of ivory.

A shiver all at once ran through the singer; she partially opened her
mouth, and from it there proceeded a long-drawn, heartrending wail of
agony. It was not one of those outbursts of tragic despair that divas
give utterance to upon the stage, with dramatic gestures, neither was
it one of those pitiful laments for love betrayed that bring a storm
of bravos from an audience; it was a cry of supreme passion, coming
from the body and not from the soul, wrung from her like the roar of
a wounded animal, the cry of the feminine animal betrayed. Then she
was silent, and Massival again began to relate, more animatedly, more
stormily, the moving story of the miserable queen who was abandoned by
the man she loved. Then the woman's voice made itself heard again. She
used articulate language now; she told of the intolerable torture of
solitude, of her unquenchable thirst for the caresses that were hers no
more, and of the grief of knowing that he was gone from her forever.

Her warm, ringing voice made the hearts of her audience beat beneath
the spell. This somber Italian, with hair like the darkness of the
night, seemed to be suffering all the sorrows that she was telling,
she seemed to love, or to have the capacity of loving, with furious
ardor. When she ceased her eyes were full of tears, and she slowly
wiped them away. Lamarthe leaned over toward Mariolle and said to him
in a quiver of artistic enthusiasm: "Good heavens! how beautiful she is
just now! She is a woman, the only one in the room." Then he added,
after a moment of reflection: "After all, who can tell? Perhaps there
is nothing there but the mirage of the music, for nothing has real
existence except our illusions. But what an art to produce illusions is
that of hers!"

There was a short intermission between the first and the second parts
of the musical poem, and warm congratulations were extended to the
composer and his interpreter. Lamarthe in particular was very earnest
in his felicitations, and he was really sincere, for he was endowed
with the capacity to feel and comprehend, and beauty of all kinds
appealed strongly to his nature, under whatever form expressed. The
manner in which he told Mme. de Bratiane what his feelings had been
while listening to her was so flattering that it brought a slight blush
to her face and excited a little spiteful feeling among the other women
who heard it. Perhaps he was not altogether unaware of the feeling that
he had produced.

When he turned around to resume his chair, he perceived Comte de
Bernhaus just in the act of seating himself beside Mme. de Frémines.
She seemed at once to be on confidential terms with him, and they
smiled at each other as if this close conversation was particularly
agreeable to them both. Mariolle, whose gloom was momentarily
increasing, stood leaning against a door; the novelist came and
stationed himself at his side. Big Fresnel, George de Maltry, the
Baron de Gravil and the Comte de Marantin formed a circle about Mme.
de Burne, who was going about offering tea. She seemed imprisoned in a
crown of adorers. Lamarthe ironically called his friend's attention to
it and added: "A crown without jewels, however, and I am sure that she
would be glad to give all those rhinestones for the brilliant that she
would like to see there."

"What brilliant do you mean?" inquired Mariolle.

"Why, Bernhaus, handsome, irresistible, incomparable Bernhaus, he in
whose honor this _fête_ is given, for whom the miracle was performed of
inducing Massival to bring out his 'Dido' here."

André, though incredulous, was conscious of a pang of regret as he
heard these words. "Has she known him long?" he asked.

"Oh, no; ten days at most. But she put her best foot foremost during
this brief campaign, and her tactics have been those of a conqueror. If
you had been here you would have had a good laugh."

"How so?"

"She met him for the first time at Mme. de Frémines's; I happened to
be dining there that evening. Bernhaus stands very well in the good
graces of the lady of that house, as you may see for yourself; all that
you have to do is to look at them at the present moment; and behold,
in the very minute that succeeded the first salutation that they ever
made each other, there is our pretty friend De Burne taking the field
to effect the conquest of the Austrian phœnix. And she is succeeding,
and will succeed, although the little Frémines is more than a match for
her in coquetry, real indifference, and perhaps perversity. But our
friend De Burne uses her weapons more scientifically, she is more of a
woman, by which I mean a modern woman, that is to say, irresistible by
reason of that artificial seductiveness which takes the place in the
modern woman of the old-fashioned natural charm of manner. And it is
not her artificiality alone that is to be taken into account, but her
æstheticism, her profound comprehension of feminine æsthetics; all her
strength lies therein. She knows herself thoroughly, because she takes
more delight in herself than in anything else, and she is never at
fault as to the best means of subjugating a man and making the best use
of her gifts in order to captivate men."

Mariolle took exception to this. "I think that you put it too
strongly," he said. "She has always been very simple with me."

"Because simplicity is the right thing to meet the requirements of your
case. I do not wish to speak ill of her, however. I think that she is
better than most of her set. But they are not women."

Massival, striking a few chords on the piano, here reduced them to
silence, and Mme. de Bratiane proceeded to sing the second part of the
poem, in which her delineation of the title-role was a magnificent
study of physical passion and sensual regret.

Lamarthe, however, never once took his eyes from Mme. de Frémines and
the Comte de Bernhaus, where they were enjoying their _tête-à-tête_,
and as soon as the last vibrations of the piano were lost in the
murmurs of applause, he again took up his theme as if in continuation
of an argument, or as if he were replying to an adversary: "No, they
are not women. The most honest of them are coquettes without being
aware of it. The more I know them the less do I find in them that
sensation of mild exhilaration that it is the part of a true woman to
inspire in us. They intoxicate, it is true, but the process wears upon
our nerves, for they are too sophisticated. Oh, it is very good as a
liqueur to sip now and then, but it is a poor substitute for the good
wine that we used to have. You see, my dear fellow, woman was created
and sent to dwell on earth for two objects only, and it is these two
objects alone that can avail to bring out her true, great, and noble
qualities--love and the family. I am talking like M. Prudhomme. Now
the women of to-day are incapable of loving, and they will not bear
children. When they are so inexpert as to have them, it is a misfortune
in their eyes; then a burden. Truly, they are not women; they are
monsters."

Astonished by the writer's violent manner and by the angry look that
glistened in his eye, Mariolle asked him: "Why, then, do you spend half
your time hanging to their skirts?"

Lamarthe hotly replied: "Why? Why? Because it interests me--_parbleu!_
And then--and then--Would you prevent a physician from going to the
hospitals to watch the cases? Those women constitute my clinic."

This reflection seemed to quiet him a little: he proceeded: "Then, too,
I adore them for the very reason that they are so modern. At bottom I
am really no more a man than they are women. When I am at the point
of becoming attached to one of them, I amuse myself by investigating
and analyzing all the resulting sensations and emotions, just like
a chemist who experiments upon himself with a poison in order to
ascertain its properties." After an interval of silence, he continued:
"In this way they will never succeed in getting me into their clutches.
_I_ can play their game as well as they play it themselves, perhaps
even better, and that is of use to me for my books, while their
proceedings are not of the slightest bit of use to them. What fools
they are! Failures, every one of them--charming failures, who will be
ready to die of spite as they grow older and see the mistake that they
have made."

Mariolle, as he listened, felt himself sinking into one of those fits
of depression that are like the humid gloom with which a long-continued
rain darkens everything about us. He was well aware that the man of
letters, as a general thing, was not apt to be very far out of the way,
but he could not bring himself to admit that he was altogether right in
the present case. With a slight appearance of irritation, he argued,
not so much in defense of women as to show the causes of the position
that they occupy in contemporary literature. "In the days when poets
and novelists exalted them, and endowed them with poetic attributes,"
he said, "they looked for in life, and seemed to find, that which
their heart had discovered in their reading. Nowadays you persist in
suppressing everything that has any savor of sentiment and poetry, and
in its stead give them only naked, undeceiving realities. Now, my dear
sir, the more love there is in books, the more love there is in life.
When you invented the ideal and laid it before them, they believed in
the truth of your inventions. Now that you give them nothing but stern,
unadorned realism, they follow in your footsteps and have come to
measure everything by that standard of vulgarity."

Lamarthe, who was always ready for a literary discussion, was about to
commence a dissertation when Mme. de Burne came up to them. It was one
of the days when she looked at her best, with a toilette that delighted
the eye and with that aggressive and alluring air that denoted that
she was ready to try conclusions with anyone. She took a chair. "That
is what I like," she said; "to come upon two men and find that they
are not talking about me. And then you are the only men here that one
can listen to with any interest. What was the subject that you were
discussing?"

Lamarthe, quite without embarrassment and in terms of elegant raillery,
placed before her the question that had arisen between himself and
Mariolle. Then he resumed his reasoning with a spirit that was inflamed
by that desire of applause which, in the presence of women, always
excites men who like to intoxicate themselves with glory.

She at once interested herself in the discussion, and, warming to the
subject, took part in it in defense of the women of our day with a good
deal of wit and ingenuity. Some remarks upon the faithfulness and the
attachment that even those who were looked on with most suspicion might
be capable of, incomprehensible to the novelist, made Mariolle's heart
beat more rapidly, and when she left them to take a seat beside Mme.
de Frémines, who had persistently kept the Comte de Bernhaus near her,
Lamarthe and Mariolle, completely vanquished by her display of feminine
tact and grace, were united in declaring that, beyond all question, she
was exquisite.

"And just look at them!" said the writer.

The grand duel was on. What were they talking about now, the Austrian
and those two women? Mme. de Burne had come up just at the right
moment to interrupt a _tête-à-tête_ which, however agreeable the two
persons engaged in it might be to each other, was becoming monotonous
from being too long protracted, and she broke it up by relating with an
indignant air the expressions that she had heard from Lamarthe's lips.
To be sure, it was all applicable to Mme. de Frémines, it all resulted
from her most recent conquest, and it was all related in the hearing
of an intelligent man who was capable of understanding it in all its
bearings. The match was applied, and again the everlasting question of
love blazed up, and the mistress of the house beckoned to Mariolle and
Lamarthe to come to them; then, as their voices grew loud in debate,
she summoned the remainder of the company.

A general discussion ensued, bright and animated, in which everyone had
something to say. Mme. de Burne was witty and entertaining beyond all
the rest, shifting her ground from sentiment, which might have been
factitious, to droll paradox. The day was a triumphant one for her, and
she was prettier, brighter, and more animated than she had ever been.



CHAPTER VII.


DEPRESSION


When André Mariolle had parted from Mme. de Burne and the penetrating
charm of her presence had faded away, he felt within him and all about
him, in his flesh, in his heart, in the air, and in all the surrounding
world a sensation as if the delight of life which had been his support
and animating principle for some time past had been taken from him.

What had happened? Nothing, or almost nothing. Toward the close of the
reception she had been very charming in her manner toward him, saying
to him more than once: "I am not conscious of anyone's presence here
but yours." And yet he felt that she had revealed something to him of
which he would have preferred always to remain ignorant. That, too,
was nothing, or almost nothing; still he was stupefied, as a man might
be upon hearing of some unworthy action of his father or his mother,
to learn that during those twenty days which he had believed were
absolutely and entirely devoted by her as well as by him, every minute
of them, to the sentiment of their newborn love, so recent and so
intense, she had resumed her former mode of life, had made many visits,
formed many plans, recommenced those odious flirtations, had run after
men and disputed them with her rivals, received compliments, and showed
off all her graces.

So soon! All this she had done so soon! Had it happened later he
would not have been surprised. He knew the world, he knew women and
their ways of looking at things, he was sufficiently intelligent
to understand it all, and would never have been unduly exacting or
offensively jealous. She was beautiful; she was born--it was her
allotted destiny--to receive the homage of men and listen to their soft
nothings. She had selected him from among them all, and had bestowed
herself upon him courageously, royally. It was his part to remain,
he would remain in any event, a grateful slave to her caprices and a
resigned spectator of her triumphs as a pretty woman. But it was hard
on him; something suffered within him, in that obscure cavern down at
the bottom of the heart where the delicate sensibilities have their
dwelling.

No doubt he had been in the wrong; he had always been in the wrong
since he first came to know himself. He carried too much sentimental
prudence into his commerce with the world; his feelings were too
thin-skinned. This was the cause of the isolated life that he had
always led, through his dread of contact with the world and of wounded
susceptibilities. He had been wrong, for this supersensitiveness is
almost always the result of our not admitting the existence of a nature
essentially different from our own, or else not tolerating it. He knew
this, having often observed it in himself, but it was too late to
modify the constitution of his being.

He certainly had no right to reproach Mme. de Burne, for if she had
forbidden him her salon and kept him in hiding during those days of
happiness that she had afforded him, she had done it to blind prying
eyes and be more fully his in the end. Why, then, this trouble that had
settled in his heart? Ah! why? It was because he had believed her to be
wholly his, and now it had been made clear to him that he could never
expect to seize and hold this woman of a many-sided nature who belonged
to all the world.

He was well aware, moreover, that all our life is made up of successes
relative in degree to the "almost," and up to the present time
he had borne this with philosophic resignation, dissembling his
dissatisfaction and his unsatisfied yearnings under the mask of an
assumed unsociability. This time he had thought that he was about to
obtain an absolute success--the "entirely" that he had been waiting and
hoping for all his life. The "entirely" is not to be attained in this
world.

His evening was a dismal one, spent in analyzing the painful impression
that he had received. When he was in bed this impression, instead of
growing weaker, took stronger hold of him, and as he desired to leave
nothing unexplored, he ransacked his mind to ascertain the remotest
causes of his new troubles. They went, and came, and returned again
like little breaths of frosty air, exciting in his love a suffering
that was as yet weak and indistinct, like those vague neuralgic pains
that we get by sitting in a draft, presages of the horrible agonies
that are to come.

He understood in the first place that he was jealous, no longer as the
ardent lover only but as one who had the right to call her his own.
As long as he had not seen her surrounded by men, her men, he had not
allowed himself to dwell upon this sensation, at the same time having
a faint prevision of it, but supposing that it would be different,
very different, from what it actually was. To find the mistress whom
he believed had cared for none but him during those days of secret
and frequent meetings--during that early period that should have been
entirely devoted to isolation and tender emotion--to find her as much,
and even more, interested and wrapped up in her former and frivolous
flirtations than she was before she yielded herself to him, always
ready to fritter away her time and attention on any chance comer, thus
leaving but little of herself to him whom she had designated as the man
of her choice, caused him a jealousy that was more of the flesh than of
the feelings, not an undefined jealousy, like a fever that lies latent
in the system, but a jealousy precise and well defined, for he was
doubtful of her.

At first his doubts were instinctive, arising in a sensation of
distrust that had intruded itself into his veins rather than into his
thoughts, in that sense of dissatisfaction, almost physical, of the man
who is not sure of his mate. Then, having doubted, he began to suspect.

What was his position toward her after all? Was he her first lover, or
was he the tenth? Was he the successor of M. de Burne, or was he the
successor of Lamarthe, Massival, George de Maltry, and the predecessor
as well, perhaps, of the Comte de Bernhaus? What did he know of her?
That she was surprisingly beautiful, stylish beyond all others,
intelligent, discriminating, witty, but at the same time fickle, quick
to weary, readily fatigued and disgusted with anyone or anything, and,
above all else, in love with herself and an insatiable coquette. Had
she had a lover--or lovers--before him? If not, would she have offered
herself to him as she did? Where could she have got the audacity that
made her come and open his bedroom door, at night, in a public inn?
And then after that, would she have shown such readiness to visit the
house at Auteuil? Before going there she had merely asked him a few
questions, such questions as an experienced and prudent woman would
naturally ask. He had answered like a man of circumspection, not
unaccustomed to such interviews, and immediately she had confidingly
said "Yes," entirely reassured, probably benefiting by her previous
experiences.

And then her knock at that little door, behind which he was waiting,
with a beating heart, almost ready to faint, how discreetly
authoritative it had been! And how she had entered without any visible
display of emotion, careful only to observe whether she might be
recognized from the adjacent houses! And the way that she had made
herself at home at once in that doubtful lodging that he had hired and
furnished for her! Would a woman who was a novice, how daring soever
she might be, how superior to considerations of morality and regardless
of social prejudices, have penetrated thus calmly the mystery of a
first rendezvous? There is a trouble of the mind, a hesitation of the
body, an instinctive fear in the very feet, which know not whither they
are tending; would she not have felt all that unless she had had some
experience in these excursions of love and unless the practice of these
things had dulled her native sense of modesty?

Burning with this persistent, irritating fever, which the warmth of
his bed seemed to render still more unendurable, Mariolle tossed
beneath the coverings, constantly drawn on by his chain of doubts and
suppositions; like a man that feels himself irrecoverably sliding down
the steep descent of a precipice. At times he tried to call a halt and
break the current of his thoughts; he sought and found, and was glad to
find, reflections that were more just to her and reassuring to him, but
the seeds of distrust had been sown in him and he could not help their
growing.

And yet, with what had he to reproach her? Nothing, except that her
nature was not entirely similar to his own, that she did not look upon
life in the same way that he did and that she had not in her heart an
instrument of sensibility attuned to the same key as his.

Immediately upon awaking next morning the longing to see her and to
re-enforce his confidence in her developed itself within him like a
ravening hunger, and he awaited the proper moment to go and pay her
the visit demanded by custom. The instant that she saw him at the door
of the little drawing-room devoted to her special intimates, where she
was sitting alone occupied with her correspondence, she came to him
with her two hands outstretched.

"Ah! Good day, dear friend!" she said, with so pleased and frank
an air that all his odious suspicions, which were still floating
indeterminately in his brain, melted away beneath the warmth of her
reception.

He seated himself at her side and at once began to tell her of the
manner in which he loved her, for their love was now no longer what it
had been. He gently gave her to understand that there are two species
of the race of lovers upon earth: those whose desire is that of madmen
and whose ardor disappears when once they have achieved a triumph, and
those whom possession serves to subjugate and capture, in whom the love
of the senses, blending with the inarticulate and ineffable appeals
that the heart of man at times sends forth toward a woman, gives rise
to the servitude of a complete and torturing love.

Torturing it is, certainly, and forever so, however happy it may be,
for nothing, even in the moments of closest communion, ever sates the
need of her that rules our being.

Mme. de Burne was charmed and gratified as she listened, carried away,
as one is carried away at the theater when an actor gives a powerful
interpretation of his rôle and moves us by awaking some slumbering echo
in our own life. It was indeed an echo, the disturbing echo of a real
passion; but it was not from her bosom that this passion sent forth
its cry. Still, she felt such satisfaction that she was the object
of so keen a sentiment, she was so pleased that it existed in a man
who was capable of expressing it in such terms, in a man of whom she
was really very fond, for whom she was really beginning to feel an
attachment and whose presence was becoming more and more a necessity to
her--not for her physical being but for that mysterious feminine nature
which is so greedy of tenderness, devotion, and subjection--that she
felt like embracing him, like offering him her mouth, her whole being,
only that he might keep on worshiping her in this way.

She answered him frankly and without prudery, with that profound
artfulness that certain women are endowed with, making it clear to
him that he too had made great progress in her affections, and they
remained _tête-à-tête_ in the little drawing-room, where it so happened
that no one came that day until twilight, talking always upon the same
theme and caressing each other with words that to them did not have the
common significance.

The servants had just brought in the lamps, when Mme. de Bratiane
appeared. Mariolle withdrew, and as Mme. de Burne was accompanying him
to the door through the main drawing-room, he asked her: "When shall I
see you down yonder?"

"Will Friday suit you?"

"Certainly. At what hour?"

"The same, three o'clock."

"Until Friday, then. Adieu. I adore you!"

During the two days that passed before this interview, he experienced
a sensation of loneliness that he had never felt before in the same
way. A woman was wanting in his life--she was the only existent
object for him in the world, and as this woman was not far away and
he was prevented by social conventions alone from going to her, and
from passing a lifetime with her, he chafed in his solitude, in the
interminable lapse of the moments that seemed at times to pass so
slowly, at the absolute impossibility of a thing that was so easy.

He arrived at the rendezvous on Friday three hours before the time, but
it was pleasing to him--it comforted his anxiety--to wait there where
she was soon to come, after having already suffered so much in awaiting
her mentally in places where she was not to come.

He stationed himself near the door long before the clock had struck
the three strokes that he was expecting so eagerly, and when at last
he heard them he began to tremble with impatience. The quarter struck.
He looked out into the street, cautiously protruding his head between
the door and the casing; it was deserted from one end to the other.
The minutes seemed to stretch out in aggravating slowness. He was
constantly drawing his watch from his pocket, and at last when the hand
marked the half-hour it appeared to him that he had been standing there
for an incalculable length of time. Suddenly he heard a faint sound
upon the pavement outside, and the summons upon the door of the little
gloved hand quickly made him forget his disappointment and inspired in
him a feeling of gratitude toward her.

She seemed a little out of breath as she asked: "I am very late, am I
not?"

"No, not very."

"Just imagine, I was near not being able to come at all. I had a
houseful, and I was at my wits' end to know what to do to get rid of
all those people. Tell me, do you go under your own name here?"

"No. Why do you ask?"

"So that I may send you a telegram if I should ever be prevented from
coming."

"I am known as M. Nicolle."

"Very well; I won't forget. My! how nice it is here in this garden!"

There were five great splashes of perfumed, many-hued brightness
upon the grass-plots of the flowers, which were carefully tended and
constantly renewed, for the gardener had a customer who paid liberally.

Halting at a bench in front of a bed of heliotrope: "Let us sit here
for a while," she said; "I have something funny to tell you."

She proceeded to relate a bit of scandal that was quite fresh, and
from the effect of which she had not yet recovered. The story was that
Mme. Massival, the ex-mistress whom the artist had married, had come
to Mme. de Bratiane's, furious with jealousy, right in the midst of
an entertainment in which the Marquise was singing to the composer's
accompaniment, and had made a frightful scene: results, rage of the
fair Italian, astonishment and laughter of the guests. Massival,
quite beside himself, tried to take away his wife, who kept striking
him in the face, pulling his hair and beard, biting him and tearing
his clothes, but she clung to him with all her strength and held him
so that he could not stir, while Lamarthe and two servants, who had
hurried to them at the noise, did what they could to release him from
the teeth and claws of this fury.

Tranquillity was not restored until after the pair had taken their
departure. Since then the musician had remained invisible, and the
novelist, witness of the scene, had been repeating it everywhere
in a very witty and amusing manner. The affair had produced a deep
impression upon Mme. de Burne; it preoccupied her thoughts to such an
extent that she hardly knew what she was doing. The constant recurrence
of the names of Massival and Lamarthe upon her lips annoyed Mariolle.

"You just heard of this?" he said.

"Yes, hardly an hour ago."

"And that is the reason why she was late," he said to himself with
bitterness. Then he asked aloud, "Shall we go in?"

"Yes," she absently murmured.

When, an hour later, she had left him, for she was greatly hurried that
day, he returned alone to the quiet little house and seated himself on
a low chair in their apartment. The feeling that she had been no more
his than if she had not come there left a sort of black cavern in his
heart, in all his being, that he tried to probe to the bottom. He could
see nothing there, he could not understand; he was no longer capable
of understanding. If she had not abstracted herself from his kisses,
she had at all events escaped from the immaterial embraces of his
tenderness by a mysterious absence of the will of being his. She had
not refused herself to him, but it seemed as if she had not brought her
heart there with her; it had remained somewhere else, very far away,
idly occupied, distracted by some trifle.

Then he saw that he already loved her with his senses as much as with
his feelings, even more perhaps. The deprivation of her soulless
caresses inspired him with a mad desire to run after her and bring her
back, to again possess himself of her. But why? What was the use--since
the thoughts of that fickle mind were occupied elsewhere that day? So
he must await the days and the hours when, to this elusive mistress of
his, there should come the caprice, like her other caprices, of being
in love with him.

He returned wearily to his house, with heavy footsteps, his eyes fixed
on the sidewalk, tired of life, and it occurred to him that he had
made no appointment with her for the future, either at her house or
elsewhere.



CHAPTER VIII.


NEW HOPES


Until the setting in of winter she was pretty faithful to their
appointments; faithful, but not punctual. During the first three months
her tardiness on these occasions ranged between three-quarters of an
hour and two hours. As the autumnal rains compelled Mariolle to await
her behind the garden gate with an umbrella over his head, shivering,
with his feet in the mud, he caused a sort of little summer-house to
be built, a covered and inclosed vestibule behind the gate, so that he
might not take cold every time they met.

The trees had lost their verdure, and in the place of the roses and
other flowers the beds were now filled with great masses of white,
pink, violet, purple, and yellow chrysanthemums, exhaling their
penetrating, balsamic perfume--the saddening perfume by which these
noble flowers remind us of the dying year--upon the moist atmosphere,
heavy with the odor of the rain upon the decaying leaves. In front
of the door of the little house the inventive genius of the gardener
had devised a great Maltese cross, composed of rarer plants arranged
in delicate combinations of color, and Mariolle could never pass this
bed, bright with new and constantly changing varieties, without the
melancholy reflection that this flowery cross was very like a grave.

He was well acquainted now with those long watches in the little
summer-house behind the gate. The rain would fall sullenly upon the
thatch with which he had had it roofed and trickle down the board
siding, and while waiting in this receiving-vault he would give way
to the same unvarying reflections, go through the same process of
reasoning, be swayed in turn by the same hopes, the same fears, the
same discouragements. It was an incessant battle that he had to fight;
a fierce, exhausting mental struggle with an elusive force, a force
that perhaps had no real existence: the tenderness of that woman's
heart.

What strange things they were, those interviews of theirs! Sometimes
she would come in with a smile upon her face, full to overflowing
with the desire of conversation, and would take a seat without
removing her hat and gloves, without raising her veil, often without
so much as giving him a kiss. It never occurred to her to kiss him
on such occasions; her head was full of a host of captivating little
preoccupations, each of them more captivating to her than the idea of
putting up her lips to the kiss of her despairing lover. He would take
a seat beside her, heart and mouth overrunning with burning words which
could find no way of utterance; he would listen to her and answer,
and while apparently deeply interested in what she was saying would
furtively take her hand, which she would yield to him calmly, amicably,
without an extra pulsation in her veins.

At other times she would appear more tender, more wholly his; but he,
who was watching her with anxious and clear-sighted eyes, with the eyes
of a lover powerless to achieve her entire conquest, could see and
divine that this relative degree of affection was owing to the fact
that nothing had occurred on such occasions of sufficient importance to
divert her thoughts from him.

Her persistent unpunctuality, moreover, proved to Mariolle with how
little eagerness she looked forward to these interviews. When we love,
when anything pleases and attracts us, we hasten to the anticipated
meeting, but once the charm has ceased to work, the appointed time
seems to come too quickly and everything serves as a pretext to delay
our loitering steps and put off the moment that has become indefinably
distasteful to us. An odd comparison with a habit of his own kept
incessantly returning to his mind. In summer-time the anticipation of
his morning bath always made him hasten his toilette and his visit to
the bathing establishment, while in the frosty days of winter he always
found so many little things to attend to at home before going out
that he was invariably an hour behind his usual time. The meetings at
Auteuil were to her like so many winter shower-baths.

For some time past, moreover, she had been making these interviews more
infrequent, sending telegrams at the last hour, putting them off until
the following day and apparently seeking for excuses for dispensing
with them. She always succeeded in discovering excuses of a nature to
satisfy herself, but they caused him mental and physical worries and
anxieties that were intolerable. If she had manifested any coolness, if
she had shown that she was tiring of this passion of his that she felt
and knew was constantly increasing in violence, he might at first have
been irritated and then in turn offended, discouraged, and resigned,
but on the contrary she manifested more affection for him than ever,
she seemed more flattered by his love, more desirous of retaining
it, while not responding to it otherwise than by friendly marks of
preference which were beginning to make all her other admirers jealous.

She could never see enough of him in her own house, and the same
telegram that would announce to André that she could not come to
Auteuil would convey to him her urgent request to dine with her or
come and spend an hour in the evening. At first he had taken these
invitations as her way of making amends to him, but afterward he came
to understand that she liked to have him near her and that she really
experienced the need of him, more so than of the others. She had need
of him as an idol needs prayers and faith in order to make it a god;
standing in the empty shrine it is but a bit of carved wood, but let
a believer enter the sanctuary, and kneel and prostrate himself and
worship with fervent prayers, drunk with religion, it becomes the equal
of Brahma or of Allah, for every loved being is a kind of god. Mme. de
Burne felt that she was adapted beyond all others to play this rôle of
fetich, to fill woman's mission, bestowed on her by nature, of being
sought after and adored, and of vanquishing men by the arms of her
beauty, grace, and coquetry.

In the meantime she took no pains to conceal her affection and her
strong liking for Mariolle, careless of what folks might say about it,
possibly with the secret desire of irritating and inflaming the others.
They could hardly ever come to her house without finding him there,
generally installed in the great easy-chair that Lamarthe had come
to call the "pulpit of the officiating priest," and it afforded her
sincere pleasure to remain alone in his company for an entire evening,
talking and listening to him. She had taken a liking to this kind of
family life that he had revealed to her, to this constant contact with
an agreeable, well-stored mind, which was hers and at her command just
as much as were the little trinkets that littered her dressing-table.
In like manner she gradually came to yield to him much of herself, of
her thoughts, of her deeper mental personality, in the course of those
affectionate confidences that are as pleasant in the giving as in the
receiving. She felt herself more at ease, more frank and familiar with
him than with the others, and she loved him the more for it. She also
experienced the sensation, dear to womankind, that she was really
bestowing something, that she was confiding to some one all that she
had to give, a thing that she had never done before.

In her eyes this was much, in his it was very little. He was still
waiting and hoping for the great final breaking up of her being which
should give him her soul beneath his caresses.

Caresses she seemed to regard as useless, annoying, rather a nuisance
than otherwise. She submitted to them, not without returning them, but
tired of them quickly, and this feeling doubtless engendered in her
a shade of dislike to them. The slightest and most insignificant of
them seemed to be irksome to her. When in the course of conversation
he would take her hand and carry it to his lips and hold it there a
little, she always seemed desirous of withdrawing it, and he could feel
the movement of the muscles in her arm preparatory to taking it away.

He felt these things like so many thrusts of a knife, and he carried
away from her presence wounds that bled unintermittently in the
solitude of his love. How was it that she had not that period of
unreasoning attraction toward him that almost every woman has when once
she has made the entire surrender of her being? It may be of short
duration, frequently it is followed quickly by weariness and disgust,
but it is seldom that it is not there at all, for a day, for an hour!
This mistress of his had made of him, not a lover, but a sort of
intelligent companion of her life.

Of what was he complaining? Those who yield themselves entirely perhaps
have less to give than she!

He was not complaining; he was afraid. He was afraid of that other one,
the man who would spring up unexpectedly whenever she might chance to
fall in with him, to-morrow, may be, or the day after, whoever he might
be, artist, actor, soldier, or man of the world, it mattered not what,
born to find favor in her woman's eyes and securing her favor for no
other reason, because he was _the man_, the one destined to implant in
her for the first time the imperious desire of opening her arms to him.

He was now jealous of the future as before he had at times been
jealous of her unknown past, and all the young woman's intimates were
beginning to be jealous of him. He was the subject of much conversation
among them; they even made dark and mysterious allusions to the subject
in her presence. Some said that he was her lover, while others, guided
by Lamarthe's opinion, decided that she was only making a fool of him
in order to irritate and exasperate them, as it was her habit to do,
and that this was all there was to it. Her father took the matter up
and made some remarks to her which she did not receive with good grace,
and the more conscious she became of the reports that were circulating
among her acquaintance, the more, by an odd contradiction to the
prudence that had ruled her life, did she persist in making an open
display of the preference that she felt for Mariolle.

He, however, was somewhat disturbed by these suspicious mutterings. He
spoke to her of it.

"What do I care?" she said.

"If you only loved me, as a lover!"

"Do I not love you, my friend?"

"Yes and no; you love me well enough in your own house, but very badly
elsewhere. I should prefer it to be just the opposite, for my sake, and
even, indeed, for your own."

She laughed and murmured: "We can't do more than we can."

"If you only knew the mental trouble that I experience in trying
to animate your love. At times I seem to be trying to grasp the
intangible, to be clasping an iceberg in my arms that chills me and
melts away within my embrace."

She made no answer, not fancying the subject, and assumed the absent
manner that she often wore at Auteuil. He did not venture to press the
matter further. He looked upon her a good deal as amateurs look upon
the precious objects in a museum that tempt them so strongly and that
they know they cannot carry away with them.

His days and nights were made up of hours of suffering, for he was
living in the fixed idea, and still more in the sentiment than in
the idea, that she was his and yet not his, that she was conquered
and still at liberty, captured and yet impregnable. He was living at
her side, as near her as could be, without ever reaching her, and he
loved her with all the unsatiated longings of his body and his soul.
He began to write to her again, as he had done at the commencement
of their _liaison_. Once before with ink he had vanquished her early
scruples; once again with ink he might be victorious over this later
and obstinate resistance. Putting longer intervals between his visits
to her, he told her in almost daily letters of the fruitlessness of
his love. Now and then, when he had been very eloquent and impassioned
and had evinced great sorrow, she answered him. Her letters, dated for
effect midnight, or one, two, or three o'clock in the morning, were
clear and precise, well considered, encouraging, and afflicting. She
reasoned well, and they were not destitute of wit and even fancy, but
it was in vain that he read them and re-read them, it was in vain that
he admitted that they were to the point, well turned, intelligent,
graceful, and satisfactory to his masculine vanity; they had in them
nothing of her heart, they satisfied him no more than did the kisses
that she gave him in the house at Auteuil.

He asked himself why this was so, and when he had learned them by heart
he came to know them so well that he discovered the reason, for a
person's writings always afford the surest clue to his nature. Spoken
words dazzle and deceive, for lips are pleasing and eyes seductive, but
black characters set down upon white paper expose the soul in all its
nakedness.

Man, thanks to the artifices of rhetoric, to his professional address
and his habit of using the pen to discuss all the affairs of life,
often succeeds in disguising his own nature by his impersonal prose
style, literary or business, but woman never writes unless it is of
herself and something of her being goes into her every word. She knows
nothing of the subtilities of style and surrenders herself unreservedly
in her ignorance of the scope and value of words. Mariolle called to
mind the memoirs and correspondence of celebrated women that he had
read; how distinctly their characters were all set forth there, the
_précieuses_, the witty, and the sensible! What struck him most in
Mme. de Burne's letters was that no trace of sensibility was to be
discovered in them. This woman had the faculty of thought but not of
feeling. He called to mind letters that he had received from other
persons; he had had many of them. A little _bourgeoise_ that he had met
while traveling and who had loved him for the space of three months had
written delicious, thrilling notes, abounding in fresh and unexpected
terms of sentiment; he had been surprised by the flexibility, the
elegant coloring, and the variety of her style. Whence had she
obtained this gift? From the fact that she was a woman of sensibility;
there could be no other answer. A woman does not elaborate her phrases;
they come to her intelligence straight from her emotions; she does
not rummage the dictionary for fine words. What she feels strongly
she expresses justly, without long and labored consideration, in the
adaptive sincerity of her nature.

He tried to test the sincerity of his mistress's nature by means of
the lines which she wrote him. They were well written and full of
amiability, but how was it that she could find nothing better for him?
Ah! for her _he_ had found words that burned as living coals!

When his valet brought in his mail he would look for an envelope
bearing the longed-for handwriting, and when he recognized it an
involuntary emotion would arise in him, succeeded by a beating of the
heart. He would extend his hand and grasp the bit of paper; again he
would scrutinize the address, then tear it open. What had she to say
to him? Would he find the word "love" there? She had never written or
uttered this word without qualifying it by the adverb "well": "I love
you well"; "I love you much"; "Do I not love you?" He knew all these
formulas, which are inexpressive by reason of what is tacked on to
them. Can there be such a thing as a comparison between the degrees of
love when one is in its toils? Can one decide whether he loves well or
ill? "To love much," what a dearth of love that expression manifests!
One loves, nothing more, nothing less; nothing can be said, nothing
expressed, nothing imagined that means more than that one simple
sentence. It is brief, it is everything. It becomes body, soul, life,
the whole of our being. We feel it as we feel the warm blood in our
veins, we inhale it as we do the air, we carry it within us as we carry
our thoughts, for it becomes the atmosphere of the mind. Nothing has
existence beside it. It is not a word, it is an inexpressible state of
being, represented by a few letters. All the conditions of life are
changed by it; whatever we do, there is nothing done or seen or tasted
or enjoyed or suffered just as it was before. Mariolle had become the
victim of this small verb, and his eye would run rapidly over the
lines, seeking there a tenderness answering to his own. He did in fact
find there sufficient to warrant him in saying to himself: "She loves
me very well," but never to make him exclaim: "She loves me!" She was
continuing in her correspondence the pretty, poetical romance that had
had its inception at Mont Saint-Michel. It was the literature of love,
not of _the_ love.

When he had finished reading and re-reading them, he would lock the
precious and disappointing sheets in a drawer and seat himself in his
easy-chair. He had passed many a bitter hour in it before this.

After a while her answers to his letters became less frequent;
doubtless she was somewhat weary of manufacturing phrases and ringing
the changes on the same stale theme. And then, besides, she was passing
through a period of unwonted fashionable excitement, of which André
had presaged the approach with that increment of suffering that such
insignificant, disagreeable incidents can bring to troubled hearts.

It was a winter of great gaiety. A mad intoxication had taken
possession of Paris and shaken the city to its depths; all night long
cabs and _coupés_ were rolling through the streets and through the
windows were visible white apparitions of women in evening toilette.
Everyone was having a good time; all the conversation was on plays and
balls, matinées and soirées. The contagion, an epidemic of pleasure, as
it were, had quickly extended to all classes of society, and Mme. de
Burne also was attacked by it.

It had all been brought about by the effect that her beauty had
produced at a dance at the Austrian embassy. The Comte de Bernhaus had
made her acquainted with the ambassadress, the Princess de Malten,
who had been immediately and entirely delighted with Mme. de Burne.
Within a very short time she became the Princess's very intimate friend
and thereby extended with great rapidity her relations among the most
select diplomatic and aristocratic circles. Her grace, her elegance,
her charming manners, her intelligence and wit quickly achieved a
triumph for her and made her _la mode_, and many of the highest titles
among the women of France sought to be presented to her. Every Monday
would witness a long line of _coupés_ with arms on their panels drawn
up along the curb of the Rue du Général-Foy, and the footmen would lose
their heads and make sad havoc with the high-sounding names that they
bellowed into the drawing-room, confounding duchesses with marquises,
countesses with baronnes.

She was entirely carried off her feet. The incense of compliments
and invitations, the feeling that she was become one of the elect to
whom Paris bends the knee in worship as long as the fancy lasts,
the delight of being thus admired, made much of, and run after, were
too much for her and gave rise within her soul to an acute attack of
snobbishness.

Her artistic following did not submit to this condition of affairs
without a struggle, and the revolution produced a close alliance among
her old friends. Fresnel, even, was accepted by them, enrolled on the
regimental muster and became a power in the league, while Mariolle was
its acknowledged head, for they were all aware of the ascendency that
he had over her and her friendship for him. He, however, watched her as
she was whirled away in this flattering popularity as a child watches
the vanishing of his red balloon when he has let go the string. It
seemed to him that she was eluding him in the midst of this elegant,
motley, dancing throng and flying far, far away from that secret
happiness that he had so ardently desired for both of them, and he was
jealous of everybody and everything, men, women, and inanimate objects
alike. He conceived a fierce detestation for the life that she was
leading, for all the people that she associated with, all the _fêtes_
that she frequented, balls, theaters, music, for they were all in a
league to take her from him by bits and absorb her days and nights,
and only a few scant hours were now accorded to their intimacy. His
indulgence of this unreasoning spite came near causing him a fit of
sickness, and when he visited her he brought with him such a wan face
that she said to him:

"What ails you? You have changed of late, and are very thin."

"I have been loving you too much," he replied.

She gave him a grateful look: "No one ever loves too much, my friend."

"Can you say such a thing as that?"

"Why, yes."

"And you do not see that I am dying of my vain love for you."

"In the first place it is not true that you love in vain; then no one
ever dies of that complaint, and finally all our friends are jealous of
you, which proves pretty conclusively that I am not treating you badly,
all things considered."

He took her hand: "You do not understand me!"

"Yes, I understand very well."

"You hear the despairing appeal that I am incessantly making to your
heart?"

"Yes, I have heard it."

"And----"

"And it gives me much pain, for I love you enormously."

"And then?"

"Then you say to me: 'Be like me; think, feel, express yourself as I
do.' But, my poor friend, I can't. I am what I am. You must take me as
God made me, since I gave myself thus to you, since I have no regrets
for having done so and no desire to withdraw from the bargain, since
there is no one among all my acquaintance that is dearer to me than you
are."

"You do not love me!"

"I love you with all the power of loving that exists in me. If it is
not different or greater, is that my fault?"

"If I was certain of that I might content myself with it."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that I believe you capable of loving otherwise, but that I do
not believe that it lies in me to inspire you with a genuine passion."

"My friend, you are mistaken. You are more to me than anyone has ever
been hitherto, more than anyone will ever be in the future; at least
that is my honest conviction. I may lay claim to this great merit: that
I do not wear two faces with you, I do not feign to be what you so
ardently desire me to be, when many women would act quite differently.
Be a little grateful to me for this, and do not allow yourself to be
agitated and unstrung; trust in my affection, which is yours, sincerely
and unreservedly."

He saw how wide the difference was that parted them. "Ah!" he murmured,
"how strangely you look at love and speak of it! To you, I am some one
that you like to see now and then, whom you like to have beside you,
but to me, you fill the universe: in it I know but you, feel but you,
need but you."

She smiled with satisfaction and replied: "I know that; I understand. I
am delighted to have it so, and I say to you: Love me always like that
if you can, for it gives me great happiness, but do not force me to act
a part before you that would be distressing to me and unworthy of us
both. I have been aware for some time of the approach of this crisis;
it is the cause of much suffering to me, for I am deeply attached to
you, but I cannot bend my nature or shape it in conformity with yours.
Take me as I am."

Suddenly he asked her: "Have you ever thought, have you ever believed,
if only for a day, only for an hour, either before or after, that you
might be able to love me otherwise?"

She was at a loss for an answer and reflected for a few seconds. He
waited anxiously for her to speak, and continued: "You see, don't you,
that you have had other dreams as well?"

"I may have been momentarily deceived in myself," she murmured,
thoughtfully.

"Oh! how ingenious you are!" he exclaimed; "how psychological! No one
ever reasons thus from the impulse of the heart."

She was reflecting still, interested in her thoughts, in this
self-investigation; finally she said: "Before I came to love you as
I love you now, I may indeed have thought that I might come to be
more--more--more captivated with you, but then I certainly should not
have been so frank and simple with you. Perhaps later on I should have
been less sincere."

"Why less sincere later on?"

"Because all of love, according to your idea, lies in this formula:
'Everything or nothing,' and this 'everything or nothing' as far as I
can see means: 'Everything at first, nothing afterward.' It is when the
reign of nothing commences that women begin to be deceitful."

He replied in great distress: "But you do not see how wretched I
am--how I am tortured by the thought that you might have loved me
otherwise. You have felt that thought: therefore it is some other one
that you will love in that manner."

She unhesitatingly replied: "I do not believe it."

"And why? Yes, why, I ask you? Since you have had the foreknowledge of
love, since you have felt in anticipation the fleeting and torturing
hope of confounding soul and body with the soul and body of another,
of losing your being in his and taking his being to be portion of
your own, since you have perceived the possibility of this ineffable
emotion, the day will come, sooner or later, when you will experience
it."

"No; my imagination deceived me, and deceived itself. I am giving you
all that I have to give you. I have reflected deeply on this subject
since I have been your mistress. Observe that I do not mince matters,
not even my words. Really and truly, I am convinced that I cannot love
you more or better than I do at this moment. You see that I talk to you
just as I talk to myself. I do that because you are very intelligent,
because you understand and can read me like a book, and the best way
is to conceal nothing from you; it is the only way to keep us long and
closely united. And that is what I hope for, my friend."

He listened to her as a man drinks when he is thirsty, then kneeled
before her and laid his head in her lap. He took her little hands and
pressed them to his lips, murmuring: "Thanks! thanks!" When he raised
his eyes to look at her, he saw that there were tears standing in hers;
then placing her arms in turn about André's neck, she gently drew him
toward her, bent over and kissed him upon the eyelids.

"Take a chair," she said; "it is not prudent to be kneeling before me
here."

He seated himself, and when they had contemplated each other in
silence for a few moments, she asked him if he would take her some day
to visit the exhibition that the sculptor Prédolé, of whom everyone
was talking enthusiastically, was then giving of his works. She had
in her dressing-room a bronze Love of his, a charming figure pouring
water into her bath-tub, and she had a great desire to see the complete
collection of the eminent artist's works which had been delighting all
Paris for a week past at the Varin gallery. They fixed upon a date and
then Mariolle arose to take leave.

"Will you be at Auteuil to-morrow?" she asked him in a whisper.

"Oh! Yes!"

He was very joyful on his way homeward, intoxicated by that "Perhaps?"
which never dies in the heart of a lover.



CHAPTER IX.


DISILLUSION


Mme. de Burne's _coupé_ was proceeding at a quick trot along the Rue
de Grenelle. It was early April, and the hailstones of a belated storm
beat noisily against the glasses of the carriage and rattled off upon
the roadway which was already whitened by the falling particles. Men
on foot were hurrying along the sidewalk beneath their umbrellas, with
coat-collars turned up to protect their necks and ears. After two
weeks of fine weather a detestable cold spell had set in, the farewell
of winter, freezing up everything and bringing chapped hands and
chilblains.

With her feet resting upon a vessel filled with hot water and her
form enveloped in soft furs that warmed her through her dress with a
velvety caress that was so deliciously agreeable to her sensitive skin,
the young woman was sadly reflecting that in an hour at farthest she
would have to take a cab to go and meet Mariolle at Auteuil. She was
seized by a strong desire to send him a telegram, but she had promised
herself more than two months ago that she would not again have recourse
to this expedient unless compelled to, for she had been making a great
effort to love him in the same manner that he loved her. She had seen
how he suffered, and had commiserated him, and after that conversation
when she had kissed him upon the eyes in an outburst of genuine
tenderness, her sincere affection for him had, in fact, assumed a
warmer and more expansive character. In her surprise at her involuntary
coldness she had asked herself why, after all, she could not love him
as other women love their lovers, since she knew that she was deeply
attached to him and that he was more pleasing to her than any other
man. This indifference of her love could only proceed from a sluggish
action of the heart, which could be cured like any other sluggishness.

She tried it. She endeavored to arouse her feelings by thoughts of him,
to be more demonstrative in his presence. She was successful now and
then, just as one excites his fears at night by thinking of ghosts or
robbers. Fired a little herself by this pretense of passion, she even
forced herself to be more caressing; she succeeded very well at first,
and delighted him to the point of intoxication.

She thought that this was the beginning in her of a fever somewhat
similar to that with which she knew that he was consuming. Her old
intermittent hopes of love, that she had dimly seen the possibility
of realizing the night that she had dreamed her dreams among the
white mists of Saint-Michel's Bay, took form and shape again, not so
seductive as then, less wrapped in clouds of poetry and idealism,
but more clearly defined, more human, stripped of illusion after the
experience of her _liaison_. Then she had summoned up and watched for
that irresistible impulse of all the being toward another being that
arises, she had heard, when the emotions of the soul act upon two
physical natures. She had watched in vain; it had never come.

She persisted, however, in feigning ardor, in making their interviews
more frequent, in saying to him: "I feel that I am coming to love you
more and more." But she became weary of it at last, and was powerless
longer to impose upon herself or deceive him. She was astonished to
find that the kisses that he gave her were becoming distasteful to her
after a while, although she was not by any means entirely insensible to
them.

This was made manifest to her by the vague lassitude that took
possession of her from the early morning of those days when she had an
appointment with him. Why was it that on those mornings she did not
feel, as other women feel, all her nature troubled by the desire and
anticipation of his embraces? She endured them, indeed she accepted
them, with tender resignation, but as a woman conquered, brutally
subjugated, responding contrary to her own will, never voluntarily
and with pleasure. Could it be that her nature, so delicate, so
exceptionally aristocratic and refined, had in it depths of modesty,
the modesty of a superior and sacred animality, that were as yet
unfathomed by modern perceptions?

Mariolle gradually came to understand this; he saw her factitious ardor
growing less and less. He divined the nature of her love-inspired
attempt, and a mortal, inconsolable sorrow took possession of his soul.

She knew now, as he knew, that the attempt had been made and that all
hope was gone. The proof of this was that this very day, wrapped as
she was in her warm furs and with her feet on her hot-water bottle,
glowing with a feeling of physical comfort as she watched the hail
beating against the windows of her _coupé_, she could not find in her
the courage to leave this luxurious warmth to get into an ice-cold cab
to go and meet the poor fellow.

The idea of breaking with him, of avoiding his caresses, certainly
never occurred to her for a moment. She was well aware that to
completely captivate a man who is in love and keep him as one's own
peculiar private property in the midst of feminine rivalries, a woman
must surrender herself to him body and soul. That she knew, for it is
logical, fated, indisputable. It is even the loyal course to pursue,
and she wanted to be loyal to him in all the uprightness of her nature
as his mistress. She would go to him then, she would go to him always;
but why so often? Would not their interviews even assume a greater
charm for him, an attraction of novelty, if they were granted more
charily, like rare and inestimable gifts presented to him by her and
not to be used too prodigally?

Whenever she had gone to Auteuil she had had the impression that she
was bearing to him a priceless gift, the most precious of offerings.
In giving in this way, the pleasure of giving is inseparable from a
certain sensation of sacrifice; it is the pride that one feels in
being generous, the satisfaction of conferring happiness, not the
transports of a mutual passion.

She even calculated that André's love would be more likely to be
enduring if she abated somewhat of her familiarity with him, for hunger
always increases by fasting, and desire is but an appetite. Immediately
that this resolution was formed she made up her mind that she would
go to Auteuil that day, but would feign indisposition. The journey,
which a minute ago had seemed to her so difficult through the inclement
weather, now appeared to her quite easy, and she understood, with a
smile at her own expense and at this sudden revelation, why she made
such a difficulty about a thing that was quite natural. But a moment
ago she would not, now she would. The reason why she would not a moment
ago was that she was anticipating the thousand petty disagreeable
details of the rendezvous! She would prick her fingers with pins that
she handled very awkwardly, she would be unable to find the articles
that she had thrown at random upon the bedroom floor as she disrobed in
haste, already looking forward to the hateful task of having to dress
without an attendant.

She paused at this reflection, dwelling upon it and weighing it
carefully for the first time. After all, was it not rather repugnant,
rather vulgarizing, this idea of a rendezvous for a stated time,
settled upon a day or two days in advance, just like a business
appointment or a consultation with your doctor? There is nothing
more natural, after a long and charming _tête-à-tête_, than that the
lips which have been uttering warm, seductive words should meet in a
passionate kiss; but how different that was from the premeditated
kiss that she went there to receive, watch in hand, once a week. There
was so much truth in this that on those days when she was not to see
André she had frequently felt a vague desire of being with him, while
this desire was scarcely perceptible at all when she had to go to him
in foul cabs, through squalid streets, with the cunning of a hunted
thief, all her feelings toward him quenched and deadened by these
considerations.

Ah! that appointment at Auteuil! She had calculated the time on all the
clocks of all her friends; she had watched the minutes that brought her
nearer to it slip away at Mme. de Frémines's, at Mme. de Bratiane's,
at pretty Mme. le Prieur's, on those afternoons when she killed time
by roaming about Paris so as not to remain in her own house, where she
might be detained by an inopportune visit or some other unforeseen
obstacle.

She suddenly said to herself: "I will make to-day a day of rest; I
will go there very late." Then she opened a little cupboard in the
front of the carriage, concealed among the folds of black silk that
lined the _coupé_, which was fitted up as luxuriously as a pretty
woman's boudoir. The first thing that presented itself when she had
thrown open the doors of this secret receptacle was a mirror playing on
hinges that she moved so that it was on a level with her face. Behind
the mirror, in their satin-lined niches, were various small objects
in silver: a box for her rice-powder, a pencil for her lips, two
crystal scent-bottles, an inkstand and penholder, scissors, a pretty
paper-cutter to tear the leaves of the last novel with which she amused
herself as she rolled along the streets. The exquisite clock, of the
size and shape of a walnut, told her that it was four o'clock. Mme. de
Burne reflected: "I have an hour yet, at all events," and she touched
a spring that had the effect of making the footman who was seated
beside the coachman stoop and take up the speaking-tube to receive her
order. She pulled out the other end from where it was concealed in the
lining of the carriage, and applying her lips to the mouthpiece of
rock-crystal: "To the Austrian embassy!" she said.

Then she inspected herself in the mirror. The look that she gave
herself expressed, as it always did, the delight that one feels in
looking upon one's best beloved; then she threw back her furs to judge
of the effect of her corsage. It was a toilette adapted to the chill
days of the end of winter. The neck was trimmed with a bordering of
very fine white down that shaded off into a delicate gray as it fell
over the shoulders, like the wing of a bird. Upon her hat--it was
a kind of toque--there towered an aigret of more brightly colored
feathers, and the general effect that her costume inspired was to make
one think that she had got herself up in this manner in preparation
for a flight through the hail and the gray sky in company with Mother
Carey's chickens.

She was still complacently contemplating herself when the carriage
suddenly wheeled into the great court of the embassy.

Thereupon she arranged her wrap, lowered the mirror to its place,
closed the doors of the little cupboard, and when the _coupé_ had come
to a halt said to her coachman: "You may go home; I shall not need
you any more." Then she asked the footman who came forward from the
entrance of the hotel: "Is the Princess at home?"

"Yes, Madame."

She entered and ascended the stairs and came to a small drawing-room
where the Princess de Malten was writing letters.

The ambassadress arose with an appearance of much satisfaction when she
perceived her friend, and they kissed each other twice in succession
upon the cheek, close to the corner of the lips. Then they seated
themselves side by side upon two low chairs in front of the fire.
They were very fond of each other, took great delight in each other's
society and understood each other thoroughly, for they were almost
counterparts in nature and disposition, belonging to the same race of
femininity, brought up in the same atmosphere and endowed with the
same sensations, although Mme. de Malten was a Swede and had married
an Austrian. They had a strange and mysterious attraction for each
other, from which resulted a profound feeling of unmixed well-being
and contentment whenever they were together. Their babble would run on
for half a day on end, without once stopping, trivial, futile talk,
interesting to them both by reason of their similarity of tastes.

"You see how I love you!" said Mme. de Burne. "You are to dine with me
this evening, and still I could not help coming to see you. It is a
real passion, my dear."

"A passion that I share," the Swede replied with a smile.

Following the habit of their profession, they put each her best foot
foremost for the benefit of the other; coquettish as if they had been
dealing with a man, but with a different style of coquetry, for the
strife was different, and they had not before them the adversary, but
the rival.

Madame de Burne had kept looking at the clock during the conversation.
It was on the point of striking five. He had been waiting there an
hour. "That is long enough," she said to herself as she arose.

"So soon?" said the Princess.

"Yes," the other unblushingly replied. "I am in a hurry; there is some
one waiting for me. I would a great deal rather stay here with you."

They exchanged kisses again, and Mme. de Burne, having requested the
footman to call a cab for her, drove away.

The horse was lame and dragged the cab after him wearily, and the
animal's halting and fatigue seemed to have infected the young woman.
Like the broken-winded beast, she found the journey long and difficult.
At one moment she was comforted by the pleasure of seeing André, at
the next she was in despair at the thought of the discomforts of the
interview.

She found him waiting for her behind the gate, shivering. The biting
blasts roared through the branches of the trees, the hailstones rattled
on their umbrella as they made their way to the house, their feet sank
deep into the mud. The garden was dead, dismal, miry, melancholy, and
André was very pale. He was enduring terrible suffering.

When they were in the house: "Gracious, how cold it is!" she exclaimed.

And yet a great fire was blazing in each of the two rooms, but they had
not been lighted until past noon and had not had time to dry the damp
walls, and shivers ran through her frame. "I think that I will not take
off my furs just yet," she added. She only unbuttoned her outer garment
and threw it open, disclosing her warm costume and her plume-decked
corsage, like a bird of passage that never remains long in one place.

He seated himself beside her.

"There is to be a delightful dinner at my house to-night," she said,
"and I am enjoying it in anticipation."

"Who are to be there?"

"Why, you, in the first place; then Prédolé, whom I have so long wanted
to know."

"Ah! Prédolé is to be there?"

"Yes; Lamarthe is to bring him."

"But Prédolé is not the kind of a man to suit you, not a bit! Sculptors
in general are not so constituted as to please pretty women, and
Prédolé less so than any of them."

"Oh, my friend, that cannot be. I have such an admiration for him!"

The sculptor Prédolé had gained a great success and had captivated all
Paris some two months before by his exhibition at the Varin gallery.
Even before that he had been highly appreciated; people had said of
him, "His _figurines_ are delicious"; but when the world of artists and
connoisseurs had assembled to pass judgment upon his collected works
in the rooms of the Rue Varin, the outburst of enthusiasm had been
explosive. They seemed to afford the revelation of such an unlooked-for
charm, they displayed such a peculiar gift in the translation of
elegance and grace, that it seemed as if a new manner of expressing the
beauty of form had been born to the world. His specialty was statuettes
in extremely abbreviated costumes, in which his genius displayed an
unimaginable delicacy of form and airy lightness. His dancing girls,
especially, of which he had made many studies, displayed in the highest
perfection, in their pose and the harmony of their attitude and motion,
the ideal of female beauty and suppleness.

For a month past Mme. de Burne had been unceasing in her efforts to
attract him to her house, but the artist was unsociable, even something
of a bear, so the report ran. At last she had succeeded, thanks to
the intervention of Lamarthe, who had made a touching, almost frantic
appeal to the grateful sculptor.

"Whom have you besides?" Mariolle inquired.

"The Princess de Malten."

He was displeased; he did not fancy that woman. "Who else?"

"Massival, Bernhaus, and George de Maltry. That is all: only my select
circle. You are acquainted with Prédolé, are you not?"

"Yes, slightly."

"How do you like him?"

"He is delightful; I never met a man so enamored of his art and so
interesting when he holds forth on it."

She was delighted and again said: "It will be charming."

He had taken her hand under her fur cloak; he gave it a little squeeze,
then kissed it. Then all at once it came to her mind that she had
forgotten to tell him that she was ill, and casting about on the spur
of the moment for another reason, she murmured: "Gracious! how cold it
is!"

"Do you think so?"

"I am chilled to my very marrow."

He arose to take a look at the thermometer, which was, in fact, pretty
low; then he resumed his seat at her side.

She had said: "Gracious! how cold it is!" and he believed that he
understood her. For three weeks, now, at every one of their interviews,
he had noticed that her attempt to feign tenderness was gradually
becoming fainter and fainter. He saw that she was weary of wearing this
mask, so weary that she could continue it no longer, and he himself was
so exasperated by the little power that he had over her, so stung by
his vain and unreasoning desire of this woman, that he was beginning
to say to himself in his despairing moments of solitude: "It will be
better to break with her than to continue to live like this."

He asked her, by way of fathoming her intentions: "Won't you take off
your cloak now?"

"Oh, no," she said; "I have been coughing all the morning; this fearful
weather has given me a sore throat. I am afraid that I may be ill." She
was silent a moment, then added: "If I had not wanted to see you very
much indeed I would not have come to-day." As he did not reply, in his
grief and anger, she went on: "This return of cold weather is very
dangerous, coming as it does after the fine days of the past two weeks."

She looked out into the garden, where the trees were already almost
green despite the clouds of snow that were driving among their
branches. He looked at her and thought: "So that is the kind of love
that she feels for me!" and for the first time he began to feel a sort
of jealous hatred of her, of her face, of her elusive affection, of
her form, so long pursued, so subtle to escape him. "She pretends that
she is cold," he said to himself. "She is cold only because I am here.
If it were a question of some party of pleasure, some of those idiotic
caprices that go to make up the useless existence of these frivolous
creatures, she would brave everything and risk her life. Does she not
ride about in an open carriage on the coldest days to show her fine
clothes? Ah! that is the way with them all nowadays!"

He looked at her as she sat there facing him so calmly, and he knew
that in that head, that dear little head that he adored so, there was
one wish paramount, the wish that their _tête-à-tête_ might not be
protracted; it was becoming painful to her.

Was it true that there had ever existed, that there existed now,
women capable of passion, of emotion, who weep, suffer, and bestow
themselves in a transport, loving with heart and soul and body, with
mouth that speaks and eyes that gaze, with heart that beats and hand
that caresses; women ready to brave all for the sake of their love, and
to go, by day or by night, regardless of menaces and watchful eyes,
fearlessly, tremorously, to him who stands with open arms waiting to
receive them, mad, ready to sink with their happiness?

Oh, that horrible love that which now held him in its fetters!--love
without issue, without end, joyless and triumphless, eating away his
strength and devouring him with its anxieties; love in which there was
no charm and no delight, cause to him only of suffering, sorrow, and
bitter tears, where he was constantly pursued by the intolerable regret
of the impossibility of awaking responsive kisses upon lips that are as
cold and dry and sterile as dead trees!

He looked at her as she sat there, so charming in her feathery dress.
Were not her dresses the great enemy that he had to contend against,
more than the woman herself, jealous guardians, coquettish and costly
barriers, that kept him from his mistress?

"Your toilette is charming," he said, not caring to speak of the
subject that was torturing him so cruelly.

She replied with a smile: "You must see the one that I shall wear
to-night." Then she coughed several times in succession and said: "I
am really taking cold. Let me go, my friend. The sun will show himself
again shortly, and I will follow his example."

He made no effort to detain her, for he was discouraged, seeing that
nothing could now avail to overcome the inertia of this sluggish
nature, that his romance was ended, ended forever, and that it was
useless to hope for ardent words from those tranquil lips, or a
kindling glance from those calm eyes. All at once he felt rising with
gathering strength within him the stern determination to end this
torturing subserviency. She had nailed him upon a cross; he was
bleeding from every limb, and she watched his agony without feeling
for his suffering, even rejoicing that she had had it in her power to
effect so much. But he would tear himself from his deathly gibbet,
leaving there bits of his body, strips of his flesh, and all his
mangled heart. He would flee like a wild animal that the hunters have
wounded almost unto death, he would go and hide himself in some lonely
place where his wounds might heal and where he might feel only those
dull pangs that remain with the mutilated until they are released by
death.

"Farewell, then," he said.

She was struck by the sadness of his voice and rejoined: "Until this
evening, my friend."

"Until this evening," he re-echoed. "Farewell."

He saw her to the garden gate, and came back and seated himself, alone,
before the fire.

Alone! How cold it was; how cold, indeed! How sad he was, how lonely!
It was all ended! Ah, what a horrible thought! There was an end of
hoping and waiting for her, dreaming of her, with that fierce blazing
of the heart that at times brings out our existence upon this somber
earth with the vividness of fireworks displayed against the blackness
of the night. Farewell those nights of solitary emotion when, almost
until the dawn, he paced his chamber thinking of her; farewell those
wakings when, upon opening his eyes, he said to himself: "Soon I shall
see her at our little house."

How he loved her! how he loved her! What a long, hard task it would be
to him to forget her! She had left him because it was cold! He saw her
before him as but now, looking at him and bewitching him, bewitching
him the better to break his heart. Ah, how well she had done her work!
With one single stroke, the first and last, she had cleft it asunder.
He felt the old gaping wound begin to open, the wound that she had
dressed and now had made incurable by plunging into it the knife of
death-dealing indifference. He even felt that from this broken heart
there was something distilling itself through his frame, mounting to
his throat and choking him; then, covering his eyes with his hands, as
if to conceal this weakness even from himself, he wept.

She had left him because it was cold! He would have walked naked
through the driving snow to meet her, no matter where; he would have
cast himself from the house top, only to fall at her feet. An old tale
came to his mind, that has been made into a legend: that of the Côte
des Deux Amans, a spot which the traveler may behold as he journeys
toward Rouen. A maiden, obedient to her father's cruel caprice,
which prohibited her from marrying the man of her choice unless she
accomplished the task of carrying him, unassisted, to the summit of the
steep mountain, succeeded in dragging him up there on her hands and
knees, and died as she reached the top. Love, then, is but a legend,
made to be sung in verse or told in lying romances!

Had not his mistress herself, in one of their earliest interviews, made
use of an expression that he had never forgotten: "Men nowadays do not
love women so as really to harm themselves by it. You may believe me,
for I know them both." She had been wrong in his case, but not in her
own, for on another occasion she had said: "In any event, I give you
fair warning that I am incapable of being really smitten with anyone,
be he who he may."

Be he who he may? Was that quite a sure thing? Of him, no; of that he
was quite well assured now, but of another?

Of him? She could not love him. Why not?

Then the feeling that his life had been a wasted one, which had haunted
him for a long time past, fell upon him as if it would crush him. He
had done nothing, obtained nothing, conquered nothing, succeeded in
nothing. When he had felt an attraction toward the arts he had not
found in himself the courage that is required to devote one's self
exclusively to one of them, nor the persistent determination that they
demand as the price of success. There had been no triumph to cheer him;
no elevated taste for some noble career to ennoble and aggrandize his
mind. The only strenuous effort that he had ever put forth, the attempt
to conquer a woman's heart, had proved ineffectual like all the rest.
Take him all in all, he was only a miserable failure.

He was weeping still beneath his hands which he held pressed to his
eyes. The tears, trickling down his cheeks, wet his mustache and
left a salty taste upon his lips, and their bitterness increased his
wretchedness and his despair.

When he raised his head at last he saw that it was night. He had only
just sufficient time to go home and dress for her dinner.



CHAPTER X.


FLIGHT


André Mariolle was the first to arrive at Mme. de Burne's. He took a
seat and gazed about him upon the walls, the furniture, the hangings,
at all the small objects and trinkets that were so dear to him from
their association with her--at the familiar apartment where he had
first known her, where he had come to her so many times since then,
and where he had discovered in himself the germs of that ill-starred
passion that had kept on growing, day by day, until the hour of his
barren victory. With what eagerness had he many a time awaited her
coming in this charming spot which seemed to have been made for no one
but her, an exquisite setting for an exquisite creature! How well he
knew the pervading odor of this salon and its hangings; a subdued odor
of iris, so simple and aristocratic. He grasped the arms of the great
armchair, from which he had so often watched her smile and listened
to her talk, as if they had been the hands of some friend that he was
parting with forever. It would have pleased him if she could not
come, if no one could come, and if he could remain there alone, all
night, dreaming of his love, as people watch beside a dead man. Then at
daylight he could go away for a long time, perhaps forever.

The door opened, and she appeared and came forward to him with
outstretched hand. He was master of himself, and showed nothing of his
agitation. She was not a woman, but a living bouquet--an indescribable
bouquet of flowers.

A girdle of pinks enclasped her waist and fell about her in cascades,
reaching to her feet. About her bare arms and shoulders ran a garland
of mingled myosotis and lilies-of-the-valley, while three fairy-like
orchids seemed to be growing from her breast and caressing the
milk-white flesh with the rosy and red flesh of their supernal blooms.
Her blond hair was studded with violets in enamel, in which minute
diamonds glistened, and other diamonds, trembling upon golden pins,
sparkled like dewdrops among the odorous trimming of her corsage.

"I shall have a headache," she said, "but I don't care; my dress is
becoming."

Delicious odors emanated from her, like spring among the gardens. She
was more fresh than the garlands that she wore. André was dazzled
as he looked at her, reflecting that it would be no less brutal and
barbarous to take her in his arms at that moment than it would be to
trample upon a blossoming flower-bed. So their bodies were no longer
objects to inspire love; they were objects to be adorned, simply frames
on which to hang fine clothes. They were like birds, they were like
flowers, they were like a thousand other things as much as they were
like women. Their mothers, all women of past and gone generations, had
used coquettish arts to enhance their natural beauties, but it had
been their aim to please in the first place by their direct physical
seductiveness, by the charm of native grace, by the irresistible
attraction that the female form exercises over the heart of the males.
At the present day coquetry was everything. Artifice was now the great
means, and not only the means, but the end as well, for they employed
it even more frequently to dazzle the eyes of rivals and excite barren
jealousy than to subjugate men.

What end, then, was this toilette designed to serve, the gratification
of the eyes of him, the lover, or the humiliation of the Princess de
Malten?

The door opened, and the lady whose name was in his thoughts was
announced.

Mme. de Burne moved quickly forward to meet her and gave her a kiss,
not unmindful of the orchids during the operation, her lips slightly
parted, with a little grimace of tenderness. It was a pretty kiss, an
extremely desirable kiss, given and returned from the heart by those
two pairs of lips.

Mariolle gave a start of pain. Never once had she run to meet him with
that joyful eagerness, never had she kissed him like that, and with a
sudden change of ideas he said to himself: "Women are no longer made to
fulfill our requirements."

Massival made his appearance, then M. de Pradon and the Comte de
Bernhaus, then George de Maltry, resplendent with English "chic."

Lamarthe and Prédolé were now the only ones missing. The sculptor's
name was mentioned, and every voice was at once raised in praise of
him. "He had restored to life the grace of form, he had recovered the
lost traditions of the Renaissance, with something additional: the
sincerity of modern art!" M. de Maltry maintained that he was the
exquisite revealer of the suppleness of the human form. Such phrases
as these had been current in the salons for the last two months, where
they had been bandied about from mouth to mouth.

At last the great man appeared. Everyone was surprised. He was a large
man of uncertain age, with the shoulders of a coal-heaver, a powerful
face with strongly-marked features, surrounded by hair and beard that
were beginning to turn white, a prominent nose, thick full lips,
wearing a timid and embarrassed air. He held his arms away from his
body in an awkward sort of way that was doubtless to be attributed to
the immense hands that protruded from his sleeves. They were broad
and thick, with hairy and muscular fingers; the hands of a Hercules
or a butcher, and they seemed to be conscious of being in the way,
embarrassed at finding themselves there and looking vainly for some
convenient place to hide themselves. Upon looking more closely at his
face, however, it was seen to be illuminated by clear, piercing, gray
eyes of extreme expressiveness, and these alone served to impart some
degree of life to the man's heavy and torpid expression. They were
constantly searching, inquiring, scrutinizing, darting their rapid,
shifting glances here, there, and everywhere, and it was plainly to be
seen that these eager, inquisitive looks were the animating principle
of a deep and comprehensive intellect.

Mme. de Burne was somewhat disappointed; she politely led the artist
to a chair which he took and where he remained seated, apparently
disconcerted by this introduction to a strange house.

Lamarthe, master of the situation, approached his friend with the
intention of breaking the ice and relieving him from the awkwardness of
his position. "My dear fellow," he said, "let me make for you a little
map to let you know where you are. You have seen our divine hostess;
now look at her surroundings." He showed him upon the mantelpiece a
bust, authenticated in due form, by Houdon, then upon a cabinet in
buhl a group representing two women dancing, with arms about each
other's waists, by Clodion, and finally four Tanagra statuettes upon an
_étagère_, selected for their perfection of finish and detail.

Then all at once Prédolé's face brightened as if he had found his
children in the desert. He arose and went to the four little earthen
figures, and when Mme. de Burne saw him grasp two of them at once in
his great hands that seemed made to slaughter oxen, she trembled for
her treasures. When he laid hands on them, however, it appeared that
it was only for the purpose of caressing them, for he handled them
with wonderful delicacy and dexterity, turning them about in his thick
fingers which somehow seemed all at once to have become as supple as a
juggler's. It was evident by the gentle way the big man had of looking
at and handling them that he had in his soul and his very finger-ends
an ideal and delicate tenderness for such small elegancies.

"Are they not pretty?" Lamarthe asked him.

The sculptor went on to extol them as if they had been his own, and
he spoke of some others, the most remarkable that he had met with,
briefly and in a voice that was rather low but confident and calm, the
expression of a clearly defined thought that was not ignorant of the
value of words and their uses.

Still under the guidance of the author, he next inspected the other
rare bric-à-brac that Mme. de Burne had collected, thanks to the
counsels of her friends. He looked with astonishment and delight at
the various articles, apparently agreeably disappointed to find them
there, and in every case he took them up and turned them lightly over
in his hands, as if to place himself in direct personal contact with
them. There was a statuette of bronze, heavy as a cannon-ball, hidden
away in a dark corner; he took it up with one hand, carried it to the
lamp, examined it at length, and replaced it where it belonged without
visible effort. Lamarthe exclaimed: "The great, strong fellow! he is
built expressly to wrestle with stone and marble!" while the ladies
looked at him approvingly.

Dinner was now announced. The mistress of the house took the sculptor's
arm to pass to the dining-room, and when she had seated him in the
place of honor at her right hand, she asked him out of courtesy, just
as she would have questioned a scion of some great family as to the
exact origin of his name: "Your art, Monsieur, has also the additional
honor, has it not, of being the most ancient of all?"

He replied in his calm deep voice: _"Mon Dieu_, Madame, the shepherds
in the Bible play upon the flute, therefore music would seem to be the
more ancient--although true music, as we understand it, does not go
very far back, while true sculpture dates from remote antiquity."

"You are fond of music?"

"I love all the arts," he replied with grave earnestness.

"Is it known who was the inventor of your art?"

He reflected a moment, then replied in tender accents, as if he had
been relating some touching tale: "According to Grecian tradition it
was Dædalus the Athenian. The most attractive legend, however, is that
which attributes the invention to a Sicyonian potter named Dibutades.
His daughter Kora having traced her betrothed's profile with the
assistance of an arrow, her father filled in the rude sketch with clay
and modeled it. It was then that my art was born."

"Charming!" murmured Lamarthe. Then turning to Mme. de Burne, he said:
"You cannot imagine, Madame, how interesting this man becomes when he
talks of what he loves; what power he has to express and explain it and
make people adore it."

But the sculptor did not seem disposed either to pose for the
admiration of the guests or to perorate. He had tucked a corner of his
napkin between his shirt-collar and his neck and was reverentially
eating his soup, with that appearance of respect that peasants manifest
for that portion of the meal. Then he drank a glass of wine and drew
himself up with an air of greater ease, of making himself more at
home. Now and then he made a movement as if to turn around, for he had
perceived the reflection in a mirror of a modern group that stood on
the mantelshelf behind him. He did not recognize it and was seeking
to divine the author. At last, unable longer to resist the impulse, he
asked: "It is by Falguière, is it not?"

Mme. de Burne laughed. "Yes, it is by Falguière. How could you tell, in
a glass?"

He smiled in turn. "Ah, Madame, I can't explain how it is done, but
I can tell at a glance the sculpture of those men who are painters
as well, and the painting of those who also practice sculpture. It
is not a bit like the work of a man who devotes himself to one art
exclusively."

Lamarthe, wishing to show off his friend, called for explanations, and
Prédolé proceeded to give them. In his slow, precise manner of speech
he defined and illustrated the painting of sculptors and the sculpture
of painters in such a clear and original way that he was listened
to as much with eyes as with ears. Commencing his demonstration at
the earliest period and pursuing it through the history of art and
gathering examples from epoch to epoch, he came down to the time of the
early Italian masters who were painters and sculptors at the same time,
Nicolas and John of Pisa, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti. He spoke of
Diderot's interesting remarks upon the same subject, and in conclusion
mentioned Ghiberti's bronze gates of the baptistry of Saint John at
Florence, such living and dramatically forceful bas-reliefs that they
seem more like paintings upon canvas. He waved his great hands before
him as if he were modeling, with such ease and grace of motion as to
delight every eye, calling up above the plates and glasses the pictures
that his tongue told of, and reconstructing the work that he mentioned
with such conviction that everyone followed the motions of his fingers
with breathless attention. Then some dishes that he fancied were placed
before him and he ceased talking and began eating.

He scarcely spoke during the remainder of the dinner, not troubling
himself to follow the conversation, which ranged from some bit of
theatrical gossip to a political rumor; from a ball to a wedding; from
an article in the "Revue des Deux Mondes" to the horse-show that had
just opened. His appetite was good, and he drank a good deal, without
being at all affected by it, having a sound, hard head that good wine
could not easily upset.

When they had returned to the drawing-room, Lamarthe, who had not drawn
the sculptor out to the extent that he wished to do, drew him over
to a glass case to show him a priceless object, a classic, historic
gem: a silver inkstand carved by Benvenuto Cellini. The men listened
with extreme interest to his long and eloquent rhapsody as they stood
grouped about him, while the two women, seated in front of the fire
and rather disgusted to see so much enthusiasm wasted upon the form of
inanimate objects, appeared to be a little bored and chatted together
in a low voice from time to time. After that conversation became
general, but not animated, for it had been somewhat damped by the ideas
that had passed into the atmosphere of this pretty room, with its
furnishing of precious objects.

Prédolé left early, assigning as a reason that he had to be at work
at daybreak every morning. When he was gone Lamarthe enthusiastically
asked Mme. de Burne: "Well, how did you like him?"

She replied, hesitatingly and with something of an air of ill nature:
"He is quite interesting, but prosy."

The novelist smiled and said to himself: "_Parbleu_, that is because
he did not admire your toilette; and you are the only one of all your
pretty things that he hardly condescended to look at." He exchanged a
few pleasant remarks with her and went over and took a seat by Mme. de
Malten, to whom he began to be very attentive. The Comte de Bernhaus
approached the mistress of the house, and taking a small footstool,
appeared sunk in devotion at her feet. Mariolle, Massival, Maltry,
and M. de Pradon continued to talk of the sculptor, who had made a
deep impression on their minds. M. de Maltry was comparing him to
the old masters, for whom life was embellished and illuminated by an
exclusive and consuming love of the manifestations of beauty, and he
philosophized upon his theme with many very subtle and very tiresome
observations.

Massival, quickly tiring of a conversation which made no reference to
his own art, crossed the room to Mme. de Malten and seated himself
beside Lamarthe, who soon yielded his place to him and went and
rejoined the men.

"Shall we go?" he said to Mariolle.

"Yes, by all means!"

The novelist liked to walk the streets at night with some friend and
talk, when the incisive, peremptory tones of his voice seemed to lay
hold of the walls of the houses and climb up them. He had an impression
that he was very eloquent, witty, and sagacious during these nocturnal
_tête-à-têtes_, which were monologues rather than conversations so far
as his part in them was concerned. The approbation that he thus gained
for himself sufficed his needs, and the gentle fatigue of legs and
lungs assured him a good night's rest.

Mariolle, for his part, had reached the limit of his endurance. The
moment that he was outside her door all his wretchedness and sorrow,
all his irremediable disappointment, boiled up and overflowed his
heart. He could stand it no longer; he would have no more of it. He
would go away and never return.

The two men found themselves alone with each other in the street. The
wind had changed and the cold that had prevailed during the day had
yielded; it was warm and pleasant, as it almost always is two hours
after a snowstorm in spring. The sky was vibrating with the light
of innumerable stars, as if a breath of summer in the immensity of
space had lighted up the heavenly bodies and set them twinkling. The
sidewalks were gray and dry again, while in the roadway pools of water
reflected the light of the gas-lamps.

Lamarthe said: "What a fortunate man he is, that Prédolé! He lives
only for one thing, his art; thinks but of that, loves but that; it
occupies all his being; consoles and cheers him, and affords him a
life of happiness and comfort. He is really a great artist of the old
stock. Ah! he doesn't let women trouble his head, not much, our women
of to-day with their frills and furbelows and fantastic disguises!
Did you remark how little attention he paid to our two pretty dames?
And yet they were rather seductive. But what he is looking for is
the plastic--the plastic pure and simple; he has no use for the
artificial. It is true that our divine hostess put him down in her
books as an insupportable fool. In her estimation a bust by Houdon,
Tanagra statuettes, and an inkstand by Cellini are but so many
unconsidered trifles that go to the adornment and the rich and natural
setting of a masterpiece, which is Herself; she and her dress, for
dress is part and parcel of Herself; it is the fresh accentuation that
she places on her beauty day by day. What a trivial, personal thing is
woman!"

He stopped and gave the sidewalk a great thump with his cane, so that
the noise resounded through the quiet street, then he went on.

"They have a very clear and exact perception of what adds to their
attractions: the toilette and the ornaments in which there is an
entire change of fashion every ten years; but they are heedless of
that attribute which involves rare and constant power of selection,
which demands from them keen and delicate artistic penetration and a
purely æsthetic exercise of their senses. Their senses, moreover, are
extremely rudimentary, incapable of high development, inaccessible to
whatever does not touch directly the feminine egotism that absorbs
everything in them. Their acuteness is the stratagem of the savage,
of the red Indian; of war and ambush. They are even almost incapable
of enjoying the material pleasures of the lower order, which require
a physical education and the intelligent exercise of an organ, such
as good living. When, as they do in exceptional cases, they come to
have some respect for decent cookery, they still remain incapable of
appreciating our great wines, which speak to masculine palates only,
for wine does speak."

He again thumped the pavement with his cane, accenting his last dictum
and punctuating the sentence, and continued.

"It won't do, however, to expect too much from them, but this want of
taste and appreciation that so frequently clouds their intellectual
vision when higher considerations are at stake often serves to blind
them still more when our interests are in question. A man may have
heart, feeling, intelligence, exceptional merits, and qualities of all
kinds, they will all be unavailing to secure their favor as in bygone
days when a man was valued for his worth and his courage. The women of
to-day are actresses, second-rate actresses at that, who are merely
playing for effect a part that has been handed down to them and in
which they have no belief. They have to have actors of the same stamp
to act up to them and lie through the rôle just as they do; and these
actors are the coxcombs that we see hanging around them; from the
fashionable world, or elsewhere."

They walked along in silence for a few moments, side by side. Mariolle
had listened attentively to the words of his companion, repeating them
in his mind and approving of his sentiments under the influence of his
sorrow. He was aware also that a sort of Italian adventurer who was
then in Paris giving lessons in swordsmanship, Prince Epilati by name,
a gentleman of the fencing-schools, of considerable celebrity for his
elegance and graceful vigor that he was in the habit of exhibiting
in black-silk tights before the upper ten and the select few of the
demimonde, was just then in full enjoyment of the attentions and
coquetries of the pretty little Baronne de Frémines.

As Lamarthe said nothing further, he remarked to him:

"It is all our own fault; we make our selections badly; there are other
women besides those."

The novelist replied: "The only ones now that are capable of real
attachment are the shopgirls and some sentimental little _bourgeoises_,
poor and unhappily married. I have before now carried consolation to
one of those distressed souls. They are overflowing with sentiment,
but such cheap, vulgar sentiment that to exchange ours against it is
like throwing your money to a beggar. Now I assert that in our young,
wealthy society, where the women feel no needs and no desires, where
all that they require is some mild distraction to enable them to kill
time, and where the men regulate their pleasures as scrupulously as
they regulate their daily labors, I assert that under such conditions
the old natural attraction, charming and powerful as it was, that used
to bring the sexes toward each other, has disappeared."

"You are right," Mariolle murmured.

He felt an increasing desire to fly, to put a great distance between
himself and these people, these puppets who in their empty idleness
mimicked the beautiful, impassioned, and tender life of other days and
were incapable of savoring its lost delights.

"Good night," he said; "I am going to bed." He went home and seated
himself at his table and wrote:

    "Farewell, Madame. Do you remember my first letter? In it
    too I said farewell, but I did not go. What a mistake that
    was! When you receive this I shall have left Paris; need
    I tell you why? Men like me ought never to meet with women
    like you. Were I an artist and were my emotions capable of
    expression in such manner as to afford me consolation, you
    would have perhaps inspired me with talent, but I am only a
    poor fellow who was so unfortunate as to be seized with love
    for you, and with it its accompanying bitter, unendurable
    sorrow.

    "When I met you for the first time I could not have deemed
    myself capable of feeling and suffering as I have done.
    Another in your place would have filled my heart with divine
    joy in bidding it wake and live, but you could do nothing
    but torture it. It was not your fault, I know; I reproach
    you with nothing and I bear you no hard feeling; I have not
    even the right to send you these lines. Pardon me. You are
    so constituted that you cannot feel as I feel; you cannot
    even divine what passes in my breast when I am with you,
    when you speak to me and I look on you.

    "Yes, I know; you have accepted me and offered me a rational
    and tranquil happiness, for which I ought to thank you on my
    knees all my life long, but I will not have it. Ah, what a
    horrible, agonizing love is that which is constantly craving
    a tender word, a warm caress, without ever receiving them!
    My heart is empty, empty as the stomach of a beggar who has
    long followed your carriage with outstretched hand and to
    whom you have thrown out pretty toys, but no bread. It was
    bread, it was love, that I hungered for. I am about to go
    away wretched and in need, in sore need of your love, a few
    crumbs of which would have saved me. I have nothing left in
    the world but a cruel memory that clings and will not leave
    me, and that I must try to kill.

    "Adieu, Madame. Thanks, and pardon me. I love you still,
    this evening, with all the strength of my soul. Adieu.

    "ANDRÉ MARIOLLE."



CHAPTER XI.


LONELINESS


The city lay basking in the brightness of a sunny morning. Mariolle
climbed into the carriage that stood waiting at his door with a
traveling bag and two trunks on top. He had made his valet the night
before pack the linen and other necessaries for a long absence, and
now he was going away, leaving as his temporary address Fontainebleau
post-office. He was taking no one with him, it being his wish to see no
face that might remind him of Paris and to hear no voice that he had
heard while brooding over certain matters.

He told the driver to go to the Lyons station and the cab started.
Then he thought of that other trip of his, last spring, to Mont
Saint-Michel; it was a year ago now lacking three months. He looked out
into the street to drive the recollection from his mind.

The vehicle turned into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which was
flooded with the light of the sun of early spring. The green leaves,
summoned forth by the grateful warmth that had prevailed for a couple
of weeks and not materially retarded by the cold storm of the last
two days, were opening so rapidly on this bright morning that they
seemed to impregnate the air with an odor of fresh verdure and of sap
evaporating on the way to its work of building up new growths. It was
one of those growing mornings when one feels that the dome-topped
chestnut-trees in the public gardens and all along the avenues will
burst into bloom in a single day through the length and breadth of
Paris, like chandeliers that are lighted simultaneously. The earth was
thrilling with the movement preparatory to the full life of summer,
and the very street was silently stirred beneath its paving of bitumen
as the roots ate their way through the soil. He said to himself as he
jolted along in his cab: "At last I shall be able to enjoy a little
peace of mind. I will witness the birth of spring in solitude deep in
the forest."

The journey seemed long to him. The few hours of sleeplessness that he
had spent in bemoaning his fate had broken him down as if he had passed
ten nights at the bedside of a dying man. When he reached the village
of Fontainebleau he went to a notary to see if there was a small house
to be had furnished in the neighborhood of the forest. He was told of
several. In looking over the photographs the one that pleased him most
was a cottage that had just been given up by a young couple, man and
wife, who had resided for almost the entire winter in the village of
Montigny-sur-Loing. The notary smiled, notwithstanding that he was a
man of serious aspect; he probably scented a love story.

"You are alone, Monsieur!" he inquired.

"I am alone."

"No servants, even?"

"No servants, even; I left them at Paris. I wish to engage some of the
residents here. I am coming here to work in complete seclusion."

"You will have no difficulty in finding that, at this season of the
year."

A few minutes afterward an open landau was whirling Mariolle and his
trunks away to Montigny.

The forest was beginning to awake. The copses at the foot of the great
trees, whose heads were covered with a light veil of foliage, were
beginning to assume a denser aspect. The early birches, with their
silvery trunks, were the only trees that seemed completely attired
for the summer, while the great oaks only displayed small tremulous
splashes of green at the ends of their branches and the beeches, more
quick to open their pointed buds, were just shedding the dead leaves of
the past year.

The grass by the roadside, unobscured as yet by the thick shade of the
tree-tops, was growing lush and bright with the influx of new sap, and
the odor of new growth that Mariolle had already remarked in the Avenue
des Champs-Élysées, now wrapped him about and immersed him in a great
bath of green life budding in the sunshine of the early season. He
inhaled it greedily, like one just liberated from prison, and with the
sensation of a man whose fetters have just been broken he luxuriously
extended his arms along the two sides of the landau and let his hands
hang down over the two wheels.

He passed through Marlotte, where the driver called his attention to
the Hotel Corot, then just opened, of the original design of which
there was much talk. Then the road continued, with the forest on the
left hand and on the right a wide plain with trees here and there and
hills bounding the horizon. To this succeeded a long village street,
a blinding white street lying between two endless rows of little
tile-roofed houses. Here and there an enormous lilac bush displayed its
flowers over the top of a wall.

This street followed the course of a narrow valley along which ran a
little stream. It was a narrow, rapid, twisting, nimble little stream,
on one of its banks laving the foundations of the houses and the
garden-walls and on the other bathing the meadows where the small trees
were just beginning to put forth their scanty foliage. The sight of it
inspired Mariolle with a sensation of delight.

He had no difficulty in finding his house and was greatly pleased with
it. It was an old house that had been restored by a painter, who had
tired of it after living there five years and offered it for rent. It
was directly on the water, separated from the stream only by a pretty
garden that ended in a terrace of lindens. The Loing, which just above
this point had a picturesque fall of a foot or two over a dam erected
there, ran rapidly by this terrace, whirling in great eddies. From the
front windows of the house the meadows on the other bank were visible.

"I shall get well here," Mariolle thought.

Everything had been arranged with the notary in case the house should
prove suitable. The driver carried back his acceptance of it. Then
the housekeeping details had to be attended to, which did not take
much time, the mayor's clerk having provided two women, one to do the
cooking, the other to wash and attend to the chamber-work.

Downstairs there were a parlor, dining-room, kitchen, and two small
rooms; on the floor above a handsome bedroom and a large apartment
that the artist owner had fitted up as a studio. The furniture had all
been selected with loving care, as people always furnish when they are
enamored of a place, but now it had lost a little of its freshness and
was in some disorder, with the air of desolation that is noticeable in
dwellings that have been abandoned by their master. A pleasant odor of
verbena, however, still lingered in the air, showing that the little
house had not been long uninhabited. "Ah!" thought Mariolle, "verbena,
that indicates simplicity of taste. The woman that preceded me could
not have been one of those complex, mystifying natures. Happy man!"

It was getting toward evening, all these occupations having made the
day pass rapidly. He took a seat by an open window, drinking in the
agreeable coolness that exhaled from the surrounding vegetation and
watching the setting sun as it cast long shadows across the meadows.

The two servants were talking while getting the dinner ready and the
sound of their voices ascended to him faintly by the stairway, while
through the window came the mingled sounds of the lowing of cows,
the barking of dogs, and the cries of men bringing home the cattle
or conversing with their companions on the other bank of the stream.
Everything was peaceful and restful.

For the thousandth time since the morning Mariolle asked himself:
"What did she think when she received my letter? What will she do?"
Then he said to himself: "I wonder what she is doing now?" He looked at
his watch; it was half past six. "She has come in from the street. She
is receiving."

There rose before his mental vision a picture of the drawing-room, and
the young woman chatting with the Princess de Malten, Mme. de Frémines,
Massival, and the Comte de Bernhaus.

His soul was suddenly moved with an impulse that was something like
anger. He wished that he was there. It was the hour of his accustomed
visit to her, almost every day, and he felt within him a feeling of
discomfort, not of regret. His will was firm, but a sort of physical
suffering afflicted him akin to that of one who is denied his morphine
at the accustomed time. He no longer beheld the meadows, nor the sun
sinking behind the hills of the horizon; all that he could see was her,
among her friends, given over to those cares of the world that had
robbed him of her. "I will think of her no more," he said to himself.

He arose, went down to the garden and passed on to the terrace. There
was a cool mist there rising from the water that had been agitated
in its fall over the dam, and this sensation of chilliness, striking
to a heart already sad, caused him to retrace his steps. His dinner
was awaiting him in the dining-room. He ate it quickly; then, having
nothing to occupy him, and feeling that distress of mind and body, of
which he had had the presage, now increasing on him, he went to bed and
closed his eyes in an attempt to slumber, but it was to no purpose.
His thoughts refused to leave that woman; he beheld her in his thought
and he suffered.

On whom would she bestow her favor now? On the Comte de Bernhaus,
doubtless! He was just the man, elegant, conspicuous, sought after, to
suit that creature of display. He had found favor with her, for had she
not employed all her arts to conquer him even at a time when she was
mistress to another man?

Notwithstanding that his mind was beset by these haunting thoughts,
it would still keep wandering off into that misty condition of
semi-somnolence in which the man and woman were constantly reappearing
to his eyes. Of true sleep he got none, and all night long he saw them
at his bedside, braving and mocking him, now retiring as if they would
at last permit him to snatch a little sleep, then returning as soon
as oblivion had begun to creep over him and awaking him with a spasm
of jealous agony in his heart. He left his bed at earliest break of
day and went away into the forest with a cane in his hand, a stout
serviceable stick that the last occupant of the house had left behind
him.

The rays of the newly risen sun were falling through the tops of the
oaks, almost leafless as yet, upon the ground, which was carpeted in
spots by patches of verdant grass, here by a carpet of dead leaves and
there by heather reddened by the frosts of winter. Yellow butterflies
were fluttering along the road like little dancing flames. To the right
of the road was a hill, almost large enough to be called a mountain.
Mariolle ascended it leisurely, and when he reached the top seated
himself on a great stone, for he was quite out of breath. His legs
were overcome with weakness and refused to support him; all his system
seemed to be yielding to a sudden breaking down. He was well aware that
this languor did not proceed from fatigue; it came from her, from the
love that weighed him down like an intolerable burden, and he murmured:
"What wretchedness! why does it possess me thus, me, a man who has
always taken from existence only that which would enable him to enjoy
it without suffering afterward?"

His attention was awakened by the fear of this malady that might prove
so hard to cure, and he probed his feelings, went down to the very
depths of his nature, endeavoring to know and understand it better,
and make clear to his own eyes the reason of this inexplicable crisis.
He said to himself: "I have never yielded to any undue attraction.
I am not enthusiastic or passionate by nature; my judgment is more
powerful than my instinct, my curiosity than my appetite, my fancy
than my perseverance. I am essentially nothing more than a man that is
delicate, intelligent, and hard to please in his enjoyments. I have
loved the things of this life without ever allowing myself to become
greatly attached to them, with the perceptions of an expert who sips
and does not suffer himself to become surfeited, who knows better
than to lose his head. I submit everything to the test of reason, and
generally I analyze my likings too severely to submit to them blindly.
That is even my great defect, the only cause of my weakness.

"And now that woman has taken possession of me, in spite of myself, in
spite of my fears and of my knowledge of her, and she retains her hold
as if she had plucked away one by one all the different aspirations
that existed in me. That may be the case. Those aspirations of mine
went out toward inanimate objects, toward nature, that entices and
softens me, toward music, which is a sort of ideal caress, toward
reflection, which is the delicate feasting of the mind, toward
everything on earth that is beautiful and agreeable.

"Then I met a creature who collected and concentrated all my somewhat
fickle and fluctuating likings, and directing them toward herself,
converted them into love. Charming and beautiful, she pleased my eyes;
bright, intelligent, and witty, she pleased my mind, and she pleased my
heart by the mysterious charm of her contact and her presence and by
the secret and irresistible emanation from her personality, until all
these things enslaved me as the perfume of certain flowers intoxicates.
She has taken the place of everything for me, for I no longer have any
aspirations, I no longer wish or care for anything."

"In other days how my feelings would have thrilled and started in this
forest that is putting forth its new life! To-day I see nothing of it,
I am regardless of it; I am still at that woman's side, whom I desire
to love no more.

"Come! I must kill these ideas by physical fatigue; unless I do I shall
never get well."

He arose, descended the rocky hillside and resumed his walk with long
strides, but still the haunting presence crushed him as if it had
been a burden that he was bearing on his back. He went on, constantly
increasing his speed, now and then encountering a brief sensation of
comfort at the sight of the sunlight piercing through the foliage or at
a breath of perfumed air from some grove of resinous pine-trees, which
inspired in him a presentiment of distant consolation.

Suddenly he came to a halt. "I am not walking any longer," he said, "I
am flying from something!" Indeed, he was flying, straight ahead, he
cared not where, pursued by the agony of his love.

Then he started on again at a more reasonable speed. The appearance
of the forest was undergoing a change. The growth was denser and the
shadows deeper, for he was coming to the warmer portions of it, to the
beautiful region of the beeches. No sensation of winter lingered there.
It was wondrous spring, that seemed to have been the birth of a night,
so young and fresh was everything.

Mariolle made his way among the thickets, beneath the gigantic trees
that towered above him higher and higher still, and in this way he went
on for a long time, an hour, two hours, pushing his way through the
branches, through the countless multitudes of little shining leaves,
bright with their varnish of new sap. The heavens were quite concealed
by the immense dome of verdure, supported on its lofty columns, now
perpendicular, now leaning, now of a whitish hue, now dark beneath the
black moss that drew its nourishment from the bark.

Thus they towered, stretching away indefinitely in the distance, one
behind the other, lording it over the bushy young copses that grew
in confused tangles at their feet and wrapping them in dense shadow
through which in places poured floods of vivid sunlight. The golden
rain streamed down through all this luxuriant growth until the wood no
longer remained a wood, but became a brilliant sea of verdure illumined
by yellow rays. Mariolle stopped, seized with an ineffable surprise.
Where was he? Was he in a forest, or had he descended to the bottom of
a sea, a sea of leaves and light, an ocean of green resplendency?

He felt better--more tranquil; more remote, more hidden from his
misery, and he threw himself down upon the red carpet of dead leaves
that these trees do not cast until they are ready to put on their new
garments. Rejoicing in the cool contact of the earth and the pure
sweetness of the air, he was soon conscious of a wish, vague at first
but soon becoming more defined, not to be alone in this charming spot,
and he said to himself: "Ah! if she were only here, at my side!"

He suddenly remembered Mont Saint-Michel, and recollecting how
different she had been down there to what she was in Paris, how her
affection had blossomed out in the open air before the yellow sands, he
thought that on that day she had surely loved him a little for a few
hours. Yes, surely, on the road where they had watched the receding
tide, in the cloisters where, murmuring his name: "André," she had
seemed to say, "I am yours," and on the "Madman's Path," where he
had almost borne her through space, she had felt an impulsion toward
him that had never returned since she placed her foot, the foot of a
coquette, on the pavement of Paris.

He continued to yield himself to his mournful reveries, still stretched
at length upon his back, his look lost among the gold and green of
the tree-tops, and little by little his eyes closed, weighed down with
sleep and the tranquillity that reigned among the trees. When he awoke
he saw that it was past two o'clock of the afternoon.

When he arose and proceeded on his way he felt less sad, less ailing.
At length he emerged from the thickness of the wood and came to a great
open space where six broad avenues converged and then stretched away
and lost themselves in the leafy, transparent distance. A signboard
told him that the name of the locality was "Le Bouquet-du-Roi." It was
indeed the capital of this royal country of the beeches.

A carriage passed, and as it was empty and disengaged Mariolle took it
and ordered the driver to take him to Marlotte, whence he could make
his way to Montigny after getting something to eat at the inn, for he
was beginning to be hungry.

He remembered that he had seen this establishment, which was only
recently opened, the day before: the Hotel Corot, it was called, an
artistic public-house in middle-age style of decoration, modeled on
the Chat Noir in Paris. His driver set him down there and he passed
through an open door into a vast room where old-fashioned tables and
uncomfortable benches seemed to be awaiting drinkers of a past century.
At the far end a woman, a young waitress, no doubt, was standing on top
of a little folding ladder, fastening some old plates to nails that
were driven in the wall and seemed nearly beyond her reach. Now raising
herself on tiptoe on both feet, now on one, supporting herself with one
hand against the wall while the other held the plate, she reached up
with pretty and adroit movements; for her figure was pleasing and the
undulating lines from wrist to ankle assumed changing forms of grace at
every fresh posture. As her back was toward him she had been unaware of
Mariolle's entrance, who stopped to watch her. He thought of Prédolé
and his _figurines;_ "It is a pretty picture, though!" he said to
himself. "She is very graceful, that little girl."

He gave a little cough. She was so startled that she came near falling,
but as soon as she had recovered her self-possession, she jumped down
from her ladder as lightly as a rope dancer, and came to him with a
pleasant smile on her face. "What will Monsieur have?" she inquired.

"Breakfast, Mademoiselle."

She ventured to say: "It should be dinner, rather, for it is half past
three o'clock."

"We will call it dinner if you like. I lost myself in the forest."

Then she told him what dishes there were ready; he made his selection
and took a seat. She went away to give the order, returning shortly to
set the table for him. He watched her closely as she bustled around
the table; she was pretty and very neat in her attire. She had a spry
little air that was very pleasant to behold, in her working dress with
skirt pinned up, sleeves rolled back, and neck exposed; and her corset
fitted closely to her pretty form, of which she had no reason to be
ashamed.

Her face was rather red, painted by exposure to the open air, and it
seemed somewhat too fat and puffy, but it was as fresh as a new-blown
rose, with fine, bright, brown eyes, a large mouth with its complement
of handsome teeth, and chestnut hair that revealed by its abundance the
healthy vigor of this strong young frame.

She brought radishes and bread and butter and he began to eat, ceasing
to pay attention to the attendant. He called for a bottle of champagne
and drank the whole of it, as he did two glasses of kummel after his
coffee, and as his stomach was empty--he had taken nothing before
he left his house but a little bread and cold meat--he soon felt a
comforting feeling of tipsiness stealing over him that he mistook for
oblivion. His griefs and sorrows were diluted and tempered by the
sparkling wine which, in so short a time, had transformed the torments
of his heart into insensibility. He walked slowly back to Montigny, and
being very tired and sleepy went to bed as soon as it was dark, falling
asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.

He awoke after a while, however, in the dense darkness, ill at ease and
disquieted as if a nightmare that had left him for an hour or two had
furtively reappeared at his bedside to murder sleep. She was there,
she, Mme. de Burne, back again, roaming about his bed, and accompanied
still by M. de Bernhaus. "Come!" he said, "it must be that I am
jealous. What is the reason of it?"

Why was he jealous? He quickly told himself why. Notwithstanding all
his doubts and fears he knew that as long as he had been her lover
she had been faithful to him--faithful, indeed, without tenderness
and without transports, but with a loyal strength of resolution.
Now, however, he had broken it all off, and it was ended; he had
restored her freedom to her. Would she remain without a _liaison_?
Yes, doubtless, for a while. And then? This very fidelity that she had
observed toward him up to the present moment, a fidelity beyond the
reach of suspicion, was it not due to the feeling that if she left him,
Mariolle, because she was tired of him, she would some day, sooner or
later, have to take some one to fill his place, not from passion, but
from weariness of being alone?

Is it not true that lovers often owe their long lease of favor simply
to the dread of an unknown successor? And then to dismiss one lover and
take up with another would not have seemed the right thing to such a
woman--she was too intelligent, indeed, to bow to social prejudices,
but was gifted with a delicate sense of moral purity that kept her from
real indelicacies. She was a worldly philosopher and not a prudish
_bourgeoise_, and while she would not have quailed at the idea of a
secret attachment, her nature would have revolted at the thought of a
succession of lovers.

He had given her her freedom--and now? Now most certainly she would
take up with some one else, and that some one would be the Comte de
Bernhaus. He was sure of it, and the thought was now affording him
inexpressible suffering. Why had he left her? She had been faithful,
a good friend to him, charming in every way. Why? Was it because he
was a brutal sensualist who could not separate true love from its
physical transports? Was that it? Yes--but there was something besides.
He had fled from the pain of not being loved as he loved, from the
cruel feeling that he did not receive an equivalent return for the
warmth of his kisses, an incurable affliction from which his heart,
grievously smitten, would perhaps never recover. He looked forward with
dread to the prospect of enduring for years the torments that he had
been anticipating for a few months and suffering for a few weeks. In
accordance with his nature he had weakly recoiled before this prospect,
just as he had recoiled all his life long before any effort that called
for resolution. It followed that he was incapable of carrying anything
to its conclusion, of throwing himself heart and soul into such a
passion as one develops for a science or an art, for it is impossible,
perhaps, to have loved greatly without having suffered greatly.

Until daylight he pursued this train of thought, which tore him like
wild horses; then he got up and went down to the bank of the little
stream. A fisherman was casting his net near the little dam, and when
he withdrew it from the water that flashed and eddied in the sunlight
and spread it on the deck of his small boat, the little fishes danced
among the meshes like animated silver.

Mariolle's agitation subsided little by little in the balmy freshness
of the early morning air. The cool mist that rose from the miniature
waterfall, about which faint rainbows fluttered, and the stream that
ran at his feet in rapid and ceaseless current, carried off with them
a portion of his sorrow. He said to himself: "Truly, I have done
the right thing; I should have been too unhappy otherwise!" Then he
returned to the house, and taking possession of a hammock that he had
noticed in the vestibule, he made it fast between two of the lindens
and throwing himself into it, endeavored to drive away reflection by
fixing his eyes and thoughts upon the flowing stream.

Thus he idled away the time until the hour of breakfast, in an
agreeable torpor, a physical sensation of well-being that communicated
itself to the mind, and he protracted the meal as much as possible
that he might have some occupation for the dragging minutes. There was
one thing, however, that he looked forward to with eager expectation,
and that was his mail. He had telegraphed to Paris and written to
Fontainebleau to have his letters forwarded, but had received nothing,
and the sensation of being entirely abandoned was beginning to be
oppressive. Why? He had no reason to expect that there would be
anything particularly pleasing or comforting for him in the little
black box that the carrier bore slung at his side, nothing beyond
useless invitations and unmeaning communications. Why, then, should he
long for letters of whose contents he knew nothing as if the salvation
of his soul depended on them? Was it not that there lay concealed in
his heart the vainglorious expectation that she would write to him?

He asked one of his old women: "At what time does the mail arrive?"

"At noon, Monsieur."

It was just midday, and he listened with increased attention to the
noises that reached him from outdoors. A knock at the outer door
brought him to his feet; the messenger brought him only the newspapers
and three unimportant letters. Mariolle glanced over the journals until
he was tired, and went out.

What should he do? He went to the hammock and lay down in it, but
after half an hour of that he experienced an uncontrollable desire to
go somewhere else. The forest? Yes, the forest was very pleasant, but
then the solitude there was even deeper than it was in his house, much
deeper than it was in the village, where there were at least some signs
of life now and then. And the silence and loneliness of all those trees
and leaves filled his mind with sadness and regrets, steeping him more
deeply still in wretchedness. He mentally reviewed his long walk of
the day before, and when he came to the wide-awake little waitress of
the Hotel Corot, he said to himself: "I have it! I will go and dine
there." The idea did him good; it was something to occupy him, a means
of killing two or three hours, and he set out forthwith.

The long village street stretched straight away in the middle of the
valley between two rows of low, white, tile-roofed houses, some of them
standing boldly up with their fronts close to the road, others, more
retiring, situated in a garden where there was a lilac-bush in bloom
and chickens scratching over manure-heaps, where wooden stairways in
the open air climbed to doors cut in the wall. Peasants were at work
before their dwellings, lazily fulfilling their domestic duties. An
old woman, bent with age and with threads of gray in her yellow hair,
for country folk rarely have white hair, passed close to him, a ragged
jacket upon her shoulders and her lean and sinewy legs covered by a
woolen petticoat that failed to conceal the angles and protuberances
of her frame. She was looking aimlessly before her with expressionless
eyes, eyes that had never looked on other objects than those that might
be of use to her in her poor existence.

Another woman, younger than this one, was hanging out the family wash
before her door. The lifting of her skirt as she raised her arms
aloft disclosed to view thick, coarse ankles incased in blue knitted
stockings, with great, projecting, fleshless bones, while the breast
and shoulders, flat and broad as those of a man, told of a body whose
form must have been horrible to behold.

Mariolle thought: "They are women! Those scarecrows are women!" The
vision of Mme. de Burne arose before his eyes. He beheld her in all
her elegance and beauty, the perfection of the human female form,
coquettish and adorned to meet the looks of man, and again he smarted
with the sorrow of an irreparable loss; then he walked on more quickly
to shake himself free of this impression.

When he reached the inn at Marlotte the little waitress recognized him
immediately, and accosted him almost familiarly: "Good day, Monsieur."

"Good day, Mademoiselle."

"Do you wish something to drink?"

"Yes, to begin with; then I will have dinner."

They discussed the question of what he should drink in the first place
and what he should eat subsequently. He asked her advice for the
pleasure of hearing her talk, for she had a nice way of expressing
herself. She had a short little Parisian accent, and her speech was as
unconstrained as was her movements. He thought as he listened: "The
little girl is quite agreeable; she seems to me to have a bit of the
_cocotte_ about her."

"Are you a Parisian?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir."

"Have you been here long?"

"Two weeks, sir."

"And do you like it?"

"Not very well so far, but it is too soon to tell, and then I was
tired of the air of Paris, and the country has done me good; that is
why I made up my mind to come here. Then I shall bring you a vermouth,
Monsieur?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle, and tell the cook to be careful and pay attention
to my dinner."

"Never fear, Monsieur."

After she had gone away he went into the garden of the hotel, and took
a seat in an arbor, where his vermouth was served. He remained there
all the rest of the day, listening to a blackbird whistling in its
cage, and watching the little waitress in her goings and comings. She
played the coquette, and put on her sweetest looks for the gentleman,
for she had not failed to observe that he found her to his liking.

He went away as he had done the day before after drinking a bottle of
champagne to dispel gloom, but the darkness of the way and the coolness
of the night air quickly dissipated his incipient tipsiness, and sorrow
again took possession of his devoted soul. He thought: "What am I to
do? Shall I remain here? Shall I be condemned for long to drag out this
desolate way of living?" It was very late when he got to sleep.

The next morning he again installed himself in the hammock, and all at
once the sight of a man casting his net inspired him with the idea of
going fishing. The grocer from whom he bought his lines gave him some
instructions upon the soothing sport, and even offered to go with him
and act as his guide upon his first attempt. The offer was accepted,
and between nine o'clock and noon Mariolle succeeded, by dint of
vigorous exertion and unintermitting patience, in capturing three small
fish.

When he had dispatched his breakfast he took up his march again for
Marlotte. Why? To kill time, of course.

The little waitress began to laugh when she saw him coming. Amused by
her recognition of him, he smiled back at her, and tried to engage her
in conversation. She was more familiar than she had been the preceding
day, and met him halfway.

Her name was Elisabeth Ledru. Her mother, who took in dressmaking, had
died the year before; then the husband, an accountant by profession,
always drunk and out of work, who had lived on the little earnings of
his wife and daughter, disappeared, for the girl could not support
two persons, though she shut herself up in her garret room and sewed
all day long. Tiring of her lonely occupation after a while, she got
a position as waitress in a cook-shop, remained there a year, and as
the hard work had worn her down, the proprietor of the Hotel Corot at
Marlotte, upon whom she had waited at times, engaged her for the summer
with two other girls who were to come down a little later on. It was
evident that the proprietor knew how to attract customers.

Her little story pleased Mariolle, and by treating her with respect and
asking her a few discriminating questions, he succeeded in eliciting
from her many interesting details of this poor dismal home that had
been laid in ruins by a drunken father. She, poor, homeless, wandering
creature that she was, gay and cheerful because she could not help
it, being young, and feeling that the interest that this stranger
took in her was unfeigned, talked to him with confidence, with that
expansiveness of soul that she could no more restrain than she could
restrain the agile movements of her limbs.

When she had finished he asked her: "And--do you expect to be a
waitress all your life?"

"I could not answer that question, Monsieur. How can I tell what may
happen to me to-morrow?"

"And yet it is necessary to think of the future."

She had assumed a thoughtful air that did not linger long upon her
features, then she replied: "I suppose that I shall have to take
whatever comes to me. So much the worse!"

They parted very good friends. After a few days he returned, then
again, and soon he began to go there frequently, finding a vague
distraction in the girl's conversation, and that her artless prattle
helped him somewhat to forget his grief.

When he returned on foot to Montigny in the evening, however, he had
terrible fits of despair as he thought of Mme. de Burne. His heart
became a little lighter with the morning sun, but with the night his
bitter regrets and fierce jealousy closed in on him again. He had no
intelligence; he had written to no one and had received letters from no
one. Then, alone with his thoughts upon the dark road, his imagination
would picture the progress of the approaching _liaison_ that he had
foreseen between his quondam mistress and the Comte de Bernhaus. This
had now become a settled idea with him and fixed itself more firmly in
his mind every day. That man, he thought, will be to her just what she
requires; a distinguished, assiduous, unexacting lover, contented and
happy to be the chosen one of this superlatively delicious coquette. He
compared him with himself. The other most certainly would not behave
as he had, would not be guilty of that tiresome impatience and of that
insatiable thirst for a return of his affection that had been the
destruction of their amorous understanding. He was a very discreet,
pliant, and well-posted man of the world, and would manage to get along
and content himself with but little, for he did not seem to belong to
the class of impassioned mortals.

On one of André Mariolle's visits to Marlotte one day, he beheld two
bearded young fellows in the other arbor of the Hotel Corot, smoking
pipes and wearing Scotch caps on their heads. The proprietor, a big,
broad-faced man, came forward to pay his respects as soon as he saw
him, for he had an interested liking for this faithful patron of
his dinner-table, and said to him: "I have two new customers since
yesterday, two painters."

"Those gentlemen sitting there?"

"Yes. They are beginning to be heard of. One of them got a second-class
medal last year." And having told all that he knew about the embryo
artists, he asked: "What will you take to-day, Monsieur Mariolle?"

"You may send me out a vermouth, as usual."

The proprietor went away, and soon Elisabeth appeared, bringing the
salver, the glass, the _carafe_, and the bottle. Whereupon one of the
painters called to her: "Well! little one, are we angry still?"

She did not answer and when she approached Mariolle he saw that her
eyes were red.

"You have been crying," he said.

"Yes, a little," she simply replied.

"What was the matter?"

"Those two gentlemen there behaved rudely to me."

"What did they do to you?"

"They took me for a bad character."

"Did you complain to the proprietor?"

She gave a sorrowful shrug of the shoulders, "Oh! Monsieur--the
proprietor. I know what he is now--the proprietor!"

Mariolle was touched, and a little angry; he said to her: "Tell me what
it was all about."

She told him of the brutal conduct of the two painters immediately
upon their arrival the night before, and then began to cry again,
asking what she was to do, alone in the country and without friends or
relatives, money or protection.

Mariolle suddenly said to her: "Will you enter my service? You shall be
well treated in my house, and when I return to Paris you will be free
to do what you please."

She looked him in the face with questioning eyes, and then quickly
replied: "I will, Monsieur.

"How much are you earning here?"

"Sixty francs a month," she added, rather uneasily, "and I have my
share of the _pourboires_ besides; that makes it about seventy."

"I will pay you a hundred."

She repeated in astonishment: "A hundred francs a month?"

"Yes. Is that enough?"

"I should think that it was enough!"

"All that you will have to do will be to wait on me, take care of my
clothes and linen, and attend to my room."

"It is a bargain, Monsieur."

"When will you come?"

"To-morrow, if you wish. After what has happened here I will go to the
mayor and will leave whether they are willing or not."

Mariolle took two louis from his pocket and handed them to her.
"There's the money to bind our bargain."

A look of joy flashed across her face and she said in a tone of
decision: "I will be at your house before midday to-morrow, Monsieur."



CHAPTER XII.


CONSOLATION


Elisabeth came to Montigny next day, attended by a countryman with
her trunk on a wheelbarrow. Mariolle had made a generous settlement
with one of his old women and got rid of her, and the newcomer took
possession of a small room on the top floor adjoining that of the
cook. She was quite different from what she had been at Marlotte,
when she presented herself before her new master, less effusive,
more respectful, more self-contained; she was now the servant of the
gentleman to whom she had been almost an humble friend beneath the
arbor of the inn. He told her in a few words what she would have to do.
She listened attentively, went and took possession of her room, and
then entered upon her new service.

A week passed and brought no noticeable change in the state of
Mariolle's feelings. The only difference was that he remained at home
more than he had been accustomed to do, for he had nothing to attract
him to Marlotte, and his house seemed less dismal to him than at first.
The bitterness of his grief was subsiding a little, as all storms
subside after a while; but in place of this aching wound there was
arising in him a settled melancholy, one of those deep-seated sorrows
that are like chronic and lingering maladies, and sometimes end in
death. His former liveliness of mind and body, his mental activity,
his interests in the pursuits that had served to occupy and amuse him
hitherto were all dead, and their place had been taken by a universal
disgust and an invincible torpor, that left him without even strength
of will to get up and go out of doors. He no longer left his house,
passing from the salon to the hammock and from the hammock to the
salon, and his chief distraction consisted in watching the current of
the Loing as it flowed by the terrace and the fisherman casting his net.

When the reserve of the first few days had begun to wear off, Elisabeth
gradually grew a little bolder, and remarking with her keen feminine
instinct the constant dejection of her employer, she would say to him
when the other servant was not by: "Monsieur finds his time hang heavy
on his hands?"

He would answer resignedly: "Yes, pretty heavy."

"Monsieur should go for a walk."

"That would not do me any good."

She quietly did many little unassuming things for his pleasure and
comfort. Every morning when he came into his drawing-room, he found
it filled with flowers and smelling as sweetly as a conservatory.
Elisabeth must surely have enlisted all the boys in the village to
bring her primroses, violets, and buttercups from the forest, as well
as putting under contribution the small gardens where the peasant girls
tended their few plants at evening. In his loneliness and distress he
was grateful for her kind thoughtfulness and her unobtrusive desire to
please him in these small ways.

It also seemed to him that she was growing prettier, more refined in
her appearance, and that she devoted more attention to the care of her
person. One day when she was handing him a cup of tea, he noticed that
her hands were no longer the hands of a servant, but of a lady, with
well-trimmed, clean nails, quite irreproachable. On another occasion he
observed that the shoes that she wore were almost elegant in shape and
material. Then she had gone up to her room one afternoon and come down
wearing a delightful little gray dress, quite simple and in perfect
taste. "Hallo!" he exclaimed, as he saw her, "how dressy you are
getting to be, Elisabeth!"

She blushed up to the whites of her eyes. "What, I, Monsieur? Why, no.
I dress a little better because I have more money."

"Where did you buy that dress that you have on?"

"I made it myself, Monsieur."

"You made it? When? I always see you busy at work about the house
during the day."

"Why, during my evenings, Monsieur."

"But where did you get the stuff? and who cut it for you?"

She told him that the shopkeeper at Montigny had brought her some
samples from Fontainebleau, that she had made her selection from them,
and paid for the goods out of the two louis that he had paid her as
advanced wages. The cutting and fitting had not troubled her at all,
for she and her mother had worked four years for a ready-made clothing
house. He could not resist telling her: "It is very becoming to you.
You look very pretty in it." And she had to blush again, this time to
the roots of her hair.

When she had left the room he said to himself: "I wonder if she is
beginning to fall in love with me?" He reflected on it, hesitated,
doubted, and finally came to the conclusion that after all it might be
possible. He had been kind and compassionate toward her, had assisted
her, and been almost her friend; there would be nothing very surprising
in this little girl being smitten with the master, who had been so
good to her. The idea did not strike him very disagreeably, moreover,
for she was really very presentable, and retained nothing of the
appearance of a servant about her. He experienced a flattering feeling
of consolation, and his masculine vanity, that had been so cruelly
wounded and trampled on and crushed by another woman, felt comforted.
It was a compensation--trivial and unnoteworthy though it might be, it
was a compensation--for when love comes to a man unsought, no matter
whence it comes, it is because that man possesses the capacity of
inspiring it. His unconscious selfishness was also gratified by it;
it would occupy his attention and do him a little good, perhaps, to
watch this young heart opening and beating for him. The thought never
occurred to him of sending the child away, of rescuing her from the
peril from which he himself was suffering so cruelly, of having more
pity for her than others had showed toward him, for compassion is never
an ingredient that enters into sentimental conquests.

So he continued his observations, and soon saw that he had not been
mistaken. Petty details revealed it to him more clearly day by day. As
she came near him one morning while waiting on him at table, he smelled
on her clothing an odor of perfumery--villainous, cheap perfumery,
from the village shopkeeper's, doubtless, or the druggist's--so he
presented her with a bottle of Cyprus toilette-water that he had been
in the habit of using for a long time, and of which he always carried a
supply about with him. He also gave her fine soaps, tooth-washes, and
rice-powder. He thus lent his assistance to the transformation that was
becoming more apparent every day, watching it meantime with a pleased
and curious eye. While remaining his faithful and respectful servant,
she was thus becoming a woman in whom the coquettish instincts of her
sex were artlessly developing themselves.

He, on his part, was imperceptibly becoming attached to her. She
inspired him at the same time with amusement and gratitude. He trifled
with this dawning tenderness as one trifles in his hours of melancholy
with anything that can divert his mind. He was conscious of no other
emotion toward her than that undefined desire which impels every man
toward a prepossessing woman, even if she be a pretty servant, or a
peasant maiden with the form of a goddess--a sort of rustic Venus.
He felt himself drawn to her more than all else by the womanliness
that he now found in her. He felt the need of that--an undefined and
irresistible need, bequeathed to him by that other one, the woman whom
he loved, who had first awakened in him that invincible and mysterious
fondness for the nature, the companionship, the contact of women, for
the subtle aroma, ideal or sensual, that every beautiful creature,
whether of the people or of the upper class, whether a lethargic,
sensual native of the Orient with great black eyes, or a blue-eyed,
keen-witted daughter of the North, inspires in men in whom still
survives the immemorial attraction of femininity.

These gentle, loving, and unceasing attentions that were felt rather
than seen, wrapped his wound in a sort of soft, protecting envelope
that shielded it to some extent from its recurrent attacks of
suffering, which did return, nevertheless, like flies to a raw sore.
He was made especially impatient by the absence of all news, for his
friends had religiously respected his request not to divulge his
address. Now and then he would see Massival's or Lamarthe's name in the
newspapers among those who had been present at some great dinner or
ceremonial, and one day he saw Mme. de Burne's, who was mentioned as
being one of the most elegant, the prettiest, and best dressed of the
women who were at the ball at the Austrian embassy. It sent a trembling
through him from head to foot. The name of the Comte de Bernhaus
appeared a few lines further down, and that day Mariolle's jealousy
returned and wrung his heart until night. The suspected _liaison_ was
no longer subject for doubt for him now. It was one of those imaginary
convictions that are even more torturing than reality, for there is no
getting rid of them and they leave a wound that hardly ever heals.

No longer able to endure this state of ignorance and uncertainty, he
determined to write to Lamarthe, who was sufficiently well acquainted
with him to divine the wretchedness of his soul, and would be likely to
afford him some clew as to the justice of his suspicions, even without
being directly questioned on the subject. One evening, therefore, he
sat down and by the light of his lamp concocted a long, artful letter,
full of vague sadness and poetical allusions to the delights of early
spring in the country and veiled requests for information. When he got
his mail four days later he recognized at the very first glance the
novelist's firm, upright handwriting.

Lamarthe sent him a thousand items of news that were of great
importance to his jealous eyes. Without laying more stress upon Mme.
de Burne and Bernhaus than upon any other of the crowd of people whom
he mentioned, he seemed to place them in the foreground by one of
those tricks of style characteristic of him, which led the attention
to just the point where he wished to lead it without revealing his
design. The impression that this letter, taken as a whole, left upon
Mariolle was that his suspicions were at least not destitute of
foundation. His fears would be realized to-morrow, if they had not been
yesterday. His former mistress was always the same, leading the same
busy, brilliant, fashionable life. He had been the subject of some talk
after his disappearance, as the world always talks of people who have
disappeared, with lukewarm curiosity.

After the receipt of this letter he remained in his hammock until
nightfall; then he could eat no dinner, and after that he could get no
sleep; he was feverish through the night. The next morning he felt so
tired, so discouraged, so disgusted with his weary, monotonous life,
between the deep silent forest that was now dark with verdure on the
one hand and the tiresome little stream that flowed beneath his windows
on the other, that he did not leave his bed.

When Elisabeth came to his room in response to the summons of his bell,
she stood in the doorway pale with surprise and asked him: "Is Monsieur
ill?"

"Yes, a little."

"Shall I send for the doctor?"

"No. I am subject to these slight indispositions."

"What can I do for Monsieur?"

He ordered his bath to be got ready, a breakfast of eggs alone, and tea
at intervals during the day.

About one o'clock, however, he became so restless that he determined to
get up. Elisabeth, whom he had rung for repeatedly during the morning
with the fretful irresolution of a man who imagines himself ill and who
had always come up to him with a deep desire of being of assistance,
now, beholding him so nervous and restless, with a blush for her own
boldness, offered to read to him.

He asked her: "Do you read well?"

"Yes, Monsieur; I gained all the prizes for reading when I was at
school in the city, and I have read so many novels to mamma that I
can't begin to remember the names of them."

He was curious to see how she would do, and he sent her into the studio
to look among the books that he had packed up for the one that he
liked best of all, "Manon Lescaut."

When she returned she helped him to settle himself in bed, arranged
two pillows behind his back, took a chair, and began to read. She read
well, very well indeed, intelligently and with a pleasing accent that
seemed a special gift. She evinced her interest in the story from the
commencement and showed so much feeling as she advanced in it that
he stopped her now and then to ask her a question and have a little
conversation about the plot and the characters.

Through the open windows, on the warm breeze loaded with the sweet
odors of growing things, came the trills and _roulades_ of the
nightingales among the trees saluting their mates with their amorous
ditties in this season of awakening love. The young girl, too, was
moved beneath André's gaze as she followed with bright eyes the plot
unwinding page by page.

She answered the questions that he put to her with an innate
appreciation of the things connected with tenderness and passion, an
appreciation that was just, but, owing to the ignorance natural to
her position, sometimes crude. He thought: "This girl would be very
intelligent and bright if she had a little teaching."

Her womanly charm had already begun to make itself felt in him, and
really did him good that warm, still, spring afternoon, mingling
strangely with that other charm, so powerful and so mysterious, of
"Manon," the strangest conception of woman ever evoked by human
ingenuity.

When it became dark after this day of inactivity Mariolle sank into
a kind of dreaming, dozing state, in which confused visions of Mme.
de Burne and Elisabeth and the mistress of Des Grieux rose before his
eyes. As he had not left his room since the day before and had taken
no exercise to fatigue him he slept lightly and was disturbed by an
unusual noise that he heard about the house.

Once or twice before he had thought that he heard faint sounds
and footsteps at night coming from the ground floor, not directly
underneath his room, but from the laundry and bath-room, small rooms
that adjoined the kitchen. He had given the matter no attention,
however.

This evening, tired of lying in bed and knowing that he had a long
period of wakefulness before him, he listened and distinguished
something that sounded like the rustling of a woman's garments and
the splashing of water. He decided that he would go and investigate,
lighted a candle and looked at his watch; it was barely ten o'clock. He
dressed himself, and having slipped a revolver into his pocket, made
his way down the stairs on tiptoe with the stealthiness of a cat.

When he reached the kitchen, he was surprised to see that there was a
fire burning in the furnace. There was not a sound to be heard, but
presently he was conscious of something stirring in the bath-room, a
small, whitewashed apartment that opened off the kitchen and contained
nothing but the tub. He went noiselessly to the door and threw it open
with a quick movement; there, extended in the tub, he beheld the most
beautiful form that he had ever seen in his life.

It was Elisabeth.



CHAPTER XIII.


MARIOLLE COPIES MME DE BURNE


When she appeared before him next morning bringing him his tea and
toast, and their eyes met, she began to tremble so that the cup and
sugar-bowl rattled on the salver. Mariolle went to her and relieved her
of her burden and placed it on the table; then, as she still kept her
eyes fastened on the floor, he said to her: "Look at me, little one."

She raised her eyes to him; they were full of tears.

"You must not cry," he continued. As he held her in his arms, she
murmured: "_Oh! mon Dieu!"_ He knew that it was not regret, nor sorrow,
nor remorse that had elicited from her those three agitated words, but
happiness, true happiness. It gave him a strange, selfish feeling of
delight, physical rather than moral, to feel this small person resting
against his heart, to feel there at last the presence of a woman who
loved him. He thanked her for it, as a wounded man lying by the
roadside would thank a woman who had stopped to succor him; he thanked
her with all his lacerated heart, and he pitied her a little, too,
in the depths of his soul. As he watched her thus, pale and tearful,
with eyes alight with love, he suddenly said to himself: "Why, she is
beautiful! How quickly a woman changes, becomes what she ought to be,
under the influence of the desires of her feelings and the necessities
of her existence!"

"Sit down," he said to her. He took her hands in his, her poor toiling
hands that she had made white and pretty for his sake, and very gently,
in carefully chosen phrases, he spoke to her of the attitude that they
should maintain toward each other. She was no longer his servant, but
she would preserve the appearance of being so for a while yet, so as
not to create a scandal in the village. She would live with him as his
housekeeper and would read to him frequently, and that would serve to
account for the change in the situation. He would have her eat at his
table after a little, as soon as she should be permanently installed in
her position as his reader.

When he had finished she simply replied: "No, Monsieur, I am your
servant, and I will continue to be so. I do not wish to have people
learn what has taken place and talk about it."

He could not shake her determination, although he urged her
strenuously, and when he had drunk his tea she carried away the salver
while he followed her with a softened look.

When she was gone he reflected. "She is a woman," he thought, "and
all women are equal when they are pleasing in our eyes. I have
made my waitress my mistress. She is pretty, she will be charming!
At all events she is younger and fresher than the _mondaines_ and
the _cocottes_. What difference does it make, after all? How many
celebrated actresses have been daughters of _concierges_! And yet they
are received as ladies, they are adored like heroines of romance, and
princes bow before them as if they were queens. Is this to be accounted
for on the score of their talent, which is often doubtful, or of their
beauty, which is often questionable? Not at all. But a woman, in truth,
always holds the place that she is able to create for herself by the
illusion that she is capable of inspiring."

He took a long walk that day, and although he still felt the same
distress at the bottom of his heart and his legs were heavy under him,
as if his suffering had loosened all the springs of his energy, there
was a feeling of gladness within him like the song of a little bird. He
was not so lonely, he felt himself less utterly abandoned; the forest
appeared to him less silent and less void.

He returned to his house with the glad thought that Elisabeth would
come out to meet him with a smile upon her lips and a look of
tenderness in her eyes.

The life that he now led for about a month on the bank of the little
stream was a real idyl. Mariolle was loved as perhaps very few men
have ever been, as a child is loved by its mother, as the hunter is
loved by his dog. He was all in all to her, her Heaven and earth, her
charm and delight. He responded to all her ardent and artless womanly
advances, giving her in a kiss her fill of ecstasy. In her eyes and in
her soul, in her heart and in her flesh there was no object but him;
her intoxication was like that of a young man who tastes wine for the
first time. Surprised and delighted, he reveled in the bliss of this
absolute self-surrender, and he felt that this was drinking of love at
its fountain-head, at the very lips of nature.

Nevertheless he continued to be sad, sad, and haunted by his deep,
unyielding disenchantment. His little mistress was agreeable, but
he always felt the absence of another, and when he walked in the
meadows or on the banks of the Loing and asked himself: "Why does
this lingering care stay by me so?" such an intolerable feeling of
desolation rose within him as the recollection of Paris crossed his
mind that he had to return to the house so as not to be alone.

Then he would swing in the hammock, while Elisabeth, seated on a
camp-chair, would read to him. As he watched her and listened to her he
would recall to mind conversations in the drawing-room of Michèle, in
the days when he passed whole evenings alone with her. Then tears would
start to his eyes, and such bitter regret would tear his heart that he
felt that he must start at once for Paris or else leave the country
forever.

Elisabeth, seeing his gloom and melancholy, asked him: "Are you
suffering? Your eyes are full of tears."

"Give me a kiss, little one," he replied; "you could not understand."

She kissed him, anxiously, with a foreboding of some tragedy that was
beyond her knowledge. He, forgetting his woes for a moment beneath her
caresses, thought: "Oh! for a woman who could be these two in one, who
might have the affection of the one and the charm of the other! Why is
it that we never encounter the object of our dreams, that we always
meet with something that is only approximately like them?"

He continued his vague reflections, soothed by the monotonous sound
of the voice that fell unheeded on his ear, upon all the charms that
had combined to seduce and vanquish him in the mistress whom he had
abandoned. In the besetment of her memory, of her imaginary presence,
by which he was haunted as a visionary by a phantom, he asked himself:
"Am I condemned to carry her image with me to all eternity?"

He again applied himself to taking long walks, to roaming through the
thicknesses of the forest, with the vague hope that he might lose her
somewhere, in the depths of a ravine, behind a rock, in a thicket, as
a man who wishes to rid himself of an animal that he does not care to
kill sometimes takes it away a long distance so that it may not find
its way home.

In the course of one of these walks he one day came again to the spot
where the beeches grew. It was now a gloomy forest, almost as black as
night, with impenetrable foliage. He passed along beneath the immense,
deep vault in the damp, sultry air, thinking regretfully of his earlier
visit when the little half-opened leaves resembled a verdant, sunshiny
mist, and as he was following a narrow path, he suddenly stopped in
astonishment before two trees that had grown together. It was a sturdy
beech embracing with two of its branches a tall, slender oak; and
there could have been no picture of his love that would have appealed
more forcibly and more touchingly to his imagination. Mariolle seated
himself to contemplate them at his ease. To his diseased mind, as
they stood there in their motionless strife, they became splendid and
terrible symbols, telling to him, and to all who might pass that way,
the everlasting story of his love.

Then he went on his way again, sadder than before, and as he walked
along, slowly and with eyes downcast, he all at once perceived, half
hidden by the grass and stained by mud and rain, an old telegram that
had been lost or thrown there by some wayfarer. He stopped. What was
the message of joy or sorrow that the bit of blue paper that lay there
at his feet had brought to some expectant soul?

He could not help picking it up and opening it with a mingled feeling
of curiosity and disgust. The words "Come--me--four o'clock--" were
still legible; the names had been obliterated by the moisture.

Memories, at once cruel and delightful, thronged upon his mind of all
the messages that he had received from her, now to appoint the hour for
a rendezvous, now to tell him that she could not come to him. Never had
anything caused him such emotion, nor startled him so violently, nor
so stopped his poor heart and then set it thumping again as had the
sight of those messages, burning or freezing him as the case might be.
The thought that he should never receive more of them filled him with
unutterable sorrow.

Again he asked himself what her thoughts had been since he left her.
Had she suffered, had she regretted the friend whom her coldness had
driven from her, or had she merely experienced a feeling of wounded
vanity and thought nothing more of his abandonment? His desire to learn
the truth was so strong and so persistent that a strange and audacious,
yet only half-formed resolve, came into his head. He took the road
to Fontainebleau, and when he reached the city went to the telegraph
office, his mind in a fluctuating state of unrest and indecision; but
an irresistible force proceeding from his heart seemed to urge him on.
With a trembling hand, then, he took from the desk a printed blank and
beneath the name and address of Mme. de Burne wrote this dispatch:

    "I would so much like to know what you think of me! For my
    part I can forget nothing. ANDRÉ MARIOLLE."

Then he went out, engaged a carriage, and returned to Montigny,
disturbed in mind by what he had done and regretting it already.

He had calculated that in case she condescended to answer him he
would receive a letter from her two days later, but the fear and the
hope that she might send him a dispatch kept him in his house all the
following day. He was in his hammock under the lindens on the terrace,
when, about three o'clock, Elisabeth came to tell him that there was a
lady at the house who wanted to see him.

The shock was so great that his breath failed him for a moment and his
legs bent under him, and his heart beat violently as he went toward
the house. And yet he could not dare hope that it was she.

When he appeared at the drawing-room door Mme. de Burne arose from
the sofa where she was sitting and came forward to shake hands with a
rather reserved smile upon her face, with a slight constraint of manner
and attitude, saying: "I came to see how you are, as your message did
not give me much information on the subject."

He had become so pale that a flash of delight rose to her eyes, and his
emotion was so great that he could not speak, could only hold his lips
glued to the hand that she had given him.

"_Dieu!_ how kind of you!" he said at last.

"No; but I do not forget my friends, and I was anxious about you."

She looked him in the face with that rapid, searching woman's look
that reads everything, fathoms one's thoughts to their very roots,
and unmasks every artifice. She was satisfied, apparently, for her
face brightened with a smile. "You have a pretty hermitage here," she
continued. "Does happiness reside in it?"

"No, Madame."

"Is it possible? In this fine country, at the side of this beautiful
forest, on the banks of this pretty stream? Why, you ought to be at
rest and quite contented here."

"I am not, Madame."

"Why not, then?"

"Because I cannot forget."

"Is it indispensable to your happiness that you should forget
something?"

"Yes, Madame."

"May one know what?"

"You know."

"And then?"

"And then I am very wretched."

She said to him with mingled fatuity and commiseration: "I thought that
was the case when I received your telegram, and that was the reason
that I came, with the resolve that I would go back again at once if I
found that I had made a mistake." She was silent a moment and then went
on: "Since I am not going back immediately, may I go and look around
your place? That little alley of lindens yonder has a very charming
appearance: it looks as if it might be cooler out there than here in
this drawing-room."

They went out. She had on a mauve dress that harmonized so well with
the verdure of the trees and the blue of the sky that she appeared to
him like some amazing apparition, of an entirely new style of beauty
and seductiveness. Her tall and willowy form, her bright, clean-cut
features, the little blaze of blond hair beneath a hat that was mauve,
like the dress, and lightly crowned by a long plume of ostrich-feathers
rolled about it, her tapering arms with the two hands holding the
closed sunshade crosswise before her, the loftiness of her carriage,
and the directness of her step seemed to introduce into the humble
little garden something exotic, something that was foreign to it. It
was a figure from one of Watteau's pictures, or from some fairy-tale or
dream, the imagination of a poet's or an artist's fancy, which had been
seized by the whim of coming away to the country to show how beautiful
it was. As Mariolle looked at her, all trembling with his newly lighted
passion, he recalled to mind the two peasant women that he had seen in
Montigny village.

"Who is the little person who opened the door for me?" she inquired.

"She is my servant."

"She does not look like a waitress."

"No; she is very good looking."

"Where did you secure her?"

"Quite near here; in an inn frequented by painters, where her innocence
was in danger from the customers."

"And you preserved it?"

He blushed and replied: "Yes, I preserved it."

"To your own advantage, perhaps."

"Certainly, to my own advantage, for I would rather have a pretty face
about me than an ugly one."

"Is that the only feeling that she inspires in you?"

"Perhaps it was she who inspired in me the irresistible desire of
seeing you again, for every woman when she attracts my eyes, even if it
is only for the duration of a second, carries my thoughts back to you."

"That was a very pretty piece of special pleading! And does she love
her preserver?"

He blushed more deeply than before. Quick as lightning the thought
flashed through his mind that jealousy is always efficacious as a
stimulant to a woman's feelings, and decided him to tell only half a
lie, so he answered, hesitatingly: "I don't know how that is; it may be
so. She is very attentive to me."

Rather pettishly, Mme. de Burne murmured: "And you?"

He fastened upon her his eyes that were aflame with love, and replied:
"Nothing could ever distract my thoughts from you."

This was also a very shrewd answer, but the phrase seemed to her so
much the expression of an indisputable truth, that she let it pass
without noticing it. Could a woman such as she have any doubts about
a thing like that? So she was satisfied, in fact, and had no further
doubts upon the subject of Elisabeth.

They took two canvas chairs and seated themselves in the shade of the
lindens over the running stream. He asked her: "What did you think of
me?"

"That you must have been very wretched."

"Was it through my fault or yours?"

"Through the fault of us both."

"And then?"

"And then, knowing how beside yourself you were, I reflected that it
would be best to give you a little time to cool down. So I waited."

"What were you waiting for?"

"For a word from you. I received it, and here I am. Now we are going to
talk like people of sense. So you love me still? I do not ask you this
as a coquette--I ask it as your friend."

"I love you still."

"And what is it that you wish?"

"How can I answer that? I am in your power."

"Oh! my ideas are very clear, but I will not tell you them without
first knowing what yours are. Tell me of yourself, of what has been
passing in your heart and in your mind since you ran away from me."

"I have been thinking of you; I have had no other occupation." He told
her of his resolution to forget her, his flight, his coming to the
great forest in which he had found nothing but her image, of his days
filled with memories of her, and his long nights of consuming jealousy;
he told her everything, with entire truthfulness, always excepting his
love for Elisabeth, whose name he did not mention.

She listened, well assured that he was not lying, convinced by her
inner consciousness of her power over him, even more than by the
sincerity of his manner, and delighted with her victory, glad that she
was about to regain him, for she loved him still.

Then he bemoaned himself over this situation that seemed to have no
end, and warming up as he told of all that he had suffered after having
carried it so long in his thoughts, he again reproached her, but
without anger, without bitterness, in terms of impassioned poetry, with
that impotency of loving of which she was the victim. He told her over
and over: "Others have not the gift of pleasing; you have not the gift
of loving."

She interrupted him, speaking warmly, full of arguments and
illustrations. "At least I have the gift of being faithful," she said.
"Suppose I had adored you for ten months, and then fallen in love with
another man, would you be less unhappy than you are?"

He exclaimed: "Is it, then, impossible for a woman to love only one
man?"

But she had her answer ready for him: "No one can keep on loving
forever; all that one can do is to be constant. Do you believe that
that exalted delirium of the senses can last for years? No, no. As
for the most of those women who are addicted to passions, to violent
caprices of greater or less duration, they simply transform life into
a novel. Their heroes are different, the events and circumstances are
unforeseen and constantly changing, the _dénouement_ varies. I admit
that for them it is amusing and diverting, for with every change they
have a new set of emotions, but for _him_--when it is ended, that is
the last of it. Do you understand me?"

"Yes; what you say has some truth in it. But I do not see what you are
getting at."

"It is this: there is no passion that endures a very long time; by
that I mean a burning, torturing passion like that from which you are
suffering now. It is a crisis that I have made hard, very hard for you
to bear--I know it, and I feel it--by--by the aridity of my tenderness
and the paralysis of my emotional nature. This crisis will pass away,
however, for it cannot last forever."

"And then?" he asked with anxiety.

"Then I think that to a woman who is as reasonable and calm as I am you
can make yourself a lover who will be pleasing in every way, for you
have a great deal of tact. On the other hand you would make a terrible
husband. But there is no such thing as a good husband, there never can
be."

He was surprised and a little offended. "Why," he asked, "do you wish
to keep a lover that you do not love?"

She answered, impetuously: "I do love him, my friend, after my fashion.
I do not love ardently, but I love."

"You require above everything else to be loved and to have your lovers
make a show of their love."

"It is true. That is what I like. But beyond that my heart requires a
companion apart from the others. My vainglorious passion for public
homage does not interfere with my capacity for being faithful and
devoted; it does not destroy my belief that I have something of myself
that I could bestow upon a lover that no other man should have: my
loyal affection, the sincere attachment of my heart, the entire and
secret trustfulness of my soul; in exchange for which I should receive
from him, together with all the tenderness of a lover, the sensation,
so sweet and so rare, of not being entirely alone upon the earth.
That is not love from the way you look at it, but it is not entirely
valueless, either."

He bent over toward her, trembling with emotion, and stammered: "Will
you let me be that man?"

"Yes, after a little, when you are more yourself. In the meantime,
resign yourself to a little suffering once in a while, for my sake.
Since you have to suffer in any event, isn't it better to endure it at
my side rather than somewhere far from me?" Her smile seemed to say
to him: "Why can you not have confidence in me?" and as she eyed him
there, his whole frame quivering with passion, she experienced through
every fiber of her being a feeling of satisfied well-being that made
her happy in her way, in the way that the bird of prey is happy when
he sees his quarry lying fascinated beneath him and awaiting the fatal
talons.

"When do you return to Paris?" she asked.

"Why--to-morrow!"

"To-morrow be it. You will come and dine with me?"

"Yes, Madame."

"And now I must be going," said she, looking at the watch set in the
handle of her parasol.

"Oh! why so soon?"

"Because I must catch the five o'clock train. I have company to dinner
to-day, several persons: the Princess de Malten, Bernhaus, Lamarthe,
Massival, De Maltry, and a stranger, M. de Charlaine, the explorer, who
is just back from upper Cambodia, after a wonderful journey. He is all
the talk just now."

Mariolle's spirits fell; it hurt him to hear these names mentioned one
after the other, as if he had been stung by so many wasps. They were
poison to him.

"Will you go now?" he said, "and we can drive through the forest and
see something of it."

"I shall be very glad to. First give me a cup of tea and some toast."

When the tea was served, Elisabeth was not to be found. The cook said
that she had gone out to make some purchases. This did not surprise
Mme. de Burne, for what had she to fear now from this servant? Then
they got into the landau that was standing before the door, and
Mariolle made the coachman take them to the station by a roundabout way
which took them past the Gorge-aux-Loups. As they rolled along beneath
the shade of the great trees where the nightingales were singing,
she was seized by the ineffable sensation that the mysterious and
all-powerful charm of nature impresses on the heart of man. "_Dieu!_"
she said, "how beautiful it is, how calm and restful!"

He accompanied her to the station, and as they were about to part she
said to him: "I shall see you to-morrow at eight o'clock, then?"

"To-morrow at eight o'clock, Madame."

She, radiant with happiness, went her way, and he returned to his house
in the landau, happy and contented, but uneasy withal, for he knew that
this was not the end.

Why should he resist? He felt that he could not. She held him by a
charm that he could not understand, that was stronger than all. Flight
would not deliver him, would not sever him from her, but would be an
intolerable privation, while if he could only succeed in showing a
little resignation, he would obtain from her at least as much as she
had promised, for she was a woman who always kept her word.

The horses trotted along under the trees and he reflected that not
once during that interview had she put up her lips to him for a kiss.
She was ever the same; nothing in her would ever change and he would
always, perhaps, have to suffer at her hands in just that same way.
The remembrance of the bitter hours that he had already passed, with
the intolerable certainty that he would never succeed in rousing her
to passion, laid heavy on his heart, and gave him a clear foresight of
struggles to come and of similar distress in the future. Still, he was
content to suffer everything rather than lose her again, resigned even
to that everlasting, ever unappeased desire that rioted in his veins
and burned into his flesh.

The raging thoughts that had so often possessed him on his way back
alone from Auteuil were now setting in again. They began to agitate
his frame as the landau rolled smoothly along in the cool shadows of
the great trees, when all at once the thought of Elisabeth awaiting
him there at his door, she, too, young and fresh and pretty, her
heart full of love and her mouth full of kisses, brought peace to his
soul. Presently he would be holding her in his arms, and, closing his
eyes and deceiving himself as men deceive others, confounding in the
intoxication of the embrace her whom he loved and her by whom he was
loved, he would possess them both at once. Even now it was certain that
he had a liking for her, that grateful attachment of soul and body that
always pervades the human animal as the result of love inspired and
pleasure shared in common. This child whom he had made his own, would
she not be to his dry and wasting love the little spring that bubbles
up at the evening halting place, the promise of the cool draught that
sustains our energy as wearily we traverse the burning desert?

When he regained the house, however, the girl had not come in. He was
frightened and uneasy and said to the other servant: "You are sure that
she went out?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

Thereupon he also went out in the hope of finding her. When he had
taken a few steps and was about to turn into the long street that runs
up the valley, he beheld before him the old, low church, surmounted by
its square tower, seated upon a little knoll and watching the houses of
its small village as a hen watches over her chicks. A presentiment that
she was there impelled him to enter. Who can tell the strange glimpses
of the truth that a woman's heart is capable of perceiving? What had
she thought, how much had she understood? Where could she have fled for
refuge but there, if the shadow of the truth had passed before her eyes?

The church was very dark, for night was closing in. The dim lamp,
hanging from its chain, suggested in the tabernacle the ideal presence
of the divine Consoler. With hushed footsteps Mariolle passed up along
the lines of benches. When he reached the choir he saw a woman on her
knees, her face hidden in her hands. He approached, recognized her, and
touched her on the shoulder. They were alone.

She gave a great start as she turned her head. She was weeping.

"What is the matter?" he said.

She murmured: "I see it all. You came here because she had caused you
to suffer. She came to take you away."

He spoke in broken accents, touched by the grief that he in turn had
caused: "You are mistaken, little one. I am going back to Paris,
indeed, but I shall take you with me."

She repeated, incredulously: "It can't be true, it can't be true."

"I swear to you that it is true."

"When?"

"To-morrow."

She began again to sob and groan: "My God! My God!"

Then he raised her to her feet and led her down the hill through the
thick blackness of the night, but when they came to the river-bank he
made her sit down upon the grass and placed himself beside her. He
heard the beating of her heart and her quick breathing, and clasping
her to his heart, troubled by his remorse, he whispered to her gentle
words that he had never used before. Softened by pity and burning with
desire, every word that he uttered was true; he did not endeavor to
deceive her, and surprised himself at what he said and what he felt, he
wondered how it was that, thrilling yet with the presence of that other
one whose slave he was always to be, he could tremble thus with longing
and emotion while consoling this love-stricken heart.

He promised that he would love her,--he did not say simply "love"--,
that he would give her a nice little house near his own and pretty
furniture to put in it and a servant to wait on her. She was reassured
as she listened to him, and gradually grew calmer, for she could not
believe that he was capable of deceiving her, and besides his tone and
manner told her that he was sincere. Convinced at length and dazzled
by the vision of being a lady, by the prospect--so undreamed of by the
poor girl, the servant of the inn--of becoming the "good friend" of
such a rich, nice gentleman, she was carried away in a whirl of pride,
covetousness, and gratitude that mingled with her fondness for André.
Throwing her arms about his neck and covering his face with kisses,
she stammered: "Oh! I love you so! You are all in all to me!"

He was touched and returned her caresses. "Darling! My little darling!"
he murmured.

Already she had almost forgotten the appearance of the stranger who
but now had caused her so much sorrow. There must have been some vague
feeling of doubt floating in her mind, however, for presently she asked
him in a tremulous voice: "Really and truly, you will love me as you
love me now?"

And unhesitatingly he replied: "I will love you as I love you now."



THE OLIVE GROVE

AND

OTHER TALES



THE OLIVE GROVE


When the 'longshoremen of Garandou, a little port of Provence, situated
in the bay of Pisca, between Marseilles and Toulon, perceived the boat
of the Abbé Vilbois entering the harbor, they went down to the beach to
help him pull her ashore.

The priest was alone in the boat. In spite of his fifty-eight years,
he rowed with all the energy of a real sailor. He had placed his hat
on the bench beside him, his sleeves were rolled up, disclosing his
powerful arms, his cassock was open at the neck and turned over his
knees, and he wore a round hat of heavy, white canvas. His whole
appearance bespoke an odd and strenuous priest of southern climes,
better fitted for adventures than for clerical duties.

He rowed with strong and measured strokes, as if to show the southern
sailors how the men of the north handle the oars, and from time to time
he turned around to look at the landing point.

The skiff struck the beach and slid far up, the bow plowing through the
sand; then it stopped abruptly. The five men watching for the abbé
drew near, jovial and smiling.

"Well!" said one, with the strong accent of Provence, "have you been
successful, Monsieur le Curé?"

The abbé drew in the oars, removed his canvas head-covering, put on
his hat, pulled down his sleeves, and buttoned his coat. Then having
assumed the usual appearance of a village priest, he replied proudly:
"Yes, I have caught three red-snappers, two eels, and five sunfish."

The fishermen gathered around the boat to examine, with the air of
experts, the dead fish, the fat red-snappers, the flat-headed eels,
those hideous sea-serpents, and the violet sunfish, streaked with
bright orange-colored stripes.

Said one: "I'll carry them up to your house, Monsieur le Curé."

"Thank you, my friend."

Having shaken hands all around, the priest started homeward, followed
by the man with the fish; the others took charge of the boat.

The Abbé Vilbois walked along slowly with an air of dignity. The
exertion of rowing had brought beads of perspiration to his brow and
he uncovered his head each time that he passed through the shade of an
olive grove. The warm evening air, freshened by a slight breeze from
the sea, cooled his high forehead covered with short, white hair, a
forehead far more suggestive of an officer than of a priest.

The village appeared, built on a hill rising from a large valley which
descended toward the sea.

It was a summer evening. The dazzling sun, traveling toward the ragged
crests of the distant hills, outlined on the white, dusty road the
figure of the priest, the shadow of whose three-cornered hat bobbed
merrily over the fields, sometimes apparently climbing the trunks of
the olive-trees, only to fall immediately to the ground and creep among
them.

With every step he took, he raised a cloud of fine, white dust, the
invisible powder which, in summer, covers the roads of Provence; it
clung to the edge of his cassock turning it grayish white. Completely
refreshed, his hands deep in his pockets, he strode along slowly and
ponderously, like a mountaineer. His eyes were fixed on the distant
village where he had lived twenty years, and where he hoped to die.
Its church--his church--rose above the houses clustered around it;
the square turrets of gray stone, of unequal proportions and quaint
design, stood outlined against the beautiful southern valley; and their
architecture suggested the fortifications of some old château rather
than the steeples of a place of worship.

The abbé was happy; for he had caught three red-snappers, two eels,
and five sunfish. It would enable him to triumph again over his flock,
which respected him, no doubt, because he was one of the most powerful
men of the place, despite his years. These little innocent vanities
were his greatest pleasures. He was a fine marksman; sometimes he
practiced with his neighbor, a retired army provost who kept a tobacco
shop; he could also swim better than anyone along the coast.

In his day he had been a well-known society man, the Baron de Vilbois,
but had entered the priesthood after an unfortunate love-affair. Being
the scion of an old family of Picardy, devout and royalistic, whose
sons for centuries had entered the army, the magistracy, or the Church,
his first thought was to follow his mother's advice and become a
priest. But he yielded to his father's suggestion that he should study
law in Paris and seek some high office.

While he was completing his studies his father was carried off by
pneumonia; his mother, who was greatly affected by the loss, died soon
afterward. He came into a fortune, and consequently gave up the idea of
following a profession to live a life of idleness. He was handsome and
intelligent, but somewhat prejudiced by the traditions and principles
which he had inherited, along with his muscular frame, from a long line
of ancestors.

Society gladly welcomed him and he enjoyed himself after the fashion of
a well-to-do and seriously inclined young man. But it happened that a
friend introduced him to a young actress, a pupil of the Conservatoire,
who was appearing with great success at the Odéon. It was a case of
love at first sight.

His sentiment had all the violence, the passion of a man born to
believe in absolute ideas. He saw her act the romantic rôle in which
she had achieved a triumph the first night of her appearance. She was
pretty, and, though naturally perverse, possessed the face of an angel.

She conquered him completely; she transformed him into a delirious
fool, into one of those ecstatic idiots whom a woman's look will
forever chain to the pyre of fatal passions. She became his mistress
and left the stage. They lived together four years, his love for her
increasing during the time. He would have married her in spite of his
proud name and family traditions, had he not discovered that for a long
time she had been unfaithful to him with the friend who had introduced
them.

The awakening was terrible, for she was about to become a mother, and
he was awaiting the birth of the child to make her his wife.

When he held the proof of her transgressions,--some letters found in a
drawer,--he confronted her with his knowledge and reproached her with
all the savageness of his uncouth nature for her unfaithfulness and
deceit. But she, a child of the people, being as sure of this man as of
the other, braved and insulted him with the inherited daring of those
women, who, in times of war, mounted with the men on the barricades.

He would have struck her to the ground--but she showed him her form.
As white as death, he checked himself, remembering that a child of his
would soon be born to this vile, polluted creature. He rushed at her
to crush them both, to obliterate this double shame. Reeling under his
blows, and seeing that he was about to stamp out the life of her unborn
babe, she realized that she was lost. Throwing out her hands to parry
the blows, she cried:

"Do not kill me! It is his, not yours!"

He fell back, so stunned with surprise that for a moment his rage
subsided. He stammered:

"What? What did you say?"

Crazed with fright, having read her doom in his eyes and gestures, she
repeated: "It's not yours, it's his."

Through his clenched teeth he stammered:

"The child?"

"Yes."

"You lie!"

And again he lifted his foot as if to crush her, while she struggled to
her knees in a vain attempt to rise. "I tell you it's his. If it was
yours, wouldn't it have come much sooner?"

He was struck by the truth of this argument. In a moment of strange
lucidity, his mind evolved precise, conclusive, irresistible reasons to
disclaim the child of this miserable woman, and he felt so appeased, so
happy at the thought, that he decided to let her live.

He then spoke in a calmer voice: "Get up and leave, and never let me
see you again."

Quite cowed, she obeyed him and went. He never saw her again.

Then he left Paris and came south. He stopped in a village situated
in a valley, near the coast of the Mediterranean. Selecting for his
abode an inn facing the sea, he lived there eighteen months in complete
seclusion, nursing his sorrow and despair. The memory of the unfaithful
one tortured him; her grace, her charm, her perversity haunted him, and
withal came the regret of her caresses.

He wandered aimlessly in those beautiful vales of Provence, baring his
head, filled with the thoughts of that woman, to the sun that filtered
through the grayish-green leaves of the olive-trees.

His former ideas of religion, the abated ardor of his faith, returned
to him during his sorrowful retreat. Religion had formerly seemed a
refuge from the unknown temptations of life, now it appeared as a
refuge from its snares and tortures. He had never given up the habit of
prayer. In his sorrow, he turned anew to its consolations, and often
at dusk he would wander into the little village church, where in the
darkness gleamed the light of the lamp hung above the altar, to guard
the sanctuary and symbolize the Divine Presence.

He confided his sorrow to his God, told Him of his misery, asking
advice, pity, help, and consolation. Each day, his fervid prayers
disclosed stronger faith.

The bleeding heart of this man, crushed by love for a woman, still
longed for affection; and soon his prayers, his seclusion, his constant
communion with the Savior who consoles and cheers the weary, wrought a
change in him, and the mystic love of God entered his soul, casting out
the love of the flesh.

He then decided to take up his former plans and to devote his life to
the Church.

He became a priest. Through family connections he succeeded in
obtaining a call to the parish of this village which he had come across
by chance. Devoting a large part of his fortune to the maintenance of
charitable institutions, and keeping only enough to enable him to help
the poor as long as he lived, he sought refuge in a quiet life filled
with prayer and acts of kindness toward his fellow-men.

Narrow-minded but kind-hearted, a priest with a soldier's temperament,
he guided his blind, erring flock forcibly through the mazes of this
life in which every taste, instinct, and desire is a pitfall. But
the old man in him never disappeared entirely. He continued to love
out-of-door exercise and noble sports, but he hated every woman, having
an almost childish fear of their dangerous fascination.


II.

The sailor who followed the priest, being a southerner, found it
difficult to refrain from talking. But he did not dare start a
conversation, for the abbé exerted a great prestige over his flock. At
last he ventured a remark: "So you like your lodge, do you, Monsieur le
Curé?"

This lodge was one of the tiny constructions that are inhabited during
the summer by the villagers and the town people alike. It was situated
in a field not far from the parish-house, and the abbé had hired it
because the latter was very small and built in the heart of the village
next to the church.

During the summer time, he did not live altogether at the lodge, but
would remain a few days at a time to practice pistol-shooting and be
close to nature.

"Yes, my friend," said the priest, "I like it very well."

The low structure could now be seen; it was painted pink, and the walls
were almost hidden under the leaves and branches of the olive-trees
that grew in the open field. A tall woman was passing in and out of the
door, setting a small table at which she placed, at each trip, a knife
and fork, a glass, a plate, a napkin, and a piece of bread. She wore
the small cap of the women of Arles, a pointed cone of silk or black
velvet, decorated with a white rosette.

When the abbé was near enough to make himself heard, he shouted:

"Eh! Marguerite!"

She stopped to ascertain whence the voice came, and recognizing her
master: "Oh! it's you, Monsieur le Curé!"

"Yes. I have caught some fine fish, and want you to broil this sunfish
immediately, do you hear?"

The servant examined, with a critical and approving glance, the fish
that the sailor carried.

"Yes, but we are going to have a chicken for dinner," she said.

"Well, it cannot be helped. To-morrow the fish will not be as fresh
as it is now. I mean to enjoy a little feast--it does not happen
often--and the sin is not great."

The woman picked out a sunfish and prepared to go into the house.
"Ah!" she said, "a man came to see you three times while you were out,
Monsieur le Curé."

Indifferently he inquired: "A man! What kind of man?"

"Why, a man whose appearance was not in his favor."

"What! a beggar?"

"Perhaps--I don't know. But I think he is more of a 'maoufatan.'"

The abbé smiled at this word, which, in the language of Provence means
a highwayman, a tramp, for he was well aware of Marguerite's timidity,
and knew that every day and especially every night she fancied they
would be murdered.

He handed a few sous to the sailor, who departed. And just as he was
saying: "I am going to wash my hands,"--for his past dainty habits
still clung to him,--Marguerite called to him from the kitchen
where she was scraping the fish with a knife, thereby detaching its
blood-stained, silvery scales:

"There he comes!"

The abbé looked down the road and saw a man coming slowly toward
the house; he seemed poorly dressed, indeed, so far as he could
distinguish. He could not help smiling at his servant's anxiety, and
thought, while he waited for the stranger: "I think, after all, she is
right; he does look like a 'maoufatan.'"

The man walked slowly, with his eyes on the priest and his hands buried
deep in his pockets. He was young and wore a full, blond beard; strands
of curly hair escaped from his soft felt hat, which was so dirty
and battered that it was impossible to imagine its former color and
appearance. He was clothed in a long, dark overcoat, from which emerged
the frayed edge of his trousers; on his feet were bathing shoes that
deadened his steps, giving him the stealthy walk of a sneak thief.

When he had come within a few steps of the priest, he doffed, with a
sweeping motion, the ragged hat that shaded his brow. He was not bad
looking, though his face showed signs of dissipation and the top of his
head was bald, an indication of premature fatigue and debauch, for he
certainly was not over twenty-five years old.

The priest responded at once to his bow, feeling that this fellow was
not an ordinary tramp, a mechanic out of work, or a jail-bird, hardly
able to speak any other tongue but the mysterious language of prisons.

"How do you do, Monsieur le Curé?" said the man. The priest answered
simply, "I salute you," unwilling to address this ragged stranger as
"Monsieur." They considered each other attentively; the abbé felt
uncomfortable under the gaze of the tramp, invaded by a feeling of
unrest unknown to him.

At last the vagabond continued: "Well, do you recognize me?"

Greatly surprised, the priest answered: "Why, no, you are a stranger to
me."

"Ah! you do not know me? Look at me well."

"I have never seen you before."

"Well, that may be true," replied the man sarcastically, "but let me
show you some one whom you will know better."

He put on his hat and unbuttoned his coat, revealing his bare chest. A
red sash wound around his spare frame held his trousers in place. He
drew an envelope from his coat pocket, one of those soiled wrappers
destined to protect the sundry papers of the tramp, whether they be
stolen or legitimate property, those papers which he guards jealously
and uses to protect himself against the too zealous gendarmes. He
pulled out a photograph about the size of a folded letter, one of those
pictures which were popular long ago; it was yellow and dim with age,
for he had carried it around with him everywhere and the heat of his
body had faded it.

Pushing it under the abbé's eyes, he demanded:

"Do you know him?"

The priest took a step forward to look and grew pale, for it was his
own likeness that he had given Her years ago.

Failing to grasp the meaning of the situation he remained silent.

The tramp repeated:

"Do you recognize him?"

And the priest stammered: "Yes."

"Who is it?"

"It is I."

"It is you?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, look at us both,--at me and at your picture!"

Already the unhappy man had seen that these two beings, the one in the
picture and the one by his side, resembled each other like brothers;
yet he did not understand, and muttered: "Well, what is it you wish?"

Then in an ugly voice, the tramp replied: "What do I wish? Why, first I
wish you to recognize me."

"Who are you?"

"Who am I? Ask anybody by the roadside, ask your servant, let's go and
ask the mayor and show him this; and he will laugh, I tell you that!
Ah! you will not recognize me as your son, papa curé?"

The old man raised his arms above his head, with a patriarchal gesture,
and muttered despairingly: "It cannot be true!"

The young fellow drew quite close to him.

"Ah! It cannot be true, you say! You must stop lying, do you hear?"
His clenched fists and threatening face, and the violence with which
he spoke, made the priest retreat a few steps, while he asked himself
anxiously which one of them was laboring under a mistake.

Again he asserted: "I never had a child."

The other man replied: "And no mistress, either?"

The aged priest resolutely uttered one word, a proud admission:

"Yes."

"And was not this mistress about to give birth to a child when you left
her?"

Suddenly the anger which had been quelled twenty-five years ago, not
quelled, but buried in the heart of the lover, burst through the wall
of faith, resignation, and renunciation he had built around it. Almost
beside himself, he shouted:

"I left her because she was unfaithful to me and was carrying the child
of another man; had it not been for this, I should have killed both you
and her, sir!"

The young man hesitated, taken aback at the sincerity of this outburst.
Then he replied in a gentler voice:

"Who told you that it was another man's child?"

"She told me herself and braved me."

Without contesting this assertion the vagabond assumed the indifferent
tone of a loafer judging a case:

"Well, then, mother made a mistake, that's all!"

After his outburst of rage, the priest had succeeded in mastering
himself sufficiently to be able to inquire:

"And who told you that you were my son?"

"My mother, on her deathbed, M'sieur le Curé. And then--this!" And he
held the picture under the eyes of the priest.

The old man took it from him; and slowly, with a heart bursting with
anguish, he compared this stranger with his faded likeness and doubted
no longer--it was his son.

An awful distress wrung his very soul, a terrible, inexpressible
emotion invaded him; it was like the remorse of some ancient crime. He
began to understand a little, he guessed the rest. He lived over the
brutal scene of the parting. It was to save her life, then, that the
wretched and deceitful woman had lied to him, her outraged lover. And
he had believed her. And a son of his had been brought into the world
and had grown up to be this sordid tramp, who exhaled the very odor of
vice as a goat exhales its animal smell.

He whispered: "Will you take a little walk with me, so that we can
discuss these matters?"

The young man sneered: "Why, certainly! Isn't that what I came for?"

They walked side by side through the olive grove. The sun had gone down
and the coolness of southern twilights spread an invisible cloak over
the country. The priest shivered, and raising his eyes with a familiar
motion, perceived the trembling gray foliage of the holy tree which had
spread its frail shadow over the Son of Man in His great trouble and
despondency.

A short, despairing prayer rose within him, uttered by his soul's
voice, a prayer by which Christians implore the Savior's aid: "O Lord!
have mercy on me."

Turning to his son he said: "So your mother is dead?"

These words, "Your mother is dead," awakened a new sorrow; it was
the torment of the flesh which cannot forget, the cruel echo of past
sufferings; but mostly the thrill of the fleeting, delirious bliss of
his youthful passion.

The young man replied: "Yes, Monsieur le Curé, my mother is dead."

"Has she been dead a long while?"

"Yes, three years."

A new doubt entered the priest's mind. "And why did you not find me out
before?"

The other man hesitated.

"I was unable to, I was prevented. But excuse me for interrupting these
recollections--I will enter into more details later--for I have not had
anything to eat since yesterday morning."

A tremor of pity shook the old man and holding forth both hands: "Oh!
my poor child!" he said.

The young fellow took those big, powerful hands in his own slender and
feverish palms.

Then he replied, with that air of sarcasm which hardly ever left his
lips: "Ah! I'm beginning to think that we shall get along very well
together, after all!"

The curé started toward the lodge.

"Let us go to dinner," he said.

He suddenly remembered, with a vague and instinctive pleasure, the fine
fish he had caught, which, with the chicken, would make a good meal for
the poor fellow.

The servant was in front of the door, watching their approach with an
anxious and forbidding face.

"Marguerite," shouted the abbé, "take the table and put it into the
dining-room, right away; and set two places, as quick as you can."

The woman seemed stunned at the idea that her master was going to dine
with this tramp.

But the abbé, without waiting for her, removed the plate and napkin and
carried the little table into the dining-room.

A few minutes later he was sitting opposite the beggar, in front of a
soup-tureen filled with savory cabbage soup, which sent up a cloud of
fragrant steam.


III.

When the plates were filled, the tramp fell to with ravenous avidity.
The abbé had lost his appetite and ate slowly, leaving the bread in the
bottom of his plate. Suddenly he inquired:

"What is your name?"

The man smiled; he was delighted to satisfy his hunger.

"Father unknown," he said, "and no other name but my mother's, which
you probably remember. But I possess two Christian names, which, by the
way, are quite unsuited to me--Philippe-Auguste."

The priest whitened.

"Why were you named thus?" he asked.

The tramp shrugged his shoulders. "I fancy you ought to know. After
mother left you, she wished to make your rival believe that I was his
child. He did believe it until I was about fifteen. Then I began to
look too much like you. And he disclaimed me, the scoundrel. I had been
christened Philippe-Auguste; now, if I had not resembled a soul, or if
I had been the son of a third person, who had stayed in the background,
to-day I should be the Vicomte Philippe-Auguste de Pravallon, son of
the count and senator bearing this name. I have christened myself
'No-luck.'"

"How did you learn all this?"

"They discussed it before me, you know; pretty lively discussions they
were, too. I tell you, that's what shows you the seamy side of life!"

Something more distressing than all he had suffered during the last
half hour now oppressed the priest. It was a sort of suffocation which
seemed as if it would grow and grow till it killed him; it was not due
so much to the things he heard as to the manner in which they were
uttered by this wayside tramp. Between himself and this beggar, between
his son and himself, he was discovering the existence of those moral
divergencies which are as fatal poisons to certain souls. Was this his
son? He could not yet believe it. He wanted all the proofs, every one
of them. He wanted to hear all, to listen to all. Again he thought of
the olive-trees that shaded his little lodge, and for the second time
he prayed: "O Lord! have mercy upon me."

Philippe-Auguste had finished his soup. He inquired: "Is there nothing
else, abbé?"

The kitchen was built in an annex. Marguerite could not hear her
master's voice. He always called her by striking a Chinese gong hung
on the wall behind his chair. He took the brass hammer and struck the
round metal plate. It gave a feeble sound, which grew and vibrated,
becoming sharper and louder till it finally died away on the evening
breeze.

The servant appeared with a frowning face and cast angry glances at the
tramp, as if her faithful instinct had warned her of the misfortune
that had befallen her master. She held a platter on which was the
sunfish, spreading a savory odor of melted butter through the room. The
abbé divided the fish lengthwise, helping his son to the better half:
"I caught it a little while ago," he said, with a touch of pride in
spite of his keen distress.

Marguerite had not left the room.

The priest added: "Bring us some wine, the white wine of Cape Corse."

She almost rebelled, and the priest, assuming a severe expression was
obliged to repeat: "Now, go, and bring two bottles, remember," for,
when he drank with anybody, a very rare pleasure, indeed, he always
opened one bottle for himself.

Beaming, Philippe-Auguste remarked: "Fine! A splendid idea! It has been
a long time since I've had such a dinner." The servant came back after
a few minutes. The abbé thought it an eternity, for now a thirst for
information burned his blood like infernal fire.

After the bottles had been opened, the woman still remained, her eyes
glued on the tramp.

"Leave us," said the curé.

She intentionally ignored his command.

He repeated almost roughly: "I have ordered you to leave us."

Then she left the room.

Philippe-Auguste devoured the fish voraciously, while his father sat
watching him, more and more surprised and saddened at all the baseness
stamped on the face that was so like his own. The morsels the abbé
raised to his lips remained in his mouth, for his throat could not
swallow; so he ate slowly, trying to choose, from the host of questions
which besieged his mind, the one he wished his son to answer first. At
last he spoke:

"What was the cause of her death?"

"Consumption."

"Was she ill a long time?"

"About eighteen months."

"How did she contract it?"

"We could not tell."

Both men were silent. The priest was reflecting. He was oppressed by
the multitude of things he wished to know and to hear, for since the
rupture, since the day he had tried to kill her, he had heard nothing.
Certainly, he had not cared to know, because he had buried her, along
with his happiest days, in forgetfulness; but now, knowing that she was
dead and gone, he felt within himself the almost jealous desire of a
lover to hear all.

He continued: "She was not alone, was she?"

"No, she lived with him."

The old man started: "With him? With Pravallon?"

"Why, yes."

And the betrayed man rapidly calculated that the woman who had deceived
him, had lived over thirty years with his rival.

Almost unconsciously he asked: "Were they happy?"

The young man sneered. "Why, yes, with ups and downs! It would have
been better had I not been there. I always spoiled everything."

"How, and why?" inquired the priest.

"I have already told you. Because he thought I was his son up to my
fifteenth year. But the old fellow wasn't a fool, and soon discovered
the likeness. That created scenes. I used to listen behind the door. He
accused mother of having deceived him. Mother would answer: 'Is it my
fault? you knew quite well when you took me that I was the mistress of
that other man.' You were that other man."

"Ah! They spoke of me sometimes?"

"Yes, but never mentioned your name before me, excepting toward the
end, when mother knew she was lost. I think they distrusted me."

"And you--and you learned quite early the irregularity of your mother's
position?"

"Why, certainly. I am not innocent and I never was. Those things are
easy to guess as soon as one begins to know life."

Philippe-Auguste had been filling his glass repeatedly. His eyes now
were beginning to sparkle, for his long fast was favorable to the
intoxicating effects of the wine. The priest noticed it and wished to
caution him. But suddenly the thought that a drunkard is imprudent and
loquacious flashed through him, and lifting the bottle he again filled
the young man's glass.

Meanwhile Marguerite had brought the chicken. Having set it on the
table, she again fastened her eyes on the tramp, saying in an indignant
voice: "Can't you see that he's drunk, Monsieur le Curé?"

"Leave us," replied the priest, "and return to the kitchen."

She went out, slamming the door.

He then inquired: "What did your mother say about me?"

"Why, what a woman usually says of a man she has jilted: that you were
hard to get along with, very strange, and that you would have made her
life miserable with your peculiar ideas."

"Did she say that often?"

"Yes, but sometimes only in allusions, for fear I would understand; but
nevertheless I guessed all."

"And how did they treat you in that house?"

"Me? They treated me very well at first and very badly afterward. When
mother saw that I was interfering with her, she shook me."

"How?"

"How? very easily. When I was about sixteen years old, I got into
various scrapes, and those blackguards put me into a reformatory to get
rid of me." He put his elbows on the table and rested his cheeks in his
palms. He was hopelessly intoxicated, and felt the unconquerable desire
of all drunkards to talk and boast about themselves.

He smiled sweetly, with a feminine grace, an arch grace the priest knew
and recognized as the hated charm that had won him long ago, and had
also wrought his undoing. Now it was his mother whom the boy resembled,
not so much because of his features, but because of his fascinating and
deceptive glance, and the seductiveness of the false smile that played
around his lips, the outlet of his inner ignominy.

Philippe-Auguste began to relate: "Ah! Ah! Ah!--I've had a fine life
since I left the reformatory! A great writer would pay a large sum for
it! Why, old Père Dumas's Monte Cristo has had no stranger adventures
than mine."

He paused to reflect with the philosophical gravity of the drunkard,
then he continued slowly:

"When you wish a boy to turn out well, no matter what he has done,
never send him to a reformatory. The associations are too bad. Now,
I got into a bad scrape. One night about nine o'clock, I, with three
companions--we were all a little drunk--was walking along the road
near the ford of Folac. All at once a wagon hove in sight, with the
driver and his family asleep in it. They were people from Martinon on
their way home from town. I caught hold of the bridle, led the horse
to the ferryboat, made him walk into it, and pushed the boat into the
middle of the stream. This created some noise and the driver awoke. He
could not see in the dark, but whipped up the horse, which started on
a run and landed in the water with the whole load. All were drowned!
My companions denounced me to the authorities, though they thought it
was a good joke when they saw me do it. Really, we didn't think that it
would turn out that way. We only wanted to give the people a ducking,
just for fun. After that I committed worse offenses to revenge myself
for the first one, which did not, on my honor, warrant the reformatory.
But what's the use of telling them? I will speak only of the latest
one, because I am sure it will please you. Papa, I avenged you!"

The abbé was watching his son with terrified eyes; he had stopped
eating.

Philippe-Auguste was preparing to begin. "No, not yet," said the
priest, "in a little while."

And he turned to strike the Chinese gong.

Marguerite appeared almost instantly. Her master addressed her in
such a rough tone that she hung her head, thoroughly frightened and
obedient: "Bring in the lamp and the dessert, and then do not appear
until I summon you."

She went out and returned with a porcelain lamp covered with a green
shade, and bringing also a large piece of cheese and some fruit.

After she had gone, the abbé turned resolutely to his son.

"Now I am ready to hear you."

Philippe-Auguste calmly filled his plate with dessert and poured wine
into his glass. The second bottle was nearly empty, though the priest
had not touched it.

His mouth and tongue, thick with food and wine, the man stuttered:
"Well, now for the last job. And it's a good one. I was home
again,--stayed there in spite of them, because they feared me,--yes,
feared me. Ah! you can't fool with me, you know,--I'll do anything,
when I'm roused. They lived together on and off. The old man had two
residences. One official, for the senator, the other clandestine, for
the lover. Still, he lived more in the latter than in the former, as
he could not get along without mother. Mother was a sharp one--she
knew how to hold a man! She had taken him body and soul, and kept him
to the last! Well, I had come back and I kept them down by fright. I
am resourceful at times--nobody can match me for sharpness and for
strength, too--I'm afraid of no one. Well, mother got sick and the old
man took her to a fine place in the country, near Meulan, situated in a
park as big as a wood. She lasted about eighteen months, as I told you.
Then we felt the end to be near. He came from Paris every day--he was
very miserable--really.

"One morning they chatted a long time, over an hour, I think, and I
could not imagine what they were talking about. Suddenly mother called
me in and said:

"'I am going to die, and there is something I want to tell you
beforehand, in spite of the Count's advice.' In speaking of him she
always said 'the Count.' 'It is the name of your father, who is alive.'
I had asked her this more than fifty times--more than fifty times--my
father's name--more than fifty times--and she always refused to tell. I
think I even beat her one day to make her talk, but it was of no use.
Then, to get rid of me, she told me that you had died penniless, that
you were worthless and that she had made a mistake in her youth, an
innocent girl's mistake. She lied so well, I really believed you had
died.

"Finally she said: 'It is your father's name.'

"The old man, who was sitting in an armchair, repeated three times,
like this: 'You do wrong, you do wrong, you do wrong, Rosette.'

"Mother sat up in bed. I can see her now, with her flushed cheeks and
shining eyes; she loved me, in spite of everything; and she said:
'Then you do something for him, Philippe!' In speaking to him she
called him 'Philippe' and me 'Auguste.'

"He began to shout like a madman: 'Do something for that loafer--that
blackguard, that convict? never!'

"And he continued to call me names, as if he had done nothing else all
his life but collect them.

"I was angry, but mother told me to hold my tongue, and she resumed:
'Then you must want him to starve, for you know that I leave no money.'

"Without being deterred, he continued: 'Rosette, I have given you
thirty-five thousand francs a year for thirty years,--that makes more
than a million. I have enabled you to live like a wealthy, a beloved,
and I may say, a happy woman. I owe nothing to that fellow, who has
spoiled our late years, and he will not get a cent from me. It is
useless to insist. Tell him the name of his father, if you wish. I am
sorry, but I wash my hands of him.'

"Then mother turned toward me. I thought: 'Good! now I'm going to find
my real father--if he has money, I'm saved.'

"She went on: 'Your father, the Baron de Vilbois, is to-day the Abbé
Vilbois, curé of Garandou, near Toulon. He was my lover before I left
him for the Count!'

"And she told me all, excepting that she had deceived you about her
pregnancy. But women, you know, never tell the whole truth."

Sneeringly, unconsciously, he was revealing the depths of his foul
nature. With beaming face he raised the glass to his lips and
continued:

"Mother died two days--two days later. We followed her remains to
the grave, he and I--say--wasn't it funny?--he and I--and three
servants--that was all. He cried like a calf--we were side by side--we
looked like father and son.

"Then he went back to the house alone. I was thinking to myself: 'I'll
have to clear out now and without a penny, too.' I owned only fifty
francs. What could I do to revenge myself?

"He touched me on the arm and said: 'I wish to speak to you.' I
followed him into his office. He sat down in front of the desk and,
wiping away his tears, he told me that he would not be as hard on me
as he had said he would to mother. He begged me to leave you alone.
That--that concerns only you and me. He offered me a thousand-franc
note--a thousand--a thousand francs. What could a fellow like me do
with a thousand francs?--I saw that there were very many bills in the
drawer. The sight of the money made me wild. I put out my hand as if to
take the note he offered me, but instead of doing so, I sprang at him,
threw him to the ground and choked him till he grew purple. When I saw
that he was going to give up the ghost, I gagged and bound him. Then I
undressed him, laid him on his stomach and--ah! ah! ah!--I avenged you
in a funny way!"

He stopped to cough, for he was choking with merriment. His ferocious,
mirthful smile reminded the priest once more of the woman who had
wrought his undoing.

"And then?" he inquired.

"Then,--ah! ah! ah!--There was a bright fire in the fireplace--it
was in the winter--in December--mother died--a bright coal fire--I
took the poker--I let it get red-hot--and I made crosses on his back,
eight or more, I cannot remember how many--then I turned him over and
repeated them on his stomach. Say, wasn't it funny, papa? Formerly
they marked convicts in this way. He wriggled like an eel--but I had
gagged him so that he couldn't scream. I gathered up the bills--twelve
in all--with mine it made thirteen--an unlucky number. I left the
house, after telling the servants not to bother their master until
dinner-time, because he was asleep. I thought that he would hush the
matter up because he was a senator and would fear the scandal. I was
mistaken. Four days later I was arrested in a Paris restaurant. I got
three years for the job. That is the reason why I did not come to you
sooner." He drank again, and stuttering so as to render his words
almost unintelligible, continued:

"Now--papa--isn't it funny to have one's papa a curé? You must be nice
to me, very nice, because, you know, I am not commonplace,--and I did a
good job--didn't I--on the old man?"

The anger which years ago had driven the Abbé Vilbois to desperation
rose within him at the sight of this miserable man.

He, who in the name of the Lord, had so often pardoned the infamous
secrets whispered to him under the seal of confession, was now
merciless in his own behalf. No longer did he implore the help of a
merciful God, for he realized that no power on earth or in the sky
could save those who had been visited by such a terrible disaster.

All the ardor of his passionate heart and of his violent blood, which
long years of resignation had tempered, awoke against the miserable
creature who was his son. He protested against the likeness he bore to
him and to his mother, the wretched mother who had formed him so like
herself; and he rebelled against the destiny that had chained this
criminal to him, like an iron ball to a galley-slave.

The shock roused him from the peaceful and pious slumber which had
lasted twenty-five years; with a wonderful lucidity he saw all that
would inevitably ensue.

Convinced that he must talk loud so as to intimidate this man from the
first, he spoke with his teeth clenched with fury:

"Now that you have told all, listen to me. You will leave here
to-morrow morning. You will go to a country that I shall designate, and
never leave it without my permission. I will give you a small income,
for I am poor. If you disobey me once, it will be withdrawn and you
will learn to know me."

Though Philippe-Auguste was half dazed with wine, he understood the
threat. Instantly the criminal within him rebelled. Between hiccoughs
he sputtered: "Ah! papa, be careful what you say--you're a curé,
remember--I hold you--and you have to walk straight, like the rest!"

The abbé started. Through his whole muscular frame crept the
unconquerable desire to seize this monster, to bend him like a twig, so
as to show him that he would have to yield.

Shaking the table, he shouted: "Take care, take care--I am afraid of
nobody."

The drunkard lost his balance and seeing that he was going to fall and
would forthwith be in the priest's power, he reached with a murderous
look for one of the knives lying on the table. The abbé perceived his
motion, and he gave the table a terrible shove; his son toppled over
and landed on his back. The lamp fell with a crash and went out.

During a moment the clinking of broken glass was heard in the darkness,
then the muffled sound of a soft body creeping on the floor, and then
all was silent.

With the crashing of the lamp a complete darkness spread over them;
it was so prompt and unexpected that they were stunned by it as by
some terrible event. The drunkard, pressed against the wall, did not
move; the priest remained on his chair in the midst of the night which
had quelled his rage. The somber veil that had descended so rapidly,
arresting his anger, also quieted the furious impulses of his soul; new
ideas, as dark and dreary as the obscurity, beset him.

The room was perfectly silent, like a tomb where nothing draws the
breath of life. Not a sound came from outside, neither the rumbling of
a distant wagon, nor the bark of a dog, nor even the sigh of the wind
passing through the trees.

This lasted a long time, perhaps an hour. Then suddenly the gong
vibrated! It rang once, as if it had been struck a short, sharp blow,
and was instantly followed by the noise of a falling body and an
overturned chair.

Marguerite came running out of the kitchen, but as soon as she opened
the door she fell back, frightened by the intense darkness. Trembling,
her heart beating as if it would burst, she called in a low, hoarse
voice: "M'sieur le Curé! M'sieur le Curé!"

Nobody answered, nothing stirred.

"_Mon Dieu, mon Dieu_," she thought, "what has happened, what have they
done?"

She did not dare enter the room, yet feared to go back to fetch a
light. She felt as if she would like to run away, to screech at the top
of her voice, though she knew her legs would refuse to carry her. She
repeated: "M'sieur le Curé! M'sieur le Curé! it is me, Marguerite."

But, notwithstanding her terror, the instinctive desire of helping her
master and a woman's courage, which is sometimes heroic, filled her
soul with a terrified audacity, and running back to the kitchen she
fetched a lamp.

She stopped at the doorsill. First, she caught sight of the tramp lying
against the wall, asleep, or simulating slumber; then she saw the
broken lamp, and then, under the table, the feet and black-stockinged
legs of the priest, who must have fallen backward, striking his head on
the gong.

Her teeth chattering and her hands trembling with fright, she kept on
repeating: "My God! My God! what is this?"

She advanced slowly, taking small steps, till she slid on something
slimy and almost fell.

Stooping, she saw that the floor was red and that a red liquid was
spreading around her feet toward the door. She guessed that it was
blood. She threw down her light so as to hide the sight of it, and fled
from the room out into the fields, running half crazed toward the
village. She ran screaming at the top of her voice, and bumping against
the trees she did not heed, her eyes fastened on the gleaming lights of
the distant town.

Her shrill voice rang out like the gloomy cry of the night-owl,
repeating continuously, "The maoufatan--the maoufatan--the
maoufatan----"

When she reached the first house, some excited men came out and
surrounded her; but she could not answer them and struggled to escape,
for the fright had turned her head.

After a while they guessed that something must have happened to the
curé, and a little rescuing party started for the lodge.

The little pink house standing in the middle of the olive grove had
grown black and invisible in the dark, silent night. Since the gleam of
the solitary window had faded, the cabin was plunged in darkness, lost
in the grove, and unrecognizable for anyone but a native of the place.

Soon lights began to gleam near the ground, between the trees,
streaking the dried grass with long, yellow reflections. The twisted
trunks of the olive-trees assumed fantastic shapes under the moving
lights, looking like monsters or infernal serpents. The projected
reflections suddenly revealed a vague, white mass, and soon the low,
square wall of the lodge grew pink from the light of the lanterns.
Several peasants were carrying the latter, escorting two gendarmes with
revolvers, the mayor, the _garde-champêtre_, and Marguerite, supported
by the men, for she was almost unable to walk.

The rescuing party hesitated a moment in front of the open, grewsome
door. But the brigadier, snatching a lantern from one of the men,
entered, followed by the rest.

The servant had not lied, blood covered the floor like a carpet. It had
spread to the place where the tramp was lying, bathing one of his hands
and legs.

The father and son were asleep, the one with a severed throat, the
other in a drunken stupor. The two gendarmes seized the latter and
before he awoke they had him handcuffed. He rubbed his eyes, stunned,
stupefied with liquor, and when he saw the body of the priest, he
appeared terrified, unable to understand what had happened.

"Why did he not escape?" said the mayor.

"He was too drunk," replied the officer.

And every man agreed with him, for nobody ever thought that perhaps the
Abbé Vilbois had taken his own life.



REVENGE


As they were still speaking of Pranzini, M. Maloureau, who had been
Attorney-General under the Empire, said:

"I knew another case like that, a very curious affair, curious from
many points, as you shall see.

"I was at that time Imperial attorney in the province, and stood
very well at Court, thanks to my father, who was first President at
Paris. I had charge of a still celebrated case, called 'The Affair of
Schoolmaster Moiron.'

"M. Moiron, a schoolmaster in the north of France, bore an excellent
reputation in all the country thereabout. He was an intelligent,
reflective, very religious man, and had married in the district
of Boislinot, where he practiced his profession. He had had three
children, who all died in succession from weak lungs. After the loss of
his own little ones, he seemed to lavish upon the urchins confided to
his care all the tenderness concealed in his heart. He bought, with his
own pennies, playthings for his best pupils, the diligent and good.
He allowed them to have play dinners, and gorged them with dainties of
candies and cakes. Everybody loved and praised this brave man, this
brave heart, and it was like a blow when five of his pupils died of the
same disease that had carried off his children. It was believed that an
epidemic prevailed, caused by the water being made impure from drought.
They looked for the cause, without discovering it, more than they did
at the symptoms, which were very strange. The children appeared to be
taken with a languor, could eat nothing, complained of pains in the
stomach, and finally died in most terrible agony.

"An autopsy was made of the last to die, but nothing was discovered.
The entrails were sent to Paris and analyzed, but showed no sign of any
toxic substance.

"For one year no further deaths occurred; then two little boys, the
best pupils in the class, favorites of father Moiron, expired in four
days' time. An examination was ordered, and in each body fragments
of pounded glass were found imbedded in the organs. They concluded
that the two children had eaten imprudently of something carelessly
prepared. Sufficient broken glass remained in the bottom of a bowl of
milk to have caused this frightful accident, and the matter would have
rested there had not Moiron's servant been taken ill in the interval.
The physician found the same morbid signs that he observed in the
preceding attacks of the children, and, upon questioning her, finally
obtained the confession that she had stolen and eaten some bonbons,
bought by the master for his pupils.

"Upon order of the court, the schoolhouse was searched and a closet was
found, full of sweetmeats and dainties for the children. Nearly all
these edibles contained fragments of glass or broken needles.

"Moiron was immediately arrested. He was so indignant and stupefied
at the weight of suspicion upon him that he was nearly overcome.
Nevertheless, the indications of his guilt were so apparent that they
fought hard in my mind against my first conviction, which was based
upon his good reputation, his entire life of truthfulness, and the
absolute absence of any motive for such a crime.

"Why should this good, simple religious man kill children, and the
children whom he seemed to love best? Why should he select those he had
feasted with dainties, for whom he had spent in playthings and bonbons
half his stipend?

"To admit this, it must be concluded that he was insane. But Moiron
seemed so reasonable, so calm, so full of judgment and good sense! It
was impossible to prove insanity in him.

"Proofs accumulated, nevertheless! Bonbons, cakes, _pâtés_ of
marshmallow, and other things seized at the shops where the
schoolmaster got his supplies were found to contain no suspected
fragment.

"He pretended that some unknown enemy had opened his closet with a
false key and placed the glass and needles in the eatables. And he
implied a story of heritage dependent on the death of a child, sought
out and discovered by a peasant, and so worked up as to make the
suspicion fall upon the schoolmaster. This brute, he said, was not
interested in the other poor children who had to die also.

"This theory was plausible. The man appeared so sure of himself and
so pitiful, that we should have acquitted him without doubt, if two
overwhelming discoveries had not been made at one blow. The first was
a snuffbox full of ground glass! It was his own snuffbox, in a secret
drawer of his secretary, where he kept his money.

"He explained this in a manner not acceptable, by saying that it was
the last ruse of an unknown guilty one. But a merchant of Saint-Marlouf
presented himself at the house of the judge, telling him that Moiron
had bought needles of him many times, the finest needles he could find,
breaking them to see whether they suited him.

"The merchant brought as witnesses a dozen persons who recognized
Moiron at first glance. And the inquest revealed the fact that the
schoolmaster was at Saint-Marlouf on the days designated by the
merchant.

"I pass over the terrible depositions of the children upon the master's
choice of dainties, and his care in making the little ones eat in his
presence and destroying all traces of the feast.

"Public opinion, exasperated, recalled capital punishment, and took on
a new force from terror which permitted no delays or resistance.

"Moiron was condemned to death. His appeal was rejected. No recourse
remained to him for pardon. I knew from my father that the Emperor
would not grant it.

"One morning, as I was at work in my office, the chaplain of the prison
was announced. He was an old priest who had a great knowledge of men
and a large acquaintance among criminals. He appeared troubled and
constrained. After talking a few moments of other things, he said
abruptly, on rising:

"'If Moiron is decapitated, Monsieur Attorney-General, you will have
allowed the execution of an innocent man.'

"Then, without bowing, he went out, leaving me under the profound
effect of his words. He had pronounced them in a solemn, affecting
fashion, opening lips, closed and sealed by confession, in order to
save a life.

"An hour later I was on my way to Paris, and my father, at my request,
asked an immediate audience with the Emperor.

"I was received the next day. Napoleon III. was at work in a little
room when we were introduced. I exposed the whole affair, even to the
visit of the priest, and, in the midst of the story, the door opened
behind the chair of the Emperor, and the Empress, who believed in him
alone, entered. His Majesty consulted her. When she had run over the
facts, she exclaimed:

"'This man must be pardoned! He must, because he is innocent.'

"Why should this sudden conviction of a woman so pious throw into my
mind a terrible doubt?

"Up to that time I had ardently desired a commutation of the sentence.
And now I felt myself the puppet, the dupe of a criminal ruse, which
had employed the priest and the confession as a means of defense.

"I showed some hesitation to their Majesties. The Emperor remained
undecided, solicited on one hand by his natural goodness, and on the
other held back by the fear of allowing himself to play a miserable
part; but the Empress, convinced that the priest had obeyed a divine
call, repeated: 'What does it matter? It is better to spare a guilty
man than to kill an innocent one.' Her advice prevailed. The penalty of
death was commuted, and that of hard labor was substituted.

"Some years after I heard that Moiron, whose exemplary conduct at
Toulon had been made known again to the Emperor, was employed as a
domestic by the director of the penitentiary. And then I heard no word
of this man for a long time.

"About two years after this, when I was passing the summer at the house
of my cousin, De Larielle, a young priest came to me one evening, as we
were sitting down to dinner, and wished to speak to me.

"I told them to let him come in, and he begged me to go with him to a
dying man, who desired, before all else, to see me. This had happened
often, during my long career as judge, and, although I had been put
aside by the Republic, I was still called upon from time to time in
like circumstances.

"I followed the ecclesiastic, who made me mount into a little miserable
lodging, under the roof of a high house. There, upon a pallet of straw,
I found a dying man, seated with his back against the wall, in order to
breathe. He was a sort of grimacing skeleton, with deep, shining eyes.

"When he saw me he murmured: 'You do not know me?'

"'No.'

"'I am Moiron.'

"I shivered, but said: 'The schoolmaster?'

"'Yes.'

"'How is it you are here?'

"'That would be too long--I haven't time--I am going to die--They
brought me this curate--and as I knew you were here, I sent him for
you--It is to you that I wish to confess--since you saved my life
before--the other time----'

"He seized with his dry hands the straw of his bed, and continued, in a
rasping, bass voice:

"'Here it is--I owe you the truth--to you, because it is necessary to
tell it to some one before leaving the earth.

"'It was I who killed the children--all--it was I--for vengeance!

"'Listen. I was an honest man, very honest--very honest--very
pure--adoring God--the good God--the God that they teach us to love,
and not the false God, the executioner, the robber, the murderer
who governs the earth--I had never done wrong, never committed a
villainous act. I was pure as one unborn.

"'After I was married I had some children, and I began to love them as
never father or mother loved their own. I lived only for them. I was
foolish. They died, all three of them! Why? Why? What had I done? I? I
had a change of heart, a furious change. Suddenly I opened my eyes as
of one awakening; and I learned that God is wicked. Why had He killed
my children? I opened my eyes and I saw that He loved to kill. He loves
only that, Monsieur. He exists only to destroy! God is a murderer! Some
death is necessary to Him every day. He causes them in all fashions,
the better to amuse Himself. He has invented sickness and accident
in order to divert Himself through all the long months and years.
And, when He is weary, He has epidemics, pests, the cholera, quinsy,
smallpox.

"'How do I know all that this monster has imagined? All these evils are
not enough to suffice. From time to time He sends war, in order to see
two hundred thousand soldiers laid low, bruised in blood and mire, with
arms and legs torn off, heads broken by bullets, like eggs that fall
along the road.

"'That is not all. He has made men who eat one another. And then, as
men become better than He, He has made beasts to see the men chase
them, slaughter, and nourish themselves with them. That is not all.
He has made all the little animals that live for a day, flies which
increase by myriads in an hour, ants, that one crushes, and others,
many, so many that we cannot even imagine them. And all kill one
another, chase one another, devour one another, murdering without
ceasing. And the good God looks on and is amused, because He sees all
for Himself, the largest as well as the smallest, those which are in
drops of water, as well as those in the stars. He looks at them all and
is amused! Ugh! Beast!

"'So I, Monsieur, I also have killed some children. I acted the part
for Him. It was not He who had them. It was not He, it was I. And I
would have killed still more, but you took me away. That's all!

"'I was going to die, guillotined. I! How He would have laughed, the
reptile! Then I asked for a priest, and lied to him. I confessed. I
lied, and I lived.

"'Now it is finished. I can no longer escape Him. But I have no fear of
Him, Monsieur, I understand Him too well.'

"It was frightful to see this miserable creature, hardly able to
breathe, talking in hiccoughs, opening an enormous mouth to eject some
words scarcely heard, pulling up the cloth of his straw bed, and, under
a cover nearly black, moving his meager limbs as if to save himself.

"Oh! frightful being and frightful remembrance!

"I asked him: 'You have nothing more to say?'

"'No, Monsieur.'

"'Then, farewell.'

"'Farewell, sir, one day or the other.'

"I turned toward the priest, whose somber silhouette was on the wall.

"'You will remain, M. Abbé?'

"'I will remain.'

"Then the dying man sneered: 'Yes, yes, he sends crows to dead bodies.'

"As for me, I had seen enough. I opened the door and went away in
self-protection."



AN OLD MAID


In Argenteuil they called her Queen Hortense. No one ever knew the
reason why. Perhaps because she spoke firmly, like an officer in
command. Perhaps because she was large, bony, and imperious. Perhaps
because she governed a multitude of domestic animals, hens, dogs, cats,
canaries, and parrots,--those animals so dear to old maids. But she
gave these familiar subjects neither dainties, nor pretty words, nor
those tender puerilities which seem to slip from the lips of a woman to
the velvety coat of the cat she is fondling. She governed her beasts
with authority. She ruled.

She was an old maid, one of those old maids with cracked voice, and
awkward gesture, whose soul seems hard. She never allowed contradiction
from any person, nor argument, nor would she tolerate hesitation, or
indifference, or idleness, or fatigue. No one ever heard her complain,
or regret what was, or desire what was not. "Each to his part," she
said, with the conviction of a fatalist. She never went to church,
cared nothing for the priests, scarcely believed in God, and called all
religious things "mourning merchandise."

For thirty years she had lived in her little house, with its tiny
garden in front, extending along the street, never modifying her
garments, changing only maids, and that mercilessly, when they became
twenty-one years old.

She replaced, without tears and without regrets, her dogs or cats
or birds, when they died of old age, or by accident, and she buried
trespassing animals in a flower-bed, heaping the earth above them and
treading it down with perfect indifference.

She had in the town some acquaintances, the families of employers,
whose men went to Paris every day. Sometimes they would invite her
to go to the theater with them. She inevitably fell asleep on these
occasions, and they were obliged to wake her when it was time to go
home. She never allowed anyone to accompany her, having no fear by
night or day. She seemed to have no love for children.

She occupied her time with a thousand masculine cares, carpentry,
gardening, cutting or sawing wood, repairing her old house, even doing
mason's work when it was necessary.

She had some relatives who came to see her twice a year. Her two
sisters, Madame Cimme and Madame Columbel, were married, one to
a florist, the other to a small householder. Madame Cimme had no
children; Madame Columbel had three: Henry, Pauline, and Joseph. Henry
was twenty-one, Pauline and Joseph were three, having come when one
would have thought the mother past the age. No tenderness united this
old maid to her kinsfolk.

In the spring of 1882, Queen Hortense became suddenly ill. The
neighbors went for a physician, whom she drove away. When the priest
presented himself she got out of bed, half naked, and put him out of
doors. The little maid, weeping, made gruel for her.

After three days in bed, the situation became so grave that the
carpenter living next door, after counsel with the physician (now
reinstated with authority), took it upon himself to summon the two
families.

They arrived by the same train, about ten o'clock in the morning; the
Columbels having brought their little Joseph.

When they approached the garden gate, they saw the maid seated in a
chair against the wall, weeping. The dog lay asleep on the mat before
the door, under a broiling sun; two cats, that looked as if dead, lay
stretched out on the window-sills, with eyes closed and paws and tails
extended at full length. A great glossy hen was promenading before the
door, at the head of a flock of chickens, covered with yellow down,
and in a large cage hung against the wall, covered with chickweed,
were several birds, singing themselves hoarse in the light of this hot
spring morning.

Two others, inseparable, in a little cage in the form of a cottage,
remained quiet, side by side on their perch.

M. Cimme, a large, wheezy personage, who always entered a room first,
putting aside men and women when it was necessary, remarked to the
maid: "Eh, Celeste! Is it so bad as that?"

The little maid sobbed through her tears:

"She doesn't know me any more. The doctor says it is the end."

They all looked at one another.

Madame Cimme and Madame Columbel embraced each other instantly, not
saying a word.

They resembled each other much, always wearing braids of hair and
shawls of red cashmere, as bright as hot coals.

Cimme turned toward his brother-in-law, a pale man, yellow and thin,
tormented by indigestion, who limped badly, and said to him in a
serious tone:

"Gad! It was time!"

But no one dared to go into the room of the dying woman situated on
the ground floor. Cimme himself stopped at that step. Columbel was the
first to decide upon it; he entered, balancing himself like the mast of
a ship, making a noise on the floor with the iron of his cane.

The two women ventured to follow, and M. Cimme brought up the line.

Little Joseph remained outside, playing with the dog.

A ray of sunlight fell on the bed, lighting up the hands which moved
nervously, opening and shutting without ceasing. The fingers moved
as if a thought animated them, as if they would signify something,
indicate some idea, obey some intelligence. The rest of the body
remained motionless under the covers. The angular figure gave no start.
The eyes remained closed.

The relatives arranged themselves in a semicircle and, without saying a
word, regarded the heaving breast and the short breathing. The little
maid had followed them, still shedding tears.

Finally, Cimme asked: "What was it the doctor said?"

The servant whispered: "He said we should leave her quiet, that nothing
more could be done."

Suddenly the lips of the old maid began to move. She seemed to
pronounce some silent words, concealed in her dying brain, and her
hands quickened their singular movement.

Then she spoke in a little, thin voice, quite unlike her own, an
utterance that seemed to come from far off, perhaps from the bottom of
that heart always closed.

Cimme walked upon tiptoe, finding this spectacle painful. Columbel,
whose lame leg wearied him, sat down.

The two women remained standing.

Queen Hortense muttered something quickly, which they were unable to
understand. She pronounced some names, called tenderly some imaginary
persons:

"Come here, my little Philip, kiss your mother. You love mamma, don't
you, my child? You, Rose, you will watch your little sister while I am
out. Especially, don't leave her alone, do you hear? And I forbid you
to touch matches."

She was silent some seconds; then, in a loud tone, as if she would
call, she said: "Henrietta!" She waited a little and continued: "Tell
your father to come and speak to me before going to his office." Then
suddenly: "I am suffering a little to-day, dear; promise me you will
not return late; you will tell your chief that I am ill. You know it is
dangerous to leave the children alone when I am in bed. I am going to
make you a dish of rice and sugar for dinner. The little ones like it
so much. Claire will be the happy one!"

She began to laugh, a young and noisy laugh, as she had never laughed
before. "Look, John," she said, "what a droll head he has. He has
smeared himself with the sugarplums, the dirty thing! Look! my dear,
how funny he looks!"

Columbel, who changed the position of his lame leg every moment,
murmured: "She is dreaming that she has children and a husband; the end
is near."

The two sisters did not move, but seemed surprised and stupid.

The little maid said: "Will you take off your hats and your shawls, and
go into the other room?"

They went out without having said a word. And Columbel followed them
limping, leaving the dying woman alone again.

When they were relieved of their outer garments, the women seated
themselves. Then one of the cats left the window, stretched herself,
jumped into the room, then upon the knees of Madame Cimme, who began to
caress her.

They heard from the next room the voice of agony, living, without
doubt, in this last hour, the life she had expected, living her dreams
at the very moment when all would be finished for her.

Cimme, in the garden, played with the little Joseph and the dog,
amusing himself much, with the gaiety of a great man in the country,
without thought of the dying woman.

But suddenly he entered, addressing the maid: "Say, then, my girl, are
you going to give us some luncheon? What are you going to eat, ladies?"

They decided upon an omelet of fine herbs, a piece of fillet with new
potatoes, a cheese, and a cup of coffee.

And as Madame Columbel was fumbling in her pocket for her purse: Cimme
stopped her, and turning to the maid said, "You need money?" and she
answered: "Yes, sir."

"How much?"

"Fifteen francs."

"Very well. Make haste, now, my girl, because I am getting hungry."

Madame Cimme, looking out at the climbing flowers bathed in the
sunlight, and at two pigeons making love on the roof opposite, said,
with a wounded air: "It is unfortunate to have come for so sad an
event. It would be nice in the country, to-day."

Her sister sighed without response, and Columbel murmured, moved
perhaps by the thought of a walk:

"My leg plagues me awfully."

Little Joseph and the dog made a terrible noise, one shouting with joy
and the other barking violently. They played at hide-and-seek around
the three flower-beds, running after each other like mad.

The dying woman continued to call her children, chatting with each,
imagining that she was dressing them, that she caressed them, that she
was teaching them to read: "Come, Simon, repeat, A, B, C, D. You do
not say it well; see, D, D, D, do you hear? Repeat, then----"

Cimme declared: "It is curious what she talks about at this time."

Then said Madame Columbel: "It would be better, perhaps, to go in
there."

But Cimme dissuaded her from it:

"Why go in, since we are not able to do anything for her? Besides we
are as well off here."

No one insisted. Madame observed the two green birds called
inseparable. She remarked pleasantly upon this singular fidelity, and
blamed men for not imitating these little creatures. Cimme looked
at his wife and laughed, singing with a bantering air, "Tra-la-la,
Tra-la-la," as if to say he could tell some things about her fidelity
to him.

Columbel, taken with cramps in his stomach, struck the floor with his
cane. The other cat entered, tail in the air. They did not sit down at
table until one o'clock.

When he had tasted the wine, Columbel, whom some one had recommended to
drink only choice Bordeaux, called the servant:

"Say, is there nothing better than this in the cellar?"

"Yes, sir; there is some of the wine that was served to you when you
were here before."

"Oh, well, go and bring three bottles."

They tasted this wine, which seemed excellent. Not that it proved to be
remarkable, but it had been fifteen years in the cellar. Cimme declared
it was just the wine for sickness.

Columbel, seized with a desire of possessing some of it, asked of the
maid: "How much is left of it, my girl?"

"Oh, nearly all, sir; Miss never drinks any of it. It is the heap at
the bottom."

Then Columbel turned toward his brother-in-law: "If you wish, Cimme, I
will take this wine instead of anything else; it agrees with my stomach
wonderfully."

The hen, in her turn, had entered with her troop of chickens; the two
women amused themselves by throwing crumbs to them. Joseph and the dog,
who had eaten enough, returned to the garden.

Queen Hortense spoke continually, but the voice was lower now, so that
it was no longer possible to distinguish the words.

When they had finished the coffee, they all went in to learn the
condition of the sick one. She seemed calm.

They went out and seated themselves in a circle in the garden, to aid
digestion.

Presently the dog began to run around the chairs with all speed,
carrying something in his mouth. The child ran after him violently.
Both disappeared into the house. Cimme fell asleep, with his stomach in
the sun.

The dying one began to speak loud again. Then suddenly she shouted.

The two women and Columbel hastened in to see what had happened. Cimme
awakened but did not move, liking better things as they were.

The dying woman was sitting up, staring with haggard eyes. Her dog,
to escape the pursuit of little Joseph, had jumped upon the bed,
startling her from the death agony. The dog was intrenched behind the
pillow, peeping at his comrade with eyes glistening, ready to jump
again at the least movement. He held in his mouth one of the slippers
of his mistress, shorn of its heel in the hour he had played with it.

The child, intimidated by the woman rising so suddenly before him,
remained motionless before the bed.

The hen, having just entered, had jumped upon a chair, frightened
by the noise. She called desperately to her chickens, which peeped,
frightened, from under the four legs of the seat.

Queen Hortense cried out with a piercing tone: "No, no, I do not wish
to die! I am not willing! Who will bring up my children? Who will care
for them? Who will love them? No, I am not willing! I am not----"

She turned on her back. All was over.

The dog, much excited, jumped into the room and skipped about.

Columbel ran to the window and called his brother-in-law: "Come
quickly! come quickly! I believe she is gone."

Then Cimme got up and resolutely went into the room, muttering: "It was
not as long as I should have believed."



COMPLICATION


After swearing for a long time that he would never marry, Jack
Boudillère suddenly changed his mind. It happened one summer at the
seashore, quite unexpectedly.

One morning, as he was extended on the sand, watching the women come
out of the water, a little foot caught his attention, because of its
slimness and delicacy. Raising his eyes higher, the entire person
seemed attractive. Of this entire person he had, however, seen only
the ankles and the head, emerging from a white flannel bathing suit,
fastened with care. He may be called sensuous and impressionable, but
it was by grace of form alone that he was captured. Afterward, he was
held by the charm and sweet spirit of the young girl, who was simple
and good and fresh, like her cheeks and her lips.

Presented to the family, he was pleased, and straightway became
love-mad. When he saw Bertha Lannis at a distance, on the long stretch
of yellow sand, he trembled from head to foot. Near her he was dumb,
incapable of saying anything or even of thinking, with a kind of
bubbling in his heart, a humming in his ears, and a frightened feeling
in his mind. Was this love?

He did not know, he understood nothing of it, but the fact remained
that he was fully decided to make this child his wife.

Her parents hesitated a long time, deterred by the bad reputation of
the young man. He had a mistress, it was said,--an old mistress, an old
and strong entanglement, one of those chains that is believed to be
broken, but which continues to hold, nevertheless. Beyond this, he had
loved, for a longer or shorter period, every woman who had come within
reach of his lips.

But he withdrew from the woman with whom he had lived, not even
consenting to see her again. A friend arranged her pension, assuring
her a subsistence. Jack paid, but he did not wish to speak to her,
pretending henceforth that he did not know her name. She wrote letters
which he would not open. Each week brought him a new disguise in the
handwriting of the abandoned one. Each week a greater anger developed
in him against her, and he would tear the envelope in two, without
opening it, without reading a line, knowing beforehand the reproaches
and complaints of the contents.

One could scarcely credit her perseverance, which lasted the whole
winter long, and it was not until spring that her demand was satisfied.

The marriage took place in Paris during the early part of May. It was
decided that they should not take the regular wedding journey. After a
little ball, composed of a company of young cousins who would not stay
past eleven o'clock, and would not prolong forever the cares of the day
of ceremony, the young couple intended to pass their first night at the
family home and to set out the next morning for the seaside, where they
had met and loved.

The night came, and they were dancing in the great drawing-room. The
newly-married pair had withdrawn from the rest into a little Japanese
boudoir shut off by silk hangings, and scarcely lighted this evening,
except by the dim rays from a colored lantern in the shape of an
enormous egg, which hung from the ceiling. The long window was open,
allowing at times a fresh breath of air from without to blow upon
their faces, for the evening was soft and warm, full of the odor of
springtime.

They said nothing, but held each other's hands, pressing them from time
to time with all their force. She was a little dismayed by this great
change in her life, but smiling, emotional, ready to weep, often ready
to swoon from joy, believing the entire world changed because of what
had come to her, a little disturbed without knowing the reason why,
and feeling all her body, all her soul, enveloped in an indefinable,
delicious lassitude.

Her husband she watched persistently, smiling at him with a fixed
smile. He wished to talk but found nothing to say, and remained quiet,
putting all his ardor into the pressure of the hand. From time to time
he murmured "Bertha!" and each time she raised her eyes to his with a
sweet and tender look. They would look at each other a moment, then his
eyes, fascinated by hers, would fall.

They discovered no thought to exchange. But they were alone, except as
a dancing couple would sometimes cast a glance at them in passing, a
furtive glance, as if it were the discreet and confidential witness of
a mystery.

A door at the side opened, a domestic entered, bearing upon a tray an
urgent letter which a messenger had brought. Jack trembled as he took
it, seized with a vague and sudden fear, the mysterious, abrupt fear of
misfortune.

He looked long at the envelope, not knowing the handwriting, nor daring
to open it, wishing not to read, not to know the contents, desiring to
put it in his pocket and to say to himself: "To-morrow, to-morrow, I
shall be far away and it will not matter!" But upon the corner were two
words underlined: _very urgent_, which frightened him. "You will permit
me, my dear," said he, and he tore off the wrapper. He read the letter,
growing frightfully pale, running over it at a glance, and then seeming
to spell it out.

When he raised his head his whole countenance was changed. He
stammered: "My dear little one, a great misfortune has happened to
my best friend. He needs me immediately, in a matter of--of life and
death. Allow me to go for twenty minutes. I will return immediately."

She, trembling and affrighted, murmured: "Go, my friend!" not yet being
enough of a wife to dare to ask or demand to know anything. And he
disappeared. She remained alone, listening to the dance music in the
next room.

He had taken a hat, the first he could find, and descended the
staircase upon the run. As soon as he was mingled with the people on
the street, he stopped under a gaslight in a vestibule and re-read the
letter. It said:

    "SIR: The Ravet girl, your old mistress, has given birth to
    a child which she asserts is yours. The mother is dying and
    implores you to visit her. I take the liberty of writing
    to you to ask whether you will grant the last wish of this
    woman, who seems to be very unhappy and worthy of pity.
    "Your servant, D. BONNARD."

When he entered the chamber of death, she was already in the last
agony. He would not have known her. The physician and the two nurses
were caring for her, dragging across the room some buckets full of ice
and linen.

Water covered the floor, two tapers were burning on a table; behind
the bed, in a little wicker cradle, a child was crying, and, with each
of its cries, the mother would try to move, shivering under the icy
compresses.

She was bleeding, wounded to death, killed by this birth. Her life was
slipping away; and, in spite of the ice, in spite of all care, the
hemorrhage continued, hastening her last hour.

She recognized Jack, and tried to raise her hand. She was too weak for
that, but the warm tears began to glide down her cheeks.

He fell on his knees beside the bed, seized one of her hands and kissed
it frantically; then, little by little, he approached nearer to the
wan face which strained to meet him. One of the nurses, standing with
a taper in her hand, observed them, and the doctor looked at them from
the remote corner of the room.

With a far-off voice, breathing hard, she said: "I am going to die, my
dear; promise me you will remain till the end. Oh! do not leave me now,
not at the last moment!"

He kissed her brow, her hair with a groan. "Be tranquil!" he murmured,
"I will stay."

It was some minutes before she was able to speak again, she was so weak
and overcome. Then she continued: "It is yours, the little one. I swear
it before God, I swear it to you upon my soul, I swear it at the moment
of death. I have never loved any man but you--promise me not to abandon
it----" He tried to take in his arms the poor, weak body, emptied of
its life blood. He stammered, excited by remorse and chagrin: "I swear
to you I will bring it up and love it. It shall never be separated from
me." Then she held Jack in an embrace. Powerless to raise her head, she
held up her blanched lips in an appeal for a kiss. He bent his mouth to
receive this poor, suppliant caress.

Calmed a little, she murmured in a low tone: "Take it, that I may see
that you love it."

He went to the cradle and took up the child.

He placed it gently on the bed between them. The little creature ceased
to cry. She whispered: "Do not stir!" And he remained motionless. There
he stayed, holding in his burning palms a hand that shook with the
shiver of death, as he had held, an hour before, another hand that had
trembled with the shiver of love. From time to time he looked at the
hour, with a furtive glance of the eye, watching the hand as it passed
midnight, then one o'clock, then two.

The doctor retired. The two nurses, after roaming around for some time
with light step, slept now in their chairs. The child slept, and the
mother, whose eyes were closed, seemed to be resting also.

Suddenly, as the pale daylight began to filter through the torn
curtains, she extended her arms with so startling and violent a motion
that she almost threw the child upon the floor. There was a rattling in
her throat; then she turned over motionless, dead.

The nurses hastened to her side, declaring: "It is over."

He looked once at this woman he had loved, then at the hand that marked
four o'clock, and, forgetting his overcoat, fled in his evening clothes
with the child in his arms.

After she had been left alone, his young bride had waited calmly
at first, in the Japanese boudoir. Then, seeing that he did not
return, she went back to the drawing-room, indifferent and tranquil
in appearance, but frightfully disturbed. Her mother, perceiving her
alone, asked where her husband was. She replied: "In his room; he will
return presently."

At the end of an hour, as everybody asked about him, she told of the
letter, of the change in Jack's face, and her fears of some misfortune.

They still waited. The guests had gone; only the parents and near
relatives remained. At midnight, they put the bride in her bed, shaking
with sobs. Her mother and two aunts were seated on the bed listening
to her weeping. Her father had gone to the police headquarters to make
inquiries. At five o'clock a light sound was heard in the corridor. The
door opened and closed softly. Then suddenly a cry, like the miauling
of a cat, went through the house, breaking the silence.

All the women of the house were out with one bound, and Bertha was the
first to spring forward, in spite of her mother and her aunts, clothed
only in her night-robe.

Jack, standing in the middle of the room, livid, breathing hard, held
the child in his arms.

The four women looked at him frightened; but Bertha suddenly became
rash, her heart wrung with anguish, and ran to him saying: "What is it?
What have you there?"

He had a foolish air, and answered in a husky voice: "It is--it is--I
have here a child, whose mother has just died." And he put into her
arms the howling little marmot.

Bertha, without saying a word, seized the child and embraced it,
straining it to her heart. Then, turning toward her husband with
her eyes full of tears, she said: "The mother is dead, you say?" He
answered: "Yes, just died--in my arms--I had broken with her since last
summer--I knew nothing about it--only the doctor sent for me and----"

Then Bertha murmured: "Well, we will bring up this little one."



FORGIVENESS


She had been brought up in one of those families who live shut up
within themselves, entirely apart from the rest of the world. They pay
no attention to political events, except to chat about them at table,
and changes in government seem so far, so very far away that they are
spoken of only as a matter of history--like the death of Louis XVI., or
the advent of Napoleon.

Customs change, fashions succeed each other, but changes are never
perceptible in this family, where old traditions are always followed.
And if some impossible story arises in the neighborhood, the scandal of
it dies at the threshold of this house.

The father and mother, alone in the evening, sometimes exchange a few
words on such a subject, but in an undertone, as if the walls had ears.

With great discretion, the father says: "Do you know about this
terrible affair in the Rivoil family?"

And the mother replies: "Who would have believed it? It is frightful!"

The children doubt nothing, but come to the age of living, in their
turn, with a bandage over their eyes and minds, without a suspicion of
any other kind of existence, without knowing that one does not always
think as he speaks, nor speak as he acts, without knowing that it is
necessary to live at war with the world, or at least, in armed peace,
without surmising that the ingenuous are frequently deceived, the
sincere trifled with, and the good wronged.

Some live until death in this blindness of probity, loyalty, and honor;
so upright that nothing can open their eyes. Others, undeceived,
without knowing much, are weighed down with despair, and die believing
that they are the puppets of an exceptional fatality, the miserable
victims of unlucky circumstance or particularly bad men.

The Savignols arranged a marriage for their daughter when she was
eighteen. She married a young man from Paris, George Barton, whose
business was on the Exchange. He was an attractive youth, with a
smooth tongue, and he observed all the outward proprieties necessary.
But at the bottom of his heart he sneered a little at his guileless
parents-in-law, calling them, among his friends, "My dear fossils."

He belonged to a good family, and the young girl was rich. He took her
to live in Paris.

She became one of the provincials of Paris, of whom there are many.
She remained ignorant of the great city, of its elegant people, of
its pleasures and its customs, as she had always been ignorant of the
perfidy and mystery of life.

Shut up in her own household, she scarcely knew the street she lived
in, and when she ventured into another quarter, it seemed to her that
she had journeyed far, into an unknown, strange city. She would say in
the evening:

"I crossed the boulevards to-day."

Two or three times a year, her husband took her to the theater. These
were feast-days not to be forgotten, which she recalled continually.

Sometimes at table, three months afterward, she would suddenly burst
out laughing and exclaim:

"Do you remember that ridiculous actor who imitated the cock's crowing?"

All her interests were within the boundaries of the two allied
families, who represented the whole of humanity to her. She designated
them by the distinguishing prefix "the," calling them respectively "the
Martinets," or "the Michelins."

Her husband lived according to his fancy, returning whenever he wished,
sometimes at daybreak, pretending business, and feeling in no way
constrained, so sure was he that no suspicion would ruffle this candid
soul.

But one morning she received an anonymous letter. She was too much
astonished and dismayed to scorn this letter, whose author declared
himself to be moved by interest in her happiness, by hatred of all
evil and love of truth. Her heart was too pure to understand fully the
meaning of the accusations.

But it revealed to her that her husband had had a mistress for two
years, a young widow, Mrs. Rosset, at whose house he passed his
evenings.

She knew neither how to pretend, nor to spy, nor to plan any sort of
ruse. When he returned for luncheon, she threw him the letter, sobbing,
and then fled to her room.

He had time to comprehend the matter and prepare his response before he
rapped at his wife's door. She opened it immediately, without looking
at him. He smiled, sat down, and drew her to his knee. In a sweet
voice, and a little jocosely, he said:

"My dear little one, Mrs. Rosset is a friend of mine. I have known her
for ten years and like her very much. I may add that I know twenty
other families of whom I have not spoken to you, knowing that you care
nothing for the world or for forming new friendships. But in order to
finish, once for all, these infamous lies, I will ask you to dress
yourself, after luncheon, and we will go to pay a visit to this young
lady, who will become your friend at once, I am sure." She embraced
her husband eagerly; and, from feminine curiosity, which no sooner
sleeps than wakes again, she did not refuse to go to see this unknown
woman, of whom, in spite of all, she was still suspicious. She felt by
instinct that a known danger is sooner overcome.

They were ushered into a little apartment on the fourth floor of a
handsome house. It was a coquettish little place, full of bric-à-brac
and ornamented with works of art. After about five minutes' waiting,
in a drawing-room where the light was dimmed by its generous window
draperies and portières, a door opened and a young woman appeared. She
was very dark, small, rather plump, and looked astonished, although she
smiled. George presented them. "My wife, Madame Julie Rosset."

The young widow uttered a little cry of astonishment and joy, and came
forward with both hands extended. She had not hoped for this happiness,
she said, knowing that Madame Barton saw no one. But she was so happy!
She was so fond of George! (She said George quite naturally, with
sisterly familiarity.) And she had had great desire to know his young
wife, and to love her, too.

At the end of a month these two friends were never apart from each
other. They met every day, often twice a day, and nearly always dined
together, either at one house or at the other. George scarcely ever
went out now, no longer pretended delay on account of business, but
said he loved his own chimney corner.

Finally, an apartment was left vacant in the house where Madame Rosset
resided. Madame Barton hastened to take it in order to be nearer her
new friend.

During two whole years there was a friendship between them without a
cloud, a friendship of heart and soul, tender, devoted, and delightful.
Bertha could not speak without mentioning Julie's name, for to her
Julie represented perfection. She was happy with a perfect happiness,
calm and secure.

But Madame Rosset fell ill. Bertha never left her. She passed nights of
despair; her husband, too, was broken-hearted.

One morning, in going out from his visit the doctor took George and his
wife aside, and announced that he found the condition of their friend
very grave.

When he had gone out, the young people, stricken down, looked at each
other and then began to weep. They both watched that night near the
bed. Bertha would embrace the sick one tenderly, while George, standing
silently at the foot of her couch, would look at them with dogged
persistence. The next day she was worse.

Finally, toward evening, she declared herself better, and persuaded her
friends to go home to dinner.

They were sitting sadly at table, scarcely eating anything, when the
maid brought George an envelope. He opened it, turned pale, and rising,
said to his wife, in a constrained way: "Excuse me, I must leave you
for a moment. I will return in ten minutes. Please don't go out." And
he ran into his room for his hat.

Bertha waited, tortured by a new fear. But, yielding in all things, she
would not go up to her friend's room again until he had returned.

As he did not re-appear, the thought came to her to look in his room to
see whether he had taken his gloves, which would show whether he had
really gone somewhere.

She saw them there, at first glance. Near them lay a rumpled paper.

She recognized it immediately; it was the one that had called George
away.

And a burning temptation took possession of her, the first of her life,
to read--to know. Her conscience struggled in revolt, but curiosity
lashed her on and grief directed her hand. She seized the paper, opened
it, recognized the trembling handwriting as that of Julie, and read:

    "Come alone and embrace me, my poor friend; I am going to
    die."

She could not understand it all at once, but stood stupefied, struck
especially by the thought of death. Then, suddenly, the familiarity of
it seized upon her mind. This came like a great light, illuminating
her whole life, showing her the infamous truth, all their treachery,
all their perfidy. She saw now their cunning, their sly looks, her
good faith played with, her confidence turned to account. She saw
them looking into each other's faces, under the shade of her lamp at
evening, reading from the same book, exchanging glances at the end of
certain pages.

And her heart, stirred with indignation, bruised with suffering, sunk
into an abyss of despair that had no boundaries.

When she heard steps, she fled and shut herself in her room.

Her husband called her: "Come quickly, Madame Rosset is dying!"

Bertha appeared at her door and said with trembling lip:

"Go alone to her; she has no need of me."

He looked at her sheepishly, careless from anger, and repeated:

"Quick, quick! She is dying!"

Bertha answered: "You would prefer it to be I."

Then he understood, probably, and left her to herself, going up again
to the dying one.

There he wept without fear, or shame, indifferent to the grief of his
wife, who would no longer speak to him, nor look at him, but who lived
shut in with her disgust and angry revolt, praying to God morning and
evening.

They lived together, nevertheless, eating together face to face, mute
and hopeless.

After a time, he tried to appease her a little. But she would not
forget. And so the life continued, hard for them both.

For a whole year they lived thus, strangers one to the other. Bertha
almost became mad.

Then one morning, having set out at dawn, she returned toward eight
o'clock carrying in both hands an enormous bouquet of roses, of white
roses, all white.

She sent word to her husband that she would like to speak to him. He
came in disturbed, troubled.

"Let us go out together," she said to him. "Take these flowers, they
are too heavy for me."

He took the bouquet and followed his wife. A carriage awaited them,
which started as soon as they were seated.

It stopped before the gate of a cemetery. Then Bertha, her eyes full of
tears, said to George: "Take me to her grave."

He trembled, without knowing why, but walked on before, holding the
flowers in his arms. Finally he stopped before a shaft of white marble
and pointed to it without a word.

She took the bouquet from him, and, kneeling, placed it at the foot of
the grave. Then her heart was raised in suppliant, silent prayer.

Her husband stood behind her, weeping, haunted by memories.

She arose and put out her hands to him.

"If you wish, we will be friends," she said.



THE WHITE WOLF


This is the story the old Marquis d'Arville told us after a dinner in
honor of Saint-Hubert, at the house of Baron des Ravels. They had run
down a stag that day. The Marquis was the only one of the guests who
had not taken part in the chase. He never hunted.

During the whole of the long repast, they had talked of scarcely
anything but the massacre of animals. Even the ladies interested
themselves in the sanguinary and often unlikely stories, while the
orators mimicked the attacks and combats between man and beast, raising
their arms and speaking in thunderous tones.

M. d'Arville talked much, with a certain poesy, a little flourish,
but full of effect. He must have repeated this story often, it ran so
smoothly, never halting at a choice of words in which to clothe an
image.

"Gentlemen, I never hunt, nor did my father, nor my grandfather, nor
my great-great-grandfather. The last named was the son of a man who
hunted more than all of you. He died in 1764. I will tell you how. He
was named John, and was married, and became the father of the man who
was my great-great-grandfather. He lived with his younger brother,
Francis d'Arville, in our castle, in the midst of a deep forest in
Lorraine.

"Francis d'Arville always remained a boy through his love for hunting.
They both hunted from one end of the year to the other without
cessation or weariness. They loved nothing else, understood nothing
else, talked only of this, and lived for this alone.

"They were possessed by this terrible, inexorable passion. It consumed
them, having taken entire control of them, leaving no place for
anything else. They had agreed not to put off the chase for any reason
whatsoever. My great-great-grandfather was born while his father was
following a fox, but John d'Arville did not interrupt his sport,
and swore that the little beggar might have waited until after the
death-cry! His brother Francis showed himself still more hot-headed
than he. The first thing on rising, he would go to see the dogs, then
the horses; then he would shoot some birds about the place, even when
about to set out hunting big game.

"They were called in the country Monsieur the Marquis and Monsieur the
Cadet, noblemen then not acting as do those of our time, who wish to
establish in their titles a descending scale of rank, for the son of a
marquis is no more a count, or the son of a viscount a baron, than the
son of a general is a colonel by birth. But the niggardly vanity of
the day finds profit in this arrangement. To return to my ancestors:

"They were, it appears, immoderately large, bony, hairy, violent, and
vigorous. The younger one was taller than the elder, and had such a
voice that, according to a legend he was very proud of, all the leaves
of the forest moved when he shouted.

"And when mounted, ready for the chase, it must have been a superb
sight to see these two giants astride their great horses.

"Toward the middle of the winter of that year, 1764, the cold was
excessive and the wolves became ferocious.

"They even attacked belated peasants, roamed around houses at night,
howled from sunset to sunrise, and ravaged the stables.

"At one time a rumor was circulated. It was said that a colossal wolf,
of grayish-white color, which had eaten two children, devoured the arm
of a woman, strangled all the watchdogs of the country, was now coming
without fear into the house inclosures and smelling around the doors.
Many inhabitants affirmed that they had felt his breath, which made the
lights flicker. Shortly a panic ran through all the province. No one
dared to go out after nightfall. The very shadows seemed haunted by the
image of this beast.

"The brothers D'Arville resolved to find and slay him. So they called
together for a grand chase all the gentlemen of the country.

"It was in vain. They had beaten the forests and scoured the thickets,
but had seen nothing of him. They killed wolves, but not that one. And
each night after such a chase, the beast, as if to avenge himself,
attacked some traveler, or devoured some cattle, always far from the
place where they had sought him.

"Finally, one night he found a way into the swine-house of the castle
D'Arville and ate two beauties of the best breed.

"The two brothers were furious, interpreting the attack as one of
bravado on the part of the monster--a direct injury, a defiance.
Therefore, taking all their best-trained hounds, they set out to run
down the beast, with courage excited by anger.

"From dawn until the sun descended behind the great nut-trees, they
beat about the forests with no result.

"At last, both of them, angry and disheartened, turned their horses'
steps into a bypath bordered by brushwood. They were marveling at the
baffling power of this wolf, when suddenly they were seized with a
mysterious fear.

"The elder said:

"'This can be no ordinary beast. One might say he can think like a man.'

"The younger replied:

"'Perhaps we should get our cousin, the Bishop, to bless a bullet for
him, or ask a priest to pronounce some words to help us.'

"Then they were silent.

"John continued: 'Look at the sun, how red it is. The great wolf will
do mischief to-night.'

"He had scarcely finished speaking when his horse reared. Francis's
horse started to run at the same time. A large bush covered with dead
leaves rose before them, and a colossal beast, grayish white, sprang
out, scampering away through the wood.

"Both gave a grunt of satisfaction, and bending to the necks of their
heavy horses, they urged them on with the weight of their bodies,
exciting them, hastening with voice and spur, until these strong
riders seemed to carry the weight of their beasts between their knees,
carrying them by force as if they were flying.

"Thus they rode, crashing through forests, crossing ravines, climbing
up the sides of steep gorges, and sounding the horn, at frequent
intervals, to arouse the people and the dogs of the neighborhood.

"But suddenly, in the course of this breakneck ride, my ancestor struck
his forehead against a large branch and fractured his skull. He fell to
the ground as if dead, while his frightened horse disappeared in the
surrounding thicket.

"The younger D'Arville stopped short, sprang to the ground, seized his
brother in his arms, and saw that he had lost consciousness.

"He sat down beside him, took his disfigured head upon his knees,
looking earnestly at the lifeless face. Little by little a fear crept
over him, a strange fear that he had never before felt, fear of
the shadows, of the solitude, of the lonely woods, and also of the
chimerical wolf, which had now come to be the death of his brother.

"The shadows deepened, the branches of the trees crackled in the sharp
cold. Francis arose shivering, incapable of remaining there longer,
and already feeling his strength fail. There was nothing to be heard,
neither the voice of dogs nor the sound of a horn; all within this
invisible horizon was mute. And in this gloomy silence and the chill of
evening there was something strange and frightful.

"With his powerful hands he seized John's body and laid it across
the saddle to take it home; then mounted gently behind it, his mind
troubled by horrible, supernatural images, as if he were possessed.

"Suddenly, in the midst of these fears, a great form passed. It was
the wolf. A violent fit of terror seized upon the hunter; something
cold, like a stream of ice-water seemed to glide through his veins,
and he made the sign of the cross, like a monk haunted with devils, so
dismayed was he by the reappearance of the frightful wanderer. Then,
his eyes falling upon the inert body before him, his fear was quickly
changed to anger, and he trembled with inordinate rage.

"He pricked his horse and darted after him.

"He followed him through copses, over ravines, and around great forest
trees, traversing woods that he no longer recognized, his eye fixed
upon a white spot, which was ever flying from him as night covered the
earth.

"His horse also seemed moved by an unknown force. He galloped on with
neck extended, crashing over small trees and rocks, with the body of
the dead stretched across him on the saddle. Brambles caught in his
mane; his head, where it had struck the trunks of trees, was spattered
with blood; the marks of the spurs were over his flanks.

"Suddenly the animal and its rider came out of the forest, rushing
through a valley as the moon appeared above the hills. This valley was
stony and shut in by enormous rocks, over which it was impossible to
pass; there was no other way for the wolf but to turn on his steps.

"Francis gave such a shout of joy and revenge that the echo of it was
like the roll of thunder. He leaped from his horse, knife in hand.

"The bristling beast, with rounded back, was awaiting him; his eyes
shining like two stars. But before joining in battle, the strong
hunter, grasping his brother, seated him upon a rock, supporting his
head, which was now but a mass of blood, with stones, and cried aloud
to him, as to one deaf: 'Look, John! Look here!'

"Then he threw himself upon the monster. He felt himself strong enough
to overthrow a mountain, to crush the very rocks in his hands. The
beast meant to kill him by sinking his claws in his vitals; but the man
had seized him by the throat, without even making use of his weapon,
and strangled him gently, waiting until his breath stopped and he could
hear the death-rattle at his heart. And he laughed, with the joy of
dismay, clutching more and more with a terrible hold, and crying out in
his delirium: 'Look, John! Look!' All resistance ceased. The body of
the wolf was limp. He was dead.

"Then Francis, taking him in his arms, threw him down at the feet of
his elder brother, crying out in expectant voice: 'Here, here, my
little John, here he is!'

"Then he placed upon the saddle the two bodies, the one above the
other, and started on his way.

"He returned to the castle laughing and weeping, like Gargantua at the
birth of Pantagruel, shouting in triumph and stamping with delight in
relating the death of the beast, and moaning and tearing at his beard
in calling the name of his brother.

"Often, later, when he recalled this day, he would declare, with tears
in his eyes: 'If only poor John had seen me strangle the beast, he
would have died content, I am sure!'

"The widow of my ancestor inspired in her son a horror of the chase,
which was transmitted from father to son down to myself."

The Marquis d'Arville was silent. Some one asked: "Is the story a
legend or not?"

And the narrator replied:

"I swear to you it is true from beginning to end."

Then a lady, in a sweet little voice, declared:

"It is beautiful to have passions like that."





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