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Title: Gerfaut — Complete
Author: Bernard, Charles de
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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GERFAUT

By CHARLES DE BERNARD



With a Preface by JULES CLARETIE, of the French Academy



CHARLES DE BERNARD

PIERRE-MARIE-CHARLES DE BERNARD DU GRAIL DE LA VILLETTE, better known by
the name of Charles de Bernard, was born in Besancon, February 24, 1804.
He came from a very ancient family of the Vivarais, was educated at
the college of his native city, and studied for the law in Dijon and
at Paris. He was awarded a prize by the ‘Jeux floraux’ for his
dithyrambics, ‘Une fete de Neron’ in 1829. This first success in
literature did not prevent him aspiring to the Magistrature, when the
Revolution of 1830 broke out and induced him to enter politics. He
became one of the founders of the ‘Gazette de Franche-Comte’ and an
article in the pages of this journal about ‘Peau de chagrin’ earned him
the thanks and the friendship of Balzac.

The latter induced him to take up his domicile in Paris and initiated
him into the art of novel-writing. Bernard had published a volume of
odes: ‘Plus Deuil que Joie’ (1838), which was not much noticed, but a
series of stories in the same year gained him the reputation of a genial
‘conteur’. They were collected under the title ‘Le Noeud Gordien’, and
one of the tales, ‘Une Aventure du Magistrat, was adapted by Sardou for
his comedy ‘Pommes du voisin’. ‘Gerfaut’, his greatest work, crowned by
the Academy, appeared also in 1838, then followed ‘Le Paravent’, another
collection of novels (1839); ‘Les Ailes d’Icare (1840); La Peau du Lion
and La Chasse aux Amants (1841); L’Ecueil (1842); Un Beau-pere (1845);
and finally Le Gentilhomme campagnard,’ in 1847. Bernard died, only
forty-eight years old, March 6, 1850.

Charles de Bernard was a realist, a pupil of Balzac. He surpasses his
master, nevertheless, in energy and limpidity of composition. His style
is elegant and cultured. His genius is most fully represented in a score
or so of delightful tales rarely exceeding some sixty or seventy pages
in length, but perfect in proportion, full of invention and originality,
and saturated with the purest and pleasantest essence of the spirit
which for six centuries in tableaux, farces, tales in prose and verse,
comedies and correspondence, made French literature the delight and
recreation of Europe. ‘Gerfaut’ is considered De Bernard’s greatest
work. The plot turns on an attachment between a married woman and the
hero of the story. The book has nothing that can justly offend, the
incomparable sketches of Marillac and Mademoiselle de Corandeuil are
admirable; Gerfaut and Bergenheim possess pronounced originality, and
the author is, so to speak, incarnated with the hero of his romance.

The most uncritical reader can not fail to notice the success with
which Charles de Bernard introduces people of rank and breeding into his
stories. Whether or not he drew from nature, his portraits of this kind
are exquisitely natural and easy. It is sufficient to say that he is
the literary Sir Joshua Reynolds of the post-revolution vicomtes and
marquises. We can see that his portraits are faithful; we must feel that
they are at the same time charming. Bernard is an amiable and spirited
‘conteur’ who excels in producing an animated spectacle for a refined
and selected public, whether he paints the ridiculousness or the misery
of humanity.

The works of Charles de Bernard in wit and urbanity, and in the peculiar
charm that wit and urbanity give, are of the best French type. To any
elevation save a lofty place in fiction they have no claim; but in that
phase of literature their worth is undisputed, and from many testimonies
it would seem that those whom they most amuse are those who are best
worth amusing.

These novels, well enough as they are known to professed students of
French literature, have, by the mere fact of their age, rather slipped
out of the list of books known to the general reader. The general reader
who reads for amusement can not possibly do better than proceed to
transform his ignorance of them into knowledge.

                    JULES CLARETIE
                  de l’Academie Francaise.
GERFAUT



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. THE TRAVELLER

During the first days of the month of September, 1832, a young man about
thirty years of age was walking through one of the valleys in Lorraine
originating in the Vosges mountains. A little river which, after a few
leagues of its course, flows into the Moselle, watered this wild basin
shut in between two parallel lines of mountains. The hills in the
south became gradually lower and finally dwindled away into the plain.
Alongside the plateau, arranged in amphitheatres, large square fields
stripped of their harvest lay here and there in the primitive forest; in
other places, innumerable oaks and elms had been dethroned to give
place to plantations of cherry-trees, whose symmetrical rows promised an
abundant harvest.

This contest of nature with industry is everywhere, but is more
pronounced in hilly countries. The scene changed, however, as one
penetrated farther, and little by little the influence of the soil
gained ascendancy. As the hills grew nearer together, enclosing the
valley in a closer embrace, the clearings gave way to the natural
obduracy of the soil. A little farther on they disappeared entirely. At
the foot of one of the bluffs which bordered with its granite bands the
highest plateau of the mountain, the forest rolled victoriously down to
the banks of the river.

Now came patches of forest, like solid battalions of infantry; sometimes
solitary trees appeared, as if distributed by chance upon the grassy
slopes, or scaling the summit of the steepest rocks like a body of bold
sharpshooters. A little, unfrequented road, if one can judge from the
scarcity of tracks, ran alongside the banks of the stream, climbing up
and down hills; overcoming every obstacle, it stretched out in almost a
straight line. One might compare it to those strong characters who mark
out a course in life and imperturbably follow it. The river, on the
contrary, like those docile and compliant minds that bend to agreeable
emergencies, described graceful curves, obeying thus the caprices of the
soil which served as its bed.

At a first glance, the young man who was walking alone in the midst of
this picturesque country seemed to have nothing remarkable in his dress;
a straw hat, a blue blouse and linen trousers composed his costume.
It would have been very natural to take him for an Alsatian peasant
returning to his village through the Vosges’s rough pathways; but a more
attentive glance quickly dispelled this conjecture. There is something
in the way in which a person wears the plainest costume which betrays
the real man, no matter how he may be clothed. Thus, nothing could be
more modest than this traveller’s blouse, but the absence on collar
and sleeves of the arabesques in white or red thread, the pride of all
village dandies, was sufficient for one to realize that this was not a
fancy costume.

His expressive, but not handsome face was dark, it is true, but it did
not look as if wind or sun had contributed to its complexion; it seemed
rather to have lost by a sedentary life something of the southern
carnation, which had ended by blending these warmer tints into a
dead uniform pallor. Finally, if, as one may suppose after different
diagnoses, this person had the slightest desire to play the role of
Tyrcis or Amintas, his white hand, as carefully cared for as a pretty
woman’s, would have been sufficient to betray him. It was evident that
the man was above his costume; a rare thing! The lion’s ears pierced the
ass’s skin this time.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon; the sky, which had been overcast
all the morning, had assumed, within a few moments, a more sombre
aspect; large clouds were rapidly moving from south to north, rolled one
over another by an ominous wind. So the traveller, who had just entered
the wildest part of the valley, seemed very little disposed to admire
its fine vegetation and romantic sites. Impatient to reach the end of
his journey, or fearing the approaching storm, he quickened his steps;
but this pace was not kept long. At the end of a few moments, having
crossed a small clearing, he found himself at the entrance of a lawn
where the road divided in two directions, one continuing to skirt the
river banks, the other, broader and better built, turning to the left
into a winding ravine.

Which of these two roads should he follow? He did not know. The profound
solitude of the place made him fear that he might not meet any one who
could direct him, when the sound of a psalm vigorously chanted reached
his ears from the distance. Soon it became more distinct, and he
recognized the words, ‘In exitu Israel de Egypto’, sung at the top of
the lungs by a voice so shrill that it would have irritated the larynx
of any of the sopranos at the Opera. Its vibrating but sharp tones
resounded so clearly in the dead silence of the forest that a number of
stanzas were finished before the pious musician came in sight. At last
a drove of cattle appeared through the trees which bordered the road on
the left, walking with a slow, grave step; they were driven by a little
shepherd about nine or ten years of age, who interrupted his song from
time to time to reassemble the members of his flock with heavy blows
from his whip, thus uniting temporal cares with those of a spiritual
nature with a coolness which the most important personages might have
envied him.

“Which of these roads leads to Bergenheim?” called out the traveller
when they were near enough to speak to each other.

“Bergenheim!” repeated the child, taking off his cotton cap, which was
striped like a rainbow, and adding a few words in an unintelligible
Gallo-Germanic patois.

“You are not French, then?” asked the stranger, in a disappointed tone.

The shepherd raised his head proudly and replied:

“I am Alsatian, not French!”

The young man smiled at this trait of local patriotism so common then
in the beautiful province by the Rhine; then he thought that pantomime
might be necessary, so he pointed with his finger first at one road,
then at the other:

“There or there, Bergenheim?” asked he.

The child, in his turn, pointed silently with the tip of his whip to the
banks of the river, designating, at some distance on the other side, a
thicket of woods behind which a slight column of smoke was rising.

“The deuce!” murmured the stranger, “it seems that I have gone
astray; if the chateau is on the other side, where can I establish my
ambuscade?”

The shepherd seemed to understand the traveller’s embarrassment. Gazing
at him with his intelligent blue eyes, he traced, with the tip of his
toe in the middle of the road, a furrow across which he rounded his whip
like the arch of a bridge; then he pointed a second time up the river.

“You are an honor to your country, young fellow,” exclaimed the
stranger; “there is the material in you to make one of Cooper’s
redskins.” As he said these words he threw a piece of money into the
child’s cap and walked rapidly away in the direction indicated.

The Alsatian stood motionless for a few moments with one hand in his
blond hair and his eyes fastened upon the piece of silver which shone
like a star in the bottom of his cap; when the one whom he considered as
a model of extraordinary generosity had disappeared behind the trees, he
gave vent to his joy by heavy blows from his whip upon the backs of
the cattle, then he resumed his way, singing in a still more triumphant
tone: ‘Mantes exultaverunt ut arites’, and jumping higher himself than
all the hills and rams in the Bible.

The young man had not walked more than five minutes before he recognized
the correctness of the directions he had received. The ground which he
had passed over was a field covered with clumps of low trees; it was
easy to see by its disc-like shape that it had been formed by successive
alluvia, at the expense of the other shore, which had been incessantly
worn away by the stream. This sort of flat, level peninsula was crossed
in a straight line by the road, which deviated from the river at the
point where the two roads came together again, like the cross and string
of a bow at its extremity. The trees, becoming thinner, revealed a
perspective all the more wonderful as it was unexpected. While the
eye followed the widening stream, which disappeared in the depths of a
mountainous gorge, a new prospect suddenly presented itself on the right
upon the other shore.

A second valley, smaller than the first and in measure its vassal,
formed an amphitheatre the crest of which was bordered by a fringe of
perpendicular rocks as white as dried bones. Under this crown, which
rendered it almost inaccessible, the little valley was resplendent in
its wealth of evergreen trees, oaks with their knotty branches, and its
fresh green turf.

Taken as a whole, it was a foundation worthy of the picturesque edifice
which met one’s eye in the foreground, and at which the traveller gazed
with extreme interest.

At the junction of the two valleys stood an enormous building, half
manorial, half monastic in appearance. The shore formed, at this point,
for an extent of several hundred feet, a bluff whose edge plunged
vertically into the river. The chateau and its outbuildings rested upon
this solid base. The principal house was a large parallelogram of very
old construction, but which had evidently been almost entirely rebuilt
at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The stones, of grayish
granite which abounds in the Vosges, were streaked with blue and violet
veins, and gave the facade a sombre aspect, increased by the scarcity of
windows, some of which were ‘a la Palladio’, others almost as narrow
as loop-holes. An immense roof of red tile, darkened by rain, projected
several feet over the whole front, as is still to be seen in old cities
in the North. Thanks to this projecting weather-board, the apartments
upon the upper floor were shaded from the sun’s rays, like those persons
who have weak eyes and who protect them from a strong light by wearing a
green shade.

The view which this melancholy dwelling presented from the place where
the traveller had first seen it, was one which made it appear to the
best advantage; it seemed, from this point, to come immediately out of
the river, built as it was upon the very curb of the bluffs, at this
place at least thirty feet high. This elevation, added to that of the
building, effaced the lack of proportion of the roof and gave to the
whole a most imposing appearance; it seemed as if the rocks were a part
of the building to which it served as foundation, for the stones had
ended by assuming the same color, and it would have been difficult to
discover the junction of man’s work and that of nature, had it not been
outlined by a massive iron balcony running across the entire length of
the first story, whence one could enjoy the pleasure of line-fishing.
Two round towers with pointed roofs stood at each corner of the facade
and seemed to gaze with proud satisfaction at their own reflection in
the water.

A long line of sycamore-trees skirted the banks of the river, beginning
from the foot of the chateau, and forming the edge of a park which
extended to the back of the double valley. A little wooden bridge
connected this sort of avenue with the road the traveller had just
passed over; but the latter did not seem disposed to profit by this
silent invitation to which large raindrops gave more emphasis. He was so
absorbed in his meditation that, to arouse him, it needed the sound of a
gruff voice behind him uttering these words:

“That is what I call an ugly castle! It is hardly as good as our common
country houses around Marseilles.”

The stranger turned quickly around and found himself face to face with
a man wearing a gray cap and carrying his coat upon his shoulder, as
workmen do in the South. He held in his hand a knotty stick which
had been recently cut. The newcomer had a swarthy complexion, harsh
features, and deep-set eyes which gave his face an ugly, false
expression.

“I said an ugly castle,” continued he. “However, the cage is made for
the bird.”

“It seems, then, that you do not like its master?” said the traveller.

“The master!” repeated the workman, seizing hold of his stick with a
threatening air, “Monsieur le Baron de Bergenheim, as they say! He is
rich and a nobleman, and I am only a poor carpenter. Well, then, if you
stay here a few days, you will witness a comical ceremony; I shall make
this brigand repent.”

“Brigand!” exclaimed the stranger, in a surprised tone. “What has he
done to you?”

“Yes, brigand! you may tell him so from me. But, by the way,” continued
the workman, surveying his companion from head to foot with a searching,
defiant air, “do you happen to be the carpenter who is coming from
Strasbourg? In that case, I have a few words to say to you. Lambernier
does not allow any one to take the bread out of his mouth in that way;
do you understand?”

The young man seemed very little moved by this declaration.

“I am not a carpenter,” said he, smiling, “and I have no wish for your
work.”

“Truly, you do not look as if you had pushed a plane very often. It
seems that in your business one does not spoil one’s hands. You are a
workman about as much as I am pope.”

This remark made the one to whom it was addressed feel in as bad a humor
as an author does when he finds a grammatical error in one of his books.

“So you work at the chateau, then,” said he, finally, to change the
conversation.

“For six months I have worked in that shanty,” replied the workman; “I
am the one who carved the new woodwork, and I will say it is well done.
Well, this great wild boar of a Bergenheim turned me out of the house
yesterday as if I had been one of his dogs.”

“He doubtless had his reasons.”

“I tell you, I will crush him--reasons! Damn it! They told him I talked
too often with his wife’s maid and quarrelled with the servants, a pack
of idlers! Did he not forbid my putting my foot upon his land? I am upon
his land now; let him come and chase me off; let him come, he will see
how I shall receive him. Do you see this stick? I have just cut it in
his own woods to use it on himself!”

The young man no longer listened to the workman; his eyes were turned
toward the castle, whose slightest details he studied, as if he hoped
that in the end the stone would turn into glass and let him see the
interior. If this curiosity had any other object than the architecture
and form of the building it was not gratified. No human figure came to
enliven this sad, lonely dwelling. All the windows were closed, as if
the house were uninhabited. The baying of dogs, probably imprisoned
in their kennel, was the only sound which came to break the strange
silence, and the distant thunder, with its dull rumbling, repeated by
the echoes, responded plaintively, and gave a lugubrious character to
the scene.

“When one speaks of the devil he appears,” said the workman, suddenly,
with an emotion which gave the lie to his recent bravado; “if you
wish to see this devil incarnate of a Bergenheim, just turn your head.
Good-by.”

At these words he leaped a ditch at the left of the road and disappeared
in the bushes. The stranger also seemed to feel an impression very like
that of Lambernier’s as he saw a man on horseback advancing on a gallop.
Instead of waiting for him, he darted into the field which descended to
the river, and hid behind a group of trees.

The Baron, who was not more than thirty-three years of age, had one of
those energetic, handsome faces whose type seems to belong particularly
to old military families. His bright, blond hair and clear, blue eyes
contrasted strongly with his ruddy complexion; his aspect was severe,
but noble and imposing, in spite of his negligent dress, which showed
that indifference to matters of personal attire which becomes habitual
with country lords. His tall figure was beginning to grow stout, and
that increased his athletic appearance. He sat very erect in his saddle,
and from the way in which he straightened out his long legs against the
sides of his beast, one suspected that he could, if necessary, repeat
the Marshal de Saxe’s feats of skill. He stopped his horse suddenly at
the very spot which the two men had just vacated and called out in a
voice which would startle a regiment of cuirassiers:

“Here, Lambernier!”

The carpenter hesitated a moment, at this imperative call, between the
fear which he could not overcome and shame at fleeing from a single man
in the presence of a witness; finally this last feeling triumphed. He
returned to the edge of the road without saying a word, and stationed
himself in an insolent way face to face with the Baron, with his hat
drawn down over his ears, and grasped through precaution the knotty
stick which served him as a weapon.

“Lambernier,” said the master of the castle, in a severe tone, “your
account was settled yesterday; was it not paid in full? Is anything due
you?”

“I ask nothing of you,” replied the workman, brusquely.

“In that case, why are you wandering about my place when I forbade you?”

“I am upon the highway, nobody can prevent me from passing there.”

“You are upon my land, and you came out of my woods,” replied the Baron,
emphasizing his words with the firmness of a man who would permit no
violation of his rights as a landowner.

“The ground upon which I walk is mine,” said the workman, in his
turn, as he struck the end of his stick upon the ground as if to take
possession. This gesture attracted Bergenheim’s attention, and his eyes
flashed with a sudden light at the sight of the stick which Lambernier
held.

“You scoundrel!” he exclaimed, “you probably regard my trees also as
your own. Where did you cut that stick?”

“Go and find out,” said the workman, accompanying his reply with a
flourish of the stick.

The Baron coolly dismounted, threw the bridle over his horse’s neck,
walked up to the workman, who had taken the position of a practised
pugilist to receive him, and, without giving him time to strike, he
disarmed him with one hand by a blow which would have been sufficient to
uproot the beech rod before it was metamorphosed into a club; with the
other hand he seized the man by the collar and gave him a shaking that
it was as impossible to struggle against as if it had been caused by a
steam-engine. Obeying this irresistible force, in spite of his kicking,
Lambernier described a dozen circles around his adversary, while the
latter set these off with some of the hardest blows from green wood that
ever chastised an insolent fellow. This gymnastic exercise ended by a
sleight-of-hand trick, which, after making the carpenter pirouette for
the last time, sent him rolling head-first into a ditch, the bottom of
which, fortunately for him, was provided with a bed of soft mud. When
the punishment was over, Bergenheim remounted his horse as tranquilly as
he had dismounted it, and continued his way toward the chateau.

The young man, in the midst of the thicket where he was concealed, had
lost no detail of this rural scene. He could not help having a feeling
of admiration for this energetic representative of the feudal ages who,
with no fear of any court of justice or other bourgeois inventions,
had thus exerted over his own domains the summary justice in force in
Eastern countries.

“France has thrashed Gaul,” said he, smiling to himself; “if all our men
had this Bergenheim’s iron fist many things determined upon to-day might
be called in question. If I ever have the slightest difficulty with this
Milo de Crotona, he may be sure I shall not choose pugilism as my mode
of discussion.”

The storm now burst forth in all its fury. A dark curtain covered the
whole valley, and the rain fell in torrents. The Baron put spurs to his
horse, crossed the bridge and, entering the sycamore avenue, was soon
out of sight. Without paying any attention to Lambernier, who was
uttering imprecations at the bottom of the ditch, into which he was
sinking deeper and deeper, the stranger went to seek a less illusive
shelter than the trees under which he had taken his position; but at
this moment his attention was attracted to one side of the castle. A
window, or rather a glass door, just then opened upon the balcony, and a
young woman in a rose-colored negligee appeared upon the dark facade. It
would be impossible to imagine anything more fresh or charming than
this apparition at such a moment. Leaning upon the balustrade, the young
woman rested her face upon a hand which was as white as a lily, and her
finger smoothed with a mechanical caress the ringlets of chestnut hair
that lay upon her forehead, while her large brown eyes gazed into the
depths of the clouds from which the lightning was flashing, and with
which they vied in brilliancy. A poet would have said it was Miranda
evoked by the tempest.

The stranger parted the branches before him to get a better view; at the
same instant he was blinded by a terrible flash which lighted the whole
valley and was immediately followed by a terrific crash. When he opened
his eyes the chateau which he believed to be at the bottom of the river
stood still upright, solemn, and firm as before; but the lady in the
rose-colored gown had disappeared.



CHAPTER II. THE CASTLE OF BERGENHEIM

The appearance of the room into which the lady had precipitately
entered, when startled by the thunder, corresponded with the edifice to
which it belonged. It was a very large room, longer than it was wide,
and lighted by three windows, the middle one of which opened from top
to bottom like a door and led out upon the balcony. The woodwork and
ceiling were in chestnut, which time had polished and a skilful hand had
ornamented with a profusion of allegorical figures. The beauty of
this work of art was almost entirely concealed by a very remarkable
decoration which covered every side of the room, consisting of one
of the most glorious collections of family portraits which a country
chateau of the nineteenth century could offer.

The first of these portraits hung opposite the windows at the right of
the entrance door and was that of a chevalier in full armor, whose teeth
gleamed from under his long moustache like those of an untamed tiger.
Beginning with this formidable figure, which bore the date 1247, forty
others of about the same dimensions were placed in order according to
their dates. It seemed as if each period had left its mark upon those of
the personages it had seen live and die, and had left something of its
own character there.

There were more gallant cavaliers cut after the same pattern as the
first. Their stern, harsh faces, red beards, and broad, square military
shoulders told that by swordthrusts and broken lances they had founded
the nobility of their race. An heroic preface to this family biography!
A rough and warlike page of the Middle Ages! After these proud
men-of-arms came several figures of a less ferocious aspect, but not
so imposing. In these portraits of the fifteenth century beards had
disappeared with the sword. In those wearing caps and velvet toques,
silk robes and heavy gold chains supporting a badge of the same metal,
one recognized lords in full and tranquil possession of the fiefs won
by their fathers, landowners who had degenerated a little and preferred
mountain life in a manor to the chances of a more hazardous existence.
These pacific gentlemen were, for the most part, painted with the left
hand gloved and resting upon the hip; the right one was bare, a sort of
token of disarmament which one might take for a painter’s epigram.
Some of them had allowed their favorite dogs to share the honors of the
picture. All in this group indicated that this branch of the family had
many points of resemblance with the more illustrious faces. It was the
period of idle kings.

A half dozen solemn personages with gold-braided hats and long red robes
bordered with ermine, and wearing starched ruffles, occupied one corner
of the parlor near the windows. These worthy advisers of the Dukes
of Lorraine explained the way in which the masters of the chateau had
awakened from the torpor in which they had been plunged for several
generations, in order to participate in the affairs of their country and
enter a more active sphere.

Here the portraits assumed the proportions of history. Did not this
branch, descended from warlike stock, seem like a fragment taken from
the European annals? Was it not a symbolical image of the progress
of civilization, of regular legislation struggling against barbaric
customs? Thanks to these respectable counsellors and judges, one might
reverse the motto: ‘Non solum toga’, in favor of their race. But it did
not seem as if these bearded ancestors looked with much gratitude upon
this parliamentary flower added to their feudal crest. They appeared to
look down from the height of their worm-eaten frames upon their enrobed
descendants with that disdainful smile with which the peers of France
used to greet men of law the first time they were called to sit by their
side, after being for so long a time at their feet.

In the space between the windows and upon the remaining woodwork was a
crowd of military men, with here and there an Abbe with cross and mitre,
a Commander of Malta, and a solemn Canon, sterile branches of this
genealogical tree. Several among the military ones wore sashes and
plumes of the colors of Lorraine; others, even before the union of
this province to France, had served the latter country; there were
lieutenant-colonels of infantry and cavalry; some dressed in blue coats
lined with buff serge and little round patches of black plush, which
served as the uniform for the dragoons of the Lorraine legion.

Last of all was a young man with an agreeable face, who smiled
superciliously from under a vast wig of powdered hair; a rose was in
the buttonhole of his green cloth pelisse with orange facings, a red
sabrecache hung against his boots a little lower than the hilt of his
sabre. The costume represented a sprightly officer of the Royal Nassau
hussars. The portrait was hung on the left of the entrance door and only
separated by it from his great-grandfather of 1247, whom he might have
assisted, had these venerable portraits taken some night a fancy to
descend from their frames to execute a dance such as Hoffmann dreamed.

These two persons were the alpha and the omega of this genealogical
tree, the two extreme links of the chain-one, the root buried in the
sands of time; the other, the branch which had blossomed at the top.
Fate had created a tragical resemblance between these two lives,
separated by more than five centuries. The chevalier in coat-of-mail had
been killed in the battle of the Mansourah during the first crusade of
St. Louis. The young man with the supercilious smile had mounted the
scaffold during the Reign of Terror, holding between his lips a rose,
his usual decoration for his coat. The history of the French nobility
was embodied in these two men, born in blood, who had died in blood.

Large gilded frames of Gothic style surrounded all these portraits. At
the right, on the bottom of each picture was painted a little escutcheon
having for its crest a baronial coronet and for supports two wild men
armed with clubs. The field was red; with its three bulls’ heads in
silver, it announced to people well versed in heraldic art that they
had before them the lineaments of noble and powerful lords, squires of
Reisnach-Bergenheim, lords of Reisnach in Suabia, barons of the
Holy Empire, lords of Sapois, Labresse, Gerbamont, etc., counts of
Bergenheim, the latter title granted them by Louis XV, chevaliers of
Lorraine, etc., etc., etc.

This ostentatious enumeration was not needed in order to recognize the
kindred of all these noble personages. Had they been mingled with other
portraits, a careful observer would have promptly distinguished and
reunited them, so pronounced were the family features common to them
all. The furniture of the room was not unworthy of these proud defunct
ones. High-backed chairs and enormous armchairs, dating from the time of
Louis XIII; more modern sofas, which had been made to harmonize with
the older furniture, filled the room. They were covered with flowered
tapestry in thousands of shades, which must have busied the white hands
of the ladies of the house for two or three generations past.

The row of portraits was interrupted on one side by a large fireplace of
grayish granite, which was too high for one to hang a mirror above or
to place ornaments upon its mantel. Opposite was an ebony console inlaid
with ivory, upon which was placed one of those elegant clocks whose
delicate and original chased work has not been eclipsed by any modern
workmanship. Two large Japanese vases accompanied it; the whole was
reflected in an antique mirror which hung above the console; its edges
were bevelled, doubtless in order to cause one to admire the thickness
of the glass.

It would be impossible to imagine a stronger contrast than that of this
Gothic room with the lady in the rose-colored gown who had just entered
it so precipitately. The fire upon the hearth threw a warm light over
the old portraits, and it was heightened by the heavy, red damask
curtains which hung by the windows. The light sometimes softened,
sometimes revivified by some sudden flash of the flames, glanced over
the scowling faces and red beards, enlivening the eyes and giving a
supernatural animation to those lifeless canvases. One would have said
that the cold, grave faces looked with curiosity at the young woman with
graceful movements and cool garments, whom Aladdin’s genii seemed to
have transported from the most elegant boudoir on the Chaussee d’Antin,
and thrown, still frightened, into the midst of this strange assembly.

“You are crazy, Clemence, to leave that window open!” said at this
moment an old voice issuing from an armchair placed in a corner near the
fireplace.

The person who broke the charm of this silent scene was a woman of sixty
or seventy years of age, according to the gallantry of the calculator.
It was easy to judge that she was tall and thin as she lay, rather
than sat, in her chair with its back lowered down. She was dressed in a
yellowish-brown gown. A false front as black as jet, surmounted by a
cap with poppy-colored ribbons, framed her face. She had sharp, withered
features, and the brilliancy of her primitive freshness had been
converted into a blotched and pimpled complexion which affected above
all her nose and cheek-bones, but whose ardor had been dimmed only a
trifle by age. There was something about the whole face as crabbed,
sour, and unkind as if she had daily bathed it in vinegar. One could
read old maid in every feature! Besides, a slight observation of her
ways would have destroyed all lingering doubt in this respect.

A large, coffee-colored pug-dog was lying before the fire. This
interesting animal served as a footstool for his mistress, stretched in
her easy-chair, and recalled to mind the lions which sleep at the
foot of chevaliers in their Gothic tombs. As a pug-dog and an old maid
pertain to each other, it was only necessary, in order to divine this
venerable lady’s state, to read the name upon the golden circlet which
served as a collar for the dog: “Constance belongs to Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil.”

Before the younger lady, who was leaning upon the back of a chair,
seeming to breathe with difficulty, had time to reply, she received a
second injunction.

“But, aunt,” said she, at last, “it was a horrible crash! Did you not
hear it?”

“I am not so deaf as that yet,” replied the old maid. “Shut that window;
do you not know that currents of air attract lightning?”

Clemence obeyed, dropping the curtain to shut out the flashes of
lightning which continued to dart through the heavens; she then
approached the fireplace.

“Since you are so afraid of lightning,” said her aunt; “which, by the
way, is perfectly ridiculous in a Corandeuil, what induced you to go out
upon the balcony? The sleeve of your gown is wet. That is the way one
gets cold; afterward, there is nothing but an endless array of syrups
and drugs. You ought to change your gown and put on something warmer.
Who would ever think of dressing like that in such weather as this?”

“I assure you, aunt, it is not cold. It is because you have a habit of
always being near the fire--”

“Ah! habit! when you are my age you will not hint at such a thing. Now,
everything goes wonderfully well; you never listen to my advice--you go
out in the wind and rain with that flighty Aline and your husband, who
has no more sense than his sister; you will pay for it later. Open the
curtains, I pray; the storm is over, and I wish to read the Gazette.”

The young woman obeyed a second time and stood with her forehead pressed
against the glass. The distant rumbling of the thunder announced the end
of the storm; but a few flashes still traversed the horizon.

“Aunt,” said she, after a moment’s silence, “come and look at the
Montigny rocks; when the lightning strikes them they look like a file of
silver columns or a procession of ghosts.”

“What a romantic speech,” growled the old lady, never taking her eyes
from her paper.

“I assure you I am not romantic the least in the world,” replied
Clemence. “I simply find the storm a distraction, and here, you know,
there is no great choice of pleasures.”

“Then you find it dull?”

“Oh, aunt, horribly so!” At these words, pronounced with a heartfelt
accent, the young woman dropped into an armchair.

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil took off her eye-glasses, put the paper upon
the table and gazed for several moments at her pretty niece’s face,
which was tinged with a look of deep melancholy. She then straightened
herself up in her chair, and, leaning forward, asked in a low tone:

“Have you had any trouble with your husband?”

“If so, I should not be so bored,” replied Clemence, in a gay tone,
which she repented immediately, for she continued more calmly:

“No, aunt; Christian is kind, very kind; he is very much attached to me,
and full of good-humor and attentions. You have seen how he has allowed
me to arrange my apartments to suit myself, even taking down the
partition and enlarging the windows; and yet, you know how much he
clings to everything that is old about the house. He tries to do
everything for my pleasure. Did he not go to Strasbourg the other day to
buy a pony for me, because I thought Titania was too skittish? It would
be impossible to show greater kindness.”

“Your husband,” suddenly interrupted Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, for
she held the praise of others in sovereign displeasure, “is a Bergenheim
like all the Bergenheims present, past, and future, including your
little sister-in-law, who appears more as if she had been brought up
with boys than at the ‘Sacred Heart.’ He is a worthy son of his father
there,” said she, pointing to one of the portraits near the young
Royal-Nassau officer; “and he was the most brutal, unbearable, and
detestable of all the dragoons in Lorraine; so much so that he got
into three quarrels at Nancy in one month, and at Metz, over a game
of checkers, he killed the poor Vicomte de Megrigny, who was worth a
hundred of him and danced so well! Some one described Bergenheim as
being ‘proud as a peacock, as stubborn as a mule, and as furious as
a lion!’ Ugly race! ugly race! What I say to you now, Clemence, is
to excuse your husband’s faults, for it would be time lost to try to
correct them. However, all men are alike; and since you are Madame de
Bergenheim, you must accept your fate and bear it as well as possible.
And then, if you have your troubles, you still have your good aunt to
whom you can confide them and who will not allow you to be tyrannized
over. I will speak to your husband.”

Clemence saw, from the first words of this tirade, that she must arm
herself with resignation; for anything which concerned the Bergenheims
aroused one of the hobbies which the old maid rode with a most
complacent spite; so she settled herself back in her chair like a person
who would at least be comfortable while she listened to a tiresome
discourse, and busied herself during this lecture caressing with the tip
of a very shapely foot the top of one of the andirons.

“But, aunt,” said she at last, when the tirade was over, and she gave a
rather drawling expression to her voice, “I can not understand why you
have taken this idea into your head that Christian renders me unhappy.
I repeat it, it is impossible that one should be kinder to me than he,
and, on my side, I have the greatest respect and friendship for him.”

“Very well, if he is such a pearl of husbands, if you live so much like
turtle-doves-and, to tell the truth, I do not believe a word of it--what
causes this ennui of which you complain and which has been perfectly
noticeable for some time? When I say ennui, it is more than that; it is
sadness, it is grief? You grow thinner every day; you are as pale as
a ghost; just at this moment, your complexion is gone; you will end
by being a regular fright. They say that it is the fashion to be pale
nowadays; a silly notion, indeed, but it will not last, for complexion
makes the woman.”

The old lady said this like a person who had her reasons for not liking
pale complexions, and who gladly took pimples for roses.

Madame de Bergenheim bowed her head as if to acquiesce in this decision,
and then resumed in her drawling voice:

“I know that I am very unreasonable, and I am often vexed with myself
for having so little control over my feelings, but it is beyond my
strength. I have a tired sensation, a disgust for everything, something
which I can not overcome. It is an inexplicable physical and moral
languor, for which, for this reason, I see no remedy. I am weary and I
suffer; I am sure it will end in my being ill. Sometimes I wish I were
dead. However, I have really no reason to be unhappy. I suppose I am
happy--I ought to be happy.”

“Truly, I can not understand in the least the women of today. Formerly,
upon exciting occasions, we had a good nervous attack and all was over;
the crisis passed, we became amiable again, put on rouge and went to a
ball. Now it is languor, ennui, stomach troubles--all imagination and
humbug! The men are just as bad, and they call it spleen! Spleen! a new
discovery, an English importation! Fine things come to us from England;
to begin with, the constitutional government! All this is perfectly
ridiculous. As for you, Clemence, you ought to put an end to such
childishness. Two months ago, in Paris, you did not have any of the
rest that you enjoy here. I had serious reasons for wishing to delay my
departure; my apartment to refurnish, my neuralgia which still troubles
me--and Constance, who had just been in the hands of the doctor, was
hardly in a condition to travel, poor creature! You would listen to
nothing; we had to submit to your caprices, and now--”

“But, aunt, you admitted yourself that it was the proper thing for me
to do, to join my husband. Was it not enough, and too much, to have left
him to pass the entire winter alone here while I was dancing in Paris?”

“It was very proper, of course, and I do not blame you. But why does the
very thing you so much desired two months ago bore you so terribly
now? In Paris you talked all the time of Bergenheim, longed only
for Bergenheim, you had duties to fulfil, you wished to be with your
husband; you bothered and wore me out with your conjugal love. When back
at Bergenheim, you dream and sigh for Paris. Do not shake your head; I
am an old aunt to whom you pay no heed, but who sees clearly yet. Will
you do me the favor to tell me what it is that you regret in Paris at
this time of the year, when there are no balls or parties, and not
one human being worth visiting, for all the people you know are in the
country? Is it because--”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil did not finish her sentence, but she put
a severity into these three words which seemed to condense all the
quintessence of prudery that a celibacy of sixty years could coagulate
in an old maid’s heart.

Clemence raised her eyes to her aunt’s face as if to demand an
explanation.

It was such a calm, steady glance that the latter could not help being
impressed by it.

“Well,” said she, softening her voice, “there is no necessity for
putting on such queenly airs; we are here alone, and you know that I am
a kind aunt to you. Now, then, speak freely--have you left anything or
any person in Paris, the remembrance of which makes your sojourn here
more tiresome than it really is? Any of your adorers of the winter?”

“What an idea, aunt! Did I have any adorers?” exclaimed Madame de
Bergenheim, quickly, as if trying to conceal by a smile the rosy flush
that mounted to her cheeks.

“And what if you should have some, child?” continued the old maid, to
whom curiosity lent an unaccustomed coaxing accent to her voice, “where
would be the harm? Is it forbidden to please? When one is of good birth,
must one not live in society and hold one’s position there? One need not
bury one’s self in a desert at twenty-three years of age, and you really
are charming enough to inspire love; you understand, I do not say,
to experience it; but when one is young and pretty conquests are made
almost unwittingly. You are not the first of the family to whom that
has happened; you are a Corandeuil. Now, then, my good Clemence, what
troubled heart is pining for you in Paris? Is it Monsieur de Mauleon?”

“Monsieur de Mauleon!” exclaimed the young woman, bursting into
laughter; “he, a heart! and a troubled one, too! Oh, aunt, you do him
honor! Monsieur de Mauleon, who is past forty-five years old and wears
stays! an audacious man who squeezes his partners’ hands in the dance
and looks at them with passionate glances! Oh! Monsieur de Mauleon!”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil sanctioned by a slight grimace of her thin
lips her niece’s burst of gayety, when, with one hand upon her heart,
she rolled her sparkling eyes in imitation of the languishing air of her
unfortunate adorer.

“Perhaps it is Monsieur d’Arzenac?”

“Monsieur d’Arzenac is certainly very nice; he has perfect manners; it
may be that he did not disdain to chat with me; on my side, I found his
conversation very entertaining; but you may rest assured that he did not
think of me nor I of him. Besides, you know that he is engaged to marry
Mademoiselle de la Neuville.”

“Monsieur de Gerfaut?” continued Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, with the
persistency with which aged people follow an idea, and as if determined
to pass in review all the young men of their acquaintance until she had
discovered her niece’s secret.

The latter was silent a moment before replying.

“How can you think of such a thing, aunt?” said she at last, “a man with
such a bad reputation, who writes books that one hardly dares read,
and plays that it’s almost a sin to witness! Did you not hear Madame
de Pontivers say that a young woman who cared for her reputation would
permit his visits very rarely?”

“Madame de Pontivers is a prude, whom I can not endure, with her show of
little, grimaces and her pretentious, outrageous mock-modesty. Did she
not take it into her head this winter to constitute me her chaperon? I
gave her to understand that a widow forty years old was quite old
enough to go about alone! She has a mania for fearing that she may be
compromised. The idea of turning up her nose at Monsieur de Gerfaut!
What presumption! He certainly is too clever ever to solicit the honor
of being bored to death in her house; for he is clever, very clever. I
never could understand your dislike for him, nor your haughty manner of
treating him; especially, during the latter part of our stay in Paris.”

“One is not mistress of one’s dislikes or affections, aunt. But to reply
to your questions, I will say that you may rest assured that none of
these gentlemen, nor any of those whom you might name, has the slightest
effect upon my state of mind. I am bored because it probably is my
nature to need distractions, and there are none in this deserted place.
It is an involuntary disagreeableness, for which I reproach myself and
which I hope will pass away. Rest assured, that the root of the evil
does not lie in my heart.”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil understood by the cold and rather dry tone in
which these words were spoken that her niece wished to keep her secret,
if she had one; she could not prevent a gesture of anger as she saw her
advances thus repelled, but felt that she was no wiser than when she
began the conversation. She manifested her disappointment by pushing the
dog aside with her foot--the poor thing was perfectly innocent!--and in
a cross tone, which was much more familiar than her former coaxing one,
she continued:

“Very well, since I am wrong, since your husband adores you and you him,
since, to sum it all up, your heart is perfectly tranquil and free, your
conduct is devoid of common-sense, and I advise you to change it. I warn
you that all this hypochondria, paleness, and languor are caprices which
are very disagreeable to others. There is a Provence proverb which says:
Vaillance de Blacas, prudence de Pontevez, caprice de Corandeuil. If
there was not such a saying, it should be created for you, for you have
something incomprehensible enough in your character to make a saint
swear. If anybody should know you, it is I, who brought you up. I do not
wish to reproach you, but you gave me trouble enough; you were a most
wayward, capricious, and fantastic creature, a spoiled child--”

“Aunt,” interrupted Clemence, with heightened color in her pale cheeks,
“you have told me of my faults often enough for me to know them, and, if
they were not corrected, it was not your fault, for you never spared me
scoldings. If I had not been so unfortunate as to lose my mother when I
was a baby, I should not have given you so much trouble.”

Tears came into the young woman’s eyes, but she had enough control over
herself to keep them from streaming down her burning cheeks. Taking a
journal from the table, she opened it, in order to conceal her emotion
and to put an end to this conversation, which had become painful to
her. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, on her side, carefully replaced her
eye-glasses upon her nose, and, solemnly stretching herself upon her
chair, she turned over the leaves of the ‘Gazette de France,’ which she
had neglected so long.

Silence reigned for some moments in the room. The aunt apparently read
the paper very attentively. Her niece sat motionless, with her eyes
fastened upon the yellow cover of the last number of ‘La Mode,’ which
had chanced to fall into her hands. She aroused herself at last from her
revery and carelessly turned over the leaves of the review in a manner
which showed how little interest she felt in it. As she turned the first
page a surprised cry escaped her, and her eyes were fastened upon the
pamphlet with eager curiosity. Upon the frontispiece, where the Duchesse
de Berry’s coat-of-arms is engraved, and in the middle of the shield,
which was left empty at this time by the absence of the usual fleurs de
lys, was sketched with a pencil a bird whose head was surmounted by a
baron’s coronet.

Curious to know what could have caused her niece so much surprise,
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil stretched out her neck and gazed for an
instant upon the page without seeing, at first, anything extraordinary,
but finally her glance rested upon the armorial bearings, and she
discovered the new feature added to the royal Bourbon coat-of-arms.

“A cock!” exclaimed she, after a moment’s reflection; “a cock upon
Madame’s shield! What can that mean, ‘bon Dieu’! and it is not engraved
nor lithographed; it is drawn with a pencil.”

“It is not a cock, it is a crowned gerfaut,” said Madame de Bergenheim.

“A gerfaut! How do you know what a gerfaut is? At Corandeuil, in your
grandfather’s time, there was a falconry, and I have seen gerfauts
there, but you--I tell you it is a cock, an old French cock; ugly thing!
What you take for a coronet--and it really does resemble one--is a badly
drawn cock’s comb. How did this horrid creature come to be there?
I should like to know if such pretty tricks are permitted at the
postoffice. People protest against the ‘cabinet noir’, but it is
a hundred times worse if one is permitted to outrage with impunity
peaceable families in their own homes. I mean to find out who has played
this trick. Will you be so kind as to ring the bell?”

“It really is very strange!” said Madame de Bergenheim, pulling the
bell-rope with a vivacity which showed that she shared, if not the
indignation, at least the curiosity of her aunt.

A servant in green livery appeared.

“Who went to Remiremont yesterday for the newspapers?” asked
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.

“It was Pere Rousselet, Mademoiselle,” replied the servant.

“Where is Monsieur de Bergenheim?”

“Monsieur le Baron is playing billiards with Mademoiselle Aline.”

“Send Leonard Rousselet here.”

And Mademoiselle de Corandeuil settled herself back in her chair with
the dignity of a chancellor about to hold court.



CHAPTER III. A DIVIDED HOUSEHOLD

The servants in the castle of Bergenheim formed a family whose members
were far from living in harmony. The Baron managed his household
himself, and employed a large number of day-laborers, farm servants, and
kitchen-girls, whom the liveried servants treated with great disdain.
The rustics, on their side, resisted these privileged lackeys and called
them “coxcombs” and “Parisians,” sometimes accompanying these remarks
with the most expressive blows. Between these tribes of sworn enemies
a third class, much less numerous, found them selves in a critical
position; these were the two servants brought by Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil. It was fortunate for them that their mistress liked large,
vigorous men, and had chosen them for their broad, military shoulders;
but for that it would have been impossible for them to come out of their
daily quarrels safe and sound.

The question of superiority between the two households had been the
first apple of discord; a number of personal quarrels followed
to inflame them. They fought for their colors the whole time; the
Bergenheim livery was red, the Corandeuil green. There were two flags;
each exalted his own while throwing that of his adversaries in the mud.
Greenhorn and crab were jokes; cucumber and lobster were insults.

Such were the gracious terms exchanged every day between the two
parties. In the midst of this civil war, which was carefully concealed
from their masters’ eyes, whose severity they feared, lived one rather
singular personage. Leonard Rousselet, Pere Rousselet, as he was
generally called, was an old peasant who, disheartened with life, had
made various efforts to get out of his sphere, but had never
succeeded in doing so. Having been successively hairdresser, sexton,
school-teacher, nurse, and gardener, he had ended, when sixty years
old, by falling back to the very point whence he started. He had no
particular employment in M. de Bergenheim’s house; he went on errands,
cared for the gardens, and doctored the mules and horses; he was a tall
man, about as much at ease in his clothing as a dry almond in its shell.
A long, dark, yellow coat usually hung about the calves of his legs,
which were covered with long, blue woollen stockings, and looked more
like vine-poles than human legs; a conformation which furnished daily
jokes for the other servants, to which the old man deigned no response
save a disdainful smile, grumbling through his teeth, “Menials, peasants
without education.” This latter speech expressed the late gardener’s
scorn, for it had been his greatest grief to pass for an uneducated man;
and he had gathered from his various conditions a singularly dignified
and pretentious way of speaking.

In spite of his self-confidence, it was not without some emotion that
Leonard Rousselet responded to this call to appear in the drawing-room
before the person he most feared in the chateau. His bearing showed this
feeling when he presented himself at the drawing-room door, where he
stood as grave and silent as Banquo’s ghost. Constance arose at sight of
this fantastic figure, barked furiously and darted toward a pair of legs
for which she seemed to share the irreverence of the liveried servants;
but the texture of the blue stocking and the flesh which covered the
tibia were rather too hard morsels for the dowager’s teeth; she was
obliged to give up the attack and content herself with impotent barks,
while the old man, who would gladly have given a month’s wages to break
her jaw with the tip of his, boot, caressed her with his hand, saying,
“Softly, pretty dear! softly, pretty little creature!” in a hypocritical
tone.

This courtier-like conduct touched the old lady’s heart and softened the
severe look upon her face.

“Stop your noise, Constance,” said she, “lie down beside your mistress.
Rousselet, come nearer.”

The old man obeyed, walking across the floor with reverential bows, and
taking a position like a soldier presenting arms.

“You were the one,” said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, “who was sent to
Remiremont yesterday? Did you perform all the commissions that were
given you?”

“It is not among the impossibilities, Mademoiselle, that I may have
neglected some of them,” replied the old man, fearing to compromise
himself by a positive affirmative.

“Tell us, then, what you did.”

Leonard wiped his nose behind his hat, like a well-bred orator, and,
balancing himself upon his legs in a way not at all Bourbonic, he said:

“I went to the city that morning myself because Monsieur le Baron had
said the night before that he should hunt to-day, and that the groom was
to help Monsieur le Baron drive a wild boar out of the Corne woods.
I reached Remiremont; I went to the butcher’s; I purchased five
kilogrammes of dressed goods--”

“Of dressed goods at the butcher’s!” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim.

“I would say ten pounds of what uneducated people call pork,” said
Rousselet, pronouncing this last word in a strangled voice.

“Pass over these details,” said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil. “You went to
the post-office.”

“I went to the post-office, where I put in letters for Mademoiselle,
Madame, Monsieur le Baron, and one from Mademoiselle Aline for Monsieur
d’Artigues.”

“Aline writing to her cousin! Did you know that?” said the old aunt,
turning quickly toward her niece.

“Certainly; they correspond regularly,” replied Clemence with a smile
which seemed to say that she saw no harm in it.

The old maid shook her head and protruded her under lip, as much as to
say: We will attend to this another time.

Madame de Bergenheim, who was out of patience at this questioning,
began to speak in a quick tone which was a contrast to her aunt’s solemn
slowness.

“Rousselet,” said she, “when you took the newspapers out of the office,
did you notice whether the wrappers were intact, or whether they had
been opened?”

The good man half concealed his face in his cravat at this precise
questioning, and it was with embarrassment that he replied, after a
moment’s hesitation:

“Certainly, Madame--as to the wrappers--I do not accuse the
postmaster--”

“If the journals were sealed when you received them, you are the only
one who could have opened them.”

Rousselet straightened himself up to his full height, and, giving to his
nut-cracker face the most dignified look possible, he said in a solemn
tone:

“With due deference to you, Madame, Leonard Rousselet is well known.
Fifty-seven years old on Saint-Hubert’s day, I am incapable of opening
newspapers. When they have been read at the chateau and they send
me with them to the cure, I do not say--perhaps on my way--it is a
recreation--and then the cure is Jean Bartou, son of Joseph Bartou, the
tilemaker. But to read the newspaper before my masters have done so!
Never! Leonard Rousselet is an old man incapable of such baseness.
Baptized when a child; fifty-seven years on Saint-Hubert’s day.”

“When you speak of your pastor, do so in a more becoming manner,”
 interrupted Mademoiselle de Colrandeuil, although she herself in private
did not speak of the plebeian priest in very respectful terms. But if
Joseph Bartou’s son was always the son of Joseph Bartou to her, she
meant that he should be Monsieur le Cure to the peasants.

Madame de Bergenheim had not been much affected by Pere Rousselet’s
harangue, and shook her head impatiently, saying in an imperative tone:

“I am certain that the newspapers have been opened by you, or by some
person to whom you have given them, and I wish to know at once by whom.”

Rousselet dropped his pose of a Roman senator; passing his hand behind
his ears, a familiar gesture with people when in embarrassing positions,
he continued less emphatically:

“I stopped on my way back at La Fauconnerie, at the ‘Femme-sans-Tete
Inn’.”

“And what were you doing in a tavern?” interrupted Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil severely. “You know it is not intended that the servants in
this house should frequent taverns and such low places, which are not
respectable and corrupt the morals of the lower classes.”

“Servants! lower classes! Old aristocrat!” growled Rousselet secretly;
but, not daring to show his ill humor, he replied in a bland voice:

“If Mademoiselle had gone the same road that I did, with the same
conveyance, she would know that it is a rather thirsty stretch. I
stopped at the ‘Femme-sans-Tete’ to wash the dust down my parched
throat. Whereupon Mademoiselle Reine--the daughter of Madame Gobillot,
the landlady of the inn--Mademoiselle Reine asked me to allow her to
look at the yellow-journal in which there are fashions for ladies; I
asked her why; she said it was so that she might see how they made their
bonnets, gowns, and other finery in Paris. The frivolity of women!”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil threw herself back in her chair and gave way
to an access of hilarity in which she rarely indulged.

“Mademoiselle Gobillot reading La Mode! Mademoiselle Gobillot talking
of gowns, shawls, and cashmeres! Clemence, what do you say to that? You
will see, she will be ordering her bonnets from Herbault! Ha! ha! This
is what is called the progress of civilization, the age of light!”

“Mademoiselle Gobillot,” said Clemence, fixing a penetrating glance upon
the old man, “was not the only one who looked at La Mode. Was there no
other person in the tavern who saw it?”

“Madame,” replied Rousselet, forced from his last refuge, “there were
two young men taking their refection, and one of them wore a beard no
longer than a goat’s. Madame will pardon me if I allow myself to use
this vulgar expression, but Madame wished to know all.”

“And the other young man?”

“The other had his facial epidermis shaved as close as a lady’s or
mine. He was the one who held the journal while his comrade was smoking
outside the door.”

Madame de Bergenheim made no further inquiries, but fell into a profound
revery. With eyes fixed upon the last number of La Mode, she seemed to
study the slightest lines of the sketch that had been made thereon, as
if she hoped to find a solution to the mystery. Her irregular breathing,
and the bright flush which tinged her usually pale cheeks, would have
denoted to an eye-witness one of those tempests of the heart, the
physical manifestations of which are like those of a fever. The pale
winter flower dying under the snow had suddenly raised its drooping head
and recovered its color; the melancholy against which the young woman
had so vainly struggled had disappeared as if by enchantment. A little
bird surmounted by a coronet, the whole rather badly sketched, was the
strange talisman that had produced this change.

“They were commercial travellers,” said the old aunt; “they always
pretend to know everything. One of them, doubtless, when reading the
well-known name of Monsieur de Bergenheim upon the wrapper, sketched the
animal in question. These gentlemen of industry usually have a rather
good education! But this is giving the affair more importance than it
merits. Leonard Rousselet,” said she, raising her voice as a judge does
in court when pronouncing his charge, “you were wrong to let anything
addressed to your master leave your hands. We will excuse you this
time, but I warn you to be more careful in future; when you go to Madame
Gobillot’s, you may say to Mademoiselle Reine, from me, that if she
wishes to read La Mode I shall be delighted to procure a subscriber to
one of our journals. You may retire now.”

Without waiting for this invitation to be repeated, Rousselet backed out
of the room like an ambassador leaving the royal presence, escorted
by Constance acting as master of ceremonies. Not having calculated the
distance, he had just bumped against the door, when it suddenly opened
and a person of extreme vivacity bounded into the middle of the room.

It was a very young and petite lady, whose perfectly developed form
predicted an inclination to stoutness in the future. She belonged to
the Bergenheim family, if one could credit the resemblance between her
characteristic features and several of the old portraits in the room;
she wore a dark-brown riding-habit, a gray hat perched on one side,
showing on the left a mass of very curly, bright blond hair. This
coiffure and the long green veil, floating at each movement like the
plume in a helmet, gave a singularly easy air to the fresh face of this
pretty amazon, who brandished, in guise of a lance, a billiard cue.

“Clemence,” she exclaimed, “I have just beaten Christian; I made the
red ball, I made the white, and then the double stroke; I made all!
Mademoiselle, I have just beaten Christian two games; is it not
glorious? He made only eighteen points in a single game. Pere Rousselet,
I have just beaten Christian! Do you know how to play billiards?”

“Mademoiselle Aline, I am absolutely ignorant of the game,” replied the
old man, with as gracious a smile as was possible, while he tried to
recover his equilibrium.

“You are needed no longer, Rousselet,” said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil;
“close the door as you go out.”

When she had been obeyed, the old maid turned gravely toward Aline,
who was still dancing about the room, having seized her sister-in-law’s
hands in order to force her to share her childish joy.

“Mademoiselle,” said she in a severe tone, “is it the custom at the
‘Sacred Heart’ to enter a room without greeting the persons who are
in it, and to jump about like a crazy person? a thing that is never
permitted even in a peasant’s house.”

Aline stopped short in the midst of her dance and blushed a trifle;
she caressed the pug dog, instead of replying, for she knew as well as
Rousselet that it was the surest way of softening the old maid’s heart.
The cajolery was lost this time.

“Do not touch Constance, I beg of you,” exclaimed the aunt, as if a
dagger had been raised against the object of her love, “do not soil
this poor beast with your hands. What dreadful thing have you on your
fingers? Have you just come out of an indigo bag?”

The young girl blushed still deeper and gazed at her pretty hands, which
were really a little daubed, and began to wipe them with an embroidered
handkerchief which she took from her pocket.

“It was the billiards,” she said, in a low voice, “it is the blue chalk
they rub the cue with in order to make good shots and caroms.”

“Make good shots! Caroms! Will you be so good as to spare us your slang
speeches,” continued Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who seemed to become
more crabbed as the young girl’s confusion increased. “What a fine
education for a young lady! and one who has just come from the ‘Sacred
Heart’! One that has taken five prizes not fifteen days ago! I really do
not know what to think of those ladies, your teachers! And now I suppose
you are going to ride. Billiards and horses, horses and billiards! It is
fine! It is admirable!”

“But, Mademoiselle,” said Aline, raising her large blue eyes, which were
on the verge of tears, “it is vacation now, and there is no wrong in my
playing a game of billiards with my brother; we have no billiards at the
‘Sacred Heart,’ and it is such fun! It is like riding; the doctor said
that it would be very healthful for me, and Christian hoped that it
might make me grow a little.”

As she said these words, the young girl glanced into the mirror in order
to see whether her brother’s hopes had been realized; for her small
stature was her sole anxiety. But this glance was as quick as a flash,
for she feared that the severe old maid would make this act of coquetry
serve as the text for another sermon.

“You are not my niece, and I am thankful for it,” continued the old
lady. “I am too old to begin another education; thank goodness, one is
quite enough! I have no authority over you, and your conduct is
your brother’s concern. The advice which I give you is entirely
disinterested; your amusements are not such as seem to me proper for
a young girl of good birth. It may be possible that it is the fashion
today, so I will say no more about it; but there is one thing more
serious, upon which I should advise you to reflect. In my youth, a young
lady never was allowed to write letters except to her father and
mother. Your letters to your cousin d’Artigues are inconsiderate--do not
interrupt me--they are inconsiderate, and I should advise you to mend
your ways.”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil arose, and, as she had found an opportunity
to read three sermons in one forenoon, she could not say, like Titus,
“I have wasted my morning.” She left the room with a majestic step,
escorted by her dog and satisfied with herself, bestowing an ironical
curtsey on the young girl, which the latter did not think it necessary
to return.

“How hateful your aunt is!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Bergenheim to her
sister-in-law, when they were alone. “Christian says that I must pay no
attention to her, because all women become like her if they never marry.
As for myself, I know very well that if I am an old maid I shall try
not to hurt others’ feelings--I, inconsiderate! When she can think of
nothing more to say, she scolds me about my cousin. It is hardly worth
while, for what we write about! Alphonse wrote of nothing, in his last
letter, but of the partridge he had shot and his hunting costume; he is
such a boy! But why do you not say something? You sit there speechless;
are you angry with me, too?”

She approached Clemence and was about to seat herself in her lap, when
the latter arose to avoid this loving familiarity.

“So you really have beaten Christian,” said she, in a listless tone;
“are you going for a ride now? Your habit is very becoming.”

“Truly? oh! I am so glad!” replied the young girl, planting herself
before the glass to look at her pretty figure. She pulled down her
waist, adjusted the folds of the skirt of her dress and arranged her
veil, placed her hat on her head with a little more jaunty air, turned
three quarters around to get a better view of her costume; in one word,
she went through the coquettish movements that all pretty women learn
upon entering society. On the whole, she seemed very well pleased with
her examination, for she smiled and showed a row of small teeth which
were as white as milk.

“I am sorry now,” said she, “that I did not send for a black hat; my
hair is so light that gray makes me look ugly. Do you not think so? Why
do you not reply, Clemence? One can not get a word out of you to-day; is
it because you have your neuralgia?”

“I have a trifle of it,” said Madame de Bergenheim, in order to give
some pretext for her preoccupation.

“Now, then, you ought to come with us for a ride; the fresh air will do
you good. Look how fine the weather is now; we will have a good gallop.
Will you? I will help you put on your habit, and in five minutes you
will be ready. Listen, I hear them in the yard now. I am going to tell
Christian to have your horse saddled; come.”

Aline took her sister-in-law by the hand, led her into the next room and
opened the window to see what was going on outside, where the cracking
of whips and several voices were to be heard. A servant was walking up
and down the yard leading a large horse which he had just brought from
the stable; the Baron was holding a smaller one, which bore a lady’s
saddle, while he carefully examined all the buckles. As he heard the
window open above his head, he turned and bowed to Clemence with much
chivalrous gallantry.

“You still refuse to go with us?” he asked.

“Is Aline going to ride Titania,” replied Madame de Bergenheim, making
an effort to speak; “I am sure the mare will end by playing her some
trick.”

The young girl, who had a fancy for Titania because the skittish
creature had the attraction of forbidden fruit, nudged her sister with
her elbow, and made a little grimace.

“Aline is afraid of nothing,” said the Baron; “we will enlist her with
the hussars as soon as she leaves the ‘Sacred Heart.’ Come, Aline.”

The young girl kissed the Baroness, gathered up her skirt, and in a few
moments was in the yard patting the neck of her dear brown mare.

“Up with you!” said Christian, taking his sister’s foot in one hand
while he raised her with the other, placing her in the saddle as easily
as he would a six-year-old child. Then he mounted his large horse,
saluted his wife, and the couple, starting at a trot, soon disappeared
down the avenue, which began at the gate of the courtyard.

As soon as they were out of sight, Clemence went to her room, took a
shawl from her bed, and went rapidly down a secret stairway which led
into the gardens.



CHAPTER IV. THE GALLANT IN THE GARDEN

Madame de Bergenheim’s apartments occupied the first floor of the wing
on the left side of the house. On the ground floor were the library,
a bathroom, and several guest-chambers. The large windows had a modern
look, but they were made to harmonize with the rest of the house by
means of grayish paint. At the foot of this facade was a lawn surrounded
by a wall and orange-trees planted in tubs, forming a sort of English
garden, a sanctuary reserved for the mistress of the castle, and which
brought her, as a morning tribute, the perfume of its flowers and the
coolness of its shade.

Through the tops of the fir-trees and the tuliptrees, which rose above
the group of smaller shrubs, the eye could follow the winding river
until it finally disappeared at the extremity of the valley. It was
this picturesque view and a more extensive horizon which had induced
the Baroness to choose this part of the Gothic manor for her own private
apartments.

After crossing the lawn, the young woman opened a gate concealed by
shrubs and entered the avenue by the banks of the river. This avenue
described a curve around the garden, and led to the principal entrance
of the chateau. Night was approaching, the countryside, which had been
momentarily disturbed by the storm, had resumed its customary serenity.
The leaves of the trees, as often happens after a rain, looked as fresh
as a newly varnished picture. The setting sun cast long shadows through
the trees, and their interlaced branches looked like a forest of
boa-constrictors.

Clemence advanced slowly under this leafy dome, which became darker and
more mysterious every moment, with head bent and enveloped in a large
cashmere shawl which fell in irregular folds to the ground. Madame de
Bergenheim had one of those faces which other women would call not at
all remarkable, but which intelligent men ardently admire. At the
first glance she seemed hardly pretty; at the second, she attracted
involuntary admiration; afterward, it was difficult to keep her out
of one’s thoughts. Her features, which taken separately might seem
irregular, were singularly harmonious, and, like a thin veil which
tempers a too dazzling light, softened the whole expression. Her light
chestnut hair was arranged about the temples in ingenious waves; while
her still darker eyebrows gave, at times, an imposing gravity to her
face. The same contrast was to be found in the mouth; the short distance
which separated it from the nose would indicate, according to Lavater,
unusual energy; but the prominent underlip impregnated her smile with
enchanting voluptuousness. Her rather clearcut features, the exceeding
brilliancy of her brown eyes, which seemed like diamonds set in jet,
would, perhaps, have given to the whole rather too strong a character
had not these eyes when veiled given to their dazzling rays a glamour of
indescribable softness.

The effect produced by this face might be compared to that of a prism,
every facet of which reflects a different color. The ardor burning under
this changeable surface, which, through some sudden cause, betrayed its
presence, was so deeply hidden, however, that it seemed impossible to
fathom it completely. Was she a coquette, or simply a fashionable lady,
or a devotee? In one word, was she imbued with the most egotistical
pride or the most exalted love? One might suppose anything, but know
nothing; one remained undecided and thoughtful, but fascinated, the mind
plunged into ecstatic contemplation such as the portrait of Monna Lisa
inspires. An observer might have perceived that she had one of
those hearts, so finely strung, from which a clever hand might make
incomparable harmonies of passion gush; but perhaps he would be
mistaken. So many women have their souls only in their eyes!

Madame de Bergenheim’s revery rendered the mysterious and impenetrable
veil which usually enveloped her countenance more unfathomable yet. What
sentiment made her bend her head and walk slowly as she meditated? Was
it the ennui of which she had just complained to her aunt? Was it pure
melancholy? The monotonous ripple of the stream, the singing of the
birds in the woods, the long golden reflections under the trees, all
seemed to unite in filling the soul with sadness; but neither the
murmuring water, the singing birds, nor the sun’s splendor was paid any
attention to by Madame de Bergenheim; she gave them neither a glance nor
a sigh. Her meditation was not revery, but thought; not thoughts of the
past, but of the present. There was something precise and positive
in the rapid, intelligent glance which flashed from her eyes when she
raised them; it was as if she had a lucid foresight of an approaching
drama.

A moment after she had passed over the wooden bridge which led from the
avenue, a man wearing a blouse crossed it and followed her. Hearing the
sound of hurried steps behind her, she turned and saw, not two steps
from her, the stranger who, during the storm, had vainly tried to
attract her attention. There was a moment’s silence. The young man stood
motionless, trying to catch his breath, which had been hurried, either
by emotion or rapid walking. Madame de Bergenheim, with head thrown
back and widely opened eyes, looked at him with a more agitated than
surprised look.

“It is you,” exclaimed he, impulsively, “you whom I had lost and now
find again!”

“What madness, Monsieur!” she replied, in a low voice, putting out her
hand as if to stop him.

“I beg of you, do not look at me so! Let me gaze at you and assure
myself that it is really you--I have dreamed of this moment for so
long! Have I not paid dear enough for it? Two months passed away from
you--from heaven! Two months of sadness, grief, and unhappiness! But you
are pale! Do you suffer, too?”

“Much, at this moment.”

“Clemence!”

“Call me Madame, Monsieur de Gerfaut,” she interrupted, severely.

“Why should I disobey you? Are you not my lady, my queen?”

He bent his knee as a sign of bondage, and tried to seize her hand,
which she immediately withdrew. Madame de Bergenheim seemed to pay very
little attention to the words addressed her; her uneasy glances wandered
in every direction, into the depths of the bushes and the slightest
undulations of the ground. Gerfaut understood this pantomime. He
glanced, in his turn, over the place, and soon discovered at some
distance a more propitious place for such a conversation as theirs. It
was a semicircular recess in one of the thickets in the park. A rustic
seat under a large oak seemed to have been placed there expressly for
those who came to seek solitude and speak of love. From there, one could
see the approach of danger, and, in case of alarm, the wood offered
a secure retreat. The young man had had enough experience in gallant
strategies to seize the advantage of this position, and wended his steps
in that direction while continuing to converse. It may be that instinct
which, in a critical situation, makes us follow mechanically an unknown
impulse; it may be that the same idea of prudence had also struck her,
for Madame de Bergenheim walked beside him.

“If you could understand what I suffered,” said he, “when I found that
you had left Paris! I could not discover at first where you had gone;
some spoke of Corandeuil, others of Italy. I thought, from this hasty
departure and the care you took to conceal your abiding-place, that you
were fleeing from me. Oh! tell me that I was mistaken; or, if it is
true that you wished to separate yourself from me, say that this cruel
resolve had left your mind, and that you will pardon me for following
you! You will pardon me, will you not? If I trouble or annoy you, lay
the blame entirely upon my love, which I can not restrain, and which
drives me at times to do the most extravagant things; call it reckless,
insane love, if you will; but believe it to be true and devoted!”

Clemence replied to this passionate tirade by simply shaking her head as
a child does who hears the buzzing of a wasp and fears its sting; then,
as they reached the bench, she said with affected surprise:

“You have made a mistake, this is not your road; you should have gone
over the bridge.”

There was a little palpable insincerity in these words; for if the road
which they had taken did not lead to the bridge, neither did it lead to
the chateau, and the mistake, if there was one, was mutual.

“Listen to me, I beg of you,” replied the lover, with ‘a supplicating
glance, “I have so many things to say to you! I beg of you, grant me one
moment.”

“Afterward, will you obey me?”

“Only a few words, and I will then do all that you wish.”

She hesitated a moment; then, her conscience doubtless lulled by this
promise, she seated herself and made a gesture for M. de Gerfaut to do
likewise. The young man did not make her repeat this invitation, but
hypocritically seated himself on the farther end of the seat.

“Now, talk reasonably,” she said, in a calm tone. “I suppose that you
are on your way to Germany or Switzerland, and as you passed near me
you wished to favor me with a call. I ought to be proud of this mark
of respect from a man so celebrated as you are, although you are rather
hiding your light under this garb. We are not very strict as to dress in
the country, but, really, yours is quite unceremonious. Tell me, where
did you find that headdress?”

These last words were spoken with the careless, mocking gayety of a
young girl.

Gerfaut smiled, but he took off his cap. Knowing the importance that
women attach to little things, and what an irreparable impression an
ugly cravat or unblacked boots might produce in the most affecting
moments, he did not wish to compromise himself by a ridiculous
head-gear. He passed his hand through his hair, pushing it back from his
large, broad forehead, and said softly:

“You know very well that I am not going to Germany or Switzerland, and
that Bergenheim is the end of my journey, as it has been its aim.”

“Then will you be so good as to tell me what your intention was
in taking such a step, and whether you have realized how strange,
inconsiderate, and in every way extravagant your conduct is?”

“I have realized it; I know it. You were here, I came because there is
a loadstone within you, that is my heart’s sole attraction, and I must
follow my heart. I came because I wanted to see your beautiful eyes
again, to be intoxicated by your sweet voice, because to live away from
you is impossible for me; because your presence is as necessary to my
happiness as air to my life; because I love you. That is why I came. Is
it possible that you do not understand me, that you will not pardon me?”

“I do not wish to believe that you are speaking seriously,” said
Clemence, with increased severity. “What sort of an idea can you have
of me, if you think I will allow such conduct? And then, even if I were
foolish enough for that-which I never shall be--to what would it lead?
You know perfectly well that it is impossible for you to come to the
castle, as you are not acquainted with Monsieur de Bergenheim, and I
certainly shall not introduce you to him. My aunt is here, and she
would persecute me the whole day long with questions! Mon Dieu! how you
disturb me! how unhappy you make me!”

“Your aunt never goes out, so she will not see me, unless I am
officially received at the chateau, and then there could be no danger.”

“But the servants she brought with her, and mine, who have seen you in
her house! I tell you, the whole thing is as perilous as it is crazy,
and you will make me die of fright and chagrin.”

“If one of those servants should chance to meet me, how could he ever
recognize me in this costume? Do not fear, I shall be prudent! I
would live in a log cabin, if necessary, for the joy of seeing you
occasionally.”

Madame de Bergenheim smiled disdainfully.

“That would be quite pastoral,” she replied; “but I believe that such
disguises are seldom seen now except upon the stage. If this is a scene
out of a play, which you wish to rehearse in order to judge its effect,
I warn you that it is entirely lost upon me, and that I consider the
play itself very ill-timed, improper, and ridiculous. Besides, for a
man of talent and a romantic poet you have not exhibited any very great
imagination. It is a classical imitation, nothing better. There is
something like it in mythology, I believe. Did not Apollo disguise
himself as a shepherd?”

Nothing more is to be feared by a lover than a witty woman who does not
love or loves but half; he is obliged to wear velvet gloves in all such
sentimental controversies; he owes it to himself out of propriety first,
out of prudence afterward. For it is not a question of taking part in a
conversation for the simple pleasure of brilliant repartee; and while
he applies himself carefully to play his part well, he feels that he has
been dexterously cut to pieces with a well-sharpened knife.

Gerfaut indulged in these unpleasant reflections while gazing at Madame
de Bergenheim. Seated up on the bench as proudly as a queen upon her
throne, with shining eyes, scornful lips, and arms tightly folded under
her cashmere shawl, with that haughty gesture familiar to her, the young
woman looked as invulnerable under this light wrap as if she had been
covered with Ajax’s shield, formed, if we can credit Homer, of seven
bulls’ hides and a sheet of brass.

After gazing at this scornful face for a moment, Gerfaut glanced at his
coarse blouse, his leggings, and muddy boots. His usual dainty ways made
the details of this costume yet more shocking to him, and he exaggerated
this little disaster. He felt degraded and almost ridiculous.
The thought took away for a moment his presence of mind; he began
mechanically to twirl his hat in his hands, exactly as if he had been
Pere Rousselet himself. But instead of being hurtful to him, this
awkwardness served him better than the eloquence of Rousseau or the
coolness of Richelieu. Was it not a genuine triumph for Clemence to
reduce a man of his recognized talent, who was usually anything but
timid, to this state of embarrassment? What witty response, what
passionate speech could equal the flattery of this poet with bent head
and this expression of deep sadness upon his face?

Madame de Bergenheim continued her raillery, but in a softer tone.

“This time, instead of staying in a cabin, the god of poetry
has descended to a tavern. Have you not established your general
headquarters at La Fauconnerie?”

“How did you know that?”

“By the singular visiting-card that you drew in La Mode. Do I not know
your coat-of-arms? An expressive one, as my aunt would say.”

At these words, which probably referred to some letters, doubtless read
without very much anger, since they were thus recalled, Gerfaut took
courage.

“Yes,” said he, “I am staying at La Fauconnerie; but I can not stay
there any longer, for I think your servants make the tavern their
pleasure-ground. I must come to some decision. I have two propositions
to submit to you: the first is, that you will allow me to see you
occasionally; there are numerous promenades about here; you go out
alone, so it would be very easy.”

“Let us hear the second,” said Clemence, with a shrug of the shoulders.

“If you will not grant my first, I beg of you to persuade your aunt that
she is ill and to take her with you to Plombieres or Baden. The season
is not very far advanced; there, at least, I should be able to see you.”

“Let us end this folly,” said the Baroness; “I have listened patiently
to you; now, in your turn, listen to me. You will be sensible, will you
not? You will leave me and go. You will go to Switzerland, and return
to the Montanvert, where you met me for the first time, which I shall
always remember, if you, yourself, do not make it painful for me to do
so. You will obey me, Octave, will you not? Give me this proof of your
esteem and friendship. You know very well that it is impossible for me
to grant what you ask; believe me, it is painful to me to be forced to
refuse you. So, say farewell to me; you shall see me again next winter
in Paris. Adieu!”

She arose and extended her hand; he took it, but, thinking to profit by
the emotion betrayed by Madame de Bergenheim’s voice, he exclaimed in a
sort of transport:

“No! I will not wait until next winter to see you. I was about to submit
to your will; if you repulse me I will consult only myself; if you
repulse me, Clemence, I warn you that tomorrow I shall be in your house,
seated at your table and admitted to your drawing-room.”

“You?” “I!”

“To-morrow?”

“To-morrow.”

“And how will you do it, pray?” said she, defiantly.

“That is my secret, Madame,” he replied, coldly.

Although her curiosity was greatly aroused, Clemence felt that it
would be beneath her to ask any more questions. She replied with an
affectation of mocking indifference:

“Since I am to have the pleasure of seeing you tomorrow, I hope you will
permit me to leave you today. You know that I am not well, and it is
showing me very little attention to allow me to stand here in this wet
grass.”

She raised her skirt a trifle and extended her foot, showing her
slipper, which was really covered with pearly drops of rain. Octave
threw himself quickly upon his knees, and, taking a silk handkerchief
from his pocket, began to wipe away all traces of the storm. His action
was so rapid that Madame de Bergenheim stood for a moment motionless and
speechless, but when she felt her foot imprisoned in the hand of the
man who had just declared war against her, her surprise gave place to a
mingled feeling of impatience and anger. She drew her foot back with a
sudden movement, but unfortunately the foot went one way and the slipper
another. A fencing-master, who sees his foil carried ten steps away from
him by a back stroke, could not feel more astonishment than that felt
by Madame de Bergenheim. Her first movement was to place her foot, so
singularly undressed, upon the ground; an instinctive horror of the
damp, muddy walk made her draw it quickly back. She stood thus with one
foot lifted; the movement which she had started to make threw her off
her balance and as she was about to fall she extended her hand to find
some support. This support proved to be Octave’s head, for he still
remained upon his knees. With the usual presumption of lovers, he
believed that he had the right to give her the assistance which she
seemed to ask for, and passed his arm about the slender waist which was
bent toward him.

Clemence drew herself up at once, and with frowning brow regained her
coolness, standing upright upon one foot, like Cupid in the painting by
Gerard; like him, also, she seemed about to fly away, there was so much
airy lightness in her improvised attitude.

Many puerile incidents and ridiculous events occur in life, which it
would render impossible for the most imperturbable of mandarins to
struggle against in order to preserve his gravity. When Louis XIV,
this king so expert in courtly ways, dressed his hair alone behind his
curtains before presenting himself to the eyes of his courtiers, he
feared that this disarray of costume might compromise even his royal
majesty. So, upon such authority, if one looks upon a complete head
of hair as indispensable to the dignity of manhood, the same reasoning
should exist for the covering of one’s feet. In less than a second,
Madame de Bergenheim comprehended that in such circumstances prudish
airs would fail of their effect. Meanwhile, the agreeable side of her
position operated within her; she felt unable to keep up the show of
anger that she had wished to assume. The involuntary smile upon her lips
smoothed her forehead as a ray of sun dissipates a cloud. Thus, disposed
to clemency by reflection or fascination, it was in a very sweet and
coaxing voice that she said: “Octave, give me my slipper.” Gerfaut
gazed at the lovely face bent toward him with an expression of childish
entreaty, then he glanced with an irresolute air at the trophy which he
held in his hand. This slipper, which was as small as Cinderella’s, was
not green, but gray, the lining was of rose-colored silk, and the whole
was so pretty, coquettish, and dainty that it seemed impossible its
owner could be vexed with him if he examined it closely. “I will give it
back to you,” said he, at last, “on condition that you will allow me to
put it on for you.”

“As to that, certainly not,” said she, in a sharp tone; “I should much
prefer to leave it with you and return home as I am.”

Gerfaut shook his head and smiled incredulously.

“Think of your delicate lungs and of this terrible mud?”

Clemence drew her foot suddenly back under her skirt, concealing it
entirely from the sight of the young man, who gazed at it more than
she thought proper. Then she exclaimed, with the obstinacy of a spoiled
child:

“Very well! I will return hopping on one foot; I could hop very well
when I was young, I should be able to do so now.”

To give more weight to this observation, she took two little jumps with
a grace and sprightliness worthy of Mademoiselle Taglioni.

Octave arose.

“I have had the pleasure of seeing you waltz,” said he; “but I admit
that I shall be pleased to witness a new dance, and one executed for me
alone.”

As he said these words, he pretended to conceal the innocent object
of this dispute in his blouse. The pretty dancer saw by this that a
compromise would be necessary. Recourse to concessions is often as
fatal to women as to kings; but what can one do when every other exit is
closed? Obliged by absolute necessity to accept the conditions imposed
upon her, Clemence wished at least to cover this defeat with sufficient
dignity, and escape from an awkward position with the honors of war.

“Get down upon your knees, then,” she said, haughtily, “and put on my
slipper, since you exact it, and let this end this ridiculous scene. I
think you should be too proud to regard a maid’s privilege as a favor.”

“As a favor which a king would envy,” replied Gerfaut, in a voice as
tender as hers had been disdainful. He put one knee on the ground,
placed the little slipper upon the other and seemed to await his enemy’s
pleasure. But the latter found a new subject for complaint in the
pedestal offered her, for she said with increased severity:

“On the ground, Monsieur; and let that end it.”

He obeyed, without a reply, after giving her a reproachful glance by
which she was as much moved as by his silent obedience. She put out her
foot with a more gracious air, and thrust it into the slipper. To be a
correct historian, we must admit that this time she left it in the hands
which softly pressed it longer than was strictly necessary. When Octave
had fastened it with skill but with no haste, he bent his head and
pressed his lips to the openwork stocking, through which he could catch
a glimpse of white, satiny skin.

“My husband!” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, as she heard the clatter
of horses’ hoofs at the end of the avenue; and without adding a word she
fled rapidly toward the chateau. Gerfaut arose from his position no less
rapidly and darted into the woods. A rustling of branches which he heard
a few steps from him made him uneasy at first, for he feared that an
invisible witness had been present at this imprudent interview; but he
was soon reassured by the silence which reigned about him.

After the Baron and his sister had passed, he crossed the avenue and
soon disappeared over the winding road on the other side of the bridge.



CHAPTER V. ART AND MUSIC

A league below the castle of Bergenheim, the village of La Fauconnerie
was situated, at the junction of several valleys the principal of which,
by means of an unfrequented road, opened communications between Lorraine
and upper Alsatia. This position had been one of some importance in the
Middle Ages, at the time when the Vosges were beset with partisans
from the two countries, always ready to renew border hostilities,
the everlasting plague of all frontiers. Upon a cliff overlooking the
village were situated the ruins which had given the village its name;
it owed it to the birds of prey [falcons, in French: ‘faucons’], the
habitual guests of the perpendicular rocks. To render proper justice to
whom it belongs, we should add that the proprietors of La Fauconnerie
had made it a point at all times to justify this appellation by customs
more warlike than hospitable; but for some time the souvenirs of their
feudal prowess had slept with their race under the ruins of the manor;
the chateau had fallen without the hamlet extending over its ruins;
from a bourg of some importance La Fauconnerie had come down to a small
village, and had nothing remarkable about it but the melancholy ruins of
the chateau.

It would be impossible to imagine anything more miserably prosaic than
the houses that bordered the road, in regular order; their one story
with its thatched roof blackened by rain; the sorry garden surrounded by
a little low wall and presenting as vegetables patches of cabbage and a
few rows of beans, gave an idea of the poverty of its inhabitants. Save
the church, which the Bishop of St.-Die had caused to be built, and the
manse that had naturally shared this fortunate privilege, only one house
rose above the condition of a thatched cottage; this was the tavern
called ‘La Femme-sans-Tete’, and kept by Madame Gobillot, an energetic
woman, who did not suggest in the least the name of her establishment,
“The Headless Woman.”

A large sign shared with the inevitable bunch of juniper, the honor
of decorating the entrance and justified an appellation one might have
regarded as disrespectful to the fair sex. The original design had been
repainted in dazzling colors by the artist charged with restoring the
church. This alliance of the profane with the sacred had, it is true,
scandalized the parish priest, but he did not dare say a word too much,
as Madame Gobillot was one of his most important parishioners. A
woman in a rose-colored dress and large panniers, standing upon very
high-heeled shoes, displayed upon this sign the rejuvenated costume
of 1750; an enormous green fan, which she held in her hand, entirely
concealed her face, and it was through this caprice of the painter that
the tavern came to have the name it bore.

At the right of this original figure was painted, in a very appetizing
manner, a pie out of whose crust peeped a trio of woodcocks’ heads. A
little farther, upon a bed of watercresses, floated a sort of marine
monster, carp or sturgeon, trout or crocodile. The left of the sign was
none the less tempting; it represented a roast chicken lying upon its
back with its head under its wing, and raising its mutilated legs in the
air with a piteous look; it had for its companion a cluster of crabs,
of a little too fine a red to have been freshly caught. The whole was
interspersed with bottles and glasses brimful of wine. There were
stone jugs at each extremity, the sergeants of the rear-rank of this
gastronomic platoon, whose corks had blown out and were still flying
in space, while a bubbling white foam issued from their necks and
fell majestically over their sides after describing a long parabola. A
misleading sign, indeed!

A remorseful conscience, or a desire to protect herself from all
reproach of mendacity on the part of the customers, had made the owner
of the inn place a wire cupboard upon the sill of one of the windows
near the door; in which receptacle were some eggs on a plate, a bit of
bread with which David might have loaded his sling, a white glass bottle
filled with a liquid of some color intended to represent kirsch, but
which was in reality only water. This array gave a much more correct
idea of the resources of the establishment and formed a menu like an
anchorite’s repast, and even this it was difficult for the kitchen’s
resources to maintain.

A carriage-gate led into the yard and to the stables, cart-drivers being
the principal habitues of the place; another entrance, the one which
was crowned with the fantastic sign, was flanked by two stone seats and
opened directly into the kitchen, which also served as parlor for the
guests. A fireplace with an enormous mantel, under which a whole family
might warm themselves, occupied the middle of one side of the room.
There was a large oven in one corner which opened its huge mouth, the
door partly hiding the shovels and tongs employed in its service. Two or
three thoroughly smoked hams, suspended from the beams, announced
that there was no fear of a famine before the gastronomic massacres of
Middlemas. Opposite the window, a large, polished oak dresser displayed
an array of large flowered plates and little octagon-shaped glasses. A
huge kitchen kettle and some wooden chairs completed the furniture of
the room.

From the kitchen one passed into another room, where a permanent table
surrounded by benches occupied its entire length. The wall paper, once
green, was now a dirty gray; it was embellished by half a dozen black
frames representing the story of Prince Poniatowski, who shares the
honor of decorating village inns with Paul and Virginia and Wilhelm
Tell. On the upper floor-for this aristocratic dwelling had a second
story--several sleeping-rooms opened upon a long corridor, at the end of
which was a room with two beds in it. This room was very neat and clean,
and was destined for any distinguished guests whose unlucky star led
them into this deserted country.

That evening the inn presented an unaccustomed lively appearance; the
long seats, each side of the door, were occupied by rustics stripping
hemp, by some village lads, and three or four cart-drivers smoking
short pipes as black as coal. They were listening to two girls who were
singing in a most mournful way a song well known to all in this country:

          “Au chateau de Belfort
          Sont trois jolies filles, etc.”

The light from the hearth, shining through the open door, left this
group in the shadow and concentrated its rays upon a few faces in the
interior of the kitchen. First, there was Madame Gobillot in person,
wearing a long white apron, her head covered with an immense cap. She
went from oven to dresser, and from dresser to fireplace with a very
important air. A fat little servant disappeared frequently through the
dining-room door, where she seemed to be laying the cover for a feast.
With that particular dexterity of country girls, she made three trips to
carry two plates, and puffed like a porpoise at her work, while the look
of frightened amazement showed upon her face that every fibre of her
intelligence was under unaccustomed tension. Before the fire, and upon
the range, three or four stew-pans were bubbling. A plump chicken was
turning on the spit, or, rather, the spit and its victim were turned by
a bright-looking boy of about a dozen years, who with one hand turned
the handle and with the other, armed with a large cooking-ladle, basted
the roast.

But the two principal persons in this picture were a young country girl
and a young man seated opposite her, who seemed busily engaged in making
her portrait. One would easily recognize, from the airs and elegance of
the young woman, that she was the daughter of the house, Mademoiselle
Reine Gobillot, the one whose passion for fashion-plates had excited
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s anger. She sat as straight and rigid
upon her stool as a Prussian corporal carrying arms, and maintained an
excessively gracious smile upon her lips, while she made her bust more
prominent by drawing back her shoulders as far as she could.

The young painter, on the contrary, was seated with artistic abandon,
balancing himself upon a two-legged chair with his heels resting against
the mantel; he was dressed in a black velvet coat, and a very small Tam
O’Shanter cap of the same material covered the right side of his head,
allowing a luxuriant crop of brown hair to be seen upon the other side.
This head-dress, accompanied by long moustaches and a pointed beard
covering only his chin, gave the stranger’s face the mediaeval look
he probably desired. This travelling artist was sketching in an album
placed upon his knees, with a freedom which indicated perfect confidence
in his own talents. A cigar, skilfully held in one corner of his mouth,
did not prevent him from warbling between each puff some snatches of
Italian airs of which he seemed to possess a complete repertoire. In
spite of this triple occupation he sustained a conversation with the
ease of a man who, like Caesar, could have dictated to three secretaries
at once if necessary.

          “Dell’ Assiria, ai semidei
          Aspirar--”

“I have already asked you not to purse up your mouth so, Mademoiselle
Reine; it gives you a Watteau air radically bourgeois.”

“What sort of air does it give me?” she asked, anxiously.

“A Watteau, Regence, Pompadour air. You have a large mouth, and we will
leave it natural, if you please.”

“I have a large mouth!” exclaimed Reine, blushing with anger; “how
polite you are!”

And she pinched up her lips until she reduced them to nearly the size of
Montmorency cherries.

“Stop this vulgar way of judging of art, queen of my heart. Learn that
there is nothing more appetizing than a large mouth. I do not care for
rosebud mouths!”

“If it is the fashion!” murmured the young girl, in a pleased tone,
as she spread out horizontally her vermillion lips, which might have
extended from ear to ear, not unlike--if we can credit that slanderer,
Bussy-Rabutin-the amorous smile of Mademoiselle de la Valliere.

“Why did you not let me put on my gold necklace?

“That would have given my portrait a smarter look. Sophie Mitoux had
hers painted with a coral comb and earrings. How shabby this style is!”

“I beg of you, my good Reine, let me follow my own fancy; an artist is a
being of inspiration and spontaneity. Meanwhile, you make your bust too
prominent; there is no necessity for you to look as if you had swallowed
a whale. L’art n’est pas fait pour toi, tu n’en as pas besoin. Upon my
word, you have a most astonishing bust; a genuine Rubens.”

Madame Gobillot was an austere woman, though an innkeeper, and watched
over her daughter with particular care, lest any ill-sounding or
insiduous expression should reach her child’s ear. Considering the
company which frequented the house, the task was not easy. So she was
shocked at the young man’s last words, and although she did not quite
understand his meaning, for that very reason she thought she scented a
concealed poison more dangerous for Mademoiselle Reine than the awful
words used by the drivers. She dared not, however, show her displeasure
to a customer, and one who seemed disposed to spend money freely; and,
as usual in such circumstances, she vented her displeasure upon the
persons immediately under her charge.

“Hurry now, Catherine! Will you never finish setting the table? I told
you before to put on the Britannia; these gentlemen are used to eating
with silver. Listen to me when I am talking to you. Who washed these
glasses? What a shame! You are as afraid of water as a mad-dog. And you!
what are you staring at that chicken for, instead of basting it? If
you let it burn you shall go to bed without any supper. If it is not
provoking!” she continued, in a scolding tone, visiting her stewpans one
after another, “everything is dried up; a fillet that was as tender as
it could be will be scorched! This is the third time that I have diluted
the gravy. Catherine! bring me a dish. Now, then, make haste.”

“One thing is certain,” interrupted the artist, “that Gerfaut is making
a fool of me. I do not see what can have become of him. Tell me, Madame
Gobillot, are you certain that an amateur of art and the picturesque,
travelling at this hour, would not be eaten by wolves or plundered by
robbers in these mountains?”

“Our mountains are safe, Monsieur,” replied the landlady, with offended
dignity; “except for the pedler who was assassinated six months ago and
whose body was found in the Combe-aux-Renards--”

“And the driver who was stopped three weeks ago in the Fosse,” added
Mademoiselle Reine; “the thieves did not quite kill him, but he is still
in the hospital at Remiremont.”

“Oh! that is enough to make one’s hair stand on end! This is worse than
the forest of Bondy! Truly, if I knew what direction my friend took this
morning, I would follow him with my pistols.”

“Here is Fritz,” said Madame Gobillot. “He met a stranger in the woods
who gave him ten sous for telling him the way to Bergenheim. From his
description, it seems that it must be the gentleman you speak of. Tell
us about it, Fritz.”

The child related in his Alsatian patois his meeting of the afternoon,
and the artist was convinced that it was Gerfaut he had met.

“He must be wandering in the valley,” said he, “dreaming about our play.
But did you not say something about Bergenheim? Is there a village near
here by that name?”

“There is a chateau of that name, Monsieur, and it is about a league
from here as you go up the river.”

“And does this chateau happen to belong to the Baron de Bergenheim--a
large, blond, good-looking fellow, with rather reddish moustache?”

“That’s the picture of its owner, only that the Baron does not wear
a moustache now, not since he left the service. Do you know him,
Monsieur?”

“Yes, I know him! Speaking of service, I once rendered him one which was
of some account. Is he at the castle?”

“Yes, Monsieur, and his lady also.”

“Ah! his wife, too. She was a Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, of Provence.
Is she pretty?”

“Pretty,” said Mademoiselle Gobillot, pursing up her lips, “that depends
upon tastes. If a person likes a face as white as a ghost, she is. And,
then, she is so thin! It certainly can not be very difficult to have a
slender waist when one is as thin as that.”

“Not everybody can have rosy cheeks and a form like an enchantress,”
 said the painter, in a low voice, as he looked at his model in a
seductive manner.

“There are some people who think that Monsieur’s sister is prettier than
Madame,” observed Madame Gobillot.

“O mother! how can you say that?” exclaimed Reine with a disdainful air.
“Mademoiselle Aline! A child of fifteen! She certainly is not wanting in
color; her hair is such a blond, such a red, rather! It looks as if it
were on fire.”

“Do not say anything against red hair, I beg of you,” said the artist,
“it is an eminently artistic shade, which is very popular.”

“With some it may be so, but with Christians! It seems to me that black
hair--”

“When it is long and glossy like yours, it is wonderful,” said the young
man, darting another killing glance. “Madame Gobillot, would you mind
closing that door? One can not hear one’s self think here. I am a
little critical, so far as music is concerned, and you have two sopranos
outside who deafen me with their shrieks.”

“It is Marguerite Mottet and her sister. Since our cure has taken to
teaching them, they bore us to death, coming here and singing their fine
songs. One of these days I shall notify them to leave.”

As she said these words, Madame Gobillot went to close the door in order
to please her guest; as soon as her back was turned, the latter leaned
forward with the boldness of a Lovelace and imprinted a very loving kiss
upon the rosy cheek of Mademoiselle Reine, who never thought of drawing
back until the offence was committed.

The sole witness to this incident was the little kitchen drudge, whose
blue eyes had been fastened upon the artist’s moustache and beard for
some time. They seemed to plunge him into a deep admiration. But at this
unexpected event his amazement was so complete that he dropped his spoon
into the ashes.

“Eh! mein herr, do you wish to go to bed without your supper, as has
been promised you?” said the young man, while the beautiful Reine was
trying to recover her countenance. “Now, then, sing us a little song
instead of staring at me as if I were a giraffe. Your little cook has
a nice voice, Madame Gobillot. Now, then, mein herr, give us a little
German lied. I will give you six kreutzers if you sing in tune, and a
flogging if you grate upon my ears.”

He arose and put his album under his arm.

“And my portrait?” exclaimed the young girl, whose cheek was still
burning from the kiss she had just received.

The painter drew near her, smiling, and said in a mysterious tone:

“When I make a portrait of a pretty person like you, I never finish it
the first day. If you will give me another sitting in the morning before
your mother arises I promise to finish this sketch in a way that will
not be displeasing to you.”

Mademoiselle Reine saw that her mother was watching her, and walked away
with no reply save a glance which was not discouraging.

“Now, then! You droll little fellow!” exclaimed the artist, as he
whirled on one foot; “triple time; one, two, begin.”

The child burst into an Alsatian song in a high, ringing voice.

“Wait a moment! What devilish key are you singing that in? La, la, la,
la; mi, in E major, key of four sharps. By Jove, my little man! here is
a fellow who sings B’s and C’s away up in the clouds; an E sharp, too!”
 he continued, with astonishment, while the singer made a hold upon the
keynote an octave higher in a voice as clear as a crystal.

The artist threw into the fire the cigar which he had just lighted, and
began pacing the kitchen floor, paying no more attention to Mademoiselle
Reine, who felt a little piqued at seeing herself neglected for a
kitchen drudge.

“A rare voice,” said he, as he took a great stride; “per Bacco, a very
rare voice. Added to that, he sings very deep; two octaves and a half, a
clear, ringing tone, the two registers are well united. He would make an
admirable ‘primo musico’. And the little fellow has a pretty face, too.
After supper I will make him wash his face, and I will sketch it. I am
sure that in less than a year’s study, he could make his debut with the
greatest success. By Jove! I have an idea! Why does not that Gerfaut
return? Now, then, he would do very well for ‘Pippo’ in La Gazza, or for
Gemma in Wilhelm Tell. But we must have a role for him to make his debut
in. What subject could we take properly to introduce a child’s part? Why
does not that Gerfaut come? A child, girl or boy; a boy part would be
better. ‘Daniel,’ of course; viva ‘Daniel!’ ‘The Chaste Suzannah,’ opera
in three acts. Madame Begrand would be fine as Suzannah. By Jove! if
Meyerbeer would only take charge of the score! That falls to him by
right as a compatriot. Then, that would give him an opportunity to break
lances with Mehul and Rossini. If that fool of a Gerfaut would only
come! Let us see what would be the three characters: Soprano, Suzannah;
contralto, David; the old men, two basses; as for the tenor, he would
be, of course, Suzannah’s husband. There would be a superb entrance for
him upon his return from the army, ‘cavatina guerriera con cori’. Oh!
that terrible Gerfaut! the wolves must have devoured him. If he were
here, we would knock off the thing between our fruit and cheese.”

Just at that moment the door opened suddenly. “Is supper ready?” asked a
deep voice.

“Eh, here he is, the dear friend!

            “O surprise extreme!
             Grand Dieu! c’est lui-meme--

alive and in the flesh.”

“And hungry,” said Gerfaut, as he dropped into a chair near the fire.

“Would you like to compose an opera in three acts, The Chaste Suzannah,
music by Meyerbeer?”

“I should like some supper first. Madame Gobillot, I beseech you, give
me something to eat. Thanks to your mountain air, I am almost starved.”

“But, Monsieur, we have been waiting two hours for you,” retorted the
landlady, as she made each stewpan dance in succession.

“That is a fact,” said the artist; “let us go into the dining-room,
then.

          “Gia la mensa a preparata.”

“While supping, I will explain my plans to you. I have just found a
Daniel in the ashes--”

“My dear Marillac, drop your Daniel and Suzannah,” replied Gerfaut, as
he sat down to the table; “I have something much more important to talk
to you about.”



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER VI. GERFAUT’S STORY

While the two friends are devouring to the very last morsel the feast
prepared for them by Madame Gobillot, it may not be out of place to
explain in a few words the nature of the bonds that united these two
men.

The Vicomte de Gerfaut was one of those talented beings who are the
veritable champions of an age when the lightest pen weighs more in the
social balance than our ancestors’ heaviest sword. He was born in
the south of France, of one of those old families whose fortune had
diminished each generation, their name finally being almost all that
they had left. After making many sacrifices to give their son an
education worthy of his birth, his parents did not live to enjoy the
fruits of their efforts, and Gerfaut became an orphan at the time when
he had just finished his law studies. He then abandoned the career of
which his father had dreamed for him, and the possibilities of a red
gown bordered with ermine. A mobile and highly colored imagination,
a passionate love for the arts, and, more than all, some intimacies
contracted with men of letters, decided his vocation and launched him
into literature.

The ardent young man, without a murmur or any misgivings, drank to
the very dregs the cup poured out to neophytes in the harsh career of
letters by editors, theatrical managers, and publishers. With some,
this course ends in suicide, but it only cost Gerfaut a portion of his
slender patrimony; he bore this loss like a man who feels that he is
strong enough to repair it. When his plans were once made, he followed
them up with indefatigable perseverance, and became a striking example
of the irresistible power of intelligence united to will-power.
Reputation, for him, lay in the unknown depths of an arid and rocky
soil; he was obliged, in order to reach it, to dig a sort of artesian
well. Gerfaut accepted this heroic labor; he worked day and night
for several years, his forehead, metaphorically, bathed in a painful
perspiration alleviated only by hopes far away. At last the untiring
worker’s drill struck the underground spring over which so many noble
ones breathlessly bend, although their thirst is never quenched. At this
victorious stroke, glory burst forth, falling in luminous sparks, making
this new name--his name--flash with a brilliancy too dearly paid for not
to be lasting.

At the time of which we speak, Octave had conquered every obstacle
in the literary field. With a versatility of talent which sometimes
recalled Voltaire’s “proteanism,” he attacked in succession the most
difficult styles. Besides their poetic value, his dramas had this
positive merit, the highest in the theatre world they were money-makers;
so the managers greeted him with due respect, while collaborators
swarmed about him. The journals paid for his articles in their weight
in gold; reviews snatched every line of his yet unfinished novels; his
works were illustrated by Porret and Tony Johannot--the masters of
the day--and shone resplendent behind the glass cases in the Orleans
gallery. Gerfaut had at last made a place for himself among that
baker’s dozen of writers who call themselves, and justly, too, the
field-marshals of French literature, of which Chateaubriand was then
commander-in-chief.

What was it that had brought such a person a hundred leagues from the
opera balcony, to put on a pretty woman’s slipper? Was the fair lady one
of those caprices, so frequent and fleeting in an artist’s thoughts, or
had she given birth to one of those sentiments that end by absorbing the
rest of one’s life?

The young man seated opposite Gerfaut was, physically and morally, as
complete a contrast to him as one could possibly imagine. He was one
of the kind very much in request in fashionable society. There is not
a person who has not met one of these worthy fellows, destined to make
good officers, perfect merchants, and very satisfactory lawyers,
but who, unfortunately, have been seized with a mania for notoriety.
Ordinarily they think of it on account of somebody else’s talent.
This one is brother to a poet, another son-in-law to a historian; they
conclude that they also have a right to be poet and historian in their
turn. Thomas Corneille is their model; but we must admit that very few
of our writers reach the rank attained by Corneille the younger.

Marillac was train-bearer to Gerfaut, and was rewarded for this bondage
by a few bribes of collaboration, crumbs that fall from the rich man’s
table. They had been close friends since they both entered the law
school, where they were companions in folly rather than in study.
Marillac also had thrown himself into the arena of literature; then,
different fortunes having greeted the two friends’ efforts, he had
descended little by little from the role of a rival to that of an
inferior. Marillac was an artist, talent accepted, from the tip of his
toes to the sole of his boots, which he wished to lengthen by pointed
toes out of respect for the Middle Ages; for he excelled above
all things in his manner of dressing, and possessed, among other
intellectual merits, the longest moustache in literature.

If he had not art in his brain, to make up for it he always had its name
at his tongue’s end. Vaudeville writing or painting, poetry or music, he
dabbled in all these, like those horses sold as good for both riding
and driving, which are as bad in the saddle as in front of a tilbury.
He signed himself “Marillac, man of letters”; meanwhile, aside from his
profound disdain for the bourgeois, whom he called vulgar, and for
the French Academy, to which he had sworn never to belong, one
could reproach him with nothing. His penchant for the picturesque in
expression was not always, it is true, in the most excellent taste, but,
in spite of these little oddities, his unfortunate passion for art, and
his affection for the Middle Ages, he was a brave, worthy, and happy
fellow, full of good qualities, very much devoted to his friends,
above all to Gerfaut. One could, therefore, pardon him for being a
pseudo-artist.

“Will your story be a long one?” said he to the playwright, when
Catherine had conducted them after supper to the double-bedded room,
where they were to pass the night.

“Long or short, what does it matter, since you must listen to it?”

“Because, first, I would make some grog and fill my pipe; otherwise, I
would content myself with a cigar.”

“Take your pipe and make your grog.”

“Here!” said the artist, running after Catherine, “don’t rush downstairs
so. You are wanted. Fear nothing, interesting maid; you are safe with
us; but bring us a couple of glasses, brandy, sugar, a bowl, and some
hot water.”

“They want some hot water,” cried the servant, rushing into the kitchen
with a frightened look; “can they be ill at this hour?”

“Give the gentlemen what they want, you little simpleton!” replied
Mademoiselle Reine; “they probably want to concoct some of their Paris
drinks.”

When all the articles necessary for the grog were on the table, Marillac
drew up an old armchair, took another chair to stretch his legs upon,
replaced his cap with a handkerchief artistically knotted about his
head, his boots with a pair of slippers, and, finally, lighted his pipe.

“Now,” said he, as he seated himself, “I will listen without moving an
eyelid should your story last, like the creation, six days and nights.”

Gerfaut took two or three turns about the room with the air of an orator
who is seeking for a beginning to a speech.

“You know,” said he, “that Fate has more or less influence over our
lives, according to the condition of mind in which we happen to be. In
order that you may understand the importance of the adventure I am about
relating to you, it will be necessary for me to picture the state of
mind which I was in at the time it happened; this will be a sort of
philosophical and psychological preamble.”

“Thunder!” interrupted Marillac, “if I had known that, I would have
ordered a second bowl.”

“You will remember,” continued Gerfaut, paying no attention to this
pleasantry, “the rather bad attack of spleen which I had a little over a
year ago?”

“Before your trip to Switzerland?”

“Exactly.”

“If I remember right,” said the artist, “you were strangely cross and
whimsical at the time. Was it not just after the failure of our drama at
the Porte Saint-Martin?”

“You might also add of our play at the Gymnase.”

“I wash my hands of that. You know very well that it only went as far as
the second act, and I did not write one word in the first.”

“And hardly one in the second. However, I take the catastrophe upon
my shoulders; that made two perfect failures in that d----d month of
August.”

“Two failures that were hard to swallow,” replied Marillac, “We can say,
for our consolation, that there never were more infamous conspiracies
against us, above all, than at the Gymnase. My ears ring with the hisses
yet! I could see, from our box, a little villain in a dress coat, in
one corner of the pit, who gave the signal with a whistle as large as a
horse-pistol. How I would have liked to cram it down his throat!” As he
said these words, he brought his fist down upon the table, and made the
glasses and candles dance ‘upon it.

“Conspiracy or not, this time they judged the play aright. I believe it
would be impossible to imagine two worse plays; but, as Brid Oison
says, ‘These are things that one admits only to himself’; it is always
disagreeable to be informed of one’s stupidity by an ignorant audience
that shouts after you like a pack of hounds after a hare. In spite of my
pretension of being the least susceptible regarding an author’s
vanity of all the writers in Paris, it is perfectly impossible to be
indifferent to such a thing--a hiss is a hiss. However, vanity aside,
there was a question of money which, as I have a bad habit of spending
regularly my capital as well as my income, was not without its
importance. It meant, according to my calculation, some sixty
thousand francs cut off from my resources, and my trip to the East was
indefinitely postponed.

“They say, with truth, that misfortunes never come singly. You know
Melanie, whom I prevented from making her debut at the Vaudeville? By
taking her away from all society, lodging her in a comfortable manner
and obliging her to work, I rendered her a valuable service. She was
a good girl, and, aside from her love for the theatre and a certain
indolence that was not without charm, I did not find any fault in her
and grew more attached to her every day. Sometimes after spending long
hours with her, a fancy for a retired life and domestic happiness would
seize me. Gentlemen with brains are privileged to commit foolish acts at
times, and I really do not know what I might have ended in doing, had I
not been preserved from the danger in an unexpected manner.

“One evening, when I arrived at Melanie’s, I found the bird had flown.
That great ninny of a Ferussac, whom I never had suspected, and had
introduced to her myself, had turned her head by making capital out
of her love for the stage. As he was about to leave for Belgium, he
persuaded her to go there and dethrone Mademoiselle Prevost. I have
since learned that a Brussels banker revenged me by taking this Helene
of the stage away from Ferussac. Now she is launched and can fly with
her own wings upon the great highway of bravos, flowers, guineas--”

“And wreck and ruin,” added Marillac. “Here’s to her health!”

“This triple disappointment of pride, money, and heart did not cause, I
hope you will believe me, the deep state of melancholy into which I soon
fell; but the malady manifested itself upon this occasion, for it had
been lurking about me for a long time, as the dormant pain of a wound is
aroused if one pours a caustic upon its surface.

“There is some dominant power in each individual which is developed at
the expense of the other faculties, above all when the profession one
chooses suits his nature. The vital powers thus condensed manifest
themselves externally, and gush out with an abundance which would become
impossible if all the faculties were used alike, and if life filtered
away, so to speak. To avoid such destruction, and concentrate life upon
one point, in order to increase the action, is the price of talent and
individuality. Among athletes, the forehead contracts according as the
chest enlarges; with men of thought, it is the brain which causes the
other organs to suffer, insatiable vampire, exhausting at times the last
drop of blood in the body which serves as its victim. This vampire was
my torturer.

“For ten years I had crowded romance upon poetry, vaudeville upon drama,
literary criticism upon leader; I proved, through my own self, in
a physical way, the phenomena of the absorption of the senses by
intelligence. Many times, after several nights of hard work, the chords
of my mind being too violently stretched, they relaxed and gave only
indistinct harmony. Then, if I happened to resist this lassitude of
nature demanding repose, I felt the pressure of my will exhausting the
sources at the very depths of my being. It seemed to me that I dug out
my ideas from the bottom of a mine, instead of gathering them upon the
surface of the brain. The more material organs came to the rescue of
their failing chief. The blood from my heart rushed to my head to revive
it; the muscles of my limbs communicated to the fibres of the brain
their galvanic tension. Nerves turned into imagination, flesh into life.
Nothing has developed my materialistic beliefs like this decarnation of
which I had such a sensible, or rather visible perception.

“I destroyed my health with these psychological experiments, and the
abuse of work perhaps shortened my life. When I was thirty years old
my face was wrinkled, my cheeks were pallid, and my heart blighted and
empty. For what result, grand Dieu! For a fleeting and fruitless renown!

“The failure of my two plays warned me that others judged me as I judged
myself. I recalled to mind the Archbishop of Granada, and I thought
I could hear Gil Blas predicting the failure of my works. We can not
dismiss the public as we can our secretary; meanwhile, I surrendered to
a too severe justice in order to decline others’ opinions. A horrible
thought suddenly came into my mind; my artistic life was ended, I was
a worn-out man; in one word, to picture my situation in a trivial but
correct manner, I had reached the end of my rope.

“I could not express to you the discouragement that I felt at this
conviction. Melanie’s infidelity was the crowning touch. It was not my
heart, but my vanity which had been rendered more irritable by recent
disappointments. This, then, was the end of all my ambitious dreams! I
had not enough mind left, at thirty years of age, to write a vaudeville
or to be loved by a grisette!

“One day Doctor Labanchie came to see me.

“‘What are you doing there’ said he, as he saw me seated at my desk.

“‘Doctor,’ said I, reaching out my hand to him, ‘I believe that I am a
little feverish.’

“‘Your pulse is a little rapid,’ said he, after making careful
examination, ‘but your fever is more of imagination than of blood.’

“I explained to him my condition, which was now becoming almost
unendurable. Without believing in medicine very much, I had confidence
in him and knew him to be a man who would give good advice.

“‘You work too much,’ said he, shaking his head. ‘Your brain is put to
too strong a tension. This is a warning nature gives you, and you will
make a mistake if you do not follow it. When you are sleepy, go to bed;
when you are tired, you must have rest. It is rest for your brain that
you now need. Go into the country, confine yourself to a regular and
healthy diet: vegetables, white meat, milk in the morning, a very
little wine, but, above all things, no coffee. Take moderate exercise,
hunt--and avoid all irritating thoughts; read the ‘Musee des familles’
or the ‘Magasin Pittoresque’. This regime will have the effect of a
soothing poultice upon your brain, and before the end of six months you
will be in your normal condition again.’

“‘Six months!’ I exclaimed. ‘You wretch of a doctor, tell me, then, to
let my beard and nails grow like Nebuchadnezzar. Six months! You do not
know how I detest the country, partridges, rabbits and all. For heaven’s
sake, find some other remedy for me.’

“‘There is homoeopathy,’ said he, smiling. ‘Hahnemann is quite the
fashion now.’

“‘Let us have homoeopathy!’

“‘You know the principles of the system: ‘Similia similibus!’ If you
have fever, redouble it; if you have smallpox, be inoculated with a
triple dose. So far as you are concerned, you are a little used up and
‘blase’, as we all are in this Babylon of ours; have recourse, then, as
a remedy, to the very excesses which have brought you into this state.
Homoeopathize yourself morally. It may cure you, it may kill you; I wash
my hands of it.’

“The doctor was joking, I said to myself after he had left. Does he
think that passions are like the Wandering Jew’s five sous, that there
is nothing to do but to put your hand in your pocket and take them out
at your convenience when necessary. However, this idea, strange as it
seemed, struck me forcibly. I decided to try it.

“The next day at seven o’clock in the evening, I was rolling along the
road to Lyons. Eight days later, I was rowing in a boat on Lake Geneva.
For a long time I had wanted to go to Switzerland, and it seemed as if I
could not have chosen a better time. I hoped that the fresh mountain air
and the soft pure breezes from the lakes would communicate some of their
calm serenity to my heart and brain.

“There is something in Parisian life, I do not know what, so exclusive
and hardening, that it ends by making one irresponsive to sensations of
a more simple order.

“‘My kingdom for the gutter in the Rue du Bac!’ I exclaimed with Madame
de Stael from the height of the Coppet terrace. The spectacle of nature
interests only contemplative and religious minds powerfully. Mine was
neither the one nor the other. My habits of analysis and observation
make me find more attraction in a characteristic face than in a
magnificent landscape; I prefer the exercising of thought to the
careless gratification of ecstasy, the study of flesh and soul to
earthly horizons, of human passions to a perfectly pure atmosphere.

“I met at Geneva an Englishman, who was as morose as myself. We vented
our spleen in common and were both bored together. We travelled thus
through the Oberland and the best part of Valais; we were often rolled
up in our travelling robes in the depths of the carriage, and fast
asleep when the most beautiful points of interest were in sight.

“From Valais we went to Mont-Blanc, and one night we arrived at
Chamounix--”

“Did you see any idiots in Valais?” suddenly interrupted Marillac, as he
filled his pipe the second time.

“Several, and they were all horrible.”

“Do you not think we might compose something with an idiot in it? It
might be rather taking.”

“It would not equal Caliban or Quasimodo; will you be so kind as to
spare me just now these efforts of imagination, and listen to me, for I
am reaching the interesting part of my story?”

“God be praised!” said the artist, as he puffed out an enormous cloud of
smoke.

“The next day the Englishman was served with tea in his bedroom, and
when I asked him to go to the ‘Mer de Glace’ he turned his head toward
the wall; so, leaving my phlegmatic companion enveloped in bedclothes up
to his ears, I started alone for the Montanvert.

“It was a magnificent morning, and small parties of travellers, some on
foot, others mounted, skirted the banks of the Arve or climbed the sides
of the mountain. They looked like groups of mice in the distance, and
this extreme lessening in size made one comprehend, better than anything
else, the immense proportions of the landscape. As for myself, I was
alone: I had not even taken a guide, this was too favorite a resort
for tourists, for the precaution to be necessary. For a wonder, I felt
rather gay, with an elasticity of body and mind which I had not felt in
some time.

“I courageously began climbing the rough pathway which led to the Mer de
Glace, aiding myself with a long staff, which I had procured at the inn.

“At every step I breathed with renewed pleasure the fresh, pure, morning
air; I gazed vaguely at the different effects of the sun or mist, at the
undulations of the road, which sometimes rose almost straight up in the
air, sometimes followed a horizontal line, while skirting the open abyss
at the right. The Arve, wending its course like a silvery ribbon, seemed
at times to recede, while the ridges of the perpendicular rocks stood
out more plainly. At times, the noise of a falling avalanche was
repeated, echo after echo. A troupe of German students below me were
responding to the voice of the glaciers by a chorus from Oberon.
Following the turns in the road, I could see through the fir-trees, or,
rather, at my feet, their long Teutonic frock-coats, their blond beards,
and caps about the size of one’s fist. As I walked along, when the path
was not too steep, I amused myself by throwing my stick against the
trunks of the trees which bordered the roadside; I remember how pleased
I was when I succeeded in hitting them, which I admit was not very
often.

“In the midst of this innocent amusement, I reached the spot where the
reign of the Alpine plants begins. All at once I saw, above me, a rock
decked with rhododendrons; these flowers looked like tufts of oleanders
through the dark foliage of the fir-trees, and produced a charming
effect. I left the path in order to reach them sooner, and when I had
gathered a bouquet, I threw my staff and at the same time uttered a
joyous cry, in imitation of the students, my companions on this trip.

“A frightened scream responded to mine. My staff in its flight had
crossed the path and darted into an angle in the road. At that same
moment, I saw a mule’s head appear with ears thrown back in terror, then
the rest of its body, and upon its back a lady ready to fall into the
abyss. Fright paralyzed me. All aid was impossible on account of the
narrowness of the road, and this stranger’s life depended upon her
coolness and the intelligence of her beast. Finally the animal seemed
to regain its courage and began to walk away, lowering its head as if
it could still hear the terrible whistle of the javelin in his ears.
I slipped from the rock upon which I stood and seized the mule by the
bridle, and succeeded in getting them out of a bad position. I led the
animal in this way for some distance, until I reached a place where the
path was broader, and danger was over.

“I then offered my apologies to the person whose life I had just
compromised by my imprudence, and for the first time took a good look
at her. She was young and well dressed; a black silk gown fitted her
slender form to perfection; her straw hat was fastened to the saddle,
and her long chestnut hair floated in disorder over her pale cheeks.
As she heard my voice, she opened her eyes, which in her fright she had
instinctively closed; they seemed to me the most beautiful I had ever
seen in my life.

“She looked at the precipice and turned away with a shudder. Her glance
rested upon me, and then upon the rhododendrons which I held in my hand.

“The frightened expression on her face was replaced immediately by one
of childish curiosity.

“‘What pretty flowers!’ she exclaimed, in a fresh, young voice. ‘Are
those rhododendrons, Monsieur?’

“I presented her my bouquet without replying; as she hesitated about
taking it, I said:

“‘If you refuse these flowers, Madame, I shall not believe that you have
pardoned me.’

“By this time, the persons who were with her had joined us. There were
two other ladies, three or four men mounted upon mules, and several
guides. At the word rhododendron, a rather large, handsome fellow,
dressed in a pretentious style, slipped from his mule and climbed the
somewhat steep precipice in quest of the flowers which seemed to be so
much in favor. When he returned, panting for breath, with an enormous
bunch of them in his hand, the lady had already accepted mine.

“‘Thank you, Monsieur de Mauleon,’ said she, with a rather scornful air;
‘offer your flowers to these ladies.’ Then, with a slight inclination of
the head to me, she struck her mule with her whip, and they rode away.

“The rest of the company followed her, gazing at me as they passed,
the big, fashionable fellow especially giving me a rather impertinent
glance. I did not try to pick a quarrel with him on account of this
discourteous manifestation. When the cavalcade was at some distance, I
went in search of my stick, which I found under a tree on the edge of
the precipice; then I continued climbing the steep path, with my eyes
fastened upon the rider in the black silk gown, her hair flying in the
wind and my bouquet in her hand.

“A few moments later, I reached the pavilion at the Montanvert, where
I found a gay company gathered together, made up principally of English
people. As for myself, I must admit the frivolous, or, rather mundane,
bent of my tastes; the truly admirable spectacle presented to my eyes
interested me much less than the young stranger, who at this moment was
descending with the lightness of a sylph the little road which led to
the Mer de Glace.

“I do not know what mysterious link bound me to this woman. I had met
many much more beautiful, but the sight of them had left me perfectly
indifferent. This one attracted me from the first. The singular
circumstances of this first interview, doubtless, had something to do
with the impression. I felt glad to see that she had kept my bouquet;
she held it in one hand, while she leaned with the other upon a staff
somewhat like my own. The two other ladies, and even the men had stopped
on the edge of the ice.

“Monsieur de Mauleon wished to fulfil his duties as escort, but at the
first crevasse he had also halted without manifesting the slightest
desire to imitate the chamois. The young woman seemed to take a
malicious pleasure in contemplating her admirer’s prudent attitude, and,
far from listening to the advice he gave her, she began to run upon
the ice, bounding over the crevasses with the aid of her stick. I was
admiring her lightness and thoughtlessness, but with an uneasy feeling,
when I saw her suddenly stop. I instinctively ran toward her. An
enormous crevasse of great depth lay at her feet, blue at its edges and
dark in its depths. She stood motionless before this frightful gulf with
hands thrown out before her in horror, but charmed like a bird about to
be swallowed by a serpent. I knew the irresistible effect upon nervous
temperaments of this magnetic attraction toward an abyss. I seized her
by the arm, the suddenness of the movement made her drop her staff and
flowers, which fell into the depths of the chasm.

“I tried to lead her away, but after she had taken a few steps, I felt
her totter; she had grown pale; her eyes were closed. I threw my arm
about her, in order to support her and turned her face toward the north;
the cold air striking her revived her, and she soon opened her beautiful
brown eyes. I do not know what sudden tenderness seized me then, but
I pressed this lovely creature within my grasp, and she remained in my
arms unresistingly. I felt that I loved her already.

“She remained for a moment with her languishing eyes fixed on mine,
making no response, perhaps not even having heard me. The shouts of
her party, some of whom were coming toward her, broke the charm. With a
rapid movement, she withdrew from my embrace, and I offered her my arm,
just as if we were in a drawing-room and I was about to lead her out
for a dance; she took it, but I did not feel elated at this, for I could
feel her knees waver at every step. The smallest crevasse, which she had
crossed before with such agility, now inspired her with a horror which
I could divine by the trembling of her arm within mine. I was obliged
to make numerous detours in order to avoid them, and thus prolonged the
distance, for which I was not sorry. Did I not know that when we reached
our destination, the world, that other sea of ice, was going to take her
away from me, perhaps forever? We walked silently, occasionally making
a few trivial remarks, both deeply embarrassed. When we reached the
persons who awaited her, I said, as she disengaged my arm:

“‘You dropped my flowers, Madame; will it be the same with your memory
of me?’

“She looked at me, but made no reply. I loved this silence. I bowed
politely to her and returned to the pavilion, while she related her
adventure to her friends; but I am quite sure she did not tell all the
details.

“The register for travellers who visit the Montan-Vert is a mixture of
all nationalities, and no tourist refuses his tribute; modest ones write
down their names only. I hoped in this way to learn the name of the
young traveller, and I was not disappointed. I soon saw the corpulent
Monsieur de Mauleon busily writing his name upon the register in
characters worthy of Monsieur Prudhomme; the other members of the little
party followed his example. The young woman was the last to write down
her name. I took the book in my turn, after she had left, and with
apparent composure I read upon the last line these words, written in a
slender handwriting:

“Baroness Clemence de Bergenheim.”



CHAPTER VII. GERFAUT ASKS A FAVOR

“The Baroness de Bergenheim!” exclaimed Marillac. “Ah! I understand it
all now, and you may dispense with the remainder of your story. So this
was the reason why, instead of visiting the banks of the Rhine as we
agreed, you made me leave the route at Strasbourg under the pretext of
walking through the picturesque sites of the Vosges. It was unworthy of
you to abuse my confidence as a friend. And I allowed myself to be led
by the nose to within a mile of Bergenheim!”

“Peace,” interrupted Gerfaut; “I have not finished. Smoke and listen.

“I followed Madame de Bergenheim as far as Geneva. She had gone there
from here with her aunt, and had availed herself of this journey to
visit Mont Blanc. She left for her home the next day without my meeting
her again; but I preserved her name, and it was not unknown to me. I had
heard it spoken in several houses in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and I
knew that I should certainly have an opportunity of meeting her during
the winter.

“So I remained at Geneva, yielding to a sensation as new as it was
strange. It first acted upon my brain whose ice I felt melting away,
and its sources ready to gush forth. I seized my pen with a passion not
unlike an access of rage. I finished in four days two acts of a drama
that I was then writing. I never had written anything more vigorous or
more highly colored. My unconstrained genius throbbed in my arteries,
ran through my blood, and bubbled over as if it wished to burst forth.
My hand could not keep even with the course of my imagination; I was
obliged to write in hieroglyphics.

“Adieu to the empty reveries brought about by spleen, and to the
meditations ‘a la Werther’! The sky was blue, the air pure, life
delightful--my talent was not dead.

“After this first effort, I slackened a little! Madame de Bergenheim’s
face, which I had seen but dimly during this short time, returned to me
in a less vaporous form; I took extreme delight in calling to mind the
slightest circumstances of our meeting, the smallest details of her
features, her toilette, her manner of walking and carrying her head.
What had impressed me most was the extreme softness of her dark eyes,
the almost childish tone of her voice, a vague odor of heliotrope with
which her hair was perfumed; also the touch of her hand upon my arm.
I sometimes caught myself embracing myself in order to feel this last
sensation again, and then I could not help laughing at my thoughts,
which were worthy of a fifteen-year-old lover.

“I had felt so convinced of my powerlessness to love, that the thought
of a serious passion did not at first enter my mind. However, a
remembrance of my beautiful traveller pervaded my thoughts more and
more, and threatened to usurp the place of everything else. I then
subjected myself to a rigid analysis; I sought for the exact location
of this sentiment whose involuntary yoke I already felt; I persuaded
myself, for some time yet, that it was only the transient excitement of
my brain, one of those fevers of imagination whose fleeting titillations
I had felt more than once.

“But I realized that the evil, or the good--for why call love an
evil?--had penetrated into the most remote regions of my being, and I
realized the energy of my struggle like a person entombed who tries to
extricate himself. From the ashes of this volcano which I had believed
to be extinct, a flower had suddenly blossomed, perfumed with the most
fragrant of odors and decked with the most charming colors. Artless
enthusiasm, faith in love, all the brilliant array of the fresh
illusions of my youth returned, as if by enchantment, to greet this
new bloom of my life; it seemed to me as if I had been created a second
time, since I was aided by intelligence and understood its mysteries
while tasting of its delights. My past, in the presence of this
regeneration, was nothing more than a shadow at the bottom of an abyss.
I turned toward the future with the faith of a Mussulman who kneels with
his face toward the East--I loved!

“I returned to Paris, and applied to my friend Casorans, who knows the
Faubourg Saint-Germain from Dan to Beersheba.

“‘Madame de Bergenheim,’ he said to me, ‘is a very popular society
woman, not very pretty, perhaps, rather clever, though, and very
amiable. She is one of our coquettes of the old nobility, and with her
twenty-four carats’ virtue she always has two sufferers attached to her
chariot, and a third on the waiting-list, and yet it is impossible for
one to find a word to say against her behavior. Just at this moment,
Mauleon and d’Arzenac compose the team; I do not know who is on the
waiting-list. She will probably spend the winter here with her aunt,
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, one of the hatefullest old women on the
Rue de Varennes. The husband is a good fellow who, since the July
revolution, has lived upon his estates, caring for his forests and
killing wild boars without troubling himself much about his wife.’

“He then told me which houses these ladies frequented, and left me,
saying with a knowing air:

“‘Take care, if you intend to try the power of your seductions upon the
little Baroness; whoever meddles with her smarts for it!’

“This information from a viper like Casorans satisfied me in every way.
Evidently the place was not taken; impregnable, that was another thing.

“Before Madame de Bergenheim’s return, I began to show myself
assiduously at the houses of which my friend had spoken. My position
in the Faubourg Saint-Germain is peculiar, but good, according to my
opinion. I have enough family ties to be sustained by several should I
be attacked by many, and this is the essential point. It is true that,
thanks to my works, I am regarded as an atheist and a Jacobin; aside
from these two little defects, they think well enough of me. Besides, it
is a notorious fact that I have rejected several offers from the present
government, and refused last year the ‘croix d’honneur’; this makes
amends and washes away half my sins. Finally, I have the reputation
of having a certain-knowledge of heraldry, which I owe to my uncle,
a confirmed hunter after genealogical claims. This gains me a respect
which makes me laugh sometimes, when I see people who detest me greet me
as cordially as the Cure of Saint-Eustache greeted Bayle, for fear that
I might destroy their favorite saint. However, in this society, I am
no longer Gerfaut of the Porte-Saint-Martin, but I am the Vicomte de
Gerfaut. Perhaps, with your bourgeois ideas, you do not understand--”

“Bourgeois!” exclaimed Marillac, bounding from his seat, “what are
you talking about? Do you wish that we should cut each other’s
throats before breakfast to-morrow? Bourgeois! why not grocer? I am an
artist--don’t you know that by this time?”

“Don’t get angry, my dear fellow; I meant to say that in certain places
the title of a Vicomte has still a more powerful attraction than you,
with your artistic but plebeian ideas, would suppose in this year of our
Lord 1832.”

“Well and good. I accept your apology.”

“A vicomte’s title is a recommendation in the eyes of people who still
cling to the baubles of nobility, and all women are of this class. There
is something, I know not what, delicate and knightly in this title,
which suits a youngish bachelor. Duke above all titles is the one that
sounds the best. Moliere and Regnard have done great harm to the title
of marquis. Count is terribly bourgeois, thanks to the senators of the
empire. As to a Baron, unless he is called Montmorency or Beaufremont,
it is the lowest grade of nobility; vicomte, on the contrary, is above
reproach; it exhales a mixed odor of the old regime and young France;
then, don’t you know, our Chateaubriand was a vicomte.

“I departed from my subject in speaking of nobility. I accidentally
turned over one day to the article upon my family in the Dictionnaire de
Saint-Allais; I found that one of my ancestors, Christophe de Gerfaut,
married, in 1569, a Mademoiselle Yolande de Corandeuil.

“‘O my ancestor! O my ancestress!’ I exclaimed, ‘you had strange
baptismal names; but no matter, I thank you. You are going to serve
me as a grappling iron; I shall be very unskilful if at the very first
meeting the old aunt escapes Christophe.’

“A few days later I went to the Marquise de Chameillan’s, one of
the most exclusive houses in the noble Faubourg. When I enter her
drawing-room, I usually cause the same sensation that Beelzebub would
doubtless produce should he put his foot into one of the drawing-rooms
in Paradise. That evening, when I was announced, I saw a certain
undulation of heads in a group of young women who were whispering to
one another; many curious eyes were fastened upon me, and among these
beautiful eyes were two more beautiful than all the others: they were
those of my bewitching traveller.

“I exchanged a rapid glance with her, one only; after paying my respects
to the mistress of the house, I mingled with a crowd of men, and
entered into conversation with an old peer upon some political question,
avoiding to look again toward Madame de Bergenheim.

“A moment later, Madame de Chameillan came to ask the peer to play
whist; he excused himself, he could not remain late.

“‘I dare not ask you to play with Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,’ said
she, turning toward me; ‘besides, I understand too well that it is to my
interest and the pleasure of these ladies, not to exile you to a whist
table.’

“I took the card which she half offered me with an eagerness which might
have made her suppose that I had become a confirmed whist expert during
my voyage.

“Mademoiselle de Corandeuil certainly was the ugly, crabbed creature
that Casorans had described; but had she been as frightful as the
witches in Macbeth I was determined to make her conquest. So I began
playing with unusual attention. I was her partner, and I knew from
experience the profound horror which the loss of money inspires in old
women. Thank heaven, we won! Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who has an
income of one hundred thousand francs, was not at all indifferent to the
gain of two or three louis. She, therefore, with an almost gracious air,
congratulated me, as we left the table, upon my manner of playing.

“‘I would willingly contract an alliance, offensive and defensive with
you,’ said she to me.

“‘The alliance is already contracted, Mademoiselle,’ said I, seizing the
opportunity.

“‘How is that, Monsieur?’ she replied, raising her head with a dignified
air, as if she were getting ready to rebuke some impertinent speech.

“I also gravely straightened up and gave a feudal look to my face.

“‘Mademoiselle, I have the honor of belonging to your family, a little
distantly, to be sure; that is what makes me speak of an alliance
between us as a thing already concluded. One of my ancestors, Christophe
de Gerfaut, married Mademoiselle Yolande de Corandeuil, one of your
great-grand-aunts, in 1569.’

“‘Yolande is really a family name,’ replied the old lady, with the
most affable smile that her face would admit; ‘I bear it myself. The
Corandeuils, Monsieur, never have denied their alliances, and it is a
pleasure for me to recognize my relationship with such a man as you. We
address by the title of cousin relatives as far back as 1300.’

“‘I am nearer related to you by three centuries,’ I replied, in my most
insinuating voice; ‘may I hope that this good fortune will authorize me
to pay my respects to you?’

“Mademoiselle de Corandeuil replied to my ‘tartuferie’ by granting me
permission to call upon her. My attention was not so much absorbed in
our conversation that I did not see in a mirror, during this time, the
interest with which Madame de Bergenheim watched my conversation with
her aunt; but I was careful not to turn around, and I let her take her
departure without giving her a second glance.

“Three days later, I made my first call. Madame de Bergenheim received
my greeting like a woman who had been warned and was, therefore,
prepared. We exchanged only one rapid, earnest glance, that was all.
Availing myself of the presence of other callers, numerous enough to
assure each one his liberty, I began to observe, with a practised eye,
the field whereon I had just taken my position.

“Before the end of the evening, I recognized the correctness of
Casorans’s information. Among all the gentlemen present I found only
two professed admirers: Monsieur de Mauleon, whose insignificance was
notorious, and Monsieur d’Arzenac, who appeared at first glance as if
he might be more to be feared. D’Arzenac, thanks to an income of ten
thousand livres, beside being a man of rank, occupies also one of the
finest positions that one could desire; he is not unworthy of his name
and his fortune. Irreproachable in morals as in manners; sufficiently
well informed; of an exquisite but reserved politeness; understanding
perfectly the ground that he is walking upon; making also more advances
than is customary among the pachas of modern France, he was, without
doubt, the flower of the flock in Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s
drawing-room. In spite of all these advantages, an attentive examination
showed me that his passion was hopeless. Madame de Bergenheim received
his attentions very kindly--too kindly. She usually listened to him with
a smile in which one could read gratitude for the devotion he lavished
upon her. She willingly accepted him as her favorite partner in the
galop, which he danced to perfection. His success stopped there.

“At the end of several days, the ground having been carefully explored
and the admirers, dangerous and otherwise, having been passed in review,
one after another, I felt convinced that Clemence loved nobody.

“‘She shall love me,’ said I, on the day I reached this conclusion. In
order to formulate in a decisive manner the accomplishment of my desire,
I relied upon the following propositions, which are to me articles of
faith.

“No woman is unattainable, except when she loves another. Thus, a woman
who does not love, and who has resisted nine admirers, will yield to
the tenth. The only question for me was to be the tenth. Here began the
problem to be solved.

“Madame de Bergenheim had been married only three years; her husband,
who was good-looking and young, passed for a model husband; if these
latter considerations were of little importance, the first was of great
weight. According to all probability, it was too soon for any serious
attack. Without being beautiful, she pleased much and many; a second
obstacle, since sensibility in women is almost always developed in
inverse ratio to their success. She had brains; she was wonderfully
aristocratic in all her tastes.

“Last, being very much the fashion, sought after and envied, she was
under the special surveillance of pious persons, old maids, retired
beauties in one word, all that feminine mounted police, whose eyes,
ears, and mouths seem to have assumed the express mission of annoying
sensitive hearts while watching over the preservation of good morals.

“This mass of difficulties, none of which escaped me, traced as many
lines upon my forehead as if I had been commanded to solve at once
all the propositions in Euclid. She shall love me! these words flashed
unceasingly before my eyes; but the means to attain this end? No
satisfactory plan came to me. Women are so capricious, deep, and
unfathomable! It is, with them, the thing soonest done which is soonest
ended! A false step, the least awkwardness, a want of intelligence, a
quarter of an hour too soon or too late! One thing only was evident:
it needed a grand display of attractions, a complete plan of gallant
strategy; but, then, what more?

“That earthly paradise of the Montanvert was far from us, where I had
been able in less time than it would take to walk over a quadrille, to
expose her to death, to save her afterward, and finally to say to her ‘I
love you!’ Passion in drawing-rooms is not allowed those free, dramatic
ways; flowers fade in the candle-light; the oppressive atmosphere of
balls and fetes stifles the heart, so ready to dilate in pure mountain
air. The unexpected and irresistible influence of the glacier would have
been improper and foolish in Paris. There, an artless sympathy,
stronger than social conventions, had drawn us to each other--Octave and
Clemence. Here, she was the Baroness de Bergenheim, and I the Vicomte
de Gerfaut. I must from necessity enter the ordinary route, begin the
romance at the first page, without knowing how to connect the prologue
with it.

“What should be my plan of campaign?

“Should I pose as an agreeable man, and try to captivate her attention
and good graces by the minute attentions and delicate flattery which
constitute what is classically called paying court? But D’Arzenac
had seized this role, and filled it in such a superior way that all
competition would be unsuccessful. I saw where this had led him. It
needed, in order to inflame this heart, a more active spark than foppish
gallantry; the latter flatters the vanity without reaching the heart.

“There was the passionate method--ardent, burning, fierce love. There
are some women upon whom convulsive sighs drawn from the depths of the
stomach, eyebrows frowning in a fantastic manner, and eyes in which only
the whites are to be seen and which seem to say: ‘Love me, or I will
kill you!’ produce a prodigious effect. I had myself felt the power
of this fascination while using it one day upon a softhearted blond
creature who thought it delightful to have a Blue-Beard for a lover.
But the drooping corners of Clemence’s mouth showed at times an ironical
expression which would have cooled down even an Othello’s outbursts.

“‘She has brains, and she knows it,’ said I to myself; ‘shall I attack
her in that direction?’ Women rather like such a little war of words; it
gives them an opportunity for displaying a mine of pretty expressions,
piquant pouts, fresh bursts of laughter, graceful peculiarities of which
they well know the effect. Should I be the Benedict to this Beatrice?
But this by-play would hardly fill the prologue, and I very much wished
to reach the epilogue.

“I passed in review the different routes that a lover might take to
reach his end; I recapitulated every one of the more or less infallible
methods of conquering female hearts; in a word, I went over my tactics
like a lieutenant about to drill a battalion of recruits. When I had
ended I had made no farther advance than before.

“‘To the devil with systems!’ exclaimed I; ‘I will not be so foolish as
wilfully to adopt the role of roue when I feel called upon to play the
plain role of true lover. Let those who like play the part of Lovelace!
As for myself, I will love; upon the whole, that is what pleases best.’
And I jumped headlong into the torrent without troubling myself as to
the place of landing.

“While I was thus scheming my attack, Madame de Bergenheim was upon
her guard and had prepared her means of defence. Puzzled by my reserve,
which was in singular contrast with my almost extravagant conduct at our
first meeting, her woman’s intelligence had surmised, on my part, a plan
which she proposed to baffle. I was partly found out, but I knew it and
thus kept the advantage.

“I could not help smiling at the Baroness’s clever coquetry, when I
decided to follow the inspirations of my heart, instead of choosing
selfish motives as my guide. Every time I took her hand when dancing
with her, I expected to feel a little claw ready to pierce the cold
glove. But, while waiting for the scratch, it was a very soft, velvety
little hand that was given me; and I, who willingly lent myself to her
deception, did not feel very much duped. It was evident that the sort
of halo which my merited or unmerited reputation had thrown over me had
made me appear to her as a conquest of some value, a victim upon whom
one could lavish just enough flowers in order to bring him to the
sacrificial altar. In order to wind the first chain around my neck,
Mauleon and D’Arzenac, ‘a tutti quanti’, were sacrificed for me without
my soliciting, even by a glance, this general disbandment. I could
interpret this discharge. I saw that the fair one wished to concentrate
all her seductions against me, so as to leave me no means of escape;
people neglect the hares to hunt for the deer. You must excuse my
conceit.

“This conduct wounded me at first, but I afterward forgave her, when
a more careful examination taught me to know this adorable woman’s
character. Coquetry was with her not a vice of the heart or of an
unscrupulous mind; having nothing better to do, she enjoyed it as a
legitimate pastime, without giving it any importance or feeling any
scruples. Like all women, she liked to please; her success was sweet to
her vanity; perhaps flattery turned her head at times, but in the midst
of this tumult her heart remained in perfect peace. She found so little
danger for herself in the game she played that it did not seem to her
that it could be very serious for others. Genuine love is not common
enough in Parisian parlors for a pretty woman to conceive any great
remorse at pleasing without loving.

“Madame de Bergenheim was thus, ingenuously, unsuspectingly, a matchless
coquette. Never having loved, not even her husband, she looked upon
her little intriguing as one of the rights earned on the day of her
marriage, the same as her diamonds and cashmeres. There was something
touching in the sound of her voice and in her large, innocent eyes which
she sometimes allowed to rest upon mine, without thinking to turn them
away, and which said, ‘I have never loved.’ As for myself, I believed it
all; one is so happy to believe!

“Far from being annoyed at the trap she laid for me, I, on the contrary,
ran my head into it and presented my neck to the yoke with a docility
which must have amused her, I think; but I hoped not to bear it alone.
A coquette who coolly flaunts her triumphs to the world resembles those
master-swimmers who, while spectators are admiring the grace of their
poses, are struck by an unexpected current; the performer is sometimes
swept away and drowned without his elegant strokes being of much service
to him. Throw Celimene into the current of genuine passion--I do not
mean the brutality of Alceste--I will wager that coquetry will be swept
away by love. I had such faith in mine that I thought to be able to
fix the moment when I should call myself victorious and sure of being
obeyed.

“You know that sadness and ennui were considered etiquette last winter,
in a certain society, which was thrown into mourning by the July
revolution. Reunions were very few; there were no balls or soirees;
dancing in drawing-rooms to the piano was hardly permissible, even
with intimate friends. When once I was installed in Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil’s drawing-room upon a friendly footing, this cessation of
worldly festivities gave me an opportunity to see Clemence in a rather
intimate way.

“It would take too long to tell you now all the thousand and one little
incidents which compose the history of all passions. Profiting by her
coquetry, which made her receive me kindly in order to make me expiate
my success afterward, my love for her was soon an understood thing
between us; she listened to me in a mocking way, but did not dispute
my right to speak. She ended by receiving my letters, after being
constrained to do so through a course of strategies in which, truly, I
showed incredible invention. I was listened to and she read my letters;
I asked for nothing more.

“My love, from the first, had been her secret as well as mine; but every
day I made to sparkle some unexpected facet of this prism of a thousand
colors. Even after telling her a hundred times how much I adored her,
my love still had for her the attraction of the unknown. I really had
something inexhaustible in my heart, and I was sure, in the end, to
intoxicate her with this philtre, which I constantly poured out and
which she drank, while making sport of it like a child.

“One day I found her thoughtful and silent. She did not reply to me with
her usual sprightliness during the few moments that I was able to talk
with her; the expression of her eyes had changed; there was something
deeper and less glowing in their depths; instead of dazzling me by their
excessive splendor, as had often happened to me before, they seemed to
soften as they rested on mine; she kept her eyelids a trifle lowered, as
if she were tired of being gazed at by me. Her voice, as she spoke, had
a low, soft sound, a sort of inexplicable something which came from the
very depths of her soul. She never had looked at me with that glance or
spoken to me in that tone before. Upon that day I knew that she loved
me.

“I returned to my home unutterably happy, for I loved this woman with a
love of which I believed myself incapable.

“When I met Madame de Bergenheim again, I found her completely
changed toward me; an icy gravity, an impassible calm, an ironical and
disdainful haughtiness had taken the place of the delicious abandon of
her former bearing. In spite of my strong determination to allow myself
to love with the utmost candor, it was impossible for me to return to
that happy age when the frowning brows of the beautiful idol to whom we
paid court inspired us with the resolve to drown ourselves. I could not
isolate myself from my past experiences. My heart was rejuvenated, but
my head remained old. I was, therefore, not in the least discouraged by
this change of humor, and the fit of anger which it portended.

“‘Now,’ said I to myself, ‘there is an end to coquetry, it is beaten on
all sides; it is gone, never to return. She has seen that the affair is
a little too deep for that, and the field not tenable. She will erect
barriers in order to defend herself and will no longer attack.’ Thus we
pass from the period of amiable smiles, sweet glances, and half-avowals
to that of severity and prudery, while waiting for the remorse and
despair of the denouement. I am sure that at this time she called to
her help all her powers of resistance. From that day she would retreat
behind the line of duty, conjugal fidelity, honor, and all the other
fine sentiments which would need numbering after the fashion of Homer.
At the first attack, all this household battalion would make a furious
sortie; should I succeed in overthrowing them and take up my quarters in
the trenches, there would then be a gathering of the reserve force,
and boiling oil or tar would rain upon my head, representing virtue,
religion, heaven, and hell.”

“A sort of conjugal earthquake,” interrupted Marillac.

“I calculated the strength and approximate duration of these means of
defence. The whole thing appeared to me only a question of time, a few
days or weeks at most--so long on the husband’s account, so long on the
father confessor’s account. I deserved to be boxed on the ears for my
presumption; I was.

“A combat is necessary in order to secure a victory. In spite of all my
efforts and ruses, it was not possible for me to fight this combat;
I did not succeed, in spite of all my challenges, in shattering, as I
expected, this virtuous conjugal fortress. Madame de Bergenheim still
persisted in her systematic reserve, with incredible prudence and
skill. During the remainder of the winter, I did not find more than one
opportunity of speaking to her alone. As I was a permanent fixture every
evening in her aunt’s parlors, she entered them only when other guests
were there. She never went out alone, and in every place where I was
likely to meet her I was sure to find a triple rampart of women erected
between us, through which it was impossible to address one word to her.
In short, I was encountering a desperate resistance; and, yet, she loved
me! I could see her cheeks gradually grow pale; her brilliant eyes often
had dark rings beneath them, as if sleep had deserted her. Sometimes,
when she thought she was not observed, I surprised them fastened upon
me; but she immediately turned them away.

“She had been coquettish and indifferent; she was now loving but
virtuous.

“Spring came. One afternoon I went to call upon Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who had been ill for several days. I was received, however,
probably through some mistake of the servants. As I entered the room I
saw Madame de Bergenheim; she was alone at her embroidery, seated upon
a divan. There were several vases of flowers in the windows, whose
curtains only permitted a soft, mysterious light to penetrate the room.
The perfume from the flowers, the sort of obscurity, the solitude in
which I found her, overcame me for a moment; I was obliged to pause in
order to quiet the beating of my heart.

“She arose as she heard my name announced; without speaking or laying
down her work, she pointed to a chair and seated herself; but instead of
obeying her, I fell upon my knees before her and seized her hands, which
she did not withdraw. It had been impossible for me to say another word
to her before, save ‘I love you!’ I now told her of all my love. Oh! I
am sure of it, my words penetrated to the very depth of her heart, for
I felt her hands tremble as they left mine. She listened without
interrupting me or making any reply, with her face bent toward me as if
she were breathing the perfume of a flower. When I begged her to answer
me, when I implored her for one single word from her heart, she
withdrew one of her hands, imprisoned within mine, and placed it upon
my forehead, pushing back my head with a gesture familiar to women. She
gazed at me thus for a long time; her eyes were so languishing under
their long lashes, and their languor was so penetrating, that I closed
mine, not being able to endure the fascination of this glance any
longer.

“A shiver which ran over her and which went through me also, like an
electric shock, aroused me. When I opened my eyes I saw her face bathed
in tears. She drew back and repelled me. I arose impetuously, seated
myself by her side and took her in my arms.

“‘Am I not a wretched, unhappy woman?’ said she, and fell upon my
breast, sobbing.

“‘Madame la Comtesse de Pontiviers,’ announced the servant, whom I would
willingly have assassinated, as well as the visiting bore who followed
in his footsteps.

“I never saw Madame de Bergenheim in Paris again. I was obliged to go to
Bordeaux the next day, on account of a lawsuit which you know all about.
Upon my return, at the end of three weeks, I found she had left. I
finally learned that she had come to this place, and I followed her.
That is the extent of my drama.

“Now you know very well that I have not related this long story to you
for the sole pleasure of keeping you awake until one o’clock in the
morning. I wanted to explain to you that it was really a serious thing
for me, so that you might not refuse to do what I wish to ask of you.”

“I think I understand what you are aiming at,” said Marillac, rather
pensively.

“You know Bergenheim; you will go to see him to-morrow. He will invite
you to pass a few days with him; you will stay to dinner. You will see
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, in whose presence you will speak my name as
you refer to our journey; and before night, my venerable cousin of 1569
shall send me an invitation to come to see her.”

“I would rather render you any other service than this,” replied the
artist, walking up and down the room in long strides. “I know very well
that in all circumstances bachelors should triumph over husbands, but
that does not prevent my conscience from smiting me. You know that I
saved Bergenheim’s life?”

“Rest assured that he runs no very great danger at present. Nothing will
result from this step save the little enjoyment I shall take in annoying
the cruel creature who defied me today. Is it agreed?”

“Since you insist upon it. But then, when our visit is ended, shall we
go to work at our drama or upon ‘The Chaste Suzannah’ opera in three
acts? For, really, you neglected art terribly for the sake of your love
affairs.”

“The Chaste Suzannah or the whole Sacred History we shall put into
vaudeville, if you exact it. Until to-morrow, then.”

“Until to-morrow.”



CHAPTER VIII. A LOVER’S RUSE

It was three o’clock in the afternoon; the drawing-room of the Chateau
de Bergenheim presented its usual aspect and occupants. The fire on the
hearth, lighted during the morning, was slowly dying, and a beautiful
autumn sun threw its rays upon the floor through the half-opened
windows. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, stretched on the couch before the
fireplace with Constance at her feet, was reading, according to her
habit, the newspapers which had just arrived. Madame de Bergenheim
seemed very busily occupied with a piece of tapestry in her lap; but
the slow manner in which her needle moved, and the singular mistakes
she made, showed that her mind was far away from the flowers she was
working. She had just finished a beautiful dark lily, which contrasted
strangely with its neighbors, when a servant entered.

“Madame,” said he, “there is a person here inquiring for Monsieur le
Baron de Bergenheim.”

“Is Monsieur de Bergenheim not at home?” asked Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil.

“Monsieur has gone to ride with Mademoiselle Aline.”

“Who is this person?”

“It is a gentleman; but I did not ask his name.”

“Let him enter.”

Clemence arose at the servant’s first words and threw her work upon a
chair, making a movement as if to leave the room; but after a moment’s
reflection, she resumed her seat and her work, apparently indifferent as
to who might enter.

“Monsieur de Marillac,” announced the lackey, as he opened the door a
second time.

Madame de Bergenheim darted a rapid glance at the individual who
presented himself, and then breathed freely again.

After setting to rights his coiffure ‘a la Perinet’, the artist entered
the room, throwing back his shoulders. Tightly buttoned up in his
travelling redingote, and balancing with ease a small gray hat, he bowed
respectfully to the two ladies and then assumed a pose a la Van Dyke.

Constance was so frightened at the sight of this imposing figure that,
instead of jumping at the newcomer’s legs, as was her custom, she
sheltered herself under her mistress’s chair, uttering low growls; at
first glance the latter shared, if not the terror, at least the aversion
of her dog. Among her numerous antipathies, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
detested a beard. This was a common sentiment with all old ladies, who
barely tolerated moustaches: “Gentlemen did not wear them in 1780,” they
would say.

Marillac’s eyes turned involuntarily toward the portraits, and other
picturesque details of a room which was worthy the attention of a
connoisseur; but he felt that the moment was not opportune for indulging
in artistic contemplation, and that he must leave the dead for the
living.

“Ladies,” said he, “I ought, first of all, to ask your pardon for thus
intruding without having had the honor of an introduction. I hoped to
find here Monsieur de Bergenheim, with whom I am on very intimate terms.
I was told that he was at the chateau.”

“My husband’s friends do not need to be presented at his house,” said
Clemence; “Monsieur de Bergenheim probably will return soon.” And with a
gracious gesture she motioned the visitor to a seat.

“Your name is not unknown to me,” said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil in
her turn, having succeeded in calming Constance’s agitation. “I remember
having heard Monsieur de Bergenheim mention you often.”

“We were at college together, although I am a few years younger than
Christian.”

“But,” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, struck by some sudden thought,
“there is more than a college friendship between you. Are you not,
Monsieur, the person who saved my husband’s life in 1830?”

Marillac smiled, bowed his head, and seated himself. Mademoiselle
de Corandeuil herself could not but graciously greet her nephew’s
preserver, had he had a moustache as long as that of the Shah of Persia,
who ties his in a bow behind his neck.

After the exchange of a few compliments, Madame de Bergenheim, with the
amiability of a mistress of the house who seeks subjects of conversation
that may show off to best advantage the persons she receives, continued:

“My husband does not like to talk of himself, and never has told us the
details of this adventure, in which he ran such great danger. Will you
be kind enough to gratify our curiosity on this point?”

Marillac, among his other pretensions, had that of being able to relate
a story in an impressive manner. These words were as pleasing to
his ears as the request for a song is to a lady who requires urging,
although she is dying to sing.

“Ladies,” said he, crossing one leg over the other and leaning upon
one arm of his chair, “it was on the twenty-eighth of July, 1830; the
disastrous decrees had produced their effects; the volcano which--”

“Pardon me, Monsieur, if I interrupt you,” said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, quickly; “according to my opinion, and that of many others,
the royal decrees you speak of were good and necessary. The only mistake
of Charles Tenth was not to have fifty thousand men around Paris to
force their acceptance. I am only a woman, Monsieur, but if I had had
under my command twenty cannon upon the quays, and as many upon the
boulevards, I assure you that your tricolored flag never should have
floated over the Tuileries.”

“Pitt and Cobourg!” said the artist between his teeth, as, with an
astonished air, he gazed at the old lady; but his common-sense told
him that republicanism was not acceptable within this castle. Besides,
remembering the mission with which he was charged, he did not think
his conscience would feel much hurt if he made a little concession of
principles and manoeuvred diplomatically.

“Madame,” replied he, “I call the decrees disastrous when I think of
their result. You will certainly admit that our situation to-day ought
to make everybody regret the causes which brought it about.”

“We are exactly of the same opinion regarding that point, Monsieur,”
 said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, resuming her serenity.

“The open volcano beneath our feet,” continued Marillac, who still stuck
to his point, “warned us by deep rumblings of the hot lava which was
about to gush forth. The excitement of the people was intense. Several
engagements with the soldiers had already taken place at different
points. I stood on the Boulevard Poissonniere, where I had just taken
my luncheon, and was gazing with an artist’s eye upon the dramatic
scene spread out before me. Men with bare arms and women panting with
excitement were tearing up the pavements or felling trees. An omnibus
had just been upset; the rioters added cabriolets, furniture, and casks
to it; everything became means of defence. The crashing of the trees as
they fell, the blows of crowbars on the stones, the confused roaring of
thousands of voices, the Marseillaise sung in chorus, and the irregular
cannonading which resounded from the direction of the Rue Saint-Denis,
all composed a strident, stupefying, tempestuous harmony, beside which
Beethoven’s Tempest would have seemed like the buzzing of a bee.

“I was listening to the roaring of the people, who were gnawing at their
chains before breaking them, when my eyes happened to fall upon a window
of a second-floor apartment opposite me. A man about sixty years of age,
with gray hair, a fresh, plump face, an honest, placid countenance, and
wearing a mouse-colored silk dressing-gown, was seated before a small,
round table. The window opened to the floor, and I could see him in this
frame like a full-length portrait. There was a bowl of coffee upon the
table, in which he dipped his roll as he read his journal. I beg your
pardon, ladies, for entering into these petty details, but the habit of
writing--”

“I assure you, Monsieur, your story interests me very much,” said Madame
de Bergenheim, kindly.

“A King Charles spaniel, like yours, Mademoiselle, was standing near the
window with his paws resting upon it; he was gazing with curiosity
at the revolution of July, while his master was reading his paper and
sipping his coffee, as indifferent to all that passed as if he had been
in Pekin or New York.

“‘Oh, the calm of a pure, sincere soul!’ I exclaimed to myself, at
the sight of this little tableau worthy of Greuze; ‘oh, patriarchal
philosophy! in a few minutes perhaps blood will flow in the streets, and
here sits a handsome old man quietly sipping his coffee.’ He seemed like
a lamb browsing upon a volcano.”

Marillac loved volcanoes, and never lost an opportunity to bring one in
at every possible opportunity.

“Suddenly a commotion ran through the crowd; the people rushed in every
direction, and in an instant the boulevard was empty. Plumes waving from
high caps, red-and-white flags floating from the ends of long lances,
and the cavalcade that I saw approaching through the trees told me the
cause of this panic. A squadron of lancers was charging. Have you ever
seen a charge of lancers?”

“Never!” said both of the ladies at once.

“It is a very grand sight, I assure you. Fancy, ladies, a legion of
demons galloping along upon their horses, thrusting to the right and
left with long pikes, whose steel points are eighteen inches long. That
is a charge of lancers. I beg you to believe that I had shown before
this the mettle there was in me, but I will not conceal from you that at
this moment I shared with the crowd the impression which the coming of
these gentlemen made. I had only time to jump over the sidewalk and
to dart up a staircase which ran on the outside of a house, every door
being closed. I never shall forget the face of one of those men who
thrust the point of a lance at me, long enough to pierce through six men
at once. I admit that I felt excited then! The jinn having passed--”

“The--what?” asked Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who was not familiar with
Eastern terms.

“I beg a thousand pardons, it was a poetical reminiscence. The lancers,
having rushed through the boulevard like an avalanche, a laggard rider,
a hundred steps behind the others, galloped proudly by, erect in
his stirrups and flourishing his sword. Suddenly the report of a gun
resounded, the lancer reeled backward, then forward, and finally fell
upon his horse’s neck; a moment later he turned in his saddle and lay
stretched upon the ground, his foot caught in the stirrup; the horse,
still galloping, dragged the man and the lance, which was fastened to
his arm by a leather band.”

“How horrible!” said Clemence, clasping her hands.

Marillac, much pleased with the effect of his narration, leaned back in
his chair and continued his tale with his usual assurance.

“I looked to the neighboring roofs to discover whence came this shot;
as I was glancing to the right and left I saw smoke issuing through the
blinds of the room on the second floor, which had been closed at the
approach of the lancers.

“‘Good God!’ I exclaimed; ‘it must be this handsome old man in the
mouse-colored silk dressing-gown who amuses himself by firing upon the
lancers, as if they were rabbits in a warren!’

“Just then the blinds were opened, and the strange fellow with the
unruffled countenance leaned out and gazed with a smiling face in the
direction the horse was taking, dragging his master’s body after him.
The patriarch had killed his man between two sips of his coffee.”

“And that is the cowardly way in which members of the royal guard were
assassinated by the ‘heroes’ of your glorious insurrection!” exclaimed
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, indignantly.

“When the troops had passed,” Marillac continued, “the crowd returned,
more excited and noisy than ever. Barricades were erected with wonderful
rapidity; two of those were on the boulevard close to the place where I
was. I saw a horseman suddenly bound over the first; he wore a tuft of
red-and-white feathers in his hat. I saw that it was a staff officer,
doubtless carrying some despatch to headquarters. He continued his
way, sabre in its sheath, head erect, proud and calm in the midst of
insulting shouts from the crowd; stones were thrown at him and sticks
at his horse’s legs; he looked as if he were parading upon the Place du
Carrousel.

“When he reached the second barricade, he drew his horse up, as if it
were merely a question of jumping a hurdle in a steeplechase just then
I saw the window on the first floor open again. ‘Ah! you old rascal!’
I exclaimed. The report of a gun drowned my voice; the horse which had
just made the leap, fell on his knees; the horseman tried to pull him
up, but after making one effort the animal fell over upon his side. The
ball had gone through the steed’s head.”

“It was that poor Fidele that I gave your husband,” said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who was always very sentimental in the choice of names she
gave to animals.

“He merited his name, Mademoiselle, for the poor beast died for his
master, for whom the shot was in tended. Several of those horrible
faces, which upon riot days suddenly appear as if they came out of the
ground, darted toward the unhorsed officer. I, and several other young
men who were as little disposed as myself to allow a defenceless man to
be slaughtered, ran toward him. I recognized Christian as I approached;
his right leg was caught under the horse, and he was trying to unsheath
his sword with his left hand. Sticks and stones were showered at him.
I drew out the sword, which his position prevented him from doing, and
exclaimed as I waved it in the air: ‘The first rascal who advances, I
will cut open like a dog.’

“I accompanied these words with a flourish which kept the cannibals at a
distance for the time being.

“The young fellows who were with me followed my example. One took a
pickaxe, another seized the branch of a tree, while others tried to
release Christian from his horse. During this time the crowd increased
around us; the shouts redoubled: ‘Down with the ordinances! These are
disguised gendarmes! Vive la liberte!--We must kill them! Let’s hang the
spies to the lamp-posts!’

“Danger was imminent, and I realized that only a patriotic harangue
would get us out of the scrape. While they were releasing Christian, I
jumped upon Fidele so as to be seen by all and shouted:

“‘Vive la liberte!’

“‘Vive la liberte!’ replied the crowd.

“‘Down with Charles Tenth! Down with the ministers! Down with the
ordinances!’

“‘Down!’ shouted a thousand voices at once.

“You understand, ladies, this was a sort of bait, intended to close the
mouths of these brutes.

“‘We are all citizens, we are all Frenchmen,’ I continued; ‘we must not
soil our hands with the blood of one of our disarmed brothers. After
a victory there are no enemies. This officer was doing his duty in
fulfilling his chief’s commands; let us do ours by dying, if necessary,
for our country and the preservation of our rights.’

“‘Vive la liberte! vive la liberte!’ shouted the crowd. ‘He is right;
the officer was doing his duty. It would be assassination!’ exclaimed
numerous voices.

“‘Thanks, Marillac,’ said Bergenheim to me, as I took his hand to lead
him away, availing ourselves of the effect of my harangue; ‘but do not
press me so hard, for I really believe that my right arm is broken; only
for that, I should ask you to return me my sword that I might show this
rabble that they can not kill a Bergenheim as they would a chicken.’

“‘Let him cry: Vive la Charte!’ roared out a man, with a ferocious face.

“‘I receive orders from nobody,’ Christian replied, in a very loud
voice, as he glared at him with eyes which would have put a rhinoceros
to flight.”

“Your husband is really a very brave man,” said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, addressing Clemence.

“Brave as an old warrior. This time he pushed his courage to the verge
of imprudence; I do not know what the result might have been if the
crowd had not been dispersed a second time by the approach of the
lancers, who were returning through the boulevard. I led Bergenheim into
a cafe; fortunately, his arm was only sprained.” Just at this moment
Marillac’s story was interrupted by a sound of voices and hurried steps.
The door opened suddenly, and Aline burst into the room with her usual
impetuosity.

“What has happened to you, Aline?” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim,
hurrying to her sister’s side. The young girl’s riding-habit and hat
were covered with splashes of mud.

“Oh, nothing,” replied the young girl, in a broken voice; “it was
only Titania, who wanted to throw me into the river. Do you know where
Rousselet is? They say it is necessary to bleed him; and he is the only
one who knows how to do it.”

“Whom do you mean, child? Is my husband wounded?” asked Clemence,
turning pale.

“No, not Christian; it is a gentleman I do not know; only for him I
should have been drowned. Mon Dieu! can not Rousselet be found?”

Aline left the room in great agitation. They all went over to the
windows that opened out into the court, whence the sound of voices
seemed to arise, and where they could hear the master’s voice thundering
out his commands. Several servants had gone to his assistance: one of
them held Titania by the bridle; she was covered with foam and mud, and
was trembling, with distended nostrils, like a beast that knows it has
just committed a wicked action. A young man was seated upon a stone
bench, wiping away blood which streamed from his forehead. It was
Monsieur de Gerfaut.

At this sight Clemence supported herself against the framework of the
window, and Marillac hurriedly left the room.

Pere Rousselet, who had at last been found in the kitchen, advanced
majestically, eating an enormous slice of bread and butter.

“Good heavens! have you arrived at last?” exclaimed Bergenheim. “Here
is a gentleman this crazy mare has thrown against a tree, and who has
received a violent blow on the head. Do you not think it would be the
proper thing to bleed him?”

“A slight phlebotomy might be very advantageous in stopping the
extravasation of blood in the frontal region,” replied the peasant,
calling to his aid all the technical terms he had learned when he was a
hospital nurse.

“Are you sure you can do this bleeding well?”

“I’ll take the liberty of saying to Monsieur le Baron that I
phlebotomized Perdreau last week and Mascareau only a month ago, without
any complaint from them.”

“Indeed! I believe you,” sneered the groom, “both are on their last
legs.”

“I am neither Perdreau nor Mascareau,” observed the wounded man with a
smile.

Rousselet drew himself up at full height, with the dignity of a man of
talent who scorns to reply to either criticism or mistrust.

“Monsieur,” said Gerfaut, turning to the Baron, “I am really causing you
too much trouble. This trifle does not merit the attention you give it.
I do not suffer in the least. Some water and a napkin are all that
I need. I fancy that I resemble an Iroquois Indian who has just been
scalped; my pride is really what is most hurt,” he added, with a smile,
“when I think of the grotesque sight I must present to the ladies whom I
notice at the window.”

“Why, it is Monsieur de Gerfaut!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
toward whom he raised his eyes.

Octave bowed to her with a gracious air. His glance wandered from the
old lady to Clemence, who did not seem to have the strength to leave
the window. M. de Bergenheim, after hurriedly greeting Marillac, finally
yielded to the assurance that a surgeon was unnecessary, and conducted
the two friends to his own room, where the wounded man could find
everything that he needed.

“What the devil was the use in sending me as ambassador, since you were
to make such a fine entrance upon the stage?” murmured Marillac in his
friend’s ear.

“Silence!” replied the latter as he pressed his hand; “I am only behind
the scenes as yet.”

During this time Clemence and her aunt had led Aline to her room.

“Now, tell us what all this means?” said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
while the young girl was changing her dress.

“It was Christian’s fault,” replied Aline. “We were galloping along
beside the river when Titania became frightened by the branch of a
tree. ‘Do not be afraid!’ exclaimed my brother. I was not in the least
frightened; but when he saw that my horse was about to run away, he
urged his on in order to join me. When Titania heard the galloping
behind her she did run away in earnest; she left the road and started
straight for the river. Then I began to be a little frightened. Just
fancy, Clemence, I bounded in the saddle at each leap, sometimes upon
the mare’s neck, sometimes upon the crupper; it was terrible! I tried
to withdraw my foot from the stirrup as Christian had told me to do;
but just then Titania ran against the trunk of a tree, and I rolled over
with her. A gentleman, whom I had not seen before, and who, I believe,
actually jumped out of the ground, raised me from the saddle, where I
was held by something, I do not know what; then that naughty Titania
threw him against the tree as he was helping me to my feet, and when
I was able to look at him his face was covered with blood. Christian
rushed on the scene, and, when he saw that I was not badly hurt, he ran
after Titania and beat her! Oh! how he beat her! Mon Dieu! how cruel men
are! It was in vain for me to cry for mercy; he would not listen to me.
Then we came home, and, since this gentleman is not badly wounded, it
seems that my poor dress has fared worst of all.”

The young girl took her riding-habit from the chair as she said these
words, and could not restrain a cry of horror when she saw an enormous
rent in it.

“Mon Dieu!” she exclaimed, as she showed it to her sister-in-law. It was
all that she had strength to articulate.

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil took the skirt in her turn, and looked at
it with the practised eye of a person who had made a special study of
little disasters of the toilet and the ways of remedying them.

“It is in the fullness,” said she, “and by putting in a new breadth it
will never be seen.”

Aline, once convinced that the evil could be repaired, soon recovered
her serenity.

When the three ladies entered the drawing-room they found the Baron and
his two guests chatting amicably. Gerfaut had his forehead tied up with
a black silk band which gave him a slight resemblance to Cupid with his
bandage just off his eyes. His sparkling glance showed that blindness
was not what there was in common between him and the charming little
god. After the first greetings, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who was
always strict as to etiquette, and who thought that Titania had been a
rather unceremonious master of ceremonies between her nephew and M. de
Gerfaut, advanced toward the latter in order to introduce them formally
to each other.

“I do not think,” said she, “that Monsieur de Bergenheim has had the
honor of meeting you before today; allow me then to present you to him.
Baron, this is Monsieur le Vicomte de Gerfaut, one of my relatives.”

When Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was in good humor, she treated Gerfaut
as a relative on account of their family alliance of 1569. At this
moment the poet felt profoundly grateful for this kindness.

“Monsieur has presented himself so well,” said Christian frankly, “that
your recommendation, my dear aunt, in spite of the respect I have for
it, will not add to my gratitude. Only for Monsieur de Gerfaut, here is
a madcap little girl whom we should be obliged to look for now at the
bottom of the river.”

As he said these words, he passed his arm about his sister’s waist and
kissed her tenderly, while Aline was obliged to stand upon the tips of
her toes to reach her brother’s lips.

“These gentlemen,” he continued, “have agreed to sacrifice for us the
pleasure of the Femme-sans-Tete, as well as Mademoiselle Gobillot’s
civilities, and establish their headquarters in my house. They can
pursue their picturesque and romantic studies from here just as well; I
suppose, Marillac, that you are still a determined dauber of canvas?”

“To tell the truth,” replied the poet, “art absorbs me a great deal.”

“As to myself, I never succeeded in drawing a nose that did not resemble
an ear and vice versa. But for that worthy Baringnier, who was kind
enough to look over my plans, I ran a great risk of leaving Saint Cyr
without a graduating diploma. But seriously, gentlemen, when you are
tired of sketching trees and tumbledown houses, I can give you some good
boar hunting. Are you a hunter, Monsieur de Gerfaut?”

“I like hunting very much,” replied the lover, with rare effrontery.

The conversation continued thus upon the topics that occupy people
who meet for the first time. When the Baron spoke of the two friends
installing themselves at the chateau, Octave darted a glance at Madame
de Bergenheim, as if soliciting a tacit approbation of his conduct; but
met with no response. Clemence, with a gloomy, sombre air fulfilled the
duties that politeness imposed upon her as mistress of the house. Her
conduct did not change during the rest of the evening, and Gerfaut
no longer tried by a single glance to soften the severity she seemed
determined to adopt toward him. All his attentions were reserved for
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil and Aline, who listened with unconcealed
pleasure to the man whom she regarded as her saviour; for the young
girl’s remembrance of the danger which she had run excited her more and
more.

After supper Mademoiselle de Corandeuil proposed a game of whist to M.
de Gerfaut, whose talent for the game had made a lasting impression upon
her. The poet accepted this diversion with an enthusiasm equal to that
he had shown for hunting, and quite as sincere too. Christian and his
sister--a little gamester in embryo, like all of her family--completed
the party, while Clemence took up her work and listened with an
absentminded air to Marillac’s conversation. It was in vain for the
latter to call art and the Middle Ages to his aid, using the very
quintessence of his brightest speeches--success did not attend his
effort. After the end of an hour, he had a firm conviction that Madame
de Bergenheim was, everything considered, only a woman of ordinary
intelligence and entirely unworthy of the passion she had inspired in
his friend.

“Upon my soul,” he thought, “I would a hundred times rather have
Reine Gobillot for a sweetheart. I must take a trip in that direction
tomorrow.”

When they separated for the night, Gerfaut, bored by his evening and
wounded by his reception from Clemence, which, he thought, surpassed
anything he could have expected of her capricious disposition, addressed
to the young woman a profound bow and a look which said:

“I am here in spite of you; I shall stay here in spite of you; you shall
love me in spite of yourself.”

Madame de Bergenheim replied by a glance none the less expressive, in
which a lover the most prone to conceit could read:

“Do as you like; I have as much indifference for your love as disdain
for your presumption.”

This was the last shot in this preliminary skirmish.



CHAPTER IX. GERFAUT, THE WIZARD

There are some women who, like the heroic Cure Merino, need but one
hour’s sleep. A nervous, irritable, subtle organization gives them a
power for waking, without apparent fatigue, refused to most men. And
yet, when a strong emotion causes its corrosive waters to filtrate into
the veins of these impressionable beings, it trickles there drop by
drop, until it has hollowed out in the very depths of their hearts a
lake full of trouble and storms. Then, in the silence of night and the
calm of solitude, insomnia makes the rosy cheeks grow pale and dark
rings encircle the most sparkling eyes. It is in vain for the burning
forehead to seek the cool pillow; the pillow grows warm without the
forehead cooling. In vain the mind hunts for commonplace ideas, as a
sort of intellectual poppy-leaves that may lead to a quiet night’s rest;
a persistent thought still returns, chasing away all others, as an eagle
disperses a flock of timid birds in order to remain sole master of its
prey. If one tries to repeat the accustomed prayer, and invoke the aid
of the Virgin, or the good angel who watches at the foot of young girls’
beds, in order to keep away the charms of the tempter, the prayer is
only on the lips, the Virgin is deaf, the angel sleeps! The breath of
passion against which one struggles runs through every fibre of the
heart, like a storm over the chords of an Tolian harp, and extorts from
it those magic melodies to which a poor, troubled, and frightened woman
listens with remorse and despair; but to which she listens, and with
which at last she is intoxicated, for the allegory of Eve is an immortal
myth, that repeats itself, through every century and in every clime.

Since her entrance into society, Madame de Bergenheim had formed the
habit of keeping late hours. When the minute details of her toilette
for the night were over, and she had confided her beautiful body to the
snowy sheets of her couch, some new novel or fashionable magazine helped
her wile away the time until sleep came to her. Christian left his room,
like a good country gentleman, at sunrise; he left it either for the
chase--or to oversee workmen, who were continually being employed
upon some part of his domain. Ordinarily, he returned only in time for
dinner, and rarely saw Clemence except between that time and supper, at
the conclusion of which, fatigued by his day’s work, he hastened to seek
the repose of the just. Husband and wife, while living under the same
roof, were thus almost completely isolated from each other; night for
one was day for the other.

By the haste with which Clemence shortened her preparations for the
night, one would have said that she must have been blessed with an
unusually sleepy sensation. But when she lay in bed, with her head under
her arm, like a swan with his neck under his wing, and almost in the
attitude of Correggio’s Magdalen, her eyes, which sparkled with a
feverish light, betrayed the fact that she had sought the solitude of
her bed in order to indulge more freely in deep meditation.

With marvelous fidelity she went over the slightest events of the
day, to which by a constant effort of willpower, she had seemed so
indifferent. First, she saw Gerfaut with his face covered with blood,
and the thought of the terrible sensation which this sight caused her
made her heart throb violently. She then recalled him as she next saw
him, in the drawing-room by her husband’s side, seated in the very
chair that she had left but a moment before. This trifling circumstance
impressed her; she saw in this a proof of sympathetic understanding, a
sort of gift of second sight which Octave possessed, and which in her
eyes was so formidable a weapon. According to her ideas, he must have
suspected that this was her own favorite chair and have seized it for
that reason, just as he would have loved to take her in his arms.

For the first time, Clemence had seen together the man to whom she
belonged and the man whom she regarded somewhat as her property. For,
by one of those arrangements with their consciences of which women alone
possess the secret, she had managed to reason like this: “Since I am
certain always to belong to Monsieur de Bergenheim only, Octave can
certainly belong to me.” An heterodoxical syllogism, whose two premises
she reconciled with an inconceivable subtlety. A feeling of shame had
made her dread this meeting, which the most hardened coquette could
never witness without embarrassment. A woman, between her husband and
her lover, is like a plant one sprinkles with ice-cold water while a
ray of sunlight is trying to comfort it. The sombre and jealous, or even
tranquil and unsuspecting, face of a husband has a wonderful power of
repression. One is embarrassed to love under the glance of an eye
that darts flashes as bright as steel; and a calm, kindly look is more
terrible yet, for all jealousy seems tyrannical, and tyranny leads to
revolt; but a confiding husband is like a victim strangled in his sleep,
and inspires, by his very calmness, the most poignant remorse.

The meeting of these two men naturally led Clemence to a comparison
which could but be to Christian’s advantage. Gerfaut had nothing
remarkable about him save an intelligent, intensely clever air; there
was a thoughtful look in his eyes and an archness in his smile, but his
irregular features showed no mark of beauty; his face wore an habitually
tired expression, peculiar to those people who have lived a great deal
in a short time, and it made him look older than Christian, although he
was really several years younger. The latter, on the contrary, owed to
his strong constitution, fortified by country life, an appearance of
blooming youth that enhanced his noble regularity of features.

In a word, Christian was handsomer than his rival, and Clemence
exaggerated her husband’s superiority over her lover. Not being able to
find the latter awkward or insignificant, she tried to persuade herself
that he was ugly. She then reviewed in her mind all M. de Bergenheim’s
good qualities, his attachment and kindness to her, his loyal, generous
ways; she recalled the striking instance that Marillac had related of
his bravery, a quality without which there is no hope of success for a
man in the eyes of any woman. She did all in her power to inflame her
imagination and to see in her husband a hero worthy of inspiring the
most fervent love. When she had exhausted her efforts toward such
enthusiasm and admiration, she turned round, in despair, and, burying
her head in her pillow, she sobbed:

“I cannot, I cannot love him!”

She wept bitterly for a long while. As she recalled her own severity in
the past regarding women whose conduct had caused scandal, she employed
in her turn the harshness of her judgment in examining her own actions.
She felt herself more guilty than all the others, for her weakness
appeared less excusable to her. She felt that she was unworthy and
contemptible, and wished to die that she might escape the shame that
made her blush scarlet, and the remorse that tortured her soul.

How many such unhappy tears bathe the eyes of those who should shed only
tears of joy! How many such sighs break the silence of the night! There
are noble, celestial beings among women whom remorse stretches out upon
its relentless brasier, but in the midst of the flames that torture them
the heart palpitates, imperishable as a salamander. Is it not human fate
to suffer? After Madame de Bergenheim had given vent, by convulsive sobs
and stifled sighs, to her grief for this love which she could not tear
from her breast, she formed a desperate resolution. From the manner in
which M. de Gerfaut had taken possession of the chateau the very first
day, she recognized that he was master of the situation. The sort of
infatuation which Mademoiselle de Corandeuil seemed to have for him,
and Christian’s courteous and hospitable habits, would give him an
opportunity to prolong his stay as long as he desired. She thus compared
herself to a besieged general, who sees the enemy within his ramparts.

“Very well! I will shut myself up in the fortress!” said she, smiling
in spite of herself in the midst of her tears. “Since this insupportable
man has taken possession of my drawing-room, I will remain in my own
room; we will see whether he dares to approach that!”

She shook her pretty head with a defiant air, but she could not help
glancing into the room which was barely lighted with a night lamp. She
sat up and listened for a moment rather anxiously, as if Octave’s dark
eyes might suddenly glisten in the obscurity. When she had assured
herself that all was tranquil, and that the throbbing of her heart was
all that disturbed the silence, she continued preparing her plan of
defense.

She decided that she would be ill the next day and keep to her bed,
if necessary, until her persecutor should make up his mind to beat
a retreat. She solemnly pledged herself to be firm, courageous, and
inflexible; then she tried to pray. It was now two o’clock in the
morning. For some time Clemence remained motionless, and one might
have thought that at least she was asleep. Suddenly she arose. Without
stopping to put on her dressing-gown, she lighted a candle by the
night-lamp, pushed the bolt of her door and then went to the windows,
the space between them forming a rather deep projection on account of
the thickness of the walls. A portrait of the Duke of Bordeaux hung
there; she raised it and pressed a button concealed in the woodwork.
A panel opened, showing a small empty space. The shelf in this sort of
closet contained only a rosewood casket. She opened this mysterious box
and took from it a package of letters, then returned to her bed with the
eagerness of a miser who is about to gaze upon his treasures.

Had she not struggled and prayed? Had she not offered upon the
tyrannical altar of duty as an expiation, tears, pale cheeks and a
tortured soul? Had she not just taken a solemn vow, in the presence of
God and herself, which should protect her against her weakness? Was she
not a virtuous wife, and had she not paid dearly enough for a moment of
sad happiness? Was it a crime to breathe for an instant the balmy air
of love through the gratings of this prison-cell, the doors of which she
had just locked with her own hand? Admirable logic for loving hearts,
which, not being able to control their feelings, suffer in order to
prove themselves less guilty, and clothe themselves in haircloth so that
each shudder may cause a pain that condones the sin!

Being at peace with herself, she read as women read who are in love;
leaning her head upon her hand, she drew out the letters, one by one,
from her bosom where she had placed them. She drank with her heart and
eyes the poison these passionate words contained; she allowed herself
to be swayed at will by these melodies which lulled but did not benumb.
When one of those invincible appeals of imploring passion awoke all the
echoes of her love, and ran through her veins with a thrill, striking
the innermost depths of her heart, she threw herself back and imprinted
her burning lips upon the cold paper. With one letter pressed to her
heart, and another pressed to her lips, she gave herself up completely,
exclaiming in an inaudible voice: “I love thee! I am thine!”

The next morning, when Aline entered her sister-in law’s room,
according to her usual custom, the latter was not obliged to feign the
indisposition she had planned; the sensations of this sleepless night
had paled her cheeks and altered her features; it would have been
difficult to imagine a more complete contrast than that between these
two young women at this moment. Clemence, lying upon her bed motionless
and white as the sheet which covered her, resembled Juliet sleeping in
her tomb; Aline, rosy, vivacious, and more petulant than usual, looked
very much the madcap Mademoiselle de Corandeuil had reproached her with
being. Her face was full of that still childish grace, more lovely than
calm, more pleasing than impressive, which makes young girls so charming
to the eye but less eloquent to the heart; for are they not fresh
flowers more rich in coloring than in perfume?

Clemence could hardly stifle a sigh as she gazed at those rosy checks,
those sparkling eyes, that life so full of the rich future. She recalled
a time when she was thus, when grief glided over her cheeks without
paling them, when tears dried as they left her eyes; she also had had
her happy, careless days, her dreams of unalloyed bliss.

Aline, after presenting her face like a child who asks for a
kiss, wished to tease her as usual, but, with a tired gesture, her
sister-in-law begged for mercy.

“Are you ill?” asked the young girl anxiously, as she seated herself
upon the edge of the bed.

Madame de Bergenheim smiled, a forced smile.

“Thank me for my poor health,” said she, “for it obliges you to do the
honors; I shall doubtless not be able to go down to dinner, and you must
take my place. You know that it tires my aunt to have to trouble herself
about others.”

Aline made a little grimace as she replied:

“If I thought you were speaking seriously, I would go and get into my
own bed at once!”

“Child! will you not in your turn be mistress of a home? Is it not
necessary for you to become accustomed to it? It is an excellent
opportunity, and, with my aunt as a guide, you are sure to acquit
yourself well.”

These last words were spoken rather maliciously, for the young woman
knew that of all the possible mentors, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was
the one whom Aline dreaded most.

“I beg of you, my kind sister,” replied the girl, clasping her hands,
“do not be ill to-day. Is it the neuralgia of the day before yesterday
you are suffering from? Do be a good sister, and get up and come and
take a walk in the park; the fresh air will cure you, I am sure of it.”

“And I shall not be obliged to preside at the dinner-table, you would
add; is it not so? You selfish girl!”

“I am afraid of Monsieur de Gerfaut,” said the child, lowering her
voice.

When she heard pronounced this name, so deeply agitating her, Madame de
Bergenheim was silent for a moment; at last she said:

“What has Monsieur de Gerfaut done to you? Is it not downright
ungrateful to be afraid of him so soon after the service he has rendered
you?”

“No, I am not ungrateful,” replied the young girl quickly. “I never
shall forget that I owe my life to him, for certainly, but for him, I
should have been dragged into the river. But he has such black, piercing
eyes that they seem to look into your very soul; and then, he is such a
brilliant man! I am all the time afraid of saying something that he may
laugh at. You know, some people think I talk too much; but I shall never
dare open my mouth in his presence. Why do some persons’ eyes make such
an impression upon one?”

Clemence lowered her own beautiful eyes and made no reply.

“His friend, Monsieur Marillac, does not frighten me one bit, in
spite of his big moustache. Tell me, does not this Monsieur de Gerfaut
frighten you a little too?”

“Not at all, I assure you,” replied Madame de Bergenheim, trying to
smile. “But,” she continued, in order to change the conversation, “how
fine you look! You have certainly some plan of conquest. What! a city
gown at nine o’clock in the morning, and hair dressed as if for a ball?”

“Would you like to know the compliment your aunt just paid me?”

“Some little jest of hers, I suppose?”

“You might say some spiteful remark, for she is the hatefulest thing!
She told me that blue ribbons suited red hair very badly and advised me
to change one or the other. Is it true that my hair is red?”

Mademoiselle de Bergenheim asked this question with so much anxiety that
her sister-in-law could not repress a smile.

“You know that my aunt delights in annoying you,” said she. “Your hair
is very pretty, a bright blond, very pleasant to the eye; only Justine
waves it a little too tight; it curls naturally. She dresses your hair
too high; it would be more becoming to you if she pushed it back from
your temples a little than to wave it as much as she does. Come a little
nearer to me.”

Aline knelt before Madame de Bergenheim’s bed, and the latter, adding
a practical lesson to verbal advice, began to modify the maid’s work to
suit her own taste.

“It curls like a little mane,” said the young girl, as she saw the
trouble her sister-in-law had in succeeding; “it was my great trouble
at the Sacred Heart. The sisters wished us to wear our hair plain, and
I always had a terrible time to keep it in place. However, blond hair
looks ugly when too plainly dressed, and Monsieur de Gerfaut said
yesterday that it was the shade he liked best.”

“Monsieur de Gerfaut told you he liked blond hair best!”

“Take care; you are pulling my hair! Yes, blond hair and blue eyes. He
said that when speaking of Carlo Dolci’s Virgin, and he said she was of
the most beautiful Jewish type; if he intended it as a compliment to me,
I am very much obliged to him. Do you think that my eyes are as blue as
that of the painted Virgin’s. Monsieur de Gerfaut pretends that there is
a strong resemblance.”

Madame de Bergenheim withdrew her hand so quickly that she pulled out
half a dozen or more hairs from her sister-in-law’s head, and buried
herself up to the chin in the bedclothes.

“Oh! Monsieur de Gerfaut knows how to pay very pretty compliments!” she
said. “And you doubtless are very well pleased to resemble Carlo Dolci’s
Madonna?”

“She is very pretty!--and then it is the Holy Virgin, you know--Ah! I
hear Monsieur de Gerfaut’s voice in the garden.”

The young girl arose quickly and ran to the window, where, concealed
behind the curtains, she could see what was going on outside without
being seen herself.

“He is with Christian,” she continued. “There, they are going to the
library. They must have just taken a long walk, for they are bespattered
with mud. If you could only see what a pretty little cap Monsieur de
Gerfaut has on!”

“Truly, he will turn her head,” thought Madame de Bergenheim, with a
decided feeling of anger; then she closed her eyes as if she wished to
sleep.

Gerfaut had, in fact, just returned from paying his respects to the
estate. He had followed his host, who, under the pretext of showing him
several picturesque sights, promenaded him, in the morning dew, through
the lettuce in the kitchen garden and the underbrush in the park. But
he knew through experience that all was not roses in a lover’s path;
watching in the snow, climbing walls, hiding in obscure closets,
imprisonment in wardrobes, were more disagreeable incidents than a quiet
tete-a-tete with a husband.

He listened, therefore, complacently enough to Bergenheim’s prolix
explanations, interested himself in the planting of trees, thought
the fields very green, the forests admirable, the granite rocks more
beautiful than those of the Alps, went into ecstasies over the smallest
vista, advised the establishment of a new mill on the river, which,
being navigable for rafts, might convey lumber to all the cities on the
Moselle, and thus greatly increase the value of the owner’s woods. They
fraternized like Glaucus and Diomede; Gerfaut hoping, of course, to play
the part of the Greek, who, according to Homer, received in return for a
common iron armor a gold one of inestimable value. There is always such
a secret mental reservation in the lover’s mind when associating with
the husband of his inamorata.

When he entered the room of his wife, whose indisposition had been
reported to him, Christian’s first words were:

“This Monsieur de Gerfaut appears to be a very excellent fellow, and I
shall be delighted if he will stay with us a while. It is too bad that
you are ill. He is a good musician, as well as Marillac; you might have
sung together. Try to get better quickly and come down to dinner.”

“I can not really tell him that Monsieur de Gerfaut has loved me for
more than a year,” said Madame de Bergenheim to herself.

A moment later, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil appeared, and with a prim air
seated herself beside the bed.

“Perhaps you think that I am fooled by this indisposition. I see plainly
that you wish to be impolite to Monsieur de Gerfaut, for you can not
endure him. It seems to me, however, that a relative of your family
ought to be treated with more respect by you, above all, when you know
how much I esteem him. This is unheard-of absurdity, and I shall end by
speaking to your husband about it; we shall see if his intervention will
not have more effect than mine.”

“You shall not do that, aunt,” Clemence interrupted, sitting up in bed
and trying to take her aunt’s hand.

“If you wish that your discourteous conduct should rest a secret between
us, I advise you to get rid of your neuralgia this very day. Now, you
had better decide immediately--”

“This is genuine persecution,” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, falling
back upon her bed when the old lady had departed. “He has bewitched
everybody! Aline, my aunt, and my husband; to say nothing of myself, for
I shall end by going mad. I must end this, at any price.” She rang the
bell violently.

“Justine,” said she to her maid, “do not let any one enter this room
under any pretext whatsoever, and do not come in yourself until I ring;
I will try to sleep.”

Justine obeyed, after closing the blinds. She had hardly gone out
when her mistress arose, put on her dressing-gown and slippers with a
vivacity which betokened anger; she then seated herself at her desk and
began to write rapidly, dashing her pen over the satiny paper without
troubling herself as to blots. The last word was ended with a dash as
energetically drawn as the Napoleonic flourish.

When a young man who, according to custom, begins to read the end of his
letters first finds an arabesque of this style at the bottom of a lady’s
letter, he ought to arm himself with patience and resignation before he
reads its contents.



CHAPTER X. PLOTS

That evening, when Gerfaut entered his room he hardly took time to place
the candlestick which he held in his hand upon the mantel before he took
from his waistcoat pocket a paper reduced to microscopic dimensions,
which he carried to his lips and kissed passionately before opening. His
eyes fell first upon the threatening flourish of the final word; this
word was: Adieu!

“Hum!” said the lover, whose exaltation was sensibly cooled at this
sight.

He read the whole letter with one glance of the eye, darting to the
culminating point of each phrase as a deer bounds over ledges of rocks;
he weighed the plain meaning as well as the innuendoes of the slightest
expression, like a rabbi who comments upon the Bible, and deciphered
the erasures with the patience of a seeker after hieroglyphics, so as
to detach from them some particle of the idea they had contained.
After analyzing and criticising this note in all its most imperceptible
shades, he crushed it within his hand and began to pace the floor,
uttering from time to time some of those exclamations which the
Dictionnaire de l’Academie has not yet decided to sanction; for all
lovers resemble the lazzaroni who kiss San-Gennaro’s feet when he acts
well, but who call him briconne as soon as they have reason to complain
of him. However, women are very kind, and almost invariably excuse
the stones that an angry lover throws at them in such moments of acute
disappointment, and willingly say with the indulgent smile of the Roman
emperor: “I feel no wound!”

In the midst of this paroxysm of furious anger, two or three knocks
resounded behind the woodwork.

“Are you composing?” asked a voice like that of a ventriloquist; “I am
with you.”

A minute later, Marillac appeared upon the threshold, in his slippers
and with a silk handkerchief tied about his head, holding his
candlestick in one hand and a pipe in the other; he stood there
motionless.

“You are fine,” said he, “you are magnificent, fatal and accursed--You
remind me of Kean in Othello--

        “Have you pray’d to-night, Desdemona?”

Gerfaut gazed at him with frowning brows, but made no reply.

“I will wager that it is the last scene in our third act,” replied the
artist, placing his candlestick upon the mantel; “it seems that it is
to be very tragic. Now listen! I also feel the poetical afflatus coming
over me, and, if you like, we will set about devouring paper like two
boa-constrictors. Speaking of serpents, have you a rattle? Ah, yes!
Here is the bell-rope. I was about to say that we would have a bowl of
coffee. Or rather, I will go into the kitchen myself; I am very good
friends with Marianne, the cook; besides, the motto of the house of
Bergenheim is liberte, libertas. Coffee is my muse; in this respect, I
resemble Voltaire--”

“Marillac!” exclaimed Gerfaut, as the artist was about to leave the
room. The artist turned, and meekly retraced his steps.

“You will be so good as to do me the favor of returning to your room,”
 said Gerfaut. “You may work or you may sleep, just as you like; between
us, you would do well to sleep. I wish to be alone.”

“You say that as if you meditated an attempt upon your illustrious
person. Are you thinking of suicide? Let us see whether you have some
concealed weapon, some poisoned ring. Curse upon it! the poison of the
Borgias! Is the white substance in this china bowl, vulgarly called
sugar, by some terrible chance infamous arsenic disguised under the
appearance of an honest colonial commodity?”

“Be kind enough to spare your jokes,” said Octave, as his friend poked
about in all the corners of the room with an affectation of anxiety,
“and, as I can not get rid of you, listen to my opinion: if you think
that I brought you here for you to conduct yourself as you have for the
last two days, you are mistaken.”

“What have I done?”

“You left me the whole morning with that tiresome Bergenheim on my
hands, and I verily believe he made me count every stick in his park and
every frog in his pond. Tonight, when that old witch of Endor proposed
her infernal game of whist, to which it seems I am to be condemned
daily, you-excused yourself upon the pretext of ignorance, and yet you
play as good a game as I.”

“I can not endure whist at twenty sous a point.”

“Do I like it any better?”

“Well, you are a nice fellow! You have an object in view which should
make you swallow all these disagreeable trifles as if they were as sweet
as honey. Is it possible you would like me to play Bertrand and Raton? I
should be Raton the oftener of the two!”

“But, really, what did you do all day?”

Marillac posed before the mirror, arranged his kerchief about his
head in a more picturesque fashion, twisted his moustache, puffed out,
through the corner of his mouth, a cloud of smoke, which surrounded his
face like a London fog, then turned to his friend and said, with the air
of a person perfectly satisfied with himself:

“Upon my faith, my dear friend, each one for himself and God for us all!
You, for example, indulge in romantic love-affairs; you must have titled
ladies. Titles turn your head and make you exclusive. You make love to
the aristocracy; so be it, that is your own concern. As for me, I
have another system; I am, in all matters of sentiment, what I am in
politics: I want republican institutions.”

“What is all that nonsense about?”

“Let me tell you. I want universal suffrage, the cooperation of all
citizens, admission to all offices, general elections, a popular
government, in a word, a sound, patriotic hash. Which means regarding
women that I carry them all in my heart, that I recognize between them
no distinction of caste or rank. Article First of my set of laws: all
women are equal in love, provided they are young, pretty, admirably
attractive in shape and carriage, above all, not too thin.”

“And what of equality?”

“So much the worse. With this eminently liberal and constitutional
policy, I intend to gather all the flowers that will allow themselves to
be gathered by me, without one being esteemed more fresh than another,
because it belongs to the nobility, or another less sweet, because
plebeian. And as field daisies are a little more numerous than imperial
roses, it follows that I very often stoop. That is the reason why, at
this very moment, I am up to my ears in a little rustic love affair:

        Simple et naive bergerette, elle regne--”

“Stop that noise; Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s room is just underneath.”

“I will tell you then, since I must give an account of myself, that I
went into the park to sketch a few fir-trees before dinner; they are
more beautiful of their kind than the ancient Fontainebleau oaks. That
is for art. At dinner, I dined nobly and well. To do the Bergenheims
justice, they live in a royal manner. That is for the stomach. Afterward
I stealthily ordered a horse to be saddled and rode to La Fauconnerie
in a trice, where I presented the expression of my adoration to
Mademoiselle Reine Gobillot, a minor yet, but enjoying her full rights
already. That is for the heart.”

“Indeed!”

“No sarcasm, if you please; not everybody can share your taste for
princesses, who make you go a hundred leagues to follow them and then
upon your arrival, only give you the tip of a glove to kiss. Such
intrigues are not to my fancy.

          Je suis sergent,
          Brave--”

“Again, I say, will you stop that noise? Don’t you know that I have
nobody on my side at present but this respectable dowager on the first
floor below? If she supposes that I am making all this racket over her
head we shall be deadly enemies by to-morrow.”

          “Zitto, zitto, piano, piano,
          Senza strepito e rumore,”

replied Marillac, putting his finger to his lips and lowering his voice.
“What you say is a surprise to me. From the way in which you offered
your arm to Madame de Bergenheim to lead her into the drawing-room
after supper, I thought you understood each other perfectly. As I was
returning, for I made it my duty to offer my arm to the old lady--and
you say that I do nothing for you--it seemed to me that I noticed a
meeting of hands--You know that I have an eagle eye. She slipped a note
into your hand as sure as my name is Marillac.”

Gerfaut took the note which he held crumpled up in his hand, and held it
in the flame of one of the candles. The paper ignited, and in less than
a second nothing of it remained but a few dark pieces which fell into
ashes upon the marble mantel.

“You burn it! You are wrong,” said the artist; “as for me, I keep
everything, letters and hair. When I am old, I shall have the letters to
read evenings, and shall weave an allegorical picture with the hair. I
shall hang it before my desk, so as to have before me a souvenir of the
adorable creatures who furnished the threads. I will answer for it that
there will be every shade in it from that of Camille Hautier, my first
love, who was an albino, to this that I have here.”

As he spoke, he took out of his pocket a small parcel from which he drew
a lock of coal-black hair, which he spread out upon his hand.

“Did you pull this hair from Titania’s mane?” asked Gerfaut, as he drew
through his fingers the more glossy than silky lock, which he ridiculed
by this ironical supposition.

“They might be softer, I admit,” replied Marillac negligently; and he
examined the lock submitted to this merciless criticism as if it were
simply a piece of goods, of the fineness of whose texture he wished to
assure himself.

“You will admit at least that the color is beautiful, and the quantity
makes up for the quality. Upon my word, this poor Reine has given me
enough to make a pacha’s banner. Provincial and primitive simplicity! I
know of one woman in particular who never gave an adorer more than seven
of her hairs; and yet, at the end of three years, this cautious beauty
was obliged to wear a false front. All her hair had disappeared.

“Are you like me, Octave? The first thing I ask for is one of these
locks. Women rather like this sort of childishness, and when they have
granted you that, it is a snare spread for them which catches them.”

Marillac took the long, dark tress and held it near the candle; but
his movement was so poorly calculated that the hair caught fire and was
instantly destroyed.

“A bad sign,” exclaimed Gerfaut, who could not help laughing at his
friend’s dismayed look.

“This is a day of autos-de-fe,” said the artist, dropping into a chair;
“but bah! small loss; if Reine asks to see this lock, I will tell her
that I destroyed it with kisses. That always flatters them, and I am
sure it will please this little field-flower. It is a fact that she has
cheeks like rosy apples! On my way back I thought of a vaudeville that
I should like to write about this. Only I should lay the scene in
Switzerland and I should call the young woman Betty or Kettly instead of
Reine, a name ending in ‘Y’ which would rhyme with Rutly, on account
of local peculiarities. Will you join in it? I have almost finished the
scenario. First scene--Upon the rising of the curtain, harvesters are
discovered--”

“Will you do me the favor of going to bed?” interrupted Gerfaut.

“Chorus of harvesters:

             Deja l’aurore
             Qui se colore--”

“If you do not leave me alone, I will throw the contents of this
water-pitcher at your head.”

“I never have seen you in such a surly temper. It looks indeed as if
your divinity had treated you cruelly.”

“She has treated me shamefully!” exclaimed the lover, whose anger was
freshly kindled at this question; “she has treated me as one would
treat a barber’s boy. This note, which I just burned, was a most
formal, unpleasant, insolent dismissal. This woman is a monster, do you
understand me?”

“A monster! your angel, a monster!” said Marillac, suppressing with
difficulty a violent outburst of laughter.

“She, an angel? I must say that she is a demon--This woman--”

“Do you not adore her?”

“I hate her, I abhor her, she makes me shudder. You may laugh, if you
like!”

As he said these words, Gerfaut struck a violent blow upon the table
with his fist.

“You forget that Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s room is just beneath us,”
 said the artist, in a teasing way.

“Listen to me, Marillac! Your system with women is vulgar, gross, and
trivial. The daisies which you gather, the maidens from whom you cut
handfuls of hair excellent for stuffing mattresses, your rustic beauties
with cheeks like rosy apples are conquests worthy of counter-jumpers
in their Sunday clothes. That is nothing but the very lowest grade
of love-making, and yet you are right, a thousand times right, and
wonderfully wise compared with me.”

“You do me too much honor! So, then, you are not loved?”

“Truly, I had an idea I was, or, if I was not loved to-day, I hoped to
be to-morrow. But you are mistaken as to what discourages me. I simply
fear that her heart is narrow. I believe that she loves me as much as
she is able to love; unfortunately, that is not enough for me.”

“It certainly seems to me that, so far, she has not shown herself madly
in love with you.”

“Ah, madly! Do you know many women who love madly with their hearts
and souls? You talk like a college braggart. There are conquerors like
yourself who, if we are to believe them, would devour a whole convent
at their breakfast. These men excite my pity. As for me, really, I have
always felt that it was most difficult to make one’s self really loved.
In these days of prudery, almost all women of rank appear ‘frappe a la
glace’, like a bottle of champagne. It is necessary to thaw them first,
and there are some of them whose shells are so frigid that they would
put out the devil’s furnace. They call this virtue; I call it social
servitude. But what matters the name? the result is the same.”

“But, really, are you sure that Madame de Bergenheim loves you?” asked
Marillac, emphasizing the word “love” so strongly as to attract his
friend’s attention.

“Sure? of course I am!” replied the latter. “Why do you ask me?”

“Because, when you are not quite so angry, I want to ask you something.”
 He hesitated a moment. “If you learned that she cares more for another
than for you, what would you do?”

Gerfaut looked at him and smiled disdainfully.

“Listen!” said he, “you have heard me storm and curse, and you took this
nonsense for genuine hatred. My good fellow! do you know why I raved
in such a manner? It was because, knowing my temperament, I felt the
necessity of getting angry and giving vent to what was in my heart. If
I had not employed this infallible remedy, the annoyance which this note
caused me would have disturbed my nerves all night, and when I do not
sleep my complexion is more leaden than usual and I have dark rings
under my eyes.”

“Fop!”

“Simpleton!”

“Why simpleton?”

“Do you take me for a dandy? Do you not understand why I wish to sleep
soundly? It is simply because I do not wish to appear before her with a
face like a ghost. That would be all that was needed to encourage her in
her severity. I shall take good care that she does not discover how hard
her last thrust has hit me. I would give you a one-hundred-franc note
if I could secure for to-morrow morning your alderman’s face and your
complexion a la Teniers.”

“Thanks, we are not masquerading just at present.”

“Nevertheless, all that you have said does not prove in the slightest
that she loves you.”

“My dear Marillac, words may have escaped me in my anger which have
caused you to judge hastily. Now that I am calm and that my remedy has
brought back my nervous system to its normal state, I will explain to
you my real position. She is my Galatea, I her Pygmalion. ‘An allegory
as old as the world,’ you are about to say; old or not, it is my true
story. I have not yet broken the marble-virtue, education, propriety,
duty, prejudices--which covers the flesh of my statue; but I am nearing
my goal and I shall reach it. Her desperate resistance is the very proof
of my progress. It is a terrible step for a woman to take, from No to
Yes. My Galatea begins to feel the blows from my heart over her heart
and she is afraid--afraid of the world, of me, of her husband, of
herself, of heaven and hell. Do you not adore women who are afraid of
everything? She, love another! never! It is written in all eternity that
she shall be mine. What did you wish to say to me?”

“Nothing, since you are so sure of her.”

“Sure--more than of my eternal life! But I wish to know what you mean.”

“But you won’t be told just a suspicion that came to me; something that
was told to me the other day; a conjecture so vague that it would be
useless to dwell upon it.”

“I am not good at guessing enigmas,” said Octave, in a dry tone.

“We will speak of this again to-morrow.”

“As you like,” replied the lover, with somewhat affected indifference.
“If you wish to play the part of Iago with me, I warn you I am not
disposed to jealousy.”

“To-morrow, I tell you, I shall enlighten myself as to this affair;
whatever the result of my inquiries may be, I will tell you the truth.
After all, it was nothing but woman’s gossip.”

“Very well, take your time. But I have another favor to ask of you.
Tomorrow I shall try to persuade the ladies to take a walk in the park.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil will probably not go; you must do me the
favor of sticking to Bergenheim and the little sister, and gradually
to walk on ahead of us, in such a way as to give me an opportunity of
speaking with this cruel creature alone for a few moments; for she has
given me to understand that I shall not succeed in speaking with her
alone under any circumstances, and it is absolutely necessary that I
should do so.”

“There will be one difficulty in the way, though--they expect about
twenty persons at dinner, and all her time will probably be taken up
with her duties as hostess.”

“That is true,” exclaimed Gerfaut, jumping up so suddenly that he upset
his chair.

“You still forget that Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s room is beneath us.”

“The devil is playing her hand!” exclaimed the lover, as he paced the
room in long strides. “I wish that during the night he would wring the
neck of all these visitors. Now; then, she has her innings. Today and
tomorrow this little despot’s battle of Ligny will be fought and won;
but the day after to-morrow, look out for her Waterloo!”

“Good-night, my Lord Wellington,” said Marillac, as he arose and took up
his candlestick.

“Good-night, Iago! Ah! you think you have annoyed me with your
mysterious words and melodramatic reticence?”

“To-morrow! to-morrow!” replied the artist as he left the room.

               “Ce secret-la
               Se trahira.”



CHAPTER XI. A QUARREL

The next morning, before most of the inhabitants of the chateau had
thought of leaving their beds, or at least their rooms, a man, on
horseback, and alone, took his departure through a door opening from the
stable-yard into the park. He wore a long travelling redingote trimmed
with braid and fur, rather premature clothing for the season, but which
the sharp cold air that was blowing at this moment made appear very
comfortable. He galloped away, and continued this pace for about
three-quarters of a mile, in spite of the unevenness of the road, which
followed a nearly straight line over hilly ground. It would have been
difficult to decide which to admire more, the horse’s limbs or the
rider’s lungs; for the latter, during this rapid ride, had sung without
taking breath, so to speak, the whole overture to Wilhelm Tell. We
must admit that the voice in which he sang the andante of the Swiss
mountaineer’s chorus resembled a reed pipe more than a hautboy; but, to
make amends when he reached the presto, his voice, a rather good bass,
struck the horse’s ears with such force that the latter redoubled his
vigor as if this melody had produced upon him the effect of a trumpet
sounding the charge on the day of battle.

The traveller, whom we have probably recognized by his musical feat,
concluded his concert by stopping at the entrance to some woods which
extended from the top of the rocks to the river, breaking, here and
there, the uniformity of the fields. After gazing about him for some
time, he left the road and, entering the woods on the right, stopped at
the foot of a large tree. Near this tree was a very small brook, which
took its source not far away and descended with a sweet murmur to the
river, making a narrow bed in the clayey ground which it watered. Such
was the modesty of its course that a little brighter green and fresher
grass a few feet away from it were the only indications of its presence.
Nothing was wanting to make this an idyllic place for a rendezvous,
neither the protecting shade, the warbling of birds in the trees, the
picturesque landscape surrounding it, nor the soft grass.

After dismounting from his steed and tying him to the branches of an
oak, thus conforming to the time-honored custom of lovers, the cavalier
struck his foot upon the ground three or four times to start the
circulation in his legs, and then drew from his pocket a very pretty
Breguet watch.

“Ten minutes past eight,” said he; “I am late and yet I am early. It
looks as if the clocks at La Fauconnerie were not very well regulated.”
 He walked up and down with a quick step whistling with a vengeance:

          “Quand je quittai la Normandie
          J’attends--j’attends--”

a refrain which the occasion brought to his mind. When this pastime was
exhausted he had recourse to another, the nature of which proved that if
the expected beauty had not punctuality for a virtue, she was not one of
those little exacting creatures always ready to faint or whose delicate
nerves make them intolerant of their lovers’ imperfections. Plunging his
hand into one of the pockets in his redingote, the waiting cavalier drew
out a sealskin case filled with Havana cigars, and, lighting one, began
to smoke, while continuing his promenade.

But at the end of a few moments this palliative, like the first, had
exhausted its effect.

“Twenty-five minutes past eight!” exclaimed Marillac, as he looked
at his watch a second time; “I should like to know what this little
miniature rose takes me for? It was hardly worth the trouble of
over-straining this poor horse, who looks as wet as if he had come out
of the river. It is enough to give him inflammation of the lungs. If
Bergenheim were to see him sweating and panting like this in this bleak
wind, he would give me a sound blowing-up. Upon my word, it is becoming
comical! There are no more young girls! I shall see her appear presently
as spruce and conceited as if she had been playing the finest trick in
the world. It will do for once; but if we sojourn in these quarters some
time yet, she must be educated and taught to say, ‘If you please’ and
‘Thanks.’ Ah! ha! she has no idea what sort of man she is dealing with!
Half past eight! If she is not here in five minutes I shall go to La
Fauconnerie and raise a terrible uproar. I will break every bit of
crockery there is in the ‘Femme-sans-Tete’ with blows from my whip. What
can I do to kill time?” He raised his head quickly, as he felt himself
suddenly almost smothered under a shower of dust. This was a fatal
movement for him, for his eyes received part of the libation destined
for his hair. He closed them with a disagreeable sensation, after seeing
Mademoiselle Reine Gobillot’s fresh, chubby face, her figure prim beyond
measure in a lilac-and-green plaid gingham dress, and carrying a basket
on her arm, a necessary burden to maidens of a certain class who play
truant.

“What sort of breeding is this?” exclaimed Marillac, rubbing his eyes;
“you have made me dance attendance for an hour and now you have blinded
me. I do not like this at all, you understand.”

“How you scold me, just for a little pinch of dust!” replied Reine,
turning as red as a cherry as she threw the remainder of the handful
which she had taken from a mole-heap close by them.

“It is because it smarts like the devil,” replied the artist, in a
milder tone, for he realized the ridiculousness of his anger; “since you
have hurt me, try at least to ease the pain; they say that to blow in
the eye will cure it.”

“No. I’ll do nothing of the kind--I don’t like to be spoken to harshly.”

The artist arose at once as he saw the young girl make a movement as if
to go; he put his arm about her waist and half forced her to sit beside
him.

“The grass is damp and I shall stain my dress,” said she, as a last
resistance.

A handkerchief was at once spread upon the ground, in lieu of a carpet,
by the lover, who had suddenly become very polite again.

“Now, my dear Reine,” continued he, “will you tell me why you come
so late? Do you know that for an hour I have been tearing my hair in
despair?”

“Perhaps the dust will make it grow again,” she replied, with a
malicious glance at Marillac, whose head was powdered with brown dust as
if a tobacco-box had been emptied upon it.

“Naughty girl!” he exclaimed, laughing, although his eyes looked as
if he were crying; and, acting upon the principle of retaliation less
odious in love than in war, he tried to snatch a kiss to punish her.

“Stop that, Monsieur Marillac! you know very well what you promised me.”

“To love you forever, you entrancing creature,” said he, in the voice of
a crocodile that sighs to attract his prey.

Reine pursed up her lips and assumed important airs, but, in order to
obey the feminine instinct which prescribes changing the subject of
conversation after too direct an avowal, with the firm intention of
returning to it later through another channel, she said:

“What were you doing just as I arrived? You were so busy you did not
hear me coming. You were so droll; you waved your arms in the air and
struck your forehead as you talked.”

“I was thinking of you.”

“But it was not necessary, in order to do that, to strike your head with
your fist. It must have hurt you.”

“Adorable woman!” exclaimed the artist, in a passionate tone.

“Mon Dieu! how you frighten me. If I had known I would not have come
here at all. I must go away directly.”

“Leave me already, queen of my heart! No! do not expect to do that; I
would sooner lose my life--”

“Will you stop! what if some one should hear you? they might be
passing,” said Reine, gazing anxiously about her. “If you knew how
frightened I was in coming! I told mamma that I was going to the mill
to see my uncle; but that horrid old Lambernier met me just as I entered
the woods. What shall I do if he tells that he saw me? This is not
the road to the mill. It is to be hoped that he has not followed me! I
should be in a pretty plight!”

“You can say that you came to gather berries or nuts, or to hear the
nightingale sing; Mother Gobillot will not think anything of it. Who is
this Lambernier?”

“You know--the carpenter. You saw him at our house the other day.”

“Ah! ah!” said Marillac, with interest, “the one who was turned away
from the chateau?”

“Yes, and they did well to do it, too; he is a downright bad man.”

“He is the one who told you something about Madame de Bergenheim. Tell
me the story. Your mother interrupted us yesterday just as you began
telling it to me.--What was it that he said?”

“Oh! falsehoods probably. One can not believe anything that he says.”

“But what did he tell you?”

“What difference does it make to you what is said about the Baroness?”
 replied the young girl, rather spitefully, as she saw that Marillac was
not occupied in thinking of her exclusively.

“Pure curiosity. He told you then that he would tell the Baron what he
knew, and that the latter would give him plenty of money to make him
keep silent?”

“It makes no difference what he told me. Ask him if you wish to know.
Why did you not stay at the chateau if you can think only of the
Baroness? Are you in love with her?”

“I am in love with you, my dear. [The devil take me if she is not
jealous now! How shall I make her talk?] I am of the same opinion as
you,” he replied, in a loud voice, “that all this talk of Lambernier’s
is pure calumny.”

“There is no doubt about it. He is well known about the place; he has a
wicked tongue and watches everything that one does or says in order to
report it at cross-purposes. Mon Dieu! suppose he should make some story
out of his seeing me enter these woods!”

“Madame de Bergenheim,” continued the artist, with affectation, “is
certainly far above the gossip of a scoundrel of this kind.”

Reine pursed up her lips, but made no reply.

“She has too many good qualities and virtues for people to believe
anything he says.”

“Oh, as to that, there are hypocrites among the Parisian ladies as well
as elsewhere,” said the young girl, with a sour look.

“Bless me!” thought Marillac, “we have it now. I’d wager my last franc
that I’ll loosen her tongue.”

“Madame de Bergenheim,” he replied, emphasizing each word, “is such a
good woman, so sensible and so pretty!”

“Mon Dieu! say that you love her at once, then--that’ll be plain talk,”
 exclaimed Reine, suddenly disengaging herself from the arm which was
still about her waist. “A great lady who has her carriages and footmen
in livery is a conquest to boast of! While a country girl, who has only
her virtue--”

She lowered her eyes with an air of affected modesty, and did not finish
her sentence.

“A virtue which grants a rendezvous at the end of three days’
acquaintance, and in the depths of the woods! That is amusing!” thought
the artist.

“Still, you will not be the first of the fine lady’s lovers,” she
continued, raising her head and trying to conceal her vexation under an
ironical air.

“These are falsehoods.”

“Falsehoods, when I tell you that I know what I am speaking about!
Lambernier is not a liar.”

“Lambernier is not a liar?” repeated a harsh, hoarse voice, which seemed
to come from the cavity of the tree under which they were seated. “Who
has said that Lambernier was a liar?”

At the same moment, the carpenter in person suddenly appeared upon the
scene. He stood before the amazed pair with his brown coat thrown over
his shoulders, as usual, and his broad-brimmed gray hat pulled down over
his ears, gazing at them with his deep, ugly eyes and a sardonic laugh
escaping from his lips.

Mademoiselle Reine uttered a shriek as if she had seen Satan rise up
from the ground at her feet; Marillac rose with a bound and seized his
whip.

“You are a very insolent fellow,” said he, in his ringing bass voice.
“Go your way!”

“I receive no such orders,” replied the workman, in a tone which
justified the epithet which had just been bestowed upon him; “we are
upon public ground, and I have a right to be here as well as you.”

“If you do not take to your heels at once,” said the artist, becoming
purple with rage, “I will cut your face in two.”

“Apples are sometimes cut in two,” said Lambernier, sneeringly advancing
his face with an air of bravado. “My face is not afraid of your whip;
you can not frighten me because you are a gentleman and I am a workman!
I snap my fingers at bourgeois like--”

This time he did not have time to finish his comparison; a blow from the
whip cut him in the face and made him reel in spite of himself.

“By heaven!” he exclaimed, in a voice like thunder, “may I lose my name
if I do not polish you off well!”

He threw his coat on the grass, spat, in his hands and rubbed them
together, assuming the position of an athlete ready for a boxing-bout.

Mademoiselle Gobillot, arose, trembling with fright at this
demonstration, and uttered two or three inarticulate cries; but, instead
of throwing herself between the combatants in the approved style, she
ran away as fast as she could.

Although the weapons of the adversaries were not of a nature to
spill blood upon the turf, there was something warlike about their
countenances which would have done honor to ancient paladins. Lambernier
squatting upon his legs, according to the rules of pugilism, and with
his fists on a level with his shoulders, resembled, somewhat, a cat
ready to bound upon its prey. The artist stood with his body thrown
backward, his legs on a tension, his chin buried up to his moustache
in the fur collar of his coat, with whip lowered, watching all his
adversary’s movements with a steady eye. When he saw the carpenter
advancing toward him, he raised his arm and gave him on the left side a
second lash from his whip, so vigorously applied that the workman beat a
retreat once more, rubbing his hands and roaring:

“Thunder! I’ll finish you--”

He put his hands in his trousers’ pockets and drew out one of those
large iron compasses such as carpenters use, and opened it with a rapid
movement. He then seized it in the centre and was thus armed with a
sort of double-pointed stiletto, which he brandished with a threatening
gesture.

Marillac, at this sight, drew back a few paces, passed his whip to his
left hand and, arming himself with his Corsican poniard, placed himself
in a position of defence.

“My friend,” said he, with perfect deliberation, “my needle is shorter
than yours, but it pricks better. If you take one step nearer me, if you
raise your hand, I will bleed you like a wild boar.”

Seeing the firm attitude of the artist, whose solid figure seemed to
denote rather uncommon vigor, and whose moustache and sparkling eyes
gave him a rather formidable aspect at this moment; above all, when he
saw the large, sharp blade of the poniard, Lambernier stopped.

“By the gods!” exclaimed Marillac, who saw that his bold looks had
produced their effect, “you are a Provencal, and I a Gascon. You have a
quick hand, comrade--”

“But, by Jove! you are the one who has the quick hand; you struck me
with your whip as if I had been a horse. You have put my eye almost
out. Do you imagine that I am well provided for like yourself and have
nothing to do but to flirt with girls? I need my eyes in order to work,
by God! Because you are a bourgeois and I am a workman--”

“I am not more of a bourgeois than you,” replied the artist, rather glad
to see his adversary’s fury exhaust itself in words, and his attitude
assume a less threatening character; “pick up your compass and return
to your work. Here,” he added, taking two five-franc pieces from his
pocket. “You were a little boorish and I a little hasty. Go and bathe
your eyes with a glass of wine.”

Lambernier scowled and his eyes darted ugly, hateful glances. He
hesitated a moment, as if he were thinking what he had better do, and
was weighing his chances of success in case of a hostile resolve. After
a few moments’ reflection, prudence got the better of his anger. He
closed his compass and put it in his pocket, but he refused the silver
offered him.

“You are generous,” said he, with a bitter smile; “five francs for each
blow of the whip! I know a good many people who would offer you their
cheek twelve hours of the day at that price. But I am not one of that
kind; I ask nothing of nobody.”

“If Leonardo da Vinci could have seen this fellow’s face just now,”
 thought the artist, “he would not have had to seek so long for his model
for the face of Judas. Only for my poniard, my fate would have been
settled. This man was ready to murder me.”

“Listen, Lambernier,” said he, “I was wrong to strike you, and I would
like to atone for it. I have been told that you were sent away from
the chateau against your will. I am intimate enough with Monsieur de
Bergenheim to be useful to you; do you wish me to speak to him for you?”

The carpenter stood motionless in his place, with his eyes fixed upon
his adversary while the latter was preparing his horse to mount, eyes
which seemed filled with hatred to their very depths. His face suddenly
changed its expression and became abjectly polite when he heard himself
addressed anew. He shook his head two or three times before replying.

“Unless you are the very devil,” he said, “I defy you to make this
gentleman say yes when he has once said no. He turned me away like a
dog; all right. Let them laugh that win. It was that old idiot of
a Rousselet and that old simpleton of a coachman of Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil’s who told tales about me. I could tell tales also if I
liked.”

“But what motive could they have to send you away?” continued Marillac,
“you are a clever workman. I have seen your work at the chateau; there
are some rooms yet unfinished; there must have been some very grave
reason for their not employing you just at the moment when they needed
you most.”

“They said that I talked with Mademoiselle Justine, and Madame caused me
to be discharged. She is mistress there, is she not? But I am the one to
make her repent for it.”

“And how can you make her repent for it?” asked the artist, whose
curiosity, left ungratified by Mademoiselle Reine, was growing more and
more excited, “what can you have in common with Madame la Baronne?”

“Because she is a lady and I am a workman, you mean? All the same, if I
could only whisper two or three words in her ear, she would give me more
gold than I have earned since I worked at the chateau, I am sure of it.”

“By the powers! if I were in your place, I would say those words to her
this very day.”

“So as to be thrown out by that band of idle fellows in their red coats.
None of that for me. I have my own scheme; let them laugh that win!”

As he repeated this proverb, the workman uttered his usual sardonic
laugh.

“Lambernier,” said the artist, in a serious tone, “I have heard of
certain very strange speeches that you have made within the last few
days. Do you know that there is a punishment by law for those who invent
calumnies?”

“Is it a calumny, when one can prove what he says?” replied the
carpenter, with assurance.

“What is it that you undertake to prove?” exclaimed Marillac, suddenly.

“Eh! you know very well that if Monsieur le Baron--” he did not
continue, but with a coarse gesture he finished explaining his thoughts.

“You can prove this?”

“Before the courts, if necessary.”

“Before the courts would not amount to very much for you; but if you
will cease this talk and never open your mouth about all this, whatever
it may be, and will give to me, and me only, this proof of which you
speak, I will give you ten napoleons.”

For a moment Lambernier gazed at the artist with a singularly
penetrating glance.

“So you have two sweethearts, then--one from the city and one from the
country, a married woman and this poor girl,” said he, in a jeering
tone; “does little Reine know that she is playing second fiddle?”

“What do you mean to insinuate?”

“Oh! you are more clever than I.”

The two men looked at each other in silence, trying to read each other’s
thoughts.

“This is a lover of Madame de Bergenheim,” thought Lambernier, with the
barefaced impudence of his kind; “if I were to tell him what I know,
my vengeance would be in good hands, without my taking the trouble to
commit myself.”

“Here is a sneaking fellow who pretends to be deucedly strong in
diplomacy,” said Marillac to himself; “but he is revengeful and I must
make him explain himself.”

“Ten napoleons are not to be found every day,” continued the carpenter,
after a moment’s silence; “you may give them to me, if you like, in a
week.”

“You will be able to prove to me, then, what you have said,” replied
Marillac, with hesitation, blushing in spite of himself at the part he
was playing at that moment, upon the odious side of which he had not
looked until now. “Bah!” said he to himself, in order to quiet his
conscience, “if this rascal really knows anything it is much better that
I should buy the secret than anybody else. I never should take advantage
of it, and I might be able to render the lady a service. Is it not a
gentleman’s sworn duty to devote himself to the defence of an imprudent
beauty who is in danger?”

“I will bring you the proof you want,” said the carpenter.

“When?”

“Meet me Monday at four o’clock in the afternoon at the cross-roads near
the corner of the Come woods.”

“At the end of the park?”

“Yes, a little above the rocks.”

“I will be there. Until then, you will not say a word to anybody?”

“That is a bargain, since you buy the goods I have for sale--”

“Here is some money to bind the trade,” replied the artist. And he
handed him the silver pieces he still held in his hand; Lambernier took
them this time without any objections, and put them in his pocket.

“Monday, at four o’clock!”

“Monday, at four o’clock!” repeated Marillac, as he mounted his horse
and rode away in great haste as if eager to take leave of his companion.
He turned when he reached the road, and, looking behind him, saw the
workman standing motionless at the foot of the tree.

“There is a scamp,” thought he, “whose ball and chain are waiting for
him at Toulon or Brest, and I have just concluded a devilish treaty with
him. Bah! I have nothing to reproach myself with. Of two evils choose
the least; it remains to be seen whether Gerfaut is the dupe of a
coquette or whether his love is threatened with some catastrophe; at all
events, I am his friend, and I ought to clear up this mystery and put
him on his guard.”

“Ten francs to-day, and ten napoleons Monday,” said Lambernier as, with
an eye in which there was a mixture of scorn and hatred, he watched the
traveller disappear. “I should be a double idiot to refuse. But this
does not pay for the blows from your whip, you puppy; when we have
settled this affair of the fine lady, I shall attend to you.”



CHAPTER XII. AN INHARMONIOUS MUSICALE

The visitors referred to in the conversation between the two friends
arrived at the castle at an early hour, according to the custom in the
country, where they dine in the middle of the day. Gerfaut saw from
his chamber, where he had remained like Achilles under his tent, half
a dozen carriages drive one after another up the avenue, bringing the
guests announced by Marillac. Little by little the company scattered
through the gardens in groups; four or five young girls under Aline’s
escort hurried to a swing, to which several good-natured young men
attached themselves, and among them Gerfaut recognized his Pylades.
During this time Madame de Bergenheim was doing the honors of the house
to the matrons, who thought this amusement too youthful for their age
and preferred a quiet walk through the park. Christian, on his side,
was explaining methods of improvements to gentlemen of agricultural and
industrial appearance, who seemed to listen to him with great interest.
Three or four others had taken possession of the billiard-table; while
the more venerable among the guests had remained in the parlor with
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.

“Have you a pair of clean trousers?” asked Marillac, hastily entering
his friend’s room as the first bell rang for dinner. An enormous green
stain upon one of his knees was all the explanation necessary on this
subject.

“You, lose no time,” said Gerfaut, as he opened a drawer in his closet.
“Which of these rustic beauties has had the honor of seeing you on your
knees at her feet?”

“It was that confounded swing! Silly invention! To sacrifice one’s self
to please little girls! If I am ever caught at it again I’ll let you
know! Your selfish method is a better, one. By the way, Madame de
Bergenheim asked me, with a rather sly look, whether you were ill and
whether you would not come down to dinner?”

“Irony!”

“It: seemed like it. The lady smiled in a decidedly disagreeable manner.
I am not timid, but I would rather write a vaudeville in three acts than
to be obliged to make a declaration to her if she had that impish smile
on her lips. She has a way of protruding her under lip-ugh! do you know
you are terribly slender? Will you let me cut the band of your trousers?
I never could dance with my stomach compressed in this manner.”

“What about this secret you were to reveal to me?” Gerfaut interrupted,
with a smile which seemed to denote perfect security.

Marillac looked at his friend with a grave countenance, then began to
laugh in an embarrassed manner.

“We will leave serious matters until to-morrow,” he replied. “The
essential thing to-day is to make ourselves agreeable. Madame de
Bergenheim asked me a little while ago whether we would be kind enough
to sing a few duets? I accepted for us both. I do not suppose that the
inhabitants of this valley have often heard the duet from Mose with the
embellishments a la Tamburini:

             Palpito a quello aspetto,
             ‘Gemo nel suo dolor.’

“Would you prefer that or the one from ‘Il Barbiere’? although that is
out of date, now.”

“Whatever pleases you, but do not split my head about it in advance. I
wish that music and dancing were at the bottom of the Moselle.”

“With all my heart, but not the dinner. I gave a glance into the
dining-room; it promises to be very fine. Now, then, everybody has
returned to the house; to the table!”

The time has long since passed when Paris and the province formed two
regions almost foreign to each other. To-day, thanks to the rapidity of
communication, and the importations of all kinds which reach the centre
from the circumference without having time to spoil on the way, Paris
and the rest of France are only one immense body excited by the same
opinions, dressed in the same fashions, laughing at the same bon mot,
revolutionized by the same opinions.

Provincial customs have almost entirely lost their peculiarities;
a drawing-room filled with guests is the same everywhere. There are
sometimes exceptions, however. The company gathered at the Bergenheim
chateau was an example of one of those heterogeneous assemblies which
the most exclusive mistress of a mansion can not avoid if she wishes to
be neighborly, and in which a duchess may have on her right at the table
the village mayor, and the most elegant of ladies a corpulent justice of
the peace who believes he is making himself agreeable when he urges his
fair neighbor to frequent potations.

Madame de Bergenheim had discovered symptoms of haughty jealousy among
her country neighbors, always ready to feel themselves insulted and
very little qualified to make themselves agreeable in society. So she
resolved to extend a general invitation to all those whom she felt
obliged to receive, in order to relieve herself at once of a nuisance
for which no pleasure could prove an equivalent. This day was one of her
duty days.

Among these ladies, much more gorgeously than elegantly attired, these
healthy young girls with large arms, and feet shaped like flat-irons,
ponderous gentlemen strangled by their white cravats and puffed up in
their frock-coats, Gerfaut, whose nervous system had been singularly
irritated by his disappointment of the night before, felt ready to burst
with rage. He was seated at the table between two ladies, who seemed to
have exhausted, in their toilettes, every color in the solar spectrum,
and whose coquettish instincts were aroused by the proximity of a
celebrated writer. But their simperings were all lost; the one for whom
they were intended bore himself in a sulky way, which fortunately passed
for romantic melancholy; this rendered him still more interesting in the
eyes of his neighbor on the left, a plump blonde about twenty-five years
old, fresh and dimpled, who doted upon Lord Byron, a common pretension
among pretty, buxom women who adore false sentimentality.

With the exception of a bow when he entered the drawing-room, Octave
had not shown Madame de Bergenheim any attention. The cold, disdainful,
bored manner in which he patiently endured the pleasures of the day
exceeded even the privilege for boorish bearing willingly granted to
gentlemen of unquestionable talent. Clemence, on the contrary, seemed to
increase in amiability and liveliness. There was not one of her tiresome
guests to whom she did not address some pleasant remark, not one
of those vulgar, pretentious women to whom she was not gracious and
attentive; one would have said that she had a particular desire to
be more attractive than usual, and that her lover’s sombre air added
materially to her good humor.

After dinner they retired to the drawing-room where coffee was served. A
sudden shower, whose drops pattered loudly against the windows, rendered
impossible all plans for amusement out of doors. Gerfaut soon noticed a
rather animated conversation taking place between Madame de Bergenheim,
who was somewhat embarrassed as to how to amuse her guests for the
remainder of the afternoon, and Marillac, who, with his accustomed
enthusiasm, had constituted himself master of ceremonies. A moment
later, the drawing-room door opened, and servants appeared bending
under the burden of an enormous grand piano which was placed between
the windows. At this sight, a tremor of delight ran through the group
of young girls, while Octave, who was standing in one corner near the
mantel, finished his Mocha with a still more melancholy air.

“Now, then!” said Marillac, who had been extremely busy during these
preparations, and had spread a dozen musical scores upon the top of the
piano, “it is agreed that we shall sing the duet from Mose. There are
two or three little boarding-school misses here whose mothers are dying
for them to show off. You understand that we must sacrifice ourselves to
encourage them. Besides, a duet for male voices is the thing to open a
concert with.”

“A concert! has Madame de Bergenheim arranged to pasture us in this
sheepfold in order to make use of us this evening?” replied Gerfaut,
whose ill-humor increased every moment.

“Five or six pieces only, afterward they will have a dance. I have an
engagement with your diva; if you wish for a quadrille and have not
yet secured your number, I should advise you to ask her for it now, for
there are five or six dandies who seem to be terribly attentive to her.
After our duet I shall sing the trio from La Date Blanche, with those
young ladies who have eyes as round as a fish’s, and apricot-colored
gowns on--those two over there in the corner, near that pretty blonde
who sat beside you at table and ogled you all the time. She had already
bored me to death! I do not know whether I shall be able to hit my low
‘G’ right or not. I have a cataclysm of charlotte-russe in my stomach.
Just listen:

          ‘A cette complaisance!--’”

Marillac leaned toward his friend and roared in his ear the note
supposed to be the “G” in question.

“Like an ophicleide,” said Gerfaut, who could not help laughing at the
importance the artist attached to his display of talent.

“In that case I shall risk my great run at the end of the first solo.
Two octaves from ‘E’ to ‘E’! Zuchelli was good enough to give me a few
points as to the time, and I do it rather nicely.”

“Madame would like to speak to Monsieur,” said a servant, who
interrupted him in the midst of his sentence.

“Dolce, soave amor,” warbled the artist, softly, as he responded to the
call from the lady of the house, trying to fix in his mind that run,
which he regarded as one of the most beautiful flowers in his musical
crown.

Everybody was seated, Madame de Bergenheim sat at the piano and Marillac
stood behind her. The artist selected one of the scores, spread it out
on the rack, turned down the corners so that during the execution he
might not be stopped by some refractory leaf, coughed in his deep bass
voice, placed himself in such a manner as to show the side of his head
which he thought would produce the best effect upon the audience, then
gave a knowing nod to Gerfaut, who still stood gloomy and isolated in a
far corner.

“We trespass upon your kindness too much, Monsieur,” said Madame de
Bergenheim to him, when he had responded to this mute invitation; and as
she struck a few chords, she raised her dark, brown eyes to his. It was
the first glance she had given him that day; from coquetry, perhaps, or
because sorrow for her lover had softened her heart, or because she felt
remorse for the extreme harshness of her note the night before, we
must admit that this glance had nothing very discouraging in it. Octave
bowed, and spoke a few words as coldly polite as he would have spoken to
a woman sixty years of age.

Madame de Bergenheim lowered her eyes and endeavored to smile
disdainfully, as she struck the first bars of the duet.

The concert began. Gerfaut had a sweet, clear, tenor voice which he used
skilfully, gliding over dangerous passages, skipping too difficult
ones which he thought beyond his execution, singing, in fact, with the
prudence of an amateur who can not spend his time studying runs and
chromatic passages four hours daily. He sang his solo with a simplicity
bordering upon negligence, and even substituted for the rather
complicated passage at the end a more than modest ending.

Clemence, for whom he had often sung, putting his whole soul into the
performance, was vexed with this affectation of indifference. It seemed
to her as if he ought, for her sake, to make more of an effort in her
drawing-room, whatever might be their private quarrel; she felt it was
a consideration due to her and to which his numerous homages had
accustomed her. She entered this new grievance in a double-entry book,
which a woman always devotes to the slightest actions of the man who
pays court to her.

Marillac, on the contrary, was grateful to his friend for this
indifference of execution, for he saw in it an occasion to shine at his
expense. He began his solo ‘E il ciel per noi sereno,’ with an unusual
tension of the larynx, roaring out his low notes. Except for the
extension being a little irregular and unconnected, he did not acquit
himself very badly in the first part. When he reached his final run, he
took a long breath, as if it devolved upon him to set in motion all the
windmills in Montmartre, and started with a majestic fury; the first
forty notes, while they did not resemble Mademoiselle Grisi’s pearly
tones, ascended and descended without any notable accident; but at the
last stages of the descent, the singer’s breath and voice failed him
at the same moment, the “A” came out weak, the “G” was stifled, the “F”
 resembled the buzzing of a bee, and the “E” was absent!

Zuchelli’s run was like one of those Gothic staircases which show an
almost complete state of preservation upon the upper floor, but whose
base, worn by time, leaves a solution of continuity between the ground
and the last step.

Madame de Bergenheim waited the conclusion of this dangerous run,
not thinking to strike the final chord; the only sound heard was the
rustling of the dilettante’s beard, as his chin sought his voice in
vain in the depths of his satin cravat, accompanied by applause from a
benevolent old lady who had judged of the merit of the execution by the
desperate contortions of the singer.

“D--n that charlotte-russe!” growled the artist, whose face was as red
as a lobster.

The rest of the duet was sung without any new incident, and gave general
satisfaction.

“Madame, your piano is half a tone too low,” said the basso, with a
reproachful accent.

“That is true,” replied Clemence, who could not restrain a smile; “I
have so little voice that I am obliged to have my piano tuned to suit
it. You can well afford to pardon me for my selfishness, for you sang
like an angel.”

Marillac bowed, partly consoled by this compliment, but thinking to
himself that a hostess’s first duty was to have her piano in tune, and
not to expose a bass singer to the danger of imperilling his low “E”
 before an audience of forty.

“Madame, can I be of any more service to you?” asked Gerfaut, as he
leaned toward Madame de Bergenheim, with one of his coldest smiles.

“I do not wish to impose further upon your kindness, Monsieur,” said
she, in a voice which showed her secret displeasure.

The poet bowed and walked away.

Then Clemence, upon general request, sang a romance with more taste than
brilliancy, and more method than expression. It seemed as if Octave’s
icy manner had reacted upon her, in spite of the efforts she had made
at first to maintain a cheerful air. A singular oppression overcame her;
once or twice she feared her voice would fail her entirely. When she
finished, the compliments and applause with which she was overwhelmed
seemed so insupportable to her that it was with difficulty she could
restrain herself from leaving the room. While exasperated by her
weakness, she could not help casting a glance in Octave’s direction. She
could not catch his eye, however, as he was busy talking with Aline.
She felt so lonely and deserted at this moment, and longed so for this
glance which she could not obtain, that tears of vexation filled her
eyes.

“I was wrong to write him as I did,” thought she; “but if he really
loved me, he would not so quickly resign himself to obeying me!”

A woman in a drawing-room resembles a soldier on a breastwork;
self-abnegation is the first of her duties; however much she may suffer,
she must present as calm and serene a countenance as a warrior in the
hour of danger, and fall, if necessary, upon the spot, with death in her
heart and a smile upon her lips. In order to obey this unwritten law,
Madame de Bergenheim, after a slight interruption, seated herself at the
piano to accompany three or four young girls who were each to sing in
turn the songs that they had been drilled on for six months.

Marillac, who had gone to strengthen his stomach with a glass of rum,
atoned for his little mishap, in the trio from La Dame Blanche, and
everything went smoothly. Finally, to close this concert (may heaven
preserve us from all exhibitions of this kind!), Aline was led to the
piano by her brother, who, like all people who are not musical, could
not understand why one should study music for years if not from love for
the art. Christian was fond of his little sister and very proud of her
talents. The poor child, whose courage had all disappeared, sang in a
fresh, trembling little voice, a romance revised and corrected at her
boarding-school. The word love had been replaced by that of friendship,
and to repair this slight fault of prosody, the extra syllable
disappeared in a hiatus which would have made Boileau’s blond wig stand
on end. But the Sacred Heart has a system of versification of its
own which, rather than allow the dangerous expression to be used, let
ultra-modesty destroy poetry!

This sample of sacred music was the final number of the concert; after
that, they began dancing, and Gerfaut invited Aline. Whether because
he wished to struggle against his ill-humor, or from kindness of heart
because he understood her emotion, he began to talk with the young
girl, who was still blushing at her success. Among his talents, Octave
possessed in a peculiar degree that of adapting his conversation to
the age, position, and character of his companions. Aline listened with
unconcealed pleasure to her partner’s words; the elasticity of her step
and a sort of general trembling made her seem like a flower swaying to
the breeze, and revealed the pleasure which his conversation gave her.
Every time her eyes met Octave’s penetrating glance they fell, out of
instinctive modesty. Each word, however indifferent it might be, rang in
her ears sweet and melodious; each contact with his hand seemed to her
like a tender pressure.

Gerfaut experienced a feeling of melancholy as he noticed how this
fresh, innocent rose brightened up at each word he uttered, and he
thought:

“She would love me as I want to be loved, with all her heart, mind,
and soul. She would kneel before my love as before an altar, while this
coquette--”

He glanced in the direction where Madame de Bergenheim was dancing with
Marillac, and met her gaze fixed full upon him. The glance which he
received was rapid, displeased, and imperious. It signified clearly: “I
forbid you to speak thus to your partner.”

Octave, at that moment; was not disposed to obedience. After glancing
over the quadrille, as if it were by mere chance that his eyes had met
Clemence’s, he turned toward Aline and redoubled his amiability:

A moment later, he received, not directly, but through the medium of the
mirror--that so often indiscreet confidant--a second glance more sombre
and threatening than before.

“Very good,” said he, to himself, as he led the young girl to her
seat; “we are jealous. That alters the situation. I know now where the
ramparts are the weakest and where to begin my attack.”

No other incident marked the day. The guests left at nightfall, and
the society was reduced to the usual members of the household. Octave
entered his room after supper, humming an Italian air, evidently in such
good spirits that his friend was quite surprised.

“I give it up, I can not understand your conduct,” said the latter; “you
have been as solemn as an owl all day, and now here you are as gay as a
lark; have you had an understanding?”

“I am more vexed than ever.”

“And you enjoy being so?”

“Very much.”

“Ah! you are playing ‘who loses wins!’”

“Not exactly; but as my good sentiments lead to nothing, I hope to
conduct myself in such a disagreeable way as to force this capricious
creature to adore me.”

“The devil! that is clever. Besides, it is a system as good as any
other. Women are such extraordinary creatures!”

“Woman,” said Octave, “resembles a pendulum, whose movement is a
continual reaction; when it moves to the right, it has to go to the left
in order to return to the right again, and so on. Suppose virtue is on
one side and love on the other, and the feminine balance between them,
the odds are that, having moved to the right in a violent manner, it
will return none the less energetically to the left; for the longer
a vibration has been, the greater play the contrary vibration has. In
order to hasten the action of this pendulum I am about to attach to
it--to act as extra balance-weight--a little anguish which I ought to
have employed sooner.”

“Why make her suffer, since you believe that she loves you?”

“Why? Because she drives me to it. Do you fancy that I torture her
willingly; that I take pleasure in seeing her cheeks grow pale from
insomnia and her eyes show traces of tears? I love her, I tell you; I
suffer and weep with her. But I love her, and I must make sure of her
love. If she will leave but a road full of brambles and sharp stones for
me to reach her, must I give up the struggle just because I run the risk
by taking her with me, of wounding her charming feet? I will cure them
with my kisses!”

“Listen to me! I am not in love; I am an artist. If I have some peculiar
ideas, it is not my fault. And you, in your character of docile lover,
have you decided to yield?”

“Morally.”

“Very well! after all, you are right. The science of love resembles
those old signs upon which one reads: ‘Here, hair is dressed according
to one’s fancy.’ If this angel wishes her hair pulled, do it for her.”



BOOK 3.



CHAPTER XIII. MONSIEUR DE BERGENHEIM

Some men in society marry too soon, a great number too late, a small and
fortunate proportion at an opportune time. Young men in the country,
of good family, are usually established in marriage by their parents as
early as possible. When the family council finds an heiress who answers
all the conditions of the programme laid out, they begin by giving the
victim his cue. Provided the young lady has not a positively
crooked nose, arms too red, and too uncouth a waist--sometimes even
notwithstanding these little misfortunes--the transaction is concluded
without any difficulty.

Clemence and Christian should be placed in the first rank of privileged
couples of this kind. The most fastidious old uncle or precise old
dowager could not discover the slightest pretense for criticism. Age,
social position, wealth, physical endowments, all seemed united by a
chance as rare as fortunate. So Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who had very
high pretensions for her niece, made no objection upon receiving the
first overtures. She had not, at this time, the antipathy for her future
nephew’s family which developed later. The Bergenheims were in her eyes
very well-born gentleman.

A meeting took place at the Russian Embassy. Bergenheim came in uniform;
it was etiquette to do so, as the minister of war was present; but at
the same time, of course, there was a little vanity on his part, for
his uniform showed off his tall, athletic figure to the best advantage.
Christian was certainly a very handsome soldier; his moustache and
eyebrows were of a lighter tint than his complexion, and gave him that
martial air which pleases women. Clemence could find no reason for a
refusal. The way in which she had been brought up by her aunt had
not rendered her so happy but that she often desired to change her
situation. Like the greater number of young girls, she consented to
become a wife so as not to remain a maiden; she said yes, so as not to
say no.

As to Christian, he was in love with his wife as nine out of ten cavalry
officers know how to love, and he seemed perfectly satisfied with the
sentiment that he received in return for this sudden affection. A few
successes with young belles, for whom an epaulette has an irresistible
attraction, had inspired Baron de Bergenheim with a confidence in
himself the simplicity of which excused the conceit. He persuaded
himself that he pleased Clemence because she suited him exactly.

There are singers who pretend to read music at sight; give them a score
by Gluck--“I beg your pardon,” they will say, “my part is written here
in the key of ‘C’ and I sing only in the key of ‘G’!” How many men do
not know even the key of ‘G’ in matters of love! Unfortunately for him,
Bergenheim was one of that number. After three years of married life,
he had not divined the first note in Clemence’s character. He decided
in his own mind, at the end of a few months, that she was cold, if
not heartless. This discovery, which ought to have wounded his vanity,
inspired him, on the contrary, with a deeper respect for her; insensibly
this reserve reacted upon himself, for love is a fire whose heat dies
out for want of fuel, and its cooling off is more sudden when the flame
is more on the surface than in the depths.

The revolution of 1830 stopped Christian’s career, and gave further
pretexts for temporary absences which only added to the coolness
which already existed between husband and wife. After handing in his
resignation, the Baron fixed his residence at his chateau in the Vosges
mountains, for which he shared the hereditary predilection of his
family. His tastes were in perfect harmony with this dwelling, for he
had quickly become the perfect type of a country gentleman, scorning the
court and rarely leaving his ancestral acres. He was too kind-hearted
to exact that his wife should share his country tastes and retired life.
The unlimited confidence which he had in her, a loyalty which never
allowed him to suppose evil or suspect her, a nature very little
inclined to jealousy, made him allow Clemence the greatest liberty. The
young woman lived at will in Paris with her aunt, or at Bergenheim
with her husband, without a suspicious thought ever entering his head.
Really,--what had he to fear? What wrong could she reproach him with?
Was he not full of kindness and attention toward her? Did he not leave
her mistress of her own fortune, free to do as she liked, to gratify
every caprice? He thus lived upon his faith in the marriage contract,
with unbounded confidence and old-fashioned loyalty.

According to general opinion, Madame de Bergenheim was a very fortunate
woman, to whom virtue must be so easy that it could hardly be called a
merit. Happiness, according to society, consists in a box at the Opera,
a fine carriage, and a husband who pays the bills without frowning. Add
to the above privileges, a hundred thousand francs’ worth of diamonds,
and a woman has really no right to dream or to suffer. There are,
however, poor, loving creatures who stifle under this happiness as if
under one of those leaden covers that Dante speaks of; they breathe, in
imagination, the pure, vital air that a fatal instinct has revealed to
them; they struggle between duty and desire; they gaze, like captive
doves and with a sorrowful eye, upon the forbidden region where it would
be so blissful to soar; for, in fastening a chain to their feet, the
law did not bandage their eyes, and nature gave them wings; if the wings
tear the chain asunder, shame and misfortune await them! Society
will never forgive the heart that catches a glimpse of the joys it is
unacquainted with; even a brief hour in that paradise has to be expiated
by implacable social damnation and its everlasting flames.



CHAPTER XIV. GERFAUT’S ALLEGORY

There almost always comes a moment when a woman, in her combat against
love, is obliged to call falsehood to the help of duty. Madame de
Bergenheim had entered this terrible period, in which virtue, doubting
its own strength, does not blush to resort to other resources. At the
moment when Octave, a man of experience, was seeking assistance in
exciting her jealousy, she was meditating a plan of defence founded upon
deceit. In order to take away all hope from her lover, she pretended a
sudden affection for her husband, and in spite of her secret remorse
she persisted in this role for two days; but during the night her tears
expiated her treachery. Christian greeted his wife’s virtuous coquetry
with the gratitude and eagerness of a husband who has been deprived of
love more than he likes. Gerfaut was very indignant at the sight of this
perfidious manoeuvre, the intention of which he immediately divined; and
his rage wanted only provocation to break out in full force.

One evening they were all gathered in the drawing-room with the
exception of Aline, whom a reprimand from Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
had exiled to her room. The old lady, stretched out in her chair,
had decided to be unfaithful to her whist in favor of conversation.
Marillac, leaning his elbows upon a round table, was negligently
sketching some political caricatures, at that time very much the
fashion, and particularly agreeable to the Legitimist party. Christian,
who was seated near his wife, whose hand he was pressing with caressing
familiarity, passed from one subject to another, and showed in his
conversation the overwhelming conceit of a happy man who regards his
happiness as a proof of superiority.

Gerfaut, standing, gazed gloomily at Clemence, who leaned toward her
husband and seemed to listen eagerly to his slightest word. Bergenheim
was a faithful admirer of the classics, as are all country gentlemen,
who introduce a sentiment of propriety into their literary opinions
and prefer the ancient writers to the modern, for the reason that their
libraries are much richer in old works than in modern books. The Baron
unmercifully sacrificed Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, whom he
had never read, upon the altar of Racine and Corneille, of which he
possessed two or three editions, and yet it would have embarrassed him
to recite half a dozen verses from them. Marillac boldly defended the
cause of contemporary literature, which he considered as a personal
matter, and poured out a profusion of sarcastic remarks in which there
was more wit than good taste.

“The gods fell from Olympus, why should they not also fall from
Parnassus?” said the artist, finally, with a triumphant air. “Say what
you will, Bergenheim, your feeble opposition will not prevail against
the instincts of the age. The future is ours, let me tell you, and we
are the high priests of the new religion; is it not so, Gerfaut?”

At these words, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil shook her head, gravely.

“A new religion!” said she; “if this pretension should be verified you
would only be guilty of heresy, and, without allowing myself to be taken
in, I can understand how elevated minds and enthusiastic hearts might
be attracted by the promises of a deceptive Utopia; but you, gentlemen,
whom I believe to be sincere, do you not see to what an extent you
delude yourselves? What you call religion is the most absolute negation
of religious principles; it is the most distressing impiety ornamented
with a certain sentimental hypocrisy which has not even the courage
frankly to proclaim its principles.”

“I swear to you, Mademoiselle, that I am religious three days out of
four,” replied Marillac; “that is something; there are some Christians
who are pious only on Sunday.”

“Materialism is the source from which modern literature takes its
inspiration,” continued the old lady; “and this poisonous stream not
only dries up the thoughts which would expand toward heaven, but also
withers all that is noble in human sentiment. To-day, people are not
content to deny God, because they are not pure enough to comprehend
Him; they disown even the weakness of the heart, provided they have an
exalted and dignified character. They believe no longer in love. All
the women that your fashionable writers tell us about are vulgar and
sometimes unchaste creatures, to whom formerly a gentleman would have
blushed to give one glance or to offer a supper. I say this for your
benefit, Monsieur de Gerfaut, for in this respect you are far from being
irreproachable; and I could bring forth your books to support my theory.
If I accuse you of atheism, in love, what have you to say in reply?”

Carried away by one of those impulsive emotions which men of imagination
can not resist, Octave arose and said:

“I should not deny such an accusation. Yes, it is a sad thing, but
true, and only weak minds recoil from the truth: reality exists only in
material objects; all the rest is merely deception and fancy. All
poetry is a dream, all spiritualism a fraud! Why not apply to love the
accommodating philosophy which takes the world as it is, and does not
throw a savory fruit into the press under the pretext of extracting I
know not what imaginary essence? Two beautiful eyes, a satin skin, white
teeth, and a shapely foot and hand are of such positive and inestimable
value! Is it not unreasonable, then, to place elsewhere than in them
all the wealth of love? Intellect sustains its owner, they say; no,
intelligence kills. It is thought that corrupts sensation and causes
suffering where, but for that, joy would reign supreme.

“Thought! accursed gift! Do we give or ask a thought of the rose
whose perfume we breathe? Why not love as we breathe? Would not woman,
considered simply as a perfectly organized vegetation, be the queen of
creation? Why not enjoy her perfume as we bend before her, leaving her
clinging to the ground where she was born and lives? Why tear her from
the earth, this flower so fresh, and have her wither in our hands as
we raise her up like an offering? Why make of so weak and fragile a
creature a being above all others, for whom our enthusiasm can find no
name, and then discover her to be but an unworthy angel?

“Angel! yes, of course, but an angel of the Earth, not of Heaven; an
angel of flesh, not of light! By dint of loving, we love wrongly. We
place our mistress too high and ourselves too low; there is never
a pedestal lofty enough for her, according to our ideas. Fools! Oh!
reflection is always wise, but desire is foolish, and our conduct is
regulated by our desire. We, above all, with our active, restless minds,
blase in many respects, unbelieving in others and disrespectful in the
remainder, soar over life as over an impure lake, and look at everything
with contempt, seeking in love an altar before which we can humble our
pride and soften our disdain.

“For there is in every man an insurmountable need to fall on his knees
before no matter what idol, if it remains standing and allows itself
to be adored. At certain hours, a prayerbell rings in the depth of
the heart, the sound of which throws him upon his knees as it cries:
‘Kneel!’ And then the very being who ignores God in His churches and
scorns kings upon their thrones, the being who has already exhausted the
hollow idols of glory and fame, not having a temple to pray in, makes a
fetich for himself in order to have a divinity to adore, so as not to
be alone in his impiety, and to see, above his head when he arises,
something that shall not be empty and vacant space. This man seeks a
woman, takes all that he has, talent passion, youth, enthusiasm, all the
wealth of his heart, and throws them at her feet like the mantle that
Raleigh spread out before Elizabeth, and he says to this woman: ‘Walk,
O my queen; trample under your blessed feet the heart of your adoring
slave!’ This man is a fool, is he not? For when the queen has passed,
what remains upon the mantle? Mud!”

Gerfaut accompanied these words with such a withering glance that the
one for whom they were intended felt her blood freeze in her veins, and
withdrew the hand her husband had kept till then in his; she soon arose
and seated herself at the other side of the table, under the pretext
of getting nearer the lamp to work, but in reality in order to withdraw
from Christian’s vicinity. Clemence had expected her lover’s anger,
but not his scorn; she had not strength to endure this torture, and the
conjugal love which had, not without difficulty, inflamed her heart
for the last few days, fell to ashes at the first breath of Octave’s
indignation.

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil greeted the Vicomte’s words indulgently; for,
from consummate pride, she separated herself from other women.

“So then,” said she, “you pretend that if to-day love is painted under
false and vulgar colors, the fault is the model’s, not the artist’s.”

“You express my thought much better than I could have done it myself,”
 said Gerfaut, in an ironical tone; “where are the angels whose portraits
are called for?”

“They are in our poetical dreams,” said Marillac, raising his eyes to
the ceiling with an inspired air.

“Very well! tell us your dreams then, instead of copying a reality which
it is impossible for you to render poetic, since you yourselves see it
without illusions.”

Gerfaut smiled bitterly at this suggestion, artlessly uttered by the
Baron.

“My dreams,” he replied, “I should tell them to you poorly indeed, for
the first blessing of the awakening is forgetfulness, and to-day I am
awake. However, I remember how I allowed myself to be once overcome by
a dream that has now vanished, but still emits its luminous trail in
my eyes. I thought I had discovered, under a beautiful and attractive
appearance, the richest treasure that the earth can bestow upon the
heart of man; I thought I had discovered a soul, that divine mystery,
deep as the ocean, ardent as a flame, pure as air, glorious as heaven
itself, infinite as space, immortal as eternity! It was another
universe, where I should be king. With what ardent and holy love I
attempted the conquest of this new world, but, less fortunate than
Columbus, I met with shipwreck instead of triumph.”

Clemence, at this avowal of her lover’s defeat, threw him a glance of
intense contradiction, then lowered her eyes, for she felt her face
suffused with burning blushes.

When he entered his room that night, Gerfaut went straight to the
window. He could see in the darkness the light which gleamed in
Clemence’s room.

“She is alone,” said he to himself; “certainly heaven protects us, for
in the state of exasperation I am in, I should have killed them both.”



CHAPTER XV. DECLARATION OF WAR

Far from rejoicing at this moment in the triumph he had just obtained,
Gerfaut fell into one of those attacks of disenchantment, during which,
urged on by some unknown demon, he unmercifully administered to himself
his own dreaded sarcasm. Being unable to sleep, he arose and opened his
window again, and remained with his elbows resting upon the sill for
some time. The night was calm, numberless stars twinkled in the heavens,
the moon bathed with its silvery light the tops of the trees, through
which a monotonous breeze softly rustled. After gazing at this
melancholy picture of sleeping nature, the poet smiled disdainfully,
and said to himself “This comedy must end. I can not waste my life
thus. Doubtless, glory is a dream as well as love; to pass the night
idiotically gazing at the moon and stars is, after all, as reasonable as
to grow pale over a work destined to live a day, a year, or a century!
for what renown lasts longer than that? If I were really loved, I should
not regret those wasted hours; but is it true that I am loved? There are
moments when I recover my coolness and clearness of mind, a degree of
self possession incompatible with the enthusiasm of genuine passion;
at other times, it is true, a sudden agitation renders me powerless and
leaves me as weak as a child. Oh, yes, I love her in a strange manner;
the sentiment that I feel for her has become a study of the mind as
well as an emotion of the heart, and that is what gives it its despotic
tenacity; for a material impression weakens and gradually dies out, but
when an energetic intelligence is brought to bear upon it, it becomes
desperate. I should be wrong to complain. Passion, a passive sentiment!
This word has a contradictory meaning for me. I am a lover as Napoleon
was an emperor: nobody forced the crown upon him, he took it and crowned
himself with his own hand. If my crown happens to be a thorny one, whom
can I accuse? Did not my brow crave it?

“I have loved this woman of my own choosing, above all others; the
choice made, I have worked at my love as I would at a cherished poem; it
has been the subject of all my meditations, the fairy of all my dreams,
for more than a year. I have not had a thought in which I have not paid
her homage. I have devoted my talents to her; it seemed to me that by
loving and perpetually contemplating her image, I might at last become
worthy of painting it. I was conscious of a grand future, if only she
had understood me; I often thought of Raphael and his own Fornarina.
There is a throne vacant in poetry; I had dreamed of this throne in
order to lay it at Clemence’s feet. Oh! although this may never be more
than a dream, this dream has given me hours of incomparable happiness! I
should be ungrateful to deny it.

“And yet this love is only a fictitious sentiment; I realize it today.
It is not with her that I am in love, it is with a woman created by my
imagination, and whom I see clearly within this unfeeling marble shape.
When we have meditated for a long time, our thoughts end by taking
life and walking by our side. I can now understand the allegory of Adam
taking Eve from his own substance; but flesh forms a palpitating flesh
akin to itself; the mind creates only a shadow, and a shadow can not
animate a dead body. Two dead bodies can not make a living one; a body
without a soul is only a cadaver--and she has no soul.”

Gerfaut sat motionless for some time with his face buried in his hands;
suddenly he raised his head and burst into harsh laughter.

“Enough of this soaring in the clouds!” he exclaimed; “let us come down
to earth again. It is permissible to think in verse, but one must act
in prose, and that is what I shall do tomorrow. This woman’s caprices,
which she takes for efforts of virtue, have made of me a cruel and
inexorable man; I have begged in vain for peace; if she wishes war, very
well, so be it, she shall have war.”



CHAPTER XVI. GERFAUT WINS A POINT

For several days, Gerfaut followed, with unrelenting perseverance, the
plan which he had mapped out in that eventful night. The most exacting
woman could but appear satisfied with the politeness he displayed toward
Madame de Bergenheim, but nothing in his conduct showed the slightest
desire for an explanation. He was so careful of every look, gesture,
and word of his, that it would have been impossible to discover the
slightest difference in his actions toward Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
and the manner in which he treated Clemence. His choicest attentions and
most particular efforts at amiability were bestowed upon Aline. He used
as much caution as cunning, in his little game, for he knew that in
spite of her inclination to be jealous, Madame de Bergenheim would never
believe in a sudden desertion, and that she would surely discover the
object of his ruse, if he made the mistake of exaggerating it in the
least.

While renouncing the idea of a direct attack, he did not work with any
less care to fortify his position. He redoubled his activity in
widening the breach between the old aunt and the husband, following
the principles of military art, that one should become master of the
exterior works of a stronghold before seriously attacking its ramparts.

It was, in a way, by reflection that Octave’s passion reached Clemence.
Every few moments she learned some detail of this indirect attack, to
which it was impossible for her to raise any objections.

“Monsieur de Gerfaut has promised to spend a fortnight longer with us,”
 said her aunt to her, in a jeering tone.

“Really, Gerfaut is very obliging,” said her husband, in his turn; “he
thinks it very strange that we have not had a genealogical tree made
to put in the drawing-room. He pretends that it is an indispensable
complement to my collection of family portraits, and he offers to do me
the favor of assuming charge of it. It seems, from what your aunt tells
me, that he is very learned in heraldry. Would you believe it, he spent
the whole morning in the library looking over files of old manuscripts?
I am delighted, for this will prolong his stay here. He is a very
charming fellow; a Liberal in politics, but a gentleman at heart.
Marillac, who is a superb penman, undertakes to make a fair copy of the
genealogy and to illuminate the crests. Do you know, we can not find my
great-grandmother Cantelescar’s coat-of-arms? But, my darling, it seems
to me that you are not very kindly disposed toward your cousin Gerfaut.”

Madame de Bergenheim, when these remarks and various others of a similar
nature came up, tried to change the conversation, but she felt
an antipathy for her husband bordering upon aversion. For lack of
intelligence is one of the faults women can pardon the least; they look
upon a confidence which is lulled into security by faith in their honor,
and a blindness which does not suspect the possibility of a fall, as
positive crimes.

“Look at these pretty verses Monsieur de Gerfaut has written in my
album, Clemence,” said Aline, in her turn. During vacation, among her
other pleasures forbidden her at the Sacred Heart, the young girl
had purchased a superbly bound album, containing so far but two ugly
sketches in sepia, one very bad attempt in water-colors, and the verses
in question. She called this “my album!” as she called a certain little
blank book, “my diary!” To the latter she confided every night the
important events of the day. This book had assumed such proportions,
during the last few days, that it threatened to reach the dimensions of
the Duchesse d’Abrantes’ memoires, but if the album was free to public
admiration, nobody ever saw the diary, and Justine herself never had
been able to discover the sanctuary that concealed this mysterious
manuscript.

Aline was not so pleasantly received as the others, and Madame de
Bergenheim hardly concealed the ill-humor her pretty sister-in-law’s
beaming face caused her every time Octave’s name was mentioned.

The latter’s diplomatic conduct was bearing fruit, and his expectations
were being fulfilled with a precision which proved the correctness of
his calculations.

In the midst of all the contradictory sentiments of fear, remorse,
vexation, love, and jealousy, Clemence’s head was so turned, at times,
that she did not know what she did want. She found herself in one of
those situations when a woman of a complex and mobile character whom all
sensations impress, passes, with surprising facility, from one resolve
to another entirely opposed to it. After being frightened beyond measure
by her lover’s presence in her husband’s house, she ended by becoming
accustomed to it, and then by ridiculing her first terror.

“Truly,” she thought, at times, “I was too silly thus to torment myself
and make myself ill; I was wanting in self-respect to mistrust myself
to such an extent, and to see danger where there was none. He can
not expect to make himself so very formidable while scrawling this
genealogical tree. If he came one hundred leagues from Paris for that,
he really does not merit such severe treatment.”

Then, having thus reassured herself against the perils of her position,
without realizing that to fear danger less was to embolden love, she
proceeded to examine her lover’s conduct.

“He seems perfectly resigned,” she said, to herself; “not one word or
glance for two days! Since he resigns himself so easily, he might, it
seems to me, obey me entirely and go away; or, if he wishes to disobey
me, he might do it in a less disagreeable manner. For really, his manner
is almost rude; he might at least remember that I am his hostess,
and that he is in my house. I do not see what pleasure he can take in
talking to this little girl. I wager that his only object is to annoy
me! He deceives himself most assuredly; it is all the same to me! But
Aline takes all this seriously! She has become very coquettish, the last
few days! It certainly is very wrong for him to try to turn this child’s
head. I should like to know what he would say to justify himself.”

Thus, little by little, she mentally reached the point to which Octave
wished to bring her. The desire for an explanation with him, which she
dared not admit to herself at first from a feeling of pride, became
greater from day to day, and at last Octave himself could not have
longed more ardently for an interview. Now that Octave seemed to forget
her, she realized that she loved him almost to adoration. She reproached
herself for her harshness toward him more than she had ever reproached
herself for her weakness. Her antipathy for all that did not concern
him increased to such a degree that the most simple of household duties
became odious to her. It seemed to her that all the people about her
were enemies bent upon separating her from happiness, for happiness was
Octave; and this happiness, made up of words, letters, glances from him,
was lost!

The evening of the fourth day, she found this torture beyond her
strength.

“I shall become insane,” she thought; “to-morrow I will speak to him.”

Gerfaut was saying to himself, at nearly the same moment: “To-morrow I
will have a talk with her.” Thus, by a strange sympathy, their hearts
seemed to understand each other in spite of their separation. But what
was an irresistible attraction in Clemence was only a determination
resulting from almost a mathematical calculation on her lover’s part.
By the aid of this gift of second sight which intelligent men who are
in love sometimes possess, he had followed, degree by degree, the
variations of her heart, without her saying one word; and in spite of
the veil of scorn and indifference with which she still had the courage
to shield herself, he had not lost a single one of the tortures she had
endured for the last four days. Now he thought that he had discovered
enough to allow him to risk a step that, until then, he would have
deemed dangerous; and with the egotism common to all men, even the best
of lovers, he trusted in the weakness born of sorrow.

The next day a hunting party was arranged with some of the neighbors.
Early in the morning, Bergenheim and Marillac started for the
rendezvous, which was at the foot of the large oak-tree where the
artist’s tete-a-tete had been so cruelly interrupted. Gerfaut refused to
join them, under the pretence of finishing an article for the ‘Revue de
Paris’, and remained at home with the three ladies. As soon as dinner
was ended, he went to his room in order to give a semblance of truth to
his excuse.

He had been busying himself for some time trimming a quill pen at the
window, which looked out upon the park, when he saw in the garden,
directly beneath him, Constance’s forefeet and nose; soon the dog jumped
upon the sill in order to warm herself in the sun.

“The old lady has entered her sanctuary,” thought Gerfaut, who knew that
it was as impossible to see Constance without her mistress as St.-Roch
without his dog.

A moment later he saw Justine and Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s maid
starting off, arm in arm, as if they were going for a promenade.
Finally, he had hardly written half a page, when he noticed Aline
opposite his window, with a straw hat upon her head and a watering-pot
in her hand. A servant carried a bucket of water and placed it near a
mass of dahlias, which the young girl had taken under her protection,
and she at once set about her work with great zeal.

“Now,” said Gerfaut, “let us see whether the place is approachable.” And
closing his desk, he stealthily descended the stairs.

After crossing the vestibule on the first floor, and a small gallery
decorated with commonplace pictures, he found himself at the library
door. Thanks to the genealogical tree which he had promised to compile,
he possessed a key to this room, which was not usually open. By dint
of preaching about the danger in certain reading for young girls,
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil had caused this system of locking-up,
especially designed to preserve Aline from the temptation of opening
certain novels which the old lady rejected en masse. “Young girls
did not read novels in 1780,” she would say. This put an end to all
discussion and cut short the protestations of the young girl, who
was brought up exclusively upon a diet of Le Ragois and Mentelle’s
geography, and such solid mental food.

Several large books and numerous manuscripts were spread out upon the
table in the library, together with a wide sheet of Holland paper, upon
which was sketched the family tree of the Bergenheims. Instead of going
to work, however, Gerfaut locked the door, and then went across the room
and pressed a little knob which opened a small door no one would have
noticed at first.

Leather bands representing the binding of books, like those which
covered the rest of the walls, made it necessary for one to be informed
of the existence of this secret exit in order to distinguish it from the
rest of the room. This door had had a singular attraction for Gerfaut
ever since the day he first discovered it. After silently opening it, he
found himself in a small passage at the end of which was a small spiral
staircase leading to the floor above. A cat creeping to surprise a bird
asleep could not have walked more stealthily than he, as he mounted the
stairs.

When he crossed the last step, he found himself in a small room, filled
with wardrobes, lighted by a small glass door covered with a muslin
curtain. This door opened into a little parlor which separated Madame de
Bergenheim’s private sitting-room from her sleeping-apartment. The only
window was opposite the closet and occupied almost the whole of the
woodwork, the rest of which was hung with pearl-gray stuff with lilac
figures upon it. A broad, low divan, covered with the same material as
the hanging, occupied the space in front of the window. It was the only
piece of furniture, and it seemed almost impossible to introduce even
one chair more.

The blinds were carefully closed, as well as the double curtains, and
they let in so little light that Octave had to accustom himself to the
obscurity before he could distinguish Madame de Bergenheim through the
muslin, curtains and the glass door. She was lying upon the divan,
with her head turned in his direction and a book in her hand. He first
thought her asleep, but soon noticed her gleaming eyes fastened upon the
ceiling.

“She is not asleep, she does not read, then she is thinking of me!” said
he to himself, by a logical deduction he believed incontestable.

After a moment’s hesitation, seeing that the young woman remained
motionless, Gerfaut tried to turn the handle of the door as softly
as possible so as to make his entrance quietly. The bolt had just
noiselessly slipped in the lock when the drawing-room door suddenly
opened, a flood of light inundated the floor, and Aline appeared upon
the threshold, watering-pot in hand.

The young girl stopped an instant, for she thought her sister-in-law
was asleep; but, meeting in the shade Clemence’s sparkling eyes, she
entered, saying in a fresh, silvery voice:

“All my flowers are doing well; I have come to water yours.”

Madame de Bergenheim made no reply, but her eyebrows contracted slightly
as she watched the young girl kneel before a superb datura. This almost
imperceptible symptom, and the rather ill-humored look, foretold a
storm. A few drops of water falling upon the floor gave her the needed
pretext, and Gerfaut, as much in love as he was, could not help thinking
of the fable of the wolf and the lamb, when he heard the lady of his
thoughts exclaim, in an impatient tone:

“Let those flowers alone; they do not need to be watered. Do you not see
that you are wetting the floor?”

Aline turned around and looked at the scolder for a moment; then,
placing her watering-pot upon the floor, she darted toward the divan
like a kitten that has just received a blow from its mother’s paw and
feels authorized to play with her. Madame de Bergenheim tried to rise at
this unexpected attack; but before she could sit up, she was thrown
back upon the cushions by the young girl, who seized both her hands and
kissed her on each cheek.

“Good gracious! how cross you have been for the last few days!” cried
Aline, pressing her sister’s hands. “Are you going to be like your aunt?
You do nothing but scold now. What have I done? Are you vexed with me?
Do you not love me any longer?”

Clemence felt a sort of remorse at this question, asked with such a
loving accent; but her jealousy she could not overcome. To make up for
it, she kissed her sister-in-law with a show of affection which seemed
to satisfy the latter.

“What are you reading?” asked the young girl, picking up the book which
had fallen to the floor in their struggle--“Notre Dame de Paris. That
must be interesting! Will you let me read it? Oh! do! will you?”

“You know very well that my aunt has forbidden you to read novels.”

“Oh! she does that just to annoy me and for no other reason. Do you
think that is right? Must I remain an idiot, and never read anything
but history and geography the rest of my life? As if I did not know
that Louis Thirteenth was the son of Henri Fourth, and that there are
eighty-six departments in France. You read novels. Does it do you any
harm?”

Clemence replied in a rather imperative tone, which should have put an
end to the discussion.

“When you are married you can do as you like. Until then you must leave
your education in the hands of those who are interested in you.”

“All my friends,” replied Aline with a pout, “have relatives who are
interested in them, at least as much as your aunt is in me, and they
do not prevent their reading the books they like. There is Claire de
Saponay, who has read all of Walter Scott’s novels, Maleck-Adel, Eugenie
and Mathilde--and I do not know how many more; Gessner, Mademoiselle de
Lafayette--she has read everything; and I--they have let me read Numa
Ponzpilius and Paul and Virginia. Isn’t that ridiculous at sixteen years
of age?”

“Do not get excited, but go into the library and get one of Walter
Scott’s novels; but do not let my aunt know anything about it.”

At this act of capitulation, by which Madame de Bergenheim doubtless
wished to atone for her disagreeableness, Aline made one joyous bound
for the glass door. Gerfaut had barely time to leave his post of
observation and to conceal himself between two wardrobes, under a cloak
which was hanging there, when the young girl made her appearance, but
she paid no attention to the pair of legs which were but imperfectly
concealed. She bounded down the stairs and returned a moment later with
the precious volumes in her hand.

“Waverley, or, Scotland Sixty Years Ago,” said she, as she read the
title. “I took the first one on the shelf, because you are going to lend
them all to me, one by one, are you not? Claire says that a young girl
can read Walter Scott, and that his books are very nice.”

“We shall see whether you are sensible,” replied Clemence, smiling;
“but, above all things, do not let my aunt see these books, for I am the
one who would get the scolding.”

“Do not worry;--I will go and hide them in my room.”

She went as far as the door, then stopped and came back a few steps.

“It seems,” said she, “that Monsieur de Gerfaut worked in the library
yesterday, for there are piles of books on the table. It is very kind of
him to be willing to make this tree, is it not? Shall we both be in it?
Do they put women in such things? I hope your aunt will not be there;
she is not one of our family.”

Clemence’s face clouded again at the name of Gerfaut.

“I know no more about it than you,” she replied, a little harshly.

“The reason I asked is because there are only pictures of men in the
drawing-room; it is not very polite on their part. I should much prefer
that there should be portraits of our grandmothers; it would be so
amusing to see the beautiful dresses that they wore in those days rather
than those old beards which frighten me. But perhaps they do not put
young girls in genealogical trees,” she continued, in a musing tone.

“You might ask Monsieur de Gerfaut; he wishes to please you too much to
refuse to tell you,” said Clemence, with an almost ironical smile.

“Do you think so?” asked Aline, innocently. “I should never dare to ask
him.”

“You are still afraid of him, then?”

“A little,” replied the young girl, lowering her eyes, for she felt her
face flush.

This symptom made Madame de Bergenheim more vexed than ever, and she
continued, in a cutting, sarcastic tone:

“Has your cousin d’Artigues written you lately?”

Mademoiselle de Bergenheim raised her eyes and looked at her for a
moment with an indifferent air:

“I don’t know,” she said, at last.

“What! you do not know whether you have received a letter from your
cousin?” continued Clemence, laughing affectedly.

“Ah! Alphonse--no, that is, yes; but it was a long time ago.”

“How cold and indifferent you are all of a sudden to this dear Alphonse!
You do not remember, then, how you wept at his departure, a year ago,
and how vexed you were with your brother who tried to tease you about
this beautiful affection, and how you swore that you would never have
any other husband than your cousin?”

“I was a simpleton, and Christian was right. Alphonse is only one year
older than I! Think of it, what a fine couple we should make! I know
that I am not very sensible, and so it is necessary that my husband
should be wise enough for both. Christian is nine years older than you,
is he not?”

“Do you think that is too much?” asked Madame de Bergenheim.

“Quite the contrary.”

“What age should you like your husband to be?”

“Oh!--thirty,” replied the young girl, after a slight hesitation.

“Monsieur de Gerfaut’s age?”

They gazed at each other in silence. Octave, who, from his place of
concealment heard the whole of this conversation, noticed the sad
expression which passed over Clemence’s face, and seemed to provoke
entire confidence. The young girl allowed herself to be caught by this
appearance of interest and affection.

“I will tell you something,” said she, “if you will promise never to
tell a soul.”

“To whom should I repeat it? You know that I am very discreet as to your
little secrets.”

“It is because this might be perhaps a great secret,” continued Aline.

Clemence took her sister-in-law’s hand, and drew her down beside her.

“You know,” said Aline, “that Christian has promised to give me a watch
like yours, because I do not like mine. Yesterday, when we were out
walking, I told him I thought it was very unkind of him not to have
given it to me yet. Do you know what he replied?--It is true that he
laughed a little--It is hardly worth while buying you one now; when you
are the Vicomtesse de Gerfaut, your husband will give you one.’”

“Your brother was joking at your expense; how could you be such a child
as not to perceive it?”

“I am not such a child!” exclaimed Aline, rising with a vexed air; “I
know what I have seen. They were talking a long time together in the
drawing-room last evening, and I am sure they were speaking of me.”

Madame de Bergenheim burst into laughter, which increased her
sister-in-law’s vexation, for she was less and less disposed to be
treated like a young girl.

“Poor Aline!” said the Baroness, at last; “they were talking about
the fifth portrait; Monsieur de Gerfaut can not find the name of the
original among the old papers, and he thinks he did not belong to the
family. You know, that old face with the gray beard, near the door.”

The young girl bent her head, like a child who sees her naughty sister
throw down her castle of cards.

“And how do you know?” said she, after a moment’s reflection. “You
were at the piano. How could you hear at the other end of the room what
Monsieur de Gerfaut was saying?”

It was Clemence’s turn to hang her head, for it seemed to her that the
girl had suspected the constant attention which, under an affectation of
indifference, never allowed her to lose one of Octave’s words. As usual,
she concealed her embarrassment by redoubling her sarcasm.

“Very likely,” said she, “I was mistaken, and you may be right after
all. What day shall we have the honor of saluting Madame la Vicomtesse
de Gerfaut?”

“I foolishly told you what I imagined, and you at once make fun of me,”
 said Aline, whose round face lengthened at each word, and passed from
rose-color to scarlet; “is it my fault that my brother said this?”

“I do not think it was necessary for him to speak of it, for you to
think a great deal about the matter.”

“Very well; must one not think of something?”

“But one should be careful of one’s thoughts; it is not proper for a
young girl to think of any man,” replied Clemence, with an accent of
severity which would have made her aunt recognize with pride the pure
blood of the Corandeuils.

“I think it is more proper for a young girl to do so than for a married
woman.”

At this unexpected retort, Madame de Bergenheim lost countenance and
sat speechless before the young maiden, like a pupil who has just been
punished by his teacher.

“Where the devil did the little serpent get that idea?” thought
Gerfaut, who was very ill at ease between the two wardrobes where he was
concealed.

Seeing that her sister-in-law did not reply to her, Aline took this
silence from confusion for an expression of bad temper, and at once
became angry in her turn.

“You are very cross to-day,” said she; “good-by, I do not want your
books.”

She threw the volumes of Waverley upon the sofa, picked up her
watering-pot and went out, closing the door with a loud bang. Madame de
Bergenheim sat motionless with a pensive, gloomy air, as if the young
girl’s remark had changed her into a statue.

“Shall I enter?” said Octave to himself, leaving his niche and putting
his hand upon the door-knob. “This little simpleton has done me an
infinite wrong with her silly speeches. I am sure that she is cruising
with full sails set upon the stormy sea of remorse, and that those two
rosebuds she is gazing at now seem to her like her husband’s eyes.”

Before the poet could make up his mind what to do, the Baroness
arose and left the room, closing the door almost as noisily as her
sister-in-law had done.

Gerfaut went downstairs, cursing, from the very depths of his heart,
boarding-school misses and sixteen-year-old hearts. After walking up and
down the library for a few moments, he left it and started to return
to his room. As he passed the drawing-room, loud music reached his ear;
chromatic fireworks, scales running with the rapidity of the cataract of
Niagara, extraordinary arpeggios, hammering in the bass with a petulance
and frenzy which proved that the ‘furie francaise’ is not the exclusive
right of the stronger sex. In this jumble of grave, wild, and sad notes,
Gerfaut recognized, by the clearness of touch and brilliancy of some
of the passages, that this improvisation could not come from Aline’s
unpractised fingers. He understood that the piano must be at this moment
Madame de Bergenheim’s confidant, and that she was pouring out the
contradictory emotions in which she had indulged for several days; for,
to a heart deprived of another heart in which to confide its joys and
woes, music is a friend that listens and replies.

Gerfaut listened for some time in silence, with his head leaning against
the drawing-room door. Clemence wandered through vague melodies without
fixing upon any one in particular. At last a thought seemed to captivate
her. After playing the first measures of the romance from Saul, she
resumed the motive with more precision, and when she had finished the
ritornello she began to sing, in a soft, veiled voice,

          “Assisa al pie d’un salice--”

Gerfaut had heard her sing this several times, in society, but never
with this depth of expression. She sang before strangers with her lips;
now it all came from her heart. At the third verse, when he believed her
to be exalted by her singing and the passion exhaled in this exquisite
song, the poet softly entered, judging it to be a favorable moment, and
enough agitated himself to believe in the contagion of his agitation.

The first sight which met his eyes was Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
stretched out in her armchair, head thrown back, arms drooping and
letting escape by way of accompaniment a whistling, crackling, nasal
melody. The old maid’s spectacles hanging on the end of her nose had
singularly compromised the harmony of her false front. The ‘Gazette de
France’ had fallen from her hands and decorated the back of Constance,
who, as usual, was lying at her mistress’s feet.

“Horrible old witch!” said Gerfaut to himself. “Decidedly, the Fates
are against me to-day.” However, as both mistress and dog were sleeping
soundly, he closed the door and tiptoed across the floor.

Madame de Bergenheim had ceased to sing, but her fingers still continued
softly to play the motive of the song. As she saw Octave approaching
her, she leaned over to look at her aunt, whom she had not noticed to
be asleep, as the high back of her chair was turned toward her. Nobody
sleeps in a very imposing manner, but the old lady’s profile, with her
false front awry, was so comical that it was too much for her niece’s
gravity. The desire to laugh was, for the moment, stronger than respect
for melancholy; and Clemence, through that necessity for sympathy
peculiar to acute merriment, glanced involuntarily at Octave, who was
also smiling. Although there was nothing sentimental in this exchange of
thoughts, the latter hastened to profit by it; a moment more, and he was
seated upon a stool in front of the piano, at her left and only a few
inches from her.

“How can a person sleep when you are singing?”

The most embarrassed freshman could have turned out as bright a speech
as this; but the eloquence of it lay less in the words than in the
expression. The ease and grace with which Octave seated himself, the
elegant precision of his manner, the gracious way in which he bent his
head toward Clemence, while speaking, showed a great aptitude in this
kind of conversation. If the words were those of a freshman, the accent
and pose were those of a graduate.

The Baroness’s first thought was to rise and leave the room, but an
invincible charm held her back. She was not mistress enough of her eyes
to dare to let them meet Octave’s; so she turned them away and pretended
to look at the old lady.

“I have a particular talent for putting my aunt to sleep,” said she,
in a gay tone; “she will sleep until evening, if I like; when I stop
playing, the silence awakens her.”

“I beg of you, continue to play; never awaken her,” said Gerfaut; and,
as if he were afraid his wish would not be granted, he began to pound in
the bass without being disturbed by the unmusical sounds.

“Do not play discords,” said Clemence, laughing; “let us at least put
her to sleep in tune.”

She was wrong to say us; for her lover took this as complicity for
whatever might happen. Us, in a tete-a-tete, is the most traitorous word
in the whole language.

It may be that Clemence had no great desire that her aunt should awaken;
perhaps she wished to avoid a conversation; perhaps she wished to enjoy
in silence the happiness of feeling that she was still loved, for since
he had seated himself beside her Octave’s slightest action had become
a renewed avowal. Madame de Bergenheim began to play the Duke
of Reichstadt’s Waltz, striking only the first measure of the
accompaniment, in order to show her lover where to put his fingers.

The waltz went on. Clemence played the air and Octave the bass, two of
their hands remaining unoccupied--those that were close to each other.
Now, what could two idle hands do, when one belonged to a man deeply in
love, the other to a young woman who for some time had ill-treated her
lover and exhausted her severity? Before the end of the first part, the
long unoccupied, tapering fingers of the treble were imprisoned by those
of the bass, without the least disturbance in the musical effect--and
the old aunt slept on!

A moment later, Octave’s lips were fastened upon this rather trembling
hand, as if he wished to imbibe, to the very depths of his soul, the
soft, perfumed tissue. Twice the Baroness tried to disengage herself,
twice her strength failed her. It was beginning to be time for the
aunt to awaken, but she slept more soundly than ever; and if a slight
indecision was to be noticed in the upper hand, the lower notes
were struck with an energy capable of metamorphosing Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil into a second Sleeping Beauty.

When Octave had softly caressed this hand for a long time, he raised his
head in order to obtain a new favor. This time Madame de Bergenheim did
not turn away her eyes, but, after looking at Octave for an instant, she
said to him in a coquettish, seductive way:

“Aline?”

The mute glance which replied to this question was such an eloquent
denial that all words were superfluous. His sweet, knowing smile
betrayed the secret of his duplicity; he was understood and forgiven.
There was at this moment no longer any doubt, fear, or struggle between
them. They did not feel the necessity of any explanation as to the
mutual suffering they had undergone; the suffering no longer existed.
They were silent for some time, happy to look at each other, to be
together and alone-for the old aunt still slept. Not a sound was to be
heard; one would have said that sleep had overcome the two lovers
also. Suddenly the charm was broken by a terrible noise, like a trumpet
calling the guilty ones to repentance.



CHAPTER XVII. A RUDE INTERRUPTION

Had a cannon-ball struck the two lovers in the midst of their ecstasy
it would have been less cruel than the sensation caused by this horrible
noise. Clemence trembled and fell back in her chair, frozen with horror.
Gerfaut rose, almost as frightened as she; Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
aroused from her sleep, sat up in her chair as suddenly as a
Jack-in-a-box that jumps in one’s face when a spring is touched. As
to Constance, she darted under her mistress’s chair, uttering the most
piteous howls.

One of the folding-doors opposite the window opened; the bell of a
hunting-horn appeared in the opening, blown at full blast and waking the
echoes in the drawing-room. The curtain of the drama had risen upon a
parody, a second incident had changed the pantomime and sentiments of
the performers. The old lady fell back in her chair and stopped up her
ears with her fingers, as she stamped upon the floor; but it was in vain
for her to try to speak, her words were drowned by the racket made by
this terrible instrument. Clemence also stopped her ears. After running
in her terror, under every chair in the room, Constance, half wild,
darted, in a fit of despair, through the partly opened door. Gerfaut
finally began to laugh heartily as if he thought it all great fun, for
M. de Bergenheim’s purple face took the place of the trumpet and his
hearty laugh rang out almost as noisily.

“Ah! ha! you did not expect that kind of accompaniment,” said the Baron,
when his gayety had calmed a little; “this is the article that you were
obliged to write for the Revue de Paris, is it? Do you think that I am
going to leave you to sing Italian duets with Madame while I am scouring
the woods? You must take me for a very careless husband, Vicomte. Now,
then, right about face! March! Do me the kindness to take a gun. We are
going to shoot a few hares in the Corne woods before supper.”

“Monsieur de Bergenheim,” exclaimed the old lady, when her emotion would
allow her to speak, “this is indecorous--vulgar--the conduct of a common
soldier--of a cannibal! My head is split open; I am sure to have
an awful neuralgia in a quarter of an hour. It is the conduct of a
herdsman.”

“Do not think of your neuralgia, my dear aunt,” replied Christian, whose
good-humor seemed aroused by the day’s sport; “you are as fresh as a
rosebud--and Constance shall have some hares’ heads roasted for her
supper.”

At this moment a second uproar was heard in the courtyard; a horn was
evidently being played by an amateur, accompanied by the confused yelps
and barks of a numerous pack of hounds; the whole was mingled with
shouts of laughter, the cracking of whips, and clamors of all kinds.
In the midst of this racket, a cry, more piercing than the others, rang
out, a cry of agony and despair.

“Constance!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, in a falsetto voice
full of terror; she rushed to one of the windows and all followed her.

The spectacle in the courtyard was as noisy as it was picturesque.
Marillac, seated upon a bench, was blowing upon a trumpet, trying to
play the waltz from Robert-le-Diable in a true infernal manner. At his
feet were seven or eight hunters and as many servants encouraging him
by their shouts. The Baron’s pack of hounds, of great renown in the
country, was composed of about forty dogs, all branded upon their right
thighs with the Bergenheim coat-of-arms. From time immemorial, the
chateau’s dogs had been branded thus with their master’s crest, and
Christian, who was a great stickler for old customs, had taken care not
to drop this one. This feudal sign had probably acted upon the morals
of the pack, for it was impossible to find, within twenty leagues, a
collection of more snarly terriers, dissolute hounds, ugly bloodhounds,
or more quarrelsome greyhounds. They were perfect hunters, but it
seemed as if, on account of their being dogs of quality, all vices were
permitted them.

In the midst of this horde, without respect for law or order, the
unfortunate Constance had found herself after crossing the ante-chamber,
vestibule, and outside steps, still pursued by the sounds from
Christian’s huge horn. An honest merchant surprised at the turn of the
road by a band of robbers would not have been greeted any better than
the poodle was at the moment she darted into the yard. It may have been
that the quarrel between the Bergenheims and Corandeuils had reached the
canine species; it may have been at the instigation of the footmen,
who all cordially detested the beast--the sad fact remains that she
was pounced upon in a moment as if she were a deer, snatched, turned
topsy-turvy, rolled, kicked about, and bitten by the forty four-legged
brigands, who each seemed determined to carry away as a trophy some
portion of her cafe-au-lait colored blanket.

The person who took the most delight in this deplorable spectacle was
Pere Rousselet. He actually clapped his hands together behind his back,
spread his legs apart in the attitude of the Colossus of Rhodes, while
his coat-skirts almost touched the ground, giving him the look of a
kangaroo resting his paws under his tail. From his large cockatoo mouth
escaped provoking hisses, which encouraged the assassins in their crime
as much as did Marillac’s racket.

“Constance!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil a second time, frozen
with horror at the sight of her poodle lying upon its back among its
enemies.

This call produced no effect upon the animal section of the actors in
this scene, but it caused a sudden change among the servants and a few
of the hunters; the shouts of encouragement ceased at once; several of
the participants prudently tried to efface themselves; as to Rousselet,
more politic than the others, he boldly darted into the melee and picked
up the fainting puppy in his arms, carrying her as tenderly as a mother
would an infant, without troubling himself whether or not he was leaving
part of his coat-tails with the savage hounds.

When the old lady saw the object of her love placed at her feet covered
with mud, sprinkled with blood, and uttering stifled groans, which she
took for the death-rattle, she fell back in her chair speechless.

“Let us go,” said Bergenheim in a low voice, taking his guest by the
arm. Gerfaut threw a glance around him and sought Clemence’s eyes,
but he did not find them. Without troubling herself as to her aunt’s
despair, Clemence had hurried to her room; for she felt the necessity of
solitude in order to calm her emotions, or perhaps to live them over a
second time. Octave resigned himself to following his companion. At
the end of a few moments, the barking of the dogs, the joking of the
hunters, even the wind in the trees and the rustling leaves, had bored
Octave to such an extent that, in spite of himself, his face betrayed
him.

“What a doleful face you have!” exclaimed his host, laughingly. “I am
sorry that I took you away from Madame de Bergenheim; it seems that you
decidedly prefer her society to ours.”

“Would you be very jealous if I were to admit the fact?” replied Octave,
making an effort to assume the same laughing tone as the Baron.

“Jealous! No, upon my honor! However, you are well constituted to give
umbrage to a poor husband.

“But jealousy is not one of my traits of character, nor among my
principles.”

“You are philosophical!” said the lover, with a forced smile.

“My philosophy is very simple. I respect my wife too much to suspect
her, and I love her too much to annoy her in advance with an imaginary
trouble. If this trouble should come, and I were sure of it, it would
be time enough to worry myself about it. Besides, it would be an affair
soon settled.”

“What affair?” asked Marillac, slackening his pace in order to join in
the conversation.

“A foolish affair, my friend, which does not concern you, Monsieur de
Gerfaut, nor myself any longer, I hope; although I belong to the class
exposed to danger. We were speaking of conjugal troubles.”

The artist threw a glance at his friend which signified: “What the deuce
made you take it into your head to start up this hare?”

“There are many things to be said on this subject,” said he, in a
sententious tone, thinking that his intervention might be useful
in getting his friend out of the awkward position in which he found
himself, “an infinite number of things may be said; books without number
have been written upon this subject. Every one has his own system and
plan of conduct as to the way of looking at and acting upon it.”

“And what would be yours, you consummate villain?” asked Christian;
“would you be as cruel a husband as you are an immoral bachelor? That
usually happens; the bolder a poacher one has been, the more intractable
a gamekeeper one becomes. What would be your system?”

“Hum! hum! you are mistaken, Bergenheim; my boyish love adventures have
disposed me to indulgence. ‘Debilis caro’, you know! Shakespeare has
translated it, ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’”

“I am a little rusty in my; Latin and I never knew a word of English.
What does that mean?”

“Upon my word, it means, if I were married and my wife deceived me, I
should resign myself to it like a gentleman, considering the fragility
of this enchanting sex.”

“Mere boy’s talk, my friend! And you, Gerfaut?”

“I must admit,” replied the latter, a little embarrassed, “that I have
never given the subject very much thought. However, I believe in the
virtue of women.”

“That is all very well, but in case of misfortune what would you do?”

“I think I should say with Lanoue: ‘Sensation is for the fop, complaints
for the fool, an honest man who is deceived goes away and says
nothing.’”

“I partly agree with Lanoue; only I should make a little
variation--instead of goes away should say avenges himself.”

Marillac threw at his friend a second glance full of meaning.

“Per Bacco!” said he, “are you a Venetian or a Castilian husband?”

“Eh!” replied Bergenheim, “I suppose that without being either, I should
kill my wife, the other man, and then myself, without even crying,
‘Beware!’ Here! Brichou! pay attention; Tambeau is separated from the
rest.”

As he said these words the Baron leaped over a broad ditch, which
divided the road from the clearing which the hunters had already
entered.

“What do you say to that?” murmured the artist, in a rather dramatic
tone, in his friend’s ear.

Instead of replying, the lover made a gesture which signified, according
to all appearance: “I do not care.”

The clearing they must cross in order to reach the woods formed a large,
square field upon an inclined plane which sloped to the river side. Just
as Marillac in his turn was jumping the ditch, his friend saw, at the
extremity of the clearing, Madame de Bergenheim walking slowly in the
avenue of sycamores. A moment later, she had disappeared behind a mass
of trees without the other men noticing her.

“Take care that you do not slip,” said the artist, “the ground is wet.”

This warning brought misfortune to Gerfaut, who in jumping caught his
foot in the root of a tree and fell.

“Are you hurt?” asked Bergenheim.

Octave arose and tried to walk, but was obliged to lean upon his gun.

“I think I have twisted my foot,” said he, and he carried his hand to it
as if he felt a sharp pain there.

“The devil! it may be a sprain,” observed the Baron, coming toward them;
“sit down. Do you think you will be able to walk?”

“Yes, but I fear hunting would be too much for me; I will return to the
house.”

“Do you wish us to make a litter and carry you?”

“You are laughing at me; it’s not so bad as that. I will walk back
slowly, and will take a foot-bath in my room.”

“Lean upon me, then, and I will help you,” said the artist, offering his
arm.

“Thanks; I do not need you,” Octave replied; “go to the devil!” he
continued, in an expressive aside.

“Capisco!” Marillac replied, in the same tone, giving his arm an
expressive pressure. “Excuse me,” said he aloud, “I am not willing that
you should go alone. I will be your Antigone--

     Antigone me reste, Antigone est and fille.

“Bergenheim, I will take charge of him. Go on with your hunting, the
gentlemen are waiting for you. We will meet again at supper; around the
table; legs are articles of luxury and sprains a delusion, provided that
the throat and stomach are properly treated.”

The Baron looked first at his guests, then at the group that had just
reached the top of the clearing. For an instant Christian charity
struggled against love of hunting, then the latter triumphed. As he saw
that Octave, although limping slightly, was already in a condition to
walk, especially with the aid of his friend’s arm, he said:

“Do not forget to put your foot in water, and send for Rousselet; he
understands all about sprains.”

This advice having eased his conscience, he joined his companions, while
the two friends slowly took the road back to the chateau, Octave resting
one hand upon the artist’s arm and the other upon his gun.

“The bourgeois is outwitted!” said Marillac with a stifled laugh, as
soon as he was sure that Bergenheim could not hear him. “Upon my word,
these soldiers have a primitive, baptismal candor! It is not so with us
artists; they could not bamboozle us in this way. Your strain is an
old story; it is taken from the ‘Mariage de raison’, first act, second
scene.”

“You will do me the favor to leave me as soon as we reach the woods,”
 said Gerfaut, as he continued to limp with a grace which would have made
Lord Byron envious; “you may go straight ahead, or you may turn to the
left, as you choose; the right is forbidden you.”

“Very well. Hearts are trumps, it seems, and, for the time being, you
agree with Sganarelle, who places the heart on the right side.”

“Do not return to the chateau, as it is understood that we are together.
If you rejoin the hunting-party, say to Bergenheim that you left me
seated at the foot of a tree and that the pain in my foot had almost
entirely gone. You would have done better not to accompany me, as I
tried to make you understand.”

“I had reasons of my own for wishing to get out of Christian’s crowd.
To-day is Monday, and I have an appointment at four o’clock which
interests you more than me. Now, will you listen to a little advice?”

“Listen, yes; follow it, not so sure.”

“O race of lovers!” exclaimed the artist, in a sort of transport,
“foolish, absurd, wicked, impious, and sacrilegious kind!”

“What of it?”

“What of it? I tell you this will all end with swords for two.”

“Bah!”

“Do you know that this rabid Bergenheim, with his round face and
good-natured smile, killed three or four men while he was in the
service, on account of a game of billiards or some such trivial matter?”

“Requiescat in pace.”

“Take care that he does not cause the ‘De Profundis’ to be sung for you.
He was called the best swords man at Saint-Cyr: he has the devil of a
lunge. As to pistol-shooting, I have seen him break nine plaster images
at Lepage’s one after another.”

“Very well, if I have an engagement with him, we will fight it out with
arsenic.”

“By Jove, joking is out of place. I tell you that he is sure to discover
something, and then your business will soon be settled; he will kill you
as if you were one of the hares he is hunting this moment.”

“You might find a less humiliating comparison for me,” replied Gerfaut,
with an indifferent smile; “however, you exaggerate. I have always
noticed that these bullies with mysterious threats of their own and
these slaughterers of plaster images were not such very dangerous
fellows to meet. This is not disputing Bergenheim’s bravery, for I
believe it to be solid and genuine.”

“I tell you, he is a regular lion! After all, you will admit that it
is sheer folly to come and attack him in his cage and pull his whiskers
through the bars. And that is what you are doing. To be in love with his
wife and pay court to her in Paris, when he is a hundred leagues from
you, is all very well, but to install yourself in his house, within
reach of his clutches! that is not love, it is sheer madness. This
is nothing to laugh at. I am sure that this will end in some horrible
tragedy. You heard him speak of killing his wife and her lover just now,
as if it were a very slight matter. Very well; I know him; he will do
as he says without flinching. These ruddy-faced people are very devils,
if you meddle with their family affairs! He is capable of murdering you
in some corner of his park, and of burying you at the foot of some tree
and then of forcing Madame de Bergenheim to eat your heart fricasseed in
champagne, as they say Raoul de Coucy did.”

“You will admit, at least, that it would be a very charming repast, and
that there would be nothing bourgeois about it.”

“Certainly, I boast of detesting the bourgeois; I am celebrated for
that; but I should much prefer to die in a worsted nightcap, flannel
underwear, and cotton night-shirt, than to have Bergenheim assist me,
too brusquely, in this little operation. He is such an out-and-out
Goliath! Just look at him!”

And the artist forced his friend to turn about, and pointed at
Christian, who stood with the other hunters upon the brow of the hill, a
few steps from the spot where they had left him. The Baron was indeed a
worthy representative of the feudal ages, when physical strength was
the only incontestable superiority. In spite of the distance, they could
hear his clear, ringing voice although they could not distinguish his
words.

“He really has a look of the times of the Round Table,” said Gerfaut;
“five or six hundred years ago it would not have been very agreeable to
find one’s self face to face with him in a tournament; and if to-day,
as in those times, feminine hearts were won by feats with double-edged
swords, I admit that my chances would not be very good. Fortunately, we
are emancipated from animal vigor; it is out, of fashion.”

“Out of fashion, if you like; meanwhile, he will kill you.”

“You do not understand the charms of danger nor the attractions that
difficulties give to pleasure. I have studied Christian thoroughly since
I have been here, and I know him as well as if I had passed my life with
him. I am also sure that, at the very first revelation, he will kill me
if he can, and I take a strange interest in knowing that I risk my
life thus. Here we are in the woods,” said Gerfaut, as he dropped the
artist’s arm and ceased limping; “they can no longer see us; the farce
is played out. You know what I told you to say if you join them:
you left me at the foot of a tree. You are forbidden to approach the
sycamores, under penalty of receiving the shot from my gun in your
moustache.”

At these words he threw the gun which had served him as crutch over his
shoulder, and darted off in the direction of the river.



CHAPTER XVIII. ESPIONAGE

At the extremity of the sycamore walk, the shore formed a bluff like the
one upon which the chateau was built, but much more abrupt, and partly
wooded. In order to avoid this stretch, which was not passable for
carriages, the road leading into the principal part of the valley turned
to the right, and reached by an easier ascent a more level plateau.
There was only one narrow path by the river, which was shaded by
branches of beeches and willows that hung over this bank into the
river. After walking a short distance through this shady path, one found
himself before a huge triangular rock covered with moss, which nature
had rolled from the top of the mountain as if to close up the passage.

This obstacle was not insurmountable; but in order to cross it, one
must have a sure foot and steady head, for the least false step would
precipitate the unlucky one into the river, which was rapid as well as
deep. From the rock, one could reach the top of the cliff by means of
some natural stone steps, and then, descending on the other side, could
resume the path by the river, which had been momentarily interrupted.
In this case, one would reach, in about sixty steps, a place where
the river grew broader and the banks projected, forming here and there
little islands of sand covered with bushes. Here was a ford well known
to shepherds and to all persons who wished to avoid going as far as the
castle bridge.

Near the mossy rock of which we have spoken as being close to the
sycamore walk, at the foot of a wall against which it flowed, forming
a rather deep excavation, the current had found a vein of soft, brittle
stone which, by its incessant force, it had ended in wearing away. It
was a natural grotto formed by water, but which earth, in its turn,
had undertaken to embellish. An enormous willow had taken root in a few
inches of soil in a fissure of the rock, and its drooping branches fell
into the stream, which drifted them along without being able to detach
them.

Madame de Bergenheim was seated at the front of this grotto, upon a
seat formed by the base of the rock. She was tracing in the sand, with
a stick which she had picked up on the way, strange figures which she
carefully erased with her foot. Doubtless these hieroglyphics had some
meaning to her, and perhaps she feared lest the slightest marks might
be carelessly forgotten, as they would betray the secret they concealed.
Clemence was plunged into one of those ecstatic reveries which abolish
time and distance. The fibres of her heart, whose exquisite vibrating
had been so suddenly paralyzed by Christian’s arrival, had resumed their
passionate thrills. She lived over again in her mind the tete-a-tete in
the drawing-room; she could hear the entrancing waltz again; she felt
her lover’s breath in her hair; her hand trembled again under the
pressure of his kiss. When she awoke from this dream it was a reality;
for Octave was seated by her side without her having seen him arrive,
and he had taken up the scene at the piano just where it had been
interrupted.

She was not afraid. Her mind had reached that state of exaltation which
renders imperceptible the transition from dreaming to reality. It seemed
to her that Octave had always been there, that it was his place, and
for a moment she no longer thought, but remained motionless in the arms
which embraced her. But soon her reason came back to her. She arose
trembling, and drew away a few steps, standing before her lover with
lowered head and face suffused with blushes.

“Why are you afraid of me? Do you not think me worthy of your love?” he
asked, in an altered voice, and, without trying to retain or approach
her, he fell upon his knees with a movement of sweet, sad grace.

He had analyzed Madame de Bergenheim’s character well enough to perceive
the least variation in her capricious nature. By the young woman’s
frightened attitude, her burning cheeks and the flashes which he saw
from her eyes through her long, drooping lashes, he saw that a reaction
had taken place, and he feared the next outburst; for he knew that
women, when overcome with remorse, always smite their lover by way of
expiation for themselves.

“If I let this recovered virtue have the mastery, I am a lost man for a
fortnight at least,” he thought.

He quickly abandoned the dangerous ground upon which he had taken
position, and passed, by an adroit transition, from the most passionate
frenzy to the most submissive bearing. When Clemence raised her large
eyes, in which was a threatening gleam, she saw, instead of an audacious
man to be punished, an imploring slave.

There was something so flattering in this attitude of humility that she
was completely disarmed. She approached Octave, and took him by the
hand to raise him, seated herself again and allowed him to resume his
position beside her. She softly pressed his hand, of which she had
not let go, and, looking her lover in the eyes, said in that deep,
penetrating voice that women sometimes have:

“My friend!”

“Friend!” he thought; “yes, certainly. I will raise no dispute as to
the word, provided the fact is recognized. What matters the color of
the flag? Only fools trouble themselves about that. ‘Friend’ is not the
throne I aspire to, but it is the road that leads to it. So then, let
it be ‘friend,’ while waiting for better. This word is very pleasant to
hear when spoken in these siren’s accents, and when at the same time the
eyes say ‘lover!’”

“Will you always love me thus?” Octave asked, whose face beamed with
virtuous pledges.

“Always!” sighed Clemence, without lowering eyes under the burning
glance which met hers.

“You will be the soul of my soul; the angel of my heaven?”

“Your sister,” she said, with a sweet smile, as she caressed her lover’s
cheek with her hand.

He felt the blood mount to his face at this caress, and turned his eyes
away with a dreamy air.

“I probably am one of the greatest fools that has ever existed since the
days of Joseph and Hippolytus,” thought he.

He remained silent and apparently indifferent for several moments.

“Of what are you thinking?” asked Madame de Bergenheim, surprised by
Octave’s silence and rather listless air.

He gave a start of surprise at this question.

“May I die if I tell her!” he thought; “she must think me ridiculous
enough as it is.”

“Tell me, I wish you to speak out,” she continued, in that despotic tone
which a woman assumes when sure of her empire.

Instead of replying, as she demanded, he gave her a long, questioning
glance, and it would have been impossible at that moment for her to keep
a single secret from her lover. Madame de Bergenheim felt the magnetic
influence of his penetrating glance so deeply that it seemed to her
these sharp eyes were fathoming her very heart. She felt intensely
disturbed to be gazed at in that way, and, in order to free herself from
this mute questioning, she leaned her head upon Octave’s shoulder, as
she said softly:

“Do not look at me like that or I shall not love your eyes any more.”

Her straw hat, whose ribbons were not tied, slipped and fell, dragging
with it the comb which confined her beautiful hair, and it fell in
disorder over her shoulders. Gerfaut passed his hand behind the charming
head which rested upon his breast, in order to carry this silky,
perfumed fleece to his lips. At the same time, he gently pressed the
supple form which, as it bent toward him, seemed to ask for this caress.

Clemence made a sudden effort and arose, fastening her hair at the back
of her head with an almost shamed haste.

“Will you refuse me one lock of your hair as a souvenir of this hour?”
 said Octave, stopping her gently as she was about to replace her comb.

“Do you need any souvenir?” she replied, giving him a glance which was
neither a reproach nor a refusal.

“The souvenir is in my heart, the hair will never leave my bosom! We
live in an unworthy age. I can not boast of wearing your colors in
everybody’s eyes, and yet I should like to wear a sign of my bondage.”

She let her hair fall down her back again, but seemed embarrassed as to
how to execute his wish.

“I can not cut my hair with my teeth,” she said, with a smile which
betrayed a double row of pearls.

Octave took a stiletto from his pocket.

“Why do you always carry this stiletto?” asked the young woman, in a
changed voice; “it frightens me to see you armed thus.”

“Fear nothing,” said Gerfaut, who did not reply to her question, “I will
respect the hair which serves you as a crown. I know where I must cut
it, and, if my ambition is great, my hand shall be discreet.”

Madame de Bergenheim had no confidence in his moderation, and, fearing
to leave her beautiful hair to her lover’s mercy, she took the stiletto
and cut off a little lock which she drew through her fingers and then
offered to him, with a loving gesture that doubled the value of the
gift. At this moment, hunting-horns resounded in the distance.

“I must leave you now!” exclaimed Clemence, “I must. My dear love, let
me go now; say good-by to me.”

She leaned toward him and presented her forehead to receive this adieu.
It was her lips which met Octave’s, but this kiss was rapid and fleeting
as a flash of light. Withdrawing from the arms which would yet retain
her, she darted out of the grotto, and in a moment had disappeared in
one of the shady paths.

For some time, plunged in deep reflection, Gerfaut stood on the same
spot; but at last arousing himself from this dreamy languor, he climbed
the rock so as to reach the top of the cliff. After taking a few steps
he stopped with a frightened look, as if he had espied some venomous
reptile in his path. He could see, through the bushes which bordered
the crest of the plateau at the top of the ladder cut in the rock,
Bergenheim, motionless, and in the attitude of a man who is trying to
conceal himself in order that he may watch somebody. The Baron’s eyes
not being turned in Gerfaut’s direction, he could not tell whether he
was the object of this espionage, or whether the lay of the land allowed
him to see Madame de Bergenheim, who must be under the sycamores by this
time. Uncertain as to what he should do, he remained motionless, half
crouched down upon the rock, behind the ledge of which, thanks to his
position, he could hide from the Baron.



CHAPTER XIX. THE REVELATION

A few moments before the castle clock struck four, a man leaped across
the ditch which served as enclosure to the park. Lambernier, for it was
he who showed himself so prompt at keeping his promise, directed his
steps through the thickets toward the corner of the Corne woods which
he had designated to Marillac; but, after walking for some time, he
was forced to slacken his steps. The hunting-party were coming in his
direction, and Lambernier knew that to continue in the path he had first
chosen would take him directly among the hunters; and, in spite of his
insolence, he feared the Baron too much to wish to expose himself to the
danger of another chastisement. He therefore retraced his steps and took
a roundabout way through the thickets, whose paths were all familiar to
him; he descended to the banks of the river ready to ascend to the place
appointed for the rendezvous as soon as the hunting party had passed.

He had hardly reached the plateau covered with trees, which extended
above the rocks, when, as he entered a clearing which had been recently
made, he saw two men coming toward him who were walking very fast, and
whom to meet in this place caused him a very disagreeable sensation. The
first man was Mademoiselle de Corandeuil’s coachman, as large a fellow
as ever crushed the seats of landau or brougham with his rotundity.
He was advancing with hands in the pockets of his green jacket and
his broad shoulders thrown back, as if he had taken it upon himself to
replace Atlas. His cap, placed in military fashion upon his head, his
scowling brows, and his bombastic air, announced that he was upon the
point of accomplishing some important deed which greatly interested him.
Leonard Rousselet, walking by his side, moved his spider legs with equal
activity, carefully holding up the skirts of his long coat as if they
were petticoats.

Lambernier, at sight of them, turned to enter the woods again, but he
was stopped in his retreat by a threatening shout.

“Stop, you vagabond!” exclaimed the coachman; “halt! If you take a trot,
I shall take a gallop.”

“What do you want? I have no business with you,” replied the workman, in
a surly tone.

“But I have business with you,” replied the big domestic, placing
himself in front of him and balancing himself first on his toes then on
his heels, with a motion like the wooden rocking-horses children play
with. “Come here, Rousselet; are you wheezy or foundered?”

“I have not as good legs as your horses,” replied the old man, who
reached them at last, breathless, and took off his hat to wipe his
forehead.

“What does this mean, jumping out upon one from a corner in the woods
like two assassins?” asked Lambernier, foreseeing that this beginning
might lead to some scene in which he was threatened to be forced to play
a not very agreeable role.

“It means,” said the coachman: “first, that Rousselet has nothing to do
with it; I do not need anybody’s help to punish an insignificant fellow
like you; second, that you are going to receive your quietus in a
trice.”

At these words he pushed his cap down over his ears and rolled up his
sleeves, in order to give freer action to his large, broad hands.

The three men were standing upon a plot of ground where charcoal had
been burned the year before. The ground was black and slippery, but
being rather level, it was a very favorable place for a duel with
fists or any other weapons. When Lambernier saw the lackey’s warlike
preparations, he placed his cap and coat upon an old stump and stationed
himself in front of his adversary. But, before the hostilities had
begun, Rousselet advanced, stretching his long arms out between them,
and said, in a voice whose solemnity seemed to be increased by the
gravity of the occasion:

“I do not suppose that you both wish to kill each other; only uneducated
people conduct themselves in this vulgar manner; you ought to have
a friendly explanation, and see if the matter is not susceptible of
arrangement. That was the way such things were done when I was in the
twenty-fifth demi-brigade.”

“The explanation is,” said the coachman, in his gruff voice, “that here
is a low fellow who takes every opportunity to undervalue me and my
horses, and I have sworn to give him a good drubbing the first time I
could lay my hands upon him. So, Pere Rousselet, step aside. He will see
if I am a pickle; he will find out that the pickle is peppery!”

“If you made use of such a vulgar expression as that,” observed
Rousselet, turning to Lambernier, “you were at fault, and should beg his
pardon as is the custom among educated people.”

“It is false!” exclaimed Lambernier; “and besides, everybody calls the
Corandeuils that, on account of the color of their livery.”

“Did you not say Sunday, at the ‘Femme-sans-Tete’, and in the presence
of Thiedot, that all the servants of the chateau were idlers and
good-for-nothings, and that if you met one of them who tried to annoy
you, you would level him with your plane?”

“If you used the word ‘level,’ it was very uncivil,” observed Rousselet.

“Thiedot had better keep in his own house,” growled the carpenter,
clenching his fists.

“It looks well for a tramp like you to insult gentlemen like us,”
 continued the lackey, in an imposing tone. “And did you not say that
when I took Mademoiselle to mass I looked like a green toad upon the
box,... thus trying to dishonor my physique and my clothes? Did you not
say that?”

“Only a joke about the color of your livery. They call the others
measles and lobsters.”

“Lobsters are lobsters,” replied the coachman, in an imperative tone;
“if that vexes them, they can take care of themselves. But I will not
allow any one to attack my honor or that of my beasts by calling them
screws--and that is what you did, you vagabond! And did you not say that
I sent bags of oats to Remiremont to be sold, and that, for a month,
my team had steadily been getting thin? Did you ever hear anything so
scandalous, Pere Rousselet? to dare to say that I endanger the lives of
my horses? Did you not say that, you rascal? And did you not say that
Mademoiselle Marianne and I had little private feasts in her room, and
that was why I could not eat more at the table? Here is Rousselet, who
has been a doctor and knows that I am on a diet on account of my weak
stomach.” At these words, the servant, carried away by his anger, gave
his stomach a blow with his fist.

“Lambernier,” said Rousselet, turning up his lips with a look of
contempt, “I must admit that, for a man well brought up, you have made
most disgusting remarks.”

“To say that I eat the horses’ oats!” roared the coachman.

“I ought to have said that you drank them,” replied Lambernier, with his
usual sneer.

“Rousselet, out of the way!” exclaimed the burly lackey at this new
insult; the old peasant not moving as quickly as he desired, he seized
him by the arm and sent him whirling ten steps away.

At this moment, a new person completed the scene, joining in it, if
not as actor at least as interested spectator. If the two champions had
suspected his presence they would have probably postponed their fight
until a more opportune moment, for this spectator was no other than the
Baron himself. As he saw from a distance the trio gesticulating in
a very animated manner, he judged that a disorderly scene was in
preparation, and as he had wished for a long time to put an end to the
quarrelsome ways of the chateau servants, he was not sorry to catch them
in the very act, so as to make an example of them. At first, he
stooped and concealed himself in the thickets, ready to appear for the
denouement.

As Lambernier saw the giant’s fist coming down upon him, he darted to
one side and the blow only struck the air, making the coachman stumble
from the force of his impetuosity. Lambernier profited by this position
to gather all his strength, and threw himself upon his adversary, whom
he seized by the flank and gave such a severe blow as to bring him down
upon his knees. He then gave him a dozen more blows upon the head, and
succeeded in overthrowing him completely.

If the coachman had not had a cranium as hard as iron, he probably
could not have received such a storm of fisticuffs without giving up the
ghost. Fortunately for him, he had one of those excellent Breton heads
that break the sticks which beat them. Save for a certain giddiness, he
came out of the scramble safe and sound. Far from losing his presence
of mind by the disadvantageous position in which he found himself, he
supported himself upon the ground with his left hand, and, passing his
other arm behind him, he wound it around the workman’s legs, who thus
found himself reaped down, so to speak, and a moment later was lying on
his back in front of his adversary. The latter, holding him fast with
his strong hands, placed a knee, as large as a plate, upon his chest and
then pulled off the cap that his enemy had pushed down over his eyes,
and proceeded to administer full justice to him.

“Ah! you thought you’d attack me treacherously, did you?” said he, with
a derisive chuckle as if to slacken the speed of his horses. “You know
short reckonings make good friends. Oh! what a fine thrashing you are
going to receive, my friend! Take care! if you try to bite my hand, I’ll
choke you with my two fingers, do you hear! Now, then, take this for the
green toad; this, for my horses’ sake; this, for Mademoiselle Marianne!”

He followed each “this” with a heavy blow from his fist. At the third
blow the blood poured out of the mouth of the carpenter, who writhed
under the pressure of his adversary’s knee like a buffalo stifled by
a boa-constrictor; he succeeded at last in freeing one hand, which he
thrust into his trousers’ pocket.

“Ah! you rascal! I am killed!” howled the coachman, giving a bound
backward. Lambernier, profiting by his freedom, jumped upon his feet,
and, without troubling himself as to his adversary, who had fallen on
his knees and was pressing his hand to his left thigh; he picked up his
cap and vest and started off through the clearing. Rousselet, who until
then had prudently kept aside, tried to stop the workman, at a cry from
his companion, but the scoundrel brandished his iron compass before his
eyes with such an ugly look that the peasant promptly left the way open
for him.

At this tragic and unexpected denouement, Bergenheim, who was getting
ready to make his appearance from behind the trees and to interpose his
authority, started in full pursuit of the would-be murderer. From the
direction he took, he judged that he would try to reach the river by
passing over the rock. He walked in this direction, with his gun over
his shoulder, until he reached the foot of the steps which descended
into the grotto. Christian crouched behind some bushes to wait for
Lambernier, who must pass this way, and it was at this moment that
Gerfaut, who was forty feet below him, saw him without suspecting the
reason for his attitude.

Bergenheim soon found out that he had calculated correctly when he
heard a sound like that made by a wild boar when he rushes through the
thickets and breaks the small branches in his path, as if they were no
more than blades of grass. Soon Lambernier appeared with a haggard, wild
look and a face bleeding from the blows he had received. He stopped for
a moment to catch his breath and to wipe off his compass with a handful
of grass; he then staunched the blood streaming from his nose and mouth,
and after putting on his coat started rapidly in the direction of the
river.

“Halt!” exclaimed the Baron, suddenly, rising before him and barring his
passage.

The workman jumped back in terror; then he drew out his compass a second
time and made a movement as if to throw himself upon this new adversary,
out of sheer desperation. Christian, at this threatening pantomime,
raised his gun to his cheek with as much coolness and precision as he
would have shown at firing into a body of soldiers.

“Down with your weapon!” he exclaimed, in his commanding voice, “or I
will shoot you down like a rabbit.”

The carpenter uttered a hoarse cry as he saw the muzzle of the gun
within an inch of his head, ready to blow his brains out. Feeling
assured that there was no escape for him, he closed his compass and
threw it with an angry gesture at the Baron’s feet.

“Now,” said the latter, “you will walk straight ahead of me as far as
the chateau, and if you turn one step to the right or left, I will send
the contents of my gun into you. So right about march!”

As he said these words, he stooped, without losing sight of the workman,
and picked up the compass, which he put in his pocket.

“Monsieur le Baron, it was the coachman who attacked me first; I had to
defend myself,” stammered Lambernier.

“All right, we will see about that later. March on!”

“You will deliver me up to the police--I am a ruined man!”

“That will make one rascal the less,” exclaimed Christian, repelling
with disgust the workman, who had thrown himself on his knees before
him.

“I have three children, Monsieur, three children,” he repeated, in a
supplicating tone.

“Will you march!” replied Bergenheim imperiously, as he made a gesture
with his gun as if to shoot him.

Lambernier arose suddenly, and the expression of terror upon his
countenance gave place to one of resolution mingled with hatred and
scorn.

“Very well,” he exclaimed, “let us go on! but remember what I tell you;
if you have me arrested, you will be the first to repent of it, Baron
though you are. If I appear before a judge, I will tell something that
you would pay a good price for.”

Bergenheim looked fixedly at Lambernier.

“What do you mean by such insolence?” said he.

“I will tell you what I mean, if you will promise to let me go; if you
give me into the hands of the police, I repeat it, you will repent not
having listened to me to-day.”

“This is some idle yarn, made to gain time; no matter, speak; I will
listen.”

The workman darted a defiant glance at Christian.

“Give me your word of honor to let me go afterward.”

“If I do not do so, are you not at liberty to repeat your story?”
 replied the Baron, who, in spite of his curiosity, would not give his
word to a scoundrel whose only aim probably was to escape justice.

This observation impressed Lambernier, who, after a moment’s reflection,
assumed a strange attitude of cool assurance, considering the position
in which he found himself. Not a sound was to be heard; even the barking
of the dogs in the distance had ceased. The deepest silence surrounded
them; even Gerfaut, in the place where he was concealed, could no longer
see them, now that Bergenheim had left the edge of the cliff; from
time to time their voices reached him, but he could not distinguish the
meaning of their words.

Leaning with one hand upon his gun, Christian waited for the carpenter
to begin his story, gazing at him with his clear, piercing eyes.
Lambernier bore this glance without flinching, returning it in his
insolent way.

“You know, Monsieur, that when the alterations were made in Madame’s
apartment, I had charge of the carving for her chamber. When I took
away the old woodwork, I saw that the wall between the windows was
constructed out of square, and I asked Madame if she wished that the
panel should be fastened like the other or if she preferred it to open
so that it would make a closet. She said to have it open by means of a
secret spring. So I made the panel with concealed hinges and a little
button hidden in the lower part of the woodwork; it only needs to be
pressed, after turning it to the right, and the woodwork will open like
a door.”

Christian had now become extremely attentive.

“Monsieur will remember that he was in Nancy at the time, and that
Madame’s chamber was completed during his absence. As I was the only one
who worked in this room, the other workmen not being capable of carving
the wood as Madame wished, I was the only person who knew that the panel
was not nailed down the length of the wall.”

“Well?” asked the Baron, impatiently.

“Well,” Lambernier replied, in a careless tone, “if, on account of the
blow which I gave the coachman, it is necessary for me to appear in
court, I shall be obliged to tell, in order to revenge myself, what I
saw in that closet not more than a month ago.”

“Finish your story,” exclaimed Bergenheim, as he clenched the handle of
his gun.

“Mademoiselle Justine took me into this room in order to hang some
curtains; as I needed some nails, she went out to get them. While I was
examining the woodwork, which I had not seen since it had been put in
place, I saw that the oak had warped in one place because it was not dry
enough when it was used. I wished to see if the same thing had happened
between the windows, and if the panel could open. I pressed the spring,
and when the door opened I saw a small package of letters upon the
little shelf; it seemed very singular to me that Madame should choose
this place to keep her letters, and the thought came to me that she
wished to conceal them from Monsieur.”

Bergenheim gave the workman a withering glance, and made a sign for him
to continue.

“They were already talking about discharging me from the chateau’s
employ; I do not know how it happened, but the thought entered my head
that perhaps one of these letters would be of use to me, and I took
the first one in the package; I had only time to close the panel when
Mademoiselle Justine returned.”

“Very well! what is there in common between these letters and the
criminal court that awaits you?” asked Christian, in an altered voice,
although he tried to appear indifferent.

“Oh! nothing at all,” replied the carpenter, with an air of
indifference; “but I thought that you would not like people to know that
Madame had a lover.”

Bergenheim shivered as if he were taken with a chill, and his gun
dropped from his hand to the ground.

As quick as thought Lambernier stooped over to seize the gun, but he
did not have time to carry out his intention, for he was seized by the
throat and half choked by an iron hand.

“That letter! that letter!” said Christian to him, in a low, trembling
voice, and he put his face down close to the carpenter’s, as if he
feared that a breath of wind might carry away his words and repeat them.

“Let me alone first, I can not breathe--” stammered the workman, whose
face, was becoming purple and his eyes starting out of his head, as if
his adversary’s fingers had been a rope.

The latter granted the prayer by loosening his hold of the carpenter’s
neck and seizing him by his vest in such a way as to take away all
chance of escape while leaving him free to speak.

“This letter!” he repeated.

Frightened by the shaking he had just received, and not in a condition
to reflect with his usual prudence, Lambernier mechanically obeyed
this order; he hunted in his pockets for some time, and at last took a
carefully folded paper from his vest-pocket, saying with a stunned air:

“Here it is. It is worth ten louis.”

Christian seized the paper and opened it with his teeth, for he could
not use his hands without releasing his prisoner. It was, like all notes
of this kind, without address, seal, or signature. It did not differ
from most of its kind save in the natural beauty of its style and its
simple eloquence. Ardent protestations, sweet and loving complaints,
those precious words that one bestows only upon the woman he loves and
which betray a love that has yet much to desire but as much to hope.
The handwriting was entirely unknown to Bergenheim, but Clemence’s name,
which was repeated several times, did not permit him to doubt for a
moment that this note was written to his wife. When he had finished
reading, he put it in his pocket with apparent serenity, and then looked
at Lambernier, who, during this time, had remained motionless under the
hand that detained him.

“You are mistaken, Lambernier,” said he to him; “it is one of my letters
before my marriage.” And he tried to force himself to smile; but the
muscles of his lips refused to act this falsehood, and drops of cold
perspiration stood upon his forehead and at the roots of his hair.

The carpenter had watched the change in the Baron’s countenance as
he read the letter. He was persuaded that he could turn the capital
importance of his revelations into profit for himself; he believed
that the time had come when he might gain advantage by showing that he
understood perfectly well the value of the secret he had just imparted.
So he replied with a glance of intelligence:

“Monsieur’s handwriting must have changed greatly, then; I have some
of his orders which do not resemble this any more than a glass of water
does a glass of wine.”

Christian tried to find a response but failed. His eyebrows contracted
in a manner that betokened a coming storm, but Lambernier was not
disturbed by this symptom; he continued in a more and more assured
voice:

“When I said that this letter was worth ten louis, I meant that it was
worth that much to a mere stranger, and I am very sure I should not have
to go very far to find one; but Monsieur le Baron is too sensible not to
know the value of this secret. I do not wish to set a price upon it, but
since I am obliged to go away on account of this coachman, and have no
money--”

He did not have time to finish; Bergenheim seized him in the middle of
the body and made him describe a horizontal half-circle without touching
the ground, then threw him upon his knees on the edge of the path
which descended almost perpendicularly alongside the rocks. Lambernier
suddenly saw his haggard face reflected in the river fifty feet below.
At this sight, and feeling a powerful knee between his shoulders which
bent him over the abyss, as if to make him appreciate its dangers, the
workman uttered a terrified cry; his hands clutched wildly at the tufts
of grass and roots of plants which grew here and there on the sides of
the rocks, and he struggled with all his might to throw himself back
upon the ground. But it was in vain for him to struggle against the
superior strength of his adversary, and his attempts only aggravated the
danger of his position. After two or three powerless attempts, he found
himself lying upon his stomach with half his body hanging over
the precipice, having nothing to prevent him from falling over but
Bergenheim’s hand, which held him by the collar and at the same time
hindered him from rising.

“Have you ever said one word about this?” asked the Baron, as he took
hold of the trunk of a tree to steady himself upon this dangerous ground
that he had chosen as the field of discussion.

“To nobody!--ah!--how my head swims!” replied the carpenter, closing his
eyes in terror, for the blood rushing to his brain made him dizzy, and
it seemed to him that the river was slowly reaching him.

“You see that if I make one gesture, you are a dead man,” replied the
Baron, leaning upon him harder yet.

“Give me up to the police; I will say nothing about the letters; as sure
as there is a God, I will say nothing. But do not let me fall--hold me
tight--do not let go of me--I am slipping--oh! holy mother of God!”

Christian taking hold of the tree near him, leaned over and raised
Lambernier up, for he really was incapable of doing so himself; fright
and the sight of the water had given him vertigo. When he was upon his
legs again, he reeled like a drunken man and his feet nearly gave way
beneath him. The Baron looked at him a moment in silence, but at last he
said:

“Go away, leave the country at once; you have time to fly before there
will be any pursuit. But remember that if I ever hear one word of what
has passed between us from your lips, I shall know how to find you and
you will die by my hand.”

“I swear by the Holy Virgin and by all the saints--” stammered
Lambernier, who had suddenly become a very fervent Catholic.

Christian pointed with his finger to the stone steps beneath them.

“There is your road; pass over the rock, through the woods, and reach
Alsace. If you conduct yourself well, I will assure your living. But
remember; one single indiscreet word, and you are a dead man.”

At these words he pushed him into the path with one of those quick
movements which very powerful men can not always calculate the effect
of. Lambernier, whose strength was almost exhausted by the struggles
he had undergone, had not vigor enough left to stand, and he lost his
balance at this violent as well as unexpected push. He stumbled over
the first step, reeled as he tried to regain his footing, and fell head
first down the almost vertical declivity. A ledge of the cliff, against
which he first struck, threw him upon the loose rocks. He slowly glided
downward, uttering lamentable cries; he clutched, for a moment, a little
bush which had grown in a crevice of the rocks but he did not have
strength enough to hold on to it, his arm having been broken in three
places by his fall. He let go of it suddenly, and dropped farther and
farther down uttering a last terrible shriek of despair; he rolled over
twice again-and then fell into the torrent below, that swallowed him up
like a mass already deprived of life.



BOOK 4.



CHAPTER XX. MARILLAC TELLS A STORY

Guests were seated that evening around the oval table in the dining-room
of the castle of Bergenheim. According to custom, the ladies were not
present at this repast. This was a custom which had been adopted by the
Baroness for the suppers which were given by her husband at the close
of his hunting parties; she dispensed with appearing at table on those
days; perhaps she was too fastidious to preside at these lengthy seances
of which the ruses of the hare, the death of the stag, and the feats of
the hounds, formed the principal topics of conversation. It is probable
that this conduct was duly appreciated by those who participated in
those rather boisterous repasts, and that they felt a certain gratitude,
in spite of the regrets they manifested on account of Madame’s absence.

Among the guests was Marillac, whose sparkling eye, and cheeks even more
rosy than usual, made him conspicuous. Seated between a fat notary and
another boon companion, who were almost as drunk as he Marillac emptied
glass after glass, red wine after the white, the white after the red,
with noisy laughter, and jests of all kinds by way of accompaniment. His
head became every moment more and more excited by the libations destined
to refresh his throat, and his neighbors, without his perceiving the
conspiracy, thought it would be good fun to put a Parisian dandy under
the table. However, he was not the only one who was gliding over the
slippery precipice that leads to the attractive abyss of drunkenness.
The majority of the guests shared his imprudent abandon and progressive
exaltation. A bacchic emulation reigned, which threatened to end in
scenes bordering upon a debauch.

Among these highly colored cheeks, under which the wine seemed to
circulate with the blood, these eyes shining with a dull, fictitious
light, all this disorderly pantomime so contrary to the quiet habit
of the gesticulators, two faces contrasted strangely with the careless
mirth of the others. The Baron fulfilled his duties as master of the
house with a sort of nervous excitement which might pass for genuine
merriment in the eyes of those of his guests who were in no condition
to study his countenance; but a quiet observer would soon have discerned
that these violent efforts at good-humor and bantering concealed some
terrible suffering. From time to time, in the midst of a sentence or a
laugh, he would suddenly stop, the muscles of his face would twitch as
if the spring which set them in motion had broken; his expression became
sombre and savage; he sank back in his chair motionless, a stranger to
all that surrounded him, and gave himself up to some mysterious thought
against which resistance seemed powerless. Suddenly he appeared to
wake from some perplexing dream, and by another powerful effort aroused
himself and joined in the conversation with sharp, cutting speeches; he
encouraged the noisy humor of his guests, inciting them to drunkenness
by setting the example himself; then the same mysterious thought would
cross his face anew, and he would fall back into the tortures of a
revery which must have been horrible, to judge by the expression of his
face.

Among his guests, one only, who was seated almost opposite Bergenheim,
seemed to be in the secret of his thoughts and to study the symptoms
with deep attention. Gerfaut, for it was he, showed an interest in this
examination which reacted on his own countenance, for he was paler than
ever.

“When I saw that the hare was reaching the upper road,” said one of the
guests, a handsome old man about sixty years of age, with gray hair and
rosy cheeks, “I ran toward the new clearing to wait for its return. I
felt perfectly sure, notary, that he would pass through your hands safe
and sound.”

“Now, notary,” said Marillac, from the other end of the table, “defend
yourself; one, two, three, ready!”

“Monsieur de Camier,” replied the hunter whose skill had been
questioned, “I do not pretend to have your skill. I never have shot as
large game as you did at your last hunt.”

This reply was an allusion to a little misadventure which had happened
to the first speaker, who, on account of nearsightedness, had shot a
cow, taking it for a buck. The laugh, which had been at the notary’s
expense first, now turned against his adversary.

“How many pairs of boots did you get out of your game?” asked one.

“Gentlemen, let us return to our conversation,” said a young man, whose
precise face aspired to an austere and imposing air. “Up to this time,
we can form only very vague conjectures as to the road that Lambernier
took to escape. This, allow me to say, is more important than the
notary’s hare or Monsieur de Carrier’s cow.”

At these words, Bergenheim, who had taken no part in the conversation,
straightened up in his chair.

“A glass of Sauterne,” said he, suddenly, to one of his neighbors.

Gerfaut looked at him stealthily for a moment, and then lowered his
eyes, as if he feared his glance might be noticed.

“The public prosecutor scents a culprit, and there is no fear he will
drop the trail,” said the notary.

“The case will doubtless come up at the next session of the Assizes.”

M. de Carrier put his glass, which was half filled, upon the table,
angrily exclaiming:

“The devil take the jury! I am called to the next session, and I will
wager my head that I shall be drawn. How agreeable that will be! To
leave my home and business in the middle of winter and spend a fortnight
with a lot of fellows whom I do not know from Adam! That is one of the
agreeable things supplied by constitutional government. The French have
to be judged by their peers! Of what use is it to pay for judges if we,
land-owners, are obliged to do their work. The old parliaments, against
which so much has been said, were a thousand times better than all this
bedlam let loose in a court of assizes.”

Marillac, who during this speech was amusing himself with singing his
low “G” while peeling an apple, interrupted his song, to the great
relief of a hound who lay at his feet, and whose nerves seemed to be
singularly affected by the strain.

“Monsieur de Carrier,” said he, “you are a large landowner, an eligible
citizen and a Carlist; you fast on Fridays, go to mass in your parish,
and occasionally kill cows for bucks; I esteem and respect you;
but allow me to say that you have just uttered an old, antediluvian
platitude.”

“Gentlemen,” said the public prosecutor, punctuating each word with
his first finger, “I have the greatest respect for the old parliaments,
those worthy models of our modern magistracy, those incorruptible
defenders of national freedom, but my veneration is none the less
great for the institutions emanating from our wise constitution, and
it prevents me from adopting an exclusive opinion. However, without
pretending to proclaim in too absolute a manner the superiority of
the old system over the new, I am in a certain sense of Monsieur de
Carrier’s opinion. In my position, I am better able than any other
person to study the advantages and disadvantages of a jury, and I am
forced to admit that if the advantages are real, the disadvantages are
none the less indisputable. One of the great vices of juries consists
in the habit that a great number of its members have of calling for
material proofs in order to form their opinions. They must almost see
the wounds of the victim before agreeing on a verdict. As to Lambernier,
I hope that they will not contest the existence of the main evidence:
the victim’s still bleeding thigh.”

“Tra-de-ri-di-ra,” exclaimed the artist, striking alternately with his
knife a glass and a bottle, as if he were playing a triangle. “I must
say that you choose madly gay subjects for conversation. We are truly a
joyous crowd; look at Bergenheim opposite us; he looks like Macbeth in
the presence of Banquo’s ghost; here is my friend Gerfaut drinking water
with a profoundly solemn air. Good gracious, gentlemen! enough of this
foolish talk! Let them cut this Lambernier’s throat and put an end to
the subject! The theatre for dramatic music, the church for sacred!

          Le vin, le jeu; les belles,
          Voila mes seuls amours.”

A general protestation rose from the whole table at this verse, which
was roared out in a lugubrious voice. Noisy shouts, rapping of knives
upon tumblers and bottles, and exclamations of all kinds called the
orator to order.

“Monsieur Marillac,” exclaimed the public prosecutor, in a joking tone,
“it seems to me that you have wandered from the subject.”

The artist looked at him with an astonished air.

“Had I anything in particular to say to you?” he asked; “if so, I will
sustain my point. Only do me the kindness to tell me what it was about.”

“It was on the subject of this man Lambernier,” whispered the notary to
him, as he poured out a glass of wine. “Courage! you improvise better
than Berryer! If you exert yourself, the public prosecutor will be
beaten in no time.”

Marillac thanked his neighbor with a smile and a nod of the head, which
signified: “Trust me.” He then emptied his glass with the recklessness
that had characterized his drinking for some time, but, strangely
enough, the libation, instead of putting the finishing stroke to his
drunkenness, gave his mind, for the time being, a sort of lucidity.

“The accusation,” he continued, with the coolness of an old lawyer,
“rests upon two grounds: first, the presence without cause of the
accused upon the spot where the crime was committed; second, the nature
of the weapon used.--Two simple but peremptory replies will make the
scaffold which has been erected upon this double supposition fall to
the ground. First, Lambernier had a rendezvous at this place, and at
the exact hour when this crime with which he is accused took place; this
will be proved by a witness, and will be established by evidence in a
most indisputable manner. His presence will thus be explained without
its being interpreted in any way against him. Second, the public
prosecutor has admitted that the carrying of a weapon which Lambernier
may have been in the habit of using in his regular trade could not be
used as an argument against him, and for that same reason could not be
used as an argument in favor of premeditation; now, this is precisely
the case in question. This weapon was neither a sword, bayonet, nor
stiletto, nothing that the fertile imagination of the public prosecutor
could imagine; it was a simple tool used by the accused in his
profession, the presence of which in his pocket is as easily understood
as that of a snuff-box in the pocket of my neighbor, the notary, who
takes twenty pinches of snuff a minute. Gentlemen, this weapon was a
pair of carpenter’s compasses.”

“A compass!” exclaimed several voices at once.

“A compass!” exclaimed the Baron, gazing fixedly at the artist. Then he
carried his hand to his pocket, and suddenly withdrew it, as he felt the
workman’s compass there, where it had been ever since the scene upon the
rocks.

“An iron compass,” repeated the artist, “about ten inches long, more or
less, the legs of it being closed.”

“Will you explain yourself, Monsieur?” excitedly exclaimed the public
prosecutor, “for it really seems as if you had witnessed the crime. In
that case you will be called out as a witness for the defence. Justice
is impartial, gentlemen. Justice has not two pairs of scales.”

“To the devil with justice! You must have come from Timbuctoo to use
such old-fashioned metaphors.”

“Make your deposition, witness; I require you to make your deposition,”
 said the magistrate, whose increasing drunkenness appeared as dignified
and solemn as the artist was noisy.

“I have nothing to state; I saw nothing.”

Here the Baron drew a long breath, as if these words were a relief.

“But I saw something!” said Gerfaut to himself, as he gazed at the
Baron’s face, upon which anxiety was depicted.

“I reason by hypothesis and supposition,” continued the artist. “I had a
little altercation with Lambernier a few days ago, and, but for my
good poniard, he would have put an end to me as he did to this fellow
to-day.”

He then related his meeting with Lambernier, but the consideration due
Mademoiselle Gobillot’s honor imposed numberless circumlocutions and
concealments which ended by making his story rather unintelligible to
his auditors, and in the midst of it his head became so muddled that he
was completely put out.

“Basta!” he exclaimed, in conclusion, as he dropped heavily into his
chair. “Not another word for the ‘whole empire. Give me something to
drink! Notary, you are the only man here who has any regard for me. One
thing is certain about this matter--I am in ten louis by this rascal’s
adventure.”

These words struck the Baron forcibly, as they brought to his mind what
the carpenter had said to him when he gave him the letter.

“Ten louis!” said he, suddenly, looking at Marillac as if he wished to
look into his very heart.

“Two hundred francs, if you like it better. A genuine bargain. But we
have talked enough, ‘mio caro’; you deceive yourselves if you think you
are going to make me blab. No, indeed! I am not the one to allow myself
to become entangled. I am now as mute and silent as the grave.”

Bergenheim insisted no longer, but, leaning against the back of his
chair, he let his head fall upon his breast. He remained for some time
buried in thought and vainly trying to connect the obscure words he had
just heard with Lambernier’s incomplete revelations. With the exception
of Gerfaut, who did not lose one of his host’s movements, the guests,
more or less absorbed by their own sensations, paid no attention to
the strange attitude of the master of the house, or, like Monsieur
de Camier, attributed it to the influence of wine. The conversation
continued its noisy course, interrupted every few moments by the
startling vagaries of some guest more animatedly excited than the rest,
for, at the end of a repast where sobriety has not reigned, each one is
disposed to impose upon others the despotism of his own intoxication,
and the idle talk of his peculiar hallucinations. Marillac bore away the
prize among the talking contingent, thanks to the vigor of his lungs and
the originality of his words, which sometimes forced the attention of
his adversaries. Finally he remained master of the field, and flashed
volleys of his drunken eloquence to the right and left.

“It is a pity,” he exclaimed, in the midst of his triumph, as he glanced
disdainfully up and down the table, “it really is a pity, gentlemen,
to listen to your conversation. One could imagine nothing more
commonplace-prosaic or bourgeois. Would it not please you to indulge in
a discussion of a little higher order?

“Let us join hands, and talk of poetry and art. I am thirsting for an
artistic conversation; I am thirsting for wit and intelligence.”

“You must drink if you are thirsty,” said the notary, filling his glass
to the brim.

The artist emptied it at one draught, and continued in a languishing
voice as he gazed with a loving look at his fat neighbor.

“I will begin our artistic conversation: ‘Knowest thou the land where
the orange-flower blooms?’”

“It is warmer than ours,” replied the notary, who was not familiar with
Mignon’s song; and, beginning to laugh maliciously, he gave a wink at
his neighbors as if to say:

“I have settled him now.”

Marillac leaned toward him with the meekness of a lamb that presents his
head to the butcher, and sympathetically pressed his hands.

“O poet!” he continued, “do you not feel, as I do at the twilight hour
and in the eventide, a vague desire for a sunny, perfumed, southern
life? Will you not bid adieu to this sterile country and sail away to
a land where the blue sky is reflected in the blue sea? Venice! the
Rialto, the Bridge of Sighs, Saint Mark! Rome! the Coliseum and Saint
Peter--But I know Italy by heart; let us go instead to Constantinople. I
am thirsting for sultanas and houris; I am thirsting--”

“Good gracious! why do you not drink if you are thirsty?”

“Gladly. I never say no to that. I scorn love in a nightcap; I adore
danger. Danger is life to me.

“I dote on silken ladders as long as Jacob’s, on citadels worth scaling;
on moonlight evenings, bearded husbands, and all that sort of thing--I
would love a bed composed of five hundred poniards; you understand me,
poet--”

“I beg of you, do not make him drink any more,” said Gerfaut to the
notary.

“You are right not to wish to drink any more, Octave, I was about to
advise you not to. You have already drunk to excess to-day, and I am
afraid that it will make you ill; your health is so weak--you are not a
strong man like me. Fancy, gentlemen, Monsieur le Vicomte de Gerfaut, a
native of Gascony, a roue by profession, a star of the first magnitude
in literature, is afflicted by nature with a stomach which has nothing
in common with that of an ostrich; he has need to use the greatest care.
So we have him drink seltzer-water principally, and feed him on the
white meat of the chicken. Besides, we keep this precious phenomenon
rolled up between two wool blankets and over a kettle of boiling water.
He is a great poet; I myself am a very great poet.”

“And I also, I hope,” said the notary.

“Gentlemen, formerly there were poets who wrote only in verse; nowadays
they revel in prose. There are some even who are neither prose nor
verse writers, who have never confided their secret to anybody, and who
selfishly keep their poetry to themselves. It is a very simple thing to
be a poet, provided you feel the indescribable intoxication of the soul,
and understand the inexpressible afflatus that bubbles over in your
large brain, and your noble heart throbs under your left breast--”

“He is as drunk as a fool,” said M. de Camier, loud enough for him to
hear.

“Old man,” said he, “you are the one who is drunk. Besides the word
drunk is not civil; if you had said intoxicated I should not have
objected.”

Loud shouts of laughter burst forth from the party. He threw a
threatening glance around him, as if he were seeking some one upon whom
to vent his anger, and, placing his hand upon his hip, assumed the pose
of a bully.

“Softly, my good fellows!” said he, “if any of you pretend that I am
drunk, I declare to him that he lies, and I call him a misanthrope, a
vagabond, an academician!” he concluded, with a loud burst of laughter;
for he thought that the jesters would be crushed by this last heavy
weapon.

“By Jove! your friend is hilariously drunk,” said the notary to Gerfaut;
“while here is Bergenheim, who has not taken very much wine, and yet
looks as if he were assisting at a funeral. I thought he was more
substantial than this.”

Marillac’s voice burst out more loudly than ever, and Octave’s reply was
not heard.

“It is simply astounding. They are all as drunk as fools, and yet they
pretend that it is I who am drunk. Very well! I defy you all; who among
you wishes to argue with me? Will you discuss art, literature, politics,
medicine, music, philosophy, archeology, jurisprudence, magnetism--”

“Jurisprudence!” exclaimed the thick voice of the public prosecutor,
who was aroused from his stupor by this magic word; “let us talk
jurisprudence.”

“Would you like,” said Marillac, without stopping at this interruption,
“that I should improvise a discourse upon the death penalty or upon
temperance? Would you like me to tell you a story?”

“A story, yes, a story!” they all exclaimed in unison.

“Speak out, then; order what story you like; it will cost you nothing,”
 replied the artist, rubbing his hands with a radiant air. “Would you
like a tale from the Middle Ages? a fairy, an eastern, a comical, or a
private story? I warn you that the latter style is less old-fashioned
than the others.”

“Let us have it, then, by all means,” said all the drunken voices.

“Very well. Now would you like it to be laid in Spain, Arabia, or
France?”

“France!” exclaimed the prosecutor.

“I am French, you are French, he is French. You shall have a French
story.”

Marillac leaned his forehead upon his hands, and his elbows upon
the table, as if to gather his scattered ideas. After a few moments’
reflection, he raised his head and looked first at Gerfaut, then at
Bergenheim, with a peculiar smile.

“It would be very original,” said he, in a low voice as if replying to
his own thoughts.

“The story!” exclaimed one of the party, more impatient than the rest.

“Here it is,” replied the artist. “You all know, gentlemen, how
difficult it always is to choose a title. In order not to make you wait,
I have chosen one which is already well known. My story is to be called
‘The husband, the wife, and the lover.’ We are not all single men here,
and a wise proverb says that one must never speak--”

In spite of his muddled brain, the artist did not finish his quotation.
A remnant of common-sense made him realize that he was treading upon
dangerous ground and was upon the point of committing an unpardonable
indiscretion. Fortunately, the Baron had paid no attention to his words;
but Gerfaut was frightened at his friend’s jabbering, and threw him a
glance of the most threatening advice to be prudent. Marillac vaguely
understood his mistake, and was half intimidated by this glance; he
leaned before the notary and said to him, in a voice which he tried to
make confidential, but which could be heard from one end of the table to
the other:

“Be calm, Octave, I will tell it in obscure words and in such a way that
he will not see anything in it. It is a scene for a drama that I have in
my mind.”

“You will make some grotesque blunder, if you go on drinking and
talking,” replied Gerfaut, in an anxious voice. “Hold your tongue, or
else come away from the table with me.”

“When I tell you that I will use obscure words,” replied the artist;
“what do you take me for? I swear to you that I will gloss it over in
such a way that nobody will suspect anything.”

“The story! the story!” exclaimed several, who were amused by the
incoherent chattering of the artist.

“Here it is,” said the latter, sitting upright in his char, and paying
no heed to his friend’s warnings. “The scene takes place in a little
court in Germany--Eh!” said he, looking at Gerfaut and maliciously
winking his eye--“do you not think that is glossed over?”

“Not in a German court, you said it was to be a French story,” said the
public prosecutor, disposed to play the critic toward the orator who had
reduced him to silence.

“Well, it is a French story, but the scene is laid in Germany,” he
replied, coolly. “Do you desire to teach me my profession? Understand
that nothing is more elastic than a German court; the story-teller can
introduce there whoever he likes; I may bring in the Shah of Persia and
the Emperor of China if I care to. However, if you prefer the court of
Italy, it is the same thing to me.”

This conciliating proposal remained without response. Marillac continued
raising his eyes in such a way that nothing but the whites could be
seen, and as if he were searching for his words in the ceiling.

“The Princess Borinski was walking slowly in the mysterious alley on the
borders of the foaming torrent--”

“Borinski! she is a Pole, then?” interrupted M. de Camier.

“Oh! go to the devil, old man! Do not interrupt me,” exclaimed the
artist, impatiently.

“That is right. Silence now.”

“You have the floor,” said several voices at once.

“--She was pale, and she heaved convulsive sighs and wrung her soft,
warm hands, and a white pearl rolled from her dark lashes, and--”

“Why do you begin all your phrases with ‘and?’” asked the public
prosecutor, with the captiousness of an inexorable critic.

“Because it is biblical and unaffected. Now let me alone,” replied
Marillac, with superb disdain. “You are a police-officer; I am an
artist; what is there in common between you and me? I will continue: And
he saw this pensive, weeping woman pass in the distance, and he said to
the Prince: ‘Borinski, a bit of root in which my foot caught has hurt
my limb, will you suffer me to return to the palace? And the Prince
Borinski said to him, ‘Shall my men carry you in a palanquin?’ and the
cunning Octave replied--”

“Your story has not even common-sense and you are a terrible bore,”
 interrupted Gerfaut brusquely. “Gentlemen, are we going to sit at the
table all night?”

He arose, but nobody followed his example. Bergenheim, who for the
last few minutes had lent an attentive ear to the artist’s story, gazed
alternately at the two friends with an observing eye.

“Let him talk,” said the young magistrate, with an ironical smile.
“I like the palanquin in the court of Germany. That is probably what
novelists call local color. O Racine, poor, deserted Racine!”

Marillac was not intimidated this time by Gerfaut’s withering glance,
but, with the obstinacy of drunkenness, continued in a more or less
stammering voice:

“I swore that I would gloss it over; you annoy me. I committed an error,
gentlemen, in calling the lover in this story Octave. It is as clear
as day that his name is Boleslas, Boleslas Matalowski. There is no more
connection between him and my friend Octave than there is between my
other friend Bergenheim and the prince Kolinski--Woginski--what the
devil has become of my Prince’s name? A good reward to whoever will tell
me his name!”

“It is wrong to take advantage of his condition and make him talk any
more,” said Gerfaut. “I beg of you, Marillac, hold your tongue and come
with me,” said he, lowering his voice as he leaned toward the headstrong
story-teller and took him by the arm, trying to make him rise. This
attempt only irritated Marillac; he seized hold of the edge of the table
and clung to it with all his might, screaming:

“No! a thousand times no! I will finish my story. President, allow me
to speak. Ah! ha! you wish to prevent me from speaking because you know
that I tell a story better than you, and that I make an impression
upon my audience. You never have been able to catch my chic. Jealous!
Envious! I know you, serpent!”

“I beg of you, if you ever cared for me, listen!” replied Octave, who,
as he bent over his friend, noticed the Baron’s attentive look.

“No, I say no!” shouted the artist again, and he added to this word
one of the ugliest-sounding oaths in the French language. He arose, and
pushing Octave aside, leaned upon the table, bursting into a loud laugh.
“Poets all,” said he, “be reassured and rejoice. You shall have your
story, in spite of those envious serpents. But first give me something
to drink, for my throat is like a box of matches. No wine,” he added, as
he saw the notary armed with a bottle. “This devilish wine has made me
thirsty instead of refreshing me; besides, I am going to be as sober as
a judge.”

Gerfaut, with the desperation of a man who sees that he is about to be
ruined, seized him again by the arm and tried to fascinate him by his
steady gaze. But he obtained no response to this mute and threatening
supplication except a stupid smile and these stammering words:

“Give me something to drink, Boleslas--Marinski-Graboski--I believe that
Satan has lighted his heating apparatus within my stomach.”

The persons seated near the two friends heard an angry hiss from
Gerfaut’s lips. He suddenly leaned over, and taking, from among several
bottles, a little carafe he filled Marillac’s glass to the brim.

“Thanks,” said the latter, trying to stand erect upon his legs; “you are
an angel. Rest easy, your love affairs will run no risk. I will gloss it
all over--To your health, gentlemen!”

He emptied the glass and put it upon the table; he then smiled and
waved his hand at his auditors with true royal courtesy; but his mouth
remained half open as if his lips were petrified, his eyes grew large
and assumed a haggard expression; the hand he had stretched out fell to
his side; a second more, and he reeled and fell from his chair as if he
had had a stroke of apoplexy.

Gerfaut, whose eyes had not left him, watched these different symptoms
with unutterable anxiety; but in spite of his fright, he drew a sigh of
relief when he saw Marillac mute and speechless.

“It is singular,” observed the notary, as he aided in removing his
neighbor from the table, “that glass of water had more effect upon him
than four or five bottles of wine.”

“Georges,” said Gerfaut to one of the servants, in an agitated voice,
“open his bed and help me carry him to it; Monsieur de Bergenheim, I
suppose there is a chemist near here, if I should need any medicine.”

The greater part of the guests arose at this unexpected incident, and
some of them hastened to Marillac’s side, as he remained motionless in
his chair. The repeated bathing of his temples with cold water and
the holding of salts to his nose were not able to bring him to
consciousness.

Instead of going to his aid with the others, Bergenheim profited by the
general confusion to lean over the table. He plunged his finger into the
artist’s glass, in which a part of the water remained, and then touched
his tongue. Only the notary noticed this movement. Thinking this rather
strange, he seized the glass in his turn and swallowed the few drops
that it contained.

“Heavens!” he exclaimed, in a low voice, to Bergenheim, “I am not
surprised that the bumper asphyxiated him on the spot. Do you know,
Baron, if this Monsieur de Gerfaut had taken anything but water during
the evening, I should say that he was the drunker of the two; or that,
if they were not such good friends, he wished to poison him in order to
stop his talk. Did you notice that he did not seem pleased to hear this
story?”

“Ah! you, too!” exclaimed the Baron angrily, “everybody will know it.”

“To take a carafe of kirsch for clear water,” continued the notary,
without paying any attention to the Baron’s agitation. “The devil! the
safe thing to do is to give him an emetic at once; this poor fellow has
enough prussic acid in his stomach to poison a cow.”

“Who is talking of prussic acid and poisoning?” exclaimed the public
prosecutor, running with an unsteady step from one extremity of the
table to the other, “who has been poisoned? I am the public prosecutor,
I am the only one here who has any power to start an investigation. Have
they had an autopsy? Where did they find it? Buried in the fields or the
woods, or floating on the river?”

“You lie! there is no dead body in the river!” exclaimed Bergenheim,
in a thundering voice, as he seized the magistrate by the collar in a
bewildered way.

The magistrate was incapable of making the least resistance when held by
such a vigorous hand and he received two or three shakings. Suddenly the
Baron stopped, and struck his forehead with a gesture common to persons
who feel that their reason has given way under a paroxysm of rage.

“I am crazy,” said he, with much emotion. “Monsieur,” he added, “I am
very sorry. We really have all taken too much wine. I beg your pardon,
gentlemen. I will leave you a moment--I need some fresh air.”

He hurriedly left the room, almost running against the persons who were
carrying Marillac to his room. The public prosecutor, whose ideas
had been somewhat mixed before, was now completely muddled by this
unheard-of attack upon his dignity, and fell back exhausted in his
chair.

“All poor drinkers!” said the notary to Monsieur de Carrier who was left
alone with him, for the prosecutor, half suffocated with indignation and
intoxication, could no longer be counted as one of them. “Here they are,
all drunk, from just a few glasses of wine.”

The notary shook his head with a mysterious air.

“These things, though, are plain enough to me,” said he at last; “first,
this Monsieur Marillac has not a very strong head and tells pretty
tedious stories when drunk; then his friend has a way of taking kirsch
for water which I can understand only in extreme cases; but the Baron is
the one who astonished me most. Did you notice how he shook our friend
who has just fallen on the floor? As to the Baron pretending that he
was drunk and thus excusing himself, I do not believe one word of it; he
drank nothing but water. There were times this evening when he appeared
very strange indeed! There is some deviltry underneath all this;
Monsieur de Carrier, rest assured there is some deviltry underneath it
all.”

“I am the public prosecutor--they can not remove the body without me,”
 stammered the weak voice of the magistrate, who, after trying in vain to
recover his equilibrium, lay flat upon the floor.



CHAPTER XXI. A STRATAGEM

Instead of joining the persons who were carrying Marillac away,
Christian went into the garden after leaving the dining-room, in quest
of the fresh air which he gave as an excuse for leaving his guests. In
fact, he felt oppressed almost to suffocation by the emotions he had
undergone during the last few hours. The dissimulation which prudence
made a necessity and honor a duty had aggravated the suffering by
protracted concealment.

For some time Christian walked rapidly among the paths and trees in the
park. Bathing his burning brow in the cool night air, he sought to calm
the secret agitation and the boiling blood that were raging within him,
in the midst of which his reason struggled and fought like a ship about
to be wrecked. He used all his strength to recover his self-possession,
so as to be able to master the perils and troubles which surrounded him
with a calm if not indifferent eye; in one word, to regain that control
over himself that he had lost several times during the supper. His
efforts were not in vain. He contemplated his situation without
weakness, exaggeration, or anger, as if it concerned another. Two facts
rose foremost before him, one accomplished, the other uncertain. On one
side, murder, on the other, adultery. No human power could remedy the
first or prevent its consequences; he accepted it, then, but turn his
mind away from it he must, in the presence of this greater disaster. So
far, only presumptions existed against Clemence--grave ones, to be sure,
if one added Lambernier’s revelations to Marillac’s strangely indiscreet
remarks. It was his first duty to himself, as well as to her, to know
the whole truth; if innocent, he would beg her forgiveness; if guilty,
he had a chastisement to inflict.

“It is an abyss,” thought he, “and I may find as much blood as mud at
the bottom of it. No matter, I will descend to its very depths.”

When he returned to the chateau, his face had resumed its usual calm
expression. The most observing person would hardly have noticed any
change in his looks. The dining-room had been abandoned at last. The
victorious and the vanquished had retired to their rooms. First of all,
he went up to the artist’s apartment, so that no singularity in his
conduct should attract attention, for, as master of the house, a visit
to one of his guests who had fallen dead, or nearly so, at his own table
was a positive duty. The attentions lavished upon Marillac by his friend
had removed the danger which might have resulted from his imprudent
excesses in drinking, and the sort of poisoning with which he had
crowned the whole. He lay upon his bed in the same position in which he
had first been placed, and was sleeping that heavy, painful sleep which
serves as an expiation for bacchic excesses. Gerfaut was seated a few
steps from him, at a table, writing; he seemed prepared to sit up all
night, and to fulfill, with the devotion of a friend, the duties of a
nurse.

Octave arose at sight of the Baron, his face having resumed its
habitual reserved expression. The two men greeted each other with equal
composure.

“Is he sleeping?” asked Christian.

“But a few minutes only,” replied the latter; “he is all right now, and
I hope,” Octave added, smilingly, “that this will serve as a lesson
to you, and that hereafter you will put some limits to your princely
hospitality. Your table is a regular ambush.”

“Do not throw stones at me, I pray,” replied the Baron, with an
appearance of equal good-humor. “If your friend wants to ask an
explanation of anybody it is of you, for you took some kirsch of 1765
for water.”

“I really believe that I was the drunker of the two,” interrupted
Octave, with a vivacity which concealed a certain embarrassment; “we
must have terribly scandalized Monsieur de Camier, who has but a poor
opinion of Parisian heads and stomachs.”

After looking for a moment at the sleeping artist, Christian approached
the table where Gerfaut was seated, and threw a glance over the latter’s
writing.

“You are still at work, I see?” said he, as his eyes rested upon the
paper.

“Just now I am following the modest trade of copyist. These are some
verses which Mademoiselle de Corandeuil asked me for--”

“Will you do me a favor? I am going to her room now; give me these
verses to hand to her. Since the misfortune that befell Constance, she
has been terribly angry with me, and I shall not be sorry to have some
reason for going to her room.”

Octave finished the two or three lines which remained to be copied, and
handed the sheet to Bergenheim. The latter looked at it attentively,
then carefully folded it and put it in his pocket.

“I thank you, Monsieur,” said he, “I will leave you to your friendly
duties.”

There was something so solemn in the calm accent of these words, and the
polite bow which accompanied them, that Gerfaut felt chilled, though not
alarmed, for he did not understand.

When he reached his room, Bergenheim opened the paper which Gerfaut
had just given him and compared it with the letter he had received from
Lambernier. The suspicions which a separate examination had aroused were
confirmed upon comparing the two letters; no doubt was possible; the
letter and the poetry were written by the same hand!

After a few moments’ reflection, Christian went to his wife’s room.

Clemence was seated in an armchair, near the fireplace, indulging in a
revery. Although her lover was not there, she was still under the charm
of this consuming as well as intellectual passion, which responded to
the yearnings of her heart, the delicacy of her tastes, and the activity
of her imagination. At this moment, she was happy to live; there was not
a sad thought that these words, “He loves me!” could not efface.

The noise of the opening door aroused her from her meditation. Madame de
Bergenheim turned her head with a look of vexation, but instead of
the servant whom she was ready to reprimand, she saw her husband. The
expression of impatience imprinted upon her face gave way to one of
fright. She arose with a movement she could not repress, as if she had
seen a stranger, and stood leaning against the mantel in a constrained
attitude. Nothing in Christian’s manner justified, however, the fear the
sight of him seemed to cause his wife. He advanced with a tranquil air,
and a smile that he had forced upon his lips.

With the presence of mind with which all women seem to be gifted,
Clemence fell back into her chair, and, assuming a languid, suffering
tone, mixed with an appearance of reproach, she said:

“I am glad to see you for a moment in order to scold you; you have not
shown your usual consideration to-night. Did you not think that the
noise from the dining-room might reach as far as here?”

“Has it troubled you?” asked Christian, looking at her attentively.

“Unless one had a head of cast-iron--It seems that these gentlemen have
abused the liberty permitted in the country. From what Justine tells me,
things have taken place which would have been more appropriate at the
Femme-sans-Tete.”

“Are you suffering very much?”

“A frightful neuralgia--I only wish I could sleep.”

“I was wrong not to have thought of this. You will forgive me, will you
not?”

Bergenheim leaned over the chair, passed his arm around the young
woman’s shoulders, and pressed his lips to her forehead. For the first
time in his life, he was playing a part upon the marital stage, and
he watched with the closest attention the slightest expression of his
wife’s face. He noticed that she shivered, and that her forehead which
he had lightly touched was as cold as marble.

He arose and took several turns about the room, avoiding even a glance
at her, for the aversion which she had just shown toward her husband
seemed to him positive proof of the very thing he dreaded, and he feared
he should not be able to contain himself.

“What is the matter with you?” she asked, as she noticed his agitation.

These words brought the Baron to his senses, and he returned to her
side, replying in a careless tone:

“I am annoyed for a very simple cause; it concerns your aunt.”

“I know. She is furious against you on account of the double misfortune
to her dog and coachman. You will admit that, as far as Constance is
concerned, you are guilty.”

“She is not content with being furious; she threatens a complete
rupture. Here, read this.”

He handed her a large letter, folded lengthwise and sealed with the
Corandeuil crest.

Madame de Bergenheim took the letter and read its contents aloud:

   “After the unheard-of and unqualifiable events of this day, the
   resolution which I have formed will doubtless not surprise you in
   the least, Monsieur. You will understand that I can not and will
   not remain longer in a house where the lives of my servants and
   other creatures which are dear to me may be exposed to the most
   deplorable, wilful injury. I have seen for some time, although I
   have tried to close my eyes to the light of truth, the plots that
   were hatched daily against all who wore the Corandeuil livery. I
   supposed that I should not be obliged to put an end to this highly
   unpleasant matter myself, but that you would undertake this charge.
   It seems, however, that respect and regard for women do not form
   part of a gentleman’s duties nowadays. I shall therefore be obliged
   to make up myself for the absence of such attentions, and watch over
   the safety of the persons and other creatures that belong to me. I
   shall leave for Paris tomorrow. I hope that Constance’s condition
   will permit her to endure the journey, but Baptiste’s wound is too
   serious for me to dare to expose him. I am compelled, although with
   deep regret, to leave him here until he is able to travel, trusting
   him to the kind mercies of my niece.

   “Receive, Monsieur, with my adieux, my thanks for your courteous
   hospitality.

   “YOLANDE DE CORANDEUIL.”

“Your aunt abuses the privileges of being foolish,” said the Baron, when
his wife had finished reading the letter; “she deserts the battlefield
and leaves behind her wounded.”

“But I saw her, not two hours ago, and, although she was very angry, she
did not say one word of this departure.”

“Jean handed me this letter but a moment ago, clad in full livery, and
with the importance of an ambassador who demands his passports. You
must go and talk with her, dear, and use all your eloquence to make her
change her mind.”

“I will go at once,” said Clemence, rising.

“You know that your aunt is rather obstinate when she takes a notion
into her head. If she persists in this, tell her, in order to decide her
to remain, that I am obliged to go to Epinal with Monsieur de Carrier
tomorrow morning, on account of the sale of some wood-land, and that
I shall be absent three days at least. You understand that it will be
difficult for your aunt to leave you alone during my absence, on account
of these gentlemen.”

“Certainly, that could not be,” said she, quickly.

“I do not see, as far as I am concerned, anything improper about it,”
 said the Baron, trying to smile; “but we must obey the proprieties.
You are too young and too pretty a mistress of the house to pass for a
chaperon, and Aline, instead of being a help, would be one inconvenience
the more. So your aunt must stay here until my return.”

“And by that time Constance and Baptiste will be both cured and her
anger will have passed away. You did not tell me about this trip to
Epinal nor the selling of the woodland.”

“Go to your aunt’s room before she retires to bed,” replied Bergenheim,
without paying any attention to this remark, and seating himself in the
armchair; “I will wait for you here. We leave to-morrow morning early,
and I wish to know tonight what to depend upon.”

As soon as Madame de Bergenheim had left the room, Christian arose
and ran, rather than walked, to the space between the two windows, and
sought the button in the woodwork of which Lambernier had told him. He
soon found it, and upon his first pressure the spring worked and the
panel flew open. The casket was upon the shelf; he took it and carefully
examined the letters which it contained. The greater part of them
resembled in form the one that he possessed; some of them were in
envelopes directed to Madame de Bergenheim and bore Gerfaut’s crest.
There was no doubt about the identity of the handwriting; if the Baron
had had any, these proofs were enough. After glancing rapidly over a few
of the notes, he replaced them in the casket and returned the latter
to the shelf where he had found it. He then carefully closed the little
door and reseated himself beside the fireplace.

When Clemence returned, her husband seemed absorbed in reading one
of the books which he had found upon her table, while he mechanically
played with a little bronze cup that his wife used to drop her rings in
when she removed them.

“I have won my case,” said the Baroness, in a gay tone; “my aunt saw
clearly the logic of the reasons which I gave her, and she defers her
departure until your return.”

Christian made no reply.

“That means that she will not go at all, for her anger will have time
to cool off in three days; at heart she is really kind!--How long is
it since you have known English?” she asked, as she noticed that her
husband’s attention seemed to be fixed upon a volume of Lord Byron’s
poems.

Bergenheim threw the book on the table, raised his head and gazed
calmly at his wife. In spite of all his efforts, his face had assumed
an expression which would have frightened her if she had noticed it, but
her eyes were fastened upon the cup which he was twisting in his hand as
if it were made of clay.

“Mon Dieu! Christian, what is the matter with you? What are you doing
to my poor cup?” she asked, with surprise mingled with a little of that
fright which is so prompt to be aroused if one feels not above reproach.

He arose and put the misshapen bronze upon the table.

“I do not know what ails me to-night,” said he, “my nerves are unstrung.
I will leave you, for I need rest myself. I shall start to-morrow
morning before you are up, and I shall return Wednesday.”

“Not any later, I hope,” she said, with that soft, sweet voice, from
which, in such circumstances, very few women have the loyalty to
abstain.

He went out without replying, for he feared he might be no longer master
of himself; he felt, when offered this hypocritical, almost criminal,
caress, as if he would like to end it all by killing her on the spot.



CHAPTER XXII. THE CRISIS

Twenty-four hours had passed. The Baron had departed early in the
morning, and so had all his guests, with the exception of Gerfaut and
the artist. The day passed slowly and tediously. Aline had been vexed,
somewhat estranged from her sister-in-law since their conversation in
the little parlor. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was entirely occupied in
restoring her poodle to health.

Marillac, who had been drinking tea ever since rising, dared not present
his face, which showed the effects of his debauch of the night before,
to the mistress of the house, whose exacting and aristocratic austerity
he very much feared. He pretended to be ill, in order to delay the
moment when he should be forced to make his appearance. Madame de
Bergenheim did not leave her aunt, and thus avoided being alone with
Octave--who, on account of these different complications, might have
spent a continual tete-a-tete with her had she been so inclined.
Christian’s absence, instead of being a signal of deliverance for the
lovers, seemed to have created a new misunderstanding, for Clemence
felt that it would be a mean action to abuse the liberty her husband’s
departure gave her. She was thus very reserved during the day, when she
felt that there were more facilities for yielding, but, in the evening,
when alone in her apartment, this fictitious prudery disappeared. She
spent the entire evening lying upon the divan in the little boudoir,
dreaming of Octave, talking to him as if he could reply, putting into
practice again that capitulation of conscience which permits our mind to
wander on the brink of guilt, provided actions are strictly correct.

After a while this exaltation fell by degrees. When struggling
earnestly, she had regarded Octave as an enemy; but, since she had gone
to him as one passes over to the enemy, and, in her heart, had taken
part with the lover against the husband, her courage failed her as she
thought of this, and she fell, weak, guilty, and vanquished before the
combat.

When she had played with her passion, she had given Christian little
thought; she had felt it childish to bring her husband into an amusement
that she believed perfectly harmless; then, when she wished to break her
plaything, and found it made of iron and turning more and more into a
tyrannical yoke, she called to her aid the conjugal divinities, but
in too faint a voice to be heard. Now the situation had changed again.
Christian was no longer the insignificant ally that the virtuous wife
had condemned, through self-conceit, to ignorant neutrality; he was the
husband, in the hostile and fearful acceptation of the word. This man
whom she had wronged would always have law on his side.

Religion sometimes takes pity on a wayward wife, but society is always
ready to condemn her. She was his own, fastened to him by indissoluble
bonds. He had marked her with his name like a thing of his own; he
held the threads of her life in his hands; he was the dispenser of her
fortune, the judge of her actions, and the master of their fireside. She
had no dignity except through him. If he should withdraw his support for
a single day, she would fall from her position without any human power
being able to rescue her. Society closes its doors to the outcast wife,
and adds to the husband’s sentence another penalty still more scathing.

Having now fallen from the sphere of illusion to that of reality,
Madame de Bergenheim was wounded at every step. A bitter feeling of
discouragement overwhelmed her, as she thought of the impossibility of
happiness to which a deplorable fatality condemned her. Marriage and
love struggled for existence, both powerless to conquer, and qualified
only to cause each other’s death. Marriage made love a crime; love made
marriage a torture. She could only choose between two abysses: shame in
her love, despair in her virtue.

The hours passed rapidly in these sad and gloomy meditations; the clock
marked the hour of midnight. Madame de Bergenheim thought it time to try
to sleep; but, instead of ringing for her maid, she decided to go to the
library herself and get a book, thinking that perhaps it might aid
her in going to sleep. As she opened the door leading into the closet
adjoining her parlor, she saw by the light of the candle which she held
in her hand something which shone like a precious stone lying upon the
floor. At first she thought it might be one of her rings, but as she
stooped to pick it up she saw her error. It was a ruby pin mounted
in enamelled gold. She recognized it, at the very first glance, as
belonging to M. de Gerfaut.

She picked up the pin and returned to the parlor. She exhausted in
imagination a thousand conjectures in order to explain the presence of
this object in such a place. Octave must have entered it or he could not
have left this sign of his presence; it meant that he could enter her
room at his will; what he had done once, he could certainly do again!
The terror which this thought gave her dissipated like a dash of cold
water all her former intoxicating thoughts; for, like the majority of
women, she had more courage in theory than in action. A moment before,
she had invoked Octave’s image and seated it lovingly by her side.

When she believed this realization possible, all she thought of was to
prevent it. She was sure that her lover never had entered the closet
through the parlor, as he never had been in this part of the house
farther than the little drawing-room. Suddenly a thought of the little
corridor door struck her; she remembered that this door was not usually
locked because the one from the library was always closed; she knew that
Octave had a key to the latter, and she readily understood how he had
reached her apartment. Mustering up all her courage through excessive
fear, she returned to the closet, hurried down the stairs, and pushed
the bolt. She then returned to the parlor and fell upon the divan,
completely exhausted by her expedition.

Little by little her emotion passed away. Her fright appeared childish
to her, as soon as she believed herself sheltered from danger; she
promised herself to give Octave a good scolding the next morning; then
she renounced this little pleasure, when she remembered that it would
force her to admit the discovery of the pin, and of course to return it
to him, for she had resolved to keep it. She had always had a particular
fancy for this pin, but she would never have dared to ask him for it,
and besides, it was the fact that Octave usually wore it that made it
of infinite value to her. The desire to appropriate it was irresistible,
since chance had thrown it into her hands. She tied a black satin
ribbon about her white neck, and pinned it with the precious ruby. After
kissing it as devotedly as if it were a relic, she ran to her mirror to
judge of the effect of the theft.

“How pretty, and how I love it!” said she; “but how can I wear it so
that he will not see it?”

Before she could solve this problem, she heard a slight noise, which
petrified her as she stood before her glass.

“It is he!” she thought; after standing for a moment half stunned, she
dragged herself as far as the stairs, and leaning over, listened with
fear and trembling. At first she could hear nothing but the beating of
her heart; then she heard the other noise again, and more distinctly.
Somebody was turning the handle of the door, trying to open it. The
unexpected obstacle of the bolt doubtless exasperated the would-be
visitor, for the door was shaken and pushed with a violence which
threatened to break the lock or push down the door.

Madame de Bergenheim’s first thought was to run into her chamber and
lock the door behind her;--the second showed her the danger that might
result if the slightest noise should reach other ears. Not a moment was
to be lost in hesitation. The young woman quickly descended the stairs
and drew the bolt. The door opened softly and closed with the same
precaution. The lamp from the parlor threw a feeble light upon the upper
steps of the staircase, but the lower ones were in complete darkness. It
was with her heart rather than her eyes that she recognized Octave; he
could distinguish Madame de Bergenheim only in an indistinct way by
her white dress, which was faintly outlined in the darkness; she stood
before him silent and trembling with emotion, for she had not yet
thought of a speech that would send him away.

He also felt the embarrassment usual in any one guilty of so foolhardy
an action. He had expected to surprise Clemence, and he found her upon
her guard; the thought of the disloyal part he was playing at this
moment made the blood mount to his cheeks and took away, for the time
being, his ordinary assurance. He sought in vain for a speech which
might first justify him and then conquer her. He had recourse to a
method often employed in the absence of eloquence. He fell on his
knees before the young woman and seized her hands; it seemed as if the
violence of his emotions rendered him incapable of expressing himself
except by silent adoration. As she felt his hands touch hers, Clemence
drew back and said in a low voice:

“You disgust me!”

“Disgust!” he repeated, drawing himself up to his full height.

“Yes, and that is not enough,” she continued, indignantly, “I ought to
say scorn instead of disgust. You deceived me when you said you loved
me--you infamously deceived me!”

“But I adore you!” he exclaimed, with vehemence; “what proof do you wish
of my love?”

“Go! go away at once! A proof, did you say? I will accept only one: go,
I order it, do you understand?”

Instead of obeying her, he seized her in his arms in spite of her
resistance.

“Anything but that,” he said; “order me to kill myself at your feet, I
will do it, but I will not go.”

She tried for a moment to disengage herself, but although she used all
her strength, she was unable to do so.

“Oh, you are without pity,” she said, feebly, “but I abhor you; rather,
a thousand times rather, kill me!”

Gerfaut was almost frightened by the agonized accent in which she spoke
these words; he released her, but as he removed his arms, she reeled and
he was obliged to support her.

“Why do you persecute me, then?” she murmured, as she fell in a faint
upon her lover’s breast.

He picked her up in his arms and mounted the narrow stairs with
difficulty. Carrying her into the parlor, he placed her upon the divan.
She had completely lost consciousness; one would have believed her dead
from the pallor of her face, were, it not for a slight trembling which
agitated her form every few seconds and announced a nervous attack. The
most expert of lady’s maids could not have removed the little ribbon
from her neck, which seemed to trouble her respiration, more adroitly
than did Octave. In spite of his anxiety, he could not repress a
smile as he recognized the pin which he hardly expected to find upon
Clemence’s neck, considering the hostile way in which she had greeted
him. He knelt before her and bathed her temples with cold water, making
her also inhale some salts which he found upon the toilet table in the
next room. Little by little, these attentions produced an effect; the
nervous convulsion became less frequent and a slight flush suffused her
pale cheeks. She opened her eyes and then closed them, as if the light
troubled them; then, extending her arms, she passed them about Octave’s
neck as he leaned over her; she remained thus for some time, breathing
quietly and to all appearances sleeping. Suddenly she said:

“You will give me your pin, will you not?”

“Is not all that I have yours?” he replied, in a low tone.

“Mine!” she continued, in a feebly loving voice; “tell me again that you
belong to me, to me alone, Octave!”

“You do not send me away any longer, then? you like me to be near you?”
 he said, with a happy smile, as he kissed the young woman’s brow.

“Oh! stay, I beg of you! stay with me forever!”

She folded her arms more tightly around him, as if she feared he might
leave her. Suddenly she sat up, opened her eyes, and gazed about her in
silent astonishment.

“What has happened?” said she, “and how is it that you are here? Ah!
this is dreadful indeed; you have cruelly punished me for my weakness.”

This sudden severity after her delicious abandon, changed Octave’s
pleasure into angry vexation.

“You are the one,” he replied, “who are cruel! Why allow me so much
bliss, if you intended to take it away from me so soon? Since you love
me only in your dreams, I beg of you to go to sleep again and never
awaken. I will stay near you. Your words were so sweet, but a moment
ago, and now you deny them!”

“What did I say?” she asked, with hesitation, a deep blush suffusing her
face and neck.

These symptoms, which he considered a bad augury, increased Octave’s
irritation. He arose and said in a bitter tone:

“Fear nothing! I will not abuse the words which have escaped you,
however flattering or charming they may have been; they told me that you
loved me. I do not believe it any longer; you are agitated, I can see;
but it is from fear and not love.”

Clemence drew herself up upon the divan, crossed her arms over her
breast and gazed at him for a few moments in silence.

“Do you believe these two sentiments incompatible?” she asked at last;
“you are the only one whom I fear. Others would not complain.”

There was such irresistible charm in her voice and glance that Gerfaut’s
ill-humor melted away like ice in the sun’s rays. He fell upon his knees
before the divan, and tried to pass her arms about his neck as before;
but instead of lending herself to this project, she attempted to rise.

“I am so happy at your feet,” he said, gently preventing her. “Everybody
else can sit beside you; I only have the right to kneel. Do not take
this right away from me.”

Madame de Bergenheim extricated one of her hands, and, raising her
finger with a threatening gesture, she said:

“Think a little less of your rights, and more of your duties. I advise
you to obey me and to profit by my kindness, which allows you to sit by
my side for a moment. Think that I might be more severe, and that if
I treated you as you merited--if I told you to go away, would you obey
me?”

Gerfaut hesitated a moment and looked at her supplicatingly.

“I would obey,” said he; “but would you have the courage to order it?”

“I allow you to remain until just half past twelve,” said she, as she
glanced at the clock, which she could see through the half-open door.
Gerfaut followed her glance, and saw that she accorded him only a
quarter of an hour: but he was too clever to make any observation. He
knew that the second quarter of an hour is always less difficult to
obtain than the first.

“I am sure,” said she, “that you have thought me capricious to-day; you
must pardon me, it is a family fault. You know the saying: ‘Caprice de
Corandeuil?”

“I wish it to be said: Amour de Gerfaut,” said he, tenderly.

“You are right to be amiable and say pleasant things to me, for I need
them badly to-night. I am sad and weary; the darkest visions come before
my mind. I think it is the storm which makes me feel so. How doleful
this thunder is! It seems to me like an omen of misfortune.”

“It is only the fancy of your vivid imagination. If you exerted the
same will to be happy that you do to imagine troubles, our life would be
perfect. What matters the storm? and even if you do see an omen in it,
what is there so very terrible? Clouds are vapor, thunder is a sound,
both are equally ephemeral; only the blue sky, which they can obscure
but for a moment, is eternal.”

“Did you not hear something just now?” asked Madame de Bergenheim, as
she gave a sudden start and listened eagerly.

“Nothing. What did you think it was?”

“I feared it might be Justine who had taken it into her head to come
down stairs; she is so tiresome in her attentions--”

She arose and went to look in her chamber, which she carefully locked; a
moment later, she returned and seated herself again upon the divan.

“Justine is sleeping by this time,” said Octave; “I should not have
ventured if I had not seen that her light was out.”

Clemence took his hand and placed it over her heart.

“Now,” said she, “when I tell you that I am frightened, will you believe
me?”

“Poor dear!” he exclaimed, as he felt her heart throbbing violently.

“You are the one who causes me these palpitations for the slightest
thing. I know that we do not run any danger, that everybody is in his
own room by this time, and yet, somehow, I feel terribly frightened.
There are women, so they say, who get used to this torture, and end by
being guilty and tranquil at the same time. It is an unworthy thought,
but I’ll confess that, sometimes, when I suffer so, I wish I were like
them. But it is impossible; I was not made for wrong-doing. You can not
understand this, you are a man; you love boldly, you indulge in every
thought that seems sweet to you without being troubled by remorse. And
then, when you suffer, your anguish at least belongs to you, nobody has
any right to ask you what is the matter. But I, my tears even are not
my own; I have often shed them on your account--I must hide them, for he
has a right to ask: ‘Why do you weep?’ And what can I reply?”

She turned away her head to conceal the tears which she could not
restrain; he saw them, and, leaning over her, he kissed them away.

“Your tears are mine!” he exclaimed, passionately; “but do not distress
me by telling me that our love makes you unhappy.”

“Unhappy! oh, yes! very unhappy! and yet I would not change this sorrow
for the richest joys of others. This unhappiness is my treasure! To be
loved by you! To think that there was a time when our love might have
been legitimate! What fatality weighs upon us, Octave? Why did we
know each other too late? I often dream a beautiful dream--a dream of
freedom.”

“You are free if you love me--It is the rain against the windows,” said
he, seeing Madame de Bergenheim anxiously listening again. They kept
silent for a moment, but could hear nothing except the monotonous
whistling of the storm.

“To be loved by you and not to blush!” said she, as she gazed at him
lovingly. “To be together always, without fearing that a stroke of
lightning might separate us! to give you my heart and still be worthy to
pray! it would be one of those heavenly delights that one grasps only in
dreams--”

“Oh! dream when I shall be far from you; but, when I am at your feet,
when our hearts beat only for each other, do not evoke, lest you destroy
our present happiness, that which is beyond our power. Do you think
there are bonds which can more strongly unite us? Am I not yours? And
you, yourself, who speak of the gift of your heart, have you not given
it to me entirely?”

“Oh! yes, entirely! And it is but right, since I owe it to you. I did
not understand life until the day I received it from your eyes; since
that minute I have lived, and I can die. I love you! I fail to find
words to tell you one-tenth of what my heart contains, but I love you--”

He received her in his arms, where she took refuge so as to conceal her
face after these words. She remained thus for an instant, then arose
with a start, seized Octave’s hands and pressed them in a convulsive
manner, saying in a voice as weak as a dying woman’s:

“I am lost!”

He instinctively followed Clemence’s gaze, which was fastened upon the
glass door. An almost imperceptible movement of the muslin curtain was
evident. At the same moment, there was a slight noise, a step upon
the carpet, the turning of the handle of the door, and it was silently
opened as if by a ghost.



CHAPTER XXIII. THE AGREEMENT

Madame de Bergenheim tried to rise, but her strength failed her, she
fell on her knees, and then dropped at her lover’s feet. The latter
leaped from the divan with out trying to assist her, stepped over the
body stretched before him, and drew his poniard out of his pocket.

Christian stood upon the threshold of the door silent and motionless.

There was a moment of terrible silence. Only the eyes of the two men
spoke; those of the husband were fixed, dull, and implacable; those
of the lover sparkled with the audacity of despair. After a moment of
mutual fascination, the Baron made a movement as if to enter.

“One step more and you are a dead man!” exclaimed Gerfaut, in a low
voice, as he clutched the handle of his poniard.

Christian extended his hand, replying to this threat only by a look; but
such an imperative one that the thrust of a lance would not have been as
fearful to the lover. Octave put his poniard in its sheath, ashamed
of his emotion in the presence of such calm, and imitated his enemy’s
scornful attitude.

“Come, Monsieur,” said the latter, in a low voice, as he took a step
backward.

Instead of following his example, Gerfaut cast a glance upon Clemence.
She had fallen in such a dead faint that he sought in vain for her
breath. He leaned over her, with an irresistible feeling of pity and
love; but just as he was about to take her in his arms and place her
upon the divan, Bergenheim’s hand stopped him. If there is a being on
earth to whom one owes regard and respect, it is the one whom our
own wrong has rendered our enemy. Octave arose, and said, in a grave,
resigned voice:

“I am at your orders, Monsieur.”

Christian pointed to the door, as if to invite him to pass out first,
thus preserving, with his extraordinary composure, the politeness which
a good education makes an indelible habit, but which at this moment
was more frightful to behold than the most furious outburst of temper.
Gerfaut glanced at Clemence again, and said, as he pointed to her:

“Shall you leave her without any aid in this condition? It is cruel.”

“It is not from cruelty, but out of pity,” replied the Baron, coldly;
“she will awake only too soon.”

Octave’s heart was intensely oppressed, but he managed to conceal his
emotion. He hesitated no longer and stepped out. The husband followed,
without giving a glance at the poor woman whose own words had condemned
her so inexorably. And so she was left alone in this pretty boudoir as
if in a tomb.

The two men descended the stairs leading from the little closet. At
the library door they found themselves in absolute obscurity; Christian
opened a dark-lantern and its faint light guided their steps. They
traversed, in silence, the picture-gallery, the vestibule, and then
mounted the main staircase. They reached the Baron’s apartment without
meeting anybody or betraying themselves by the slightest sound. With the
same outward self-possession which had characterized his whole conduct,
Christian, after carefully closing the doors, lighted a candelabra
filled with candles which was upon the mantel, and then turned to his
companion, who was far less composed than he.

Gerfaut had suffered tortures since leaving the little parlor. A feeling
of regret and deepest pity, at the thought of the inevitable catastrophe
which must follow, had softened his heart. He saw in the most odious of
colors the selfishness of his love. Clemence’s last glance as she fell
fainting at his feet--a forgiving and a loving glance--was like a dagger
in his heart. He had ruined her! the woman he loved! the queen of his
life! the angel he adored! This idea was like hell to him. He was almost
unable to control his emotion, dizzy as he was on the brink of the abyss
opened by his hand, into which he had precipitated what he counted as
the dearest part of his own self.

Bergenheim stood, cold and sombre, like a northern sky, opposite this
pale-faced man, upon whose countenance a thousand passionate emotions
were depicted like clouds on a stormy day.

When Bergenheim’s eyes met Octave’s, they were so full of vengeance and
hatred that the latter trembled as if he had come in contact with a wild
beast. The lover actually realized the inferiority of his attitude
in the presence of this enraged husband. A feeling of self-pride and
indignation came to his aid. He put aside remorse and regrets until
later; these sad expiations were forbidden him now; another duty lay
before him. There is only one reparation possible for certain offences.
The course once open, one must go to its very end; pardon is to be found
only upon the tomb of the offended.

Octave knew he had to submit to this necessity. He stifled all scruples
which might have weakened his firmness, and resumed his habitual
disdainful look. His eyes returned his enemy’s glance of deadly hatred,
and he began the conversation like a man who is accustomed to master the
events of his life and forbids any one to shape them for him.

“Before any explanations take place between us,” he said, “I have to
declare to you, upon my honor, that there is only one guilty person in
this affair, and that I am the one. The slightest reproach addressed
to Madame de Bergenheim would be a most unjust outrage and a most
deplorable error on your part. I introduced myself into her apartment
without her knowledge and without having been authorized in any way to
do so. I had just entered it when you arrived. Necessity obliges me
to admit a love that is an outrage to you; I am ready to repair this
outrage by any satisfaction you may demand; but in putting myself
at your discretion, I earnestly insist upon exculpating Madame de
Bergenheim from all that can in any way affect her virtue or her
reputation.”

“As to her reputation,” said Christian, “I will watch over that; as to
her virtue--”

He did not finish, but his face assumed an expression of incredulous
irony.

“I swear to you, Monsieur,” said Octave, with increasing emotion, “that
she is above all seduction and should be sheltered from all insult; I
swear to you--What oath can I take that you will believe? I swear that
Madame de Bergenheim never has betrayed any of her duties toward you;
that I never have received the slightest encouragement from her; that
she is as innocent of my folly as the angels in heaven.”

Christian shook his head with a scornful smile.

“This day will be the undying remorse of my life if you will not believe
me,” said Gerfaut, with almost uncontrolled vehemence; “I tell you,
Monsieur, she is innocent; innocent! do you understand me? I was led
astray by my passion. I wished to profit by your absence. You know that
I have a key to the library; I used it without her suspecting it. Would
to God that you could have been a witness to our tete-a-tete! you could
then have not one doubt left. Can one prevent a man from entering a
lady’s room, when he has succeeded in finding the way to it in spite of
her wishes? I repeat it, she--”

“Enough, Monsieur,” replied the Baron coldly. “You are doing as I should
do in your place; but this discussion is out of place; let this woman
exculpate herself. There should be no mention of her between us now.”

“When I protest that upon my honor--”

“Monsieur, under such conditions, a false oath is not dishonorable.
I have been a bachelor myself, and I know that anything is allowable
against a husband. Let us drop this, I beg of you, and return to facts.
I consider that I have been insulted by you, and you must give me
satisfaction for this insult.”

Octave made a sign of acquiescence.

“One of us must die,” replied Bergenheim, leaning his elbow negligently
upon the mantel. The lover bowed his head a second time.

“I have offended you,” said he; “you have the right to choose the
reparation due you.”

“There is only one possible, Monsieur. Blood alone can wipe away the
disgrace; you know it as well as I. You have dishonored my home, you owe
me your life for that. If Fate favors you, you will be rid of me, and I
shall be wronged in every way. There are arrangements to be made, and we
shall settle them at once, if you are willing.”

He pushed an armchair toward Gerfaut, and took another himself.

They seated themselves beside a desk which stood in the middle of
the room, and, with an equal appearance of sang-froid and polite
haughtiness, they discussed this murderous combat.

“It is not necessary for me to say to you,” said Octave, “that I
accept in advance whatever you may decide upon; the weapons, place, and
seconds--”

“Listen to me, then,” interrupted Bergenheim; “you just now spoke in
favor of this woman in a way that made me think you did not wish
her ruined in the eyes of the world; so I trust you will accept the
proposition I am about to make to you. An ordinary duel would arouse
suspicion and inevitably lead to a discovery of the truth; people would
seek for some plausible motive for the encounter, whatever story we
might tell our seconds. You know that there is but one motive which will
be found acceptable by society for a duel between a young man who had
been received as a guest of this house and the husband. In whatever way
this duel may terminate, this woman’s honor would remain on the ground
with the dead, and that is what I wish to avoid, since she bears my
name.”

“Will you explain to me what your plan is?” asked Octave, who could not
understand what his adversary had in mind.

“You know, Monsieur,” Bergenheim continued, in his calm voice, “that I
had a perfect right to kill you a moment ago; I did not do so for two
reasons: first, a gentleman should use his sword and not a poniard, and
then your dead body would have embarrassed me.”

“The river is close by!” interrupted Gerfaut, with a strange smile.

Christian looked at him fixedly for a moment, and then replied in a
slightly changed tone:

“Instead of availing myself of my right, I intend to risk my life
against yours. The danger is the same for myself, who never have
insulted you, as for you, who have offered me the deadliest insult that
one man can offer another. I am willing to spill my blood, but not to
soil my honor.”

“If it is a duel without seconds that you desire, you have my consent; I
have perfect confidence in your loyalty, and I hope you can say the same
for mine.”

Christian bowed his head slightly and continued:

“It is more than a duel without seconds, for the whole affair must be
so contrived as to be looked upon as an accident; it is the only way
to prevent the outbreak and scandal I dread so much. Now here is my
proposition: You know that a wild-boar hunt is to take place to-morrow
in the Mares woods. When we station ourselves we shall be placed
together at a spot I know of, where we shall be out of the sight of the
other hunters. When the boar crosses the enclosure we will fire at a
signal agreed upon. In this way, the denouement, whatever it may be,
will be looked upon as one of those accidents which so frequently happen
in shooting-parties.”

“I am a dead man,” thought Gerfaut, as he saw that the gun would be the
weapon chosen by his adversary, and recalled his wonderful skill, of
which he had had many and various proofs. But instead of showing the
slightest hesitation, his countenance grew still more arrogant.

“This kind of combat seems to me very wisely planned,” said he; “I
accept, for I desire as much as you that this affair should remain an
eternal secret.”

“Since we are to have no seconds,” continued Bergenheim, “let us arrange
everything so that nothing can betray us; it is inconceivable how the
most trifling circumstances often turn out crushing evidence. I think
that I have foreseen everything. If you find that I have forgotten
any detail, please remind me of it. The place I speak of is a narrow,
well-shaded path. The ground is perfectly level; it lies from north to
south, so that at eight o’clock in the morning the sun will be on that
side; there will be no advantage in position. There is an old elm on the
borders of the wood; at fifty steps’ distance in the pathway, lies
the trunk of an oak which has been felled this year. These are the two
places where we will station ourselves, if you consent to it. Is it the
proper distance?”

“Near or farther, it matters little. Breast to breast, if you like.”

“Nearer would be imprudent. However, fifty steps with the gun is less
than fifteen with a pistol. This point is settled. We will remain with
heads covered, although this is not the custom. A ball might strike the
head where the cap would be, and if this should happen it would arouse
suspicion, as people do not hunt bareheaded. It only remains to decide
who shall fire first,” continued Christian.

“You, of course; you are the offended one.”

“You do not admit the full offence to have been committed, and, since
this is in doubt, and I can not be judge and jury together, we shall
consult chance.”

“I declare to you that I will not fire first,” interrupted Gerfaut.

“Remember that it is a mortal duel, and such scruples are foolish. Let
us agree that whoever has the first shot, shall place himself upon the
border of the woods and await the signal, which the other will give when
the boar crosses the enclosure.”

He took a gold piece from his purse and threw it in the air.

“Heads!” said the lover, ready to acquiesce to the least of his
adversary’s conditions.

“Fate is for you,” said Christian, looking at the coin with marked
indifference; “but, remember, if at the signal given by me you do not
fire, or only fire in the air, I shall use my right to shoot--You know
that I rarely miss my aim.”

These preliminaries ended, the Baron took two guns from his closet,
loaded them, taking particular care to show that they were of equal
length and the same calibre. He then locked them up in the closet and
offered Gerfaut the key.

“I would not do you this injustice,” said the latter.

“This precaution is hardly necessary, since, tomorrow, you will
take your choice of those weapons. Now that everything is arranged,”
 continued the Baron, in a graver tone, “I have one request to make
of you, and I think you are too loyal to refuse it. Swear to me that
whatever may be the result, you will keep all this a profound secret.
My honor is now in your hands; speaking as a gentleman to a gentleman, I
ask you to respect it.”

“If I have the sad privilege of surviving you,” replied Gerfaut, no less
solemnly, “I swear to you to keep the secret inviolate. But, supposing
a contrary event, I also have a request to make to you. What are your
intentions regarding Madame de Bergenheim?”

Christian gazed at his adversary a moment, with a searching glance which
seemed to read his innermost thoughts.

“My intentions?” said he at last, in a displeased, surprised tone; “this
is a very strange question; I do not recognize your right to ask it.”

“My right is certainly strange,” said the lover, with a bitter smile;
“but whatever it may be, I shall make use of it. I have destroyed this
woman’s happiness forever; if I can not repair this fault, at least I
ought to mitigate the effect as much as lies in my power. Will you reply
to me--if I die tomorrow, what will be her fate?”

Bergenheim kept silent, his sombre eyes lowered to the floor.

“Listen to me, Monsieur,” continued Gerfaut, with great emotion; “when I
said to you, ‘She is not guilty,’ you did not believe me, and I despair
of ever persuading you, for I know well what your suspicions must be.
However, these are the last words addressed to you that will leave my
mouth, and you know that one has to believe a dying man’s statement.
If tomorrow you avenge yourself, I earnestly beg of you, let this
reparation suffice. All my pride is gone, you see, since I beg this of
you upon my bended knees. Be humane toward her; spare her, Monsieur. It
is not pardon which I ask you to grant her--it is pity for her unsullied
innocence. Treat her kindly--honorably. Do not make her too wretched.”

He stopped, for his voice failed him, and his eyes filled with tears.

“I know what I ought to do,” replied the Baron, in as harsh a tone as
Gerfaut’s had been tender; “I am her husband, and I do not recognize
anybody’s right, yours least of all, to interpose between us.”

“I can foresee the fate which you have in reserve for her,” replied
the lover, indignantly; “you will not murder her, for that would be too
imprudent; what would become of your vaunted honor then? But you will
slowly kill her; you will make her die a new death every day, in order
to satisfy a blind vengeance. You are a man to meditate over each new
torture as calmly as you have regulated every detail of our duel.”

Bergenheim, instead of replying, lighted a candle as if to put an end to
this discussion.

“Until to-morrow, Monsieur,” said he, with a cold air.

“One moment!” exclaimed Gerfaut, as he arose; “you refuse to give me
one word which will assure me of the fate of the woman whose life I have
ruined?”

“I have nothing to say.”

“Very well, then; I will protect her, and I will do it in spite of you
and against you.”

“Not another word,” interrupted the Baron, sternly.

Octave leaned over the table between them and looked at him for a
moment, then said in a terrible voice:

“You killed Lambernier!”

Christian bounded backward as if he had been struck.

“I was a witness of that murder,” continued Gerfaut, slowly, as he
emphasized each word; “I will write my deposition and give it to a man
of whom I am as sure as of myself. If I die to-morrow, I will leave him
a mission which no effort on your part will prevent him from fulfilling.
He shall watch over your slightest actions with inexorable vigilance; he
will be Madame de Bergenheim’s protector, if you forget that your first
duty is to protect her. The day upon which you abuse your position with
her, the day when she shall call out despairingly, ‘Help me!’ that day
shall my deposition be placed in the hands of the public prosecutor
at Nancy. He will believe its contents; of that you may be certain.
Besides, the river is an indiscreet tomb; before long it will give up
the body you have confided to it. You will be tried and condemned. You
know the punishment for murder! It is hard labor for life.”

Bergenheim darted toward the mantel at these words and seized a
hunting-knife which hung there. Octave, as he saw him ready to strike,
crossed his arms upon his breast, and said, coldly:

“Remember that my body might embarrass you; one corpse is enough.”

The Baron threw the weapon on the floor with such force that he broke it
in two.

“But it was you,” he said, in a trembling voice, “you were Lambernier’s
assassin. I--He knew this infamous secret, and his death was involuntary
on my part.”

“The intention is of little account. The deed is the question. There is
not a jury that would not condemn you, and that is what I wish, for such
a sentence would bring a legal separation between you and your wife and
give her her liberty.”

“You are not speaking seriously,” said Christian, turning pale; “you,
a gentleman, would not denounce me! And, besides, would not my being
sentenced injure the woman in whom you take so much interest?”

“I know all that,” Gerfaut replied; “I too cling to the honor of my
name, and yet I expose it. I have plenty of enemies who will be glad
enough to outrage my memory. Public opinion will condemn me, for they
will see only the action, and that is odious. There is one thing,
however, more precious and necessary to me than the world’s opinion, and
that is peace for every day, the right to live; and that is the reason
why, happiness having forsaken me, I am going to bequeath it to the
one whom fate has put in your power, but whom I shall not leave to your
mercy.”

“I am her husband,” Bergenheim replied, angrily.

“Yes, you are her husband; so the law is on your side. You have only to
call upon society for its aid; it will come but too gladly at your call
and help you crush a defenceless woman. And I, who love her as you have
never known how to love her, I can do nothing for her! Living, I must
keep silent and bow before your will; but dead, your absurd laws no
longer exist for me; dead, I can place myself between you and her, and I
will do it. Since, in order to aid her, I have no choice of arms, I will
not recoil from the one weapon which presents itself. Yes, if in order
to save her from your vengeance, I am obliged to resort to the shame of
a denunciation, I swear to you here, I will turn informer. I will sully
my name with this stain; I will pick up this stone from the mud, and I
will crush your head with it.”

“These are a coward’s words!” exclaimed Christian, as he fell back in
his chair.

Gerfaut looked at him with a calm, stony glance, while replying:

“No insults, please! One of us will not be living to-morrow. Remember
what I tell you: if I fall in this duel, it will be to your interest to
have this matter stop then and there. I submit to death myself; but I
exact liberty for her--liberty, with peace and respect. Think it over,
Monsieur; at the first outrage, I shall arise from my tomb to prevent
a second, and dig a trench between you and her which never can be
crossed\--the penitentiary!”



CHAPTER XXIV. A FRIEND’S ADVICE

After she came out of her faint, Madame de Bergenheim remained for a
long time in a dazed condition, and did not realize, save in a confused
manner, her real position. She saw vaguely, at her first glance,
the curtains of the bed upon which she lay, and thought that she had
awakened from an ordinary sleep. Little by little, her thoughts became
clearer, and she saw that she was fully dressed, also that her room
seemed brighter than it usually was with only her night-lamp lighted.
She noticed between the half-open curtains a gigantic form reflected
almost to the ceiling opposite her bed. She sat up and distinctly saw a
man sitting in the corner by the fireplace. Frozen with terror, she fell
back upon her pillow as she recognized her husband. Then she remembered
everything, even the slightest details of the scene in the small parlor.
She felt ready to faint again when she heard Christian’s steps upon the
carpet, although he walked with great precaution.

The Baron looked at her a moment, and then, opening the bed-curtains, he
said:

“You can not pass the night thus, it is nearly three o’clock. You must
go to bed as usual.”

Clemence shivered at these words, whose accent, however, was not hard.
She obeyed mechanically; but she had hardly risen when she was obliged
to recline upon the bed, for her trembling limbs would not support her.

“Do not be afraid of me,” said Bergenheim, drawing back a few steps; “my
presence should not frighten you. I only wish that people should know
that I have passed the night in your chamber, for it is possible that
my return may arouse suspicion. You know that our love is only a comedy
played for the benefit of our servants.”

There was such affected lightness in these remarks that the young woman
was cut to the very quick. She had expected an explosion of anger, but
not this calm contempt. Her revolted pride gave her courage.

“I do not deserve to be treated thus,” said she; “do not condemn me
without a hearing.”

“I ask nothing of you,” replied Christian, who seated himself again
beside the mantel; “undress yourself, and go to sleep if it is possible
for you to do so. It is not necessary for Justine to make any comments
tomorrow about your day clothes not having been removed.”

Instead of obeying him, she went toward him and tried to remain standing
in order to speak to him, but her emotion was so intense that it took
away her strength and she was obliged to sit down.

“You treat me too cruelly, Christian,” said she, when she had succeeded
to recover her voice. “I am not guilty; at least, not so much as you
think I am--” said she, drooping her head.

He looked at her attentively for a moment, and then replied, in a voice
which did not betray the slightest emotion:

“You must know that my greatest desire is to be persuaded of this by
you. I know that too often appearances are deceitful; perhaps you
will be able to explain to me what took place last evening; I am still
inclined to believe your word. Swear to me that you do not love Monsieur
de Gerfaut.”

“I swear it!” said she, in a weak voice, and without raising her eyes.

He went to the bed and took down a little silver crucifix which was
hanging above it.

“Swear it to me upon this crucifix,” said he, presenting it to his wife.

She tried in vain to raise her hand, which seemed fastened to the arm of
her chair.

“I swear it!” she stammered a second time, while her face became as pale
as death.

A savage laugh escaped Christian’s lips. He put the crucifix in its
place again without saying a word, then he opened the secret panel and,
taking out the casket, placed it upon the table before his wife. She
made a movement as if to seize it, but her courage failed her.

“You have perjured yourself to your husband and to God!” said Bergenheim
slowly. “Do you know what kind of woman you are?”

Clemence remained for some time powerless to reply; her respiration was
so painful that each breath seemed like suffocation; her head, after
rolling about on the back of the chair, fell upon her breast, like a
blade of grass broken and bruised by the rain.

“If you have read those letters,” she murmured, when she had strength
enough to speak, “you must know that I am not as unworthy as you think.
I am very guilty--but I still have a right to be forgiven.”

Christian, at this moment, had he been gifted with the intelligence
which fathoms the mysteries of the heart, might have renewed the bonds
which were so near being broken; he could at least have stopped Clemence
upon a dangerous path and saved her from a most irreparable fall. But
his nature was too unrefined for him to see the degrees which separate
weakness from vice, and the intoxication of a loving heart from the
depravity of a corrupt character. With the obstinacy of narrow-minded
people, he had been looking at the whole thing in its worst light, and
for several hours already he had decided upon his wife’s guilt in his
own mind; this served now as a foundation for his stern conduct. His
features remained perfectly impassive as he listened to Clemence’s words
of justification, which she uttered in a weak, broken voice.

“I know that I merit your hatred-but if you could know how much I
suffer, you would surely forgive me--You left me in Paris very young,
inexperienced; I ought to have fought against this feeling better than I
did, but I used up in this struggle all the strength that I had--You can
see how pale and changed I have become within the past year. I have aged
several years in those few months; I am not yet what you call a--a lost
woman. He ought to have told you that--”

“Oh, he has! of course he has,” replied Christian with bitter irony.
“Oh, you have in him a loyal cavalier!”

“You do not believe me, then! you do not believe me!” she continued,
wringing her hands in despair; “but read these letters, the last ones.
See whether one writes like this to a woman who is entirely lost--”

She tried to take the package which her husband held; instead of giving
the letters to her, he lighted them at the candle and then threw them
into the fireplace. Clemence uttered a cry and darted forward to save
them, but Christian’s iron hand seized her and pushed her back into her
chair.

“I understand how much you care for this correspondence,” said he, in a
more excited tone, “but you are more loving than prudent. Let me destroy
one witness which accuses you. Do you know that I have already killed a
man on account of these letters?”

“Killed!” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, whom this word drove almost to
madness, for she could not understand its real meaning and applied it
to her lover. “Well, then, kill me too, for I lied when I said that I
repented. I do not repent! I am guilty! I deceived you! I love him and I
abhor you; I love him! kill me!”

She fell upon her knees before him and dragged herself along the floor,
striking her head upon it as if she wished to break it. Christian
raised her and seated her in the chair, in spite of her resistance. She
struggled in her husband’s arms, and the only words which she uttered
were: “I love him! kill me! I love him! kill me!”

Her grief was so intense that Bergenheim really pitied her.

“You did not understand me,” he said, “he is not the man I killed.”

She became motionless, dumb. He left her then, from a feeling of
compassion, and returned to his seat. They remained for some time
seated in this way, one on each side of the fireplace; he, with his head
leaning against the mantel; she, crouched in her chair with her face
concealed behind her hands; only the striking of the clock interrupted
this silence and lulled their gloomy thoughts with its monotonous
vibrations.

A sharp, quick sound against one of the windows interrupted this sad
scene. Clemence arose suddenly as if she had received a galvanic shock;
her frightened eyes met her husband’s. He made an imperious gesture
with his hand as if to order silence, and both listened attentively and
anxiously.

The same noise was heard a second time. A rattling against the blinds
was followed by a dry, metallic sound, evidently caused by the contact
of some body against the window.

“It is some signal,” said Christian in a low voice, as he looked at his
wife. “You probably know what it means.”

“I do not, I swear to you,” replied Clemence, her heart throbbing with a
new emotion.

“I will tell you, then; he is there and he has something to say to you.
Rise and open the window.”

“Open the window?” said she, with a frightened look.

“Do what I tell you. Do you wish him to pass the night under your
window, so that the servants may see him?”

At this command, spoken in a severe tone, she arose. Noticing that their
shadows might be seen from the outside when the curtains were drawn,
Bergenheim changed the candles to another place. Clemence walked slowly
toward the window; she had hardly opened it, when a purse fell upon the
floor.

“Close it now,” said the Baron. While his wife was quietly obeying, he
picked up the purse, and opening it, took the following note from it:

   “I have ruined you--you for whom I would gladly have died! But of
   what use are regrets and despair now? And my blood will not wipe
   away your tears. Our position is so frightful that I tremble so
   speak of it. I ought to tell you the truth, however, horrible as it
   may be. Do not curse me, Clemence; do not impute to me this
   fatality, which obliges me thus to torture you. In a few hours I
   shall have expiated the wrongs of my love, or you yourself may be
   free. Free! pardon me for using this word; I know it is an odious
   one to you, but I am too troubled to find another. Whatever
   happens, I am about to put within your reach the only aid which it
   is possible for me to offer you; it will at least give you a choice
   of unhappiness. If you never see me again, to live with him will be
   a torture beyond your strength, perhaps, for you love me. I do not
   know how to express my thoughts, and I dare not offer you advice or
   entreat you. All that I feel is the necessity of telling you that
   my whole life belongs to you, that I am yours until death; but I
   hardly dare have the courage to lay at your feet the offering of a
   destiny already so sad, and which may soon be stained with blood.
   A fatal necessity sometimes imposes actions which public opinion
   condemns, but the heart excuses, for it alone understands them.
   Do not be angry at what you are about to read; never did words like
   these come out of a more desolate heart. During the whole day a
   post-chaise will wait for you at the rear of the Montigny plateau;
   a fire lighted upon the rock which you can see from your room will
   notify you of its presence. In a short time it can reach the Rhine.
   A person devoted to you will accompany you to Munich, to the house
   of one of my relatives, whose character and position will assure you
   sufficient protection from all tyranny. There, at least, you will
   be permitted to weep. That is all that I can do for you. My heart
   is broken when I think of the powerlessness of my love. They say
   that when one crushes the scorpion which has wounded him, he is
   cured; even my death will not repair the wrong that I have done you;
   it will only be one grief the more. Can you understand how
   desperate is the feeling which I experience now? For months past,
   to be loved by you has been the sole desire of my heart, and now I
   must repent ever having attained it. Out of pity for you, I ought
   to wish that you did love me with a love as perishable as my life,
   so that a remembrance of me would leave you in peace. All this is
   so sad that I have not the courage to continue. Adieu, Clemence!
   Once more, one last time, I must say: I love you! and yet, I dare
   not. I feel unworthy to speak to you thus, for my love has become a
   disastrous gift. Did I not ruin you? The only word that seems to
   be permissible is the one that even a murderer dares to address to
   his God: pardon me!”

After reading this, the Baron passed the letter to his wife without
saying a word, and resumed his sombre attitude.

“You see what he asks of you?” he said, after a rather long pause, as
he observed the dazed way in which Madame de Bergenheim’s eyes wandered
over this letter.

“My head is bewildered,” she replied, “I do not understand what he
says--Why does he speak of death?”

Christian’s lips curled disdainfully as he answered:

“It does not concern you; one does not kill women.”

“They need it not to die,” replied Clemence, who gazed at her husband
with wild, haggard eyes.

“Then you are going to fight?” she added, after a moment’s pause.

“Really, have you divined as much?” he replied, with an ironical smile;
“it is a wonderful thing how quick is your intelligence! You have spoken
the truth. You see, each of us has his part to play. The wife deceives
her husband; the husband fights with the lover, and the lover in order
to close the comedy in a suitable manner--proposes to run away with the
wife, for that is the meaning of his letter, notwithstanding all his
oratorical precautions.”

“You are going to fight!” she exclaimed, with the energy of despair.
“You are going to fight! And for me--unworthy and miserable creature
that I am! What have you done? And is he not free to love? I alone
am the guilty one, I alone have offended you, and I alone deserve
punishment. Do with me what you will; shut me up in a convent or a cell;
bring me poison, I will drink it.”

The Baron burst into sardonic laughter.

“So you are afraid that I shall kill, him?” said he, gazing at her
intently, with his arms crossed upon his breast.

“I fear for you, for us all. Do you think that I can live after causing
blood to be shed? If there must be a victim, take me--or, at least,
begin with me. Have pity! tell me that you will not fight.”

“But think--there is an even chance that you may be set free!” said he.

“Spare me!” she murmured, shivering with horror.

“It is a pity that blood must be shed, is it not?” said Bergenheim, in
a mocking tone; “adultery would be pleasant but for that. I am sure
that you think me coarse and brutal to look upon your honor as a serious
thing, when you do not do so yourself.”

“I entreat you!”

“I am the one who has to entreat you. This astonishes you, does
it not?--While I live, I shall protect your reputation in spite of
yourself; but if I die, try to guard it yourself. Content yourself with
having betrayed me; do not outrage my memory. I am glad now that we
have no children, for I should fear for them, and should feel obliged
to deprive you of their care as much as lay in my power. That is one
trouble the less. But as you bear my name, and I can not take it away
from you, I beg of you do not drag it in the mire when I shall not be
here to wash it for you.”

The young woman fell back upon her seat as if every fibre in her body
had been successively torn to pieces.

“You crush me to the earth!” she said, feebly.

“This revolts you,” continued the husband, who seemed to choose the most
cutting thrust; “you are young; this is your first error, you are not
made for such adventures. But rest assured, one becomes accustomed to
everything. A lover always knows how to find the most beautiful phrases
with which to console a widow and vanquish her repugnances.”

“You are killing me,” she murmured, falling back almost unconscious in
her chair.

Christian leaned over her, and, taking her by the arm, said in a low
tone:

“Remember, if I die and he asks you to follow him, you will be an
infamous creature if you obey him. He is a man to glory in you; that is
easy enough to see. He is a man who would drag you after him--”

“Oh! have pity--I shall die--”

Clemence closed her eyes and her lips twitched convulsively.

The first rays of the morning sun fell upon another scene in the
opposite wing of the chateau. Marillac was quietly sleeping the sleep
of the just when he was suddenly awakened by a shaking that nearly threw
him out of his bed.

“Go to the devil!” he said, angrily, when he succeeded in half opening
his heavy eyes, and recognized Gerfaut standing beside his bed.

“Get up!” said the latter, taking him by the arm to give more force to
his command.

The artist covered himself with the clothes up to his chin.

“Are you walking in your sleep or insane?” asked Marillac, “or do you
want me to go to work?” he added, as he saw that his friend had some
papers in his hand. “You know very well I never have any ideas when
fasting, and that I am stupid until noon.”

“Get up at once!” said Gerfaut, “I must have a talk with you.”

There was something so serious and urgent in Gerfaut’s accent as he
said these words, that the artist got up at once and hurriedly dressed
himself.

“What is the matter?” he asked, as he put on his dressing-gown, “you
look as if the affairs of the nation rested upon you.”

“Put on your coat and boots,” said Octave, “you must go to La
Fauconnerie. They are used to seeing you go out early in the morning for
your appointments with Reine, and therefore--”

“It is to this shepherdess you would send me!” interrupted the artist,
as he began to undress himself; “in that case I will go to bed again.
Enough of that!”

“I am to fight with Bergenheim at nine o’clock!” said Gerfaut, in a low
voice.

“Stupendous!” exclaimed Marillac, as he jumped back a few steps, and
then stood as motionless as a statue. Without wasting any time in
unnecessary explanations, his friend gave him a brief account of the
night’s events.

“Now,” said he, “I need you; can I count upon your friendship?”

“In life and in death!” exclaimed Marillac, and he pressed his hand with
the emotion that the bravest of men feel at the approach of a danger
which threatens one who is dear to them.

“Here,” said Gerfaut, as he handed him the papers in his hand, “is a
letter for you in which you will find my instructions in full; they will
serve you as a guide, according to circumstances. This sealed paper will
be deposited by you in the office of the public prosecutor at Nancy,
under certain circumstances which my note explains. Finally, this is my
will. I have no very near relative; I have made you my heir.

“Listen to me! I do not know a more honest man than you, that is the
reason why I select you. First, this legacy is a trust. I speak to you
now in case of events which probably will never happen, but which I
ought to prepare for. I do not know what effect this may have upon
Clemence’s fate; her aunt, who is very austere, may quarrel with her
and deprive her of her rights; her personal fortune is not very large, I
believe, and I know nothing about her marriage settlement. She may thus
be entirely at her husband’s mercy, and that is what I will not allow.
My fortune is therefore a trust that you will hold to be placed at her
disposal at any time. I hope that she loves me enough not to refuse this
service of me.”

“Well and good!” said Marillac; “I will admit that the thought of
inheriting from you choked me like a noose around my neck.”

“I beg of you to accept for yourself my copyrights as author. You can
not refuse that,” said Gerfaut, with a half smile; “this legacy belongs
to the domain of art. To whom should I leave it if not to you, my
Patroclus, my faithful collaborator?”

The artist took several agitated turns about his room.

“To think,” he exclaimed, “that I was the one who saved this
Bergenheim’s life! If he kills you, I shall never forgive myself. And
yet, I told you this would end in some tragic manner.”

“What business had he there? Is it not so? What can I say? We were
seeking for a drama; here it is. I am not anxious on my own account, but
on hers. Unhappy woman! A duel is a stone that might fall upon a man’s
head twenty times a day; it is sufficient for a simpleton if you stare
at him, or for an awkward fellow if you tread upon his toes; but on her
account--poor angel!--I can not think of it. I need the fullest command
of my head and my heart. But it is growing lighter; there is not a
moment to lose. Go to the stable; saddle a horse yourself, if there is
no servant up; go, as I said, to La Fauconnerie; I have often seen a
post-chaise in the tavern courtyard; order it to wait all day at the
back of the Montigny plateau. You will find everything explained in
detail in the note which I have given you. Here is my purse; I need no
money.”

Marillac put the purse in his pocket and the papers in his
memorandum-book; he then buttoned up his redingote and put on his
travelling cap. His countenance showed a state of exaltation which
belied, for the time being, the pacific theories he had expounded a few
days before.

“You can depend upon me as upon yourself,” said he with energy. “If
this poor woman calls for my aid, I promise you that I will serve her
faithfully. I will take her wherever she wishes; to China, if she asks
it, and in spite of the whole police force. If Bergenheim kills you and
then follows her up, there will be another duel.”

As he said these words, he took his stiletto and a pair of pistols from
the mantel and put them in his pocket, after examining the edge of the
one and the caps of the others.

“Adieu!” said Gerfaut.

“Adieu!” said the artist, whose extreme agitation contrasted strongly
with his friend’s calm. “Rest easy! I will look after her--and I will
publish a complete edition--But what an idea--to accept a duel as
irregular as this! Have you ever seen him use a gun? He had no right to
exact this.”

“Hurry! you must leave before the servants are up.”

“Kiss me, my poor fellow!” said Marillac, with tears in his eyes; “it is
not very manly I know, but I can not help it--Oh! these women! I adore
them, of course; but just now I am like Nero, I wish that they all had
but one head. It is for these little, worthless dolls that we kill each
other!”

“You can curse them on your way,” said Gerfaut, who was impatient to see
him leave.

“Oh, good gracious, yes! They can flatter themselves this moment that
they all inspire me with a deadly hatred.”

“Do not make any noise,” said his friend, as he carefully opened the
door.

Marillac pressed his hand for the last time, and went out. When he
reached the end of the corridor, he stopped a moment, then went back.

“Above all things,” said he, as he passed his head through the half-open
door, “no foolish proceedings. Remember that it is necessary that one
of you should fall, and that if you fail; he will not. Take your
time--aim--and fire at him as you would at a rabbit.”

After this last piece of advice, he went away; ten minutes after he had
left, Gerfaut saw him riding out of the courtyard as fast as Beverley’s
four legs would carry him.



CHAPTER XXV. THE WILD BOAR

The most radiant sun that ever gilded a beautiful September day had
arisen upon the castle. The whole valley was as fresh and laughing as a
young girl who had just left her bath. The rocks seemed to have a band
of silver surrounding them; the woods a mantle of green draped over
their shoulders.

There was an unusual excitement in the courtyard of the chateau. The
servants were coming and going, the dogs were starting a concert of
irregular barks, and the horses were jumping about, sharing their
instinctive presentiment and trying to break away from the bridles which
held them.

The Baron, seated in his saddle with his usual military attitude, and a
cigar in his mouth, went from one to another, speaking in a joking tone
which prevented anybody from suspecting his secret thoughts. Gerfaut had
imposed upon his countenance that impassible serenity which guards the
heart’s inner secrets, but had not succeeded so well. His affectation of
gayety betrayed continual restraint; the smile which he forced upon
his lips left the rest of his face cold, and never removed the wrinkle
between his brows. An incident, perhaps sadly longed for, but unhoped
for, increased this gloomy, melancholy expression. Just as the cavalcade
passed before the English garden, which separated the sycamore walk
from the wing of the chateau occupied by Madame de Bergenheim, Octave
slackened the pace of his horse and lingered behind the rest of his
companions; his eyes closely examined each of the windows; the blinds
of her sleeping-room were only half closed; behind the panes he saw
the curtains move and then separate. A pale face appeared for a moment
between the blue folds, like an angel who peeps through the sky to gaze
upon the earth. Gerfaut raised himself on his stirrups so as to drink in
this apparition as long as possible, but he dared not make one gesture
of adieu. As he was still endeavoring to obtain one more glance, he saw
that the Baron was at his side.

“Play your role better,” said he to him; “we are surrounded by spies. De
Camier has already made an observation about your preoccupied demeanor.”

“You are right,” said Octave; “and you join example to advice. I admire
your coolness, but I despair of equalling it.”

“You must mingle with my guests and talk with them,” Christian replied.

He started off at a trot; Gerfaut followed his example, stifling a sigh
as he darted a last glance toward the chateau. They soon rejoined the
cart which carried several of the hunters, and which Monsieur de Camier
drove with the assurance of a professional coachman.

There was a moment’s silence, broken only by the trot of the horses and
the sound of the wheels upon the level ground.

“What the devil ails your dogs?” exclaimed Monsieur de Camier suddenly,
as he turned to the Baron, who was riding behind him. “There they are
all making for the river.” Just at this moment the dogs, who could be
seen in the distance, hurried to the water-side, in spite of all that
their leader could do to prevent them. They almost disappeared behind
the willows that bordered the river, and one could hear them barking
furiously; their barks sounded like rage mingled with terror.

“It is some duck that they have scented,” observed the prosecutor.

“They wouldn’t bark like that,” said Monsieur de Camier, with the
sagacity of a professional hunter; “if it were a wolf, they could not
make a greater uproar. Is it by chance some wild boar who is taking a
bath, in order to receive us more ceremoniously?”

He gave the horses a vigorous blow from the whip, and they all rapidly
approached the spot where a scene was taking place which excited to the
highest pitch everybody’s curiosity. Before they reached the spot, the
keeper, who had run after the dogs to call them together, came out of a
thicket, waving his hat to stop the hunters, exclaiming:

“A body! a body!”

“A body! a drowned man!” he exclaimed, when the vehicle stopped.

This time it was the public prosecutor who arose and jumped from the
cart with the agility of a deer.

“A drowned man!” said he. “In the name of the law, let nobody touch the
body. Call back the dogs.”

As he said these words he hastened to the spot which the servant pointed
out to him. Everybody dismounted and followed him. Octave and Bergenheim
had exchanged strange glances when they heard the servant’s words.

It was, as the servant had announced, the battered body of a man, thrown
by the current against the trunk of the tree, and there caught between
two branches of the willow as if in a vise.

“It is the carpenter!” exclaimed Monsieur de Camier as he parted the
foliage, which had prevented the head from being seen until then, for he
recognized the workman’s livid, swollen features. “It is that poor devil
of a Lambernier, is it not, Bergenheim?”

“It is true!” stammered Christian, who, in spite of his boldness, could
not help turning away his eyes.

“The carpenter!--drowned!--this is frightful!--I never should have
recognized him--how disfigured he is!” exclaimed the others, as they
pressed forward to gaze at this horrible spectacle.

“This is a sad way to escape justice,” observed the notary, in a
philosophical tone.

The Baron seized this opening with avidity.

“He must have crossed the river to escape,” said he, “and in his haste
he made a misstep and fell.”

The public prosecutor shook his head with an air of doubt.

“That is not probable,” said he; “I know the place. If he tried to cross
the river a little above or a little below the rock--it doesn’t matter
which--the current would have carried him into the little bay above the
rock and not here. It is evident that he must have drowned himself or
been drowned farther down. I say, been drowned, for you can see that he
has a wound upon the left side of his forehead, as if he had received a
violent blow, or his head had, hit against a hard substance. Now, if
he had been drowned accidentally while crossing the river, he would not
have been wounded in this manner.”

This remark silenced the Baron; and while the others exhausted
conjectures to explain the way in which this tragic event had taken
place, he stood motionless, with his eyes fastened upon the river
and avoiding a glance at the dead body. During this time the public
prosecutor had taken from his pocket some paper and a pen, which he
usually carried with him.

“Gentlemen,” said he, seating himself upon the trunk of a tree opposite
the drowned man, “two of you will do me the favor to act as witnesses
while I draw up my official report. If any of you have a statement to
make in regard to this affair, I beg of him to remain here, so that I
may receive his deposition.”

Nobody stirred, but Gerfaut threw such a penetrating glance at the Baron
that the latter turned away his eyes.

“Gentlemen,” continued the magistrate, “I do not wish any of you to
renounce the sport on account of this untoward incident. There is
nothing attractive about this spectacle, and I assure you that if my
duty did not keep me here, I should be the first to withdraw. Baron, I
beg of you to send me two men and a stretcher in order to have the body
carried away; I will have it taken to one of your farms, so as not to
frighten the ladies.”

“The prosecutor is right,” said Christian, whom these words delivered
from a terrible anxiety.

After a deliberation, presided over by Monsieur de Camier, the
‘tragueurs’ and the dogs left in silence to surround the thickets where
the animal had been found to be hidden. At the same time the hunters
turned their steps in the opposite direction in order to take their
positions. They soon reached the ditch alongside of which they were to
place themselves. From time to time, as they advanced, one of them left
the party and remained mute and motionless like a sentinel at his post.
This manoeuvre gradually reduced their numbers, and at last there were
only three remaining.

“You remain here, Camier,” said the Baron, when they were about sixty
steps from the last position.

That gentleman, who knew the ground, was hardly flattered by this
proposition.

“By Jove!” said he, “you are on your own grounds; you ought at least to
do the honors of your woods and let us choose our own positions. I think
you wish to place yourself upon the outskirts, because it is always
about that region that the animal first appears; but there will be two
of us, for I shall go also.”

This determination annoyed Christian considerably, since it threatened
to ruin the plan so prudently laid out.

“I am going to put our friend Gerfaut at this post,” said he, whispering
to the refractory hunter; “I shall be very much pleased if he has an
opportunity to fire. What difference does one boar more or less make to
an old hunter like you?”

“Well and good; just as you like,” retorted Monsieur de Carrier,
striking the ground with the butt-end of his gun, and beginning to
whistle in order to cool off his anger.

When the adversaries found themselves side by side and alone,
Bergenheim’s countenance changed suddenly; the smiling look he
had assumed, in order to convince the old hunter of his cheerful
disposition, gave place to deep gravity.

“You remember our agreement,” he said, as they walked along; “I feel
sure that the boar will come in our direction. At the moment when I call
out, ‘Take care!’ I shall expect you to fire; if, at the end of twenty
seconds, you have not done so, I warn you that I shall fire myself.”

“Very well, Monsieur,” said Gerfaut, looking at him fixedly; “you also
doubtless remember my words; the discovery of this body will give
them still more weight. The public prosecutor has already begun his
preliminary proceedings; remember that it depends on me how they shall
be completed. The deposition which I spoke to you about is in the
hands of a safe person, who is fully instructed to make use of it if
necessary.”

“Marillac, I suppose,” said Christian, in an evil tone; “he is your
confidant. It is a fatal secret that you have confided to him, Monsieur.
If I survive today, I shall have to secure his silence. May all this
blood, past, present, and future, be on your head!”

Deeply affected by this reproach, the Vicomte bowed his head in silence.

“Here is my place,” said the Baron, stopping before the trunk of an old
oak, “and there is the elm where you are to station yourself.”

Gerfaut stopped, and said, in a trembling voice:

“Monsieur, one of us will not leave these woods alive. In the presence
of death, one tells the truth. I hope for your peace of mind, and my
own, that you will believe my last words. I swear to you, upon my honor
and by all that is sacred, that Madame de Bergenheim is innocent.”

He bowed, and withdrew from Christian without waiting for a response.

Bergenheim and Gerfaut were out of sight of the others, and stood at
their posts with eyes fastened upon each other. The ditch was wide
enough to prevent the branches of the trees from troubling them; at
the distance of sixty feet, which separated them, each could see his
adversary standing motionless, framed by the green foliage. Suddenly,
barking was heard in the distance, partially drowned by the firing of a
gun. A few seconds later, two feeble reports were heard, followed by an
imprecation from Monsieur de Camier, whose caps flashed in the pan. The
Baron, who had just leaned forward that he might see better through the
thicket, raised his hand to warn Octave to hold himself in readiness. He
then placed himself in position. An extreme indecision marked Gerfaut’s
attitude. After raising his gun, he dropped it to the ground with a
despondent gesture, as if his resolution to fire had suddenly abandoned
him; the pallor of death could not be more terrible than that which
overspread his features. The howling of the dogs and shouts of the
hunters increased. Suddenly another sound was heard. Low, deep growls,
followed by the crackling of branches, came from the woods opposite our
adversaries. The whole thicket seemed to tremble as if agitated by a
storm.

“Take care!” exclaimed Bergenheim, in a firm voice.

At the same moment an enormous head appeared, and the report of a gun
was heard. When Gerfaut looked through the smoke caused by his gun, at
the farther end of the ditch, nothing was to be seen but the foliage.

The boar, after crossing the clearing, vanished like a flash, leaving
behind him a trail of broken branches--and Bergenheim lay behind the
trunk of the old oak, upon which large drops of blood had already
fallen.



CHAPTER XXVI. BERGENHEIM’S REVENGE

On the same morning the drawing-room of the Bergenheim castle was the
theatre of a quiet home scene very much like the one we described at the
beginning of this story. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was seated in her
armchair reading the periodicals which had just arrived; Aline was
practising upon the piano, and her sister-in-law was seated before one
of the windows embroidering. By the calm attitude of these three ladies,
and the interest they seemed to show in their several occupations, one
would have supposed that they were all equally peaceful at heart. Madame
de Bergenheim, upon rising, had resumed her usual habits; she managed
to find the proper words to reply when spoken to, her dejection did not
differ from her usual melancholy enough for it to become the subject of
remark. A rather bright color in her cheeks heightened her beauty; her
eyes never had sparkled with more brilliancy; but if a hand had been
placed upon her forehead, one would have soon discovered by its burning
the secret of all this unwonted color. In fact, in the midst of
this sumptuous room, surrounded by her friends, and bending over her
embroidery with most exquisite grace, Madame de Bergenheim was slowly
dying. A wasting fever was circulating like poison through her veins.
She felt that an unheard-of sorrow was hanging over her head, and that
no effort of hers could prevent it.

At this very moment, either the man she belonged to or the one she loved
was about to die; whatever her widowhood might be, she felt that
her mourning would be brief; young, beautiful, surrounded by all the
privileges of rank and fortune, life was closing around her, and left
but one pathway open, which was full of blood; she would have to bathe
her feet in it in order to pass through.

“What is that smoke above the Montigny rock?” Aline exclaimed with
surprise; “it looks as if there were a fire in the woods.”

Madame de Bergenheim raised her eyes, shivered from head to foot as she
saw the stream of smoke which stood out against the horizon, and then
let her head droop upon her breast. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil stopped
her reading as she heard Aline’s remark, and turned slowly to look out
of the window.

“That’s some of the shepherds’ work,” said she; “they have built a fire
in the bushes at the risk of setting fire to the whole woods. Really, I
do not know what to think of your husband, Clemence; he takes everybody
away to the hunt with him, and does not leave a soul here to prevent his
dwelling from being devastated.”

Clemence made no reply, and her sister-in-law, who expected she would
say something to keep the conversation alive, returned and seated
herself at the piano with a pouting air.

“Thanks, that will do for to-day!” exclaimed the old lady at the first
notes; “you have split our heads long enough. You would do better to
study your history of France.”

Aline closed the piano angrily; but instead of obeying this last piece
of advice, she remained seated upon the stool with the sulky air of
a pupil in disgrace. A deep silence reigned. Madame de Bergenheim
had dropped her embroidery without noticing it. From time to time she
trembled as if a chill passed over her, her eyes were raised to watch
the smoke ascending above the rock, or else she seemed to listen to some
imaginary sound.

“Truly,” said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, as she laid her journal
down in her lap, “good morals have made great progress since the July
revolution. Yesterday a woman twenty years of age ran away to Montpelier
with her lover; to-day, here is another, in Lyons, who poisons her
husband and kills herself afterward. If I were superstitious, I should
say that the world was coming to an end. What do you think of such
atrocious doings, my dear?”

Clemence raised her head with an effort, and answered, in a gloomy
voice:

“You must pardon her, since she is dead.”

“You are very indulgent,” replied the old aunt; “such creatures ought to
be burned alive, like the Brinvilliers.”

“They often speak in the papers of husbands who kill their wives, but
not so often of wives killing their husbands,” said Aline, with the
partisan feeling natural to the fair sex.

“It is not proper that you should talk of such horrid things,” said the
old lady, in a severe tone; “behold the fruits of all the morals of the
age! It is the effect of all the disgusting stuff that is acted nowadays
upon the stage and written in novels. When one thinks of the fine
education that is given youth at the present time, it is enough to make
one tremble for the future!”

“Mon Dieu! Mademoiselle, you may be sure that I shall never kill
my husband,” replied the young girl, to whom this remark seemed
particularly addressed.

A stifled groan, which Madame de Bergenheim could not suppress,
attracted the attention of the two ladies.

“What is the matter with you?” asked Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
noticing for the first time her niece’s dejected air and the frightened
expression in her eyes.

“Nothing,” murmured the latter; “I think it is the heat of the room.”

Aline hastily opened a window, then went and took her sister-in-law’s
hands in her own.

“You have a fever,” said she; “your hands burn and your forehead also; I
did not dare tell you, but your beautiful color--”

A frightful cry which Madame de Bergenheim uttered made the young girl
draw back in fright.

“Clemence! Clemence!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who thought
that her niece had gone insane.

“Did you not hear?” she cried, with an accent of terror impossible to
describe. She darted suddenly toward the drawing-room door; but, instead
of opening it, she leaned against it with arms crossed. Then she ran two
or three times around the room in a sort of frenzy, and ended by falling
upon her knees before the sofa and burying her head in its cushions.

This scene bewildered the two women. While Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
tried to raise Clemence, Aline, still more frightened, ran out of the
room to call for aid. A rumor which had just begun to arise in the
courtyard was distinctly heard when the door was thrown open. A moment
more, and a piercing shriek was heard, and the young girl rushed into
the parlor; throwing herself on her knees beside her sister-in-law she
pressed her to her breast with convulsive energy.

As she felt herself seized in this fashion, Clemence raised her head
and, placing her hands upon Aline’s shoulders, she pushed her backward
and gazed at her with eyes that seemed to devour her.

“Which? which?” she asked, in a harsh voice.

“My brother--covered with blood!” stammered Aline.

Madame de Bergenheim pushed her aside and threw herself upon the sofa.
Her first feeling was a horrible joy at not hearing the name of Octave;
but she tried to smother her hysterical utterances by pressing her mouth
against the cushion upon which her face was leaning.

A noise of voices was heard in the vestibule; the greatest confusion
seemed to reign among the people outside. At last, several men entered
the drawing room; at their head was Monsieur de Camier, whose ruddy face
had lost all its color.

“Do not be frightened, ladies,” said he, in a trembling voice; “do
not be frightened. It is only a slight accident, without any danger.
Monsieur de Bergenheim was wounded in the hunt,” he continued,
addressing Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.

At last, the folding-doors were thrown open, and two servants appeared,
bearing the Baron upon a mattress.

When the servants had deposited their burden in front of one of
the windows, Aline threw herself upon her brother’s body, uttering
heartrending cries. Madame de Bergenheim did not stir; she lay upon
the sofa with eyes and ears buried in the cushions, and seemed deaf and
blind to all that surrounded her. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was the
only one who preserved her presence of mind. Controlling her emotion,
she leaned over the Baron and sought for some sign of life.

“Is he dead?” she asked, in a low voice, of Monsieur de Camier.

“No, Mademoiselle,” replied the latter, in a tone which announced that
he had little hope.

“Has a physician been sent for?”

“To Remiremont, Epinal, everywhere.”

At this moment Aline uttered a cry of joy. Bergenheim had just stirred,
brought to life, perhaps, by the pressure of his sister’s arms. He
opened his eyes and, closed them several times; at last his energy
triumphed over his sufferings; he sat up on his improvised cot and,
leaning upon his left elbow, he glanced around the room.

“My wife!” said he, in a weak voice.

Madame de Bergenheim arose and forced her way through the group that
surrounded the mattress, and silently took her place beside her husband.
Her features had changed so terribly within a few moments that a murmur
of pity ran through the group of men that filled the room.

“Take my sister away,” said Christian, disengaging his hand from the
young girl, who was covering it with kisses and tears.

“My brother! I can not leave my brother!” exclaimed Aline, as she was
dragged away rather than led to her room.

“Leave me for a moment,” continued the Baron; “I wish to speak to my
wife.”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil gave Monsieur de Gamier a questioning glance,
as if to ask if it were best to grant this request.

“We can do nothing before the doctors arrive,” said the latter, in a low
voice, “and perhaps it would be imprudent to oppose him.”

Mademoiselle de Corandeuil recognized the correctness of this
observation, and left the room, asking the others to follow her. During
this time, Madame de Bergenheim remained motionless in her place,
apparently insensible to all that surrounded her. The noise of the
closing door aroused her from her stupor. She looked around the room
as if she were seeking the others; her eyes, which were opened with the
fixed look of a somnambulist, did not change their expression when they
fell upon her husband.

“Come nearer,” said he, “I have not strength enough to speak loud.”

She obeyed mechanically. When she saw the large red stain which had
soaked Christian’s right sleeve, she closed her eyes, threw back her
head, and her features contracted with a horrified expression.

“You women are wonderfully fastidious,” said the Baron, as he noticed
this movement; “you delight in causing a murder, but the slightest
scratch frightens you. Pass over to the left side; you will not see so
much blood-besides, it is the side where the heart is.”

There was something terrible in the irony of the voice in which he spoke
at this moment. Clemence fell upon her knees beside him and took his
hand, crying,

“Pardon! pardon!”

The dying man took away his hand, raised his wife’s head, and, looking
at her a few moments attentively, he said at last:

“Your eyes are very dry. No tears! What! not one tear when you see me
thus!”

“I can not weep,” replied she; “I shall die!”

“It is very humiliating for me to be so poorly regretted, and it
does you little honor--try to shed a few tears, Madame--it will be
remarked--a widow who does not weep!”

“A widow--never!” she said, with energy.

“It would be convenient if they sold tears as they sell crape, would it
not? Ah! only you women have a real talent for that--all women know how
to weep.”

“You will not die, Christian--oh! tell me that you will not die--and
that you will forgive me.”

“Your lover has killed me,” said Bergenheim, slowly; “I have a bullet in
my chest--I feel it--I am the one who is to die--in less than an hour I
shall be a corpse--don’t you see how hard it is already for me to talk?”

In reality his voice was becoming weaker and weaker. His breath grew
shorter with each word; a wheezing sound within his chest indicated the
extent of the lesion and the continued extravasation of blood.

“Mercy! pardon!” exclaimed the unhappy woman, prostrating herself upon
the floor.

“More air--open the windows--” said the Baron, as he fell back upon the
mattress, exhausted by the efforts he had just made to talk.

Madame de Bergenheim obeyed his order with the precision of an
automaton. A fresh, pure breeze entered the room; when the curtains were
raised, floods of light illuminated the floor, and the old portraits,
suddenly lighted up, looked like ghosts who had left their graves to
witness the death agonies of the last of their descendants. Christian,
refreshed by the air which swept over his face, sat up again. He gazed
with a melancholy eye at the radiant sun and the green woods which lay
stretched out in front of the chateau.

“I lost my father on such a day as this,” said he, as if talking to
himself--“all our family die during the beautiful weather--ah! do you
see that smoke over the Montigny rock?” he exclaimed, suddenly.

After opening the windows, Clemence stepped out upon the balcony.
Leaning upon the balustrade, she gazed at the deep, rapid river which
flowed at her feet. Her husband’s voice calling her aroused her from
this gloomy contemplation. When she returned to Christian, his eyes were
flaming, a flush like that of fever had overspread his cheeks, and a
writhing, furious indignation was depicted upon his face. “Were you
looking at that smoke?” said he, angrily; “it is your lover’s signal;
he is there--he is waiting to take you away--and I, your husband, forbid
you to go--you must not leave me--your place is here--close by me.”

“Close by you,” she repeated, not understanding what he said.

“Wait at least until I am dead,” he continued, while his eyes flashed
more and more--“let my body get cold--when you are a widow you can do as
you like--you will be free--and even then--I forbid it--I order you to
wear mourning for me--above all, try to weep--”

“Strike me with a knife! At least I should bleed,” said she, bending
toward him and tearing open her dress to lay bare her bosom.

He seized her by the arm, and, exerting all his wasting strength to
reach her, he said, in a voice whose harshness was changed almost into
supplication:

“Clemence, do not dishonor me by giving yourself to him when I am
dead--I would curse you if I thought that you would do that.”

“Oh! do not curse me!” she exclaimed; “do not drive me mad. Do you not
know that I am about to die?”

“There are women who do not see their husband’s blood upon their lover’s
hands--but I would curse you--”

He dropped Clemence’s arm and fell back upon the mattress with a sob.
His eyes closed, and some unintelligible words died on his lips, which
were covered with a bloody froth. He was dying.

Madame de Bergenheim, crouched down upon the floor, heard him repeating
in his expiring voice:

“I would curse you--I would curse you!”

She remained motionless for some time, her eyes fastened upon the dying
man before her with a look of stupefied curiosity. Then she arose and
went to the mirror; she gazed at herself for a moment as if obeying the
whim of an insane woman, pushing aside, in order to see herself better,
the hair which covered her forehead. Suddenly a flash of reason came to
her; she uttered a horrible cry as she saw some blood upon her face; she
looked at herself from head to foot; her dress was stained with it; she
wrung her hands in horror, and felt that they were wet. Her husband’s
blood was everywhere. Then, her brain filled with the fire of raving
madness, she rushed out upon the balcony, and Bergenheim, before his
last breath escaped him, heard the noise of her body as it fell into the
river.

Several days later, the Sentinelle des Vosges contained the following
paragraph, written with the official sorrow found in all death-notices
at thirty sous per line:

“A frightful event, which has just thrown two of our best families
into mourning, has caused the greatest consternation throughout the
Remiremont district. Monsieur le Baron de Bergenheim, one of the richest
land-owners in our province, was killed by accident at a wild-boar
hunt on his own domains. It was by the hand of one of his best friends,
Monsieur de Gerfaut, well known by, his important literary work, which
has given its author a worldwide reputation, that he received his
death-blow. Nothing could equal the grief of the involuntary cause of
this catastrophe. Madame de Bergenheim, upon learning of this tragic
accident, was unable to survive the death of her adored husband, and
drowned herself in her despair. Thus the same grave received this
couple, still in the bloom of life, to whom their great mutual affection
seemed to promise a most happy future.”

Twenty-eight months later the Parisian journals, in their turn,
inserted, with but slight variations, the following article:

“Nothing could give any idea of the enthusiasm manifested at the
Theatre-Francais last evening, at the first representation of Monsieur
de Gerfaut’s new drama. Never has this writer, whose silence literature
has deplored for too long a time, distinguished himself so highly. His
early departure for the East is announced. Let us hope that this voyage
will turn to the advantage of art, and that the beautiful and sunny
countries of Asia will be a mine for new inspirations for this
celebrated poet, who has taken, in such a glorious manner, his place at
the heal of our literature.”

Bergenheim’s last wish had been realized; his honor was secure;
nobody outraged by even an incredulous smile the purity of Clemence’s
winding-sheet; and the world did not refuse to their double grave the
commonplace consideration that had surrounded their lives.

Clemence’s death did not destroy the future of the man who loved her so
passionately, but the mourning he wears for her, to this day, is of
the kind that is never put aside. And, as the poet’s heart was always
reflected in his works, the world took part in this mourning without
being initiated into its mystery. When the bitter cup of memory
overflowed in them, they believed it to be a new vein which had opened
in the writer’s brain. Octave received, every day, congratulations upon
this sadly exquisite tone of his lyre, whose vibrations surpassed in
supreme intensity the sighs of Rene or Obermann’s Reveries. Nobody knew
that those sad pages were written under the inspiration of the most
mournful of visions, and that this dark and melancholy tinge, which was
taken for a caprice of the imagination, had its source in blood and in
the spasms of a broken heart.


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     Antipathy for her husband bordering upon aversion
     Attractions that difficulties give to pleasure
     Attractive abyss of drunkenness
     Consented to become a wife so as not to remain a maiden
     Despotic tone which a woman assumes when sure of her empire
     Evident that the man was above his costume; a rare thing!
     I believed it all; one is so happy to believe!
     It is a terrible step for a woman to take, from No to Yes
     Lady who requires urging, although she is dying to sing
     Let them laugh that win!
     Let ultra-modesty destroy poetry
     Love is a fire whose heat dies out for want of fuel
     Mania for fearing that she may be compromised
     Material in you to make one of Cooper’s redskins
     Misfortunes never come single
     No woman is unattainable, except when she loves another
     Obstinacy of drunkenness
     Recourse to concessions is often as fatal to women as to kings
     Regards his happiness as a proof of superiority
     She said yes, so as not to say no
     These are things that one admits only to himself
     Those whom they most amuse are those who are best worth amusing
     Topics that occupy people who meet for the first time
     Trying to conceal by a smile (a blush)
     When one speaks of the devil he appears
     Wiped his nose behind his hat, like a well-bred orator
     You are playing ‘who loses wins!’





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