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Title: Monsieur de Camors — Complete
Author: Feuillet, Octave
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MONSIEUR DE CAMORS

By Octave Feuillet


With a Preface by MAXIME DU CAMP, of the French Academy



OCTAVE FEUILLET

OCTAVE FEUILLET’S works abound with rare qualities, forming a harmonious
ensemble; they also exhibit great observation and knowledge of humanity,
and through all of them runs an incomparable and distinctive charm. He
will always be considered the leader of the idealistic school in the
nineteenth century. It is now fifteen years since his death, and the
judgment of posterity is that he had a great imagination, linked to
great analytical power and insight; that his style is neat, pure, and
fine, and at the same time brilliant and concise. He unites suppleness
with force, he combines grace with vigor.

Octave Feuillet was born at Saint-Lo (Manche), August 11, 1821, his
father occupying the post of Secretary-General of the Prefecture de la
Manche. Pupil at the Lycee Louis le Grand, he received many prizes, and
was entered for the law. But he became early attracted to literature,
and like many of the writers at that period attached himself to the
“romantic school.” He collaborated with Alexander Dumas pere and with
Paul Bocage. It can not now be ascertained what share Feuillet may have
had in any of the countless tales of the elder Dumas. Under his own
name he published the novels ‘Onesta’ and ‘Alix’, in 1846, his first
romances. He then commenced writing for the stage. We mention ‘Echec
et Mat’ (Odeon, 1846); ‘Palma, ou la Nuit du Vendredi-Saint’ (Porte St.
Martin, 1847); ‘La Vieillesse de Richelieu’ (Theatre Francais, 1848);
‘York’ (Palais Royal, 1852). Some of them are written in collaboration
with Paul Bocage. They are dramas of the Dumas type, conventional, not
without cleverness, but making no lasting mark.

Realizing this, Feuillet halted, pondered, abruptly changed front, and
began to follow in the footsteps of Alfred de Musset. ‘La Grise’ (1854),
‘Le Village’ (1856), ‘Dalila’ (1857), ‘Le Cheveu Blanc’, and other plays
obtained great success, partly in the Gymnase, partly in the Comedie
Francaise. In these works Feuillet revealed himself as an analyst of
feminine character, as one who had spied out all their secrets, and
could pour balm on all their wounds. ‘Le Roman d’un Jeune Homme Pauvre’
(Vaudeville, 1858) is probably the best known of all his later dramas;
it was, of course, adapted for the stage from his romance, and is well
known to the American public through Lester Wallack and Pierrepont
Edwards. ‘Tentation’ was produced in the year 1860, also well known
in this country under the title ‘Led Astray’; then followed ‘Montjoye’
(1863), etc. The influence of Alfred de Musset is henceforth less
perceptible. Feuillet now became a follower of Dumas fils, especially so
in ‘La Belle au Bois Dormant’ (Vaudeville, 1865); ‘Le Cas de Conscience
(Theatre Francais, 1867); ‘Julie’ (Theatre Francais 1869). These met
with success, and are still in the repertoire of the Comedie Francaise.

As a romancer, Feuillet occupies a high place. For thirty years he was
the representative of a noble and tender genre, and was preeminently the
favorite novelist of the brilliant society of the Second Empire. Women
literally devoured him, and his feminine public has always remained
faithful to him. He is the advocate of morality and of the aristocracy
of birth and feeling, though under this disguise he involves his heroes
and heroines in highly romantic complications, whose outcome is often
for a time in doubt. Yet as the accredited painter of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain he contributed an essential element to the development of
realistic fiction. No one has rendered so well as he the high-strung,
neuropathic women of the upper class, who neither understand themselves
nor are wholly comprehensible to others. In ‘Monsieur de Camors’,
crowned by the Academy, he has yielded to the demands of a stricter
realism. Especially after the fall of the Empire had removed a powerful
motive for gilding the vices of aristocratic society, he painted its
hard and selfish qualities as none of his contemporaries could have
done. Octave Feuillet was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1862 to
succeed Scribe. He died December 29, 1890.

                  MAXIME DU CAMP
               de l’Acadamie Francaise.



MONSIEUR DE CAMORS



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. “THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH”

Near eleven o’clock, one evening in the month of May, a man about fifty
years of age, well formed, and of noble carriage, stepped from a
coupe in the courtyard of a small hotel in the Rue Barbet-de-Jouy. He
ascended, with the walk of a master, the steps leading to the entrance,
to the hall where several servants awaited him. One of them followed
him into an elegant study on the first floor, which communicated with
a handsome bedroom, separated from it by a curtained arch. The valet
arranged the fire, raised the lamps in both rooms, and was about to
retire, when his master spoke:

“Has my son returned home?”

“No, Monsieur le Comte. Monsieur is not ill?”

“Ill! Why?”

“Because Monsieur le Comte is so pale.”

“Ah! It is only a slight cold I have taken this evening on the banks of
the lake.”

“Will Monsieur require anything?”

“Nothing,” replied the Count briefly, and the servant retired. Left
alone, his master approached a cabinet curiously carved in the Italian
style, and took from it a long flat ebony box.

This contained two pistols. He loaded them with great care, adjusting
the caps by pressing them lightly to the nipple with his thumb. That
done, he lighted a cigar, and for half an hour the muffled beat of his
regular tread sounded on the carpet of the gallery. He finished his
cigar, paused a moment in deep thought, and then entered the adjoining
room, taking the pistols with him.

This room, like the other, was furnished in a style of severe elegance,
relieved by tasteful ornament. It showed some pictures by famous
masters, statues, bronzes, and rare carvings in ivory. The Count threw
a glance of singular interest round the interior of this chamber, which
was his own--on the familiar objects--on the sombre hangings--on the
bed, prepared for sleep. Then he turned toward a table, placed in a
recess of the window, laid the pistols upon it, and dropping his head in
his hands, meditated deeply many minutes. Suddenly he raised his head,
and wrote rapidly as follows:

   “TO MY SON:

   “Life wearies me, my son, and I shall relinquish it. The true
   superiority of man over the inert or passive creatures that surround
   him, lies in his power to free himself, at will, from those,
   pernicious servitudes which are termed the laws of nature. Man,
   if he will it, need not grow old: the lion must. Reflect, my son,
   upon this text, for all human power lies in it.

   “Science asserts and demonstrates it. Man, intelligent and free,
   is an animal wholly unpremeditated upon this planet. Produced by
   unexpected combinations and haphazard transformations, in the midst
   of a general subordination of matter, he figures as a dissonance and
   a revolt!

   “Nature has engendered without having conceived him. The result is
   as if a turkey-hen had unconsciously hatched the egg of an eagle.
   Terrified at the monster, she has sought to control it, and has
   overloaded it with instincts, commonly called duties, and police
   regulations known as religion. Each one of these shackles broken,
   each one of these servitudes overthrown, marks a step toward the
   thorough emancipation of humanity.

   “I must say to you, however, that I die in the faith of my century,
   believing in matter uncreated, all-powerful, and eternal--the Nature
   of the ancients. There have been in all ages philosophers who have
   had conceptions of the truth. But ripe to-day, it has become the
   common property of all who are strong enough to stand it--for, in
   sooth, this latest religion of humanity is food fit only for the
   strong. It carries sadness with it, for it isolates man; but it
   also involves grandeur, making man absolutely free, or, as it were,
   a very god. It leaves him no actual duties except to himself, and
   it opens a superb field to one of brain and courage.

   “The masses still remain, and must ever remain, submissive under the
   yoke of old, dead religions, and under the tyranny of instincts.
   There will still be seen very much the same condition of things as
   at present in Paris; a society the brain of which is atheistic, and
   the heart religious. And at bottom there will be no more belief in
   Christ than in Jupiter; nevertheless, churches will continue to be
   built mechanically. There are no longer even Deists; for the old
   chimera of a personal, moral God-witness, sanction, and judge,--is
   virtually extinct; and yet hardly a word is said, or a line written,
   or a gesture made, in public or private life, which does not ever
   affirm that chimera. This may have its uses perchance, but it is
   nevertheless despicable. Slip forth from the common herd, my son,
   think for yourself, and write your own catechism upon a virgin page.

   “As for myself, my life has been a failure, because I was born many
   years too soon. As yet the earth and the heavens were heaped up and
   cumbered with ruins, and people did not see. Science, moreover, was
   relatively still in its infancy. And, besides, I retained the
   prejudices and the repugnance to the doctrines of the new world that
   belonged to my name. I was unable to comprehend that there was
   anything better to be done than childishly to pout at the conqueror;
   that is, I could not recognize that his weapons were good, and that
   I should seize and destroy him with them. In short, for want of a
   definite principle of action I have drifted at random, my life
   without plan--I have been a mere trivial man of pleasure.

   “Your life shall be more complete, if you will only follow my
   advice.

   “What, indeed, may not a man of this age become if he have the good
   sense and energy to conform his life rigidly to his belief!

   “I merely state the question, you must solve it; I can leave you
   only some cursory ideas, which I am satisfied are just, and upon
   which you may meditate at your leisure. Only for fools or the weak
   does materialism become a debasing dogma; assuredly, in its code
   there are none of those precepts of ordinary morals which our
   fathers entitled virtue; but I do find there a grand word which may
   well counterbalance many others, that is to say, Honor, self-esteem!
   Unquestionably a materialist may not be a saint; but he can be a
   gentleman, which is something. You have happy gifts, my son, and I
   know of but one duty that you have in the world--that of developing
   those gifts to the utmost, and through them to enjoy life
   unsparingly. Therefore, without scruple, use woman for your
   pleasure, man for your advancement; but under no circumstances do
   anything ignoble.

   “In order that ennui shall not drive you, like myself, prematurely
   from the world so soon as the season for pleasure shall have ended,
   you should leave the emotions of ambition and of public life for the
   gratification of your riper age. Do not enter into any engagements
   with the reigning government, and reserve for yourself to hear its
   eulogium made by those who will have subverted it. That is the
   French fashion. Each generation must have its own prey. You will
   soon feel the impulse of the coming generation. Prepare yourself,
   from afar, to take the lead in it.

   “In politics, my son, you are not ignorant that we all take our
   principles from our temperament. The bilious are demagogues, the
   sanguine, democrats, the nervous, aristocrats. You are both
   sanguine and nervous, an excellent constitution, for it gives you a
   choice. You may, for example, be an aristocrat in regard to
   yourself personally, and, at the same time, a democrat in relation
   to others; and in that you will not be exceptional.

   “Make yourself master of every question likely to interest your
   contemporaries, but do not become absorbed in any yourself. In
   reality, all principles are indifferent--true or false according to
   the hour and circumstance. Ideas are mere instruments with which
   you should learn to play seasonably, so as to sway men. In that
   path, likewise, you will have associates.

   “Know, my son, that having attained my age, weary of all else, you
   will have need of strong sensations. The sanguinary diversions of
   revolution will then be for you the same as a love-affair at twenty.

   “But I am fatigued, my son, and shall recapitulate. To be loved by
   women, to be feared by men, to be as impassive and as imperturbable
   as a god before the tears of the one and the blood of the other, and
   to end in a whirlwind--such has been the lot in which I have failed,
   but which, nevertheless, I bequeath to you. With your great
   faculties you, however, are capable of accomplishing it, unless
   indeed you should fail through some ingrained weakness of the heart
   that I have noticed in you, and which, doubtless, you have imbibed
   with your mother’s milk.

   “So long as man shall be born of woman, there will be something
   faulty and incomplete in his character. In fine, strive to relieve
   yourself from all thraldom, from all natural instincts, affections,
   and sympathies as from so many fetters upon your liberty, your
   strength.

   “Do not marry unless some superior interest shall impel you to do
   so. In that event, have no children.

   “Have no intimate friends. Caesar having grown old, had a friend.
   It was Brutus!

   “Contempt for men is the beginning of wisdom.

   “Change somewhat your style of fencing, it is altogether too open,
   my son. Do not get angry. Rarely laugh, and never weep. Adieu.

                       “CAMORS.”

The feeble rays of dawn had passed through the slats of the blinds. The
matin birds began their song in the chestnut-tree near the window. M. de
Camors raised his head and listened in an absent mood to the sound which
astonished him. Seeing that it was daybreak, he folded in some haste
the pages he had just finished, pressed his seal upon the envelope, and
addressed it, “For the Comte Louis de Camors.” Then he rose.

M. de Camors was a great lover of art, and had carefully preserved a
magnificent ivory carving of the sixteenth century, which had belonged
to his wife. It was a Christ the pallid white relieved by a medallion of
dark velvet.

His eye, meeting this pale, sad image, was attracted to it for a moment
with strange fascination. Then he smiled bitterly, seized one of the
pistols with a firm hand and pressed it to his temple.

A shot resounded through the house; the fall of a heavy body shook the
floor-fragments of brains strewed the carpet. The Comte de Camors had
plunged into eternity!

His last will was clenched in his hand.

To whom was this document addressed? Upon what kind of soil will these
seeds fall?

At this time Louis de Camors was twenty-seven years old. His mother had
died young. It did not appear that she had been particularly happy with
her husband; and her son barely remembered her as a young woman, pretty
and pale, and frequently weeping, who used to sing him to sleep in
a low, sweet voice. He had been brought up chiefly by his father’s
mistress, who was known as the Vicomtesse d’Oilly, a widow, and a rather
good sort of woman. Her natural sensibility, and the laxity of morals
then reigning at Paris, permitted her to occupy herself at the same time
with the happiness of the father and the education of the son. When the
father deserted her after a time, he left her the child, to comfort
her somewhat by this mark of confidence and affection. She took him out
three times a week; she dressed him and combed him; she fondled him and
took him with her to church, and made him play with a handsome Spaniard,
who had been for some time her secretary. Besides, she neglected no
opportunity of inculcating precepts of sound morality. Thus the child,
being surprised at seeing her one evening press a kiss upon the forehead
of her secretary, cried out, with the blunt candor of his age:

“Why, Madame, do you kiss a gentleman who is not your husband?”

“Because, my dear,” replied the Countess, “our good Lord commands us to
be charitable and affectionate to the poor, the infirm, and the exile;
and Monsieur Perez is an exile.”

Louis de Camors merited better care, for he was a generous-hearted
child; and his comrades of the college of Louis-le-Grand always
remembered the warm-heartedness and natural grace which made them
forgive his successes during the week, and his varnished boots and lilac
gloves on Sunday. Toward the close of his college course, he became
particularly attached to a poor bursar, by name Lescande, who excelled
in mathematics, but who was very ungraceful, awkwardly shy and timid,
with a painful sensitiveness to the peculiarities of his person. He was
nicknamed “Wolfhead,” from the refractory nature of his hair; but the
elegant Camors stopped the scoffers by protecting the young man with his
friendship. Lescande felt this deeply, and adored his friend, to whom
he opened the inmost recesses of his heart, letting out some important
secrets.

He loved a very young girl who was his cousin, but was as poor as
himself. Still it was a providential thing for him that she was poor,
otherwise he never should have dared to aspire to her. It was a sad
occurrence that had first thrown Lescande with his cousin--the loss of
her father, who was chief of one of the Departments of State.

After his death she lived with her mother in very straitened
circumstances; and Lescande, on occasion of his last visit, found her
with soiled cuffs. Immediately after he received the following note:

   “Pardon me, dear cousin! Pardon my not wearing white cuffs. But I
   must tell you that we can change our cuffs--my mother and I--only
   three times a week. As to her, one would never discover it. She is
   neat as a bird. I also try to be; but, alas! when I practise the
   piano, my cuffs rub. After this explanation, my good Theodore, I
   hope you will love me as before.

                       “JULIETTE.”

Lescande wept over this note. Luckily he had his prospects as an
architect; and Juliette had promised to wait for him ten years, by which
time he would either be dead, or living deliciously in a humble house
with his cousin. He showed the note, and unfolded his plans to Camors.
“This is the only ambition I have, or which I can have,” added Lescande.
“You are different. You are born for great things.”

“Listen, my old Lescande,” replied Camors, who had just passed his
rhetoric examination in triumph. “I do not know but that my destiny
may be ordinary; but I am sure my heart can never be. There I feel
transports--passions, which give me sometimes great joy, sometimes
inexpressible suffering. I burn to discover a world--to save a
nation--to love a queen! I understand nothing but great ambitions and
noble alliances, and as for sentimental love, it troubles me but little.
My activity pants for a nobler and a wider field!

“I intend to attach myself to one of the great social parties, political
or religious, that agitate the world at this era. Which one I know not
yet, for my opinions are not very fixed. But as soon as I leave college
I shall devote myself to seeking the truth. And truth is easily found. I
shall read all the newspapers.

“Besides, Paris is an intellectual highway, so brilliantly lighted it is
only necessary to open one’s eyes and have good faith and independence,
to find the true road.

“And I am in excellent case for this, for though born a gentleman, I
have no prejudices. My father, who is himself very enlightened and very
liberal, leaves me free. I have an uncle who is a Republican; an aunt
who is a Legitimist--and what is still more, a saint; and another uncle
who is a Conservative. It is not vanity that leads me to speak of
these things; but only a desire to show you that, having a foot in all
parties, I am quite willing to compare them dispassionately and make a
good choice. Once master of the holy truth, you may be sure, dear old
Lescande, I shall serve it unto death--with my tongue, with my pen, and
with my sword!”

Such sentiments as these, pronounced with sincere emotion and
accompanied by a warm clasp of the hand, drew tears from the old
Lescande, otherwise called Wolfhead.



CHAPTER II. FRUIT FROM THE HOTBED OF PARIS

Early one morning, about eight years after these high resolves, Louis
de Camors rode out from the ‘porte-cochere’ of the small hotel he had
occupied with his father.

Nothing could be gayer than Paris was that morning, at that charming
golden hour of the day when the world seems peopled only with good and
generous spirits who love one another. Paris does not pique herself on
her generosity; but she still takes to herself at this charming hour an
air of innocence, cheerfulness, and amiable cordiality.

The little carts with bells, that pass one another rapidly, make one
believe the country is covered with roses. The cries of old Paris cut
with their sharp notes the deep murmur of a great city just awaking.

You see the jolly concierges sweeping the white footpaths; half-dressed
merchants taking down their shutters with great noise; and groups of
ostlers, in Scotch caps, smoking and fraternizing on the hotel steps.

You hear the questions of the sociable neighborhood; the news proper to
awakening; speculations on the weather bandied across from door to door,
with much interest.

Young milliners, a little late, walk briskly toward town with elastic
step, making now a short pause before a shop just opened; again taking
wing like a bee just scenting a flower.

Even the dead in this gay Paris morning seem to go gayly to the
cemetery, with their jovial coachmen grinning and nodding as they pass.

Superbly aloof from these agreeable impressions, Louis de Camors, a
little pale, with half-closed eyes and a cigar between his teeth, rode
into the Rue de Bourgogne at a walk, broke into a canter on the Champs
Elysees, and galloped thence to the Bois. After a brisk run, he
returned by chance through the Porte Maillot, then not nearly so thickly
inhabited as it is to-day. Already, however, a few pretty houses, with
green lawns in front, peeped out from the bushes of lilac and clematis.
Before the green railings of one of these a gentleman played hoop with a
very young, blond-haired child. His age belonged in that uncertain
area which may range from twenty-five to forty. He wore a white cravat,
spotless as snow; and two triangles of short, thick beard, cut like
the boxwood at Versailles, ornamented his cheeks. If Camors saw this
personage he did not honor him with the slightest notice. He was,
notwithstanding, his former comrade Lescande, who had been lost sight
of for several years by his warmest college friend. Lescande, however,
whose memory seemed better, felt his heart leap with joy at the majestic
appearance of the young cavalier who approached him. He made a movement
to rush forward; a smile covered his good-natured face, but it ended in
a grimace. Evidently he had been forgotten. Camors, now not more than
a couple of feet from him, was passing on, and his handsome countenance
gave not the slightest sign of emotion. Suddenly, without changing a
single line of his face, he drew rein, took the cigar from his lips, and
said, in a tranquil voice:

“Hello! You have no longer a wolf head!”

“Ha! Then you know me?” cried Lescande.

“Know you? Why not?”

“I thought--I was afraid--on account of my beard--”

“Bah! your beard does not change you--except that it becomes you. But
what are you doing here?”

“Doing here! Why, my dear friend, I am at home here. Dismount, I pray
you, and come into my house.”

“Well, why not?” replied Camors, with the same voice and manner of
supreme indifference; and, throwing his bridle to the servant who
followed him, he passed through the gardengate, led, supported, caressed
by the trembling hand of Lescande.

The garden was small, but beautifully tended and full of rare plants. At
the end, a small villa, in the Italian style, showed its graceful porch.

“Ah, that is pretty!” exclaimed Camors, at last.

“And you recognize my plan, Number Three, do you not?” asked Lescande,
eagerly.

“Your plan Number Three? Ah, yes, perfectly,” replied Camors, absently.
“And your pretty little cousin--is she within?”

“She is there, my dear friend,” answered Lescande, in a low voice--and
he pointed to the closed shutters of a large window of a balcony
surmounting the veranda. “She is there; and this is our son.”

Camors let his hand pass listlessly over the child’s hair. “The deuce!”
 he said; “but you have not wasted time. And you are happy, my good
fellow?”

“So happy, my dear friend, that I am sometimes uneasy, for the good
God is too kind to me. It is true, though, I had to work very hard. For
instance, I passed two years in Spain--in the mountains of that infernal
country. There I built a fairy palace for the Marquis of Buena-Vista, a
great nobleman, who had seen my plan at the Exhibition and was delighted
with it. This was the beginning of my fortune; but you must not imagine
that my profession alone has enriched me so quickly. I made some
successful speculations--some unheard of chances in lands; and, I beg
you to believe, honestly, too. Still, I am not a millionaire; but you
know I had nothing, and my wife less; now, my house paid for, we have
ten thousand francs’ income left. It is not a fortune for us, living in
this style; but I still work and keep good courage, and my Juliette is
happy in her paradise!”

“She wears no more soiled cuffs, then?” said Camors.

“I warrant she does not! Indeed, she has a slight tendency to
luxury--like all women, you know. But I am delighted to see you remember
so well our college follies. I also, through all my distractions, never
forgot you a moment. I even had a foolish idea of asking you to my
wedding, only I did not dare. You are so brilliant, so petted, with your
establishment and your racers. My wife knows you very well; in fact, we
have talked of you a hundred thousand times. Since she patronizes the
turf and subscribes for ‘The Sport’, she says to me, ‘Your friend’s
horse has won again’; and in our family circle we rejoice over your
triumphs.”

A flush tinged the cheek of Camors as he answered, quietly, “You are
really too good.”

They walked a moment in silence over the gravel path bordered by grass,
before Lescande spoke again.

“And yourself, dear friend, I hope that you also are happy.”

“I--happy!” Camors seemed a little astonished. “My happiness is simple
enough, but I believe it is unclouded. I rise in the morning, ride to
the Bois, thence to the club, go to the Bois again, and then back to the
club. If there is a first representation at any theatre, I wish to see
it. Thus, last evening they gave a new piece which was really exquisite.
There was a song in it, beginning:

            ‘He was a woodpecker,
             A little woodpecker,
             A young woodpecker--’

and the chorus imitated the cry of the woodpecker! Well, it was
charming, and the whole of Paris will sing that song with delight for a
year. I also shall do like the whole of Paris, and I shall be happy.”

“Good heavens! my friend,” laughed Lescande, “and that suffices you for
happiness?”

“That and--the principles of ‘eighty-nine,” replied Camors, lighting a
fresh cigar from the old one.

Here their dialogue was broken by the fresh voice of a woman calling
from the blinds of the balcony--

“Is that you, Theodore?”

Camors raised his eyes and saw a white hand, resting on the slats of the
blind, bathed in sunlight.

“That is my wife. Conceal yourself!” cried Lescande, briskly; and he
pushed Camors behind a clump of catalpas, as he turned to the balcony
and lightly answered:

“Yes, my dear; do you wish anything?”

“Maxime is with you?”

“Yes, mother. I am here,” cried the child. “It is a beautiful morning.
Are you quite well?”

“I hardly know. I have slept too long, I believe.” She opened the
shutters, and, shading her eyes from the glare with her hand, appeared
on the balcony.

She was in the flower of youth, slight, supple, and graceful, and
appeared, in her ample morning-gown of blue cashmere, plumper and taller
than she really was. Bands of the same color interlaced, in the Greek
fashion, her chestnut hair--which nature, art, and the night had
dishevelled--waved and curled to admiration on her small head.

She rested her elbows on the railing, yawned, showing her white teeth,
and looking at her husband, asked:

“Why do you look so stupid?”

At the instant she observed Camors--whom the interest of the moment had
withdrawn from his concealment--gave a startled cry, gathered up her
skirts, and retired within the room.

Since leaving college up to this hour, Louis de Camors had never formed
any great opinion of the Juliet who had taken Lescande as her Romeo. He
experienced a flash of agreeable surprise on discovering that his friend
was more happy in that respect than he had supposed.

“I am about to be scolded, my friend,” said Lescande, with a hearty
laugh, “and you also must stay for your share. You will stay and
breakfast with us?”

Camors hesitated; then said, hastily, “No, no! Impossible! I have an
engagement which I must keep.”

Notwithstanding Camors’s unwillingness, Lescande detained him until he
had extorted a promise to come and dine with them--that is, with him,
his wife, and his mother-in-law, Madame Mursois--on the following
Tuesday. This acceptance left a cloud on the spirit of Camors until the
appointed day. Besides abhorring family dinners, he objected to being
reminded of the scene of the balcony. The indiscreet kindness of
Lescande both touched and irritated him; for he knew he should play but
a silly part near this pretty woman. He felt sure she was a coquette,
notwithstanding which, the recollections of his youth and the character
of her husband should make her sacred to him. So he was not in the
most agreeable frame of mind when he stepped out of his dog-cart, that
Tuesday evening, before the little villa of the Avenue Maillot.

At his reception by Madame Lescande and her mother he took heart a
little. They appeared to him what they were, two honest-hearted women,
surrounded by luxury and elegance. The mother--an ex-beauty--had been
left a widow when very young, and to this time had avoided any stain on
her character. With them, innate delicacy held the place of those solid
principles so little tolerated by French society. Like a few other women
of society, Madame had the quality of virtue just as ermine has the
quality of whiteness. Vice was not so repugnant to her as an evil as it
was as a blemish. Her daughter had received from her those instincts of
chastity which are oftener than we imagine hidden under the appearance
of pride. But these amiable women had one unfortunate caprice, not
uncommon at this day among Parisians of their position. Although rather
clever, they bowed down, with the adoration of bourgeoises, before that
aristocracy, more or less pure, that paraded up and down the Champs
Elysees, in the theatres, at the race-course, and on the most frequented
promenades, its frivolous affairs and rival vanities.

Virtuous themselves, they read with interest the daintiest bits of
scandal and the most equivocal adventures that took place among the
elite. It was their happiness and their glory to learn the smallest
details of the high life of Paris; to follow its feasts, speak in its
slang, copy its toilets, and read its favorite books. So that if not the
rose, they could at least be near the rose and become impregnated with
her colors and her perfumes. Such apparent familiarity heightened them
singularly in their own estimation and in that of their associates.

Now, although Camors did not yet occupy that bright spot in the heaven
of fashion which was surely to be his one day, still he could here pass
for a demigod, and as such inspire Madame Lescande and her mother with
a sentiment of most violent curiosity. His early intimacy with Lescande
had always connected a peculiar interest with his name: and they knew
the names of his horses--most likely knew the names of his mistresses.

So it required all their natural tact to conceal from their guest the
flutter of their nerves caused by his sacred presence; but they did
succeed, and so well that Camors was slightly piqued. If not a coxcomb,
he was at least young: he was accustomed to please: he knew the Princess
de Clam-Goritz had lately applied to him her learned definition of an
agreeable man--“He is charming, for one always feels in danger near
him!”

Consequently, it seemed a little strange to him that the simple mother
of the simple wife of simple Lescande should be able to bear
his radiance with such calmness; and this brought him out of his
premeditated reserve.

He took the trouble to be irresistible--not to Madame Lescande, to whom
he was studiously respectful--but to Madame Mursois. The whole evening
he scattered around the mother the social epigrams intended to dazzle
the daughter; Lescande meanwhile sitting with his mouth open, delighted
with the success of his old schoolfellow.

Next afternoon, Camors, returning from his ride in the Bois, by chance
passed the Avenue Maillot. Madame Lescande was embroidering on the
balcony, by chance, and returned his salute over her tapestry. He
remarked, too, that she saluted very gracefully, by a slight inclination
of the head, followed by a slight movement of her symmetrical, sloping
shoulders.

When he called upon her two or three days after--as was only his
duty--Camors reflected on a strong resolution he had made to keep very
cool, and to expatiate to Madame Lescande only on her husband’s virtues.
This pious resolve had an unfortunate effect; for Madame, whose virtue
had been piqued, had also reflected; and while an obtrusive devotion had
not failed to frighten her, this course only reassured her. So she gave
up without restraint to the pleasure of receiving in her boudoir one of
the brightest stars from the heaven of her dreams.

It was now May, and at the races of La Marche--to take place the
following Sunday--Camors was to be one of the riders. Madame Mursois
and her daughter prevailed upon Lescande to take them, while Camors
completed their happiness by admitting them to the weighing-stand.
Further, when they walked past the judge’s stand, Madame Mursois, to
whom he gave his arm, had the delight of being escorted in public by
a cavalier in an orange jacket and topboots. Lescande and his wife
followed in the wake of the radiant mother-in-law, partaking of her
ecstasy.

These agreeable relations continued for several weeks, without seeming
to change their character. One day Camors would seat himself by the
lady, before the palace of the Exhibition, and initiate her into the
mysteries of all the fashionables who passed before them. Another time
he would drop into their box at the opera, deign to remain there during
an act or two, and correct their as yet incomplete views of the morals
of the ballet. But in all these interviews he held toward Madame
Lescande the language and manner of a brother: perhaps because he
secretly persisted in his delicate resolve; perhaps because he was not
ignorant that every road leads to Rome--and one as surely as another.

Madame Lescande reassured herself more and more; and feeling it
unnecessary to be on her guard, as at first, thought she might permit
herself a little levity. No woman is flattered at being loved only as a
sister.

Camors, a little disquieted by the course things were taking, made some
slight effort to divert it. But, although men in fencing wish to spare
their adversaries, sometimes they find habit too strong for them,
and lunge home in spite of themselves. Besides, he began to be really
interested in Madame Lescande--in her coquettish ways, at once artful
and simple, provoking and timid, suggestive and reticent--in short,
charming.

The same evening that M. de Camors, the elder, returned to his home
bent on suicide, his son, passing up the Avenue Maillot, was stopped by
Lescande on the threshold of his villa.

“My friend,” said the latter, “as you are here you can do me a great
favor. A telegram calls me suddenly to Melun--I must go on the instant.
The ladies will be so lonely, pray stay and dine with them! I can’t
tell what the deuce ails my wife. She has been weeping all day over
her tapestry; my mother-in-law has a headache. Your presence will cheer
them. So stay, I beg you.”

Camors refused, hesitated, made objections, and consented. He sent back
his horse, and his friend presented him to the ladies, whom the presence
of the unexpected guest seemed to cheer a little. Lescande stepped into
his carriage and departed, after receiving from his wife an embrace more
fervent than usual.

The dinner was gay. In the atmosphere was that subtle suggestion
of coming danger of which both Camors and Madame Lescande felt the
exhilarating influence. Their excitement, as yet innocent, employed
itself in those lively sallies--those brilliant combats at the
barriers--that ever precede the more serious conflict. About nine
o’clock the headache of Madame Mursois--perhaps owing to the cigar they
had allowed Camors--became more violent. She declared she could endure
it no longer, and must retire to her chamber. Camors wished to withdraw,
but his carriage had not yet arrived and Madame Mursois insisted that he
should wait for it.

“Let my daughter amuse you with a little music until then,” she added.

Left alone with her guest, the younger lady seemed embarrassed. “What
shall I play for you?” she asked, in a constrained voice, taking her
seat at the piano.

“Oh! anything--play a waltz,” answered Camors, absently.

The waltz finished, an awkward silence ensued. To break it she arose
hesitatingly; then clasping her hands together exclaimed, “It seems to
me there is a storm. Do you not think so?” She approached the window,
opened it, and stepped out on the balcony. In a second Camors was at her
side.

The night was beautifully clear. Before them stretched the sombre shadow
of the wood, while nearer trembling rays of moonlight slept upon the
lawn.

How still all was! Their trembling hands met and for a moment did not
separate.

“Juliette!” whispered the young man, in a low, broken voice. She
shuddered, repelled the arm that Camors passed round her, and hastily
reentered the room.

“Leave me, I pray you!” she cried, with an impetuous gesture of her
hand, as she sank upon the sofa, and buried her face in her hands.

Of course Camors did not obey. He seated himself by her.

In a little while Juliette awoke from her trance; but she awoke a lost
woman!

How bitter was that awakening! She measured at a first glance the depth
of the awful abyss into which she had suddenly plunged. Her husband, her
mother, her infant, whirled like spectres in the mad chaos of her brain.

Sensible of the anguish of an irreparable wrong, she rose, passed her
hand vacantly across her brow, and muttering, “Oh, God! oh, God!” peered
vainly into the dark for light--hope--refuge! There was none!

Her tortured soul cast herself utterly on that of her lover. She turned
her swimming eyes on him and said:

“How you must despise me!”

Camors, half kneeling on the carpet near her, kissed her hand
indifferently and half raised his shoulders in sign of denial. “Is it
not so?” she repeated. “Answer me, Louis.”

His face wore a strange, cruel smile--“Do not insist on an answer, I
pray you,” he said.

“Then I am right? You do despise me?”

Camors turned himself abruptly full toward her, looked straight in her
face, and said, in a cold, hard voice, “I do!”

To this cruel speech the poor child replied by a wild cry that seemed
to rend her, while her eyes dilated as if under the influence of strong
poison. Camors strode across the room, then returned and stood by her as
he said, in a quick, violent tone:

“You think I am brutal? Perhaps I am, but that can matter little now.
After the irreparable wrong I have done you, there is one service--and
only one which I can now render you. I do it now, and tell you the
truth. Understand me clearly; women who fall do not judge themselves
more harshly than their accomplices judge them. For myself, what would
you have me think of you?

“To his misfortune and my shame, I have known your husband since his
boyhood. There is not a drop of blood in his veins that does not throb
for you; there is not a thought of his day nor a dream of his night that
is not yours; your every comfort comes from his sacrifices--your every
joy from his exertion! See what he is to you!

“You have only seen my name in the journals; you have seen me ride by
your window; I have talked a few times with you, and you yield to me
in one moment the whole of his life with your own--the whole of his
happiness with your own.

“I tell you, woman, every man like me, who abuses your vanity and your
weakness and afterward tells you he esteems you--lies! And if after all
you still believe he loves you, you do yourself fresh injury. No: we
soon learn to hate those irksome ties that become duties where we only
sought pleasures; and the first effort after they are formed is to
shatter them.

“As for the rest: women like you are not made for unholy love like ours.
Their charm is their purity, and losing that, they lose everything. But
it is a blessing to them to encounter one wretch, like myself, who cares
to say--Forget me, forever! Farewell!”

He left her, passed from the room with rapid strides, and, slamming
the door behind him, disappeared. Madame Lescande, who had listened,
motionless, and pale as marble, remained in the same lifeless attitude,
her eyes fixed, her hands clenched--yearning from the depths of her
heart that death would summon her. Suddenly a singular noise, seeming to
come from the next room, struck her ear. It was only a convulsive sob,
or violent and smothered laughter. The wildest and most terrible ideas
crowded to the mind of the unhappy woman; the foremost of them, that
her husband had secretly returned, that he knew all--that his brain had
given way, and that the laughter was the gibbering of his madness.

Feeling her own brain begin to reel, she sprang from the sofa,
and rushing to the door, threw it open. The next apartment was the
dining-room, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp. There she saw Camors,
crouched upon the floor, sobbing furiously and beating his forehead
against a chair which he strained in a convulsive embrace. Her tongue
refused its office; she could find no word, but seating herself near
him, gave way to her emotion, and wept silently. He dragged himself
nearer, seized the hem of her dress and covered it with kisses; his
breast heaved tumultuously, his lips trembled and he gasped the almost
inarticulate words, “Pardon! Oh, pardon me!”

This was all. Then he rose suddenly, rushed from the house, and the
instant after she heard the rolling of the wheels as his carriage
whirled him away.

If there were no morals and no remorse, French people would perhaps be
happier. But unfortunately it happens that a young woman, who believes
in little, like Madame Lescande, and a young man who believes in
nothing, like M. de Camors, can not have the pleasures of an independent
code of morals without suffering cruelly afterward.

A thousand old prejudices, which they think long since buried, start
up suddenly in their consciences; and these revived scruples are nearly
fatal to them.

Camors rushed toward Paris at the greatest speed of his thoroughbred,
Fitz-Aymon, awakening along the route, by his elegance and style,
sentiments of envy which would have changed to pity were the wounds of
the heart visible. Bitter weariness, disgust of life and disgust for
himself, were no new sensations to this young man; but he never had
experienced them in such poignant intensity as at this cursed hour,
when flying from the dishonored hearth of the friend of his boyhood. No
action of his life had ever thrown such a flood of light on the depths
of his infamy in doing such gross outrage to the friend of his
purer days, to the dear confidant of the generous thoughts and proud
aspirations of his youth. He knew he had trampled all these under foot.
Like Macbeth, he had not only murdered one asleep, but had murdered
sleep itself.

His reflections became insupportable. He thought successively of
becoming a monk, of enlisting as a soldier, and of getting drunk--ere he
reached the corner of the Rue Royale and the Boulevard. Chance favored
his last design, for as he alighted in front of his club, he found
himself face to face with a pale young man, who smiled as he extended
his hand. Camors recognized the Prince d’Errol.

“The deuce! You here, my Prince! I thought you in Cairo.”

“I arrived only this morning.”

“Ah, then you are better?--Your chest?”

“So--so.”

“Bah! you look perfectly well. And isn’t Cairo a strange place?”

“Rather; but I really believe Providence has sent you to me.”

“You really think so, my Prince? But why?”

“Because--pshaw! I’ll tell you by-and-bye; but first I want to hear all
about your quarrel.”

“What quarrel?”

“Your duel for Sarah.”

“That is to say, against Sarah!”

“Well, tell me all that passed; I heard of it only vaguely while
abroad.”

“Well, I only strove to do a good action, and, according to custom, I
was punished for it. I heard it said that that little imbecile La Brede
borrowed money from his little sister to lavish it upon that Sarah.
This was so unnatural that you may believe it first disgusted, and then
irritated me. One day at the club I could not resist saying, ‘You are an
ass, La Bride, to ruin yourself--worse than that, to ruin your sister,
for the sake of a snail, as little sympathetic as Sarah, a girl who
always has a cold in her head, and who has already deceived you.’
‘Deceived me!’ cried La Brede, waving his long arms. ‘Deceived me! and
with whom?’--‘With me.’ As he knew I never lied, he panted for my life.
Luckily my life is a tough one.”

“You put him in bed for three months, I hear.”

“Almost as long as that, yes. And now, my friend, do me a service. I am
a bear, a savage, a ghost! Assist me to return to life. Let us go and
sup with some sprightly people whose virtue is extraordinary.”

“Agreed! That is recommended by my physician.”

“From Cairo? Nothing could be better, my Prince.”

Half an hour later Louis de Camors, the Prince d’Errol, and a half-dozen
guests of both sexes, took possession of an apartment, the closed doors
of which we must respect.

Next morning, at gray dawn, the party was about to disperse; and at the
moment a ragpicker, with a gray beard, was wandering up and down before
the restaurant, raking with his hook in the refuse that awaited the
public sweepers. In closing his purse, with an unsteady hand, Camors let
fall a shining louis d’or, which rolled into the mud on the sidewalk.
The ragpicker looked up with a timid smile.

“Ah! Monsieur,” he said, “what falls into the trench should belong to
the soldier.”

“Pick it up with your teeth, then,” answered Camors, laughing, “and it
is yours.”

The man hesitated, flushed under his sunburned cheeks, and threw a
look of deadly hatred upon the laughing group round him. Then he knelt,
buried his chest in the mire, and sprang up next moment with the coin
clenched between his sharp white teeth. The spectators applauded. The
chiffonnier smiled a dark smile, and turned away.

“Hello, my friend!” cried Camors, touching his arm, “would you like to
earn five Louis? If so, give me a knock-down blow. That will give you
pleasure and do me good.”

The man turned, looked him steadily in the eye, then suddenly dealt him
such a blow in the face that he reeled against the opposite wall. The
young men standing by made a movement to fall upon the graybeard.

“Let no one harm him!” cried Camors. “Here, my man, are your hundred
francs.”

“Keep them,” replied the other, “I am paid;” and walked away.

“Bravo, Belisarius!” laughed Camors. “Faith, gentlemen, I do not know
whether you agree with me, but I am really charmed with this little
episode. I must go dream upon it. By-bye, young ladies! Good-day,
Prince!”

An early cab was passing, he jumped in, and was driven rapidly to his
hotel, on the Rue Babet-de-Jouy.

The door of the courtyard was open, but being still under the influence
of the wine he had drunk, he failed to notice a confused group of
servants and neighbors standing before the stable-doors. Upon seeing
him, these people became suddenly silent, and exchanged looks of
sympathy and compassion. Camors occupied the second floor of the hotel;
and ascending the stairs, found himself suddenly facing his father’s
valet. The man was very pale, and held a sealed paper, which he extended
with a trembling hand.

“What is it, Joseph?” asked Camors.

“A letter which--which Monsieur le Comte wrote for you before he left.”

“Before he left! my father is gone, then? But--where--how? What, the
devil! why do you weep?”

Unable to speak, the servant handed him the paper. Camors seized it and
tore it open.

“Good God! there is blood! what is this!” He read the first words--“My
son, life is a burden to me. I leave it--” and fell fainting to the
floor.

The poor lad loved his father, notwithstanding the past.

They carried him to his chamber.



CHAPTER III. DEBRIS FROM THE REVOLUTION

De Camors, on leaving college had entered upon life with a heart
swelling with the virtues of youth--confidence, enthusiasm, sympathy.
The horrible neglect of his early education had not corrupted in
his veins those germs of weakness which, as his father declared, his
mother’s milk had deposited there; for that father, by shutting him up
in a college to get rid of him for twelve years, had rendered him the
greatest service in his power.

Those classic prisons surely do good. The healthy discipline of the
school; the daily contact of young, fresh hearts; the long familiarity
with the best works, powerful intellects, and great souls of the
ancients--all these perhaps may not inspire a very rigid morality, but
they do inspire a certain sentimental ideal of life and of duty which
has its value.

The vague heroism which Camors first conceived he brought away with him.
He demanded nothing, as you may remember, but the practical formula
for the time and country in which he was destined to live. He found,
doubtless, that the task he set himself was more difficult than he had
imagined; that the truth to which he would devote himself--but which
he must first draw from the bottom of its well--did not stand upon many
compliments. But he failed no preparation to serve her valiantly as a
man might, as soon as she answered his appeal. He had the advantage
of several years of opposing to the excitements of his age and of an
opulent life the austere meditations of the poor student.

During that period of ardent, laborious youth, he faithfully shut
himself up in libraries, attended public lectures, and gave himself a
solid foundation of learning, which sometimes awakened surprise when
discovered under the elegant frivolity of the gay turfman. But while
arming himself for the battle of life, he lost, little by little, what
was more essential than the best weapons-true courage.

In proportion as he followed Truth day by day, she flew before
and eluded him, taking, like an unpleasant vision, the form of the
thousand-headed Chimera.

About the middle of the last century, Paris was so covered with
political and religious ruins, that the most piercing vision could
scarcely distinguish the outlines of the fresh structures of the future.
One could, see that everything was overthrown; but one could not see any
power that was to raise the ruins. Over the confused wrecks and remains
of the Past, the powerful intellectual life of the Present-Progress--the
collision of ideas--the flame of French wit, criticism and the
sciences--threw a brilliant light, which, like the sun of earlier ages,
illuminated the chaos without making it productive. The phenomena of
Life and of Death were commingled in one huge fermentation, in which
everything decomposed and whence nothing seemed to spring up again.

At no period of history, perhaps, has Truth been less simple, more
enveloped in complications; for it seemed that all essential notions of
humanity had been fused in a great furnace, and none had come out whole.

The spectacle is grand; but it troubles profoundly all souls--or at
least those that interest and curiosity do not suffice to fill; which
is to say, nearly all. To disengage from this bubbling chaos one pure
religious moral, one positive social idea, one fixed political creed,
were an enterprise worthy of the most sincere. This should not be beyond
the strength of a man of good intentions; and Louis de Camors might
have accomplished the task had he been aided by better instruction and
guidance.

It is the common misfortune of those just entering life to find in
it less than their ideal. But in this respect Camors was born under a
particularly unfortunate star, for he found in his surroundings--in
his own family even--only the worst side of human nature; and, in some
respects, of those very opinions to which he was tempted to adhere.

The Camors were originally from Brittany, where they had held, in the
eighteenth century, large possessions, particularly some extensive
forests, which still bear their name. The grandfather of Louis, the
Comte Herve de Camors, had, on his return from the emigration, bought
back a small part of the hereditary demesne. There he established
himself in the old-fashioned style, and nourished until his death
incurable prejudices against the French Revolution and against Louis
XVIII.

Count Herve had four children, two boys and two girls, and, feeling it
his duty to protest against the levelling influences of the Civil Code,
he established during his life, by a legal subterfuge, a sort of
entail in favor of his eldest son, Charles-Henri, to the prejudice of
Robert-Sosthene, Eleanore-Jeanne and Louise-Elizabeth, his other heirs.
Eleanore-Jeanne and Louise-Elizabeth accepted with apparent willingness
the act that benefited their brother at their expense--notwithstanding
which they never forgave him. But Robert-Sosthene, who, in his position
as representative of the younger branch, affected Liberal leanings and
was besides loaded with debt, rebelled against the paternal procedure.
He burned his visiting-cards, ornamented with the family crest and
his name “Chevalier Lange d’Ardennes”--and had others printed, simply
“Dardennes, junior (du Morbihan).”

Of these he sent a specimen to his father, and from that hour became a
declared Republican.

There are people who attach themselves to a party by their virtues;
others, again, by their vices. No recognized political party exists
which does not contain some true principle; which does not respond to
some legitimate aspiration of human society. At the same time, there is
not one which can not serve as a pretext, as a refuge, and as a hope,
for the basest passions of our nature.

The most advanced portion of the Liberal party of France is composed
of generous spirits, ardent and absolute, who torture a really elevated
ideal; that of a society of manhood, constituted with a sort of
philosophic perfection; her own mistress each day and each hour;
delegating few of her powers, and yielding none; living, not without
laws, but without rulers; and, in short, developing her activity, her
well-being, her genius, with that fulness of justice, of independence,
and of dignity, which republicanism alone gives to all and to each one.

Every other system appears to them to preserve some of the slaveries and
iniquities of former ages; and it also appears open to the suspicion
of generating diverse interests--and often hostile ones--between the
governors and the governed. They claim for all that political system
which, without doubt, holds humanity in the most esteem; and however one
may despise the practical working of their theory, the grandeur of its
principles can not be despised.

They are in reality a proud race, great-hearted and high-spirited. They
have had in their age their heroes and their martyrs; but they have
had, on the other hand, their hypocrites, their adventurers, and their
radicals--their greatest enemies.

Young Dardennes, to obtain grace for the equivocal origin of his
convictions, placed himself in the front rank of these last.

Until he left college Louis de Camors never knew his uncle, who had
remained on bad terms with his father; but he entertained for him, in
secret; an enthusiastic admiration, attributing to him all the virtues
of that principle of which he seemed the exponent.

The Republic of ‘48 soon died: his uncle was among the vanquished; and
this, to the young man, had but an additional attraction. Without his
father’s knowledge, he went to see him, as if on a pilgrimage to a holy
shrine; and he was well received.

He found his uncle exasperated--not so much against his enemies as
against his own party, to which he attributed all the disasters of the
cause.

“They never can make revolutions with gloves on,” he said in a solemn,
dogmatic tone. “The men of ‘ninety-three did not wear them. You can not
make an omelette without first breaking the eggs.

“The pioneers of the future should march on, axe in hand!

“The chrysalis of the people is not hatched upon roses!

“Liberty is a goddess who demands great holocausts. Had they made a
Reign of Terror in ‘forty-eight, they would now be masters!”

These high-flown maxims astonished Louis de Camors. In his youthful
simplicity he had an infinite respect for the men who had governed his
country in her darkest hour; not more that they had given up power as
poor as when they assumed it, than that they left it with their hands
unstained with blood: To this praise--which will be accorded them
in history, which redresses many contemporary injustices--he added a
reproach which he could not reconcile with the strange regrets of his
uncle. He reproached them with not having more boldly separated the New
Republic, in its management and minor details, from the memories of the
old one. Far from agreeing with his uncle that a revival of the horrors
of ‘ninety-three would have assured the triumph of the New Republic,
he believed it had sunk under the bloody shadow of its predecessor.
He believed that, owing to this boasted Terror, France had been for
centuries the only country in which the dangers of liberty outweighed
its benefits.

It is useless to dwell longer on the relations of Louis de Camors with
his uncle Dardennes. It is enough that he was doubtful and discouraged,
and made the error of holding the cause responsible for the violence of
its lesser apostles, and that he adopted the fatal error, too common
in France at that period, of confounding progress with discord, liberty
with license, and revolution with terrorism!

The natural result of irritation and disenchantment on this ardent
spirit was to swing it rapidly around to the opposite pole of opinion.
After all, Camors argued, his birth, his name, his family ties all
pointed out his true course, which was to combat the cruel and despotic
doctrines which he believed he detected under these democratic theories.
Another thing in the habitual language of his uncle also shocked and
repelled him--the profession of an absolute atheism. He had within him,
in default of a formal creed, a fund of general belief and respect for
holy things--that kind of religious sensibility which was shocked
by impious cynicism. Further he could not comprehend then, or ever
afterward, how principles alone, without faith in some higher sanction,
could sustain themselves by their own strength in the human conscience.

God--or no principles! This was the dilemma from which no German
philosophy could rescue him.

This reaction in his mind drew him closer to those other branches of his
family which he had hitherto neglected. His two aunts, living at Paris,
had been compelled, in consequence of their small fortunes, to make
some sacrifices to enter into the blessed state of matrimony. The elder,
Eleanore-Jeanne, had married, during her father’s life, the Comte de
la Roche-Jugan--a man long past fifty, but still well worthy of being
loved. Nevertheless, his wife did not love him. Their views on many
essential points differed widely. M. de la Roche-Jugan was one of those
who had served the Government of the Restoration with an unshaken but
hopeless devotion. In his youth he had been attached to the person and
to the ministry of the Duc de Richelieu; and he had preserved the
memory of that illustrious man--of the elevated moderation of his
sentiments--of the warmth of his patriotism and of his constancy. He saw
the pitfalls ahead, pointed them out to his prince--displeased him by
so doing, but still followed his fortunes. Once more retired to private
life with but small means, he guarded his political principles rather
like a religion than a hope. His hopes, his vivacity, his love of
right--all these he turned toward God.

His piety, as enlightened as profound, ranked him among the choicest
spirits who then endeavored to reconcile the national faith of the
past with the inexorable liberty of thought of the present. Like his
co-laborers in this work, he experienced only a mortal sadness under
which he sank. True, his wife contributed no little to hasten his end by
the intemperance of her zeal and the acrimony of her bigotry.

She had little heart and great pride, and made her God subserve her
passions, as Dardennes made liberty subserve his malice.

No sooner had she become a widow than she purified her salons.
Thenceforth figured there only parishioners more orthodox than their
bishops, French priests who denied Bossuet; consequently she believed
that religion was saved in France. Louis de Camors, admitted to this
choice circle by title both of relative and convert, found there the
devotion of Louis XI and the charity of Catherine de Medicis; and he
there lost very soon the little faith that remained to him.

He asked himself sadly whether there was no middle ground between Terror
and Inquisition; whether in this world one must be a fanatic or nothing.
He sought a middle course, possessing the force and cohesion of a party;
but he sought in vain. It seemed to him that the whole world of politics
and religion rushed to extremes; and that what was not extreme was inert
and indifferent--dragging out, day by day, an existence without faith
and without principle.

Thus at least appeared to him those whom the sad changes of his life
showed him as types of modern politics.

His younger aunt, Louise-Elizabeth, who enjoyed to the full all the
pleasures of modern life, had already profited by her father’s death to
make a rich misalliance. She married the Baron Tonnelier, whose father,
although the son of a miller, had shown ability and honesty enough to
fill high positions under the First Empire.

The Baron Tonnelier had a large fortune, increasing every day by
successful speculation. In his youth he had been a good horseman, a
Voltairian, and a Liberal.

In time--though he remained a Voltairian--he renounced horsemanship,
and Liberalism. Although he was a simple deputy, he had a twinge of
democracy now and then; but after he was invested with the peerage, he
felt sure from that moment that the human species had no more progress
to make.

The French Revolution was ended; its giddiest height attained. No longer
could any one walk, talk, write, or rise. That perplexed him. Had he
been sincere, he would have avowed that he could not comprehend that
there could be storms, or thunder-clouds in the heavens--that the world
was not perfectly happy and tranquil, while he himself was so. When his
nephew was old enough to comprehend him, Baron Tonnelier was no longer
peer of France; but being one who does himself no hurt--and sometimes
much good by a fall, he filled a high office under the new government.
He endeavored to discharge its duties conscientiously, as he had those
of the preceding reign.

He spoke with peculiar ease of suppressing this or that journal--such
an orator, such a book; of suppressing everything, in short, except
himself. In his view, France had been in the wrong road since 1789, and
he sought to lead her back from that fatal date.

Nevertheless, he never spoke of returning, in his proper person, to
his grandfather’s mill; which, to say the least, was inconsistent. Had
Liberty been mother to this old gentleman, and had he met her in a clump
of woods, he would have strangled her. We regret to add that he had the
habit of terming “old duffers” such ministers as he suspected of liberal
views, and especially such as were in favor of popular education. A more
hurtful counsellor never approached a throne; but luckily, while near it
in office, he was far from it in influence.

He was still a charming man, gallant and fresh--more gallant, however,
than fresh. Consequently his habits were not too good, and he haunted
the greenroom of the opera. He had two daughters, recently married,
before whom he repeated the most piquant witticisms of Voltaire, and
the most improper stories of Tallemant de Reaux; and consequently both
promised to afford the scandalmongers a series of racy anecdotes, as
their mother had before them.

While Louis de Camors was learning rapidly, by the association and
example of the collateral branches of his family, to defy equally all
principles and all convictions, his terrible father finished the task.

Worldling to the last extreme, depraved to his very core; past-master
in the art of Parisian high life; an unbridled egotist, thinking himself
superior to everything because he abased everything to himself; and,
finally, flattering himself for despising all duties, which he had all
his life prided himself on dispensing with--such was his father. But for
all this, he was the pride of his circle, with a pleasing presence and
an indefinable charm of manner.

The father and son saw little of each other. M. de Camors was too proud
to entangle his son in his own debaucheries; but the course of every-day
life sometimes brought them together at meal-time. He would then listen
with cool mockery to the enthusiastic or despondent speeches of the
youth. He never deigned to argue seriously, but responded in a few
bitter words, that fell like drops of sleet on the few sparks still
glowing in the son’s heart.

Becoming gradually discouraged, the latter lost all taste for work, and
gave himself up, more and more, to the idle pleasures of his position.
Abandoning himself wholly to these, he threw into them all the
seductions of his person, all the generosity of his character--but at
the same time a sadness always gloomy, sometimes desperate.

The bitter malice he displayed, however, did not prevent his being loved
by women and renowned among men. And the latter imitated him.

He aided materially in founding a charming school of youth without
smiles. His air of ennui and lassitude, which with him at least had the
excuse of a serious foundation, was servilely copied by the youth around
him, who never knew any greater distress than an overloaded stomach,
but whom it pleased, nevertheless, to appear faded in their flower and
contemptuous of human nature.

We have seen Camors in this phase of his existence. But in reality
nothing was more foreign to him than the mask of careless disdain that
the young man assumed. Upon falling into the common ditch, he, perhaps,
had one advantage over his fellows: he did not make his bed with base
resignation; he tried persistently to raise himself from it by a violent
struggle, only to be hurled upon it once more.

Strong souls do not sleep easily: indifference weighs them down.

They demand a mission--a motive for action--and faith.

Louis de Camors was yet to find his.



CHAPTER IV. A NEW ACTRESS IN A NOVEL ROLE

Louis de Camor’s father had not I told him all in that last letter.

Instead of leaving him a fortune, he left him only embarrassments, for
he was three fourths ruined. The disorder of his affairs had begun
a long time before, and it was to repair them that he had married; a
process that had not proved successful. A large inheritance on which
he had relied as coming to his wife went elsewhere--to endow a charity
hospital. The Comte de Camors began a suit to recover it before the
tribunal of the Council of State, but compromised it for an annuity of
thirty thousand francs. This stopped at his death. He enjoyed, besides,
several fat sinecures, which his name, his social rank, and his personal
address secured him from some of the great insurance companies. But
these resources did not survive him; he only rented the house he had
occupied; and the young Comte de Camors found himself suddenly reduced
to the provision of his mother’s dowry--a bare pittance to a man of his
habits and rank.

His father had often assured him he could leave him nothing, so the son
was accustomed to look forward to this situation. Therefore, when he
realized it, he was neither surprised nor revolted by the improvident
egotism of which he was the victim. His reverence for his father
continued unabated, and he did not read with the less respect or
confidence the singular missive which figures at the beginning of this
story. The moral theories which this letter advanced were not new to
him. They were a part of the very atmosphere around him; he had often
revolved them in his feverish brain; yet, never before had they appeared
to him in the condensed form of a dogma, with the clear precision of a
practical code; nor as now, with the authorization of such a voice and
of such an example.

One incident gave powerful aid in confirming the impression of these
last pages on his mind. Eight days after his father’s death, he was
reclining on the lounge in his smoking-room, his face dark as night and
as his thoughts, when a servant entered and handed him a card. He took
it listlessly, and read “Lescande, architect.” Two red spots rose to his
pale cheeks--“I do not see any one,” he said.

“So I told this gentleman,” replied the servant, “but he insists in such
an extraordinary manner--”

“In an extraordinary manner?”

“Yes, sir; as if he had something very serious to communicate.”

“Something serious--aha! Then let him in.” Camors rose and paced the
chamber, a smile of bitter mockery wreathing his lips. “And must I now
kill him?” he muttered between his teeth.

Lescande entered, and his first act dissipated the apprehension his
conduct had caused. He rushed to the young Count and seized him by both
hands, while Camors remarked that his face was troubled and his lips
trembled. “Sit down and be calm,” he said.

“My friend,” said the other, after a pause, “I come late to see you,
for which I crave pardon; but--I am myself so miserable! See, I am in
mourning!”

Camors felt a chill run to his very marrow. “In mourning! and why?” he
asked, mechanically.

“Juliette is dead!” sobbed Lescande, and covered his eyes with his great
hands.

“Great God!” cried Camors in a hollow voice. He listened a moment to
Lescande’s bitter sobs, then made a movement to take his hand, but dared
not do it. “Great God! is it possible?” he repeated.

“It was so sudden!” sobbed Lescande, brokenly. “It seems like a dream--a
frightful dream! You know the last time you visited us she was not well.
You remember I told you she had wept all day. Poor child! The morning of
my return she was seized with congestion--of the lungs--of the brain--I
don’t know!--but she is dead! And so good!--so gentle, so loving! to the
last moment! Oh, my friend! my friend! A few moments before she died,
she called me to her side. ‘Oh, I love you so! I love you so!’ she said.
‘I never loved any but you--you only! Pardon me!--oh, pardon me!’ Pardon
her, poor child! My God, for what? for dying?--for she never gave me a
moment’s grief before in this world. Oh, God of mercy!”

“I beseech you, my friend--”

“Yes, yes, I do wrong. You also have your griefs.

“But we are all selfish, you know. However, it was not of that that I
came to speak. Tell me--I know not whether a report I hear is correct.
Pardon me if I mistake, for you know I never would dream of offending
you; but they say that you have been left in very bad circumstances. If
this is indeed so, my friend--”

“It is not,” interrupted Camors, abruptly.

“Well, if it were--I do not intend keeping my little house. Why should
I, now? My little son can wait while I work for him. Then, after selling
my house, I shall have two hundred thousand francs. Half of this is
yours--return it when you can!”

“I thank you, my unselfish friend,” replied Camors, much moved, “but I
need nothing. My affairs are disordered, it is true; but I shall still
remain richer than you.”

“Yes, but with your tastes--”

“Well?”

“At all events, you know where to find me. I may count upon you--may I
not?”

“You may.”

“Adieu, my friend! I can do you no good now; but I shall see you
again--shall I not?”

“Yes--another time.”

Lescande departed, and the young Count remained immovable, with his
features convulsed and his eyes fixed on vacancy.

This moment decided his whole future.

Sometimes a man feels a sudden, unaccountable impulse to smother in
himself all human love and sympathy.

In the presence of this unhappy man, so unworthily treated, so
broken-spirited, so confiding, Camors--if there be any truth in old
spiritual laws--should have seen himself guilty of an atrocious act,
which should have condemned him to a remorse almost unbearable.

But if it were true that the human herd was but the product of
material forces in nature, producing, haphazard, strong beings and weak
ones--lambs and lions--he had played only the lion’s part in destroying
his companion. He said to himself, with his father’s letter beneath his
eyes, that this was the fact; and the reflection calmed him.

The more he thought, that day and the next, in depth of the retreat
in which he had buried himself, the more was he persuaded that this
doctrine was that very truth which he had sought, and which his father
had bequeathed to him as the whole rule of his life. His cold and barren
heart opened with a voluptuous pleasure under this new flame that filled
and warmed it.

From this moment he possessed a faith--a principle of action--a plan
of life--all that he needed; and was no longer oppressed by doubts,
agitation, and remorse. This doctrine, if not the most elevated, was at
least above the level of the most of mankind. It satisfied his pride and
justified his scorn.

To preserve his self-esteem, it was only necessary for him to preserve
his honor, to do nothing low, as his father had said; and he determined
never to do anything which, in his eyes, partook of that character.
Moreover, were there not men he himself had met thoroughly steeped in
materialism, who were yet regarded as the most honorable men of their
day?

Perhaps he might have asked himself whether this incontestable fact
might not, in part, have been attributed rather to the individual than
to the doctrine; and whether men’s beliefs did not always influence
their actions. However that might have been, from the date of this
crisis Louis de Camors made his father’s will the rule of his life.

To develop in all their strength the physical and intellectual gifts
which he possessed; to make of himself the polished type of the
civilization of the times; to charm women and control men; to revel
in all the joys of intellect, of the senses, and of rank; to subdue
as servile instincts all natural sentiments; to scorn, as chimeras and
hypocrisies, all vulgar beliefs; to love nothing, fear nothing, respect
nothing, save honor--such, in fine, were the duties which he recognized,
and the rights which he arrogated to himself.

It was with these redoubtable weapons, and strengthened by a keen
intelligence and vigorous will, that he would return to the world--his
brow calm and grave, his eye caressing while unyielding, a smile upon
his lips, as men had known him.

From this moment there was no cloud either upon his mind or upon his
face, which wore the aspect of perpetual youth. He determined, above
all, not to retrench, but to preserve, despite the narrowness of his
present fortune, those habits of elegant luxury in which he still might
indulge for several years, by the expenditure of his principal.

Both pride and policy gave him this council in an equal degree. He was
not ignorant that the world is as cold toward the needy as it is warm
to those not needing its countenance. Had he been thus ignorant, the
attitude of his family, just after the death of his father, would have
opened his eyes to the fact.

His aunt de la Roche-Jugan and his uncle Tonnelier manifested toward him
the cold circumspection of people who suspected they were dealing with
a ruined man. They had even, for greater security, left Paris, and
neglected to notify the young Count in what retreat they had chosen to
hide their grief. Nevertheless he was soon to learn it, for while he was
busied in settling his father’s affairs and organizing his own projects
of fortune and ambition, one fine morning in August he met with a lively
surprise.

He counted among his relatives one of the richest landed proprietors of
France, General the Marquis de Campvallon d’Armignes, celebrated for his
fearful outbursts in the Corps Legislatif. He had a voice of thunder,
and when he rolled out, “Bah! Enough! Stop this order of the day!”
 the senate trembled, and the government commissioners bounced on their
chairs. Yet he was the best fellow in the world, although he had killed
two fellow-creatures in duels--but then he had his reasons for that.

Camors knew him but slightly, paid him the necessary respect that
politeness demanded toward a relative; met him sometimes at the club,
over a game of whist, and that was all.

Two years before, the General had lost a nephew, the direct heir to his
name and fortune. Consequently he was hunted by an eager pack of cousins
and relatives; and Madame de la Roche-Jugan and the Baroness Tonnelier
gave tongue in their foremost rank.

Camors was indifferent, and had, since that event, been particularly
reserved in his intercourse with the General. Therefore he was
considerably astonished when he received the following letter:

   “DEAR KINSMAN:

   “Your two aunts and their families are with me in the country.
   When it is agreeable to you to join them, I shall always feel happy
   to give a cordial greeting to the son of an old friend and
   companion-in-arms.

   “I presented myself at your house before leaving Paris, but you were
   not visible.

   “Believe me, I comprehend your grief: that you have experienced an
   irreparable loss, in which I sympathize with you most sincerely.

   “Receive, my dear kinsman, the best wishes of
        GENERAL, THE MARQUIS DE CAMPVALLON D’ARMIGNES.

   “CHATEAU DE CAMPVALLON, Voie de l’ouest.

   “P.S.--It is probable, my young cousin, that I may have something of
   interest to communicate to you!”

This last sentence, and the exclamation mark that followed it, failed
not to shake slightly the impassive calm that Camors was at that moment
cultivating. He could not help seeing, as in a mirror, under the veil
of the mysterious postscript, the reflection of seven hundred thousand
francs of ground-rent which made the splendid income of the General. He
recalled that his father, who had served some time in Africa, had been
attached to the staff of M. de Campvallon as aide-de-camp, and that he
had besides rendered him a great service of a different nature.

Notwithstanding that he felt the absurdity of these dreams, and wished
to keep his heart free from them, he left the next day for Campvallon.
After enjoying for seven or eight hours all the comforts and luxuries
the Western line is reputed to afford its guests, Camors arrived in the
evening at the station, where the General’s carriage awaited him. The
seignorial pile of the Chateau Campvallon soon appeared to him on a
height, of which the sides were covered with magnificent woods, sloping
down nearly to the plain, there spreading out widely.

It was almost the dinner-hour; and the young man, after arranging his
toilet, immediately descended to the drawing-room, where his presence
seemed to throw a wet blanket over the assembled circle. To make up for
this, the General gave him the warmest welcome; only--as he had a short
memory or little imagination--he found nothing better to say than to
repeat the expressions of his letter, while squeezing his hand almost to
the point of fracture.

“The son of my old friend and companion-in-arms,” he cried; and the
words rang out in such a sonorous voice they seemed to impress even
himself--for it was noticeable that after a remark, the General always
seemed astonished, as if startled by the words that came out of his
mouth--and that seemed suddenly to expand the compass of his ideas and
the depth of his sentiments.

To complete his portrait: he was of medium size, square, and stout;
panting when he ascended stairs, or even walking on level ground; a face
massive and broad as a mask, and reminding one of those fabled beings
who blew fire from their nostrils; a huge moustache, white and grizzly;
small gray eyes, always fixed, like those of a doll, but still terrible.
He marched toward a man slowly, imposingly, with eyes fixed, as if
beginning a duel to the death, and demanded of him imperatively--the
time of day!

Camors well knew this innocent weakness of his host, but,
notwithstanding, was its dupe for one instant during the evening.

They had left the dining-table, and he was standing carelessly in the
alcove of a window, holding a cup of coffee, when the General approached
him from the extreme end of the room with a severe yet confidential
expression, which seemed to preface an announcement of the greatest
importance.

The postscript rose before him. He felt he was to have an immediate
explanation.

The General approached, seized him by the buttonhole, and withdrawing
him from the depth of the recess, looked into his eyes as if he wished
to penetrate his very soul. Suddenly he spoke, in his thunderous voice.
He said:

“What do you take in the morning, young man?”

“Tea, General.”

“Aha! Then give your orders to Pierre--just as if you were at home;”
 and, turning on his heel and joining the ladies, he left Camors to
digest his little comedy as he might.

Eight days passed. Twice the General made his guest the object of his
formidable advance. The first time, having put him out of countenance,
he contented himself with exclaiming:

“Well, young man!” and turned on his heel.

The next time he bore down upon Camors, he said not a word, and retired
in silence.

Evidently the General had not the slightest recollection of the
postscript. Camors tried to be contented, but would continually ask
himself why he had come to Campvallon, in the midst of his family, of
whom he was not overfond, and in the depths of the country, which he
execrated. Luckily, the castle boasted a library well stocked with works
on civil and international law, jurisprudence, and political economy. He
took advantage of it; and, resuming the thread of those serious studies
which had been broken off during his period of hopelessness, plunged
into those recondite themes that pleased his active intelligence and
his awakened ambition. Thus he waited patiently until politeness
would permit him to bring to an explanation the former friend and
companion-in-arms of his father. In the morning he rode on horseback;
gave a lesson in fencing to his cousin Sigismund, the son of Madame de
la Roche-Jugan; then shut himself up in the library until the evening,
which he passed at bezique with the General. Meantime he viewed with the
eye of a philosopher the strife of the covetous relatives who hovered
around their rich prey.

Madame de la Roche-Jugan had invented an original way of making herself
agreeable to the General, which was to persuade him he had disease of
the heart. She continually felt his pulse with her plump hand, sometimes
reassuring him, and at others inspiring him with a salutary terror,
although he denied it.

“Good heavens! my dear cousin!” he would exclaim, “let me alone. I know
I am mortal like everybody else. What of that? But I see your aim-it is
to convert me! Ta-ta!”

She not only wished to convert him, but to marry him, and bury him
besides.

She based her hopes in this respect chiefly on her son Sigismund;
knowing that the General bitterly regretted having no one to inherit his
name. He had but to marry Madame de la Roche-Jugan and adopt her son to
banish this care. Without a single allusion to this fact, the Countess
failed not to turn the thoughts of the General toward it with all the
tact of an accomplished intrigante, with all the ardor of a mother, and
with all the piety of an unctuous devotee.

Her sister, the Baroness Tonnelier, bitterly confessed her own
disadvantage. She was not a widow. And she had no son. But she had two
daughters, both of them graceful, very elegant and sparkling. One was
Madame Bacquiere, the wife of a broker; the other, Madame Van-Cuyp, wife
of a young Hollander, doing business at Paris.

Both interpreted life and marriage gayly; both floated from one
year into another dancing, riding, hunting, coquetting, and singing
recklessly the most risque songs of the minor theatres. Formerly,
Camors, in his pensive mood, had taken an aversion to these little
examples of modern feminine frivolity. Since he had changed his views of
life he did them more justice. He said, calmly:

“They are pretty little animals that follow their instincts.”

Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, instigated by their mother, applied
themselves assiduously to making the General feel all the sacred joys
that cluster round the domestic hearth. They enlivened his household,
exercised his horses, killed his game, and tortured his piano. They
seemed to think that the General, once accustomed to their sweetness and
animation, could not do without it, and that their society would become
indispensable to him. They mingled, too, with their adroit manoeuvres,
familiar and delicate attentions, likely to touch an old man. They
sat on his knees like children, played gently with his moustache, and
arranged in the latest style the military knot of his cravat.

Madame de la Roche-Jugan never ceased to deplore confidentially to the
General the unfortunate education of her nieces; while the Baroness,
on her side, lost no opportunity of holding up in bold relief the
emptiness, impertinence, and sulkiness of young Count Sigismund.

In the midst of these honorable conflicts one person, who took no part
in them, attracted the greatest share of Camors’s interest; first
for her beauty and afterward for her qualities. This was an orphan of
excellent family, but very poor, of whom Madame de la Roche-Jugan and
Madame Tonnelier had taken joint charge. Mademoiselle Charlotte de Luc
d’Estrelles passed six months of each year with the Countess and six
with the Baroness. She was twenty-five years of age, tall and blonde,
with deep-set eyes under the shadow of sweeping, black lashes. Thick
masses of hair framed her sad but splendid brow; and she was badly, or
rather poorly dressed, never condescending to wear the cast-off clothes
of her relatives, but preferring gowns of simplest material made by her
own hands. These draperies gave her the appearance of an antique statue.

Her Tonnelier cousins nicknamed her “the goddess.” They hated her;
she despised them. The name they gave her, however, was marvellously
suitable.

When she walked, you would have imagined she had descended from a
pedestal; the pose of her head was like that of the Greek Venus; her
delicate, dilating nostrils seemed carved by a cunning chisel from
transparent ivory. She had a startled, wild air, such as one sees in
pictures of huntress nymphs. She used a naturally fine voice with great
effect; and had already cultivated, so far as she could, a taste for
art.

She was naturally so taciturn one was compelled to guess her thoughts;
and long since Camors had reflected as to what was passing in that
self-centred soul. Inspired by his innate generosity, as well as his
secret admiration, he took pleasure in heaping upon this poor cousin
the attentions he might have paid a queen; but she always seemed as
indifferent to them as she was to the opposite course of her involuntary
benefactress. Her position at Campvallon was very odd. After Camors’s
arrival, she was more taciturn than ever; absorbed, estranged, as if
meditating some deep design, she would suddenly raise the long lashes of
her blue eyes, dart a rapid glance here and there, and finally fix it on
Camors, who would feel himself tremble under it.

One afternoon, when he was seated in the library, he heard a gentle
tap at the door, and Mademoiselle entered, looking very pale. Somewhat
astonished, he rose and saluted her.

“I wish to speak with you, cousin,” she said. The accent was pure and
grave, but slightly touched with evident emotion. Camors stared at her,
showed her to a divan, and took a chair facing her.

“You know very little of me, cousin,” she continued, “but I am frank and
courageous. I will come at once to the object that brings me here. Is it
true that you are ruined?”

“Why do you ask, Mademoiselle?”

“You always have been very good to me--you only. I am very grateful to
you; and I also--” She stopped, dropped her eyes, and a bright flush
suffused her cheeks. Then she bent her head, smiling like one who has
regained courage under difficulty. “Well, then,” she resumed, “I am
ready to devote my life to you. You will deem me very romantic, but
I have wrought out of our united poverty a very charming picture, I
believe. I am sure I should make an excellent wife for the husband I
loved. If you must leave France, as they tell me you must, I will follow
you--I will be your brave and faithful helpmate. Pardon me, one word
more, Monsieur de Camors. My proposition would be immodest if it
concealed any afterthought. It conceals none. I am poor. I have but
fifteen hundred francs’ income. If you are richer than I, consider I
have said nothing; for nothing in the world would then induce me to
marry you!”

She paused; and with a manner of mingled yearning, candor, and anguish,
fixed on him her large eyes full of fire.

There was a solemn pause. Between these strange natures, both high and
noble, a terrible destiny seemed pending at this moment, and both felt
it.

At length Camors responded in a grave, calm voice: “It is impossible,
Mademoiselle, that you can appreciate the trial to which you expose me;
but I have searched my heart, and I there find nothing worthy of you.
Do me the justice to believe that my decision is based neither upon your
fortune nor upon my own: but I am resolved never to marry.” She sighed
deeply, and rose. “Adieu, cousin,” she said.

“I beg--I pray you to remain one moment,” cried the young man, reseating
her with gentle force upon the sofa. He walked half across the room
to repress his agitation; then leaning on a table near the young girl,
said:

“Mademoiselle Charlotte, you are unhappy; are you not?”

“A little, perhaps,” she answered.

“I do not mean at this moment, but always?”

“Always!”

“Aunt de la Roche-Jugan treats you harshly?”

“Undoubtedly; she dreads that I may entrap her son. Good heavens!”

“The little Tonneliers are jealous of you, and Uncle Tonnelier torments
you?”

“Basely!” she said; and two tears swam on her eyelashes, then glistened
like diamonds on her cheek.

“And what do you believe of the religion of our aunt?”

“What would you have me believe of religion that bestows no
virtue--restrains no vice?”

“Then you are a non-believer?”

“One may believe in God and the Gospel without believing in the religion
of our aunt.”

“But she will drive you into a convent. Why, then, do you not enter
one?”

“I love life,” the girl said.

He looked at her silently a moment, then continued “Yes, you love
life--the sunlight, the thoughts, the arts, the luxuries--everything
that is beautiful, like yourself. Then, Mademoiselle Charlotte, all
these are in your hands; why do you not grasp them?”

“How?” she queried, surprised and somewhat startled.

“If you have, as I believe you have, as much strength of soul as
intelligence and beauty, you can escape at once and forever the
miserable servitude fate has imposed upon you. Richly endowed as you
are, you might become to-morrow a great artiste, independent, feted,
rich, adored--the mistress of Paris and of the world!”

“And yours also?--No!” said this strange girl.

“Pardon, Mademoiselle Charlotte. I did not suspect you of any improper
idea, when you offered to share my uncertain fortunes. Render me, I pray
you, the same justice at this moment. My moral principles are very lax,
it is true, but I am as proud as yourself. I never shall reach my aim
by any subterfuge. No; strive to study art. I find you beautiful
and seductive, but I am governed by sentiments superior to personal
interests. I was profoundly touched by your sympathetic leaning toward
me, and have sought to testify my gratitude by friendly counsel. Since,
however, you now suspect me of striving to corrupt you for my own ends,
I am silent, Mademoiselle, and permit you to depart.”

“Pray proceed, Monsieur de Camors.”

“You will then listen to me with confidence?”

“I will do so.”

“Well, then, Mademoiselle, you have seen little of the world, but you
have seen enough to judge and to be certain of the value of its esteem.
The world! That is your family and mine: Monsieur and Madame Tonnelier,
Monsieur and Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and the little Sigismund!”

“Well, then, Mademoiselle Charlotte, the day that you become a great
artiste, rich, triumphant, idolized, wealthy--drinking, in deep
draughts, all the joys of life--that day Uncle Tonnelier will invoke
outraged morals, our aunt will swoon with prudery in the arms of her old
lovers, and Madame de la Roche-Jugan will groan and turn her yellow eyes
to heaven! But what will all that matter to you?”

“Then, Monsieur, you advise me to lead an immoral life.”

“By no manner of means. I only urge you, in defiance of public opinion,
to become an actress, as the only sure road to independence, fame, and
fortune. And besides, there is no law preventing an actress marrying and
being ‘honorable,’ as the world understands the word. You have heard of
more than one example of this.”

“Without mother, family, or protector, it would be an extraordinary
thing for me to do! I can not fail to see that sooner or later I should
be a lost girl.”

Camors remained silent. “Why do you not answer?” she asked.

“Heavens! Mademoiselle, because this is so delicate a subject, and our
ideas are so different about it. I can not change mine; I must leave you
yours. As for me, I am a very pagan.”

“How? Are good and bad indifferent to you?”

“No; but to me it seems bad to fear the opinion of people one despises,
to practise what one does not believe, and to yield before prejudices
and phantoms of which one knows the unreality. It is bad to be a slave
or a hypocrite, as are three fourths of the world. Evil is ugliness,
ignorance, folly, and baseness. Good is beauty, talent, ability, and
courage! That is all.”

“And God?” the girl cried. He did not reply. She looked fixedly at him
a moment without catching the eyes he kept turned from her. Her
head drooped heavily; then raising it suddenly, she said: “There are
sentiments men can not understand. In my bitter hours I have often
dreamed of this free life you now advise; but I have always recoiled
before one thought--only one.”

“And that?”

“Perhaps the sentiment is not peculiar to me--perhaps it is excessive
pride, but I have a great regard for myself--my person is sacred to me.
Should I come to believe in nothing, like you--and I am far from that
yet, thank God!--I should even then remain honest and true--faithful
to one love, simply from pride. I should prefer,” she added, in a voice
deep and sustained, but somewhat strained, “I should prefer to desecrate
an altar rather than myself!”

Saying these words, she rose, made a haughty movement of the head in
sign of an adieu, and left the room.



CHAPTER V. THE COUNT LOSES A LADY AND FINDS A MISSION

Camors sat for some time plunged in thought.

He was astonished at the depths he had discovered in her character; he
was displeased with himself without well knowing why; and, above all, he
was much struck by his cousin.

However, as he had but a slight opinion of the sincerity of women, he
persuaded himself that Mademoiselle de Luc d’Estrelles, when she came to
offer him her heart and hand, nevertheless knew he was not altogether
a despicable match for her. He said to himself that a few years back
he might have been duped by her apparent sincerity, and congratulated
himself on not having fallen into this attractive snare--on not having
listened to the first promptings of credulity and sincere emotion.

He might have spared himself these compliments. Mademoiselle de Luc
d’Estrelles, as he was soon to discover, had been in that perfectly
frank, generous, and disinterested state of mind in which women
sometimes are.

Only, would it happen to him to find her so in the future? That was
doubtful, thanks to M. de Camors. It often happens that by despising men
too much, we degrade them; in suspecting women too much, we lose them.

About an hour passed; there was another rap at the library door.
Camors felt a slight palpitation and a secret wish that it should prove
Mademoiselle Charlotte.

It was the General who entered. He advanced with measured stride, puffed
like some sea-monster, and seized Camors by the lapel of his coat. Then
he said, impressively:

“Well, young gentleman!”

“Well, General.”

“What are you doing in here?”

“Oh, I am at work.”

“At work? Um! Sit down there--sit down, sit down!” He threw himself
on the sofa where Mademoiselle had been, which rather changed the
perspective for Camors.

“Well, well!” he repeated, after a long pause.

“But what then, General?”

“What then? The deuce! Why, have you not noticed that I have been for
some days extraordinarily agitated?”

“No, General, I have not noticed it.”

“You are not very observing! I am extraordinarily agitated--enough to
fatigue the eyes. So agitated, upon my word of honor, that there are
moments when I am tempted to believe your aunt is right: that I have
disease of the heart!”

“Bah, General! My aunt is dreaming; you have the pulse of an infant.”

“You believe so, really? I do not fear death; but it is always annoying
to think of it. But I am too much agitated--it is necessary to put a
stop to it. You understand?”

“Perfectly; but how can it concern me?”

“Concern you? You are about to hear. You are my cousin, are you not?”

“Truly, General, I have that honor.”

“But very distant, eh? I have thirty-six cousins as near as you,
and--the devil! To speak plainly, I owe you nothing.”

“And I have never demanded payment even of that, General.”

“Ah, I know that! Well, you are my cousin, very far removed! But you are
more than that. Your father saved my life in the Atlas. He has related
it all to you--No? Well, that does not astonish me; for he was no
braggart, that father of yours; he was a man! Had he not quitted the
army, a brilliant career was before him. People talk a great deal of
Pelissier, of Canrobert, of MacMahon, and of others. I say nothing
against them; they are good men doubtless--at least I hear so; but your
father would have eclipsed them all had he taken the trouble. But he
didn’t take the trouble!

“Well, for the story: We were crossing a gorge of the Atlas; we were in
retreat; I had lost my command; I was following as a volunteer. It
is useless to weary you with details; we were in retreat; a shower of
stones and bullets poured upon us, as if from the moon. Our column was
slightly disordered; I was in the rearguard--whack! my horse was down,
and I under him!

“We were in a narrow gorge with sloping sides some fifteen feet high;
five dirty guerillas slid down the sides and fell upon me and on the
beast--forty devils! I can see them now! Just here the gorge took a
sudden turn, so no one could see my trouble; or no one wished to see it,
which comes to the same thing.

“I have told you things were in much disorder; and I beg you to remember
that with a dead horse and five live Arabs on top of me, I was not
very comfortable. I was suffocating; in fact, I was devilish far from
comfortable.

“Just then your father ran to my assistance, like the noble fellow he
was! He drew me from under my horse; he fell upon the Arabs. When I
was up, I aided him a little--but that is nothing to the point--I never
shall forget him!”

There was a pause, when the General added:

“Let us understand each other, and speak plainly. Would it be very
repugnant to your feelings to have seven hundred thousand francs a year,
and to be called, after me, Marquis de Campvallon d’Armignes? Come,
speak up, and give me an answer.”

The young Count reddened slightly.

“My name is Camors,” he said, gently.

“What! You would not wish me to adopt you? You refuse to become the heir
of my name and of my fortune?”

“Yes, General.”

“Do you not wish time to reflect upon it?”

“No, General. I am sincerely grateful for your goodness; your generous
intentions toward me touch me deeply, but in a question of honor I never
reflect or hesitate.”

The General puffed fiercely, like a locomotive blowing off steam. Then
he rose and took two or three turns up and down the gallery, shuffling
his feet, his chest heaving. Then he returned and reseated himself.

“What are your plans for the future?” he asked, abruptly.

“I shall try, in the first place, General, to repair my fortune, which
is much shattered. I am not so great a stranger to business as people
suppose, and my father’s connections and my own will give me a footing
in some great financial or industrial enterprise. Once there, I shall
succeed by force of will and steady work. Besides, I shall fit myself
for public life, and aspire, when circumstances permit me, to become a
deputy.”

“Well, well, a man must do something. Idleness is the parent of all
vices. See; like yourself, I am fond of the horse--a noble animal. I
approve of racing; it improves the breed of horses, and aids in mounting
our cavalry efficiently. But sport should be an amusement, not a
profession. Hem! so you aspire to become a deputy?”

“Assuredly.”

“Then I can help you in that, at least. When you are ready I will send
in my resignation, and recommend to my brave and faithful constituents
that you take my place. Will that suit you?”

“Admirably, General; and I am truly grateful. But why should you
resign?”

“Why? Well, to be useful to you in the first place; in the second, I am
sick of it. I shall not be sorry to give personally a little lesson to
the government, which I trust will profit by it. You know me--I am no
Jacobin; at first I thought that would succeed. But when I see what is
going on!”

“What is going on, General?”

“When I see a Tonnelier a great dignitary! It makes me long for the pen
of Tacitus, on my word. When I was retired in ‘forty-eight, under a mean
and cruel injustice they did me, I had not reached the age of exemption.
I was still capable of good and loyal service; but probably I could have
waited until an amendment. I found it at least in the confidence of
my brave and faithful constituents. But, my young friend, one tires of
everything. The Assemblies at the Luxembourg--I mean the Palace of the
Bourbons--fatigue me. In short, whatever regret I may feel at parting
from my honorable colleagues, and from my faithful constituents, I shall
abdicate my functions whenever you are ready and willing to accept them.
Have you not some property in this district?”

“Yes, General, a little property which belonged to my mother; a small
manor, with a little land round it, called Reuilly.”

“Reuilly! Not two steps from Des Rameures! Certainly--certainly! Well,
that is one foot in the stirrup.”

“But then there is one difficulty; I am obliged to sell it.”

“The devil! And why?”

“It is all that is left to me, and it only brings me eleven thousand
francs a year; and to embark in business I need capital--a beginning. I
prefer not to borrow.”

The General rose, and once more his military tramp shook the gallery.
Then he threw himself back on the sofa.

“You must not sell that property! I owe you nothing, ‘tis true, but
I have an affection for you. You refuse to be my adopted son. Well, I
regret this, and must have recourse to other projects to aid you. I warn
you I shall try other projects. You must not sell your lands if you
wish to become a deputy, for the country people--especially those of Des
Rameures--will not hear of it. Meantime you will need funds. Permit me
to offer you three hundred thousand francs. You may return them when you
can, without interest, and if you never return them you will confer a
very great favor upon me.”

“But in truth, General--”

“Come, come! Accept it as from a relative--from a friend--from your
father’s friend--on any ground you please, so you accept. If not, you
will wound me seriously.”

Camors rose, took the General’s hand, and pressing it with emotion,
said, briefly:

“I accept, sir. I thank you!”

The General sprang up at these words like a furious lion, his moustache
bristling, his nostrils dilating, his chest heaving. Staring at the
young Count with real ferocity, he suddenly drew him to his breast and
embraced him with great fervor. Then he strode to the door with his
usual solemnity, and quickly brushing a tear from his cheek, left the
room.

The General was a good man; but, like many good people, he had not been
happy. You might smile at his oddities: you never could reproach him
with vices.

He was a small man, but he had a great soul. Timid at heart, especially
with women, he was delicate, passionate, and chaste. He had loved but
little, and never had been loved at all. He declared that he had retired
from all friendship with women, because of a wrong that he had suffered.
At forty years of age he had married the daughter of a poor colonel who
had been killed by the enemy. Not long after, his wife had deceived him
with one of his aides-de-camp.

The treachery was revealed to him by a rival, who played on this
occasion the infamous role of Iago. Campvallon laid aside his starred
epaulettes, and in two successive duels, still remembered in Africa,
killed on two successive days the guilty one and his betrayer. His wife
died shortly after, and he was left more lonely than ever. He was not
the man to console himself with venal love; a gross remark made him
blush; the corps de ballet inspired him with terror. He did not dare to
avow it, but the dream of his old age, with his fierce moustache and his
grim countenance, was the devoted love of some young girl, at whose
feet he might pour out, without shame, without distrust even, all the
tenderness of his simple and heroic heart.

On the evening of the day which had been marked for Camors by these two
interesting episodes, Mademoiselle de Luc d’Estrelles did not come down
to dinner, but sent word she had a headache. This message was received
with a general murmur, and with some sharp remarks from Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, which implied Mademoiselle was not in a position which
justified her in having a headache. The dinner, however, was not less
gay than usual, thanks to Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, and to their
husbands, who had arrived from Paris to pass Sunday with them.

To celebrate this happy meeting, they drank very freely of champagne,
talked slang, and imitated actors, causing much amusement to the
servants. Returning to the drawing-room, these innocent young things
thought it very funny to take their husbands’ hats, put their feet in
them, and, thus shod, to run a steeplechase across the room. Meantime
Madame de la Roche-Jagan felt the General’s pulse frequently, and found
it variable.

Next morning at breakfast all the General’s guests assembled, except
Mademoiselle d’Estrelles, whose headache apparently was no better. They
remarked also the absence of the General, who was the embodiment of
politeness and punctuality. A sense of uneasiness was beginning to creep
over all, when suddenly the door opened and the General appeared leading
Mademoiselle d’Estrelles by the hand.

The young girl’s eyes were red; her face was very pale. The General’s
face was scarlet. He advanced a few steps, like an actor about to
address his audience; cast fierce glances on all sides of him, and
cleared his throat with a sound that echoed like the bass notes of a
grand piano. Then he spoke in a voice of thunder:

“My dear guests and friends, permit me to present to you the Marquise de
Campvallon d’Armignes!”

An iceberg at the North Pole is not colder than was the General’s salon
at this announcement.

He held the young lady by the hand, and retaining his position in the
centre of the room, launched out fierce glances. Then his eyes began
to wander and roll convulsively in their sockets, as if he was himself
astonished at the effect his announcement had produced.

Camors was the first to come to the rescue, and taking his hand, said:
“Accept, my dear General, my congratulations. I am extremely happy, and
rejoice at your good fortune; the more so, as I feel the lady is so well
worthy of you.” Then, bowing to Mademoiselle d’Estrelles with a grave
grace, he pressed her hand, and turning away, was struck dumb at seeing
Madame de la Roche-Jugan in the arms of the General. She passed from his
into those of Mademoiselle d’Estrelles, who feared at first, from the
violence of the caresses, that there was a secret design to strangle
her.

“General,” said Madame de la Roche-Jugan in a plaintive voice, “you
remember I always recommended her to you. I always spoke well of her.
She is my daughter--my second child. Sigismund, embrace your sister! You
permit it, General? Ah, we never know how much we love these children
until we lose them! I always spoke well of her; did I not--Ge--General?”
 And here Madame de la Roche-Jugan burst into tears.

The General, who began to entertain a high opinion of the Countess’s
heart, declared that Mademoiselle d’Estrelles would find in him a friend
and father. After which flattering assurance, Madame de la Roche-Jugan
seated herself in a solitary corner, behind a curtain, whence they heard
sobs and moans issue for a whole hour. She could not even breakfast;
happiness had taken away her appetite.

The ice once broken, all tried to make themselves agreeable. The
Tonneliers did not behave, however, with the same warmth as the tender
Countess, and it was easy to see that Mesdames Bacquiere and Van Cuyp
could not picture to themselves, without envy, the shower of gold and
diamonds about to fall into the lap of their cousin. Messrs. Bacquiere
and Van-Cuyp were naturally the first sufferers, and their charming
wives made them understand, at intervals during the day, that they
thoroughly despised them. It was a bitter Sunday for those poor fellows.
The Tonnelier family also felt that little more was to be done there,
and left the next morning with a very cold adieu.

The conduct of the Countess was more noble. She declared she would wait
upon her dearly beloved Charlotte from the altar to the very threshold
of the nuptial chamber; that she would arrange her trousseau, and that
the marriage should take place from her house.

“Deuce take me, my dear Countess!” cried the General, “I must declare
one thing--you astonish me. I was unjust, cruelly unjust, toward you.
I reproach myself, on my faith! I believed you worldly, interested, not
open-hearted. But you are none of these; you are an excellent woman--a
heart of gold--a noble soul! My dear friend, you have found the best
way to convert me. I have always believed the religion of honor was
sufficient for a man--eh, Camors? But I am not an unbeliever, my dear
Countess, and, on my sacred word, when I see a perfect creature like
you, I desire to believe everything she believes, if only to be pleasant
to her!”

When Camors, who was not quite so innocent, asked himself what was the
secret of his aunt’s politic conduct, but little effort was necessary to
understand it.

Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who had finally convinced herself that the
General had an aneurism, flattered herself that the cares of matrimony
would hasten the doom of her old friend. In any event, he was past
seventy years of age. But Charlotte was young, and so also was
Sigismund. Sigismund could become tender; if necessary, could quietly
court the young Marquise until the day when he could marry her, with all
her appurtenances, over the mausoleum of the General. It was for this
that Madame de la Roche-Jugan, crushed for a moment under the unexpected
blow that ruined her hopes, had modified her tactics and drawn her
batteries, so to speak, under cover of the enemy. This was what she was
contriving while she was weeping behind the curtain.

Camors’s personal feelings at the announcement of this marriage were not
of the most agreeable description. First, he was obliged to acknowledge
that he had unjustly judged Mademoiselle d’Estrelles, and that at the
moment of his accusing her of speculating on his small fortune, she was
offering to sacrifice for him the annual seven hundred thousand francs
of the General.

He felt his vanity injured, that he had not had the best part of this
affair. Besides, he felt obliged to stifle from this moment the secret
passion with which the beautiful and singular girl had inspired him.
Wife or widow of the General, it was clear that Mademoiselle d’Estrelles
had forever escaped him. To seduce the wife of this good old man from
whom he accepted such favors, or even to marry her, widowed and rich,
after refusing her when poor, were equal unworthiness and baseness that
honor forbade in the same degree and with the same rigor as if this
honor, which he made the only law of his life, were not a mockery and an
empty word.

Camors, however, did not fail to comprehend the position in this light,
and he resigned himself to it.

During the four or five days he remained at Campvallon his conduct was
perfect. The delicate and reserved attentions with which he surrounded
Mademoiselle d’Estrelles were tinged with a melancholy that showed her
at the same time his gratitude, his respect, and his regrets.

M. de Campvallon had not less reason to congratulate himself on the
conduct of the young Count. He entered into the folly of his host with
affectionate grace. He spoke to him little of the beauty of his fiancee:
much of her high moral qualities; and let him see his most flattering
confidence in the future of this union.

On the eve of his departure Camors was summoned into the General’s
study. Handing his young relative a check for three hundred thousand
francs, the General said:

“My dear young friend, I ought to tell you, for the peace of your
conscience, that I have informed Mademoiselle d’Estrelles of this little
service I render you. She has a great deal of love and affection for
you, my dear young friend; be sure of that.

“She therefore received my communication with sincere pleasure. I also
informed her that I did not intend taking any receipt for this sum, and
that no reclamation of it should be made at any time, on any account.

“Now, my dear Camors, do me one favor. To tell you my inmost thought,
I shall be most happy to see you carry into execution your project of
laudable ambition. My own new position, my age, my tastes, and those
I perceive in the Marquise, claim all my leisure--all my liberty of
action. Consequently, I desire as soon as possible to present you to my
generous and faithful constituents, as well for the Corps Legislatif
as for the General Council. You had better make your preliminary
arrangements as soon as possible. Why should you defer it? You are very
well cultivated--very capable. Well, let us go ahead--let us begin at
once. What do you say?”

“I should prefer, General, to be more mature; but it would be both folly
and ingratitude in me not to accede to your kind wish. What shall I do
first?”

“Well, my young friend, instead of leaving tomorrow for Paris, you must
go to your estate at Reuilly: go there and conquer Des Rameures.”

“And who are the Des Rameures, General?”

“You do not know the Des Rameures? The deuce! no; you can not know them!
That is unfortunate, too.

“Des Rameures is a clever fellow, a very clever fellow, and all-powerful
in his neighborhood. He is an original, as you will see; and with him
lives his niece, a charming woman. I tell you, my boy, you must please
them, for Des Rameures is the master of the county. He protects me, or
else, upon my honor, I should be stopped on the road!”

“But, General, what shall I do to please this Des Rameures?”

“You will see him. He is, as I tell you, a great oddity. He has not been
in Paris since 1825; he has a horror of Paris and Parisians. Very well,
it only needs a little tact to flatter his views on that point. We
always need a little tact in this world, young man.”

“But his niece, General?”

“Ah, the deuce! You must please the niece also. He adores her, and she
manages him completely, although he grumbles a little sometimes.”

“And what sort of woman is she?”

“Oh, a respectable woman--a perfectly respectable woman. A widow;
somewhat a devotee, but very well informed. A woman of great merit.”

“But what course must I take to please this lady?”

“What course? By my faith, young man, you ask a great many questions.
I never yet learned to please a woman. I am green as a goose with them
always. It is a thing I can not understand; but as for you, my young
comrade, you have little need to be instructed in that matter. You can’t
fail to please her; you have only to make yourself agreeable. But you
will know how to do it--you will conduct yourself like an angel, I am
sure.”

“Captivate Des Rameures and his niece--this is your advice!”

Early next morning Camors left the Chateau de Campvallon, armed with
these imperfect instructions; and, further, with a letter from the
General to Des Rameures.

He went in a hired carriage to his own domain of Reuilly, which lay ten
leagues off. While making this transit he reflected that the path of
ambition was not one of roses; and that it was hard for him, at the
outset of his enterprise, to by compelled to encounter two faces likely
to be as disquieting as those of Des Rameures and his niece.



CHAPTER VI. THE OLD DOMAIN OF REUILLY

The domain of Reuilly consisted of two farms and of a house of some
pretension, inhabited formerly by the maternal family of M. de Camors.
He had never before seen this property when he reached it on the evening
of a beautiful summer day. A long and gloomy avenue of elms, interlacing
their thick branches, led to the dwelling-house, which was quite unequal
to the imposing approach to it; for it was but an inferior construction
of the past century, ornamented simply by a gable and a bull’s-eye, but
flanked by a lordly dovecote.

It derived a certain air of dignity from two small terraces, one
above the other, in front of it, while the triple flight of steps was
supported by balusters of granite. Two animals, which had once, perhaps,
resembled lions, were placed one upon each side of the balustrade at
the platform of the highest terrace; and they had been staring there
for more than a hundred and fifty years. Behind the house stretched
the garden; and in its midst, mounted on a stone arch, stood a dismal
sun-dial with hearts and spades painted between its figures; while
the trees around it were trimmed into the shapes of confessionals and
chess-pawns. To the right, a labyrinth of young trees, similarly
clipped in the fashion of the time, led by a thousand devious turns to
a mysterious valley, where one heard continually a low, sad murmur. This
proceeded from a nymph in terra-cotta, from whose urn dripped, day and
night, a thin rill of water into a small fishpond, bordered by grand
old poplars, whose shadows threw upon its surface, even at mid-day, the
blackness of Acheron.

Camors’s first reflection at viewing this prospect was an exceedingly
painful one; and the second was even more so.

At another time he would doubtless have taken an interest in searching
through these souvenirs of the past for traces of an infant nurtured
there, who had a mother, and who had perhaps loved these old relics.
But his system did not admit of sentiment, so he crushed the ideas that
crowded to his mind, and, after a rapid glance around him, called for
his dinner.

The old steward and his wife--who for thirty years had been the sole
inhabitants of Reuilly--had been informed of his coming. They had spent
the day in cleaning and airing the house; an operation which added to
the discomfort they sought to remove, and irritated the old residents of
the walls, while it disturbed the sleep of hoary spiders in their dusty
webs. A mixed odor of the cellar, of the sepulchre, and of an old coach,
struck Camors when he penetrated into the principal room, where his
dinner was to be served.

Taking up one or two flickering candles, the like of which he had never
seen before, Camors proceeded to inspect the quaint portraits of his
ancestors, who seemed to stare at him in great surprise from their
cracked canvases. They were a dilapidated set of old nobles, one having
lost a nose, another an arm, others again sections of their faces. One
of them--a chevalier of St. Louis--had received a bayonet thrust through
the centre in the riotous times of the Revolution; but he still smiled
at Camors, and sniffed at a flower, despite the daylight shining through
him.

Camors finished his inspection, thinking to himself they were a highly
respectable set of ancestors, but not worth fifteen francs apiece. The
housekeeper had passed half the previous night in slaughtering various
dwellers in the poultry-yard; and the results of the sacrifice now
successively appeared, swimming in butter. Happily, however, the
fatherly kindness of the General had despatched a hamper of provisions
from Campvallon, and a few slices of pate, accompanied by sundry glasses
of Chateau-Yquem helped the Count to combat the dreary sadness with
which his change of residence, solitude, the night, and the smoke of his
candles, all conspired to oppress him.

Regaining his usual good spirits, which had deserted him for a moment,
he tried to draw out the old steward, who was waiting on him. He strove
to glean from him some information of the Des Rameures; but the old
servant, like every Norman peasant, held it as a tenet of faith that he
who gave a plain answer to any question was a dishonored man. With all
possible respect he let Camors understand plainly that he was not to be
deceived by his affected ignorance into any belief that M. le Comte
did not know a great deal better than he who and what M. des Rameures
was--where he lived, and what he did; that M. le Comte was his master,
and as such was entitled to his respect, but that he was nevertheless a
Parisian, and--as M. des Rameures said--all Parisians were jesters.

Camors, who had taken an oath never to get angry, kept it now; drew from
the General’s old cognac a fresh supply of patience, lighted a cigar,
and left the room.

For a few moments he leaned over the balustrade of the terrace and
looked around. The night, clear and beautiful, enveloped in its shadowy
veil the widestretching fields, and a solemn stillness, strange to
Parisian ears, reigned around him, broken only at intervals by the
distant bay of a hound, rising suddenly, and dying into peace again. His
eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness, Camors descended the terrace
stairs and passed into the old avenue, which was darker and more solemn
than a cathedral-aisle at midnight, and thence into an open road into
which it led by chance.

Strictly speaking, Camors had never, until now, been out of Paris; for
wherever he had previously gone, he had carried its bustle, worldly and
artificial life, play, and the races with him; and the watering-places
and the seaside had never shown him true country, or provincial life. It
gave him a sensation for the first time; but the sensation was an odious
one.

As he advanced up this silent road, without houses or lights, it seemed
to him he was wandering amid the desolation of some lunar region. This
part of Normandy recalled to him the least cultivated parts of Brittany.
It was rustic and savage, with its dense shrubbery, tufted grass, dark
valleys, and rough roads.

Some dreamers love this sweet but severe nature, even at night; they
love the very things that grated most upon the pampered senses of
Camors, who strode on in deep disgust, flattering himself, however, that
he should soon reach the Boulevard de Madeleine. But he found, instead,
peasants’ huts scattered along the side of the road, their low, mossy
roofs seeming to spring from the rich soil like an enormous fungus
growth. Two or three of the dwellers in these huts were taking the fresh
evening air on their thresholds, and Camors could distinguish through
the gloom their heavy figures and limbs, roughened by coarse toil in the
fields, as they stood mute, motionless, and ruminating in the darkness
like tired beasts.

Camors, like all men possessed by a dominant idea, had, ever since he
adopted the religion of his father as his rule of life, taken the pains
to analyze every impression and every thought. He now said to himself,
that between these countrymen and a refined man like himself there was
doubtless a greater difference than between them and their beasts of
burden; and this reflection was as balm to the scornful aristocracy
that was the cornerstone of his theory. Wandering on to an eminence, his
discouraged eye swept but a fresh horizon of apple-trees and heads of
barley, and he was about to turn back when a strange sound suddenly
arrested his steps. It was a concert of voice and instruments, which in
this lost solitude seemed to him like a dream, or a miracle. The music
was good-even excellent. He recognized a prelude of Bach, arranged by
Gounod. Robinson Crusoe, on discovering the footprint in the sand, was
not more astonished than Camors at finding in this desert so lively a
symptom of civilization.

Filled with curiosity, and led by the melody he heard, he descended
cautiously the little hill, like a king’s son in search of the enchanted
princess. The palace he found in the middle of the path, in the shape of
the high back wall of a dwelling, fronting on another road. One of the
upper windows on this side, however, was open; a bright light streamed
from it, and thence he doubted not the sweet sounds came.

To an accompaniment of the piano and stringed instruments rose a fresh,
flexible woman’s voice, chanting the mystic words of the master with
such expression and power as would have given even him delight. Camors,
himself a musician, was capable of appreciating the masterly execution
of the piece; and was so much struck by it that he felt an irresistible
desire to see the performers, especially the singer. With this impulse
he climbed the little hedge bordering the road, placed himself on the
top, and found himself several feet above the level of the lighted
window. He did not hesitate to use his skill as a gymnast to raise
himself to one of the branches of an old oak stretching across the lawn;
but during the ascent he could not disguise from himself that his was
scarcely a dignified position for the future deputy of the district. He
almost laughed aloud at the idea of being surprised in this position by
the terrible Des Rameures, or his niece.

He established himself on a large, leafy branch, directly in front of
the interesting window; and notwithstanding that he was at a respectful
distance, his glance could readily penetrate into the chamber where
the concert was taking place. A dozen persons, as he judged, were there
assembled; several women, of different ages, were seated at a table
working; a young man appeared to be drawing; while other persons lounged
on comfortable seats around the room. Around the piano was a group which
chiefly attracted the attention of the young Count. At the instrument
was seated a grave young girl of about twelve years; immediately behind
her stood an old man, remarkable for his great height, his head bald,
with a crown of white hair, and his bushy black eyebrows. He played the
violin with priestly dignity. Seated near him was a man of about
fifty, in the dress of an ecclesiastic, and wearing a huge pair of
silver-rimmed spectacles, who played the violincello with great apparent
gusto.

Between them stood the singer. She was a pale brunette, slight and
graceful, and apparently not more than twenty-five years of age. The
somewhat severe oval of her face was relieved by a pair of bright black
eyes that seemed to grow larger as she sang. One hand rested gently on
the shoulder of the girl at the piano, and with this she seemed to keep
time, pressing gently on the shoulder of the performer to stimulate her
zeal. And that hand was delicious!

A hymn by Palestrina had succeeded the Bach prelude. It was a quartette,
to which two new voices lent their aid. The old priest laid aside
his violoncello, stood up, took off his spectacles, and his deep bass
completed the full measure of the melody.

After the quartette followed a few moments of general conversation,
during which--after embracing the child pianist, who immediately left
the room--the songstress walked to the window. She leaned out as if to
breathe the fresh air, and her profile was sharply relieved against the
bright light behind her, in which the others formed a group around the
priest, who once more donned his spectacles, and drew from his pocket a
paper that appeared to be a manuscript.

The lady leaned from the window, gently fanning herself, as she looked
now at the sky, now at the dark landscape. Camors imagined he could
distinguish her gentle breathing above the sound of the fan; and leaning
eagerly forward for a better view, he caused the leaves to rustle
slightly. She started at the sound, then remained immovable, and the
fixed position of her head showed that her gaze was fastened upon the
oak in which he was concealed.

He felt the awkwardness of his position, but could not judge whether or
not he was visible to her; but, under the danger of her fixed regard, he
passed the most painful moments of his life.

She turned into the room and said, in a calm voice, a few words which
brought three or four of her friends to the window; and among them
Camors recognized the old man with the violin.

The moment was a trying one. He could do nothing but lie still in his
leafy retreat--silent and immovable as a statue. The conduct of those
at the window went far to reassure him, for their eyes wandered over
the gloom with evident uncertainty, convincing him that his presence
was only suspected, not discovered. But they exchanged animated
observations, to which the hidden Count lent an attentive ear.
Suddenly a strong voice--which he recognized as belonging to him of the
violin-rose over them all in the pleasing order: “Loose the dog!”

This was sufficient for Camors. He was not a coward; he would not have
budged an inch before an enraged tiger; but he would have travelled a
hundred miles on foot to avoid the shadow of ridicule. Profiting by the
warning and a moment when he seemed unobserved, he slid from the tree,
jumped into the next field, and entered the wood at a point somewhat
farther down than the spot where he had scaled the hedge. This done, he
resumed his walk with the assured tread of a man who had a right to be
there. He had gone but a few steps, when he heard behind him the wild
barking of the dog, which proved his retreat had been opportune.

Some of the peasants he had noticed as he passed before, were still
standing at their doors. Stopping before one of them he asked:

“My friend, to whom does that large house below there, facing the other
road, belong? and whence comes that music?”

“You probably know that as well as I,” replied the man, stolidly.

“Had I known, I should hardly have asked you,” said Camors.

The peasant did not deign further reply. His wife stood near him; and
Camors had remarked that in all classes of society women have more wit
and goodhumor than their husbands. Therefore he turned to her and said:

“You see, my good woman, I am a stranger here. To whom does that house
belong? Probably to Monsieur des Rameures?”

“No, no,” replied the woman, “Monsieur des Rameures lives much farther
on.”

“Ah! Then who lives here?”

“Why, Monsieur de Tecle, of course!”

“Ah, Monsieur de Tecle! But tell me, he does not live alone? There is a
lady who sings--his wife?--his sister? Who is she?”

“Ah, that is his daughter-in-law, Madame de Tecle Madame Elise, who--”

“Ah! thank you, thank you, my good woman! You have children? Buy them
sabots with this,” and drop ping a gold piece in the lap of the obliging
peasant, Camors walked rapidly away. Returning home the road seemed less
gloomy and far shorter than when he came. As he strode on, humming the
Bach prelude, the moon rose, the country looked more beautiful, and, in
short, when he perceived, at the end of its gloomy avenue, his chateau
bathed in the white light, he found the spectacle rather enjoyable than
otherwise. And when he had once more ensconced himself in the maternal
domicile, and inhaled the odor of damp paper and mouldy trees that
constituted its atmosphere, he found great consolation in the reflection
that there existed not very far away from him a young woman who
possessed a charming face, a delicious voice, and a pretty name.

Next morning, after plunging into a cold bath, to the profound
astonishment of the old steward and his wife, the Comte de Camors
went to inspect his farms. He found the buildings very similar in
construction to the dams of beavers, though far less comfortable; but he
was amazed to hear his farmers arguing, in their patois, on the various
modes of culture and crops, like men who were no strangers to all
modern improvements in agriculture. The name of Des Rameures frequently
occurred in the conversation as confirmation of their own theories, or
experiments. M. des Rameures gave preference to this manure, to this
machine for winnowing; this breed of animals was introduced by him. M.
des Rameures did this, M. des Rameures did that, and the farmers did
like him, and found it to their advantage. Camors found the General had
not exaggerated the local importance of this personage, and that it was
most essential to conciliate him. Resolving therefore to call on him
during the day, he went to breakfast.

This duty toward himself fulfilled, the young Count lounged on the
terrace, as he had the evening before, and smoked his cigar. Though it
was near midday, it was doubtful to him whether the solitude and silence
appeared less complete and oppressive than on the preceding night. A
hushed cackling of fowls, the drowsy hum of bees, and the muffled chime
of a distant bell--these were all the sounds to be heard.

Camors lounged on the terrace, dreaming of his club, of the noisy Paris
crowd, of the rumbling omnibuses, of the playbill of the little kiosk,
of the scent of heated asphalt--and the memory of the least of these
enchantments brought infinite peace to his soul. The inhabitant of Paris
has one great blessing, which he does not take into account until he
suffers from its loss--one great half of his existence is filled up
without the least trouble to himself. The all-potent vitality which
ceaselessly envelops him takes away from him in a vast degree the
exertion of amusing himself. The roar of the city, rising like a great
bass around him, fills up the gaps in his thoughts, and never leaves
that disagreeable sensation--a void.

There is no Parisian who is not happy in the belief that he makes
all the noise he hears, writes all the books he reads, edits all the
journals on which he breakfasts, writes all the vaudevilles on which he
sups, and invents all the ‘bon mots’ he repeats.

But this flattering allusion vanishes the moment chance takes him a mile
away from the Rue Vivienne. The proof confounds him, for he is bored
terribly, and becomes sick of himself. Perhaps his secret soul, weakened
and unnerved, may even be assailed by the suspicion that he is a feeble
human creature after all! But no! He returns to Paris; the collective
electricity again inspires him; he rebounds; he recovers; he is busy,
keen to discern, active, and recognizes once more, to his intense
satisfaction, that he is after all one of the elect of God’s
creatures--momentarily degraded, it may be, by contact with the inferior
beings who people the departments.

Camors had within himself more resources than most men to conquer the
blue-devils; but in these early hours of his experience in country life,
deprived of his club, his horses, and his cook, banished from all his
old haunts and habits, he began to feel terribly the weight of time. He,
therefore, experienced a delicious sensation when suddenly he heard that
regular beat of hoofs upon the road which to his trained ear announced
the approach of several riding-horses. The next moment he saw advancing
up his shaded avenue two ladies on horseback, followed by a groom with a
black cockade.

Though quite amazed at this charming spectacle, Camors remembered his
duty as a gentleman and descended the steps of the terrace. But the two
ladies, at sight of him, appeared as surprised as himself, suddenly drew
rein and conferred hastily. Then, recovering, they continued their way,
traversed the lower court below the terraces, and disappeared in the
direction of the lake.

As they passed the lower balustrade Camors bowed low, and they returned
his salutation by a slight inclination; but he was quite sure, in spite
of the veils that floated from their riding-hats, that he recognized the
black-eyed singer and the young pianist. After a moment he called to his
old steward,

“Monsieur Leonard,” he said, “is this a public way?”

“It certainly is not a public way, Monsieur le Comte,” replied Leonard.

“Then what do these ladies mean by using this road?”

“Bless me, Monsieur le Comte, it is so long since any of the owners
have been at Reuilly! These ladies mean no harm by passing through your
woods; and sometimes they even stop at the chateau while my wife gives
them fresh milk. Shall I tell them that this displeases Monsieur le
Comte?”

“My good Leonard, why the deuce do you suppose it displeases me? I only
asked for information. And now who are the ladies?”

“Oh! Monsieur, they are quite respectable ladies; Madame de Tecle, and
her daughter, Mademoiselle Marie.”

“So? And the husband of Madame, Monsieur de Tecle, never rides out with
them?”

“Heavens! no, Monsieur. He never rides with them.” And the old steward
smiled a dry smile. “He has been among the dead men for a long time, as
Monsieur le Comte well knows.”

“Granting that I know it, Monsieur Leonard, I wish it understood these
ladies are not to be interfered with. You comprehend?”

Leonard seemed pleased that he was not to be the bearer of any
disagreeable message; and Camors, suddenly conceiving that his stay
at Reuilly might be prolonged for some time, reentered the chateau and
examined the different rooms, arranging with the steward the best plan
of making the house habitable. The little town of I------, but two
leagues distant, afforded all the means, and M. Leonard proposed going
there at once to confer with the architect.



CHAPTER VII. ELISE DE TECLE

Meantime Camors directed his steps toward the residence of M. des
Rameures, of which he at last obtained correct information. He took the
same road as the preceding evening, passed the monastic-looking building
that held Madame de Tecle, glanced at the old oak that had served him
for an observatory, and about a mile farther on he discovered the small
house with towers that he sought.

It could only be compared to those imaginary edifices of which we have
all read in childhood’s happy days in taking text, under an attractive
picture: “The castle of M. de Valmont was agreeably situated at the
summit of a pretty hill.” It had a really picturesque surrounding of
fields sloping away, green as emerald, dotted here and there with great
bouquets of trees, or cut by walks adorned with huge roses or white
bridges thrown over rivulets. Cattle and sheep were resting here and
there, which might have figured at the Opera Comique, so shining were
the skins of the cows and so white the wool of the sheep. Camors swung
open the gate, took the first road he saw, and reached the top of the
hill amid trees and flowers. An old servant slept on a bench before the
door, smiling in his dreams.

Camors waked him, inquired for the master of the house, and was ushered
into a vestibule. Thence he entered a charming apartment, where a young
lady in a short skirt and round hat was arranging bouquets in Chinese
vases.

She turned at the noise of the opening door, and Camors saw--Madame de
Tecle!

As he saluted her with an air of astonishment and doubt, she looked
fixedly at him with her large eyes. He spoke first, with more of
hesitation than usual.

“Pardon me, Madame, but I inquired for Monsieur des Rameures.”

“He is at the farm, but will soon return. Be kind enough to wait.”

She pointed to a chair, and seated herself, pushing away with her foot
the branches that strewed the floor.

“But, Madame, in the absence of Monsieur des Rameures may I have the
honor of speaking with his niece?”

The shadow of a smile flitted over Madame de Tecle’s brown but charming
face. “His niece?” she said: “I am his niece.”

“You I Pardon me, Madame, but I thought--they said--I expected to find
an elderly--a--person--that is, a respectable” he hesitated, then added
simply--“and I find I am in error.”

Madame de Tecle seemed completely unmoved by this compliment.

“Will you be kind enough, Monsieur,” she said, “to let me know whom I
have the honor of receiving?”

“I am Monsieur de Camors.”

“Ah! Then I have excuses also to make. It was probably you whom we saw
this morning. We have been very rude--my daughter and I--but we were
ignorant of your arrival; and Reuilly has been so long deserted.”

“I sincerely hope, Madame, that your daughter and yourself will make no
change in your rides.”

Madame de Tecle replied by a movement of the hand that implied certainly
she appreciated the offer, and certainly she should not accept it. Then
there was a pause long enough to embarrass Camors, during which his
eye fell upon the piano, and his lips almost formed the original
remark--“You are a musician, Madame.” Suddenly recollecting his tree,
however, he feared to betray himself by the allusion, and was silent.

“You come from Paris, Monsieur de Camors?” Madame de Tecle at length
asked.

“No, Madame, I have been passing several weeks with my kinsman, General
de Campvallon, who has also the honor, I believe, to be a friend of
yours; and who has requested me to call upon you.”

“We are delighted that you have done so; and what an excellent man the
General is!”

“Excellent indeed, Madame.” There was another pause.

“If you do not object to a short walk in the sun,” said Madame de Tecle
at length, “let us walk to meet my uncle. We are almost sure to meet
him.” Camors bowed. Madame de Tecle rose and rang the bell: “Ask
Mademoiselle Marie,” she said to the servant, “to be kind enough to put
on her hat and join us.”

A moment after, Mademoiselle Marie entered, cast on the stranger the
steady, frank look of an inquisitive child, bowed slightly to him, and
they all left the room by a door opening on the lawn.

Madame de Tecle, while responding courteously to the graceful speeches
of Camors, walked on with a light and rapid step, her fairy-like little
shoes leaving their impression on the smooth fine sand of the path.

She walked with indescribable, unconscious grace; with that supple,
elastic undulation which would have been coquettish had it not been
undeniably natural. Reaching the wall that enclosed the right side of
the park, she opened a wicket that led into a narrow path through a
large field of ripe corn. She passed into this path, followed in single
file by Mademoiselle Marie and by Camors. Until now the child had been
very quiet, but the rich golden corn-tassels, entangled with bright
daisies, red poppies, and hollyhocks, and the humming concert of myriads
of flies-blue, yellow, and reddish-brown, which sported amid the sweets,
excited her beyond self-control. Stopping here and there to pluck a
flower, she would turn and cry, “Pardon, Monsieur;” until, at length, on
an apple-tree growing near the path she descried on a low branch a green
apple, no larger than her finger. This temptation proved irresistible,
and with one spring into the midst of the corn, she essayed to reach the
prize, if Providence would permit. Madame de Tecle, however, would not
permit. She seemed much displeased, and said, sharply:

“Marie, my child! In the midst of the corn! Are you crazy!”

The child returned promptly to the path, but unable to conquer her
wish for the apple, turned an imploring eye to Camors and said, softly:
“Pardon, Monsieur, but that apple would make my bouquet complete.”

Camors had only to reach up, stretch out his hand, and detach the branch
from the tree.

“A thousand thanks!” cried the child, and adding this crowning glory to
her bouquet, she placed the whole inside the ribbon around her hat and
walked on with an air of proud satisfaction.

As they approached the fence running across the end of the field, Madame
de Tecle suddenly said: “My uncle, Monsieur;” and Camors, raising his
head, saw a very tall man looking at them over the fence and shading
his eyes with his hand. His robust limbs were clad in gaiters of yellow
leather with steel buttons, and he wore a loose coat of maroon velvet
and a soft felt hat. Camors immediately recognized the white hair and
heavy black eyebrows as the same he had seen bending over the violin the
night before.

“Uncle,” said Madame de Tecle, introducing the young Count by a wave of
the hand: “This is Monsieur de Camors.”

“Monsieur de Camors,” repeated the old man, in a deep and sonorous
voice, “you are most welcome;” and opening the gate he gave his guest a
soft, brown hand, as he continued: “I knew your mother intimately, and
am charmed to have her son under my roof. Your mother was a most amiable
person, Monsieur, and certainly merited--” The old man hesitated, and
finished his sentence by a sonorous “Hem!” that resounded and rumbled in
his chest as if in the vault of a church.

Then he took the letter Camors handed to him, held it a long distance
from his eyes, and began reading it. The General had told the Count it
would be impolite to break suddenly to M. des Rameures the plan they
had concocted. The latter, therefore, found the note only a very warm
introduction of Camors. The postscript gave him the announcement of the
marriage.

“The devil!” he cried. “Did you know this, Elise? Campvallon is to be
married!”

All women, widows, matrons, or maids, are deeply interested in matters
pertaining to marriage.

“What, uncle! The General! Can it be? Are you sure?”

“Um--rather. He writes the news himself. Do you know the lady, Monsieur
le Comte?”

“Mademoiselle de Luc d’Estrelles is my cousin,” Camors replied.

“Ah! That is right; and she is of a certain age?”

“She is about twenty-five.”

M. des Rameures received this intelligence with one of the resonant
coughs peculiar to him.

“May I ask, without indiscretion, whether she is endowed with a pleasing
person?”

“She is exceedingly beautiful,” was the reply.

“Hem! So much the better. It seems to me the General is a little old for
her: but every one is the best judge of his own affairs: Hem! the best
judge of his own affairs. Elise, my dear, whenever you are ready we
will follow you. Pardon me, Monsieur le Comte, for receiving you in this
rustic attire, but I am a laborer. Agricola--a mere herdsman--‘custos
gregis’, as the poet says. Walk before me, Monsieur le Comte, I beg you.
Marie, child, respect my corn!

“And can we hope, Monsieur de Camors, that you have the happy idea
of quitting the great Babylon to install yourself among your rural
possessions? It will be a good example, Monsieur--an excellent example!
For unhappily today more than ever we can say with the poet:

              ‘Non ullus aratro

        Dignus honos; squalent abductis arva colonis,
        Et--et--’

“And, by gracious! I’ve forgotten the rest--poor memory! Ah, young sir,
never grow old-never grow old!”

        “‘Et curvae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem,”’

said Camors, continuing the broken quotation.

“Ah! you quote Virgil. You read the classics. I am charmed, really
charmed. That is not the characteristic of our rising generation, for
modern youth has an idea it is bad taste to quote the ancients. But that
is not my idea, young sir--not in the least. Our fathers quoted freely
because they were familiar with them. And Virgil is my poet. Not that
I approve of all his theories of cultivation. With all the respect I
accord him, there is a great deal to be said on that point; and his
plan of breeding in particular will never do--never do! Still, he
is delicious, eh? Very well, Monsieur Camors, now you see my little
domain--‘mea paupera regna’--the retreat of the sage. Here I live,
and live happily, like an old shepherd in the golden age--loved by my
neighbors, which is not easy; and venerating the gods, which is perhaps
easier. Ah, young sir, as you read Virgil, you will excuse me once more.
It was for me he wrote:

       ‘Fortunate senex, hic inter flumina nota,
        Et fontes sacros frigus captabis opacum.’

“And this as well:

       ‘Fortunatus et ille deos qui novit agrestes,
        Panaque, Silvanumque senem!’”

“Nymphasque sorores!” finished Camors, smiling and moving his head
slightly in the direction of Madame de Tecle and her daughter, who
preceded them.

“Quite to the point. That is pure truth!” cried M. des Rameures, gayly.
“Did you hear that, niece?”

“Yes, uncle.”

“And did you understand it, niece?”

“No, uncle.”

“I do not believe you, my dear! I do not believe you!” The old man
laughed heartily. “Do not believe her, Monsieur de Camors; women have
the faculty of understanding compliments in every language.”

This conversation brought them to the chateau, where they sat down on a
bench before the drawing-room windows to enjoy the view.

Camors praised judiciously the well-kept park, accepted an invitation
to dinner the next week, and then discreetly retired, flattering himself
that his introduction had made a favorable impression upon M. des
Rameures, but regretting his apparent want of progress with the
fairy-footed niece.

He was in error.

“This youth,” said M. des Rameures, when he was left alone with Madame
de Tecle, “has some touch of the ancients, which is something; but he
still resembles his father, who was vicious as sin itself. His eyes and
his smile recall some traits of his admirable mother; but positively,
my dear Elise, he is the portrait of his father, whose manners and whose
principles they say he has inherited.”

“Who says so, uncle?”

“Current rumor, niece.”

“Current rumor, my dear uncle, is often mistaken, and always
exaggerates. For my part, I like the young man, who seems thoroughly
refined and at his ease.”

“Bah! I suppose because he compared you to a nymph in the fable.”

“If he compared me to a nymph in the fable he was wrong; but he never
addressed to me a word in French that was not in good taste. Before we
condemn him, uncle, let us see for ourselves. It is a habit you have
always recommended to me, you know.”

“You can not deny, niece,” said the old man with irritation, “that
he exhales the most decided and disagreeable odor of Paris! He is too
polite--too studied! Not a shadow of enthusiasm--no fire of youth! He
never laughs as I should wish to see a man of his age laugh; a young man
should roar to split his waistband!”

“What! you would see him merry so soon after losing his father in such
a tragic manner, and he himself nearly ruined! Why, uncle, what can you
mean?”

“Well, well, perhaps you are right. I retract all I have said against
him. If he be half ruined I will offer him my advice--and my purse if
he need it--for the sake of the memory of his mother, whom you resemble.
Ah, ‘tis thus we end all our disputes, naughty child! I grumble; I am
passionate; I act like a Tartar. Then you speak with your good sense and
sweetness, my darling, and the tiger becomes a lamb. All unhappy beings
whom you approach in the same way submit to your subtle charm. And that
is the reason why my old friend, La Fontaine, said of you:

       ‘Sur differentes fleurs l’abeille se repose,
        Et fait du miel de toute chose!’”



CHAPTER VIII. A DISH OF POLITICS

Elise de Tecle was thirty years of age, but appeared much younger. At
seventeen she had married, under peculiar conditions, her cousin Roland
de Tecle. She had been left an orphan at an early age and educated
by her mother’s brother, M. des Rameures. Roland lived very near
her Everything brought them together--the wishes of the family,
compatibility of fortune, their relations as neighbors, and a personal
sympathy. They were both charming; they were destined for each other
from infancy, and the time fixed for their marriage was the nineteenth
birthday of Elise. In anticipation of this happy event the Comte de
Tecle rebuilt almost entirely one wing of his castle for the exclusive
use of the young pair. Roland was continually present, superintending
and urging on the work with all the ardor of a lover.

One morning loud and alarming cries from the new wing roused all the
inhabitants of the castle; the Count burned to the spot, and found
his son stunned and bleeding in the arms of one of the workmen. He had
fallen from a high scaffolding to the pavement. For several months
the unfortunate young man hovered between life and death; but in
the paroxysms of fever he never ceased calling for his cousin--his
betrothed; and they were obliged to admit the young girl to his bedside.
Slowly he recovered, but was ever after disfigured and lame; and the
first time they allowed him to look in a glass he had a fainting-fit
that proved almost fatal.

But he was a youth of high principle and true courage. On recovering
from his swoon he wept a flood of bitter tears, which would not,
however, wash the scars from his disfigured face. He prayed long and
earnestly; then shut himself up with his father. Each wrote a letter,
the one to M. des Rameures, the other to Elise. M. des Rameures and his
niece were then in Germany. The excitement and fatigue consequent upon
nursing her cousin had so broken her health that the physicians urged
a trial of the baths of Ems. There she received these letters; they
released her from her engagement and gave her absolute liberty.

Roland and his father implored her not to return in haste; explained
that their intention was to leave the country in a few weeks’ time and
establish themselves at Paris; and added that they expected no answer,
and that their resolution--impelled by simple justice to her--was
irrevocable.

Their wishes were complied with. No answer came.

Roland, his sacrifice once made, seemed calm and resigned; but he fell
into a sort of languor, which made fearful progress and hinted at a
speedy and fatal termination, for which in fact he seemed to long. One
evening they had taken him to the lime-tree terrace at the foot of the
garden. He gazed with absent eye on the tints with which the setting sun
purpled the glades of the wood, while his father paced the terrace with
long strides-smiling as he passed him and hastily brushing away a tear
as he turned his back.

Suddenly Elise de Tecle appeared before them, like an angel dropped
from heaven. She knelt before the crippled youth, kissed his hand, and,
brightening him with the rays of her beautiful eyes, told him she never
had loved him half so well before. He felt she spoke truly; he accepted
her devotion, and they were married soon after.

Madame de Tecle was happy--but she alone was so. Her husband,
notwithstanding the tenderness with which she treated
him--notwithstanding the happiness which he could not fail to read in
her tranquil glance--notwithstanding the birth of a daughter--seemed
never to console himself. Even with her he was always possessed by a
cold constraint; some secret sorrow consumed him, of which they found
the key only on the day of his death.

“My darling,” he then said to his young wife--“my darling, may God
reward you for your infinite goodness! Pardon me, if I never have told
you how entirely I love you. With a face like mine, how could I speak of
love to one like you! But my poor heart has been brimming over with it
all the while. Oh, Elise! how I have suffered when I thought of what
I was before--how much more worthy of you! But we shall be reunited,
dearest--shall we not?--where I shall be as perfect as you, and where I
may tell you how much I adore you! Do not weep for me, my own Elise! I
am happy now, for the first time, for I have dared to open my heart to
you. Dying men do not fear ridicule. Farewell, Elise--darling-wife! I
love you!” These tender words were his last.

After her husband’s death, Madame de Tecle lived with her father-in-law,
but passed much of her time with her uncle. She busied herself with the
greatest solicitude in the education of her daughter, and kept house for
both the old men, by both of whom she was equally idolized.

From the lips of the priest at Reuilly, whom he called on next day,
Camors learned some of these details, while the old man practiced the
violoncello with his heavy spectacles on his nose. Despite his fixed
resolution of preserving universal scorn, Camors could not resist a
vague feeling of respect for Madame de Tecle; but it did not entirely
eradicate the impure sentiment he was disposed to dedicate to her. Fully
determined to make her, if not his victim, at least his ally, he
felt that this enterprise was one of unusual difficulty. But he was
energetic, and did not object to difficulties--especially when they took
such charming shape as in the present instance.

His meditations on this theme occupied him agreeably the rest of that
week, during which time he overlooked his workmen and conferred with
his architect. Besides, his horses, his books, his domestics, and his
journals arrived successively to dispel ennui. Therefore he looked
remarkably well when he jumped out of his dog-cart the ensuing Monday
in front of M. des Rameures’s door under the eyes of Madame de Tecle.
As the latter gently stroked with her white hand the black and smoking
shoulder of the thoroughbred Fitz-Aymon, Camors was for the first
time presented to the Comte de Tecle, a quiet, sad, and taciturn old
gentleman. The cure, the subprefect of the district and his wife, the
tax-collector, the family physician, and the tutor completed, as the
journals say, the list of the guests.

During dinner Camors, secretly excited by the immediate vicinity
of Madame de Tecle, essayed to triumph over that hostility that the
presence of a stranger invariably excites in the midst of intimacies
which it disturbs. His calm superiority asserted itself so mildly it
was pardoned for its grace. Without a gayety unbecoming his mourning, he
nevertheless made such lively sallies and such amusing jokes about his
first mishaps at Reuilly as to break up the stiffness of the party. He
conversed pleasantly with each one in turn, and, seeming to take the
deepest interest in his affairs, put him at once at his ease.

He skilfully gave M. des Rameures the opportunity for several happy
quotations; spoke naturally to him of artificial pastures, and
artificially of natural pastures; of breeding and of non-breeding cows;
of Dishley sheep--and of a hundred other matters he had that morning
crammed from an old encyclopaedia and a county almanac.

To Madame de Tecle directly he spoke little, but he did not speak one
word during the dinner that was not meant for her; and his manner to
women was so caressing, yet so chivalric, as to persuade them, even
while pouring out their wine, that he was ready to die for them. The
dear charmers thought him a good, simple fellow, while he was the exact
reverse.

On leaving the table they went out of doors to enjoy the starlight
evening, and M. des Rameures--whose natural hospitality was somewhat
heightened by a goblet of his own excellent wine--said to Camors:

“My dear Count, you eat honestly, you talk admirably, you drink like a
man. On my word, I am disposed to regard you as perfection--as a paragon
of neighbors--if in addition to all the rest you add the crowning one.
Do you love music?”

“Passionately!” answered Camors, with effusion.

“Passionately? Bravo! That is the way one should love everything that
is worth loving. I am delighted, for we make here a troupe of fanatical
melomaniacs, as you will presently perceive. As for myself, I scrape
wildly on the violin, as a simple country amateur--‘Orpheus in silvis’.
Do not imagine, however, Monsieur le Comte, that we let the worship of
this sweet art absorb all our faculties--all our time-certainly not.
When you take part in our little reunions, which of course you will do,
you will find we disdain no pursuit worthy of thinking beings. We pass
from music to literature--to science--even to philosophy; but we do
this--I pray you to believe--without pedantry and without leaving the
tone of familiar converse. Sometimes we read verses, but we never make
them; we love the ancients and do not fear the moderns: we only fear
those who would lower the mind and debase the heart. We love the past
while we render justice to the present; and flatter ourselves at not
seeing many things that to you appear beautiful, useful, and true.

“Such are we, my young friend. We call ourselves the ‘Colony of
Enthusiasts,’ but our malicious neighbors call us the ‘Hotel de
Rambouillet.’ Envy, you know, is a plant that does not flourish in
the country; but here, by way of exception, we have a few jealous
people--rather bad for them, but of no consequence to us.

“We are an odd set, with the most opposite opinions. For me, I am a
Legitimist; then there is Durocher, my physician and friend, who is
a rabid Republican; Hedouin, the tutor, is a parliamentarian; while
Monsieur our sub-prefect is a devotee to the government, as it is his
duty to be. Our cure is a little Roman--I am Gallican--‘et sic ceteris’.
Very well--we all agree wonderfully for two reasons: first, because we
are sincere, which is a very rare thing; and then because all opinions
contain at bottom some truth, and because, with some slight mutual
concessions, all really honest people come very near having the same
opinions.

“Such, my dear Count, are the views that hold in my drawing-room,
or rather in the drawing-room of my niece; for if you would see the
divinity who makes all our happiness--look at her! It is in deference
to her good taste, her good sense, and her moderation, that each of us
avoids that violence and that passion which warps the best intentions.
In one word, to speak truly, it is love that makes our common tie and
our mutual protection. We are all in love with my niece--myself first,
of course; next Durocher, for thirty years; then the subprefect and all
the rest of them.

“You, too, Cure! you know that you are in love with Elise, in all honor
and all good faith, as we all are, and as Monsieur de Camors shall soon
be, if he is not so already--eh, Monsieur le Comte?”

Camors protested, with a sinister smile, that he felt very much inclined
to fulfil the prophecy of his host; and they reentered the dining-room
to find the circle increased by the arrival of several visitors. Some of
these rode, others came on foot from the country-seats around.

M. des Rameures soon seized his violin; while he tuned it, little Marie
seated herself at the piano, and her mother, coming behind her, rested
her hand lightly on her shoulder, as if to beat the measure.

“The music will be nothing new to you,” Camors’s host said to him. “It
is simply Schubert’s Serenade, which we have arranged, or deranged,
after our own fancy; of which you shall judge. My niece sings, and the
curate and I--‘Arcades ambo’--respond successively--he on the bass-viol
and I on my Stradivarius. Come, my dear Cure, let us begin--‘incipe,
Mopse, prior.”

In spite of the masterly execution of the old gentleman and of the
delicate science of the cure, it was Madame de Tecle who appeared to
Camors the most remarkable of the three virtuosi. The calm repose of her
features, and the gentle dignity of her attitude, contrasting with the
passionate swell of her voice, he found most attractive.

In his turn he seated himself at the piano, and played a difficult
accompaniment with real taste; and having a good tenor voice, and a
thorough knowledge of its powers, he exerted them so effectually as to
produce a profound sensation. During the rest of the evening he kept
much in the background in order to observe the company, and was much
astonished thereby. The tone of this little society, as much removed
from vulgar gossip as from affected pedantry, was truly elevated. There
was nothing to remind him of a porter’s lodge, as in most provincial
salons; or of the greenroom of a theatre, as in many salons of Paris;
nor yet, as he had feared, of a lecture-room.

There were five or six women--some pretty, all well bred--who, in
adopting the habit of thinking, had not lost the habit of laughing, nor
the desire to please. But they all seemed subject to the same charm; and
that charm was sovereign. Madame de Tecle, half hidden on her sofa, and
seemingly busied with her embroidery, animated all by a glance, softened
all by a word. The glance was inspiring; the word always appropriate.
Her decision on all points they regarded as final--as that of a judge
who sentences, or of a woman who is beloved.

No verses were read that evening, and Camors was not bored. In the
intervals of the music, the conversation touched on the new comedy by
Augier; the last work of Madame Sand; the latest poem of Tennyson; or
the news from America.

“My dear Mopsus,” M. des Rameures said to the cure, “you were about
to read us your sermon on superstition last Thursday, when you were
interrupted by that joker who climbed the tree in order to hear you
better. Now is the time to recompense us. Take this seat and we will all
listen to you.”

The worthy cure took the seat, unfolded his manuscript, and began his
discourse, which we shall not here report: profiting by the example of
our friend Sterne, not to mingle the sacred with the profane.

The sermon met with general approval, though some persons, M. des
Rameures among them, thought it above the comprehension of the humble
class for whom it was intended. M. de Tecle, however, backed by
republican Durocher, insisted that the intelligence of the people was
underrated; that they were frequently debased by those who pretended to
speak only up to their level--and the passages in dispute were retained.

How they passed from the sermon on superstition to the approaching
marriage of the General, I can not say; but it was only natural after
all, for the whole country, for twenty miles around, was ringing with
it. This theme excited Camors’s attention at once, especially when the
sub-prefect intimated with much reserve that the General, busied with
his new surroundings, would probably resign his office as deputy.

“But that would be embarrassing,” exclaimed Des Rameures. “Who the deuce
would replace him? I give you warning, Monsieur Prefect, if you intend
imposing on us some Parisian with a flower in his buttonhole, I shall
pack him back to his club--him, his flower, and his buttonhole! You may
set that down for a sure thing--”

“Dear uncle!” said Madame de Tecle, indicating Camors with a glance.

“I understand you, Elise,” laughingly rejoined M. des Rameures, “but I
must beg Monsieur de Camors to believe that I do not in any case intend
to offend him. I shall also beg him to tolerate the monomania of an old
man, and some freedom of language with regard to the only subject which
makes him lose his sang froid.”

“And what is that subject, Monsieur?” said Camors, with his habitual
captivating grace of manner.

“That subject, Monsieur, is the arrogant supremacy assumed by Paris over
all the rest of France. I have not put my foot in the place since 1825,
in order to testify the abhorrence with which it inspires me. You are an
educated, sensible young man, and, I trust, a good Frenchman. Very well!
Is it right, I ask, that Paris shall every morning send out to us
our ideas ready-made, and that all France shall become a mere humble,
servile faubourg to the capital? Do me the favor, I pray you, Monsieur,
to answer that?”

“There is doubtless, my dear sir,” replied Camors, “some excess in this
extreme centralization of France; but all civilized countries must have
their capitals, and a head is just as necessary to a nation as to an
individual.”

“Taking your own image, Monsieur, I shall turn it against you. Yes,
doubtless a head is as necessary to a nation as to an individual;
if, however, the head becomes monstrous and deformed, the seat of
intelligence will be turned into that of idiocy, and in place of a man
of intellect, you have a hydrocephalus. Pray give heed to what Monsieur
the Sub-prefect, may say in answer to what I shall ask him. Now, my
dear Sub-prefect, be frank. If tomorrow, the deputation of this district
should become vacant, can you find within its broad limits, or indeed
within the district, a man likely to fill all functions, good and bad?”

“Upon my word,” answered the official, “if you continue to refuse the
office, I really know of no one else fit for it.”

“I shall persist all my life, Monsieur, for at my age assuredly I shall
not expose myself to the buffoonery of your Parisian jesters.”

“Very well! In that event you will be obliged to take some
stranger--perhaps, even one of those Parisian jesters.”

“You have heard him, Monsieur de Camors,” said M. des Rameures, with
exultation. “This district numbers six hundred thousand souls, and yet
does not contain within it the material for one deputy. There is no
other civilized country, I submit, in which we can find a similar
instance so scandalous. For the people of France this shame is reserved
exclusively, and it is your Paris that has brought it upon us. Paris,
absorbing all the blood, life, thought, and action of the country, has
left a mere geographical skeleton in place of a nation! These are the
benefits of your centralization, since you have pronounced that word,
which is quite as barbarous as the thing itself.”

“But pardon me, uncle,” said Madame de Tecle, quietly plying her needle,
“I know nothing of these matters, but it seems to me that I have heard
you say this centralization was the work of the Revolution and of the
First Consul. Why, therefore, do you call Monsieur de Camors to account
for it? That certainly does not seem to me just.”

“Nor does it seem so to me,” said Camors, bowing to Madame de Tecle.

“Nor to me either,” rejoined M. des Rameures, smiling.

“However, Madame,” resumed Camors, “I may to some extent be held
responsible in this matter, for though, as you justly suggest, I have
not brought about this centralization, yet I confess I strongly approve
the course of those who did.”

“Bravo! So much the better, Monsieur. I like that. One should have his
own positive opinions, and defend them.”

“Monsieur,” said Camors, “I shall make an exception in your honor, for
when I dine out, and especially when I dine well, I always have the same
opinion with my host; but I respect you too highly not to dare to
differ with you. Well, then, I think the revolutionary Assembly, and
subsequently the First Consul, were happily inspired in imposing a
vigorous centralized political administration upon France. I believe,
indeed, that it was indispensable at the time, in order to mold and
harden our social body in its new form, to adjust it in its position,
and fix it firmly under the new laws--that is, to establish and maintain
this powerful French unity which has become our national peculiarity,
our genius and our strength.”

“You speak rightly, sir,” exclaimed Durocher.

“Parbleu I unquestionably you are right,” warmly rejoined M. des
Rameures. “Yes, that is quite true. The excessive centralization of
which I complain has had its hour of utility, nay, even of necessity, I
will admit; but, Monsieur, in what human institution do you pretend to
implant the absolute, the eternal? Feudalism, also, my dear sir, was
a benefit and a progress in its day, but that which was a benefit
yesterday may it not become an evil to-morrow--a danger? That which is
progress to-day, may it not one hundred years hence have become mere
routine, and a downright trammel? Is not that the history of the world?
And if you wish to know, Monsieur, by what sign we may recognize the
fact that a social or political system has attained its end, I will tell
you: it is when it is manifest only in its inconveniences and abuses.
Then the machine has finished its work, and should be replaced. Indeed,
I declare that French centralization has reached its critical term, that
fatal point at which, after protecting, it oppresses; at which, after
vivifying, it paralyzes; at which, having saved France, it crushes her.”

“Dear uncle, you are carried away by your subject,” said Madame de
Tecle.

“Yes, Elise, I am carried away, I admit, but I am right. Everything
justifies me--the past and the present, I am sure; and so will the
future, I fear. Did I say the past? Be assured, Monsieur de Camors, I
am not a narrow-minded admirer of the past. Though a Legitimist from
personal affections, I am a downright Liberal in principles. You know
that, Durocher? Well, then, in short, formerly between the Alps, the
Rhine, and the Pyrenees, was a great country which lived, thought, and
acted, not exclusively through its capital, but for itself. It had a
head, assuredly; but it had also a heart, muscles, nerves, and veins
with blood in them, and yet the head lost nothing by that. There was
then a France, Monsieur. The province had an existence, subordinate
doubtless, but real, active, and independent. Each government, each
office, each parliamentary centre was a living intellectual focus.
The great provincial institutions and local liberties exercised the
intellect on all sides, tempered the character, and developed men. And
now note well, Durocher! If France had been centralized formerly
as to-day, your dear Revolution never would have occurred--do you
understand? Never! because there would have been no men to make it. For
may I not ask, whence came that prodigious concourse of intelligences
all fully armed, and with heroic hearts, which the great social movement
of ‘78 suddenly brought upon the scene? Please recall to mind the most
illustrious men of that era--lawyers, orators, soldiers. How many were
from Paris? All came from the provinces, the fruitful womb of France!
But to-day we have simply need of a deputy, peaceful times; and yet,
out of six hundred thousand souls, as we have seen, we can not find one
suitable man. Why is this the case, gentlemen? Because upon the soil of
uncentralized France men grew, while only functionaries germinate in the
soil of centralized France.”

“God bless you, Monsieur!” said the Sub-prefect, with a smile.

“Pardon me, my dear Sub-prefect, but you, too, should understand that
I really plead your cause as well as my own, when I claim for
the provinces, and for all the functions of provincial life, more
independence, dignity, and grandeur. In the state to which these
functions are reduced at present, the administration and the judiciary
are equally stripped of power, prestige, and patronage. You smile,
Monsieur, but no longer, as formerly, are they the centres of life, of
emulation, and of light, civic schools and manly gymnasiums; they have
become merely simple, passive clockwork; and that is the case with the
rest, Monsieur de Camors. Our municipal institutions are a mere farce,
our provincial assemblies only a name, our local liberties naught!
Consequently, we have not now a man for a deputy. But why should we
complain? Does not Paris undertake to live, to think for us? Does
she not deign to cast to us, as of yore the Roman Senate cast to the
suburban plebeians, our food for the day-bread and vaudevilles--‘panem
et circenses’. Yes, Monsieur, let us turn from the past to the
present--to France of to-day! A nation of forty millions of people who
await each morning from Paris the signal to know whether it is day or
night, or whether, indeed, they shall laugh or weep! A great people,
once the noblest, the cleverest in the world, repeating the same day,
at the same hour, in all the salons, and at all the crossways in the
empire, the same imbecile gabble engendered the evening before in the
mire of the boulevards. I tell you? Monsieur, it is humiliating that
all Europe, once jealous of us, should now shrug her shoulders in our
faces.--Besides, it is fatal even for Paris, which, permit me to add,
drunk with prosperity in its haughty isolation and self-fetishism, not a
little resembles the Chinese Empire-a focus of warmed-over, corrupt, and
frivolous civilization! As for the future, my dear sir, may God preserve
me from despair, since it concerns my country! This age has already seen
great things, great marvels, in fact; for I beg you to remember I am
by no means an enemy to my time. I approve the Revolution, liberty,
equality, the press, railways, and the telegraph; and as I often say to
Monsieur le Cure, every cause that would live must accommodate itself
cheerfully to the progress of its epoch, and study how to serve itself
by it. Every cause that is in antagonism with its age commits suicide.
Indeed, Monsieur, I trust this century will see one more great event,
the end of this Parisian tyranny, and the resuscitation of provincial
life; for I must repeat, my dear sir, that your centralization, which
was once an excellent remedy, is a detestable regimen! It is a horrible
instrument of oppression and tyranny, ready-made for all hands, suitable
for every despotism, and under it France stifles and wastes away. You
must agree with me yourself, Durocher; in this sense the Revolution
overshot its mark, and placed in jeopardy even its purposes; for you,
who love liberty, and do not wish it merely for yourself alone, as some
of your friends do, but for all the world, surely you can not admire
centralization, which proscribes liberty as manifestly as night obscures
the day. As for my part, gentlemen, there are two things which I love
equally--liberty and France. Well, then, as I believe in God, do
I believe that both must perish in the throes of some convulsive
catastrophe if all the life of the nation shall continue to be
concentrated in the brain, and the great reform for which I call is not
made: if a vast system of local franchise, if provincial institutions,
largely independent and conformable to the modern spirit, are not
soon established to yield fresh blood for our exhausted veins, and to
fertilize our impoverished soil. Undoubtedly the work will be difficult
and complicated; it will demand a firm resolute hand, but the hand that
may accomplish it will have achieved the most patriotic work of the
century. Tell that to your sovereign, Monsieur Sub-prefect; say to him
that if he do that, there is one old French heart that will bless him.
Tell him, also, that he will encounter much passion, much derision, much
danger, peradventure; but that he will have a commensurate recompense
when he shall see France, like Lazarus, delivered from its swathings and
its shroud, rise again, sound and whole, to salute him!”

These last words the old gentleman had pronounced with fire, emotion,
and extraordinary dignity; and the silence and respect with which he
had been listened to were prolonged after he had ceased to speak. This
appeared to embarrass him, but taking the arm of Camors he said, with
a smile, “‘Semel insanivimus omnes.’ My dear sir, every one has his
madness. I trust that mine has not offended you. Well, then, prove it
to me by accompanying me on the piano in this song of the sixteenth
century.”

Camors complied with his usual good taste; and the song of the sixteenth
century terminated the evening’s entertainment; but the young Count,
before leaving, found the means of causing Madame de Tecle the most
profound astonishment. He asked her, in a low voice, and with peculiar
emphasis, whether she would be kind enough, at her leisure, to grant him
the honor of a moment’s private conversation.

Madame de Tecle opened still wider those large eyes of hers, blushed
slightly, and replied that she would be at home the next afternoon at
four o’clock.



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER IX. LOVE CONQUERS PHILOSOPHY

To M. de Camors, in principle it was a matter of perfect indifference
whether France was centralized or decentralized. But his Parisian
instinct induced him to prefer the former. In spite of this preference,
he would not have scrupled to adopt the opinions of M. des Rameures, had
not his own fine tact shown him that the proud old gentleman was not to
be won by submission.

He therefore reserved for him the triumph of his gradual conversion.
Be that as it might, it was neither of centralization nor of
decentralization that the young Count proposed to speak to Madame de
Tecle, when, at the appointed hour, he presented himself before her.
He found her in the garden, which, like the house, was of an ancient,
severe, and monastic style. A terrace planted with limetrees extended
on one side of the garden. It was at this spot that Madame de Tecle was
seated under a group of lime-trees, forming a rustic bower.

She was fond of this place, because it recalled to her that evening when
her unexpected apparition had suddenly inspired with a celestial joy the
pale, disfigured face of her betrothed.

She was seated on a low chair beside a small rustic table, covered with
pieces of wool and silk; her feet rested on a stool, and she worked on a
piece of tapestry, apparently with great tranquillity.

M. de Camors, an expert in all the niceties and exquisite devices of the
feminine mind, smiled to himself at this audience in the open air. He
thought he fathomed its meaning. Madame de Tecle desired to deprive this
interview of the confidential character which closed doors would have
given it.

It was the simple truth. This young woman, who was one of the noblest
of her sex, was not at all simple. She had not passed ten years of her
youth, her beauty, and her widowhood without receiving, under forms
more or less direct, dozens of declarations that had inspired her with
impressions, which, although just, were not always too flattering to the
delicacy and discretion of the opposite sex. Like all women of her age,
she knew her danger, and, unlike most of them, she did not love it. She
had invariably turned into the broad road of friendship all those she
had surprised rambling within the prohibited limits of love. The request
of M. de Camors for a private interview had seriously preoccupied her
since the previous evening. What could be the object of this mysterious
interview? She puzzled her brain to imagine, but could not divine.

It was not probable that M. de Camors, at the beginning of their
acquaintance, would feel himself entitled to declare a passion. However
vividly the famed gallantry of the young Count rose to her memory, she
thought so noted a ladykiller as he might adopt unusual methods, and
might think himself entitled to dispense with much ceremony in dealing
with an humble provincial.

Animated by these ideas, she resolved to receive him in the garden,
having remarked, during her short experience, that open air and a wide,
open space were not favorable to bold wooers.

M. de Camors bowed to Madame de Tecle as an Englishman would have bowed
to his queen; then seating himself, drew his chair nearer to hers,
mischievously perhaps, and lowering his voice into a confidential tone,
said: “Madame, will you permit me to confide a secret to you, and to ask
your counsel?”

She raised her graceful head, fixed upon the Count her soft, bright
gaze, smiled vaguely, and by a slight movement of the hand intimated to
him, “You surprise me; but I will listen to you.”

“This is my first secret, Madame--I desire to become deputy for this
district.”

At this unexpected declaration, Madame de Tecle looked at him, breathed
a slight sigh of relief, and gravely awaited what he had to say.

“The General de Campvallon, Madame,” continued the young man, “has
manifested a father’s kindness to me. He intends to resign in my
favor, and has not concealed from me that the support of your uncle is
indispensable to my success as a candidate. I have therefore come here,
by the General’s advice, in the hope of obtaining this support, but the
ideas and opinions expressed yesterday by your uncle appear to me so
directly opposed to my pretensions that I feel truly discouraged. To
be brief, Madame, in my perplexity I conceived the idea--indiscreet
doubtless--to appeal to your kindness, and ask your advice--which I am
determined to follow, whatever it may be.”

“But, Monsieur! you embarrass me greatly,” said the young woman, whose
pretty face, at first clouded, brightened up immediately with a frank
smile.

“I have no special claims on your kindness--on the contrary perhaps--but
I am a human being, and you are charitable. Well, in truth, Madame, this
matter seriously concerns my fortune, my future, and my whole destiny.
This opportunity which now presents itself for me to enter public life
so young is exceptional. I should regret very much to lose it; would you
therefore be so kind as to aid me?”

“But how can I?” replied Madame de Tecle. “I never interfere in
politics, and that is precisely what you ask me.”

“Nevertheless, Madame, I pray you not to oppose me.”

“Why should I oppose you?”

“Ah, Madame! You have a right more than any other person to be severe.
My youth was a little dissipated. My reputation, in some respects, is
not over-good, I know, and I doubt not you may have heard so, and I can
not help fearing it has inspired you with some dislike to me.”

“Monsieur, we lived a retired life here. We know nothing of what passes
in Paris. If we did, this would not prevent my assisting you, if I knew
how, for I think that serious and elevated labors could not fail happily
to change your ordinary habits.”

“It is truly a delicious thing,” thought the young Count, “to mystify so
spiritual a person.”

“Madame,” he continued, with his quiet grace, “I join in your hopes,
and as you deign to encourage my ambition, I believe I shall succeed in
obtaining your uncle’s support. You know him well. What shall I do to
conciliate him? What course shall I adopt?--because I can not do without
his assistance. Were I to renounce that, I should be compelled to
renounce my projects.”

“It is truly difficult,” said Madame de Tecle, with a reflective
air--“very difficult!”

“Is it not, Madame?”

Camors’s voice expressed such confidence and submission that Madame
de Tecle was quite touched, and even the devil himself would have been
charmed by it, had he heard it in Gehenna.

“Let me reflect on this a little,” she said, and she placed her elbows
on the table, leaned her head on her hands, her fingers, like a fan,
half shading her eyes, while sparks of fire from her rings glittered in
the sunshine, and her ivory nails shone against her smooth brow. M. de
Camors continued to regard her with the same submissive and candid air.

“Well, Monsieur,” she said at last, smiling, “I think you can do nothing
better than keep on.”

“Pardon me, but how?”

“By persevering in the same system you have already adopted with my
uncle! Say nothing to him for the present. Beg the General also to be
silent. Wait quietly until intimacy, time, and your own good qualities
have sufficiently prepared my uncle for your nomination. My role is very
simple. I cannot, at this moment, aid you, without betraying you. My
assistance would only injure you, until a change comes in the aspect of
affairs. You must conciliate him.”

“You overpower me,” said Camors, “in taking you for my confidante in
my ambitious projects, I have committed a blunder and an impertinence,
which a slight contempt from you has mildly punished. But speaking
seriously, Madame, I thank you with all my heart. I feared to find in
you a powerful enemy, and I find in you a strong neutral, almost an
ally.”

“Oh! altogether an ally, however secret,” responded Madame de Tecle,
laughing. “I am glad to be useful to you; as I love General Campvallon
very much, I am happy to enter into his views. Come here, Marie?” These
last words were addressed to her daughter, who appeared on the steps
of the terrace, her cheeks scarlet, and her hair dishevelled, holding
a card in her hand. She immediately approached her mother, giving M.
de Camors one of those awkward salutations peculiar to young, growing
girls.

“Will you permit me,” said Madame de Tecle, “to give to my daughter a
few orders in English, which we are translating? You are too warm--do
not run any more. Tell Rosa to prepare my bodice with the small buttons.
While I am dressing, you may say your catechism to me.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Have you written your exercise?”

“Yes, mother. How do you say ‘joli’ in English for a man?” asked the
little girl.

“Why?”

“That question is in my exercise, to be said of a man who is ‘beau,
joli, distingue.’”

“Handsome, nice, and charming,” replied her mother.

“Very well, mother, this gentleman, our neighbor, is altogether
handsome, nice, and charming.”

“Silly child!” exclaimed Madame de Tecle, while the little girl rushed
down the steps.

M. de Camors, who had listened to this dialogue with cool calmness,
rose. “I thank you again, Madame,” he said; “and will you now excuse
me? You will allow me, from time to time, to confide in you my political
hopes and fears?”

“Certainly, Monsieur.”

He bowed and retired. As he was crossing the courtyard, he found himself
face to face with Mademoiselle Marie. He gave her a most respectful
bow. “Another time, Miss Mary, be more careful. I understand English
perfectly well!”

Mademoiselle Marie remained in the same attitude, blushed up to the
roots of her hair, and cast on M. de Camors a startled look of mingled
shame and anger.

“You are not satisfied, Miss Mary,” continued Camors.

“Not at all,” said the child, quickly, her strong voice somewhat husky.

M. Camors laughed, bowed again, and departed, leaving Mademoiselle Marie
in the midst of the court, transfixed with indignation.

A few moments later Marie threw herself into the arms of her mother,
weeping bitterly, and told her, through her tears, of her cruel mishap.

Madame de Tecle, in using this opportunity of giving her daughter a
lesson on reserve and on convenance, avoided treating the matter too
seriously and even seemed to laugh heartily at it, although she had
little inclination to do so, and the child finished by laughing with
her.

Camors, meanwhile, remained at home, congratulating himself on his
campaign, which seemed to him, not without reason, to have been a
masterpiece of stratagem. By a clever mingling of frankness and cunning
he had quickly enlisted Madame de Tecle in his interest. From that
moment the realization of his ambitious dreams seemed assured, for he
was not ignorant of the incomparable value of woman’s assistance, and
knew all the power of that secret and continued labor, of those small
but cumulative efforts, and of those subterranean movements which
assimilate feminine influence with the secret and irresistible forces
of nature. Another point gained-he had established a secret between
that pretty woman and himself, and had placed himself on a confidential
footing with her. He had gained the right to keep secret their
clandestine words and private conversation, and such a situation,
cleverly managed, might aid him to pass very agreeably the period
occupied in his political canvass.

Camors on entering the house sat down to write the General, to inform
him of the opening of his operations, and admonish him to have patience.
From that day he turned his attention to following up the two persons
who could control his election.

His policy as regarded M. des Rameures was as simple as it was clever.
It has already been clearly indicated, and further details would be
unnecessary. Profiting by his growing familiarity as neighbor, he went
to school, as it were, at the model farm of the gentleman-farmer,
and submitted to him the direction of his own domain. By this quiet
compliment, enhanced by his captivating courtesy, he advanced insensibly
in the good graces of the old man. But every day, as he grew to know M.
de Rameures better, and as he felt more the strength of his character,
he began to fear that on essential points he was quite inflexible.

After some weeks of almost daily intercourse, M. des Rameures graciously
praised his young neighbor as a charming fellow, an excellent musician,
an amiable associate; but, regarding him as a possible deputy, he saw
some things which might disqualify him. Madame de Tecle feared this,
and did not hide it from M. de Camors. The young Count did not preoccupy
himself so much on this subject as might be supposed, for his second
ambition had superseded his first; in other words his fancy for Madame
de Tecle had become more ardent and more pressing than his desire for
the deputyship. We are compelled to admit, not to his credit, that he
first proposed to himself, to ensnare his charming neighbor as a simple
pastime, as an interesting adventure, and, above all, as a work of art,
which was extremely difficult and would greatly redound to his honor.
Although he had met few women of her merit, he judged her correctly. He
believed Madame de Tecle was not virtuous simply from force of habit or
duty. She had passion. She was not a prude, but was chaste. She was not
a devotee, but was pious. He discerned in her at the same time a spirit
elevated, yet not narrow; lofty and dignified sentiments, and deeply
rooted principles; virtue without rigor, pure and lambent as flame.

Nevertheless he did not despair, trusting to his own principles, to the
fascinations of his manner and his previous successes. Instinctively, he
knew that the ordinary forms of gallantry would not answer with her. All
his art was to surround her with absolute respect, and to leave the rest
to time and to the growing intimacy of each day.

There was something very touching to Madame de Tecle in the reserved and
timid manner of this ‘mauvais sujet’, in her presence--the homage of a
fallen spirit, as if ashamed of being such, in presence of a spirit of
light.

Never, either in public or when tete-a-tete, was there a jest, a word,
or a look which the most sensitive virtue could fear.

This young man, ironical with all the rest of the world, was serious
with her. From the moment he turned toward her, his voice, face, and
conversation became as serious as if he had entered a church. He had
a great deal of wit, and he used and abused it beyond measure in
conversations in the presence of Madame de Tecle, as if he were making
a display of fireworks in her honor. But on coming to her this was
suddenly extinguished, and he became all submission and respect.

Not every woman who receives from a superior man such delicate flattery
as this necessarily loves him, but she does like him. In the shadow of
the perfect security in which M. de Camors had placed her, Madame de
Tecle could not but be pleased in the company of the most distinguished
man she had ever met, who had, like herself, a taste for art, music, and
for high culture.

Thus these innocent relations with a young man whose reputation was
rather equivocal could not but awaken in the heart of Madame de Tecle
a sentiment, or rather an illusion, which the most prudish could not
condemn.

Libertines offer to vulgar women an attraction which surprises, but
which springs from a reprehensible curiosity. To a woman of society
they offer another, more noble yet not less dangerous--the attraction
of reforming them. It is rare that virtuous women do not fall into the
error of believing that it is for virtue’s sake alone such men love
them. These, in brief, were the secret sympathies whose slight tendrils
intertwined, blossomed, and flowered little by little in this soul, as
tender as it was pure.

M. de Camors had vaguely foreseen all this: that which he had not
foreseen was that he himself would be caught in his own snare, and would
be sincere in the role which he had so judiciously adopted. From the
first, Madame de Tecle had captivated him. Her very puritanism, united
with her native grace and worldly elegance, composed a kind of daily
charm which piqued the imagination of the cold young man. If it was
a powerful temptation for the angels to save the tempted, the tempted
could not harbor with more delight the thought of destroying the angels.
They dream, like the reckless Epicureans of the Bible, of mingling, in
a new intoxication, the earth with heaven. To these sombre instincts of
depravity were soon united in the feelings of Camors a sentiment more
worthy of her. Seeing her every day with that childlike intimacy
which the country encourages--enhancing the graceful movements of this
accomplished person, ever self-possessed and equally prepared for duty
or for pleasure--as animated as passion, yet as severe as virtue--he
conceived for her a genuine worship. It was not respect, for that
requires the effort of believing in such merits, and he did not wish to
believe. He thought Madame de Tecle was born so. He admired her as he
would admire a rare plant, a beautiful object, an exquisite work,
in which nature had combined physical and moral grace with perfect
proportion and harmony. His deportment as her slave when near her was
not long a mere bit of acting. Our fair readers have doubtless remarked
an odd fact: that where a reciprocal sentiment of two feeble human
beings has reached a certain point of maturity, chance never fails to
furnish a fatal occasion which betrays the secret of the two hearts, and
suddenly launches the thunderbolt which has been gradually gathering
in the clouds. This is the crisis of all love. This occasion presented
itself to Madame de Tecle and M. de Camors in the form of an unpoetic
incident.

It occurred at the end of October. Camors had gone out after dinner to
take a ride in the neighborhood. Night had already fallen, clear and
cold; but as the Count could not see Madame de Tecle that evening, he
began only to think of being near her, and felt that unwillingness to
work common to lovers--striving, if possible, to kill time, which hung
heavy on his hands.

He hoped also that violent exercise might calm his spirit, which never
had been more profoundly agitated. Still young and unpractised in his
pitiless system, he was troubled at the thought of a victim so pure as
Madame de Tecle. To trample on the life, the repose, and the heart of
such a woman, as the horse tramples on the grass of the road, with as
little care or pity, was hard for a novice.

Strange as it may appear, the idea of marrying her had occurred to him.
Then he said to himself that this weakness was in direct contradiction
to his principles, and that she would cause him to lose forever his
mastery over himself, and throw him back into the nothingness of his
past life. Yet with the corrupt inspirations of his depraved soul he
foresaw that the moment he touched her hands with the lips of a lover
a new sentiment would spring up in her soul. As he abandoned himself to
these passionate imaginings, the recollection of young Madame Lescande
came back suddenly to his memory. He grew pale in the darkness. At this
moment he was passing the edge of a little wood belonging to the Comte
de Tecle, of which a portion had recently been cleared. It was not
chance alone that had directed the Count’s ride to this point. Madame
de Tecle loved this spot, and had frequently taken him there, and on the
preceding evening, accompanied by her daughter and her father-in-law,
had visited it with him.

The site was a peculiar one. Although not far from houses, the wood was
very wild, as if a thousand miles distant from any inhabited place.

You would have said it was a virgin forest, untouched by the axe of the
pioneer. Enormous stumps without bark, trunks of gigantic trees,
covered the declivity of the hill, and barricaded, here and there, in a
picturesque manner, the current of the brook which ran into the valley.
A little farther up the dense wood of tufted trees contributed to
diffuse that religious light half over the rocks, the brushwood and the
fertile soil, and on the limpid water, which is at once the charm and
the horror of old neglected woods. In this solitude, and on a space of
cleared ground, rose a sort of rude hut, constructed by a poor devil
who was a sabot-maker by trade, and who had been allowed to establish
himself there by the Comte de Tecle, and to use the beech-trees to gain
his humble living. This Bohemian interested Madame de Tecle, probably
because, like M. de Camors, he had a bad reputation. He lived in his
cabin with a woman who was still pretty under her rags, and with two
little boys with golden curls.

He was a stranger in the neighborhood, and the woman was said not to
be his wife. He was very taciturn, and his features seemed fine and
determined under his thick, black beard.

Madame de Tecle amused herself seeing him make his sabots. She loved the
children, who, though dirty, were beautiful as angels; and she pitied
the woman. She had a secret project to marry her to the man, in case she
had not yet been married, which seemed probable.

Camors walked his horse slowly over the rocky and winding path on the
slope of the hillock. This was the moment when the ghost of Madame
Lescande had risen before him, and he believed he could almost hear her
weep. Suddenly this illusion gave place to a strange reality. The voice
of a woman plainly called him by name, in accents of distress--“Monsieur
de Camors!”

Stopping his horse on the instant, he felt an icy shudder pass
through his frame. The same voice rose higher and called him again. He
recognized it as the voice of Madame de Tecle. Looking around him in the
obscure light with a rapid glance, he saw a light shining through the
foliage in the direction of the cottage of the sabot-maker. Guided
by this, he put spurs to his horse, crossed the cleared ground up the
hillside, and found himself face to face with Madame de Tecle. She was
standing at the threshold of the hut, her head bare, and her beautiful
hair dishevelled under a long, black lace veil. She was giving a servant
some hasty orders. When she saw Camors approach, she came toward him.

“Pardon me,” she said, “but I thought I recognized you, and I called
you. I am so much distressed--so distressed! The two children of this
man are dying! What is to be done? Come in--come in, I beg of you!”

He leaped to the ground, threw the reins to his servant, and followed
Madame de Tekle into the interior of the cabin.

The two children with the golden hair were lying side by side on a
little bed, immovable, rigid, their eyes open and the pupils strangely
dilated--their faces red, and agitated by slight convulsions. They
seemed to be in the agony of death. The old doctor, Du Rocher, was
leaning over them, looking at them with a fixed, anxious, and despairing
eye. The mother was on her knees, her head clasped in her hands, and
weeping bitterly. At the foot of the bed stood the father, with his
savage mien--his arms crossed, and his eyes dry. He shuddered at
intervals, and murmured, in a hoarse, hollow voice: “Both of them! Both
of them!” Then he relapsed into his mournful attitude. M. Durocher,
approached Camors quickly. “Monsieur,” said he, “what can this be?
I believe it to be poisoning, but can detect no definite symptoms:
otherwise, the parents should know--but they know nothing! A sunstroke,
perhaps; but as both were struck at the same time--and then at this
season--ah! our profession is quite useless sometimes.”

Camors made rapid inquiries. They had sought M. Durocher, who was dining
with Madame de Tecle an hour before. He had hastened, and found the
children already speechless, in a state of fearful congestion. It
appeared they had fallen into this state when first attacked, and had
become delirious.

Camors conceived an idea. He asked to see the clothes the children had
worn during the day. The mother gave them to him. He examined them with
care, and pointed out to the doctor several red stains on the poor rags.
The doctor touched his forehead, and turned over with a feverish hand
the small linen--the rough waistcoat--searched the pockets, and found
dozens of a small fruit-like cherries, half crushed. “Belladonna!” he
exclaimed. “That idea struck me several times, but how could I be sure?
You can not find it within twenty miles of this place, except in this
cursed wood--of that I am sure.”

“Do you think there is yet time?” asked the young Count, in a low voice.
“The children seem to me to be very ill.”

“Lost, I fear; but everything depends on the time that has passed, the
quantity they have taken, and the remedies I can procure.”

The old man consulted quickly with Madame de Tecle, who found she
had not in her country pharmacy the necessary remedies, or
counter-irritants, which the urgency of the case demanded. The doctor
was obliged to content himself with the essence of coffee, which the
servant was ordered to prepare in haste, and to send to the village for
the other things needed.

“To the village!” cried Madame de Tecle. “Good heavens! it is four
leagues--it is night, and we shall have to wait probably three or four
hours!”

Camors heard this: “Doctor, write your prescription,” he said: “Trilby
is at the door, and with him I can do the four leagues in an hour--in
one hour I promise to return here.”

“Oh! thank you, Monsieur!” said Madame de Tecle.

He took the prescription which Dr. Durocher had rapidly traced on a leaf
of his pocketbook, mounted his horse, and departed.

The highroad was fortunately not far distant. When he reached it he rode
like the phantom horseman.

It was nine o’clock when Madame de Tecle witnessed his departure--it
was a few moments after ten when she heard the tramp of his horse at the
foot of the hill and ran to the door of the hut. The condition of the
two children seemed to have grown worse in the interval, but the old
doctor had great hopes in the remedies which Camors was to bring. She
waited with impatience, and received him like the dawn of the last
hope. She contented herself with pressing his hand, when, breathless,
he descended from his horse. But this adorable creature threw herself on
Trilby, who was covered with foam and steaming like a furnace.

“Poor Trilby,” she said, embracing him in her two arms, “dear
Trilby--good Trilby! you are half dead, are you not? But I love you
well. Go quickly, Monsieur de Camors, I will attend to Trilby”--and
while the young man entered the cabin, she confided Trilby to the charge
of her servant, with orders to take him to the stable, and a thousand
minute directions to take good care of him after his noble conduct.
Dr. Durocher had to obtain the aid of Camors to pass the new medicine
through the clenched teeth of the unfortunate children. While both were
engaged in this work, Madame de Tecle was sitting on a stool with her
head resting against the cabin wall. Durocher suddenly raised his eyes
and fixed them on her.

“My dear Madame,” he said, “you are ill. You have had too much
excitement, and the odors here are insupportable. You must go home.”

“I really do not feel very well,” she murmured.

“You must go at once. We shall send you the news. One of your servants
will take you home.”

She raised herself, trembling; but one look from the young wife of the
sabot-maker arrested her. To this poor woman, it seemed that Providence
deserted her with Madame de Tecle.

“No!” she said with a divine sweetness; “I will not go. I shall only
breathe a little fresh air. I will remain until they are safe, I promise
you;” and she left the room smiling upon the poor woman. After a few
minutes, Durocher said to M. de Camors:

“My dear sir, I thank you--but I really have no further need of your
services; so you too may go and rest yourself, for you also are growing
pale.”

Camors, exhausted by his long ride, felt suffocated by the atmosphere of
the hut, and consented to the suggestion of the old man, saying that he
would not go far.

As he put his foot outside of the cottage, Madame de Tecle, who was
sitting before the door, quickly rose and threw over his shoulders a
cloak which they had brought for her. She then reseated herself without
speaking.

“But you can not remain here all night,” he said.

“I should be too uneasy at home.”

“But the night is very cold--shall I make you a fire?”

“If you wish,” she said.

“Let us see where we can make this little fire. In the midst of this
wood it is impossible--we should have a conflagration to finish the
picture. Can you walk?

“Then take my arm, and we shall go and search for a place for our
encampment.”

She leaned lightly on his arm, and took a few steps with him toward the
forest.

“Do you think they are saved?” she asked.

“I hope so,” he replied. “The face of Doctor Durocher is more cheerful.”

“Oh! how glad I am!”

Both of them stumbled over a root, and laughed like two children for
several minutes.

“We shall soon be in the woods,” said Madame de Tecle, “and I declare I
can go no farther: good or bad, I choose this spot.”

They were still quite close to the hut, but the branches of the old
trees which had been spared by the axe spread like a sombre dome over
their heads. Near by was a large rock, slightly covered with moss, and a
number of old trunks of trees, on which Madame de Tecle took her seat.

“Nothing could be better,” said Camors, gayly. “I must collect my
materials.”

A moment after he reappeared, bringing in his arms brushwood, and also a
travelling-rug which his servant had brought him.

He got on his knees in front of the rock, prepared the fagots, and
lighted them with a match. When the flame began to flicker on the rustic
hearth Madame de Tecle trembled with joy, and held out both hands to the
blaze.

“Ah! how nice that is!” she said; “and then it is so amusing; one would
say we had been shipwrecked.

“Now, Monsieur, if you would be perfect go and see what Durocher
reports.”

He ran to the hut. When he returned he could not avoid stopping half way
to admire the elegant and simple silhouette of the young woman,
defined sharply against the blackness of the wood, her fine countenance
slightly illuminated by the firelight. The moment she saw him:

“Well!” she cried.

“A great deal of hope.”

“Oh! what happiness, Monsieur!” She pressed his hand.

“Sit down there,” she said.

He sat down on a rock contiguous to hers, and replied to her eager
questions. He repeated, in detail, his conversation with the doctor, and
explained at length the properties of belladonna. She listened at first
with interest, but little by little, with her head wrapped in her
veil and resting on the boughs interlaced behind her, she seemed to be
uncomfortably resting from fatigue.

“You are likely to fall asleep there,” he said, laughing.

“Perhaps!” she murmured--smiled, and went to sleep.

Her sleep resembled death, it was so profound, and so calm was the
beating of her heart, so light her breathing.

Camors knelt down again by the fire, to listen breathlessly and to gaze
upon her. From time to time he seemed to meditate, and the solitude
was disturbed only by the rustling of the leaves. His eyes followed the
flickering of the flame, sometimes resting on the white cheek, sometimes
on the grove, sometimes on the arches of the high trees, as if he wished
to fix in his memory all the details of this sweet scene. Then his
gaze rested again on the young woman, clothed in her beauty, grace, and
confiding repose.

What heavenly thoughts descended at that moment on this sombre
soul--what hesitation, what doubt assailed it! What images of peace,
truth, virtue, and happiness passed into that brain full of storm, and
chased away the phantoms of the sophistries he cherished! He himself
knew, but never told.

The brisk crackling of the wood awakened her. She opened her eyes in
surprise, and as soon as she saw the young man kneeling before her,
addressed him:

“How are they now, Monsieur?”

He did not know how to tell her that for the last hour he had had but
one thought, and that was of her. Durocher appeared suddenly before
them.

“They are saved, Madame,” said the old man, brusquely; “come quickly,
embrace them, and return home, or we shall have to treat you to-morrow.
You are very imprudent to have remained in this damp wood, and it was
absurd of Monsieur to let you do so.”

She took the arm of the old doctor, smiling, and reentered the hut. The
two children, now roused from the dangerous torpor, but who seemed still
terrified by the threatened death, raised their little round heads. She
made them a sign to keep quiet, and leaned over their pillow smiling
upon them, and imprinted two kisses on their golden curls.

“To-morrow, my angels,” she said. But the mother, half laughing, half
crying, followed Madame de Tecle step by step, speaking to her, and
kissing her garments.

“Let her alone,” cried the old doctor, querulously. “Go home, Madame.
Monsieur de Camors, take her home.”

She was going out, when the man, who had not before spoken, and who was
sitting in the corner of his but as if stupefied, rose suddenly, seized
the arm of Madame de Tecle, who, slightly terrified, turned round, for
the gesture of the man was so violent as to seem menacing; his eyes,
hard and dry, were fixed upon her, and he continued to press her arm
with a contracted hand.

“My friend!” she said, although rather uncertain.

“Yes, your friend,” muttered the man with a hollow voice; “yes, your
friend.”

He could not continue, his mouth worked as if in a convulsion,
suppressed weeping shook his frame; he then threw himself on his knees,
and they saw a shower of tears force themselves through the hands
clasped over his face.

“Take her away, Monsieur,” said the old doctor.

Camors gently pushed her out of the but and followed her. She took his
arm and descended the rugged path which led to her home.

It was a walk of twenty minutes from the wood. Half the distance was
passed without interchanging a word. Once or twice, when the rays of the
moon pierced through the clouds, Camors thought he saw her wipe away
a tear with the end of her glove. He guided her cautiously in the
darkness, although the light step of the young woman was little slower
in the obscurity. Her springy step pressed noiselessly the fallen
leaves--avoided without assistance the ruts and marshes, as if she had
been endowed with a magical clairvoyance. When they reached a crossroad,
and Camors seemed uncertain, she indicated the way by a slight pressure
of the arm. Both were no doubt embarrassed by the long silence--it was
Madame de Tecle who first broke it.

“You have been very good this evening, Monsieur,” she said in a low and
slightly agitated voice.

“I love you so much!” said the young man.

He pronounced these simple words in such a deep impassioned tone that
Madame de Tecle trembled and stood still in the road.

“Monsieur de Camors!”

“What, Madame?” he demanded, in a strange tone.

“Heavens!--in fact-nothing!” said she, “for this is a declaration of
friendship, I suppose--and your friendship gives me much pleasure.”

He let go her arm at once, and in a hoarse and angry voice said--“I am
not your friend!”

“What are you then, Monsieur?”

Her voice was calm, but she recoiled a few steps, and leaned against
one of the trees which bordered the road. The explosion so long pent up
burst forth, and a flood of words poured from the young man’s lips with
inexpressible impetuosity.

“What I am I know not! I no longer know whether I am myself--if I am
dead or alive--if I am good or bad--whether I am dreaming or waking.
Oh, Madame, what I wish is that the day may never rise again--that this
night would never finish--that I should wish to feel always--always--in
my head, my heart, my entire being--that which I now feel, near you--of
you--for you! I should wish to be stricken with some sudden illness,
without hope, in order to be watched and wept for by you, like those
children--and to be embalmed in your tears; and to see you bowed down
in terror before me is horrible to me! By the name of your God, whom
you have made me respect, I swear you are sacred to me--the child in the
arms of its mother is not more so!”

“I have no fear,” she murmured.

“Oh, no!--have no fear!” he repeated in a tone of voice infinitely
softened and tender. “It is I who am afraid--it is I who tremble--you
see it; for since I have spoken, all is finished. I expect nothing
more--I hope for nothing--this night has no possible tomorrow. I know
it. Your husband I dare not be--your lover I should not wish to be. I
ask nothing of you--understand well! I should like to burn my heart at
your feet, as on an altar--this is all. Do you believe me? Answer! Are
you tranquil? Are you confident? Will you hear me? May I tell you what
image I carry of you in the secret recesses of my heart? Dear creature
that you are, you do not--ah, you do not know how great is your worth;
and I fear to tell you; so much am I afraid of stripping you of your
charms, or of one of your virtues. If you had been proud of yourself, as
you have a right to be, you would be less perfect, and I should love you
less. But I wish to tell you how lovable and how charming you are. You
alone do not know it. You alone do not see the soft flame of your large
eyes--the reflection of your heroic soul on your young but serene brow.
Your charm is over everything you do--your slightest gesture is engraven
on my heart. Into the most ordinary duties of every-day life you carry a
peculiar grace, like a young priestess who recites her daily devotions.
Your hand, your touch, your breath purifies everything--even the most
humble and the most wicked beings--and myself first of all!

“I am astonished at the words which I dare to pronounce, and the
sentiments which animate me, to whom you have made clear new truths.
Yes, all the rhapsodies of the poets, all the loves of the martyrs, I
comprehend in your presence. This is truth itself. I understand those
who died for their faith by the torture--because I should like to suffer
for you--because I believe in you--because I respect you--I cherish
you--I adore you!”

He stopped, shivering, and half prostrating himself before her, seized
the end of her veil and kissed it.

“Now,” he continued, with a kind of grave sadness, “go, Madame, I have
forgotten too long that you require repose. Pardon me--proceed. I shall
follow you at a distance, until you reach your home, to protect you--but
fear nothing from me.”

Madame de Tecle had listened, without once interrupting him even by
a sigh. Words would only excite the young man more. Probably she
understood, for the first time in her life, one of those songs of
love--one of those hymns alive with passion, which every woman wishes
to hear before she dies. Should she die because she had heard it? She
remained without speaking, as if just awakening from a dream, and said
quite simply, in a voice as soft and feeble as a sigh, “My God!” After
another pause she advanced a few steps on the road.

“Give me your arm as far as my house, Monsieur,” she said.

He obeyed her, and they continued their walk toward the house, the
lights of which they soon saw. They did not exchange a word--only as
they reached the gate, Madame de Tecle turned and made him a slight
gesture with her hand, in sign of adieu. In return, M. de Camors bowed
low, and withdrew.



CHAPTER X. THE PROLOGUE TO THE TRAGEDY

The Comte de Camors had been sincere. When true passion surprises the
human soul, it breaks down all resolves, sweeps away all logic, and
crushes all calculations.

In this lies its grandeur, and also its danger. It suddenly seizes on
you, as the ancient god inspired the priestess on her tripod--speaks
through your lips, utters words you hardly comprehend, falsifies your
thoughts, confounds your reason, and betrays your secrets. When this
sublime madness possesses you, it elevates you--it transfigures you. It
can suddenly convert a common man into a poet, a coward into a hero, an
egotist into a martyr, and Don Juan himself into an angel of purity.

With women--and it is to their honor--this metamorphosis can be durable,
but it is rarely so with men. Once transported to this stormy sky, women
frankly accept it as their proper home, and the vicinity of the thunder
does not disquiet them.

Passion is their element--they feel at home there. There are few women
worthy of the name who are not ready to put in action all the words
which passion has caused to bubble from their lips. If they speak of
flight, they are ready for exile. If they talk of dying, they are ready
for death. Men are far less consistent with their ideas.

It was not until late the next morning that Camors regretted his
outbreak of sincerity; for, during the remainder of the night, still
filled with his excitement, agitated and shaken by the passage of the
god, sunk into a confused and feverish reverie, he was incapable of
reflection. But when, on awakening, he surveyed the situation calmly and
by the plain light of day, and thought over the preceding evening and
its events, he could not fail to recognize the fact that he had been
cruelly duped by his own nervous system. To love Madame de Tecle was
perfectly proper, and he loved her still--for she was a person to be
loved and desired--but to elevate that love or any other as the master
of his life, instead of its plaything, was one of those weaknesses
interdicted by his system more than any other. In fact, he felt that
he had spoken and acted like a school-boy on a holiday. He had uttered
words, made promises, and taken engagements on himself which no one
demanded of him. No conduct could have been more ridiculous. Happily,
nothing was lost. He had yet time to give his love that subordinate
place which this sort of fantasy should occupy in the life of man. He
had been imprudent; but this very imprudence might finally prove
of service to him. All that remained of this scene was a
declaration--gracefully made, spontaneous, natural--which subjected
Madame de Tecle to the double charm of a mystic idolatry which pleased
her sex, and to a manly ardor which could not displease her.

He had, therefore, nothing to regret--although he certainly would have
preferred, from the point of view of his principles, to have displayed a
somewhat less childish weakness.

But what course should he now adopt? Nothing could be more simple. He
would go to Madame de Tecle--implore her forgiveness--throw himself
again at her feet, promising eternal respect, and succeed. Consequently,
about ten o’clock, M. de Camors wrote the following note:

   “MADAME

   “I can not leave without bidding you adieu, and once more demanding
   your forgiveness.

   “Will you permit me?

                    “CAMORS.”

This letter he was about despatching, when he received one containing
the following words:

   “I shall be happy, Monsieur, if you will call upon me to-day, about
   four o’clock.

                  “ELISE DE TECLE.”

Upon which M. de Camors threw his own note in the fire, as entirely
superfluous.

No matter what interpretation he put upon this note, it was an evident
sign that love had triumphed and that virtue was defeated; for, after
what had passed the previous evening between Madame de Tecle and
himself, there was only one course for a virtuous woman to take; and
that was never to see him again. To see him was to pardon him; to pardon
him was to surrender herself to him, with or without circumlocution.
Camors did not allow himself to deplore any further an adventure which
had so suddenly lost its gravity. He soliloquized on the weakness of
women. He thought it bad taste in Madame de Tecle not to have maintained
longer the high ideal his innocence had created for her. Anticipating
the disenchantment which follows possession, he already saw her
deprived of all her prestige, and ticketed in the museum of his amorous
souvenirs.

Nevertheless, when he approached her house, and had the feeling of her
near presence, he was troubled. Doubt--and anxiety assailed him. When
he saw through the trees the window of her room, his heart throbbed so
violently that he had to sit down on the root of a tree for a moment.

“I love her like a madman!” he murmured; then leaping up suddenly he
exclaimed, “But she is only a woman, after all--I shall go on!”

For the first time Madame de Tecle received him in her own apartment.
This room M. de Camors had never seen. It was a large and lofty
apartment, draped and furnished in sombre tints.

It contained gilded mirrors, bronzes, engravings, and old family
jewelry lying on tables--the whole presenting the appearance of the
ornamentation of a church.

In this severe and almost religious interior, however rich, reigned a
vague odor of flowers; and there were also to be seen boxes of lace,
drawers of perfumed linen, and that dainty atmosphere which ever
accompanies refined women.

But every one has her personal individuality, and forms her own
atmosphere which fascinates her lover. Madame de Tecle, finding herself
almost lost in this very large room, had so arranged some pieces
of furniture as to make herself a little private nook near the
chimneypiece, which her daughter called, “My mother’s chapel.” It was
there Camors now perceived her, by the soft light of a lamp, sitting in
an armchair, and, contrary to her custom, having no work in her hands.
She appeared calm, though two dark circles surrounded her eyes. She had
evidently suffered much, and wept much.

On seeing that dear face, worn and haggard with grief, Camors forgot the
neat phrases he had prepared for his entrance. He forgot all except that
he really adored her.

He advanced hastily toward her, seized in his two hands those of the
young woman and, without speaking, interrogated her eyes with tenderness
and profound pity.

“It is nothing,” she said, withdrawing her hand and bending her pale
face gently; “I am better; I may even be very happy, if you wish it.”

There was in the smile, the look, and the accent of Madame de Tecle
something indefinable, which froze the blood of Camors.

He felt confusedly that she loved him, and yet was lost to him; that he
had before him a species of being he did not understand, and that this
woman, saddened, broken, and lost by love, yet loved something else in
this world better even than that love.

She made him a slight sign, which he obeyed like a child, and he sat
down beside her.

“Monsieur,” she said to him, in a voice tremulous at first, but which
grew stronger as she proceeded, “I heard you last night perhaps with a
little too much patience. I shall now, in return, ask from you the
same kindness. You have told me that you love me, Monsieur; and I avow
frankly that I entertain a lively affection for you. Such being the
case, we must either separate forever, or unite ourselves by the only
tie worthy of us both. To part:--that will afflict me much, and I also
believe it would occasion much grief to you. To unite ourselves:--for my
own part, Monsieur, I should be willing to give you my life; but I can
not do it, I can not wed you without manifest folly. You are younger
than I; and as good and generous as I believe you to be, simple reason
tells me that by so doing I should bring bitter repentance on myself.
But there is yet another reason. I do not belong to myself, I belong to
my daughter, to my family, to my past. In giving up my name for yours I
should wound, I should cruelly afflict, all the friends who surround
me, and, I believe, some who exist no longer. Well, Monsieur,” she
continued, with a smile of celestial grace and resignation, “I have
discovered a way by which we yet can avoid breaking off an intimacy
so sweet to both of us--in fact, to make it closer and more dear. My
proposal may surprise you, but have the kindness to think over it, and
do not say no, at once.”

She glanced at him, and was terrified at the pallor which overspread his
face. She gently took his hand, and said:

“Have patience!”

“Speak on!” he muttered, hoarsely.

“Monsieur,” she continued, with her smile of angelic charity, “God be
praised, you are quite young; in our society men situated as you are do
not marry early, and I think they are right. Well, then, this is what
I wish to do, if you will allow me to tell you. I wish to blend in
one affection the two strongest sentiments of my heart! I wish to
concentrate all my care, all my tenderness, all my joy on forming a
wife worthy of you--a young soul who will make you happy, a cultivated
intellect of which you can be proud. I will promise you, Monsieur,
I will swear to you, to consecrate to you this sweet duty, and to
consecrate to it all that is best in myself. I shall devote to it all my
time, every instant of my life, as to the holy work of a saint. I swear
to you that I shall be very happy if you will only tell me that you will
consent to this.”

His answer was an impatient exclamation of irony and anger: then he
spoke:

“You will pardon me, Madame,” he said, “if so sudden a change in my
sentiments can not be as prompt as you wish.”

She blushed slightly.

“Yes,” she said, with a faint smile; “I can understand that the idea of
my being your mother-in-law may seem strange to you; but in some years,
even in a very few years’ time, I shall be an old woman, and then it
will seem to you very natural.”

To consummate her mournful sacrifice, the poor woman did not shrink from
covering herself, even in the presence of the man she loved, with the
mantle of old age.

The soul of Camors was perverted, but not base, and it was suddenly
touched at this simple heroism. He rendered it the greatest homage he
could pay, for his eyes suddenly filled with tears. She observed it, for
she watched with an anxious eye the slightest impression she produced
upon him. So she continued more cheerfully:

“And see, Monsieur, how this will settle everything. In this way we can
continue to see each other without danger, because your little affianced
wife will be always between us. Our sentiments will soon be in harmony
with our new thoughts. Even your future prospects, which are now also
mine, will encounter fewer obstacles, because I shall push them more
openly, without revealing to my uncle what ought to remain a secret
between us two. I can let him suspect my hopes, and that will enlist
him in your service. Above all, I repeat to you that this will insure my
happiness. Will you thus accept my maternal affection?”

M. de Camors, by a powerful effort of will, had recovered his
self-control.

“Pardon me, Madame,” he said, with a faint smile, “but I should wish at
least to preserve honor. What do you ask of me? Do you yourself fully
comprehend? Have you reflected well on this? Can either of us contract,
without imprudence, an engagement of so delicate a nature for so long a
time?”

“I demand no engagement of you,” she replied, “for I feel that would be
unreasonable. I only pledge myself as far as I can, without compromising
the future fate of my daughter. I shall educate her for you. I shall,
in my secret heart, destine her for you, and it is in this light I shall
think of you for the future. Grant me this. Accept it like an honest
man, and remain single. This is probably a folly, but I risk my repose
upon it. I will run all the risk, because I shall have all the joy. I
have already had a thousand thoughts on this subject, which I can not
yet tell you, but which I shall confess to God this night. I believe--I
am convinced that my daughter, when I have done all that I can for her,
will make an excellent wife for you. She will benefit you, and be an
honor to you, and will, I hope, one day thank me with all her heart;
for I perceive already what she wishes, and what she loves. You can not
know, you can not even suspect--but I--I know it. There is already a
woman in that child, and a very charming woman--much more charming than
her mother, Monsieur, I assure you.”

Madame de Tecle stopped suddenly, the door opened, and Mademoiselle
Marie entered the room brusquely, holding in each hand a gigantic doll.

M. Camors rose, bowed gravely to her, and bit his lip to avoid smiling,
which did not altogether escape Madame de Tecle.

“Marie!” she cried out, “really you are absurd with your dolls!”

“My dolls! I adore them!” replied Mademoiselle Marie.

“You are absurd! Go away with your dolls,” said her mother.

“Not without embracing you,” said the child.

She laid her dolls on the carpet, sprang on her mother’s neck, and
kissed her on both cheeks passionately, after which she took up her
dolls, saying to them:

“Come, my little dears!” and left the room.

“Good heavens!” said Madame de Tecle, laughing, “this is an unfortunate
incident; but I still insist, and I implore you to take my word. She
will have sense, courage, and goodness. Now,” she continued in a more
serious tone, “take time to think over it, and return to give me your
decision, should it be favorable. If not, we must bid each other adieu.”

“Madame,” said Camors, rising and standing before her, “I will promise
never to address a word to you which a son might not utter to his
mother. Is it not this which you demand?”

Madame de Tecle fixed upon him for an instant her beautiful eyes, full
of joy and gratitude, then suddenly covered her face with her two hands.

“I thank you!” she murmured, “I am very happy!” She extended her hand,
wet with her tears, which he took and pressed to his lips, bowed low,
and left the room.

If there ever was a moment in his fatal career when the young man was
really worthy of admiration, it was this. His love for Madame de Tecle,
however unworthy of her it might be, was nevertheless great. It was the
only true passion he had ever felt. At the moment when he saw this love,
the triumph of which he thought certain, escape him forever, he was not
only wounded in his pride but was crushed in his heart.

Yet he took the stroke like a gentleman. His agony was well borne. His
first bitter words, checked at once, alone betrayed what he suffered.

He was as pitiless for his own sorrows as he sought to be for those
of others. He indulged in none of the common injustice habitual to
discarded lovers.

He recognized the decision of Madame de Tecle as true and final, and
was not tempted for a moment to mistake it for one of those equivocal
arrangements by which women sometimes deceive themselves, and of which
men always take advantage. He realized that the refuge she had sought
was inviolable. He neither argued nor protested against her resolve. He
submitted to it, and nobly kissed the noble hand which smote him. As to
the miracle of courage, chastity, and faith by which Madame de Tecle had
transformed and purified her love, he cared not to dwell upon it. This
example, which opened to his view a divine soul, naked, so to speak,
destroyed his theories. One word which escaped him, while passing to
his own house, proved the judgment which he passed upon it, from his own
point of view. “Very childish,” he muttered, “but sublime!”

On returning home Camors found a letter from General Campvallon,
notifying him that his marriage with Mademoiselle d’Estrelles would take
place in a few days, and inviting him to be present. The marriage was to
be strictly private, with only the family to assist at it.

Camors did not regret this invitation, as it gave him the excuse for
some diversion in his thoughts, of which he felt the need. He was
greatly tempted to go away at once to diminish his sufferings, but
conquered this weakness. The next evening he passed at the chateau of
M. des Rameures; and though his heart was bleeding, he piqued himself
on presenting an unclouded brow and an inscrutable smile to Madame de
Tecle. He announced the brief absence he intended, and explained the
reason.

“You will present my best wishes to the General,” said M. des Rameures.
“I hope he may be happy, but I confess I doubt it devilishly.”

“I shall bear your good wishes to the General, Monsieur.”

“The deuce you will! ‘Exceptis excipiendis’, I hope,” responded the old
gentleman, laughing.

As for Madame de Tecle, to tell of all the tender attentions and
exquisite delicacies, that a sweet womanly nature knows so well how to
apply to heal the wounds it has inflicted--how graciously she glided
into her maternal relation with Camors--to tell all this would require a
pen wielded by her own soft hands.

Two days later M. de Camors left Reuilly for Paris. The morning after
his arrival, he repaired at an early hour to the General’s house, a
magnificent hotel in the Rue Vanneau. The marriage contract was to be
signed that evening, and the civil and religious ceremonies were to take
place next morning.

Camors found the General in a state of extraordinary agitation, pacing
up and down the three salons which formed the ground floor of the hotel.
The moment he perceived the young man entering--“Ah, it is you!” he
cried, darting a ferocious glance upon him. “By my faith, your arrival
is fortunate.”

“But, General!”

“Well, what! Why do you not embrace me?”

“Certainly, General!”

“Very well! It is for to-morrow, you know!”

“Yes, General.”

“Sacrebleu! You are very cool! Have you seen her?”

“Not yet, General. I have just arrived.”

“You must go and see her this morning. You owe her this mark of
interest; and if you discover anything, you must tell me.”

“But what should I discover, General?”

“How do I know? But you understand women much better than I! Does she
love me, or does she not love me? You understand, I make no pretensions
of turning her head, but still I do not wish to be an object of
repulsion to her. Nothing has given me reason to suppose so, but the
girl is so reserved, so impenetrable.”

“Mademoiselle d’Estrelles is naturally cold,” said Camors.

“Yes,” responded the General. “Yes, and in some respects I--but really
now, should you discover anything, I rely on your communicating it to
me. And stop!--when you have seen her, have the kindness to return here,
for a few moments--will you? You will greatly oblige me!”

“Certainly, General, I shall do so.”

“For my part, I love her like a fool.”

“That is only right, General!”

“Hum--and what of Des Rameures?”

“I think we shall agree, General!”

“Bravo! we shall talk more of this later. Go and see her, my dear
child!”

Camors proceeded to the Rue St. Dominique, where Madame de la
Roche-Jugan resided.

“Is my aunt in, Joseph?” he inquired of the servant whom he found in the
antechamber, very busy in the preparations which the occasion demanded.

“Yes, Monsieur le Comte, Madame la Comtesse is in and will see you.”

“Very well,” said Camors; and directed his steps toward his aunt’s
chamber. But this chamber was no longer hers. This worthy woman had
insisted on giving it up to Mademoiselle Charlotte, for whom she
manifested, since she had become the betrothed of the seven hundred
thousand francs’ income of the General, the most humble deference.
Mademoiselle d’Estrelles had accepted this change with a disdainful
indifference. Camors, who was ignorant of this change, knocked therefore
most innocently at the door. Obtaining no answer, he entered without
hesitation, lifted the curtain which hung in the doorway, and was
immediately arrested by a strange spectacle. At the other extremity
of the room, facing him, was a large mirror, before which stood
Mademoiselle d’Estrelles. Her back was turned to him.

She was dressed, or rather draped, in a sort of dressing-gown of white
cashmere, without sleeves, which left her arms and shoulders bare. Her
auburn hair was unbound and floating, and fell in heavy masses almost
to her feet. One hand rested lightly on the toilet-table, the other held
together, over her bust, the folds of her dressing-gown.

She was gazing at herself in the glass, and weeping bitterly.

The tears fell drop by drop on her white, fresh bosom, and glittered
there like the drops of dew which one sees shining in the morning on the
shoulders of the marble nymphs in the gardens.

Then Camors noiselessly dropped the portiere and noiselessly retired,
taking with him, nevertheless, an eternal souvenir of this stolen visit.
He made inquiries; and finally received the embraces of his aunt, who
had taken refuge in the chamber of her son, whom she had put in the
little chamber formerly occupied by Mademoiselle d’Estrelles. His aunt,
after the first greetings, introduced her nephew into the salon,
where were displayed all the pomps of the trousseau. Cashmeres, laces,
velvets, silks of the finest quality, covered the chairs. On the
chimneypiece, the tables, and the consoles, were strewn the jewel-cases.

While Madame de la Roche-Jugan was exhibiting to Camors these
magnificent things--of which she failed not to give him the
prices--Charlotte, who had been notified of the Count’s presence,
entered the salon.

Her face was not only serene--it was joyous. “Good morning, cousin!” she
said gayly, extending her hand to Camors. “How very kind of you to come!
Well, you see how the General spoils me?”

“This is the trousseau of a princess, Mademoiselle!”

“And if you knew, Louis,” said Madame de la Roche, “how well all this
suits her! Dear child! you would suppose she had been born to a throne.
However, you know she is descended from the kings of Spain.”

“Dear aunt!” said Mademoiselle, kissing her on the forehead.

“You know, Louis, that I wish her to call me aunt now?” said the
Countess, affecting the plaintive tone, which she thought the highest
expression of human tenderness.

“Ah, indeed!” said Camors.

“Let us see, little one! Only try on your coronet before your cousin.”

“I should like to see it on your brow,” said Camors.

“Your slightest wishes are commands,” replied Charlotte, in a voice
harmonious and grave, but not untouched with irony.

In the midst of the jewelry which encumbered the salon was a full
marquise’s coronet set in precious stones and pearls. The young girl
adjusted it on her head before the glass, and then stood near Camors
with majestic composure.

“Look!” she said; and he gazed at her bewildered, for she looked
wonderfully beautiful and proud under her coronet.

Suddenly she darted a glance full into the eyes of the young man, and
lowering her voice to a tone of inexpressible bitterness, said:

“At least I sell myself dearly, do I not?” Then turning her back to him
she laughed, and took off her coronet.

After some further conversation Camors left, saying to himself that this
adorable person promised to become very dangerous; but not admitting
that he might profit by it.

In conformity with his promise he returned immediately to the General,
who continued to pace the three rooms, and cried out as he saw him:

“Eh, well?”

“Very well indeed, General, perfect--everything goes well.”

“You have seen her?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“And she said to you--”

“Not much; but she seemed enchanted.”

“Seriously, you did not remark anything strange?”

“I remarked she was very lovely!”

“Parbleu! and you think she loves me a little?”

“Assuredly, after her way--as much as she can love, for she has
naturally a very cold disposition.”

“Ah! as to that I console myself. All that I demand is not to be
disagreeable to her. Is it not so? Very well, you give me great
pleasure. Now, go where you please, my dear boy, until this evening.”

“Adieu until this evening, General!”

The signing of the contract was marked by no special incident; only
when the notary, with a low, modest voice read the clause by which the
General made Mademoiselle d’Estrelles heiress to all his fortune, Camors
was amused to remark the superb indifference of Mademoiselle Charlotte,
the smiling exasperation of Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, and the
amorous regard which Madame de la Roche-Jugan threw at the same time on
Charlotte, her son, and the notary. Then the eye of the Countess
rested with a lively interest on the General, and seemed to say that it
detected with pleasure in him an unhealthy appearance.

The next morning, on leaving the Church of St. Thomas daikon, the young
Marquise only exchanged her wedding-gown for a travelling-costume, and
departed with her husband for Campvallon, bathed in the tears of Madame
de la Roche-Jugan, whose lacrimal glands were remarkably tender.

Eight days later M. de Camors returned to Reuilly. Paris had revived
him, his nerves were strong again.

As a practical man he took a more healthy view of his adventure with
Madame de Tecle, and began to congratulate himself on its denouement.
Had things taken a different turn, his future destiny would have been
compromised and deranged for him. His political future especially would
have been lost, or indefinitely postponed, for his liaison with Madame
de Tecle would have been discovered some day, and would have forever
alienated the friendly feelings of M. des Rameures.

On this point he did not deceive himself. Madame de Tecle, in the first
conversation she had with him, confided to him that her uncle seemed
much pleased when she laughingly let him see her idea of marrying her
daughter some day to M. de Camors.

Camors seized this occasion to remind Madame de Tecle, that while
respecting her projects for the future, which she did him the honor to
form, he had not pledged himself to their realization; and that both
reason and honor compelled him in this matter to preserve his absolute
independence.

She assented to this with her habitual sweetness. From this moment,
without ceasing to exhibit toward him every mark of affectionate
preference, she never allowed herself the slightest allusion to the
dear dream she cherished. Only her tenderness for her daughter seemed
to increase, and she devoted herself to the care of her education with
redoubled fervor. All this would have touched the heart of M. de Camors,
if the heart of M. de Camors had not lost, in its last effort at virtue,
the last trace of humanity.

His honor set at rest by his frank avowals to Madame de Tecle, he did
not hesitate to profit by the advantages of the situation. He
allowed her to serve him as much as she desired, and she desired it
passionately. Little by little she had persuaded her uncle that M. de
Camors was destined by his character and talents for a great future,
and that he would, one day, be an excellent match for Marie; that he
was becoming daily more attached to agriculture, which turned toward
decentralization, and that he should be attached by firmer bonds to
a province which he would honor. While this was going on General
Campvallon brought the Marquise to present her to Madame de Tecle; and
in a confidential interview with M. des Rameures unmasked his batteries.
He was going to Italy to remain some time, but desired first to tender
his resignation, and to recommend Camors to his faithful electors.

M. des Rameures, gained over beforehand, promised his aid; and that aid
was equivalent to success. Camors had only to make some personal visits
to the more influential electors; but his appearance was as seductive
as it was striking, and he was one of those fortunate men who can win a
heart or a vote by a smile. Finally, to comply with the requisitions,
he established himself for several weeks in the chief town of the
department. He made his court to the wife of the prefect, sufficiently
to flatter the functionary without disquieting the husband. The prefect
informed the minister that the claims of the Comte de Camors were
pressed upon the department by an irresistible influence; that the
politics of the young Count appeared undecided and a little suspicious,
but that the administration, finding it useless to oppose, thought it
more politic to sustain him.

The minister, not less politic than the prefect, was of the same
opinion.

In consequence of this combination of circumstances, M. de Camors,
toward the end of his twenty-eighth year, was elected, at intervals of
a few days, member of the Council-General, and deputy to the Corps
Legislatif.

“You have desired it, my dear Elise,” said M. des Rameures, on learning
this double result “you have desired it, and I have supported this young
Parisian with all my influence. But I must say, he does not possess my
confidence. May we never regret our triumph. May we never have to say
with the poet: ‘Vita Dais oxidated Malians.’”--[The evil gods have heard
our vows.]



CHAPTER XI. NEW MAN OF THE NEW EMPIRE

It was now five years since the electors of Reuilly had sent the Comte
de Camors to the Corps Legislatif, and they had seen no cause to
regret their choice. He understood marvellously well their little local
interests, and neglected no occasion of forwarding them. Furthermore, if
any of his constituents, passing through Paris, presented themselves
at his small hotel on the Rue de l’Imperatrice--it had been built by
an architect named Lescande, as a compliment from the deputy to his old
friend--they were received with a winning affability that sent them back
to the province with softened hearts. M. de Camors would condescend to
inquire whether their wives or their daughters had borne them company;
he would place at their disposal tickets for the theatres and passes
into the Legislative Chamber; and would show them his pictures and his
stables. He also trotted out his horses in the court under their eyes.
They found him much improved in personal appearance, and even reported
affectionately that his face was fuller and had lost the melancholy cast
it used to wear. His manner, once reserved, was now warmer, without
any loss of dignity; his expression, once morose, was now marked by a
serenity at once pleasing and grave. His politeness was almost a royal
grace; for he showed to women--young or old, rich or poor, virtuous or
otherwise--the famous suavity of Louis the Fourteenth.

To his equals, as to his inferiors, his urbanity was perfection; for he
cultivated in the depths of his soul--for women, for his inferiors, for
his equals, and for his constituents--the same contempt.

He loved, esteemed, and respected only himself; but that self he loved,
esteemed, and respected as a god! In fact, he had now, realized as
completely as possible, in his own person, that almost superhuman ideal
he had conceived in the most critical hour of his life.

When he surveyed himself from head to foot in the mental mirror before
him, he was content! He was truly that which he wished to be. The
programme of his life, as he had laid it down, was faithfully carried
out.

By a powerful effort of his mighty will, he succeeded in himself
adopting, rather than disdaining in others, all those animal instincts
that govern the vulgar. These he believed fetters which bound the
feeble, but which the strong could use. He applied himself ceaselessly
to the development and perfection of his rare physical and intellectual
gifts, only that he might, during the short passage from the cradle
to the tomb, extract from them the greatest amount of pleasure. Fully
convinced that a thorough knowledge of the world, delicacy of taste and
elegance, refinement and the point of honor constituted a sort of moral
whole which formed the true gentleman, he strove to adorn his
person with the graver as well as the lighter graces. He was like a
conscientious artist, who would leave no smallest detail incomplete.
The result of his labor was so satisfactory, that M. de Camors, at the
moment we rejoin him, was not perhaps one of the best men in the world,
but he was beyond doubt one of the happiest and most amiable. Like all
men who have determined to cultivate ability rather than scrupulousness,
he saw all things developing to his satisfaction. Confident of his
future, he discounted it boldly, and lived as if very opulent. His rapid
elevation was explained by his unfailing audacity, by his cool judgment
and neat finesse, by his great connection and by his moral independence.
He had a hard theory, which he continually expounded with all imaginable
grace: “Humanity,” he would say, “is composed of speculators!”

Thoroughly imbued with this axiom, he had taken his degree in the grand
lodge of financiers. There he at once made himself an authority by his
manner and address; and he knew well how to use his name, his political
influence, and his reputation for integrity. Employing all these, yet
never compromising one of them, he influenced men by their virtues, or
their vices, with equal indifference. He was incapable of meanness; he
never wilfully entrapped a friend, or even an enemy, into a disastrous
speculation; only, if the venture proved unsuccessful, he happened to
get out and leave the others in it. But in financial speculations, as in
battles, there must be what is called “food for powder;” and if one
be too solicitous about this worthless pabulum, nothing great can be
accomplished. So Camors passed as one of the most scrupulous of this
goodly company; and his word was as potential in the region of “the
rings,” as it was in the more elevated sphere of the clubs and of the
turf.

Nor was he less esteemed in the Corps Legislatif, where he assumed the
curious role of a working member until committees fought for him. It
surprised his colleagues to see this elegant young man, with such fine
abilities, so modest and so laborious--to see him ready on the dryest
subjects and with the most tedious reports. Ponderous laws of local
interest neither frightened nor mystified him. He seldom spoke in the
public debates, except as a reporter; but in the committee he spoke
often, and there his manner was noted for its grave precision, tinged
with irony. No one doubted that he was one of the statesmen of the
future; but it could be seen he was biding his time.

The exact shade of his politics was entirely unknown. He sat in the
“centre left;” polite to every one, but reserved with all. Persuaded,
like his father, that the rising generation was preparing, after a time,
to pass from theories to revolution--and calculating with pleasure that
the development of this periodical catastrophe would probably coincide
with his fortieth year, and open to his blase maturity a source of
new emotions--he determined to wait and mold his political opinions
according to circumstances.

His life, nevertheless, had sufficient of the agreeable to permit him to
wait the hour of ambition. Men respected, feared, and envied him. Women
adored him.

His presence, of which he was not prodigal, adorned an entertainment:
his intrigues could not be gossiped about, being at the same time
choice, numerous, and most discreetly conducted.

Passions purely animal never endure long, and his were most ephemeral;
but he thought it due to himself to pay the last honors to his victims,
and to inter them delicately under the flowers of his friendship. He had
in this way made many friends among the Parisian women--a few only of
whom detested him. As for the husbands--they were universally fond of
him.

To these elegant pleasures he sometimes added a furious debauch, when
his imagination was for the moment maddened by champagne. But low
company disgusted him, and he shunned it; he was not a man for frequent
orgies, and economized his health, his energies, and his strength. His
tastes were as thoroughly elevated as could be those of a being
who strove to repress his soul. Refined intrigues, luxury in music,
paintings, books, and horses--these constituted all the joy of his soul,
of his sense, and of his pride. He hovered over the flowers of Parisian
elegance; as a bee in the bosom of a rose, he drank in its essence and
revelled in its beauty.

It is easy to understand that M. de Camors, relishing this prosperity,
attached himself more and more to the moral and religious creed that
assured it to him; that he became each day more and more confirmed in
the belief that the testament of his father and his own reflection had
revealed to him the true evangel of men superior to their species. He
was less and less tempted to violate the rules of the game of life; but
among all the useless cards, to hold which might disturb his system, the
first he discarded was the thought of marriage. He pitied himself
too tenderly at the idea of losing the liberty of which he made such
agreeable use; at the idea of taking on himself gratuitously the
restraints, the tedium, the ridicule, and even the danger of a
household. He shuddered at the bare thought of a community of goods and
interest; and of possible paternity.

With such views he was therefore but little disposed to encourage
the natural hopes in which Madame de Tecle had entombed her love. He
determined so to conduct himself toward her as to leave no ground for
the growth of her illusion. He ceased to visit Reuilly, remaining there
but two or three weeks in each year, as such time as the session of the
Council-General summoned him to the province.

It is true that during these rare visits Camors piqued himself on
rendering Madame de Tecle and M. des Rameures all the duties of
respectful gratitude. Yet avoiding all allusion to the past, guarding
himself scrupulously from confidential converse, and observing a frigid
politeness to Mademoiselle Marie, there remained doubt in his mind that,
the fickleness of the fair sex aiding him, the young mother of the girl
would renounce her chimerical project. His error was great: and it may
be here remarked that a hard and scornful scepticism may in this world
engender as many false judgments and erroneous calculations as candor or
even inexperience can. He believed too much in what had been written of
female fickleness; in deceived lovers, who truly deserved to be such;
and in what disappointed men had judged of them.

The truth is, women are generally remarkable for the tenacity of their
ideas and for fidelity to their sentiments. Inconstancy of heart is the
special attribute of man; but he deems it his privilege as well, and
when woman disputes the palm with him on this ground, he cries aloud as
if the victim of a robber.

Rest assured this theory is no paradox; as proven by the prodigies of
patient devotion--tenacious, inviolable--every day displayed by women
of the lower classes, whose natures, if gross, retain their primitive
sincerity. Even with women of the world, depraved though they be by
the temptations that assail them, nature asserts herself; and it is no
rarity to see them devote an entire life to one idea, one thought, or
one affection! Their lives do not know the thousand distractions which
at once disturb and console men; and any idea that takes hold upon them
easily becomes fixed. They dwell upon it in the crowd and in solitude;
when they read and while they sew; in their dreams and in their prayers.
In it they live--for it they die.

It was thus that Madame de Tecle had dwelt year after year on the
project of this alliance with unalterable fervor, and had blended the
two pure affections that shared her heart in this union of her daughter
with Camors, and in thus securing the happiness of both. Ever since she
had conceived this desire--which could only have had its birth in a
soul as pure as it was tender--the education of her child had become
the sweet romance of her life. She dreamed of it always, and of nothing
else.

Without knowing or even suspecting the evil traits lurking in the
character of Camors, she still understood that, like the great majority
of the young men of his day, the young Count was not overburdened with
principle. But she held that one of the privileges of woman, in our
social system, was the elevation of their husbands by connection with a
pure soul, by family affections, and by the sweet religion of the heart.
Seeking, therefore, by making her daughter an amiable and lovable woman,
to prepare her for the high mission for which she was destined, she
omitted nothing which could improve her. What success rewarded her
care the sequel of this narrative will show. It will suffice, for the
present, to inform the reader that Mademoiselle de Tecle was a young
girl of pleasing countenance, whose short neck was placed on shoulders
a little too high. She was not beautiful, but extremely pretty, well
educated, and much more vivacious than her mother.

Mademoiselle Marie was so quick-witted that her mother often suspected
she knew the secret which concerned herself. Sometimes she talked too
much of M. de Camors; sometimes she talked too little, and assumed a
mysterious air when others spoke of him.

Madame de Tecle was a little disturbed by these eccentricities. The
conduct of M. de Camors, and his more than reserved bearing, annoyed
her occasionally; but when we love any one we are likely to interpret
favorably all that he does, or all that he omits to do. Madame de Tecle
readily attributed the equivocal conduct of the Count to the inspiration
of a chivalric loyalty. As she believed she knew him thoroughly, she
thought he wished to avoid committing himself, or awakening public
observation, before he had made up his mind.

He acted thus to avoid disturbing the repose of both mother and
daughter. Perhaps also the large fortune which seemed destined for
Mademoiselle de Tecle might add to his scruples by rousing his pride.

His not marrying was in itself a good augury, and his little fiancee was
reaching a marriageable age. She therefore did not despair that some
day M. de Camors would throw himself at her feet, and say, “Give her to
met!”

If God did not intend that this delicious page should ever be written
in the book of her destiny, and she was forced to marry her daughter to
another, the poor woman consoled herself with the thought that all the
cares she lavished upon her would not be lost, and that her dear child
would thus be rendered better and happier.

The long months which intervened between the annual apparition of Camors
at Reuilly, filled up by Madame de Tecle with a single idea and by the
sweet monotony of a regular life, passed more rapidly than the Count
could have imagined. His own life, so active and so occupied, placed
ages and abysses between each of his periodical voyages. But Madame
de Tecle, after five years, was always only a day removed from the
cherished and fatal night on which her dream had begun. Since that
period there had been no break in her thoughts, no void in her heart, no
wrinkle on her forehead. Her dream continued young, like herself. But
in spite of the peaceful and rapid succession of her days, it was not
without anxiety that she saw the approach of the season which always
heralded the return of Camors.

As her daughter matured, she preoccupied herself with the impression
she would make on the mind of the Count, and felt more sensibly the
solemnity of the matter.

Mademoiselle Marie, as we have already stated, was a cunning little
puss, and had not failed to perceive that her tender mother chose
habitually the season of the convocation of the Councils-General to try
a new style of hair-dressing for her. The same year on which we have
resumed our recital there passed, on one occasion, a little scene
which rather annoyed Madame de Tecle. She was trying a new coiffure
on Mademoiselle Marie, whose hair was very pretty and very black; some
stray and rebellious portions had frustrated her mother’s efforts.

There was one lock in particular, which in spite of all combing and
brushing would break away from the rest, and fall in careless curls.
Madame de Tecle finally, by the aid of some ribbons, fastened down the
rebellious curl:

“Now I think it will do,” she said sighing, and stepping back to admire
the effect of her work.

“Don’t believe it,” said Marie, who was laughing and mocking. “I do not
think so. I see exactly what will happen: the bell rings--I run
out--my net gives way--Monsieur de Camors walks in--my mother is
annoyed--tableau!”

“I should like to know what Monsieur de Camors has to do with it?” said
Madame de Tecle.

Her daughter threw her arms around her neck--“Nothing!” she said.

Another time Madame de Tecle detected her speaking of M. de Camors in
a tone of bitter irony. He was “the great man”--“the mysterious
personage”--“the star of the neighborhood”--“the phoenix of guests in
their woods”--or simply “the Prince!”

Such symptoms were of so serious a nature as not to escape Madame de
Tecle.

In presence of “the Prince,” it is true, the young girl lost her gayety;
but this was another cross. Her mother found her cold, awkward, and
silent--brief, and slightly caustic in her replies. She feared M. de
Camors would misjudge her from such appearances.

But Camors formed no judgment, good or bad; Mademoiselle de Tecle was
for him only an insignificant little girl, whom he never thought of for
a moment in the year.

There was, however, at this time in society a person who did interest
him very much, and the more because against his will. This was the
Marquise de Campvallon, nee de Luc d’Estrelles.

The General, after making the tour of Europe with his young wife, had
taken possession of his hotel in the Rue Vanneau, where he lived in
great splendor. They resided at Paris during the winter and spring, but
in July returned to their chateau at Campvallon, where they entertained
in great state until the autumn. The General invited Madame de Tecle
and her daughter, every year, to pass some weeks at Campvallon, rightly
judging that he could not give his young wife better companions. Madame
de Tecle accepted these invitations cheerfully, because it gave her an
opportunity of seeing the elite of the Parisian world, from whom the
whims of her uncle had always isolated her. For her own part, she did
not much enjoy it; but her daughter, by moving in the midst of such
fashion and elegance could thus efface some provincialisms of toilet or
of language; perfect her taste in the delicate and fleeting changes
of the prevailing modes, and acquire some additional graces. The young
Marquise, who reigned and scintillated like a bright star in these high
regions of social life, lent herself to the designs of her neighbor. She
seemed to take a kind of maternal interest in Mademoiselle de Tecle, and
frequently added her advice to her example. She assisted at her toilet
and gave the final touches with her own dainty hands; and the young
girl, in return, loved, admired, and confided in her.

Camors also enjoyed the hospitalities of the General once every season,
but was not his guest as often as he wished. He seldom remained at
Campvallon longer than a week. Since the return of the Marquise to
France he had resumed the relations of a kinsman and friend with her
husband and herself; but, while trying to adopt the most natural manner,
he treated them both with a certain reserve, which astonished the
General. It will not surprise the reader, who recollects the secret and
powerful reasons which justified this circumspection.

For Camors, in renouncing the greater part of the restraints which
control and bind men in their relations with one another, had
religiously intended to preserve one--the sentiment of honor. Many
times, in the course of this life, he had felt himself embarrassed to
limit and fix with certainty the boundaries of the only moral law he
wished to respect.

It is easy to know exactly what is in the Bible; it is not easy to know
exactly what the code of honor commands.



CHAPTER XII. CIRCE

But there exists, nevertheless, in this code one article, as to which M.
de Camors could not deceive himself, and it was that which forbade his
attempting to assail the honor of the General under penalty of being
in his own eyes, as a gentleman, a felon and foresworn. He had accepted
from this old man confidence, affection, services, benefits--everything
which could bind one man inviolably to another man--if there be beneath
the heavens anything called honor. He felt this profoundly.

His conduct toward Madame de Campvallon had been irreproachable; and all
the more so, because the only woman he was interdicted from loving was
the only woman in Paris, or in the universe, who naturally pleased him
most. He entertained for her, at once, the interest which attaches to
forbidden fruit, to the attraction of strange beauty, and to the mystery
of an impenetrable sphinx. She was, at this time, more goddess-like than
ever. The immense fortune of her husband, and the adulation which it
brought her, had placed her on a golden car. On this she seated herself
with a gracious and native majesty, as if in her proper place.

The luxury of her toilet, of her jewels, of her house and of her
equipages, was of regal magnificence. She blended the taste of an artist
with that of a patrician. Her person appeared really to be made divine
by the rays of this splendor. Large, blonde, graceful, the eyes blue
and unfathomable, the forehead grave, the mouth pure and proud it was
impossible to see her enter a salon with her light, gliding step, or to
see her reclining in her carriage, her hands folded serenely, without
dreaming of the young immortals whose love brought death.

She had even those traits of physiognomy, stern and wild, which the
antique sculptors doubtless had surprised in supernatural visitations,
and which they have stamped on the eyes and the lips of their marble
gods. Her arms and shoulders, perfect in form, seemed models, in
the midst of the rosy and virgin snow which covered the neighboring
mountains. She was truly superb and bewitching. The Parisian world
respected as much as it admired her, for she played her difficult part
of young bride to an old man so perfectly as to avoid scandal. Without
any pretence of extraordinary devotion, she knew how to join to her
worldly pomps the exercise of charity, and all the other practices of an
elegant piety. Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who watched her closely, as one
watching a prey, testified, herself, in her favor; and judged her more
and more worthy of her son. And Camors, who observed her, in spite of
himself, with an eager curiosity, was finally induced to believe, as
did his aunt and all the world, that she conscientiously performed her
difficult duties, and that she found in the eclat of her life and the
gratification of her pride a sufficient compensation for the sacrifice
of her youth, her heart, and her beauty; but certain souvenirs of the
past, joined to certain peculiarities, which he fancied he remarked in
the Marquise, induced him to distrust.

There were times, when recalling all that he had once witnessed--the
abysses and the flame at the bottom of that heart--he was tempted to
suspect the existence of many storms under all this calm exterior, and
perhaps some wickedness. It is true she never was with him precisely as
she was before the world. The character of their relations was marked by
a peculiar tone. It was precisely that tone of covert irony adopted by
two persons who desired neither to remember nor to forget. This tone,
softened in the language of Camors by his worldly tact and his respect,
was much more pointed, and had much more of bitterness on the side of
the young woman.

He even fancied, at times, that he discovered a shade of coquetry under
this treatment; and this provocation, vague as it was, coming from
this beautiful, cold, and inscrutable creature, seemed to him a game
fearfully mysterious, that at once attracted and disturbed him.

This was the state of things when the Count came, according to custom,
to pass the first days of September at the chateau of Campvallon, and
met there Madame de Tecle and her daughter. The visit was a painful one,
this year, for Madame de Tecle. Her confidence deserted her, and serious
concern took its place. She had, it is true, fixed in her mind, as
the last point of her hopes, the moment when her daughter should have
reached twenty years of age; and Marie was only eighteen.

But she already had had several offers, and several times public rumor
had already declared her to be betrothed.

Now, Camors could not have been ignorant of the rumors circulating in
the neighborhood, and yet he did not speak. His countenance did not
change. He was coldly affectionate to Madame de Tecle, but toward Marie,
in spite of her beautiful blue eyes, like her mother’s, and her
curly hair, he preserved a frozen indifference. For Camors had other
anxieties, of which Madame de Tecle knew nothing. The manner of Madame
Campvallon toward him had assumed a more marked character of aggressive
raillery. A defensive attitude is never agreeable to a man, and Camors
felt it more disagreeable than most men--being so little accustomed to
it.

He resolved promptly to shorten his visit at Campvallon.

On the eve of his departure, about five o’clock in the afternoon, he
was standing at his window, looking beyond the trees at the great black
clouds sailing over the valley, when he heard the sound of a voice that
had power to move him deeply--“Monsieur de Camors!” He saw the Marquise
standing under his window.

“Will you walk with me?” she added.

He bowed and descended immediately. At the moment he reached her:

“It is suffocating,” she said. “I wish to walk round the park and will
take you with me.”

He muttered a few polite phrases, and they began walking, side by side,
through the alleys of the park.

She moved at a rapid pace, with her majestic motion, her body swaying,
her head erect. One would have looked for a page behind her, but she had
none, and her long blue robe--she rarely wore short skirts--trailed on
the sand and over the dry leaves with the soft rustle of silk.

“I have disturbed you, probably?” she said, after a moment’s pause.
“What were you dreaming of up there?”

“Nothing--only watching the coming storm.”

“Are you becoming poetical, cousin?”

“There is no necessity for becoming, for I already am infinitely so!”

“I do not think so. Shall you leave to-morrow?”

“I shall.”

“Why so soon?”

“I have business elsewhere.”

“Very well. But Vau--Vautrot--is he not there?”

Vautrot was the secretary of M. de Camors.

“Vautrot can not do everything,” he replied.

“By the way, I do not like your Vautrot.”

“Nor I. But he was recommended to me by my old friend, Madame d’Oilly,
as a freethinker, and at the same time by my aunt, Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, as a religious man!”

“How amusing!”

“Nevertheless,” said Camors, “he is intelligent and witty, and writes a
fine hand.”

“And you?”

“How? What of me?”

“Do you also write a good hand?”

“I will show you, whenever you wish!”

“Ah! and will you write to me?”

It is difficult to imagine the tone of supreme indifference and haughty
persiflage with which the Marquise sustained this dialogue, without once
slackening her pace, or glancing at her companion, or changing the proud
and erect pose of her head.

“I will write you either prose or verse, as you wish,” said Camors.

“Ah! you know how to compose verses?”

“When I am inspired!”

“And when are you inspired?”

“Usually in the morning.”

“And we are now in the evening. That is not complimentary to me.”

“But you, Madame, had no desire to inspire me, I think.”

“Why not, then? I should be happy and proud to do so. Do you know what
I should like to put there?” and she stopped suddenly before a rustic
bridge, which spanned a murmuring rivulet.

“I do not know!”

“You can not even guess? I should like to put an artificial rock there.”

“Why not a natural one? In your place I should put a natural one!”

“That is an idea,” said the Marquise, and walking on she crossed the
bridge.

“But it really thunders. I like to hear thunder in the country. Do you?”

“I prefer to hear it thunder at Paris.”

“Why?”

“Because then I should not hear it.”

“You have no imagination.”

“I have; but I smother it.”

“Possibly. I have suspected you of hiding your merits, and particularly
from me.”

“Why should I conceal my merits from you?”

“‘Why should I conceal my merits’ is good!” said the Marquise,
ironically. “Why? Out of charity, Monsieur, not to dazzle me, and in
regard for my repose! You are really too good, I assure you. Here comes
the rain.”

Large drops of rain began to fall on the dry leaves, and on the yellow
sand of the alley. The day was dying, and the sudden shower bent the
boughs of the trees.

“We must return,” said the young woman; “this begins to get serious.”

She took, in haste, the path which led to the chateau; but after a
few steps a bright flash broke over her head, the noise of the thunder
resounded, and a deluge of rain fell upon the fields.

There was fortunately, near by, a shelter in which the Marquise and her
companion could take refuge. It was a ruin, preserved as an ornament to
the park, which had formerly been the chapel of the ancient chateau.
It was almost as large as the village chapel--the broken walls half
concealed under a thick mantle of ivy. Its branches had pushed through
the roof and mingled with the boughs of the old trees which surrounded
and shaded it. The timbers had disappeared. The extremity of the choir,
and the spot formerly occupied by the altar, were alone covered by the
remains of the roof. Wheelbarrows, rakes, spades, and other garden tools
were piled there.

The Marquise had to take refuge in the midst of this rubbish, in the
narrow space, and her companion followed her.

The storm, in the mean time, increased in violence. The rain fell in
torrents through the old walls, inundating the soil in the ancient nave.
The lightning flashed incessantly. Every now and then fragments of earth
and stone detached themselves from the roof, and fell into the choir.

“I find this magnificent!” said Madame de Campvallon.

“I also,” said Camors, raising his eyes to the crumbling roof which half
protected them; “but I do not know whether we are safe here!”

“If you fear, you would better go!” said the Marquise.

“I fear for you.”

“You are too good, I assure you.”

She took off her cap and brushed it with her glove, to remove the drops
of rain which had fallen upon it. After a slight pause, she suddenly
raised her uncovered head and cast on Camors one of those searching
looks which prepares a man for an important question.

“Cousin!” she said, “if you were sure that one of these flashes of
lightning would kill you in a quarter of an hour, what would you do?”

“Why, cousin, naturally I should take a last farewell of you.”

“How?”

He regarded her steadily, in his turn. “Do you know,” he said, “there
are moments when I am tempted to think you a devil?”

“Truly! Well, there are times when I am tempted to think so myself--for
example, at this moment. Do you know what I should wish? I wish I could
control the lightning, and in two seconds you would cease to exist.”

“For what reason?”

“Because I recollect there was a man to whom I offered myself, and who
refused me, and that this man still lives. And this displeases me a
little--a great deal--passionately.”

“Are you serious, Madame?” replied Camors.

She laughed.

“I hope you did not think so. I am not so wicked. It was a joke--and in
bad taste, I admit. But seriously now, cousin, what is your opinion of
me? What kind of woman has time made me?”

“I swear to you I am entirely ignorant.”

“Admitting I had become, as you did me the honor to suppose, a
diabolical person, do you think you had nothing to do with it? Tell me!
Do you not believe that there is in the life of a woman a decisive hour,
when the evil seed which is cast upon her soul may produce a terrible
harvest? Do you not believe this? Answer me! And should I not be
excusable if I entertained toward you the sentiment of an exterminating
angel; and have I not some merit in being what I am--a good woman, who
loves you well--with a little rancor, but not much--and who wishes you
all sorts of prosperity in this world and the next? Do not answer me: it
might embarrass you, and it would be useless.”

She left her shelter, and turned her face toward the lowering sky to see
whether the storm was over.

“It has stopped raining,” she said, “let us go.”

She then perceived that the lower part of the nave had been transformed
into a lake of mud and water. She stopped at its brink, and uttered a
little cry:

“What shall I do?” she said, looking at her light shoes. Then, turning
toward Camors, she added, laughing:

“Monsieur, will you get me a boat?”

Camors, himself, recoiled from stepping into the greasy mud and stagnant
water which filled the whole space of the nave.

“If you will wait a little,” he said, “I shall find you some boots or
sabots, no matter what.”

“It will be much easier,” she said abruptly, “for you to carry me to the
door;” and without waiting for the young man’s reply, she tucked up her
skirts carefully, and when she had finished, she said, “Carry me!”

He looked at her with astonishment, and thought for a moment she was
jesting; but soon saw she was perfectly serious.

“Of what are you afraid?” she asked.

“I am not at all afraid,” he answered.

“Is it that you are not strong enough?”

“Mon Dieu! I should think I was.”

He took her in his arms, as in a cradle, while she held up her skirts
with both hands. He then descended the steps and moved toward the door
with his strange burden. He was obliged to be very careful not to slip
on the wet earth, and this absorbed him during the first few steps;
but when he found his footing more sure, he felt a natural curiosity to
observe the countenance of the Marquise.

The uncovered head of the young woman rested a little on the arm with
which he held her. Her lips were slightly parted with a half-wicked
smile that showed her fine white teeth; the same expression of
ungovernable malice burned in her dark eyes, which she riveted for some
seconds on those of Camors with persistent penetration--then suddenly
veiled them under the fringe of her dark lashes. This glance sent a
thrill like lightning to his very marrow.

“Do you wish to drive me mad?” he murmured.

“Who knows?” she replied.

The same moment she disengaged herself from his arms, and placing her
foot on the ground again, left the ruin.

They reached the chateau without exchanging a word. Just before entering
the house the young Marquise turned toward Camors and said to him:

“Be sure that at heart I am very good, really.”

Notwithstanding this assertion, Camors was yet more determined to leave
the next morning, as he had previously decided. He carried away the most
painful impression of the scene of that evening.

She had wounded his pride, inflamed his hopeless passion, and disquieted
his honor.

“What is this woman, and what does she want of me? Is it love or
vengeance that inspires her with this fiendish coquetry?” he asked
himself. Whatever it was, Camors was not such a novice in similar
adventures as not to perceive clearly the yawning abyss under the broken
ice. He resolved sincerely to close it again between them, and forever.
The best way to succeed in this, avowedly, was to cease all intercourse
with the Marquise. But how could such conduct be explained to the
General, without awakening his suspicion and lowering his wife in his
esteem? That plan was impossible. He armed himself with all his courage,
and resigned himself to endure with resolute soul all the trials which
the love, real or pretended, of the Marquise reserved for him.

He had at this time a singular idea. He was a member of several of the
most aristocratic clubs. He organized a chosen group of men from the
elite of his companions, and formed with them a secret association,
of which the object was to fix and maintain among its members the
principles and points of honor in their strictest form. This society,
which had only been vaguely spoken of in public under the name of
“Societe des Raffines,” and also as “The Templars” which latter was its
true name--had nothing in common with “The Devourers,” illustrated by
Balzac. It had nothing in it of a romantic or dramatic character. Those
who composed this club did not, in any way, defy ordinary morals,
nor set themselves above the laws of their country. They did not bind
themselves by any vows of mutual aid in extremity. They bound themselves
simply by their word of honor to observe, in their reciprocal relations,
the rules of purest honor.

These rules were specified in their code. The text it is difficult to
give; but it was based entirely on the point of honor, and regulated
the affairs of the club, such as the card-table, the turf, duelling, and
gallantry. For example, any member was disqualified from belonging to
this association who either insulted or interfered with the wife or
relative of one of his colleagues. The only penalty was exclusion:
but the consequences of this exclusion were grave; for all the members
ceased thereafter to associate with, recognize, or even bow to the
offender. The Templars found in this secret society many advantages. It
was a great security in their intercourse with one another, and in the
different circumstances of daily life, where they met continually either
at the opera, in salons, or on the turf.

Camors was an exception among his companions and rivals in Parisian
life by the systematic decision of his doctrine. It was not so much an
embodiment of absolute scepticism and practical materialism; but the
want of a moral law is so natural to man, and obedience to higher laws
so sweet to him, that the chosen adepts to whom the project of Camors
was submitted accepted it with enthusiasm. They were happy in being able
to substitute a sort of positive and formal religion for restraints so
limited as their own confused and floating notions of honor. For Camors
himself, as is easily understood, it was a new barrier which he wished
to erect between himself and the passion which fascinated him. He
attached himself to this with redoubled force, as the only moral bond
yet left him. He completed his work by making the General accept the
title of President of the Association. The General, to whom Honor was a
sort of mysterious but real goddess, was delighted to preside over the
worship of his idol. He felt flattered by his young friend’s selection,
and esteemed him the more.

It was the middle of winter. The Marquise Campvallon had resumed for
some time her usual course of life, which was at the same time strict
but elegant. Punctual at church every morning, at the Bois and at
charity bazaars during the day, at the opera or the theatres in the
evening, she had received M. de Camors without the shadow of apparent
emotion. She even treated him more simply and more naturally than ever,
with no recurrence to the past, no allusion to the scene in the park
during the storm; as if she had, on that day, disclosed everything
that had lain hidden in her heart. This conduct so much resembled
indifference, that Camors should have been delighted; but he was not--on
the contrary he was annoyed by it. A cruel but powerful interest,
already too dear to his blase soul, was disappearing thus from his life.
He was inclined to believe that Madame de Campvallon possessed a much
less complicated character than he had fancied; and that little by
little absorbed in daily trifles, she had become in reality what she
pretended to be--a good woman, inoffensive, and contented with her lot.

He was one evening in his orchestra-stall at the opera. They were
singing The Huguenots. The Marquise occupied her box between the
columns. The numerous acquaintances Camors met in the passages during
the first entr’acte prevented his going as soon as usual to pay his
respects to his cousin. At last, after the fourth act, he went to visit
her in her box, where he found her alone, the General having descended
to the parterre for a few moments. He was astonished, on entering, to
find traces of tears on the young woman’s cheeks. Her eyes were even
moist. She seemed displeased at being surprised in the very act of
sentimentality.

“Music always excites my nerves,” she said.

“Indeed!” said Camors. “You, who always reproach me with hiding my
merits, why do you hide yours? If you are still capable of weeping, so
much the better.”

“No! I claim no merit for that. Oh, heavens! If you only knew! It is
quite the contrary.”

“What a mystery you are!”

“Are you very curious to fathom this mystery? Only that? Very well--be
happy! It is time to put an end to this.”

She drew her chair from the front of the box out of public view, and,
turning toward Camors, continued: “You wish to know what I am, what I
feel, and what I think; or rather, you wish to know simply whether I
dream of love? Very well, I dream only of that! Have I lovers, or have I
not? I have none, and never shall have, but that will not be because
of my virtue. I believe in nothing, except my own self-esteem and my
contempt of others. The little intrigues, the petty passions, which I
see in the world, make me indignant to the bottom of my soul. It
seems to me that women who give themselves for so little must be base
creatures. As for myself, I remember having said to you one day--it is a
million years since then!--that my person is sacred to me; and to commit
a sacrilege I should wish, like the vestals of Rome, a love as great
as my crime, and as terrible as death. I wept just now during that
magnificent fourth act. It was not because I listened to the most
marvellous music ever heard on this earth; it was because I admire and
envy passionately the superb and profound love of that time. And it is
ever thus--when I read the history of the glorious sixteenth century, I
am in ecstacies. How well those people knew how to love and how to die!
One night of love--then death. That is delightful. Now, cousin, you must
leave me. We are observed. They will believe we love each other, and as
we have not that pleasure, it is useless to incur the penalties. Since
I am still in the midst of the court of Charles Tenth, I pity you, with
your black coat and round hat. Good-night.”

“I thank you very much,” replied Camors, taking the hand she extended to
him coldly, and left the box. He met M. de Campvallon in the passage.

“Parbleu! my dear friend,” said the General, seizing him by the arm.
“I must communicate to you an idea which has been in my brain all the
evening.”

“What idea, General?”

“Well, there are here this evening a number of charming young girls.
This set me to thinking of you, and I even said to my wife that we must
marry you to one of these young women!”

“Oh, General!”

“Well, why not?”

“That is a very serious thing--if one makes a mistake in his
choice--that is everything.”

“Bah! it is not so difficult a thing. Take a wife like mine, who has a
great deal of religion, not much imagination, and no fancies. That is
the whole secret. I tell you this in confidence, my dear fellow!”

“Well, General, I will think of it.”

“Do think of it,” said the General, in a serious tone; and went to join
his young wife, whom he understood so well.

As to her, she thoroughly understood herself, and analyzed her own
character with surprising truth.

Madame de Campvallon was just as little what her manner indicated as
was M. de Camors on his side. Both were altogether exceptional in French
society. Equally endowed by nature with energetic souls and enlightened
minds, both carried innate depravity to a high degree. The artificial
atmosphere of high Parisian civilization destroys in women the sentiment
and the taste for duty, and leaves them, nothing but the sentiment and
the taste for pleasure. They lose in the midst of this enchanted and
false life, like theatrical fairyland, the true idea of life in general,
and Christian life in particular. And we can confidently affirm that all
those who do not make for themselves, apart from the crowd, a kind of
Thebaid--and there are such--are pagans. They are pagans, because the
pleasures of the senses and of the mind alone interest them, and they
have not once, during the year, an impression of the moral law, unless
the sentiment, which some of them detest, recalls it to them. They
are pagans, like the beautiful, worldly Catholics of the fifteenth
century--loving luxury, rich stuffs, precious furniture, literature,
art, themselves, and love. They were charming pagans, like Marie Stuart,
and capable, like her, of remaining true Catholics even under the axe.

We are speaking, let it be understood, of the best of the elite--of
those that read, and of those that dream. As to the rest, those who
participate in the Parisian life on its lighter side, in its childish
whirl, and the trifling follies it entails, who make rendezvous, waste
their time, who dress and are busy day and night doing nothing, who
dance frantically in the rays of the Parisian sun, without thought,
without passion, without virtue, and even without vice--we must own it
is impossible to imagine anything more contemptible.

The Marquise de Campvallon was then--as she truly said to the man she
resembled--a great pagan; and, as she also said to herself in one of her
serious moments when a woman’s destiny is decided by the influence
of those they love, Camors had sown in her heart a seed which had
marvellously fructified.

Camors dreamed little of reproaching himself for it, but struck with
all the harmony that surrounded the Marquise, he regretted more bitterly
than ever the fatality which separated them.

He felt, however, more sure of himself, since he had bound himself
by the strictest obligations of honor. He abandoned himself from this
moment with less scruple to the emotions, and to the danger against
which he believed himself invincibly protected. He did not fear to seek
often the society of his beautiful cousin, and even contracted the habit
of repairing to her house two or three times a week, after leaving the
Chamber of Deputies. Whenever he found her alone, their conversation
invariably assumed a tone of irony and of raillery, in which both
excelled. He had not forgotten her reckless confidences at the opera,
and recalled it to her, asking her whether she had yet discovered that
hero of love for whom she was looking, who should be, according to her
ideas, a villain like Bothwell, or a musician like Rizzio.

“There are,” she replied, “villains who are also musicians; but that is
imagination. Sing me, then, something apropos.”

It was near the close of winter. The Marquise gave a ball. Her fetes
were justly renowned for their magnificence and good taste. She did the
honors with the grace of a queen. This evening she wore a very simple
costume, as was becoming in the courteous hostess. It was a gown of dark
velvet, with a train; her arms were bare, without jewels; a necklace
of large pearls lay on her rose-tinted bosom, and the heraldic coronet
sparkled on her fair hair.

Camors caught her eye as he entered, as if she were watching for him.
He had seen her the previous evening, and they had had a more lively
skirmish than usual. He was struck by her brilliancy--her beauty
heightened, without doubt, by the secret ardor of the quarrel, as if
illuminated by an interior flame, with all the clear, soft splendor of a
transparent alabaster vase.

When he advanced to join her and salute her, yielding, against his will,
to an involuntary movement of passionate admiration, he said:

“You are truly beautiful this evening. Enough so to make one commit a
crime.”

She looked fixedly in his eyes, and replied:

“I should like to see that,” and then left him, with superb nonchalance.

The General approached, and tapping the Count on the shoulder, said:

“Camors! you do not dance, as usual. Let us play a game of piquet.”

“Willingly, General;” and traversing two or three salons they reached
the private boudoir of the Marquise. It was a small oval room, very
lofty, hung with thick red silk tapestry, covered with black and white
flowers. As the doors were removed, two heavy curtains isolated the room
completely from the neighboring gallery. It was there that the General
usually played cards and slept during his fetes. A small card-table was
placed before a divan. Except this addition, the boudoir preserved its
every-day aspect. Woman’s work, half finished, books, journals, and
reviews were strewn upon the furniture. They played two or three games,
which the General won, as Camors was very abstracted.

“I reproach myself, young man,” said the former, “in having kept you so
long away from the ladies. I give you back your liberty--I shall cast my
eye on the journals.”

“There is nothing new in them, I think,” said Camors, rising. He took
up a newspaper himself, and placing his back against the mantelpiece,
warmed his feet, one after the other. The General threw himself on the
divan, ran his eye over the ‘Moniteur de l’Armee’, approving of some
military promotions, and criticising others; and, little by little, he
fell into a doze, his head resting on his chest.

But Camors was not reading. He listened vaguely to the music of the
orchestra, and fell into a reverie. Through these harmonies, through the
murmurs and warm perfume of the ball, he followed, in thought, all the
evolutions of her who was mistress and queen of all. He saw her proud
and supple step--he heard her grave and musical voice--he felt her
breath.

This young man had exhausted everything. Love and pleasure had no longer
for him secrets or temptations; but his imagination, cold and blase, had
arisen all inflamed before this beautiful, living, palpitating statue.
She was really for him more than a woman--more than a mortal. The
antique fables of amorous goddesses and drunken Bacchantes--the
superhuman voluptuousness unknown in terrestrial pleasures--were
in reach of his hand, separated from him only by the shadow of this
sleeping old man. But a shadow was ever between them--it was honor.

His eyes, as if lost in thought, were fixed straight before him on the
curtain opposite the chimney. Suddenly this curtain was noiselessly
raised, and the young Marquise appeared, her brow surmounted by her
coronet. She threw a rapid glance over the boudoir, and after a moment’s
pause, let the curtain fall gently, and advanced directly toward Camors,
who stood dazzled and immovable. She took both his hands, without
speaking, looked at his steadily--throwing a rapid glance at her
husband, who still slept--and, standing on tiptoe, offered her lips to
the young man.

Bewildered, and forgetting all else, he bent, and imprinted a kiss on
her lips.

At that very moment, the General made a sudden movement and woke up; but
the same instant the Marquise was standing before him, her hands resting
on the card-table; and smiling upon him, she said, “Good-morning, my
General!”

The General murmured a few words of apology, but she laughingly pushed
him back on his divan.

“Continue your nap,” she said; “I have come in search of my cousin, for
the last cotillon.” The General obeyed.

She passed out by the gallery. The young man; pale as a spectre,
followed her.

Passing under the curtain, she turned toward him with a wild light
burning in her eyes. Then, before she was lost in the throng, she
whispered, in a low, thrilling voice:

“There is the crime!”



CHAPTER XIII. THE FIRST ACT OF THE TRAGEDY

Camors did not attempt to rejoin the Marquise, and it seemed to him
that she also avoided him. A quarter of an hour later, he left the Hotel
Campvallon.

He returned immediately home. A lamp was burning in his chamber. When
he saw himself in the mirror, his own face terrified him. This exciting
scene had shaken his nerves.

He could no longer control himself. His pupil had become his master.
The fact itself did not surprise him. Woman is more exalted than man in
morality. There is no virtue, no devotion, no heroism in which she does
not surpass him; but once impelled to the verge of the abyss, she falls
faster and lower than man. This is attributable to two causes: she has
more passion, and she has no honor. For honor is a reality and must
not be underrated. It is a noble, delicate, and salutary quality. It
elevates manly attributes; in fact, it constitutes the modesty of man.
It is sometimes a force, and always a grace. But to think that honor
is all-sufficient; that in the face of great interests, great passions,
great trials in life, it is a support and an infallible defence; that
it can enforce the precepts which come from God--in fact that it can
replace God--this is a terrible mistake. It exposes one in a fatal
moment to the loss of one’s self-esteem, and to fall suddenly and
forever into that dismal ocean of bitterness where Camors at that
instant was struggling in despair, like a drowning man in the darkness
of midnight.

He abandoned himself, on this evil night, to a final conflict full of
agony; and he was beaten.

The next evening at six o’clock he was at the house of the Marquise. He
found her in her boudoir, surrounded by all her regal luxury. She was
half buried in a fauteuil in the chimney-corner, looking a little
pale and fatigued. She received him with her usual coldness and
self-possession.

“Good-day,” she said. “How are you?”

“Not very well,” replied Camors.

“What is the matter?”

“I fancy that you know.”

She opened her large eyes wide with surprise, but did not reply.

“I entreat you, Madame,” continued Camors, smiling--“no more music, the
curtain is raised, and the drama has begun.”

“Ah! we shall see.”

“Do you love me?” he continued; “or were you simply acting, to try me,
last night? Can you, or will you, tell me?”

“I certainly could, but I do not wish to do so.”

“I had thought you more frank.”

“I have my hours.”

“Well, then,” said Camors, “if your hours of frankness have passed, mine
have begun.”

“That would be compensation,” she replied.

“And I will prove it to you,” continued Camors.

“I shall make a fete of it,” said the Marquise, throwing herself back
on the sofa, as if to make herself comfortable in order to enjoy an
agreeable conversation.

“I love you, Madame; and as you wish to be loved. I love you devotedly
and unto death--enough to kill myself, or you!”

“That is well,” said the Marquise, softly.

“But,” he continued in a hoarse and constrained tone, “in loving you, in
telling you of it, in trying to make you share my love, I violate basely
the obligations of honor of which you know, and others of which you
know not. It is a crime, as you have said. I do not try to extenuate my
offence. I see it, I judge it, and I accept it. I break the last moral
tie that is left me; I leave the ranks of men of honor, and I leave also
the ranks of humanity. I have nothing human left except my love, nothing
sacred but you; but my crime elevates itself by its magnitude. Well, I
interpret it thus: I imagine two beings, equally free and strong, loving
and valuing each other beyond all else, having no affection, no loyalty,
no devotion, no honor, except toward each other--but possessing all for
each other in a supreme degree.

“I give and consecrate absolutely to you, my person, all that I can be,
or may become, on condition of an equal return, still preserving
the same social conventionalities, without which we should both be
miserable.

“Secretly united, and secretly isolated; though in the midst of
the human herd, governing and despising it; uniting our gifts, our
faculties, and our powers, our two Parisian royalties--yours, which can
not be greater, and mine, which shall become greater if you love me and
living thus, one for the other, until death. You have dreamed, you told
me, of strange and almost sacrilegious love. Here it is; only before
accepting it, reflect well, for I assure you it is a serious thing.
My love for you is boundless. I love you enough to disdain and trample
under foot that which the meanest human being still respects. I love
you enough to find in you alone, in your single esteem, and in your
sole tenderness, in the pride and madness of being yours, oblivion and
consolation for friendship outraged, faith betrayed, and honor lost.
But, Madame, this is a sentiment which you will do well not to trifle
with. You should thoroughly understand this. If you desire my love, if
you consent to this alliance, opposed to all human laws, but grand and
singular also, deign to tell me so, and I shall fall at your feet. If
you do not wish it, if it terrifies you, if you are not prepared for
the double obligation it involves, tell me so, and fear not a word of
reproach. Whatever it might cost me--I would ruin my life, I would
leave you forever, and that which passed yesterday should be eternally
forgotten.”

He ceased, and remained with his eyes fixed on the young woman with a
burning anxiety. As he went on speaking her air became more grave; she
listened to him, her head a little inclined toward him in an attitude of
overpowering interest, throwing upon him at intervals a glance full of
gloomy fire. A slight but rapid palpitation of the bosom, a scarcely
perceptible quivering of the nostrils, alone betrayed the storm raging
within her.

“This,” she said, after a moment’s silence, “becomes really interesting;
but you do not intend to leave this evening, I suppose?”

“No,” said Camors.

“Very well,” she replied, inclining her head in sign of dismissal,
without offering her hand; “we shall see each other again.”

“But when?”

“At an early day.”

He thought she required time for reflection, a little terrified
doubtless by the monster she had evoked; he saluted her gravely and
departed.

The next day, and on the two succeeding days, he vainly presented
himself at her door.

The Marquise was either dining out or dressing.

It was for Camors a whole century of torment. One thought which often
disquieted him revisited him with double poignancy. The Marquise did
not love him. She only wished to revenge herself for the past, and after
disgracing him would laugh at him. She had made him sign the contract,
and then had escaped him. In the midst of these tortures of his pride,
his passion, instead of weakening, increased.

The fourth day after their interview he did not go to her house. He
hoped to meet her in the evening at the Viscountess d’Oilly’s, where
he usually saw her every Friday. This lady had been formerly the most
tender friend of the Count’s father. It was to her the Count had thought
proper to confide the education of his son.

Camors had preserved for her a kind of affection. She was an amiable
woman, whom he liked and laughed at.

No longer young, she had been compelled to renounce gallantry, which had
been the chief occupation of her youth, and never having had much taste
for devotion, she conceived the idea of having a salon. She received
there some distinguished men, savants and artists, who piqued themselves
on being free-thinkers.

The Viscountess, in order to fit herself for her new position, resolved
to enlighten herself. She attended public lectures and conferences,
which began to be fashionable. She spoke easily about spontaneous
generation. She manifested a lively surprise when Camors, who delighted
in tormenting her, deigned to inform her that men were descended from
monkeys.

“Now, my friend,” she said to him, “I can not really admit that. How can
you think your grandfather was a monkey, you who are so handsome?”

She reasoned on everything with the same force.

Although she boasted of being a sceptic, sometimes in the morning she
went out, concealed by a thick veil, and entered St. Sulpice, where
she confessed and put herself on good terms with God, in case He
should exist. She was rich and well connected, and in spite of the
irregularities of her youth, the best people visited her house.

Madame de Campvallon permitted herself to be introduced by M. de Camors.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan followed her there, because she followed her
everywhere, and took her son Sigismund. On this evening the reunion was
small. M. de Camors had only been there a few moments, when he had
the satisfaction of seeing the General and the Marquise enter. She
tranquilly expressed to him her regret at not having been at home
the preceding day; but it was impossible to hope for a more decided
explanation in a circle so small, and under the vigilant eye of Madame
de la Roche-Jugan. Camors interrogated vainly the face of his young
cousin. It was as beautiful and cold as usual. His anxiety increased;
he would have given his life at that moment to hear her say one word of
love.

The Viscountess liked the play of wit, as she had little herself. They
played at her house such little games as were then fashionable. Those
little games are not always innocent, as we shall see.

They had distributed pencils, pens, and packages of paper--some of the
players sitting around large tables, and some in separate chairs--and
scratched mysteriously, in turn, questions and answers. During this
time the General played whist with Madame de la Roche-Jugan. Madame
Campvallon did not usually take part in these games, as they fatigued
her. Camors was therefore astonished to see her accept the pencil and
paper offered her.

This singularity awakened his attention and put him on his guard. He
himself joined in the game, contrary to his custom, and even charged
himself with collecting in the basket the small notes as they were
written.

An hour passed without any special incident. The treasures of wit were
dispensed. The most delicate and unexpected questions--such as, “What is
love?” “Do you think that friendship can exist between the sexes?”
 “Is it sweeter to love or to beloved?”--succeeded each other with
corresponding replies. All at once the Marquise gave a slight scream,
and they saw a drop of blood trickle down her forehead. She laughed, and
showed her little silver pencil-case, which had a pen at one end, with
which she had scratched her forehead in her abstraction.

The attention of Camors was redoubled from this moment--the more so from
a rapid and significant glance from the Marquise, which seemed to warn
him of an approaching event. She was sitting a little in shadow in one
corner, in order to meditate more at ease on questions and answers. An
instant later Camors was passing around the room collecting notes. She
deposited one in the basket, slipping another into his hand with the
cat-like dexterity of her sex. In the midst of these papers, which
each person amused himself with reading, Camors found no difficulty in
retaining without remark the clandestine note of the Marquise. It was
written in red ink, a little pale, but very legible, and contained these
words:

   “I belong, soul, body, honor, riches, to my best-beloved cousin,
   Louis de Camors, from this moment and forever.

   “Written and signed with the pure blood of my veins, March 5, 185-.

   “CHARLOTTE DE LUC. D’ESTRELLES.”

All the blood of Camors surged to his brain--a cloud came over his
eyes--he rested his hand on the marble table, then suddenly his face
was covered with a mortal paleness. These symptoms did not arise from
remorse or fear; his passion overshadowed all. He felt a boundless joy.
He saw the world at his feet.

It was by this act of frankness and of extraordinary audacity, seasoned
by the bloody mysticism so familiar to the sixteenth century, which she
adored, that the Marquise de Campvallon surrendered herself to her lover
and sealed their fatal union.



CHAPTER XIV. AN ANONYMOUS LETTER

Nearly six weeks had passed after this last episode. It was five o’clock
in the afternoon and the Marquise awaited Camors, who was to come after
the session of the Corps Legislatif. There was a sudden knock at one of
the doors of her room, which communicated with her husband’s apartment.
It was the General. She remarked with surprise, and even with fear, that
his countenance was agitated.

“What is the matter with you, my dear?” she said. “Are you ill?”

“No,” replied the General, “not at all.”

He placed himself before her, and looked at her some moments before
speaking, his eyes rolling wildly.

“Charlotte!” he said at last, with a painful smile, “I must own to you
my folly. I am almost mad since morning--I have received such a singular
letter. Would you like to see it?”

“If you wish,” she replied.

He took a letter from his pocket, and gave it to her. The writing was
evidently carefully disguised, and it was not signed.

“An anonymous letter?” said the Marquise, whose eyebrows were slightly
raised, with an expression of disdain; then she read the letter, which
was as follows:

   “A true friend, General, feels indignant at seeing your confidence
   and your loyalty abused. You are deceived by those whom you love
   most.

   “A man who is covered with your favors and a woman who owes
   everything to you are united by a secret intimacy which outrages
   you. They are impatient for the hour when they can divide your
   spoils.

   “He who regards it as a pious duty to warn you does not desire to
   calumniate any one. He is sure that your honor is respected by her
   to whom you have confided it, and that she is still worthy of your
   confidence and esteem. She wrongs you in allowing herself to count
   upon the future, which your best friend dates from your death. He
   seeks your widow and your estate.

   “The poor woman submits against her will to the fascinations of a
   man too celebrated for his successful affairs of the heart. But
   this man, your friend--almost your son--how can he excuse his
   conduct? Every honest person must be shocked by such behavior, and
   particularly he whom a chance conversation informed of the fact, and
   who obeys his conscience in giving you this information.”

The Marquise, after reading it, returned the letter coldly to the
General.

“Sign it Eleanore-Jeanne de la Roche-Jugan!” she said.

“Do you think so?” asked the General.

“It is as clear as day,” replied the Marquise. “These expressions betray
her--‘a pious duty to warn you--‘celebrated for his successful affairs
of the heart’--‘every honest person.’ She can disguise her writing,
but not her style. But what is still more conclusive is that which she
attributes to Monsieur de Camors--for I suppose it alludes to him--and
to his private prospects and calculations. This can not have failed to
strike you, as it has me, I suppose?”

“If I thought this vile letter was her work,” cried the General, “I
never would see her again during my life.”

“Why not? It is better to laugh at it!”

The General began one of his solemn promenades across the room. The
Marquise looked uneasily at the clock. Her husband, intercepting one of
these glances, suddenly stopped.

“Do you expect Camors to-day?” he inquired.

“Yes; I think he will call after the session.”

“I think he will,” responded the General, with a convulsive smile. “And
do you know, my dear,” he added, “the absurd idea which has haunted me
since I received this infamous letter?--for I believe that infamy is
contagious.”

“You have conceived the idea of observing our interview?” said the
Marquise, in a tone of indolent raillery.

“Yes,” said the General, “there--behind that curtain--as in a theatre;
but, thank God! I have been able to resist this base intention. If ever
I allow myself to play so mean a part, I should wish at least to do it
with your knowledge and consent.”

“And do you ask me to consent to it?” asked the Marquise.

“My poor Charlotte!” said the General, in a sad and almost supplicating
tone, “I am an old fool--an overgrown child--but I feel that this
miserable letter will poison my life. I shall have no more an hour of
peace and confidence. What can you expect? I was so cruelly deceived
before. I am an honorable man, but I have been taught that all men are
not like myself. There are some things which to me seem as impossible as
walking on my head, yet I see others doing these things every day. What
can I say to you? After reading this perfidious letter, I could not help
recollecting that your intimacy with Camors has greatly increased of
late!”

“Without doubt,” said the Marquise, “I am very fond of him!”

“I remembered also your tete-a-tete with him, the other night, in the
boudoir, during the ball. When I awoke you had both an air of mystery.
What mysteries could there be between you two?”

“Ah, what indeed!” said the Marquise, smiling.

“And will you not tell me?”

“You shall know it at the proper time.”

“Finally, I swear to you that I suspect neither of you--I neither
suspect you of wronging me--of disgracing me--nor of soiling my name...
God help me!

“But if you two should love each other, even while respecting my honor:
if you love each other and confess it--if you two, even at my side, in
my heart--if you, my two children, should be calculating with impatient
eyes the progress of my old age--planning your projects for the future,
and smiling at my approaching death--postponing your happiness only for
my tomb you may think yourselves guiltless, but no, I tell you it would
be shameful!”

Under the empire of the passion which controlled him, the voice of the
General became louder. His common features assumed an air of sombre
dignity and imposing grandeur. A slight shade of paleness passed over
the lovely face of the young woman and a slight frown contracted her
forehead.

By an effort, which in a better cause would have been sublime, she
quickly mastered her weakness, and, coldly pointing out to her husband
the draped door by which he had entered, said:

“Very well, conceal yourself there!”

“You will never forgive me?”

“You know little of women, my friend, if you do not know that jealousy
is one of the crimes they not only pardon but love.”

“My God, I am not jealous!”

“Call it yourself what you will, but station yourself there!”

“And you are sincere in wishing me to do so?”

“I pray you to do so! Retire in the interval, leave the door open, and
when you hear Monsieur de Camors enter the court of the hotel, return.”

“No!” said the General, after a moment’s hesitation; “since I have gone
so far”--and he sighed deeply “I do not wish to leave myself the least
pretext for distrust. If I leave you before he comes, I am capable of
fancying--”

“That I might secretly warn him? Nothing more natural. Remain here,
then. Only take a book; for our conversation, under such circumstances,
can not be lively.”

He sat down.

“But,” he said, “what mystery can there be between you two?”

“You shall hear!” she said, with her sphinx-like smile.

The General mechanically took up a book. She stirred the fire, and
reflected. As she liked terror, danger, and dramatic incidents to blend
with her intrigues, she should have been content; for at that moment
shame, ruin, and death were at her door. But, to tell the truth, it was
too much for her; and when she looked, in the midst of the silence which
surrounded her, at the true character and scope of the perils which
surrounded her, she thought her brain would fail and her heart break.

She was not mistaken as to the origin of the letter. This shameful work
had indeed been planned by Madame de la Roche-Jugan. To do her justice,
she had not suspected the force of the blow she was dealing. She
still believed in the virtue of the Marquise; but during the perpetual
surveillance she had never relaxed, she could not fail to see the
changed nature of the intercourse between Camors and the Marquise. It
must not be forgotten that she dreamed of securing for her son
Sigismund the succession to her old friend; and she foresaw a dangerous
rivalry--the germ of which she sought to destroy. To awaken the distrust
of the General toward Camors, so as to cause his doors to be closed
against him, was all she meditated. But her anonymous letter, like most
villainies of this kind, was a more fatal and murderous weapon than its
base author imagined.

The young Marquise, then, mused while stirring the fire, casting, from
time to time, a furtive glance at the clock.

M. de Camors would soon arrive--how could she warn him? In the present
state of their relations it was not impossible that the very first words
of. Camors might immediately divulge their secret: and once betrayed,
there was not only for her personal dishonor, a scandalous fall,
poverty, a convent--but for her husband or her lover--perhaps for
both--death!

When the bell in the lower court sounded, announcing the Count’s
approach, these thoughts crowded into the brain of the Marquise like a
legion of phantoms. But she rallied her courage by a desperate effort
and strained all her faculties to the execution of the plan she had
hastily conceived, which was her last hope. And one word, one gesture,
one mistake, or one carelessness of her lover, might overthrow it in a
second. A moment later the door was opened by a servant, announcing
M. de Camors. Without speaking, she signed to her husband to gain his
hiding-place. The General, who had risen at the sound of the bell,
seemed still to hesitate, but shrugging his shoulders, as if in disdain
of himself, retired behind the curtain which faced the door.

M. de Camors entered the room carelessly, and advanced toward the
fireplace where sat the Marquise; his smiling lips half opened to
speak, when he was struck by the peculiar expression on the face of the
Marquise, and the words were frozen on his lips. This look, fixed upon
him from his entrance, had a strange, weird intensity, which, without
expressing anything, made him fear everything. But he was accustomed to
trying situations, and as wary and prudent as he was intrepid. He ceased
to smile and did not speak, but waited.

She gave him her hand without ceasing to look at him with the same
alarming intensity.

“Either she is mad,” he said to himself, “or there is some great peril!”

With the rapid perception of her genius and of her love, she felt he
understood her; and not leaving him time to speak and compromise her,
instantly said:

“It is very kind of you to keep your promise.”

“Not at all,” said Camors, seating himself.

“Yes! For you know you come here to be tormented.” There was a pause.

“Have you at last become a convert to my fixed idea?” she added after a
second.

“What fixed idea? It seems to me you have a great many!”

“Yes! But I speak of a good one--my best one, at least--of your
marriage!”

“What! again, cousin?” said Camors, who, now assured of his danger and
its nature, marched with a firmer foot over the burning soil.

“Yes, again, cousin; and I will tell you another thing--I have found the
person.”

“Ah! Then I shall run away!”

She met his smile with an imperious glance.

“Then you still adhere to that plan?” said Camors, laughing.

“Most firmly! I need not repeat to you my reasons--having preached
about it all winter--in fact so much so as to disturb the General, who
suspects some mystery between us.”

“The General? Indeed!”

“Oh, nothing serious, you must understand. Well, let us resume the
subject. Miss Campbell will not do--she is too blonde--an odd objection
for me to make by the way; not Mademoiselle de Silas--too thin;
not Mademoiselle Rolet, in spite of her millions; not Mademoiselle
d’Esgrigny--too much like the Bacquieres and Van-Cuyps. All this is a
little discouraging, you will admit; but finally everything clears up. I
tell you I have discovered the right one--a marvel!”

“Her name?” said Camors.

“Marie de Tecle!”

There was silence.

“Well, you say nothing,” resumed the Marquise, “because you can have
nothing to say! Because she unites everything--personal beauty, family,
fortune, everything--almost like a dream. Then, too, your properties
join. You see how I have thought of everything, my friend! I can not
imagine how we never came to think of this before!”

M. de Camors did not reply, and the Marquise began to be surprised at
his silence.

“Oh!” she exclaimed; “you may look a long time--there can not be a
single objection--you are caught this time. Come, my friend, say yes,
I implore you!” And while her lips said “I implore you,” in a tone of
gracious entreaty, her look said, with terrible emphasis, “You must!”

“Will you allow me to reflect upon it, Madame?” he said at last.

“No, my friend!”

“But really,” said Camors, who was very pale, “it seems to me you
dispose of the hand of Mademoiselle de Tecle very readily. Mademoiselle
de Tecle is rich and courted on all sides--also, her great-uncle has
ideas of the province, and her mother, ideas of religion, which might
well--”

“I charge myself with all that,” interrupted the Marquise.

“What a mania you have for marrying people!”

“Women who do not make love, cousin, always have a mania for
matchmaking.”

“But seriously, you will give me a few days for reflection?”

“To reflect about what? Have you not always told me you intended
marrying and have been only waiting the chance? Well, you never can find
a better one than this; and if you let it slip, you will repent the rest
of your life.”

“But give me time to consult my family!”

“Your family--what a joke! It seems to me you have reached full age; and
then--what family? Your aunt, Madame de la Roche-Jugan?”

“Doubtless! I do not wish to offend her:”

“Ah, my dear cousin, don’t be uneasy; suppress this uneasiness; I assure
you she will be delighted!”

“Why should she?”

“I have my reasons for thinking so;” and the young woman in uttering
these words was seized with a fit of sardonic laughter which came near
convulsion, so shaken were her nerves by the terrible tension.

Camors, to whom little by little the light fell stronger on the more
obscure points of the terrible enigma proposed to him, saw the necessity
of shortening a scene which had overtasked her faculties to an almost
insupportable degree. He rose:

“I am compelled to leave you,” he said; “for I am not dining at home.
But I will come to-morrow, if you will permit me.”

“Certainly. You authorize me to speak to the General?”

“Well, yes, for I really can see no reasonable objection.”

“Very good. I adore you!” said the Marquise. She gave him her hand,
which he kissed and immediately departed.

It would have required a much keener vision than that of M. de
Campvallon to detect any break, or any discordance, in the audacious
comedy which had just been played before him by these two great artists.

The mute play of their eyes alone could have betrayed them; and that he
could not see.

As to their tranquil, easy, natural dialogue there was not in it a word
which he could seize upon, and which did not remove all his disquietude,
and confound all his suspicions. From this moment, and ever afterward,
every shadow was effaced from his mind; for the ability to imagine such
a plot as that in which his wife in her despair had sought refuge, or to
comprehend such depth of perversity, was not in the General’s pure and
simple spirit.

When he reappeared before his wife, on leaving his concealment, he was
constrained and awkward. With a gesture of confusion and humility he
took her hand, and smiled upon her with all the goodness and tenderness
of his soul beaming from his face.

At this moment the Marquise, by a new reaction of her nervous system,
broke into weeping and sobbing; and this completed the General’s
despair.

Out of respect to this worthy man, we shall pass over a scene the
interest of which otherwise is not sufficient to warrant the unpleasant
effect it would produce on all honest people. We shall equally pass over
without record the conversation which took place the next day between
the Marquise and M. de Camors.

Camors had experienced, as we have observed, a sentiment of repulsion
at hearing the name of Mademoiselle de Tecle appear in the midst of this
intrigue. It amounted almost to horror, and he could not control the
manifestation of it. How could he conquer this supreme revolt of his
conscience to the point of submitting to the expedient which would make
his intrigue safe? By what detestable sophistries he dared persuade
himself that he owed everything to his accomplice--even this, we shall
not attempt to explain. To explain would be to extenuate, and that
we wish not to do. We shall only say that he resigned himself to this
marriage. On the path which he had entered a man can check himself as
little as he can check a flash of lightning.

As to the Marquise, one must have formed no conception of this depraved
though haughty spirit, if astonished at her persistence, in cold blood,
and after reflection, in the perfidious plot which the imminence of her
danger had suggested to her. She saw that the suspicions of the General
might be reawakened another day in a more dangerous manner, if this
marriage proved only a farce. She loved Camors passionately; and she
loved scarcely less the dramatic mystery of their liaison. She had also
felt a frantic terror at the thought of losing the great fortune which
she regarded as her own; for the disinterestedness of her early youth
had long vanished, and the idea of sinking miserably in the Parisian
world, where she had long reigned by her luxury as well as her beauty,
was insupportable to her.

Love, mystery, fortune-she wished to preserve them all at any price; and
the more she reflected, the more the marriage of Camors appeared to her
the surest safeguard.

It was true, it would give her a sort of rival. But she had too high an
opinion of herself to fear anything; and she preferred Mademoiselle
de Tecle to any other, because she knew her, and regarded her as an
inferior in everything.

About fifteen days after, the General called on Madame de Tecle one
morning, and demanded for M. de Camors her daughter’s hand. It would
be painful to dwell on the joy which Madame de Tecle felt; and her only
surprise was that Camors had not come in person to press his suit. But
Camors had not the heart to do so. He had been at Reuilly since that
morning, and called on Madame de Tecle, where he learned his overture
was accepted. Once having resolved on this monstrous action, he was
determined to carry it through in the most correct manner, and we know
he was master of all social arts.

In the evening Madame de Tecle and her daughter, left alone, walked
together a long time on their dear terrace, by the soft light of
the stars--the daughter blessing her mother, and the mother thanking
God--both mingling their hearts, their dreams, their kisses, and their
tears--happier, poor women, than is permitted long to human beings. The
marriage took place the ensuing month.



BOOK 3.



CHAPTER XV. THE COUNTESS DE CAMORS

After passing the few weeks of the honeymoon at Reuilly, the Comte and
Comtesse de Camors returned to Paris and established themselves at their
hotel in the Rue de l’Imperatrice. From this moment, and during the
months that followed, the young wife kept up an active correspondence
with her mother; and we here transcribe some of the letters, which
will make us more intimately acquainted with the character of the young
woman.

   Madame de Camors to Madame de Tecle.
                            “October.

   “Am I happy? No, my dearest mother! No--not happy! I have only
   wings and soar to heaven like a bird! I feel the sunshine in my
   head, in my eyes, in my heart.

   “It blinds me, it enchants me, it causes me to shed delicious tears!
   Happy? No, my tender mother; that is not possible, when I think
   that I am his wife! The wife--understand me--of him who has reigned
   in my poor thoughts since I was able to think--of him whom I should
   have chosen out of the whole universe! When I remember that I am
   his wife, that we are united forever, how I love life! how I love
   you! how I love God!

   “The Bois and the lake are within a few steps of us, as you know.
   We ride thither nearly every morning, my husband and I!--I repeat,
   I and my husband! We go there, my husband and I--I and my husband!

   “I know not how it is, but it is always delicious weather to me,
   even when it rains--as it does furiously to-day; for we have just
   come in, driven home by the storm.

   “During our ride to-day, I took occasion to question him quietly as
   to some points of our history which puzzled me. First, why had he
   married me?

   “‘Because you pleased me apparently, Miss Mary.’ He likes to give me
   this name, which recalls to him I know not what episode of my
   untamed youth--untamed still to him.

   “‘If I pleased you, why did I see you so seldom?’

   “‘Because I did not wish to court you until I had decided on
   marrying.’

   “‘How could I have pleased you, not being at all beautiful?’

   “‘You are not beautiful, it is true,’ replies this cruel young man,
   ‘but you are very pretty; and above all you are grace itself, like
   your mother.’

   “All these obscure points being cleared up to the complete
   satisfaction of Miss Mary, Miss Mary took to fast galloping; not
   because it was raining, but because she became suddenly--we do not
   know the reason why--as red as a poppy.

   “Oh, beloved mother! how sweet it is to be loved by him we adore,
   and to be loved precisely as we wish--as we have dreamed--according
   to the exact programme of our young, romantic hearts!

   “Did you ever believe I had ideas on such a delicate subject? Yes,
   dear mother, I had them. Thus, it seemed to me there were many
   different styles of loving--some vulgar, some pretentious, some
   foolish, and others, again, excessively comic. None of these seemed
   suited to the Prince, our neighbor. I ever felt he should love,
   like the Prince he is, with grace and dignity; with serious
   tenderness, a little stern perhaps; with amiability, but almost with
   condescension--as a lover, but as a master, too--in fine, like my
   husband!

   “Dear angel, who art my mother! be happy in my happiness, which was
   your sole work. I kiss your hands--I kiss your wings!

   “I thank you! I bless you! I adore you!

   “If you were near me, it would be too much happiness! I should die,
   I think. Nevertheless, come to us very soon. Your chamber awaits
   you. It is as blue as the heavens in which I float. I have already
   told you this, but I repeat it.

   “Good-by, mother of the happiest woman in the world!

                       “MISS MARY,

                    “Comtesse de Camors.”

       ...............................

                       “November.

   “MY MOTHER:

   “You made me weep--I who await you every morning. I will say
   nothing to you, however; I will not beg you. If the health of my
   grandfather seems to you so feeble as to demand your presence, I
   know no prayer would take you away from your duty. Nor would I make
   the prayer, my angel mother!

   “But exaggerate nothing, I pray you, and think your little Marie can
   not pass by the blue chamber without feeling a swelling of the
   heart. Apart from this grief which you cause her, she continues to
   be as happy as even you could wish.

   “Her charming Prince is ever charming and ever her Prince! He takes
   her to see the monuments, the museums, the theatres, like the poor
   little provincial that she is. Is it not touching on the part of so
   great a personage?

   “He is amused at my ecstasies--for I have ecstasies. Do not breathe
   it to my Uncle Des Rameures, but Paris is superb! The days here
   count double our own for thought and life.

   “My husband took me to Versailles yesterday. I suspect that this,
   in the eyes of the people here, is rather a ridiculous episode; for
   I notice the Count did not boast of it. Versailles corresponds
   entirely with the impressions you had given me of it; for there is
   not the slightest change since you visited it with my grandfather.

   “It is grand, solemn, and cold. There is, though, a new and very
   curious museum in the upper story of the palace, consisting chiefly
   of original portraits of the famous men of history. Nothing pleases
   me more than to see these heroes of my memory passing before me in
   grand procession--from Charles the Bold to George Washington. Those
   faces my imagination has so often tried to evoke, that it seems to
   me we are in the Elysian Fields, and hold converse with the dead:

   “You must know, my mother, I was familiar with many things that
   surprised M. de Camors very much. He was greatly struck by my
   knowledge of science and my genius. I did no more, as you may
   imagine, than respond to his questions; but it seemed to astonish
   him that I could respond at all.

   “Why should he ask me these things? If he did not know how to
   distinguish the different Princesses of Conti, the answer is simple.

   “But I knew, because my mother taught me. That is simple enough
   too.

   “We dined afterward, at my suggestion, at a restaurant. Oh, my
   mother! this was the happiest moment of my life! To dine at a
   restaurant with my husband was the most delightful of all
   dissipations!

   “I have said he seemed astonished at my learning. I ought to add in
   general, he seemed astonished whenever I opened my lips. Did he
   imagine me a mute? I speak little, I acknowledge, however, for he
   inspires me with a ceaseless fear: I am afraid of displeasing him,
   of appearing silly before him, or pretentious, or pedantic. The day
   when I shall be at ease with him, and when I can show him my good
   sense and gratitude--if that day ever comes--I shall be relieved of
   a great weight on my mind, for truly I sometimes fear he looks on me
   as a child.

   “The other day I stopped before a toy-shop on the Boulevard. What a
   blunder! And as he saw my eye fixed on a magnificent squadron of
   dolls--

   “‘Do you wish one, Miss Mary?’ he said.

   “Was not this horrible, my mother--from him who knows everything
   except the Princesses of Conti? He explained everything to me; but
   briefly in a word, as if to a person he despaired of ever making
   understand him. And I understand so well all the time, my poor
   little mother!

   “But so much the better, say I; for if he loves me while thinking me
   silly, what will it be later!

   “With fond love, your

                       “MARIE.”

       .............................

                       “December.

   “All Paris has returned once more, my dear mother, and for fifteen
   days I have been occupied with visits. The men here do not usually
   visit; but my husband is obliged to present me for the first time to
   the persons I ought to know. He accompanies me there, which is much
   more agreeable to me than to him, I believe.

   “He is more serious than usual. Is not this the only form in which
   amiable men show their bad humor? The people we visit look on me
   with a certain interest. The woman whom this great lord has honored
   with his choice is evidently an object of great curiosity. This
   flatters and intimidates me; I blush and feel constrained; I appear
   awkward. When they find me awkward and insignificant, they stare.
   They believe he married me for my fortune: then I wish to cry. We
   reenter the carriage, he smiles upon me, and I am in heaven! Such
   are our visits.

   “You must know, my mother, that to me Madame Campvallon is divine.
   She often takes me to her box at the Italiens, as mine will not be
   vacant until January. Yesterday she gave a little fete for me in
   her beautiful salon: the General opened the ball with me.

   “Oh! my mother, what a wonderfully clever man the General is! And I
   admire him because he admires you!

   “The Marquise presented to me all the best dancers. They were young
   gentlemen, with their necks so uncovered it almost gave me a chill.
   I never before had seen men bare-necked and the fashion is not
   becoming. It was very evident, however, that they considered
   themselves indispensable and charming. Their deportment was
   insolent and self-sufficient; their eyes were disdainful and
   all-conquering.

   “Their mouths ever open to breathe freer, their coat-tails flapping
   like wings, they take one by the waist--as one takes his own
   property. Informing you by a look that they are about to do you the
   honor of removing you, they whirl you away; then, panting for
   breath, inform you by another look that they will do themselves the
   pleasure of stopping--and they stop. Then they rest a moment,
   panting, laughing, showing their teeth; another look--and they
   repeat the same performance. They are wonderful!

   “Louis waltzed with me and seemed satisfied. I saw him for the
   first time waltz with the Marquise. Oh, my mother, it was the dance
   of the stars!

   “One thing which struck me this evening, as always, was the manifest
   idolatry with which the women regard my husband. This, my tender
   mother, terrifies me. Why--I ask myself--why did he choose me?
   How can I please him? How can I succeed?

   “Behold the result of all my meditations! A folly perhaps, but of
   which the effect is to reassure me:

   “Portrait of the Comtesse de Camors, drawn by herself.

   “The Comtesse de Camors, formerly Marie de Tecle, is a personage
   who, having reached her twentieth year, looks older. She is not
   beautiful, as her husband is the first person to confess. He says
   she is pretty; but she doubts even this. Let us see. She has very
   long limbs, a fault which she shares with Diana, the Huntress, and
   which probably gives to the gait of the Countess a lightness it
   might not otherwise possess. Her body is naturally short, and on
   horseback appears to best advantage. She is plump without being
   gross.

   “Her features are irregular; the mouth being too large and the lips
   too thick, with--alas! the shade of a moustache; white teeth, a
   little too small; a commonplace nose, a slightly pug; and her
   mother’s eyes--her best feature. She has the eyebrows of her Uncle
   Des Rameures, which gives an air of severity to the face and
   neutralizes the good-natured expression-a reflex from the softness
   of her heart.

   “She has the dark complexion of her mother, which is more becoming
   to her mother than to her. Add to all this, blue-black hair in
   great silky masses. On the whole, one knows not what to pronounce
   her.

   “There, my mother, is my portrait! Intended to reassure me, it has
   hardly done so; for it seems to me to be that of an ugly little
   woman!

   “I wish to be the most lively of women; I wish to be one of the most
   distinguished. I wish to be one of the most captivating! But, oh,
   my mother! if I please him I am still more enchanted! On the
   whole, thank God! he finds me perhaps much better than I am: for
   men have not the same taste in these matters that we have.

   “But what I really can not comprehend, is why he has so little
   admiration for the Marquise de Campvallon. His manner is very cold
   to her. Were I a man, I should be wildly in love with that superb
   woman! Good-night, most beloved of mothers!”

       ..........................

                         “January.

   “You complain of me, my cherished one! The tone of my letters
   wounds you! You can not comprehend how this matter of my personal
   appearance haunts me. I scrutinize it; I compare it with that of
   others. There is something of levity in that which hurts you? You
   ask how can I think a man attaches himself to these things, while
   the merits of mind and soul go for nothing?

   “But, my dearest mother, how will these merits of mind and of soul
   --supposing your daughter to possess them--serve her, unless she
   possesses the courage or has the opportunity to display them? And
   when I summon up the courage, it seems to me the occasion never
   comes.

   “For I must confess to you that this delicious Paris is not perfect;
   and I discover, little by little, the spots upon the sun.

   “Paris is the most charming place! The only pity is that it has
   inhabitants! Not but that they are agreeable, for they are only too
   much so; only they are also very careless, and appear to my view to
   live and die without reflecting much on what they are doing. It is
   not their fault; they have no time.

   “Without leaving Paris, they are incessant travellers, eternally
   distracted by motion and novelty. Other travellers, when they have
   visited some distant corner--forgetting for a while their families,
   their duties, and their homes--return and settle down again. But
   these Parisians never do. Their life is an endless voyage; they
   have no home. That which elsewhere is the great aim of life is
   secondary here. One has here, as elsewhere, an establishment--a
   house, a private chamber. One must have. Here one is wife or
   mother, husband or father, just as elsewhere; but, my poor mother,
   they are these things just as little as possible. The whole
   interest centres not in the homes; but in the streets, the museums,
   the salons, the theatres, and the clubs. It radiates to the immense
   outside life, which in all its forms night and day agitates Paris,
   attracts, excites, and enervates you; steals your time, your mind,
   your soul--and devours them all!

   “Paris is the most delicious of places to visit--the worst of places
   to live in.

   “Understand well, my mother, that in seeking by what qualifies I can
   best attract my husband--who is the best of men, doubtless, but of
   Parisian men nevertheless--I have continually reflected on merits
   which may be seen at once, which do not require time to be
   appreciated.

   “Finally, I do not deny that all this is miserable cynicism,
   unworthy of you and of myself; for you know I am not at heart a bad
   little woman. Certainly, if I could keep Monsieur de Camors for a
   year or two at an old chateau in the midst of a solitary wood, I
   should like it much. I could then see him more frequently, I could
   then become familiar with his august person, and could develop my
   little talents under his charmed eyes. But then this might weary
   him and would be too easy. Life and happiness, I know, are not so
   easily managed. All is difficulty, peril, and conflict.

   “What joy, then, to conquer! And I swear to you, my mother, that I
   will conquer! I will force him to know me as you know me; to love
   me, not as he now does, but as you do, for many good reasons of
   which he does not yet dream.

   “Not that he believes me absolutely a fool; I think he has abandoned
   that idea for at least two days past.

   “How he came thus to think, my next letter shall explain.

                  “Your own

                         “MARIE.”



CHAPTER XVI. THE REPTILE STRIVES TO CLIMB

                         “March.

   “You will remember, my mother, that the Count has as secretary a man
   named Vautrot. The name is a bad one; but the man himself is a good
   enough creature, except that I somewhat dislike his catlike style of
   looking at one.

   “Well, Monsieur de Vautrot lives in the house with us. He comes
   early in the morning, breakfasts at some neighboring cafe, passes
   the day in the Count’s study, and often remains to dine with us, if
   he has work to finish in the evening.

   “He is an educated man, and knows a little of everything; and he has
   undertaken many occupations before he accepted the subordinate
   though lucrative post he now occupies with my husband. He loves
   literature; but not that of his time and of his country, perhaps
   because he himself has failed in this. He prefers foreign writers
   and poets, whom he quotes with some taste, though with too much
   declamation.

   “Most probably his early education was defective; for on all
   occasions, when speaking with us, he says, ‘Yes, Monsieur le Comte!’
   or ‘Certainly, Madame la Comtesse!’ as if he were a servant. Yet
   withal, he has a peculiar pride, or perhaps I should say
   insufferable vanity. But his great fault, in my eyes, is the
   scoffing tone he adopts, when the subject is religion or morals.

   “Two days ago, while we were dining, Vautrot allowed himself to
   indulge in a rather violent tirade of this description. It was
   certainly contrary to all good taste.

   “‘My dear Vautrot,’ my husband said quietly to him, ‘to me these
   pleasantries of yours are indifferent; but pray remember, that while
   you are a strong-minded man, my wife is a weak-minded woman; and
   strength, you know, should respect weakness.’

   “Monsieur Vautrot first grew white, then red, and finally green. He
   rose, bowed awkwardly, and immediately afterward left the table.
   Since that time I have remarked his manner has been more reserved.
   The moment I was alone with Louis, I said:

   “‘You may think me indiscreet, but pray let me ask you a question.
   How can you confide all your affairs and all your secrets to a man
   who professes to have no principles?’

   “Monsieur de Camors laughed.

   “‘Oh, he talks thus out of bravado,’ he answered. ‘He thinks to
   make himself more interesting in your eyes by these Mephistophelian
   airs. At bottom he is a good fellow.’

   “‘But,’ I answered, ‘he has faith in nothing.’

   “‘Not in much, I believe. Yet he has never deceived me. He is an
   honorable man.’

   “I opened my eyes wide at this.

   “‘Well,’ he said, with an amused look, ‘what is the matter, Miss
   Mary?’

   “‘What is this honor you speak of?’

   “‘Let me ask your definition of it, Miss Mary,’ he replied.

   “‘Mon Dieu!’ I cried, blushing deeply, ‘I know but little of it, but
   it seems to me that honor separated from morality is no great thing;
   and morality without religion is nothing. They all constitute a
   chain. Honor hangs to the last link, like a flower; but if the
   chain be broken, honor falls with the rest.’ He looked at me with
   strange eyes, as if he were not only confounded but disquieted by my
   philosophy. Then he gave a deep sigh, and rising said:

   “‘Very neat, that definition-very neat.’

   “That night, at the opera, he plied me with bonbons and orange ices.
   Madame de Campvallon accompanied us; and at parting, I begged her to
   call for me next day on her way to the Bois, for she is my idol.
   She is so lovely and so distinguished--and she I knows it well. I
   love to be with her. On our return home, Louis remained silent,
   contrary to his custom. Suddenly he said, brusquely:

   “‘Marie, do you go with the Marquise to the Bois to-morrow?’

   “‘Yes.’

   “‘But you see her often, it seems to me-morning and evening. You
   are always with her.’

   “‘Heavens! I do it to be agreeable to you. Is not Madame de
   Campvallon a good associate?’

   “‘Excellent; only in general I do not admire female friendships.
   But I did wrong to speak to you on this subject. You have wit and
   discretion enough to preserve the proper limits.’

   “This, my mother, was what he said to me. I embrace you.

                  “Ever your

                         “MARIE.”

       ............................

                         “March.

   “I hope, my own mother, not to bore you this year with a catalogue
   of fetes and festivals, lamps and girandoles; for Lent is coming.
   To-day is Ash-Wednesday. Well, we dance to-morrow evening at Madame
   d’Oilly’s. I had hoped not to go, but I saw Louis was disappointed,
   and I feared to offend Madame d’Oilly, who has acted a mother’s part
   to my husband. Lent here is only an empty name. I sigh to myself:
   ‘Will they never stop! Great heavens! will they never cease
   amusing themselves?’

   “I must confess to you, my darling mother, I amuse myself too much
   to be happy. I depended on Lent for some time to myself, and see
   how they efface the calendar!

   “This dear Lent! What a sweet, honest, pious invention it is,
   notwithstanding. How sensible is our religion! How well it
   understands human weakness and folly! How far-seeing in its
   regulations! How indulgent also! for to limit pleasure is to
   pardon it.

   “I also love pleasure--the beautiful toilets that make us resemble
   flowers, the lighted salons, the music, the gay voices and the
   dance. Yes, I love all these things; I experience their charming
   confusion; I palpitate, I inhale their intoxication. But always--
   always! at Paris in the winter--at the springs in summer--ever this
   crowd, ever this whirl, this intoxication of pleasure! All become
   like savages, like negroes, and--dare I say so?--bestial! Alas for
   Lent!

   “HE foresaw it. HE told us, as the priest told me this morning:
   ‘Remember you have a soul: Remember you have duties!--a husband
   --a child--a mother--a God!’

   “Then, my mother, we should retire within ourselves; should pass the
   time in grave thought between the church and our homes; should
   converse on solemn and serious subjects; and should dwell in the
   moral world to gain a foothold in heaven! This season is intended
   as a wholesome interval to prevent our running frivolity into
   dissipation, and pleasure into convulsion; to prevent our winter’s
   mask from becoming our permanent visage. This is entirely the
   opinion of Madame Jaubert.

   “Who is this Madame Jaubert? you will ask. She is a little
   Parisian angel whom my mother would dearly love! I met her almost
   everywhere--but chiefly at St. Phillipe de Roule--for several months
   without being aware that she is our neighbor, that her hotel adjoins
   ours. Such is Paris!

   “She is a graceful person, with a soft and tender, but decided air.
   We sat near each other at church; we gave each other side-glances;
   we pushed our chairs to let each other pass; and in our softest
   voices would say, ‘Excuse me, Madame!’ ‘Oh, Madame!’ My glove would
   fall, she would pick it up; I would offer her the holy water, and
   receive a sweet smile, with ‘Dear Madame!’ Once at a concert at the
   Tuileries we observed each other at a distance, and smiled
   recognition; when any part of the music pleased us particularly we
   glanced smilingly at each other. Judge of my surprise next morning
   when I saw my affinity enter the little Italian house next ours--and
   enter it, too, as if it were her home. On inquiry I found she was
   Madame Jaubert, the wife of a tall, fair young man who is a civil
   engineer.

   “I was seized with a desire to call upon my neighbor. I spoke of it
   to Louis, blushing slightly, for I remembered he did not approve of
   intimacies between women. But above all, he loves me!

   “Notwithstanding he slightly shrugged his shoulders--‘Permit me at
   least, Miss Mary, to make some inquiries about these people.’

   “A few days afterward he had made them, for he said: ‘Miss Mary, you
   may visit Madame Jaubert; she is a perfectly proper person.’

   “I first flew to my husband’s neck, and thence went to call upon
   Madame Jaubert.

   “‘It is I, Madame!’

   “‘Oh, Madame, permit me!’

   “And we embraced each other and were good friends immediately.

   “Her husband is a civil engineer, as I have said. He was once
   occupied with great inventions and with great industrial works; but
   that was only for a short time. Having inherited a large estate, he
   abandoned his studies and did nothing--at least nothing but
   mischief. When he married to increase his fortune, his pretty
   little wife had a sad surprise. He was never seen at home; always
   at the club--always behind the scenes at the opera--always going to
   the devil! He gambled, he had mistresses and shameful affairs. But
   worse than all, he drank--he came to his wife drunk. One incident,
   which my pen almost refuses to write, will give you an idea. Think
   of it! He conceived the idea of sleeping in his boots! There, my
   mother, is the pretty fellow my sweet little friend transformed,
   little by little, into a decent man, a man of merit, and an
   excellent husband!

   “And she did it all by gentleness, firmness, and sagacity. Now is
   not this encouraging?--for, God knows, my task is less difficult.

   “Their household charms me; for it proves that one may build for
   one’s self, even in the midst of this Paris, a little nest such as
   one dreams of. These dear neighbors are inhabitants of Paris--not
   its prey. They have their fireside; they own it, and it belongs to
   them. Paris is at their door--so much the better. They have ever a
   relish for refined amusement; ‘they drink at the fountain,’ but do
   not drown themselves in it. Their habits are the same, passing
   their evenings in conversation, reading, or music; stirring the fire
   and listening to the wind and rain without, as if they were in a
   forest.

   “Life slips gently through their fingers, thread by thread, as in
   our dear old country evenings.

   “My mother, they are happy!

   “Here, then, is my dream--here is my plan.

   “My husband has no vices, as Monsieur Jaubert had. He has only the
   habits of all the brilliant men of his Paris-world. It is
   necessary, my own mother, gradually to reform him; to suggest
   insensibly to him the new idea that one may pass one evening at home
   in company with a beloved and loving wife, without dying suddenly of
   consumption.

   “The rest will follow.

   “What is this rest? It is the taste for a quiet life, for the
   serious sweetness of the domestic hearth--the family taste--the idea
   of seclusion--the recovered soul!

   “Is it not so, my good angel? Then trust me. I am more than ever
   full of ardor, courage, and confidence. For he loves me with all
   his heart, with more levity, perhaps, than I deserve; but still--he
   loves me!

   “He loves me; he spoils me; he heaps presents upon me. There is no
   pleasure he does not offer me, except, be it understood, the
   pleasure of passing one evening at home together.

   “But he loves me! That is the great point--he loves me!

   “Now, dearest mother, let me whisper one final word-a word that
   makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It seems to me that for
   some time past I have had two hearts--a large one of my own, and--
   another--smaller!

   “Oh, my mother! I see you in tears. But it is a great mystery
   this. It is a dream of heaven; but perhaps only a dream, which I
   have not yet told even to my husband--only to my adorable mother!
   Do not weep, for it is not yet quite certain.

               “Your naughty
                       Miss MARY.”

In reply to this letter Madame de Camors received one three mornings
after, announcing to her the death of her grandfather. The Comte de
Tecle had died of apoplexy, of which his state of health had long given
warning. Madame de Tecle foresaw that the first impulse of her daughter
would be to join her to share her sad bereavement. She advised her
strongly against undertaking the fatigue of the journey, and promised to
visit her in Paris, as soon as she conveniently could. The mourning in
the family heightened in the heart of the Countess the uneasy feeling
and vague sadness her last letters had indicated.

She was much less happy than she told her mother; for the first
enthusiasm and first illusions of marriage could not long deceive a
spirit so quick and acute as hers.

A young girl who marries is easily deceived by the show of an affection
of which she is the object. It is rare that she does not adore her
husband and believe she is adored by him, simply because he has married
her.

The young heart opens spontaneously and diffuses its delicate perfume of
love and its songs of tenderness; and enveloped in this heavenly cloud
all seems love around it. But, little by little, it frees itself; and,
too often, recognizes that this delicious harmony and intoxicating
atmosphere which charmed it came only from itself.

Thus was it with the Countess; so far as the pen can render the shadows
of a feminine soul. Such were the impressions which, day by day,
penetrated the very soul of our poor “Miss Mary.”

It was nothing more than this; but this was everything to her!

The idea of being betrayed by her husband--and that, too, with cruel
premeditation--never had arisen to torture her soul. But, beyond those
delicate attentions to her which she never exaggerated in her letters
to her mother, she felt herself disdained and slighted. Marriage had not
changed Camors’s habits: he dined at home, instead of at his club, that
was all. She believed herself loved, however, but with a lightness that
was almost offensive. Yet, though she was sometimes sad and nearly in
tears, she did not despair; this valiant little heart attached itself
with intrepid confidence to all the happy chances the future might have
in store for it.

M. de Camors continued very indifferent--as one may readily
comprehend--to the agitation which tormented this young heart, but
which never occurred to him for a moment. For himself, strange as it may
appear, he was happy enough. This marriage had been a painful step to
take; but, once confirmed in his sin, he became reconciled to it. But
his conscience, seared as it was, had some living fibres in it; and he
would not have failed in the duty he thought he owed to his wife. These
sentiments were composed of a sort of indifference, blended with pity.
He was vaguely sorry for this child, whose existence was absorbed and
destroyed between those of two beings of nature superior to her own; and
he hoped she would always remain ignorant of the fate to which she was
condemned. He resolved never to neglect anything that might extenuate
its rigor; but he belonged, nevertheless, more than ever solely to the
passion which was the supreme crime of his life. For his intrigue with
Madame de Campvallon, continually excited by mystery and danger--and
conducted with profound address by a woman whose cunning was equal to
her beauty--continued as strong, after years of enjoyment, as at first.

The gracious courtesy of M. de Camors, on which he piqued himself,
as regarded his wife, had its limits; as the young Countess perceived
whenever she attempted to abuse it. Thus, on several occasions she
declined receiving guests on the ground of indisposition, hoping her
husband would not abandon her to her solitude. She was in error.

The Count gave her in reality, under these circumstances, a tete-a-tete
of a few minutes after dinner; but near nine o’clock he would leave her
with perfect tranquillity. Perhaps an hour later she would receive a
little packet of bonbons, or a pretty basket of choice fruit, that would
permit her to pass the evening as she might. These little gifts she
sometimes divided with her neighbor, Madame Jaubert; sometimes with M.
de Vautrot, secretary to her husband.

This M. de Vautrot, for whom she had at first conceived an aversion, was
gradually getting into her good graces. In the absence of her husband
she always found him at hand; and referred to him for many little
details, such as addresses, invitations, the selection of books and the
purchase of furniture. From this came a certain familiarity; she began
to call him Vautrot, or “My good Vautrot,” while he zealously performed
all her little commissions. He manifested for her a great deal of
respectful attention, and even refrained from indulging in the sceptical
sneers which he knew displeased her. Happy to witness this reform and
to testify her gratitude, she invited him to remain on two or three
evenings when he came to take his leave, and talked with him of books
and the theatres.

When her mourning kept her at home, M. de Camors passed the two first
evenings with her until ten o’clock. But this effort fatigued him, and
the poor young woman, who had already erected an edifice for the future
on this frail basis, had the mortification of observing that on the
third evening he had resumed his bachelor habits.

This was a great blow to her, and her sadness became greater than it
had been up to that time; so much so in fact, that solitude was almost
unbearable. She had hardly been long enough in Paris to form intimacies.
Madame Jaubert came to her friend as often as she could; but in the
intervals the Countess adopted the habit of retaining Vautrot, or even
of sending for him. Camors himself, three fourths of the time, would
bring him in before going out in the evening.

“I bring you Vautrot, my dear,” he would say, “and Shakespeare. You can
read him together.”

Vautrot read well; and though his heavy declamatory style frequently
annoyed the Countess, she thus managed to kill many a long evening,
while waiting the expected visit of Madame de Tecle. But Vautrot,
whenever he looked at her, wore such a sympathetic air and seemed so
mortified when she did not invite him to stay, that, even when wearied
of him, she frequently did so.

About the end of the month of April, M. Vautrot was alone with the
Countess de Camors about ten o’clock in the evening. They were reading
Goethe’s Faust, which she had never before heard. This reading seemed to
interest the young woman more than usual, and with her eyes fixed on
the reader, she listened to it with rapt attention. She was not alone
fascinated by the work, but--as is frequently the case-she traced her
own thoughts and her own history in the fiction of the poet.

We all know with what strange clairvoyance a mind possessed with a fixed
idea discovers resemblances and allusions in accidental description.
Madame de Camors perceived without doubt some remote connection between
her husband and Faust--between herself and Marguerite; for she could not
help showing that she was strangely agitated. She could not restrain
the violence of her emotion, when Marguerite in prison cries out, in her
agony and madness:

                Marguerite.

Who has given you, headsman, this power over me? You come to me while it
is yet midnight. Be merciful and let me live.

Is not to-morrow morning soon enough?

I am yet so young--so young! and am to die already! I was fair, too;
that was my undoing. My true love was near, now he is far away.

Torn lies my garland; scattered the flowers. Don’t take hold of me so
roughly! spare me! spare me. What have I done to you? Let me not implore
you in vain! I never saw you before in all my life; you know.

                 Faust.

Can I endure this misery?

                Marguerite.

I am now entirely in thy power. Only let me give suck to the child. I
pressed it this whole night to my heart. They took it away to vex me,
and now say I killed it, and I shall never be happy again. They sing
songs upon me! It is wicked of the people. An old tale ends so--who bids
them apply it?

                 Faust.

A lover lies at thy feet, to unloose the bonds of wickedness.

What a blending of confused sentiments, of powerful sympathies, of vague
apprehensions, suddenly seized on the breast of the young Countess! One
can hardly imagine their force--to the very verge of distracting her.
She turned on her fauteuil and closed her beautiful eyes, as if to keep
back the tears which rolled under the fringe of the long lashes.

At this moment Vautrot ceased to read, dropped his book, sighed
profoundly, and stared a moment.

Then he knelt at the feet of the Comtesse de Camors! He took her hand;
he said, with a tragic sigh, “Poor angel!”

It will be difficult to understand this incident and the unfortunately
grave results that followed it, without having the moral and physical
portrait of its principal actor.

M. Hippolyte Vautrot was a handsome man and knew it perfectly. He even
flattered himself on a certain resemblance to his patron, the Comte de
Camors. Partly from nature and partly from continual imitation, this
idea had some foundation; for he resembled the Count as much as a vulgar
man can resemble one of the highest polish.

He was the son of a small confectioner in the provinces; had received
from his father an honestly acquired fortune, and had dissipated it in
the varied enterprises of his adventurous life. The influence of his
college, however, obtained for him a place in the Seminary. He left
it to come to Paris and study law; placed himself with an attorney;
attempted literature without success; gambled on the Bourse and lost
there.

He had successively knocked with feverish hand at all the doors of
Fortune, and none had opened to him, because, though his ambition was
great, his capacity was limited. Subordinate positions, for which alone
he was fit, he did not want. He would have made a good tutor: he sighed
to be a poet. He would have been a respectable cure in the country: he
pined to be a bishop. Fitted for an excellent secretary, he aspired to
be a minister. In fine, he wished to be a great man, and consequently
was a failure as a little one.

But he made himself a hypocrite; and that he found much easier. He
supported himself on the one hand by the philosophic society to be met
at Madame d’Oilly’s; on the other, by the orthodox reunions of Madame de
la Roche-Jugan.

By these influences he contrived to secure the secretaryship to the
Comte de Camors, who, in his general contempt of the human species,
judged Vautrot to be as good as any other. Now, familiarity with M. de
Camors was, morally, fearfully prejudicial to the secretary. It had, it
is true, the effect of stripping off his devout mask, which he seldom
put on before his patron; but it terribly increased in venom the
depravity which disappointment and wounded pride had secreted in his
ulcerated heart.

Of course no one will imagine that M. de Camors had the bad taste to
undertake deliberately the demoralization of his secretary; but contact,
intimacy, and example sufficed fully to do this. A secretary is always
more or less a confidant. He divines that which is not revealed to him;
and Vautrot could not be long in discovering that his patron’s success
did not arise, morally, from too much principle--in politics, from
excess of conviction--in business, from a mania for scruples! The
intellectual superiority of Camors, refined and insolent as it was,
aided to blind Vautrot, showing him evil which was not only prosperous,
but was also radiant in grace and prestige. For these reasons he most
profoundly admired his master--admired, imitated, and execrated him!

Camors professed for him and for his solemn airs an utter contempt,
which he did not always take the trouble to conceal; and Vautrot
trembled when some burning sarcasm fell from such a height on the old
wound of his vanity--that wound which was ever sore within him. What he
hated most in Camors was his easy and insolent triumph--his rapid and
unmerited fortune--all those enjoyments which life yielded him without
pain, without toil, without conscience--peacefully tasted! But what he
hated above all, was that this man had thus obtained these things while
he had vainly striven for them.

Assuredly, in this Vautrot was not an exception. The same example
presented to a healthier mind would not have been much more salutary,
for we must tell those who, like M. de Camors, trample under foot all
principles of right, and nevertheless imagine that their secretaries,
their servants, their wives and their children, may remain virtuous--we
must tell these that while they wrong others they deceive themselves!
And this was the case with Hippolyte Vautrot.

He was about forty years of age--a period of life when men often become
very vicious, even when they have been passably virtuous up to that
time. He affected an austere and puritanical air; was the great man of
the cafe he frequented; and there passed judgment on his contemporaries
and pronounced them all inferior. He was difficult to please--in point
of virtue demanding heroism; in talent, genius; in art, perfection.

His political opinions were those of Erostratus, with this
difference--always in favor of the ancient--that Vautrot, after setting
fire to the temple, would have robbed it also. In short, he was a fool,
but a vicious fool as well.

If M. de Camors, at the moment of leaving his luxurious study that
evening, had had the bad taste to turn and apply his eye to the keyhole,
he would have seen something greatly to astonish even him.

He would have seen this “honorable man” approach a beautiful Italian
cabinet inlaid with ivory, turn over the papers in the drawers, and
finally open in the most natural manner a very complicated lock, the key
of which the Count at that moment had in his pocket.

It was after this search that M. Vautrot repaired with his volume
of Faust to the boudoir of the young Countess, at whose feet we have
already left him too long.



CHAPTER XVII. LIGHTNING FROM A CLEAR SKY

Madame de Camors had closed her eyes to conceal her tears. She opened
them at the instant Vautrot seized her hand and called her “Poor angel!”

Seeing the man on his knees, she could not comprehend it, and only
exclaimed, simply:

“Are you mad, Vautrot?”

“Yes, I am mad!” Vautrot threw his hair back with a romantic gesture
common to him, and, as he believed, to the poets-“Yes, I am mad with
love and with pity, for I see your sufferings, pure and noble victim!”

The Countess only stared in blank astonishment.

“Repose yourself with confidence,” he continued, “on a heart that
will be devoted to you until death--a heart into which your tears now
penetrate to its most sacred depths!”

The Countess did not wish her tears to penetrate to such a distance, so
she dried them.

A man on his knees before a woman he adores must appear to her either
sublime or ridiculous. Unfortunately, the attitude of Vautrot, at once
theatrical and awkward, did not seem sublime to the Countess. To her
lively imagination it was irresistibly ludicrous. A bright gleam of
amusement illumined her charming countenance; she bit her lip to conceal
it, but it shone out of her eyes nevertheless.

A man never should kneel unless sure of rising a conqueror. Otherwise,
like Vautrot, he exposes himself to be laughed at.

“Rise, my good Vautrot,” the Countess said, gravely. “This book has
evidently bewildered you. Go and take some rest and we will forget this;
only you must never forget yourself again in this manner.”

Vautrot rose. He was livid.

“Madame la Comtesse,” he said, bitterly, “the love of a great heart
never can be an offence. Mine at least would have been sincere; mine
would have been faithful: mine would not have been an infamous snare!”

The emphasis of these words displayed so evident an intention, the
countenance of the young woman changed immediately. She moved uneasily
on her fauteuil.

“What do you mean, Monsieur Vautrot?”

“Nothing, Madame, which you do not know, I think,” he replied,
meaningly.

She rose.

“You shall explain your meaning immediately to me, Monsieur!” she
exclaimed; “or later, to my husband.”

“But your sadness, your tears,” cried the secretary, in a tone of
admirable sincerity--“these made me sure you were not ignorant of it!”

“Of what? You hesitate! Speak, man!”

“I am not a wretch! I love you and pity you!--that is all;” and Vautrot
sighed deeply.

“And why do you pity me?” She spoke haughtily; and though Vautrot
had never suspected this imperiousness of manner or of language, he
reflected hurriedly on the point at which he had arrived. More sure than
ever of success, after a moment he took from his pocket a folded letter.
It was one with which he had provided himself to confirm the suspicions
of the Countess, now awakened for the first time.

In profound silence he unfolded and handed it to her. She hesitated a
moment, then seized it. A single glance recognized the writing, for she
had often exchanged notes with the Marquise de Campvallon.

Words of the most burning passion terminated thus:

“--Always a little jealous of Mary; half vexed at having given her
to you. For--she is pretty and--but I! I am beautiful, am I not, my
beloved?--and, above all, I adore you!”

At the first word the Countess became fearfully pale. Finishing, she
uttered a deep groan; then she reread the letter and returned it to
Vautrot, as if unconscious of what she was doing.

For a few seconds she remained motionless--petrified--her eyes fixed on
vacancy. A world seemed rolling down and crushing her heart.

Suddenly she turned, passed with rapid steps into her boudoir; and
Vautrot heard the sound of opening and shutting drawers. A moment after
she reappeared with bonnet and cloak, and crossed the boudoir with the
same strong and rapid step.

Vautrot, greatly terrified, rushed to stop her.

“Madame!” he cried, throwing himself before her.

She waved him aside with an imperious gesture of her hand; he trembled
and obeyed, and she left the boudoir. A moment later she was in the
Avenue des Champs Elysees, going toward Paris.

It was now near midnight; cold, damp April weather, with the rain
falling in great drops. The few pedestrians still on the broad pavement
turned to follow with their eyes this majestic young woman, whose gait
seemed hastened by some errand of life or death.

But in Paris nothing is surprising, for people witness all manner of
things there. Therefore the strange appearance of Madame de Camors did
not excite any extraordinary attention. A few men smiled and nodded;
others threw a few words of raillery at her--both were unheeded alike.
She traversed the Place de la Concorde with the same convulsive haste,
and passed toward the bridge. Arriving on it, the sound of the swollen
Seine rushing under the arches and against the pillars, caught her ear;
she stopped, leaned against the parapet, and gazed into the angry water;
then bowing her head she uttered a deep sigh, and resumed her rapid
walk.

In the Rue Vanneau she stopped before a brilliantly lighted mansion,
isolated from the adjoining houses by a garden wall. It was the dwelling
of the Marquise de Campvallon: Arrived there, the unfortunate child knew
not what to do, nor even why she had come. She had some vague design
of assuring herself palpably of her misfortune; to touch it with her
finger; or perhaps to find some reason, some pretext to doubt it.

She dropped down on a stone bench against the garden wall, and hid her
face in both her hands, vainly striving to think. It was past midnight.
The streets were deserted: a shower of rain was falling over Paris, and
she was chilled to numbness.

A sergent-de-ville passed, enveloped in his cape. He turned and stared
at the young woman; then took her roughly by the arm.

“What are you doing here?” he said, brutally.

She looked up at him with wondering eyes.

“I do not know myself,” she answered.

The man looked more closely at her, discovered through all her confusion
a nameless refinement and the subtle perfume of purity. He took pity on
her.

“But, Madame, you can not stay here,” he rejoined in a softer voice.

“No?”

“You must have some great sorrow?”

“Very great.”

“What is your name?”

“The Comtesse de Camors,” she said, simply.

The man looked bewildered.

“Will you tell me where you live, Madame?”

She gave the address with perfect simplicity and perfect indifference.
She seemed to be thinking nothing of what she was saying. The man took a
few steps, then stopped and listened to the sound of wheels approaching.
The carriage was empty. He stopped it, opened the door, and requested
the Countess to get in. She did so quietly, and he placed himself beside
the driver.

The Comte de Camors had just reached his house and heard with surprise,
from the lips of his wife’s maid, the details of the Countess’s
mysterious disappearance, when the bell rang violently.

He rushed out and met his wife on the stairs. She had somewhat recovered
her calmness on the road, and as he interrogated her with a searching
glance, she made a ghastly effort to smile.

“I was slightly ill and went out a little,” she said. “I do not know the
streets and lost my way.”

Notwithstanding the improbability of the explanation, he did not
hesitate. He murmured a few soft words of reproach and placed her in the
hands of her maid, who removed her wet garments.

During that time he called the sergent-de-ville, who remained in the
vestibule, and closely interrogated him. On learning in what street and
what precise spot he had found the Countess, her husband knew at once
and fully the whole truth.

He went directly to his wife. She had retired and was trembling in every
limb. One of her hands was resting outside the coverlet. He rushed to
take it, but she withdrew it gently, with sad and resolute dignity.

The simple gesture told him they were separated forever.

By a tacit agreement, arranged by her and as tacitly accepted by him,
Madame de Camors became virtually a widow.

He remained for some seconds immovable, his expression lost in the
shadow of the bed-hangings; then walked slowly across the chamber. The
idea of lying to defend himself never occurred to him.

His line of conduct was already arranged--calmly, methodically. But two
blue circles had sunk around his eyes, and his face wore a waxen pallor.
His hands, joined behind his back, were clenched; and the ring he wore
sparkled with their tremulous movement. At intervals he seemed to cease
breathing, as he listened to the chattering teeth of his young wife.

After half an hour he approached the bed.

“Marie!” he said in a low voice. She turned upon him her eyes gleaming
with fever.

“Marie, I am ignorant of what you know, and I shall not ask,” he
continued. “I have been very criminal toward you, but perhaps less so
than you think. Terrible circumstances bound me with iron bands. Fate
ruled me! But I seek no palliation. Judge me as severely as you wish;
but I beg of you to calm yourself--preserve yourself! You spoke to
me this morning of your presentiments--of your maternal hopes. Attach
yourself to those thoughts, and you will always be mistress of your
life. As for myself, I shall be whatever you will--a stranger or a
friend. But now I feel that my presence makes you ill. I would leave you
for the present, but not alone. Do you wish Madame Jaubert to come to
you tonight?”

“Yes!” she murmured, faintly.

“I shall go for her; but it is not necessary to tell you that there are
confidences one must reserve even from one’s dearest friends.”

“Except a mother?” She murmured the question with a supplicating agony
very painful to see.

He grew still paler. After an instant, “Except a mother!” he said. “Be
it so!”

She turned her face and buried it in the pillow.

“Your mother arrives to-morrow, does she not?” She made an affirmative
motion of her head. “You can make your arrangements with her. I shall
accept everything.”

“Thank you,” she replied, feebly.

He left the room and went to find Madame Jaubert, whom he awakened, and
briefly told her that his wife had been seized with a severe nervous
attack--the effect of a chill. The amiable little woman ran hastily to
her friend and spent the night with her.

But she was not the dupe of the explanation Camors had given her. Women
quickly understand one another in their grief. Nevertheless she asked
no confidences and received none; but her tenderness to her friend
redoubled. During the silence of that terrible night, the only service
she could render her was to make her weep.

Nor did those laggard hours pass less bitterly for M. de Camors. He
tried to take no rest, but walked up and down his apartment until
daylight in a sort of frenzy. The distress of this poor child wounded
him to the heart. The souvenirs of the past rose before him and passed
in sad procession. Then the morrow would show him the crushed daughter
with her mother--and such a mother! Mortally stricken in all her
best illusions, in all her dearest beliefs, in all connected with the
happiness of life!

He found that he still had in his heart lively feelings of pity; still
some remorse in his conscience.

This weakness irritated him, and he denounced it to himself. Who had
betrayed him? This question agitated him to an equal degree; but from
the first instant he had not been deceived in this matter.

The sudden grief and half-crazed conviction of his wife, her despairing
attitude and her silence, could only be explained by strong assurance
and certain revelation. After turning the matter over and over in his
own mind, he arrived at the conclusion that nothing could have thrown
such clear light into his life save the letters of Madame de Campvallon.

He never wrote the Marquise, but could not prevent her writing to him;
for to her, as to all women, love without letters was incomplete.

But the fault of the Count--inexcusable in a man of his tact--was in
preserving these letters. No one, however, is perfect, and he was
an artist. He delighted in these the ‘chefs-d’oeuvre’ of passionate
eloquence, was proud of inspiring them, and could not make up his mind
to burn or destroy them. He examined at once the secret drawer where he
had concealed them and, by certain signs, discovered the lock had been
tampered with. Nevertheless no letter was missing; the arrangement of
them alone had been disturbed.

His suspicions at once reverted to Vautrot, whose scruples he suspected
were slight; and in the morning they were confirmed beyond doubt by a
letter from the secretary. In fact Vautrot, after passing on his part
a most wretched night, did not feel his nerves equal in the morning to
meeting the reception the Count possibly had in waiting for him. His
letter was skilfully penned to put suspicion to sleep if it had not been
fully roused, and if the Countess had not betrayed him.

It announced his acceptance of a lucrative situation suddenly offered
him in a commercial house in London. He was obliged to decide at once,
and to sail that same morning for fear of losing an opportunity which
could not occur again. It concluded with expressions of the liveliest
gratitude and regret.

Camors could not reach his secretary to strangle him; so he resolved to
pay him. He not only sent him all arrears of salary, but a large sum in
addition as a testimonial of his sympathy and good wishes.

This, however, was a simple precaution; for the Count apprehended
nothing more from the venomous reptile so far beneath him, after he had
once shaken it off. Seeing him deprived of the only weapon he could use
against him, he felt safe. Besides, he had lost the only interest
he could desire to subserve, for he knew M. Vautrot had done him the
compliment of courting his Wife.

And he really esteemed him a little less low, after discovering this
gentlemanly taste!



CHAPTER XVIII. ONE GLEAM OF HOPE

It required on the part of M. de Camors, this morning, an exertion of
all his courage to perform his duty as a gentleman in going to receive
Madame de Tecle at the station. But courage had been for some time past
his sole remaining virtue; and this at least he sought never to lose. He
received, then, most gracefully his mother-in-law, robed in her mourning
attire. She was surprised at not seeing her daughter with him. He
informed her that she had been a little indisposed since the preceding
evening. Notwithstanding the precautions he took in his language and by
his smile, he could not prevent Madame de Tecle from feeling a lively
alarm.

He did not pretend, however, entirely to reassure her. Under his
reserved and measured replies, she felt the presentiment of some
disaster. After first pressing him with many questions, she kept silent
during the rest of the drive.

The young Countess, to spare her mother the first shock, had quitted her
bed; and the poor child had even put a little rouge on her pale
cheeks. M. de Camors himself opened for Madame de Tecle the door of her
daughter’s chamber, and then withdrew.

The young woman raised herself with difficulty from her couch, and her
mother took her in her arms.

All that passed between them at first was a silent interchange of mutual
caresses. Then the mother seated herself near her daughter, drew her
head on her bosom, and looked into the depths of her eyes.

“What is the matter?” she said, sadly.

“Oh, nothing--nothing hopeless! only you must love your little Mary more
than ever. Will you not?”

“Yes; but why?”

“I must not worry you; and I must not wrong myself either--you know
why!”

“Yes; but I implore you, my darling, to tell me.”

“Very well; I will tell you everything; but, mother, you must be brave
as I am.”

She buried her head lower still on her mother’s breast, and recounted
to her, in a low voice, without looking up once, the terrible revelation
which had been made to her, and which her husband’s avowal had
confirmed.

Madame de Tecle did not once interrupt her during this cruel recital.
She only imprinted a kiss on her hair from time to time. The young
Countess, who did not dare to raise her eyes to her, as if she were
ashamed of another’s crime, might have imagined that she had exaggerated
the gravity of her misfortune, since her mother had received the
confidence with so much calmness. But the calmness of Madame de Tecle
at this terrible moment was that of the martyrs; for all that could have
been suffered by the Christians under the claws of the tiger, or on
the rack of the torturer, this mother was suffering at the hands of her
best-beloved daughter. Her beautiful pale face--her large eyes upturned
to heaven, like those that artists give to the pure victims kneeling
in the Roman circus--seemed to ask God whether He really had any
consolation for such torture.

When she had heard all, she summoned strength to smile at her
daughter, who at last looked up to her with an expression of timid
uncertainty--embracing her more tightly still.

“Well, my darling,” said she, at last, “it is a great affliction, it is
true. You are right, notwithstanding; there is nothing to despair of.”

“Do you really believe so?”

“Certainly. There is some inconceivable mystery under all this; but be
assured that the evil is not so terrible as it appears.”

“My poor mother! but he has acknowledged it?”

“I am better pleased that he has acknowledged it. That proves he has yet
some pride, and that some good is left in his soul. Then, too, he feels
very much afflicted--he suffers as much as we. Think of that. Let us
think of the future, my darling.”

They clasped each other’s hands, and smiled at each other to restrain
the tears which filled the eyes of both. After a few minutes--“I wish
much, my child,” said Madame de Tecle, “to repose for half an hour; and
then also I wish to arrange my toilet.”

“I will conduct you to your chamber. Oh, I can walk! I feel a great deal
better.”

Madame de Camors took her mother’s arm and conducted her as far as the
door of the chamber prepared for her. On the threshold she left her.

“Be sensible,” said Madame de Tecle, turning and giving her another
smile.

“And you also,” said the young woman, whose voice failed her.

Madame de Tecle, as soon as the door was closed, raised her clasped
hands toward heaven; then, falling on her knees before the bed, she
buried her head in it, and wept despairingly.

The library of M. de Camors was contiguous to this chamber. He had been
walking with long strides up and down this corridor, expecting every
moment to see Madame de Tecle enter. As the time passed, he sat himself
down and tried to read, but his thoughts wandered. His ear eagerly
caught, against his will, the slightest sounds in the house. If a
foot seemed approaching him, he rose suddenly and tried to compose his
countenance. When the door of the neighboring chamber was opened, his
agony was redoubled. He distinguished the whispering of the two voices;
then, an instant after, the dull fall of Madame de Tecle upon the
carpet; then her despairing sobs. M. de Camors threw from him violently
the book which he was forcing himself to read, and, placing his elbows
on the bureau which was before him, held, for a long time, his pale brow
tightened in his contracted hands. When the sound of sobs abated little
by little, and then ceased, he breathed freer. About midday he received
this note:

   “If you will permit me to take my daughter to the country for a few
   days, I shall be grateful to you.

                    “ELISE DE TECLE.”

He returned immediately this simple reply:

   “You can do nothing of which I do not approve to-day and always.
                   CAMORS.”

Madame de Tecle, in fact, having consulted the inclination and the
strength of her daughter, had determined to remove her without delay,
if possible, from the impressions of the spot where she had suffered
so severely from the presence of her husband, and from the unfortunate
embarrassment of their situation. She desired also to meditate in
solitude, in order to decide what course to take under such unexampled
circumstances. Finally, she had not the courage to see M. de Camors
again--if she ever could see him again--until some time had elapsed. It
was not without anxiety that she awaited the reply of the Count to the
request she had addressed him.

In the midst of the troubled confusion of her ideas, she believed him
capable of almost anything; and she feared everything from him. The
Count’s note reassured her. She hastened to read it to her daughter;
and both of them, like two poor lost creatures who cling to the smallest
twig, remarked with pleasure the tone of respectful abandonment with
which he had reposed their destinies in their own hands. He spent his
whole day at the session of the Corps Legislatif; and when he returned,
they had departed.

Madame de Camors woke up the next morning in the chamber where her
girlhood had passed. The birds of spring were singing under her windows
in the old ancestral gardens. As she recognized these friendly voices,
so familiar to her infancy, her heart melted; but several hours’ sleep
had restored to her her natural courage. She banished the thoughts which
had weakened her, rose, and went to surprise her mother at her first
waking. Soon after, both of them were walking together on the terrace
of lime-trees. It was near the end of April; the young, scented verdure
spread itself out beneath the sunbeams; buzzing flies already swarmed
in the half-opened roses, in the blue pyramids of lilacs, and in the
clusters of pink clover. After a few turns made in silence in the midst
of this fresh and enchanting scene, the young Countess, seeing her
mother absorbed in reverie, took her hand.

“Mother,” she said, “do not be sad. Here we are as formerly--both of us
in our little nook. We shall be happy.”

The mother looked at her, took her head and kissed her fervently on the
forehead.

“You are an angel!” she said.

It must be confessed that their uncle, Des Rameures, notwithstanding
the tender affection he showed them, was rather in the way. He never had
liked Camors; he had accepted him as a nephew as he had accepted him for
a deputy--with more of resignation than enthusiasm. His antipathy was
only too well justified by the event; but it was necessary to keep him
in ignorance of it. He was an excellent man; but rough and blunt. The
conduct of Camors, if he had but suspected it, would surely have urged
him to some irreparable quarrel. Therefore Madame de Tecle and her
daughter, in his presence, were compelled to make only half utterances,
and maintain great reserve--as much as if he had been a stranger. This
painful restraint would have become insupportable had not the young
Countess’s health, day by day, assumed a less doubtful character, and
furnished them with excuses for their preoccupation, their disquiet, and
their retired life.

Madame de Tecle, who reproached herself with the misfortunes of her
daughter, as her own work, and who condemned herself with an unspeakable
bitterness, did not cease to search, in the midst of those ruins of the
past and of the present, some reparation, some refuge for the future.
The first idea which presented itself to her imagination had been to
separate absolutely, and at any cost, the Countess from her husband.
Under the first shock of fright which the duplicity of Camors had
inflicted upon her, she could not dwell without horror on the thought
of replacing her child at the side of such a man. But this
separation-supposing they could obtain it, through the consent of M. de
Camors, or the authority of the law--would give to the public a secret
scandal, and might entail redoubled catastrophes. Were it not for these
consequences she would, at least, have dug between Madame de Camors and
her husband an eternal abyss. Madame de Tecle did not desire this. By
force of reflection she had finally seen through the character of M. de
Camors in one day--not probably more favorably, but more truly. Madame
de Tecle, although a stranger to all wickedness, knew the world and knew
life, and her penetrating intelligence divined yet more than she knew
certainly. She then very nearly understood what species of moral monster
M. de Camors was. Such as she understood him, she hoped something from
him still. However, the condition of the Countess offered her some
consolation in the future, which she ought not to risk depriving herself
of; and God might permit that this pledge of this unfortunate union
might some day reunite the severed ties.

Madame de Tecle, in communicating her reflections, her hopes, and her
fears to her daughter, added: “My poor child, I have almost lost the
right to give you counsel; but I tell you, were it myself I should act
thus.”

“Very well, mother, I shall do so,” replied the young woman.

“Reflect well on it first, for the situation which you are about to
accept will have much bitterness in it; but we have only a choice of
evils.”

At the close of this conversation, and eight days after their arrival in
the country, Madame de Tecle wrote M. de Camors a letter, which she read
to her daughter, who approved it.

   “I understood you to say, that you would restore to your wife her
   liberty if she wished to resume it. She neither wishes, nor could
   she accept it. Her first duty is to the child which will bear your
   name. It does not depend on her to keep this name stainless. She
   prays you, then, to reserve for her a place in your house. You need
   not fear any trouble or any reproach from her. She and I know how
   to suffer in silence. Nevertheless, I supplicate you to be true to
   her--to spare her. Will you leave her yet a few days in peace, then
   recall, or come for her?”

This letter touched M. de Camors deeply. Impassive as he was, it can
easily be imagined that after the departure of his wife he had not
enjoyed perfect ease of mind. Uncertainty is the worst of all evils,
because everything may be apprehended. Deprived entirely of all news for
eight days, there was no possible catastrophe he did not fancy floating
over his head. He had the haughty courage to conceal from Madame de
Campvallon the event that had occurred in his house, and to leave her
undisturbed while he himself was sleepless for many nights. It was by
such efforts of energy and of indomitable pride that this strange man
preserved within his own consciousness a proud self-esteem. The letter
of Madame de Tecle came to him like a deliverance. He sent the following
brief reply:

   “I accept your decision with gratitude and respect. The resolution
   of your daughter is generous. I have yet enough of generosity left
   myself to comprehend this. I am forever, whether you wish it or
   not, her friend and yours.

                       “CAMORS.”

A week later, having taken the precaution of announcing his intention,
he arrived one evening at Madame de Tecle’s.

His young wife kept her chamber. They had taken care to have no
witnesses, but their meeting was less painful and less embarrassing than
they apprehended.

Madame de Tecle and her daughter found in his courteous reply a gleam
of nobleness which inspired them with a shadow of confidence. Above all,
they were proud, and more averse to noisy scenes than women usually are.
They received him coldly, then, but calmly. On his part, he displayed
toward them in his looks and language a subdued seriousness and sadness,
which did not lack either dignity or grace.

The conversation having dwelt for some time on the health of the
Countess, turned on current news, on local incidents, and took, little
by little, an easy and ordinary tone. M. de Camors, under the pretext of
slight fatigue, retired as he had entered--saluting both the ladies, but
without attempting to take their hands. Thus was inaugurated, between
Madame de Camors and her husband, the new, singular relation which
should hereafter be the only tie in their common life.

The world might easily be silenced, because M. de Camors never had been
very demonstrative in public toward his wife, and his courteous but
reserved manner toward her did not vary from his habitual demeanor. He
remained two days at Reuilly.

Madame de Tecle vainly waited for these two days for a slight
explanation, which she did not wish to demand, but which she hoped for.

What were the terrible circumstances which had overruled the will of M.
de Camors, to the point of making him forget the most sacred sentiments?
When her thoughts plunged into this dread mystery, they never approached
the truth. M. de Camors might have committed this base action under the
menace of some great danger to save the fortune, the honor, probably the
life of Madame de Campvallon. This, though a poor excuse in the mother’s
eyes, still was an extenuation. Probably also he had in his heart, while
marrying her daughter, the resolution to break off this fatal liaison,
which he had again resumed against his will, as often happens. On all
these painful points she dwelt after the departure of M. de Camors, as
she had previous to his arrival; confined to her own conjectures, when
she suggested to her daughter the most consolatory appearances. It was
agreed upon that Madame de Camors should remain in the country until her
health was reestablished: only her husband expressed the desire that she
should reside ordinarily on his estate at Reuilly, the chateau on which
had recently been restored with the greatest taste.

Madame de Tecle felt the propriety of this arrangement. She herself
abandoned the old habitation of the Comte de Tecle, to install herself
near her daughter in the modest chateau which belonged to the maternal
ancestors of M. de Camors, and which we have already described in
another place, with its solemn avenue, its balustrades of granite, its
labyrinths of hornbeams and the black fishpond, shaded with poplars.

Both dwelt there in the midst of their sweetest and most pleasant
souvenirs; for this little chateau, so long deserted--the neglected
woods which surrounded it the melancholy piece of water--the solitary
nymph all this had been their particular domain, the favorite framework
of their reveries, the legend of their infancy, the poetry of their
youth. It was doubtless a great grief to revisit again, with tearful
eyes and wounded hearts and heads bowed by the storms of life,
the familiar paths where they once knew happiness and peace. But,
nevertheless, all these dear confidants of past joys, of blasted
hopes, of vanished dreams--if they are mournful witnesses they are also
friends. We love them; and they seem to love us. Thus these two poor
women, straying amid these woods, these waters, these solitudes, bearing
with them their incurable wounds, fancied they heard voices which pitied
them and breathed a healing sympathy. The most cruel trial reserved to
Madame de Camors in the life which she had the courage and judgment
to adopt, was assuredly the duty of again seeing the Marquise de
Campvallon, and preserving with her such relations as might blind the
eyes of the General and of the world.

She resigned herself even to this; but she desired to defer as long
as possible the pain of such a meeting. Her health supplied her with
a natural excuse for not going, during that summer, to Campvallon, and
also for keeping herself confined to her own room the day the Marquise
visited Reuilly, accompanied by the General.

Madame de Tecle received her with her usual kindness. Madame de
Campvallon, whom M. de Camors had already warned, did not trouble
herself much; for the best women, like the worst, excel in comedy, and
everything passed off without the General having conceived the shadow of
a suspicion.

The fine season had passed. M. de Camors had visited the country several
times, strengthening at every interview the new tone of his relations
with his wife. He remained at Reuilly, as was his custom, during the
month of August; and under the pretext of the health of the Countess,
did not multiply his visits that year to Campvallon. On his return to
Paris, he resumed his old habits, and also his careless egotism, for he
recovered little by little from the blow he had received. He began to
forget his sufferings and those of his wife; and even to felicitate
himself secretly on the turn that chance had given to her situation. He
had obtained the advantage and had no longer any annoyance. His wife had
been enlightened, and he no longer deceived her--which was a comfortable
thing for him. As for her, she would soon be a mother, she would have a
plaything, a consolation; and he designed redoubling his attentions and
regards to her.

She would be happy, or nearly so; as much so as two thirds of the women
in the world.

Everything was for the best. He gave anew the reins to his car and
launched himself afresh on his brilliant career-proud of his royal
mistress, and foreseeing in the distance, to crown his life, the
triumphs of ambition and power. Pleading various doubtful engagements,
he went to Reuilly only once during the autumn; but he wrote frequently,
and Madame de Tecle sent him in return brief accounts of his wife’s
health.

One morning toward the close of November, he received a despatch
which made him understand, in telegraphic style, that his presence was
immediately required at Reuilly, if he wished to be present at the birth
of his son.

Whenever social duties or courtesy were required of M. de Camors, he
never hesitated. Seeing he had not a moment to spare if he wished to
catch the train which left that morning, he jumped into a cab and drove
to the station. His servant would join him the next morning.

The station at Reuilly was several miles distant from the house. In the
confusion no arrangement had been made to receive him on his arrival,
and he was obliged to content himself with making the intermediate
journey in a heavy country-wagon. The bad condition of the roads was a
new obstacle, and it was three o’clock in the morning when the Count,
impatient and travel-worn, jumped out of the little cart before the
railings of his avenue. He strode toward the house under the dark and
silent dome of the tufted elms. He was in the middle of the avenue when
a sharp cry rent the air. His heart bounded in his breast: he suddenly
stopped and listened attentively. The cry echoed through the stillness
of the night. One would have deemed it the despairing shriek of a human
being under the knife of a murderer.

These dolorous sounds gradually ceasing, he continued his walk with
greater haste, and only heard the hollow and muffled sound of his own
beating heart. At the moment he saw the lights of the chateau, another
agonized cry, more shrill and alarming than the first, arose.

This time Camors stopped. Notwithstanding that the natural explanation
of these agonized cries presented itself to his mind, he was troubled.

It is not unusual that men like him, accustomed to a purely artificial
life, feel a strange surprise when one of the simplest laws of nature
presents itself all at once before them with a violence as imperious
and irresistible as a divine law. Camors soon reached the house, and
receiving some information from the servants, notified Madame de
Tecle of his arrival. Madame de Tecle immediately descended from her
daughter’s room. On seeing her convulsed features and streaming eyes,
“Are you alarmed?” Camors asked, quickly.

“Alarmed? No,” she replied; “but she suffers much, and it is very long.”

“Can I see her?”

There was a moment’s silence.

Madame de Tecle, whose forehead was contracted, lowered her eyes, then
raised them. “If you insist on it,” she said.

“I insist on nothing! If you believe my presence would do her harm--”
 The voice of Camors was not as steady as usual.

“I am afraid,” replied Madame de Tecle, “that it would agitate her
greatly; and if you will have confidence in me, I shall be much obliged
to you.”

“But at least,” said Camors, “she might probably be glad to know that I
have come, and that I am here--that I have not abandoned her.”

“I shall tell her.”

“It is well.” He saluted Madame de Tecle with a slight movement of his
head, and turned away immediately.

He entered the garden at the back of the house, and walked abstractedly
from alley to alley. We know that generally the role of men in the
situation in which M. de Camors at this moment was placed is not very
easy or very glorious; but the common annoyance of this position was
particularly aggravated to him by painful reflections. Not only was his
assistance not needed, but it was repelled; not only was he far from a
support on the contrary, he was but an additional danger and sorrow.
In this thought was a bitterness which he keenly felt. His native
generosity, his humanity, shuddered as he heard the terrible cries and
accents of distress which succeeded each other without intermission.
He passed some heavy hours in the damp garden this cold night, and the
chilly morning which succeeded it. Madame de Tecle came frequently to
give him the news. Near eight o’clock he saw her approach him with a
grave and tranquil air.

“Monsieur,” she said, “it is a boy.”

“I thank you. How is she?”

“Well. I shall request you to go and see her shortly.”

Half an hour later she reappeared on the threshold of the vestibule, and
called:

“Monsieur de Camors!” and when he approached her, she added, with an
emotion which made her lips tremble:

“She has been uneasy for some time past. She is afraid that you have
kept terms with her in order to take the child. If ever you have such a
thought--not now, Monsieur. Have you?”

“You are severe, Madame,” he replied in a hoarse voice.

She breathed a sigh.

“Come!” she said, and led the way upstairs. She opened the door of the
chamber and permitted him to enter it alone.

His first glance caught the eyes of his young wife fixed upon him. She
was half sitting up in bed, supported by pillows, and whiter than the
curtains whose shadow enveloped her. She held clasped to her breast her
sleeping infant, which was already covered, like its mother, with lace
and pink ribbons. From the depths of this nest she fixed on her husband
her large eyes, sparkling with a kind of savage light--an expression in
which the sentiment of triumph was blended with one of profound terror.
He stopped within a few feet of the bed, and saluted her with his most
winning smile.

“I have pitied you very much, Marie,” he said.

“I thank you!” she replied, in a voice as feeble as a sigh.

She continued to regard him with the same suppliant and affrighted air.

“Are you a little happier now?” he continued.

The glittering eye of the young woman was fastened on the calm face of
her infant. Then turning toward Camors:

“You will not take him from me?”

“Never!” he replied.

As he pronounced these words his eyes were suddenly dimmed, and he
was astonished himself to feel a tear trickling down his cheek. He
experienced a singular feeling, he bent over, seized the folds of the
sheet, raised them to his lips, rose immediately and left the room.

In this terrible struggle, too often victorious against nature and
truth, the man was for once vanquished. But it would be idle to
imagine that a character of this temperament and of this obduracy could
transform itself, or could be materially modified under the stroke of
a few transitory emotions, or of a few nervous shocks. M. de Camors
rallied quickly from his weakness, if even he did not repent it. He
spent eight days at Reuilly, remarking in the countenance of Madame de
Tecle and in her manner toward him, more ease than formerly.

On his return to Paris, with thoughtful care he made some changes in
the interior arrangement of his mansion. This was to prepare for the
Countess and her son, who were to join him a few weeks later, larger and
more comfortable apartments, in which they were to be installed.



CHAPTER XIX. THE REPTILE TURNS TO STING

When Madame de Camors came to Paris and entered the home of her husband,
she there experienced the painful impressions of the past, and the
sombre preoccupations of the future; but she brought with her, although
in a fragile form, a powerful consolation.

Assailed by grief, and ever menaced by new emotion she was obliged to
renounce the nursing of her child; but, nevertheless, she never left
him, for she was jealous even of his nurse. She at least wished to be
loved by him. She loved him with an infinite passion. She loved him
because he was her own son and of her blood. He was the price of her
misfortune--of her pain. She loved him because he was her only hope
of human happiness hereafter. She loved him because she found him as
beautiful as the day. And it was true he was so; for he resembled his
father--and she loved him also on that account. She tried to concentrate
her heart and all her thoughts on this dear creature, and at first she
thought she had succeeded. She was surprised at herself, at her
own tranquillity, when she saw Madame de Campvallon; for her lively
imagination had exhausted, in advance, all the sadness which her new
existence could contain; but when she had lost the kind of torpor into
which excessive suffering had plunged her--when her maternal sensations
were a little quieted by custom, her woman’s heart recovered itself in
the mother’s. She could not prevent herself from renewing her passionate
interest in her graceful though terrible husband.

Madame de Tecle went to pass two months with her daughter in Paris, and
then returned to the country.

Madame de Camors wrote to her, in the beginning of the following spring,
a letter which gave her an exact idea of the sentiments of the young
woman at the time, and of the turn her domestic life had taken. After a
long and touching detail of the health and beauty of her son Robert, she
added:

   “His father is always to me what you have seen him. He spares me
   everything he can spare me, but evidently the fatality he has obeyed
   continues under the same form. Notwithstanding, I do not despair of
   the future, my beloved mother. Since I saw that tear in his eye,
   confidence has entered my poor heart. Be assured, my adored mother,
   that he will love me one day, if it is only through our child, whom
   he begins quietly to love without himself perceiving it. At first,
   as you remember, this infant was no more to him than I was. When he
   surprised him on my knee, he would give him a cold kiss, say,
   ‘Good-morning, Monsieur,’ and withdraw. It is just one month--I have
   forgotten the date--it was, ‘Good-morning, my son--how pretty you
   are!’ You see the progress; and do you know, finally, what passed
   yesterday? I entered Robert’s room noiselessly; the door was open--
   what did I behold, my mother! Monsieur de Camors, with his head
   resting on the pillow of the cradle, and laughing at this little
   creature, who smiled back at him! I assure you, he blushed and
   excused himself: ‘The door was open,’ he said, ‘and I came in.’
   I assured him that he had done nothing wrong.

   “Monsieur de Camors is very odd sometimes. He occasionally passes
   the limits which were agreed upon as necessary. He is not only
   polite, but takes great trouble. Alas! once these courtesies would
   have fallen upon my heart like roses from heaven--now they annoy me
   a little. Last evening, for example, I sat down, as is my custom,
   at my piano after dinner, he reading a journal at the chimney-
   corner--his usual hour for going out passed. Behold me, much
   surprised. I threw a furtive glance, between two bars of music,
   at him: he was not reading, he was not sleeping--he was dreaming.
   ‘Is there anything new in the Journal?’--‘No, no; nothing at all.’
   Another two or three bars of music, and I entered my son’s room.
   He was in bed and asleep. I devoured him with kisses and returned--
   Monsieur de Camors was still there. And now, surprise after
   surprise: ‘Have you heard from your mother? What does she say?
   Have you seen Madame Jaubert? Have you read this review?’ Just
   like one who sought to open a conversation. Once I would willingly
   have paid with my blood for one of these evenings, and now he offers
   them to me, when I know not what to do with them. Notwithstanding I
   remember the advice of my mother, I do not wish to discourage these
   symptoms. I adopt a festive manner. I light four extra waxlights.
   I try to be amiable without being coquettish; for coquetry here
   would be shameful--would it not, my dear mother? Finally, we
   chatted together; he sang two airs to the piano; I played two
   others; he painted the design of a little Russian costume for Robert
   to wear next year; then talked politics to me. This enchanted me.
   He explained to me his situation in the Chamber. Midnight arrived;
   I became remarkably silent; he rose: ‘May I press your hand in
   friendship?’--’ Mon Dieu! yes.’--‘Good-night, Marie.’--’
   Goodnight.’ Yes, my mother, I read your thoughts. There is danger
   here! but you have shown it to me; and I believe also, I should
   have perceived it by myself. Do not fear, then. I shall be happy
   at his good inclinations, and shall encourage them to the best of my
   power; but I shall not be in haste to perceive a return, on his
   part, toward virtue and myself. I see here in society arrangements
   which revolt me. In the midst of my misfortune I remain pure and
   proud; but I should fall into the deepest contempt of myself if I
   should ever permit myself to be a plaything for Monsieur de Camors.
   A man so fallen does not raise himself in a day. If ever he really
   returns to me, it will be necessary for me to have much proof. I
   never have ceased to love him, and probably he doubts it: but he
   will learn that if this sad love can break my heart it can never
   abase it; and it is unnecessary to tell my mother that I shall live
   and die courageously in my widow’s robe.

   “There are other symptoms which also strike me. He is more
   attentive to me when she is present. This may probably be arranged
   between them, but I doubt it. The other evening we were at the
   General’s. She was waltzing, and Monsieur de Camors, as a rare
   favor, came and seated himself at your daughter’s side. In passing
   before us she threw him a look--a flash. I felt the flame. Her
   blue eyes glared ferociously. He perceived it. I have not
   assuredly much tenderness for her. She is my most cruel enemy; but
   if ever she suffers what she has made me suffer-yes, I believe I
   shall pity her. My mother, I embrace you. I embrace our dear lime-
   trees. I taste their young leaves as in olden times. Scold me as
   in old times, and love, above all things, as in old times, your

                       “MARIE.”

This wise young woman, matured by misfortune, observed everything saw
everything--and exaggerated nothing. She touched, in this letter, on the
most delicate points in the household of M. de Camors--and even of
his secret thoughts--with accurate justice. For Camors was not at all
converted, nor near being so; but it would be belying human nature to
attribute to his heart, or that of any other human being, a supernatural
impassibility. If the dark and implacable theories which M. de Camors
had made the law of his existence could triumph absolutely, this would
be true. The trials he had passed through did not reform him, they only
staggered him. He did not pursue his paths with the same firmness; he
strayed from his programme. He pitied one of his victims, and, as one
wrong always entails another, after pitying his wife, he came near
loving his child. These two weaknesses had glided into his petrified
soul as into a marble fount, and there took root-two imperceptible
roots, however. The child occupied him not more than a few moments every
day. He thought of him, however, and would return home a little earlier
than usual each day than was his habit, secretly attracted by the
smile of that fresh face. The mother was for him something more. Her
sufferings, her youthful heroism had touched him. She became somebody
in his eyes. He discovered many merits in her. He perceived she was
remarkably well-informed for a woman, and prodigiously so for a French
woman. She understood half a word--knew a great deal--and guessed at the
remainder. She had, in short, that blending of grace and solidity which
gives to the conversation of a woman of cultivated mind an incomparable
charm. Habituated from infancy to her mental superiority as to her
pretty face, she carried the one as unconsciously as the other. She
devoted herself to the care of his household as if she had no idea
beyond it. There were domestic details which she would not confide to
servants. She followed them into her salons, into her boudoirs, a
blue feather-brush in hand, lightly dusting the ‘etageres’, the
‘jardinieres’, the ‘consoles’. She arranged one piece of furniture and
removed another, put flowers in a vase-gliding about and singing like a
bird in a cage.

Her husband sometimes amused himself in following her with his eye in
these household occupations. She reminded him of the princesses one
sees in the ballet of the opera, reduced by some change of fortune to a
temporary servitude, who dance while putting the house in order.

“How you love order, Marie!” said he to her one day.

“Order,” she said, gravely, “is the moral beauty of things.”

She emphasized the word things--and, fearing she might be considered
pretentious, she blushed.

She was a lovable creature, and it can be understood that she might have
many attractions, even for her husband. Yet though he had not for one
instant the idea of sacrificing to her the passion that ruled his life,
it is certain, however, that his wife pleased him as a charming friend,
which she was, and probably as a charming forbidden fruit, which she
also was. Two or three years passed without making any sensible change
in the relations of the different persons in this history. This was
the most brilliant phase and probably the happiest in the life of M. de
Camors.

His marriage had doubled his fortune, and his clever speculations
augmented it every day. He had increased the retinue of his house in
proportion to his new resources. In the region of elegant high life
he decidedly held the sceptre. His horses, his equipages, his artistic
tastes, even his toilet, set the law.

His liaison with Madame de Campvallon, without being proclaimed, was
suspected, and completed his prestige. At the same time his capacity as
a political man began to be acknowledged. He had spoken in some recent
debate, and his maiden speech was a triumph. His prosperity was great.
It was nevertheless true that M. de Camors did not enjoy it without
trouble. Two black spots darkened the sky above his head, and might
contain destroying thunder. His life was eternally suspended on a
thread.

Any day General Campvallon might be informed of the intrigue which
dishonored him, either through some selfish treason, or through some
public rumor, which might begin to spread. Should this ever happen, he
knew the General never would submit to it; and he had determined never
to defend his life against his outraged friend.

This resolve, firmly decided upon in his secret soul, gave him the last
solace to his conscience. All his future destiny was thus at the
mercy of an accident most likely to happen. The second cause of his
disquietude was the jealous hatred of Madame Campvallon toward the young
rival she had herself selected. After jesting freely on this subject at
first, the Marquise had, little by little, ceased even to allude to it.

M. de Camors could not misunderstand certain mute symptoms, and was
sometimes alarmed at this silent jealousy. Fearing to exasperate this
most violent feminine sentiment in so strong a soul, he was compelled
day by day to resort to tricks which wounded his pride, and probably
his heart also; for his wife, to whom his new conduct was inexplicable,
suffered intensely, and he saw it.

One evening in the month of May, 1860, there was a reception at the
Hotel Campvallon. The Marquise, before leaving for the country, was
making her adieus to a choice group of her friends. Although this fete
professed to be but an informal gathering, she had organized it with her
usual elegance and taste. A kind of gallery, composed of verdure and of
flowers, connected the salon with the conservatory at the other end of
the garden.

This evening proved a very painful one to the Comtesse de Camors. Her
husband’s neglect of her was so marked, his assiduities to the Marquise
so persistent, their mutual understanding so apparent, that the young
wife felt the pain of her desertion to an almost insupportable degree.
She took refuge in the conservatory, and finding herself alone there,
she wept.

A few moments later, M. de Camors, not seeing her in the salon, became
uneasy. She saw him, as he entered the conservatory, in one of those
instantaneous glances by which women contrive to see without looking.
She pretended to be examining the flowers, and by a strong effort of
will dried her tears. Her husband advanced slowly toward her.

“What a magnificent camellia!” he said to her. “Do you know this
variety?”

“Very well,” she replied; “this is the camellia that weeps.”

He broke off the flowers.

“Marie,” he said, “I never have been much addicted to sentimentality,
but this flower I shall keep.”

She turned upon him her astonished eyes.

“Because I love it,” he added.

The noise of a step made them both turn. It was Madame de Campvallon,
who was crossing the conservatory on the arm of a foreign diplomat.

“Pardon me,” she said, smiling; “I have disturbed you! How awkward of
me!” and she passed out.

Madame de Camors suddenly grew very red, and her husband very pale. The
diplomat alone did not change color, for he comprehended nothing. The
young Countess, under pretext of a headache, which her face did not
belie, returned home immediately, promising her husband to send back the
carriage for him. Shortly after, the Marquise de Campvallon, obeying
a secret sign from M. de Camors, rejoined him in the retired boudoir,
which recalled to them both the most culpable incident of their lives.
She sat down beside him on the divan with a haughty nonchalance.

“What is it?” she said.

“Why do you watch me?” asked Camors. “It is unworthy of you!”

“Ah! an explanation? a disagreeable thing. It is the first between
us--at least let us be quick and complete.”

She spoke in a voice of restrained passion--her eyes fixed on her foot,
which she twisted in her satin shoe.

“Well, tell the truth,” she said. “You are in love with your wife.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Unworthy of you, I repeat.”

“What, then, mean these delicate attentions to her?”

“You ordered me to marry her, but not to kill her, I suppose?”

She made a strange movement of her eyebrows, which he did not see, for
neither of them looked at the other. After a pause she said:

“She has her son! She has her mother! I have no one but you. Hear me, my
friend; do not make me jealous, for when I am so, ideas torment me which
terrify even myself. Wait an instant. Since we are on this subject, if
you love her, tell me so. You know me--you know I am not fond of petty
artifices. Well, I fear so much the sufferings and humiliations of which
I have a presentiment, I am so much afraid of myself, that I offer you,
and give you, your liberty. I prefer this horrible grief, for it is at
least open and noble! It is no snare that I set for you, believe me!
Look at me. I seldom weep.” The dark blue of her eyes was bathed in
tears. “Yes, I am sincere; and I beg of you, if it is so, profit by this
moment, for if you let it escape, you never will find it again.”

M. de Camors was little prepared for this decided proposal. The idea of
breaking off his liaison with the Marquise never had entered his mind.
This liaison seemed to him very reconcilable with the sentiments with
which his wife could inspire him.

It was at the same time the greatest wickedness and the perpetual
danger of his life, but it was also the excitement, the pride, and the
magnificent voluptuousness of it. He shuddered. The idea of losing
the love which had cost him so dear exasperated him. He cast a burning
glance on this beautiful face, refined and exalted as that of a warring
archangel.

“My life is yours,” he said. “How could you have dreamed of breaking
ties like ours? How could you have alarmed yourself, or even thought
of my feelings toward another? I do what honor and humanity command
me--nothing more. As for you--I love you--understand that.”

“Is it true?” she asked. “It is true! I believe you!”

She took his hand, and gazed at him a moment without speaking--her
eye dimmed, her bosom palpitating; then suddenly rising, she said, “My
friend, you know I have guests!” and saluting him with a smile, left the
boudoir.

This scene, however, left a disagreeable impression on the mind of
Camors. He thought of it impatiently the next morning, while trying a
horse on the Champs Elysees--when he suddenly found himself face to face
with his former secretary, Vautrot. He had never seen this person since
the day he had thought proper to give himself his own dismissal.

The Champs Elysees was deserted at this hour. Vautrot could not avoid,
as he had probably done more than once, encountering Camors.

Seeing himself recognized he saluted him and stopped, with an uneasy
smile on his lips. His worn black coat and doubtful linen showed a
poverty unacknowledged but profound. M. de Camors did not notice these
details, or his natural generosity would have awakened, and curbed the
sudden indignation that took possession of him.

He reined in his horse sharply.

“Ah, is it you, Monsieur Vautrot?” he said. “You have left England then!
What are you doing now?”

“I am looking for a situation, Monsieur de Camors,” said Vautrot,
humbly, who knew his old patron too well not to read clearly in the curl
of his moustache the warning of a storm.

“And why,” said Camors, “do you not return to your trade of locksmith?
You were so skilful at it! The most complicated locks had no secrets for
you.”

“I do not understand your meaning,” murmured Vautrot.

“Droll fellow!” and throwing out these words with an accent of withering
scorn, M. de Camors struck Vautrot’s shoulder lightly with the end of
his riding-whip, and tranquilly passed on at a walk.

Vautrot was truly in search of a place, had he consented to accept one
fitted to his talents; but he was, as will be remembered, one of those
whose vanity was greater than his merit, and one who loved an office
better than work.



CHAPTER XX. THE SECOND ACT OF THE TRAGEDY

Vautrot had at this time fallen into the depth of want and distress,
which, if aggravated, would prompt him to evil and even to crime. There
are many examples of the extremes to which this kind of intelligence,
at once ambitious, grasping, yet impotent, can transport its possessor.
Vautrot, in awaiting better times, had relapsed into his old role of
hypocrite, in which he had formerly succeeded so well. Only the evening
before he had returned to the house of Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and
made honorable amends for his philosophical heresies; for he was like
the Saxons in the time of Charlemagne, who asked to be baptized every
time they wanted new tunics. Madame de la Roche-Jugan had given a kind
reception to this sad prodigal son, but she chilled perceptibly on
seeing him more discreet than she desired on certain subjects, the
mystery of which she had set her heart upon unravelling.

She was now more preoccupied than ever about the relations which she
suspected to exist between M. de Camors and Madame de Campvallon. These
relations could not but prove fatal to the hopes she had so long founded
on the widowhood of the Marquise and the heritage of the General. The
marriage of M. de Camors had for the moment deceived her, but she was
one of those pious persons who always think evil, and whose suspicions
are soon reawakened. She tried to obtain from Vautrot, who had so long
been intimate with her nephew, some explanation of the mystery; but as
Vautrot was too prudent to enlighten her, she turned him out of doors.

After his encounter with M. de Camors, he immediately turned his steps
toward the Rue St. Dominique, and an hour later Madame de la Roche-Jugan
had the pleasure of knowing all that he knew of the liaison between the
Count and the Marquise. But we remember that he knew everything. These
revelations, though not unexpected, terrified Madame de la Roche-Jugan,
who saw her maternal projects destroyed forever. To her bitter feeling
at this deception was immediately joined, in this base soul, a sudden
thirst for revenge. It was true she had been badly recompensed for her
anonymous letter, by which she had previously attempted to open the
eyes of the unfortunate General; for from that moment the General, the
Marquise, and M. de Camors himself, without an open rupture, let her
feel their marks of contempt, which embittered her heart. She never
would again expose herself to a similar slight of this kind; but she
must assuredly, in the cause of good morals, at once confront the blind
with the culpable, and this time with such proofs as would make the
blow irresistible. By the mere thought, Madame de la Roche-Jugan had
persuaded herself that the new turn events were taking might become
favorable to the expectations which had become the fixed idea of her
life.

Madame de Campvallon destroyed, M. de Camors set aside, the General
would be alone in the world; and it was natural to suppose he would turn
to his young relative Sigismund, if only to recognize the far-sighted
affection and wounded heart of Madame de la Roche-Jugan.

The General, in fact, had by his marriage contract settled all his
property on his wife; but Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who had consulted
a lawyer on this question, knew that he had the power of alienating his
fortune during life, and of stripping his unworthy wife and transferring
it to Sigismund.

Madame de la Roche-Jugan did not shrink from the probability--which was
most likely--of an encounter between the General and Camors. Every one
knows the disdainful intrepidity of women in the matter of duels. She
had no scruple, therefore, in engaging Vautrot in the meritorious work
she meditated. She secured him by some immediate advantages and by
promises; she made him believe the General would recompense him largely.
Vautrot, smarting still from the cut of Camors’s whip on his shoulder,
and ready to kill him with his own hand had he dared, hardly required
the additional stimulus of gain to aid his protectress in her vengeance
by acting as her instrument.

He resolved, however, since he had the opportunity, to put himself, once
for all, beyond misery and want, by cleverly speculating, through the
secret he held, on the great fortune of the General. This secret he
had already given to Madame de Camors under the inspiration of another
sentiment, but he had then in his hands the proofs, which he now was
without.

It was necessary, then, for him to arm himself with new and infallible
proofs; but if the intrigue he was required to unmask still existed,
he did not despair of detecting something certain, aided by the general
knowledge he had of the private habits and ways of Camors. This was the
task to which he applied himself from this moment, day and night, with
an evil ardor of hate and jealousy. The absolute confidence which the
General reposed in his wife and Camors after the latter’s marriage with
Marie de Tecle, had doubtless allowed them to dispense with much of
the mystery and adventure of their intrigue; but that which was ardent,
poetic, and theatrical to the Marquise’s imagination had not been lost.
Love alone was not sufficient for her. She needed danger, scenic effect,
and pleasure heightened by terror. Once or twice, in the early time, she
was reckless enough to leave her house during the night and to return
before day. But she was obliged to renounce these audacious flights,
finding them too perilous.

These nocturnal interviews with M. de Camors were rare, and she had
usually received him at home. This was their arrangement: An open
space, sometimes used as a woodyard, was next the garden of the Hotel
Campvallon. The General had purchased a portion of it and had had a
cottage erected in the midst of a kitchen-garden, and had placed in it,
with his usual kind-heartedness, an old ‘sous-officier’, named Mesnil,
who had served under him in the artillery. This Mesnil enjoyed his
master’s confidence. He was a kind of forester on the property; he lived
in Paris in the winter, but occasionally passed two or three days in
the country whenever the General wished to obtain information about the
crops. Madame de Campvallon and M. de Camors chose the time of these
absences for their dangerous interviews at night. Camors, apprised from
within by some understood signal, entered the enclosure surrounding the
cottage of Mesnil, and thence proceeded to the garden belonging to the
house. Madame de Campvallon always charged herself with the peril that
charmed her--with keeping open one of the windows on the ground floor.
The Parisian custom of lodging the domestics in the attics gave to
this hardihood a sort of security, notwithstanding its being always
hazardous. Near the end of May, one of these occasions, always
impatiently awaited on both sides, presented itself, and M. de Camors at
midnight penetrated into the little garden of the old ‘sous-officier’.
At the moment when he turned the key in the gate of the enclosure, he
thought he heard a slight sound behind him. He turned, cast a rapid
glance over the dark space that surrounded him, and thinking himself
mistaken, entered. An instant after, the shadow of a man appeared at
the angle of a pile of lumber, which was scattered over the carpenter’s
yard. This shadow remained for some time immovable in front of the
windows of the hotel and then plunged again into the darkness.

The following week M. de Camors was at the club one evening, playing
whist with the General. He remarked that the General was not playing
his usual game, and saw also imprinted on his features a painful
preoccupation.

“Are you in pain, General?” said he, after they had finished their game.

“No, no!” said the General; “I am only annoyed--a tiresome affair
between two of my people in the country. I sent Mesnil away this morning
to examine into it.”

The General took a few steps, then returned to Camors and took him
aside: “My friend,” he said, “I deceived you, just now; I have something
on my mind--something very serious. I am even very unhappy!”

“What is the matter?” said Camors, whose heart sank.

“I shall tell you that probably to-morrow. Come, in any case, to see me
to-morrow morning. Won’t you?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Thanks! Now I shall go--for I am really not well.”

He clasped his hand more affectionately than usual.

“Adieu, my dear child,” he added, and turned around brusquely to hide
the tears which suddenly filled his eyes. M. de Camors experienced for
some moments a lively disquietude, but the friendly and tender adieus
of the General reassured him that it did not relate to himself. Still he
continued astonished and even affected by the emotion of the old man.

Was it not strange? If there was one man in the world whom he loved,
or to whom he would have devoted himself, it was this one whom he had
mortally wronged.

He had, however, good reason to be uneasy; and was wrong in reassuring
himself; for the General in the course of that evening had been informed
of the treachery of his wife--at least he had been prepared for it. Only
he was still ignorant of the name of her accomplice.

Those who informed him were afraid of encountering the blind and
obstinate faith of the General, had they named Camors.

It was probable, also, after what had already occurred, that had
they again pronounced that name, the General would have repelled the
suspicion as a monstrous impossibility, regretting even the thought.

M. de Camors remained until one o’clock at the club and then went to
the Rue Vanneau. He was introduced into the Hotel Campvallon with the
customary precautions; and this time we shall follow him there. In
traversing the garden, he raised his eyes to the General’s window, and
saw the soft light of the night-lamp burning behind the blinds.

The Marquise awaited him at the door of her boudoir, which opened on a
rotunda at an elevation of a few feet. He kissed her hand, and told her
in few words of the General’s sadness.

She replied that she had been very uneasy about his health for some
days. This explanation seemed natural to M. de Camors, and he followed
the Marquise through the dark and silent salon. She held in her hand
a candle, the feeble light of which threw on her delicate features a
strange pallor. When they passed up the long, echoing staircase, the
rustling of her skirt on the steps was the only sound that betrayed her
light movement.

She stopped from time to time, shivering--as if better to taste the
dramatic solemnity that surrounded them--turned her blonde head a little
to look at Camors; then cast on him her inspiring smile, placed her hand
on her heart, as if to say, “I am fearful,” and went on. They reached
her chamber, where a dim lamp faintly illumined the sombre magnificence,
the sculptured wainscotings, and the heavy draperies.

The flame on the hearth which flickered up at intervals, threw a bright
gleam on two or three pictures of the Spanish school, which were the
only decorations of this sumptuous, but stern-looking apartment.

The Marquise sank as if terrified on a divan near the chimney, and
pushed with her feet two cushions before her, on which Camors half
reclined; she then thrust back the thick braids of her hair, and leaned
toward her lover.

“Do you love me to-day?” she asked.

The soft breath of her voice was passing over the face of Camors, when
the door suddenly opened before them. The General entered. The Marquise
and Camors instantly rose to their feet, and standing side by side,
motionless, gazed upon him. The General paused near the door. As he
saw them a shudder passed over his frame, and his face assumed a
livid pallor. For an instant his eye rested on Camors with a stupefied
surprise and almost bewilderment; then he raised his arms over his
head, and his hands struck together with a sharp sound. At this terrible
moment Madame de Campvallon seized the arm of Camors, and threw him a
look so profound, supplicating, and tragic, that it alarmed him.

He roughly pushed her from him, crossed his arms, and waited the result.

The General walked slowly toward him. Suddenly his face became inflamed
with a purple hue; his lips half opened, as if about to deliver some
deadly insult. He advanced rapidly, his hand raised; but after a few
steps the old man suddenly stopped, beat the air with both hands, as if
seeking some support, then staggered and fell forward, striking his
head against the marble mantelpiece, rolled on the carpet, and remained
motionless. There was an ominous silence. A stifled cry from M. de
Camors broke it. At the same time he threw himself on his knees by the
side of the motionless old man, touched first his hand, then his heart.
He saw that he was dead. A thin thread of blood trickled down his pale
forehead where it had struck the marble; but this was only a slight
wound. It was not that which had killed him. It was the treachery of
those two beings whom he had loved, and who, he believed, loved him. His
heart had been broken by the violence of the surprise, the grief, and
the horror.

One look of Camors told Madame de Campvallon she was a widow. She threw
herself on the divan, buried her face in the cushions and sobbed aloud.
Camors still stood, his back against the mantelpiece, his eyes fixed,
wrapped in his own thoughts. He wished in all sincerity of heart that he
could have awakened the dead and restored him to life. He had sworn to
deliver himself up to him without defence, if ever the old man demanded
it of him for forgotten favors, betrayed friendship, and violated honor.
Now he had killed him. If he had not slain him with his own hand, the
crime was still there, in its most hideous form. He saw it before him,
he inhaled its odor--he breathed its blood. An uneasy glance of the
Marquise recalled him to himself and he approached her. They then
conversed together in whispers, and he hastily explained to her the line
of conduct she should adopt.

She must summon the servants, say the General had been taken suddenly
ill, and that on entering her room he had been seized by an apoplectic
stroke.

It was with some effort that she understood she was to wait long enough
before giving the alarm to give Camors sufficient time to escape; and
until then she was to remain in this frightful tete-a-tete, alone with
the dead.

He pitied her, and decided on leaving the hotel by the apartment of M.
de Campvallon, which had a private entrance on the street.

The Marquise immediately rang violently several times, and Camors did
not retire till he heard the sound of hastening feet on the stairs. The
apartment of the General communicated with that of his wife by a short
gallery. There was a suite of apartments--first a study, then his
sleeping-room. M. de Camors traversed this room with feelings we shall
not attempt to describe and gained the street. The surgeon testified
that the General had died from the rupture of a vessel in the heart. Two
days after the interment took place, at which M. de Camors attended. The
same evening he left Paris to join his wife, who had gone to Reuilly the
preceding week.



CHAPTER XXI. THE FEATHER IN THE BALANCE

One of the sweetest sensations in the world is that of a man who has
just escaped the fantastic terrors of night mare; and who, awaking, his
fore head bathed with icy sweat, says to himself, “It was only a dream!”
 This was, in some degree, the impression which Camors felt on awaking,
the morning after his arrival at Reuilly, when his first glance fell on
the sunlight streaming over the foliage, and when he heard beneath
his window the joyous laugh of his little son. He, however, was not
dreaming; but his soul, crushed by the horrible tension of recent
emotions, had a moment’s respite, and drank in, almost without alloy,
the new calm that surrounded him. He hastily dressed himself and
descended to the garden, where his son ran to meet him.

M. de Camors embraced the child with tenderness; and leaning toward him,
spoke to him in a low voice, and asked after his mother and about his
amusements, with a singularly soft and sad manner. Then he let him go,
and walked with a slow step, breathing the fresh morning air, examining
the leaves and the flowers with extraordinary interest. From time to
time a deep, sad sigh broke from his oppressed chest; he passed his hand
over his brow as if to efface the importunate images. He sat down amid
the quaintly clipped boxwood which ornamented the garden in the antique
fashion, called his son again to him, held him between his knees,
interrogating him again, in a low voice, as he had done before; then
drew him toward him and clasped him tightly for a long time, as if to
draw into his own heart the innocence and peace of the child’s. Madame
de Camors surprised him in this gush of feeling, and remained mute with
astonishment. He rose immediately and took her hand.

“How well you bring him up!” he said. “I thank you for it. He will be
worthy of you and of your mother.”

She was so surprised at the soft, sad tone of his voice, that she
replied, stammering with embarrassment, “And worthy of you also, I
hope.”

“Of me?” said Camors, whose lips were slightly tremulous. “Poor child, I
hope not!” and rapidly withdrew.

Madame de Camors and Madame de Tecle had learned, the previous morning,
of the death of the General. The evening of the Count’s arrival they
did not speak to him on the subject, and were cautious not to make any
allusion to it. The next day, and the succeeding ones, they
practised the same reserve, though very far from suspecting the fatal
circumstances which rendered this souvenir so painful to M. de Camors.
They thought it only natural he should be pained at so sudden a
catastrophe, and that his conscience should be disturbed; but they were
astonished when this impression prolonged itself from day to day, until
it took the appearance of a lasting sentiment.

They began to believe that there had arisen between Madame de Campvallon
and himself, probably occasioned by the General’s death, some quarrel
which had weakened the tie between them.

A journey of twenty-four hours, which he made fifteen days after his
arrival, was to them a confirmation of the truth they before suspected;
but his prompt return, his new tastes, which kept him at Reuilly during
the summer, seemed to them favorable symptoms.

He was singularly sad, pensive, and more inactive than usual in his
habits. He took long walks alone. Sometimes he took his son with him, as
if by chance. He sometimes attempted a little timid tenderness with his
wife; and this awkwardness, on his part, was quite touching.

“Marie,” he said to her one day, “you, who are a fairy, wave your wand
over Reuilly and make of it an island in mid-ocean.”

“You say that because you know how to swim,” said she, laughing and
shaking her head; but the heart of the young woman was joyful.

“You embrace me now every moment, my little one,” said Madame de Tecle
to her. “Is this really all intended for me?”

“My adorable mother,” while embracing her again, “I assure you he is
really courting me again. Why, I am ignorant; but he is courting me and
you also, my mother. Observe it!”

Madame de Tecle did observe it. In his conversation with her, M. de
Camors sought, under every pretext, to recall the souvenirs of the past,
common to them both. It seemed he wished to link the past with his new
life; to forget the rest, and pray of them to forget it also.

It was not without fear that these two charming women abandoned
themselves to their hopes. They remembered they were in the presence of
an uncertain person; they little trusted a change so sudden, the reason
of which they could not comprehend. They feared it was some passing
caprice, which would return to them, if they were its dupes, all their
misfortunes, without the dignity which had hitherto attended them.

They were not the only ones struck by this transformation. M. des
Rameures remarked it to them. The neighboring country people felt in the
Count’s language something new--as it were, a tender humility; they said
that in other years he had been polite, but this year he was angelic.
Even the inanimate things, the woods, the trees, the heavens, should
have borne the same testimony, for he looked at and studied them with a
benevolent curiosity with which he had never before honored them.

In truth, a profound trouble had invaded him and would not leave him.
More than once, before this epoch, his soul, his philosophy, his pride,
had received a rude shock, but he had no less pursued his path, rising
after every blow, like a lion wounded, but unconquered. In trampling
under his feet all moral belief which binds the vulgar, he had reserved
honor as an inviolable limit. Then, under the empire of his passions,
he said to himself that, after all, honor, like all the rest, was
conventional. Then he encountered crime--he touched it with his
hand--horror seized him--and he recoiled. He rejected with disgust the
principle which had conducted him there--asked himself what would become
of human society if it had no other.

The simple truths which he had misunderstood now appeared to him in
their tranquil splendor. He could not yet distinguish them clearly; he
did not try to give them a name, but he plunged with a secret delight
into their shadows and their peace. He sought them in the pure heart of
his child, in the pure love of his young wife, in the daily miracles
of nature, in the harmonies of the heavens, and probably already in the
depths of his thoughts--in God. In the midst of this approach toward a
new life he hesitated. Madame de Campvallon was there. He still loved
her vaguely. Above all, he could not abandon her without being guilty of
a kind of baseness. Terrible struggles agitated him. Having done so much
evil, would he now be permitted to do good, and gracefully partake of
the joys he foresaw? These ties with the past, his fortune dishonestly
acquired, his fatal mistress--the spectre of that old man would they
permit it?

And we may add, would Providence suffer it? Not that we should lightly
use this word Providence, and suspend over M. de Camors a menace of
supernatural chastisement. Providence does not intervene in human events
except through the logic of her eternal laws. She has only the sanction
of these laws; and it is for this reason she is feared. At the end of
August M. de Camors repaired to the principal town in the district, to
perform his duties in the Council-General. The session finished, he
paid a visit to Madame de Campvallon before returning to Reuilly. He had
neglected her a little in the course of the summer, and had only visited
Campvallon at long intervals, as politeness compelled him. The Marquise
wished to keep him for dinner, as she had no guests with her. She
pressed him so warmly that, reproaching himself all the time, he
consented. He never saw her without pain. She always brought back to him
those terrible memories, but also that terrible intoxication. She had
never been more beautiful. Her deep mourning embellished yet more her
languishing and regal grace; it made her pale complexion yet more fair,
and it heightened the brilliancy of her look. She had the air of a young
tragic queen, or of an allegory of Night. In the evening an hour arrived
when the reserve which for some time had marked their relations was
forgotten. M. de Camors found himself, as in olden time, at the feet of
the young Marquise--his eyes gazing into hers, and covering with kisses
her lovely hands. She was strange that evening. She looked at him with
a wild tenderness, instilling, at pleasure, into his veins the poison
of burning passion then escaping him, the tears gathering in her eyes.
Suddenly, by one of those magical movements of hers, she enveloped with
her hands the head of her lover, and spoke to him quite low beneath the
shadow of this perfumed veil.

“We might be so happy!” she said.

“Are we not so?” said Camors.

“No! I at least am not, for you are not all mine, as I am yours. This
appears harder, now that I am free. If you had remained free--when I
think of it! or if you could become so, it would be heaven!”

“You know that I am not so! Why speak of it?”

She drew nearer to him, and with her breath, more than with her voice,
answered:

“Is it impossible? Tell me!”

“How?” he demanded.

She did not reply, but her fixed look, caressing and cruel, answered
him.

“Speak, then, I beg of you!” murmured Camors.

“Have you not told me--I have not forgotten it--that we are united by
ties stronger than all others; that the world and its laws exist no
longer for us; that there is no other good, no other bad for us, but our
happiness or our unhappiness? Well, we are not happy, and if we could be
so--listen, I have thought well over it!”

Her lips touched the cheek of Camors, and the murmur of her last words
was lost in her kisses.

Camors roughly repelled her, sprang up, and stood before her.

“Charlotte,” he said, sternly, “this is only a trial, I hope; but, trial
or no, never repeat it--never! Remember!”

She also quickly drew herself up.

“Ah! how you love her!” she cried. “Yes, you love her, it is she you
love-I know it, I feel it, and I-I am only the wretched object of your
pity, or of your caprice. Very well, go back to her--go and protect her,
for I swear to you she is in peril!”

He smiled with his haughty irony.

“Let us see your plot,” he said. “So you intend to kill her?”

“If I can!” she said; and her superb arm was stretched out as if to
seize a weapon.

“What! with your own hand?”

“The hand shall be found.”

“You are so beautiful at this moment!” said Camors; “I am dying with the
desire to fall at your feet. Acknowledge only that you wished to try me,
or that you were mad for a moment.”

She gave a savage smile.

“Oh! you fear, my friend,” she said, coldly; then raising again her
voice, which assumed a malignant tone, “You are right, I am not mad,
I did not wish to try you; I am jealous, I am betrayed, and I shall
revenge myself--no matter what it costs me--for I care for nothing more
in this world!--Go, and guard her!”

“Be it so; I go,” said Camors. He immediately left the salon and the
chateau; he reached the railway station on foot, and that evening
arrived at Reuilly.

Something terrible there awaited him.

During his absence, Madame de Camors, accompanied by her mother, had
gone to Paris to make some purchases. She remained there three days. She
had returned only that morning. He himself arrived late in the evening.
He thought he observed some constraint in their reception of him, but he
did not dwell upon it in the state of mind in which he was.

This is what had occurred: Madame de Camors, during her stay in
Paris, had gone, as was her custom, to visit her aunt, Madame de la
Roche-Jugan. Their intercourse had always been very constrained.
Neither their characters nor their religion coincided. Madame de Camors
contented herself with not liking her aunt, but Madame de la Roche-Jugan
hated her niece. She found a good occasion to prove this, and did not
lose it. They had not seen each other since the General’s death. This
event, which should have caused Madame de la Roche-Jugan to reproach
herself, had simply exasperated her. Her bad action had recoiled upon
herself. The death of M. Campvallon had finally destroyed her last
hopes, which she had believed she could have founded on the anger and
desperation of the old man. Since that time she was animated against her
nephew and the Marquise with the rage of one of the Furies. She learned
through Vautrot that M. de Camors had been in the chamber of Madame de
Campvallon the night of the General’s death. On this foundation of
truth she did not fear to frame the most odious suspicions; and Vautrot,
baffled like her in his vengeance and in his envy, had aided her. A few
sinister rumors, escaping apparently from this source, had even crept at
this time into Parisian society.

M. de Camors and Madame de Campvallon, suspecting that they had been
betrayed a second time by Madame de la Roche-Jugan, had broken with her;
and she could presume that, should she present herself at the door
of the Marquise, orders would have been given not to admit her. This
affront made her angrier still. She was still a prey to the violence of
her wrath when she received a visit from Madame de Camors. She affected
to make the General’s death the theme of conversation, shed a few tears
over her old friend, and kissed the hand of her niece with a burst of
tenderness.

“My poor little thing!” she said to her; “it is for you also I weep--for
you will yet be more unhappy than heretofore, if that can be possible.”

“I do not understand you, Madame,” answered the young woman, coldly.

“If you do not understand me, so much the better,” replied Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, with a shade of bitterness; then, after a moment’s
pause--“Listen, my dear! this is a duty of conscience which I comply
with. You see, an honest creature like you merits a better fate; and
your mother too, who is also a dupe. That man would deceive the good
God. In the name of my family, I feel bound to ask your pardon for both
of them.”

“I repeat, Madame, that I do not understand you.”

“But it is impossible, my child--come!--it is impossible that all this
time you have suspected nothing.”

“I suspect nothing, Madame,” said Madame de Camors, “because I know
all.”

“Ah!” continued Madame de la Roche-Jugan, dryly; “if this be so, I have
nothing to say. But there are persons, in that case, who can accommodate
their consciences to very strange things.”

“That is what I thought a moment ago, Madame,” said the young woman,
rising.

“As you wish, my dear; but I speak in your own interest, and I shall
reproach myself for not having spoken to you more clearly. I know
my nephew better than you will ever know him; and the other also.
Notwithstanding you say so, you do not know all; let me tell you. The
General died very suddenly; and after him, it is your turn! Be very
careful, my poor child!”

“Oh, Madame!” cried the young woman, becoming ghastly pale; “I shall
never see you again while I live!” She left on the instant-ran home, and
there found her mother. She repeated to her the terrible words she
had just heard, and her mother tried to calm her; but she herself
was disturbed. She went immediately to Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and
supplicated her to have pity on them and to retract the abominable
innuendo she had thrown out, or to explain it more fully. She made her
understand that she would inform M. de Camors of the affair in case of
need, and that he would hold his cousin Sigismund responsible. Terrified
in her turn, Madame de la Roche-Jugan judged the best method was to
destroy M. de Camors in the estimation of Madame de Tecle. She related
what had been told her by Vautrot, being careful not to compromise
herself in the recital. She informed her of the presence of M. de Camors
at the General’s house the night of his death. She told her of
the reports that were circulated, and mingling calumny with truth,
redoubling at the same time her affection, her caresses, and her
tears, she succeeded in giving Madame de Tecle such an estimate of
the character of M. de Camors, that there were no suspicions or
apprehensions which the poor woman, from that moment, did not consider
legitimate as connected with him.

Madame de la Roche-Jugan finally offered to send Vautrot to her,
that she might herself interrogate him. Madame de Tecle, affecting an
incredulity and a tranquillity she did not feel, refused and withdrew.

On her returning to her daughter, she forced herself to deceive her as
to the impressions she had received, but she did not succeed; for her
anxious face belied her reassuring words. They separated the following
night, mutually concealing the trouble and distress of their souls; but
accustomed so long to think, feel, and suffer together, they met, so
to speak, in the same reflections, the same reasonings, and in the same
terrors. They went over, in their memories, all the incidents of the
life of Camors--all his faults; and, under the shadow of the monstrous
action imputed to him, his faults took a criminal character which they
were surprised they had not seen before. They discovered a series and
a sequence in his designs, all of which were imputed to him as
crimes--even his good actions. Thus his conduct during the last few
months, his strange ways, his fancy for his child and for his wife, his
assiduous tenderness toward her, were nothing more than the hypocritical
meditation of a new crime--a mask which he was preparing in advance.

What was to be done? What kind of life was it possible to live in
common, under the weight of such thoughts? What present--what future?
These thoughts bewildered them. Next day Camors could not fail remarking
the singular change in their countenances in his presence; but he knew
that his servant, without thinking of harm, had spoken of his visit to
Madame de Campvallon, and he attributed the coldness and embarrassment
of the two women to this fact. He was less disquieted at this,
because he was resolved to keep them entirely safe. As a result of his
reflections during the night, he had determined to break off forever his
intrigue with Madame de Campvallon. For this rupture, which he had made
it a point of honor not to provoke, Madame de Campvallon had herself
furnished him a sufficient pretext.

The criminal thought she had suggested was, he knew, only a feint to
test him, but it was enough to justify his abandonment of her. As to the
violent and menacing words the Marquise had used, he held them of
little value, though at times the remembrance of them troubled him.
Nevertheless, for many years he had not felt his heart so light.
This wicked tie once broken, it seemed as if he had resumed, with his
liberty, his youth and virtue. He walked and played a part of the day
with his little son. After dinner, just as night fell, clear and pure,
he proposed to Madame de Camors a tete-a-tete excursion in the woods.
He spoke to her of a view which had struck him shortly before on such a
night, and which would please, he said laughingly, her romantic taste.

He would not permit himself to be surprised at the disinclination she
manifested, at the disquietude which her face indicated, or at the rapid
glance she exchanged with her mother.

The same thought, and that a most fearful one; entered the minds of both
these unfortunate women at the same moment.

They were still under the impression of the shock which had so weakened
their nerves, and the brusque proposition of M. de Camors, so contrary
to his usual habits-the hour, the night, and the solitary walk--had
suddenly awakened in their brains the sinister images which Madame de
la Roche-Jugan had laid there. Madame de Camors, however, with an air of
resolution the circumstances did not seem entitled to demand, prepared
immediately to go out, then followed her husband from the house, leaving
her little son in charge of her mother. They had only to cross the
garden to find themselves on the edge of the wood which almost touched
their dwelling, and which stretched to the old fields inherited from the
Comte de Tecle. The intention of Camors in seeking this tete-a-tete
was to confide to his wife the decisive determination he had taken of
delivering up to her absolutely and without reserve his heart and life,
and to enjoy in these solitudes his first taste of true happiness.
Surprised at the cold distraction with which his young wife replied to
the affectionate gayety of his language, he redoubled his efforts to
bring their conversation to a tone of more intimacy and confidence.
While stopping at intervals to point out to her some effects of light
and shadow in their walk, he began to question her on her recent trip to
Paris, and on the persons she had seen there. She named Madame Jaubert
and a few others; then, lowering her voice against her will, mentioned
Madame de la Roche-Jugan.

“That one,” said Camors, “you could very well have dispensed with. I
forgot to warn you that I no longer recognize her.”

“Why?” asked she, timidly.

“Because she is a bad woman,” said Camors. “When we are a little more
intimate with each other, you and I,” he added, laughing, “I shall edify
you on this character, I shall tell you all--all, understand.”

There was so much of nature, and even of goodness in the accent with
which he pronounced these words, that the Countess felt her heart
half comforted from the oppression which had weighed it down. She gave
herself up with more abandon to the gracious advances of her husband and
to the slight incidents of her walk.

The phantoms disappeared little by little from her mind, and she began
to say to herself that she had been the sport of a bad dream, and of a
true madness, when a singular change in her husband’s face renewed all
her terrors. M. de Camors, in his turn, had become absent and visibly
preoccupied with some grave care. He spoke with an effort, made half
replies, meditated; then stopped quickly to look around him, like a
frightened child. These strange ways, so different from his former
temper, alarmed the young woman, the more so as she just then found
herself in the most distant part of the wood.

There was an extraordinary similarity in the thoughts which occupied
them both. At the moment when Madame Camors was trembling for fear near
her husband, he was trembling for her.

He thought he detected that they were followed; at different times he
thought he heard in the thicket the cracking of branches, rattling of
leaves, and finally the sound of stealthy steps. These noises always
ceased on his stopping, and began again the moment he resumed his walk.
He thought, a moment later, he saw the shadow of a man pass rapidly
among the underwood behind them. The idea of some woodman came first
to his mind, but he could not reconcile this with the persistence with
which they were followed.

He finally had no doubt that they were dogged--but by whom? The repeated
menaces of Madame de Campvallon against the life of Madame de Camors,
the passionate and unbridled character of this woman, soon presented
itself to his thoughts, suggested this mysterious pursuit, and awakened
these frightful suspicions.

He did not imagine for a moment that the Marquise would charge herself
personally with the infliction of her vengeance; but she had said--he
then remembered--that the hand would be found. She was rich enough to
find it, and this hand might now be here.

He did not wish to alarm his wife by calling her attention to this
spectre, which he believed at her side, but he could not hide from her
his agitation, which every movement of his caused her to construe as
falsely as cruelly.

“Marie,” he said, “let us walk a little faster, I beg of you! I am
cold.”

He quickened his steps, resolved to return to the chateau by the public
road, which was bordered with houses.

When he reached the border of the woods, although he thought he still
heard at intervals the sound which had alarmed him, he reassured himself
and resumed his flow of spirits as if a little ashamed even of his
panic. He stopped the Countess to look at the pretext of this excursion.
This was the rocky wall of the deep excavation of a marl-pit, long since
abandoned. The arbutus-trees of fantastic shape which covered the summit
of these rocks, the pendant vines, the sombre ivy which carpeted the
cliffs, the gleaming white stones, the vague reflections in the stagnant
pool at the bottom of the pit, the mysterious light of the moon, made a
scene of wild beauty.

The ground in the neighborhood of the marl-pit was so irregular, and the
thorny underbrush so thick, that when pedestrians wished to reach the
nearest highway they, were compelled either to make a long detour or to
cross the deepest part of the excavation by means of the trunks of two
great trees, which had been cut in half, lashed together, and thrown
across the chasm. Thus they formed a crude bridge, affording a passage
across the deep hollow and adding to the picturesque aspect of this
romantic spot.

Madame de Camors never had seen anything like this peculiar bridge,
which had been laid recently at her husband’s orders. After they had
gazed in silence a moment into the depths of the marl-pit, Camors called
his wife’s attention to the unique construction.

“Do you intend to cross that?” she asked, briefly.

“Yes, if you are not afraid,” said Camors; “I shall be close beside you,
you know.”

He saw that she hesitated, and, looking at her closely in the moonlight,
he thought her face was strangely pale, and could not refrain from
saying:

“I believed that you had more courage.”

She hesitated no longer, but stepped upon the dangerous bridge. In spite
of herself, she turned her head half around, in a backward glance, and
her steady step faltered. Suddenly she tottered. M. de Camors sprang
forward, and, in the agitation of the moment, seized her in an almost
violent grasp. The unhappy woman uttered a piercing shriek, made a
gesture as if to defend herself, repelling his touch; then, running
wildly across the bridge, she rushed into the woods. M. de Camors,
astounded, alarmed, not knowing how to interpret his wife’s strange
conduct, immediately followed her. He found her a short distance beyond
the bridge, leaning against the first tree she had been able to reach.
She turned to face him, with an expression of mingled terror and menace,
and as he approached, she shot forth the single word:

“Coward!”

He stared at her in sheer amazement. At that moment there was a sound of
hurried footsteps; a shadowy form glided toward them from the depth of
the thicket, and the next instant Camors recognized Madame de Tecle. She
ran, dishevelled and breathless, toward her daughter, seized her by the
hand and, drawing herself up, said to Camors:

“If you kill one of us, kill both!”

He understood the mystery in a flash. A stifled cry escaped him; for an
instant he buried his face in his hands; then; flinging out his arms in
a gesture of despair, he said:

“So you took me for a murderer!”

There was a moment of dead silence.

“Well!” he cried, stamping his foot with sudden violence, “why do you
stay here, then? Run! Fly! Save yourselves from me!”

Overcome with terror, the two women fled, the mother dragging her
daughter. The next moment they had disappeared in the darkness of the
woods.

Camors remained in that lonely spot many hours, without being aware of
the passage of time. At intervals he paced feverishly to and fro
along the narrow strip of land between the woods and the bridge; then,
stopping short, with fixed eyes, he became lost in thought, and stood as
motionless as the trunk of the tree against which he leaned. If, as we
hope, there is a Divine hand which measures justly our sorrows according
to our sins, the unhappy man, in this dark hour, must have rendered his
account.



CHAPTER XXII. THE CURTAIN FALLS

The next morning the Marquise de Campvallon was strolling beside a large
circular sheet of water which ornamented the lower part of her park, the
metallic gleam of the rippling waves being discernible from afar through
the branches of the surrounding trees.

She walked slowly along the bank of the lake, her head bowed, and
the long skirt of her mourning-robe sweeping the grass. Two large and
dazzlingly white swans, watching their mistress eagerly, in expectation
of receiving their usual titbits from her hands, swam close to the bank,
following her steps as if escorting her.

Suddenly the Comte de Camors appeared before her. She had believed that
she never should see him again. She raised her head quickly and pressed
one hand to her heart.

“Yes, it is I!” said Camors. “Give me your hand.”

She gave it to him.

“You were right, Charlotte,” he said, after a moment of silence. “Ties
like ours can not be broken. I have reflected on everything. I was
seized with a momentary cowardice, for which I have reproached myself
bitterly, and for which, moreover, I have been sufficiently punished.
But I come to you to ask your forgiveness.”

The Marquise led him tenderly into the deep shadow of the great
plane-trees that surrounded the lake; she knelt before him with theatric
grace, and fixed on him her swimming eyes. She covered his head with
kisses. He raised her and pressed her to his heart.

“But you do not wish that crime to be committed?” he said in a low
voice.

She bent her head with mournful indecision.

“For that matter,” he added, bitterly, “it would only make us worthier
of each other; for, as to myself, they have already believed me capable
of it.”

He took her arm and recounted to her briefly the scene of the night
before.

He told her he had not returned home, and never should. This was the
result of his mournful meditations. To attempt an explanation with
those who had so mortally outraged him--to open to them the depth of his
heart--to allude to the criminal thought they had accused him of--he had
repelled with horror, the evening before, when proposed by another. He
thought of all this; but this humiliation--if he could have so abased
himself--would have been useless. How could he hope to conquer by these
words the distrust capable of creating such suspicions?

He confusedly divined the origin, and understood that this distrust,
envenomed by remembrance of the past, was incurable.

The sentiment of the irreparable, of revolted pride, indignation, and
even injustice, had shown him but one refuge, and it was this to which
he had fled.

The Comtesse de Camors and Madame de Tecle learned only through their
servants and the public of the removal of the Count to a country-house
he had rented near the Chateau Campvallon. After writing ten
letters--all of which he had burned--he had decided to maintain an
absolute silence. They sometimes trembled at the thought he might take
away his son. He thought of it; but it was a kind of vengeance that he
disdained.

This move, which publicly proclaimed the relations existing between
M. de Camors and the Marquise, made a sensation in the Parisian world,
where it was soon known. It revived again the strange recollections and
rumors that all remembered. Camors heard of them, but despised them.

His pride, which was then exasperated by a savage irritation, was
gratified at defying public opinion, which had been so easily duped
before. He knew there was no situation one could not impose upon the
world providing one had wealth and audacity. From this day he resumed
energetically the love of his life, his habits, his labors, and his
thoughts for the future. Madame de Campvallon was the confidante of
all his projects, and added her own care to them; and both occupied
themselves in organizing in advance their mutual existence, hereafter
blended forever. The personal fortune of M. de Camors, united to that
of the Marquise, left no limits to the fancies which their imagination
could devise. They arranged to live separately at Paris, though the
Marquise’s salon should be common to both; but their double influence
would shine at the same time, and they would be the social centre of
a sovereign influence. The Marquise would reign by the splendor of her
person over the society of letters, art, and politics. Camors would
there find the means of action which could not fail to accomplish the
high destiny to which his talent and his ambition called him.

This was the life that had appeared to them in the origin of their
liaison as a sort of ideal of human happiness--that of two superior
beings, who proudly shared, above the masses, all the pleasures of
earth, the intoxication of passion, the enjoyment of intellectual
strength, the satisfaction of pride, and the emotions of power. The
eclat of such a life would constitute the vengeance of Camors, and force
to repent bitterly those who had dared to misunderstand him. The recent
mourning of the Marquise commanded them, notwithstanding, to adjourn the
realization of their dream, if they did not wish to wound the conscience
of the public. They felt it, and resolved to travel for a few months
before settling in Paris. The time that passed in their preparations
for the future, and in arrangements for this voyage, was to Madame de
Campvallon the sweetest period of her life. She finally tasted to the
full an intimacy, so long troubled, of which the charm, in truth,
was very great; for her lover, as if to make her forget his momentary
desertion, was prodigal in the effusion of his tenderness. He brought to
private studies, as well as to their common schemes, an ardor, a fire,
which displayed itself in his face, in his eyes, and which seemed yet
more to heighten his manly beauty. It often happened, after quitting
the Marquise in the evening, that he worked very late at home, sometimes
until morning. One night, shortly before the day fixed for their
departure, a private servant of the Count, who slept in the room above
his master’s, heard a noise which alarmed him.

He went down in great haste, and found M. de Camors stretched apparently
lifeless on the floor at the foot of his desk. The servant, whose name
was Daniel, had all his master’s confidence, and he loved him with
that singular affection which strong natures often inspire in their
inferiors.

He sent for Madame de Campvallon, who soon came. M. de Camors,
recovering from his fainting-fit, was very pale, and was walking across
the room when she entered. He seemed irritated at seeing her, and
rebuked his servant sharply for his ill-advised zeal.

He said he had only had a touch of vertigo, to which he was subject.
Madame de Campvallon soon retired, having first supplicated him not to
overwork himself again. When he came to her next day, she could not
help being surprised at the dejection stamped on his face, which she
attributed to the attack he had had the night before. But when she spoke
of their approaching departure, she was astonished, and even alarmed by
his reply:

“Let us defer it a little, I beg of you,” he said. “I do not feel in a
state fit for travelling.”

Days passed; he made no further allusion to the voyage. He was serious,
silent, and cold. The active ardor, almost feverish, which had animated
until then his life, his speech, his eyes, was suddenly quenched.
One symptom which disquieted the Marquise above all was the absolute
idleness to which he now abandoned himself.

He left her in the evening at an early hour. Daniel told the Marquise
that the Count worked no longer; that he heard him pacing up and down
the greater part of the night. At the same time his health failed
visibly. The Marquise ventured once to interrogate him. As they were
both walking one day in the park, she said:

“You are hiding something from me. You suffer, my friend. What is the
cause?”

“There is nothing.”

“I pray you tell me!”

“Nothing is the matter with me,” he replied, petulantly.

“Is it your son that you regret?”

“I regret nothing.” After a few steps taken in silence--“When I think,”
 he said, quickly, “that there is one person in the world who considers
me a coward--for I hear always that word in my ear--and who treated me
like a coward, and who believed it when it was said, and believes it
still! If it had been a man, it would be easy, but it was a woman.”

After this sudden explosion he was silent.

“Very well; what do you desire?” said the Marquise, with vexation. “Do
you wish that I should go and tell her the truth--tell her that you were
ready to defend her against me--that you love her, and hate me? If it
be that you wish, say so. I believe if this life continues I shall be
capable of doing anything!”

“Do not you also outrage me! Dismiss me, if that will give you pleasure;
but I love you only. My pride bleeds, that is all; and I give you my
word of honor that if you ever affront me by going to justify me, I
shall never in my life see you or her. Embrace me!” and he pressed her
to his heart.

She was calm for a few hours.

The house he occupied was about to be taken again by its proprietor. The
middle of September approached, and it was the time when the Marquise
was in the habit of returning to Paris. She proposed to M. de Camors
to occupy the chateau during the few days he purposed passing in the
country. He accepted; but whenever she spoke of returning to Paris:

“Why so soon?” he would say; “are we not very well here?”

A little later she reminded him that the session of the Chamber was
about to open. He made his health a pretext for delay, saying that he
felt weak and wished to send in his resignation as deputy. She induced
him only by her urgent prayer to content himself with asking leave of
absence.

“But you, my beloved!” he said, “I am condemning you to a sad
existence!”

“With you,” she replied, “I am happy everywhere and always!”

It was not true that she was happy, but it was true that she loved
him and was devoted to him. There was no suffering she would not have
resigned herself to, no sacrifice she would not make, were it for him.

From this moment the prospect of worldly sovereignty, which she thought
she had touched with her hand, escaped her. She had a presentiment of
a melancholy future of solitude, of renunciation, of secret tears; but
near him grief became a fete. One knows with what rapidity life passes
with those who busy themselves without distraction in some profound
grief--the days themselves are long, but the succession of them is rapid
and imperceptible. It was thus that the months and then the seasons
succeeded one another, for Camors and the Marquise, with a monotony
that left hardly any trace on their thoughts. Their daily relations were
marked, on the part of the Count with an invariably cold and distant
courtesy, and very often silence; on the part of the Marquise by an
attentive tenderness and a constrained grief. Every day they rode out
on horseback, both clad in black, sympathetic by their beauty and their
sadness, and surrounded in the country by distant respect. About the
beginning of the ensuing winter Madame de Campvallon experienced a
serious disquietude. Although M. de Camors never complained, it was
evident his health was gradually failing. A dark and almost clayey tint
covered his thin cheeks, and spread nearly to the whites of his eyes.
The Marquise showed some emotion on perceiving it, and persuaded him
to consult a physician. The physician perceived symptoms of chronic
debility. He did not think it dangerous, but recommended a season at
Vichy, a few hygienic precautions, and absolute repose of mind and body.

When the Marquise proposed to Camors this visit to Vichy, he only
shrugged his shoulders without reply.

A few days after, Madame de Campvallon on entering the stable one
morning, saw Medjid, the favorite mare of Camors, white with foam,
panting and exhausted. The groom explained, with some awkwardness, the
condition of the animal, by a ride the Count had taken that morning.
The Marquise had recourse to Daniel, of whom she made a confidant, and
having questioned him, drew out the acknowledgment that for some time
his master had been in the habit of going out in the evening and not
returning until morning. Daniel was in despair with these nightly
wanderings, which he said greatly fatigued his master. He ended by
confessing to Madame de Campvallon the goal of his excursions.

The Comtesse de Camors, yielding to considerations the details of which
would not be interesting, had continued to live at Reuilly since her
husband had abandoned her. Reuilly was distant twelve leagues from
Campvallon, which could be made shorter by a crosscut. M. de Camors did
not hesitate to pass over this distance twice in the same night, to give
himself the emotion of breathing for a few minutes the same air with his
wife and child.

Daniel had accompanied him two or three times, but the Count generally
went alone. He left his horse in the wood, and approached as near as he
could without risking discovery; and, hiding himself like a malefactor
behind the shadows of the trees, he watched the windows, the lights, the
house, the least signs of those dear beings, from whom an eternal abyss
had divided him.

The Marquise, half frightened, half irritated, by an oddity which seemed
to border on madness, pretended to be ignorant of it. But these two
spirits were too accustomed to each other, day by day, to be able to
hide anything. He knew she was aware of his weakness, and seemed no
longer to care to make a mystery of it.

One evening in the month of July, he left on horseback in the afternoon,
and did not return for dinner. He arrived at the woods of Reuilly at the
close of the day, as he had premeditated. He entered the garden with
his usual precaution, and, thanks to his knowledge of the habits of the
household, he could approach, without being noticed, the pavilion where
the Countess’s chamber was situated, and which was also that of his son.
This chamber, by a particular arrangement of the house, was elevated at
the side of the court by the height of an entresol, but was level
with the garden. One of the windows was open, owing to the heat of the
evening. Camors hid himself behind the shutters, which were half closed,
and gazed eagerly into the chamber.

He had not seen for two years either his wife, his child, or Madame de
Tecle. He now saw all three there. Madame de Tecle was working near the
chimney. Her face was unchanged. She had the same youthful look, but
her hair was as white, as snow. Madame de Camors was sitting on a couch
nearly in front of the window and undressing her son, at the same time
talking to and caressing him.

The child, at a sign, knelt down at his mother’s feet in his light
night-garments, and while she held his joined hands in her own, he began
in a loud voice his evening prayers. She whispered him from time to time
a word that escaped him. This prayer, composed of a number of phrases
adapted to a youthful mind, terminated with these words: “O God! be good
and merciful to my mother, my grandmother, to me--and above all, O
God, to my unfortunate father.” He pronounced these words with childish
haste, but under a serious look from his mother, he repeated them
immediately, with some emotion, as a child who repeats the inflection of
a voice which has been taught him.

Camors turned suddenly and retired noiselessly, leaving the garden
by the nearest gate. A fixed idea tortured him. He wished to see his
son--to speak to him--to embrace him, and to press him to his heart.
After that, he cared for little.

He remembered they had formerly the habit of taking the child to
the dairy every morning to give him a cup of milk. He hoped they had
continued this custom. Morning arrived, and soon came the hour for which
he waited. He hid himself in the walk which led to the farm. He heard
the noise of feet, of laughter, and of joyous cries, and his son
suddenly appeared running in advance. He was a charming little boy of
five or six years, of a graceful and proud mien. On perceiving M.
de Camors in the middle of the walk he stopped, he hesitated at this
unknown or half-forgotten face; but the tender and half-supplicating
smile of Camors reassured him.

“Monsieur!” he said, doubtfully.

Camors opened his arms and bent as if to kneel before him.

“Come and embrace me, I beg of you,” he murmured.

The child had already advanced smiling, when the woman who was following
him, who was his old nurse, suddenly appeared. ‘She made a gesture of
fright:

“Your father!” she said, in a stifled voice.

At these words the child uttered a cry of terror, rushed back to the
nurse, pressed against her, and regarded his father with frightened
eyes.

The nurse took him by the arm, and earned him off in great haste.

M. de Camors did not weep. A frightful contraction distorted the corners
of his mouth, and exaggerated the thinness of his cheeks. He had two or
three shudderings as if seized with sudden fever. He slowly passed his
hand over his forehead, sighed profoundly, and departed.

Madame de Campvallon knew nothing of this sad scene, but she saw its
consequences; and she herself felt them bitterly. The character of M. de
Camors, already so changed, became after this unrecognizable. He showed
her no longer even the cold politeness he had manifested for her up to
that period. He exhibited a strange antipathy toward her. He fled from
her. She perceived he avoided even touching her hand.

They saw each other rarely now. The health of Camors did not admit of
his taking regular meals. These two desolate existences offered then, in
the midst of the almost royal state which surrounded them, a spectacle
of pity.

In this magnificent park--across these beautiful gardens, with great
vases of marble--under long arcades of verdure peopled with more
statues-both wandered separately, like two sad shadows, meeting
sometimes but never speaking.

One day, near the end of September, Camors did not descend from his
apartment. Daniel told the Marquise he had given orders to let no one
enter.

“Not even me?” she said. He bent his head mournfully. She insisted.

“Madame, I should lose my place!”

The Count persisted in this mania of absolute seclusion. She was
compelled from this moment to content herself with the news she obtained
from his servant. M. de Camors was not bedridden. He passed his time in
a sad reverie, lying on his divan. He got up at intervals, wrote a few
lines, then lay down again. His weakness appeared great, though he did
not complain of any suffering.

After two or three weeks, the Marquise read in the features of Daniel
a more marked disquietude than usual. He supplicated her to call in the
country physician who had once before seen him. It was so decided.
The unfortunate woman, when the physician was shown into the Count’s
apartment, leaned against the door listening in agony. She thought she
heard the voice of Camors loudly raised, then the noise ceased.

The doctor, when departing, simply said to her: “Madame, his sad case
appears to me serious--but not hopeless. I did not wish to press him
to-day, but he allows me to return tomorrow.”

In the night which followed, at two o’clock, Madame de Campvallon heard
some one calling her, and recognized the voice of Daniel. She rose
immediately, threw a mantle around her, and admitted him.

“Madame,” he said, “Monsieur le Comte asks for you,” and burst into
tears.

“Mon Dieu! what is the matter?”

“Come, Madame--you must hasten!”

She accompanied him immediately. From the moment she put her foot in
the chamber, she could not deceive herself--Death was there. Crushed
by sorrow, this existence, so full, so proud, so powerful, was about to
terminate. The head of Camors, turned on the pillow, seemed already to
have assumed a death-like immobility. His beautiful features, sharpened
by suffering, took the rigid outline of sculpture; his eye alone yet
lived and looked at her.

She approached him hastily and wished to seize the hand resting on the
sheet.

He withdrew it. She gave a despairing groan. He continued to look
fixedly at her. She thought he was trying to speak, but could not; but
his eyes spoke. They addressed to her some request, at the same time
with an imperious though supplicating expression, which she doubtless
understood; for she said aloud, with an accent full of sadness and
tenderness:

“I promise it to you.”

He appeared to make a painful effort, and his look indicated a
large sealed letter lying on the bed. She took it, and read on the
envelope-“To my son.”

“I promise you,” she said, again, falling on her knees, and moistening
the sheet with her tears.

He extended his hand toward her. “Thanks!” was all he said. Her tears
flowed faster. She set her lips on this hand already cold. When she
raised her head, she saw at the same instant the eyes of Camors slightly
moist, rolling wildly--then extinguished! She uttered a cry, threw
herself on the bed, and kissed madly those eyes still open--yet void of
light forever!

Thus ended Camors, who was a great sinner, but nevertheless a MAN!


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     A man never should kneel unless sure of rising a conqueror
     A defensive attitude is never agreeable to a man
     Bad to fear the opinion of people one despises
     Believing that it is for virtue’s sake alone such men love them
     Camors refused, hesitated, made objections, and consented
     Confounding progress with discord, liberty with license
     Contempt for men is the beginning of wisdom
     Cried out, with the blunt candor of his age
     Dangers of liberty outweighed its benefits
     Demanded of him imperatively--the time of day
     Determined to cultivate ability rather than scrupulousness
     Disenchantment which follows possession
     Do not get angry. Rarely laugh, and never weep
     Every one is the best judge of his own affairs
     Every road leads to Rome--and one as surely as another
     Every cause that is in antagonism with its age commits suicide
     God--or no principles!
     Have not that pleasure, it is useless to incur the penalties
     He is charming, for one always feels in danger near him
     Inconstancy of heart is the special attribute of man
     Intemperance of her zeal and the acrimony of her bigotry
     Knew her danger, and, unlike most of them, she did not love it
     Man, if he will it, need not grow old: the lion must
     Never can make revolutions with gloves on
     Once an excellent remedy, is a detestable regimen
     One of those pious persons who always think evil
     Pleasures of an independent code of morals
     Police regulations known as religion
     Principles alone, without faith in some higher sanction
     Property of all who are strong enough to stand it
     Put herself on good terms with God, in case He should exist
     Semel insanivimus omnes.’ (every one has his madness)
     Slip forth from the common herd, my son, think for yourself
     Suspicion that he is a feeble human creature after all!
     There will be no more belief in Christ than in Jupiter
     Ties that become duties where we only sought pleasures
     Truth is easily found. I shall read all the newspapers
     Two persons who desired neither to remember nor to forget
     Whether in this world one must be a fanatic or nothing
     Whole world of politics and religion rushed to extremes
     With the habit of thinking, had not lost the habit of laughing
     You can not make an omelette without first breaking the eggs





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