Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Cosmopolis — Complete
Author: Bourget, Paul
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cosmopolis — Complete" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



COSMOPOLIS

By Paul Bourget



With a Preface by JULES LEMAITRE, of the French academy,



PAUL BOURGET

Born in Amiens, September 2, 1852, Paul Bourget was a pupil at the
Lycee Louis le Grand, and then followed a course at the Ecole des Hautes
Etudes, intending to devote himself to Greek philology. He, however,
soon gave up linguistics for poetry, literary criticism, and fiction.
When yet a very young man, he became a contributor to various journals
and reviews, among others to the ‘Revue des deux Mondes, La Renaissance,
Le Parlement, La Nouvelle Revue’, etc. He has since given himself up
almost exclusively to novels and fiction, but it is necessary to mention
here that he also wrote poetry. His poetical works comprise: ‘Poesies
(1872-876), La Vie Inquiete (1875), Edel (1878), and Les Aveux (1882)’.

With riper mind and to far better advantage, he appeared a few years
later in literary essays on the writers who had most influenced his
own development--the philosophers Renan, Taine, and Amiel, the poets
Baudelaire and Leconte de Lisle; the dramatist Dumas fils, and the
novelists Turgenieff, the Goncourts, and Stendhal. Brunetiere says
of Bourget that “no one knows more, has read more, read better, or
meditated, more profoundly upon what he has read, or assimilated it
more completely.” So much “reading” and so much “meditation,” even when
accompanied by strong assimilative powers, are not, perhaps, the most
desirable and necessary tendencies in a writer of verse or of fiction.
To the philosophic critic, however, they must evidently be invaluable;
and thus it is that in a certain self-allotted domain of literary
appreciation allied to semi-scientific thought, Bourget stands to-day
without a rival. His ‘Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine (1883),
Nouveaux Essais (1885), and Etudes et Portraits (1888)’ are certainly
not the work of a week, but rather the outcome of years of self-culture
and of protracted determined endeavor upon the sternest lines. In fact,
for a long time, Bourget rose at 3 a.m. and elaborated anxiously study
after study, and sketch after sketch, well satisfied when he sometimes
noticed his articles in the theatrical ‘feuilleton’ of the ‘Globe’ and
the ‘Parlement’, until he finally contributed to the great ‘Debats’
itself. A period of long, hard, and painful probation must always be
laid down, so to speak, as the foundation of subsequent literary fame.
But France, fortunately for Bourget, is not one of those places where
the foundation is likely to be laid in vain, or the period of probation
to endure for ever and ever.

In fiction, Bourget carries realistic observation beyond the externals
(which fixed the attention of Zola and Maupassant) to states of the
mind: he unites the method of Stendhal to that of Balzac. He is always
interesting and amusing. He takes himself seriously and persists in
regarding the art of writing fiction as a science. He has wit, humor,
charm, and lightness of touch, and ardently strives after philosophy and
intellectuality--qualities that are rarely found in fiction. It may well
be said of M. Bourget that he is innocent of the creation of a single
stupid character. The men and women we read of in Bourget’s novels are
so intellectual that their wills never interfere with their hearts.

The list of his novels and romances is a long one, considering the fact
that his first novel, ‘L’Irreparable,’ appeared as late as 1884. It
was followed by ‘Cruelle Enigme (1885); Un Crime d’Amour (1886); Andre
Cornelis and Mensonges (1887); Le Disciple (1889); La Terre promise;
Cosmopolis (1892), crowned by the Academy; Drames de Famille (1899);
Monique (1902)’; his romances are ‘Une Idylle tragique (1896); La
Duchesse Bleue (1898); Le Fantome (1901); and L’Etape (1902)’.

‘Le Disciple’ and ‘Cosmopolis’ are certainly notable books. The latter
marks the cardinal point in Bourget’s fiction. Up to that time he had
seen environment more than characters; here the dominant interest is
psychic, and, from this point on, his characters become more and more
like Stendhal’s, “different from normal clay.” Cosmopolis is perfectly
charming. Bourget is, indeed, the past-master of “psychological”
 fiction.

To sum up: Bourget is in the realm of fiction what Frederic Amiel is
in the realm of thinkers and philosophers--a subtle, ingenious, highly
gifted student of his time. With a wonderful dexterity of pen, a very
acute, almost womanly intuition, and a rare diffusion of grace about all
his writings, it is probable that Bourget will remain less known as a
critic than as a romancer. Though he neither feels like Loti nor sees
like Maupassant--he reflects.

                  JULES LEMAITRE
               de l’Academie Francaise.



AUTHOR’S INTRODUCTION

I send you, my dear Primoli, from beyond the Alps, the romance of
international life, begun in Italy almost under your eyes, to which I
have given for a frame that ancient and noble Rome of which you are so
ardent an admirer.

To be sure, the drama of passion which this book depicts has no
particularly Roman features, and nothing was farther from my thoughts
than to trace a picture of the society so local, so traditional, which
exists between the Quirinal and the Vatican. The drama is not even
Italian, for the scene might have been laid, with as much truth, at
Venice, Florence, Nice, St. Moritz, even Paris or London, the various
cities which are like quarters scattered over Europe of the fluctuating
‘Cosmopolis,’ christened by Beyle: ‘Vengo adesso da Cosmopoli’. It is
the contrast between the rather incoherent ways of the rovers of high
life and the character of perennity impressed everywhere in the great
city of the Caesars and of the Popes which has caused me to choose the
spot where even the corners speak of a secular past, there to evoke some
representatives of the most modern, as well as the most arbitrary and
the most momentary, life. You, who know better than any one the motley
world of cosmopolites, understand why I have confined myself to painting
here only a fragment of it. That world, indeed, does not exist, it can
have neither defined customs nor a general character. It is composed
of exceptions and of singularities. We are so naturally creatures of
custom, our continual mobility has such a need of gravitating around one
fixed axis, that motives of a personal order alone can determine us upon
an habitual and voluntary exile from our native land. It is so, now in
the case of an artist, a person seeking for instruction and change; now
in the case of a business man who desires to escape the consequences of
some scandalous error; now in the case of a man of pleasure in search
of new adventures; in the case of another, who cherishes prejudices
from birth, it is the longing to find the “happy mean;” in the case of
another, flight from distasteful memories. The life of the cosmopolite
can conceal all beneath the vulgarity of its whims, from snobbery
in quest of higher connections to swindling in quest of easier prey,
submitting to the brilliant frivolities of the sport, the sombre
intrigues of policy, or the sadness of a life which has been a failure.
Such a variety of causes renders at once very attractive and almost
impracticable the task of the author who takes as a model that
ever-changing society so like unto itself in the exterior rites
and fashions, so really, so intimately complex and composite in its
fundamental elements. The writer is compelled to take from it a series
of leading facts, as I have done, essaying to deduce a law which governs
them. That law, in the present instance, is the permanence of race.
Contradictory as may appear this result, the more one studies the
cosmopolites, the more one ascertains that the most irreducible idea
within them is that special strength of heredity which slumbers beneath
the monotonous uniform of superficial relations, ready to reawaken as
soon as love stirs the depths of the temperament. But there again a
difficulty, almost insurmountable, is met with. Obliged to concentrate
his action to a limited number of personages, the novelist can not
pretend to incarnate in them the confused whole of characters which the
vague word race sums up. Again, taking this book as an example, you and
I, my dear Primoli, know a number of Venetians and of English women,
of Poles and of Romans, of Americans and of French who have nothing
in common with Madame Steno, Maud and Boleslas Gorka, Prince d’Ardea,
Marquis Cibo, Lincoln Maitland, his brother-in-law, and the Marquis de
Montfanon, while Justus Hafner only represents one phase out of twenty
of the European adventurer, of whom one knows neither his religion,
his family, his education, his point of setting out, nor his point of
arriving, for he has been through various ways and means. My ambition
would be satisfied were I to succeed in creating here a group of
individuals not representative of the entire race to which they belong,
but only as possibly existing in that race--or those races. For several
of them, Justus Hafner and his daughter Fanny, Alba Steno, Florent
Chapron, Lydia Maitland, have mixed blood in their veins. May these
personages interest you, my dear friend, and become to you as real as
they have been to me for some time, and may you receive them in your
palace of Tor di Nona as faithful messengers of the grateful affection
felt for you by your companion of last winter.

                       PAUL BOURGET.

PARIS, November 16, 1892.



COSMOPOLIS



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. A DILETTANTE AND A BELIEVER

Although the narrow stall, flooded with heaped-up books and papers, left
the visitor just room enough to stir, and although that visitor was one
of his regular customers, the old bookseller did not deign to move from
the stool upon which he was seated, while writing on an unsteady desk.
His odd head, with its long, white hair, peeping from beneath a once
black felt hat with a broad brim, was hardly raised at the sound of
the opening and shutting of the door. The newcomer saw an emaciated,
shriveled face, in which, from behind spectacles, two brown eyes
twinkled slyly. Then the hat again shaded the paper, which the knotty
fingers, with their dirty nails, covered with uneven lines traced in
a handwriting belonging to another age, and from the thin, tall form,
enveloped in a greenish, worn-out coat, came a faint voice, the voice of
a man afflicted with chronic laryngitis, uttering as an apology, with a
strong Italian accent, this phrase in French:

“One moment, Marquis, the muse will not wait.”

“Very well, I will; I am no muse. Listen to your inspiration
comfortably, Ribalta,” replied, with a laugh, he whom the vendor of
old books received with such original unconstraint. He was evidently
accustomed to the eccentricities of the strange merchant. In Rome--for
this scene took place in a shop at the end of one of the most ancient
streets of the Eternal City, a few paces from the Place d’Espagne, so
well known to tourists--in the city which serves as a confluent for so
many from all points of the world, has not that sense of the odd been
obliterated by the multiplicity of singular and anomalous types stranded
and sheltering there? You will find there revolutionists like boorish
Ribalta, who is ending in a curiosity-shop a life more eventful than the
most eventful of the sixteenth century.

Descended from a Corsican family, this personage came to Rome when very
young, about 1835, and at first became a seminarist. On the point of
being ordained a priest, he disappeared only to return, in 1849,
so rabid a republican that he was outlawed at the time of the
reestablishment of the pontifical government. He then served as
secretary to Mazzini, with whom he disagreed for reasons which clashed
with Ribalta’s honor. Would passion for a woman have involved him in
such extravagance? In 1870 Ribalta returned to Rome, where he opened,
if one may apply such a term to such a hole, a book-shop. But he is an
amateur bookseller, and will refuse you admission if you displease him.
Having inherited a small income, he sells or he does not, following his
fancy or the requirements of his own purchases, to-day asking you twenty
francs for a wretched engraving for which he paid ten sous, to-morrow
giving you at a low price a costly book, the value of which he knows.
Rabid Gallophobe, he never pardoned his old general the campaign of
Dijon any more than he forgave Victor Emmanuel for having left the
Vatican to Pius IX. “The house of Savoy and the papacy,” said he, when
he was confidential, “are two eggs which we must not eat on the same
dish.” And he would tell of a certain pillar of St. Peter’s hollowed
into a staircase by Bernin, where a cartouch of dynamite was placed.
If you were to ask him why he became a book collector, he would bid you
step over a pile of papers, of boarding and of folios. Then he would
show you an immense chamber, or rather a shed, where thousands of
pamphlets were piled up along the walls: “These are the rules of all
the convents suppressed by Italy. I shall write their history.” Then he
would stare at you, for he would fear that you might be a spy sent
by the king with the sole object of learning the plans of his most
dangerous enemy--one of those spies of whom he has been so much in awe
that for twenty years no one has known where he slept, where he ate,
where he hid when the shutters of his shop in the Rue Borgognona were
closed. He expected, on account of his past, and his secret manner,
to be arrested at the time of the outrage of Passanante as one of the
members of those Circoli Barsanti, to whom a refractory corporal gave
his name.

But, on examining the dusty cartoons of the old book-stall, the police
discovered nothing except a prodigious quantity of grotesque verses
directed against the Piedmontese and the French, against the Germans and
the Triple Alliance, against the Italian republicans and the ministers,
against Cavour and Signor Crispi, against the University of Rome and the
Inquisition, against the monks and the capitalists! It was, no doubt,
one of those pasquinades which his customers watched him at work upon,
thinking, as he did so, how Rome abounded in paradoxical meetings.

For, in 1867, that same old Garibaldian exchanged shots at Mentana with
the Pope’s Zouaves, among whom was Marquis de Montfanon, for so was
called the visitor awaiting Ribalta’s pleasure. Twenty-three years had
sufficed to make of the two impassioned soldiers of former days two
inoffensive men, one of whom sold old volumes to the other! And there
is a figure such as you will not find anywhere else--the French nobleman
who has come to die near St. Peter’s.

Would you believe, to see him with his coarse boots, dressed in a simple
coat somewhat threadbare, a round hat covering his gray head, that you
have before you one of the famous Parisian dandies of 1864? Listen
to this other history. Scruples of devoutness coming in the wake of a
serious illness cast at one blow the frequenter of the ‘Cafe Anglais’
and gay suppers into the ranks of the pontifical zouaves. A first
sojourn in Rome during the last four years of the government of Pius IX,
in that incomparable city to which the presentiment of the approaching
termination of a secular rule, the advent of the Council, and the French
occupation gave a still more peculiar character, was enchantment. All
the germs of piety instilled in the nobleman by the education of the
Jesuits of Brughetti ended by reviving a harvest of noble virtues,
in the days of trial which came only too quickly. Montfanon made the
campaign of France with the other zouaves, and the empty sleeve which
was turned up in place of his left arm attested with what courage he
fought at Patay, at the time of that sublime charge when the heroic
General de Sonis unfurled the banner of the Sacred Heart. He had been a
duelist, sportsman, gambler, lover, but to those of his old companions
of pleasure whom chance brought to Rome he was only a devotee who lived
economically, notwithstanding the fact that he had saved the remnants of
a large fortune for alms, for reading and for collecting.

Every one has that vice, more or less, in Rome, which is in itself the
most surprising museum of history and of art. Montfanon is collecting
documents in order to write the history of the French nobility and of
the Church. His mistresses of the time when he was the rival of the
Gramont-Caderousses and the Demidoffs would surely not recognize him
any more than he would them. But are they as happy as he seems to have
remained through his life of sacrifice? There is laughter in his blue
eyes, which attest his pure Germanic origin, and which light up his
face, one of those feudal faces such as one sees in the portraits hung
upon the walls of the priories of Malta, where plainness has race. A
thick, white moustache, in which glimmers a vague reflection of gold,
partly hides a scar which would give to that red face a terrible look
were it not for the expression of those eyes, in which there is fervor
mingled with merriment. For Montfanon is as fanatical on certain
subjects as he is genial and jovial on others. If he had the power he
would undoubtedly have Ribalta arrested, tried, and condemned within
twenty-four hours for the crime of free-thinking. Not having it, he
amused himself with him, so much the more so as the vanquished Catholic
and the discontented Socialists have several common hatreds. Even on
this particular morning we have seen with what indulgence he bore the
brusqueness of the old bookseller, at whom he gazed for ten minutes
without disconcerting him in the least. At length the revolutionist
seemed to have finished his epigram, for with a quiet smile he carefully
folded the sheet of paper, put it in a wooden box which he locked. Then
he turned around.

“What do you desire, Marquis?” he asked, without any further
preliminary.

“First of all, you will have to read me your poem, old redshirt,” said
Montfanon, “which will only be my recompense for having awaited your
good pleasure more patiently than an ambassador. Let us see whom are you
abusing in those verses? Is it Don Ciccio or His Majesty? You will not
reply? Are you afraid that I shall denounce you at the Quirinal?”

“No flies enter a closed mouth,” replied the old conspirator, justifying
the proverb by the manner in which he shut his toothless mouth, into
which, indeed, at that moment, neither a fly nor the tiniest grain of
dust could enter.

“An excellent saying,” returned the Marquis, with a laugh, “and one I
should like to see engraved on the facade of all the modern parliaments.
But between your poetry and your adages have you taken the time to
write for me to that bookseller at Vienna, who owns the last copy of the
pamphlet on the trial of the bandit Hafner?”

“Patience,” said the merchant. “I will write.”

“And my document on the siege of Rome, by Bourbon, those three notarial
deeds which you promised me, have you dislodged them?”

“Patience, patience,” repeated the merchant, adding, as he pointed with
a comical mixture of irony and of despair to the disorder in his shop,
“How can you expect me to know where I am in the midst of all this?”

“Patience, patience,” repeated Montfanon. “For a month you have been
singing that old refrain. If, instead of composing wretched verses,
you would attend to your correspondence, and, if, instead of buying
continually, you would classify this confused mass.... But,” said he,
more seriously, with a brusque gesture, “I am wrong to reproach you for
your purchases, since I have come to speak to you of one of the last.
Cardinal Guerillot told me that you showed him, the other day, an
interesting prayer-book, although in very bad condition, which you found
in Tuscany. Where is it?”

“Here it is,” said Ribalta, who, leaping over several piles of volumes
and thrusting aside with his foot an enormous heap of cartoons, opened
the drawer of a tottering press. In that drawer he rummaged among an
accumulation of odd, incongruous objects: old medals and old nails,
bookbindings and discolored engravings, a large leather box gnawed by
insects, on the outside of which could be distinguished a partly effaced
coat-of-arms. He opened that box and extended toward Montfanon a volume
covered with leather and studded. One of the clasps was broken, and when
the Marquis began to turn over the pages, he could see that the interior
had not been better taken care of than the exterior. Colored prints had
originally ornamented the precious work; they were almost effaced. The
yellow parchment had been torn in places. Indeed, it was a shapeless
ruin which the curious nobleman examined, however, with the greatest
care, while Ribalta made up his mind to speak.

“A widow of Montalcino, in Tuscany, sold it to me. She asked me an
enormous price, and it is worth it, although it is slightly damaged. For
those are miniatures by Matteo da Siena, who made them for Pope Pius
II Piccolomini. Look at the one which represents Saint Blaise, who is
blessing the lions and panthers. It is the best preserved. Is it not
fine?”

“Why try to deceive me, Ribalta?” interrupted Montfanon, with a gesture
of impatience. “You know as well as I that these miniatures are very
mediocre, and that they do not in the least resemble Matteo’s compact
work; and another proof is that the prayerbook is dated 1554. See!”
 and, with his remaining hand, very adroitly he showed the merchant the
figures; “and as I have quite a memory for dates, and as I am interested
in Siena, I have not forgotten that Matteo died before 1500. I did not
go to college with Machiavelli,” continued he, with some brusqueness,
“but I will tell you that which the Cardinal would have told you if you
had not deceived him by your finesse, as you tried to deceive me just
now. Look at this partly effaced signature, which you have not been able
to read. I will decipher it for you. Blaise de Mo, and then a c, with
several letters missing, just three, and that makes Montluc in the
orthography of the time, and the b is in a handwriting which you might
have examined in the archives of that same Siena, since you come from
there. Now, with regard to this coat-of-arms,” and he closed the book to
detail to his stupefied companion the arms hardly visible on the cover,
“do you see a wolf, which was originally of gold, and turtles of gales?
Those are the arms which Montluc has borne since the year 1554, when he
was made a citizen of Siena for having defended it so bravely against
the terrible Marquis de Marignan. As for the box,” he took it in its
turn to study it, “these are really the half-moons of the Piccolominis.
But what does that prove? That after the siege, and just as it was
necessary to retire to Montalcino, Montluc gave his prayer-book, as a
souvenir, to some of that family. The volume was either lost or stolen,
and finally reduced to the state in which it now is. This book, too, is
proof that a little French blood was shed in the service of Italy. But
those who have sold it have forgotten that, like Magenta and Solferino,
you have only memory for hatred. Now that you know why I want your
prayer-book, will you sell it to me for five hundred francs?”

The bookseller listened to that discourse with twenty contradictory
expressions upon his face. From force of habit he felt for Montfanon a
sort of respect mingled with animosity, which evidently rendered it very
painful for him to have been surprised in the act of telling an untruth.
It is necessary, to be just, to add that in speaking of the great
painter Matteo and of Pope Pius II in connection with that unfortunate
volume, he had not thought that the Marquis, ordinarily very economical
and who limited his purchases to the strict domain of ecclesiastical
history, would have the least desire for that prayer-book. He had
magnified the subject with a view to forming a legend and to taking
advantage of some rich, unversed amateur.

On the other hand, if the name of Montluc meant absolutely nothing to
him, it was not the same with the direct and brutal allusion which his
interlocutor had made to the war of 1859. It is always a thorn in the
flesh of those of our neighbors from beyond the Alps who do not love us.
The pride of the Garibaldian was not far behind the generosity of the
former zouave. With an abruptness equal to that of Montfanon, he took
up the volume and grumbled as he turned it over and over in his inky
fingers:

“I would not sell it for six hundred francs. No, I would not sell it for
six hundred francs.”

“It is a very large sum,” said Montfanon.

“No,” continued the good man, “I would not sell it.” Then extending it
to the Marquis, in evident excitement, he cried: “But to you I will sell
it for four hundred francs.”

“But I have offered you five hundred francs for it,” said the nonplussed
purchaser. “You know that is a small sum for such a curiosity.”

“Take it for four,” insisted Ribalta, growing more and more eager, “not
a sou less, not a sou more. It is what it cost me. And you shall have
your documents in two days and the Hafner papers this week. But was
that Bourbon who sacked Rome a Frenchman?” he continued. “And Charles
d’Anjou, who fell upon us to make himself King of the two Sicilies? And
Charles VIII, who entered by the Porte du Peuple? Were they Frenchmen?
Why did they come to meddle in our affairs? Ah, if we were to calculate
closely, how much you owe us! Was it not we who gave you Mazarin,
Massena, Bonaparte and many others who have gone to die in your army in
Russia, in Spain and elsewhere? And at Dijon? Did not Garibaldi stupidly
fight for you, who would have taken from him his country? We are quits
on the score of service.... But take your prayer-book-good-evening,
good-evening. You can pay me later.”

And he literally pushed the Marquis out of the stall, gesticulating and
throwing down books on all sides. Montfanon found himself in the street
before having been able to draw from his pocket the money he had got
ready.

“What a madman! My God, what a madman!” said he to himself, with a
laugh. He left the shop at a brisk pace, with the precious book under
his arm. He understood, from having frequently come in contact with
them, those southern natures, in which swindling and chivalry elbow
without harming one another--Don Quixotes who set their own windmills in
motion. He asked himself:

“How much would he still make after playing the magnamimous with me?”
 His question was never to be answered, nor was he to know that Ribalta
had bought the rare volume among a heap of papers, engravings, and old
books, paying twenty-five francs for all. Moreover, two encounters which
followed one upon the other on leaving the shop, prevented him from
meditating on that problem of commercial psychology. He paused for a
moment at the end of the street to cast a glance at the Place d’Espagne,
which he loved as one of those corners unchanged for the last thirty
years. On that morning in the early days of May, the square, with its
sinuous edge, was indeed charming with bustle and light, with the
houses which gave it a proper contour, with the double staircase of La
Trinite-des-Monts lined with idlers, with the water which gushed from
a large fountain in the form of a bark placed in the centre-one of
the innumerable caprices in which the fancy of Bernin, that illusive
decorator, delighted to indulge. Indeed, at that hour and in that light,
the fountain was as natural in effect as were the nimble hawkers who
held in their extended arms baskets filled with roses, narcissus, red
anemones, fragile cyclamens and dark pansies. Barefooted, with sparkling
eyes, entreaties upon their lips, they glided among the carriages which
passed along rapidly, fewer than in the height of the season, still
quite numerous, for spring was very late this year, and it came
with delightful freshness. The flower-sellers besieged the hurried
passers-by, as well as those who paused at the shop-windows, and, devout
Catholic as Montfanon was, he tasted, in the face of the picturesque
scene of a beautiful morning in his favorite city, the pleasure of
crowning that impression of a bright moment by a dream of eternity.
He had only to turn his eyes to the right, toward the College de la
Propagande, a seminary from which all the missions of the world set out.

But it was decreed that the impassioned nobleman should not enjoy
undisturbed the bibliographical trifle obtained so cheaply and which he
carried under his arm, nor that feeling so thoroughly Roman; a sudden
apparition surprised him at the corner of a street, at an angle of the
sidewalk. His bright eyes lost their serenity when a carriage passed by
him, a carriage, perfectly appointed, drawn by two black horses, and
in which, notwithstanding the early hour, sat two ladies. The one was
evidently an inferior, a companion who acted as chaperon to the other,
a young girl of almost sublime beauty, with large black eyes, which
contrasted strongly with a pale complexion, but a pallor in which there
was warmth and life. Her profile, of an Oriental purity, was so much
on the order of the Jewish type that it left scarcely a doubt as to the
Hebrew origin of the creature, a veritable vision of loveliness, who
seemed created, as the poets say, “To draw all hearts in her wake.”
 But no! The jovial, kindly face of the Marquis suddenly darkened as he
watched the girl about to turn the corner of the street, and who
bowed to a very fashionable young man, who undoubtedly knew the late
pontifical zouave, for he approached him familiarly, saying, in a
mocking tone and in a French which came direct from France:

“Well! Now I have caught you, Marquis Claude-Francois de Montfanon!...
She has come, you have seen her, you have been conquered. Have your eyes
feasted upon divine Fanny Hafner? Tremble! I shall denounce you to his
Eminence, Cardinal Guerillot; and if you malign his charming catechist
I will be there to testify that I saw you hypnotized as she passed, as
were the people of Troy by Helen. And I know very positively that Helen
had not so modern a grace, so beautiful a mind, so ideal a profile, so
deep a glance, so dreamy a mouth and such a smile. Ah, how lovely she
is! When shall you call?”

“If Monsieur Julien Dorsenne,” replied Montfanon, in the same mocking
tone, “does not pay more attention to his new novel than he is doing
at this moment, I pity his publisher. Come here,” he added, brusquely,
dragging the young man to the angle of Rue Borgognona. “Did you see the
victoria stop at No. 13, and the divine Fanny, as you call her, alight?
.... She has entered the shop of that old rascal, Ribalta. She will not
remain there long. She will come out, and she will drive away in her
carriage. It is a pity she will not pass by us again. We should have
had the pleasure of seeing her disappointed air. This is what she is in
search of,” added he, with a gay laugh, exhibiting his purchase, “but
which she could not have were she to offer all the millions which her
honest father has stolen in Vienna. Ha, ha!” he concluded, laughing
still more heartily, “Monsieur de Montfanon rose first; this morning
has not been lost, and you, Monsieur, can see what I obtained at the
curiosity-shop of that old fellow who will not make a plaything of this
object, at least,” he added, extending the book to his interlocutor, at
whom he glanced with a comical expression of triumph.

“I do not wish to look at it,” responded Dorsenne. “But, yes,” he
continued, as Montfanon shrugged his shoulders, “in my capacity of
novelist and observer, since you cast it at my head, I know already what
it is. What do you bet?... It is a prayer-book which bears the signature
of Marshal de Montluc, and which Cardinal Guerillot discovered. Is that
true? He spoke to Mademoiselle Hafner about it, and he thought he would
mitigate your animosity toward her by telling you she was an enthusiast
and wished to buy it. Is that true as well? And you, wretched man, had
only one thought, to deprive that poor little thing of the trifle.
Is that true? We spent the evening before last together at Countess
Steno’s; she talked to me of nothing but her desire to have the book on
which the illustrious soldier, the great believer, had prayed. She told
me of all her heroic resolutions. Later she went to buy it. But the
shop was closed; I noticed it on passing, and you certainly went there,
too.... Is that true?... And, now that I have detailed to you the story,
explain to me, you who are so just, why you cherish an antipathy so
bitter and so childish--excuse the word!--for an innocent, young girl,
who has never speculated on ‘Change, who is as charitable as a whole
convent, and who is fast becoming as devout as yourself. Were it not
for her father, who will not listen to the thought of conversion before
marriage, she would already be a Catholic, and--Protestants as they are
for the moment--she would never go anywhere but to church... When she is
altogether a Catholic, and under the protection of a Sainte-Claudine and
a Sainte-Francoise, as you are under the protection of Saint-Claude and
Saint-Francois, you will have to lay down your arms, old leaguer, and
acknowledge the sincerity of the religious sentiments of that child who
has never harmed you.”

“What! She has done nothing to me?”... interrupted Montfanon. “But it is
quite natural that a sceptic should not comprehend what she has done to
me, what she does to me daily, not to me personally, but to my opinions.
When one has, like you, learned intellectual athletics in the circus of
the Sainte-Beuves and Renans, one must think it fine that Catholicism,
that grand thing, should serve as a plaything for the daughter of a
pirate who aims at an aristocratic marriage. It may, too, amuse you
that my holy friend, Cardinal Guerillot, should be the dupe of that
intriguer. But I, Monsieur, who have received the sacrament by the side
of a Sonis, I can not admit that one should make use of what was the
faith of that hero to thrust one’s self into the world. I do not admit
that one should play the role of dupe and accomplice to an old man whom
I venerate and whom I shall enlighten, I give you my word.”

“And as for this ancient relic,” he continued, again showing the
volume, “you may think it childish that I do not wish it mixed up in the
shameful comedy. But no, it shall not be. They shall not exhibit with
words of emotion, with tearful eyes, this breviary on which once prayed
that grand soldier; yes, Monsieur, that great believer. She has done
nothing to me,” he repeated, growing more and more excited, his red
face becoming purple with rage, “but they are the quintessence of what
I detest the most, people like her and her father. They are the
incarnation of the modern world, in which there is nothing more
despicable than these cosmopolitan adventurers, who play at grand
seigneur with the millions filibustered in some stroke on the Bourse.
First, they have no country. What is this Baron Justus Hafner--German,
Austrian, Italian? Do you know? They have no religion. The name, the
father’s face, that of the daughter, proclaim them Jews, and they are
Protestants--for the moment, as you have too truthfully said, while they
prepare themselves to become Mussulmen or what not. For the moment,
when it is a question of God!... They have no family. Where was this man
reared? What did his father, his mother, his brothers, his sisters do?
Where did he grow up? Where are his traditions? Where is his past, all
that constitutes, all that establishes the moral man?... Just look. All
is mystery in this personage, excepting this, which is very clear: if he
had received his due in Vienna, at the time of the suit of the ‘Credit
Austro-Dalmate’, in 1880, he would be in the galleys, instead of in
Rome. The facts were these: there were innumerable failures. I know
something about it. My poor cousin De Saint-Remy, who was with the Comte
de Chambord, lost the bread of his old age and his daughter’s dowry.
There were suicides and deeds of violence, notably that of a certain
Schroeder, who went mad on account of that crash, and who killed
himself, after murdering his wife and his two children. And the Baron
came out of it unsullied. It is not ten years since the occurrence, and
it is forgotten. When he settled in Rome he found open doors, extended
hands, as he would have found them in Madrid, London, Paris, or
elsewhere. People go to his house; they receive him! And you wish me
to believe in the devoutness of that man’s daughter!... No, a thousand
times no; and you yourself, Dorsenne, with your mania for paradoxes and
sophisms, you have the right spirit in you, and these people horrify you
in reality, as they do me.”

“Not the least in the world,” replied the writer, who had listened to
the Marquis’s tirade; with an unconvinced smile, he repeated: “Not
the least in the world.... You have spoken of me as an acrobat or an
athlete. I am not offended, because it is you, and because I know that
you love me dearly. Let me at least have the suppleness of one. First,
before passing judgment on a financial affair I shall wait until I
understand it. Hafner was acquitted. That is enough, for one thing. Were
he even the greatest rogue in the universe, that would not prevent his
daughter from being an angel, for another. As for that cosmopolitanism
for which you censure him, we do not agree there; it is just that which
interests me in him. Thirdly,... I should not consider that I had lost
the six months spent in Rome, if I had met only him. Do not look at
me as if I were one of the patrons of the circus, Uncle Beuve, or poor
Monsieur Renan himself,” he continued, tapping the Marquis’s shoulder.
“I swear to you that I am very serious. Nothing interests me more than
these exceptions to the general rule--than those who have passed through
two, three, four phases of existence. Those individuals are my
museum, and you wish me to sacrifice to your scruples one of my finest
subjects.... Moreover,”--and the malice of the remark he was about to
make caused the young man’s eyes to sparkle “revile Baron Hafner as much
as you like,” he continued; “call him a thief and a snob, an intriguer
and a knave, if it pleases you. But as for being a person who does not
know where his ancestors lived, I reply, as did Bonhomet when he
reached heaven and the Lord said to him: ‘Still a chimney-doctor,
Bonhomet?’--‘And you, Lord?’. For you were born in Bourgogne, Monsieur
de Montfanon, of an ancient family, related to all the nobility-upon
which I congratulate you--and you have lived here in Rome for almost
twenty-four years, in the Cosmopolis which you revile.”

“First of all,” replied the Pope’s former soldier, holding up his
mutilated arm, “I might say that I no longer count, I do not live. And
then,” his face became inspired, and the depths of that narrow mind,
often blinded but very exalted, suddenly appeared, “and then, my Rome
to me, Monsieur, has nothing in common with that of Monsieur Hafner nor
with yours, since you are come, it seems, to pursue studies of moral
teratology. Rome to me is not Cosmopolis, as you say, it is Metropolis,
it is the mother of cities.... You forget that I am a Catholic in every
fibre, and that I am at home here. I am here because I am a monarchist,
because I believe in old France as you believe in the modern world; and
I serve her in my fashion, which is not very efficacious, but which is
one way, nevertheless.... The post of trustee of Saint Louis, which I
accepted from Corcelle, is to me my duty, and I will sustain it in the
best way in my power.... Ah! that ancient France, how one feels her
grandeur here, and what a part she is known to have had in Christianity!
It is that chord which I should like to have heard vibrate in a fluent
writer like you, and not eternally those paradoxes, those sophisms. But
what matters it to you who date from yesterday and who boast of it,”
 he added, almost sadly, “that in the most insignificant corners of this
city centuries of history abound? Does your heart blush at the sight of
the facade of the church of Saint-Louis, the salamander of Francois I
and the lilies? Do you know why the Rue Bargognona is called thus,
and that near by is Saint-Claudedes-Bourguignons, our church? Have
you visited, you who are from the Vosges, that of your province,
Saint-Nicolas-des-Lorrains? Do you know Saint-Yves-des-Bretons?”

“But,” and here his voice assumed a gay accent, “I have thoroughly
charged into that rascal of a Hafner. I have laid him before you without
any hesitation. I have spoken to you as I feel, with all the fervor of
my heart, although it may seem sport to you. You will be punished, for
I shall not allow you to escape. I will take you to the France of other
days. You shall dine with me at noon, and between this and then we will
make the tour of those churches I have just named. During that time we
will go back one hundred and fifty years in the past, into that world
in which there were neither cosmopolites nor dilettantes. It is the old
world, but it is hardy, and the proof is that it has endured; while your
society-look where it is after one hundred years in France, in Italy, in
England--thanks to that detestable Gladstone, of whom pride has made a
second Nebuchadnezzar. It is like Russia, your society; according to the
only decent words of the obscene Diderot, ‘rotten before mature!’ Come,
will you go?”

“You are mistaken,” replied the writer, “in thinking that. I do not love
your old France, but that does not prevent me from enjoying the new. One
can like wine and champagne at the same time. But I am not at liberty. I
must visit the exposition at Palais Castagna this morning.”

“You will not do that,” exclaimed impetuous Montfanon, whose severe face
again expressed one of those contrarieties which caused it to brighten
when he was with one of whom he was fond as he was of Dorsenne. “You
would not have gone to see the King assassinated in ‘93? The selling at
auction of the old dwelling of Pope Urban VII is almost as tragical! It
is the beginning of the agony of what was Roman nobility. I know. They
deserve it all, since they were not killed to the last man on the steps
of the Vatican when the Italians took the city. We should have done
it, we who had no popes among our grand-uncles, if we had not been busy
fighting elsewhere. But it is none the less pitiful to see the hammer of
the appraisers raised above a palace with which is connected centuries
of history. Upon my life, if I were Prince d’Ardea--if I had inherited
the blood, the house, the titles of the Castagnas, and if I thought I
should leave nothing behind me of that which my fathers had amassed--I
swear to you, Dorsenne, I should die of grief. And if you recall the
fact that the unhappy youth is a spoiled child of eight-and-twenty,
surrounded by flatterers, without parents, without friends, without
counsellors, that he risked his patrimony on the Bourse among thieves of
the integrity of Monsieur Hafner, that all the wealth collected by that
succession of popes, of cardinals, of warriors, of diplomatists,
has served to enrich ignoble men, you would think the occurrence too
lamentable to have any share in it, even as a spectator. Come, I will
take you to Saint-Claude.”

“I assure you I am expected,” replied Dorsenne, disengaging his arm,
which his despotic friend had already seized. “It is very strange that I
should meet you on the way, having the rendezvous I have. I, who dote
on contrasts, shall not have lost my morning. Have you the patience to
listen to the enumeration of the persons whom I shall join immediately?
It will not be very long, but do not interrupt me. You will be angry if
you will survive the blow I am about to give you. Ah, you do not wish
to call your Rome a Cosmopolis; then what do you say to the party with
which, in twenty minutes, I shall visit the ancient palace of Urban
VII? First of all, we have your beautiful enemy, Fanny Hafner, and
her father, the Baron, representing a little of Germany, a little of
Austria, a little of Italy and a little of Holland. For it seems the
Baron’s mother was from Rotterdam. Do not interrupt. We shall have
Countess Steno to represent Venice, and her charming daughter, Alba, to
represent a small corner of Russia, for the Chronicle claims that she
was the child, not of the defunct Steno, but of Werekiew-Andre, you
know, the one who killed himself in Paris five or six years ago, by
casting himself into the Seine, not at all aristocratically, from the
Pont de la Concorde. We shall have the painter, the celebrated Lincoln
Maitland, to represent America. He is the lover of Steno, whom he
stole from Gorka during the latter’s trip to Poland. We shall have the
painter’s wife, Lydia Maitland, and her brother, Florent Chapron, to
represent a little of France, a little of America, and a little of
Africa; for their grandfather was the famous Colonel Chapron mentioned
in the Memorial, who, after 1815, became a planter in Alabama. That old
soldier, without any prejudices, had, by a mulattress, a son whom he
recognized and to whom he left--I do not know how many dollars. ‘Inde’
Lydia and Florent. Do not interrupt, it is almost finished. We shall
have, to represent England, a Catholic wedded to a Pole, Madame Gorka,
the wife of Boleslas, and, lastly, Paris, in the form of your servant.
It is now I who will essay to drag you away, for were you to join our
party, you, the feudal, it would be complete.... Will you come?”

“Has the blow satisfied you?” asked Montfanon. “And the unhappy man has
talent,” he exclaimed, talking of Dorsenne as if the latter were not
present, “and he has written ten pages on Rhodes which are worthy of
Chateaubriand, and he has received from God the noblest gifts--poetry,
wit, the sense of history; and in what society does he delight! But,
come, once for all, explain to me the pleasure which a man of your
genius can find in frequenting that international Bohemia, more or less
gilded, in which there is not one being who has standing or a history.
I no longer allude to that scoundrel Hafner and his daughter, since you
have for her, novelist that you are, the eyes of Monsieur Guerillot.
But that Countess Steno, who must be at least forty, who has a grown
daughter, should she not remain quietly in her palace at Venice,
respectably, bravely, instead of holding here that species of salon for
transients, through which pass all the libertines of Europe, instead of
having lover after lover, a Pole after a Russian, an American after a
Pole? And that Maitland, why did he not obey the only good sentiment
with which his compatriots are inspired, the aversion to negro blood,
an aversion which would prevent them from doing what he has done--from
marrying an octoroon? If the young woman knows of it, it is terrible,
and if she does not it is still more terrible. And Madame Gorka, that
honest creature, for I believe she is, and truly pious as well, who has
not observed for the past two years that her husband was the Countess’s
lover, and who does not see, moreover, that it is now Maitland’s turn.
And that poor Alba Steno, that child of twenty, whom they drag through
these improper intrigues! Why does not Florent Chapron put an end to
the adultery of her sister’s husband? I know him. He once came to see me
with regard to a monument he was raising in Saint-Louis in memory of his
cousin. He respects the dead, that pleased me. But he is a dupe in this
sinister comedy at which you are assisting, you, who know all, while
your heart does not revolt.”

“Pardon, pardon!” interrupted Dorsenne, “it is not a question of that.
You wander on and you forget what you have just asked me.... What
pleasure do I find in the human mosaic which I have detailed to you? I
will tell you, and we will not talk of the morals, if you please, when
we are simply dealing with the intellect. I do not pride myself on being
a judge of human nature, sir leaguer; I like to watch and to study it,
and among all the scenes it can present I know of none more suggestive,
more peculiar, and more modern than this: You are in a salon, at a
dining-table, at a party like that to which I am going this morning. You
are with ten persons who all speak the same language, are dressed by the
same tailor, have read the same morning paper, think the same thoughts
and feel the same sentiments.... But these persons are like those I
have just enumerated to you, creatures from very different points of
the world and of history. You study them with all that you know of their
origin and their heredity, and little by little beneath the varnish of
cosmopolitanism you discover their race, irresistible, indestructible
race! In the mistress of the house, very elegant, very cultured, for
example, a Madame Steno, you discover the descendant of the Doges, the
patrician of the fifteenth century, with the form of a queen, strength
in her passion and frankness in her incomparable immorality; while in a
Florent Chapron or a Lydia you discover the primitive slave, the black
hypnotized by the white, the unfreed being produced by centuries of
servitude; while in a Madame Gorka you recognize beneath her smiling
amiability the fanaticism of truth of the Puritans; beneath the artistic
refinement of a Lincoln Maitland you find the squatter, invincibly
coarse and robust; in Boleslas Gorka all the nervous irritability of
the Slav, which has ruined Poland. These lineaments of race are hardly
visible in the civilized person, who speaks three or four languages
fluently, who has lived in Paris, Nice, Florence, here, that same
fashionable, monotonous life. But when passion strikes its blow, when
the man is stirred to his inmost depths, then occurs the conflict of
characteristics, more surprising when the people thus brought together
have come from afar: And that is why,” he concluded with a laugh, “I
have spent six months in Rome without hardly having seen a Roman, busy,
observing the little clan which is so revolting to you. It is probably
the twentieth I have studied, and I shall no doubt study twenty more,
for not one resembles another. Are you indulgently inclined toward
me, now that you have got even with me in making me hold forth at this
corner, like the hero of a Russian novel? Well, now adieu.”

Montfanon had listened to the discourse with an inpenetrable air. In the
religious solitude in which he was awaiting the end, as he said, nothing
afforded him greater pleasure than the discussion of ideas. But he was
inspired by the enthusiasm of a man who feels with extreme ardor, and
when he was met by the partly ironical dilettanteism of Dorsenne he was
almost pained by it, so much the more so as the author and he had some
common theories, notably an extreme fancy for heredity and race. A sort
of discontented grimace distorted his expressive face. He clicked his
tongue in ill-humor, and said:

“One more question!... And the result of all that, the object? To what
end does all this observation lead you?”

“To what should it lead me? To comprehend, as I have told you,” replied
Dorsenne.

“And then?”

“There is no then,” answered the young man, “one debauchery is like
another.”

“But among the people whom you see living thus,” said Montfanon, after
a pause, “there are some surely whom you like and whom you dislike, for
whom you entertain esteem and for whom you feel contempt? Have you not
thought that you have some duties toward them, that you can aid them in
leading better lives?”

“That,” said Dorsenne, “is another subject which we will treat of some
other day, for I am afraid now of being late.... Adieu.”

“Adieu,” said the Marquis, with evident regret at parting. Then,
brusquely: “I do not know why I like you so much, for in the main you
incarnate one of those vices of mind which inspire me with the most
horror, that dilettanteism set in vogue by the disciples of Monsieur
Renan, and which is the very foundation of the decline. You will recover
from it, I hope. You are so young!” Then becoming again jovial and
mocking: “May you enjoy yourself in your descent of Courtille; I
almost forgot that I had a message to give to you for one of the
supernumeraries of your troop. Will you tell Gorka that I have dislodged
the book for which he asked me before his departure?”

“Gorka,” replied Julien, “has been in Poland three months on family
business. I just told you how that trip cost him his mistress.”

“What,” said Montfanon, “in Poland? I saw him this morning as plainly as
I see you. He passed the Fountain du Triton in a cab. If I had not been
in such haste to reach Ribalta’s in time to save the Montluc, I could
have stopped him, but we were both in too great a hurry.”

“You are sure that Gorka is in Rome--Boleslas Gorka?” insisted Dorsenne.

“What is there surprising in that?” said Montfanon. “It is quite natural
that he should not wish to remain away long from a city where he has
left a wife and a mistress. I suppose your Slav and your Anglo-Saxon
have no prejudices, and that they share their Venetian with a
dilettanteism quite modern. It is cosmopolitan, indeed.... Well, once
more, adieu.... Deliver my message to him if you see him, and,” his face
again expressed a childish malice, “do not fail to tell Mademoiselle
Hafner that her father’s daughter will never, never have this volume. It
is not for intriguers!” And, laughing like a mischievous schoolboy, he
pressed the book more tightly under his arm, repeating: “She shall not
have it. Listen.... And tell her plainly. She shall not have it!”



CHAPTER II. THE BEGINNING OF A DRAMA

“There is an intelligent man, who never questions his ideas,” said
Dorsenne to himself, when the Marquis had left him. “He is like the
Socialists. What vigor of mind in that old wornout machine!” And for a
brief moment he watched, with a glance in which there was at least as
much admiration as pity, the Marquis, who was disappearing down the Rue
de la Propagande, and who walked at the rapid pace characteristic of
monomaniacs. They follow their thoughts instead of heeding objects.
However, the care he exercised in avoiding the sun’s line for the shade
attested the instincts of an old Roman, who knew the danger of the first
rays of spring beneath that blue sky. For a moment Montfanon paused
to give alms to one of the numerous mendicants who abound in the
neighborhood of the Place d’Espagne, meritorious in him, for with his
one arm and burdened with the prayer-book it required a veritable effort
to search in his pocket. Dorsenne was well enough acquainted with that
original personage to know that he had never been able to say “no”
 to any one who asked charity, great or small, of him. Thanks to that
system, the enemy of beautiful Fanny Hafner was always short of cash
with forty thousand francs’ income and leading a simple existence.
The costly purchase of the relic of Montluc proved that the antipathy
conceived for Baron Justus’s charming daughter had become a species of
passion. Under any other circumstances, the novelist, who delighted
in such cases, would not have failed to meditate ironically on that
feeling, easy enough of explanation. There was much more irrational
instinct in it than Montfanon himself suspected. The old leaguer would
not have been logical if he had not had in point of race an inquisition
partiality, and the mere suspicion of Jewish origin should have
prejudiced him against Fanny. But he was just, as Dorsenne had told him,
and if the young girl had been an avowed Jewess, living up zealously to
her religion, he would have respected but have avoided her, and he never
would have spoken of her with such bitterness.

The true motive of his antipathy was that he loved Cardinal Guerillot,
as was his habit in all things, with passion and with jealousy, and he
could not forgive Mademoiselle Hafner for having formed an intimacy with
the holy prelate in spite of him, Montfanon, who had vainly warned the
old Bishop de Clermont against her whom he considered the most wily of
intriguers. For months vainly did she furnish proofs of her sincerity
of heart, the Cardinal reporting them in due season to the Marquis, who
persisted in discrediting them, and each fresh good deed of his enemy
augmented his hatred by aggravating the uneasiness which was caused him,
notwithstanding all, by a vague sense of his iniquity.

But Dorsenne no sooner turned toward the direction of the Palais
Castagna than he quickly forgot both Mademoiselle Hafner’s and
Montfanon’s prejudices, in thinking only of one sentence uttered by the
latter that which related to the return of Boleslas Gorka. The news was
unexpected, and it awakened in the writer such grave fears that he
did not even glance at the shop-window of the French bookseller at
the corner of the Corso to see if the label of the “Fortieth thousand”
 flamed upon the yellow cover of his last book, the Eclogue Mondaine,
brought out in the autumn, with a success which his absence of six
months from Paris, had, however, detracted from. He did not even think
of ascertaining if the regimen he practised, in imitation of Lord Byron,
against embonpoint, would preserve his elegant form, of which he was so
proud, and yet mirrors were numerous on the way from the Place d’Espagne
to the Palais Castagna, which rears its sombre mass on the margin of the
Tiber, at the extremity of the Via Giulia, like a pendant of the Palais
Sacchetti, the masterwork of Sangallo. Dorsenne did not indulge in his
usual pastime of examining the souvenirs along the streets which met his
eye, and yet he passed in the twenty minutes which it took him to
reach his rendezvous a number of buildings teeming with centuries
of historical reminiscences. There was first of all the vast Palais
Borghese--the piano of the Borghese, as it has been called, from the
form of a clavecin adopted by the architect--a monument of splendor,
which was, less than two years later, to serve as the scene of a
situation more melancholy than that of the Palais Castagna.

Dorsenne had not an absent glance for the sumptuous building--he passed
unheeding the facade of St.-Louis, the object of Montfanon’s admiration.
If the writer did not profess for that relic of ancient France the
piety of the Marquis, he never failed to enter there to pay his literary
respects to the tomb of Madame de Beaumont, to that ‘quia non sunt’ of
an epitaph which Chateaubriand inscribed upon her tombstone, with more
vanity, alas, than tenderness. For the first time Dorsenne forgot it; he
forgot also to gaze with delight upon the rococo fountain on the Place
Navonne, that square upon which Domitian had his circus, and which
recalls the cruel pageantries of imperial Rome. He forgot, too, the
mutilated statue which forms the angle of the Palais Braschi, two
paces farther--two paces still farther, the grand artery of the Corso
Victor-Emmanuel demonstrated the effort at regeneration of present Rome;
two paces farther yet, the Palais Farnese recalls the grandeur of modern
art, and the tragedy of contemporary monarchies. Does not the thought of
Michelangelo seem to be still imprinted on the sombre cross-beam of that
immense sarcophagus, which was the refuge of the last King of Naples?
But it requires a mind entirely free to give one’s self up to the charm
of historical dilettanteism which cities built upon the past conjure up,
and although Julien prided himself, not without reason, on being above
emotion, he was not possessed of his usual independence of mind during
the walk which took him to his “human mosaic,” as he picturesquely
expressed it, and he pondered and repondered the following questions:

“Boleslas Gorka returned? And two days ago I saw his wife, who did not
expect him until next month. Montfanon is not, however, imaginative.
Boleslas Gorka returned? At the moment when Madame Steno is mad over
Maitland--for she is mad! The night before last, at her house at dinner,
she looked at him--it was scandalous. Gorka had a presentiment of it
this winter. When the American attempted to take Alba’s portrait the
first time, the Pole put a stop to it. It was fine for Montfanon to talk
of division between these two men. When Boleslas left here, Maitland and
the Countess were barely acquainted and now----If he has returned it
is because he has discovered that he has a rival. Some one has warned
him--an enemy of the Countess, a confrere of Maitland. Such pieces of
infamy occur among good friends. If Gorka, who is a shot like Casal,
kills Maitland in a duel, it will make one deceiver less. If he avenges
himself upon his mistress for that treason, it would be a matter of
indifference to me, for Catherine Steno is a great rogue.... But my
little friend, my poor, charming Alba, what would become of her if there
should be a scandal, bloodshed, perhaps, on account of her mother’s
folly? Gorka returned? And he did not write it to me, to me who have
received several letters from him since he went away; to me, whom he
selected last autumn as the confidant of his jealousies, under the
pretext that I knew women, and, with the vain hope of inspiring me....
His silence and return no longer seem like a romance; they savor rather
of a drama, and with a Slav, as much a Slav as he is, one may expect
anything. I know not what to think of it, for he will be at the Palais
Castagna. Poor, charming Alba!”

The monologue did not differ much from a monologue uttered under similar
circumstances by any young man interested in a young girl whose mother
does not conduct herself becomingly. It was a touching situation, but
a very common one, and there was no necessity for the author to come to
Rome to study it, one entire winter and spring. If that interest went
beyond a study, Dorsenne possessed a very simple means of preventing his
little friend, as he said, from being rendered unhappy by the conduct of
that mother whom age did not conquer. Why not propose for her hand? He
had inherited a fortune, and his success as an author had augmented
it. For, since the first book which had established his reputation, the
‘Etudes de Femmes,’ published in 1879, not a single one of the fifteen
novels or selections from novels had remained unnoticed. His personal
celebrity could, strictly speaking, combine with it family celebrity,
for he boasted that his grandfather was a cousin of that brave General
Dorsenne whom Napoleon could only replace at the head of his guard by
Friant. All can be told in a word. Although the heirs of the hero of the
Empire had never recognized the relationship, Julien believed in it,
and when he said, in reply to compliments on his books, “At my age
my grand-uncle, the Colonel of the Guard, did greater things,” he
was sincere in his belief. But it was unnecessary to mention it, for,
situated as he was, Countess Steno would gladly have accepted him as a
son-in-law. As for gaining the love of the young girl, with his handsome
face, intelligent and refined, and his elegant form, which he had
retained intact in spite of his thirty-seven years, he might have done
so. Nothing, however, was farther from his thoughts than such a project,
for, as he ascended the steps of the staircase of the palace formerly
occupied by Urban VII, he continued, in very different terms,
his monologue, a species of involuntary “copy” which is written
instinctively in the brain of the man of letters when he is particularly
fond of literature.

At times it assumes a written form, and it is the most marked of
professional distortions, the most unintelligible to the illiterate, who
think waveringly and who do not, happily for them, suffer the continual
servitude to precision of word and to too conscientious thought.

“Yes; poor, charming Alba!” he repeated to himself. “How unfortunate
that the marriage with Countess Gorka’s brother could not have been
arranged four months ago. Connection with the family of her mother’s
lover would be tolerably immoral! But she would at least have had less
chance of ever knowing it; and the convenient combination by which the
mother has caused her to form a friendship with that wife in order the
better to blind the two, would have bordered a little more on propriety.
To-day Alba would be Lady Ardrahan, leading a prosaic English life,
instead of being united to some imbecile whom they will find for her
here or elsewhere. She will then deceive him as her mother deceived the
late Steno--with me, perhaps, in remembrance of our pure intimacy of
to-day. That would be too sad! Do not let us think of it! It is the
future, of the existence of which we are ignorant, while we do know that
the present exists and that it has all rights. I owe to the Contessina
my best impressions of Rome, to the vision of her loveliness in this
scene of so grand a past. And this is a sensation which is enjoyable; to
visit the Palais Castagna with the adorable creature upon whom rests the
menace of a drama. To enjoy the Countess Steno’s kindness, otherwise
the house would not have that tone and I would never have obtained the
little one’s friendship. To rejoice that Ardea is a fool, that he has
lost his fortune on the Bourse, and that the syndicate of his creditors,
presided over by Monsieur Ancona, has laid hands upon his palace. For,
otherwise, I should not have ascended the steps of this papal staircase,
nor have seen this debris of Grecian sarcophagi fitted into the walls,
and this garden of so intense a green. As for Gorka, he may have
returned for thirty-six other reasons than jealousy, and Montfanon is
right: Caterina is cunning enough to inveigle both the painter and him.
She will make Maitland believe that she received Gorka for the sake of
Madame Gorka, and to prevent him from ruining that excellent woman at
gaming. She will tell Boleslas that there was nothing more between her
and Maitland than Platonic discussions on the merits of Raphael and
Perugino.... And I should be more of a dupe than the other two for
missing the visit. It is not every day that one has a chance to see
auctioned, like a simple Bohemian, the grand-nephew of a pope.”

The second suite of reflections resembled more than the first the real
Dorsenne, who was often incomprehensible even to his best friends. The
young man with the large, black eyes, the face with delicate features,
the olive complexion of a Spanish monk, had never had but one passion,
too exceptional not to baffle the ordinary observer, and developed in
a sense so singular that to the most charitable it assumed either an
attitude almost outrageous or else that of an abominable egotism and
profound corruption.

Dorsenne had spoken truly, he loved to comprehend--to comprehend as the
gamester loves to game, the miser to accumulate money, the ambitious to
obtain position--there was within him that appetite, that taste, that
mania for ideas which makes the scholar and the philosopher. But a
philosopher united by a caprice of nature to an artist, and by that of
fortune and of education to a worldly man and a traveller. The abstract
speculations of the metaphysician would not have sufficed for him, nor
would the continuous and simple creation of the narrator who narrates
to amuse himself, nor would the ardor of the semi-animal of the
man-of-pleasure who abandons himself to the frenzy of vice. He invented
for himself, partly from instinct, partly from method, a compromise
between his contradictory tendencies, which he formulated in a
fashion slightly pedantic, when he said that his sole aim was to
“intellectualize the forcible sensations;” in clearer terms, he dreamed
of meeting with, in human life, the greatest number of impressions it
could give and to think of them after having met them.

He thought, with or without reason, to discover in his two favorite
writers, Goethe and Stendhal, a constant application of a similar
principle. His studies had, for the past fourteen years when he had
begun to live and to write, passed through the most varied spheres
possible to him. But he had passed through them, lending his presence
without giving himself to them, with this idea always present in his
mind: that he existed to become familiar with other customs, to watch
other characters, to clothe other personages and the sensations which
vibrated within them. The period of his revival was marked by the
achievement of each one of his books which he composed then, persuaded
that, once written and construed, a sentimental or social experience
was not worth the trouble of being dwelt upon. Thus is explained the
incoherence of custom and the atmospheric contact, if one may so express
it, which are the characteristics of his work. Take, for example, his
first collection of novels, the ‘Etudes de Femmes,’ which made him
famous. They are about a sentimental woman who loved unwisely, and who
spent hours from excess of the romantic studying the avowed or disguised
demi-monde. By the side of that, ‘Sans Dieu,’ the story of a drama
of scientific consciousness, attests a continuous frequenting of the
Museum, the Sorbonne and the College of France, while ‘Monsieur de
Premier’ presents one of the most striking pictures of the contemporary
political world, which could only have been traced by a familiar of the
Palais Bourbon.

On the other hand, the three books of travel pretentiously named
‘Tourisime,’ ‘Les Profils d’Etrangeres’ and the ‘Eclogue Mondaine,’
which fluctuated between Florence and London, St.-Moritz and Bayreuth,
revealed long sojourns out of France; a clever analysis of the Italian,
English, and German worlds; a superficial but true knowledge of the
languages, the history and literature, which in no way accords with
‘l’odor di femina’, exhale from every page. These contrasts are brought
out by a mind endowed with strangely complex qualities, dominated by a
firm will and, it must be said, a very mediocre sensibility. The last
point will appear irreconcilable with the extreme and almost morbid
delicacy of certain of Dorsenne’s works. It is thus however. He had very
little heart. But, on the other hand, he had an abundance of nerves
and nerves, and their irritability suffice for him who desires to paint
human passions, above all, love, with its joys and its sorrows, of
which one does not speak to a certain extent when one experiences them.
Success had come to Julien too early not to have afforded him occasion
for several adventures. In each of the centres traversed in the course
of his sentimental vagabondage he tried to find a woman in whom was
embodied all the scattered charms of the district. He had formed
innumerable intimacies. Some had been frankly affectionate. The
majority were Platonic. Others had consisted of the simple coquetry of
friendship, as was the case with Mademoiselle Steno. The young man had
never employed more vanity than enthusiasm. Every woman, mistress or
friend, had been to him, nine times out of ten, a curiosity, then a
model. But, as he held that the model could not be recognized by any
exterior sign, he did not think that he was wrong in making use of his
prestige as a writer, for what he called his “culture.” He was capable
of justice, the defense which he made of Fanny Hafner to Montfanon
proved it; of admiration, his respect for the noble qualities of that
same Montfanon testify to it; of compassion, for without it he would
not have apprehended at once with so much sympathy the result which the
return of Count Gorka would have on the destiny of innocent Alba Steno.

On reaching the staircase of the Palais Castagna, instead of hastening,
as was natural, to find out at least what meant the return to Rome
of the lover whom Madame Steno deceived, he collected his startled
sensibilities before meeting Alba, and, pausing, he scribbled in a
note-book which he drew from his pocket, with a pencil always within
reach of his fingers, in a firm hand, precise and clear, this note
savoring somewhat of sentimentalism:

“25 April, ‘90. Palais Castagna.--Marvellous staircase constructed by
Balthazar Peruzzi; so broad and long, with double rows of stairs, like
those of Santa Colomba, near Siena. Enjoyed above all the sight of
an interior garden so arranged, so designed that the red flowers, the
regularity of the green shrubs, the neat lines of the graveled walks
resemble the features of a face. The idea of the Latin garden, opposed
to the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon, the latter respecting the irregularity
of nature, the other all in order, humanizing and administering even to
the flower-garden.”

“Subject the complexity of life to a thought harmonious and clear, a
constant mark of the Latin genus, for a group of trees as well as an
entire nation, an entire religion--Catholicism. It is the contrary
in the races of the North. Significance of the word: the forests have
taught man liberty.”

He had hardly finished writing that oddly interpreted memorandum, and
was closing his note-book, when the sound of a familiar voice caused
him to turn suddenly. He had not heard ascend the stairs a personage who
waited until he finished writing, and who was no other than one of the
actors in his “troupe” to use his expression, one of the persons of the
party of that morning organized the day before at Madame Steno’s, and
just the one whom the intolerable marquis had defamed with so much
ardor, the father of beautiful Fanny Hafner, Baron Justus himself. The
renowned founder of the ‘Credit Austro-Dalmate’ was a small, thin
man, with blue eyes of an acuteness almost insupportable, in a face of
neutral color. His ever-courteous manner, his attire, simple and neat,
his speech serious and discreet, gave to him that species of distinction
so common to old diplomatists. But the dangerous adventurer was betrayed
by the glance which Hafner could not succeed in veiling with indifferent
amiability. The man-of-the-world, which he prided himself upon having
become, was visible through all by certain indefinable trifles, and
above all by those eyes, of a restlessness so singular in so wealthy a
man, indicating an enigmatical and obscure past of dark and contrasting
struggles, of covetous sharpness, of cold calculation and indomitable
energy. Fanatical Montfanon, who abused the daughter with such
unjustness, judged the father justly. The son of a Jew of Berlin and
of a Dutch Protestant, Justus Hafner was inscribed on the civil state
registers as belonging to his mother’s faith. But the latter died when
Justus was very young, and he was not reared in any other liturgy than
that of money. From his father, a persevering and skilful jeweller, but
too prudent to risk or gain much, he learned the business of precious
stones, to which he added that of laces, paintings, old materials,
tapestries, rare furniture.

An infallible eye, the patience of a German united with his Israelitish
and Dutch extraction, soon amassed for him a small capital, which his
father’s bequest augmented. At twenty-seven Justus had not less than
five hundred thousand marks. Two imprudent operations on the Bourse,
enterprises to force fortune and to obtain the first million, ruined the
too-audacious courtier, who began again the building up of his fortune
by becoming a diamond broker.

He went to Paris, and there, in a wretched little room on the Rue
Montmartre, in three years, he made his second capital. He then managed
it so well that in 1870, at the time of the war, he had made good his
losses. The armistice found him in England, where he had married the
daughter of a Viennese agent, in London, for the purpose of starting
a vast enterprise of revictualing the belligerent armies. The enormous
profits made by the father-in-law and the son-in-law during that year
determined them to found a banking-house which should have its principal
seat in Vienna and a branch in Berlin. Justus Hafner, a passionate
admirer of Herr von Bismarck, controlled, besides, a newspaper. He tried
to gain the favor of the great statesman, who refused to aid the former
diamond merchant in gratifying political ambitions cherished from an
early age.

It was a bitter disappointment to the persevering man, who, having tried
his luck in Prussia, emigrated definitively to Vienna. The establishment
of the ‘Credit Austro-Dalmate,’ launched with extraordinary claims,
permitted him at length to realize at least one of his chimeras. His
wealth, while not equaling that of the mighty financiers of the epoch,
increased with a rapidity almost magical to a cipher high enough to
permit him, from 1879, to indulge in the luxurious life which can not
be led by any one with an income short of five hundred thousand francs.
Contrary to the custom of speculators of his genus, Hafner in time
invested his earnings safely. He provided against the coming demolition
of the structure so laboriously built up. The ‘Credit Austro-Dalmate’
had suffered in great measure owing to innumerable public and private
disasters and scandals, such as the suicide and murder in the Schroeder
family.

Suits were begun against a number of the founders, among them Justus
Hafner. He was acquitted, but with such damage to his financial
integrity and in the face of such public indignation that he abandoned
Austria for Italy and Vienna for Rome. There, heedless of first rebuffs,
he undertook to realize the third great object of his life, the gaining
of social position. To the period of avidity had succeeded, as it
frequently does with those formidable handlers of money, the period of
vanity. Being now a widower, he aimed at his daughter’s marriage with a
strength of will and a complication of combinations equal to his former
efforts, and that struggle for connection with high life was disguised
beneath the cloak of the most systematically adopted politeness of
deportment. How had he found the means, in the midst of struggles and
hardships, to refine himself so that the primitive broker and speculator
were almost unrecognizable in the baron of fifty-four, decorated with
several orders, installed in a magnificent palace, the father of
a charming daughter, and himself an agreeable conversationalist, a
courteous gentleman, an ardent sportsman? It is the secret of those
natures created for social conquest, like a Napoleon for war and
a Talleyrand for diplomacy. Dorsenne asked himself the question
frequently, and he could not solve it. Although he boasted of watching
the Baron with an intellectual curiosity, he could not restrain a
shudder of antipathy each time he met the eyes of the man.

And on this particular morning it was especially disagreeable to him
that those eyes had seen him making his unoffending notes, although
there was scarcely a shade of gentle condescension--that of a great lord
who patronizes a great artist--in the manner in which Hafner addressed
him.

“Do not inconvenience yourself for me, dear sir,” said he to Dorsenne.
“You work from nature, and you are right. I see that your next novel
will touch upon the ruin of our poor Prince d’Ardea. Do not be too hard
on him, nor on us.”

The artist could not help coloring at that benign pleasantry. It was
all the more painful to him because it was at once true and untrue. How
should he explain the sort of literary alchemy, thanks to which he was
enabled to affirm that he never drew portraits, although not a line
of his fifteen volumes was traced without a living model? He replied,
therefore, with a touch of ill-humor:

“You are mistaken, my dear Baron. I do not make notes on persons.”

“All authors say that,” answered the Baron, shrugging his shoulders
with the assumed good-nature which so rarely forsook him, “and they are
right.... At any rate, it is fortunate that you had something to write,
for we shall both be late in arriving at a rendezvous where there are
ladies.... It is almost a quarter past eleven, and we should have been
there at eleven precisely.... But I have one excuse, I waited for my
daughter.”

“And she has not come?” asked Dorsenne.

“No,” replied Hafner, “at the last moment she could not make up her
mind. She had a slight annoyance this morning--I do not know what old
book she had set her heart on. Some rascal found out that she wanted
it, and he obtained it first.... But that is not the true cause of her
absence. The true cause is that she is too sensitive, and she finds it
so sad that there should be a sale of the possessions of this ancient
family.... I did not insist. What would she have experienced had she
known the late Princess Nicoletta, Pepino’s mother? When I came to Rome
on a visit for the first time, in ‘75, what a salon that was and what a
Princess!... She was a Condolmieri, of the family of Eugene IV.”

“How absurd vanity renders the most refined man,” thought Julien,
suiting his pace to the Baron’s. “He would have me believe that he was
received at the house of that woman who was politically the blackest
of the black, the most difficult to please in the recruiting of her
salon.... Life is more complex than the Montfanons even know of! This
girl feels by instinct that which the chouan of a marquis feels by
doctrine, the absurdity of this striving after nobility, with a father
who forgets the broker and who talks of the popes of the Middle Ages
as of a trinket!... While we are alone, I must ask this old fox what he
knows of Boleslas Gorka’s return. He is the confidant of Madame Steno.
He should be informed of the doings and whereabouts of the Pole.”

The friendship of Baron Hafner for the Countess, whose financial adviser
he was, should have been for Dorsenne a reason for avoiding such a
subject, the more so as he was convinced of the man’s dislike for him.
The Baron could, by a single word perfidiously repeated, injure him very
much with Alba’s mother. But the novelist, similar on that point to the
majority of professional observers, had only the power of analysis of a
retrospective order. Never had his keen intelligence served him to avoid
one of those slight errors of conversation which are important mistakes
on the pitiful checker-board of life. Happily for him, he cherished no
ambition except for his pleasure and his art, without which he would
have found the means of making for himself, gratuitously, enough enemies
to clear all the academies.

He, therefore, chose the moment when the Baron arrived at the landing on
the first floor, pausing somewhat out of breath, and after the agent had
verified their passes, to say to his companion:

“Have you seen Gorka since his arrival?”

“What? Is Boleslas here?” asked Justus Hafner, who manifested his
astonishment in no other manner than by adding: “I thought he was still
in Poland.”

“I have not seen him myself,” said Dorsenne. He already regretted having
spoken too hastily. It is always more prudent not to spread the first
report. But the ignorance of that return of Countess Steno’s best
friend, who saw her daily, struck the young man with such surprise that
he could not resist adding: “Some one, whose veracity I can not doubt,
met him this morning.” Then, brusquely: “Does not this sudden return
make you fearful?”

“Fearful?” repeated the Baron. “Why so?” As he uttered those words
he glanced at the writer with his usual impassive expression, which,
however, a very slight sign, significant to those who knew him, belied.
In exchanging those few words the two men had passed into the first room
of “objects of art,” having belonged to the apartment of “His Eminence
Prince d’Ardea,” as the catalogue said, and the Baron did not raise the
gold glass which he held at the end of his nose when near the smallest
display of bric-a-brac, as was his custom. As he walked slowly through
the collection of busts and statues of that first room, called “Marbles”
 on the catalogue, without glancing with the eye of a practised judge
at the Gobelin tapestry upon the walls, it must have been that he
considered as very grave the novelist’s revelation. The latter had said
too much not to continue:

“Well, I who have not been connected with Madame Steno for years, like
you, trembled for her when that return was announced to me. She does not
know what Gorka is when he is jealous, or of what he is capable.”

“Jealous? Of whom?” interrupted Hafner. “It is not the first time I have
heard the name of Boleslas uttered in connection with the Countess. I
confess I have never taken those words seriously, and I should not have
thought that you, a frequenter of her salon, one of her friends, would
hesitate on that subject. Rest assured, Gorka is in love with his
charming wife, and he could not make a better choice. Countess Caterina
is an excellent person, very Italian. She is interested in him, as in
you, as in Maitland, as in me; in you because you write such admirable
books, in Maitland because he paints like our best masters, in Boleslas
on account of the sorrow he had in the death of his first child, in
me because I have so delicate a charge. She is more than an excellent
person, she is a truly superior woman, very superior.” He uttered his
hypocritical speech with such perfect ease that Dorsenne was surprised
and irritated. That Hafner did not believe one treacherous word of what
he said the novelist was sure, he who, from the indiscreet confidences
of Gorka, knew what to think of the Venetian’s manner, and he; too,
understood the Baron’s glance! At any other time he would have admired
the policy of the old stager. At that moment the novelist was vexed
by it, for it caused him to play a role, very common but not very
elevating, that of a calumniator, who has spoken ill of a woman with
whom he dined the day before. He, therefore, quickened his pace as much
as politeness would permit, in order not to remain tete-a-tete with the
Baron, and also to rejoin the persons of their party already arrived.

They emerged from the first room to enter a second, marked “Porcelain;”
 then a third, “Frescoes of Perino del Vaga,” on account of the ceiling
upon which the master painted a companion to his vigorous piece at
Genoa--“Jupiter crushing the Giants”--and, lastly, into a fourth, called
“The Arazzi,” from the wonderful panels with which it was decorated.

A few visitors were lounging there, for the season was somewhat
advanced, and the date which M. Ancona had chosen for the execution
proved either the calculation of profound hatred or else the adroit ruse
of a syndicate of retailers. All the magnificent objects in the palace
were adjudged at half the value they would have brought a few months
sooner or later. The small group of curios stood out in contrast to the
profusion of furniture, materials, objects of art of all kinds, which
filled the vast rooms. It was the residence of five hundred years of
power and of luxury, where masterpieces, worthy of the great Medicis,
and executed in their time, alternated with the gewgaws of the
eighteenth century and bronzes of the First Empire, with silver trinkets
ordered but yesterday in London. Baron Justus could not resist these. He
raised his glass and called Dorsenne to show him a curious armchair,
the carving of a cartel, the embroidery on some material. One glance
sufficed for him to judge.... If the novelist had been capable of
observing, he would have perceived in the detailed knowledge the banker
had of the catalogue the trace of a study too deep not to accord with
some mysterious project.

“There are treasures here,” said he. “See these two Chinese vases with
convex lids, with the orange ground decorated with gilding. Those are
pieces no longer made in China. It is a lost art. And this tete-a-tete
decorated with flowers; and this pluvial cope in this case. What a
marvel! It is as good as the one of Pius Second, which was at Pienza and
which has been stolen. I could have bought it at one time for fifteen
hundred francs. It is worth fifteen thousand, twenty thousand, all of
that. Here is some faience. It was brought from Spain when Cardinal
Castagna came from Madrid, when he took the place of Pius Fifth as
sponsor of Infanta Isabella. Ah, what treasures! But you go like the
wind,” he added, “and perhaps it is better, for I would stop, and
Cavalier Fossati, the auctioneer, to whom those terrible creditors of
Peppino have given charge of the sale, has spies everywhere. You notice
an object, you are marked as a solid man, as they say in Germany.
You are noted. I shall be down on his list. I have been caught by him
enough. Ha! He is a very shrewd man! But come, I see the ladies.
We should have remembered that they were here,” and smiling--but at
whom?--at Fossati, at himself or his companion?--he made the latter
read the notice hung on the door of a transversal room, which bore this
inscription: “Salon of marriage-chests.”

There were, indeed, ranged along the walls about fifteen of those
wooden cases painted and carved, of those ‘cassoni’ in which it was the
fashion, in grand Italian families, to keep the trousseaux destined for
the brides. Those of the Castagnas proved, by their escutcheons, what
alliances the last of the grand-nephews of Urban VII, the actual Prince
d’Ardea, entered into. Three very elegant ladies were examining the
chests; in them Dorsenne recognized at once fair and delicate Alba
Steno, Madame Gorka, with her tall form, her fair hair, too, and her
strong English profile, and pretty Madame Maitland, with her olive
complexion, who did not seem to have inherited any more negro blood than
just enough to tint her delicate face. Florent Chapron, the painter’s
brother-in-law, was the only man with those three ladies. Countess Steno
and Lincoln Maitland were not there, and one could hear the musical
voice of Alba spelling the heraldry carved on the coffers, formerly
opened with tender curiosity by young girls, laughing and dreaming by
turns like her.

“Look, Maud,” said she to Madame Gorka, “there is the oak of the Della
Rovere, and there the stars of the Altieri.”

“And I have found the column of the Colonna,” replied Maud Gorka.

“And you, Lydia?” said Mademoiselle Steno to Madame Maitland.

“And I, the bees of the Barberini.”

“And I, the lilies of the Farnese,” said in his turn Florent Chapron,
who, having raised his head first, perceived the newcomers. He greeted
them with a pleasant smile, which was reflected in his eyes and which
showed his white teeth. “We no longer expected you, sirs. Every one has
disappointed us. Lincoln did not wish to leave his atelier. It seems
that Mademoiselle Hafner excused herself yesterday to these ladies.
Countess Steno has a headache. We did not even count on the Baron, who
is usually promptness personified.”

“I was sure Dorsenne would not fail us,” said Alba, gazing at the young
man with her large eyes, of a blue as clear as those of Madame Gorka
were dark. “Only that I expected we should meet him on the staircase as
we were leaving, and that he would say to us, in surprise: ‘What, I am
not on time?’ Ah,” she continued, “do not excuse yourself, but reply
to the examination in Roman history we are about to put you through. We
have to follow here a veritable course studying all these old chests.
What are the arms of this family?” she asked, leaning with Dorsenne over
one of the cassoni. “You do not know? The Carafa, famous man! And
what Pope did they have? You do not know that either? Paul Fourth, sir
novelist. If ever you visit us in Venice, you will be surprised at the
Doges.”

She employed so affectionate a grace in that speech, and she was so
apparently in one of her moods--so rare, alas! of childish joyousness,
that Dorsenne, preoccupied as he was, felt his heart contract on her
account. The simultaneous absence of Madame Steno and Lincoln Maitland
could only be fortuitous. But persuaded that the Countess loved
Maitland, and not doubting that she was his mistress, the absence of
both appeared singularly suspicious to him. Such a thought sufficed
to render the young girl’s innocent gayety painful to him. That gayety
would become tragical if it were true that the Countess’s other lover
had returned unexpectedly, warned by some one. Dorsenne experienced
genuine agitation on asking Madame Gorka:

“How is Boleslas?”

“Very well, I suppose,” said his wife. “I have not had a letter to-day.
Does not one of your proverbs say, ‘No news is good news?’”

Baron Hafner was beside Maud Gorka when she uttered that sentence.
Involuntarily Dorsenne looked at him, and involuntarily, master as he
was of himself, he looked at Dorsenne. It was no longer a question of a
simple hypothesis. That Boleslas Gorka had returned to Rome unknown to
his wife constituted, for any one who knew of his relations with Madame
Steno, and of the infidelity of the latter, an event full of formidable
consequences. Both men were possessed by the same thought. Was
there still time to prevent a catastrophe? But each of them in this
circumstance, as is so often the case in important matters of life, was
to show the deepness of his character. Not a muscle of Hafner’s face
quivered. It was a question, perhaps, of rendering a service to a woman
in danger, whom he loved with all the feeling of which he was capable.
That woman was the mainspring of his social position in Rome. She was
still more. A plan for Fanny’s marriage, as yet secret, but on the
point of being consummated, depended upon Madame Steno. But he felt it
impossible to attempt to render her any service before having spent half
an hour in the rooms of the Palais Castagna, and he began to employ that
half hour in a manner which would be most profitable to his possible
purchases, for he turned to Madame Gorka and said to her, with the
rather exaggerated politeness habitual to him:

“Countess, if you will permit me to advise you, do not pause so long
before these coffers, interesting as they may be. First, as I have just
told Dorsenne, Cavalier Fossati, the agent, has his spies everywhere
here. Your position has already been remarked, you may be sure, so that
if you take a fancy for one, he will know it in advance, and he will
manage to make you pay double, triple, and more for it. And then we
have to see so much, notably a cartoon of twelve designs by old
masters, which Ardea did not even suspect he had, and which Fossati
discovered--would you believe?--worm-eaten, in a cupboard in one of the
granaries.”

“There is some one whom your collection would interest,” said Florent,
“my brother-in-law.”

“Well,” replied Madame Gorka to Hafner with her habitual good-nature,
“there are at least two of these coffers that I like and wish to have.
I said it in so loud a tone that it is not worth the trouble of hoping
that your Cavalier Fossati does not know it, if he really has that
mode of espionage in practice. But forty or fifty pounds more make no
difference--nor forty thousand even.”

“Baron Hafner will warn you that your tone is not low enough,” laughed
Alba Steno, “and he will add his great phrase: ‘You will never be
diplomatic.’ But,” added the girl, turning toward Dorsenne, having drawn
back from silent Lydia Maitland, and arranging to fall behind with the
young man, “I am about to employ a little diplomacy in order to find
out whether you have any trouble.” And here her mobile face changed its
expression, looking into Julien’s with genuine anxiety. “Yes,” said she,
“I have never seen you so preoccupied as you seem to be this morning.
Do you not feel well? Have you received ill news from Paris? What ails
you?”

“I preoccupied?” replied Dorsenne. “You are mistaken. There is
absolutely nothing, I assure you.” It was impossible to lie with more
apparent awkwardness, and if any one merited the scorn of Baron Hafner,
it was he. Hardly had Madame Gorka spoken, when he had, with the
rapidity of men of vivid imagination, seen Countess Steno and Maitland
surprised by Gorka, at that very moment, in some place of rendezvous,
and that surprise followed by a challenge, perhaps an immediate murder.
And, as Alba continued to laugh merrily, his presentiment of her sad
fate became so vivid that his face actually clouded over. He felt
impelled to ascertain, when she questioned him, how great a friendship
she bore him. But his effort to hide his emotion rendered his voice so
harsh that the young girl resumed:

“I have vexed you by my questioning?”

“Not the least in the world,” he replied, without being able to find a
word of friendship. He felt at that moment incapable of talking, as
they usually did, in that tone of familiarity, partly mocking, partly
sentimental, and he added: “I simply think this exposition somewhat
melancholy, that is all.” And, with a smile, “But we shall lose the
opportunity of having it shown us by our incomparable cicerone,” and
he obliged her, by quickening her pace, to rejoin the group piloted by
Hafner through the magnificence of the almost deserted apartment.

“See,” said the former broker of Berlin and of Paris, now an enlightened
amateur--“see, how that charlatan of a Fossati has taken care not to
increase the number of trinkets now that we are in the reception-rooms.
These armchairs seem to await invited guests. They are known. They have
been illustrated in a magazine of decorative art in Paris. And that
dining-room through that door, with all the silver on the table, would
you not think a fete had been prepared?”

“Baron,” said Madame Gorka, “look at this material; it is of the
eighteenth century, is it not?”

“Baron,” asked Madame Maitland, “is this cup with the lid old Vienna or
Capadimonte?”

“Baron,” said Florent Chapron, “is this armor of Florentine or Milanese
workmanship?”

The eyeglass was raised to the Baron’s thin nose, his small eyes
glittered, his lips were pursed up, and he replied, in words as exact
as if he had studied all the details of the catalogue verbatim. Their
thanks were soon followed by many other questions, in which two voices
alone did not join, that of Alba Steno and that of Dorsenne. Under
any other circumstances, the latter would have tried to dissipate the
increasing sadness of the young girl, who said no more to him after
he repulsed her amicable anxiety. In reality, he attached no great
importance to it. Those transitions from excessive gayety to sudden
depression were so habitual with the Contessina, above all when with
him. Although they were the sign of a vivid sentiment, the young man
saw in them only nervous unrest, for his mind was absorbed with other
thoughts.

He asked himself if, at any hazard, after the manner in which Madame
Gorka had spoken, it would not be more prudent to acquaint Lincoln
Maitland with the secret return of his rival. Perhaps the drama had not
yet taken place, and if only the two persons threatened were warned, no
doubt Hafner would put Countess Steno upon her guard. But when would
he see her? What if he, Dorsenne, should at once tell Maitland’s
brother-in-law of Gorka’s return, to that Florent Chapron whom he saw at
the moment glancing at all the objects of the princely exposition? The
step was an enormous undertaking, and would have appeared so to any
one but Julien, who knew that the relations between Florent Chapron and
Lincoln Maitland were of a very exceptional nature. Julien knew that
Florent--sent when very young to the Jesuits of Beaumont, in England, by
a father anxious to spare him the humiliation which his blood would call
down upon him in America--had formed a friendship with Lincoln, a pupil
in the same school. He knew that the friendship for the schoolmate had
turned to enthusiasm for the artist, when the talent of his old comrade
had begun to reveal itself. He knew that the marriage, which had placed
the fortune of Lydia at the service of the development of the painter,
had been the work of that enthusiasm at an epoch when Maitland, spoiled
by the unwise government of his mother, and unappreciated by the public,
was wrung by despair. The exceptional character of the marriage would
have surprised a man less heeding of moral peculiarities than was
Dorsenne, who had observed, all too frequently, the silence and reserve
of that sister not to look upon her as a sacrifice. He fancied that
admiration for his brother-in-law’s genius had blinded Florent to such a
degree that he was the first cause of the sacrifice.

“Drama for drama,” said he to himself, as the visit drew near its close,
and after a long debate with himself. “I should prefer to have it one
rather than the other in that family. I should reproach myself all my
life for not having tried every means.” They were in the last room, and
Baron Hafner was just fastening the strings of an album of drawings,
when the conviction took possession of the young man in a definite
manner. Alba Steno, who still maintained silence, looked at him again
with eyes which revealed the struggle of her interest for him and of her
wounded pride. She longed, without doubt, at the moment they were
about to separate, to ask him, according to their intimate and charming
custom, when they should meet again. He did not heed her--any more than
he did the other pair of eyes which told him to be more prudent, and
which were those of the Baron; any more than he did the observation of
Madame Gorka, who, having remarked the ill-humor of Alba, was seeking
the cause, which she had long since divined was the heart of the young
girl; any more than the attitude of Madame Maitland, whose eyes at times
shot fire equal to her brother’s gentleness. He took the latter by the
arm, and said to him aloud:

“I should like to have your opinion on a small portrait I have noticed
in the other room, my dear Chapron.” Then, when they were before the
canvas which had served as a pretext for the aside, he continued, in a
low voice: “I heard very strange news this morning. Do you know Boleslas
Gorka is in Rome unknown to his wife?”

“That is indeed strange,” replied Maitland’s brother-in-law, adding
simply, after a silence: “Are you certain of it?”

“As certain as that we are here,” said Dorsenne. “One of my friends,
Marquis de Montfanon, met him this morning.”

A fresh silence ensued between the two, during which Julien felt that
the arm upon which he rested trembled. Then they joined the party, while
Florent said aloud: “It is an excellent piece of painting, which has,
unfortunately, been revarnished too much.”

“May I have done right!” thought Julien. “He understood me.”



CHAPTER III. BOLESLAS GORKA

Hardly ten minutes had passed since Dorsenne had spoken as he had to
Florent Chapron, and already the imprudent novelist began to wonder
whether it would not have been wiser not to interfere in any way in an
adventure in which his intervention was of the least importance.

The apprehension of an immediate drama which had possessed him, for the
first time, after the conversation with Montfanon, for the second time,
in a stronger manner, by proving the ignorance of Madame Gorka on
the subject of the husband’s return--that frightful and irresistible
evocation in a clandestine chamber, suddenly deluged with blood, was
banished by the simplest event. The six visitors exchanged their
last impressions on the melancholy and magnificence of the Castagna
apartments, and they ended by descending the grand staircase with the
pillars, through the windows of which staircase smiled beneath the
scorching sun the small garden which Dorsenne had compared to a face.
The young man walked a little in advance, beside Alba Steno, whom he now
tried, but in vain, to cheer. Suddenly, at the last turn of the broad
steps which tempered the decline gradually, her face brightened with
surprise and pleasure. She uttered a slight cry and said: “There is my
mother!” And Julien saw the Madame Steno, whom he had seen, in an access
of almost delirious anxiety, surprised, assassinated by a betrayed
lover. She was standing upon the gray and black mosaic of the peristyle,
dressed in the most charming morning toilette. Her golden hair was
gathered up under a large hat of flowers, over which was a white veil;
her hand toyed with the silver handle of a white parasol, and in the
reflection of that whiteness, with her clear, fair complexion, with her
lovely blue eyes in which sparkled passion and intelligence, with her
faultless teeth which gleamed when she smiled, with her form still
slender notwithstanding the fulness of her bust, she seemed to be a
creature so youthful, so vigorous, so little touched by age that a
stranger would never have taken her to be the mother of the tall young
girl who was already beside her and who said to her--

“What imprudence! Ill as you were this morning, to go out in this sun.
Why did you do so?”

“To fetch you and to take you home!” replied the Countess gayly. “I
was ashamed of having indulged myself! I rose, and here I am. Good-day,
Dorsenne. I hope you kept your eyes open up there. A story might be
written on the Ardea affair. I will tell it to you. Good-day, Maud. How
kind of you to make lazy Alba exercise a little! She would have quite a
different color if she walked every morning. Goodday, Florent. Good-day,
Lydia. The master is not here? And you, old friend, what have you done
with Fanny?”

She distributed these simple “good-days” with a grace so delicate, a
smile so rare for each one--tender for her daughter, spirituelle for the
author, grateful for Madame Gorka, amicably surprised for Chapron and
Madame Maitland, familiar and confiding for her old friend, as she
called the Baron. She was evidently the soul of the small party, for her
mere presence seemed to have caused animation to sparkle in every eye.

All talked at once, and she replied, as they walked toward the
carriages, which waited in a court of honor capable of holding seventy
gala chariots. One after the other these carriages advanced. The horses
pawed the ground; the harnesses shone; the footmen and coachmen were
dressed in perfect liveries; the porter of the Palais Castagna, with his
long redingote, on the buttons of which were the symbolical chestnuts
of the family, had beneath his laced hat such a dignified bearing that
Julien suddenly found it absurd to have imagined an impassioned drama
in connection with such people. The last one left, while watching the
others depart, he once more experienced the sensation so common to those
who are familiar with the worst side of the splendor of society and who
perceive in them the moral misery and ironical gayety.

“You are becoming a great simpleton, my friend, Dorsenne,” said he,
seating himself more democratically in one of those open cabs called
in Rome a botte. “To fear a tragical adventure for the woman who is
mistress of herself to such a degree is something like casting one’s
self into the water to prevent a shark from drowning. If she had
not upon her lips Maitland’s kisses, and in her eyes the memory of
happiness, I am very much mistaken. She came from a rendezvous. It was
written for me, in her toilette, in the color upon her cheeks, in her
tiny shoes, easy to remove, which had not taken thirty steps. And with
what mastery she uttered her string of falsehoods! Her daughter, Madame
Gorka, Madame Maitland, how quickly she included them all! That is why
I do not like the theatre, where one finds the actress who employs that
tone to utter her: ‘Is the master not here?’”

He laughed aloud, then his thoughts, relieved of all anxiety, took a new
course, and, using the word of German origin familiar to Cosmopolitans,
to express an absurd action, he said: “I have made a pretty schlemylade,
as Hafner would say, in relating to Florent Gorka’s unexpected arrival.
It was just the same as telling him that Maitland was the Countess’s
lover. That is a conversation at which I should like to assist, that
which will take place between the two brothers-in-law. Should I be very
much surprised to learn that this unattached negro is the confidant of
his great friend? It is a subject to paint, which has never been well
treated; the passionate friendships of a Tattet for a Musset, of an
Eckermann for a Goethe, of an Asselineau for a Beaudelaire, the total
absorption of the admirer in the admired. Florent found that the genius
of the great painter had need of a fortune, and he gave him his sister.
Were he to find that that genius required a passion in order to develop
still more, he would not object. My word of honor! He glanced at the
Countess just now with gratitude! Why not, after all? Lincoln is a
colorist of the highest order, although his desire to be with the tide
has led him into too many imitations. But it is his race. Young Madame
Maitland has as much sense as the handle of a basket; and Madame Steno
is one of those extraordinary women truly created to exalt the ideals of
an artist. Never has he painted anything as he painted the portrait of
Alba. I can hear this dialogue:

“‘You know the Pole has returned? What Pole? The Countess’s. What? You
believe those calumnies?’ Ah, what comedies here below! ‘Gad! The cabman
has also committed his ‘schlemylade’. I told him Rue Sistina, near La
Trinite-des-Monts, and here he is going through Place Barberini instead
of cutting across Capo le Case. It is my fault as well. I should not
have heeded it had there been an earthquake. Let us at least admire the
Triton of Bernin. What a sculptor that man was! yet he never thought of
nature except to falsify it.”

These incoherent remarks were made with a good-nature decidedly
optimistic, as could be seen, when the fiacre finally drew up at the
given address. It was that of a very modest restaurant decorated with
this signboard: ‘Trattoria al Marzocco.’ And the ‘Marzocco’, the lion
symbolical of Florence, was represented above the door, resting his paw
on the escutcheon ornamented with the national lys. The appearance of
that front did not justify the choice which the elegant Dorsenne had
made of the place at which to dine when he did not dine in society.
But his dilettantism liked nothing better than those sudden leaps from
society, and M. Egiste Brancadori, who kept the Marzocco, was one of
those unconscious buffoons of whom he was continually in search in real
life, one of those whom he called his “Thebans”, in reference to King
Lear. “I’ll talk a word with this same learned Theban,” cried the mad
king, one knows not why, when he meets “poor Tom” on the heath.

That Dorsenne’s Parisian friends, the Casals, the Machaults, the De
Vardes, those habitues of the club, might not judge him too severely, he
explained that the Theban born in Florence was a cook of the first order
and that the modest restaurant had its story. It amused so paradoxical
an observer as Julien was. He often said, “Who will ever dare to write
the truth of the history?” This, for example: Pope Pius IX, having asked
the Emperor to send him some troops to protect his dominions, the latter
agreed to do so--an occupation which bore two results: a Corsican hatred
of the half of Italy against France and the founding of the Marzocco
by Egiste Brancadori, says the Theban or the doctor. It was one of the
pleasantries of the novelist to pretend to have cured his dyspepsia in
Italy, thanks to the wise and wholesome cooking of the said Egiste. In
reality, and more simply, Brancadori was the old cook of a Russian lord,
one of the Werekiews, the cousin of pretty Alba Steno’s real father.
That Werekiew, renowned in Rome for the daintiness of his dinners, died
suddenly in 1866. Several of the frequenters of his house, advised by
a French officer of the army of occupation, and tired of clubs, hotels,
and ordinary restaurants, determined to form a syndicate and to employ
his former cook. They, with his cooperation, established a sort of
superior cafe, to which with some pride they gave the name of the
Culinary Club. By assuring to each one a minimum of sixteen meals for
seven francs, they kept for four years an excellent table, at which were
to be found all the distinguished tourists in Rome. The year 1870 had
disbanded that little society of connoisseurs and of conversationalists,
and the club was metamorphosed into a restaurant, almost unknown,
except to a few artists or diplomats who were attracted by the ancient
splendors of the place, and, above all, by the knowledge of the
“doctor’s” talents.

It was not unusual at eight o’clock for the three small rooms which
composed the establishment to be full of men in white cravats, white
waistcoats and evening coats. To cosmopolitan Dorsenne this was a
singularly interesting sight; a member of the English embassy here,
of the Russian embassy farther on, two German attaches elsewhere,
two French secretaries near at hand from St. Siege, another from the
Quirinal. What interested the novelist still more was the conversation
of the doctor himself, genial Brancadori, who could neither read nor
write. But he had preserved a faithful remembrance of all his old
customers, and when he felt confidential, standing erect upon the
threshold of his kitchen, of the possession of which he was so
insolently proud, he repeated curious stories of Rome in the days of
his youth. His gestures, so conformable to the appearance of things, his
mobile face and his Tuscan tongue, which softened into h all the harsh
e’s between two vowels, gave a savor to his stories which delighted a
seeker after local truths. It was in the morning especially, when there
was no one in the restaurant, that he voluntarily left his ovens to
chat, and if Dorsenne gave the address of the Marzocco to his cabman, it
was in the hope that the old cook would in his manner sketch for him the
story of the ruin of Ardea. Brancadori was standing by the bar where
was enthroned his niece, Signorina Sabatina, with a charming Florentine
face, chin a trifle long, forehead somewhat broad, nose somewhat short,
a sinuous mouth, large, black eyes, an olive complexion and waving hair,
which recalled in a forcible manner the favorite type of the first of
the Ghirlandajos.

“Uncle,” said the young girl, as soon as she perceived Dorsenne, “where
have you put the letter brought for the Prince?”

In Italy every foreigner is a prince or a count, and the profound
good-nature which reigns in the habit gives to those titles, in
the mouths of those who employ them, an amiability often free from
calculation. There is no country in the world where there is a truer, a
more charming familiarity of class for class, and Brancadori immediately
gave a proof of it in addressing as “Carolei”--that is to say, “my
dear”--him whom his daughter had blazoned with a coronet, and he cried,
fumbling in the pockets of the alpaca waistcoat which he wore over his
apron of office:

“The brain is often lacking in a gray head. I put it in the pocket of my
coat in order to be more sure of not forgetting it. I changed my coat,
because it was warm, and left it with the letter in my apartments.”

“You can look for it after lunch,” said Dorsenne.

“No,” replied the young girl, rising, “it is not two steps from here; I
will go. The concierge of the palace where your Excellency lives brought
it himself, and said it must be delivered immediately.”

“Very well, go and fetch it,” replied Julien, who could not suppress a
smile at the honor paid his dwelling, “and I will remain here and
talk with my doctor, while he gives me the prescription for this
morning--that is to say, his bill of fare. Guess whence I come,
Brancadori,” he added, assured of first stirring the cook’s curiosity,
then his power of speech. “From the Palais Castagna, where they are
selling everything.”

“Ah! Per Bacco!” exclaimed the Tuscan, with evident sorrow upon his
old parchment-like face, scorched from forty years of cooking. “If the
deceased Prince Urban can see it in the other world, his heart will
break, I assure you. The last time he came to dine here, about ten
years ago, on Saint Joseph’s Day, he said to me: ‘Make me some fritters,
Egiste, like those we used to have at Monsieur d’Epinag’s, Monsieur
Clairin’s, Fortuny’s, and poor Henri Regnault’s.’ And he was happy!
‘Egiste,’ said he to me, ‘I can die contented! I have only one son, but
I shall leave him six millions and the palace. If it was Gigi I should
be less easy, but Peppino!’ Gigi was the other one, the elder, who died,
the gay one, who used to come here every day--a fine fellow, but bad!
You should have heard him tell of his visit to Pius Ninth on the day
upon which he converted an Englishman. Yes, Excellency, he converted
him by lending him by mistake a pious book instead of a novel. The
Englishman took the book, read it, read another, a third, and became a
Catholic. Gigi, who was not in favor at the Vatican, hastened to tell
the Holy Father of his good deed. ‘You see, my son,’ said Pius Ninth,
‘what means our Lord God employs!’ Ah, he would have used those
millions for his amusement, while Peppino! They were all squandered
in signatures. Just think, the name of Prince d’Ardea meant money! He
speculated, he lost, he won, he lost again, he drew up bills of exchange
after bills of exchange. And every time he made a move such as I
am making with my pencil--only I can not sign my name--it meant one
hundred, two hundred thousand francs to go into the world. And now he
must leave his house and Rome. What will he do, Excellency, I ask you?”
 With a shake of his head he added: “He should reconstruct his fortune
abroad. We have this saying: ‘He who squanders gold with his hands will
search for it with his feet.’ But Sabatino is coming! She has been as
nimble as a cat.”

The good man’s invaluable mimetic art, his proverbs, the story of the
fete of St. Joseph, the original evocation of the heir of the Castagnas
continually signing and signing, the coarse explanation of his
ruin--very true, however--everything in the recital had amused Dorsenne.
He knew enough Italian to appreciate the untranslatable passages of
the language of the man of the people. He was again on the verge of
laughter, when the fresco madonna, as he sometimes designated the young
girl, handed him an envelope the address upon which soon converted his
smile into an undisguised expression of annoyance. He pushed aside
the day’s bill of fare which the old cook presented to him and said,
brusquely: “I fear I can not remain to breakfast.” Then, opening
the letter: “No, I can not; adieu.” And he went out, in a manner so
precipitate and troubled that the uncle and niece exchanged smiling
glances. Those typical Southerners could not think of any other trouble
in connection with so handsome a man as Dorsenne than that of the heart.

“Chi ha l’amor nel petto,” said Signorina Sabatina.

“Ha lo spron nei fianchi,” replied the uncle.

That naive adage which compares the sharp sting which passion drives
into our breasts to the spurring given the flanks of a horse, was not
true of Dorsenne. The application of the proverb to the circumstance was
not, however, entirely erroneous, and the novelist commented upon it in
his passion, although in another form, by repeating to himself, as he
went along the Rue Sistina: “No, no, I can not interfere in that affair,
and I shall tell him so firmly.”

He examined again the note, the perusal of which had rendered him more
uneasy than he had been twice before that morning. He had not been
mistaken in recognizing on the envelope the handwriting of Boleslas
Gorka, and these were the terms, teeming with mystery under the
circumstances, in which the brief message was worded:

“I know you to be such a friend to me, dear Julien, and I have for
your character, so chivalrous and so French, such esteem that I have
determined to turn to you in an era of my life thoroughly tragical. I
wish to see you immediately. I shall await you at your lodging. I have
sent a similar note to the Cercle de la Chasse, another to the bookshop
on the Corso, another to your antiquary’s. Wheresoever my appeal finds
you, leave all and come at once. You will save more for me than life.
For a reason which I will tell you, my return is a profound secret. No
one, you understand, knows of it but you. I need not write more to a
friend as sincere as you are, and whom I embrace with all my heart.”

“It is unequalled!” said Dorsenne, crumpling the letter with rising
anger. “He embraces me with all his heart. I am his most sincere friend!
I am chivalrous, French, the only person he esteems! What disagreeable
commission does he wish me to undertake for him? Into what scrape is he
about to ask me to enter, if he has not already got me into it? I know
that school of protestation. We are allied for life and death, are we
not? Do me a favor! And they upset your habits, encroach upon your
time, embark you in tragedies, and when you say ‘No’ to them-then they
squarely accuse you of selfishness and of treason! It is my fault, too.
Why did I listen to his confidences? Have I not known for years that a
man who relates his love-affairs on so short an acquaintance as ours is
a scoundrel and a fool? And with such people there can be no possible
connection. He amused me at the beginning, when he told me his sly
intrigue, without naming the person, as they all do at first. He amused
me still more by the way he managed to name her without violating that
which people in society call honor. And to think that the women believe
in that honor and that discretion! And yet it was the surest means of
entering Steno’s, and approaching Alba.... I believe I am about to pay
for my Roman flirtation. If Gorka is a Pole, I am from Lorraine, and
the heir of the Castellans will only make me do what I agree to, nothing
more.”

In such an ill-humor and with such a resolution, Julien reached the
door of his house. If that dwelling was not the palace alluded to by
Signorina Sabatina, it was neither the usually common house as common
today in new Rome as in contemporary Paris, modern Berlin, and in
certain streets of London opened of late in the neighborhood of Hyde
Park. It was an old building on the Place de la Trinite-des-Monts, at an
angle of the two streets Sistina and Gregoriana. Although reduced to the
state of a simple pension, more or less bourgeoise, that house had its
name marked in certain guide-books, and like all the corners of ancient
Rome it preserved the traces of a glorious, artistic history. The
small columns of the porch gave it the name of the tempietto, or little
temple, while several personages dear to litterateurs had lived there,
from the landscape painter Claude Lorrain to the poet Francois Coppee.
A few paces distant, almost opposite, lived Poussin, and one of the
greatest among modern English poets, Keats, died quite near by, the John
Keats whose tomb is to be seen in Rome, with that melancholy epitaph
upon it, written by himself:

     Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

It was seldom that Dorsenne returned home without repeating to himself
the translation he had attempted of that beautiful ‘Ci-git un don’t le
nom, jut ecrit sur de l’eau’.

Sometimes he repeated, at evening, this delicious fragment:

The sky was tinged with tender green and pink.

This time he entered in a more prosaic manner; for he addressed the
concierge in the tone of a jealous husband or a debtor hunted by
creditors:

“Have you given the key to any one, Tonino?” he asked.

“Count Gorka said that your Excellency asked him to await you here,”
 replied the man, with a timidity rendered all the more comical by the
formidable cut of his gray moustache and his imperial, which made him a
caricature of the late King Victor Emmanuel.

He had served in ‘59 under the Galantuomo, and he paid the homage of a
veteran of Solferino to that glorious memory. His large eyes rolled with
fear at the least confusion, and he repeated:

“Yes, he said that your Excellency asked him to wait,” while Dorsenne
ascended the staircase, saying aloud: “More and more perfect. But this
time the familiarity passes all bounds; and it is better so. I have been
so surprised and annoyed from the first that I shall be easily able to
refuse the imprudent fellow what he will ask of me.” In his anger the
novelist sought to arm himself against his weakness, of which he
was aware--not the weakness of insufficient will, but of a too vivid
perception of the motives which the person with whom he was in conflict
obeyed. He, however, was to learn that there is no greater dissolvent of
rancor than intelligent curiosity. His was, indeed, aroused by a simple
detail, which consisted in ascertaining under what conditions the Pole
had travelled; his dressing-case, his overcoat and his hat, still white
with the dust of travel, were lying upon the table in the antechamber.

Evidently he had come direct from Warsaw to the Place de la
Trinite-des-Monts. A prey to what delirium of passion? Dorsenne had
not time to ask the question any more than he had presence of mind
to compose his manner to such severity that it would cut short all
familiarity on the part of his strange visitor. At the noise made by
the opening of the antechamber door, Boleslas started up. He seized
both hands of the man into whose apartments he had obtruded himself. He
pressed them. He gazed at him with feverish eyes, with eyes which had
not closed for hours, and he murmured, drawing the novelist into the
tiny salon:

“You have come, Julien, you are here! Ah, I thank you for having
answered my call at once! Let me look at you, for I am sure I have
a friend beside me, one in whom I can trust, with whom I can speak
frankly, upon whom I can depend. If this solitude had lasted much longer
I should have become mad.”

Although Madame Steno’s lover belonged to the class of excitable,
nervous people who exaggerate their feelings by an unconscious wildness
of tone and of manner, his face bore the traces of a trouble too deep
not to be startling.

Julien, who had seen him set out, three months before, so radiantly
handsome, was struck by the change which had taken place during such a
brief absence. He was the same Boleslas Gorka, that handsome man, that
admirable human animal, so refined and so strong, in which was embodied
centuries of aristocracy--the Counts de Gorka belong to the ancient
house of Lodzia, with which are connected so many illustrious
Polish families, the Opalenice-Opalenskis, the Bnin-Bninskis, the
Ponin-Poniniskis and many others--but his cheeks were sunken beneath his
long, brown beard, in which were glints of gold; his eyes were heavy as
if from wakeful nights, his nostrils were pinched and his face was pale.
The travel-stains upon his face accentuated the alteration.

Yet the native elegance of that face and form gave grace to his
lassitude. Boleslas, in the vigorous and supple maturity of his
thirty-four years, realized one of those types of manly beauty so
perfect that they resist the strongest tests. The excesses of emotion,
as those of libertinism, seem only to invest the man with a new
prestige; the fact is that the novelist’s room, with its collection of
books, photographs, engravings, paintings and moldings, invested that
form, tortured by the bitter sufferings of passion, with a poesy to
which Dorsenne could not remain altogether insensible. The atmosphere,
impregnated with Russian tobacco and the bluish vapor which filled
the room, revealed in what manner the betrayed lover had diverted
his impatience, and in the centre of the writing-table a cup with a
bacchanal painted in red on a black ground, of which Julien was very
proud, contained the remains of about thirty cigarettes, thrown aside
almost as soon as lighted. Their paper ends had been gnawed with a
nervousness which betrayed the young man’s condition, while he repeated,
in a tone so sad that it almost called forth a shudder:

“Yes, I should have gone mad.”

“Calm yourself, my dear Boleslas, I implore you,” replied Dorsenne. What
had become of his ill-humor? How could he preserve it in the presence of
a person so evidently beside himself? Julien continued, speaking to his
companion as one speaks to a sick child: “Come, be seated. Be a little
more tranquil, since I am here, and you have reason to count on my
friendship. Speak to me. Explain to me what has happened. If there
is any advice to give you, I am ready. I am prepared to render you a
service. My God! In what a state you are!”

“Is it not so?” said the other, with a sort of ironical pride. It was
sufficient that he had a witness of his grief for him to display it with
secret vanity. “Is it not so?” he continued. “Could you only know how
I have suffered. This is nothing,” said he, alluding to his haggard
appearance. “It is here that you should read,” he struck his breast,
then passing his hands over his brow and his eyes, as if to exorcise a
nightmare. “You are right. I must be calm, or I am lost.”

After a prolonged silence, during which he seemed to have gathered
together his thoughts and to collect his will, for his voice had become
decided and sharp, he began: “You know that I am here unknown to any
one, even to my wife.”

“I know it,” replied Dorsenne. “I have just left the Countess. This
morning I visited the Palais Castagna with her, Hafner, Madame Maitland,
Florent Chapron.” He paused and added, thinking it better not to lie on
minor points, “Madame Steno and Alba were there, too.”

“Any one else?” asked Boleslas, with so keen a glance that the author
had to employ all his strength to reply:

“No one else.”

There was a silence between the two men.

Dorsenne anticipated from his question toward what subject the
conversation was drifting. Gorka, now lying rather than sitting upon
the divan in the small room, appeared like a beast that, at any moment,
might bound. Evidently he had come to Julien’s a prey to the mad desire
to find out something, which is to jealousy what thirst is to certain
punishments. When one has tasted the bitter draught of certainty, one
does not suffer less. Yet one walks toward it, barefooted, on the heated
pavement, heedless of the heat. The motives which led Boleslas to choose
the French novelist as the one from whom to obtain his information,
demonstrated that the feline character of his physiognomy was not
deceptive. He understood Dorsenne much better than Dorsenne understood
him. He knew him to be nervous, on the one hand, and perspicacious on
the other. If there was an intrigue between Maitland and Madame Steno,
Julien had surely observed it, and, approached in a certain manner, he
would surely betray it. Moreover--for that violent and crafty nature
abounded in perplexities--Boleslas, who passionately admired the
author’s talent, experienced a sort of indefinable attraction in
exhibiting himself before him in the role of a frantic lover. He was one
of the persons who would have his photograph taken on his deathbed, so
much importance did he attach to his person. He would, no doubt, have
been insulted, if the author of ‘Une Eglogue Mondaine’ had portrayed
in a book himself and his love for Countess Steno, and yet he had only
approached the author, had only chosen him as a confidant with the vague
hope of impressing him. He had even thought of suggesting to him some
creation resembling himself. Yes, Gorka was very complex, for he was not
contented with deceiving his wife, he allowed the confiding creature to
form a friendship with the daughter of her husband’s mistress. Still, he
deceived her with remorse, and had never ceased bearing her an affection
as sorrowful as it was respectful. But it required Dorsenne to admit
the like anomalies, and the rare sensation of being observed in his
passionate frenzy attracted the young man to some one who was at once
a sure confidant, a possible portrayer, a moral accomplice. It was
necessary now, but it would not be an easy matter, to make of him his
involuntary detective.

“You see,” resumed he suddenly, “to what miserable, detailed inquiries
I have descended, I who always had a horror of espionage, as of some
terrible degradation. I shall question you frankly, for you are my
friend. And what a friend! I intended to use artifice with you at first,
but I was ashamed. Passion takes possession of me and distorts me.
No matter what infamy presents itself, I rush into it, and then I am
afraid. Yes, I am afraid of myself! But I have suffered so much! You do
not understand? Well! Listen,” continued he, covering Dorsenne with one
of those glances so scrutinizing that not a gesture, not a quiver of his
eyelids, escaped him, “and tell me if you have ever imagined for one of
your romances a situation similar to mine. You remember the mortal fear
in which I lived last winter, with the presence of my brother-in-law,
and the danger of his denouncing me to my poor Maud, from stupidity,
from a British sense of virtue, from hatred. You remember, also, what
that voyage to Poland cost me, after those long months of anxiety? The
press of affairs and the illness of my aunt coming just at the moment
when I was freed from Ardrahan, inspired me with miserable forebodings.
I have always believed in presentiments. I had one. I was not mistaken.
From the first letter I received--from whom you can guess--I saw that
there was taking place in Rome something which threatened me in what I
held dearest on earth, in that love for which I sacrificed all, toward
which I walked by trampling on the noblest of hearts. Was Catherine
ceasing to love me? When one has spent two years of one’s life in a
passion--and what years!--one clings to it with every fibre! I will
spare you the recital of those first weeks spent in going here and
there, in paying visits to relatives, in consulting lawyers, in caring
for my sick aunt, in fulfilling my duty toward my son, since the
greater part of the fortune will go to him. And always with this firm
conviction: She no longer writes to me as formerly, she no longer loves
me. Ah! if I could show you the letter she wrote when I was absent once
before. You have a great deal of talent, Julien, but you have never
composed anything more beautiful.”

He paused, as if the part of the confession he was approaching cost him
a great effort, while Dorsenne interpolated:

“A change of tone in correspondence is not, however, sufficient to
explain the fever in which I see you.”

“No,” resumed Gorka, “but it was not merely a change of tone. I
complained. For the first time my complaint found no echo. I threatened
to cease writing. No reply. I wrote to ask forgiveness. I received a
letter so cold that in my turn I wrote an angry one. Another silence!
Ah! You can imagine the terrible effect produced upon me by an unsigned
letter which I received fifteen days since. It arrived one morning. It
bore the Roman postmark. I did not recognize the handwriting. I opened
it. I saw two sheets of paper on which were pasted cuttings from a
French journal. I repeat it was unsigned; it was an anonymous letter.”

“And you read it?” interrupted Dorsenne. “What folly!”

“I read it,” replied the Count. “It began with words of startling truth
relative to my own situation. That our affairs are known to others we
may be sure, since we know theirs. We should, consequently, remember
that we are at the mercy of their indiscretion, as they are at ours.
The beginning of the note served as a guarantee of the truth of the end,
which was a detailed, minute recital of an intrigue which Madame Steno
had been carrying on during my absence, and with whom? With the man
whom I always mistrusted, that dauber who wanted to paint Alba’s
portrait--but whose desires I nipped in the bud--with the fellow who
degraded himself by a shameful marriage for money, and who calls himself
an artist--with that American--with Lincoln Maitland!”

Although the childish and unjust hatred of the jealous--the hatred which
degrades us in lowering the one we love-had poisoned his discourse with
its bitterness, he did not cease watching Dorsenne. He partly raised
himself on the couch and thrust his head forward as he uttered the name
of his rival, glancing keenly at the novelist meanwhile. The latter
fortunately had been rendered indignant at the news of the anonymous
letter, and he repeated, with an astonishment which in no way aided his
interlocutor:

“Wait,” resumed Boleslas; “that was merely a beginning. The next day I
received another letter, written and sent under the same conditions; the
day after, a third. I have twelve of them--do you hear? twelve--in my
portfolio, and all composed with the same atrocious knowledge of the
circle in which we move, as was the first. At the same time I was
receiving letters from my poor wife, and all coincided, in the terrible
series, in a frightful concordance. The anonymous letter told me:
‘To-day they were together two hours and a quarter,’ while Maud wrote:
‘I could not go out to-day, as agreed upon, with Madame Steno, for
she had a headache.’ Then the portrait of Alba, of which they told
me incidentally. The anonymous letters detailed to me the events, the
prolongation of sitting, while my wife wrote: ‘We again went to see
Alba’s portrait yesterday. The painter erased what he had done.’
Finally it became impossible for me to endure it. With their abominable
minuteness of detail, the anonymous letters gave me even the address of
their rendezvous! I set out. I said to myself, ‘If I announce my arrival
to my wife they will find it out, they will escape me.’ I intended to
surprise them. I wanted--Do I know what I wanted? I wanted to suffer no
longer the agony of uncertainty. I took the train. I stopped neither day
nor night. I left my valet yesterday in Florence, and this morning I was
in Rome.

“My plan was made on the way. I would hire apartments near theirs, in
the same street, perhaps in the same house. I would watch them, one, two
days, a week. And then--would you believe it? It was in the cab which
was bearing me directly toward that street that I saw suddenly, clearly
within me, and that I was startled. I had my hand upon this revolver.”
 He drew the weapon from his pocket and laid it upon the divan, as if he
wished to repulse any new temptation. “I saw myself as plainly as I see
you, killing those two beings like two animals, should I surprise them.
At the same time I saw my son and my wife. Between murder and me there
was, perhaps, just the distance which separated me from the street, and
I felt that it was necessary to fly at once--to fly that street, to fly
from the guilty ones, if they were really guilty; to fly from myself! I
thought of you, and I have come to say to you, ‘My friend, this is how
things are; I am drowning, I am lost; save me.’”

“You have yourself found the salvation,” replied Dorsenne. “It is in
your son and your wife. See them first, and if I can not promise you
that you will not suffer any more, you will no longer be tempted by
that horrible idea.” And he pointed to the pistol, which gleamed in the
sunlight that entered through the casement. Then he added: “And you will
have the idea still less when you will have been able to prove ‘de visu’
what those anonymous letters were worth. Twelve letters in fifteen
days, and cuttings from how many papers? And they claim that we invent
heinousness in our books! If you like, we will search together for the
person who can have elaborated that little piece of villany. It must be
a Judas, a Rodin, an Iago--or Iaga. But this is not the moment to waste
in hypotheses.

“Are you sure of your valet? You must send him a despatch, and in that
despatch the copy of another addressed to Madame Gorka, which your
man will send this very evening. You will announce your arrival for
tomorrow, making allusion to a letter written, so to speak, from Poland,
and which was lost. This evening from here you will take the train for
Florence, from which place you will set out again this very night. You
will be in Rome again to-morrow morning. You will have avoided, not only
the misfortune of having become a murderer, though you would not have
surprised any one, I am sure, but the much more grave misfortune of
awakening Madame Gorka’s suspicions. Is it a promise?”

Dorsenne rose to prepare a pen and paper: “Come, write the despatch
immediately, and render thanks to your good genius which led you to
a friend whose business consists in imagining the means of solving
insoluble situations.”

“You are quite right,” Boleslas replied, after taking in his hand the
pen which he offered to the other, “it is fortunate.” Then, casting
aside the pen as he had the revolver, “I can not. No, I can not, as long
as I have this doubt within me. Ah, it is too horrible! I can see them
plainly. You speak to me of my wife; but you forget that she loves
me, and at the first glance she would read me, as you did. You can not
imagine what an effort it has cost me for two years never to arouse
suspicion. I was happy, and it is easy to deceive when one has nothing
to hide but happiness. To-day we should not be together five minutes
before she would seek, and she would find. No, no; I can not. I need
something more.”

“Unfortunately,” replied Julien, “I cannot give it to you. There is no
opium to lull asleep doubts such as those horrible anonymous letters
have awakened. What I know is this, that if you do not follow my advice
Madame Gorka will not have a suspicion, but certainty. It is now perhaps
too late. Do you wish me to tell you what I concealed from you on seeing
you so troubled? You did not lose much time in coming from the station
hither, and probably you did not look out of your cab twice. But you
were seen. By whom? By Montfanon. He told me so this morning almost on
the threshold of the Palais Castagna. If I had not gathered from some
words uttered by your wife that she was ignorant of your presence in
Rome, I--do you hear?--I should have told her of it. Judge now of your
situation!”

He spoke with an agitation which was not assumed, so much was he
troubled by the evidence of danger which Gorka’s obstinacy presented.
The latter, who had begun to collect himself, had a strange light in his
eyes. Without doubt his companion’s nervousness marked the moment he was
awaiting to strike a decisive blow. He rose with so sudden a start that
Dorsenne drew back. He seized both of his hands, but with such force
that not a quiver of the muscles escaped him:

“Yes, Julien, you have the means of consoling me, you have it,” said he
in a voice again hoarse with emotion.

“What is it?” asked the novelist.

“What is it? You are an honest man, Dorsenne; you are a great artist;
you are my friend, and a friend allied to me by a sacred bond, almost
a brother-in-arms; you, the grandnephew of a hero who shed his blood by
the side of my grandfather at Somo-Sierra. Give me your word of honor
that you are absolutely certain Madame Steno is not Maitland’s mistress,
that you never thought it, have never heard it said, and I will believe
you, I will obey you! Come,” continued he, pressing the writer’s hand
with more fervor, “I see you hesitate!”

“No,” said Julien, disengaging himself from the wild grasp, “I do not
hesitate. I am sorry for you. Were I to give you that word, would it
have any weight with you for five minutes? Would you not be persuaded
immediately that I was perjuring myself to avoid a misfortune?”

“You hesitate,” interrupted Boleslas. Then, with a burst of wild
laughter, he said, “It is then true! I like that better! It is frightful
to know it, but one suffers less--To know it’ As if I did not know she
had lovers before me, as if it were not written on Alba’s every feature
that she is Werekiew’s child, as if I had not heard it said seventy
times before knowing her that she had loved Branciforte, San Giobbe,
Strabane, ten others. Before, during, or after, what difference does it
make? Ah, I was sure on knocking at your door--at this door of honor--I
should hear the truth, that I would touch it as I touch this object,”
 and he laid his hand upon a marble bust on the table.

“You see I hear it like a man. You can speak to me now. Who knows?
Disgust is a great cure for passion. I will listen to you. Do not spare
me!”

“You are mistaken, Gorka,” replied Dorsenne. “What I have to say to you,
I can say very simply. I was, and I am, convinced that in a quarter of
an hour, in an hour, tomorrow, the day after, you will consider me a
liar or an imbecile. But, since you misinterpreted my silence, it is my
duty to speak, and I do so. I give you my word of honor I have never had
the least suspicion of a connection between Madame Steno and Maitland,
nor have their relations seemed changed to me for a second since your
absence. I give you my word of honor that no one, do you hear, no
one has spoken of it to me. And, now, act as you please, think as you
please. I have said all I can say.”

The novelist uttered those words with a feverish energy which was caused
by the terrible strain he was making upon his conscience. But Gorka’s
laugh had terrified him so much the more as at the same instant the
jealous lover’s disengaged hand was voluntarily or involuntarily
extended toward the weapon which gleamed upon the couch. The vision of
an immediate catastrophe, this time inevitable, rose before Julien.
His lips had spoken, as his arm would have been out stretched, by an
irresistible instinct, to save several lives, and he had made the
false statement, the first and no doubt the last in his life, without
reflecting. He had no sooner uttered it than he experienced such an
excess of anger that he would at that moment almost have preferred
not to be believed. It would indeed have been a comfort to him if his
visitor had replied by one of those insulting negations which permit one
man to strike another, so great was his irritation. On the contrary,
he saw the face of Madame Steno’s lover turned toward him with an
expression of gratitude upon it. Boleslas’s lips quivered, his hands
were clasped, two large tears gushed from his burning eyes and rolled
down his cheeks. When he was able to speak, he moaned:

“Ah, my friend, how much good you have done me! From what a nightmare
you have relieved me. Ah! Now I am saved! I believe you, I believe you.
You are intimate with them. You see them every day. If there had been
anything between them you would know it. You would have heard it talked
of. Ah! Thanks! Give me your hand that I may press it. Forget all I said
to you just now, the slander I uttered in a moment of delirium. I know
very well it was untrue. And now, let me embrace you as I would if you
had really saved me from drowning. Ah, my friend, my only friend!”

And he rushed up to clasp to his bosom the novelist, who replied with
the words uttered at the beginning of this conversation: “Calm yourself,
I beseech you, calm yourself!” and repeating to himself, brave and loyal
man that he was: “I could not act differently, but it is hard!”



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER IV. APPROACHING DANGER

“I could not act differently,” repeated Dorsenne on the evening of that
eventful day. He had given his entire afternoon to caring for Gorka. He
made him lunch. He made him lie down. He watched him. He took him in a
closed carriage to Portonaccio, the first stopping-place on the Florence
line. Indeed, he made every effort not to leave alone for a moment the
man whose frenzy he had rather suspended than appeased, at the price,
alas, of his own peace of mind! For, once left alone, in solitude and
in the apartments on the Place de la Trinite, where twenty details
testified to the visit of Gorka, the weight of the perjured word of
honor became a heavy load to the novelist, so much the more heavy when
he discovered the calculating plan followed by Boleslas. His tardy
penetration permitted him to review the general outline of their
conversation. He perceived that not one of his interlocutor’s sentences,
not even the most agitated, had been uttered at random. From reply to
reply, from confidence to confidence, he, Dorsenne, had become involved
in the dilemma without being able to foresee or to avoid it; he would
either have had to accuse a woman or to lie with one of those lies which
a manly conscience does not easily pardon. He did not forgive himself
for it.

“It is so much worse,” said he to himself, “as it will prevent nothing.
A person vile enough to pen anonymous letters will not stop there. She
will find the means of again unchaining the madman.... But who
wrote those letters? Gorka may have forged them in order to have an
opportunity to ask me the question he did.... And yet, no.... There
are two indisputable facts--his state of jealousy and his extraordinary
return. Both would lead one to suppose a third, a warning. But given by
whom?... He told me of twelve anonymous letters.... Let us assume that
he received one or two.... But who is the author of those?”

The immediate development of the drama in which Julien found himself
involved was embodied in the answer to the question. It was not easy
to formulate. The Italians have a proverb of singular depth which the
novelist recalled at that moment. He had laughed a great deal when
he heard sententious Egiste Brancadori repeat it. He repeated it to
himself, and he understood its meaning. ‘Chi non sa fingersi amico, non
sa essere nemico. “He who does not know how to disguise himself as
a friend, does not know how to be an enemy.” In the little corner of
society in which Countess Steno, the Gorkas and Lincoln Maitland moved,
who was hypocritical and spiteful enough to practise that counsel?

“It is not Madame Steno,” thought Julien; “she has related all herself
to her lover. I knew a similar case. But it involved degraded Parisians,
not a Dogesse of the sixteenth century found intact in the Venice of
today, like a flower of that period preserved. Let us strike her off.
Let us strike off, too, Madame Gorka, the truthful creature who could
not even condescend to the smallest lie for a trinket which she desires.
It is that which renders her so easily deceived. What irony!... Let us
strike off Florent. He would allow himself to be killed, if necessary,
like a Mameluke at the door of the room where his genial brother-in-law
was dallying with the Countess.... Let us strike off the American
himself. I have met such a case, a lover weary of a mistress, denouncing
himself to her in order to be freed from his love-affair. But he was a
roue, and had nothing in common with this booby, who has a talent
for painting as an elephant has a trunk--what irony! He married this
octoroon to have money. But it was a base act which freed him from
commerce, and permitted him to paint all he wanted, as he wanted.
He allows Steno to love him because she is diabolically pretty,
notwithstanding her forty years, and then she is, in spite of all, a
real noblewoman, which flattered him. He has not one dollar’s-worth of
moral delicacy in his heart. But he has an abundance of knavery.... Let
us, too, strike out his wife. She is such a veritable slave whom the
mere presence of a white person annihilates to such a degree that she
dares not look her husband in the face.... It is not Hafner. The sly
fox is capable of doing anything by cunning, but is he capable of
undertaking a useless and dangerous piece of rascality? Never.... Fanny
is a saint escaped from the Golden Legend, no matter what Montfanon
thinks! I have now reviewed the entire coterie.... I was about to forget
Alba.... It is too absurd even to think of her.... Too absurd? Why?”

Dorsenne was, on formulating that fantastic thought, upon the point of
retiring. He took up, as was his habit, one of the books on his table,
in order to read a few pages, when once in bed. He had thus within his
reach the works by which he strengthened his doctrine of intransitive
intellectuality; they were Goethe’s Memoirs; a volume of George Sand’s
correspondence, in which were the letters to Flaubert; the ‘Discours de
la Methode’ by Descartes, and the essay by Burckhart on the Renaissance.

But, after turning over the leaves of one of those volumes, he closed it
without having read twenty lines. He extinguished his lamp, but he could
not sleep. The strange suspicion which crossed his mind had something
monstrous about it, applied thus to a young girl. What a suspicion and
what a young girl! The preferred friend of his entire winter, she on
whose account he had prolonged his stay in Rome, for she was the most
graceful vision of delicacy and of melancholy in the framework of
a tragical and solemn past. Any other than Dorsenne would not have
admitted such an idea without being inspired with horror. But Dorsenne,
on the contrary, suddenly began to dive into that sinister hypothesis,
to help it forward, to justify it. No one more than he suffered from a
moral deformity which the abuse of a certain literary work inflicts
on some writers. They are so much accustomed to combining artificial
characters with creations of their imaginations that they constantly
fulfil an analogous need with regard to the individuals they know best.
They have some friend who is dear to them, whom they see almost daily,
who hides nothing from them and from whom they hide nothing. But if they
speak to you of him you are surprised to find that, while continuing to
love that friend, they trace to you in him two contradictory portraits
with the same sincerity and the same probability.

They have a mistress, and that woman, even in the space sometimes of one
day, sees them, with fear, change toward her, who has remained the same.
It is that they have developed in them to a very intense degree the
imagination of the human soul, and that to observe is to them only
a pretext to construe. That infirmity had governed Julien from early
maturity. It was rarely manifested in a manner more unexpected than in
the case of charming Alba Steno, who was possibly dreaming of him at the
very moment when, in the silence of the night, he was forcing himself to
prove that she was capable of that species of epistolary parricide.

“After all,” he said to himself, for there is iconoclasm in the
excessively intellectual, and they delight in destroying their dearest
moral or sentimental idols, the better to prove their strength, “after
all, have I really understood her relations toward her mother? When I
came to Rome in November, when I was to be presented to the Countess,
what did not only one, but nine or ten persons tell me? That Madame
Steno had a liaison with the husband of her daughter’s best friend, and
that the little one was grieving about it. I went to the house. I saw
the child. She was sad that evening. I had the curiosity to wish to read
her heart.... It is six months since then. We have met almost daily,
often twice a day. She is so hermetically sealed that I am no farther
advanced than I was on the first day. I have seen her glance at her
mother as she did this morning, with loving, admiring eyes. I have seen
her turn pale at a word, a gesture, on her part. I have seen her
embrace Maud Gorka, and play tennis with that same friend so gayly, so
innocently. I have seen that she could not bear the presence of Maitland
in a room, and yet she asked the American to take her portrait....
Is she guileless?... Is she a hypocrite? Or is she tormented by
doubt-divining, not divining-believing, not believing in-her mother? Is
she underhand in any case, with her eyes the color of the sea? Has she
the ambiguous mind at once of a Russian and an Italian?... This would be
a solution of the problem, that she was a girl of extraordinary inward
energy, who, both aware of her mother’s intrigues and detesting them
with an equal hatred, had planned to precipitate the two men upon each
other. For a young girl the undertaking is great. I will go to the
Countess’s to-morrow night, and I will amuse myself by watching Alba, to
see... If she is innocent, my deed will be inoffensive. If perchance she
is not?”

It is vain to profess to one’s own heart a complaisant dandyism of
misanthropy. Such reflections leave behind them a tinge of a remorse,
above all when they are, as these, absolutely whimsical and founded on a
simple paradox of dilettantism. Dorsenne experienced a feeling of shame
when he awoke the following morning, and, thinking of the mystery of
the letters received by Gorka, he recalled the criminal romance he had
constructed around the charming and tender form of his little friend;
happily for his nerves, which were strained by the consideration of the
formidable problem. If it is not some one in the Countess’s circle, who
has written those letters? He received, on rising, a voluminous package
of proofs with the inscription: “Urgent.” He was preparing to give
to the public a collection of his first articles, under the title of
‘Poussiere d’Idees.’

Dorsenne was a faithful literary worker. Usually, involved titles
serve to hide in a book-stall shop--made goods, and romance writers or
dramatic authors who pride themselves on living to write, and who seek
inspiration elsewhere than in regularity of habits and the work-table,
have their efforts marked from the first by sterility. Obscure or
famous, rich or poor, an artist must be an artisan and practise these
fruitful virtues--patient application, conscientious technicality,
absorption in work. When he seated himself at his table Dorsenne was
heart and soul in his business. He closed his door, he opened no letters
nor telegrams, and he spent ten hours without taking anything but two
eggs and some black coffee, as he did on this particular day, when
looking over the essays of his twenty-fifth year with the talent of
his thirty-fifth, retouching here a word, rewriting an entire page,
dissatisfied here, smiling there at his thought. The pen flew, carrying
with it all the sensibility of the intellectual man who had completely
forgotten Madame Steno, Gorka, Maitland, and the calumniated Contessina,
until he should awake from his lucid intoxication at nightfall. As he
counted, in arranging the slips, the number of articles prepared, he
found there were twelve.

“Like Gorka’s letters,” said he aloud, with a laugh. He now felt
coursing through his veins the lightness which all writers of his kind
feel when they have labored on a work they believe good. “I have earned
my evening,” he added, still in a loud voice. “I must now dress and go
to Madame Steno’s. A good dinner at the doctor’s. A half-hour’s walk.
The night promises to be divine. I shall find out if they have news
of the Palatine,”--the name he gave Gorka in his moments of gayety. “I
shall talk in a loud voice of anonymous letters. If the author of
those received by Boleslas is there, I shall be in the best position to
discover him; provided that it is not Alba.... Decidedly--that would be
sad!”

It was ten o’clock in the evening, when the young man, faithful to his
programme, arrived at the door of the large house on the Rue du Vingt
Septembre occupied by Madame Steno. It was an immense modern structure,
divided into two distinct parts; to the left a revenue building and
to the right a house on the order of those which are to be seen on the
borders of Park Monceau. The Villa Steno, as the inscription in gold
upon the black marble door indicated, told the entire story of the
Countess’s fortune--that fortune appraised by rumor, with its habitual
exaggeration, now at twenty, now at thirty, millions. She had in reality
two hundred and fifty thousand francs’ income. But as, in 1873, Count
Michel Steno, her husband, died, leaving only debts, a partly ruined
palace at Venice and much property heavily mortgaged, the amount of that
income proved the truth of the title, “superior woman,” applied by her
friends to Alba’s mother. Her friends likewise added: “She has been the
mistress of Hafner, who has aided her with his financial advice,” an
atrocious slander which was so much the more false as it was before ever
knowing the Baron that she had begun to amass her wealth. This is how
she managed it:

At the close of 1873, when, as a young widow, living in retirement in
the sumptuous and ruined dwelling on the Grand Canal, she was struggling
with her creditors, one of the largest bankers in Rome came to propose
to her a very advantageous scheme. It dealt with a large piece of land
which belonged to the Steno estate, a piece of land in Rome, in one
of the suburbs, between the Porta Salara and the Porta Pia, a sort of
village which the deceased Cardinal Steno, Count Michel’s uncle, had
begun to lay out. After his demise, the land had been rented in lots to
kitchen-gardeners, and it was estimated that it was worth about forty
centimes a square metre. The financier offered four francs for it, under
the pretext of establishing a factory on the site. It was a large sum
of money. The Countess required twenty-four hours in which to consider,
and, at the end of that time, she refused the offer, which won for her
the admiration of the men of business who knew of the refusal. In 1882,
less than ten years later, she sold the same land for ninety francs
a metre. She saw, on glancing at a plan of Rome, and in recalling the
history of modern Italy, first, that the new masters of the Eternal City
would centre all their ambition in rebuilding it, then that the portion
comprised between the Quirinal and the two gates of Salara and Pia would
be one of the principal points of development; finally, that if she
waited she would obtain a much greater sum than the first offer. And
she had waited, applying herself to watching the administration of her
possessions like the severest of intendants, depriving herself, stopping
up gaps with unhoped-for profits. In 1875, she sold to the National
Gallery a suite of four panels by Carpaccio, found in one of her country
houses, for one hundred and twenty thousand francs. She had been as
active and practical in her material life as she had been light and
audacious in her sentimental experiences. The story circulated of
her infidelity to Steno with Werekiew at St. Petersburg, where the
diplomatist was stationed, after one year of marriage, was confirmed
by the wantonness of her conduct, of which she gave evidence as soon as
free.

At Rome, where she lived a portion of the year after the sale of her
land, out of which she retained enough to build the double house, she
continued to increase her fortune with the same intelligence. A very
advantageous investment in Acqua Marcia enabled her to double in five
years the enormous profits of her first operation. And what proved still
more the exceptional good sense with which the woman was endowed, when
love was not in the balance, she stopped on those two gains, just at
the time when the Roman aristocracy, possessed by the delirium of
speculation, had begun to buy stocks which had reached their highest
value.

To spend the evening at the Villa Steno, after spending all the morning
of the day before at the Palais Castagna, was to realize one of those
paradoxes of contradictory sensations such as Dorsenne loved, for poor
Ardea had been ruined in having attempted to do a few years later that
which Countess Catherine had done at the proper moment. He, too, had
hoped for an increase in the value of property. Only he had bought the
land at seventy francs a metre, and in ‘90 it was not worth more than
twenty-five. He, too, had calculated that Rome would improve, and on
the high-priced land he had begun to build entire streets, imagining he
could become like the Dukes of Bedford and of Westminster in London,
the owner of whole districts. His houses finished, they did not rent,
however. To complete the rest he had to borrow. He speculated in order
to pay his debts, lost, and contracted more debts in order to pay the
difference. His signature, as the proprietor of the Marzocco had said,
was put to innumerable bills of exchange. The result was that on all the
walls of Rome, including that of the Rue Vingt Septembre on which was
the Villa Steno, were posted multi-colored placards announcing the sale,
under the management of Cavalier Fossati, of the collection of art and
of furniture of the Palais Castagna.

“To foresee is to possess power,” said Dorsenne to himself, ringing at
Madame Steno’s door and summing up thus the invincible association of
ideas which recalled to him the palace of the ruined Roman Prince at the
door of the villa of the triumphant Venetian: “It is the real Alpha and
Omega.”

The comparison between the lot of Madame Steno and that of the heir of
the Castagnas had almost caused the writer to forget his plan of inquiry
as to the author of the anonymous letters. It was to be impressed upon
him, however, when he entered the hall where the Countess received every
evening. Ardea himself was there, the centre of a group composed of
Alba Steno, Madame Maitland, Fanny Hafner and the wealthy Baron, who,
standing aloof and erect, leaning against a console, seemed like a
beneficent and venerable man in the act of blessing youth. Julien was
not surprised on finding so few persons in the vast salon, any more than
he was surprised at the aspect of the room filled with old tapestry,
bric-a-brac, furniture, flowers, and divans with innumerable cushions.

He had had the entire winter in which to observe the interior of that
house, similar to hundreds of others in Vienna, Madrid, Florence,
Berlin, anywhere, indeed, where the mistress of the house applies
herself to realizing an ideal of Parisian luxury. He had amused himself
many an evening in separating from the almost international framework
local features, those which distinguished the room from others of the
same kind. No human being succeeds in being absolutely factitious in his
home or in his writings. The author had thus noted that the salon bore a
date, that of the Countess’s last journey to Paris in 1880. It was to
be seen in the plush and silk of the curtains. The general coloring,
in which green predominated, a liberty egotistical in so brilliant a
blonde, had too warm a tone and betrayed the Italian. Italy was also to
be found in the painted ceiling and in the frieze which ran all around,
as well as in several paintings scattered about. There were two panels
by Moretti de Brescia in the second style of the master, called his
silvery manner, on account of the delicate and transparent fluidity of
the coloring; a ‘Souper chez le Pharisien’ and a ‘Jesus ressuscite sur
le rivage’, which could only have come from one of the very old palaces
of a very ancient family. Dorsenne knew all that, and he knew, too, for
what reasons he found almost empty at that time of the year the hall so
animated during the entire winter, the hall through which he had seen
pass a veritable carnival of visitors: great lords, artists, political
men, Russians and Austrians, English and French--pellmell. The
Countess was far from occupying in Rome the social position which her
intelligence, her fortune and her name should have assured her. For,
having been born a Navagero, she combined on her escutcheon the cross of
gold of the Sebastien Navagero who was the first to mount the walls of
Lepante, with the star of the grand Doge Michel.

But one particular trait of character had always prevented her from
succeeding on that point. She could not bear ennui nor constraint, nor
had she any vanity. She was positive and impassioned, in the manner of
the men of wealth to whom their meditated--upon combinations serve
to assure the conditions of their pleasures. Never had Madame Steno
displayed diplomacy in the changes of her passions, and they had been
numerous before the arrival of Gorka, to whom she had remained faithful
two years, an almost incomprehensible thing! Never had she, save in her
own home, observed the slightest bounds when there was a question of
reaching the object of her desire. Moreover, she had not in Rome to
support her any member of the family to which she belonged, and she had
not joined either of the two sets into which, since 1870, the society of
the city was divided. Of too modern a mind and of a manner too bold, she
had not been received by the admirable woman who reigns at the Quirinal,
and who had managed to gather around her an atmosphere of such noble
elevation.

These causes would have brought about a sort of semi-ostracism, had the
Countess not applied herself to forming a salon of her own, the recruits
for which were almost altogether foreigners. The sight of new faces,
the variety of conversation, the freedom of manner, all in that moving
world, pleased the thirst for diversion which, in that puissant,
spontaneous, and almost manly immoral nature, was joined with very just
clear-sightedness. If Julien paused for a moment surprised at the door
of the hall, it was not, therefore, on finding it empty at the end of
the season; it was on beholding there, among the inmates, Peppino Ardea,
whom he had not met all winter. Truly, it was a strange time to appear
in new scenes when the hammer of the appraiser was already raised above
all which had been the pride and the splendor of his name. But the
grand-nephew of Urban VII, seated between sublime Fanny Hafner, in pale
blue, and pretty Alba Steno, in bright red, opposite Madame Maitland,
so graceful in her mauve toilette, had in no manner the air of a man
crushed by adversity.

The subdued light revealed his proud manly face, which had lost none
of its gay hauteur. His eyes, very black, very brilliant, and very
unsteady, seemed almost in the same glance to scorn and to smile, while
his mouth, beneath its brown moustache, wore an expression of disdain,
disgust, and sensuality. The shaven chin displayed a bluish shade, which
gave to the whole face a look of strength, belied by the slender and
nervous form. The heir of the Castagnas was dressed with an affectation
of the English style, peculiar to certain Italians. He wore too many
rings on his fingers, too large a bouquet in his buttonhole, and above
all he made too many gestures to allow for a moment, with his dark
complexion, of any doubt as to his nationality. It was he who, of all
the group, first perceived Julien, and he said to him, or rather called
out familiarly:

“Ah, Dorsenne! I thought you had gone away. We have not seen you at the
club for fifteen days.”

“He has been working,” replied Hafner, “at some new masterpiece, at a
romance which is laid in Roman society, I am sure. Mistrust him, Prince,
and you, ladies, disarm the portrayer.”

“I,” resumed Ardea, laughing pleasantly, “will give him notes upon
myself, if he wants them, as long as this, and I will illustrate his
romance into the bargain with photographs which I once had a rage for
taking.... See, Mademoiselle,” he added, turning to Fanny, “that is how
one ruins one’s self. I had a mania for the instantaneous ones. It was
very innocent, was it not? It cost me thirty thousand francs a year, for
four years.”

Dorsenne had heard that it was a watchword between Peppino Ardea and his
friends to take lightly the disaster which came upon the Castagna family
in its last and only scion. He was not expecting such a greeting. He was
so disconcerted by it that he neglected to reply to the Baron’s remark,
as he would have done at any other time. Never did the founder of the
‘Credit Austyr-Dalmate’ fail to manifest in some such way his profound
aversion for the novelist. Men of his species, profoundly cynical and
calculating, fear and scorn at the same time a certain literature.
Moreover, he had too much tact not to be aware of the instinctive
repulsion with which he inspired Julien. But to Hafner, all social
strength was tariffed, and literary success as much as any other. As he
was afraid, as on the staircase of the Palais Castagna, that he had
gone too far, he added, laying his hand with its long, supple fingers
familiarly upon the author’s shoulder:

“This is what I admire in him: It is that he allows profane persons,
such as we are, to plague him, without ever growing angry. He is the
only celebrated author who is so simple.... But he is better than an
author; he is a veritable man-of-the-world.”

“Is not the Countess here?” asked Dorsenne, addressing Alba Steno, and
without replying any more to the action, so involuntarily insulting,
of the Baron than he had to his sly malice or to the Prince’s
facetious offer. Madame Steno’s absence had again inspired him with an
apprehension which the young girl dissipated by replying:

“My mother is on the terrace.... We were afraid it was too cool for
Fanny.”.... It was a very simple phrase, which the Contessina uttered
very simply, as she fanned herself with a large fan of white feathers.
Each wave of it stirred the meshes of her fair hair, which she wore
curled upon her rather high forehead. Julien understood her too well not
to perceive that her voice, her gestures, her eyes, her entire being,
betrayed a nervousness at that moment almost upon the verge of sadness.

Was she still reserved from the day before, or was she a prey to one
of those inexplicable transactions, which had led Dorsenne in his
meditations of the night to such strange suspicions? Those suspicions
returned to him with the feeling that, of all the persons present, Alba
was the only one who seemed to be aware of the drama which undoubtedly
was brewing. He resolved to seek once more for the solution of the
living enigma which that singular girl was. How lovely she appeared to
him that evening with, those two expressions which gave her an almost
tragical look! The corners of her mouth drooped somewhat; her upper lip,
almost too short, disclosed her teeth, and in the lower part of her pale
face was a bitterness so prematurely sad! Why? It was not the time to
ask the question. First of all, it was necessary for the young man to go
in search of Madame Steno on the terrace, which terminated in a paradise
of Italian voluptuousness, the salon furnished in imitation of Paris.
Shrubs blossomed in large terra-cotta vases. Statuettes were to be
seen on the balustrade, and, beyond, the pines of the Villa Bonaparte
outlined their black umbrellas against a sky of blue velvet, strewn with
large stars. A vague aroma of acacias, from a garden near by, floated
in the air, which was light, caressing, and warm. The soft atmosphere
sufficed to convict of falsehood the Contessina, who had evidently
wished to justify the tete-a-tete of her mother and of Maitland. The two
lovers were indeed together in the perfume, the mystery and the solitude
of the obscure and quiet terrace.

It took Dorsenne, who came from the bright glare of the salon, a moment
to distinguish in the darkness the features of the Countess who, dressed
all in white, was lying upon a willow couch with soft cushions of silk.
She was smoking a cigarette, the lighted end of which, at each breath
she drew, gave sufficient light to show that, notwithstanding the
coolness of the night, her lovely neck, so long and flexible, about
which was clasped a collar of pearls, was bare, as well as her fair
shoulders and her perfect arms, laden with bracelets, which were visible
through her wide, flowing sleeves. On advancing, Julien recognized,
through the vegetable odors of that spring night, the strong scent of
the Virginian tobacco which Madame Steno had used since she had fallen
in love with Maitland, instead of the Russian “papyrus” to which Gorka
had accustomed her. It is by such insignificant traits that amorous
women recognize a love profoundly, insatiably sensual, the only one
of which the Venetian was capable. Their passionate desire to give
themselves up still more leads them to espouse, so to speak, the
slightest habits of the men whom they love in that way. Thus are
explained those metamorphoses of tastes, of thoughts, even of
appearance, so complete, that in six months, in three months of
separation they become like different people. By the side of that
graceful and supple vision, Lincoln Maitland was seated on a low
chair. But his broad shoulders, which his evening coat set off in their
amplitude, attested that before having studied “Art”--and even while
studying it--he had not ceased to practise the athletic sports of his
English education. As soon as he was mentioned, the term “large” was
evoked. Indeed, above the large frame was a large face, somewhat red,
with a large, red moustache, which disclosed, in broad smiles, his
large, strong teeth.

Large rings glistened on his large fingers. He presented a type exactly
opposite to that of Boleslas Gorka. If the grandson of the Polish
Castellan recalled the dangerous finesse of a feline, of a slender and
beautiful panther, Maitland could be compared to one of those mastiffs
in the legends, with a jaw and muscles strong enough to strangle lions.
The painter in him was only in the eye and in the hand, in consequence
of a gift as physical as the voice to a tenor. But that instinct, almost
abnormal, had been developed, cultivated to excess, by the energy of
will in refinement, a trait so marked in the Anglo-Saxons of the New
World when they like Europe, instead of detesting it. For the time
being, the longing for refinement seemed reduced to the passionate
inhalations of that divine, fair rose of love which was Madame Steno,
a rose almost too full-blown, and which the autumn of forty years had
begun to fade. But she was still charming. And how little Maitland
heeded the fact that his wife was in the room near by, the windows of
which cast forth a light which caused to stand out more prominently the
shadow of the voluptuous terrace! He held his mistress’s hand within his
own, but abandoned it when he perceived Dorsenne, who took particular
pains to move a chair noisily on approaching the couple, and to say, in
a loud voice, with a merry laugh:

“I should have made a poor gallant abbe of the last century, for at
night I can really see nothing. If your cigarette had not served me as a
beacon-light I should have run against the balustrade.”

“Ah, it is you, Dorsenne,” replied Madame Steno, with a sharpness
contrary to her habitual amiability, which proved to the novelist that
first of all he was the “inconvenient third” of the classical comedies,
then that Hafner had reported his imprudent remarks of the day before.

“So much the better,” thought he, “I shall have forewarned her. On
reflection she will be pleased. It is true that at this moment there is
no question of reflection.” As he said those words to himself, he talked
aloud of the temperature of the day, of the probabilities of the weather
for the morrow, of Ardea’s good-humor. He made, indeed, twenty trifling
remarks, in order to manage to leave the terrace and to leave the
lovers to their tete-a-tete, without causing his withdrawal to become
noticeable by indiscreet haste, as disagreeable as suggestive.

“When may we come to your atelier to see the portrait finished,
Maitland?” he asked, still standing, in order the better to manage his
retreat.

“Finished?” exclaimed the Countess, who added, employing a diminutive
which she had used for several weeks: “Do you then not know that Linco
has again effaced the head?”

“Not the entire head,” said the painter, “but the face is to be
done over. You remember, Dorsenne, those two canvases by Pier delta
Francesca, which are at Florence, Duc Federigo d’Urbino and his wife
Battista Sforza. Did you not see them in the same room with La Calomnie
by Botticelli, with a landscape in the background? It is drawn like
this,” and he made a gesture with his thumb, “and that is what I am
trying to obtain, the necessary curve on which all faces depend. There
is no better painter in Italy.”

“And Titian and Raphael?” interrupted Madame Steno.

“And the Sienese and the Lorenzetti, of whom you once raved? You
wrote to me of them, with regard to my article on your exposition of
‘eighty-six; do you remember?” inquired the writer.

“Raphael?” replied Maitland.... “Do you wish me to tell you what Raphael
really was? A sublime builder. And Titian? A sublime upholsterer. It
is true, I admired the Sienese very much,” he added, turning toward
Dorsenne. “I spent three months in copying the Simone Martini of the
municipality, the Guido Riccio, who rides between two strongholds on
a gray heath, where there is not a sign of a tree or a house, but only
lances and towers. Do I remember Lorenzetti? Above all, the fresco at
San Francesco, in which Saint Francois presents his order to the Pope,
that was his best work.... Then, there is a cardinal, with his fingers
on his lips, thus!” another gesture. “Well, I remember it, you see,
because there is an anecdote. It is portrayed on a wall--oh, a grand
portrayal, but without the subject, flutt!”.... and he made a
hissing sound with his lips, “while Pier della Francesca, Carnevale,
Melozzo,”.... he paused to find a word which would express the very
complicated thought in his head, and he concluded: “That is painting.”

“But the Assumption by Titian, and the Transfiguration by Raphael,”
 resumed the Countess, who added in Italian, with an accent of
enthusiasm: “Ah, the bellezza!”

“Do not worry, Countess,” said Dorsenne, laughing heartily, “those are
an artist’s opinions. Ten years ago, I said that Victor Hugo was an
amateur and Alfred de Musset a bourgeois. But,” he added, “as I am not
descended from the Doges nor the Pilgrim Fathers, I, a poor, degenerate
Gallo-Roman, fear the dampness on account of my rheumatism, and ask your
permission to reenter the house.” Then, as he passed through the door
of the salon: “Raphael, a builder! Titian, an upholsterer! Lorenzetti,
a reproducer!” he repeated to himself. “And the descendant of the Doges,
who listened seriously to those speeches, her ideal should be a madonna
en chromo! Of the first order! As for Gorka, if he had not made me lose
my entire day yesterday, I should think I had been dreaming, so little
is there any question of him.... And Ardea, who continues to laugh at
his ruin. He is not bad for an Italian. But he talks too much about his
affairs, and it is in bad taste!”.... Indeed, as he turned toward the
group assembled in a corner of the salon, he heard the Prince relating
a story about Cavalier Fossati, to whom was entrusted the charge of the
sale:

“How much do you think will be realized on all?” I asked him, finally.
“Oh,” he replied, “very little.... But a little and a little more end
by making a great deal. With what an air he added: ‘E gia il moschino e
conte’--Already the gnat is a count.’ The gnat was himself. ‘A few more
sales like yours, my Prince, and my son, the Count of Fossati, will have
half a million. He will enter the club and address you with the familiar
‘thou’ when playing ‘goffo’ against you. That is what there is in this
gia (already).... On my honor, I have not been happier than since I
have, not a sou.”

“You are an optimist, Prince,” said Hafner, “and whatsoever our friend
Dorsenne here present may claim, it is necessary to be optimistic.”

“You are attacking him again, father,” interrupted Fanny, in a tone of
respectful reproach.

“Not the man,” returned the Baron, “but his ideas--yes, and above all
those of his school.... Yes, yes,” he continued, either wishing to
change the conversation, which Ardea persisted in turning upon his ruin,
or finding very well organized a world in which strokes like that of the
Credit Austro-Dalmate are possible, he really felt a deep aversion to
the melancholy and pessimism with which Julien’s works were tinged. And
he continued: “On listening to you, Ardea, just now, and on seeing this
great writer enter, I am reminded by contrast of the fashion now in
vogue of seeing life in a gloomy light.”

“Do you find it very gay?” asked Alba, brusquely.

“Good,” said Hafner; “I was sure that, in talking against pessimism, I
should make the Contessina talk.... Very gay?” he continued. “No. But
when I think of the misfortunes which might have come to all of us here,
for instance, I find it very tolerable. Better than living in another
epoch, for example. One hundred and fifty years ago, Contessina, in
Venice, you would have been liable to arrest any day under a warrant of
the Council of Ten.... And you, Dorsenne, would have been exposed to the
cudgel like Monsieur de Voltaire, by some jealous lord.... And Prince
d’Ardea would have run the risk of being assassinated or beheaded at
each change of Pope. And I, in my quality of Protestant, should have
been driven from France, persecuted in Austria, molested in Italy,
burned in Spain.”

As can be seen, he took care to choose between his two inheritances. He
had done so with an enigmatical good-nature which was almost ironical.
He paused, in order not to mention what might have come to Madame
Maitland before the suppression of slavery. He knew that the very pretty
and elegant young lady shared the prejudices of her American compatriots
against negro blood, and that she made every effort to hide the blemish
upon her birth to the point of never removing her gloves. It may,
however, in justice be added, that the slightly olive tinge in her
complexion, her wavy hair, and a vague bluish reflection in the whites
of her eyes would scarcely have betrayed the mixture of race. She did
not seem to have heeded the Baron’s pause, but she arranged, with an
absent air, the folds of her mauve gown, while Dorsenne replied: “It
is a fine and specious argument.... Its only fault is that it has no
foundation. For I defy you to imagine yourself what you would have been
in the epoch of which you speak. We say frequently, ‘If I had lived a
hundred years ago.’ We forget that a hundred years ago we should not
have been the same; that we should not have had the same ideas, the same
tastes, nor the same requirements. It is almost the same as imagining
that you could think like a bird or a serpent.”

“One could very well imagine what it would be never to have been born,”
 interrupted. Alba Steno.

She uttered the sentence in so peculiar a manner that the discussion
begun by Hafner was nipped in the bud.

The words produced their effect upon the chatter of the idlers who only
partly believed in the ideas they put forth. Although there is always a
paradox in condemning life amid a scene of luxury when one is not more
than twenty, the Contessina was evidently sincere. Whence came that
sincerity? From what corner of her youthful heart, wounded almost to
death? Dorsenne was the only person who asked himself the question, for
the conversation turned at once, Lydia Maitland having touched with
her fan the sleeve of Alba, who was two seats from her, to ask her this
question with an irony as charming, after the young girl’s words, as it
was involuntary:

“It is silk muslin, is it not?”

“Yes,” replied the Contessina, who rose and leaned over, to offer to
the curious gaze of her pretty neighbor her arm, which gleamed frail,
nervous, and softly fair through the transparent red material, with a
bow of ribbon of the same color tied at her slender shoulder and her
graceful wrist, while Ardea, by the side of Fanny, could be heard saying
to the daughter of Baron Justus, more beautiful than ever that evening,
in her pallor slightly tinged with pink by some secret agitation:

“You visited my palace yesterday, Mademoiselle?”

“No,” she replied.

“Ask her why not, Prince,” said Hafner.

“Father!” cried Fanny, with a supplication in her black eyes which Ardea
had the delicacy to obey, as he resumed:

“It is a pity. Everything there is very ordinary. But you would have
been interested in the chapel. Indeed, I regret that the most, those
objects before which my ancestors have prayed so long and which end by
being listed in a catalogue.... They even took the reliquary from me,
because it was by Ugolina da Siena. I will buy it back as soon as I can.
Your father applauds my courage. I could not part from those objects
without real sorrow.”

“But it is the feeling she has for the entire palace,” said the Baron.

“Father!” again implored Fanny.

“Come, compose yourself, I will not betray you,” said Hafner, while
Alba, taking advantage of having risen, left the group. She walked
toward a table at the other extremity of the room, set in the style
of an English table, with tea and iced drinks, saying to Julien, who
followed her:

“Shall I prepare your brandy and soda, Dorsenne?”

“What ails you, Contessina?” asked the young man, in a whisper, when
they were alone near the plateau of crystal and the collection of
silver, which gleamed so brightly in the dimly lighted part of the room.

“Yes,” he persisted, “what ails you? Are you still vexed with me?”

“With you?” said she. “I have never been. Why should I be?” she
repeated. “You have done nothing to me.”

“Some one has wounded you?” asked Julien.

He saw that she was sincere, and that she scarcely remembered the
ill-humor of the preceding day. “You can not deceive a friend such as I
am,” he continued. “On seeing you fan yourself, I knew that you had some
annoyance. I know you so well.”

“I have no annoyance,” she replied, with an impatient frown. “I can not
bear to hear lies of a certain kind. That is all!”

“And who has lied?” resumed Dorsenne.

“Did you not hear Ardea speak of his chapel just now, he who believes in
God as little as Hafner, of whom no one knows whether he is a Jew or a
Gentile!... Did you not see poor Fanny look at him the while? And
did you not remark with what tact the Baron made the allusion to the
delicacy which had prevented his daughter from visiting the Palais
Castagna with us? And did that comedy enacted between the two men give
you no food for thought?”

“Is that why Peppino is here?” asked Julien. “Is there a plan on foot
for the marriage of the heiress of Papa Hafner’s millions and the
grand-nephew of Pope Urban VII? That will furnish me with a fine subject
of conversation with some one of my acquaintance!”.... And the mere
thought of Montfanon learning such news caused him to laugh heartily,
while he continued, “Do not look at me so indignantly, dear Contessina.
But I see nothing so sad in the story. Fanny to marry Peppino? Why not?
You yourself have told me that she is partly Catholic, and that her
father is only awaiting her marriage to have her baptized. She will be
happy then. Ardea will keep the magnificent palace we saw yesterday, and
the Baron will crown his career in giving to a man ruined on the Bourse,
in the form of a dowry, that which he has taken from others.”

“Be silent,” said the young girl, in a very grave voice, “you inspire
me with horror. That Ardea should have lost all scruples, and that he
should wish to sell his title of a Roman prince at as high a price as
possible, to no matter what bidder, is so much the more a matter of
indifference, for we Venetians do not allow ourselves to be imposed upon
by the Roman nobility. We all had Doges in our families when the fathers
of these people were bandits in the country, waiting for some poor monk
of their name to become Pope. That Baron Hafner sells his daughter as he
once sold her jewels is also a matter of indifference to me. But you
do not know her. You do not know what a creature, charming and
enthusiastic, simple and sincere, she is, and who will never, never
mistrust that, first of all, her father is a thief, and, then, that he
is selling her like a trinket in order to have grand-children who shall
be at the same time grandnephews of the Pope, and, finally, that Peppino
does not love her, that he wants her dowry, and that he will have for
her as little feeling as they have for her.” She glanced at Madame
Maitland. “It is worse than I can tell you,” she said, enigmatically, as
if vexed by her own words, and almost frightened by them.

“Yes,” said Julien, “it would be very sad; but are you sure that you do
not exaggerate the situation? There is not so much calculation in life.
It is more mediocre and more facile. Perhaps the Prince and the Baron
have a vague project.”

“A vague project?” interrupted Alba, shrugging her shoulders. “There is
never anything vague with a Hafner, you may depend. What if I were to
tell you that I am positive--do you hear--positive that it is he who
holds between his fingers the largest part of the Prince’s debts, and
that he caused the sale by Ancona to obtain the bargain?”

“It is impossible!” exclaimed Dorsenne. “You saw him yourself yesterday
thinking of buying this and that object.”

“Do not make me say any more,” said Alba, passing over her brow and
her eyes two or three times her hand, upon which no ring sparkled--that
hand, very supple and white, whose movements betrayed extreme
nervousness. “I have already said too much. It is not my business, and
poor Fanny is only to me a recent friend, although I think her very
attractive and affectionate.... When I think that she is on the point of
pledging herself for life, and that there is no one, that there can be
no one, to cry: They lie to you! I am filled with compassion. That is
all. It is childish!”

It is always painful to observe in a young person the exact perception
of the sinister dealings of life, which, once entered into the mind,
never allows of the carelessness so natural at the age of twenty.

The impression of premature disenchantment Alba Steno had many times
given to Dorsenne, and it had indeed been the principal attraction to
the curious observer of the feminine character, who still was struck by
the terrible absence of illusion which such a view of the projects of
Fanny’s father revealed. Whence did she know them? Evidently from Madame
Steno herself. Either the Baron and the Countess had talked of them
before the young girl too openly to leave her in any doubt, or she
had divined what they did not tell her, through their conversation. On
seeing her thus, with her bitter mouth, her bright eyes, so visibly a
prey to the fever of suppressed loathing, Dorsenne again was impressed
by the thought of her perfect perspicacity. It was probable that she had
applied the same force of thought to her mother’s conduct. It seemed
to him that on raising, as she was doing, the wick of the silver lamp
beneath the large teakettle, that she was glancing sidewise at the
terrace, where the end of the Countess’s white robe could be seen
through the shadow. Suddenly the mad thoughts which had so greatly
agitated him on the previous day possessed him again, and the plan he
had formed of imitating his model, Hamlet, in playing in Madame Steno’s
salon the role of the Danish prince before his uncle occurred to him.
Absently, with his customary air of indifference, he continued:

“Rest assured, Ardea does not lack enemies. Hafner, too, has plenty of
them. Some one will be found to denounce their plot, if there is a plot,
to lovely Fanny. An anonymous letter is so quickly written.”

He had no sooner uttered those words than he interrupted himself with
the start of a man who handles a weapon which he thinks unloaded and
which suddenly discharges.

It was, really, to discharge a duty in the face of his own scepticism
that he had spoken thus, and he did not expect to see another shade of
sadness flit across Alba’s mobile and proud face.

There was in the corners of her mouth more disgust, her eyes expressed
more scorn, while her hands, busy preparing the tea, trembled as she
said, with an accent so agitated that her friend regretted his cruel
plan:

“Ah! Do not speak of it! It would be still worse than her present
ignorance. At least, now she knows nothing, and if some miserable person
were to do as you say she would know in part without being sure.... How
could you smile at such a supposition?... No! Poor, gentle Fanny! I hope
she will receive no anonymous letters. They are so cowardly and make so
much trouble!”

“I ask your pardon if I have wounded you,” replied Dorsenne. He had
touched, he felt it, a tender spot in that heart, and perceived with
grief that not only had Alba Steno not written the anonymous letters
addressed to Gorka, but that, on the contrary, she had received some
herself. From whom? Who was the mysterious denunciator who had warned
in that abominable manner the daughter of Madame Steno after the lover?
Julien shuddered as he continued: “If I smiled, it was because I believe
Mademoiselle Hafner, in case the misfortune should come to her, sensible
enough to treat such advice as it merits. An anonymous letter does not
deserve to be read. Any one infamous enough to make use of weapons of
that sort does not deserve that one should do him the honor even to
glance at what he has written.”

“Is it not so?” said the girl. There was in her eyes, the pupils of
which suddenly dilated, a gleam of genuine gratitude which convinced her
companion that he had seen correctly. He had uttered just the words
of which she had need. In the face of that proof, he was suddenly
overwhelmed by an access of shame and of pity--of shame, because in his
thoughts he had insulted the unhappy girl--of pity, because she had to
suffer a blow so cruel, if, indeed, her mother had been exposed to her.
It must have been on the preceding afternoon or that very morning that
she had received the horrible letter, for, during the visit to the
Palais Castagna, she had been, by turns, gay and quiet, but so childish,
while on that particular evening it was no longer the child who
suffered, but the woman. Dorsenne resumed:

“You see, we writers are exposed to those abominations. A book which
succeeds, a piece which pleases, an article which is extolled, calls
forth from the envious unsigned letters which wound us or those whom we
love. In such cases, I repeat, I burn them unread, and if ever in your
life such come to you, listen to me, little Countess, and follow the
advice of your friend, Dorsenne, for he is your friend; you know it, do
you not, your true friend?”

“Why should I receive anonymous letters?” asked the girl, quickly. “I
have neither fame, beauty, nor wealth, and am not to be envied.”

As Dorsenne looked at her, regretting that he had said so much, she
forced her sad lips to smile, and added: “If you are really my friend,
instead of making me lose time by your advice, of which I shall probably
never have need, for I shall never become a great authoress, help me
to serve the tea, will you? It should be ready.” And with her slender
fingers she raised the lid of the kettle, saying: “Go and ask Madame
Maitland if she will take some tea this evening, and Fanny, too....
Ardea takes whiskey and the Baron mineral water.... You can ring for
his glass of vichy.... There.... You have delayed me.... There are more
callers and nothing is ready.... Ah,” she cried, “it is Maud!”--then,
with surprise, “and her husband!”

Indeed, the folding doors of the hall opened to admit Maud Gorka, a
robust British beauty, radiant with happiness, attired in a gown of
black crepe de Chine with orange ribbons, which set off to advantage
her fresh color. Behind her came Boleslas. But he was no longer the
traveller who, thirty-six hours before, had arrived at the Place de la
Trinite-des-Monts, mad with anxiety, wild with jealousy, soiled by the
dust of travel, his hair disordered, his hands and face dirty. It
was, though somewhat thinner, the elegant Gorka whom Dorsenne had
known--tall, slender, and perfumed, in full dress, a bouquet in his
buttonhole, his lips smiling. To the novelist, knowing what he knew,
the smile and the composure had something in them more terrible than the
frenzy of the day before. He comprehended it by the manner in which the
Pole gave him his hand. One night and a day of reflection had undermined
his work, and if Boleslas had enacted the comedy to the point of lulling
his wife’s suspicions and of deciding on the visit of that evening, it
was because he had resolved not to consult any one and to lead his own
inquiry. He was succeeding in the beginning; he had certainly perceived
Madame Steno’s white gown upon the terrace, while radiant Maud explained
his unexpected return with her usual ingenuousness.

“This is what comes of sending to a doting father accounts of our boy’s
health.... I wrote him the other day that Luc had a little fever. He
wrote to ask about its progress. I did not receive his letter. He became
uneasy, and here he is.”

“I will tell mamma,” said Alba, passing out upon the terrace, but her
haste seemed too slow to Dorsenne. He had such a presentiment of danger
that he did not think of smiling, as he would have done on any other
occasion, at the absolute success of the deception which he and Boleslas
had planned on the preceding day, and of which the Count had said, with
a fatuity now proven: “Maud will be so happy to see me that she will
believe all.”

It was a scene both simple and tragical--of that order in which in
society the most horrible incidents occur without a sound, without a
gesture, amid phrases of conventionality and in a festal framework!
Two of the spectators, at least, besides Julien, understood its
importance-Ardea and Hafner. For neither the one nor the other had
failed to notice the relations between Madame Steno and Maitland, much
less her position with regard to Gorka. The writer, the grand seigneur,
and the business man had, notwithstanding the differences of age and of
position, a large experience of analogous circumstances.

They knew of what presence of mind a courageous woman was capable, when
surprised, as was the Venetian. All these have declared since that they
had never imagined more admirable self-possession, a composure more
superbly audacious, than that displayed by Madame Steno, at that
decisive moment. She appeared on the threshold of the French window,
surprised and delighted, just in the measure she conformably should be.
Her fair complexion, which the slightest emotion tinged with carmine,
was bewitchingly pink. Not a quiver of her long lashes veiled her deep
blue eyes, which gleamed brightly. With her smile, which exhibited her
lovely teeth, the color of the large pearls which were twined about
her neck, with the emeralds in her fair hair, with her fine shoulders
displayed by the slope of her white corsage, with her delicate waist,
with the splendor of her arms from which she had removed the gloves
to yield them to the caresses of Maitland, and which gleamed with more
emeralds, with her carriage marked by a certain haughtiness, she was
truly a woman of another age, the sister of those radiant princesses
whom the painters of Venice evoke beneath the marble porticoes, among
apostles and martyrs. She advanced to Maud Gorka, whom she embraced
affectionately, then, pressing Boleslas’s hand, she said in a voice so
warm, in which at times there were deep tones, softened by the habitual
use of the caressing dialect of the lagoon:

“What a surprise! And you could not come to dine with us? Well, sit
down, both of you, and relate to me the Odyssey of the traveller,” and,
turning toward Maitland, who had followed her into the salon with the
insolent composure of a giant and of a lover:

“Be kind, my little Linco, and fetch me my fan and my gloves, which I
left on the couch.”

At that moment Dorsenne, who had only one fear, that of meeting Gorka’s
eyes--he could not have borne their glance--was again by the side of
Alba Steno. The young girl’s face, just now so troubled, was radiant. It
seemed as if a great weight had been lifted from the pretty Contessina’s
mind.

“Poor child,” thought the writer, “she would not think her mother could
be so calm were she guilty. The Countess’s manner is the reply to the
anonymous letter. Have they written all to her? My God! Who can it be?”

And he fell into a deep revery, interrupted only by the hum of the
conversation, in which he did not participate. It would have satisfied
him had he observed, instead of meditated, that the truth with regard to
the author of the anonymous letters might have become clear to him, as
clear as the courage of Madame Steno in meeting danger--as the blind
confidence of Madame Gorka--as the disdainful imperturbability of
Maitland before his rival and the suppressed rage of that rival--as
the finesse of Hafner in sustaining the general conversation--as the
assiduous attentions of Ardea to Fanny--as the emotion of the latter--as
clear as Alba’s sense of relief. All those faces, on Boleslas’s
entrance, had expressed different feelings. Only one had, for several
minutes, expressed the joy of crime and the avidity of ultimately
satisfied hatred. But as it was that of little Madame Maitland,
the silent creature, considered so constantly by him as stupid and
insignificant, Dorsenne had not paid more attention to it than had the
other witnesses the surprising reappearance of the betrayed lover.

Every country has a metaphor to express the idea that there is no
worse water than that which is stagnant. Still waters run deep, say the
English, and the Italians, Still waters ruin bridges.

These adages would not be accurate if one did not forget them in
practise, and the professional analyst of the feminine heart had
entirely forgotten them on that evening.



CHAPTER V. COUNTESS STENO

A woman less courageous than the Countess, less capable of looking a
situation in the face and of advancing to it, such an evening would
have marked the prelude to one of those nights of insomnia when the mind
exhausts in advance all the agonies of probable danger. Countess Steno
did not know what weakness and fear were.

A creature of energy and of action, who felt herself to be above all
danger, she attached no meaning to the word uneasiness. So she slept,
on the night which followed that soiree, a sleep as profound, as
refreshing, as if Gorka had never returned with vengeance in his heart,
with threats in his eyes. Toward ten o’clock the following morning,
she was in the tiny salon, or rather, the office adjoining her bedroom,
examining several accounts brought by one of her men of business. Rising
at seven o’clock, according to her custom, she had taken the cold bath
in which, in summer as well as winter, she daily quickened her blood.
She had breakfasted, ‘a l’anglaise’, following the rule to which she
claimed to owe the preservation of her digestion, upon eggs, cold meat,
and tea. She had made her complicated toilette, had visited her daughter
to ascertain how she had slept, had written five letters, for her
cosmopolitan salon compelled her to carry on an immense correspondence,
which radiated between Cairo and New York, St. Petersburg and Bombay,
taking in Munich, London, and Madeira, and she was as faithful in
friendship as she was inconstant in love. Her large handwriting, so
elegant in its composition, had covered pages and pages before she said:
“I have a rendezvous at eleven o’clock with Maitland. Ardea will be here
at ten to talk of his marriage. I have accounts from Finoli to examine.
I hope that Gorka will not come, too, this morning.”.... Persons in whom
the feeling of love is very complete, but very physical, are thus.
They give themselves and take themselves back altogether. The Countess
experienced no more pity than fear in thinking of her betrayed lover.
She had determined to say to him, “I no longer love you,” frankly,
openly, and to offer him his choice between a final rupture or a firm
friendship.

The only annoyance depended upon the word of explanation, which she
desired to see postponed until afternoon, when she would be free, an
annoyance which, however, did not prevent her from examining with her
usual accuracy the additions and multiplications of her intendant, who
stood near her with a face such as Bonifagio gave to his Pharisees. He
managed the seven hundred hectares of Piove, near Padua, Madame Steno’s
favorite estate. She had increased the revenue from it tenfold, by the
draining of a sterile and often malignant lagoon, which, situated a
metre below the water-level, had proved of surprising fertility; and
she calculated the probable operations for weeks in advance with
the detailed and precise knowledge of rural cultivation which is the
characteristic of the Italian aristocracy and the permanent cause of its
vitality.

“Then you estimate the gain from the silkworms at about fifty kilos of
cocoons to an ounce?”

“Yes, Excellency,” replied the intendant.

“One hundred ounces of yellow; one hundred times fifty makes five
thousand,” resumed the Countess. “At four francs fifty?”

“Perhaps five, Excellency,” said the intendant.

“Let us say twenty-two thousand five hundred,” said the Countess,
“and as much for the Japanese.... That will bring us in our outlay for
building.”

“Yes, Excellency. And about the wine?”

“I am of the opinion, after what you have told me of the vineyard, that
you should sell as quickly as possible to Kauffmann’s agent all that
remains of the last crop, but not at less than six francs. You know it
is necessary that our casks be emptied and cleaned after the month of
August.... If we were to fail this time, for the first year that we
manufacture our wine with the new machine, it would be too bad.”

“Yes, Excellency. And the horses?”

“I think that is an opportunity we should not let escape. My advice is
that you take the express to Florence to-day at two o’clock. You will
reach Verona to-morrow morning. You will conclude the bargain. The
horses will be sent to Piove the same evening....

“We have finished just in time,” she continued, arranging the
intendant’s papers. She put them herself in their envelope, which she
gave him. She had an extremely delicate sense of hearing, and she
knew that the door of the antechamber opened. It seemed that the
administrator took away in his portfolio all the preoccupation of this
extraordinary woman. For, after concluding that dry conversation, or
rather that monologue, she had her clearest and brightest smile with
which to receive the new arrival, who was, fortunately, Prince d’Ardea.
She said to the servant:

“I wish to speak with the Prince. If any one asks for me, do not admit
him and do not send any one hither. Bring me the card.” Then, turning
toward the young man, “Well, Simpaticone,” it was the nickname she gave
him, “how did you finish your evening?”

“You would not believe me,” replied Peppino Ardea, laughing; “I, who
no longer have anything, not even my bed. I went to the club and I
played.... For the first time in my life I won.”

He was so gay in relating his childish prank, he jested so merrily about
his ruin, that the Countess looked at him in surprise, as he had looked
at her on entering.... We understand ourselves so little, and we know
so little about our own singularities of character, that each one was
surprised at finding the other so calm. Ardea could not comprehend that
Madame Steno should not be at least uneasy about Gorka’s return and
the consequences which might result therefrom. She, on the other hand,
admired the strange youth who, in his misfortune, could find such
joviality at his command. He had evidently expended as much care upon
his toilette as if he had not to take some immediate steps to assure
his future, and his waistcoat, the color of his shirt, his cravat, his
yellow shoes, the flower in his buttonhole, all united to make of him an
amiable and incorrigibly frivolous dandy. She felt the need which strong
characters have in the presence of weak ones; that of acting for the
youth, of aiding him in spite of himself, and she attacked at once the
question of marriage with Fanny Hafner. With her usual common-sense, and
with her instinct of arranging everything, Madame Steno perceived in the
union so many advantages for every one that she was in haste to conclude
it as quickly as if it involved a personal affair.

The marriage was earnestly desired by the Baron, who had spoken of it to
her for months. It suited Fanny, who would be converted to Catholicism
with the consent of her father. It suited the Prince, who at one stroke
would be freed from his embarrassment. Finally, it suited the name of
Castagna. Although Peppino was its only representative at that time,
and as, by an old family tradition, he bore a title different from the
patronymic title of Pope Urban VII, the sale of the celebrated palace
had called forth a scandal to which it was essential to put an end. The
Countess had forgotten that she had assisted, without a protestation, in
that sale. Had she not known through Hafner that he had bought at a low
price an enormous heap of the Prince’s bills of exchange? Did she not
know the Baron well enough to be sure that M. Noe Ancona, the implacable
creditor who sold the palace, was only the catspaw of this terrible
friend? In a fit of ill-humor at the Baron, had she not herself accused
him in Alba’s presence of this very simple plan, to bring Ardea to a
final catastrophe in order to offer him salvation in the form of
the union with Fanny, and to execute at the same time an excellent
operation? For, once freed from the mortgages which burdened them, the
Prince’s lands and buildings would regain their true value, and the
imprudent speculator would find himself again as rich, perhaps richer.

“Come,” said Madame Steno to the Prince, after a moment’s silence and
without any preamble, “it is now time to talk business. You dined by the
side of my little friend yesterday; you had the entire evening in which
to study her. Answer me frankly, would she not make the prettiest little
Roman princess who could kneel in her wedding-gown at the tomb of
the apostles? Can you not see her in her white gown, under her veil,
alighting at the staircase of Saint Peter’s from the carriage with the
superb horses which her father has given her? Close your eyes and see
her in your thoughts. Would she not be pretty? Would she not?”

“Very pretty,” replied Ardea, smiling at the tempting vision Madame
Steno had conjured up, “but she is not fair. And you know, to me, a
woman who is not fair--ah, Countess! What a pity that in Venice, five
years ago, on a certain evening--do you remember?”

“How much like you that is!” interrupted she, laughing her deep, clear
laugh. “You came to see me this morning to talk to me of a marriage,
unhoped for with your reputation of gamester, of supper-giver, of
‘mauvais sujet’; of a marriage which fulfils conditions most improbable,
so perfect are they--beauty, youth, intelligence, fortune, and even, if
I have read my little friend aright, the beginning of an interest, of a
very deep interest. And, for a little, you would make a declaration to
me. Come, come!” and she extended to him for a kiss her beautiful hand,
on which gleamed large emeralds. “You are forgiven. But answer--yes or
no. Shall I make the proposal? If it is yes, I will go to the Palace
Savorelli at two o’clock. I will speak to my friend Hafner. He will
speak to his daughter, and it will not depend upon me if you have not
their reply this evening or to-morrow morning. Is it yes? Is it no?”

“This evening? To-morrow?” exclaimed the Prince, shaking his head with
a most comical gesture. “I can not decide like that. It is an ambush! I
come to talk, to consult you.”

“And on what?” asked Madame Steno, with a vivacity almost impatient.
“Can I tell you anything you do not already know? In twenty-four hours,
in forty-eight, in six months, what difference will there be, I pray
you? We must look at things as they are, however. To-morrow, the day
after, the following days, will you be less embarrassed?”

“No,” said the Prince, “but--”

“There is no but,” she resumed, allowing him to say no more than she had
allowed her intendant. The despotism natural to puissant personalities
scorned to be disguised in her, when there were practical decisions in
which she was to take part. “The only serious objection you made to me
when I spoke to you of this marriage six months ago was that Fanny
was not a Catholic. I know today that she has only to be asked to be
converted. So do not let us speak of that.”

“No,” said the Prince, “but--”

“As for Hafner,” continued the Countess, “you will say he is my friend
and that I am partial, but that partiality even is an opinion. He is
precisely the father-in-law you need. Do not shake your head. He will
repair all that needs repairing in your fortune. You have been robbed,
my poor Peppino. You told me so yourself.... Become the Baron’s
son-in-law, and you will have news of your robbers. I know.... There
is the Baron’s origin and the suit of ten years ago with all the
‘pettogolezzi’ to which it gave rise. All that has not the common
meaning. The Baron began life in a small way. He was from a family
of Jewish origin--you see, I do not deceive you--but converted two
generations back, so that the story of his change of religion since his
stay in Italy is a calumny, like the rest. He had a suit in which he was
acquitted. You would not require more than the law, would you?”

“No, but--”

“For what are you waiting, then?” concluded Madame Steno. “That it may
be too late? How about your lands?”

“Ah! let me breathe, let me fan myself,” said Ardea, who, indeed, took
one of the Countess’s fans from the desk. “I, who have never known in
the morning what I would do in the evening, I, who have always lived
according to my pleasure, you ask me to take in five minutes the
resolution to bind myself forever!”

“I ask you to decide what you wish to do,” returned the Countess. “It is
very amusing to travel at one’s pleasure. But when it is a question of
arranging one’s life, this childishness is too absurd. I know of only
one way: to see one’s aim and to march directly to it. Yours is very
clear--to get out of this dilemma. The way is not less clear; it is
marriage with a girl who has five millions dowry. Yes or no, will you
have her?... Ah,” said she, suddenly interrupting herself, “I shall
not have a moment to myself this morning, and I have an appointment at
eleven o’clock!”.... She looked at the timepiece on her table, which
indicated twenty-five minutes past ten. She had heard the door open.
The footman was already before her and presented to her a card upon a
salver. She took the card, looked at it, frowned, glanced again at the
clock, seemed to hesitate, then: “Let him wait in the small salon,
and say that I will be there immediately,” said she, and turning again
toward Ardea: “You think you have escaped. You have not. I do not give
you permission to go before I return. I shall return in fifteen minutes.
Would you like some newspapers? There are some. Books? There are some.
Tobacco? This box is filled with cigars.... In a quarter of an hour I
shall be here and I will have your reply. I wish it, do you hear? I wish
it”.... And on the threshold with another smile, using that time a term
of patois common in Northern Italy and which is only a corruption of
‘schiavo’ or servant: ‘Ciao Simpaticone.’

“What a woman!” said Peppino Ardea, when the door was closed upon the
Countess. “Yes, what a pity that five years ago in Venice I was not
free! Who knows? If I had dared, when she took me to my hotel in her
gondola. She was about to leave San Giobbe. She had not yet accepted
Boleslas. She would have advised--have directed me. I should have
speculated on the Bourse, as she did, with Hafner’s counsel. But not in
the quality of son-in-law. I should not have been obliged to marry. And
she would not now have such bad tobacco.”.... He was on the point of
lighting one of the Virginian cigarettes, a present from Maitland. He
threw it away, making a grimace with his air of a spoiled child, at the
risk of scorching the rug which lay upon the marble floor; and he passed
into the antechamber in order to fetch his own case in the pocket of the
light overcoat he had prudently taken on coming out after eight o’clock.

As he lighted one of the cigarettes in that case, filled with so-called
Egyptian tobacco, mixed with opium and saltpetre, which he preferred to
the tobacco of the American, he mechanically glanced at the card which
the servant had left on going from the room-the card of the unknown
visitor for whom Madame Steno had left him.

Ardea read upon it, with astonishment, these words:

Count Boleslas Gorka.

“She is better than I thought her,” said he, on reentering the deserted
office. “She had no need to bid me not to go. I think I should wait to
see her return from that conversation.”

It was indeed Boleslas whom the Countess found in the salon, which she
had chosen as the room the most convenient for the stormy explanation
she anticipated. It was isolated at the end of the hall, and was like
a pendant to the terrace. It formed, with the dining-room, the entire
ground-floor, or, rather, the entresol of the house. Madame Steno’s
apartments, as well as the other small salon in which Peppino was, were
on the first floor, together with the rooms set apart for the Contessina
and her German governess, Fraulein Weber, for the time being on a
journey.

The Countess had not been mistaken. At the first glance exchanged on the
preceding day with Gorka, she had divined that he knew all. She would
have suspected it, nevertheless, since Hafner had told her the few words
indiscreetly uttered by Dorsenne on the clandestine return of the
Pole to Rome. She had not at that time been mistaken in Boleslas’s
intentions, and she had no sooner looked in his face than she felt
herself to be in peril. When a man has been the lover of a woman as
that man had been hers, with the vibrating communion of a voluptuousness
unbroken for two years, that woman maintains a sort of physiological,
quasi-animal instinct. A gesture, the accent of a word, a sigh, a
blush, a pallor, are signs for her that her intuition interprets with
infallible certainty. How and why is that instinct accompanied by
absolute oblivion of former caresses? It is a particular case of that
insoluble and melancholy problem of the birth and death of love. Madame
Steno had no taste for reflection of that order. Like all vigorous and
simple creatures, she acknowledged and accepted it. As on the previous
day, she became aware that the presence of her former lover no longer
touched in her being the chord which had rendered her so weak to him
during twenty-five months, so indulgent to his slightest caprices. It
left her as cold as the marble of the bas-relief by Mino da Fiesole
fitted into the wall just above the high chair upon which he leaned.

Boleslas, notwithstanding the paroxysm of lucid fury which he suffered
at that moment, and which rendered him capable of the worst violence,
had on his part a knowledge of the complete insensibility in which his
presence left her. He had seen her so often, in the course of their long
liaison, arrive at their morning rendezvous at that hour, in similar
toilettes, so fresh, so supple, so youthful in her maturity, so eager
for kisses, tender and ardent. She had now in her blue eyes, in her
smile, in her entire person, some thing at once so gracious and so
inaccessible, which gives to an abandoned lover the mad longing to
strike, to murder, a woman who smiles at him with such a smile. At the
same time she was so beautiful in the morning light, subdued by the
lowered blinds, that she inspired him with an equal desire to clasp her
in his arms whether she would or no. He had recognized, when she entered
the room, the aroma of a preparation which she had used in her bath, and
that trifle alone had aroused his passion far more than when the servant
told him Madame Steno was engaged, and he wondered whether she was
not alone with Maitland. Those impassioned, but suppressed, feelings
trembled in the accent of the very simple phrase with which he greeted
her. At certain moments, words are nothing; it is the tone in which they
are uttered. And to the Countess that of the young man was terrible.

“I am disturbing you?” he asked, bowing and barely touching with the
tips of his fingers the hand she had extended to him on entering.
“Excuse me, I thought you alone. Will you be pleased to name another
time for the conversation which I take the liberty of demanding?”

“No, no,” she replied, not permitting him to finish his sentence. “I was
with Peppino Ardea, who will await me,” said she, gently. “Moreover,
you know I am in all things for the immediate. When one has something to
say, it should be said, one, two, three?... First, there is not much to
say, and then it is better said.... There is nothing that will sooner
render difficult easy explanations and embroil the best of friends than
delay and maintaining silence.”

“I am very happy to find you in such a mind,” replied Boleslas, with
a sarcasm which distorted his handsome face into a smile of atrocious
hatred. The good-nature displayed by her cut him to the heart, and he
continued, already less self-possessed: “It is indeed an explanation
which I think I have the right to ask of you, and which I have come to
claim.”

“To claim, my dear?” said the Countess, looking him fixedly in the face
without lowering her proud eyes, in which those imperative words had
kindled a flame.

If she had been admirable the preceding evening in facing as she had
done the return of her discarded lover, on coming direct from the
tete-a-tete with her new one, perhaps, at that moment, she was doubly
so, when she did not have her group of intimate friends to support her.
She was not sure that the madman who confronted her was not armed, and
she believed him perfectly capable of killing her, while she could not
defend herself. But a part had to be played sooner or later, and she
played it without flinching. She had not spoken an untruth in saying
to Peppino Ardea: “I know only one way: to see one’s aim and to march
directly to it.” She wanted a definitive rupture with Boleslas. Why
should she hesitate as to the means?

She was silent, seeking for words. He continued:

“Will you permit me to go back three months, although that is, it seems,
a long space of time for a woman’s memory? I do not know whether you
recall our last meeting? Pardon, I meant to say the last but one, since
we met last night. Do you concede that the manner in which we parted
then did not presage the manner in which we met?”

“I concede it,” said the Countess, with a gleam of angry pride in her
eyes, “although I do not very much like your style of expression. It is
the second time you have addressed me as an accuser, and if you assume
that attitude it will be useless to continue.”

“Catherine!”.... That cry of the young man, whose anger was increasing,
decided her whom he thus addressed to precipitate the issue of a
conversation in which each reply was to be a fresh burst of rancor.

“Well?” she inquired, crossing her arms in a manner so imperious that
he paused in his menace, and she continued: “Listen, Boleslas, we have
talked ten minutes without saying anything, because neither of us has
the courage to put the question such as we know and feel it to be.
Instead of writing to me, as you did, letters which rendered replies
impossible to me; instead of returning to Rome and hiding yourself
like a malefactor; instead of coming to my home last night with that
threatening face; instead of approaching me this morning with the
solemnity of a judge, why did you not question me simply, frankly, as
one who knows that I have loved him very, very much?... Having been
lovers, is that a reason for detesting each other when we cease those
relations?”

“‘When we cease those relations!’” replied Gorka. “So you no longer
love me? Ah, I knew it; I guessed it after the first week of that fatal
absence! But to think that you should tell it to me some day like that,
in that calm voice which is a horrible blasphemy for our entire
past. No, I do not believe it. I do not yet believe it. Ah, it is too
infamous.”

“Why?” interrupted the Countess, raising her head with still more
haughtiness.... “There is only one thing infamous in love, and that is
a falsehood. Ah, I know it. You men are not accustomed to meeting true
women, who have the respect, the religion of their sentiment. I have
that respect; I practise that religion. I repeat that I loved you a
great deal, Boleslas. I did not hide it from you formerly. I was as
loyal to you as truth itself. I have the consciousness of being so
still, in offering you, as I do, a firm friendship, the friendship
of man for man, who only asks to prove to you the sincerity of his
devotion.”

“I, a friendship with you, I--I--I?” exclaimed Boleslas. “Have I had
enough patience in listening to you as I have listened? I heard you lie
to me and scented the lie in the same breath. Why do you not ask me as
well to form a friendship for him with whom you have replaced me? Ah,
so you think I am blind, and you fancy I did not see that Maitland
near you, and that I did not know at the first glance what part he was
playing in your life? You did not think I might have good reasons for
returning as I did? You did not know that one does not dally with one
whom one loves as I love you?... It is not true.... You have not been
loyal to me, since you took this man for a lover while you were still my
mistress. You had not the right, no, no, no, you had not the right!...
And what a man!... If it had been Ardea, Dorsenne, no matter whom,
that I might not blush for you.... But that brute, that idiot, who has
nothing in his favor, neither good looks, birth, elegance, mind nor
talent, for he has none--he has nothing but his neck and shoulders of a
bull.... It is as if you had deceived me with a lackey.... No..... it is
too terrible.... Ah, Catherine, swear to me that it is not true. Tell me
that you no longer love me, I will submit, I will go away, I will accept
all, provided that you swear to me you do not love that man--swear,
swear!”... he added, grasping her hands with such violence that she
uttered a slight exclamation, and, disengaging herself, said to him:

“Cease; you pain me. You are mad, Gorka; that can be your sole
excuse.... I have nothing to swear to you. What I feel, what I think,
what I do no longer concerns you after what I have told you.... Believe
what it pleases you to believe.... But,” and the irritation of an
enamored woman, wounded in the man she adores, possessed her, “you shall
not speak twice of one of my friends as you have just spoken. You
have deeply offended me, and I will not pardon you. In place of
the friendship I offered you so honestly, we will have no further
connections excepting those of society. That is what you desired.... Try
not to render them impossible to yourself. Be correct at least in form.
Remember you have a wife, I have a daughter, and that we owe it to
them to spare them the knowledge of this unhappy rupture.... God is my
witness, I wished to have it otherwise.”

“My wife! Your daughter!” cried Boleslas with bitterness. “This is
indeed the hour to remember them and to put them between you and my just
vengeance! They never troubled you formerly, the two poor creatures,
when you began to win my love?... It was convenient for you that
they should be friends! And I lent myself to it!... I accepted
such baseness--that to-day you might take shelter behind the two
innocents!... No, it shall not be.... you shall not escape me thus.
Since it is the only point on which I can strike you, I will strike
you there. I hold you by that means, do you hear, and I will keep you.
Either you dismiss that man, or I will no longer respect anything. My
wife shall know all! Her! So much the better! For some time I have been
stifled by my lies.... Your daughter, too, shall know all. She shall
judge you now as she would judge you one day.”

As he spoke he advanced to her with a manner so cruel that she recoiled.
A few more moments and the man would have carried out his threat. He
was about to strike her, to break objects around him, to call forth
a terrible scandal. She had the presence of mind of an audacity more
courageous still. An electric bell was near at hand. She pressed it,
while Gorka said to her, with a scornful laugh, “That was the only
affront left you to offer me--to summon your servants to defend you.”

“You are mistaken,” she replied. “I am not afraid. I repeat you are mad,
and I simply wish to prove it to you by recalling you to the reality
of your situation.... Bid Mademoiselle Alba come down,” said she to the
footman whom her ring had summoned. That phrase was the drop of cold
water which suddenly broke the furious jet of vapor. She had found the
only means of putting an end to the terrible scene. For, notwithstanding
his menace, she knew that Maud’s husband always recoiled before the
young girl, the friend of his wife, of whose delicacy and sensibility he
was aware.

Gorka was capable of the most dangerous and most cruel deeds, in an
excess of passion augmented by vanity.

He had in him a chivalrous element which would paralyze his frenzy
before Alba. As for the immorality of that combination of defence
which involved her daughter in her rupture with a vindictive lover, the
Countess did not think of that. She often said: “She is my comrade, she
is my friend.”.... And she thought so. To lean upon her in that critical
moment was only natural to her. In the tempest of indignation which
shook Gorka, the sudden appeal to innocent Alba appeared to him the last
degree of cynicism. During the short space of time which elapsed between
the departure of the footman and the arrival of the young girl, he only
uttered these words, repeating them as he paced the floor, while his
former mistress defied him with her bold gaze:

“I scorn you, I scorn you; ah, how I scorn you!” Then, when he heard the
door open: “We will resume our conversation, Madame.”

“When you wish,” replied Countess Steno, and to her daughter, who
entered, she said: “You know the carriage is to come at ten minutes to
eleven, and it is now the quarter. Are you ready?”

“You can see,” replied the young girl, displaying her pearl-gray gloves,
which she was just buttoning, while on her head a large hat of black
tulle made a dark and transparent aureole around her fair head. Her
delicate bust was displayed to advantage in the corsage Maitland had
chosen for her portrait, a sort of cuirass of a dark-blue material,
finished at the neck and wrists with bands of velvet of a darker shade.
The fine lines of cuffs and a collar gave to that pure face a grace of
youth younger than her age.

She had evidently come at her mother’s call, with the haste and the
smile of that age. Then, to see Gorka’s expression and the feverish
brilliance of the Countess’s eyes had given her what she called, in an
odd but very appropriate way, the sensation of “a needle in the heart,”
 of a sharp, fine point, which entered her breast to the left. She had
slept a sleep so profound, after the soiree of the day before, on which
she had thought she perceived in her mother’s attitude between the
Polish count and the American painter a proof of certain innocence.

She admired her mother so much, she thought her so intelligent, so
beautiful, so good, that to doubt her was a thought not to be borne!
There were times when she doubted her. A terrible conversation about the
Countess, overheard in a ballroom, a conversation between two men, who
did not know Alba to be behind them, had formed the principal part of
the doubt, which, by turns, had increased and diminished, which had
abandoned and tortured her, according to the signs, as little decisive
as Madame Steno’s tranquillity of the preceding day or her confusion
that morning. It was only an impression, very rapid, instantaneous, the
prick of a needle, which merely leaves after it a drop of blood, and yet
she had a smile with which to say to Boleslas:

“How did Maud rest? How is she this morning? And my little friend Luc?”

“They are very well,” replied Gorka. The last stage of his fury,
suddenly arrested by the presence of the young girl, was manifested,
but only to the Countess, by the simple phrase to which his eyes and his
voice lent an extreme bitterness: “I found them as I left them.... Ah!
They love me dearly.... I leave you to Peppino, Countess,” added
he, walking toward the door. “Mademoiselle, I will bear your love to
Maud.”....He had regained all the courtesy which a long line of savage
‘grands seigneurs’, but ‘grands seigneurs’ nevertheless, had instilled
in him. If his bow to Madame Steno was very ceremonious, he put a
special grace in the low bow with which he took leave of the Contessina.
It was merely a trifle, but the Countess was keen enough to perceive it.
She was touched by it, she whom despair, fury, and threats had found
so impassive. For an instant she was vaguely humiliated by the success
which she had gained over the man whom she would, voluntarily, five
minutes before, have had cast out of doors by her servants. She was
silent, oblivious even of her daughter’s presence, until the latter
recalled her to herself by saying:

“Shall I put on my veil and fetch my parasol?”

“You can join me in the office, whither I am going to talk with Ardea,”
 replied her mother; adding, “I shall perhaps have some news to tell you
in the carriage which will give you pleasure!”.... She had again
her bright smile, and she did not mistrust while she resumed her
conversation with Peppino that poor Alba, on reentering her chamber,
wiped from her pale cheeks two large tears, and that she opened, to
re-read it, the infamous anonymous letter received the day before. She
knew by heart all the perfidious phrases. Must it not have been that the
mind which had composed them was blinded by vengeance to such a degree
that it had no scruples about laying before the innocent child a
denunciation which ran thus:

   “A true friend of Mademoiselle Steno warns her that she is
   compromised, more than a marriageable young girl should be, in
   playing, with regard to M. Maitland the role she has already played
   with regard to M. Goyka. There are conditions of blindness so
   voluntary that they become complicity.”

Those words, enigmatical to any one else, but to the Contessina horribly
clear, had been, like the letters of which Boleslas had told Dorsenne,
cut from a journal and pasted on a sheet of paper. How had Alba trembled
on reading that note for the first time, with an emotion increased
by the horror of feeling hovering over her and her mother a hatred
so relentless! Later in the day how much had the words exchanged with
Dorsenne comforted her, and how reassured had she been by the Countess’s
imperturbability on the entrance of Boleslas Gorka! Fragile peace, which
had vanished when she saw her mother and the husband of her best friend
face to face, with traces in their eyes, in their gestures, upon their
countenances, of an angry scene! The thought “Why were they thus!
What had they said?” again occurred to her to sadden her. Suddenly she
crushed in her hand with violence the anonymous letter, which gave a
concrete form to her sorrow and her suspicion, and, lighting a taper,
she held it to the paper, which the flames soon reduced to ashes. She
ran her fingers through the debris until there was very little left, and
then, opening the window, she cast it to the winds.

She looked at her glove after doing this--her glove, a few moments
before, of so delicate a gray, now stained by the smoky dust. It was
symbolical of the stain which the letter, even when destroyed, had left
upon her mind. The gloves, too, inspired her with horror. She hastily
drew them off, and, when she descended to rejoin Madame Steno, it was
not any more possible to perceive on those hands, freshly gloved, the
traces of that tragical childishness, than it was possible to discern,
beneath the large veil which she had tied over her hat, the traces of
tears. She found the mother for whom she was suffering so much, wearing,
too, a large sun-hat, but a white one with a white veil, beneath which
could be seen her fair hair, her sparkling blue eyes and pink-and-white
complexion; her form was enveloped in a gown of a material and cut more
youthful than her daughter’s, while, radiant with delight, she said to
Peppino Ardea:

“Well, I congratulate you on having made up your mind. The step shall be
taken to-day, and you will be grateful to me all your life!”

“Yet,” replied the young man, “I understand myself. I shall regret my
decision all the afternoon. It is true,” he added, philosophically,
“that I should regret it just as much if I had not made it.”

“You have guessed that we were talking of Fanny’s marriage,” said Madame
Steno to her daughter several minutes later, when they were seated side
by side, like two sisters, in the victoria which was bearing them toward
Maitland’s studio.

“Then,” asked the Contessina, “you think it will be arranged?”

“It is arranged,” gayly replied Madame Steno. “I am commissioned to make
the proposition.... How happy all three will be!... Hafner has aimed at
it this long time! I remember how, in 1880, after his suit, he came to
see me in Venice--you and Fanny played on the balcony of the palace--he
questioned me about the Quirinal, the Vatican and society.... Then he
concluded, pointing to his daughter, ‘I shall make a Roman princess of
the little one!”

The ‘dogaresse’ was so delighted at the thought of the success of her
negotiations, so delighted, too, to go, as she was going, to Maitland’s
studio, behind her two English cobs, which trotted so briskly, that she
did not see on the sidewalk Boleslas Gorka, who watched her pass.

Alba was so troubled by that fresh proof of her mother’s lack of
conscience that she did not notice Maud’s husband either. Baron Hafner’s
and Prince d’Ardea’s manner toward Fanny had inspired her the day before
with a dolorous analogy between the atmosphere of falsehood in which
that poor girl lived and the atmosphere in which she at times thought
she herself lived. That analogy again possessed her, and she again felt
the “needle in the heart” as she recalled what she had heard before from
the Countess of the intrigue by which Baron Justus Hafner had, indeed,
ensnared his future son-in-law. She was overcome by infinite sadness,
and she lapsed into one of her usual silent moods, while the Countess
related to her Peppino’s indecision. What cared she for Boleslas’s anger
at that moment? What could he do to her? Gorka was fully aware of her
utter carelessness of the scene which had taken place between them, as
soon as he saw the victoria pass. For some time he remained standing,
watching the large white and black hats disappear down the Rue du Vingt
Septembre.

This thought took possession of him at once. Madame Steno and her
daughter were going to Maitland’s atelier.... He had no sooner conceived
that bitter suspicion than he felt the necessity of proving it at once.
He entered a passing cab, just as Ardea, having left the Villa, Steno
after him, sauntered up, saying:

“Where are you going? May I go with you that we may have a few moments’
conversation?”

“Impossible,” replied Gorka. “I have a very urgent appointment, but in
an hour I shall perhaps have occasion to ask a service of you. Where
shall I find you?”

“At home,” said Peppino, “lunching.”

“Very well,” replied Boleslas, and, raising himself, he whispered in the
cabman’s ear, in a voice too low for his friend to hear what he said:
“Ten francs for you if in five minutes you drive me to the corner of the
Rue Napoleon III and the Place de la Victor-Emmanuel.”

The man gathered up his reins, and, by some sleight-of-hand, the jaded
horse which drew the botte was suddenly transformed into a fine Roman
steed, the botte itself into a light carriage as swift as the Tuscan
carrozzelle, and the whole disappeared in a cross street, while Peppino
said to himself:

“There is a fine fellow who would do so much better to remain with his
friend Ardea than to go whither he is going. This affair will end in a
duel. If I had not to liquidate that folly,” and he pointed out with
the end of his cane a placard relative to the sale of his own palace,
“I would amuse myself by taking Caterina from both of them. But those
little amusements must wait until after my marriage.”

As we have seen, the cunning Prince had not been mistaken as to the
course taken by the cab Gorka had hailed. It was indeed into the
neighborhood of the atelier occupied by Maitland that the discarded
lover hastened, but not to the atelier. The madman wished to prove to
himself that the exhibition of his despair had availed him nothing, and
that, scarcely rid of him, Madame Steno had repaired to the other. What
would it avail him to know it and what would the evidence prove? Had
the Countess concealed those sittings--those convenient sittings--as
the jealous lover had told Dorsenne? The very thought of them caused the
blood to flow in his veins much more feverishly than did the thoughts of
the other meetings. For those he could still doubt, notwithstanding
the anonymous letters, notwithstanding the tete-a-tete on the terrace,
notwithstanding the insolent “Linco,” whom she had addressed thus before
him, while of the long intimacies of the studio he was certain. They
maddened him, and, at the same time, by that strange contradiction which
is characteristic of all jealousy, he hungered and thirsted to prove
them.

He alighted from his cab at the corner he had named to his cabman,
and from which point he could watch the Rue Leopardi, in which was his
rival’s house. It was a large structure in the Moorish style, built by
the celebrated Spanish artist, Juan Santigosa, who had been obliged to
sell all five years before--house, studio, horses, completed paintings,
sketches begun--in order to pay immense losses at gaming. Florent
Chapron had at the time bought the sort of counterfeit Alhambra, a
portion of which he rented to his brother-in-law. During the few moments
that he stood at the corner, Boleslas Gorka recalled having visited that
house the previous year, while taking, in the company of Madame Steno,
Alba, Maud, and Hafner, one of those walks of which fashionable women
are so fond in Rome as well as in Paris. An irrational instinct had
rendered the painter and his paintings antipathetic to him at their
first meeting. Had he had sufficient cause? Suddenly, on leaning forward
in such a manner as to see without being seen, he perceived a victoria
which entered the Rue Leopardi, and in that victoria the black hat of
Mademoiselle Steno and the light one of her mother. In two minutes more
the elegant carriage drew up at the Moorish structure, which gleamed
among the other buildings in that street, for the most part unfinished,
with a sort of insolent, sumptuousness.

The two ladies alighted and disappeared through the door, which closed
upon them, while the coachman started up his horses at the pace of
animals which are returning to their stable. He checked them that they
might not become overheated, and the fine cobs trembled impatiently in
their harnesses. Evidently the Countess and Alba were in the studio for
a long sitting. What had Boleslas learned that he did not already know?
Was he not ridiculous, standing upon the sidewalk of the square in the
centre of which rose the ruin of an antique reservoir, called, for a
reason more than doubtful, the trophy of Marius. With one glance the
young man took in this scene--the empty victoria turning in the opposite
direction, the large square, the ruin, the row of high houses, his cab.
He appeared to himself so absurd for being there to spy out that of
which he was only too sure, that he burst into a nervous laugh and
reentered his cab, giving his own address to the cabman: Palazzetto
Doria, Place de Venise. The cab that time started off leisurely, for
the man comprehended that the mad desire to arrive hastily no longer
possessed his fare. By a sudden metamorphosis, the swift Roman steed
became a common nag, and the vehicle a heavy machine which rumbled along
the streets. Boleslas yielded to depression, the inevitable reaction
of an excess of violence such as he had just experienced. His composure
could not last. The studio, in which was Madame Steno, began to take a
clear form in the jealous lover’s mind in proportion as he drove farther
from it. In his thoughts he saw his former mistress walking about in the
framework of tapestry, armor, studies begun, as he had frequently seen
her walking in his smoking-room, with the smile upon her lips of an
amorous woman, touching the objects among which her lover lives. He
saw impassive Alba, who served as chaperon in the new intrigue of her
mother’s with the same naivete she had formerly employed in shielding
their liaison. He saw Maitland with his indifferent glance of the day
before, the glance of a preferred lover, so sure of his triumph that he
did not even feel jealous of the former lover.

The absolute tranquillity of one who replaces us in an unfaithful
mistress’s affections augments our fury still more if we have the
misfortune to be placed in a position similar to Gorka’s. In a moment
his rival’s evocation became to him impossible to bear. He was very near
his own home, for he was just at that admirable square encumbered with
the debris of basilica, the Forum of Trajan, which the statue of St.
Peter at the summit of the column overlooks. Around the base of the
sculptured marble, legends attest the triumph of the humble Galilean
fisherman who landed at the port of the Tiber 1800 years ago, unknown,
persecuted, a beggar. What a symbol and what counsel to say with the
apostle: “Whither shall we go, Lord? Thou alone hast the words of
eternal life!”

But Gorka was neither a Montfanon nor a Dorsenne to hear within his
heart or his mind the echo of such precepts. He was a man of passion and
of action, who only saw his passion and his actions in the position
in which fortune threw him. A fresh access of fury recalled to him
Maitland’s attitude of the preceding day. This time he would no longer
control himself. He violently pulled the surprised coachman’s sleeve,
and called out to him the address of the Rue Leopardi in so imperative
a tone that the horse began again to trot as he had done before, and the
cab to go quickly through the labyrinth of streets. A wave of tragical
desire rolled into the young man’s heart. No, he would not bear that
affront. He was too bitterly wounded in the most sensitive chords of his
being, in his love as well as his pride. Both struggled within him, and
another instinct as well, urging him to the mad step he was about to
take. The ancient blood of the Palatines, with regard to which Dorsenne
always jested, boiled in his veins. If the Poles have furnished many
heroes for dramas and modern romances, they have remained, through their
faults, so dearly atoned for, the race the most chivalrously, the most
madly brave in Europe. When men of so intemperate and so complex an
excitability are touched to a certain depth, they think of a duel as
naturally as the descendants of a line of suicides think of killing
themselves.

Joyous Ardea, with his Italian keenness, had seen at a glance the end to
which Gorka’s nature would lead him. The betrayed lover required a duel
to enable him to bear the treason. He might wound, he might, perhaps,
kill his rival, and his passion would be satisfied, or else he would
risk being killed himself, and the courage he would display braving
death would suffice to raise him in his own estimation. A mad thought
possessed him and caused him to hasten toward the Rue Leopardi, to
provoke his rival suddenly and before Madame Steno! Ah, what pleasure it
would give him to see her tremble, for she surely would tremble when
she saw him enter the studio! But he would be correct, as she had so
insolently asked him to be. He would go, so to speak, to see Alba’s
portrait. He would dissemble, then he would be better able to find
a pretext for an argument. It is so easy to find one in the simplest
conversation, and from an argument a quarrel is soon born. He would
speak in such a manner that Maitland would have to answer him. The rest
would follow. But would Alba Steno be present? Ha, so much the better!
He would be so much more at ease, if the altercation arose before her,
to deceive his own wife as to the veritable reason of the duel. Ah,
he would have his dispute at any price, and from the moment that the
seconds had exchanged visits the American’s fate would be decided. He
knew how to render it impossible for the fellow to remain longer
in Rome. The young man was greatly wrought up by the romance of the
provocation and the duel.

“How it refreshes the blood to be avenged upon two fools,” said he
to himself, descending from his cab and inquiring at the door of the
Moorish house.

“Monsieur Maitland?” he asked the footman, who at one blow dissipated
his excitement by replying with this simple phrase, the only one of
which he had not thought in his frenzy:

“Monsieur is not at home.”

“He will be at home to me,” replied Boleslas. “I have an appointment
with Madame and Mademoiselle Steno, who are awaiting me.”

“Monsieur’s orders are strict,” replied the servant.

Accustomed, as are all servants entrusted with the defence of an
artist’s work, to a certain rigor of orders, he yet hesitated, in the
face of the untruth which Gorka had invented on the spur of the moment,
and he was about to yield to his importunity when some one appeared on
the staircase of the hall. That some one was none other than Florent
Chapron. Chance decreed that the latter should send for a carriage in
which to go to lunch, and that the carriage should be late. At the sound
of wheels stopping at the door, he looked out of one of the windows
of his apartment, which faced the street. He saw Gorka alight. Such a
visit, at such an hour, with the persons who were in the atelier, seemed
to him so dangerous that he ran downstairs immediately. He took up
his hat and his cane, to justify his presence in the hall by the very
natural excuse that he was going out. He reached the middle of the
staircase just in time to stop the servant, who had decided to “go and
see,” and, bowing to Boleslas with more formality than usual:

“My brother-in-law is not there, Monsieur,” said he; and he added,
turning to the footman, in order to dispose of him in case an
altercation should arise between the importunate visitor and himself,
“Nero, fetch me a handkerchief from my room. I have forgotten mine.”

“That order could not be meant for me, Monsieur,” insisted Boleslas.
“Monsieur Maitland has made an appointment with me, with Madame Steno,
in order to show us Alba’s portrait.”

“It is no order,” replied Florent. “I repeat to you that my
brother-in-law has gone out. The studio is closed, and it is impossible
for me to undertake to open it to show you the picture, since I have not
the key. As for Madame and Mademoiselle Steno, they have not been here
for several days; the sittings have been interrupted.”

“What is still more extraordinary, Monsieur,” replied the other, “is
that I saw them with my own eyes, five minutes ago, enter this house and
I, too, saw their carriage drive away.”.... He felt his anger increase
and direct itself altogether against the watch-dog so suddenly raised
upon the threshold of his rival’s house.

Florent, on his part, had begun to lose patience. He had within him the
violent irritability of the negro blood, which he did not acknowledge,
but which slightly tinted his complexion. The manner of Madame Steno’s
former lover seemed to him so outrageous that he replied very dryly, as
he opened the door, in order to oblige the caller to leave:

“You are mistaken,--Monsieur, that is all.”

“You are aware, Monsieur,” replied Boleslas, “of the fact that you just
addressed me in a tone which is not the one which I have a right to
expect from you.... When one charges one’s self with a certain business,
it is at least necessary to introduce a little form.”

“And I, Monsieur,” replied Chapron, “would be very much obliged to you
if, when you address me, you would not do so in enigmas. I do not know
what you mean by ‘a certain business,’ but I know that it is unbefitting
a gentleman to act as you have acted at the door of a house which is not
yours and for reasons that I can not comprehend.”

“You will comprehend them very soon, Monsieur,” said Boleslas, beside
himself, “and you have not constituted yourself your brother’s slave
without motives.”

He had no sooner uttered that sentence than Florent, incapable any
longer of controlling himself, raised his cane with a menacing gesture,
which the Polish Count arrested just in time, by seizing it in his right
hand. It was the work of a second, and the two men were again face to
face, both pale with anger, ready to collar one another rudely, when
the sound of a door closing above their heads recalled to them their
dignity. The servant descended the stairs. It was Chapron who first
regained his self-possession, and he said to Boleslas, in a voice too
low to be heard by any one but him:

“No scandal, Monsieur, eh? I shall have the honor of sending two of my
friends to you.”

“It is I, Monsieur,” replied Gorka, “who will send you two. You shall
answer to me for your manner, I assure you.”

“Ha! Whatsoever you like,” said the other. “I accept all your conditions
in advance.... But one thing I ask of you,” he added, “that no names be
mentioned. There would be too many persons involved. Let it appear
that we had an argument on the street, that we disagreed, and that I
threatened you.”

“So be it,” said Boleslas, after a pause. “You have my word. There is a
man,” said he to himself five minutes later, when again rolling through
the streets in his cab, after giving the cabman the address of the
Palais Castagna. “Yes, there is a man.... He was very insolent just now,
and I lacked composure. I am too nervous. I should be sorry to injure
the boy. But, patience, the other will lose nothing by waiting.”



CHAPTER VI. THE INCONSISTENCY OF AN OLD CHOUAN

While the madman, Boleslas, hastened to Ardea to ask his cooperation in
the most unreasonable of encounters, with a species of savage delight,
Florent Chapron was possessed by only one thought: at any price to
prevent his brother-in-law from suspecting his quarrel with Madame
Steno’s former lover and the duel which was to be the result. His
passionate friendship for Lincoln was so strong that it prevented the
nervousness which usually precedes a first duel, above all when he who
appears upon the ground has all his life neglected practising with
the sword or pistol. To a fencer, and to one accustomed to the use of
firearms, a duel means a number of details which remove the thought of
danger. The man conceives the possibilities of the struggle, of a deed
to be bravely accomplished. That is sufficient to inspire him with
a composure which absolute ignorance can not inspire, unless it is
supported by one of those deep attachments often so strong within us.
Such was the case with Florent.

Dorsenne’s instinct, which could so easily read the heart, was not
mistaken there; the painter had in his wife’s brother a friend of
self-sacrificing devotion. He could exact anything of the Mameluke,
or, rather, of that slave, for it was the blood of the slaves, of his
ancestors, which manifested itself in Chapron by so total an absorption
of his personality. The atavism of servitude has these two effects
which are apparently contradictory: it produces fathomless capacities
of sacrifice or of perfidy. Both of these qualities were embodied in
the brother and in the sister. As happens, sometimes, the two
characteristics of their race were divided between them; one had
inherited all the virtue of self-sacrifice, the other all the puissance
of hypocrisy.

But the drama called forth by Madame Steno’s infidelity, and finally by
Gorka’s rashness, would only expose to light the moral conditions which
Dorsenne had foreseen without comprehending. He was completely ignorant
of the circumstances under which Florent had developed, of those under
which Maitland and he had met, of how Maitland had decided to marry
Lydia; finally an exceptional and lengthy history which it is necessary
to sketch here at least, in order to render clear the singular relations
of those three beings.

As we have seen, the allusion coarsely made by Boleslas to negro blood
marked the moment when Florent lost all self-control, to the point even
of raising his cane to his insolent interlocutor. That blemish, hidden
with the most jealous care, represented to the young man what it had
represented to his father, the vital point of self-love, secret and
constant humiliation. It was very faint, the trace of negro blood which
flowed in their veins, so faint that it was necessary to be told of
it, but it was sufficient to render a stay in America so much the more
intolerable to both, as they had inherited all the pride of their name,
a name which the Emperor mentioned at St. Helena as that of one of his
bravest officers. Florent’s grandfather was no other, indeed, than the
Colonel Chapron who, as Napoleon desired information, swam the Dnieper
on horseback, followed a Cossack on the opposite shore, hunted him like
a stag, laid him across his saddle and took him back to the French
camp. When the Empire fell, that hero, who had compromised himself in
an irreparable manner in the army of the Loire, left his country and,
accompanied by a handful of his old comrades, went to found in the
southern part of the United States, in Alabama, a sort of agricultural
colony, to which they gave the name--which it still preserves--of
Arcola, a naive and melancholy tribute to the fabulous epoch which,
however, had been dear to them.

Who would have recognized the brilliant colonel, who penetrated by the
side of Montbrun the heart of the Grande Redoute, in the planter of
forty-five, busy with his cotton and his sugar-cane, who made a fortune
in a short time by dint of energy and good sense? His success, told of
in France, was the indirect cause of another emigration to Texas, led by
General Lallemand, and which terminated so disastrously. Colonel Chapron
had not, as can be believed, acquired in roaming through Europe very
scrupulous notions an the relations of the two sexes. Having made the
mother of his child a pretty and sweet-tempered mulattress whom he met
on a short trip to New Orleans, and whom he brought back to Arcola, he
became deeply attached to the charming creature and to his son, so much
the more so as, with a simple difference of complexion and of hair,
the child was the image of him. Indeed, the old warrior, who had no
relatives in his native land, on dying, left his entire fortune to that
son, whom he had christened Napoleon. While he lived, not one of his
neighbors dared to treat the young man differently from the way in which
his father treated him.

But it was not the same when the prestige of the Emperor’s soldier was
not there to protect the boy against that aversion to race which is
morally a prejudice, but socially interprets an instinct of preservation
of infallible surety. The United States has grown only on that
condition.

   [Those familiar with the works of Bourget will recognize here again
   his well known antipathy for the United States of America. Mark
   Twain in the late 1800’s felt obliged to rebut some of Bourget’s
   prejudice: “What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us.”  D.W.]

The mixture of blood would there have dissolved the admirable
Anglo-Saxon energy which the struggle against a nature at once very rich
and very mutinous has exalted to such surprising splendor. It is not
necessary to ask those who are the victims of such an instinct to
comprehend the legal injustice. They only feel its ferocity. Napoleon
Chapron, rejected in several offers of marriage, thwarted in his plans,
humiliated under twenty trifling circumstances by the Colonel’s former
companions, became a species of misanthrope. He lived, sustained by
a twofold desire, on the one hand to increase his fortune, and on
the other to wed a white woman. It was not until 1857, at the age of
thirty-five, that he realized the second of his two projects. In the
course of a trip to Europe, he became interested on the steamer in a
young English governess, who was returning from Canada, summoned home
by family troubles. He met her again in London. He helped her with such
delicacy in her distress, that he won her heart, and she consented to
become his wife. From that union were born, one year apart, Florent and
Lydia.

Lydia had cost her mother her life, at the moment when the War of
Secession jeoparded the fortune of Chapron, who, fortunately for him,
had, in his desire to enrich himself quickly, invested his money a
little on all sides. He was only partly ruined, but that semi-ruin
prevented him from returning to Europe, as he had intended. He
was compelled to remain in Alabama to repair that disaster, and he
succeeded, for at his death, in 1880, his children inherited more than
four hundred thousand dollars each. The incomparable father’s devotion
had not limited itself to the building up of a large fortune. He had
the courage to deprive himself of the presence of the two beings whom he
adored, to spare them the humiliation of an American school, and he
sent them after their twelfth year to England, the boy to the Jesuits
of Beaumont, the girl to the convent of the Sacred Heart, at Roehampton.
After four years there, he sent them to Paris, Florent to Vaugirard,
Lydia to the Rue de Varenne, and just at the time that he had realized
the amount he considered requisite, when he was preparing to return to
live near them in a country without prejudices, a stroke of apoplexy
took him off suddenly. The double wear of toil and care had told upon
one of those organisms which the mixture of the black and white races
often produces, athletic in appearance, but of a very keen sensibility,
in which the vital resistance is not in proportion to the muscular
vigor.

Whatever care the man, so deeply grieved by the blemish upon his birth,
had taken to preserve his children from a similar experience, he had not
been able to do so, and soon after his son entered Beaumont his trials
began. The few boys with whom Florent was thrown in contact, in the
hotels or in his walks, during his sojourn in America, had already made
him feel that humiliation from which his father had suffered so much.
The youth of twelve, silent and absurdly sensitive, who made his
appearance on the lawn of the peaceful English college on an autumn
morning, brought with him a self-love already bleeding, to whom it was
a delightful surprise to find himself among comrades of his age who did
not even seem to suspect that any difference separated them from him. It
required the perception of a Yankee to discern, beneath the nails of the
handsome boy with the dark complexion, the tiny drops of negro blood, so
far removed. Between an octoroon and a creole a European can never tell
the difference. Florent had been represented as what he really was, the
grandson of one of the Emperor’s best officers. His father had taken
particular pains to designate him as French, and his companions only
saw in him a pupil like themselves, coming from Alabama--that is to say,
from a country almost as chimerical as Japan or China.

All who in early youth have known the torture of apprehension will be
able to judge of the poor child’s agony when, after four months of a
life amid the warmth of sympathy, one of the Jesuit fathers who directed
the college announced to him, thinking it would afford him pleasure, the
expected arrival of an American, of young Lincoln Maitland. This was to
Florent so violent a shock that he had a fever for forty-eight hours.
In after years he could remember what thoughts possessed him on the day
when he descended from his room to the common refectory, sure that as
soon as he was brought face to face with the new pupil he would have
to sustain the disdainful glance suffered so frequently in the United
States. There was no doubt in his mind that, his origin once discovered,
the atmosphere of kindness in which he moved with so much surprise would
soon be changed to hostility. He could again see himself crossing the
yard; could hear himself called by Father Roberts--the master who had
told him of the expected new arrival--and his surprise when Lincoln
Maitland had given him the hearty handshake of one demi-compatriot
who meets another. He was to learn later that that reception was quite
natural, coming from the son of an Englishman, educated altogether by
his mother, and taken from New York to Europe before his fifth year,
there to live in a circle as little American as possible. Chapron did
not reason in that manner. He had an infinitely tender heart. Gratitude
entered it--gratitude as impassioned as had been his fear. One week
later Lincoln Maitland and he were friends, and friends so intimate that
they never parted.

The affection, which was merely to the indifferent nature of Maitland
a simple college episode, became to Florent the most serious, most
complete sentiment of his life. Those fraternities of election, the
loveliest and most delicate of the heart of man, usually dawn thus in
youth. It is the ideal age of passionate friendship, that period
between ten and sixteen, when the spirit is so pure, so fresh, still so
virtuous, so fertile in generous projects for the future. One dreams
of a companionship almost mystical with the friend from whom one has no
secret, whose character one sees in such a noble light, on whose esteem
one depends as upon the surest recompense, whom one innocently desires
to resemble. Indeed, they are, between the innocent lads who work side
by side on a problem of geometry or a lesson in history, veritable
poems of tenderness at which the man will smile later, finding so far
different from him in all his tastes, him whom he desired to have for
a brother. It happens, however, in certain natures of a sensibility
particularly precocious and faithful at the same time, that the
awakening of effective life is so strong, so encroaching, that the
impassioned friendship persists, first through the other awakening, that
of sensuality, so fatal to all the senses of delicacy, then through the
first tumult of social experience, not less fatal to our ideal of youth.

That was the case with Florent Chapron, whether his character, at once
somewhat wild and yet submissive, rendered him more qualified for that
renunciation of his personality than friendship demands, whether, far
from his father and his sister and not having any mother, his loving
heart had need of attaching itself to some one who could fill the place
of his relatives, or whether Maitland exercised over him a special
prestige by his opposite qualities. Fragile and somewhat delicate, was
he seduced by the strength and dexterity which his friend exhibited in
all his exercises? Timid and naturally taciturn, was he governed by
the assurance of that athlete with the loud laugh, with the invincible
energy? Did the surprising tendency toward art which the other one
showed conquer him, as well as sympathy for the misfortunes which were
confided to him and which touched him more than they touched him who
experienced them?

Gordon Maitland, Lincoln’s father, of an excellent family of New York,
had been killed at the battle of Chancellorsville, during the same
war which had ruined Florent’s father in part. Mrs. Maitland, the poor
daughter of a small rector of a Presbyterian church at Newport, and who
had only married her husband for his money, had but one idea, when once
a widow--to go abroad. Whither? To Europe, vague and fascinating spot,
where she fancied she would be distinguished by her intelligence and her
beauty. She was pretty, vain and silly, and that voyage in pursuit of a
part to play in the Old World caused her to pass two years first in one
hotel and then in another, after which she married the second son of
a poor Irish peer, with the new chimera of entering that Olympus of
British aristocracy of which she had dreamed so much. She became a
Catholic, and her son with her, to obtain the result which cost her
dear, for not only was the lord who had given her his name brutal, a
drunkard and cruel, but he added to all those faults that of being
one of the greatest gamblers in the entire United Kingdom. He kept
his stepson away from home, beat his wife, and died toward 1880, after
dissipating the poor creature’s fortune and almost all of Lincoln’s. At
that time the latter, whom his stepfather had naturally left to develop
in his own way, and who, since leaving Beaumont, had studied painting
at Venice, Rome and Paris, was in the latter city and one of the first
pupils in Bonnat’s studio. Seeing his mother ruined, without resources
at forty-four years of age, persuaded himself of his glorious future, he
had one of those magnificent impulses such as one has in youth and which
prove much less the generosity than the pride of life. Of the fifteen
thousand francs of income remaining to him, he gave up to his mother
twelve thousand five hundred. It is expedient to add that in less than
a year afterward he married the sister of his college friend and four
hundred thousand dollars. He had seen poverty and he was afraid of it.
His action with regard to his mother seemed to justify in his own eyes
the purely interested character of the combination which freed his brush
forever. There are, moreover, such artistic consciences. Maitland would
not have pardoned himself a concession of art. He considered rascals the
painters who begged success by compromise in their style, and he thought
it quite natural to take the money of Mademoiselle Chapron, whom he
did not love, and for whom, now that he had grown to manhood and knew
several of her compatriots, he likewise felt the prejudice of race.
“The glory of the colonel of the Empire and friendship for that good
Florent,” as he said, “covered all.”

Poor and good Florent! That marriage was to him the romance of his youth
realized. He had desired it since the first week that Maitland had given
him the cordial handshake which had bound them. To live in the shadow of
his friend, become at once his brother-in-law and his ideal--he did not
dream of any other solution of his own destiny. The faults of Maitland,
developed by age, fortune, and success--we recall the triumph of his
‘Femme en violet et en jeune’ in the Salon of 1884--found Florent as
blind as at the epoch when they played cricket together in the fields at
Beaumont. Dorsenne very justly diagnosed there one of those hypnotisms
of admiration such as artists, great or small, often inspire around
them. But the author, who always generalized too quickly, had not
comprehended that the admirer with Florent was grafted on a friend
worthy to be painted by La Fontaine or by Balzac, the two poets of
friendship, the one in his sublime and tragic Cousin Pons, the other
in that short but fine fable, in which is this verse, one of the most
tender in the French language:

     Vous metes, en dormant, un peu triste apparu.

Florent did not love Lincoln because he admired him; he admired him
because he loved him. He was not wrong in considering the painter as one
of the most gifted who had appeared for thirty years. But Lincoln
would have had neither the bold elegance of his drawing, nor the vivid
strength of coloring, nor the ingenious finesse of imagination if the
other had lent himself with less ardor to the service of the work and
to the glory of the artist. When Lincoln wanted to travel he found his
brother-in-law the most diligent of couriers. When he had need of a
model he had only to say a word for Florent to set about finding one.
Did Lincoln exhibit at Paris or London, Florent took charge of the
entire proceeding--seeing the journalists and picture dealers, composing
letters of thanks for the articles, in a handwriting so like that of the
painter that the latter had only to sign it. Lincoln desired to return
to Rome. Florent had discovered the house on the Rue Leopardi, and he
settled it even before Maitland, then in Egypt, had finished a large
study begun at the moment of the departure of the other.

Florent had, by virtue of the affection felt for his brother-in-law,
come to comprehend the paintings as well as the painter himself. These
words will be clear to those who have been around artists and who know
what a distance separates them from the most enlightened amateur.
The amateur can judge and feel. The artist only, who has wielded the
implements, knows, before a painting, how it is done, what stroke of the
brush has been given, and why; in short, the trituration of the matter
by the workman. Florent had watched Maitland work so much, he had
rendered him so many effective little services in the studio, that each
of his brother-in-law’s canvases became animated to him, even to the
slightest details. When he saw them on the wall of the gallery they told
him of an intimacy which was at once his greatest joy and his greatest
pride. In short, the absorption of his personality in that of his former
comrade was so complete that it had led to this anomaly, that Dorsenne
himself, notwithstanding his indulgence for psychological singularities,
had not been able to prevent himself from finding almost monstrous:
Florent was Lincoln’s brother-in-law, and he seemed to find it perfectly
natural that the latter should have adventures outside, if the emotion
of those adventures could be useful to his talent!

Perhaps this long and yet incomplete analysis will permit us the better
to comprehend what emotions agitated the young man as he reascended the
staircase of his house--of their house, Lincoln’s and his--after his
unexpected dispute with Boleslas Gorka. It will attenuate, at least
with respect to him, the severity of simple minds. All passion, when
developed in the heart, has the effect of etiolating around it the vigor
of other instincts. Chapron was too fanatical a friend to be a very
equitable brother. It seemed to him very simple and very legitimate
that his sister should be at the service of the genius of Lincoln, as he
himself was. Moreover, if, since the marriage with her brother’s friend,
his sister had been stirred by the tempest of a moral tragedy, Florent
did not suspect it. When had he studied Lydia, the silent, reserved
Lydia, of whom he had once for all formed an opinion, as is the almost
invariable custom of relative with relative? Those who have seen us when
young are like those who see us daily. The images which they trace of us
always reproduce what we were at a certain moment--scarcely ever what
we are. Florent considered his sister very good, because he had formerly
found her so; very gentle, because she had never resisted him; not
intelligent, because she did not seem sufficiently interested in
the painter’s work; as for the suffering and secret rebellion of
the oppressed creature, crushed between his blind partiality and the
selfishness of a scornful husband, he did not even suspect them, much
less the terrible resolution of which that apparent resignation was
capable.

If he had trembled when Madame Steno began to interest herself in
Lincoln, it was solely for the work of the latter, so much the more
as for a year he had perceived not a decline but a disturbance in the
painting of that artist, too voluntary not to be unequal. Then Florent
had seen, on the other hand, the nerve of Maitland reawakened in the
warmth of that little intrigue.

The portrait of Alba promised to be a magnificent study, worthy of being
placed beside the famous ‘Femme en violet et en jaune,’ which those
envious of Lincoln always remembered. Moreover, the painter had finished
with unparalleled ardor two large compositions partly abandoned. In the
face of that proof of a fever of production more and more active, how
would not Florent have blessed Madame Steno, instead of cursing her, so
much the more that it sufficed him to close his eyes and to know that
his conscience was in repose when opposite his sister? He knew all,
however. The proof of it was in his shudder when Dorsenne announced to
him the clandestine arrival in Rome of Madame Steno’s other lover, and
one proof still more certain, the impulse which had precipitated him
upon Boleslas, who was parleying with the servant, and now it was he who
had accepted the duel which an exasperated rival had certainly come to
propose to his dear Lincoln, and he thought only of the latter.

“He must know nothing until afterward. He would take the affair upon
himself, and I have a chance to kill him, that Gorka--to wound him,
at least. In any case, I will arrange it so that a second duel will be
rendered difficult to that lunatic.... But, first of all, let us make
sure that we have not spoken too loudly and that they have not heard
upstairs the ill-bred fellow’s loud voice.”

It was in such terms that he qualified his adversary of the morrow. For
very little more he would have judged Gorka unpardonable not to thank
Lincoln, who had done him the honor to supplant him in the Countess’s
favor!

In the meantime, let us cast a glance at the atelier! When the friend,
devoted to complicity, but also to heroism, entered the vast room, he
could see at the first glance that he had been mistaken and that no
sound of voices had reached that peaceful retreat.

The atelier of the American painter was furnished with a harmonious
sumptuousness which real artists know how to gather around them. The
large strip of sky seen through the windows looked down upon a corner
veritably Roman--of the Rome of to-day, which attests an uninterrupted
effort toward forming a new city by the side of the old one. One could
see an angle of the old garden and the fragment of an antique building,
with a church steeple beyond. It was on a background of azure, of
verdure and of ruins, in a horizon larger and more distant, but composed
of the same elements, that was to arise the face of the young girl,
designed after the manner, so sharp and so modelled, of the ‘Pier della
Francesca’, with whom Maitland had been preoccupied for six months.

All great composers, of an originality more composite than genitive,
have these infatuations.

Maitland was at his easel, dressed with that correct elegance which
is the almost certain mark of Anglo-Saxon artists. With his little
varnished shoes, his fine black socks, spotted with red, his coat of
quilted silk, his light cravat and the purity of his linen, he had the
air of a gentleman who applied himself to an amateur effort, and not of
the patient and laborious worker he really was. But his canvases and his
studies, hung on all sides, among tapestries, arms and trinkets,
bespoke patient labor. It was the history of an energy bent upon the
acquisition of a personality constantly fleeting. Maitland manifested
in a supreme degree the trait common to almost all his compatriots, even
those who came in early youth to Europe, that intense desire not to
lack civilization, which is explained by the fact that the American is a
being entirely new, endowed with an activity incomparable, and deprived
of traditional saturation. He is not born cultivated, matured, already
fashioned virtually, if one may say so, like a child of the Old World.
He can create himself at his will. With superior gifts, but gifts
entirely physical, Maitland was a self-made man of art, as his grand
father had been a self-made man of money, as his father had been a
self-made man of war. He had in his eye and in his hand two marvellous
implements for painting, and in his perseverence in developing a still
more marvellous one. He lacked constantly the something necessary and
local which gives to certain very inferior painters the inexpressible
superiority of a savor of soil. It could not be said that he was not
inventive and new, yet one experienced on seeing no matter which one of
his paintings that he was a creature of culture and of acquisition. The
scattered studies in the atelier first of all displayed the influence of
his first master, of solid and simple Bonnat. Then he had been tempted
by the English pre-Raphaelites, and a fine copy of the famous ‘Song of
Love’, by Burne-Jones, attested that reaction on the side of an art more
subtle, more impressed by that poetry which professional painters treat
scornfully as literary. But Lincoln was too vigorous for the languors of
such an ideal, and he quickly turned to other teachings. Spain conquered
him, and Velasquez, the colorist of so peculiar a fancy that, after a
visit to the Museum of the Prado, one carries away the idea that one has
just seen the only painting worthy of the name.

The spirit of the great Spaniard, that despotic stroke of the brush
which seems to draw the color in the groundwork of the picture, to make
it stand out in almost solid lights, his absolute absence of abstract
intentions and his newness which affects entirely to ignore the past,
all in that formula of art, suited Maitland’s temperament. To him, too,
he owed his masterpiece, the ‘Femme en violet et en jaune’, but the
restless seeker did not adhere to that style. Italy and the Florentines
next influenced him, just those the most opposed to Velasquez; the
Pollajuoli, Andrea del Castagna, Paolo Uccello and Pier delta Francesca.
Never would one have believed that the same hand which had wielded with
so free a brush the color of the ‘Femme en violet...’ could be that
which sketched the contour of the portrait of Alba with so severe, so
rigid a drawing.

At the moment Florent entered the studio that work so completely
absorbed the attention of the painter that he did not hear the door open
any more than did Madame Steno, who was smoking cigarettes, reclining
indolently and blissfully upon the divan, her half-closed eyes fixed
upon the man she loved. Lincoln only divined another presence by a
change in Alba’s face. God! How pale she was, seated in the immobility
of her pose in a large, heraldic armchair, with a back of carved wood,
her hands grasping the arms, her mouth so bitter, her eyes so deep in
their fixed glance!... Did she divine that which she could not, however,
know, that her fate was approaching with the visitor who entered, and
who, having left the studio fifteen minutes before, had to justify his
return by an excuse.

“It is I,” said he. “I forgot to ask you, Lincoln, if you wish to buy
Ardea’s three drawings at the price they offer.”

“Why did you not tell me of it yesterday, my little Linco?” interrupted
the Countess. “I saw Peppino again this morning.... I would have from
him his lowest figure.”

“That would only be lacking,” replied Maitland, laughing his large
laugh. “He does not acknowledge those drawings, dear dogaresse.... They
are a part of the series of trinkets he carefully subtracted from his
creditor’s inventory and put in different places. There are some at
seven or eight antiquaries’, and we may expect that for the next ten
years all the cockneys of my country will be allured by this phrase,
‘This is from the Palais Castagna. I have it by a little arrangement.’”

His eyes sparkled as he imitated one of the most celebrated bric-a-brac
dealers in Rome, with the incomparable art of imitation which
distinguishes all the old habitues of Parisian studios.

“At present these three drawings are at an antiquary’s of Babuino, and
very authentic.”

“Except when they are represented as Vincis,” said Florent, “when
Leonardo was left-handed, and their hatchings are made from left to
right.”

“And you think Ardea would not agree with me in it?” resumed the
Countess.

“Not even with you,” said the painter. “He had the assurance last night,
when I mentioned them before him, to ask me the address in order to go
to see them.”

“How did you learn their production?” questioned Madame Steno.

“Ask him,” said Maitland, pointing to Chapron with the end of his brush.
“When there is a question of enriching his old Maitland’s collection, he
becomes more of a merchant than the merchants themselves. They tell him
all.... Vinci or no Vinci, it is the pure Lombard style. Buy them. I
want them.”

“I will go, then,” replied Florent. “Countess.... Contessina.”

He bowed to Madame Steno and her daughter. The mother bestowed upon him
her pleasantest smile. She was not one of those mistresses to whom
their lovers’ intimate friends are always enemies. On the contrary, she
enveloped them in the abundant and blissful sympathy which love awoke in
her. Besides, she was too cunning not to feel that Florent approved of
her love. But, on the other hand, the intense aversion which Alba at
that moment felt toward her mother’s suspected intrigues was expressed
by the formality with which she inclined her head in response to the
farewell of the young man, who was too happy to have found that the
dispute had not been heard.

“From now until to-morrow,” thought he, on redescending the staircase,
“there will be no one to warn Lincoln.... The purchase of the drawings
was an invention to demonstrate my tranquillity....Now I must find two
discreet seconds.”

Florent was a very deliberate man, and a man who had at his command
perfect evenness of temperament whenever it was not a question of his
enthusiastic attachment to his brother-in-law. He had the power of
observation habitual to persons whose sensitive amour propre has
frequently been wounded. He therefore deferred until later his difficult
choice and went to luncheon, as if nothing had happened, at the
restaurant where he was expected. Certainly the proprietor did not
mistrust, in replying to the questions of his guest relative to the most
recent portraits of Lenbach, that the young man, so calm, so smiling,
had on hand a duel which might cost him his life. It was only on leaving
the restaurant that Florent, after mentally reviewing ten of his older
acquaintances, resolved to make a first attempt upon Dorsenne. He
recalled the mysterious intelligence given him by the novelist, whose
sympathy for Maitland had been publicly manifested by an eloquent
article. Moreover, he believed him to be madly in love with Alba Steno.
That was one probability more in favor of his discretion.

Dorsenne would surely maintain silence with regard to a meeting in
connection with which, if it were known, the cause of the contest would
surely be mentioned. It was only too clear that Gorka and Chapron had no
real reason to quarrel and fight a duel. But at ten-thirty, that is to
say, three hours after the unreasonable altercation in the vestibule,
Florent rang at the door of Julien’s apartments. The latter was at home,
busy upon the last correction of the proofs of ‘Poussiere d’Idees’. His
visitor’s confidence upset him to such a degree that his hands trembled
as he arranged his scattered papers. He remembered the presence of
Boleslas on that same couch, at the same time of the day, forty-eight
hours before. How the drama would progress if that madman went away in
that mood! He knew only too well that Maitland’s brother-in-law had not
told him all.

“It is absurd,” he cried, “it is madness, it is folly!... You are not
going to fight about an argument such as you have related to me? You
talked at the corner of the street, you exchanged a few angry words, and
then, suddenly, seconds, a duel.... Ah, it is absurd.”

“You forget that I offered him a violent insult in raising my cane to
him,” interrupted Florent, “and since he demands satisfaction I must
give it to him.”

“Do you believe,” said the writer, “that the public will be contented
with those reasons? Do you think they will not look for the secret
motives of the duel? Do I know the story of a woman?... You see, I ask
no questions. I rely upon what you confide in me. But the world is the
world, and you will not escape its remarks.”

“It is precisely for that reason that I ask absolute discretion of you,”
 replied Florent, “and for that reason that I have come to ask you to
serve me as a second.... There is no one in whom I trust as implicitly
as I do in you.... It is the only excuse for my step.”

“I thank you,” said Dorsenne. He hesitated a moment. Then the image of
Alba, which had haunted him since the previous day, suddenly presented
itself to his mind. He recalled the sombre anguish he had surprised in
the young girl’s eyes, then her comforted glance when her mother smiled
at once upon Gorka and Maitland. He recalled the anonymous letter and
the mysterious hatred which impended over Madame Steno. If the quarrel
between Boleslas and Florent became known, there was no doubt that it
would be said generally that Florent was fighting for his brother-in-law
on account of the Countess. No doubt, too, that the report would reach
the poor Contessina. It was sufficient to cause the writer to reply:
“Very well! I accept. I will serve you. Do not thank me. We are losing
valuable time. You will require another second. Of whom have you
thought?”

“Of no one,” returned Florent. “I confess I have counted on you to aid
me.”

“Let us make a list,” said Julien. “It is the best way, and then cross
off the names.”

Dorsenne wrote down a number of their acquaintances, and they indeed
crossed them off, according to his expression, so effectually that after
a minute examination they had rejected all of them. They were then as
much perplexed as ever, when suddenly Dorsenne’s eyes brightened, he
uttered a slight exclamation, and said brusquely:

“What an idea! But it is an idea!... Do you know the Marquis de
Montfanon?” he asked Florent.

“He with one arm?” replied the latter. “I saw him once with reference to
a monument I put up at Saint Louis des Francais.”

“He told me of it,” said Dorsenne. “For one of your relatives, was it
not?”

“Oh, a distant cousin,” replied Florent; “one Captain Chapron, killed in
‘forty-nine in the trenches before Rome.”

“Now, to our business,” cried Dorsenne, rubbing his hands. “It is
Montfanon who must be your second. First of all, he is an experienced
duellist, while I have never been on the ground. That is very important.
You know the celebrated saying: ‘It is neither swords nor pistols which
kill; it is the seconds.’.... And then if the matter has to be arranged,
he will have more prestige than your servant.”

“It is impossible,” said Florent; “Marquis de Montfanon.... He will
never consent. I do not exist for him.”

“That is my affair,” cried Dorsenne. “Let me take the necessary steps in
my own name, and then if he agrees you can make it in yours.... Only we
have no time to lose. Do not leave your house until six o’clock. By that
time I shall know upon what to depend.”

If, at first, the novelist had felt great confidence in the issue of
his strange attempt with reference to his old friend, that confidence
changed to absolute apprehension when he found himself, half an hour
later, at the house which Marquis Claude Francois occupied in one of the
oldest parts of Rome, from which location he could obtain an admirable
view of the Forum. How many times had Julien come, in the past six
months, to that Marquis who dived constantly in the sentiment of the
past, to gaze upon the tragical and grand panorama of the historical
scene! At the voice of the recluse, the broken columns rose, the ruined
temples were rebuilt, the triumphal view was cleared from its mist.
He talked, and the formidable epopee of the Roman legend was evoked,
interpreted by the fervent Christian in that mystical and providential
sense, which all, indeed, proclaims in that spot, where the Mamertine
prison relates the trial of St. Peter, where the portico of the temple
of Faustine serves as a pediment to the Church of St. Laurent,
where Ste.-Marie-Liberatrice rises upon the site of the Temple of
Vesta--‘Sancta Maria, libera nos a poenis inferni’--Montfanon always
added when he spoke of it, and he pointed out the Arch of Titus, which
tells of the fulfilment of the prophecies of Our Lord against Jerusalem,
while, opposite, the groves reveal the out lines of a nunnery upon the
ruins of the dwellings of the Caesars. And, at the extreme end, the
Coliseum recalls to mind the ninety thousand spectators come to see the
martyrs suffer.

Such were the sights where lived the former pontifical zouave, and, on
ringing the bell of the third etage, Julien said to himself: “I am a
simpleton to come to propose to such a man what I have to propose. Yet
it is not to be a second in an ordinary duel, but simply to prevent an
adventure which might cost the lives of two men in the first place,
then the honor of Madame Steno, and, lastly, the peace of mind of three
innocent persons, Madame Gorka, Madame Maitland and my little friend
Alba.... He alone has sufficient authority to arrange all. It will be an
act of charity, like any other.... I hope he is at home,” he concluded,
hearing the footstep of the servant, who recognized the visitor and who
anticipated all questions.

“The Marquis went out this morning before eight o’clock. He will not
return until dinner-time.”

“Do you know where he has gone?”

“To hear mass in a catacomb, and to be present at a procession,” replied
the footman, who took Dorsenne’s card, adding: “The Trappists of Saint
Calixtus certainly know where the Marquis is.... He lunched with them.”

“We shall see,” said the young man to himself, somewhat disappointed.
His carriage rolled in the direction of Porte St. Sebastien, near which
was the catacomb and the humble dwelling contiguous to it--the last
morsel of the Papal domains kept by the poor monks. “Montfanon will have
taken communion this morning,” thought he, “and at the very word duel
he will listen to nothing more. However, the matter must be arranged; it
must be.... What would I not give to know the truth of the scene between
Gorka and Florent? By what strange and diabolical ricochet did
the Palatine hit upon the latter when his business was with the
brother-in-law?... Will he be angry that I am his adversary’s second?...
Bah!... After our conversation of the other day our friendship is
ended.... Good, I am already at the little church of ‘Domine, quo
vadis.’--[“Lord, whither art thou going?”]--I might say to myself:
‘Juliane, quo vadis?’ ‘To perform an act a little better than the
majority of my actions,’ I might reply.”

That impressionable soul which vibrated at the slightest contact was
touched by the souvenir of one of the innumerable pious legends which
nineteen centuries of Catholicism have suspended at all the corners of
Rome and its surrounding districts. He recalled the touching story of
St. Peter flying from persecution and meeting our Lord: “Lord, whither
art thou going?” asked the apostle. “To be crucified a second time,”
 replied the Saviour, and Peter was ashamed of his weakness and returned
to martyrdom. Montfanon himself had related that episode to the
novelist, who again began to reflect upon the Marquis’s character and
the best means of approaching him. He forgot to glance at the vast
solitude of the Roman suburbs before him, and so deep was his reverie
that he almost passed unheeded the object of his search. Another
disappointment awaited him at the first point in his voyage of
exploration.

The monk who came at his ring to open the door of the inclosure
contiguous to St. Calixtus, informed him that he of whom he was in
search had left half an hour before.

“You will find him at the Basilica of Saint Neree and Saint Achilles,”
 added the Trappist; “it is the fete of those two saints, and at five
o’clock there will be a procession in their catacombs.... It is a
fifteen minutes’ ride from here, near the tower Marancia, on the Via
Ardeatina.”

“Shall I miss him a third time?” thought Dorsenne, alighting from the
carriage finally, and proceeding on foot to the opening which leads to
the subterranean Necropolis dedicated to the two saints who were the
eunuchs of Domitilla, the niece of Emperor Vespasian. A few ruins and
a dilapidated house alone mark the spot where once stood the pious
Princess’s magnificent villa. The gate was open, and, meeting no one who
could direct him, the young man took several steps in the subterranean
passage. He perceived that the long gallery was lighted. He entered
there, saying to himself that the row of tapers, lighted every ten
paces, assuredly marked the line which the procession would follow, and
which led to the central basilica. Although his anxiety as to the issue
of his undertaking was extreme, he could not help being impressed by the
grandeur of the sight presented by the catacomb thus illuminated. The
uneven niches reserved for the dead, asleep in the peace of the Lord for
so many centuries, made recesses in the corridors and gave them a solemn
and tragical aspect. Inscriptions were to be seen there, traced on the
stone, and all spoke of the great hope which those first Christians had
cherished, the same which believers of our day cherish.

Julien knew enough of symbols to understand the significance of the
images between which the persecuted of the primitive church had laid
their fathers. They are so touching and so simple! The anchor represents
safety in the storm; the gentle dove and the ewe, symbols of the soul,
which flies away and seeks its shepherd; the phoenix, whose wings
announce the resurrection. Then there were the bread and the wine, the
branches of the olive and the palm. The silent cemetery was filled with
a faint aroma of incense, noticed by Dorsenne on entering. High mass,
celebrated in the morning, left the sacred perfume diffused among those
bones, once the forms of human beings who kneeled there amid the same
holy aroma. The contrast was strong between that spot, where everything
spoke of things eternal, and the drama of passion, worldly and culpable,
the progress of which agitated even Dorsenne. At that moment he appeared
to himself in the light of a profaner, although he was obeying generous
and humane instincts. He experienced a sense of relief when, at a bend
in one of the corridors which he had selected from among many others, he
found himself face to face with a priest, who held in his hand a
basket filled with the petals of flowers, destined, no doubt, for the
procession. Dorsenne inquired of him the way to the Basilica in Italian,
while the reply was given in perfect French.

“Perhaps you know the Marquis de Montfanon, father?” asked the novelist.

“I am one of the chaplains of Saint Louis,” said the priest, with a
smile, adding: “You will find him in the Basilica.”

“Now, the moment has come,” thought Dorsenne, “I must be subtle....
After all, it is charity I am about to ask him to do.... Here I am. I
recognize the staircase and the opening above.”

A corner of the sky, indeed, was to be seen, and a ray of light entered
which permitted the writer to distinguish him whom he was seeking among
the few persons assembled in the ruined chapel, the most venerable
of all those which encircle Rome with a hidden girdle of sanctuaries.
Montfanon, too recognizable, alas! by the empty sleeve of his black
redingote, was seated on a chair, not very far from the altar, on which
burned enormous tapers. Priests and monks were arranging baskets filled
with petals, like those of the chaplain, whom Dorsenne had just met.
A group of three curious visitors commented in whispers upon the
paintings, scarcely visible on the discolored stucco of the ceiling.
Montfanon was entirely absorbed in the book which he held in his one
hand. The large features of his face, ennobled and almost transfigured
by the ardor of devotion, gave him the admirable expression of an old
Christian soldier. ‘Bonus miles Christi’--a good soldier of Christ--had
been inscribed upon the tomb of the chief under whom he had been wounded
at Patay. One would have taken him for a guardian layman of the tombs
of the martyrs, capable of confessing his faith like them, even to the
death. And when Julien determined to approach and to touch him lightly
on the shoulder, he saw that, in the nobleman’s clear, blue eyes,
ordinarily so gay, and sometimes so choleric, sparkled unshed tears. His
voice, too, naturally sharp, was softened by the emotion of the thought
which his reading, the place, the time, the occupation of his day had
awakened within him.

“Ah, you here?” said he to his young friend, without any astonishment.
“You have come for the procession. That is well. You will hear sung the
lovely lines: ‘Hi sunt quos fatue mundus abhorruit.” He pronounced ou as
u, ‘a l’Italienne’; for his liturgic training had been received in Rome.
“The season is favorable for the ceremonies. The tourists have gone.
There will only be people here who pray and who feel, like you.... And
to feel is half of prayer. The other half is to believe. You will become
one of us. I have always predicted it. There is no peace but here.”

“I would gladly have come only for the procession,” replied Dorsenne,
“but my visit has another motive, dear friend,” said he, in a still
lower tone. “I have been seeking for you for more than an hour, that
you might aid me in rendering a great service to several people, in
preventing a very great misfortune, perhaps.”

“I can help you to prevent a very great misfortune?” repeated Montfanon.

“Yes,” replied Dorsenne, “but this is not the place in which to explain
to you the details of the long and terrible adventure.... At what hour
is the ceremony? I will wait for you, and tell it to you on leaving
here.”

“It does not begin until five o’clock-five-thirty,” said Montfanon,
looking at his watch, “and it is now fifteen minutes past four. Let us
leave the catacomb, if you wish, and you can repeat your story to me up
above. A very great misfortune? Well,” he added, pressing the hand of
the young man whom, personally, he liked as much as he detested his
views, “rest assured, my dear child, we will prevent it!”

There was in the manner in which he uttered those words the tranquillity
of a mind which knows not uneasiness, that of a believer who feels sure
of always accomplishing all that he wishes to do. It would not have been
Montfanon, that is to say, a species of visionary, who loved to argue
with Dorsenne, because he knew that in spite of all he was understood,
if he had not continued, as they walked along the lighted corridor,
while remounting toward daylight:

“If it is all the same to you, sir apologist of the modern world, I
should like to pause here and ask you frankly: Do you not feel yourself
more contemporary with all the dead who slumber within these walls than
with a radical elector or a free-mason deputy? Do you not feel that if
these martyrs had not come to pray beneath these vaults eighteen hundred
years ago, the best part of your soul would not exist? Where will you
find a poetry more touching than that of these symbols and of these
epitaphs? That admirable De Rossi showed me one at Saint Calixtus last
year. My tears flow as I recall it. ‘Pete pro Phoebe et pro virginio
ejus’. Pray for Phoebus and for--How do you translate the word
‘virginius’, the husband who has known only one wife, the virgin husband
of a virgin spouse? Your youth will pass, Dorsenne. You will one day
feel what I feel, the happiness which is wanting on account of bygone
errors, and you will comprehend that it is only to be found in Christian
marriage, whose entire sublimity is summed up in thus prayer: ‘Pro
virginio ejus’.... You will be like me then, and you will find in this
book,” he held up ‘l’Eucologe’, which he clasped in his hand, “something
through which to offer up to God your remorse and your regrets. Do you
know the hymn of the Holy Sacrament, ‘Adoro te, devote’? No. Yet you are
capable of feeling what is contained in these lines. Listen. It is this
idea: That on the cross one sees only the man, not the God; that in the
host one does not even see the man, and that yet one believes in the
real presence.

        In cruce latebat sola Deitas.
        At hic latet simul et humanitas.
        Ambo tamen credens atque confitens....

“And now this last verse:

        Peto quod petivit latro poenitens!

     [I ask that which the penitent thief asked.]

“What a cry! Ah, but it is beautiful! It is beautiful! What words to
say in dying! And what did the poor thief ask, that Dixmas of whom the
church has made a saint for that one appeal: ‘Remember me, Lord, in Thy
kingdom!’ But we have arrived. Stoop, that you may not spoil your hat.
Now, what do you want with me? You know the motto of the Montfanons:
‘Excelsior et firmior’--Always higher and always firmer.... One can
never do too many good deeds. If it be possible, ‘present’, as we said
to the rollcall.”

A singular mixture of fervor and of good-nature, of enthusiastic
eloquence and of political or religious fanaticism, was Montfanon. But
the good-nature rapidly vanished from his face, at once so haughty and
so simple, in proportion as Dorsenne’s story proceeded. The writer,
indeed, did not make the error of at once formulating his proposition.
He felt that he could not argue with the pontifical zouave of bygone
days. Either the latter would look upon it as monstrous and absurd,
or he would see in it a charitable duty to be accomplished, and then,
whatever annoyance the matter might occasion him, he would accept it,
as he would bestow alms. It was that chord of generosity which Julien,
diplomatic for once in his life, essayed to touch by his confidence.
Gaining authority by their conversation of a few days before, he related
all he could of Gorka’s visit, concealing the fact of that word of honor
so falsely given, which still oppressed him with a mortal weight. He
told how he had soothed the madman, how he conducted him to the station,
then he described the meeting of the two rivals twenty-four hours later.
He dwelt upon Alba’s manner that evening and the infamy of the anonymous
letters written to Madame Steno’s discarded lover and to her daughter.
And after he had reported the mysterious quarrel which had suddenly
arisen between Gorka and Chapron:

“I, therefore, promised to be his second,” he concluded, “because I
believe it my absolute duty to do all I can to prevent the duel from
taking place. Only think of it. If it should take place, and if one of
them is killed or wounded, how can the affair be kept secret in this
gossiping city of Rome? And what remarks it will call forth! It is
evident that these two boys have quarrelled only on account of
the relations between Madame Steno and Maitland. By what strange
coincidence? Of that I know nothing.

“But there will not be a doubt in public opinion. And can you not see
additional anonymous letters written to Alba, Madame Gorka, Madame
Maitland?... The men I do not care for.... Two out of three merit all
that comes to them. But those innocent creatures--is it not frightful?”

“Frightful, indeed,” replied Montfanon; “it is that which renders those
adulterous adventures so hideous. There are many people who are affected
by it besides the guilty ones.... You see that, you who thought
that society so pleasant, so refined, so interesting, the day before
yesterday? But it does no good to recriminate. I understand. You have
come to ask me to advise you in your role of second. My follies of youth
will enable me to direct you.... Correctness in the slightest detail and
no nerves, when one has to arrange a duel. Oh! You will have trouble.
Gorka is mad. I know the Poles. They have great faults, but they are
brave. Lord, but they are brave! And little Chapron, I know him, too; he
has one of those stubborn natures, which would allow their breasts to be
pierced without saying ‘Ouf!’ And ‘amour propre’. He has good soldier’s
blood in his veins, that child, notwithstanding the mixture. And with
that mixture, do you not see what a hero the first of the three Dumas,
the mulatto general, has been?... Yes. You have there a hard job, my
good Dorsenne.... You will need another second to assist you, who will
have the same views as you and--pardon me--more experience, perhaps.”

“Marquis,” replied Julien, whose voice trembled with anxiety, “there is
only one person in Rome who would be respected enough, venerated by
all, so that his intervention in that delicate and dangerous matter be
decisive, one person who could suggest excuses to Chapron, or obtain
them from the other.... In short, there is only one person who has the
authority of a hero before whom they will remain silent when he speaks
of honor, and that person is you.”

“I,” exclaimed Montfanon, “I, you wish me to be--”

“One of Chapron’s seconds,” interrupted Dorsenne. “Yes. It is true. I
come on his part and for that. Do not tell me what I already know, that
your position will not allow of such a step. It is because it is what it
is, that I thought of coming to you. Do not tell me that your religious
principles are opposed to duels. It is that there may be no duel that I
conjure you to accept.... It is essential that it does not take place. I
swear to you, that the peace of too many innocent persons is concerned.”

And he continued, calling into service at that moment all the
intelligence and all the eloquence of which he was capable. He could
follow on the face of the former duellist, who had become the most
ardent of Catholics and the most monomaniacal of old bachelors, twenty
diverse expressions. At length Montfanon laid his hand with veritable
solemnity on his interlocutor’s arm and said to him:

“Listen, Dorsenne, do not tell me any more.... I consent to what you ask
of me, but on two conditions. They are these: The first is that Monsieur
Chapron will trust absolutely to my judgment, whatsoever it may be; the
second is that you will retire with me if these gentlemen persist in
their childishness.... I promise to aid you in fulfilling a mission
of charity, and not anything else; I repeat, not anything else. Before
bringing Monsieur Chapron to me you will repeat to him what I have said,
word for word.”

“Word for word,” replied the other, adding: “He is at home awaiting the
result of my undertaking.”

“Then,” said the Marquis, “I will return to Rome with you at once. He
has probably already received Gorka’s seconds, and if they really wish
to arrange a duel the rule is not to put it off.... I shall not see my
procession, but to prevent misfortune is to do a good deed, and it is
one way of praying to God.”

“Let me press your hand, my noble friend,” said Dorsenne; “never have I
better understood what a truly brave man is.”

When the writer alighted, three-quarters of an hour later, at the house
on the Rue Leopardi, after having seen Montfanon home, he felt sustained
by such moral support that was almost joyous. He found Florent in his
species of salon-smoking-room, arranging his papers with methodical
composure.

“He accepts,” were the first words the young men uttered, almost
simultaneously, while Dorsenne repeated Montfanon’s words.

“I depend absolutely on you two,” replied the other. “I have no thirst
for Monsieur de Gorka’s blood.... But that gentleman must not accuse the
grandson of Colonel Chapron of cowardice.... For that I rely upon the
relative of General Dorsenne and on the old soldier of Charette.”

As he spoke, Florent handed a letter to Julien, who asked: “From whom is
this?”

“This,” said Florent, “is a letter addressed to you, on this very table
half an hour ago by Baron Hafner.... There is some news. I have received
my adversary’s seconds. The Baron is one, Ardea the other.”

“Baron Hafner!” exclaimed Dorsenne. “What a singular choice!” He paused,
and he and Florent exchanged glances. They understood one another
without speaking. Boleslas could not have found a surer means of
informing Madame Steno as to the plan he intended to employ in his
vengeance. On the other hand, the known devotion of the Baron for the
Countess gave one chance more for a pacific solution, at the same
time that the fanaticism of Montfanon would be confronted with Fanny’s
father, an episode of comedy suddenly cast across Gorka’s drama of
jealousy.

Julien resumed with a smile: “You must watch Montfanon’s face when we
inform him of those two witnesses. He is a man of the fifteenth century,
you know, a Montluc, a Duc d’Alba, a Philippe II. I do not know which
he detests the most, the Freemasons, the Free-thinkers, the Protestants,
the Jews, or the Germans. And as this obscure and tortuous Hafner is a
little of everything, he has vowed hatred against him!... Leaving that
out of the question, he suspects him of being a secret agent in the
service of the Triple Alliance! But let us see the letter.”

He opened and glanced through it. “This craftiness serves for something,
it is equivalent almost to kindness. He, too, has felt that it is
necessary to end our affair, were it only to avoid scandal. He appoints
a meeting at his house between six and seven o’clock with me and your
second. Come, time is flying. You must come to the Marquis to make your
request officially. Begin this way. Obtain his promise before mentioning
Hafner’s name. I know him. He will not retract his word. But it is
just.”

The two friends found Montfanon awaiting them in his office, a large
room filled with books, from which could be obtained a fine view of the
panorama of the Forum, more majestic still on that afternoon when the
shadows of the columns and arches grew longer on the sidewalk. The room
with its brick floor had no other comfort than a carpet under the large
desk littered with papers--no doubt fragments of the famous work on the
relations of the French nobility and the Church. A crucifix stood upon
the desk. On the wall were two engravings, that of Monseigneur Pie, the
holy Bishop of Poitiers, and that of General de Sonis, on foot, with his
wooden leg, and a painting representing St. Francois, the patron of
the house. Those were the only artistic decorations of the modest
habitation. The nobleman often said: “I have freed myself from the
tyranny of objects.” But with that marvellous background of grandiose
ruins and that sky, the simple spot was an incomparable retreat in
which to end in meditation and renouncement a life already shaken by the
tempests of the senses and of the world.

The hermit of that Thebaide rose to greet his two visitors, and pointing
out to Chapron an open volume on his table, he said to him:

“I was thinking of you. It is Chateauvillars’s book on duelling. It
contains a code which is not very complete. I recommend it to you,
however, if ever you have to fulfil a mission like ours,” and he pointed
to Dorsenne and himself, with a gesture which constituted the most
amicable of acceptations. “It seems you had too hasty a hand.... Ha!
ha! Do not defend yourself. Such as you see me, at twenty-one I threw a
plate in the face of a gentleman who bantered Comte de Chambord before
a number of Jacobins at a table d’hote in the provinces. See,” continued
he, raising his white moustache and disclosing a scar, “this is the
souvenir. The fellow was once a dragoon; he proposed the sabre. I
accepted, and this is what I got, while he lost two fingers.... That
will not happen to us this time at least.... Dorsenne has told you our
conditions.”

“And I replied that I was sure I could not intrust my honor to better
hands,” replied Florent.

“Cease!” replied Montfanon, with a gesture of satisfaction. “No more
phrases. It is well. Moreover, I judged you, sir, from the day on which
you spoke to me at Saint Louis. You honor your dead. That is why I shall
be happy, very happy, to be useful to you.”

“Now tell me very clearly the recital you made to Dorsenne.”

Then Florent related concisely that which had taken place between him
and Gorka--that is to say, their argument and his passion, carefully
omitting the details in which the name of his brother-in-law would be
mixed.

“The deuce!” said Montfanon, familiarly, “the affair looks bad, very
bad.... You see, a second is a confessor. You have had a discussion in
the street with Monsieur Gorka, but about what? You can not reply? What
did he say to you to provoke you to the point of wishing to strike him?
That is the first key to the position.”

“I can not reply,” said Florent.

“Then,” resumed the Marquis, after a silence, “there only remains to
assert that the gesture on your part was--how shall I say? Unmeditated
and unfinished. That is the second key to the position.... You have no
special grudge against Monsieur Gorka?”

“None.”

“Nor he against you?”

“None.”

“The affair looks better,” said Montfanon, who was silent for a time,
to resume, in the voice of a man who is talking to himself, “Count Gorka
considers himself offended? But is there any offence? It is that which
we should discuss.... An assault or the threat of an assault would
afford occasion for an arrangement.... But a gesture restrained, since
it was not carried into effect.... Do not interrupt me,” he continued.

“I am trying to understand it clearly.... We must arrive at a solution.
We shall have to express our regret, leaving the field open to another
reparation, if Gorka requires it.... And he will not require it. The
entire problem now rests on the choice of his seconds.... Whom will he
select?”

“I have already received visits from them,” said Florent. “Half an hour
ago. One is Prince d’Ardea.”

“He is a gentleman,” replied Montfanon. “I shall not be sorry to see him
to tell him my feelings with regard to the public sale of his palace,
to which he should never have allowed himself to be driven.... And the
other?”

“The other?” interrupted Dorsenne. “Prepare yourself for a blow.... I
swear to you I did not know his name when I went in search of you at the
catacomb. It is--in short--it is Baron Hafner.”

“Baron Hafner!” exclaimed Montfanon. “Boleslas Gorka, the descendant of
the Gorkas, of that grand Luc Gorka who was Palatine of Posen and Bishop
of Cujavie, has chosen for his second Monsieur Justus Hafner, the thief,
the scoundrel, who had the disgraceful suit!... No, Dorsenne, do not
tell me that; it is not possible.” Then, with the air of a combatant:
“We will challenge him; that is all, for his lack of honor. I take it
upon myself, as well as to tell of his deeds to Boleslas. We will spend
an enjoyable quarter of an hour there, I promise you.”

“You will not do that,” said Dorsenne, quickly. “First, with regard
to official honor, there is only one law, is there not? Hafner was
acquitted and his adversaries condemned. You told me so the other
day.... And then, you forget the conversation we just had.”

“Pardon,” interrupted Florent, in his turn. “Monsieur de Montfanon, in
promising to assist me, has done me a great honor, which I shall never
forget. If there should result from it any annoyance to him I should be
deeply grieved, and I am ready to release him from his promise.”

“No,” said the Marquis, after another silence. “I will not take it
back.”.... He was so magnanimous when his two or three hobbies were
not involved that the slightest delicacy awoke an echo in him. He again
extended his hand to Chapron and continued, but with an accent which
betrayed suppressed irritation: “After all, it does not concern us if
Monsieur Gorka has chosen to be represented in an affair of honor by one
whom he should not even salute.... You will, then, give our two names
to those two gentlemen.... and Dorsenne and I will await them, as is the
rule.... It is their place to come, since they are the proxies of the
person insulted.”

“They have already arranged a meeting for this evening,” replied
Chapron.

“What’s arranged? With whom? For whom?” exclaimed Montfanon, a prey to a
fresh access of choler. “With you?... For us?... Ah, I do not like such
conduct where such grave matters are concerned.... The code is absolute
on that subject.... Their challenge once made, to which you, Monsieur
Chapron, have to reply by yes or no, these gentlemen should withdraw
immediately.... It is not your fault, it is Ardea’s, who has allowed
that dabbler in spurious dividends to perform his part of intriguer....
But we will rectify all in the right way, which is the French.... And
where is the rendezvous?”

“I will read to you the letter which the Baron left for me with
Florent,” said Dorsenne, who indeed read the very courteous note Hafner
had written to him, in which he excused himself for choosing his own
house as a rendezvous for the four witnesses. “One can not ignore so
polite a note.”

“There are too many dear sirs, and too many compliments,” said
Montfanon, brusquely. “Sit here,” he continued, relinquishing his
armchair to Florent, “and inform the two men of our names and address,
adding that we are at their service and ignoring the first inaccuracy on
their part. Let them return!... And you, Dorsenne, since you are afraid
of wounding that gentleman, I will not prevent you from going to his
house--personally, do you hear--to warn him that Monsieur Chapron, here
present, has chosen for his first second a disagreeable person, an old
duellist, anything you like, but who desires strict form, and, first of
all, a correct call made upon us by them, in order to settle officially
upon a rendezvous.”

“What did I tell you?” asked Dorsenne, when he with Florent descended
Montfanon’s staircase. “He is a different man since you mentioned the
Baron to him. The discussion between them will be a hot one. I hope
he will not spoil all by his folly. On my honor, if I had guessed whom
Gorka would choose I should not have suggested to you the old leaguer,
as I call him.”

“And I, if Monsieur de Montfanon should make me fight at five paces,”
 replied Chapron, with a laugh, “would be grateful to you for having
brought me into relations with him. He is a whole-souled man, as was my
poor father, as is Maitland. I adore such people.”

“Is there no means of having at once heart and head?” said Julien to
himself, on reaching the Palais Savorelli, where Hafner lived, and
recalling the Marquis’s choler on the one hand, and on the other the
egotism of Maitland, of which Florent’s last words reminded him. His
apprehension of the afternoon returned in a greater degree, for he knew
Montfanon to be very sensitive on certain points, and it was one of
those points which would be wounded to the quick by the forced relations
with Gorka’s witnesses. “I do not trust Hafner,” thought he; “if the
cunning fellow has accepted the mission utterly contrary to his tastes,
his habits, almost to his age, it must be to connive with his future
son-in-law and to conciliate all. Perhaps even the marriage had been
already settled? I hope not. The Marquis would be so furious he would
require the duel to a letter.”

The young man had guessed aright. Chance, which often brings one
event upon another, decreed that Ardea, at the very moment that he was
deliberating with Gorka as to the choice of another second, received a
note from Madame Steno containing simply these words: “Your proposal
has been made, and the answer is yes. May I be the first to embrace you,
Simpaticone?”

An ingenious idea occurred to him; to have arranged by his future
father-in-law the quarrel which he considered at once absurd, useless,
and dangerous. The eagerness with which Gorka had accepted Hafner’s
name, proved, as Dorsenne and Florent had divined, his desire that his
perfidious mistress should be informed of his doings. As for the Baron,
he consented--oh, irony of coincidences!--by saying to Peppino Ardea
words almost identical with those which Montfanon had uttered to
Dorsenne:

“We will draw up, in advance, an official plan of conciliation, and, if
the matter can not be arranged, we will withdraw.”

It was in such terms that the memorable conversation was concluded,
a conversation truly worthy of the combinazione which poor Fanny’s
marriage represented. There had been less question of the marriage
itself than that of the services to be rendered to the infidelity of the
woman who presided over the sorry traffic! Is it necessary to add that
neither Ardea nor his future father-in-law had made the shadow of an
allusion to the true side of the affair? Perhaps at any other time the
excessive prudence innate to the Baron and his care never to compromise
himself would have deterred him from the possible annoyances which
might arise from an interference in the adventure of an exasperated and
discarded lover. But his joy at the thought that his daughter was to
become a Roman princess--and with what a name!--had really turned his
brain.

He had, however, the good sense to say to the stunned Ardea: “Madame
Steno must know nothing of it, at least beforehand. She would not
fail to inform Madame Gorka, and God knows of what the latter would be
capable.”

In reality, the two men were convinced that it was essential, directly
or indirectly, to beware of warning Maitland. They employed the
remainder of the afternoon in paying their visit to Florent, then in
sending telegram after telegram to announce the betrothal, with which
charming Fanny seemed more satisfied since Cardinal Guerillot had
consented, at simply a word from her, to preside at her baptism. The
Baron, in the face of that consent, could not restrain his joy. He loved
his daughter, strange man, somewhat in the manner in which a breeder
loves a favorite horse which has won the Grand Prix for him. When
Dorsenne arrived, bearing Chapron’s note and Montfanon’s message, he was
received with a cordiality and a complaisance which at once enlightened
him upon the result of the matrimonial intrigue of which Alba had spoken
to him.

“Anything that your friend wishes, my dear sir.... Is it not so,
Peppino?” said the Baron, seating himself at his table. “Will you
dictate the letter yourself, Dorsenne?... See, is this all right? You
will understand with what sentiments we have accepted this mission when
you learn that Fanny is betrothed to Prince Ardea, here present. The
news dates from three o’clock. So you are the first to know it, is he
not, Peppino?” He had drawn up not less than two hundred despatches.
“Return whenever you like with the Marquis.... I simply ask, under the
circumstances, that the interview take place, if it be possible, between
six and seven, or between nine and ten, in order not to interfere with
our little family dinner.”

“Let us say nine o’clock,” said Dorsenne. “Monsieur de Montfanon is
somewhat formal. He would like to have your reply by letter.”

“Prince Ardea to marry Mademoiselle Hafner!” That cry which the news
brought by Julien wrested from Montfanon was so dolorous that the young
man did not think of laughing. He had thought it wiser to prepare his
irascible friend, lest the Baron might make some allusion to the grand
event during the course of the conversation, and that the other might
not make some impulsive remark.

“Did I not tell you that the girl’s Catholicism was a farce? Did I not
tell Monseigneur Guerillot? This was what she aimed at all those years,
with such perfect hypocrisy? It was the Palais Castagna. And she will
enter there as mistress!... She will bring there the dishonor of that
pirated gold on which there are stains of blood! Warn them, that they do
not speak to me of it, or I will not answer for myself.... The second
of a Gorka, the father-in-law of an Ardea, he triumphs, the thief who
should by rights be a convict!... But we shall see. Will not all the
other Roman princes who have no blots upon their escutcheons,
the Orsinis, the Colonnas, the Odeschalchis, the Borgheses, the
Rospigliosis, not combine to prevent this monstrosity? Nobility is like
love, those who buy those sacred things degrade them in paying for them,
and those to whom they are given are no better than mire.... Princess
d’Ardea! That creature! Ah, what a disgrace!... But we must remember
our engagement relative to that brave young Chapron. The boy pleases me;
first, because very probably he is going to fight for some one else and
out of a devotion which I can not very well understand! It is devotion
all the same, and it is chivalry!... He desires to prevent that
miserable Gorka from calling forth a scandal which would have warned his
sister.... And then, as I told him, he respects the dead.... Let us....
I have my wits no longer about me, that intelligence has so greatly
disturbed me.... Princess d’Ardea!... Well, write that we will be at
Monsieur Hafner’s at nine o’clock.... I do not want any of those people
at my house.... At yours it would not be proper; you are too young. And
I prefer going to the father-in-law’s rather than to the son-inlaw’s.
The rascal has made a good bargain in buying what he has bought with his
stolen millions. But the other.... And his great-great-uncle might have
been Jules Second, Pie Fifth, Hildebrand; he would have sold all just
the same!... He can not deceive himself! He has heard the suit against
that man spoken of! He knows whence come those millions! He has heard
their family, their lives spoken of! And he has not been inspired with
too great a horror to accept the gold of that adventurer. Does he
not know what a name is? Our name! It is ourselves, our honor, in the
mouths, in the thoughts, of others! How happy I am, Dorsenne, to have
been fifty-two years of age last month. I shall be gone before having
seen what you will see, the agony of all the aristocrats and royalties.
It was only in blood that they fell! But they do not fall. Alas! They
fix themselves upon the ground, which is the saddest of all. Still, what
matters it? The monarchy, the nobility, and the Church are everlasting.
The people who disregard them will die, that is all. Come, write your
letter, which I will sign. Send it away, and you will dine with me. We
must go into the den provided with an argument which will prevent
this duel, and sustaining our part toward our client. There must be an
arrangement which I would accept myself. I like him, I repeat.”

The excitement which began to startle Dorsenne was only augmented during
dinner, so much the more so as, on discussing the conditions of that
arrangement he hoped to bring about, the recollection of his terrible
youth filled the thoughts and the discourse of the former duellist. Was
it, indeed, the same personage who recited the verses of a hymn in the
catacombs a few hours before? It only required the feudal in him to be
reawakened to transform him. The fire in his eyes and the color in his
face betrayed that the duel in which he had thought best to engage,
out of charity, intoxicated him on his own statement. It was the old
amateur, the epicure of the sword, very ungovernable, which stirred
within that man of faith, in whom passion had burned and who had loved
all excitement, including that of danger, as to-day he loved his ideas,
as he loved his flagi moderately. He no longer thought of the three
women to be spared suspicion, nor of the good deed to be accomplished.
He saw all his old friends and their talent for fighting, the thrusts of
this one, the way another had of striking, the composure of a third, and
then this refrain interrupted constantly his warlike anecdotes: “But
why the deuce has Gorka chosen that Hafner for his second?... It is
incomprehensible.”.... On entering the carriage which was to bear them
to their interview, he heard Dorsenne say to the coachman: “Palais
Savorelli.”

“That is the final blow,” said he, raising his arm and clenching his
fist. “The adventurer occupies the Pretender’s house, the house of the
Stuarts.”.... He repeated: “The house of the Stuarts!” and then lapsed
into a silence which the writer felt to be laden with more storminess
than his last denunciation. He did not emerge from his meditations
until ushered into the salon of the ci-devant jeweller, now a grand
seigneur--into one of the salons, rather, for there were five. There
Montfanon began to examine everything around him, with an air of such
contempt and pride that, notwithstanding his anxiety, Dorsenne could not
resist laughing and teasing him by saying:

“You will not pretend to say that there are no pretty things here? These
two paintings by Moroni, for example?”

“Nothing that is appropriate,” replied Montfanon. “Yes, they are two
magnificent portraits of ancestors, and this man has no ancestors!...
There are some weapons in that cupboard, and he has never touched a
sword! And there is a piece of tapestry representing the miracles of the
loaves, which is a piece of audacity! You may not believe me, Dorsenne,
but it is making me ill to be here.... I am reminded of the human toil,
of the human soul in all these objects, and to end here, paid for how?
Owned by whom? Close your eyes and think of Schroeder and of the others
whom you do not know. Look into the hovels where there is neither
furniture, fire, nor bread. Then, open your eyes and look at this.”

“And you, my dear friend,” replied the novelist, “I conjure you to think
of our conversation in the catacombs, to think of the three ladies in
whose names I besought you to aid Florent.”

“Thank you,” said Montfanon, passing his hand over his brow, “I promise
you to be calm.”

He had scarcely uttered those words when the door opened, disclosing
to view another room, lighted also, and which, to judge by the sound
of voices, contained several persons. No doubt Madame Steno and Alba,
thought Julien; and the Baron entered, accompanied by Peppino Ardea.
While going through the introductions, the writer was struck by the
contrast offered between his three companions. Hafner and Ardea in
evening dress, with buttonhole bouquets, had the open and happy faces of
two citizens who had clear consciences. The usually sallow complexion
of the business man was tinged with excitement, his eyes, as a rule so
hard, were gentler. As for the Prince, the same childish carelessness
lighted up his jovial face, while the hero of Patay, with his coarse
boots, his immense form enveloped in a somewhat shabby redingote,
exhibited a face so contracted that one would have thought him devoured
by remorse. A dishonest intendant, forced to expose his accounts to
generous and confiding masters, could not have had a face more gloomy
or more anxious. He had, moreover, put his one arm behind his back in
a manner so formal that neither of the two men who entered offered him
their hands. That appearance was without doubt little in keeping with
what the father and the fiance of Fanny had expected; for there was,
when the four men were seated, a pause which the Baron was the first to
break. He began in his measured tones, in a voice which handles words as
the weight of a usurer weighs gold pieces to the milligramme:

“Gentlemen, I believe I shall express our common sentiment in first of
all establishing a point which shall govern our meeting.... We are here,
it is understood, to bring about the work of reconciliation between two
men, two gentlemen whom we know, whom we esteem--I might better
say, whom we all love.”.... He turned, in pronouncing those words,
successively to each of his three listeners, who all bowed, with the
exception of the Marquis. Hafner examined the nobleman, with his
glance accustomed to read the depths of the mind in order to divine
the intentions. He saw that Chapron’s first witness was a troublesome
customer, and he continued: “That done, I beg to read to you this little
paper.” He drew from his pocket a sheet of folded paper and placed upon
the end of his nose his famous gold ‘lorgnon’: “It is very trifling, one
of those directives, as Monsieur de Moltke says, which serve to guide
operations, a plan of action which we will modify after discussion. In
short, it is a landmark that we may not launch into space.”

“Pardon, sir,” interrupted Montfanon, whose brows contracted still
more at the mention of the celebrated field-marshal, and, stopping by a
gesture the reader, who, in his surprise, dropped his lorgnon upon the
table on which his elbow rested. “I regret very much,” he continued, “to
be obliged to tell you that Monsieur Dorsenne and I”--here he turned to
Dorsenne, who made an equivocal gesture of vexation--“can not admit the
point of view in which you place yourself.... You claim that we are here
to arrange a reconciliation. That is possible.... I concede that it is
desirable.... But I know nothing of it and, permit me to say, you do
not know any more. I am here--we are here, Monsieur Dorsenne and I,
to listen to the complaints which Count Gorka has commissioned you
to formulate to Monsieur Florent Chapron’s proxies. Formulate those
complaints, and we will discuss them. Formulate the reparation you
claim in the name of your client and we will discuss it. The papers will
follow, if they follow at all, and, once more, neither you nor we know
what will be the issue of this conversation, nor should we know it,
before establishing the facts.”

“There is some misunderstanding, sir,” said Ardea, whom Montfanon’s
words had irritated somewhat. He could not, any more than Hafner,
understand the very simple, but very singular, character of the Marquis,
and he added: “I have been concerned in several ‘rencontres’--four
times as second, and once as principal--and I have seen employed without
discussion the proceeding which Baron Hafner has just proposed to
you, and which of itself is, perhaps, only a more expeditious means of
arriving at what you very properly call the establishment of facts.”

“I was not aware of the number of your affairs, sir,” replied Montfanon,
still more nervous since Hafner’s future son-in-law joined in the
conversation; “but since it has pleased you to tell us I will take the
liberty of saying to you that I have fought seven times, and that I have
been a second fourteen.... It is true that it was at an epoch when the
head of your house was your father, if I remember right, the deceased
Prince Urban, whom I had the honor of knowing when I served in the
zouaves. He was a fine Roman nobleman, and did honor to his name. What
I have told you is proof that I have some competence in the matter of
a duel.... Well, we have always held that seconds were constituted to
arrange affairs that could be arranged, but also to settle affairs,
as well as they can, that seem incapable of being arranged. Let us now
inquire into the matter; we are here for that, and for nothing else.”

“Are these gentlemen of that opinion?” asked Hafner in a conciliatory
voice, turning first to Dorsenne, then to Ardea: “I do not adhere to my
method,” he continued, again folding his paper. He slipped it into his
vest-pocket and continued: “Let us establish the facts, as you say.
Count Gorka, our friend, considers himself seriously, very seriously,
offended by Monsieur Florent Chapron in the course of the discussion in
a public street. Monsieur Chapron was carried away, as you know,
sirs, almost to--what shall I say?--hastiness, which, however, was not
followed by consequences, thanks to the presence of mind of Monsieur
Gorka.... But, accomplished or not, the act remains. Monsieur Gorka was
insulted, and he requires satisfaction.... I do not believe there is any
doubt upon that point which is the cause of the affair, or, rather, the
whole affair.”

“I again ask your pardon, sir,” said Montfanon, dryly, who no longer
took pains to conceal his anger, “Monsieur Dorsenne and I can not accept
your manner of putting the question.... You say that Monsieur Chapron’s
hastiness was not followed by consequences by reason of Monsieur Gorka’s
presence of mind. We claim that there was only on the part of Monsieur
Chapron a scarcely indicated gesture, which he himself restrained. In
consequence you attribute to Monsieur Gorka the quality of the insulted
party; you are over-hasty. He is merely the plaintiff, up to this time.
It is very different.”

“But by rights he is the insulted party,” interrupted Ardea. “Restrained
or not, it constitutes a threat of assault. I did not wish to claim to
be a duellist by telling you of my engagements. But this is the A B C of
the ‘codice cavalleresco’, if the insult be followed by an assault,
he who receives the blow is the offended party, and the threat of an
assault is equivalent to an actual assault. The offended party has the
choice of a duel, weapons and conditions. Consult your authors and ours:
Chateauvillars, Du Verger, Angelini and Gelli, all agree.”

“I am sorry for their sakes,” said Montfanon, and he looked at the
Prince with a contraction of the brows almost menacing, “but it is an
opinion which does not hold good generally, nor in this particular case.
The proof is that a duellist, as you have just said,” his voice trembled
as he emphasized the insolence offered by the other, “a bravo, to use
the expression of your country, would only have to commit a justifiable
murder by first insulting him at whom he aims with rude words. The
insulted person replies by a voluntary gesture, on the signification
of which one may be mistaken, and you will admit that the bravo is the
offended party, and that he has the choice of weapons.”

“But, Marquis,” resumed Hafner, with evident disgust, so greatly did the
cavilling and the ill-will of the nobleman irritate him, “where are you
wandering to? What do you mean by bringing up chicanery of this sort?”

“Chicanery!” exclaimed Montfanon, half rising.

“Montfanon!” besought Dorsenne, rising in his turn and forcing the
terrible man to be seated.

“I retract the word,” said the Baron, “if it has insulted you. Nothing
was farther from my thoughts.... I repeat that I apologize, Marquis....
But, come, tell us what you want for your client, that is very
simple.... And then we will do all we can to make your demands agree
with those of our client.... It is a trifling matter to be adjusted.”

“No, sir,” said Montfanon, with insolent severity, “it is justice to
be rendered, which is very different. What we, Monsieur Dorsenne and
I, desire,” he continued in a severe voice, “is this: Count Gorka has
gravely insulted Monsieur Chapron. Let me finish,” he added upon a
simultaneous gesture on the part of Ardea and of Hafner. “Yes, sirs,
Monsieur Chapron, known to us all for his perfect courtesy, must have
been very gravely insulted, even to make the improper gesture of which
you just spoke. But it was agreed upon between these two gentlemen, for
reasons of delicacy which we had to accept--it was agreed, I say, that
the nature of the insult offered by Monsieur Gorka to Monsieur Chapron
should not be divulged.... We have the right, however, and I may add
the duty devolves upon us, to measure the gravity of that insult by the
excess of anger aroused in Monsieur Chapron.... I conclude from it that,
to be just, the plan of reconciliation, if we draw it up, should contain
reciprocal concessions. Count Gorka will retract his words and Monsieur
Chapron apologize for his hastiness.”

“It is impossible,” exclaimed the Prince; “Gorka will never accept
that.”

“You, then, wish to have them fight the duel?” groaned Hafner.

“And why not?” said Montfanon, exasperated. “It would be better than for
the one to nurse his insults and the other his blow.”

“Well, sirs,” replied the Baron, rising after the silence which followed
that imprudent whim of a man beside himself, “we will confer again with
our client. If you wish, we will resume this conversation tomorrow at
ten o’clock, say here or in any place convenient to you.... You
will excuse me, Marquis. Dorsenne has no doubt told you under what
circumstances--”

“Yes, he has told me,” interrupted Montfanon, who again glanced at the
Prince, and in a manner so mournful that the latter felt himself blush
beneath the strange glance, at which, however, it was impossible to feel
angry. Dorsenne had only time to cut short all other explanations by
replying to Justus Hafner himself.

“Would you like the meeting at my house? We shall have more chance to
escape remarks.”

“You have done well to change the place,” said Montfanon, five minutes
later, on entering the carriage with his young friend.

They had descended the staircase without speaking, for the brave and
unreasonable Marquis regretted his strangely provoking attitude of the
moment before.

“What would you have?” he added. “The profaned palace, the insolent
luxury of that thief, the Prince who has sold his family, the Baron
whose part is so sinister. I could no longer contain myself! That Baron,
above all, with his directives! Words to repeat when one is German, to
a French soldier who fought in 1870, like those words of Monsieur de
Moltke! His terms, too, applied to honor and that abominable politeness
in which there is servility and insolence!... Still, I am not satisfied
with myself. I am not at all satisfied.”

There was in his voice so much good-nature, such evident remorse at not
having controlled himself in so grave a situation, that Dorsenne pressed
his hand instead of reproaching him, as he said:

“It will do to-morrow.... We will arrange all; it has only been
postponed.”

“You say that to console me,” said the Marquis, “but I know it was
very badly managed. And it is my fault! Perhaps we shall have no other
service to render our brave Chapron than to arrange a duel for him under
the most dangerous conditions. Ah, but I became inopportunely
angry!... But why the deuce did Gorka select such a second? It is
incomprehensible!... Did you see what the cabalistic word gentleman
means to those rascals: Steal, cheat, assassinate, but have carriages
perfectly appointed, a magnificent mansion, well-served dinners, and
fine clothes!... No, I have suffered too much! Ah, it is not right; and
on what a day, too? God! That the old man might die!”.... he added, in a
voice so low that his companion did not hear his words.



BOOK 3.



CHAPTER VII. A LITTLE RELATIVE OF IAGO

The remorse which Montfanon expressed so naively, once acknowledged to
himself, increased rapidly in the honest man’s heart. He had reason to
say from the beginning that the affair looked bad. A quarrel, together
with assault, or an attempt at assault, would not be easily set right.
It required a diplomatic miracle. The slightest lack of self-possession
on the part of the seconds is equivalent to a catastrophe. As happens
in such circumstances, events are hurried, and the pessimistic
anticipations of the irritable Marquis were verified almost as soon as
he uttered them. Dorsenne and he had barely left the Palais Savorelli
when Gorka arrived. The energy with which he repulsed the proposition of
an arrangement which would admit of excuses on his part, served prudent
Hafner, and the not less prudent Ardea, as a signal for withdrawal. It
was too evident to the two men that no reconciliation would result from
a collision of such a madman with a personage so difficult as the most
authorized of Florent’s proxies had shown himself to be. They then asked
Gorka to relieve them from their duty. They had too plausible an excuse
in Fanny’s betrothal for Boleslas to refuse to release them. That
retirement was a second catastrophe. In his impatience to find other
seconds who would be firm, Gorka hastened to the Cercle de la Chasse.
Chance willed that he should meet with two of his comrades--a Marquis
Cibo, Roman, and a Prince Pietrapertoso, Neapolitan, who were assuredly
the best he could have chosen to hasten the simplest affair to its worst
consequences.

Those two young men of the best Italian families, both very intelligent,
very loyal and very good, belonged to that particular class which is to
be met with in Vienna, Madrid, St. Petersburg, as in Milan and in Rome,
of foreign club-men hypnotized by Paris. And what a Paris! That of showy
and noisy fetes, that which passes the morning in practising the sports
in fashion, the afternoons in racing, in frequenting fencing-schools,
the evening at the theatre and the night at the gaming-table! That Paris
which emigrates by turns, according to the season, to Monte Carlo for
the ‘Tir aux Pigeons’, to Deauville for the race week, to Aix-les-Bains
for the baccarat season; that Paris which has its own customs, its
own language, its own history, even its own cosmopolitanism, for it
exercises over certain minds, throughout Europe, so despotic a rule that
Cibo, for example, and his friend Pietrapertoso never opened a French
journal that was not Parisian.

They sought the short paragraphs in which were related, in detail,
the doings of the demi-monde, the last supper given by some well-known
viveur, the details of some large party in such and such a fashionable
club, the result of a shooting match, or of a fencing match between
celebrated fencers! There were between them subjects of conversation of
which they never wearied; to know if spirituelle Gladys Harvey was more
elegant than Leona d’Astri, if Machault made “counters” as rapid as
those of General Garnier, if little Lautrec would adhere or would not
adhere to the game he was playing. Imprisoned in Rome by the scantiness
of their means, and also by the wishes, the one of his uncle, the other
of his grandfather, whose heirs they were, their entire year was summed
up in the months which they spent at Nice in the winter, and in the trip
they took to Paris at the time of the Grand Prix for six weeks. Jealous
one of the other, with the most comical rivalry, of the least occurrence
at the ‘Cercle des Champs-Elysees’ or of the Rue Royale in the Eternal
City, they affected, in the presence of their colleagues of la chasse,
the impassive manner of augurs when the telegraph brought them the
news of some Parisian scandal. That inoffensive mania which had made
of stout, ruddy Cibo, and of thin, pale Pietrapertoso two delightful
studies for Dorsenne during his Roman winter, made of them terrible
proxies in the service of Gorka’s vengeance.

With what joy and what gravity they accepted that mission all those who
have studied swordsmen will understand after this simple sketch, and
with what promptness they presented themselves to confer at nine o’clock
in the morning with their client’s adversary! In short, at half-past
twelve the duel was arranged in its slightest detail. The energy
employed by Montfanon had only ended in somewhat tempering the
conditions--four balls to be exchanged at twenty-five paces at the
word of command. The duel was fixed for the following morning, in the
inclosure which Cibo owned, with an inn adjoining, not very far distant
from the classical tomb of Cecilia Metella. To obtain that distance and
the use of new weapons it required the prestige with which the Marquis
suddenly clothed himself in the eyes of Gorka’s seconds by pronouncing
the name, still legendary in the provinces and to the foreigner,
of Gramont-Caderousse--‘Sic transit gloria mundi’! On leaving that
rendezvous the excellent man really had tears in his eyes.

“It is my fault,” he moaned, “it is my fault. With that Hafner we should
have obtained such a fine official plan by mixing in a little of ours.
He offered it to us himself.... Brave Chapron! It is I who have brought
him into this dilemma!... I owe it to him not to abandon him, but to
follow him to the end.... Here I shall be assisting at a duel, at my
age!... Did you see how those young snobs lowered their voices when I
mentioned my encounter with poor Caderousse?... Fifty-two years and a
month, and not to know yet how to conduct one’s self! Let us go to the
Rue Leopardi. I wish to ask pardon of our client, and to give him some
advice. We will take him to one of my old friends who has a garden
near the Villa Pamphili, very secluded. We will spend the rest of the
afternoon practising.... Ah! Accursed choler! Yes, it would have been so
simple to accept the other’s plan yesterday. By the exchange of two or
three words, I am sure it could have been arranged.”

“Console yourself, Marquis,” replied Florent, when the unhappy nobleman
had described to him the deplorable result of his negotiations. “I like
that better. Monsieur Gorka needs correction. I have only one regret,
that of not having given it to him more thoroughly.... Since I shall
have to fight a duel, I would at least have had my money’s worth!”

“And you have never used a pistol?” asked Montfanon.

“Bah! I have hunted a great deal and I believe I can shoot.”

“That is like night and day,” interrupted the Marquis. “Hold yourself
in readiness. At three o’clock come for me and I will give you a lesson.
And remember there is a merciful God for the brave!”

Although Florent deserved praise for the cheerfulness of which his reply
was proof, the first moments which he spent alone after the departure of
his two witnesses were very painful.

That which Chapron experienced during those few moments was simply very
natural anxiety, the enervation caused by looking at the clock, and
saying:

“In twenty-four hours the hand will be on this point of the dial. And
shall I still be living?”.... He was, however, manly, and knew how to
control himself. He struggled against the feeling of weakness, and,
while awaiting the time to rejoin his friends, he resolved to write
his last wishes. For years his intention had been to leave his entire
fortune to his brother-in-law. He, therefore, made a rough draft of
his will in that sense, with a pen at first rather unsteady, then quite
firm. His will completed, he had courage enough to write two letters,
addressed the one to that brother-in-law, the other to his sister. When
he had finished his work the hands of the clock pointed to ten minutes
of three.

“Still seventeen hours and a half to wait,” said he, “but I think I have
conquered my nerves. A short walk, too, will benefit me.”

So he decided to go on foot to the rendezvous named by Montfanon. He
carefully locked the three envelopes in the drawer of his desk. He saw,
on passing, that Lincoln was not in his studio. He asked the footman
if Madame Maitland was at home. The reply received was that she was
dressing, and that she had ordered her carriage for three o’clock.

“Good,” said he, “neither of them will have the slightest suspicion; I
am saved.”

How astonished he would have been could he, while walking leisurely
toward his destination, have returned in thought to the smoking-room he
had just left! He would have seen a woman glide noiselessly through the
open door, with the precaution of a malefactor! He would have seen her
examine, without disarranging, all the papers on the table. She
frowned on seeing Dorsenne’s and the Marquis’s cards. She took from the
blotting-case some loose leaves and held them in front of the glass,
trying to read there the imprint left upon them. He would have seen
finally the woman draw from her pocket a bunch of keys. She inserted one
of them in the lock of the drawer which Florent had so carefully turned,
and took from that drawer the three unsealed envelopes he had placed
within it. And the woman who thus read, with a face contracted by
anguish, the papers discovered in such a manner, thanks to a ruse
the abominable indelicacy of which gave proof of shameful habits of
espionage, was his own sister, the Lydia whom he believed so gentle and
so simple, to whom he had penned an adieu so tender in case he should
be killed--the Lydia who would have terrified him had he seen her thus,
with passion distorting the face which was considered insignificant!
She herself, the audacious spy, trembled as if she would fall, her
eyes dilated, her bosom heaved, her teeth chattered, so greatly was she
unnerved by what she had discovered, by the terrible consequences which
she had brought about.

Had she not written the anonymous letters to Gorka, denouncing to him
the intrigue between Maitland and Madame Steno? Was it not she who had
chosen, the better to poison those terrible letters, phrases the most
likely to strike the betrayed lover in the most sensitive part of
his ‘amour propre’? Was it not she who had hastened the return of the
jealous man with the certain hope of drawing thus a tragical vengeance
upon the hated heads of her husband and the Venetian? That vengeance,
indeed, had broken. But upon whom? Upon the only person Lydia loved in
the world, upon the brother whom she saw endangered through her fault;
and that thought was to her so overwhelming that she sank into the
armchair in which Florent had been seated fifteen minutes before,
repeating, with an accent of despair: “He is going to fight a duel. He
is going to fight instead of the other!”

All the moral history of that obscure and violent soul was summed up in
the cry in which passionate anxiety for her brother was coupled with a
fierce hatred of her husband. That hatred was the result of a youth
and a childhood without the story of which a duplicity so criminal in
a being so young would be unintelligible. That youth and that childhood
had presaged what Lydia would one day be. But who was there to train the
nature in which the heredity of an oppressed race manifested itself,
as has been already remarked, by the two most detestable
characteristics--hypocrisy and perfidy? Who, moreover, observes in
children the truth, as much neglected in practise as it is common
in theory, that the defects of the tenth year become vices in the
thirtieth? When quite a child Lydia invented falsehoods as naturally
as her brother spoke the truth.... Whosoever observed her would have
perceived that those lies were all told to paint herself in a favorable
light. The germ, too, of another defect was springing up within her--a
jealousy instinctive, irrational, almost wicked. She could not see a new
plaything in Florent’s hands without sulking immediately. She could
not bear to see her brother embrace her father without casting herself
between them, nor could she see him amuse himself with other comrades.

Had Napoleon Chapron been interested in the study of character as deeply
as he was in his cotton and his sugarcane, he would have perceived, with
affright, the early traces of a sinful nature. But, on that point, like
his son, he was one of those trustful men who did not judge when they
loved. Moreover, Lydia and Florent, to his wounded sensibility of a
demi-pariah, formed the only pleasant corner in his life--were the fresh
and youthful comforters of his widowerhood and of his misanthropy. He
cherished them with the idolatry which all great workers entertain for
their children, which is one of the most dangerous forms of paternal
tenderness; Lydia’s incipient vices were to the planter delightful
fancies! Did she lie? The excellent man exclaimed: What an imagination
she has! Was she jealous? He would sigh, pressing to his broad breast
the tiny form: How sensitive she is!... The result of that selfish
blindness--for to love children thus is to love them for one’s self
and not for them--was that the girl, at the time of her entrance at
Roehampton, was spoiled in the essential traits of her character. But
she was so pretty, she owed to the singular mixture of three races
an originality of grace so seductive that only the keen glance of
a governess of genius could have discerned, beneath that exquisite
exterior, the already marked lines of her character. Such governesses
are rare, still more so at convents than elsewhere. There was none at
Roehampton when Lydia entered that pious haven which was to prove fatal
to her, for a reason precisely contrary to that which transformed
for Florent the lawns of peaceful Beaumont into a radiant paradise of
friendship.

Among the pupils with whom Lydia was to be educated were four young
girls from Philadelphia, older than the newcomer by two years, and who,
also, had left America for the first time. They brought with them the
unconquerable aversion to negro blood and that wonderful keenness
in discovering it, even in the most infinitesimal degree, which
distinguishes real Yankees. Little Lydia Chapron, having been entered
as French, they at first hesitated in the face of a suspicion speedily
converted into a certainty and that certainty into an aversion, which
they could not conceal. They would not have been children had they
not been unfeeling. They, therefore, began to offer poor Lydia petty
affronts. Convents and colleges resemble other society. There, too,
unjust contempt is like that “ferret of the woods,” which runs from hand
to hand and which always returns to its point of setting out. All the
scornful are themselves scorned by some one--a merited punishment, which
does not correct our pride any more than the other punishments
which abound in life cure our other faults. Lydia’s persecutors were
themselves the objects of outrages practised by their comrades born in
England, on account of certain peculiarities in their language and for
the nasal quality of their voices. The drama was limited, as we
can imagine, to a series of insignificant episodes and of which the
superintendents only surprised a demi-echo.

Children nurse passions as strong as ours, but so much interrupted
by playfulness that it is impossible to measure their exact strength.
Lydia’s ‘amour propre’ was wounded in an incurable manner by that
revelation of her own peculiarity. Certain incidents of her American
life recurred to her, which she comprehended more clearly. She recalled
the portrait of her grandmother, the complexion, the hands, the hair
of her father, and she experienced that shame of her birth and of
her family much more common with children than our optimism imagines.
Parents of humble origin give their sons a liberal education, expose
them to the demoralization which it brings with it in their positions,
and what social hatreds date from the moment when the boy of twelve
blushes in secret at the condition of his relatives! With Lydia,
so instinctively jealous and untruthful, those first wounds induced
falsehood and jealousy. The slightest superiority even, noticed in
one of her companions, became to her a cause for suffering, and she
undertook to compensate by personal triumphs the difference of blood,
which, once discovered, wounds a vain nature. In order to assure herself
those triumphs she tried to win all the persons who approached her,
mistresses and comrades, and she began to practise that continued comedy
of attitude and of sentiment to which the fatal desire to please, so
quickly leads-that charming and dangerous tendency which borders much
less on goodness than falseness. At eighteen, submitted to a sort of
continual cabotinage, Lydia was, beneath the most attractive exterior,
a being profoundly, though unconsciously, wicked, capable of very little
affection--she loved no one truly but her brother--open to the invasion
of the passions of hatred which are the natural products of proud and
false minds. It was one of these passions, the most fatal of all, which
marriage was to develop within her--envy.

That hideous vice, one of those which govern the world, has been so
little studied by moralists, as all too dishonorable for the heart
of man, no doubt, that this statement may appear improbable. Madame
Maitland, for years, had been envious of her husband, but envious as one
of the rivals of an artist would be, envious as one pretty woman is
of another, as one banker is of his opponent, as a politician of his
adversary, with the fierce, implacable envy which writhes with physical
pain in the face of success, which is transported with a sensual joy in
the face of disaster. It is a great mistake to limit the ravages of that
guilty passion to the domain of professional emulation. When it is deep,
it does not alone attack the qualities of the person, but the person
himself, and it was thus that Lydia envied Lincoln. Perhaps the analysis
of this sentiment, very subtle in its ugliness, will explain to some
a few of the antipathies against which they have struck in their
relatives. For it is not only between husband and wife that these
unavowed envies are met, it is between lover and mistress, friend and
friend, brother and brother, sometimes, alas, father and son, mother and
daughter! Lydia had married Lincoln Maitland partly out of obedience to
her brother’s wishes, partly from vanity, because the young man was an
American, and because it was a sort of victory over the prejudices of
race, of which she thought constantly, but of which she never spoke.

It required only three months of married life to perceive that Maitland
could not forgive himself for that marriage. Although he affected to
scorn his compatriots, and although at heart he did not share any of the
views of the country in which he had not set foot since his fifth year,
he could not hear remarks made in New York upon that marriage without a
pang. He disliked Lydia for the humiliation, and she felt it. The birth
of a child would no doubt have modified that feeling, and, if it would
not have removed it, would at least have softened the embittered heart
of the young wife. But no child was born to them. They had not returned
from their wedding tour, upon which Florent accompanied them, before
their lives rolled along in that silence which forms the base of all
those households in which husband and wife, according to a simple and
grand expression of the people, do not live heart against heart.

After the journey through Spain, which should have been one continued
enchantment, the wife became jealous of the evident preference which
Florent showed for Maitland. For the first time she perceived the hold
which that impassioned friendship had taken upon her brother’s heart.
He loved her, too, but with a secondary love. The comparison annoyed her
daily, hourly, and it did not fail to become a real wound. Returned to
Paris, where they spent almost three years, that wound was increased by
the sole fact that the puissant individuality of the painter speedily
relegated to the shade the individuality of his wife, simply, almost
mechanically, like a large tree which pushes a smaller one into the
background. The composite society of artists, amateurs, and writers who
visited Lincoln came there only for him. The house they had rented was
rented only for him. The journeys they made were for him. In short,
Lydia was borne away, like Florent, in the orbit of the most despotic
force in the world--that of a celebrated talent. An entire book would be
required to paint in their daily truth the continued humiliations which
brought the young wife to detest that talent and that celebrity with as
much ardor as Florent worshipped them. She remained, however, an honest
woman, in the sense in which the word is construed by the world, which
sums up woman’s entire dishonor in errors of love.

But within Lydia’s breast grew a rooted aversion toward Lincoln. She
detested him for the pure blood which made of that large, fair, and
robust man so admirable a type of Anglo-Saxon beauty, by the side of
her, so thin, so insignificant indeed, in spite of the grace of her
pretty, dark face. She detested him for his taste, for the original
elegance with which he understood how to adorn the places in which he
lived, while she maintained within her a barbarous lack of taste for
the least arrangement of materials and of colors. When she was forced
to acknowledge progress in the painter, bitter hatred entered her heart.
When he lamented over his work, and when she saw him a prey to the
dolorous anxiety of an artist who doubts himself, she experienced a
profound joy, marred only by the evident sadness into which Lincoln’s
struggles plunged Florent. Never had she met the eyes of Chapron fixed
upon Maitland with that look of a faithful dog which rejoices in the joy
of its master, or which suffers in his sadness, without enduring, like
Alba Steno, the sensation of a “needle in the heart.”

The idolatrous worship of her brother for the painter caused her to
suffer still more as she comprehended, with the infallible perspicacity
of antipathy, the immense dupery. She read the very depths of the souls
of the two old comrades of Beaumont. She knew that in that friendship,
as is almost always the case, one alone gave all to receive in exchange
only the most brutal recognition, that with which a huntsman or a master
gratifies a faithful dog! As for enlightening Florent with regard to
Lincoln’s character, she had vainly tried to do so by those fine and
perfidious insinuations in which women excel. She only recognized her
impotence, and myriads of hateful impressions were thus accumulated in
her heart, to be summed up in one of those frenzies of taciturn rancor
which bursts on the first opportunity with terrifying energy. Crime
itself has its laws of development. Between the pretty little girl who
wept on seeing a new toy in her brother’s hand and the Lydia Maitland,
forcer of locks, author of anonymous letters, driven by the thirst for
vengeance, even to villainy, no dramatic revolution of character had
taken place. The logical succession of days had sufficed.

The occasion to gratify that deep and mortal longing to touch Lincoln
on some point truly sensitive, how often Lydia had sought it in vain,
before Madame Steno obtained an ascendancy over the painter. She had
been reduced by it to those meannesses of feminine animosity to manage,
as if accidentally, that her husband might read all the disagreeable
articles written about his paintings, innocently to praise before him
the rivals who had given him offense, to repeat to him with an air
of embarrassment the slightest criticisms pronounced on one of his
exhibits--all the unpleasantnesses which had the result of irritating
Florent, above all, for Maitland was one of those artists too well
satisfied with the results of his own work for the opinion of others
to annoy him very much. On the other hand, before the passion for the
dogaresse had possessed him, he had never loved. Many painters are thus,
satisfying with magnificent models an impetuosity of temperament which
does not mount from the senses to the heart. Accustomed to regard the
human form from a certain point, they find in beauty, which would
appear to us simply animal, principles of plastic emotion which at
times suffice for their amorous requirements. They are only more deeply
touched by it, when to that rather coarse intoxication is joined, in
the woman who inspires them, the refined graces of mind, the delicacy of
elegance and the subtleties of sentiment.

Such was Madame Steno, who at once inspired the painter with a passion
as complete as a first love. It was really such. The Countess, who was
possessed of the penetration of voluptuousness, was not mistaken there.
Lydia, who was possessed of the penetration of hatred, was not mistaken
either. She knew from the first day how matters stood in the beginning,
because she was as observing as she was dissimulating; then, thanks
to means less hypothetic, she had always had the habit of making those
abominable inquiries which are natural, we venture to avow, to nine
women out of ten! And how many men are women, too, on this point, as
said the fabulist. At school Lydia was one of those who ascended to the
dormitory, or who reentered the study to rummage in the cupboards and
open trunks of her companions. When mature, never had a sealed letter
passed through her hands without her having ingeniously managed to read
through the envelope, or at least to guess from the postmark, the seal,
the handwriting of the address, who was the author of it. The instinct
of curiosity was so strong that she could not refrain, at a telegraph
office, from glancing over the shoulders of the persons before her, to
learn the contents of their despatches. She never had her hair dressed
or made her toilette without minutely questioning her maid as to the
goings-on in the pantry and the antechamber. It was through a story of
that kind that she learned the altercation between Florent and Gorka in
the vestibule, which proves, between parentheses, that these espionages
by the aid of servants are often efficacious. But they reveal a native
baseness, which will not recoil before any piece of villainy.

When Madame Maitland suspected the liaison of Madame Steno and her
husband, she no more hesitated to open the latter’s secretary than she
later hesitated to open the desk of her brother. The correspondence
which she read in that way was of a nature which exasperated her
desire for vengeance almost to frenzy. For not only did she acquire the
evidence of a happiness shared by them which humiliated in her the woman
barren in all senses of the word, a stranger to voluptuousness as well
as to maternity, but she gathered from it numerous proofs that the
Countess cherished, with regard to her, a scorn of race as absolute
as if Venice had been a city of the United States.... That part of the
Adriatic abounds in prejudices of blood, as do all countries which serve
as confluents for every nation. It is sufficient to convince one’s self
of it, to have heard a Venetian treat of the Slavs as ‘Cziavoni’, and
the Levantines as ‘Gregugni’.

Madame Steno, in those letters she had written with all the familiarity
and all the liberty of passion, never called Lydia anything but La
Morettina, and by a very strange illogicalness never was the name of the
brother of La Morettina mentioned without a formula of friendship.
As the mistress treated Florent in that manner, it must be that she
apprehended no hostility on the part of her lover’s brother-in-law.
Lydia understood it only too well, as well as the fresh proof of
Florent’s sentiments for Lincoln. Once more he gave precedence to the
friend over the sister, and on what an occasion! The most secret wounds
in her inmost being bled as she read. The success of Alba’s portrait,
which promised to be a masterpiece, ended by precipitating her into a
fierce and abominable action. She resolved to denounce Madame Steno’s
new love to the betrayed lover, and she wrote the twelve letters, wisely
calculated and graduated, which had indeed determined Gorka’s return.
His return had even been delayed too long to suit the relative of Iago,
who had decided to aim at Madame Steno through Alba by a still more
criminal denunciation. Lydia was in that state of exasperation in which
the vilest weapons seem the best, and she included innocent Alba in her
hatred for Maitland, on account of the portrait, a turn of sentiment
which will show that it was envy by which that soul was poisoned above
all. Ah, what bitter delight the simultaneous success of that double
infamy had procured for her! What savage joy, mingled with bitterness
and ecstacy, had been hers the day before, on witnessing the nervousness
of poor Alba and the suppressed fury of Boleslas!

In her mind she had seen Maitland provoked by the rival whom she knew to
be as adroit with the sword as with the pistol. She would not have been
the great-grandchild of a slave of Louisiana, if she had not combined
with the natural energy of her hatreds a considerable amount of
superstition. A fortune-teller had once foretold, from the lines in her
palm, that she would cause the violent death of some person. “It will be
he,” she had thought, glancing at her husband with a horrible tremor
of hope.... And now she had the proof, the indisputable proof, that her
plot for vengeance was to terminate in the danger of another. Of what
other?

The letter and will made by Florent disclosed to her the threat of a
fatal duel suspended over the head which was the dearest to her. So she
had driven to a tragical encounter the only being whom she loved.... The
disappointment of the heart in which palpitated the wild energies of a
bestial atavism was so sudden, so acute, so dolorous, that she uttered
an inarticulate cry, leaning upon her brother’s desk, and, in the face
of those sheets of paper which had revealed so much, she repeated:

“He is going to fight a duel! He!... And I am the cause!”.... Then,
returning the letters and the will to the drawer, she closed it and
rose, saying aloud:

“No. It shall not be. I will prevent it, if I have to cast myself
between them. I do not wish it! I do not wish it!”

It was easy to utter such words. But the execution of them was less
easy. Lydia knew it, for she had no sooner uttered that vow than she
wrung her hands in despair--those weak hands which Madame Steno compared
in one of her letters to the paws of a monkey, the fingers were so
supple and so long--and she uttered this despairing cry: “But how?”....
which so many criminals have uttered before the issue, unexpected and
fatal to them, of their shrewdest calculations. The poet has sung it in
the words which relate the story of all our faults, great and small:

     “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
     Make instruments to plague us.”

It is necessary that the belief in the equity of an incomprehensible
judge be well grounded in us, for the strongest minds are struck by a
sinister apprehension when they have to brave the chance of a misfortune
absolutely merited. The remembrance of the soothsayer’s prediction
suddenly occurred to Lydia. She uttered another cry, rubbing her hands
like a somnambulist. She saw her brother’s blood flowing.... No,
the duel should not take place! But how to prevent it? How-how? she
repeated. Florent was not at home. She could, therefore, not implore
him. If he should return, would there still be time? Lincoln was not at
home. Where was he? Perhaps at a rendezvous with Madame Steno.

The image of that handsome idol of love clasped in the painter’s arms,
plunged in the abyss of intoxication which her ardent letters described,
was presented to the mind of the jealous wife. What irony to perceive
thus those two lovers, whom she had wished to strike, with the ecstacy
of bliss in their eyes! Lydia would have liked to tear out their eyes,
his as well as hers, and to trample them beneath her heel. A fresh flood
of hatred filled her heart. God! how she hated them, and with what
a powerless hatred! But her time would come; another need pressed
sorely--to prevent the meeting of the following day, to save her
brother. To whom should she turn, however? To Dorsenne? To Montfanon?
To Baron Hafner? To Peppino Ardea? She thought by turns of the four
personages whose almost simultaneous visits had caused her to believe
that they were the seconds of the two champions. She rejected them,
one after the other, comprehending that none of them possessed enough
authority to arrange the affair. Her thoughts finally reverted to
Florent’s adversary, to Boleslas Gorka, whose wife was her friend and
whom she had always found so courteous. What if she should ask him to
spare her brother? It was not Florent against whom the discarded lover
bore a grudge. Would he not be touched by her tears? Would he not tell
her what had led to the quarrel and what she should ask of her brother
that the quarrel might be conciliated? Could she not obtain from him
the promise to discharge his weapon in the air, if the duel was with
pistols, or, if it was with swords, simply to disarm his enemy?

Like nearly all persons unversed in the art, she believed in infallible
fencers, in marksmen who never missed their aim, and she had also ideas
profoundly, absolutely inexact on the relations of one man with another
in the matter of an insult. But how can women admit that inflexible
rigor in certain cases, which forms the foundation of manly relations,
when they themselves allow of a similar rigor neither in their arguments
with men, nor in their discussions among themselves? Accustomed always
to appeal from convention to instinct and from reason to sentiment, they
are, in the face of certain laws, be they those of justice or of honor,
in a state of incomprehension worse than ignorance. A duel, for example,
appears to them like an arbitrary drama, which the wish of one of those
concerned can change at his fancy. Ninety-nine women out of a hundred
would think like Lydia Maitland of hastening to the adversary of the man
they love, to demand, to beg for his life. Let us add, however, that the
majority would not carry out that thought. They would confine
themselves to sewing in the vest of their beloved some blessed medal,
in recommending him to the Providence, which, for them, is still the
favoritism of heaven. Lydia felt that if ever Florent should learn of
her step with regard to Gorka, he would be very indignant. But who would
tell him? She was agitated by one of those fevers of fear and of remorse
which are too acute not to act, cost what it might. Her carriage was
announced, and she entered it, giving the address of the Palazzetto
Doria. In what terms should she approach the man to whom she was about
to pay that audacious and absurd visit? Ah, what mattered it? The
circumstances would inspire her. Her desire to cut short the duel was so
strong that she did not doubt of success.

She was greatly disappointed when the footman at the palace told
her that the Count had gone out, while at the same moment a voice
interrupted him with a gay laugh. It was Countess Maud Gorka, who,
returning from her walk with her little boy, recognized Lydia’s coup,
and who said to her:

“What a lucky idea I had of returning a little sooner. I see you were
afraid of a storm, as you drove out in a closed carriage. Will you come
upstairs a moment?” And, perceiving that the young woman, whose hand she
had taken, was trembling: “What ails you? I should think you were ill!
You do not feel well? My God, what ails her! She is ill, Luc,” she
added, turning to her son; “run to my room and bring me the large bottle
of English salts; Rose knows which one. Go, go quickly.”

“It is nothing,” replied Lydia, who had indeed closed her eyes as if on
the point of swooning. “See, I am better already. I think I will return
home; it will be wiser.”

“I shall not leave you,” said Maud, seating herself, too, in the
carriage; and, as they handed her the bottle of salts, she made Madame
Maitland inhale it, talking to her the while as to a sick child: “Poor
little thing!”

“How her cheeks burn! And you pay visits in this state. It is very
venturesome! Rue Leopardi,” she called to the coachman, “quickly.”

The carriage rolled away, and Madame Gorka continued to press the tiny
hands of Lydia, to whom she gave the tender name, so ironical under the
circumstances, of “Poor little one!” Maud was one of those women like
whom England produces many, for the honor of that healthy and robust
British civilization, who are at once all energy and all goodness. As
large and stout as Lydia was slender, she would rather have borne her to
her bed in her vigorous arms than to have abandoned her in the troubled
state in which she had surprised her. Not less practical and, as her
compatriots say, as matter-of-fact as she was charitable, she began to
question her friend on the symptoms which had preceded that attack, when
with astonishment she saw that altered face contract, tears gushing from
the closed eyes, and the fragile form convulsed by sobs. Lydia had
a nervous attack caused by anxiety, by the fresh disappointment of
Boleslas’s absence from home, and no doubt, too, by the gentleness with
which Maud addressed her, and tearing her handkerchief with her white
teeth, she moaned:

“No, I am not ill. But it is that thought which I can not bear. No, I
can not. Ah, it is maddening!” And turning toward her companion, she in
her turn pressed her hands, saying: “But you know nothing! You suspect
nothing! It is that which maddens me, when I see you tranquil, calm,
happy, as if the minutes were not valuable, every one, to-day, to you as
well as to me. For if one is my brother, the other is your husband; and
you love him. You must love him, to have pardoned him for what you have
pardoned him.”

She had spoken in a sort of delirium, brought about by her extreme
nervous excitement, and she had uttered, she, usually so dissembling,
her very deepest thought. She did not think she was giving Madame Gorka
any information by that allusion, so direct, to the liaison of Boleslas
with Madame Steno. She was persuaded, as was entire Rome, that Maud knew
of her husband’s infidelities, and that she tolerated them by one of
those heroic sacrifices which maternity justifies. How many women have
immolated thus their wifely pride to maintain the domestic relation
which the father shall at least not desert officially! All Rome was
mistaken, and Lydia Maitland was to have an unexpected proof. Not a
suspicion that such an intrigue could unite her husband with the mother
of her best friend had ever entered the thoughts of Boleslas’s wife.
But to account for that, it is necessary to admit, as well, and
to comprehend the depth of innocence of which, notwithstanding her
twenty-six years, the beautiful and healthy Englishwoman, with her eyes
so clear, so frank, was possessed.

She was one of those persons who command the respect of the boldest of
men, and before whom the most dissolute women exercised care. She might
have seen the freedom of Madame Steno without being disillusioned. She
had only a liking for acquaintances and positive conversation. She was
very intellectual, but without any desire to study character.

Dorsenne said of her, with more justness than he thought: “Madame
Boleslas Gorka is married to a man who has never been presented to her,”
 meaning by that, that first of all she had no idea of her husband’s
character, and then of the treason of which she was the victim. However,
the novelist was not altogether right. Boleslas’s infidelity was of too
long standing for the woman passionately, religiously loyal, who was his
wife, not to have suffered by it. But there was an abyss between such
sufferings and the intuition of a determined fact such as that which
Lydia had just mentioned, and such a suspicion was so far from Maud’s
thoughts that her companion’s words only aroused in her astonishment
at the mysterious danger of which Lydia’s troubles was a proof more
eloquent still than her words.

“Your brother? My husband?” she said. “I do not understand you.”

“Naturally,” replied Lydia, “he has hidden all from you, as Florent
hid all from me. Well! They are going to fight a duel, and to-morrow
morning.... Do not tremble, in your turn,” she continued, twining her
arms around Maud Gorka. “We shall be two to prevent the terrible affair,
and we shall prevent it.”

“A duel? To-morrow morning?” repeated Maud, in affright. “Boleslas
fights to-morrow with your brother? No, it is impossible. Who told you
so? How do you know it?”

“I read the proof of it with my eyes,” replied Lydia. “I read Florent’s
will. I read the letter which he prepared for Maitland and for me in
case of accident....”

“Should I be in the state in which you see me if it were not true?”

“Oh, I believe you!” cried Maud, pressing her hands to her eyelids, as
if to shut out a horrible sight. “But where can they be seen? Boleslas
has been here scarcely any of the time for two days. What is there
between them? What have they said to one another? One does not risk
one’s life for nothing when he has, like Boleslas, a wife and a son.
Answer me, I conjure you. Tell me all. I desire to know all. What is
there at the bottom of this duel?”

“What could there be but a woman?” interrupted Lydia, who put into
the two last words more savage scorn than if she had publicly spit in
Caterina Steno’s face. But that fresh access of anger fell before the
surprise caused her by Madame Gorka’s reply.

“What woman? I understand you still less than I did just now.”

“When we are at home I will speak,”.... replied Lydia, after having
looked at Maud with a surprised glance, which was in itself the most
terrible reply. The two women were silent. It was Maud who now required
the sympathy of friendship, so greatly had the words uttered by Lydia
startled her. The companion whose arm rested upon hers in that carriage,
and who had inspired her with such pity fifteen minutes before, now
rendered her fearful. She seemed to be seated by the side of another
person. In the creature whose thin nostrils were dilated with passion,
whose mouth was distorted with bitterness, whose eyes sparkled with
anger, she no longer recognized little Madame Maitland, so taciturn, so
reserved that she was looked upon as insignificant. What had that voice,
usually so musical, told her; that voice so suddenly become harsh,
and which had already revealed to her the great danger suspended over
Boleslas? To what woman had that voice alluded, and what meant that
sudden reticence?

Lydia was fully aware of the grief into which she would plunge Maud
without the slightest premeditation. For a moment she thought it almost
a crime to say more to a woman thus deluded. But at the same time she
saw in the revelation two certain results. In undeceiving Madame Gorka
she made a mortal enemy for Madame Steno, and, on the other hand, never
would the woman so deeply in love with her husband allow him to fight
for a former mistress. So, when they both entered the small salon of
the Moorish mansion, Lydia’s resolution was taken. She was determined to
conceal nothing of what she knew from unhappy Maud, who asked her, with
a beating heart, and in a voice choked by emotion:

“Now, will you explain to me what you want to say?”

“Question me,” replied the other; “I will answer you. I have gone too
far to draw back.”

“You claimed that a woman was the cause of the duel between your brother
and my husband?”

“I am sure of it,” replied Lydia.

“What is that woman’s name?”

“Madame Steno.”

“Madame Steno?” repeated Maud. “Catherine Steno is the cause of that
duel? How?”

“Because she is my husband’s mistress,” replied Lydia, brutally;
“because she has been your husband’s, because Gorka came here, mad
with jealousy, to provoke Lincoln, and because he met my brother, who
prevented him from entering.... They quarrelled, I know not in what
manner. But I know the cause of the duel.... Am I right, yes or no, in
telling you they are to fight about that woman?”

“My husband’s mistress?” cried Maud. “You say Madame Steno has been my
husband’s mistress? It is not true. You lie! You lie! You lie! I do not
believe it.”

“You do not believe me?” said Lydia, shrugging her shoulders. “As if I
had the least interest in deceiving you; as if one would lie when the
life of the only being one loves in the world is in the balance! For
I have only my brother, and perhaps to-morrow I shall no longer have
him.... But you shall believe me. I desire that we both hate that woman,
that we both be avenged upon her, as we both do not wish the duel to
take place--the duel of which, I repeat, she is the cause, the sole
cause.... You do not believe me? Do you know what caused your husband to
return? You did not expect him; confess! It was I--I, do you hear--who
wrote him what Steno and Lincoln were doing; day after day I wrote about
their love, their meetings, their bliss. Ah, I was sure it would not be
in vain, and he returned. Is that a proof?”

“You did not do that?” cried Madame Gorka, recoiling with horror. “It
was infamous.”

“Yes, I did it,” replied Lydia, with savage pride, “and why not? It was
my right when she took my husband from me. You have only to return and
to look in the place where Gorka keeps his letters. You will certainly
find those I wrote, and others, I assure you, from that woman. For she
has a mania for letter-writing.... Do you believe me now, or will you
repeat that I have lied?”

“Never,” returned Maud, with sorrowful indignation upon her lovely,
loyal face, “no, never will I descend to such baseness.”

“Well, I will descend for you,” said Lydia. “What you do not dare to
do, I will dare, and you will ask me to aid you in being avenged. Come,”
 and, seizing the hand of her stupefied companion, she drew her into
Lincoln’s studio, at that moment unoccupied. She approached one of those
Spanish desks, called baygenos, and she touched two small panels, which
disclosed, on opening, a secret drawer, in which were a package
of letters, which she seized. Maud Gorka watched her with the same
terrified horror with which she would have seen some one killed and
robbed. That honorable soul revolted at the scene in which her mere
presence made of her an accomplice. But at the same time she was a prey,
as had been her husband several days before, to that maddening appetite
to know the truth, which becomes, in certain forms of doubt, a physical
need, as imperious as hunger and thirst, and she listened to Florent’s
sister, who continued:

“Will it be a proof when you have seen the affair written in her own
hand? Yes,” she continued, with cruel irony, “she loves correspondence,
our fortunate rival. Justice must be rendered her that she may make no
more avowals. She writes as she feels. It seems that the successor was
jealous of his predecessor.... See, is this a proof this time?”....
And, after having glanced at the first letters as a person familiar with
them, she handed one of those papers to Maud, who had not the courage to
avert her eyes. What she saw written upon that sheet drew from her a cry
of anguish. She had, however, only read ten lines, which proved how
much mistaken psychological Dorsenne was in thinking that Maitland
was ignorant of the former relations between his mistress and Gorka.
Countess Steno’s grandeur, that which made a courageous woman almost a
heroine in her passions, was an absolute sincerity and disgust for the
usual pettiness of flirtations. She would have disdained to deny to a
new lover the knowledge of her past, and the semiavowals, so common to
women, would have seemed to her a cowardice still worse. She had not
essayed to hide from Maitland what connection she had broken off for
him, and it was upon one of those phrases, in which she spoke of it
openly, that Madame Gorka’s eyes fell:

“You will be pleased with me,” she wrote, “and I shall no longer see in
your dear blue eyes which I kiss, as I love them, that gleam of mistrust
which troubles me. I have stopped the correspondence with Gorka. If you
require it, I will even break with Maud, notwithstanding the reason you
know of and which will render it difficult for me. But how can you be
jealous yet?... Is not my frankness with regard to that liaison the
surest guarantee that it is ended? Come, do not be jealous. Listen to
what I know so well, that I felt I loved, and that my life began only
on the day when you took me in your arms. The woman you have awakened in
me, no one has known--”

“She writes well, does she not?” said Lydia, with a gleam of savage
triumph in her eyes. “Do you believe me, now?... Do you see that we have
the same interest to-day, a common affront to avenge? And we will avenge
it.... Do you understand that you can not allow your husband to fight a
duel with my brother? You owe that to me who have given you this weapon
by which you hold him.... Threaten him with a divorce. Fortune is with
you. The law will give you your child. I repeat, you hold him firmly.
You will prevent the duel, will you not?”

“Ah! What do you think it matters to me now if they fight or not?” said
Maud. “From the moment he deceived me was I not widowed? Do not approach
me,” she added, looking at Lydia with wild eyes, while a shudder of
repulsion shook her entire frame.... “Do not speak to me.... I have as
much horror of you as of him.... Let me go, let me leave here.... Even
to feel myself in the same room with you fills me with horror.... Ah,
what disgrace!”

She retreated to the door, fixing upon her informant a gaze which the
other sustained, notwithstanding the scorn in it, with the gloomy pride
of defiance. She went out repeating: “Ah, what disgrace!” without Lydia
having addressed her, so greatly had surprise at the unexpected result
of all her attempts paralyzed her. But the formidable creature lost no
time in regret and repentance. She paused a few moments to think. Then,
crushing in her nervous hand the letter she had shown Maud, at the risk
of being discovered by her husband later, she said aloud:

“Coward! Lord, what a coward she is! She loves. She will pardon. Will
there, then, be no one to aid me? No one to smite them in their insolent
happiness.” After meditating awhile, her face still more contracted,
she placed the letter in the drawer, which she closed again, and half
an hour later she summoned a commissionaire, to whom she intrusted a
letter, with the order to deliver it immediately, and that letter was
addressed to the inspector of police of the district. She informed him
of the intended duel, giving him the names of the two adversaries and of
the four seconds. If she had not been afraid of her brother, she would
even that time have signed her name.

“I should have gone to work that way at first,” said she to herself,
when the door of the small salon closed behind the messenger to whom
she had given her order personally. “The police know how to prevent
them from fighting, even if I do not succeed with Florent.... As for
him?”.... and she looked at a portrait of Maitland upon the desk at
which she had just been writing. “Were I to tell him what is taking
place.... No, I will ask nothing of him.... I hate him too much.”....
And she concluded with a fierce smile, which disclosed her teeth at the
corners of her mouth:

“It is all the same. It is necessary that Maud Gorka work with me
against her. There is some one whom she will not pardon, and that
is.... Madame Steno.” And, in spite of her uneasiness, the wicked woman
trembled with delight at the thought of her work.



CHAPTER VIII. ON THE GROUND

When Maud Gorka left the house on the Rue Leopardi she walked on at
first rapidly, blindly, without seeing, without hearing anything, like
a wounded animal which runs through the thicket to escape danger, to
escape its wounds, to escape itself. It was a little more than half-past
three o’clock when the unhappy woman hastened from the studio, unable to
bear near her the presence of Lydia Maitland, of that sinister worker
of vengeance who had so cruelly revealed to her, with such indisputable
proofs, the atrocious affair, the long, the infamous, the inexpiable
treason.

It was almost six o’clock before Maud Gorka really regained
consciousness. A very common occurrence aroused her from the
somnambulism of suffering in which she had wandered for two hours. The
storm which had threatened since noon at length broke. Maud, who had
scarcely heeded the first large drops, was forced to seek shelter when
the clouds suddenly burst, and she took refuge at the right extremity
of the colonnade of St. Peter’s. How had she gone that far? She did not
know herself precisely. She remembered vaguely that she had wandered
through a labyrinth of small streets, had crossed the Tiber--no doubt by
the Garibaldi bridge--had passed through a large garden--doubtless the
Janicule, since she had walked along a portion of the ramparts. She
had left the city by the Porte de Saint-Pancrace, to follow by that of
Cavallegieri the sinuous line of the Urban walls.

That corner of Rome, with a view of the pines of the Villa Pamfili on
one side, and on the other the back part of the Vatican, serves as a
promenade during the winter for the few cardinals who go in search of
the afternoon sun, certain there of meeting only a few strangers. In the
month of May it is a desert, scorched by the sun, which glows upon
the brick, discolored by two centuries of that implacable heat which
caresses the scales of the green and gray lizards about to crawl between
the bees of Pope Urbain VIII’s escutcheon of the Barberini family.
Madame Gorka’s instinct had at least served her in leading her upon a
route on which she met no one. Now the sense of reality returned. She
recognized the objects around her, and that framework, so familiar to
her piety of fervent Catholicism, the enormous square, the obelisk of
Sixte-Quint in the centre, the fountains, the circular portico crowned
with bishops and martyrs, the palace of the Vatican at the corner, and
yonder the facade of the large papal cathedral, with the Saviour and the
apostles erect upon the august pediment.

On any other occasion in life the pious young woman would have seen in
the chance which led her thither, almost unconsciously, an influence
from above, an invitation to enter the church, there to ask the strength
to suffer of the God who said: “Let him who wishes follow me, let him
renounce all, let him take up his cross and follow me!” But she was
passing through that first bitter paroxysm of grief in which it is
impossible to pray, so greatly does the revolt of nature cry out within
us. Later, we may recognize the hand of Providence in the trial imposed
upon us. We see at first only the terrible injustice of fate, and we
tremble in the deepest recesses of our souls with rebellion at the blow
from which we bleed. That which rendered the rebellion more invincible
and more fierce in Maud, was the suddenness of the mortal blow.

Daily some pure, honest woman, like her, acquires the proof of the
treason of a husband whom she has not ceased to love. Ordinarily,
the indisputable proof is preceded by a long period of suspicion. The
faithless one neglects his hearth. A change takes place in his daily
habits. Various hints reveal to the outraged wife the trace of a rival,
which woman’s jealousy distinguishes with a scent as certain as that of
a dog which finds a stranger in the house. And, finally, although there
is in the transition from doubt to certainty a laceration of the heart,
it is at least the laceration of a heart prepared. That preparation,
that adaptation, so to speak, of her soul to the truth, Maud had been
deprived of. The care taken by Madame Steno to strengthen the friendship
between her and Alba had suppressed the slightest signs. Boleslas had
no need to change his domestic life in order to see his mistress at
his convenience and in an intimacy entertained, provoked, by his wife
herself. The wife, too, had been totally, absolutely deceived. She
had assisted in her husband’s adultery with one of those illusions so
complete that it seemed improbable to the indifferent and to strangers.
The awakening from such illusions is the most terrible. That man whom
society considered a complaisant husband, that woman who seemed so
indulgent a wife, suddenly find that they have committed a murder or
a suicide, to the great astonishment of the world which, even then,
hesitates to recognize in that access of folly the proof, the blow, more
formidable, more instantaneous in its ravages, than those of love-sudden
disillusion. When the disaster is not interrupted by acts of violence,
it causes an irreparable destruction of the youthfulness of the soul, it
is the idea instilled in us forever that all can betray, since we have
been betrayed in that manner. It is for years, for life, sometimes, that
powerlessness to be affected, to hope, to believe, which caused Maud
Gorka to remain, on that afternoon, leaning against the pedestal of a
column, watching the rain fall, instead of ascending to the Basilica,
where the confessional offers pardon for all sins and the remedy for all
sorrows. Alas! It was consolation simply to kneel there, and the poor
woman was only in the first stage of Calvary.

She watched the rain fall, and she found a savage comfort in the
formidable character of the storm, which seemed like a cataclysm of
nature, to such degree did the flash of the lightning and the roar of
the thunder mingle with the echoes of the vast palace beneath the lash
of the wind. Forms began to take shape in her mind, after the whirlwind
of blind suffering in which she felt herself borne away after the first
glance cast upon that fatal letter. Each word rose before her eyes, so
feverish that she closed them with pain. The last two years of her life,
those which had bound her to Countess Steno, returned to her thoughts,
illuminated by a brilliance which drew from her constantly these words,
uttered with a moan: How could he? She saw Venice and their sojourn in
the villa to which Boleslas had conducted her after the death of their
little girl, in order that there, in the restful atmosphere of the
lagoon, she might overcome the keen paroxysm of pain.

How very kind and delicate Madame Steno had been at that time; at least
how kind she had seemed, and how delicate likewise, comprehending her
grief and sympathizing with it.... Their superficial relations had
gradually ripened into friendship. Then, no doubt, the treason had
begun. The purloiner of love had introduced herself under cover of the
pity in which Maud had believed. Seeing the Countess so generous, she
had treated as calumny the slander of the world relative to a person
capable of such touching kindness of heart. And it was at that moment
that the false woman took Boleslas from her! A thousand details recurred
to her which at the time she had not understood; the sails of the two
lovers in the gondola, which she had not even thought of suspecting; a
visit which Boleslas had made to Piove and from which he only returned
the following day, giving as a pretext a missed train; words uttered
aside on the balcony of the Palais Steno at night, while she talked with
Alba. Yes, it was at Venice that their adultery began, before her who
had divined nothing, her whose heart was filled with inconsolable
regret for her lost darling! Ah, how could he? she moaned again, and the
visions multiplied.

In her mind were then opened all the windows which Gorka’s perfidity
and the Countess’s as well, had sealed with such care. She saw again
the months which followed their return to Rome, and that mode of life
so convenient for both. How often had she walked out with Alba, thus
freeing the mother and the husband from the only surveillance annoying
to them. What did the lovers do during those hours? How many times on
returning to the Palazzetto Doria had she found Catherine Steno in the
library, seated on the divan beside Boleslas, and she had not mistrusted
that the woman had come, during her absence, to embrace that man, to
talk to him of love, to give herself to him, without doubt, with the
charm of villainy and of danger! She remembered the episode of their
meeting at Bayreuth the previous summer, when she went to England alone
with her son, and when her husband undertook to conduct Alba and the
Countess from Rome to Bavaria. They had all met at Nuremberg. The
apartments of the hotel in which the meeting took place became again
very vivid in Maud’s memory, with Madame Steno’s bedroom adjoining that
of Boleslas’s.

The vision of their caresses, enjoyed in the liberty of the night, while
innocent Alba slept near by, and when she rolled away in a carriage with
little Luc, drew from her this cry once more: “Ah, how could he!”....
And immediately that vision awoke in her the remembrance of her
husband’s recent return. She saw him traversing Europe on the receipt
of an anonymous letter, to reach that woman’s side twenty-four hours
sooner. What a proof of passion was the frenzy which had not allowed him
any longer to bear doubt and absence!... Did he love the mistress who
did not even love him, since she had deceived him with Maitland? And he
was going to fight a duel on her account!... Jealousy, at that
moment, wrung the wife’s heart with a pang still stronger than that of
indignation. She, the strong Englishwoman, so large, so robust, almost
masculine in form, mentally compared herself with the supple Italian
with her form so round, with her gestures so graceful, her hands so
delicate, her feet so dainty; compared herself with the creature of
desire, whose every movement implied a secret wave of passion, and she
ceased her cry--“Ah, how could he?”--at once. She had a clear knowledge
of the power of her rival.

It is indeed a supreme agony for an honorable woman, who loves, to
feel herself thus degraded by the mere thought of the intoxication
her husband has tasted in arms more beautiful, more caressing, more
entwining than hers. It was, too, a signal for the return of will to the
tortured but proud soul. Disgust possessed her, so violent, so complete,
for the atmosphere of falsehood and of sensuality in which Boleslas had
lived two years, that she drew herself up, becoming again strong and
implacable. Braving the storm, she turned in the direction of her
home, with this resolution as firmly rooted in her mind as if she had
deliberated for months and months.

“I will not remain with that man another day. Tomorrow I will leave for
England with my son.”

How many, in a similar situation, have uttered such vows, to abjure them
when they find themselves face to face with the man who has betrayed
them, and whom they love. Maud was not of that order. Certainly she
loved dearly the seductive Boleslas, wedded against her parents’ will
the perfidious one for whom she had sacrificed all, living far from her
native land and her family for years, because it pleased him, breathing,
living, only for him and for their boy. But there was within her--as
her long, square chin, her short nose and the strength of her brow
revealed--the force of inflexibility--which is met with in characters
of an absolute uprightness. Love, with her, could be stifled by disgust,
or, rather, she considered it degrading to continue to love one whom she
scorned, and, at that moment, it was supreme scorn which reigned in her
heart. She had, in the highest degree, the great virtue which is found
wherever there is nobility, and of which the English have made the basis
of their moral education--the religion, the fanaticism of loyalty. She
had always grieved on discovering the wavering nature of Boleslas. But
if she had observed in him, with sorrow, any exaggerations of language,
any artificial sentiment, a dangerous suppleness of mind, she had
pardoned him those defects with the magnanimity of love, attributing
them to a defective training. Gorka at a very early age had witnessed
a stirring family drama--his mother and his father lived apart, while
neither the one nor the other had the exclusive guidance of the child.
How could she find indulgence for the shameful hypocrisy of two years’
standing, for the villainy of that treachery practised at the domestic
hearth, for the continued, voluntary disloyalty of every day, every
hour? Though Maud experienced, in the midst of her despair, the sort of
calmness which proves a firm and just resolution, when she reentered the
Palazzetto Doria--what a drama had been enacted in her heart since
her going out!--and it was in a voice almost as calm as usual that she
asked: “Is the Count at home?”

What did she experience when the servant, after answering her in the
affirmative, added: “Madame and Mademoiselle Steno, too, are awaiting
Madame in the salon.” At the thought that the woman who had stolen from
her her husband was there, the betrayed wife felt her blood boil, to use
a common but expressive phrase. It was very natural that Alba’s mother
should call upon her, as was her custom. It was still more natural for
her to come there that day. For very probably a report of the duel
the following day had reached her. Her presence, however, and at that
moment, aroused in Maud a feeling of indignation so impassioned that
her first impulse was to enter, to drive out Boleslas’s mistress as one
would drive out a servant surprised thieving. Suddenly the thought of
Alba presented itself to her mind, of that sweet and pure Alba, of that
soul as pure as her name, of her whose dearest friend she was. Since the
dread revelation she had thought several times of the young girl. But
her deep sorrow having absorbed all the power of her soul, she had not
been able to feel such friendship for the delicate and pretty child.
At the thought of ejecting her rival, as she had the right to do, that
sentiment stirred within her. A strange pity flooded her soul, which
caused her to pause in the centre of the large hall, ornamented with
statues and columns, which she was in the act of crossing. She called
the servant just as he was about to put his hand on the knob of the
door. The analogy between her situation and that of Alba struck her
very forcibly. She experienced the sensation which Alba had so often
experienced in connection with Fanny, sympathy with a sorrow so like
her own. She could not give her hand to Madame Steno after what she had
discovered, nor could she speak to her otherwise than to order her
from her house. And to utter before Alba one single phrase, to make
one single gesture which would arouse her suspicions, would be too
implacable, too iniquitous a vengeance! She turned toward the door which
led to her own room, bidding the servant ask his master to come thither.
She had devised a means of satisfying her just indignation without
wounding her dear friend, who was not responsible for the fact that the
two culprits had taken shelter behind her innocence.

Having entered the small, pretty boudoir which led into her bedroom, she
seated herself at her desk, on which was a photograph of Madame Steno,
in a group consisting of Boleslas, Alba, and herself. The photograph
smiled with a smile of superb insolence, which suddenly reawakened in
the outraged woman her frenzy of rancor, interrupted or rather suspended
for several moments by pity. She took the frame in her hands, she cast
it upon the ground, trampling the glass beneath her feet, then she began
to write, on the first blank sheet, one of those notes which passion
alone dares to pen, which does not draw back at every word:

“I know all. For two years you have been my husband’s mistress. Do not
deny it. I have read the confession written by your own hand. I do not
wish to see nor to speak to you again. Never again set foot in my house.
On account of your daughter I have not driven you out to-day. A second
time I shall not hesitate.”

She was just about to sign Maud Gorka, when the sound of the door
opening and shutting caused her to turn. Boleslas was before her. Upon
his face was an ambiguous expression, which exasperated the unhappy wife
still more. Having returned more than an hour before, he had learned
that Maud had accompanied to the Rue Leopardi Madame Maitland, who was
ill, and he awaited her return with impatience, agitated by the thought
that Florent’s sister was no doubt ill owing to the duel of the morrow,
and in that case, Maud, too, would know all. There are conversations
and, above all, adieux which a man who is about to fight a duel always
likes to avoid. Although he forced a smile, he no longer doubted. His
wife’s evident agitation could not be explained by any other cause.
Could he divine that she had learned not only of the duel, but, too, of
an intrigue that day ended and of which she had known nothing for two
years? As she was silent, and as that silence embarrassed him, he tried,
in order to keep him in countenance, to take her hand and kiss it, as
was his custom. She repelled him with a look which he had never seen
upon her face and said to him, handing him the sheet of paper lying
before her:

“Do you wish to read this note before I send it to Madame Steno, who is
in the salon with her daughter?”

Boleslas took the letter. He read the terrible lines, and he became
livid. His agitation was so great that he returned the paper to his wife
without replying, without attempting to prevent, as was his duty, the
insult offered to his former mistress, whom he still loved to the point
of risking his life for her. That man, so brave and so yielding at once,
was overwhelmed by one of those surprises which put to flight all the
powers of the mind, and he watched Maud slip the note into an envelope,
write the address and ring. He heard her say to the servant:

“You will take this note to Countess Steno and you will excuse me to the
ladies.... I feel too indisposed to receive any one. If they insist,
you will reply that I have forbidden you to admit any one. You
understand--any one.”

The man took the note. He left the room and he had no doubt fulfilled
his errand while the husband and wife stood there, face to face, neither
of them breaking the formidable silence. They felt that the hour was a
solemn one.

Never, since the day on which Cardinal Manning had united their
destinies in the chapel of Ardrahan Castle, had they been engaged in
a crisis so tragical. Such moments lay bare the very depths of the
character. Courageous and noble, Maud did not think of weighing her
words. She did not try to feed her jealousy, nor to accentuate the
cruelty of the cause of the insult which she had the right to launch
at the man toward whom that very morning she had been so confiding, so
tender. The baseness and the cruelty were to remain forever unknown
to the woman who no longer hesitated as to the bold resolution she
had made. No. That which she expected of the man whom she had loved so
dearly, of whom she had entertained so exalted an opinion, whom she had
just seen fall so low, was a cry of truth, an avowal in which she would
find the throb of a last remnant of honor. If he were silent it was not
because he was preparing a denial. The tenor of Maud’s letter left no
doubt as to the nature of the proofs she had in her hand, which she had
there no doubt. How? He did not ask himself that question, governed as
he was by a phenomenon in which was revealed to the full the singular
complexity of his nature. The Slav’s especial characteristic is a
prodigious, instantaneous nervousness. It seems that those beings with
the uncertain hearts have a faculty of amplifying in themselves, to the
point of absorbing the heart altogether, states of partial, passing, and
yet sincere emotion. The intensity of their momentary excitement thus
makes of them sincere comedians, who speak to you as if they felt
certain sentiments of an exclusive order, to feel contradictory ones the
day after, with the same ardor, with the same untruthfulness, unjustly
say the victims of those natures, so much the more deceitful as they are
more vibrating.

He suffered, indeed, on discovering that Maud had been initiated into
his criminal intrigue, but he suffered more for her than for himself. It
was sufficient for that suffering to occupy a few moments, a few hours.
It reinvested the personality of the impassioned and weak husband who
loved his wife while betraying her. There was, indeed, a shade of it in
his adventure, but a very slight shade. And yet, he did not think he was
telling an untruth, when he finally broke the silence to say to her whom
he had so long deceived:

“You have avenged yourself with much severity, Maud, but you had the
right.... I do not know who has informed you of an error which was very
culpable, very wrong, very unfortunate, too.... I know that I have in
Rome enemies bent upon my ruin, and I am sure they have left me no means
of defending myself. I have deceived you, and I have suffered.”

He paused after those words, uttered with a tremor of conviction which
was not assumed. He had forgotten that ten minutes before he had entered
the room with the firm determination to hide his duel and its cause from
the woman for whose pardon he would at that moment have sacrificed his
life without hesitation. He continued, in a voice softened by affection:
“Whatever they have told you, whatever you have read, I swear to you,
you do not know all.”

“I know enough,” interrupted Maud, “since I know that you have been the
lover of that woman, of the mother of my intimate friend, at my side,
under my very eyes.... If you had suffered by that deception, as you
say, you would not have waited to avow all to me until I held in my
hands the undeniable proof of your infamy.... You have cast aside the
mask, or, rather, I have wrested it from you.... I desire no more.... As
for the details of the shameful story, spare me them. It was not to hear
them that I reentered a house every corner of which reminds me that I
believed in you implicitly, and that you have betrayed me, not one day,
but every day; that you betrayed me the day before yesterday, yesterday,
this morning, an hour ago.... I repeat, that is sufficient.”

“But it is not sufficient for me!” exclaimed Boleslas. “Yes, all you
have just said is true, and I deserve to have you tell it to me. But
that which you could not read in those letters shown to you, that which
I have kept for two years in the depths of my heart, and which must now
be told--is that, through all these fatal impulses, I have never ceased
to love you.... Ah, do not recoil from me, do not look at me thus.... I
feel it once more in the agony I have suffered since you are speaking to
me; there is something within me that has never ceased being yours.
That woman has been my aberration. She has had my madness, my senses,
my passion, all the evil instincts of my being.... You have remained my
idol, my affection, my religion.... If I lied to you it was because I
knew that the day on which you would find out my fault I should see you
before me, despairing and implacable as you now are, as I can not bear
to have you be. Ah, judge me, condemn me, curse me; but know, but feel,
that in spite of all I have loved you, I still love you.”

Again he spoke with an enthusiasm which was not feigned. Though he
had deceived her, he recognized only too well the value of the loyal
creature before him, whom he feared he should lose. If he could not move
her at the moment when he was about to fight a duel, when could he
move her? So he approached her with the same gesture of suppliant and
impassioned adoration which he employed in the early days of their
marriage, and before his treason, when he had told her of his love. No
doubt that remembrance thrust itself upon Maud and disgusted her, for it
was with veritable horror that she again recoiled, replying:

“Be silent! That lie is the worst of all. It pains me. I blush for you,
in seeing that you have not even the courage to acknowledge your fault.
God is my witness, I should have respected you more, had you said: ‘I
have ceased loving you. I have taken a mistress. It was convenient for
me to lie to you. I have lied. I have sacrificed all to my passion, my
honor, my duties, my vows and you.’.... Ah, speak to me like that, that
I may have with you the sentiment of truth.... But that you dare
to repeat to me words of tenderness after what you have done to me,
inspires me with repulsion. It is too bitter.”

“Yes,” said Boleslas, “you think thus. True and simple as you are, how
could you have learned to understand what a weak will is--a will which
wishes and which does not, which rises and which falls?... And yet, if
I had not loved you, what interest would I have in lying to you? Have I
anything to conceal now? Ah, if you knew in what a position I am, on the
eve of what day, I beseech you to believe that at least the best part of
my being has never ceased to be yours!”

It was the strongest effort he could make to bring back the heart of his
wife so deeply wounded--the allusion to his duel. For since she had not
mentioned it to him, it was no doubt because she was still ignorant of
it. He was once more startled by the reply she made, and which proved
to him to what a degree indignation had paralyzed even her love. He
resumed:

“Do you know it?”

“I know that you fight a duel to-morrow,” said she, “and for your
mistress, I know, too.”

“It is not true,” he exclaimed; “it is not for her.”

“What?” asked Maud, energetically. “Was it not on her account that you
went to the Rue Leopardi to provoke your rival? For she is not even true
to you, and it is justice. Was it not on her account that you wished
to enter the house, in spite of that rival’s brother-in-law, and that a
dispute arose between you, followed by this challenge? Was it not on her
account, and to revenge yourself, that you returned from Poland, because
you had received anonymous letters which told you all? And to know all
has not disgusted you forever with that creature?... But if she had
deigned to lie to you, she would have you still at her feet, and you
dare to tell me that you love me when you have not even cared to spare
me the affront of learning all that villainy--all that baseness, all
that disgrace--through some one else?”

“Who was it?” he asked. “Name that Judas to me, at least?”

“Do not speak thus,” interrupted Maud, bitterly; “you have lost the
right.... And then do not seek too far.... I have seen Madame Maitland
to-day.”

“Madame Maitland?” repeated Boleslas. “Did Madame Maitland denounce me
to you? Did Madame Maitland write those anonymous letters?”

“She desired to be avenged,” replied Maud, adding: “She has the right,
since your mistress robbed her of her husband.”

“Well, I, too, will be avenged!” exclaimed the young man. “I will kill
that husband for her, after I have killed her brother. I will kill them
both, one after the other.”.... His mobile countenance, which had just
expressed the most impassioned of supplications, now expressed only
hatred and rage, and the same change took place in his immoderate
sensibility. “Of what use is it to try to settle matters?” he continued.
“I see only too well all is ended between us. Your pride and your rancor
are stronger than your love. If it had been otherwise, you would have
begged me not to fight, and you would only have reproached me, as you
have the right to do, I do not deny.... But from the moment that you
no longer love me, woe to him whom I find in my path! Woe to Madame
Maitland and to those she loves!”

“This time at least you are sincere,” replied Maud, with renewed
bitterness. “Do you think I have not suffered sufficient humiliation?
Would you like me to supplicate you not to fight for that creature?
And do you not feel the supreme outrage which that encounter is to me?
Moreover,” she continued with tragical solemnity, “I did not summon you
to have with you a conversation as sad as it is useless, but to tell you
my resolution.... I hope that you will not oblige me to resort for its
execution to the means which the law puts in my power?”

“I don’t deserve to be spoken to thus,” said Boleslas, haughtily.

“I will remain here to-night,” resumed Maud, without heeding that reply,
“for the last time. To-morrow evening I shall leave for England.”

“You are free,” said he, with a bow.

“And I shall take my son with me,” she added.

“Our son!” he replied, with the composure of a man overcome by an access
of tenderness and who controls himself. “That? No. I forbid it.”

“You forbid it?” said she. “Very well, we will appeal it. I knew that
you would force me,” she continued, haughtily, in her turn, “to have
recourse to the law.... But I shall not recoil before anything. In
betraying me as you have done, you have also betrayed our child. I will
not leave him to you. You are not worthy of him.”

“Listen, Maud,” said Boleslas, sadly, after a pause, “remember that it
is perhaps the last time we shall meet.... To-morrow, if I am killed,
you shall do as you like.... If I live, I promise to consent to any
arrangement that will be just.... What I ask of you is--and I have the
right, notwithstanding my faults--in the name of our early years of
wedded life, in the name of that son himself, to leave me in a different
way, to have a feeling, I don’t say of pardon, but of pity.”

“Did you have it for me,” she replied, “when you were following your
passion by way of my heart? No!”.... And she walked before him in order
to reach the door, fixing upon him eyes so haughty that he involuntarily
lowered his. “You have no longer a wife and I have no longer a
husband.... I am no Madame Maitland; I do not avenge myself by means of
anonymous letters nor by denunciation.... But to pardon you?... Never,
do you hear, never!”

With those words she left the room, with those words into which she put
all the indomitable energy of her character.... Boleslas did not essay
to detain her. When, an hour after that horrible conversation, his valet
came to inform him that dinner was served, the wretched man was still
in the same place, his elbow on the mantelpiece and his forehead in
his hand. He knew Maud too well to hope that she would change her
determination, and there was in him, in spite of his faults, his folly
and his complications, too much of the real gentleman to employ means
of violence and to detain her forcibly, when he had erred so gravely. So
she went thus. If, just before, he had exaggerated the expression of his
feelings in saying, in thinking rather, that he had never ceased loving
her, it was true that amid all his errors he had maintained for her an
affection composed particularly of gratitude, remorse, esteem and, it
must be said, of selfishness.

He loved for the devotion of which he was absolutely sure, and then,
like many husbands who deceive an irreproachable wife, he was proud of
her, while unfaithful to her. She seemed to him at once the dignity and
the charity of his life. She had remained in his eyes the one to whom he
could always return, the assured friend of moments of trial, the haven
after the tempest, the moral peace when he was weary of the troubles of
passion. What life would he lead when she was gone? For she would go!
Her resolution was irrevocable. All dropped from his side at once. The
mistress, to whom he had sacrificed the noblest and most loving heart,
he had lost under circumstances as abject as their two years of passion
had been dishonorable. His wife was about to leave him, and would he
succeed in keeping his son? He had returned to be avenged, and he had
not even succeeded in meeting his rival. That being so impressionable
had experienced, in the face of so many repeated blows, a disappointment
so absolute that he gladly looked forward to the prospect of exposing
himself to death on the following day, while at the same time a
bitter flood of rancor possessed him at the thought of all the persons
concerned in his adventure. He would have liked to crush Madame Steno
and Maitland, Lydia and Florent--Dorsenne, too--for having given him the
false word of honor, which had strengthened still more his thirst for
vengeance by calming it for a few hours.

His confusion of thoughts was only greater when he was seated alone
with his son at dinner. That morning he had seen before him his wife’s
smiling face. The absence of her whom at that moment he valued above all
else was so sad to him that he ventured one last attempt, and after
the meal he sent little Luc to see if his mother would receive him. The
child returned with a reply in the negative. “Mamma is resting.... She
does not wish to be disturbed.” So the matter was irremissible. She
would not see her husband until the morrow--if he lived. For vainly did
Boleslas convince himself that afternoon that he had lost none of his
skill in practising before his admiring seconds; a duel is always
a lottery. He might be killed, and if the possibility of an eternal
separation had not moved the injured woman, what prayer would move her?
He saw her in his thoughts--her who at that moment, with blinds drawn,
all lights subdued, endured in the semi-darkness that suffering which
curses but does not pardon. Ah, but that sight was painful to him! And,
in order that she might at least know how he felt, he took their son in
his arms, and, pressing him to his breast, said: “If you see your mother
before I do, you will tell her that we spent a very lonesome evening
without her, will you not?”

“Why, what ails you?” exclaimed the child. “You have wet my cheeks with
tears--you are sweeping!”

“You will tell her that, too, promise me,” replied the father, “so that
she will take good care of herself, seeing how we love her.”

“But,” said the little boy, “she was not ill when we walked together
after breakfast. She was so gay.”

“I think, too, it will be nothing serious,” replied Gorka. He was
obliged to dismiss his son and to go out. He felt so horribly sad that
he was physically afraid to remain alone in the house. But whither
should he go? Mechanically he repaired to the club, although it was too
early to meet many of the members there. He came upon Pietrapertosa and
Cibo, who had dined there, and who, seated on one of the divans, were
conferring in whispers with the gravity of two ambassadors discussing
the Bulgarian or Egyptian question.

“You have a very nervous air,” they said to Boleslas, “you who were in
such good form this afternoon.”

“Yes,” said Cibo, “you should have dined with us as we asked you to.”

“When one is to fight a duel,” continued Pietrapertosa, sententiously,
“one should see neither one’s wife nor one’s mistress. Madame Gorka
suspects nothing, I hope?”

“Absolutely nothing,” replied Boleslas; “you are right. I should have
done better not to have left you. But, here I am. We will exorcise
dismal thoughts by playing cards and supping!”

“By playing cards and supping!” exclaimed Pietrapertosa. “And your hand?
Think of your hand.... You will tremble, and you will miss your man.”

“Alright dinner,” said Cibo, “to bed at ten o’clock, up at six-thirty,
and two eggs with a glass of old port is the recipe Machault gives.”

“And which I shall not follow,” said Boleslas, adding: “I give you my
word that if I had no other cause for care than this duel, you would not
see me in this condition.” He uttered that phrase in a tragical voice,
the sincerity of which the two Italians felt. They looked at each
other without speaking. They were too shrewd and too well aware of the
simplest scandals of Rome not to have divined the veritable cause of the
encounter between Florent and Boleslas. On the other hand, they knew the
latter too well not to mistrust somewhat his attitudes. However, there
was such simple emotion in his accent that they spontaneously pitied
him, and, without another word, they no longer opposed the caprices of
their strange client, whom they did not leave until two o’clock in the
morning--and fortune favored them. For they found themselves at the end
of a game, recklessly played, each the richer by two or three hundred
louis apiece. That meant a few days more in Paris on the next visit.
They, too, truly regretted their friend’s luck, saying, on separating:

“I very much fear for him,” said Cibo. “Such luck at gaming, the night
before a duel--bad sign, very bad sign.”

“So much the more so that some one was there,” replied Pietrapertosa,
making with his fingers the sign which conjures the jettutura. For
nothing in the world would he have named the personages against whose
evil eye he provided in that manner. But Cibo understood him, and,
drawing from his trousers pocket his watch, which he fastened a
l’anglaise by a safety chain to his belt, he pointed out among the
charms a golden horn:

“I have not let it go this evening,” said he. “The worst is, that Gorka
will not sleep, and then, his hand!”

Only the first of those two prognostics was to be verified. Returning
home at that late hour, Boleslas did not even retire. He employed the
remainder of the night in writing a long letter to his wife, one to his
son, to be given to him on his eighteenth birthday, all in case of an
accident. Then he examined his papers and he came upon the package of
letters he had received from Madame Steno. Merely to reread a few of
them, and to glance at the portraits of that faithless mistress again,
heightened his anger to such a degree that he enclosed the whole in a
large envelope, which he addressed to Lincoln Maitland. He had no sooner
sealed it than he shrugged his shoulders, saying: “Of what use?” He
raised the piece of material which stopped up the chimney, and, placing
the envelope on the fire-dogs, he set it on fire. He shook with the
tongs the remains of that which had been the most ardent, the most
complete passion of his life, and he relighted the flames under the
pieces of paper still intact. The unreasonable employment of a night
which might be his last had scarcely paled his face. But his friends,
who knew him well, started on seeing him with that impassively sinister
countenance when he alighted from his phaeton, at about eight o’clock,
at the inn selected for the meeting. He had ordered the carriage the day
before to allay his wife’s suspicions by the pretense of taking one of
his usual morning drives. In his mental confusion he had forgotten to
give a counter order, and that accident caused him to escape the two
policemen charged by the questorship to watch the Palazzetto Doria, on
Lydia Maitland’s denunciation. The hired victoria, which those agents
took, soon lost track of the swift English horses, driven as a man of
his character and of his mental condition could drive.

The precaution of Chapron’s sister was, therefore, baffled in that
direction, and she succeeded no better with regard to her brother, who,
to avoid all explanation with Lincoln, had gone, under the pretext of a
visit to the country, to dine and sleep at the hotel. It was there that
Montfanon and Dorsenne met him to conduct him to the rendezvous in the
classical landau. Hardly had they reached the eminence of the circus of
Maxence, on the Appian Way, when they were passed by Boleslas’s phaeton.

“You can rest very easy,” said Montfanon to Florent. “How can one aim
correctly when one tires one’s arm in that way?”

That had been the only allusion to the duel made between the three men
during the journey, which had taken about an hour. Florent talked as he
usually did, asking all sorts of questions which attested his care
for minute information--the most of which might be utilized by his
brother-in-law-and the Marquis had replied by evoking, with his habitual
erudition, several of the souvenirs which peopled that vast country,
strewn with tombs, aqueducts, ruined villas, with the line of the Monts
Albains enclosing them beyond.

Dorsenne was silent. It was the first affair at which he had assisted,
and his nervous anxiety was extreme.

Tragical presentiments oppressed him, and at the same time he
apprehended momentarily that, Montfanon’s religious scruples
reawakening, he would not only have to seek another second, but would
have to defer a solution so near. However, the struggle which was taking
place in the heart of the “old leaguer” between the gentleman and
the Christian, was displayed during the drive only by an almost
imperceptible gesture. As the carriage passed the entrance to the
catacomb of St. Calixtus, the former soldier of the Pope turned away his
head. Then he resumed the conversation with redoubled energy, to pause
in his turn, however, when the landau took, a little beyond the Tomb of
Caecilia, a transverse road in the direction of the Ardeatine Way. It
was there that ‘l’Osteria del tempo perso’ was built, upon the ground
belonging to Cibo, on which the duel was to take place.

Before l’Osteria, whose signboard was surmounted by the arms of Pope
Innocent VIII, three carriages were already waiting--Gorka’s phaeton,
a landau which had brought Cibo, Pietrapertosa and the doctor, and
a simple botte, in which a porter had come. That unusual number of
vehicles seemed likely to attract the attention of riflemen out for
a stroll, but Cibo answered for the discretion of the innkeeper, who
indeed cherished for his master the devotion of vassal to lord, still
common in Italy. The three newcomers had no need to make the slightest
explanation. Hardly had they alighted from the carriage, when the maid
conducted them through the hall, where at that moment two huntsmen were
breakfasting, their guns between their knees, and who, like true Romans,
scarcely deigned to glance at the strangers, who passed from the common
hall into a small court, from that court, through a shed, into a large
field enclosed by boards, with here and there a few pine-trees.

That rather odd duelling-ground had formerly served Cibo as a paddock.
He had essayed to increase his slender income by buying at a bargain
some jaded horses, which he intended fattening by means of rest and
good fodder, and then selling to cabmen, averaging a small profit. The
speculation having miscarried, the place was neglected and unused, save
under circumstances similar to those of this particular morning.

“We have arrived last,” said Montfanon, looking at his watch; “we are,
however, five minutes ahead of time. Remember,” he added in a low voice,
turning to Florent, “to keep the body well in the background,” these
words being followed by other directions.

“Thanks,” replied Florent, who looked at the Marquis and Dorsenne with
a glance which he ordinarily had only for Lincoln, “and you know that,
whatever may come, I thank you for all from the depths of my heart.”

The young man put so much grace in that adieu, his courage was so
simple, his sacrifice for his brother-in-law so magnanimous and
natural--in fact, for two days both seconds had so fully appreciated the
charm of that disposition, absolutely free from thoughts of self--that
they pressed his hand with the emotion of true friends. They were
themselves, moreover, interested, and at once began the series of
preparations without which the role of assistant would be physically
insupportable to persons endowed with a little sensibility. In
experienced hands like those of Montfanon, Cibo and Pietrapertosa, such
preliminaries are speedily arranged. The code is as exact as the step
of a ballet. Twenty minutes after the entrance of the last arrivals, the
two adversaries were face to face. The signal was given. The two shots
were fired simultaneously, and Florent sank upon the grass which covered
the enclosure. He had a bullet in his thigh.

Dorsenne has often related since, as a singular trait of literary mania,
that at the moment the wounded man fell he, himself, notwithstanding
the anxiety which possessed him, had watched Montfanon, to study him. He
adds that never had he seen a face express such sorrowful piety as that
of the man who, scorning all human respect, made the sign of the cross.
It was the devotee of the catacombs, who had left the altar of the
martyrs to accomplish a work of charity, then carried away by anger so
far as to place himself under the necessity of participating in a duel,
who was, no doubt, asking pardon of God. What remorse was stirring
within the heart of the fervent, almost mystical Christian, so strangely
mixed up in an adventure of that kind? He had at least this comfort,
that after the first examination, and when they had borne Florent into
a room prepared hastily by the care of Cibo, the doctor declared himself
satisfied. The ball could even be removed at once, and as neither the
bone nor the muscles had been injured it was a matter of a few weeks at
the most.

“All that now remains for us,” concluded Cibo, who had brought back the
news, “is to draw up our official report.”

At that instant, and as the witnesses were preparing to reenter the
house for the last formality, an incident occurred, very unexpected,
which was to transform the encounter, up to that time so simple, into
one of those memorable duels which are talked over at clubs and in
armories. If Pietrapertosa and Cibo had ceased since morning to believe
in the jettatura of the “some one” whom neither had named, it must be
acknowledged that they were very unjust, for the good fortune of having
gained something wherewith to swell their Parisian purses was surely
naught by the side of this--to have to discuss with the Cavals, the
Machaults and other professionals the case, almost unprecedented, in
which they were participants.

Boleslas Gorka, who, when once his adversary had fallen, paced to and
fro without seeming to care as to the gravity of the wound, suddenly
approached the group formed by the four men, and in a tone of voice
which did not predict the terrible aggression in which he was about to
indulge, he said:

“One moment, gentlemen. I desire to say a few words in your presence to
Monsieur Dorsenne.”

“I am at your service, Gorka,” replied Julien, who did not suspect the
hostile intention of his old friend. He did not divine the form which
that hostility was about to take, but he had always upon his mind his
word of honor falsely given, and he was prepared to answer for it.

“It will not take much time, sir,” continued Boleslas, still with the
same insolently formal politeness, “you know we have an account to
settle.... But as I have some cause not to believe in the validity of
your honor, I should like to remove all cause of evasion.” And before
any one could interfere in the unheard-of proceedings he had raised his
glove and struck Dorsenne in the face. As Gorka spoke, the writer turned
pale. He had not the time to reply to the audacious insult offered him
by a similar one, for the three witnesses of the scene cast themselves
between him and his aggressor. He, however, pushed them aside with a
resolute air.

“Remember, sirs,” said he, “that by preventing me from inflicting
on Monsieur Gorka the punishment he deserves, you force me to obtain
another reparation. And I demand it immediately.... I will not leave
this place,” he continued, “without having obtained it.”

“Nor I, without having given it to you,” replied Boleslas. “It is all I
ask.”

“No, Dorsenne,” cried Montfanon, who had been the first to seize the
raised arm of the writer, “you shall not fight thus. First, you have no
right. It requires at least twenty-four hours between the provocation
and the encounter.... And you, sirs, must not agree to serve as seconds
for Monsieur Gorka, after he has failed in a manner so grave in all the
rules of the ground.... If you lend yourselves to it, it is barbarous,
it is madness, whatsoever you like. It is no longer a duel.”

“I repeat, Montfanon,” replied Dorsenne, “that I will not leave here and
that I will not allow Monsieur Gorka to leave until I have obtained the
reparation to which I feel I have the right.”

“And I repeat that I am at Monsieur Dorsenne’s service,” replied
Boleslas.

“Very well, sirs,” said Montfanon. “There only remains for us to
leave you to arrange it one with the other as you wish, and for us to
withdraw.... Is not that your opinion?” he continued, addressing Cibo
and Pietrapertosa, who did not reply immediately.

“Certainly,” finally said one; “the case is difficult.”

“There are, however, precedents,” insinuated the other.

“Yes,” resumed Cibo, “if it were only the two successive duels of Henry
de Pene.”

“Which furnish authority,” concluded Pietrapertosa.

“Authority has nothing to do with it,” again exclaimed Montfanon. “I
know, for my part, that I am not here to assist at a butchery, and that
I will not assist at it.... I am going, sirs, and I expect you will do
the same, for I do not suppose you would select coachmen to play the
part of seconds.... Adieu, Dorsenne.... You do not doubt my friendship
for you.... I think I am giving you a veritable proof of it by not
permitting you to fight under such conditions.”

When the old nobleman reentered the inn, he waited ten minutes,
persuaded that his departure would determine that of Cibo and of
Pietrapertosa, and that the new affair, following so strangely upon the
other, would be deferred until the next day. He had not told an untruth.
It was his strong friendship for Julien which had made him apprehend
a duel organized in that way, under the influence of a righteous
indignation. Gorka’s unjustifiable violence would certainly not permit
a second encounter to be avoided. But as the insult had been outrageous,
it was the more essential that the conditions should be fixed calmly and
after grave consideration. To divert his impatience, Montfanon bade
the innkeeper point out to him whither they had carried Florent, and
he ascended to the tiny room, where the doctor was dressing the wounded
man’s leg.

“You see,” said the latter, with a smile, “I shall have to limp a little
for a month.... And Dorsenne?”

“He is all right, I hope,” replied Montfanon, adding, with ill-humor:
“Dorsenne is a fool; that is what Dorsenne is. And Gorka is a wild
beast; that is what Gorka is.” And he related the episode which had
just taken place to the two men, who were so surprised that the doctor,
bandage in hand, paused in his work. “And they wish to fight there at
once, like redskins. Why not scalp one another?... And that Cibo and
that Pietrapertosa would have consented to the duel if I had not opposed
it! Fortunately they lack two seconds, and it is not easy to find in
this district two men who can sign an official report, for it is the
mode nowadays to have those paltry scraps of paper. One of my friends
and myself had two such witnesses at twenty francs apiece. But that was
in Paris in ‘sixty-two.” And he entered upon the recital of the old-time
duel, to calm his anxiety, which burst forth again in these words: “It
seems they do not decide to separate so quickly. It is not, however,
possible that they will fight.... Can we see them from here?” He
approached the window, which indeed looked upon the enclosure. The
sight which met his eyes caused the excellent man to stammer.... “The
miserable men!... It is monstrous.... They are mad.... They have found
seconds.... Whom have they taken?... Those two huntsmen!... Ali, my God!
My God!”.... He could say no more. The doctor had hastened to the window
to see what was passing, regardless of the fact that Florent dragged
himself thither as well. Did they remain there a few seconds, fifteen
minutes or longer? They could never tell, so greatly were they
terrified.

As Montfanon had anticipated, the conditions of the duel were terrible.
For Pietrapertosa, who seemed to direct the combat, after having
measured a space sufficiently long, of about fifty feet, was in the act
of tracing in the centre two lines scarcely ten or twelve metres apart.

“They have chosen the duel a ‘marche interrompue’,” groaned the veteran
duellist, whose knowledge of the ground did not deceive him. Dorsenne
and Gorka, once placed, face to face, commenced indeed to advance, now
raising, now lowering their weapons with the terrible slowness of two
adversaries resolved not to miss their mark.

A shot was fired. It was by Boleslas. Dorsenne was unharmed. Several
steps had still to be taken in order to reach the limit. He took them,
and he paused to aim at his opponent with so evident an intention of
killing him that they could distinctly hear Cibo cry:

“Fire! For God’s sake, fire!”

Julien pressed the trigger, as if in obedience to that order, incorrect,
but too natural to be even noticed. The weapon was discharged, and the
three spectators at the window of the bedroom uttered three simultaneous
exclamations on seeing Gorka’s arm fall and his hand drop the pistol.

“It is nothing,” cried the doctor, “but a broken arm.”

“The good Lord has been better to us than we deserve,” said the Marquis.

“Now, at least, the madman will be quieted.... Brave Dorsenne!” cried
Florent, who thought of his brother-in-law and who added gayly, leaning
on Montfanon and the doctor in order to reach the couch: “Finish
quickly, doctor, they will need you below immediately.”



BOOK 4.



CHAPTER IX. LUCID ALBA

The doctor had diagnosed the case correctly. Dorsenne’s ball had struck
Gorka below the wrist. Two centimetres more to the right or to the
left, and undoubtedly Boleslas would have been killed. He escaped with
a fracture of the forearm, which would confine him for a few days to
his room, and which would force him to submit for several weeks to the
annoyance of a sling. When he was taken home and his personal physician,
hastily summoned, made him a bandage and prescribed for the first few
days bed and rest, he experienced a new access of rage, which exceeded
the paroxysms of the day before and of that morning. All parts of his
soul, the noblest as well as the meanest, bled at once and caused him to
suffer with another agony than that occasioned by his wounded arm. Was
he satisfied in the desire, almost morbid, to figure in the eyes of
those who knew him as an extraordinary personage? He had hastened from
Poland through Europe as an avenger of his betrayed love, and he had
begun by missing his rival. Instead of provoking him immediately in
the salon of Villa Steno, he had waited, and another had had time to
substitute himself for the one he had wished to chastise. The other,
whose death would at least have given a tragical issue to the adventure,
Boleslas had scarcely touched. He had hoped in striking Dorsenne to
execute at least one traitor whom he considered as having trifled with
the most sacred of confidences. He had simply succeeded in giving that
false friend occasion to humiliate him bitterly, leaving out of the
question that he had rendered it impossible to fight again for many
days. None of the persons who had wronged him would be punished for
some time, neither his coarse and cowardly rival, nor his perfidious
mistress, nor monstrous Lydia Maitland, whose infamy he had just
discovered. They were all happy and triumphant, on that lovely, radiant
May day, while he tossed on a bed of pain, and it was proven too clearly
to him that very afternoon by his two seconds, the only visitors whom
he had not denied admission, and who came to see him about five o’clock.
They came from the races of Tor di Quinto, which had taken place that
day.

“All is well,” began Cibo, “I will guarantee that no one has talked....
I have told you before, I am sure of my innkeeper, and we have paid the
witnesses and the coachman.”

“Were Madame Steno and her daughter at the races?” interrupted Boleslas.

“Yes,” replied the Roman, whom the abruptness of the question surprised
too much for him to evade it with his habitual diplomacy.

“With whom?” asked the wounded man.

“Alone, that time,” replied Cibo, with an eagerness in which Boleslas
distinguished an intention to deceive him.

“And Madame Maitland?”

“She was there, too, with her husband,” said Pietrapertosa, heedless of
Cibo’s warning glances, “and all Rome besides,” adding: “Do you know
the engagement of Ardea and little Hafner is public? They were all three
there, the betrothed and the father, and so happy! I vow, it was fine.
Cardinal Guerillot baptized pretty Fanny.”

“And Dorsenne?” again questioned the invalid.

“He was there,” said Cibo. “You will be vexed when I tell you of the
reply he dared to make us. We asked him how he had managed--nervous
as he is--to aim at you as he aimed, without trembling. For he did
not tremble. And guess what he replied? That he thought of a recipe of
Stendhal’s--to recite from memory four Latin verses, before firing. ‘And
might one know what you chose?’ I asked of him. Thereupon he repeated:
‘Tityre, tu patulae recubens!”

“It is a case which recalls the word of Casal,” interrupted
Pietrapertosa, “when that snob of a Figon recommended to us at the
club his varnish manufactured from a recipe of a valet of the Prince of
Wales. If the young man is not settled by us, I shall be sorry for him.”

Although the two ‘confreres’ had repeated that mediocre pleasantry a
hundred times, they laughed at the top of their sonorous voices and
succeeded in entirely unnerving the injured man. He gave as a pretext
his need of rest to dismiss the fine fellows, of whose sympathy he was
assured, whom he had just found loyal and devoted, but who caused him
pain in conjuring up, in answer to his question, the images of all his
enemies. When one is suffering from a certain sort of pain, remarks like
those naively exchanged between the two Roman imitators of Casal are
intolerable to the hearer. One desires to be alone to feed upon, at
least in peace, the bitter food, the exasperating and inefficacious
rancor against people and against fate, with which Gorka at that moment
felt his heart to be so full. The presence of his former mistress at the
races, and on that afternoon, wounded him more cruelly than the rest.
He did not doubt that she knew through Maitland, himself, certainly
informed by Chapron, of the two duels and of his injury. It was on her
account that he had fought, and that very day she appeared in public,
smiling, coquetting, as if two years of passion had not united their
lives, as if he were to her merely a social acquaintance, a guest at her
dinners and her soirees. He knew her habits so well, and how eagerly,
when she loved, she drank in the presence of him she loved. No doubt she
had an appointment on the race-course with Maitland, as she had formerly
had with him, and the painter had gone thither when he should have cared
for his courageous, his noble brother-in-law, whom he had allowed to
fight for him! What a worthy lover the selfish and brutal American was
of that vile creature! The image of the happy couple tortured Boleslas
with the bitterest jealousy intermingled with disgust, and, by contrast,
he thought of his own wife, the proud and tender Maud whom he had lost.

He pictured to himself other illnesses when he had seen that beautiful
nurse by his bedside. He saw again the true glance with which that wife,
so shamefully betrayed, looked at him, the movements of her loyal hands,
which yielded to no one the care of waiting upon him. To-day she had
allowed him to go to a duel without seeing him. He had returned. She had
not even inquired as to his wound. The doctor had dressed it without
her presence, and all that he knew of her was what he learned from their
child. For he sent for Luc. He explained to him his broken arm, as
had been agreed upon with his friends, by a fall on the staircase, and
little Luc replied:

“When will you join us, then? Mamma says we leave for England this
evening or in the morning. All the trunks are almost ready.”

That evening or to-morrow? So Maud was going to execute her threat. She
was going away forever, and without an explanation. He could not even
plead his cause once more to the woman who certainly would not respond
to another appeal, since she had found, in her outraged pride, the
strength to be severe, when he was in danger of death. In the face
of that evidence of the desertion of all connected with him, Boleslas
suffered one of those accesses of discouragement, deep, absolute,
irremediable, in which one longs to sleep forever. He asked himself:
“Were I to try one more step?” and he replied: “She will not!” when his
valet entered with word that the Countess desired to speak with him.
His agitation was so extreme that, for a second, he fancied it was with
regard to Madame Steno, and he was almost afraid to see his wife enter.

Without any doubt, the emotions undergone during the past few days had
been very great. He had, however, experienced none more violent, even
beneath the pistol raised by Dorsenne, than that of seeing advance to
his bed the embodiment of his remorse. Maud’s face, in which ordinarily
glowed the beauty of a blood quickened by the English habits of fresh
air and daily exercise, showed undeniable traces of tears, of sadness,
and of insomnia. The pallor of the cheeks, the dark circles beneath the
eyes, the dryness of the lips and their bitter expression, the feverish
glitter, above all, in the eyes, related more eloquently than words the
terrible agony of which she was the victim. The past twenty-four hours
had acted upon her like certain long illnesses, in which it seems that
the very essence of the organism is altered. She was another person.
The rapid metamorphosis, so tragical and so striking, caused Boleslas to
forget his own anguish. He experienced nothing but one great regret when
the woman, so visibly bowed down by grief, was seated, and when he saw
in her eyes the look of implacable coldness, even through the fever,
before which he had recoiled the day before. But she was there, and her
unhoped-for presence was to the young man, even under the circumstances,
an infinite consolation. He, therefore, said, with an almost childish
grace, which he could assume when he desired to please:

“You recognized the fact that it would be too cruel of you to go away
without seeing me again. I should not have dared to ask it of you, and
yet it was the only pleasure I could have.... I thank you for having
given it to me.”

“Do not thank me,” replied Maud, shaking her head, “it is not on
your account that I am here. It is from duty.... Let me speak,” she
continued, stopping by a gesture her husband’s reply, “you can answer me
afterward.... Had it only been a question of you and of me, I repeat, I
should not have seen you again.... But, as I told you yesterday, we have
a son.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Boleslas, sadly. “It is to make me still more wretched
that you have come.... You should remember, however, that I am in no
condition to discuss with you so cruel a question.... I thought I had
already said that I would not disregard your rights on condition that
you did not disregard mine.”

“It is not of my rights that I wish to speak, nor of yours,” interrupted
Maud, “but of his, the only ones of importance. When I left you
yesterday, I was suffering too severely to feel anything but my pain. It
was then that, in my mental agony, I recalled words repeated to me by my
father: ‘When one suffers, he should look his grief in the face, and it
will always teach him something.’ I was ashamed of my weakness, and I
looked my grief in the face. It taught me, first, to accept it as a
just punishment for having married against the advice and wishes of my
father.”

“Ah, do not abjure our past!” cried the young man; “the past which has
remained so dear to me through all.”

“No, I do not abjure it,” replied Maud, “for it was on recurring to
it--it was on returning to my early impressions--that I could find not
an excuse, but an explanation of your conduct. I remembered what you
related to me of the misfortunes of your childhood and of your youth,
and how you had grown up between your father and your mother, passing
six months with one, six months with the other--not caring for, not
being able to judge either of them--forced to hide from one your
feelings for the other. I saw for the first time that your parents’
separation had the effect of saddening your heart at that epoch. It
is that which perverted your character.... And I read in advance Luc’s
history in yours.... Listen, Boleslas! I speak to you as I would speak
before God! My first feeling when that thought presented itself to my
mind was not to resume life with you; such a life would be henceforth
too bitter. No, it was to say to myself, I will have my son to myself.
He shall feel my influence alone. I saw you set out this morning--set
out to insult me once more, to sacrifice me once more! If you had been
truly repentant would you have offered me that last affront? And when
you returned--when they informed me that you had a broken arm--I wished
to tell the little one myself that you were ill.... I saw how much he
loved you, I discovered what a place you already occupied in his heart,
and I comprehended that, even if the law gave him to me, as I know it
would, his childhood would be like yours, his youth like your youth.”

“Then,” she went on, with an accent in which emotion struggled through
her pride, “I did not feel justified in destroying the respect so deep,
the love so true, he bears you, and I have come to say to you: You have
wronged me greatly. You have killed within me something that will never
come to life again. I feel that for years I shall carry a weight on my
mind and on my heart at the thought that you could have betrayed me as
you have. But I feel that for our boy this separation on which I had
resolved is too perilous. I feel that I shall find in the certainty
of avoiding a moral danger for him the strength to continue a common
existence, and I will continue it. But human nature is human nature, and
that strength I can have only on one condition.”

“And that is?” asked Boleslas. Maud’s speech, for it was a speech
carefully reflected upon, every phrase of which had been weighed by that
scrupulous conscience, contrasted strongly in its lucid reasoning with
the state of nervous excitement in which he had lived for several days.
He had been more pained by it than he would have been by passionate
reproaches. At the same time he had been moved by the reference to his
son’s love for him, and he felt that if he did not become reconciled
with Maud at that moment his future domestic life would be ended. There
was a little of each sentiment in the few words he added to the anxiety
of his question. “Although you have spoken to me very severely, and
although you might have said the same thing in other terms, although,
above all, it is very painful to me to have you condemn my entire
character on one single error, I love you, I love my son, and I agree
in advance to your conditions. I esteem your character too much to doubt
that they will be reconcilable with my dignity. As for the duel of this
morning,” he added, “you know very well that it was too late to withdraw
without dishonor.”

“I should like your promise, first of all,” replied Madame Gorka, who
did not answer his last remark, “that during the time in which you are
obliged to keep your room no one shall be admitted.... I could not bear
that creature in my house, nor any one who would speak to me or to you
of her.”

“I promise,” said the young man, who felt a flood of warmth enter his
soul at the first proof that the jealousy of the loving woman still
existed beneath the indignation of the wife. And he added, with a smile,
“That will not be a great sacrifice. And then?”

“Then?... That the doctor will permit us to go to England. We will leave
orders for the management of things during our absence. We will go this
winter wherever you like, but not to this house; never again to this
city.”

“That is a promise, too,” said Boleslas, “and that will be no great
sacrifice either; and then?”

“And then,” said she in a low voice, as if ashamed of herself. “You must
never write to her, you must never try to find out what has become of
her.”

“I give you my word,” replied Boleslas, taking her hand, and adding:
“And then?”

“There is no then,” said she, withdrawing her hand, but gently. And she
began to realize herself her promise of pardon, for she rearranged the
pillows under the wounded man’s head, while he resumed:

“Yes, my noble Maud, there is a then. It is that I shall prove to you
how much truth there was in my words of yesterday, in my assurance that
I love you in spite of my faults. It is the mother who returns to me
today. But I want my wife, my dear wife, and I shall win her back.”

She made no reply. She experienced, on hearing him pronounce those last
words with a transfigured face, an emotion which did not vanish. She had
acquired, beneath the shock of her great sorrow, an intuition too deep
of her husband’s nature, and that facility, which formerly charmed her
by rendering her anxious, now inspired her with horror. That man with
the mobile and complaisant conscience had already forgiven himself.
It sufficed him to conceive the plan of a reparation of years, and
to respect himself for it--as if that was really sufficient--for the
difficult task. At least during the eight days which lapsed between that
conversation and their departure he strictly observed the promise he had
given his wife. In vain did Cibo, Pietrapertosa, Hafner, Ardea try to
see him. When the train which bore them away steamed out he asked his
wife, with a pride that time justified by deeds:

“Are you satisfied with me?”

“I am satisfied that we have left Rome,” said she, evasively, and it was
true in two senses of the word:

First of all, because she did not delude herself with regard to the
return of the moral energy of which Boleslas was so proud. She knew that
his variable will was at the mercy of the first sensation. Then, what
she had not confessed to her husband, the sorrow of a broken friendship
was joined in her to the sorrows of a betrayed wife. The sudden
discovery of the infamy of Alba’s mother had not destroyed her strong
affection for the young girl, and during the entire week, busy with
her preparations for a final departure, she had not ceased to wonder
anxiously: “What will she think of my silence?... What has her mother
told her?... What has she divined?”

She had loved the “poor little soul,” as she called the Contessina in
her pretty English term. She had devoted to her the friendship peculiar
to young women for young girls--a sentiment--very strong and yet very
delicate, which resembles, in its tenderness, the devotion of an elder
sister for a younger. There is in it a little naive protection and also
a little romantic and gracious melancholy. The elder friend is severe
and critical. She tries to assuage, while envying them, the excessive
enthusiasms of the younger. She receives, she provokes her confidence
with the touching gravity of a counsellor. The younger friend is curious
and admiring. She shows herself in all the truth of that graceful
awakening of thoughts and emotions which precede her own period before
marriage. And when there is, as was the case with Alba Steno, a
certain discord of soul between that younger friend and her mother,
the affection for the sister chosen becomes so deep that it can not be
broken without wounds on both sides. It was for that reason that, on
leaving Rome, faithful and noble Maud experienced at once a sense of
relief and of pain--of relief, because she was no longer exposed to the
danger of an explanation with Alba; of pain, because it was so bitter
a thought for her that she could never justify her heart to her friend,
could never aid her in emerging from the difficulties of her life,
could, finally, never love her openly as she had loved her secretly.
She said to herself as she saw the city disappear in the night with its
curves and its lights:

“If she thinks badly of me, may she divine nothing! Who will now prevent
her from yielding herself up to her sentiment for that dangerous and
perfidious Dorsenne? Who will console her when she is sad? Who will
defend her against her mother? I was perhaps wrong in writing to the
woman, as I did, the letter, which might have been delivered to her in
her daughter’s presence.... Ah, poor little soul!... May God watch over
her!”

She turned, then, toward her son, whose hair she stroked, as if to
exorcise, by the evidence of present duty, the nostalgia which possessed
her at the thought of an affection sacrificed forever. Hers was a nature
too active, too habituated to the British virtue of self-control to
submit to the languor of vain emotions.

The two persons of whom her friendship, now impotent, had thought, were,
for various reasons, the two fatal instruments of the fate of the “poor
little soul,” and the vague remorse which Maud herself felt with regard
to the terrible note sent to Madame Steno in the presence of the young
girl, was only too true. When the servant had given that letter to
the Countess, saying that Madame Gorka excused herself on account of
indisposition, Alba Steno’s first impulse had been to enter her friend’s
room.

“I will go to embrace her and to see if she has need of anything,” she
said.

“Madame has forbidden any one to enter her room,” replied the footman,
with embarrassment, and, at the same moment, Madame Steno, who had just
opened the note, said, in a voice which struck the young girl by its
change:

“Let us go; I do not feel well, either.”

The woman, so haughty, so accustomed to bend all to her will, was indeed
trembling in a very pitiful manner beneath the insult of those phrases
which drove her, Caterina Steno, away with such ignominy. She paled to
the roots of her fair hair, her face was distorted, and for the first
and last time Alba saw her form tremble. It was only for a few
moments. At the foot of the staircase energy gained the mastery in that
courageous character, created for the shock of strong emotions and
for instantaneous action. But rapid as had been that passage, it had
sufficed to disconcert the young girl. For not a moment did she doubt
that the note was the cause of that extraordinary metamorphosis in the
Countess’s aspect and attitude. The fact that Maud would not receive
her, her friend, in her room was not less strange. What was happening?
What did the letter contain? What were they hiding from her? If she had,
the day before, felt the “needle in the heart” only on divining a scene
of violent explanation between her mother and Boleslas Gorka, how would
she have been agonized to ascertain the state into which the few lines
of Boleslas’s wife had cast that mother! The anonymous denunciation
recurred to her, and with it all the suspicion she had in vain rejected.
The mother was unaware that for months there was taking place in her
daughter a moral drama of which that scene formed a decisive episode,
she was too shrewd not to understand that her emotion had been very
imprudent, and that she must explain it. Moreover, the rupture with Maud
was irreparable, and it was necessary that Alba should be included in
it.

The mother, at once so guilty and so loving, so blind and so
considerate, had no sooner foreseen the necessity than her decision was
made, and a false explanation invented:

“Guess what Maud has just written me?” said she, brusquely, to her
daughter, when they were seated side by side in their carriage. God,
what balm the simple phrase introduced into Alba’s heart! Her mother was
about to show her the note! Her joy was short-lived! The note remained
where the Countess had slipped it, after having nervously folded it, in
the opening in her glove. And she continued: “She accuses me of being
the cause of a duel between her husband and Florent Chapron, and she
quarrels with me by letter, without seeing me, without speaking to me!”

“Boleslas Gorka has fought a duel with Florent Chapron?” repeated the
young girl.

“Yes,” replied her mother. “I knew that through Hafner. I did not speak
of it to you in order not to worry you with regard to Maud, and I have
only awaited her so long to cheer her up in case I should have found her
uneasy, and this is how she rewards me for my friendship! It seems that
Gorka took offence at some remark of Chapron’s about Poles, one of those
innocent remarks made daily on any nation--the Italians, the French, the
English, the Germans, the Jews--and which mean nothing.... I repeated
the remark in jest to Gorka!... I leave you to judge.... Is it my fault
if, instead of laughing at it, he insulted poor Florent, and if the
absurd encounter resulted from it? And Maud, who writes me that she will
never pardon me, that I am a false friend, that I did it expressly to
exasperate her husband.... Ah, let her watch her husband, let her lock
him up, if he is mad! And I, who have received them as I have, I, who
have made their position for them in Rome, I, who had no other thought
than for her just now!... You hear,” she added, pressing her daughter’s
hand with a fervor which was at least sincere, if her words were
untruthful, “I forbid you seeing her again or writing to her. If she
does not offer me an apology for her insulting note, I no longer wish to
know her. One is foolish to be so kind!”

For the first time, while listening to that speech, Alba was convinced
that her mother was deceiving her. Since suspicion had entered her heart
with regard to her mother, the object until then of such admiration and
affection, she had passed through many stages of mistrust. To talk
with the Countess was always to dissipate them. That was because Madame
Steno, apart from her amorous immorality, was of a frank and truthful
nature.

It was indeed a customary and known weakness of Florent’s to repeat
those witticisms which abound in national epigrams, as mediocre as they
are iniquitous. Alba could recall at least twenty circumstances when the
excellent man had uttered such jests at which a sensitive person might
take offence. She would not have thought it utterly impossible that a
duel between Gorka and Chapron might have been provoked by an incident
of that order. But Chapron was the brother-in-law of Maitland, of the
new friend with whom Madame Steno had become infatuated during the
absence of the Polish Count, and what a brother-in-law! He of whom
Dorsenne said: “He would set Rome on fire to cook an egg for his
sister’s husband.” When Madame Steno announced that duel to her
daughter, an invincible and immediate deduction possessed the poor
child--Florent was fighting for his brother-in-law. And on account
of whom, if not of Madame Steno? The thought would not, however, have
possessed her a second in the face of the very plausible explanation
made by the Countess, if Alba had not had in her heart a certain proof
that her mother was not telling the truth. The young girl loved Maud as
much as she was loved by her. She knew the sensibility of her faithful
and, delicate friend, as that friend knew hers. For Maud to write her
mother a letter which produced an immediate rupture, there must have
been some grave reason.

Another material proof was soon joined to that moral proof. Granted the
character and the habits of the Countess, since she had not shown Maud’s
letter to her daughter there and then, it was because the letter was not
fit to be shown. But she heard on the following day only the description
of the duel, related by Maitland to Madame Steno, the savage aggression
of Gorka against Dorsenne, the composure of the latter and the issue,
relatively harmless, of the two duels.

“You see,” said her mother to her, “I was right in saying that Gorka is
mad!... It seems he has had a fit of insanity since the duel, and that
they prevent him from seeing any one.... Can you now comprehend how Maud
could blame me for what is hereditary in the Gorka family?”

Such was indeed the story which the Venetian and her friends, Hafner,
Ardea, and others, circulated throughout Rome in order to diminish the
scandal. The accusation of madness is very common to women who have
goaded to excess man’s passion, and who then wish to avoid all blame for
the deeds or words of that man. In this case, Boleslas’s fury and his
two incomprehensible duels, fifteen minutes apart, justified the story.
When it became known in the city that the Palazzetto Doria was strictly
closed, that Maud Gorka received no one, and finally that she was
taking away her husband in the manner which resembled a flight, no doubt
remained of the young man’s wrecked reason.

Two persons profited very handsomely by the gossiping, the origin of
which was a mystery. One was the innkeeper of the ‘Tempo Perso’, whose
simple ‘bettola’ became, during those few days, a veritable place of
pilgrimage, and who sold a quantity of wine and numbers of fresh eggs.
The other was Dorsenne’s publisher, of whom the Roman booksellers
ordered several hundred volumes.

“If I had had that duel in Paris,” said the novelist to Mademoiselle
Steno, relating to her the unforeseen result, “I should perhaps have at
length known the intoxication of the thirtieth edition.”

It was a few days after the departure of the Gorkas that he jested thus,
at a large dinner of twenty-four covers, given at Villa Steno in honor
of Peppino Ardea and Fanny Hafner. Reestablished in the Countess’s favor
since his duel, he had again become a frequenter of her house, so much
the more assiduous as the increasing melancholy of Alba interested
him greatly. The enigma of the young girl’s character redoubled that
interest at each visit in such a degree that, notwithstanding the heat,
already beginning, of the dangerous Roman summer, he constantly
deferred his return to Paris until the morrow. What had she guessed in
consequence of the encounter, the details of which she had asked of
him with an emotion scarcely hidden in her eyes of a blue as clear, as
transparent, as impenetrable at the same time, as the water of certain
Alpine lakes at the foot of the glaciers. He thought he was doing right
in corroborating the story of Boleslas Gorka’s madness, which he knew
better than any one else to be false. But was it not the surest means of
exempting Madame Steno from connection with the affair? Why had he seen
Alba’s beautiful eyes veiled with a sadness inexplicable, as if he had
just given her another blow? He did not know that since the day on
which the word insanity had been uttered before her relative to Maud’s
husband, the Contessina was the victim of a reasoning as simple as
irrefutable.

“If Boleslas be mad, as they say,” said Alba, “why does Maud, whom I
know to be so just and who loves me so dearly, attribute to my mother
the responsibility of this duel, to the point of breaking with me
thus, and of leaving without a line of explanation?... No.... There is
something else.”.... The nature of the “something else” the young girl
comprehended, on recalling her mother’s face during the perusal of
Maud’s letter. During the ten days following that scene, she saw
constantly before her that face, and the fear imprinted upon those
features ordinarily so calm, so haughty! Ah, poor little soul, indeed,
who could not succeed in banishing this fixed idea “My mother is not a
good woman.”

Idea! So much the more terrible, as Alba had no longer the ignorance of
a young girl, if she had the innocence. Accustomed to the conversations,
at times very bold, of the Countess’s salon, enlightened by the reading
of novels chanced upon, the words lover and mistress had for her
a signification of physical intimacy such that it was an almost
intolerable torture for her to associate them with the relations of her
mother, first toward Gorka, then toward Maitland. That torture she had
undergone during the entire dinner, at the conclusion of which Dorsenne
essayed to chat gayly with her. She sat beside the painter, and the
man’s very breath, his gestures, the sound of his voice, his manner of
eating and of drinking, the knowledge of his very proximity, had caused
her such keen suffering that it was impossible for her to take anything
but large glasses of iced water. Several times during that dinner,
prolonged amid the sparkle of magnificent silver and Venetian crystal,
amid the perfume of flowers and the gleam of jewels, she had seen
Maitland’s eyes fixed upon the Countess with an expression which
almost caused her to cry out, so clearly did her instinct divine its
impassioned sensuality, and once she thought she saw her mother respond
to it.

She felt with appalling clearness that which before she had uncertainly
experienced, the immodest character of that mother’s beauty. With
the pearls in her fair hair, with neck and arms bare in a corsage
the delicate green tint of which showed to advantage the incomparable
splendor of her skin, with her dewy lips, with her voluptuous eyes
shaded by their long lashes, the dogaresse looked in the centre of that
table like an empress and like a courtesan. She resembled the Caterina
Cornaro, the gallant queen of the island of Cypress, painted by Titian,
and whose name she worthily bore. For years Alba had been so proud
of the ray of seduction cast forth by the Countess, so proud of those
statuesque arms, of the superb carriage, of the face which defied the
passage of time, of the bloom of opulent life the glorious creature
displayed. During that dinner she was almost ashamed of it.

She had been pained to see Madame Maitland seated a few paces farther
on, with brow and lips contracted as if by thoughts of bitterness. She
wondered: Does Lydia suspect them, too? But was it possible that her
mother, whom she knew to be so generous, so magnanimous, so kind, could
have that smile of sovereign tranquillity with such secrets in her
heart? Was it possible that she could have betrayed Maud for months and
months with the same light of joy in her eyes?

“Come,” said Julien, stopping himself suddenly in the midst of a speech,
in which he had related two or three literary anecdotes. “Instead of
listening to your friend Dorsenne, little Countess, you are following
several blue devils flying through the room.”

“They would fly, in any case,” replied Alba, who, pointing to Fanny
Hafner and Prince d’Ardea seated on a couch, continued: “Has what I told
you a few weeks since been realized? You do not know all the irony of
it. You have not assisted, as I did the day before yesterday, at the
poor girl’s baptism.”

“It is true,” replied Julien, “you were godmother. I dreamed of Leo
Thirteenth as godfather, with a princess of the house of Bourbon as
godmother. Hafner’s triumph would have been complete!”

“He had to content himself with his ambassador and your servant,”
 replied Alba with a faint smile, which was speedily converted into
an expression of bitterness. “Are you satisfied with your pupil?” she
added. “I am progressing.... I laugh--when I wish to weep.... But you
yourself would not have laughed had you seen the fervor of charming
Fanny. She was the picture of blissful faith. Do not scoff at her.”

“And where did the ceremony take place?” asked Dorsenne, obeying the
almost suppliant injunction.

“In the chapel of the Dames du Cenacle.”

“I know the place,” replied the novelist, “one of the most beautiful
corners of Rome! It is in the old Palais Piancini, a large mansion
almost opposite the ‘Calcographie Royale’, where they sell those
fantastic etchings of the great Piranese, those dungeons and those ruins
of so intense a poesy! It is the Gaya of stone. There is a garden on the
terrace. And to ascend to the chapel one follows a winding staircase, an
incline without steps, and one meets nuns in violet gowns, with faces
so delicate in the white framework of their bonnets. In short, an ideal
retreat for one of my heroines. My old friend Montfanon took me there.
As we ascended to that tower, six weeks ago, we heard the shrill voices
of ten little girls, singing: ‘Questo cuor tu la vedrai’. It was a
procession of catechists, going in the opposite direction, with
tapers which flickered dimly in the remnant of daylight.... It was
exquisite.... But, now permit me to laugh at the thought of Montfanon’s
choler when I relate to him this baptism. If I knew where to find
the old leaguer! But he has been hiding since our duel. He is in some
retreat doing penance. As I have already told you, the world for him
has not stirred since Francois de Guise. He only admits the alms of
the Protestants and the Jews. When Monseigneur Guerillot tells him of
Fanny’s religious aspirations, he raves immoderately. Were she to
cast herself to the lions, like Saint Blandine, he would still cry out
‘sacrilege.’”

“He did not see her the day before yesterday,” said Alba, “nor the
expression upon her face when she recited the Credo. I do not believe in
mysticism, you know, and I have moments of doubt. There are times when
I can no longer believe in anything, life seems to me so wretched
and sad.... But I shall never forget that expression. She saw God!...
Several women were present with very touching faces, and there were
many devotees.... The Cardinal is very venerable.... All were by Fanny’s
side, like saints around the Madonna in the early paintings which you
have taught me to like, and when the baptism had been gone through,
guess what she said to me: ‘Come, let us pray for my dear father, and
for his conversion.’ Is not such blindness melancholy.”

“The fact is,” said Dorsenne again, jocosely, “that in the father’s
dictionary the word has another meaning: Conversion, feminine
substantive, means to him income.... But let us reason a little,
Countess. Why do you think it sad that the daughter should see her
father’s character in her own light?... You should, on the contrary,
rejoice at it.... And why do you find it melancholy that this adorable
saint should be the daughter of a thief?... How I wish that you were
really my pupil, and that it would not be too absurd to give you here,
in this corner of the hall, a lesson in intellectuality!... I would say
to you, when you see one of those anomalies which renders you indignant,
think of the causes. It is so easy. Although Protestant, Fanny is
of Jewish origin--that is to say, the descendant of a persecuted
race--which in consequence has developed by the side of the inherent
defects of a proscribed people the corresponding virtues, the devotion,
the abnegation of the woman who feels that she is the grace of a
threatened hearth, the sweet flower which perfumes the sombre prison.”

“It is all beautiful and true,” replied Alba, very seriously. She had
hung upon Dorsenne’s lips while he spoke, with the instinctive taste for
ideas of that order which proved her veritable origin. “But you do
not mention the sorrow. This is what one can not do--look upon as a
tapestry, as a picture, as an object; the creature who has not asked to
live and who suffers. You, who have feeling, what is your theory when
you weep?”

“I can very clearly foresee the day on which Fanny will feel her
misfortune,” continued the young girl. “I do not know when she will
begin to judge her father, but that she already begins to judge Ardea,
alas, I am only too sure.... Watch her at this moment, I pray you.”

Dorsenne indeed looked at the couple. Fanny was listening to the Prince,
but with a trace of suffering upon her beautiful face, so pure in
outline that the nobleness in it was ideal.

He was laughing at some anecdote which he thought excellent, and
which clashed with the sense of delicacy of the person to whom he was
addressing himself. They were no longer the couple who, in the early
days of their betrothal, had given to Julien the sentiment of a complete
illusion on the part of the young girl for her future husband.

“You are right, Contessina,” said he, “the decrystallization has
commenced. It is a little too soon.”

“Yes, it is too soon,” replied Alba. “And yet it is too late. Would you
believe that there are times when I ask myself if it would not be my
duty to tell her the truth about her marriage, such as I know it, with
the story of the weak man, the forced sale, and of the bargaining of
Ardea?”

“You will not do it,” said Dorsenne. “Moreover, why? This one or
another, the man who marries her will only want her money, rest assured.
It is necessary that the millions be paid for here below, it is one of
their ransoms.... But I shall cause you to be scolded by your mother,
for I am monopolizing you, and I have still two calls to pay this
evening.”

“Well, postpone them,” said Alba. “I beseech you, do not go.”

“I must,” replied Julien. “It is the last Wednesday of old Duchess
Pietrapertosa, and after her grandson’s recent kindness--”

“She is so ugly,” said Alba, “will you sacrifice me to her?”

“Then there is my compatriot, who goes away tomorrow and of whom I must
take leave this evening, Madame de Sauve, with whom you met me at the
museum.... You will not say she is ugly, will you?”

“No,” responded Alba, dreamily, “she is very pretty.”.... She had
another prayer upon her lips, which she did not formulate. Then, with
a beseeching glance: “Return, at least. Promise me that you will return
after your two visits. They will be over in an hour and a half. It will
not be midnight. You know some do not ever come before one and sometimes
two o’clock. You will return?”

“If possible, yes. But at any rate, we shall meet to-morrow, at the
studio, to see the portrait.”

“Then, adieu,” said the young girl, in a low voice.



CHAPTER X. COMMON MISERY

The Contessina’s disposition was too different from her mother’s for the
mother to comprehend that heart, the more contracted in proportion as it
was touched, while emotion was synonymous with expansion in the opulent
and impulsive Venetian. That evening she had not even observed Alba’s
dreaminess, Dorsenne once gone, and it required that Hafner should
call her attention to it. To the scheming Baron, if the novelist
was attentive to the young girl it was certainly with the object of
capturing a considerable dowry. Julien’s income of twenty-five thousand
francs meant independence. The two hundred and fifty thousand francs
which Alba would have at her mother’s death was a very large fortune.
So Hafner thought he would deserve the name of “old friend,” by taking
Madame Steno aside and saying to her:

“Do you not think Alba has been a little strange for several days!”

“She has always been so,” replied the Countess. “Young people are like
that nowadays; there is no more youth.”

“Do you not think,” continued the Baron, “that perhaps there is another
cause for that sadness--some interest in some one, for example?”

“Alba?” exclaimed the mother. “For whom?”

“For Dorsenne,” returned Hafner, lowering his voice; “he just left five
minutes ago, and you see she is no longer interested in anything nor in
any one.”

“Ah, I should be very much pleased,” said Madame Steno, laughing. “He is
a handsome fellow; he has talent, fortune. He is the grand-nephew of a
hero, which is equivalent to nobility, in my opinion. But Alba has
no thought of it, I assure you. She would have told me; she tells me
everything. We are two friends, almost two comrades, and she knows
I shall leave her perfectly free to choose.... No, my old friend, I
understand my daughter. Neither Dorsenne nor any one else interests her,
unfortunately. I sometimes fear she will go into a decline, like her
cousin Andryana Navagero, whom she resembles.... But I must cheer her
up. It will not take long.”

“A Dorsenne for a son-in-law!” said Hafner to himself, as he watched the
Countess walk toward Alba through the scattered groups of her guests,
and he shook his head, turning his eyes with satisfaction upon his
future son-in-law. “That is what comes of not watching one’s children
closely. One fancies one understands them until some folly opens one’s
eyes!... And, it is too late!... Well, I have warned her, and it is no
affair of mine!”

In spite of Fanny’s observed and increasing vexation Ardea amused
himself by relating to her anecdotes, more or less true, of the
goings-on in the Vatican. He thus attempted to abate a Catholic
enthusiasm at which he was already offended. His sense of the ridiculous
and that of his social interest made him perceive how absurd it would be
to go into clerical society after having taken for a wife a millionaire
converted the day before. To be just, it must be added that the
Countess’s dry champagne was not altogether irresponsible for the
persistency with which he teased his betrothed. It was not the first
time he had indulged in the semi-intoxication which had been one of the
sins of his youth, a sin less rare in the southern climates than the
modesty of the North imagines.

“You come opportunely, Contessina,” said he, when Mademoiselle Steno had
seated herself upon the couch beside them. “Your friend is scandalized
by a little story I have just told her.... The one of the noble guard
who used the telephone of the Vatican this winter to appoint rendezvous
with Guilia Rezzonico without awakening the jealousy of Ugolino.... But
it is nothing. I have almost quarrelled with Fanny for having revealed
to her that the Holy Father repeated his benediction in Chapel Sixtine,
with a singing master, like a prima donna....”

“I have already told you that I do not like those jests,” said Fanny,
with visible irritation, which her patience, however, governed. “If you
desire to continue them, I will leave you to converse with Alba.”

“Since you see that you annoy her,” said the latter to the Prince,
“change the subject.”

“Ah, Contessina,” replied Peppino, shaking his head, “you support
her already. What will it be later? Well, I apologize for my innocent
epigrams on His Holiness in his dressing-gown. And,” he continued,
laughing, “it is a pity, for I have still two or three entertaining
stories, notably one about a coffer filled with gold pieces, which a
faithful bequeathed to the Pope. And that poor, dear man was about to
count them when the coffer slipped from his hand, and there was the
entire treasure on the floor, and the Pope and a cardinal on all fours
were scrambling for the napoleons, when a servant entered.... Tableau!
....I assure you that good Pius IX would be the first to laugh with us
at all the Vatican jokes. He is not so much ‘alla mano’. But he is a
holy man just the same. Do not think I do not render him justice. Only,
the holy man is a man, and a good old man. That is what you do not wish
to see.”

“Where are you going?” said Alba to Fanny, who had risen as she had
threatened to do.

“To talk with my father, to whom I have several words to say.”

“I warned you to change the subject,” said Alba, when she and the Prince
were alone. Ardea, somewhat abashed, shrugged his shoulders and laughed:

“You will confess that the situation is quite piquant, little
Countess.... You will see she will forbid me to go to the Quirinal....
Only one thing will be lacking, and it is that Papa Hafner should
discover religious scruples which would prevent him from greeting the
King.... But Fanny must be appeased!”

“My God!” said Alba to herself, seeing the young man rise in his turn.
“I believe he is intoxicated. What a pity!”

As have almost all revolutions of that order, the work of Christianity,
accomplished for years, in Fanny had for its principle an example.

The death of a friend, the sublime death of a true believer, ended by
determining her faith. She saw the dying woman receive the sacrament,
and the ineffable joy of the benediction upon the face of the sufferer
of twenty lighted up by ecstasy. She heard her say, with a smile of
conviction:

“I go to ask you of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

How could she have resisted such a cry and such a sight?

The very day after that death she asked of her father permission to be
baptized, which request drew from the Baron a reply too significant not
to be repeated here:

“Undoubtedly,” had replied the surprising man, who instead of a heart,
had a Bourse list on which all was tariffed, even God, “undoubtedly I
am touched, very deeply touched, and very happy to see that religious
matters preoccupy you to such a degree. To the people it is a necessary
curb, and to us it accords with a certain rank, a certain society, a
certain deportment. I think that a person called like you to live in
Austria and in Italy should be a Catholic. However, it is necessary to
remember that you might marry some one of another faith. Do not
object. I am your father. I can foresee all. I know you will marry only
according to the dictates of your heart. Wait then until it has spoken,
to settle the question.... If you love a Catholic, you will then have
occasion to pay a compliment to your betrothed by adopting his faith,
of which he will be very sensible.... From now until then, I shall not
prevent you from following ceremonies which please you. Those of the
Roman liturgy are, assuredly, among the best; I myself attended Saint
Peter’s at the time of the pontifical government.... The taste, the
magnificence, the music, all moved me.... But to take a definite,
irreparable step, I repeat, you must wait. Your actual condition of a
Protestant has the grand sentiment of being more neutral, less defined.”

What words to listen to by a heart already touched by the attraction of
‘grace and by the nostalgia of eternal life! But the heart was that of
a young girl very pure and very tender. To judge her father was to her
impossible, and the Baron’s firmness had convinced her that she must
obey his wishes and pray that he be enlightened. She therefore waited,
hoping, sustained and directed meanwhile by Cardinal Guerillot,
who later on was to baptize her and to obtain for her the favor of
approaching the holy table for the first time at the Pope’s mass. That
prelate, one of the noblest figures of which the French bishopric has
had cause to be proud, since Monseigneur Pie, was one of those grand
Christians for whom the hand of God is as visible in the direction of
human beings as it is invisible to doubtful souls. When Fanny, already
devoted to her charities, confided in him the serious troubles of her
mind and the discord which had arisen between her and her father on the
so essential point of her baptism, the Cardinal replied:

“Have faith in God. He will give you a sign when your time has come.”
 And he uttered those words with an accent whose conviction had filled
the young girl with a certainty which had never left her.

In spite of his seventy years, and of the experiences of the confession,
in spite of the disenchanting struggle with the freemasonry of his
French diocese, which had caused his exile to Rome, the venerable man
looked at Fanny’s marriage from a supernatural standpoint. Many priests
are thus capable of a naivete which, on careful analysis, is often
in the right. But at the moment the antithesis between the authentic
reality and that which they believe, constitutes an irony almost absurd.
When he had baptized Fanny, the old Bishop of Clermont was possessed by
a joy so deep that he said to her, to express to her the more delicately
the tender respect of his friendship:

“I can now say as did Saint Monica after the baptism of Saint Augustine:
‘Cur hic sim, nescio; jam consumpta spe hujus saeculi’. I do not know
why I remain here below. All my hope of the age is consummated. And like
her I can add--the only thing which made me desire to remain awhile was
to see you a Catholic before dying. The traveller, who has tarried, has
now nothing to do but to go. He has gathered the last and the prettiest
flower.”....

Noble and faithful apostle, who was indeed to go so shortly after,
meriting what they said of him, that which the African bishop said
of his mother: “That religious soul was at length absolved from her
body.”.... He did not anticipate that he would pay dearly for that
realization of his last wish! He did not foresee that she whom he
ingenuously termed his most beautiful flower was to become to him the
principal cause of bitter sorrow. Poor, grand Cardinal! It was the final
trial of his life, the supremely bitter drop in his chalice, to assist
at the disenchantment which followed so closely upon the blissful
intoxication of his gentle neophyte’s first initiation. To whom, if
not to him, should she have gone to ask counsel, in all the tormenting
doubts which she at once began to have in her feelings with regard to
her fiance?

It was, therefore, that on the day following the evening on which
imprudent Ardea had jested so persistently upon a subject sacred to her
that she rang at the door of the apartment which Monseigneur Guerillot
occupied in the large mansion on Rue des Quatre-Fontaines. There was
no question of incriminating the spirit of those pleasantries, nor of
relating her humiliating observations on the Prince’s intoxication. No.
She wished to ease her mind, on which rested a shade of sorrow. At the
time of her betrothal, she had fancied she loved Ardea, for the emotion
of her religious life at length freed had inspired her with gratitude
for him who was, however, only the pretext of that exemption. She
trembled to-day, not only at not loving him any more, but at hating him,
and above all she felt herself a prey to that repugnance for the useless
cares of the world, to that lassitude of transitory hopes, to that
nostalgia of repose in God, undeniable signs of true vocations.

At the thought that she might, if she survived her father and she
remained free, retire to the ‘Dames du Cenacle,’ she felt at her
approaching marriage an inward repugnance, which augmented still more
the proof of her future husband’s deplorable character. Had she the
right to form such bonds with such feelings? Would it be honorable
to break, without further developments, the betrothal which had been
between her and her father the condition of her baptism? She was already
there, after so few days! And her wound was deeper after the night on
which the Prince had, uttered his careless jests.

“It is permitted you to withdraw,” replied Monsieur Guerillot, “but you
are not permitted to lack charity in your judgment.”

There was within Fanny too much sincerity, her faith was too simple and
too deep for her not to follow out that advice to the letter, and she
conformed to it in deeds as well as in intentions. For, before taking
a walk in the afternoon with Alba, she took the greatest care to remove
all traces which the little scene of the day before could have left in
her friend’s mind. Her efforts went very far. She would ask pardon of
her fiance.... Pardon! For what? For having been wounded by him, wounded
to the depths of her sensibility? She felt that the charity of judgment
recommended by the pious Cardinal was a difficult virtue. It exercises
a discipline of the entire heart, sometimes irreconcilable with the
clearness of the intelligence. Alba looked at her friend with a glance
full of an astonishment, almost sorrowful, and she embraced her, saying:

“Peppino is not worthy even to kiss the ground on which you tread, that
is my opinion, and if he does not spend his entire life in trying to be
worthy of you, it will be a crime.”

As for the Prince himself, the impulses which dictated to his fiancee
words of apology when he was in the wrong, were not unintelligible to
him, as they would have been to Hafner. He thought that the latter had
lectured his daughter, and he congratulated himself on having cut short
at once that little comedy of exaggerated religious feeling.

“Never mind that,” said he, with condescension, “it is I who have failed
in form. For at heart you have always found me respectful of that which
my fathers respected. But times have changed, and certain fanaticisms
are no longer admissible. That is what I have wished to say to you in
such a manner that you could take no offence.”

And he gallantly kissed Fanny’s tiny hand, not divining that he had
redoubled the melancholy of that too-generous child. The discord
continued to be excessive between the world of ideas in which she moved
and that in which the ruined Prince existed. As the mystics say with so
much depth, they were not of the same heaven.

Of all the chimeras which had lasted hours, God alone remained. It
sufficed the noble creature to say: “My father is so happy, I will not
mar his joy.”

“I will do my duty toward my husband. I will be so good a wife that I
will transform him. He has religion. He has heart. It will be my role to
make of him a true Christian. And then I shall have my children and
the poor.” Such were the thoughts which filled the mind of the envied
betrothed. For her the journals began to describe the dresses already
prepared, for her a staff of tailors, dressmakers, needlewomen and
jewellers were working; she would have on her contract the same
signature as a princess of the blood, who would be a princess herself
and related to one of the most glorious aristocracies in the world. Such
were the thoughts she would no doubt have through life, as she walked
in the garden of the Palais Castagna, that historical garden in which
is still to be seen a row of pear-trees, in the place where Sixte-Quint,
near death, gathered some fruit. He tasted it, and he said to Cardinal
Castagna--playing on their two names, his being Peretti--“The pears are
spoiled. The Romans have had enough. They will soon eat chestnuts.” That
family anecdote enchanted Justus Hafner. It seemed to him full of the
most delightful humor. He repeated it to his colleagues at the club,
to his tradesmen, to it mattered not whom. He did not even mistrust
Dorsenne’s irony.

“I met Hafner this morning on the Corso,” said the latter to Alba at one
of the soirees at the end of the month, “and I had my third edition of
the pleasantry on the pears and chestnuts. And then, as we took a few
steps in the same direction, he pointed out to me the Palais Bonaparte,
saying, ‘We are also related to them.’.... Which means that a
grand-nephew of the Emperor married a cousin of Peppino.... I swear he
thinks he is related to Napoleon!... He is not even proud of it. The
Bonapartes are nowhere when it is a question of nobility!... I await the
time when he will blush.”

“And I the time when he will be punished as he deserves,” interrupted
Alba Steno, in a mournful voice. “He is insolently triumphant. But no.
....He will succeed.... If it be true that his fortune is one immense
theft, think of those he has ruined. In what can they believe in the
face of his infamous happiness?”

“If they are philosophers,” replied Dorsenne, laughing still more gayly,
“this spectacle will cause them to meditate on the words uttered by one
of my friends: ‘One can not doubt the hand of God, for it created the
world.’ Do you remember a certain prayer-book of Montluc’s?”

“The one which your friend Montfanon bought to vex the poor little
thing?”

“Precisely. The old-leaguer has returned it to Ribalta; the latter told
me so yesterday; no doubt in a spirit of mortification. I say no
doubt for I have not seen the poor, dear man since the duel, which his
impatience toward Ardea and Hafner rendered in evitable. He retired, I
know not for how many days, to the convent of Mount Olivet, near Sienna,
where he has a friend, one Abbe de Negro, of whom he always speaks as
of a saint. I learned, through Rebalta, that he has returned, but is
invisible. I tried to force an entrance. In short, the volume is
again in the shop of the curiosity-seeker in the Rue Borgognona, if
Mademoiselle Hafner still wants it!”

“What good fortune!” exclaimed Fanny, with a sparkle of delight in her
eyes. “I did not know what present to offer my dear Cardinal. Shall we
make the purchase at once?”

“Montluc’s prayer-book?” repeated old Ribalta, when the two young ladies
had alighted from the carriage before his small book-shop, more dusty,
more littered than ever with pamphlets, in which he still was, with his
face more wrinkled, more wan and more proud, peering from beneath his
broad-brimmed hat, which he did not raise. “How do you know it is here?
Who has told you? Are there spies everywhere?”

“It was Monsieur Dorsenne, one of Monsieur de Montfanon’s friends,” said
Fanny, in her gentle voice.

“Sara sara,” replied the merchant with his habitual insolence, and,
opening the drawer of the chest in which he kept the most incongruous
treasures, he drew from it the precious volume, which he held toward
them, without giving it up. Then he began a speech, which reproduced the
details given by Montfanon himself. “Ah, it is very authentic. There
is an indistinct but undeniable signature. I have compared it with that
which is preserved in the archives of Sienna. It is Montluc’s writing,
and there is his escutcheon with the turtles.... Here, too, are the
half-moons of the Piccolomini.... This book has a history....”

“The Marshal gave it, after the famous siege, to one of the members of
that illustrious family. And it was for one of the descendants that I
was commissioned to buy it.... They will not give it up for less than
two thousand francs.”

“What a cheat!” said Alba to her companion, in English. “Dorsenne told
me that Monsieur de Monfanon bought it for four hundred.”

“Are you sure?” asked Fanny, who, on receiving a reply in the
affirmative, addressed the bookseller, with the same gentleness, but
with reproach in her accent: “Two thousand francs, Monsieur Ribalta? But
it is not a just price, since you sold it to Monsieur de Montfanon for
one-fifth of that sum.”

“Then I am a liar and a thief,” roughly replied the old man; “a thief
and a liar,” he repeated. “Four hundred francs! You wish to have this
book for four hundred francs? I wish Monsieur de Montfanon was here to
tell you how much I asked him for it.”

The old bookseller smiled cruelly as he replaced the prayerbook in the
drawer, the key of which he turned, and turning toward the two young
girls, whose delicate beauty, heightened by their fine toilettes,
contrasted so delightfully with the sordid surroundings, he enveloped
them with a glance so malicious that they shuddered and instinctively
drew nearer one another. Then the bookseller resumed, in a voice hoarser
and deeper than ever: “If you wish to spend four hundred francs I have
a volume which is worth it, and which I propose to take to the Palais
Savorelli one of these days.... Ha, ha! It must be one of the very
last, for the Baron has bought them all.” In uttering, those enigmatical
words, he opened the cup board which formed the lower part of the chest,
and took from one of the shelves a book wrapped in a newspaper. He then
unfolded the journal, and, holding the volume in his enormous hand with
his dirty nails, he disclosed the title to the two young girls: ‘Hafner
and His Band; Some Reflections on the Scandalous Acquittal. By a
Shareholder.’ It was a pamphlet, at that date forgotten, but which
created much excitement at one time in the financial circles of
Paris, of London and of Berlin, having been printed at once in three
languages--in French, in German and in English--on the day after the
suit of the ‘Credit Austro Dalmate.’ The dealer’s chestnut-colored
eyes twinkled with a truly ferocious joy as he held out the volume and
repeated:

“It is worth four hundred francs.”

“Do not read that book, Fanny,” said Alba quickly, after having read the
title of the work, and again speaking in English; “it is one of those
books with which one should not even pollute one’s thoughts.”

“You may keep the book, sir,” she continued, “since you have made
yourself the accomplice of those who have written it, by speculating on
the fear you hoped it would inspire. Mademoiselle Hafner has known of it
long, and neither she nor her father will give a centime.”

“Very well! So much the better, so much the better,” said Ribalta,
wrapping up his volume again; “tell your father I will keep it at his
service.”

“Ah, the miserable man!” said Alba, when Fanny and she had left the shop
and reentered the carriage. “To dare to show you that!”

“You saw,” replied Fanny, “I was so surprised I could not utter a word.
That the man should offer me that infamous work is very impertinent.
My father?... You do not know his scrupulousness in business. It is the
honor of his profession. There is not a sovereign in Europe who has not
given him a testimonial.”

That impassioned protestation was so touching, the generous child’s
illusion was so sincere, that Alba pressed her hand with a deeper
tenderness. When Alba found herself that evening with her friend
Dorsenne, who again dined at Madame Steno’s, she took him aside to
relate to him the tragical scene, and to ask him: “Have you seen that
pamphlet?”

“To-day,” said the writer. “Montfanon, whom I have found at length, has
just bought one of the two copies which Ribalta received lately. The
old leaguer believes everything, you know, when a Hafner is in the
question.... I am more skeptical in the bad as well as in the good. It
was only the account given by the trial which produced any impression on
me, for that is truth.”

“But he was acquitted.”

“Yes,” replied Dorsenne, “though it is none the less true that he ruined
hundreds and hundreds of persons.”

“Then, by the account given you of the case, it is clear to you that he
is dishonest,” interrupted Alba.

“As clear as that you are here, Contessina,” replied Dorsenne, “if to
steal means to plunder one’s neighbors and to escape justice. But that
would be nothing. The sinister corner in this affair is the suicide of
one Schroeder, a brave citizen of Vienna, who knew our Baron intimately,
and who invested, on the advice of his excellent friend, his entire
fortune, three hundred thousand florins, in the scheme. He lost them,
and, in despair, killed himself, his wife, and their three children.”

“My God!” cried Alba, clasping her hands. “And Fanny might have read
that letter in the book.”

“Yes,” continued Julien, “and all the rest with proof in support of
it. But rest assured, she shall not have the volume. I will go to that
anarchist of a Ribalta to-morrow and I will buy the last copy, if Hafner
has not already bought it.”

Notwithstanding his constant affectation of irony, and, notwithstanding,
his assumption of intellectual egotism, Julien was obliging. He never
hesitated to render any one a service. He had not told his little friend
an untruth when he promised her to buy the dangerous work, and the
following morning he turned toward the Rue Borgognona, furnished with
the twenty louis demanded by the bookseller. Imagine his feelings when
the latter said to him:

“It is too late, Monsieur Dorsenne. The young lady was here last night.
She pretended not to prefer one volume to the other. It was to bargain,
no doubt. Ha, ha! But she had to pay the price. I would have asked the
father more. One owes some consideration to a young girl.”

“Wretch!” exclaimed the novelist. “And you can jest after having
committed that Judas-like act! To inform a child of her father’s
misdeeds, when she is ignorant of them!... Never, do you hear, never
any more will Monsieur de Montfanon and I set foot in your shop, nor
Monseigneur Guerillot, nor any of the persons of my acquaintance. I
will tell the whole world of your infamy. I will write it, and it shall
appear in all the journals of Rome. I will ruin you, I will force you to
close this dusty old shop.”

During the entire day, Dorsenne vainly tried to shake off the weight
of melancholy which that visit to the brigand of the Rue Borgognona had
left upon his heart.

On crossing, at nine o’clock, the threshold of the Villa Steno to give
an account of his mission to the Contessina, he was singularly moved.
There was no one there but the Maitlands, two tourists and two English
diplomatists, on their way to posts in the East.

“I was awaiting you,” said Alba to her friend, as soon as she could
speak with him in a corner of the salon. “I need your advice. Last night
a tragical incident took place at the Hafner’s.”

“Probably,” replied Dorsenne. “Fanny has bought Ribalta’s book.”

“She has bought the book!” said Alba, changing color and trembling. “Ah,
the unhappy girl; the other thing was not sufficient!”

“What other thing?” questioned Julien.

“You remember,” said the young girl, “that I told you of that Noe
Ancona, the agent who served Hafner as a tool in selling up Ardea, and
in thus forcing the marriage. Well, it seems this personage did not
think himself sufficiently well-paid for his complicity. He demanded of
the Baron a large sum, with which to found some large swindling scheme,
which the latter refused point-blank. The other threatened to relate
their little dealing to Ardea, and he did so.”

“And Peppino was angry?” asked Dorsenne, shaking his head. “That is not
like him.”

“Indignant or not,” continued Alba, “last night he went to the Palais
Savorelli to make a terrible scene with his future father-in-law.”

“And to obtain an increase of dowry,” said Julian.

“He was not by any means tactful, then,” replied Alba, “for even in the
presence of Fanny, who entered in the midst of their conversation, he
did not pause. Perhaps he had drunk a little more than he could stand,
which has of late become common with him. But, you see, the poor child
was initiated into the abominable bargain with regard to her future, to
her happiness, and if she has read the book, too! It is too dreadful!”

“What a violent scene!” exclaimed Dorsenne. “So the engagement has been
broken off?”

“Not officially. Fanny is ill in bed from the excitement. Ardea came
this morning to see my mother, who has also seen Hafner. She has
reconciled them by proving to them, which she thinks true, that they
have a common interest in avoiding all scandal, and arranging matters.
But it rests with the poor little one. Mamma wished me to go, this
afternoon, to beseech her to reconsider her resolution. For she has told
her father she never wishes to hear the Prince’s voice again. I have
refused. Mamma insists. Am I not right?”

“Who knows?” replied Julien. “What would be her life alone with her
father, now that her illusions with regard to him have been swept away?”

The touching scene had indeed taken place, and less than twenty-four
hours after the novelist had thus expressed to himself the regret of not
assisting at it. Only he was mistaken as to the tenor of the dialogue,
in a manner which proved that the subtlety of intelligence will never
divine the simplicity of the heart. The most dolorous of all moral
tragedies knit and unknit the most often in silence. It was in
the afternoon, toward six o’clock, that a servant came to announce
Mademoiselle Hafner’s visit to the Contessina, busy at that moment
reading for the tenth time the ‘Eglogue Mondaine,’ that delicate story
by Dorsenne. When Fanny entered the room, Alba could see what a trial
her charming god-daughter of the past week had sustained, by the
surprising and rapid alteration in that expressive and noble visage. She
took her hand at first without speaking to her, as if she was entirely
ignorant of the cause of her friend’s real indisposition. She then said:

“How pleased I am to see you! Are you better?”

“I have never been ill,” replied Fanny, who did not know how to tell an
untruth. “I have had pain, that is all.” Looking at Alba, as if to beg
her to ask no question, she added:

“I have come to bid you adieu.”

“You are going away?” asked the Contessina. “Yes,” said Fanny, “I am
going to spend the summer at one of our estates in Styria.” And, in
a low voice: “Has your mother told you that my engagement is broken?”
 “Yes,” replied Alba, and both were again silent. After several moments
Fanny was the first to ask: “And how shall you spend your summer?”--“We
shall go to Piove, as usual,” was Alba’s answer. “Perhaps Dorsenne will
be there, and the Maitlands will surely be.” A third pause ensued.
They gazed at one another, and, without uttering another word, they
distinctly read one another’s hearts. The martyrdom they suffered was so
similar, they both knew it to be so like, that they felt the same
pity possess them at the same moment. Forced to condemn with the most
irrevocable condemnation, the one her father, the other, her mother,
each felt attracted toward the friend, like her, unhappy, and, falling
into one another’s arms, they both sobbed.



CHAPTER XI. THE LAKE DI PORTO

Her friend’s tears had relieved sad Alba’s heart while she held that
friend in her arms, quivering with sorrow and pity; but when she was
gone, and Madame Steno’s daughter was alone, face to face with her
thoughts, a greater distress seized her. The pity which her companion in
misery had shown for her--was it not one more proof that she was right
in mistrusting her mother? Alas! The miserable child did not know that
while she was plunged in despair, there was in Rome and in her immediate
vicinity a creature bent upon realizing a mad vow. And that creature was
the same who had not recoiled before the infamy of an anonymous letter,
pretty and sinister Lydia Maitland--that delicate, that silent young
woman with the large brown eyes, always smiling, always impenetrable in
the midst of that dull complexion which no emotion, it seemed, had ever
tinged. The failure of her first attempt had exasperated her hatred
against her husband and against the Countess to the verge of fury, but a
concentrated fury, which was waiting for another occasion to strike, for
weeks, patiently, obscurely. She had thought to wreak her vengeance by
the return of Gorka, and in what had it ended? In freeing Lincoln from
a dangerous rival and in imperilling the life of the only being for whom
she cared!

The sojourn at the country-seat of her husband’s mistress exasperated
Lydia’s hidden anger. She suffered so that she cried aloud, like an
imprisoned animal beating against the bars, when she pictured to herself
the happiness which the two lovers would enjoy in the intimacy of the
villa, with the beauties of the Venetian scenery surrounding them. No
doubt the wife could provoke a scandal and obtain a divorce, thanks to
proofs as indisputable as those with which she had overwhelmed Maud.
It would be sufficient to carry to a lawyer the correspondence in the
Spanish escritoire. But of what use? She would not be avenged on her
husband, to whom a divorce would be a matter of indifference now that he
earned as much money as he required, and she would lose her brother. In
vain Lydia told herself that, warned as Alba had been by her letter, her
doubt of Madame Steno’s misconduct would no longer be impossible. She
was convinced by innumerable trifling signs that the Contessina still
doubted, and then she concluded:

“It is there that the blow must be struck. But how?”

Yes. How? There was at the service of hatred in that delicate woman, in
appearance oblivious of worldliness, that masculine energy in decision
which is to be found in all families of truly military origin. The blood
of Colonel Chapron stirred within her and gave her the desire to act. By
dint of pondering upon those reasonings, Lydia ended by elaborating one
of those plans of a simplicity really infernal, in which she revealed
what must be called the genius of evil, for there was so much clearness
in the conception and of villainy in the execution. She assured herself
that it was unnecessary to seek any other stage than the studio for
the scene she meditated. She knew too well the fury of passion by which
Madame Steno was possessed to doubt that, as soon as she was alone
with Lincoln, she did not refuse him those kisses of which their
correspondence spoke. The snare to be laid was very simple. It required
that Alba and Lydia should be in some post of observation while the
lovers believed themselves alone, were it only for a moment. The
position of the places furnished the formidable woman with the means of
obtaining the place of espionage in all security. Situated on the second
floor, the studio occupied most of the depth of the house. The wall,
which separated it from the side of the apartments, ended in a partition
formed of colored glass, through which it was impossible to see. That
glass lighted a dark corridor adjoining the linen-room. Lydia employed
several hours of several nights in cutting with a diamond a hole, the
size of a fifty centime-piece, in one of those unpolished squares.

Her preparations had been completed several days when, notwithstanding
her absence of scruple in the satiating of her hatred, she still
hesitated to employ that mode of vengeance, so much atrocious cruelty
was there in causing a daughter to spy upon her mother. It was Alba
herself who kindled the last spark of humanity with which that
dark conscience was lighted up, and that by the most innocent of
conversations. It was the very evening of the afternoon on which she had
exchanged that sad adieu with Fanny Hafner. She was more unnerved than
usual, and she was conversing with Dorsenne in that corner of the long
hall. They did not heed the fact that Lydia drew near them, by a simple
change of seat which permitted her, while herself conversing with some
guest, to lend an ear to the words uttered by the Contessina.

It was Florent who was the subject of their conversation, and she said
to Dorsenne, who was praising him:

“What would you have? It is true I almost feel repulsion toward him.
He is to me like a being of another species. His friendship for his
brother-in-law? Yes. It is very beautiful, very touching; but it does
not touch me. It is a devotion which is not human. It is too instinctive
and too blind. Indeed, I know that I am wrong. There is that prejudice
of race which I can never entirely overcome.”

Dorsenne touched her fingers at that moment, under the pretext of taking
from her her fan, in reality to warn her, and he said, in a very low
voice that time:

“Let us go a little farther on. Lydia Maitland is too near.”

He fancied he surprised a start on the part of Florent’s sister, at whom
he accidentally glanced, while his too-sensible interlocutor no longer
watched her! But as the pretty, clear laugh of Lydia rang out at the
same moment, imprudent Alba replied:

“Fortunately, she has heard nothing. And see how one can speak of
trouble without mistrusting it.... I have just been wicked,” she
continued, “for it is not their fault, neither Florent’s nor hers, if
there is a little negro blood in their veins, so much the more so as
it is connected by the blood of a hero, and they are both perfectly
educated, and what is better, perfectly good, and then I know very well
that if there is a grand thought in this age it is to have proclaimed
that truly all men are brothers.”

She had spoken in a lower voice, but too late. Moreover, even if
Florent’s sister could have heard those words, they would not have
sufficed to heal the wound which the first ones had made in the most
sensitive part of her ‘amour propre’!

“And I hesitated,” said she to herself, “I thought of sparing her!”

The following morning, toward noon, she found herself at the atelier,
seated beside Madame Steno, while Lincoln gave to the portrait the last
touches, and while Alba posed in the large armchair, absent and pale as
usual. Florent Chapron, after having assisted at part of the sitting,
left the room, leaning upon the crutch, which he still used. His
withdrawal seemed so propitious to Lydia that she resolved immediately
not to allow such an opportunity to escape, and as if fatality
interfered to render her work of infamy more easy, Madame Steno aided
her by suddenly interrupting the work of the painter who, after hard
working without speaking for half an hour, paused to wipe his forehead,
on which were large drops of perspiration, so great was his excitement.

“Come, my little Linco,” said she, with the affectionate solicitude
of an old mistress, “you must rest. For two hours you have not ceased
painting, and such minute details.... It tires me merely to watch you.”

“I am not at all tired,” replied Maitland, who, however, laid down his
palette and brush, and rolling a cigarette, lighted it, continuing, with
a proud smile: “We have only that one superiority, we Americans, but we
have it--it is a power to apply ourselves which the Old World no longer
knows.... It is for that reason that there are professions in which we
have no rivals.”

“But see!” replied Lydia, “you have taken Alba for a Bostonian or a New
Yorker, and you have made her pose so long that she is pale. She must
have a change. Come with me, dear, I will show you the costume they have
sent me from Paris, and which I shall wear this afternoon to the garden
party at the English embassy.”

She forced Alba Steno to rise from the armchair as she uttered those
words, then she entwined her arms about her waist to draw her away and
kissed her. Ah, if ever a caress merited being compared to the hideous
flattery of Iscariot, it was that, and the young girl might have replied
with the sublime words: “Friend, why hast thou betrayed me by a kiss?”
 Alas! She believed in it, in the sincerity of that proof of affection,
and she returned her false friend’s kiss with a gratitude which did not
soften that heart saturated with hatred, for five minutes had not passed
ere Lydia had put into execution her hideous project. Under the pretext
of reaching the liner-room more quickly, she took a servant’s staircase,
which led to that lobby with the glass partition, in which was the
opening through which to look into the atelier.

“This is very strange,” said she, pausing suddenly. And, pointing out to
her innocent companion the round spot, she said: “Probably some servant
who has wished to eavesdrop.--But what for? You, who are tall, look
and see how it has been done and what it looks on. If it is a hole cut
purposely, I shall discover the culprit and he shall go.”

Alba obeyed the perfidious request absently, and applied her eye to the
aperture. The author of the anonymous letters had chosen her moment only
too well. As soon as the door of the studio was closed, the Countess
rose to approach Lincoln. She entwined around the young man’s neck her
arms, which gleamed through the transparent sleeves of her summer gown,
and she kissed with greedy lips his eyes and mouth. Lydia, who had
retained one of the girl’s hands in hers, felt that hand tremble
convulsively. A hunter who hears rustle the foliage of the thicket
through which should pass the game he is awaiting, does not experience
a joy more complete. Her snare was successful. She said to her unhappy
victim:

“What ails you? How you tremble!”

And she essayed to push her away in order to put herself in her
place. Alba, whom the sight of her mother embracing Lincoln with those
passionate kisses inspired at that moment with an inexplicable horror,
had, however, enough presence of mind in the midst of her suffering
to understand the danger of that mother whom she had surprised thus,
clasping in the arms of a guilty mistress--whom?--the husband of the
very woman speaking to her, who asked her why she trembled with fear,
who would look through that same hole to see that same tableau!...
In order to prevent what she believed would be to Lydia a terrible
revelation, the courageous child had one of those desperate thoughts
such as immediate peril inspires. With her free hand she struck the
glass so violently that it was shivered into atoms, cutting her fingers
and her wrist.

Lydia exclaimed, angrily:

“Miserable girl, you did that purposely!”

The fierce creature as she uttered these words, rushed toward the large
hole now made in the panel--too late!

She only saw Lincoln erect in the centre of the studio, looking toward
the broken window, while the Countess, standing a few paces from him,
exclaimed:

“My daughter! What has happened to my daughter? I recognized her voice.”

“Do not alarm yourself,” replied Lydia, with atrocious sarcasm. “Alba
broke the pane to give you a warning.”

“But, is she hurt?” asked the mother.

“Very slightly,” replied the implacable woman with the same accent of
irony, and she turned again toward the Contessina with a glance of such
rancor that, even in the state of confusion in which the latter was
plunged by that which she had surprised, that glance paralyzed her with
fear. She felt the same shudder which had possessed her dear friend
Maud, in that same studio, in the face of the sinister depths of that
dark soul, suddenly exposed. She had not time to precisely define her
feelings, for already her mother was beside her, pressing her in her
arms--in those very arms which Alba had just seen twined around the neck
of a lover--while that same mouth showered kisses upon him. The
moral shock was so great that the young girl fainted. She regained
consciousness and almost at once. She saw her mother as mad with anxiety
as she had just seen her trembling with joy and love. She again saw
Lydia Maitland’s eyes fixed upon them both with an expression too
significant now. And, as she had had the presence of mind to save that
guilty mother, she found in her tenderness the strength to smile at
her, to lie to her, to blind her forever as to the truth of that hideous
scene which had just been enacted in that lobby.

“I was frightened at the sight of my own blood,” said she, “and I
believe it is only a small cut.... See! I can move my hand without
pain.”

When the doctor, hastily summoned, had confirmed that no particles of
glass had remained in the cuts, the Countess felt so reassured that her
gayety returned. Never had she been in a mood more charming than in the
carriage which took them to the Villa Steno.

To a person obliged by proof to condemn another without ceasing to
love her, there is no greater sorrow than to perceive the absolute
unconsciousness of that other person and her serenity in her fault. Poor
Alba, felt overwhelmed by a sadness greater, more depressing still, and
which became materially insupportable, when, toward half-past two, her
mother bade her farewell, although the fete at the English embassy did
not begin until five o’clock.

“I promised poor Hafner to go to see him to-day. I know he is bowed down
with grief. I would like to try to arrange all.... I will send back the
carriage if you wish to go out awhile. I have telephoned Lydia to expect
me at four o’clock.... She will take me.”

She had, on detailing the employment so natural of her afternoon, eyes
too brilliant, a smile too happy. She looked too youthful in her light
toilette. Her feet trembled with too nervous an impatience. How could
Alba not have felt that she was telling her an untruth? The undeceived
child had the intuition that the visit to Fanny’s father was only a
pretext. It was not the first time that the Countess employed it to
free herself from inconvenient surveillance, the act of sending back
the carriage, which, in Rome as in Paris, is always the probable sign of
clandestine meetings with women of their rank. It was not the first
time that Alba was possessed by suspicion on certain mysterious
disappearances of her mother. That mother did not mistrust that poor
Alba--her Alba, the child so tenderly loved in spite of all--was
suffering at that very moment and on her account the most terrible of
temptations.... When the carriage had disappeared the fixed gaze of the
young girl was turned upon the pavement, and then she felt arise in
her a sudden, instinctive, almost irresistible idea to end the moral
suffering by which she was devoured. It was so simple!... It was
sufficient to end life. One movement which she could make, one single
movement--she could lean over the balustrade, against which her arm
rested, in a certain manner--so, a little more forward, a little
more--and that suffering would be terminated. Yes, it would be so very
simple. She saw herself lying upon the pavement, her limbs broken, her
head crushed, dead--dead--freed! She leaned forward and was about to
leap, when her eyes fell upon a person who was walking below, the sight
of whom suddenly aroused her from the folly, the strange charm of which
had just laid hold so powerfully upon her. She drew back. She rubbed her
eyes with her hands, and she, who was accustomed to mystical enthusiasm,
said aloud:

“My God! You send him to me! I am saved.” And she summoned the footman
to tell him that if M. Dorsenne asked for her, he should be shown into
Madame Steno’s small salon. “I am not at home to any one else,” she
added.

It was indeed Julien, whom she had seen approach the house at the very
instant when she was only separated from the abyss by that last tremor
of animal repugnance, which is found even in suicide of the most ardent
kind. Do not madmen themselves choose to die in one manner rather than
in another? She paused several moments in order to collect herself.

“Yes,” said she at length, to herself, “it is the only solution. I will
find out if he loves me truly. And if he does not?”

She again looked toward the window, in order to assure herself that,
in case that conversation did not end as she desired, the tragical and
simple means remained at her service by which to free herself from that
infamous life which she surely could not bear.

Julien began the conversation in his tone of sentimental raillery, so
speedily to be transformed into one of drama! He knew very well, on
arriving at Villa Steno, that he was to have his last tete-a-tete with
his pretty and interesting little friend. For he had at length decided
to go away, and, to be more sure of not failing, he had engaged his
sleeping-berth for that night. He had jested so much with love that he
entered upon that conversation with a jest; when, having tried to take
Alba’s hand to press a kiss upon it, he saw that it was bandaged.

“What has happened to you, little Countess? Have my laurels or those of
Florent Chapron prevented you from sleeping, that you are here with
the classical wrist of a duellist?... Seriously, how have you hurt
yourself?”

“I leaned against a window, which broke and the pieces of glass cut my
fingers somewhat,” replied the young girl with a faint smile, adding:
“It is nothing.”

“What an imprudent child you are!” said Dorsenne in his tone of friendly
scolding. “Do you know that you might have severed an artery and have
caused a very serious, perhaps a fatal, hemorrhage?”

“That would not have been such a great misfortune,” replied Alba,
shaking her pretty head with an expression so bitter about her mouth
that the young man, too, ceased smiling.

“Do not speak in that tone,” said he, “or I shall think you did it
purposely.”

“Purposely?” repeated the young girl. “Purposely? Why should I have done
it purposely?”

And she blushed and laughed in the same nervous way she had laughed
fifteen minutes before, when she looked down into the street. Dorsenne
felt that she was suffering, and his heart contracted. The trouble
against which he had struggled for several days with all the energy
of an independent artist, and which for some time systematized his
celibacy, again oppressed him. He thought it time to put between “folly”
 and him the irreparability of his categorical resolution. So he replied
to his little friend with his habitual gentleness, but in a tone of
firmness, which already announced his determination:

“I have again vexed you, Contessina, and you are looking at me with the
glance of our hours of dispute. You will later regret having been unkind
to-day.”

As he pronounced those enigmatical words, she saw that he had in his
eyes and in his smile something different and indefinable. It must have
been that she loved him still more than she herself believed as for a
second she forgot both her pain and her resolution, and she asked him,
quickly:

“You have some trouble? You are suffering? What is it?”

“Nothing,” replied Dorsenne. “But time is flying, the minutes are going
by, and not only the minutes. There is an old and charming. French ode,
which you do not know and which begins:

     ‘Le temps s’en va, le temps s’en va, Madame.
     Las, le temps? Non. Mais nous nous en allons.’”

“Which means, little Countess, in simple prose, that this is no doubt
the last conversation we shall have together this season, and that it
would be cruel to mar for me this last visit.”

“Do I understand you aright?” said Alba. She, too, knew too well
Julien’s way of speaking not to know that that mannerism, half-mocking,
half-sentimental, always served him to prepare phrases more grave,
and against the emotion of which her fear of appearing a dupe rose in
advance. She crossed her arms upon her breast, and after a pause she
continued, in a grave voice: “You are going away?”

“Yes,” he replied, and from his coat-pocket he partly drew his ticket.
“You see I have acted like the poltroons who cast themselves into the
water. My ticket is bought, and I shall no longer hold that little
discourse which I have held for months, that, ‘Sir executioner, one
moment.... Du Barry’.”

“You are going away?” repeated the young girl, who did not seem to have
heeded the jest by which Julien had concealed his own confusion at the
effect of his so abruptly announced departure. “I shall not see you any
more!... And if I ask you not to go yet? You have spoken to me of our
friendship.... If I pray you, if I beseech you, in the name of that
friendship, not to deprive me of it at this instant, when I have no
one, when I am so alone, so horribly alone, will you answer no? You have
often told me that you were my friend, my true friend? If it be true,
you will not go. I repeat, I am alone, and I am afraid.”

“Come, little Countess,” replied Dorsenne, who began to be terrified
by the young girl’s sudden excitement, “it is not reasonable to agitate
yourself thus, because yesterday you had a very sad conversation with
Fanny Hafner! First, it is altogether impossible for me to defer my
departure. You force me to give you coarse, almost commercial reasons.
But my book is about to appear, and I must be there for the launching of
the sale, of which I have already told you. And then you are going away,
too. You will have all the diversions of the country, of your Venetian
friends and charming Lydia Maitland!”

“Do not mention that name,” interrupted Alba, whose face became
discomposed at the allusion to the sojourn at Piove. “You do not know
how you pain me, nor what that woman is, what a monster of cruelty
and of perfidy! Ask me no more. I shall tell you nothing. But,” the
Contessina that time clasping her hands, her poor, thin hands, which
trembled with the anguish of the words she dared to utter, “do you not
comprehend that if I speak to you as I do, it is because I have need of
you in order to live?” Then in a low voice, choked by emotion: “It
is because I love you!” All the modesty natural to a child of twenty
mounted to her pale face in a flood of purple, when she had uttered that
avowal. “Yes, I love you!” she repeated, in an accent as deep, but more
firm. “It is not, however, so common a thing to find real devotion, a
being who only asks to serve you, to be useful to you, to live in your
shadow. And you will understand that to have the right of giving you
my life, to bear your name, to be your wife, to follow you, I felt very
vividly in your presence at the moment I was about to lose you. You
will pardon my lack of modesty for the first, for the last time. I have
suffered too much.”

She ceased. Never had the absolute purity of the charming creature, born
and bred in an atmosphere of corruption, and remaining in the same so
intact, so noble, so frank, flashed out as at that moment. All that
virgin and unhappy soul was in her eyes which implored Julien, on her
lips which trembled at having spoken thus, on her brow around which
floated, like an aureole, the fair hair stirred by the breeze which
entered the open window. She had found the means of daring that
prodigious step, the boldest a woman can permit herself, still more so
a young girl, with so chaste a simplicity that at that moment Dorsenne
would not have dared to touch even the hand of that child who confided
herself to him so madly, so loyally.

Dorsenne was undoubtedly greatly interested in her, with a curiosity,
without enthusiasm, and against which a reaction had already set in.
That touching speech, in which trembled a distress so tender and each
word of which later on made him weep with regret, produced upon him
at that moment an impression of fear rather than love or pity. When at
length he broke the cruel silence, the sound of his voice revealed to
the unhappy girl the uselessness of that supreme appeal addressed by her
to life.

She had only kept, to exorcise the demon of suicide, her hope in
the heart of that man, and that heart, toward which she turned in so
immoderate a transport, drew back instead of responding.

“Calm yourself, I beseech you,” said he to her. “You can understand that
I am very much moved, very much surprised, at what I have heard! I did
not suspect it. My God! How troubled you are. And yet,” he continued
with more firmness, “I should despise myself were I to lie to you. You
have been so loyal toward me.... To marry you? Ah, it would be the
most delightful dream of happiness if that dream were not prevented by
honesty. Poor child,” and his voice sounded almost bitter, “you do not
know me. You do not know what a writer of my order is, and that to unite
your destiny to mine would be for you martyrdom more severe than your
moral solitude of to-day. You see, I came to your home with so much joy,
because I was free, because each time I could say to myself that I need
not return again. Such a confession is not romantic. But it is thus. If
that relation became a bond, an obligation, a fixed framework in which
to move, a circle of habits in which to imprison me, I should only have
one thought--flight. An engagement for my entire life? No, no, I could
not bear it. There are souls of passage as well as birds of passage, and
I am one. You will understand it tomorrow, now, and you will remember
that I have spoken to you as a man of honor, who would be miserable if
he thought he had augmented, involuntarily, the sorrows of your life
when his only desire was to assuage them. My God! What is to be done?”
 he cried, on seeing, as he spoke, tears gush from the young girl’s eyes,
which she did not wipe away.

“Go away,” she replied, “leave me. I do not want you. I am grateful to
you for not having deceived me.”

“But your presence is too cruel. I am ashamed of having spoken to you,
now that I know you do not love me. I have been mad, do not punish me by
remaining longer. After the conversation we have just had, my honor will
not permit us to talk longer.”

“You are right,” said Julien, after another pause. He took his hat,
which he had placed upon a table at the beginning of that visit,
so rapidly and abruptly terminated by a confession of sentiments so
strange. He said:

“Then, farewell.” She inclined her fair head without replying.

The door was closed. Alba Steno was again alone. Half an hour later,
when the footman entered to ask for orders relative to the carriage sent
back by the Countess, he found her standing motionless at the window
from which she had watched Dorsenne depart. There she had once more
been seized by the temptation of suicide. She had again felt with an
irresistible force the magnetic attraction of death. Life appeared to
her once more as something too vile, too useless, too insupportable to
be borne. The carriage was at her disposal. By way of the Portese gate
and along the Tiber, with the Countess’s horses, it would take an hour
and a half to reach the Lake di Porto. She had, too, this pretext, to
avoid the curiosity of the servants: one of the Roman noblewomen of her
acquaintance, Princess Torlonia, owned an isolated villa on the border
of that lake.... She ascended hastily to don her hat. And without
writing a word of farewell to any one, without even casting a glance at
the objects among which she had lived and suffered, she descended the
staircase and gave the coachman the name of the villa, adding “Drive
quickly; I am late now.”

The Lake di Porto is only, as its name indicates, the port of the
ancient Tiber. The road which leads from Transtevere runs along the
river, which rolls through a plain strewn with ruins and indented with
barren hills, its brackish water discolored from the sand and mud of the
Apennines.

Here groups of eucalyptus, there groups of pine parasols above some
ruined walls, were all the vegetation which met Alba Steno’s eye. But
the scene accorded so well with the moral devastation she bore within
her that the barrenness around her in her last walk was pleasant to her.

The feeling that she was nearing eternal peace, final sleep in which she
should suffer no more, augmented when she alighted from the carriage,
and, having passed the garden of Villa Torlonia, she found herself
facing the small lake, so grandiose in its smallness by the wildness of
its surroundings, and motionless, surprised in even that supreme moment
by the magic of that hidden sight, she paused amid the reeds with their
red tufts to look at that pond which was to become her tomb, and she
murmured:

“How beautiful it is!”

There was in the humid atmosphere which gradually penetrated her a charm
of mortal rest, to which she abandoned herself dreamily, almost with
physical voluptuousness, drinking into her being the feverish fumes of
that place--one of the most fatal at that season and at that hour of all
that dangerous coast--until she shuddered in her light summer gown.
Her shoulders contracted, her teeth chattered, and that feeling of
discomfort was to her as a signal for action. She took another allee of
rose-bushes in flower to reach a point on the bank barren of vegetation,
where was outlined the form of a boat. She soon detached it, and,
managing the heavy oars with her delicate hands, she advanced toward the
middle of the lake.

When she was in the spot which she thought the deepest and the most
suitable for her design, she ceased rowing. Then, by a delicate care,
which made her smile herself, so much did it betray instinctive and
childish order at such a solemn moment, she put her hat, her umbrella
and her gloves on one of the transversal boards of the boat. She had
made effort to move the heavy oars, so that she was perspiring. A second
shudder seized her as she was arranging the trifling objects, so keen,
so chilly, so that time that she paused. She lay there motionless, her
eyes fixed upon the water, whose undulations lapped the boat. At the
last moment she felt reenter her heart, not love of life, but love for
her mother. All the details of the events which would follow her suicide
were presented to her mind.

She saw herself plunging into the deep water which would close over
her head. Her suffering would be ended, but Madame Steno? She saw the
coachman growing uneasy over her absence, ringing at the door of Villa
Torlonia, the servants in search. The loosened boat would relate enough.
Would the Countess know that she had killed herself? Would she know
the cause of that desperate end? The terrible face of Lydia Maitland
appeared to the young girl. She comprehended that the woman hated her
enemy too much not to enlighten her with regard to the circumstances
which had preceded that suicide. The cry so simple and of a significance
so terrible: “You did it purposely!” returned to Alba’s memory. She saw
her mother learning that her daughter had seen all. She had loved her so
much, that mother, she loved her so dearly still!

Then, as a third violent chill shook her from head to foot, Alba began
to think of another mode, and one as sure, of death without any one in
the world being able to suspect that it was voluntary. She recalled
the fact that she was in one of the most dreaded corners of the Roman
Campagna; that she had known persons carried off in a few days by the
pernicious fevers contracted in similar places, at that hour and in
that season, notably one of her friends, one of the Bonapartes living
in Rome, who came thither to hunt when overheated. If she were to try to
catch that same disease?... And she took up the oars. When she felt
her brow moist with the second effort, she opened her bodice and her
chemise, she exposed her neck, her breast, her throat, and she lay down
in the boat, allowing the damp air to envelop, to caress, to chill her,
inviting the entrance into her blood of the fatal germs. How long did
she remain thus, half-unconscious, in the atmosphere more and more laden
with miasma in proportion as the sun sank? A cry made her rise and again
take up the oars. It was the coachman, who, not seeing her return, had
descended from the box and was hailing the boat at all hazards. When she
stepped upon the bank and when he saw her so pale, the man, who had been
in the Countess’s service for years, could not help saying to her, with
the familiarity of an Italian servant:

“You have taken cold, Mademoiselle, and this place is so dangerous.”

“Indeed,” she replied, “I have had a chill. It will be nothing. Let us
return quickly. Above all, do not say that I was in the boat. You will
cause me to be scolded.”



CHAPTER XII. EPILOGUE

“And it was directly after that conversation that the poor child left
for the lake, where she caught the pernicious fever?” asked Montfanon.

“Directly,” replied Dorsenne, “and what troubles me the most is that I
can not doubt but that she went there purposely. I was so troubled by
our conversation that I had not the strength to leave Rome the same
evening, as I told her I should. After much hesitation--you understand
why, now that I have told you all--I returned to the Villa Steno at six
o’clock. To speak to her, but of what? Did I know? It was madness. For
her avowal only allowed of two replies, either that which I made her or
an offer of marriage. Ah, I did not reason so much. I was afraid.... Of
what?... I do not know. I reached the villa, where I found the Countess,
gay and radiant, as was her custom, and tete-a-tete with her American.
‘Only think, there is my child,’ said she to me, ‘who has refused to go
to the English embassy, where she would enjoy herself, and who has gone
out for a drive alone.... Will you await her?’”

“At length she began to grow uneasy, and I, seeing that no one returned,
took my leave, my heart oppressed by presentiments.... Alba’s carriage
stopped at the door just as I was going out. She was pale, of a greenish
pallor, which caused me to say on approaching her: ‘Whence have you
come?’ as if I had the right. Her lips, already discolored, trembled as
they replied. When I learned where she had spent that hour of sunset,
and near what lake, the most deadly in the neighborhood, I said to her:
‘What imprudence!’ I shall all my life see the glance she gave me at the
moment, as she replied: ‘Say, rather, how wise, and pray that I may have
taken the fever and that I die of it.’ You know the rest, and how her
wish has been realized. She indeed contracted the fever, and so severely
that she died in less than six days. I have no doubt, since her last
words, that it was a suicide.”

“And the mother,” asked Montfanon, “did she not comprehend finally?”

“Absolutely nothing,” replied Dorsenne. “It is inconceivable, but it is
thus. Ah! she is truly the worthy friend of that knave Hafner, whom
his daughter’s broken engagement has not grieved, in spite of his
discomfiture. I forgot to tell you that he had just sold Palais Castagna
to a joint-stock company to convert it into a hotel. I laugh,” he
continued with singular acrimony, “in order not to weep, for I am
arriving at the most heartrending part. Do you know where I saw poor
Alba Steno’s face for the last time? It was three days ago, the day
after her death, at this hour. I called to inquire for the Countess!
She was receiving! ‘Do you wish to bid her adieu?’ she asked me. ‘Good
Lincoln is just molding her face for me.’ And I entered the chamber of
death. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks were sunken, her pretty nose was
pinched, and upon her brow and in the corners of her mouth was a mixture
of bitterness and of repose which I can not describe to you. I thought:
‘If you had liked, she would be alive, she would smile, she would love
you!’ The American was beside the bed, while Florent Chapron, always
faithful, was preparing the oil to put upon the face of the corpse, and
sinister Lydia Maitland was watching the scene with eyes which made
me shudder, reminding me of what I had divined at the time of my last
conversation with Alba. If she does not undertake to play the part of a
Nemesis and to tell all to the Countess, I am mistaken in faces! For the
moment she was silent, and guess the only words the mother uttered
when her lover, he on whose account her daughter had suffered so much,
approached their common victim: ‘Above all, do not injure her lovely
lashes!’ What horrible irony, was it not? Horrible!”

The young man sank upon a bench as he uttered that cry of distress and
of remorse, which Montfanon mechanically repeated, as if startled by the
tragical confidence he had just received.

Montfanon shook his gray head several times as if deliberating; then
forced Dorsenne to rise, chiding him thus:

“Come, Julien, we can not remain here all the afternoon dreaming and
sighing like young women! The child is dead. We can not restore her to
life, you in despairing, I in deploring. We should do better to look in
the face our responsibility in that sinister adventure, to repent of it
and to expiate it.”

“Our responsibility?” interrogated Julien. “I see mine, although I can
truly not see yours.”

“Yours and mine,” replied Montfanon. “I am no sophist, and I am not in
the habit of shifting my conscience. Yes or no,” he insisted, with a
return of his usual excitement, “did I leave the catacombs to arrange
that unfortunate duel? Yes or no, did I yield to the paroxysm of choler
which possessed me on hearing of the engagement of Ardea and on finding
that I was in the presence of that equivocal Hafner? Yes or no, did that
duel help to enlighten Madame Gorka as to her husband’s doings, and, in
consequence, Mademoiselle Steno as to her mother’s? Did you not relate
to me the progress of her anguish since that scandal, there just
now?... And if I have been startled, as I have been, by the news of that
suicide, know it has been for this reason especially, because a voice
has said to me: ‘A few of the tears of that dead girl are laid to your
account.”’

“But, my poor friend,” interrupted Dorsenne, “whence such reasoning?
According to that, we could not live any more. There enters into our
lives, by indirect means, a collection of actions which in no way
concerns us, and in admitting that we have a debt of responsibility to
pay, that debt commences and ends in that which we have wished directly,
sincerely, clearly.”

“It would be very convenient,” replied the Marquis, with still more
vivacity, “but the proof that it is not true is that you yourself
are filled with remorse at not having saved the soul so weak of that
defenseless child. Ah, I do not mince the truth to myself, and I shall
not do so to you. You remember the morning when you were so gay, and
when you gave me the theory of your cosmopolitanism? It amused you, as
a perfect dilettante, so you said, to assist in one of those dramas of
race which bring into play the personages from all points of the earth
and of history, and you then traced to me a programme very true, my
faith, and which events have almost brought about. Madame Steno has
indeed conducted herself toward her two lovers as a Venetian of the time
of Aretin; Chapron, with all the blind devotion of a descendant of an
oppressed race; his sister with the villainous ferocity of a rebel who
at length shakes off the yoke, since you think she wrote those anonymous
letters. Hafner and Ardea have laid bare two detestable souls, the one
of an infamous usurer, half German, half Dutch; the other of a degraded
nobleman, in whom is revived some ancient ‘condottiere’. Gorka has been
brave and mad, like entire Poland; his wife implacable and loyal, like
all of England. Maitland continues to be positive, insensible, and
wilful in the midst of it all, as all America. And poor Alba ended as
did her father. I do not speak to you of Baron Hafner’s daughter,” and
he raised his hat. Then, in an altered voice:

“She is a saint, in whom I was deceived. But she has Jewish blood in
her veins, blood which was that of the people of God. I should have
remembered it and the beautiful saying of the Middle Ages: ‘The Jewish
women shall be saved because they have wept for our Lord in secret.’....
You outlined for me in advance the scene of the drama in which we have
been mixed up.... And do you remember what I said: ‘Is there not among
them a soul which you might aid in doing better?’ You laughed in my face
at that moment. You would have treated me, had you been less polite,
as a Philistine and a cabotin. You wished to be only a spectator, the
gentleman in the balcony who wipes the glasses of his lorgnette in order
to lose none of the comedy. Well, you could not do so. That role is not
permitted a man. He must act, and he acts always, even when he thinks
he is looking on, even when he washes his hands as Pontius Pilate, that
dilettante, too, who uttered the words of your masters and of yourself.
What is truth? Truth is that there is always and everywhere a duty to
fulfil. Mine was to prevent that criminal encounter. Yours was not to
pay attention to that young girl if you did not love her, and if
you loved her, to marry her and to take her from her abominable
surroundings. We have both failed, and at what a price!”

“You are very severe,” said the young man; “but if you were right would
not Alba be dead? Of what use is it for me to know what I should have
done when it is too late?”

“First, never to do so again,” said the Marquis; “then to judge yourself
and your life.”

“There is truth in what you say,” replied Dorsenne, “but you are
mistaken if you think that the most intellectual men of our age have not
suffered, too, from that abuse of thought. What is to be done? Ah, it is
the disease of a century too cultivated, and there is no cure.”

“There is one,” interrupted Montfanon, “which you do not wish to see....
You will not deny that Balzac was the boldest of our modern writers. Is
it necessary for me, an ignorant man, to recite to you the phrase which
governs his work: ‘Thought, principle of evil and of good can only be
prepared, subdued, directed by religion.’ See?” he continued, suddenly
taking his companion by the arm and forcing him to look into a
transversal allee through the copse, “there he is, the doctor who holds
the remedy for that malady of the soul as for all the others. Do
not show yourself. They will have forgotten our presence. But, look,
look!....Ah, what a meeting!”

The personage who appeared suddenly in that melancholy, deserted garden,
and in a manner almost supernatural, so much did his presence form a
living commentary to the discourse of the impassioned nobleman, was
no other than the Holy Father himself, on the point of entering his
carriage for his usual drive. Dorsenne, who only knew Leo XIII from
his portraits, saw an old man, bent, bowed, whose white cassock gleamed
beneath the red mantle, and who leaned on one side upon a prelate of
his court, on the other upon one of his officers. In drawing back,
as Montfanon had advised, in order not to bring a reprimand upon
the keepers, he could study at his leisure the delicate face of the
Sovereign Pontiff, who paused at a bed of roses to converse familiarly
with a kneeling gardener. He saw the infinitely indulgent smile of
that spirituelle mouth. He saw the light of those eyes which seemed
to justify by their brightness the ‘lumen in coelo’ applied to the
successor of Pie IX by a celebrated prophecy. He saw the venerable
hand, that white, transparent hand, which was raised to give the solemn
benediction with so much majesty, turn toward a fine yellow rose, and
the fingers bend the flower without plucking it, as if not to harm the
frail creation of God. The old Pope for a second inhaled its perfume and
then resumed his walk toward the carriage, vaguely to be seen between
the trunks of the green oaks. The black horses set off at a trot, and
Dorsenne, turning again toward Montfanon, perceived large tears upon
the lashes of the former zouave, who, forgetting the rest of their
conversation, said, with a sigh: “And that is the only pleasure allowed
him, who is, however, the successor of the first apostle, to inhale his
flowers and drive in a carriage as rapidly as his horses can go! They
have procured four paltry kilometers of road at the foot of the terrace
where we were half an hour since. And he goes on, he goes on, thus
deluding himself with regard to the vast space which is forbidden him. I
have seen many tragical sights in my life. I have been to the war, and I
have spent one entire night wounded on a battlefield covered with snow,
among the dead, grazed by the wheels of the artillery of the conquerors,
who defiled singing. Nothing has moved me like that drive of the old
man, who has never uttered a complaint and who has for himself only that
acre of land in which to move freely. But these are grand words which
the holy man wrote one day at the foot of his portrait for a missionary.
The words explain his life: ‘Debitricem martyrii fidem’--Faith is bound
to martyrdom.”

“‘Debitricem martyrii fidem’,” repeated Dorsenne, “that is beautiful,
indeed. And,” he added, in a low voice, “you just now abused very rudely
the dilettantes and the sceptic. But do you think there would be one
of them who would refuse martyrdom if he could have at the same time
faith?”

Never had Montfanon heard the young man utter a similar phrase and
in such an accent. The image returned to him, by way of contrast, of
Dorsenne, alert and foppish, the dandy of literature, so gayly a scoffer
and a sophist, to whom antique and venerable Rome was only a city of
pleasure, a cosmopolis more paradoxical than Florence, Nice, Biarritz,
St. Moritz, than such and such other cities of international winter and
summer. He felt that for the first time that soul was strained to its
depths, the tragical death of poor Alba had become in the mind of the
writer the point of remorse around which revolved the moral life of the
superior and incomplete being, exiled from simple humanity by the most
invincible pride of mind. Montfanon comprehended that every additional
word would pain the wounded heart. He was afraid of having already
lectured Dorsenne too severely. He took within his arm the arm of the
young man, and he pressed it silently, putting into that manly caress
all the warm and discreet pity of an elder brother.


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     Conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicity
     Despotism natural to puissant personalities
     Egyptian tobacco, mixed with opium and saltpetre
     Follow their thoughts instead of heeding objects
     Has as much sense as the handle of a basket
     Have never known in the morning what I would do in the evening
     I no longer love you
     Imagine what it would be never to have been born
     Mediocre sensibility
     Melancholy problem of the birth and death of love
     Mobile and complaisant conscience had already forgiven himself
     No flies enter a closed mouth
     Not an excuse, but an explanation of your conduct
     One of those trustful men who did not judge when they loved
     Only one thing infamous in love, and that is a falsehood
     Pitiful checker-board of life
     Scarcely a shade of gentle condescension
     Sufficed him to conceive the plan of a reparation
     That suffering which curses but does not pardon
     That you can aid them in leading better lives?
     The forests have taught man liberty
     There is an intelligent man, who never questions his ideas
     There is always and everywhere a duty to fulfil
     Thinking it better not to lie on minor points
     Too prudent to risk or gain much
     Walked at the rapid pace characteristic of monomaniacs
     Words are nothing; it is the tone in which they are uttered





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cosmopolis — Complete" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home