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

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SERGE PANINE

By GEORGES OHNET

With a General Introduction to the Series by GASTON BOISSIER, Secretaire
Perpetuel de l’academie Francaise.



GENERAL INTRODUCTION

1905

BY ROBERT ARNOT

The editor-in-chief of the Maison Mazarin--a man of letters who
cherishes an enthusiastic yet discriminating love for the literary and
artistic glories of France--formed within the last two years the great
project of collecting and presenting to the vast numbers of intelligent
readers of whom New World boasts a series of those great and undying
romances which, since 1784, have received the crown of merit awarded by
the French Academy--that coveted assurance of immortality in letters and
in art.

In the presentation of this serious enterprise for the criticism and
official sanction of The Academy, ‘en seance’, was included a request
that, if possible, the task of writing a preface to the series should be
undertaken by me. Official sanction having been bestowed upon the plan,
I, as the accredited officer of the French Academy, convey to you its
hearty appreciation, endorsement, and sympathy with a project so nobly
artistic. It is also my duty, privilege, and pleasure to point out, at
the request of my brethren, the peculiar importance and lasting value
of this series to all who would know the inner life of a people whose
greatness no turns of fortune have been able to diminish.

In the last hundred years France has experienced the most terrible
vicissitudes, but, vanquished or victorious, triumphant or abased, never
has she lost her peculiar gift of attracting the curiosity of the world.
She interests every living being, and even those who do not love her
desire to know her. To this peculiar attraction which radiates from
her, artists and men of letters can well bear witness, since it is to
literature and to the arts, before all, that France owes such living
and lasting power. In every quarter of the civilized world there are
distinguished writers, painters, and eminent musicians, but in
France they exist in greater numbers than elsewhere. Moreover, it
is universally conceded that French writers and artists have this
particular and praiseworthy quality: they are most accessible to people
of other countries. Without losing their national characteristics, they
possess the happy gift of universality. To speak of letters alone:
the books that Frenchmen write are read, translated, dramatized, and
imitated everywhere; so it is not strange that these books give to
foreigners a desire for a nearer and more intimate acquaintance with
France.

Men preserve an almost innate habit of resorting to Paris from almost
every quarter of the globe. For many years American visitors have been
more numerous than others, although the journey from the United States
is long and costly. But I am sure that when for the first time they see
Paris--its palaces, its churches, its museums--and visit Versailles,
Fontainebleau, and Chantilly, they do not regret the travail they have
undergone. Meanwhile, however, I ask myself whether such sightseeing
is all that, in coming hither, they wish to accomplish. Intelligent
travellers--and, as a rule, it is the intelligent class that feels
the need of the educative influence of travel--look at our beautiful
monuments, wander through the streets and squares among the crowds that
fill them, and, observing them, I ask myself again: Do not such people
desire to study at closer range these persons who elbow them as they
pass; do they not wish to enter the houses of which they see but the
facades; do they not wish to know how Parisians live and speak and act
by their firesides? But time, alas! is lacking for the formation of
those intimate friendships which would bring this knowledge within their
grasp. French homes are rarely open to birds of passage, and visitors
leave us with regret that they have not been able to see more than the
surface of our civilization or to recognize by experience the note of
our inner home life.

How, then, shall this void be filled? Speaking in the first person, the
simplest means appears to be to study those whose profession it is to
describe the society of the time, and primarily, therefore, the works of
dramatic writers, who are supposed to draw a faithful picture of it. So
we go to the theatre, and usually derive keen pleasure therefrom. But
is pleasure all that we expect to find? What we should look for
above everything in a comedy or a drama is a representation, exact as
possible, of the manners and characters of the dramatis persona of the
play; and perhaps the conditions under which the play was written do
not allow such representation. The exact and studied portrayal of
a character demands from the author long preparation, and cannot be
accomplished in a few hours. From, the first scene to the last, each
tale must be posed in the author’s mind exactly as it will be proved to
be at the end. It is the author’s aim and mission to place completely
before his audience the souls of the “agonists” laying bare the
complications of motive, and throwing into relief the delicate shades
of motive that sway them. Often, too, the play is produced before a
numerous audience--an audience often distrait, always pressed for time,
and impatient of the least delay. Again, the public in general require
that they shall be able to understand without difficulty, and at first
thought, the characters the author seeks to present, making it necessary
that these characters be depicted from their most salient sides--which
are too often vulgar and unattractive.

In our comedies and dramas it is not the individual that is drawn, but
the type. Where the individual alone is real, the type is a myth of the
imagination--a pure invention. And invention is the mainspring of the
theatre, which rests purely upon illusion, and does not please us unless
it begins by deceiving us.

I believe, then, that if one seeks to know the world exactly as it is,
the theatre does not furnish the means whereby one can pursue the study.
A far better opportunity for knowing the private life of a people is
available through the medium of its great novels. The novelist deals
with each person as an individual. He speaks to his reader at an hour
when the mind is disengaged from worldly affairs, and he can add
without restraint every detail that seems needful to him to complete the
rounding of his story. He can return at will, should he choose, to the
source of the plot he is unfolding, in order that his reader may better
understand him; he can emphasize and dwell upon those details which an
audience in a theatre will not allow.

The reader, being at leisure, feels no impatience, for he knows that he
can at any time lay down or take up the book. It is the consciousness of
this privilege that gives him patience, should he encounter a dull page
here or there. He may hasten or delay his reading, according to the
interest he takes in his romance-nay, more, he can return to the earlier
pages, should he need to do so, for a better comprehension of some
obscure point. In proportion as he is attracted and interested by the
romance, and also in the degree of concentration with which he reads
it, does he grasp better the subtleties of the narrative. No shade of
character drawing escapes him. He realizes, with keener appreciation,
the most delicate of human moods, and the novelist is not compelled to
introduce the characters to him, one by one, distinguishing them only by
the most general characteristics, but can describe each of those little
individual idiosyncrasies that contribute to the sum total of a living
personality.

When I add that the dramatic author is always to a certain extent a
slave to the public, and must ever seek to please the passing taste of
his time, it will be recognized that he is often, alas! compelled to
sacrifice his artistic leanings to popular caprice-that is, if he has
the natural desire that his generation should applaud him.

As a rule, with the theatre-going masses, one person follows the fads
or fancies of others, and individual judgments are too apt to be
irresistibly swayed by current opinion. But the novelist, entirely
independent of his reader, is not compelled to conform himself to the
opinion of any person, or to submit to his caprices. He is absolutely
free to picture society as he sees it, and we therefore can have more
confidence in his descriptions of the customs and characters of the day.

It is precisely this view of the case that the editor of the series
has taken, and herein is the raison d’etre of this collection of
great French romances. The choice was not easy to make. That form of
literature called the romance abounds with us. France has always
loved it, for French writers exhibit a curiosity--and I may say an
indiscretion--that is almost charming in the study of customs and morals
at large; a quality that induces them to talk freely of themselves and
of their neighbors, and to set forth fearlessly both the good and the
bad in human nature. In this fascinating phase of literature, France
never has produced greater examples than of late years.

In the collection here presented to American readers will be found
those works especially which reveal the intimate side of French social
life-works in which are discussed the moral problems that affect most
potently the life of the world at large. If inquiring spirits seek to
learn the customs and manners of the France of any age, they must look
for it among her crowned romances. They need go back no farther than
Ludovic Halevy, who may be said to open the modern epoch. In the
romantic school, on its historic side, Alfred de Vigny must be looked
upon as supreme. De Musset and Anatole France may be taken as revealing
authoritatively the moral philosophy of nineteenth-century thought. I
must not omit to mention the Jacqueline of Th. Bentzon, and the “Attic”
 Philosopher of Emile Souvestre, nor the great names of Loti, Claretie,
Coppe, Bazin, Bourget, Malot, Droz, De Massa, and last, but not least,
our French Dickens, Alphonse Daudet. I need not add more; the very names
of these “Immortals” suffice to commend the series to readers in all
countries.

One word in conclusion: America may rest assured that her students
of international literature will find in this series of ‘ouvrages
couronnes’ all that they may wish to know of France at her own
fireside--a knowledge that too often escapes them, knowledge that
embraces not only a faithful picture of contemporary life in the French
provinces, but a living and exact description of French society in
modern times. They may feel certain that when they have read these
romances, they will have sounded the depths and penetrated into the
hidden intimacies of France, not only as she is, but as she would be
known.

GASTON BOISSIER

SECRETAIRE PERPETUEL DE L’ACADEMIE FRANCAISE



GEORGES OHNET

The only French novelist whose books have a circulation approaching the
works of Daudet and of Zola is Georges Ohnet, a writer whose popularity
is as interesting as his stories, because it explains, though it does
not excuse, the contempt the Goncourts had for the favor of the great
French public, and also because it shows how the highest form of
Romanticism still ferments beneath the varnish of Naturalism in what is
called genius among the great masses of readers.

Georges Ohnet was born in Paris, April 3, 1848, the son of an architect.
He was destined for the Bar, but was early attracted by journalism and
literature. Being a lawyer it was not difficult for him to join the
editorial staff of Le Pays, and later Le Constitutionnel. This was soon
after the Franco-German War. His romances, since collected under
the title ‘Batailles de la Vie’, appeared first in ‘Le Figaro,
L’Illustration, and Revue des Deux Mondes’, and have been exceedingly
well received by the public. This relates also to his dramas, some of
his works meeting with a popular success rarely extended to any author.
For some time Georges Ohnet did not find the same favor with the
critics, who often attacked him with a passionate violence and unusual
severity. True, a high philosophical flow of thoughts cannot be detected
in his writings, but nevertheless it is certain that the characters and
the subjects of which he treats are brilliantly sketched and clearly
developed. They are likewise of perfect morality and honesty.

There was expected of him, however, an idea which was not quite
realized. Appearing upon the literary stage at a period when Naturalism
was triumphant, it was for a moment believed that he would restore
Idealism in the manner of George Sand.

In any case the hostile critics have lost. For years public opinion has
exalted him, and the reaction is the more significant when compared with
the tremendous criticism launched against his early romances and novels.

A list of his works follows:

Serge Panine (1881), crowned by the French Academy, has since gone
through one hundred and fifty French editions; Le Maitre des Forges
(1882), a prodigious success, two hundred and fifty editions being
printed (1900); La Comtesse Sarah (1882); Lise Fleuyon (1884); La Grande
Maynieye (1886); Les Dames de Croix-Mort (1886); Volonte (1888); Le
Docteur Rameau (1889); Deynier Amour (1889); Le Cure de Favieyes (1890);
Dette de Haine (1891); Nemsod et Cie. (1892); Le Lendemain des Amours
(1893); Le Droit de l’Enfant (1894.); Les Vielles Rancunes (1894); La
Dame en Gris (1895); La Fille du Depute (1896); Le Roi de Paris (1898);
Au Fond du Gouffre (1899); Gens de la Noce (1900); La Tenibreuse (1900);
Le Cyasseur d’Affaires (1901); Le Crepuscule (1901); Le Marche a l’Amour
(1902).

Ohnet’s novels are collected under the titles, ‘Noir et Rose (1887) and
L’Ame de Pierre (1890).

The dramatic writings of Georges Ohnet, mostly taken from his novels,
have greatly contributed to his reputation. Le Maitre des Forges was
played for a full year (Gymnase, 1883); it was followed by Serge Panine
(1884); La Comtesse Sarah (1887). La Grande Mayniere (1888), met also
with a decided and prolonged success; Dernier Amour (Gymnase, 1890);
Colonel Roquebrune (Porte St. Martin, 1897). Before that he had already
written the plays Regina Sarpi (1875) and Marthe (1877), which yet hold
a prominent place upon the French stage.

I have shown in this rapid sketch that a man of the stamp of Georges
Ohnet must have immortal qualities in himself, even though flayed and
roasted alive by the critics. He is most assuredly an artist in form, is
endowed with a brilliant style, and has been named “L’Historiographe
de la bourgeoise contemporaine.” Indeed, antagonism to plutocracy and
hatred of aristocracy are the fundamental theses in almost every one of
his books.

His exposition, I repeat, is startlingly neat, the development of his
plots absolutely logical, and the world has acclaimed his ingenuity in
dramatic construction. He is truly, and in all senses, of the Ages.

                    VICTOR CHERBOULIEZ
                   de l’Academie Francaise



SERGE PANINE



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. THE HOUSE OF DESVARENNES

The firm of Desvarennes has been in an ancient mansion in the Rue Saint
Dominique since 1875; it is one of the best known and most important in
French industry. The counting-houses are in the wings of the building
looking upon the courtyard, which were occupied by the servants when the
family whose coat-of-arms has been effaced from above the gate-way were
still owners of the estate.

Madame Desvarennes inhabits the mansion which she has had magnificently
renovated. A formidable rival of the Darblays, the great millers of
France, the firm of Desvarennes is a commercial and political power.
Inquire in Paris about its solvency, and you will be told that you may
safely advance twenty millions of francs on the signature of the head of
the firm. And this head is a woman.

This woman is remarkable. Gifted with keen understanding and a firm
will, she had in former times vowed to make a large fortune, and she has
kept her word.

She was the daughter of a humble packer of the Rue Neuve-Coquenard.
Toward 1848 she married Michel Desvarennes, who was then a journeyman
baker in a large shop in the Chaussee d’Antin. With the thousand francs
which the packer managed to give his daughter by way of dowry, the young
couple boldly took a shop and started a little bakery business. The
husband kneaded and baked the bread, and the young wife, seated at the
counter, kept watch over the till. Neither on Sundays nor on holidays
was the shop shut.

Through the window, between two pyramids of pink and blue packets of
biscuits, one could always catch sight of the serious-looking Madame
Desvarennes, knitting woollen stockings for her husband while waiting
for customers. With her prominent forehead, and her eyes always bent on
her work, this woman appeared the living image of perseverance.

At the end of five years of incessant work, and possessing twenty
thousand francs, saved sou by sou, the Desvarennes left the slopes of
Montmartre, and moved to the centre of Paris. They were ambitious
and full of confidence. They set up in the Rue Vivienne, in a shop
resplendent with gilding and ornamented with looking-glasses. The
ceiling was painted in panels with bright hued pictures that caught the
eyes of the passers-by. The window-shelves were of white marble, and the
counter, where Madame Desvarennes was still enthroned, was of a width
worthy of the receipts that were taken every day. Business increased
daily; the Desvarennes continued to be hard and systematic workers.
The class of customers alone had changed; they were more numerous
and richer. The house had a specialty for making small rolls for the
restaurants. Michel had learned from the Viennese bakers how to make
those golden balls which tempt the most rebellious appetite, and which,
when in an artistically folded damask napkin, set off a dinner-table.

About this time Madame Desvarennes, while calculating how much the
millers must gain on the flour they sell to the bakers, resolved, in
order to lessen expenses, to do without middlemen and grind her own
corn. Michel, naturally timid, was frightened when his wife disclosed to
him the simple project which she had formed. Accustomed to submit to the
will of her whom he respectfully called “the mistress,” and of whom he
was but the head clerk, he dared not oppose her. But, a red-tapist by
nature, and hating innovations, owing to weakness of mind, he trembled
inwardly and cried in agony:

“Wife, you’ll ruin us.”

The mistress calmed the poor man’s alarm; she tried to impart to him
some of her confidence, to animate him with her hope, but without
success, so she went on without him. A mill was for sale at Jouy, on the
banks of the Oise; she paid ready money for it, and a few weeks later
the bakery in the Rue Vivienne was independent of every one. She ground
her own flour, and from that time business increased considerably.
Feeling capable of carrying out large undertakings, and, moreover,
desirous of giving up the meannesses of retail trade, Madame
Desvarennes, one fine day, sent in a tender for supplying bread to the
military hospitals. It was accepted, and from that time the house ranked
among the most important. On seeing the Desvarennes take their daring
flight, the leading men in the trade had said:

“They have system and activity, and if they do not upset on the way,
they will attain a high position.”

But the mistress seemed to have the gift of divination. She worked
surely--if she struck out one way you might be certain that success
was there. In all her enterprises, “good luck” stood close by her; she
scented failures from afar, and the firm never made a bad debt. Still
Michel continued to tremble. The first mill had been followed by many
more; then the old system appeared insufficient to Madame Desvarennes.
As she wished to keep up with the increase of business she had
steam-mills built,--which are now grinding three hundred million francs’
worth of corn every year.

Fortune had favored the house immensely, but Michel continued to
tremble. From time to time when the mistress launched out a new
business, he timidly ventured on his usual saying:

“Wife, you’re going to ruin us.”

But one felt it was only for form’s sake, and that he himself no
longer meant what he said. Madame Desvarennes received this plaintive
remonstrance with a calm smile, and answered, maternally, as to a child:

“There, there, don’t be frightened.”

Then she would set to work again, and direct with irresistible vigor the
army of clerks who peopled her counting-houses.

In fifteen years’ time, by prodigious efforts of will and energy,
Madame Desvarennes had made her way from the lonely and muddy Rue
Neuve-Coquenard to the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique. Of the bakery
there was no longer question. It was some time since the business in the
Rue Vivienne had been transferred to the foreman of the shop. The flour
trade alone occupied Madame Desvarennes’s attention. She ruled the
prices in the market; and great bankers came to her office and did
business with her on a footing of equality. She did not become any
prouder for it, she knew too well the strength and weakness of life
to have pride; her former plain dealing had not stiffened into
self-sufficiency. Such as one had known her when beginning business,
such one found her in the zenith of her fortune. Instead of a woollen
gown she wore a silk one, but the color was still black; her language
had not become refined; she retained the same blunt familiar accent, and
at the end of five minutes’ conversation with any one of importance she
could not resist calling him “my dear,” to come morally near him. Her
commands had more fulness. In giving her orders, she had the manner of
a commander-in-chief, and it was useless to haggle when she had spoken.
The best thing to do was to obey, as well and as promptly as possible.

Placed in a political sphere, this marvellously gifted woman would
have been a Madame Roland; born to the throne, she would have been a
Catherine II.; there was genius in her. Sprung from the lower ranks,
her superiority had given her wealth; had she come from the higher, the
great mind might have governed the world.

Still she was not happy; she had been married fifteen years, and her
fireside was devoid of a cradle. During the first years she had rejoiced
at not having a child. Where could she have found time to occupy herself
with a baby? Business engrossed her attention; she had no leisure to
amuse herself with trifles. Maternity seemed to her a luxury for
rich women; she had her fortune to make. In the struggle against the
difficulties attending the enterprise she had begun, she had not had
time to look around her and perceive that her home was lonely. She
worked from morning till night. Her whole life was absorbed in this
work, and when night came, overcome with fatigue, she fell asleep, her
head filled with cares which stifled all tricks of the imagination.

Michel grieved, but in silence; his feeble and dependent nature missed a
child. He, whose mind lacked occupation, thought of the future. He said
to himself that the day when the dreamt-of fortune came would be more
welcome if there were an heir to whom to leave it. What was the good
of being rich, if the money went to collateral relatives? There was
his nephew Savinien, a disagreeable urchin whom he looked on with
indifference; and he was biased regarding his brother, who had all but
failed several times in business, and to whose aid he had come to save
the honor of the name. The mistress had not hesitated to help him, and
had prevented the signature of “Desvarennes” being protested. She had
not taunted him, having as large a heart as she had a mind. But Michel
had felt humiliated to see his own folk make a gap in the financial
edifice erected so laboriously by his wife. Out of this had gradually
sprung a sense of dissatisfaction with the Desvarennes of the other
branch, which manifested itself by a marked coolness, when, by chance,
his brother came to the house, accompanied by his son Savinien.

And then the paternity of his brother made him secretly jealous. Why
should that incapable fellow, who succeeded in nothing, have a son? It
was only those ne’er-do-well sort of people who were thus favored. He,
Michel, already called the rich Desvarennes, he had not a son. Was it
just? But where is there justice in this world?

The first time that she saw him with a downcast face the mistress had
questioned him, and he had frankly expressed his regrets. But he had
been so repelled by his wife, in whose heart a great trouble, steadily
repressed, however, had been produced, that he never dared to recur to
the subject.

He suffered in silence. But he no longer suffered alone. Like an
overflowing river that finds an outlet in the valley, which it
inundates, the longings for maternity, hitherto repressed by the
preoccupations of business, had suddenly seized Madame Desvarennes.

Strong and unyielding, she struggled and would not own herself
conquered. Still she became sad. Her voice sounded less sonorously
in the offices where she gave an order; her energetic nature seemed
subdued. Now she looked around her. She beheld prosperity made stable by
incessant work, respect gained by spotless honesty; she had attained the
goal which she had marked out in her ambitious dreams, as being paradise
itself. Paradise was there; but it lacked the angel. They had no child.

From that day a change came over this woman, slowly but surely; scarcely
perceptible to strangers, but easy to be seen by those around her. She
became benevolent, and gave away considerable sums of money, especially
to children’s “Homes.” But when the good people who governed these
establishments, lured on by her generosity, came to ask her to be on
their committee of management, she became angry, asking them if they
were joking with her? What interest could those brats have for her? She
had other fish to fry. She gave them what they needed, and what
more could they want? The fact was she felt weak and troubled before
children. But within her a powerful and unknown voice had arisen, and
the hour was not far distant when the bitter wave of her regrets was to
overflow and be made manifest.

She did not like Savinien, her nephew, and kept all her sweetness for
the son of one of their old neighbors in the Rue Neuve-Coquenard, a
small haberdasher, who had not been able to get on, but continued humbly
to sell thread and needles to the thrifty folks of the neighborhood.
The haberdasher, Mother Delarue, as she was called, had remained a widow
after one year of married life. Pierre, her boy, had grown up under the
shadow of the bakery, the cradle of the Desvarennes’s fortunes.

On Sundays the mistress would give him a gingerbread or a cracknel, and
amuse herself with his baby prattle. She did not lose sight of him
when she removed to the Rue Vivienne. Pierre had entered the elementary
school of the neighborhood, and by his precocious intelligence and
exceptional application, had not been long in getting to the top of his
class. The boy had left school after gaining an exhibition admitting
him to the Chaptal College. This hard worker, who was in a fair way of
making his own position without costing his relatives anything, greatly
interested Madame Desvarennes. She found in this plucky nature a
striking analogy to herself. She formed projects for Pierre’s future;
in fancy she saw him enter the Polytechnic school, and leave it with
honors. The young man had the choice of becoming a mining or civil
engineer, and of entering the government service.

He was hesitating what to do when the mistress came and offered him a
situation in her firm as junior partner; it was a golden bridge that she
placed before him. With his exceptional capacities he was not long
in giving to the house a new impulse. He perfected the machinery, and
triumphantly defied all competition. All this was a happy dream in which
Pierre was to her a real son; her home became his, and she monopolized
him completely. But suddenly a shadow came o’er the spirit of her
dreams. Pierre’s mother, the little haberdasher, proud of her son, would
she consent to give him up to a stranger? Oh! if Pierre had only been
an orphan! But one could not rob a mother of her son! And Madame
Desvarennes stopped the flight of her imagination. She followed Pierre
with anxious looks; but she forbade herself to dispose of the youth: he
did not belong to her.

This woman, at the age of thirty-five, still young in heart, was
disturbed by feelings which she strove, but vainly, to rule. She hid
them especially from her husband, whose repining chattering she feared.
If she had once shown him her weakness he would have overwhelmed her
daily with the burden of his regrets. But an unforeseen circumstance
placed her at Michel’s mercy.

Winter had come, bringing December and its snow. The weather this
year was exceptionally inclement, and traffic in the streets was so
difficult, business was almost suspended. The mistress left her deserted
offices and retired early to her private apartments. The husband and
wife spent their evenings alone. They sat there, facing each other, at
the fireside. A shade concentrated the light of the lamp upon the table
covered with expensive knick-knacks. The ceiling was sometimes vaguely
lighted up by a glimmer from the stove which glittered on the gilt
cornices. Ensconced in deep comfortable armchairs, the pair respectively
caressed their favorite dream without speaking of it.

Madame Desvarennes saw beside her a little pink-and-white baby girl,
toddling on the carpet. She heard her words, understood her language,
untranslatable to all others than a mother. Then bedtime came. The
child, with heavy eyelids, let her little fair-haired head fall on her
shoulders. Madame Desvarennes took her in her arms and undressed her
quietly, kissing her bare and dimpled arms. It was exquisite enjoyment
which stirred her heart deliciously. She saw the cradle, and devoured
the child with her eyes. She knew that the picture was a myth. But
what did it matter to her? She was happy. Michel’s voice broke on her
reverie.

“Wife,” said he, “this is Christmas Eve; and as there are only us two,
suppose you put your slipper on the hearth.”

Madame Desvarennes rose. Her eyes vaguely turned toward the hearth on
which the fire was dying, and beside the upright of the large sculptured
mantelpiece she beheld for a moment a tiny shoe, belonging to the child
which she loved to see in her dreams. Then the vision vanished, and
there was nothing left but the lonely hearth. A sharp pain tore her
swollen heart; a sob rose to her lips, and, slowly, two tears rolled
down her cheeks. Michel, quite pale, looked at her in silence; he held
out his hand to her, and said, in a trembling voice:

“You were thinking about it, eh?”

Madame Desvarennes bowed her head, twice, silently, and without adding
another word, the pair fell into each other’s arms and wept.

From that day they hid nothing from each other, and shared their
troubles and regrets in common. The mistress unburdened her heart by
making a full confession, and Michel, for the first time in his life,
learned the depth of soul of his companion to its inmost recesses. This
woman, so energetic, so obstinate, was, as it were, broken down.
The springs of her will seemed worn out. She felt despondencies and
wearinesses until then unknown. Work tired her. She did not venture down
to the offices; she talked of giving up business, which was a bad sign.
She longed for country air. Were they not rich enough? With their simple
tastes so much money was unnecessary. In fact, they had no wants. They
would go to some pretty estate in the suburbs of Paris, live there and
plant cabbages. Why work? they had no children.

Michel agreed to these schemes. For a long time he had wished for
repose. Often he had feared that his wife’s ambition would lead them too
far. But now, since she stopped of her own accord, it was all for the
best.

At this juncture their solicitor informed them that, near to their
works, the Cernay estate was to be put up for sale. Very often, when
going from Jouy to the mills, Madame Desvarennes had noticed the
chateau, the slate roofs of the turrets of which rose gracefully from a
mass of deep verdure. The Count de Cernay, the last representative of a
noble race, had just died of consumption, brought on by reckless living,
leaving nothing behind him but debts and a little girl two years old.
Her mother, an Italian singer and his mistress, had left him one morning
without troubling herself about the child. Everything was to be sold, by
order of the Court.

Some most lamentable incidents had saddened the Count’s last hours. The
bailiffs had entered the house with the doctor when he came to pay his
last call, and the notices of the sale were all but posted up before the
funeral was over. Jeanne, the orphan, scared amid the troubles of this
wretched end, seeing unknown men walking into the reception-rooms with
their hats on, hearing strangers speaking loudly and with arrogance, had
taken refuge in the laundry. It was there that Madame Desvarennes found
her, playing, plainly dressed in a little alpaca frock, her pretty hair
loose and falling on her shoulders. She looked astonished at what she
had seen; silent, not daring to run or sing as formerly in the great
desolate house whence the master had just been taken away forever.

With the vague instinct of abandoned children who seek to attach
themselves to some one or some thing, Jeanne clung to Madame
Desvarennes, who, ready to protect, and longing for maternity, took the
child in her arms. The gardener’s wife acted as guide during her visit
over the property. Madame Desvarennes questioned her. She knew nothing
of the child except what she had heard from the servants when they
gossiped in the evenings about their late master. They said Jeanne was
a bastard. Of her relatives they knew nothing. The Count had an aunt in
England who was married to a rich lord; but he had not corresponded with
her lately. The little one then was reduced to beggary as the estate was
to be sold.

The gardener’s wife was a good woman and was willing to keep the child
until the new proprietor came; but when once affairs were settled, she
would certainly go and make a declaration to the mayor, and take her to
the workhouse. Madame Desvarennes listened in silence. One word only had
struck her while the woman was speaking. The child was without support,
without ties, and abandoned like a poor lost dog. The little one was
pretty too; and when she fixed her large deep eyes on that improvised
mother, who pressed her so tenderly to her heart, she seemed to implore
her not to put her down, and to carry her away from the mourning that
troubled her mind and the isolation that froze her heart.

Madame Desvarennes, very superstitious, like a woman of the people,
began to think that, perhaps, Providence had brought her to Cernay that
day and had placed the child in her path. It was perhaps a reparation
which heaven granted her, in giving her the little girl she so longed
for. Acting unhesitatingly, as she did in everything, she left her name
with the woman, carried Jeanne to her carriage, and took her to Paris,
promising herself to make inquiries to find her relatives.

A month later, the property of Cernay pleasing her, and the researches
for Jeanne’s friends not proving successful, Madame Desvarennes took
possession of the estate and the child into the bargain.

Michel welcomed the child without enthusiasm. The little stranger was
indifferent to him; he would have preferred adopting a boy. The mistress
was delighted. Her maternal instincts, so long stifled, developed fully.
She made plans for the future. Her energy returned; she spoke loudly and
firmly. But in her appearance there was revealed an inward contentment
never remarked before, which made her sweeter and more benevolent. She
no longer spoke of retiring from business. The discouragement which had
seized her left her as if by magic. The house which had been so dull
for some months became noisy and gay. The child, like a sunbeam, had
scattered the clouds.

It was then that the most unlooked-for phenomenon, which was so
considerably to influence Madame Desvarennes’s life, occurred. At the
moment when the mistress seemed provided by chance with the heiress so
much longed for, she learned with surprise that she was about to become
a mother! After sixteen years of married life, this discovery was almost
a discomfiture. What would have been delight formerly was now a cause
for fear. She, almost an old woman!

There was an incredible commotion in the business world when the news
became known. The younger branch of Desvarennes had witnessed Jeanne’s
arrival with little satisfaction, and were still more gloomy when they
learned that the chances of their succeeding to great wealth were over.
Still they did not lose all hopes. At thirty-five years of age one
cannot always tell how these little affairs will come off. An accident
was possible. But none occurred; all passed off well.

Madame Desvarennes was as strong physically as she was morally, and
proved victorious by bringing into the world a little girl, who was
named Micheline in honor of her father. The mistress’s heart was large
enough to hold two children; she kept the orphan she had adopted, and
brought her up as if she had been her very own. Still there was soon an
enormous difference in her manner of loving Jeanne and Micheline. This
mother had for the long-wished-for child an ardent, mad, passionate love
like that of a tigress for her cubs. She had never loved her husband.
All the tenderness which had accumulated in her heart blossomed, and it
was like spring.

This autocrat, who had never allowed contradiction, and before whom all
her dependents bowed either with or against the grain, was now led in
her turn; the bronze of her character became like wax in the little pink
hands of her daughter. The commanding woman bent before the little fair
head. There was nothing good enough for Micheline. Had the mother owned
the world she would have placed it at the little one’s feet. One tear
from the child upset her. If on one of the most important subjects
Madame Desvarennes had said “No,” and Micheline came and said “Yes,”
 the hitherto resolute will became subordinate to the caprice of a child.
They knew it in the house and acted upon it. This manoeuvre succeeded
each time, although Madame Desvarennes had seen through it from the
first. It appeared as if the mother felt a secret joy in proving
under all circumstances the unbounded adoration which she felt for her
daughter. She often said:

“Pretty as she is, and rich as I shall make her, what husband will be
worthy of Micheline? But if she believes me when it is time to choose
one, she will prefer a man remarkable for his intelligence, and will
give him her fortune as a stepping-stone to raise him as high as she
chooses him to go.”

Inwardly she was thinking of Pierre Delarue, who had just taken honors
at the Polytechnic school, and who seemed to have a brilliant career
before him. This woman, humbly born, was proud of her origin, and
sought a plebeian for her son-in-law, to put into his hand a golden tool
powerful enough to move the world.

Micheline was ten years old when her father died. Alas, Michel was not a
great loss. They wore mourning for him; but they hardly noticed that he
was absent. His whole life had been a void. Madame Desvarennes, it
is sad to say, felt herself more mistress of her child when she was
a widow. She was jealous of Micheline’s affections, and each kiss the
child gave her father seemed to the mother to be robbed from her. With
this fierce tenderness, she preferred solitude around this beloved
being.

At this time Madame Desvarennes was really in the zenith of womanly
splendor. She seemed taller, her figure had straightened, vigorous and
powerful. Her gray hair gave her face a majestic appearance. Always
surrounded by a court of clients and friends, she seemed like a
sovereign. The fortune of the firm was not to be computed. It was said
Madame Desvarennes did not know how rich she was.

Jeanne and Micheline grew up amid this colossal prosperity. The one,
tall, brown-haired, with blue eyes changing like the sea; the other,
fragile, fair, with dark dreamy eyes. Jeanne, proud, capricious, and
inconstant; Micheline, simple, sweet, and tenacious. The brunette
inherited from her reckless father and her fanciful mother a violent and
passionate nature; the blonde was tractable and good like Michel, but
resolute and firm like Madame Desvarennes. These two opposite natures
were congenial, Micheline sincerely loving Jeanne, and Jeanne feeling
the necessity of living amicably with Micheline, her mother’s idol,
but inwardly enduring with difficulty the inequalities which began to
exhibit themselves in the manner with which the intimates of the house
treated the one and the other. She found these flatteries wounding, and
thought Madame Desvarennes’s preferences for Micheline unjust.

All these accumulated grievances made Jeanne conceive the wish one
morning of leaving the house where she had been brought up, and where
she now felt humiliated. Pretending to long to go to England to see
that rich relative of her father, who, knowing her to be in a brilliant
society, had taken notice of her, she asked Madame Desvarennes to allow
her to spend a few weeks from home. She wished to try the ground in
England, and see what she might expect in the future from her family.
Madame Desvarennes lent herself to this whim, not guessing the young
girl’s real motive; and Jeanne, well attended, went to her aunt’s home
in England.

Madame Desvarennes, besides, had attained the summit of her hopes,
and an event had just taken place which preoccupied her. Micheline,
deferring to her mother’s wishes, had decided to allow herself to be
betrothed to Pierre Delarue, who had just lost his mother, and whose
business improved daily. The young girl, accustomed to treat Pierre like
a brother, had easily consented to accept him as her future husband.

Jeanne, who had been away for six months, had returned sobered and
disillusioned about her family. She had found them kind and affable, had
received many compliments on her beauty, which was really remarkable,
but had not met with any encouragement in her desires for independence.
She came home resolved not to leave until she married. She arrived in
the Rue Saint-Dominique at the moment when Pierre Delarue, thirsting
with ambition, was leaving his betrothed, his relatives, and gay Paris
to undertake engineering work on the coasts of Algeria and Tunis that
would raise him above his rivals. In leaving, the young man did not for
a moment think that Jeanne was returning from England at the same hour
with trouble for him in the person of a very handsome cavalier, Prince
Serge Panine, who had been introduced to her at a ball during the London
season. Mademoiselle de Cernay, availing herself of English liberty,
was returning escorted only by a maid in company with the Prince. The
journey had been delightful. The tete-a-tete travelling had pleased the
young people, and on leaving the train they had promised to see each
other again. Official balls facilitated their meeting; Serge was
introduced to Madame Desvarennes as being an English friend, and soon
became the most assiduous partner of Jeanne and Micheline. It was thus,
under the most trivial pretext, that the man gained admittance to the
house where he was to play such an important part.



CHAPTER II. THE GALLEY-SLAVE OF PLEASURE

One morning in the month of May, 1879, a young man, elegantly attired,
alighted from a well-appointed carriage before the door of Madame
Desvarennes’s house. The young man passed quickly before the porter in
uniform, decorated with a military medal, stationed near the door. The
visitor found himself in an anteroom which communicated with several
corridors. A messenger was seated in the depth of a large armchair,
reading the newspaper, and not even lending an inattentive ear to
the whispered conversation of a dozen canvassers, who were patiently
awaiting their turn for gaining a hearing. On seeing the young man enter
by the private door, the messenger rose, dropped his newspaper on the
armchair, hastily raised his velvet skullcap, tried to smile, and made
two steps forward.

“Good-morning, old Felix,” said the young man, in a friendly tone to the
messenger. “Is my aunt within?”

“Yes, Monsieur Savinien, Madame Desvarennes is in her office; but she
has been engaged for more than an hour with the Financial Secretary of
the War Department.”

In uttering these words old Felix put on a mysterious and important air,
which denoted how serious the discussions going on in the adjoining room
seemed to his mind.

“You see,” continued he, showing Madame Desvarennes’s nephew the
anteroom full of people, “madame has kept all these waiting since this
morning, and perhaps she won’t see them.”

“I must see her though,” murmured the young man.

He reflected a moment, then added:

“Is Monsieur Marechal in?”

“Yes, sir, certainly. If you will allow me I will announce you.”

“It is unnecessary.”

And, stepping forward, he entered the office adjoining that of Madame
Desvarennes.

Seated at a large table of black wood, covered with bundles of papers
and notes, a young man was working. He was thirty years of age, but
appeared much older. His prematurely bald forehead, and wrinkled brow,
betokened a life of severe struggles and privations, or a life of
excesses and pleasures. Still those clear and pure eyes were not those
of a libertine, and the straight nose solidly joined to the face was
that of a searcher. Whatever the cause, the man was old before his time.

On hearing the door of his office open, he raised his eyes, put down
his pen, and was making a movement toward his visitor, when the latter
interrupted him quickly with these words:

“Don’t stir, Marechal, or I shall be off! I only came in until Aunt
Desvarennes is at liberty; but if I disturb you I will go and take a
turn, smoke a cigar, and come back in three quarters of an hour.”

“You do not disturb me, Monsieur Savinien; at least not often enough,
for be it said, without reproaching you, it is more than three months
since we have seen anything of you. There, the post is finished. I was
writing the last addresses.”

And taking a heavy bundle of papers off the desk, Marechal showed them
to Savinien.

“Gracious! It seems that business is going on well here.”

“Better and better.”

“You are making mountains of flour.”

“Yes; high as Mont Blanc; and then, we now have a fleet.”

“What! a fleet?” cried Savinien, whose face expressed doubt and surprise
at the same time.

“Yes, a steam fleet. Last year Madame Desvarennes was not satisfied with
the state in which her corn came from the East. The corn was damaged
owing to defective stowage; the firm claimed compensation from the
steamship company. The claim was only moderately satisfied, Madame
Desvarennes got vexed, and now we import our own. We have branches at
Smyrna and Odessa.”

“It is fabulous! If it goes on, my aunt will have an administration
as important as that of a European state. Oh! you are happy here, you
people; you are busy. I amuse myself! And if you knew how it wearies me!
I am withering, consuming myself, I am longing for business.”

And saying these words, young Monsieur Desvarennes allowed a sorrowful
moan to escape him.

“It seems to me,” said Marechal, “that it only depends upon yourself to
do as much and more business than any one?”

“You know well enough that it is not so,” sighed Savinien; “my aunt is
opposed to it.”

“What a mistake!” cried Marechal, quickly. “I have heard Madame
Desvarennes say more than twenty times how she regretted your being
unemployed. Come into the firm, you will have a good berth in the
counting-house.”

“In the counting-house!” cried Savinien, bitterly; “there’s the sore
point. Now look here; my friend, do you think that an organization like
mine is made to bend to the trivialities of a copying clerk’s work? To
follow the humdrum of every-day routine? To blacken paper? To become a
servant?--me! with what I have in my brain?”

And, rising abruptly, Savinien began to walk hurriedly up and down the
room, disdainfully shaking his little head with its low forehead on
which were plastered a few fair curls (made with curling-irons), with
the indignant air of an Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders.

“Oh, I know very well what is at the bottom of the business--my aunt is
jealous of me because I am a man of ideas. She wishes to be the only
one of the family who possesses any. She thinks of binding me down to a
besotting work,” continued he, “but I won’t have it. I know what I
want! It is independence of thought, bent on the solution of great
problems--that is, a wide field to apply my discoveries. But a fixed
rule, common law, I could not submit to it.”

“It is like the examinations,” observed Marechal, looking slyly at
young Desvarennes, who was drawing himself up to his full height;
“examinations never suited you.”

“Never,” said Savinien, energetically. “They wished to get me into the
Polytechnic School; impossible! Then the Central School; no better. I
astonished the examiners by the novelty of my ideas. They refused me.”

“Well, you know,” retorted Marechal, “if you began by overthrowing their
theories--”

“That’s it!” cried Savinien, triumphantly. “My mind is stronger than I;
I must let my imagination have free run, and no one will ever know what
that particular turn of mind has cost me. Even my family do not think
me serious. Aunt Desvarennes has forbidden any kind of enterprise, under
pretence that I bear her name, and that I might compromise it because I
have twice failed. My aunt paid, it is true. Do you think it is generous
of her to take advantage of my situation, and prohibit my trying to
succeed? Are inventors judged by three or four failures? If my aunt had
allowed me I should have astonished the world.”

“She feared, above all,” said Marechal, simply, “to see you astonishing
the Tribunal of Commerce.”

“Oh! you, too,” moaned Savinien, “are in league with my enemies; you
make no account of me.”

And young Desvarennes sank as if crushed into an armchair and began to
lament. He was very unhappy at being misunderstood. His aunt allowed him
three thousand francs a month on condition that he would not make use of
his ten fingers. Was it moral? Then he with such exuberant vigor had to
waste it on pleasure and seeing life to the utmost. He passed his time
in theatres, at clubs, restaurants, in boudoirs. He lost his time, his
money, his hair, his illusions. He bemoaned his lot, but continued,
only to have something to do. With grim sarcasm he called himself
the galley-slave of pleasure. And notwithstanding all these consuming
excesses, he asserted that he could not render his imagination barren.
Amid the greatest follies at suppers, during the clinking of glasses; in
the excitement of the dance-inspirations came to him in flashes, he made
prodigious discoveries.

And as Marechal ventured a timid “Oh!” tinged with incredulity, Savinien
flew into a passion. Yes; he had invented something astonishing; he saw
fortune within reach, and he thought the bargain made with his aunt very
unjust. Therefore he had come to break it, and to regain his liberty.

Marechal looked at the young man while he was explaining with animation
his ambitious projects. He scrutinized that flat forehead within which
the dandy asserted so many good ideas were hidden. He measured that slim
form bent by wild living, and asked himself how that degenerate being
could struggle against the difficulties of business. A smile played on
his lips. He knew Savinien too well not to be aware that he was a prey
to one of those attacks of melancholy which seized on him when his funds
were low.

On these occasions, which occurred frequently, the young man had
longings for business, which Madame Desvarennes stopped by asking: “How
much?” Savinien allowed himself to be with difficulty induced to consent
to renounce the certain profits promised, as he said, by his projected
enterprise. At last he would capitulate, and with his pocket well
lined, nimble and joyful, he returned to his boudoirs, race-courses,
fashionable restaurants, and became more than ever the galley-slave of
pleasure.

“And Pierre?” asked young Desvarennes, suddenly and quickly changing the
subject. “Have you any news of him?”

Marechal became serious. A cloud seemed to have come across his brow; he
gravely answered Savinien’s question.

Pierre was still in the East. He was travelling toward Tunis, the coast
of which he was exploring. It was a question of the formation of
an inland sea by taking the water through the desert. It would be a
colossal undertaking, the results of which would be considerable as
regarded Algeria. The climate would be completely changed, and the value
of the colony would be increased tenfold, because it would become the
most fertile country in the world. Pierre had been occupied in this
undertaking for more than a year with unequalled ardor; he was far from
his home, his betrothed, seeing only the goal to be attained; turning a
deaf ear to all that would distract his attention from the great work,
to the success of which he hoped to contribute gloriously.

“And don’t people say,” resumed Savinien with an evil smile, “that
during his absence a dashing young fellow is busy luring his betrothed
away from him?”

At these words Marechal made a quick movement.

“It is false,” he interrupted; “and I do not understand how you,
Monsieur Desvarennes, should be the bearer of such a tale. To admit that
Mademoiselle Micheline could break her word or her engagements is to
slander her, and if any one other than you--”

“There, there, my dear friend,” said Savinien, laughing, “don’t get
into a rage. What I say to you I would not repeat to the first comer;
besides, I am only the echo of a rumor that has been going the round
during the last three weeks. They even give the name of him who has been
chosen for the honor and pleasure of such a brilliant conquest. I mean
Prince Serge Panine.”

“As you have mentioned Prince Panine,” replied Marechal, “allow me to
tell you that he has not put his foot inside Madame Desvarennes’s
door for three weeks. This is not the way of a man about to marry the
daughter of the house.”

“My dear fellow, I only repeat what I have heard. As for me, I don’t
know any more. I have kept out of the way for more than three months.
And besides, it matters little to me whether Micheline be a commoner or
a princess, the wife of Delarue or of Panine. I shall be none the richer
or the poorer, shall I? Therefore I need not care. The dear child will
certainly have millions enough to marry easily. And her adopted sister,
the stately Mademoiselle Jeanne, what has become of her?”

“Ah! as to Mademoiselle de Cernay, that is another affair,” cried
Marechal.

And as if wishing to divert the conversation in an opposite direction
to which Savinien had led it a moment before, he spoke readily of Madame
Desvarennes’s adopted daughter. She had made a lively impression on one
of the intimate friends of the house--the banker Cayrol, who had offered
his name and his fortune to the fair Jeanne.

This was a cause of deep amazement to Savinien. What! Cayrol! The shrewd
close--fisted Auvergnat! A girl without a fortune! Cayrol Silex as he
was called in the commercial world on account of his hardness. This
living money-bag had a heart then! It was necessary to believe it since
both money-bag and heart had been placed at Mademoiselle de Cernay’s
feet. This strange girl was certainly destined to millions. She had just
missed being Madame Desvarennes’s heiress, and now Cayrol had taken it
into his head to marry her.

But that was not all. And when Marechal told Savinien that the fair
Jeanne flatly refused to become the wife of Cayrol, there was an
outburst of joyful exclamations. She refused! By Jove, she was mad! An
unlooked-for marriage--for she had not a penny, and had most extravagant
notions. She had been brought up as if she were to live always in velvet
and silks--to loll in carriages and think only of her pleasure. What
reason did she give for refusing him! None. Haughtily and disdainfully
she had declared that she did not love “that man,” and that she would
not marry him.

When Savinien heard these details his rapture increased. One thing
especially charmed him: Jeanne’s saying “that man,” when speaking of
Cayrol. A little girl who was called “De Cernay” just as he might call
himself “Des Batignolles” if he pleased: the natural and unacknowledged
daughter of a Count and of a shady public singer! And she refused
Cayrol, calling him “that man.” It was really funny. And what did worthy
Cayrol say about it?

When Marechal declared that the banker had not been damped by this
discouraging reception, Savinien said it was human nature. The fair
Jeanne scorned Cayrol and Cayrol adored her. He had often seen those
things happen. He knew the baggages so well! Nobody knew more of women
than he did. He had known some more difficult to manage than proud
Mademoiselle Jeanne.

An old leaven of hatred had festered in Savinien’s heart against Jeanne
since the time when the younger branch of the Desvarennes had reason
to fear that the superb heritage was going to the adopted daughter.
Savinien had lost the fear, but had kept up the animosity. And
everything that could happen to Jeanne of a vexing or painful nature
would be witnessed by him with pleasure.

He was about to encourage Marechal to continue his revelations, and had
risen and was leaning on the desk. With his face excited and eager, he
was preparing his question, when, through the door which led to Madame
Desvarennes’s office, a confused murmur of voices was heard. At the
same time the door was half opened, held by a woman’s hand, square, with
short fingers, a firm-willed and energetic hand. At the same time,
the last words exchanged between Madame Desvarennes and the Financial
Secretary of the War Office were distinctly audible. Madame Desvarennes
was speaking, and her voice sounded clear and plain; a little raised and
vibrating. There seemed a shade of anger in its tone.

“My dear sir, you will tell the Minister that does not suit me. It is
not the custom of the house. For thirty-five years I have conducted
business thus, and I have always found it answer. I wish you
good-morning.”

The door of the office facing that which Madame Desvarennes held
closed, and a light step glided along the corridor. It was the Financial
Secretary’s. The mistress appeared.

Marechal rose hastily. As to Savinien, all his resolution seemed to have
vanished at the sound of his aunt’s voice, for he had rapidly gained a
corner of the room, and seated himself on a leather-covered sofa, hidden
behind an armchair, where he remained perfectly quiet.

“Do you understand that, Marechal?” said dame Desvarennes; “they want to
place a resident agent at the mill on pretext of checking things. They
say that all military contractors are obliged to submit to it. My word,
do they take us for thieves, the rascals? It is the first time that
people have seemed to doubt me. And it has enraged me. I have been
arguing for a whole hour with the man they sent me. I said to him, ‘My
dear sir, you may either take it or leave it. Let us start from this
point: I can do without you and you cannot do without me. If you don’t
buy my flour, somebody else will. I am not at all troubled about it.
But as to having any one here who would be as much master as myself, or
perhaps more, never! I am too old to change my customs.’ Thereupon
the Financial Secretary left. There! And, besides, they change their
Ministry every fortnight. One would never know with whom one had to
deal. Thank you, no.”

While talking thus with Marechal, Madame Desvarennes was walking about
the office. She was still the same woman with the broad prominent
forehead. Her hair, which she wore in smooth plaits, had become gray,
but the sparkle of her dark eyes only seemed the brighter from this. She
had preserved her splendid teeth, and her smile had remained young and
charming. She spoke with animation, as usual, and with the gestures of
a man. She placed herself before her secretary, seeming to appeal to
him as a witness of her being in the right. During the hour with
the official personage she had been obliged to contain herself. She
unburdened herself to Marechal, saying just what she thought.

But all at once she perceived Savinien, who was waiting to show himself
now that she had finished. The mistress turned sharply to the young man,
and frowned slightly:

“Hallo! you are there, eh? How is it that you could leave your fair
friends?”

“But, aunt, I came to pay you my respects.”

“No nonsense now; I’ve no time,” interrupted the mistress. “What do you
want?”

Savinien, disconcerted by this rude reception, blinked his eyes, as
if seeking some form to give his request; then, making up his mind, he
said:

“I came to see you on business.”

“You on business?” replied Madame Desvarennes, with a shade of
astonishment and irony.

“Yes, aunt, on business,” declared Savinien, looking down as if he
expected a rebuff.

“Oh, oh, oh!” said Madame Desvarennes, “you know our agreement; I give
you an allowance--”

“I renounce my income,” interrupted Savinien, quickly, “I wish to take
back my independence. The transfer I made has already cost me too dear.
It’s a fool’s bargain. The enterprise which I am going to launch is
superb, and must realize immense profits. I shall certainly not abandon
it.”

While speaking, Savinien had become animated and had regained his
self-possession. He believed in his scheme, and was ready to pledge his
future. He argued that his aunt could not blame him for giving proof of
his energy and daring, and he discoursed in bombastic style.

“That’s enough!” cried Madame Desvarennes, interrupting her nephew’s
oration. “I am very fond of mills, but not word-mills. You are talking
too much about it to be sincere. So many words can only serve
to disguise the nullity of your projects. You want to embark in
speculation? With what money?”

“I contribute the scheme and some capitalists will advance the money to
start with; we shall then issue shares!”

“Never in this life! I oppose it. You! With a responsibility. You!
Directing an undertaking. You would only commit absurdities. In fact,
you want to sell an idea, eh? Well, I will buy it.”

“It is not only the money I want,” said Savinien, with an indignant
air, “it is confidence in my ideas, it is enthusiasm on the part of my
shareholders, it is success. You don’t believe in my ideas, aunt!”

“What does it matter to you, if I buy them from you? It seems to me a
pretty good proof of confidence. Is that settled?”

“Ah, aunt, you are implacable!” groaned Savinien. “When you have laid
your hand upon any one, it is all over. Adieu, independence; one must
obey you. Nevertheless, it was a vast and beautiful conception.”

“Very well. Marechal, see that my nephew has ten thousand francs. And
you, Savinien, remember that I see no more of you.”

“Until the money is spent!” murmured Marechal, in the ear of Madame
Desvarennes’s nephew.

And taking him by the arm he was leading him toward the safe when the
mistress turned to Savinien and said:

“By the way, what is your invention?”

“Aunt, it is a threshing machine,” answered the young man, gravely.

“Rather a machine for coining money,” said the incorrigible Marechal, in
an undertone.

“Well; bring me your plans,” resumed Madame Desvarennes, after having
reflected a moment. “Perchance you may have hit upon something.”

The mistress had been generous, and now the woman of business reasserted
herself and she thought of reaping the benefit.

Savinien seemed very confused at this demand, and as his aunt gave him
an interrogative look, he confessed:

“There are no drawings made as yet.”

“No drawings as yet?” cried the mistress. “Where then is your
invention?”

“It is here,” replied Savinien, and with an inspired gesture he struck
his narrow forehead.

Madame Desvarennes and Marechal could not resist breaking out into a
laugh.

“And you were already talking of issuing shares?” said the mistress.
“Do you think people would have paid their money with your brain as sole
guarantee? You! Get along; I am the only one to make bargains like that,
and you are the only one with whom I make them. Go, Marechal, give him
his money; I won’t gainsay it. But you are a trickster, as usual!”



CHAPTER III. PIERRE RETURNS

By a wave of her hand she dismissed Savinien, who, abashed, went out
with Marechal. Left alone, she seated herself at her secretary’s desk,
and taking the pile of letters she signed them. The pen flew in her
fingers, and on the paper was displayed her name, written in large
letters in a man’s handwriting.

She had been occupied thus for about a quarter of an hour when Marechal
reappeared. Behind him came a stout thickset man of heavy build, and
gorgeously dressed. His face, surrounded by a bristly dark brown beard,
and his eyes overhung by bushy eyebrows, gave him, at the first glance,
a harsh appearance. But his mouth promptly banished this impression. His
thick and sensual lips betrayed voluptuous tastes. A disciple of Lavater
or Gall would have found the bump of amativeness largely developed.

Marechal stepped aside to allow him to pass.

“Good-morning, mistress,” said he familiarly, approaching Madame
Desvarennes.

The mistress raised her head quickly, and said:

“Ah! it’s you, Cayrol! That’s capital! I was just going to send for
you.”

Jean Cayrol, a native of Cantal, had been brought up amid the wild
mountains of Auvergne. His father was a small farmer in the neighborhood
of Saint-Flour, scraping a miserable pittance from the ground for the
maintenance of his family. From the age of eight years Cayrol had been a
shepherd-boy. Alone in the quiet and remote country, the child had given
way to ambitious dreams. He was very intelligent, and felt that he was
born to another sphere than that of farming.

Thus, at the first opportunity which had occurred to take him into a
town, he was found ready. He went as servant to a banker at Brioude.
There, in the service of this comparatively luxurious house, he got
smoothed down a little, and lost some of his clumsy loutishness. Strong
as an ox, he did the work of two men, and at night, when in his garret,
fell asleep learning to read. He was seized by the ambition to get on.
No pains were to be spared to gain his goal.

His master having been elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies,
Cayrol accompanied him to Paris. Life in the capital finished the
turmoil of Cayrol’s brain. Seeing the prodigious activity of the great
city on whose pavements fortunes sprang up in a day like mushrooms, the
Auvergnat felt his moral strength equal to the occasion, and leaving his
master, he became clerk to a merchant in the Rue du Sentier.

There, for four years, he studied commerce, and gained much experience.
He soon learned that it was only in financial transactions that large
fortunes were to be rapidly made. He left the Rue du Sentier, and found
a place at a stock-broker’s. His keen scent for speculation served him
admirably. After the lapse of a few years he had charge of the business.
His position was getting better; he was making fifteen thousand francs
per annum, but that was nothing compared to his dreams. He was then
twenty-eight years of age. He felt ready to do anything to succeed,
except something unhandsome, for this lover of money would have died
rather than enrich himself by dishonest means.

It was at this time that his lucky star threw him in Madame
Desvarennes’s way. The mistress, understanding men, guessed Cayrol’s
worth quickly. She was seeking a banker who would devote himself to her
interests. She watched the young man narrowly for some time; then, sure
she was not mistaken as to his capacity, she bluntly proposed to give
him money to start a business. Cayrol, who had already saved eighty
thousand francs, received twelve hundred thousand from Madame
Desvarennes, and settled in the Rue Taitbout, two steps from the house
of Rothschild.

Madame Desvarennes had made a lucky hit in choosing Cayrol as her
confidential agent. This short, thickset Auvergnat was a master of
finance, and in a few years had raised the house to an unexpected
degree of prosperity. Madame Desvarennes had drawn considerable sums
as interest on the money lent, and the banker’s fortune was already
estimated at several millions. Was it the happy influence of Madame
Desvarennes that changed everything she touched into gold, or were
Cayrol’s capacities really extraordinary? The results were there and
that was sufficient. They did not trouble themselves over and above
that.

The banker had naturally become one of the intimates of Madame
Desvarennes’s house. For a long time he saw Jeanne without particularly
noticing her. This young girl had not struck his fancy. It was one night
at a ball, on seeing her dancing with Prince Panine, that he perceived
that she was marvellously engaging. His eyes were attracted by an
invincible power and followed her graceful figure whirling through the
waltz. He secretly envied the brilliant cavalier who was holding this
adorable creature in his arms, who was bending over her bare shoulders,
and whose breath lightly touched her hair. He longed madly for Jeanne,
and from that moment thought only of her.

The Prince was then very friendly with Mademoiselle de Cernay; he
overwhelmed her with kind attentions. Cayrol watched him to see if he
spoke to her of love, but Panine was a past master in these drawing-room
skirmishes, and the banker got nothing for his pains. That Cayrol
was tenacious has been proved. He became intimate with the Prince. He
tendered him such little services as create intimacy, and when he was
sure of not being repulsed with haughtiness, he questioned Serge. Did he
love Mademoiselle de Cernay? This question, asked in a trembling voice
and with a constrained smile, found the Prince quite calm. He answered
lightly that Mademoiselle de Cernay was a very agreeable partner, but
that he had never dreamed of offering her his homage. He had other
projects in his head. Cayrol pressed the Prince’s hand violently, made a
thousand protestations of devotedness, and finally obtained his complete
confidence.

Serge loved Mademoiselle Desvarennes, and it was to become intimate
with her that he had so eagerly sought her friend’s company. Cayrol, in
learning the Prince’s secret, resumed his usual reserved manner. He knew
that Micheline was engaged to Pierre Delarue, but still, women were so
whimsical! Who could tell? Perhaps Mademoiselle Desvarennes had looked
favorably upon the handsome Serge.

He was really admirable to view, this Panine, with his blue eyes, pure
as a maiden’s, and his long fair mustache falling on each side of his
rosy mouth. He had a truly royal bearing, and was descended from an
ancient aristocratic race; he had a charming hand and an arched foot,
enough to make a woman envious. Soft and insinuating with his tender
voice and sweet Sclavonic accent, he was no ordinary man, but one
usually creating a great impression wherever he went.

His story was well known in Paris. He was born in the province of Posen,
so violently seized on by Prussia, that octopus of Europe. Serge’s
father had been killed during the insurrection of 1848, and he, when a
year old, was brought by his uncle, Thaddeus Panine, to France, and
was educated at the College Rollin, where he had not acquired over much
learning.

In 1866, at the moment when war broke out between Prussia and Austria,
Serge was eighteen years old. By his uncle’s orders he had left
Paris, and had entered himself for the campaign in an Austrian cavalry
regiment. All who bore the name of Panine, and had strength to hold a
sword or carry a gun, had risen to fight the oppressor of Poland. Serge,
during this short and bloody struggle, showed prodigies of valor. On the
night of Sadowa, out of seven bearing the name of Panine, who had
served against Prussia, five were dead, one was wounded; Serge alone
was untouched, though red with the blood of his uncle Thaddeus, who was
killed by the bursting of a shell. All these Panines, living or dead,
had gained honors. When they were spoken of before Austrians or Poles,
they were called heroes.

Such a man was a dangerous companion for a young, simple, and
artless girl like Micheline. His adventures were bound to please her
imagination, and his beauty sure to charm her eyes. Cayrol was a prudent
man; he watched, and it was not long before he perceived that Micheline
treated the Prince with marked favor. The quiet young girl became
animated when Serge was there. Was there love in this transformation?
Cayrol did not hesitate. He guessed at once that the future would be
Panine’s, and that the maintenance of his own influence in the house
of Desvarennes depended on the attitude which he was about to take.
He passed over to the side of the newcomer with arms and baggage, and
placed himself entirely at his disposal.

It was he who three weeks before, in the name of Panine, had made
overtures to Madame Desvarennes. The errand had been difficult, and the
banker had turned his tongue several times in his mouth before speaking.
Still, Cayrol could overcome all difficulties. He was able to explain
the object of his mission without Madame flying into a passion. But, the
explanation over, there was a terrible scene. He witnessed one of the
most awful bursts of rage that it was possible to expect from a violent
woman. The mistress treated the friend of the family as one would not
have dared to treat a petty commercial traveller who came to a private
house to offer his wares. She showed him the door, and desired him not
to darken the threshold again.

But if Cayrol was resolute he was equally patient. He listened
without saying a word to the reproaches of Madame Desvarennes, who
was exasperated that a candidate should be set up in opposition to the
son-in-law of her choosing. He did not go, and when Madame Desvarennes
was a little calmed by the letting out of her indignation, he argued
with her. The mistress was too hasty about the business; it was no use
deciding without reflecting. Certainly, nobody esteemed Pierre Delarue
more than he did; but it was necessary to know whether Micheline loved
him. A childish affection was not love, and Prince Panine thought he
might hope that Mademoiselle Desvarennes----

The mistress did not allow Cayrol to finish his sentence; she rang the
bell and asked for her daughter. This time, Cayrol prudently took the
opportunity of disappearing. He had opened fire; it was for Micheline
to decide the result of the battle. The banker awaited the issue of the
interview between mother and daughter in the next room. Through the door
he heard the irritated tones of Madame Desvarennes, to which Micheline
answered softly and slowly. The mother threatened and stormed. Coldly
and quietly the daughter received the attack. The tussle lasted about an
hour, when the door reopened and Madame Desvarennes appeared, pale and
still trembling, but calmed. Micheline, wiping her beautiful eyes, still
wet with tears, regained her apartment.

“Well,” said Cayrol timidly, seeing the mistress standing silent and
absorbed before him; “I see with pleasure that you are less agitated.
Did Mademoiselle Micheline give you good reasons?”

“Good reasons!” cried Madame Desvarennes with a violent gesture, last
flash of the late storm. “She cried, that’s all. And you know when she
cries I no longer know what I do or say! She breaks my heart with her
tears. And she knows it. Ah! it is a great misfortune to love children
too much!”

This energetic woman was conquered, and yet understood that she was
wrong to allow herself to be conquered. She fell into a deep reverie,
and forgot that Cayrol was present. She thought of the future which she
had planned for Micheline, and which the latter carelessly destroyed in
an instant.

Pierre, now an orphan, would have been a real son to the mistress. He
would have lived in her house, and have surrounded her old age with care
and affection. And then, he was so full of ability that he could not
help attaining a brilliant position. She would have helped him, and
would have rejoiced in his success. And all this scaffolding was
overturned because this Panine had crossed Micheline’s path. A foreign
adventurer, prince perhaps, but who could tell? Lies are easily told
when the proofs of the lie have to be sought beyond the frontiers. And
it was her daughter who was going to fall in love with an insipid fop
who only coveted her millions. That she should see such a man enter her
family, steal Micheline’s love from her, and rummage her strongbox! In
a moment she vowed mortal hatred against Panine, and resolved to do all
she could to prevent the longed-for marriage with her daughter.

She was disturbed in her meditation by Cayrol’s voice. He wished to take
an answer to the Prince. What must he say to him?

“You will let him know,” said Madame Desvarennes, “that he must refrain
from seeking opportunities of meeting my daughter. If he be a gentleman,
he will understand that his presence, even in Paris, is disagreeable to
me. I ask him to go away for three weeks. After that time he may come
back, and I agree to give him an answer.”

“You promise me that you will not be vexed with me for having undertaken
this errand?”

“I promise on one condition. It is, that not a word which has passed
here this morning shall be repeated to any one. Nobody must suspect the
proposal that you have just made to me.”

Cayrol swore to hold his tongue, and he kept his word. Prince Panine
left that same night for England.

Madame Desvarennes was a woman of quick resolution. She took a sheet
of paper, a pen, and in her large handwriting wrote the following lines
addressed to Pierre:

“If you do not wish to find Micheline married on your return, come back
without a moment’s delay.”

She sent this ominous letter to the young man, who was then in Tripoli.
That done, she returned to her business as if nothing had happened. Her
placid face did not once betray the anguish of her heart during those
three weeks.

The term fixed by Madame Desvarennes with the Prince had expired that
morning. And the severity with which the mistress had received the
Minister of War’s Financial Secretary was a symptom of the agitation in
which the necessity of coming to a decision placed Micheline’s mother.
Every morning for the last week she had expected Pierre to arrive. What
with having to give an answer to the Prince as she had promised, and the
longing to see him whom she loved as a son, she felt sick at heart and
utterly cast down. She thought of asking the Prince for a respite. It
was for that reason she was glad to see Cayrol.

The latter, therefore, had arrived opportunely. He looked as if he
brought startling news. By a glance he drew Madame Desvarennes’s
attention to Marechal and seemed to say:

“I must be alone with you; send him away.”

The mistress understood, and with a decided gesture said:

“You can speak before Marechal; he knows all my affairs as well as I do
myself.”

“Even the matter that brings me here?” replied Cayrol, with surprise.

“Even that. It was necessary for me to have some one to whom I could
speak, or else my heart would have burst! Come, do your errand. The
Prince?”

“A lot it has to do with the Prince,” exclaimed Cayrol, in a huff.
“Pierre has arrived!”

Madame Desvarennes rose abruptly. A rush of blood rose to her face, her
eyes brightened, and her lips opened with a smile.

“At last!” she cried. “But where is he? How did you hear of his return?”

“Ah! faith, it was just by chance. I was shooting yesterday at
Fontainebleau, and I returned this morning by the express. On arriving
at Paris, I alighted on the platform, and there I found myself face
to face with a tall young man with a long beard, who, seeing me pass,
called out, ‘Ah, Cayrol!’ It was Pierre. I only recognized him by his
voice. He is much changed; with his beard, and his complexion bronzed
like an African.”

“What did he say to you?”

“Nothing. He pressed my hand. He looked at me for a moment with
glistening eyes. There was something on his lips which he longed to ask,
yet did not; but I guessed it. I was afraid of giving way to tenderness,
that might have ended in my saying something foolish, so I left him.”

“How long ago is that?”

“About an hour ago. I only just ran home before coming on here. There
I found Panine waiting for me. He insisted upon accompanying me. I hope
you won’t blame him?”

Madame Desvarennes frowned.

“I will not see him just now,” she said, looking at Cayrol with a
resolute air. “Where did you leave him?”

“In the garden, where I found the young ladies.”

As if to verify the banker’s words, a merry peal of laughter was heard
through the half-open window. It was Micheline, who, with returning
gayety, was making up for the three weeks’ sadness she had experienced
during Panine’s absence.

Madame Desvarennes went to the window, and looked into the garden.
Seated on the lawn, in large bamboo chairs, the young girls were
listening to a story the Prince was telling. The morning was bright and
mild; the sun shining through Micheline’s silk sunshade lit up her fair
head. Before her, Serge, bending his tall figure, was speaking with
animation. Micheline’s eyes were softly fixed on him. Reclining in her
armchair, she allowed herself to be carried away with his conversation,
and thoroughly enjoyed his society, of which she had been deprived for
the last three weeks. Beside her, Jeanne, silently watching the Prince,
was mechanically nibbling, with her white teeth, a bunch of carnations
which she held in her hands. A painful thought contracted Mademoiselle
de Cernay’s brow, and her pale lips on the red flowers seemed to be
drinking blood.

The mistress slowly turned away from this scene. A shadow had
crossed her brow, which had, for a moment, become serene again at the
announcement of Pierre’s arrival. She remained silent for a little
while, as if considering; then coming to a resolution, and turning to
Cayrol, she said:

“Where is Pierre staying?”

“At the Hotel du Louvre,” replied the banker.

“Well, I’m going there.”

Madame Desvarennes rang the bell violently.

“My bonnet, my cloak, and the carriage,” she said, and with a friendly
nod to the two men, she went out quickly.

Micheline was still laughing in the garden. Marechal and Cayrol looked
at each other. Cayrol was the first to speak.

“The mistress told you all about the matter then? How is it you never
spoke to me about it?”

“Should I have been worthy of Madame Desvarennes’s confidence had I
spoken of what she wished to keep secret?”

“To me?”

“Especially to you. The attitude which you have taken forbade my
speaking. You favor Prince Panine?”

“And you; you are on Pierre Delarue’s side?”

“I take no side. I am only a subordinate, you know; I do not count.”

“Do not attempt to deceive me. Your influence over the mistress is
great. The confidence she has in you is a conclusive proof. Important
events are about to take place here. Pierre has certainly returned to
claim his right as betrothed, and Mademoiselle Micheline loves Prince
Serge. Out of this a serious conflict will take place in the house.
There will be a battle. And as the parties in question are about equal
in strength, I am seeking adherents for my candidate. I own, in all
humility, I am on love’s side. The Prince is beloved by Mademoiselle
Desvarennes, and I serve him. Micheline will be grateful, and will do me
a turn with Mademoiselle de Cernay. As to you, let me give you a little
advice. If Madame Desvarennes consults you, speak well of Panine. When
the Prince is master here, your position will be all the better for it.”

Marechal had listened to Cayrol without anything betraying the
impression his words created. He looked at the banker in a peculiar
manner, which caused him to feel uncomfortable, and made him lower his
eyes.

“Perhaps you do not know, Monsieur Cayrol,” said the secretary, after a
moment’s pause, “how I entered this firm. It is as well in that case
to inform you. Four years ago, I was most wretched. After having sought
fortune ten times without success, I felt myself giving way morally and
physically. There are some beings gifted with energy, who can surmount
all the difficulties of life. You are one of those. As for me, the
struggle exhausted my strength, and I came to grief. It would take too
long to enumerate all the ways of earning my living I tried. Few even
fed me; and I was thinking of putting an end to my miserable existence
when I met Pierre. We had been at college together. I went toward him;
he was on the quay. I dared to stop him. At first he did not recognize
me, I was so haggard, so wretched-looking! But when I spoke, he cried,
‘Marechal!’ and, without blushing at my tatters, put his arms round my
neck. We were opposite the Belle Jardiniere, the clothiers; he wanted to
rig me out. I remember as if it were but yesterday I said, ‘No, nothing,
only find me work!’--‘Work, my poor fellow,’ he answered, ‘but just look
at yourself; who would have confidence to give you any? You look like
a tramp, and when you accosted me a little while ago, I asked myself if
you were not about to steal my watch!’ And he laughed gayly, happy
at having found me again, and thinking that he might be of use to me.
Seeing that I would not go into the shop, he took off his overcoat, and
put it on my back to cover my tattered clothes, and there and then he
took me to Madame Desvarennes. Two days later I entered the office. You
see the position I hold, and I owe it to Pierre. He has been more than a
friend to me--a brother. Come! after that, tell me what you would think
of me if I did what you have just asked me?”

Cayrol was confused; he twisted his bristly beard with his fingers.

“Faith, I do not say that your scruples are not right; but, between
ourselves, every step that is taken against the Prince will count for
naught. He will marry Mademoiselle Desvarennes.”

“It is possible. In that case, I shall be here to console Pierre and
sympathize with him.”

“And in the mean time you are going to do all you can in his favor?”

“I have already had the honor of telling you that I cannot do anything.”

“Well, well. One knows what talking means, and you will not change my
idea of your importance. You take the weaker side then; that’s superb!”

“It is but strictly honest,” said Marechal. “It is true that that
quality has become very rare!”

Cayrol wheeled round on his heels. He took a few steps toward the door,
then, returning to Marechal, held out his hand:

“Without a grudge, eh?”

The secretary allowed his hand to be shaken without answering, and the
banker went out, saying to himself:

“He is without a sou and has prejudices! There’s a lad without a
future.”



CHAPTER IV. THE RIVALS

On reaching Paris, Pierre Delarue experienced a strange feeling. In his
feverish haste he longed for the swiftness of electricity to bring him
near Micheline. As soon as he arrived in Paris, he regretted having
travelled so fast. He longed to meet his betrothed, yet feared to know
his fate.

He had a sort of presentiment that his reception would destroy his
hopes. And the more he tried to banish these thoughts, the more forcibly
they returned. The thought that Micheline had forgotten her promise made
the blood rush to his face.

Madame Desvarennes’s short letter suggested it. That his betrothed
was lost to him he understood, but he would not admit it. How was it
possible that Micheline should forget him? All his childhood passed
before his mind. He remembered the sweet and artless evidences of
affection which the young girl had given him. And yet she no longer
loved him! It was her own mother who said so. After that could he still
hope?

A prey to this deep trouble, Pierre entered Paris. On finding himself
face to face with Cayrol, the young man’s first idea was, as Cayrol had
guessed, to cry out, “What’s going on? Is all lost to me?” A sort of
anxious modesty kept back the words on his lips. He would not admit that
he doubted. And, then, Cayrol would only have needed to answer that
all was over, and that he could put on mourning for his love. He turned
around, and went out.

The tumult of Paris surprised and stunned him. After spending a year
in the peaceful solitudes of Africa, to find himself amid the cries of
street-sellers, the rolling of carriages, and the incessant movement of
the great city, was too great a contrast to him. Pierre was overcome
by languor; his head seemed too heavy for his body to carry; he
mechanically entered a cab which conveyed him to the Hotel du Louvre.
Through the window, against the glass of which he tried to cool his
heated forehead, he saw pass in procession before his eyes, the Column
of July, the church of St. Paul, the Hotel de Ville in ruins, and the
colonnade of the Louvre.

An absurd idea took possession of him. He remembered that during the
Commune he was nearly killed in the Rue Saint-Antoine by the explosion
of a shell, thrown by the insurgents from the heights of Pere-Lachaise.
He thought that had he died then, Micheline would have wept for him.
Then, as in a nightmare, it seemed to him that this hypothesis was
realized. He saw the church hung with black, he heard the funeral
chants. A catafalque contained his coffin, and slowly his betrothed
came, with a trembling hand, to throw holy water on the cloth which
covered the bier. And a voice said within him:

“You are dead, since Micheline is about to marry another.”

He made an effort to banish this importunate idea. He could not succeed.
Thoughts flew through his brain with fearful rapidity. He thought he was
beginning to be seized with brain fever. And this dismal ceremony kept
coming before him with the same chants, the same words repeated, and the
same faces appearing. The houses seemed to fly before his vacant eyes.
To stop this nightmare he tried to count the gas-lamps: one, two, three,
four, five--but the same thought interrupted his calculation:

“You are dead, since your betrothed is about to marry another.”

He was afraid he was going mad. A sharp pain shot across his forehead
just above the right eyebrow. In the old days he had felt the same pain
when he had overworked himself in preparing for his examinations at the
Polytechnic School. With a bitter smile he asked himself if one of the
aching vessels in his brain was about to burst?

The sudden stoppage of the cab freed him from this torture. The hotel
porter opened the door. Pierre stepped out mechanically. Without
speaking a word he followed a waiter, who showed him to a room on the
second floor. Left alone, he sat down. This room, with its commonplace
furniture, chilled him. He saw in it a type of his future life: lonely
and desolate. Formerly, when he used to come to Paris, he stayed with
Madame Desvarennes, where he had the comforts of home, and every one
looked on him affectionately.

Here, at the hotel, orders were obeyed with politeness at so much a day.
Would it always be thus in future?

This painful impression dissipated his weakness as by enchantment. He so
bitterly regretted the sweets of the past, that he resolved to struggle
to secure them for the future. He dressed himself quickly, and removed
all the traces of his journey; then, his mind made up, he jumped into a
cab, and drove to Madame Desvarennes’s. All indecision had left him. His
fears now seemed contemptible. He must defend himself. It was a question
of his happiness.

At the Place de la Concorde a carriage passed his cab. He recognized the
livery of Madame Desvarennes’s coachman and leant forward. The mistress
did not see him. He was about to stop the cab and tell his driver to
follow her carriage when a sudden thought decided him to go on. It was
Micheline he wanted to see. His future destiny depended on her. Madame
Desvarennes had made him clearly understand that by calling for his help
in her fatal letter. He went on his way, and in a few minutes arrived at
the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique.

Micheline and Jeanne were still in the garden, seated in the same place
on the lawn. Cayrol had joined Serge. Both, profiting by the lovely
morning, were enjoying the society of their beloved ones. A quick step
on the gravel walk attracted their attention. In the sunlight a young
man, whom neither Jeanne nor Micheline recognized, was advancing. When
about two yards distant from the group he slowly raised his hat.

Seeing the constrained and astonished manner of the young girls, a sad
smile played on his lips, then he said, softly:

“Am I then so changed that I must tell you my name?”

At these words Micheline jumped up, she became as white as her collar,
and trembling, with sobs rising to her lips, stood silent and petrified
before Pierre. She could not speak, but her eyes were eagerly fixed on
the young man. It was he, the companion of her youth, so changed that
she had not recognized him; worn by hard work, perhaps by anxieties,
bronzed--and with his face hidden by a black beard which gave him a
manly and energetic appearance. It was certainly he, with a thin red
ribbon at his button-hole, which he had not when he went away, and which
showed the importance of the works he had executed and of great perils
he had faced. Pierre, trembling and motionless, was silent; the sound of
his voice choked with emotion had frightened him. He had expected a cold
reception, but this scared look, which resembled terror, was beyond all
he had pictured. Serge wondered and watched.

Jeanne broke the icy silence. She went up to Pierre, and presented her
forehead.

“Well,” she said, “don’t you kiss your friends?”

She smiled affectionately on him. Two grateful tears sparkled in the
young man’s eyes, and fell on Mademoiselle de Cernay’s hair. Micheline,
led away by the example and without quite knowing what she was doing,
found herself in Pierre’s arms. The situation was becoming singularly
perplexing to Serge. Cayrol, who had not lost his presence of mind,
understood it, and turning toward the Prince, said:

“Monsieur Pierre Delarue: an old friend and companion of Mademoiselle
Desvarennes’s; almost a brother to her,” thus explaining in one word all
that could appear unusual in such a scene of tenderness.

Then, addressing Pierre, he simply added--“Prince Panine.”

The two men looked at each other. Serge, with haughty curiosity; Pierre,
with inexpressible rage. In a moment, he guessed that the tall, handsome
man beside his betrothed was his rival. If looks could kill, the Prince
would have fallen down dead. Panine did not deign to notice the hatred
which glistened in the eyes of the newcomer. He turned toward Micheline
with exquisite grace and said:

“Your mother receives her friends this evening, I think, Mademoiselle; I
shall have the honor of paying my respects to her.”

And taking leave of Jeanne with a smile, and of Pierre with a courteous
bow, he left, accompanied by Cayrol.

Serge’s departure was a relief to Micheline. Between these two men to
whom she belonged, to the one by a promise, to the other by an
avowal, she felt ashamed. Left alone with Pierre she recovered her
self-possession, and felt full of pity for the poor fellow threatened
with such cruel deception. She went tenderly to him, with her loving
eyes of old, and pressed his hand:

“I am very glad to see you again, my dear Pierre; and my mother will be
delighted. We were very anxious about you. You have not written to us
for some months.”

Pierre tried to joke: “The post does not leave very often in the desert.
I wrote whenever I had an opportunity.”

“Is it so very pleasant in Africa that you could not tear yourself away
a whole year?”

“I had to take another journey on the coast of Tripoli to finish my
labors. I was interested in my work, and anxious not to lose the result
of so much effort, and I think I have succeeded--at least in--the
opinion of my employers,” said the young man, with a ghastly smile.

“My dear Pierre, you come in time from the land of the sphinx,”
 interrupted Jeanne gravely, and glancing intently at Micheline. “There
is here, I assure you, a difficult enigma to solve.”

“What is it?”

“That which is written in this heart,” she replied, lightly touching her
companion’s breast.

“From childhood I have always read it as easily as a book,” said Pierre,
with tremulous voice, turning toward the amazed Micheline.

Mademoiselle de Cernay tossed her head.

“Who knows? Perhaps her disposition has changed during your absence;”
 and nodding pleasantly, she went toward the house.

Pierre followed her for a moment with his eyes, then, turning toward his
betrothed, said:

“Micheline, shall I tell you your secret? You no longer love me.”

The young girl started. The attack was direct. She must at once give
an explanation. She had often thought of what she would say when Pierre
came back to her. The day had arrived unexpectedly. And the answers she
had prepared had fled. The truth appeared harsh and cold. She understood
that the change in her was treachery, of which Pierre was the innocent
victim; and feeling herself to blame, she waited tremblingly the
explosion of this loyal heart so cruelly wounded. She stammered, in
tremulous accents:

“Pierre, my friend, my brother.”

“Your brother!” cried the young man, bitterly. “Was that the name you
were to give me on my return?”

At these words, which so completely summed up the situation, Micheline
remained silent. Still she felt that at all hazards she must defend
herself. Her mother might come in at any moment. Between Madame
Desvarennes and her betrothed, what would become of her? The hour was
decisive. Her strong love for Serge gave her fresh energy.

“Why did you go away?” she asked, with sadness.

Pierre raised with pride his head which had been bent with anguish.

“To be worthy of you,” he merely said.

“You did not need to be worthy of me; you, who were already above every
one else. We were betrothed; you only had to guard me.”

“Could not your heart guard itself?”

“Without help, without the support of your presence and affection?”

“Without other help or support than I had myself: Hope and Remembrance.”

Micheline turned pale. Each word spoken by Pierre made her feel the
unworthiness of her conduct more completely. She endeavored to find a
new excuse:

“Pierre, you know I was only a child.”

“No,” said the young man, with choked voice, “I see that you were
already a woman; a being weak, inconstant, and cruel; who cares not for
the love she inspires, and sacrifices all to the love she feels.”

So long as Pierre had only complained, Micheline felt overwhelmed and
without strength; but the young man began to accuse. In a moment the
young girl regained her presence of mind and revolted.

“Those are hard words!” she exclaimed.

“Are they not deserved?” cried Pierre, no longer restraining himself.
“You saw me arrive trembling, with eyes full of tears, and not only had
you not an affectionate word to greet me with, but you almost accuse me
of indifference. You reproach me with having gone away. Did you not know
my motive for going? I was betrothed to you; you were rich and I was
poor. To remove this inequality I resolved to make a name. I sought one
of those perilous scientific missions which bring celebrity or death
to those who undertake them. Ah! think not that I went away from you
without heart-breaking! For a year I was almost alone, crushed with
fatigue, always in danger; the thought that I was suffering for you
supported me.

“When lost in the vast desert, I was sad and discouraged; I invoked you,
and your sweet face gave me fresh hope and energy. I said to myself,
‘She is waiting for me. A day will come when I shall win the prize of
all my trouble.’ Well, Micheline, the day has come; here I am, returned,
and I ask for my reward. Is it what I had a right to expect? While I was
running after glory, another, more practical and better advised, stole
your heart. My happiness is destroyed. You did well to forget me.
The fool who goes so far away from his betrothed does not deserve her
faithfulness. He is cold, indifferent, he does not know how to love!”

These vehement utterances troubled Micheline deeply. For the first time
she understood her betrothed, felt how much he loved her, and regretted
not having known it before. If Pierre had spoken like that before going
away, who knows? Micheline’s feelings might have been quickened. No
doubt she would have loved him. It would have come naturally. But Pierre
had kept the secret of his passion for the young girl to himself. It was
only despair, and the thought of losing her, that made him give vent to
his feelings now.

“I see that I have been cruel and unjust to you,” said Micheline. “I
deserve your reproaches, but I am not the only one to blame. You, too,
are at fault. What I have just heard has upset me. I am truly sorry
to cause you so much pain; but it is too late. I no longer belong to
myself.”

“And did you belong to yourself?”

“No! It is true, you had my word, but be generous. Do not abuse the
authority which being my betrothed gives you. That promise I would now
ask back from you.”

“And if I refuse to release you from your promise? If I tried to, regain
your love?” cried Pierre, forcibly. “Have I not the right to defend
myself? And what would you think of my love if I relinquished you so
readily?”

There was a moment’s silence. The interview was at its highest pitch of
excitement. Micheline knew that she must put an end to it. She replied
with firmness:

“A girl such as I am will not break her word; mine belongs to you, but
my heart is another’s. Say you insist, and I am ready to keep my promise
to become your wife. It is for you to decide.”

Pierre gave the young girl a look which plunged into the depths of her
heart. He read there her resolve that she would act loyally, but that at
the same time she would never forget him who had so irresistibly gained
her heart. He made a last effort.

“Listen,” he said, with ardent voice, “it is impossible that you can
have forgotten me so soon: I love you so much! Remember our affection in
the old days, Micheline. Remember!”

He no longer argued; he pleaded. Micheline felt victorious. She was
moved with pity.

“Alas! my poor Pierre, my affection was only friendship, and my
heart has not changed toward you. The love which I now feel is quite
different. If it had not come to me, I might have been your wife. And
I esteemed you so much, that I should have been happy. But now I
understand the difference. You, whom I had accepted, would never have
been more to me than a tender companion; he whom I have chosen will be
my master.”

Pierre uttered a cry at this cruel and frank avowal.

“Ah! how you hurt me!”

And bitter tears rolled down his face to the relief of his overburdened
heart. He sank on to a seat, and for a moment gave way to violent
grief. Micheline, more touched by his despair than she had been by his
reproaches, went to him and wiped his face with her lace handkerchief.
Her white hand was close to the young man’s mouth,--and he kissed it
eagerly. Then, as if roused by the action, he rose with a changed look
in his eyes, and seized the young girl in his arms. Micheline did not
utter a word. She looked coldly and resolutely at Pierre, and threw back
her head to avoid the contact of his eager lips. That look was enough.
The arms which held her were unloosed, and Pierre moved away, murmuring:

“I beg your pardon. You see I am not in my right mind.”

Then passing his hand across his forehead as if to chase away a wicked
thought, he added:

“So it is irrevocable? You love him?”

“Enough to give you so much pain; enough to be nobody’s unless I belong
to him.”

Pierre reflected a moment, then, coming to a decision:

“Go, you are free,” said he; “I give you back your promise.”

Micheline uttered a cry of triumph, which made him who had been her
betrothed turn pale. She regretted not having hidden her joy better. She
approached Pierre and said:

“Tell me that you forgive me!”

“I forgive you.”

“You still weep?”

“Yes; I am weeping over my lost happiness. I thought the best means
of being loved were to deserve it. I was mistaken. I will courageously
atone for my error. Excuse my weakness, and believe that you will never
have a more faithful and devoted friend than I.”

Micheline gave him her hand, and, smiling, bowed her forehead to his
lips. He slowly impressed a brotherly kiss, which effaced the burning
trace of the one which he had stolen a moment before.

At the same time a deep voice was heard in the distance, calling Pierre.
Micheline trembled.

“‘Tis my mother,” she said. “She is seeking you. I will leave you.
Adieu, and a thousand thanks from my very heart.”

And nimbly springing behind a clump of lilac-trees in flower, Micheline
disappeared.

Pierre mechanically went toward the house. He ascended the marble steps
and entered the drawing-room. As he shut the door, Madame Desvarennes
appeared.



CHAPTER V. A CRITICAL INTERVIEW

Madame Desvarennes had been driven to the Hotel du Louvre without losing
a minute. She most wanted to know in what state of mind her daughter’s
betrothed had arrived in Paris. Had the letter, which brutally told
him the truth, roused him and tightened the springs of his will? Was he
ready for the struggle?

If she found him confident and bold, she had only to settle with him as
to the common plan of action which must bring about the eviction of
the audacious candidate who wished to marry Micheline. If she found him
discouraged and doubtful of himself, she had decided to animate him with
her ardor against Serge Panine.

She prepared these arguments on the way, and, boiling with impatience,
outstripped in thought the fleet horse which was drawing her past the
long railings of the Tuileries toward the Hotel du Louvre. Wrapped in
her meditations she did not see Pierre. She was saying to herself:

“This fair-haired Polish dandy does not know with whom he has to deal.
He will see what sort of a woman I am. He has not risen early enough in
the morning to hoodwink me. If Pierre is only of the same opinion as I,
we shall soon spoil this fortune-hunter’s work.”

The carriage stopped.

“Monsieur Pierre Delarue?” inquired the mistress.

“Madame, he went out a quarter of an hour ago.”

“To go where?”

“He did not say.”

“Do you know whether he will be absent long?”

“I don’t know.”

“Much obliged.”

Madame Desvarennes, quite discomfited by this mischance, reflected.
Where could Pierre have gone? Probably to her house. Without losing a
minute, she reentered the carriage, and gave orders to return to the Rue
Saint-Dominique. If he had gone at once to her house, it was plain that
he was ready to do anything to keep Micheline. The coachman who had
received the order drove furiously. She said to herself:

“Pierre is in a cab. Allowing that he is driving moderately quick he
will only have half-an-hour’s start of me. He will pass through the
office, will see Marechal, and however eager he be, will lose a quarter
of an hour in chatting to him. It would be most vexing if he did
anything foolish in the remaining fifteen minutes! The fault is mine: I
ought to have sent him a letter at Marseilles, to tell him what line of
conduct to adopt on his arrival. So long as he does not meet Micheline
on entering the house!”

At that idea Madame Desvarennes felt the blood rushing to her face. She
put her head out of the carriage window, and called to the coachman:

“Drive faster!”

He drove more furiously still, and in a few minutes reached the Rue
Saint-Dominique.

She tore into the house like a hurricane, questioned the hall-porter,
and learned that Delarue had arrived. She hastened to Marechal, and
asked him in such a strange manner, “Have you seen Pierre?” that he
thought some accident had happened.

On seeing her secretary’s scared look, she understood that what she
most dreaded had come to pass. She hurried to the drawing-room, calling
Pierre in a loud voice. The French window opened, and she found herself
face to face with the young man. A glance at her adopted son’s face
increased her fears. She opened her arms and clasped Pierre to her
heart.

After the first emotions were over, she longed to know what had happened
during her absence, and inquired of Pierre:

“By whom were you received on arriving here?”

“By Micheline.”

“That is what I feared! What did she tell you?”

“Everything!”

In three sentences these two strong beings had summed up all that had
taken place. Madame Desvarennes remained silent for a moment, then, with
sudden tenderness, and as if to make up for her daughter’s treachery,
said:

“Come, let me kiss you again, my poor boy. You suffer, eh? and I too!
I am quite overcome. For ten years I have cherished the idea of your
marrying Micheline. You are a man of merit, and you have no relatives.
You would not take my daughter away from me; on the contrary I think you
like me, and would willingly live with me. In arranging this marriage
I realized the dream of my life. I was not taking a son-in-law-I was
gaining a new child.”

“Believe me,” said Pierre, sadly, “it is not my fault that your wish is
not carried out.”

“That, my boy, is another question!” cried Madame Desvarennes, whose
voice was at once raised two tones. “And that is where we do not agree.
You are responsible for what has occurred. I know what you are going,
to tell me. You wished to bring laurels to Micheline as a dower. That
is all nonsense! When one leaves the Polytechnic School with honors, and
with a future open to you like yours, it is not necessary to scour
the deserts to dazzle a young girl. One begins by marrying her, and
celebrity comes afterward, at the same time as the children. And then
there was no need to risk all at such a cost. What, are we then so
grand? Ex-bakers! Millionaires, certainly, which does not alter the
fact that poor Desvarennes carried out the bread, and that I gave change
across the counter when folks came to buy sou-cakes! But you wanted
to be a knight-errant, and, during that time, a handsome fellow. Did
Micheline tell you the gentleman’s name?”

“I met him when I came here; he was with her in the garden. We were
introduced to each other.”

“That was good taste,” said Madame Desvarennes with irony. “Oh, he is a
youth who is not easily disturbed, and in his most passionate transports
will not disarrange a fold of his cravat. You know he is a Prince? That
is most flattering to the Desvarennes! We shall use his coat-of-arms as
our trade-mark. The fortune hunter, ugh! No doubt he said to himself,
‘The baker has money--and her daughter is agreeable.’ And he is making a
business of it.”

“He is only following the example of many of his equals. Marriage is
to-day the sole pursuit of the nobility.”

“The nobility! That of our country might be tolerated, but foreign
noblemen are mere adventurers.”

“It is well known that the Panines come from Posen--the papers have
mentioned them more than twenty times.”

“Why is he not in his own country?”

“He is exiled.”

“He has done something wrong, then!”

“He has, like all his family, fought for independence.”

“Then he is a revolutionist!”

“A patriot.”

“You are very kind to tell me all that.”

“I may hate Prince Panine,” said Pierre, simply, “but that is no reason
why I should not be just to him.”

“So be it; he is an exceptional being, a great citizen, a hero, if you
like. But that does not prove that he will make my daughter happy. And
if you take my advice, we shall send him about his business in a very
short time.”

Madame Desvarennes was excited and paced hurriedly up and down the room.
The idea of resuming the offensive after she had been forced to act on
the defensive for months past pleased her. She thought Pierre argued too
much. A woman of action, she did not understand why Pierre had not yet
come to a resolution. She felt that she must gain his confidence.

“You are master of the situation,” she said. “The Prince does not suit
me--”

“Micheline loves him,” interrupted Pierre.

“She fancies so,” replied Madame Desvarennes. “She has got it into her
head, but it will wear off. You thoroughly understand that I did not bid
you to come from Africa to be present at my daughter’s wedding. If you
are a man, we shall see some fun. Micheline is your betrothed. You have
our word, and the word of a Desvarennes is as good as the signature.--It
has never been dishonored. Well, refuse to give us back our promise.
Gain time, make love, and take my daughter away from that dandy.”

Pierre remained silent for a few minutes. In a moment he measured the
extent of the mischief done, by seeing Micheline before consulting
Madame Desvarennes. With the help of this energetic woman he might have
struggled, whereas left to his own strength, he had at the outset been
vanquished and forced to lay down his arms. Not only had he yielded, but
he had drawn his ally into his defeat.

“Your encouragements come too late,” said he. “Micheline asked me to
give her back her promise, and I gave it to her.”

“You were so weak as that!” cried Madame Desvarennes. “And she had so
much boldness? Does she dote on him so? I suspected her plans, and I
hastened to warn you. But all is not lost. You have given Micheline
back her promise. So be it. But I have not given you back yours. You are
pledged to me. I will not countenance the marriage which my daughter has
arranged without my consent! Help me to break it off. And, faith, you
could easily find another woman worth Micheline, but where shall I find
a son-in-law worth you? Come, the happiness of us all is in peril; save
it!”

“Why continue the struggle? I am beaten beforehand.”

“But if you forsake me, what can I do single-handed with Micheline?”

“Do what she wishes, as usual. You are surprised at my giving you this
advice? It is no merit on my part. Until now you have refused your
daughter’s request; but if she comes again beseeching and crying, you
who are so strong and can say so well ‘I will,’ will be weak and will
not be able to refuse her her Prince. Believe me; consent willingly. Who
knows? Your son’-in-law may be grateful to you for it by-and-by.”

Madame Desvarennes had listened to Pierre with amazement.

“Really, you are incredible,” she said; “you discuss all this so calmly.
Have you no grief?”

“Yes,” replied Pierre, solemnly, “it is almost killing me.”

“Nonsense! You are boasting!” cried Madame Desvarennes, vehemently. “Ah,
scholar! figures have dried up your heart!”

“No,” replied the young man, with melancholy, “but work has destroyed in
me the seductions of youth. It has made me thoughtful, and a little sad.
I frightened Micheline, instead of attracting her. The worst is that we
live in such a state of high pressure, it is quite impossible to
grasp all that is offered to us in this life-work and pleasure. It is
necessary to make a choice, to economize one’s time and strength, and
to work with either the heart or the brain alone. The result is that the
neglected organ wastes away, and that men of pleasure remain all their
lives mediocre workers, while hard workers are pitiful lovers. The
former sacrifice the dignity of existence, the latter that which is
the charm of existence. So that, in decisive moments, when the man of
pleasure appeals to his intelligence, he finds he is unfit for duty,
and when the man of toil appeals to his heart, he finds that he is
unqualified for happiness.”

“Well, my boy, so much the worse for the women who cannot appreciate men
of work, and who allow themselves to be wheedled by men of pleasure. I
never was one of those; and serious as you are, thirty years ago I would
have jumped at you. But as you know your ailment so well, why don’t you
cure yourself? The remedy is at hand.”

“What is it?”

“Strong will. Marry Micheline. I’ll answer for everything.”

“She does not love me.”

“A woman always ends by loving her husband.”

“I love Micheline too much to accept her hand without her heart.”

Madame Desvarennes saw that she would gain nothing, and that the game
was irrevocably lost. A great sorrow stole over her. She foresaw a dark
future, and had a presentiment that trouble had entered the house with
Serge Panine. What could she do? Combat the infatuation of her daughter!
She knew that life would be odious for her if Micheline ceased to laugh
and to sing. Her daughter’s tears would conquer her will. Pierre had
told her truly. Where was the use of fighting when defeat was certain?
She, too, felt that she was powerless, and with heartfelt sorrow came to
a decision.

“Come, I see that I must make up my mind to be grandmother to little
princes. It pleases me but little on the father’s account. My daughter
will have a sad lot with a fellow of that kind. Well, he had better keep
in the right path; for I shall be there to call him to order. Micheline
must be happy. When my husband was alive, I was already more of a mother
than a wife; now my whole life is wrapped up in my daughter.”

Then raising her vigorous arms with grim energy, she added:

“Do you know, if my daughter were made miserable through her husband, I
should be capable of killing him.”

These were the last words of the interview which decided the destiny
of Micheline, of the Prince, of Madame Desvarennes, and of Pierre. The
mistress stretched out her hand and rang the bell. A servant appeared,
to whom she gave instructions to tell Marechal to come down. She thought
it would be pleasant for Pierre to pour out his griefs into the heart of
his friend. A man weeps with difficulty before a woman, and she guessed
that the young man’s heart was swollen with tears. Marechal was not far
off. He arrived in a moment, and springing toward Pierre put his arms
round his neck. When Madame Desvarennes saw the two friends fully
engrossed with each other, she said to Marechal:

“I give you leave until this evening. Then bring Pierre back with you; I
wish to see him after dinner.”

And with a firm step she went toward Micheline’s room, where the latter
was waiting in fear to know the result of the interview.



CHAPTER VI. A SIGNIFICANT MEETING

The mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique is certainly one of the finest
to be seen. Sovereigns alone have more sumptuous palaces. The wide
staircase, of carved oak, is bordered by a bronze balustrade, made by
Ghirlandajo, and brought from Florence by Sommervieux, the great dealer
in curiosities. Baron Rothschild would consent to give only a hundred
thousand francs for it. Madame Desvarennes bought it. The large panels
of the staircase are hung with splendid tapestry, from designs by
Boucher, representing the different metamorphoses of Jupiter. At each
landing-place stands a massive Japanese vase of ‘claisonne’ enamel,
supported by a tripod of Chinese bronze, representing chimeras. On the
first floor, tall columns of red granite, crowned by gilt capitals,
divide the staircase from a gallery, serving as a conservatory. Plaited
blinds of crimson silk hang before the Gothic windows, filled with
marvellous stained glass.

In the vestibule-the hangings of which are of Cordova-leather, with gold
ground-seemingly awaiting the good pleasure of some grand lady, is a
sedan-chair, decorated with paintings by Fragonard. Farther on, there
is one of those superb carved mother-of-pearl coffers, in which Oriental
women lay by their finery and jewellery. A splendid Venetian mirror, its
frame embellished with tiny figure subjects, and measuring two metres
in width and three in height, fills a whole panel of the vestibule.
Portieres of Chinese satin, ornamented with striking embroidery, such
as figures on a priest’s chasuble, fall in sumptuous folds at the
drawing-room and dining-room doors.

The drawing-room contains a splendid set of Louis Quatorze furniture,
of gilt wood, upholstered in fine tapestry, in an extraordinary state
of preservation. Three crystal lustres, hanging at intervals along the
room, sparkle like diamonds. The hangings, of woven silk and gold, are
those which were sent as a present by Louis Quatorze to Monsieur de
Pimentel, the Spanish Ambassador, to reward him for the part he had
taken in the conclusion of the Treaty of the Pyrenees. These
hangings are unique, and were brought back from Spain in 1814, in the
baggage-train of Soult’s army, and sold to an inhabitant of Toulouse
for ten thousand francs. It was there that Madame Desvarennes discovered
them in a garret in 1864, neglected by the grandchildren of the buyer,
who were ignorant of the immense value of such unrivalled work. Cleverly
mended, they are to-day the pride of the great trader’s drawing-room.
On the mantelpiece there is a large clock in Chinese lacquer, ornamented
with gilt bronze, made on a model sent out from Paris in the reign of
Louis Quatorze, and representing the Flight of the Hours pursued by
Time.

Adjoining the great drawing-room is a boudoir upholstered in light gray
silk damask, with bouquets of flowers. This is Madame Desvarennes’s
favorite room. A splendid Erard piano occupies one side of the
apartment. Facing it is a sideboard in sculptured ebony, enriched with
bronze, by Gouthieres. There are only two pictures on the walls: “The
Departure of the Newly Married Couple,” exquisitely painted by Lancret;
and “The Prediction,” an adorable work by Watteau, bought at an
incredible price at the Pourtales sale. Over the chimney-piece is a
miniature by Pommayrac, representing Micheline as a little child--a
treasure which Madame Desvarennes cannot behold without tears coming to
her eyes. A door, hidden by curtains, opens on to a staircase leading
directly to the courtyard.

The dining-room is in the purest Renaissance style austere woodwork;
immense chests of caned pearwood, on which stand precious ewers in
Urbino ware, and dishes by Bernard Palissy. The high stone fireplace is
surmounted by a portrait of Diana of Poitiers, with a crescent on her
brow, and is furnished with firedogs of elaborately worked iron. The
centre panel bears the arms of Admiral Bonnivet. Stained-glass windows
admit a softly-tinted light. From the magnificently painted ceiling,
a chandelier of brass repousse work hangs from the claws of a hovering
eagle.

The billiard-room is in the Indian style. Magnificent panoplies unite
Rajpoot shields, Mahratta scimitars, helmets with curtains of steel,
rings belonging to Afghan chiefs, and long lances ornamented with white
mares’ tails, wielded by the horsemen of Cabul. The walls are painted
from designs brought from Lahore. The panels of the doors were decorated
by Gerome. The great artist has painted Nautch girls twisting their
floating scarves, and jugglers throwing poignards into the air. Around
the room are low divans, covered with soft and brilliant Oriental cloth.
The chandelier is quite original in form, being the exact representation
of the god Vishnu. From the centre of the body hangs a lotus leaf of
emeralds, and from each of the four arms is suspended a lamp shaped like
a Hindu pagoda, which throws out a mellow light.

Madame Desvarennes was entertaining her visitors in these celebrated
apartments that evening. Marechal and Pierre had just come in, and were
talking together near the fireplace. A few steps from them was a group,
consisting of Cayrol, Madame Desvarennes, and a third person, who had
never until then put his foot in the house, in spite of intercessions in
his favor made by the banker to Madame Desvarennes. He was a tall, pale,
thin man, whose skin seemed stretched on his bones, with a strongly
developed under-jaw, like that of a ravenous animal, and eyes of
indefinable color, always changing, and veiled behind golden-rimmed
spectacles. His hands were soft and smooth, with moist palms and closely
cut nails--vicious hands, made to take cunningly what they coveted. He
had scanty hair, of a pale yellow, parted just above the ear, so as to
enable him to brush it over the top of his head. This personage, clad
in a double-breasted surtout, over a white waistcoat, and wearing a
many-colored rosette, was called Hermann Herzog.

A daring financier, he had come from Luxembourg, preceded by a great
reputation; and, in a few months, he had launched in Paris such a series
of important affairs that the big-wigs on the Exchange felt bound to
treat with him. There were many rumors current about him. Some said he
was the most intelligent, most active, and most scrupulous of men that
it was possible to meet. Others said that no greater scoundrel had
ever dared the vengeance of the law, after plundering honest people.
Of German nationality, those who cried him down said he was born at
Mayence. Those who treated the rumors as legends said he was born at
Frankfort, the most Gallic town beyond the river Rhine.

He had just completed an important line of railway from Morocco to the
centre of our colony in Algeria, and now he was promoting a company for
exporting grain and flour from America. Several times Cayrol had tried
to bring Herzog and Madame Desvarennes together. The banker had an
interest in the grain and flour speculation, but he asserted that it
would not succeed unless the mistress had a hand in it. Cayrol had a
blind faith in the mistress’s luck.

Madame Desvarennes, suspicious of everything foreign, and perfectly
acquainted with the rumors circulated respecting Herzog, had always
refused to receive him. But Cayrol had been so importunate that, being
quite tired of refusing, and, besides, being willing to favor Cayrol for
having so discreetly managed the negotiations of Micheline’s marriage,
she had consented.

Herzog had just arrived. He was expressing to Madame Desvarennes his
delight at being admitted to her house. He had so often heard her highly
spoken of that he had formed a high idea of her, but one which was,
however, far below the reality; he understood now that it was an honor
to be acquainted with her. He wheedled her with German grace, and with a
German-Jewish accent, which reminds one of the itinerant merchants, who
offer you with persistence “a goot pargain.”

The mistress had been rather cold at first, but Herzog’s amiability had
thawed her. This man, with his slow speech and queer eyes, produced a
fascinating effect on one like a serpent. He was repugnant, and yet, in
spite of one’s self one was led on. He, had at once introduced the grain
question, but in this he found himself face to face with the real Madame
Desvarennes; and no politeness held good on her part when it was a
question of business. From his first words, she had found a weak
point in the plan, and had attacked him with such plainness that the
financier, seeing his enterprise collapse at the sound of the mistress’s
voice-like the walls of Jericho at the sound of the Jewish trumpets--had
beaten a retreat, and had changed the subject.

He was about to float a credit and discount company superior to any in
the world. He would come back and talk with Madame Desvarennes about it,
because she ought to participate in the large profits which the matter
promised. There was no risk. The novelty of the undertaking consisted
in the concurrence of the largest banking-houses of France and abroad,
which would hinder all competition, and prevent hostility on the part
of the great money-handlers. It was very curious, and Madame Desvarennes
would feel great satisfaction in knowing the mechanism of this company,
destined to become, from the first, the most important in the world, and
yet most easy to understand.

Madame Desvarennes neither said “Yes” nor “No.” Moved by the soft
and insinuating talkativeness of Herzog, she felt herself treading on
dangerous ground. It seemed to her that her foot was sinking, as in
those dangerous peat-mosses of which the surface is covered with green
grass, tempting one to run on it. Cayrol was under the charm. He drank
in the German’s words. This clever man, who had never till then been
duped, had found his master in Herzog.

Pierre and Marechal had come nearer, and Madame Desvarennes, profiting
by this mingling of groups, introduced the men to each other. On hearing
the name of Pierre Delarue, Herzog looked thoughtful, and asked if the
young man was the renowned engineer whose works on the coast of Africa
had caused so much talk in Europe? On Madame Desvarennes replying in the
affirmative, he showered well-chosen compliments on Pierre. He had had
the pleasure of meeting Delarue in Algeria, when he had gone over to
finish the railroad in Morocco.

But Pierre had stepped back on learning that the constructor of that
important line was before him.

“Ah! is it you, sir, who carried out that job?” said he. “Faith! you
treated those poor Moors rather hardly!”

He remembered the misery of the poor natives employed by Europeans who
superintended the work. Old men, women, and children were placed at the
disposal of the contractors by the native authorities, to dig up and
remove the soil; and these poor wretches, crushed with hard work, and
driven with the lash by drunken overseers--who commanded them with a
pistol in hand--under a burning sun, inhaled the noxious vapors arising
from the upturned soil, and died like flies. It was a terrible sight,
and one that Pierre could not forget.

But Herzog, with his cajoling sweetness, protested against this
exaggerated picture. Delarue had arrived during the dog-days--a bad
time. And then, it was necessary for the work to be carried on without
delay. Besides, a few Moors, more or less--what did it matter? Negroes,
all but monkeys!

Marechal, who had listened silently until then, interrupted the
conversation, to defend the monkeys in the name of Littre. He had framed
a theory, founded on Darwin, and tending to prove that men who despised
monkeys despised themselves. Herzog, a little taken aback by this
unexpected reply, had looked at Marechal slyly, asking himself if it
was a joke. But, seeing Madame Desvarennes laugh, he recovered his
self-possession. Business could not be carried on in the East as in
Europe. And then, had it not always been thus? Had not all the great
discoverers worked the countries which they discovered? Christopher
Columbus, Cortez--had they not taken riches from the Indians, in
exchange for the civilization which they brought them? He (Herzog)
had, in making a railway in Morocco, given the natives the means
of civilizing themselves. It was only fair that it should cost them
something.

Herzog uttered his tirade with all the charm of which he was capable; he
looked to the right and to the left to notice the effect. He saw nothing
but constrained faces. It seemed as if they were expecting some one
or something. Time was passing; ten o’clock had just struck. From the
little boudoir sounds of music were occasionally heard, when Micheline’s
nervous hand struck a louder chord on her piano. She was there,
anxiously awaiting some one or something. Jeanne de Cernay, stretched in
an easy-chair, her head leaning on her hand, was dreaming.

During the past three weeks the young girl had changed. Her bright wit
no longer enlivened Micheline’s indolent calmness; her brilliant eyes
were surrounded by blue rings, which denoted nights passed without
sleep. The change coincided strangely with Prince Panine’s departure for
England, and the sending of the letter which recalled Pierre to Paris.
Had the inhabitants of the mansion been less occupied with their own
troubles, they would no doubt have noticed this sudden change, and have
sought to know the reason. But the attention of all was concentrated on
the events which had already troubled them, and which would no doubt be
yet more serious to the house, until lately so quiet.

The visitors’ bell sounded, and caused Micheline to rise. The blood
rushed to her cheeks. She whispered, “It is he!” and, hesitating, she
remained a moment leaning on the piano, listening vaguely to the sounds
in the drawing-room. The footman’s voice announcing the visitor reached
the young girls:

“Prince Panine.”

Jeanne also rose then, and if Micheline had turned round she would
have been frightened at the pallor of her companion. But Mademoiselle
Desvarennes was not thinking of Mademoiselle de Cernay; she had just
raised the heavy door curtain, and calling to Jeanne, “Are you coming?”
 passed into the drawing-room:

It was indeed Prince Serge, who was expected by Cayrol with impatience,
by Madame Desvarennes with silent irritation, by Pierre with deep
anguish. The handsome prince, calm and smiling, with white cravat and
elegantly fitting dress-coat which showed off his fine figure, advanced
toward Madame Desvarennes before whom he bowed. He seemed only to have
seen Micheline’s mother. Not a look for the two young girls or the men
who were around him. The rest of the universe did not seem to count.
He bent as if before a queen, with a dash of respectful adoration. He
seemed to be saying:

“Here I am at your feet; my life depends on you; make a sign and I shall
be the happiest of men or the most miserable.”

Micheline followed him with eyes full of pride; she admired his haughty
grace and his caressing humility. It was by these contrasts that Serge
had attracted the young girl’s notice. She felt herself face to face
with a strange nature, different from men around her, and had become
interested in him. Then he had spoken to her, and his sweet penetrating
voice had touched her heart.

What he had achieved with Micheline he longed to achieve with her
mother. After placing himself at the feet of the mother of her whom he
loved, he sought the road to her heart. He took his place beside the
mistress and spoke. He hoped that Madame Desvarennes would excuse the
haste of his visit. The obedience which he had shown in going away
must be a proof to her of his submission to her wishes. He was her most
devoted and respectful servant. He resigned himself to anything she
might exact of him.

Madame Desvarennes listened to that sweet voice; she had never heard
it so full of charm. She understood what influence this sweetness had
exercised over Micheline; she repented not having watched over her more
carefully, and cursed the hour that had brought all this evil upon them.
She was obliged, however, to answer him. The mistress went straight to
the point. She was not one to beat about the bush when once her mind was
made up.

“You come, no doubt, sir, to receive an answer to the request you
addressed to me before your departure for England!”

The Prince turned slightly pale. The words which Madame Desvarennes was
about to pronounce were of such importance to him that he could not help
feeling moved. He answered, in a suppressed tone:

“I would not have dared to speak to you on the subject, Madame,
especially in public; but since you anticipate my desire, I admit I am
waiting with deep anxiety for one word from you which will decide my
fate.”

He continued bent before Madame Desvarennes like a culprit before his
judge. The mistress was silent for a moment, as if hesitating before
answering, and then said, gravely:

“That word I hesitated to pronounce, but some one in whom I have great
confidence has advised me to receive you favorably.”

“He, Madame, whoever he may be, has gained my everlasting gratitude.”

“Show it to him,” said Madame Desvarennes; “he is the companion of
Micheline’s young days, almost a son to me.”

And turning toward Pierre, she pointed him out to Panine.

Serge took three rapid strides toward Pierre, but quick as he had been
Micheline was before him. Each of the lovers seized a hand of
Pierre, and pressed it with tender effusion. Panine, with his Polish
impetuosity, was making the most ardent protestations to Pierre--he
would be indebted to him for life.

Micheline’s late betrothed, with despair in his heart, allowed his
hands to be pressed and wrung in silence. The voice of her whom he loved
brought tears to his eyes.

“How generous and good you are!” said the young girl, “how nobly you
have sacrificed yourself!”

“Don’t thank me,” replied Pierre; “I have no merit in accomplishing what
you admire. I am weak, you see, and I could not bear to see you suffer.”

There was a great commotion in the drawing-room. Cayrol was explaining
to Herzog, who was listening with great attention, what was taking
place. Serge Panine was to be Madame Desvarennes’s son-in-law. It was a
great event.

“Certainly,” said the German; “Madame Desvarennes’s son-in-law will
become a financial power. And a Prince, too. What a fine name for a
board of directors!”

The two financiers looked at each other for a moment; the same thought
had struck them.

“Yes, but,” replied Cayrol, “Madame Desvarennes will never allow Panine
to take part in business.”

“Who knows?” said Herzog. “We shall see how the marriage settlements are
drawn up.”

“But,” cried Cayrol, “I would not have it said that I was leading Madame
Desvarennes’s son-in-law into speculations.”

“Who is speaking of that?” replied Herzog, coldly. “Am I seeking
shareholders? I have more money than I want; I refuse millions every
day.”

“Oh, I know capitalists run after you,” said Cayrol, laughingly; “and
to welcome them you affect the scruples of a pretty woman. But let us go
and congratulate the Prince.”

While Cayrol and Herzog were exchanging those few words which had such a
considerable influence on the future of Serge Panine--a scene, terrible
in its simplicity, was going on without being noticed. Micheline had
thrown herself with a burst of tenderness into her mother’s arms.
Serge was deeply affected by the young girl’s affection for him, when
a trembling hand touched his arm. He turned round. Jeanne de Cernay was
before him, pale and wan; her eyes sunken into her head like two black
nails, and her lips tightened by a violent contraction. The Prince stood
thunderstruck at the sight of her. He looked around him. Nobody was
observing him. Pierre was beside Marechal, who was whispering those
words which only true friends can find in the sad hours of life.
Madame Desvarennes was holding Micheline in her arms. Serge approached
Mademoiselle de Cernay. Jeanne still fixed on him the same menacing
look. He was afraid.

“Take care!” he said.

“Of what?” asked the young girl, with a troubled voice. “What have I to
fear now?”

“What do you wish?” resumed Panine, with old firmness, and with a
gesture of impatience.

“I wish to speak with you immediately.”

“You see that is impossible.”

“I must.”

Cayrol and Herzog approached. Serge smiled at Jeanne with a sign of the
head which meant “Yes.” The young girl turned away in silence, awaiting
the fulfilment of the promise made.

Cayrol took her by the hand with tender familiarity.

“What were you saying to the happy man who has gained the object of his
dreams, Mademoiselle? It is not to him you must speak, but to me, to
give me hope. The moment is propitious; it is the day for betrothals.
You know how much I love you; do me the favor of no longer repulsing me
as you have done hitherto! If you would be kind, how charming it would
be to celebrate the two weddings on the same day. One church, one
ceremony, one splendid feast would unite two happy couples. Is there
nothing in this picture to entice you?”

“I am not easily enticed, as you know,” said Jeanne, in a firm voice,
trying to smile.

Micheline and Madame Desvarennes had drawn near.

“Come, Cayrol,” said Serge, in a tone of command; “I am happy to-day;
perhaps I may succeed in your behalf as I have done in my own. Let me
plead your cause with Mademoiselle de Cernay?”

“With all my heart. I need an eloquent pleader,” sighed the banker,
shaking his head sadly.

“And you, Mademoiselle, will you submit to the trial?” asked the Prince,
turning toward Jeanne. “We have always been good friends, and I shall
be almost a brother to you. This gives me some right over your mind and
heart, it seems to me. Do you authorize me to exercise it?”

“As you like, sir,” answered Jeanne, coldly. “The attempt is novel. Who
knows? Perhaps it will succeed!”

“May Heaven grant it,” said Cayrol. Then, approaching Panine:

“Ah! dear Prince, what gratitude I shall owe you! You know,” added he in
a whisper, “if you need a few thousand louis for wedding presents--”

“Go, go, corrupter!” replied Serge, with the same forced gayety; “you
are flashing your money in front of us. You see it is not invincible, as
you are obliged to have recourse to my feeble talents. But know that I
am working for glory.”

And turning toward Madame Desvarennes he added: “I only ask a quarter of
an hour.”

“Don’t defend yourself too much,” said Micheline in her companion’s ear,
and giving her a tender kiss which the latter did not return.

“Come with me,” said Micheline to Pierre, offering him her arm; “I want
to belong to you alone while Serge is pleading with Jeanne. I will be
your sister as formerly. If you only knew how I love you!”

The large French window which led to the garden had just been opened
by Marechal, and the mild odors of a lovely spring night perfumed the
drawing-room. They all went out on the lawn. Thousands of stars were
twinkling in the sky, and the eyes of Micheline and Pierre were lifted
toward the dark blue heavens seeking vaguely for the star which presided
over their destiny. She, to know whether her life would be the long poem
of love of which she dreamed; he, to ask whether glory, that exacting
mistress for whom he had made so many sacrifices, would at least comfort
him for his lost love.



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER VII. JEANNE’S SECRET

In the drawing-room Jeanne and Serge remained standing, facing each
other. The mask had fallen from their faces; the forced smile had
disappeared. They looked at each other attentively, like two duellists
seeking to read each other’s game, so that they may ward off the fatal
stroke and prepare the decisive parry.

“Why did you leave for England three weeks ago, without seeing me and
without speaking to me?”

“What could I have said to you?” replied the Prince, with an air of
fatigue and dejection.

Jeanne flashed a glance brilliant as lightning:

“You could have told me that you had just asked for Micheline’s hand!”

“That would have been brutal!”

“It would have been honest! But it would have necessitated an
explanation, and you don’t like explaining. You have preferred leaving
me to guess this news from the acts of those around me, and the talk of
strangers.”

All these words had been spoken by Jeanne with feverish vivacity. The
sentences were as cutting as strokes from a whip. The young girl’s
agitation was violent; her cheeks were red, and her breathing was hard
and stifled with emotion. She stopped for a moment; then, turning toward
the Prince, and looking him full in the face, she said:

“And so, this marriage is decided?”

Serge answered,

“Yes.”

It was fainter than a whisper. As if she could not believe it, Jeanne
repeated:

“You are going to marry Micheline?”

And as Panine in a firmer voice answered again, “Yes!” the young girl
took two rapid steps and brought her flushed face close to him.

“And I, then?” she cried with a violence she could no longer restrain.

Serge made a sign. The drawing-room window was still open, and from
outside they could be heard.

“Jeanne, in mercy calm yourself,” replied he. “You are in a state of
excitement.”

“Which makes you uncomfortable?” interrupted the young girl mockingly.

“Yes, but for your sake only,” said he, coldly.

“For mine?”

“Certainly. I fear your committing an imprudence which might harm you.”

“Yes; but you with me! And it is that only which makes you afraid.”

The Prince looked at Mademoiselle de Cernay, smilingly. Changing his
tone, he took her hand in his.

“How naughty you are to-night! And what temper you are showing
toward poor Serge! What an opinion he will have of himself after your
displaying such a flattering scene of jealousy!”

Jeanne drew away her hand.

“Ah, don’t try to joke. This is not the moment, I assure you. You don’t
exactly realize your situation. Don’t you understand that I am prepared
to tell Madame Desvarennes everything--”

“Everything!” said the Prince. “In truth, it would not amount to much.
You would tell her that I met you in England; that I courted you, and
that you found my attentions agreeable. And then? It pleases you to
think too seriously of that midsummer night’s dream under the great
trees of Churchill Castle, and you reproach me for my errors! But what
are they? Seriously, I do not see them! We lived in a noisy world; where
we enjoyed the liberty which English manners allow to young people. Your
aunt found no fault with the charming chatter which the English call
flirtation. I told you I loved you; you allowed me to think that I was
not displeasing to you. We, thanks to that delightful agreement, spent
a most agreeable summer, and now you do not wish to put an end to that
pleasant little excursion made beyond the limits drawn by our Parisian
world, so severe, whatever people say about it. It is not reasonable,
and it is imprudent. If you carry out your menacing propositions, and if
you take my future mother-in-law as judge of the rights which you
claim, don’t you understand that you would be condemned beforehand? Her
interests are directly opposed to yours. Could she hesitate between her
daughter and you?”

“Oh! your calculations are clever and your measures were well taken,”
 replied Jeanne. “Still, if Madame Desvarennes were not the woman you
think her--” Then, hesitating:

“If she took my part, and thinking that he who was an unloyal lover
would be an unfaithful husband--she would augur of the future of her
daughter by my experience; and what would happen?”

“Simply this,” returned Serge. “Weary of the precarious and hazardous
life which I lead, I would leave for Austria, and rejoin the service. A
uniform is the only garb which can hide poverty honorably.”

Jeanne looked at him with anguish; and making an effort said:

“Then, in any case, for me it is abandonment?” And falling upon a seat,
she hid her face in her hands. Panine remained silent for a moment. The
young girl’s, grief, which he knew to be sincere, troubled him more than
he wished to show. He had loved Mademoiselle de Cernay, and he loved her
still. But he felt that a sign of weakness on his part would place him
at Jeanne’s mercy, and that an avowal from his lips at this grave moment
meant a breaking-off of his marriage with Micheline. He hardened himself
against his impressions, and replied, with insinuating sweetness:

“Why do you speak of desertion, when a good man who loves you fondly,
and who possesses a handsome fortune, wishes to marry you?”

Mademoiselle de Cernay raised her head, hastily.

“So, it is you who advise me to marry Monsieur Cayrol? Is there nothing
revolting to you in the idea that I should follow your advice? But then,
you deceived me from the first moment you spoke to me. You have never
loved me even for a day! Not an hour!”

Serge smiled, and resuming his light, caressing tone, replied:

“My dear Jeanne, if I had a hundred thousand francs a year, I give you
my word of honor that I would not marry another woman but you, for you
would make an adorable Princess.”

Mademoiselle de Cernay made a gesture of perfect indifference.

“Ah! what does the title matter to me?” she exclaimed, with passion.
“What I want is you! Nothing but you!”

“You do not know what you ask. I love you far too much to associate you
with my destiny. If you knew that gilded misery, that white kid-gloved
poverty, which is my lot, you would be frightened, and you would
understand that in my resolution to give you up there is much of
tenderness and generosity. Do you think it is such an easy matter to
give up a woman so adorable as you are? I resign myself to it, though.

“What could I do with my beautiful Jeanne in the three rooms in the Rue
de Madame where I live? Could I, with the ten or twelve thousand francs
which I receive through the liberality of the Russian Panines, provide
a home? I can hardly make it do for myself. I live at the club, where I
dine cheaply. I ride my friends’ horses! I never touch a card, although
I love play. I go much in society; I shine there, and walk home to save
the cost of a carriage. My door-keeper cleans my rooms and keeps my
linen in order. My private life is sad, dull, and humiliating. It is
the black chrysalis of the bright butterfly which you know. That is what
Prince Panine is, my dear Jeanne. A gentleman of good appearance, who
lives as carefully as an old maid. The world sees him elegant and
happy, and its envies his luxury; but this luxury is as deluding
as watch-chains made of pinchbeck. You understand now that I cannot
seriously ask you to share such an existence.”

But if, with this sketch of his life, correctly described, Panine
thought to turn the young girl against him, he was mistaken. He had
counted without considering Jeanne’s sanguine temperament, which would
lead her to make any sacrifices to keep the man she adored.

“If you were rich, Serge,” she said, “I would not have made an effort
to bring you back to me. But you are poor and I have a right to tell you
that I love you. Life with you would be all devotedness and self-denial.
Each pain endured would be a proof of love, and that is why I wish to
suffer. Your life with mine would be neither sad nor humiliated; I
would make it sweet by my tenderness, and bright by my happiness. And we
should be so happy that you would say, ‘How could I ever have dreamed of
anything else?’”

“Alas! Jeanne,” replied the Prince; “it is a charming and poetic idyl
which you present to me. We should flee far from the world, eh? We
should go to an unknown spot and try to regain paradise lost. How long
would that happiness last? A season during the springtime of our youth.
Then autumn would come, sad and harsh. Our illusions would vanish like
the swallows in romances, and we should find, with alarm, that we had
taken the dream of a day for eternal happiness! Forgive my speaking
plain words of disenchantment,” added Serge, seeing Jeanne rising
abruptly, “but our life is being settled at this moment. Reason alone
should guide us.”

“And I beseech you to be guided only by your heart,” cried Mademoiselle
de Cernay, seizing the hands of the Prince, and pressing them with her
trembling fingers. “Remember that you loved me. Say that you love me
still!”

Jeanne had drawn near to Serge. Her burning face almost touched his. Her
eyes, bright with excitement, pleaded passionately for a tender look.
She was most fascinating, and Panine, usually master of himself, lost
his presence of mind for a moment. His arms encircled the shoulders of
the adorable pleader, and his lips were buried in the masses of her dark
hair.

“Serge!” cried Mademoiselle de Cernay, clinging to him whom she loved so
fondly.

But the Prince was as quickly calmed as he had been carried away. He
gently put Jeanne aside.

“You see,” he said with a smile, “how unreasonable we are and how easily
we might commit an irreparable folly. And yet our means will not allow
us.”

“In mercy do not leave me!” pleaded Jeanne, in a tone of despair. “You
love me! I feel it; everything tells me so! And you would desert me
because you are poor and I am not rich. Is a man ever poor when he has
two arms? Work.”

The word was uttered by Jeanne with admirable energy. She possessed the
courage to overcome every difficulty.

Serge trembled. For the second time he felt touched to the very soul
by this strange girl. He understood that he must not leave her with the
slightest hope of encouragement, but throw ice on the fire which was
devouring her.

“My dear Jeanne,” he said, with affectionate sweetness, “you are talking
nonsense. Remember this, that for Prince Panine there are only three
social conditions possible: to be rich, a soldier, or a priest. I have
the choice. It is for you to decide.”

This put an end to Mademoiselle de Cernay’s resistance. She felt how
useless was further argument, and falling on a sofa, crushed with grief,
cried:

“Ah! this time it is finished; I am lost!”

Panine, then, approaching her, insinuating and supple, like the serpent
with the first woman, murmured in her ear, as if afraid lest his words,
in being spoken aloud, would lose their subtle venom:

“No, you are not lost. On the contrary, you are saved, if you will
only listen to and understand me. What are we, you and I? You, a child
adopted by a generous woman; I, a ruined nobleman. You live in luxury,
thanks to Madame Desvarennes’s liberality. I can scarcely manage to keep
myself with the help of my family. Our present is precarious, our future
hazardous. And, suddenly, fortune is within our grasp. We have only to
stretch out our hands, and with one stroke we gain the uncontested power
which money brings!

“Riches, that aim of humanity! Do you understand? We, the weak and
disdained, become strong and powerful. And what is necessary to gain
them? A flash of sense; a minute of wisdom; forget a dream and accept a
reality.”

Jeanne waited till he had finished. A bitter smile played on her lips.
Henceforth she would believe in no one. After listening to what Serge
had just said, she could listen to anything.

“So,” said she, “the dream is love; the reality is interest. And is it
you who speak thus to me? You, for whom I was prepared to endure any
sacrifice! You, whom I would have served on my knees! And what reason do
you give to justify your conduct? Money! Indispensable and stupid money!
Nothing but money! But it is odious, infamous, low!”

Serge received this terrible broadside of abuse without flinching. He
had armed himself against contempt, and was deaf to all insults. Jeanne
went on with increasing rage:

“Micheline has everything: family, fortune, and friends, and she is
taking away my one possession--your love. Tell me that you love her! It
will be more cruel but less vile! But no, it is not possible! You
gave way to temptation at seeing her so rich; you had a feeling of
covetousness, but you will become yourself again and will act like an
honest man. Think, that in my eyes you are dishonoring yourself! Serge,
answer me!”

She clung to him again, and tried to regain him by her ardor, to
warm him with her passion. He remained unmoved, silent, and cold. Her
conscience rebelled.

“Well, then,” said she, “marry her.”

She remained silent and sullen, seeming to forget he was there. She was
thinking deeply. Then she walked wildly up and down the room, saying:

“So, it is that implacable self-interest with which I have just come in
contact, which is the law of the world, the watchword of society! So, in
refusing to share the common folly, I risk remaining in isolation, and
I must be strong to make others stand in awe of me. Very well, then, I
shall henceforth act in such a manner as to be neither dupe nor victim.
In future, everything will be: self, and woe to him who hinders me. That
is the morality of the age, is it not?”

And she laughed nervously.

“Was I not stupid? Come, Prince, you have made me clever. Many thanks
for the lesson; it was difficult, but I shall profit by it.”

The Prince, astonished at the sudden change, listened to Jeanne with
stupor. He did not yet quite understand.

“What do you intend to do?” asked he.

Jeanne looked at him with a fiendish expression. Her eyes sparkled like
stars; her white teeth shone between her lips.

“I intend,” replied she, “to lay the foundation of my power, and to
follow your advice, by marrying a millionaire!”

She ran to the window, and, looking out toward the shady garden, called:

“Monsieur Cayrol!”

Serge, full of surprise, and seized by a sudden fit of jealousy, went
toward her as if to recall her.

“Jeanne,” said he, vaguely holding out his arms.

“Well! what is it?” she asked, with crushing haughtiness. “Are you
frightened at having gained your cause so quickly?”

And as Serge did not speak:

“Come,” added she, “you will have a handsome fee; Micheline’s dower will
be worth the trouble you have had.”

They heard Cayrol’s hurried steps ascending the stairs.

“You have done me the honor to call me, Mademoiselle,” said he,
remaining on the threshold of the drawing-room. “Am I fortunate enough
at length to have found favor in your eyes?”

“Here is my hand,” said Mademoiselle de Cernay, simply tendering him her
white taper fingers, which he covered with kisses.

Madame Desvarennes had come in behind the banker. She uttered a joyous
exclamation.

“Cayrol, you shall not marry Jeanne for her beauty alone. I will give
her a dower.”

Micheline fell on her companion’s neck. It was a concert of
congratulations. But Jeanne, with a serious air, led Cayrol aside:

“I wish to act honestly toward you, sir; I yield to the pleading of
which I am the object. But you must know that my sentiments do not
change so quickly. It is my hand only which I give you today.”

“I have not the conceitedness to think that you love me, Mademoiselle,”
 said Cayrol, humbly. “You give me your hand; it will be for me to gain
your heart, and with time and sincere affection I do not despair of
winning it. I am truly happy, believe me, for the favor you do me, and
all my life long shall be spent in proving my gratitude to you.”

Jeanne was moved; she glanced at Cayrol, and did not think him so
common-looking as usual. She resolved to do all in her power to like
this good man.

Serge, in taking leave of Madame Desvarennes, said:

“In exchange for all the happiness which you give me, I have only my
life to offer; accept it, Madame, it is yours.”

The mistress looked at the Prince deeply; then, in a singular tone,
said:

“I accept it; from to-day you belong to me.”

Marechal took Pierre by the arm and led him outside.

“The Prince has just uttered words which remind me of Antonio saying to
the Jew in ‘The Merchant of Venice’: ‘Thy ducats in exchange for a
pound of my flesh.’ Madame Desvarennes loves her daughter with a more
formidable love than Shylock had for his gold. The Prince will do well
to be exact in his payments of the happiness which he has promised.”



CHAPTER VIII. A PLEASANT UNDERSTANDING

The day following this memorable evening, Pierre left for Algeria,
notwithstanding the prayers of Madame Desvarennes who wished to keep him
near her. He was going to finish his labors. He promised to return
in time for the wedding. The mistress, wishing to give him some
compensation, offered him the management of the mills at Jouy, saying:

“So that if you are not my son, you will be at least my partner. And if
I do not leave you all my money at my death, I can enrich you during my
life.”

Pierre would not accept. He would not have it said that in wishing to
marry Micheline he had tried to make a speculation. He wished to leave
that house where he had hoped to spend his life, empty-handed, so that
no one could doubt that it was the woman he loved in Micheline and not
the heiress. He had been offered a splendid appointment in Savoy as
manager of some mines; he would find there at the same time profit and
happiness, because there were interesting scientific studies to be made
in order to enable him to carry on the work creditably. He resolved to
throw himself heart and soul into the work and seek forgetfulness in
study.

In the mansion of the Rue Saint-Dominique the marriage preparations were
carried on with great despatch. On the one side the Prince, and on
the other Cayrol, were eager for the day: the one because he saw the
realization of his ambitious dreams, the other because he loved so
madly. Serge, gracious and attentive, allowed himself to be adored by
Micheline, who was never weary of listening to and looking at him whom
she loved. It was a sort of delirium that had taken possession of the
young girl. Madame Desvarennes looked on the metamorphosis in her child
with amazement. The old Micheline, naturally indolent and cold, just
living with the indolence of an odalisque stretched on silk cushions,
had changed into a lively, loving sweetheart, with sparkling eyes and
cheerful lips. Like those lowers which the sun causes to bloom and be
fragrant, so Micheline under a look from Serge became animated and grown
handsomer.

The mother looked on with bitterness; she spoke of this transformation
in her child with ironical disdain, She was sure Micheline was not in
earnest; only a doll was capable of falling in love so foolishly with a
man for his personal beauty. For to her mind the Prince was as regards
mental power painfully deficient. No sense, dumb as soon as the
conversation took a serious turn, only able to talk dress like a woman,
or about horses like a jockey. And it was such a person upon whom
Micheline literally doted! The mistress felt humiliated; she dared not
say anything to her daughter, but she relieved herself in company of
Marechal, whose discretion she could trust, and whom she willingly
called the tomb of her secrets.

Marechal listened patiently to the confidences of Madame Desvarennes,
and he tried to fight against the growing animosity of the mistress
toward her future son-in-law. Not that he liked the Prince--he was too
much on Pierre’s side to be well disposed toward Panine; but with his
good sense he saw that Madame Desvarennes would find it advantageous to
overcome her feeling of dislike. And when the mistress, so formidable
toward everybody except her daughter, cried with rage:

“That Micheline! I have just seen her again in the garden, hanging on
the arm of that great lanky fellow, her eyes fixed on his like a lark
fascinated by a looking-glass. What on earth has happened to her that
she should be in such a state?”

Marechal interrupted her gently.

“All fair people are like that,” he affirmed with ironical gayety. “You
cannot understand it, Madame; you are dark.”

Then Madame Desvarennes became angry.

“Be quiet,” she said, “you are stupid! She ought to have a shower-bath!
She is mad!”

As for Cayrol he lived in ecstasy, like an Italian kneeling before a
madonna. He had never been so happy; he was overwhelmed with joy. Until
then, he had only thought of business matters. To be rich was the aim
of his life; and now he was going to work for happiness. It was all
pleasure for him. He was not blase; he amused himself like a child,
adorning the rooms which were to be occupied by Jeanne. To his mind
nothing was too expensive for the temple of his goddess, as he said,
with a loud laugh which lighted up his whole face. And when he spoke of
his love’s future nest, he exclaimed, with a voluptuous shiver:

“It is charming; a veritable little paradise!” Then the financier shone
through all, and he added:

“And I know what it costs!”

But he did not grudge his money. He knew he would get the interest of
it back. On one subject he was anxious--Mademoiselle de Cernay’s health.
Since the day of their engagement, Jeanne had become more serious and
dull. She had grown thin and her eyes were sunken as if she wept in
secret. When he spoke of his fears to Madame Desvarennes, the latter
said:

“These young girls are so senseless. The notion of marriage puts them in
such an incomprehensible state! Look at my daughter. She chatters like
a magpie and skips about like a kid. She has two glow-worms under her
eyelids! As to Jeanne, that’s another affair; she has the matrimonial
melancholy, and has the air of a young victim. Leave them alone; it
will all come right. But you must admit that the gayety of the one is at
least as irritating as the languor of the other!”

Cayrol, somewhat reassured by this explanation, and thinking, like her,
that it was the uncertainties of marriage which were troubling Jeanne,
no longer attached any importance to her sad appearance. Micheline and
Serge isolated themselves completely. They fled to the garden as soon as
any one ventured into the drawing room, to interrupt their tete-a-tete.
If visitors came to the garden they took refuge in the conservatory.

This manoeuvre pleased Serge, because he always felt uncomfortable in
Jeanne’s presence. Mademoiselle de Cernay had a peculiar wrinkle on her
brow whenever she saw Micheline passing before her hanging on the arm of
the Prince, which tormented him. They were obliged to meet at table in
the evening, for Serge and Cayrol dined at the Rue Saint-Dominique. The
Prince talked in whispers to Micheline, but every now and then he was
obliged to speak to Jeanne. These were painful moments to Serge. He
was always in dread of some outburst, knowing her ardent and passionate
nature. Thus, before Jeanne, he made Micheline behave in a less
demonstrative manner. Mademoiselle Desvarennes was proud of this
reserve, and thought it was tact and good breeding on the part of the
Prince, without doubting that what she thought reserve in the man of the
world was the prudence of an anxious lover.

Jeanne endured the tortures of Hades. Too proud to say anything after
the explanation she had had with Serge, too much smitten to bear calmly
the sight of her rival’s happiness, she saw draw near with deep horror
the moment when she would belong to the man whom she had determined to
marry although she did not love him. She once thought of breaking off
the engagement; as she could not belong to the man whom she adored, at
least she could belong to herself. But the thought of the struggle she
would have to sustain with those who surrounded her, stopped her. What
would she do at Madame Desvarennes’s? She would have to witness the
happiness of Micheline and Serge. She would rather leave the house.

With Cayrol at least she could go away; she would be free, and perhaps
the esteem which she would surely have for her husband would do instead
of love. Sisterly or filial love, in fact the least affection, would
satisfy the poor man, who was willing to accept anything from Jeanne.
And she would not have that group of Serge and Micheline before her
eyes, always walking round the lawn and disappearing arm in arm down
the narrow walks. She would not have the continual murmur of their
love-making in her ears, a murmur broken by the sound of kisses when
they reached shady corners.

One evening, when Serge appeared in the little drawing-room of the Rue
Saint-Dominique, he found Madame Desvarennes alone. She looked serious,
as if same important business were pending. She stood before the
fireplace; her hands crossed behind her back like a man. Apparently,
she had sought to be alone. Cayrol, Jeanne, and Micheline were in
the garden. Serge felt uneasy. He had a presentiment of trouble. But
determined to make the best of it, whatever it might be, he looked
pleasant and bowed to Madame Desvarennes, without his face betraying his
uneasiness.

“Good-day, Prince; you are early this evening, though not so early as
Cayrol; but then he does not quite know what he is doing now. Sit down,
I want to talk to you. You know that a young lady like Mademoiselle
Desvarennes cannot get married without her engagement being much talked
about. Tongues have been very busy, and pens too. I have heard a lot of
scandal and have received heaps of anonymous letters about you.”

Serge gave a start of indignation.

“Don’t be uneasy,” continued the mistress. “I did not heed the tales,
and I burned the letters. Some said you were a dissolute man, capable
of anything to gain your object. Others insinuated that you were not a
Prince, that you were not a Pole, but the son of a Russian coachman and
a little dressmaker of Les Ternes; that you had lived at the expense of
Mademoiselle Anna Monplaisir, the star of the Varietes Theatre, and that
you were bent on marrying to pay your debts with my daughter’s money.”

Panine, pale as death, rose up and said, in a stifled voice:

“Madame!”

“Sit down, my dear child,” interrupted the mistress. “If I tell you
these things, it is because I have the proofs that they are untrue.
Otherwise, I would not have given myself the trouble to talk to you
about them. I would have shown you the door and there would have been
an end of it. Certainly, you are not an angel; but the peccadillos which
you have been guilty of are those which one forgives in a son, and which
in a son-in-law makes some mothers smile. You are a Prince, you are
handsome, and you have been loved. You were then a bachelor; and it was
your own affair. But now, you are going to be, in about ten days, the
husband of my daughter, and it is necessary for us to make certain
arrangements. Therefore, I waited to see you, to speak of your wife, of
yourself, and of me.”

What Madame Desvarennes had just said relieved Serge of a great weight.
He felt so happy that he resolved to do everything in his power to
please the mother of his betrothed.

“Speak, Madame,” he exclaimed. “I am listening to you with attention
and confidence. I am sure that from you I can only expect goodness and
sense.”

The mistress smiled.

“Oh, I know you have a gilt tongue, my handsome friend, but I don’t pay
myself with words, and I, am not easy to be wheedled.”

“Faith,” said Serge, “I won’t deceive you. I will try to please you with
all my heart.”

Madame Desvarennes’s face brightened as suddenly at these words as a
landscape, wrapped in a fog, which is suddenly lighted up by the sun.

“Then we shall understand each other,” she said. “For the last fortnight
we have been busy with marriage preparations, and have not been able
to think or reason. Everybody is rambling about here. Still, we are
commencing a new life, and I think it is as well to lay the foundation.
I seem to be drawing up a contract, eh? What can I do? It is an old
business habit. I like to know how I stand.”

“I think it is quite right. I think, too, that you have acted with great
delicacy in not imposing your conditions upon me before giving your
consent.”

“Has that made you feel better disposed toward me? So much the better!”
 said the mistress. “Because you know that I depend on my daughter, who
will henceforth depend on you, and it is to my interest that I should be
in your good graces.”

In pronouncing these words with forced cheerfulness, Madame
Desvarennes’s voice trembled slightly. She knew what an important game
she was playing, and wished to win it at any price.

“You see,” continued she, “I am not an easy woman to deal with. I am a
little despotic, I know. I have been in the habit of commanding during
the last thirty-five years. Business was heavy, and required a strong
will. I had it, and the habit is formed. But this strong will, which has
served me so well in business will, I am afraid, with you, play me
some trick. Those who have lived with me a long time know that if I am
hot-headed I have a good heart. They submit to my tyranny; but you who
are a newcomer, how will you like it?”

“I shall do as the others do,” said Serge, simply. “I shall be led,
and with pleasure. Think that I have lived for years without kindred,
without ties--at random; and, believe me, any chain will be light and
sweet which holds me to any one or anything. And then,” frankly added
he, changing his tone and looking at Madame Desvarennes with tenderness,
“if I did not do everything to please you I should be ungrateful.”

“Oh!” cried Madame Desvarennes, “unfortunately that is not a reason.”

“Would you have a better one?” said the young man, in his most charming
accent. “If I had not married your daughter for her own sake, I believe
that I should have married her for yours.” Madame Desvarennes was quite
pleased, and shaking her finger threateningly at Serge, said:

“Ah, you Pole, you boaster of the North!”

“Seriously,” continued Serge, “before I knew I was to be your
son-in-law, I thought you a matchless woman. Add to the admiration I had
for your great qualities the affection which your goodness has inspired,
and you will understand that I am both proud and happy to have such a
mother as you.”

Madame Desvarennes looked at Panine attentively; she saw he was sincere.
Then, taking courage, she touched the topic of greatest interest to her.
“If that is the case, you will have no objections to live with me?” She
stopped; then emphasized the words, “With me.”

“But was not that understood?” asked Serge, gayly’ “I thought so. You
must have seen that I have not been seeking a dwelling for my wife and
myself. If you had not made the offer to me, I should have asked you to
let me stay with you.”

Madame Desvarennes broke into such an outburst of joy that she
astonished Panine. It was then only that in that pallor, in that sudden
trembling, in that changed voice, he understood, the immensity of the
mother’s love for her daughter.

“I have everything to gain by that arrangement,” continued he. “My wife
will be happy at not leaving you, and you will be pleased at my not
having taken away your daughter. You will both like me better, and that
is all I wish.”

“How good you are in deciding thus, and how I thank you for it,” resumed
Madame Desvarennes. “I feared you would have ideas of independence.”

“I should have been happy to sacrifice them to you, but I have not even
that merit.”

All that Serge had said had been so open and plain, and expressed with
such sweetness that, little by little, Madame Desvarennes’s prejudices
disappeared. He took possession of her as he had done of Micheline,
and as he did of every one whom he wished to conquer. His charm was
irresistible. He seized on one by the eyes and the ears. Naturally
fascinating, moving, captivating, bold, he always preserved his artless
and tender ways, which made him resemble a young girl.

“I am going to tell you how we shall manage,” said the mistress.
“Foreseeing my daughter’s marriage, I have had my house divided into
two distinct establishments. They say that life in common with a
mother-in-law is objectionable to a son-in-law, therefore I wish you
to have a home of your own. I know that an old face like mine frightens
young lovers. I will come to you when you invite me. But even when I
am shut up in my own apartments I shall be with my daughter; I shall
breathe the same air; I shall hear her going and coming, singing,
laughing, and I shall say to myself, ‘It is all right, she is happy.’
That is all I ask. A little corner, whence I can share her life.”

Serge took her hand with effusion.

“Don’t be afraid; your daughter will not leave you.”

Madame Desvarennes, unable to contain her feelings, opened her arms, and
Serge fell on her breast, like a true son.

“Do you know, I am going to adore you!” cried Madame Desvarennes,
showing Panine a face beaming with happiness.

“I hope so,” said the young man, gayly.

Madame Desvarennes became thoughtful.

“What a strange thing life is!” resumed she. “I did not want you for a
son-in-law, and now you are behaving so well toward me that I am full
of remorse. Oh, I see now what a dangerous man you are, if you captivate
other women’s hearts as you have caught mine.”

She looked at the Prince fixedly, and added, in her clear commanding
voice, with a shade of gayety:

“Now, I hope you will reserve all your powers of charming for my
daughter. No more flirting, eh? She loves you; she would be jealous,
and you would get into hot water with me! Let Micheline’s life be happy,
without a cloud-blue, always blue sky!”

“That will be easy,” said Serge. “To be unhappy I should have to seek
misfortune; and I certainly shall not do that.”

He began to laugh.

“Besides, your good friends who criticised so when you gave me
Micheline’s hand would be only too pleased. I will not give them the
pleasure of posing as prophets and saying, ‘We knew it would be so!’”

“You must forgive them,” replied Madame Desvarennes. “You have made
enemies. Without speaking of projects which I had formed, I may say that
my daughter has had offers from the best folks in Paris; from first-rate
firms! Our circle was rather indignant.

“People said: ‘Oh, Madame Desvarennes wanted her daughter to be a
Princess. We shall see how it will turn out. Her son-in-law will spend
her money and spurn her.’ The gossip of disappointed people. Give them
the lie; manage that we shall all live together, and we shall be right
against the world.”

“Do you hope it will be so?”

“I am sure of it,” answered the mistress, affectionately pressing the
hand of her future son-in-law.

Micheline entered, anxious at the long interview between Serge and her
mother. She saw them hand in hand. She uttered a joyful cry, and threw
her arms caressingly round her mother’s neck.

“Well! you are agreed?” she said, making a gracious sign to Serge.

“He has been charming,” replied Madame Desvarennes, whispering in
her daughter’s ear. “He agrees to live in this house, and that quite
gracefully. There, child, this is the happiest moment I’ve had since
your engagement. I admit that I regret nothing.”

Then, resuming aloud:

“We will leave to-morrow for Cernay, where the marriage shall take
place. I shall have to order the workmen in here to get ready for your
reception. Besides the wedding will be more brilliant in the country. We
shall have all the work-people there. We will throw the park open to
the countryside; it will be a grand fete. For we are lords of the manor
there,” added she, with pride.

“You are right, mamma; it will be far better,” exclaimed Micheline. And
taking Serge by the hand:

“Come, let us go,” said she, and led him into the garden.

And amid the sweet-smelling shrubs they resumed their walk, always the
same yet ever new, their arms twined round each other, the young girl
clinging to him whom she loved, and he looking fondly at her, and with
caressing voice telling her the oft-told tale of love which she was
never tired of hearing, and which always filled her with thrills of joy.



CHAPTER IX. THE DOUBLE MARRIAGE

The Chateau of Cernay is a vast and beautiful structure of the time of
Louis XIII. A walled park of a hundred acres surrounds it, with trees
centuries old. A white painted gate separates the avenue from the road
leading to Pontoise by way of Conflans. A carpet of grass, on which
carriages roll as if on velvet, leads up to the park gates. Before
reaching, it there is a stone bridge which spans the moat of running
water. A lodge of stone, faced with brick, with large windows, rises at
each corner of this space.

The chateau, surrounded by cleverly arranged trees, stands in the
centre, on a solid foundation of red granite from the Jura. A splendid
double staircase leads to the ground floor as high as an ‘entresol’. A
spacious hall, rising to the roof of the building, lighted by a window
filled with old stained glass, first offers itself to the visitor. A
large organ, by Cavallie-Col, rears its long brilliant pipes at one end
of the hall to a level with the gallery of sculptured wood running round
and forming a balcony on the first floor. At each corner is a knight
in armor, helmet on head, and lance in hand, mounted on a charger, and
covered with the heavy trappings of war. Cases full of objects of art of
great value, bookshelves containing all the new books, are placed along
the walls. A billiard-table and all sorts of games are lodged under
the vast staircase. The broad bays which give admission to the
reception-rooms and grand staircase are closed by tapestry of the
fifteenth century, representing hunting scenes. Long cords of silk and
gold loop back these marvellous hangings in the Italian style. Thick
carpets, into which the feet sink, deaden the sound of footsteps.
Spacious divans, covered with Oriental materials, are placed round the
room.

Over the chimney-piece, which is splendidly carved in woodwork, is a
looking-glass in the Renaissance style, with a bronze and silver frame,
representing grinning fawns and dishevelled nymphs. Benches are placed
round the hearth, which is large enough to hold six people. Above
the divans, on the walls, are large oil-paintings by old masters. An
“Assumption,” by Jordaens, which is a masterpiece; “The Gamesters,” by
Valentin; “A Spanish Family on Horseback,” painted by Velasquez; and the
marvel of the collection--a “Holy Family,” by Francia, bought in Russia.
Then, lower down, “A Young Girl with a Canary,” by Metzu; a “Kermesse,”
 by Braurver, a perfect treasure, glitter, like the gems they are, in the
midst of panoplies, between the high branches of palm-trees planted in
enormous delft vases. A mysterious light filters into that fresh and
picturesque apartment through the stained-glass windows.

From the hall the left wing is reached, where the reception-rooms are,
and one’s eyes are dazzled by the brightness which reigns there. It is
like coming out from a cathedral into broad daylight. The furniture, of
gilt wood and Genoese velvet, looks very bright. The walls are white
and gold; and flowers are everywhere. At the end is Madame Desvarennes’s
bedroom, because she does not like mounting stairs, and lives on
the ground floor. Adjoining it is a conservatory, furnished as a
drawing-room, and serving as a boudoir for the mistress of the house.

The dining-room, the gun-room, and the smoking-room are in the right
wing. The gun-room deserves a particular description. Four glass cases
contain guns of every description and size of the best English and
French manufacture. All the furniture is made of stags’ horns, covered
with fox-skins and wolf-skins. A large rug, formed by four bears’ skins,
with menacing snouts, showing their white teeth at the four corners,
is in the centre of the room. On the walls are four paintings by
Princeteau, admirably executed, and representing hunting scenes. Low
couches, wide as beds, covered with gray cloth, invite the sportsmen to
rest. Large dressing-rooms, fitted up with hot and cold water, invite
them to refresh themselves with a bath. Everything has been done to suit
the most fastidious taste. The kitchens are underground.

On the first story are the principal rooms. Twelve bedrooms, with
dressing-rooms, upholstered in chintz of charming design. From these,
a splendid view of the park and country beyond may be obtained. In the
foreground is a piece of water, bathing, with its rapid current, the
grassy banks which border the wood, while the low-lying branches of
the trees dip into the flood, on which swans, dazzlingly white, swim in
stately fashion. Beneath an old willow, whose drooping boughs form
quite a vault of pale verdure, a squadron of multicolored boats remain
fastened to the balustrade of a landing stage. Through an opening in
the trees you see in the distance fields of yellow corn, and in the near
background, behind a row of poplars, ever moving like a flash of silver
lightning, the Oise flows on between its low banks.

This sumptuous dwelling, on the evening of the 14th of July, was in
its greatest splendor. The trees of the park were lit up by brilliant
Venetian lanterns; little boats glided on the water of the lake carrying
musicians whose notes echoed through the air. Under a marquee, placed
midway in the large avenue, the country lads and lasses were dancing
with spirit, while the old people, more calm, were seated under the
large trees enjoying the ample fare provided. A tremendous uproar of
gayety reechoed through the night, and the sound of the cornet attracted
the people to the ball.

It was nine o’clock. Carriages were fast arriving with guests for the
mansion. In the centre of the handsome hall, illuminated with electric
light, stood Madame Desvarennes in full dress, having put off black
for one day, doing honor to the arrivals. Behind her stood Marechal and
Savinien, like two aides-de-camp, ready, at a sign, to offer their arms
to the ladies, to conduct them to the drawing-rooms. The gathering was
numerous. Merchant-princes came for Madame Desvarennes’s sake; bankers
for Cayrol’s; and the aristocrats and foreign nobility for the Prince’s.
An assemblage as opposed in ideas as in manners: some valuing only
money, others high birth; all proud and elbowing each other with haughty
assurance, speaking ill of each other and secretly jealous.

There were heirs of dethroned kings; princes without portions, who were
called Highness, and who had not the income of their fathers’ former
chamberlains; millionaires sprung from nothing, who made a great
show and who would have given half of their possessions for a single
quartering of the arms of these great lords whom they affected to
despise.

Serge and Cayrol went from group to group; the one with his graceful and
delicate elegance; the other with his good-humor, radiant and elated by
the consciousness of his triumphs. Herzog had just arrived, accompanied
by his daughter, a charming girl of sixteen, to whom Marechal had
offered his arm. A whispering was heard when Herzog passed. He was
accustomed to the effect which he produced in public, and quite calmly
congratulated Cayrol.

Serge had just introduced Micheline to Count Soutzko, a gray-haired old
gentleman of military appearance, whose right sleeve was empty. He was
a veteran of the Polish wars, and an old friend of Prince Panine’s, at
whose side he had received the wounds which had so frightfully mutilated
him. Micheline, smiling, was listening to flattering tales which the old
soldier was relating about Serge. Cayrol, who had got rid of Herzog,
was looking for Jeanne, who had just disappeared in the direction of the
terrace.

The rooms were uncomfortably warm, and many of the visitors had found
their way to the terraces. Along the marble veranda, overlooking the
lake, chairs had been placed. The ladies, wrapped in their lace scarfs,
had formed into groups and were enjoying the delights of the beautiful
evening. Bursts of subdued laughter came from behind fans, while the
gentlemen talked in whispers. Above all this whispering was heard the
distant sound of the cornet at the peasants’ ball.

Leaning over the balustrade, in a shady corner, far from the noise which
troubled him and far from the fete which hurt him, Pierre was dreaming.
His eyes were fixed on the illuminations in the park, but he did not
see them. He thought of his vanished hopes. Another was beloved by
Micheline, and in a few hours he would take her away, triumphant
and happy. A great sadness stole over the young man’s spirit; he was
disgusted with life and hated humanity. What was to become of him now?
His life was shattered; a heart like his could not love twice, and
Micheline’s image was too deeply engraven on it for it ever to be
effaced. Of what use was all the trouble he had taken to raise himself
above others? A worthless fellow had passed that way and Micheline had
yielded to him. Now it was all over!

And Pierre asked himself if he had not taken a wrong view of things,
and if it was not the idle and good-for-nothing fellows who were more
prudent than he. To waste his life in superhuman works, to tire his mind
in seeking to solve great problems, and to attain old age without other
satisfaction than unproductive honors and mercenary rewards. Those who
only sought happiness and joy--epicureans who drive away all care,
all pain, and only seek to soften their existence, and brighten their
horizon--were they not true sages? Death comes so quickly! And it is
with astonishment that one perceives when the hour is at hand, that one
has not lived! Then the voice of pride spoke to him: what is a man who
remains useless, and does not leave one trace of his passage through the
world by works or discoveries? And, in a state of fever, Pierre said to
himself:

“I will throw myself heart and soul into science; I will make my name
famous, and I will make that ungrateful child regret me. She will
see the difference between me and him whom she has chosen. She will
understand that he is nobody, except by her money, whereas she would
have been all by me.”

A hand was placed on his shoulder; and Marechal’s affectionate voice
said to him:

“Well! what are you doing here, gesticulating like that?”

Pierre turned round.

Lost in his thoughts he had not heard his friend approaching.

“All our guests have arrived,” continued Marechal. “I have only just
been able to leave them and to come to you. I have been seeking you for
more than a quarter of an hour. You are wrong to hide yourself; people
will make remarks. Come toward the house; it is as well to show yourself
a little; people might imagine things which they must not imagine.”

“Eh! let them think what they like; what does it matter to me?” said
Pierre, sadly. “My life is a blank.”

“Your life may be a blank; but it is your duty not to let any one
perceive it. Imitate the young Spartan, who smiled although the fox,
hidden under his cloak, was gnawing his vitals. Let us avoid ridicule,
my friend. In society there is nothing that provokes laughter more than
a disappointed lover, who rolls his eyes about and looks woe-begone.
And, then, you-see, suffering is a human law; the world is an arena,
life is a conflict. Material obstacles, moral griefs, all hinder and
overwhelm us. We must go on, though, all the same, and fight. Those who
give in are trodden down! Come, pull yourself together!”

“And for whom should I fight now? A moment ago I was making projects,
but I was a fool! All hope and ambition are dead in me.”

“Ambition will return, you may be sure! At present you are suffering
from weariness of mind; but your strength will return. As to hope, one
must never despair.”

“What can I expect in the future?”

“What? Why, everything! In this world all sorts of things happen!” said
Marechal, gayly. “Who is to prove that the Princess will not be a widow
soon?”

Pierre could not help laughing and said,

“Come, don’t talk such nonsense!”

“My dear fellow,” concluded Marechal, “in life it is only nonsense that
is common-sense. Come and smoke a cigar.”

They traversed several groups of people and bent their steps in the
direction of the chateau. The Prince was advancing toward the terrace,
with an elegantly dressed and beautiful woman on his arm. Savinien, in
the midst of a circle of dandies, was picking the passers-by to pieces
in his easy-going way. Pierre and Marechal came behind these young men
without being noticed.

“Who is that hanging on the arm of our dear Prince?” asked a little fat
man, girt in a white satin waistcoat, and a spray of white lilac in his
buttonhole.

“Eh! Why, Le Brede, my boy, you don’t know anything!” cried Savinien in
a bantering, jocose tone.

“Because I don’t know that lovely fair woman?” said Le Brede, in a
piqued voice. “I don’t profess to know the names of all the pretty women
in Paris!”

“In Paris? That woman from Paris? You have not looked at her. Come, open
your eyes. Pure English style, my friend.”

The dandies roared with laughter. They had at once recognized the pure
English style. They were not men to be deceived. One of them, a tall,
dark fellow, named Du Tremblays, affected an aggrieved air, and said:

“Le Brede, my dear fellow, you make us blush for you!”

The Prince passed, smiling and speaking in a low voice to the beautiful
Englishwoman, who was resting the tips of her white gloved fingers on
her cavalier’s arm.

“Who is she?” inquired Le Brede, impatiently.

“Eh, my dear fellow, it is Lady Harton, a cousin of the Prince. She is
extremely rich, and owns a district in London.”

“They say that a year ago she was very kind to Serge Panine,” added Du
Tremblays, confidentially.

“Why did he not marry her, then, since she is so rich? He has been quite
a year in the market, the dear Prince.”

“She is married.”

“Oh, that is a good reason. But where is her husband?”

“Shut up in a castle in Scotland. Nobody ever sees him. He is out of his
mind; and is surrounded by every attention.”

“And a strait-waistcoat! Then why does not this pretty woman get a
divorce?”

“The money belongs to the husband.”

“Really!”

Pierre and Marechal had listened, in silence, to this cool and yet
terrible conversation. The group of young men dispersed. The two
friends looked at each other. Thus, then, Serge Panine was judged by his
companions in pleasure, by the frequenters of the clubs in which he
had spent a part of his existence. The Prince being “in the market” was
obliged to marry a rich woman. He could not marry Lady Harton, so he had
sought Micheline. And the sweet child was the wife of such a man! And
what could be done? She loved him!

Madame Desvarennes and Micheline appeared on the terrace. Lady Harton
pointed to the bride with her fan. The Prince, leaving his companion,
advanced toward Micheline.

“One of my English relatives, a Polish lady, married to Lord Harton,
wishes to be introduced to you,” said Serge. “Are you agreeable?”

“With all my heart,” replied the young wife, looking lovingly at her
husband. “All who belong to you are dear to me, you know.”

The beautiful Englishwoman approached slowly.

“The Princess Panine!” said Serge, gravely, introducing Micheline, who
bowed gracefully. Then, with a shade of familiarity: “Lady Harton!”
 continued he, introducing his relative.

“I am very fond of your husband, Madame,” said the Englishwoman. “I hope
you will allow me to love you also; and I beg you to grant me the favor
of accepting this small remembrance.”

While speaking, she unfastened from her wrist a splendid bracelet with
the inscription, Semper.

Serge frowned and looked stern. Micheline, lowering her eyes, and awed
by the Englishwoman’s grandeur, timidly said:

“I accept it, Madame, as a token of friendship.”

“I think I recognize this bracelet, Madame,” observed Serge.

“Yes; you gave it to me,” replied Lady Harton, quietly. “Semper--I beg
your pardon, Madame, we Poles all speak Latin--Semper means ‘Always!’ It
is a great word. On your wife’s arm this bracelet will be well placed.
Au revoir, dear Prince. I wish you every happiness.”

And bowing to Micheline with a regal bow, Lady Harton took the arm of a
tall young man whom she had beckoned, and walked away.

Micheline, amazed, looked at the bracelet sparkling on her white wrist.
Without uttering a word Serge unfastened it, took it off his wife’s
arm, and advancing on the terrace, with a rapid movement flung it in
the water. The bracelet gleamed in the night-air and made a brilliant
splash; then the water resumed its tranquillity. Micheline, astonished,
looked at Serge, who came toward her, and very humbly said:

“I beg your pardon.”

The young wife did not answer, but her eyes filled with tears; a smile
brightened her lips, and hurriedly taking his arm, she led him into the
drawing-room.

Dancing was going on there. The young ladies of Pontoise, and the cream
of Creil, had come to the fete, bent on not losing such an opportunity
of enjoying themselves. Under the watchful eyes of their mothers,
who, decked out in grand array, were seated along the walls, they were
gamboling, in spite of the stifling heat, with all the impetuosity of
young provincials habitually deprived of the pleasures of the ballroom.
Crossing the room, Micheline and Serge reached Madame Desvarennes’s
boudoir.

It was delightfully cool in there. Cayrol had taken refuge there
with Jeanne, and Mademoiselle Susanne Herzog. This young girl felt
uncomfortable at being a third party with the newly-married couple,
and welcomed the arrival of the Prince and Micheline with pleasure. Her
father had left her for a moment in Cayrol’s care; but she had not seen
him for more than an hour.

“Mademoiselle,” said the Prince, gayly, “a little while ago, when I
was passing through the rooms, I heard these words: ‘Loan, discount,
liquidation.’ Your father must have been there. Shall I go and seek
him?”

“I should be very grateful,” said the young girl.

“I will go.”

And turning lightly on his heels, happy to escape Jeanne’s looks, Serge
reentered the furnace. At once he saw Herzog seated in the corner of
a bay-window with one of the principal stock-brokers of Paris. He was
speaking. The Prince went straight up to him.

“Sorry to draw you away from the sweets of conversation,” said he,
smiling; “but your daughter is waiting for you, and is anxious at your
not coming.”

“Faith! My daughter, yes. I will come and see you tomorrow,” said he to
his companion. “We will talk over this association: there is much to be
gained by it.”

The other, a man with a bloated face, and fair Dundreary whiskers, was
eager to do business with him. Certainly the affair was good.

“Oh, my dear Prince, I am happy to be alone with you for a moment!” said
Herzog, with that familiarity which was one of his means of becoming
intimate with people. “I was going to compliment you! What a splendid
position you have reached.”

“Yes; I have married a charming woman,” replied the Prince, coldly.

“And what a fortune!” insisted the financier. “Ah, it is worthy of the
lot of a great lord such as you are! Oh, you are like those masterpieces
of art which need a splendidly carved frame! Well, you have your frame,
and well gilt too!”

He laughed and seemed pleased at Serge’s happiness. He had taken one of
his hands and was patting it softly between his own.

“Not a very ‘convenient’ mother-in-law, for instance,” he went on,
good-naturedly; “but you are so charming! Only you could have, coaxed
Madame Desvarennes, and you have succeeded. Oh! she likes you, my dear
Prince; she told me so only a little while ago. You have won her heart.
I don’t know how you manage it, but you are irresistible! By the way, I
was not there when the marriage contract was read, and I, forgot to ask
Cayrol. Under what conditions are you married?”

The Prince looked at Herzog with a look that was hardly friendly.
But the financier appeared so indifferent, that Serge could not help
answering him:

“My wife’s fortune is settled on herself.”

“Ah! ah! that is usual in Normandy!” replied Herzog with a grave look.
“I was told Madame Desvarennes was a clever woman and she has proved it.
And you signed the contract with your eyes shut, my dear Prince. It is
perfect, just as a gentleman should do!”

He said this with a good-natured air. Then, suddenly lifting his eyes,
and with an ironical smile playing on his lips, he added:

“You are bowled out, my dear fellow, don’t you know?”

“Sir!” protested Serge with haughtiness.

“Don’t cry out; it is too late, and would be useless,” replied the
financier. “Let me explain your position to you. Your hands are tied.
You cannot dispose of a sou belonging to your wife without her consent.
It is true, you have influence over her, happily for you. Still you must
foresee that she will be guided by her mother. A strong woman, too, the
mother! Ah, Prince, you have allowed yourself to be done completely. I
would not have thought it of you.”

Serge, nonplussed for a moment, regained his self-possession, and looked
Herzog in the face:

“I don’t know what idea you have formed of me, sir, and I don’t know
what object you have in speaking thus to me.”

“My interest in you,” interrupted the financier. “You are a charming
fellow: you please me much. With your tastes, it is possible that in a
brief time you may be short of money. Come and see me: I will put you
into the way of business. Au revoir, Prince.”

And without giving Serge time to answer him, Herzog reached the boudoir
where his daughter was waiting with impatience. Behind him came the
Prince looking rather troubled. The financier’s words had awakened
importunate ideas in his mind. Was it true that he had been duped
by Madame Desvarennes, and that the latter, while affecting airs of
greatness and generosity, had tied him like a noodle to her daughter’s
apron-string? He made an effort to regain his serenity.

“Micheline loves me and all will be well,” said he to himself.

Madame Desvarennes joined the young married people. The rooms were
clearing by degrees. Serge took Cayrol apart.

“What are you going to do to-night, my dear fellow?

“You know an apartment has been prepared for you here?”

“Yes, I have already thanked Madame Desvarennes, but I mean to go back
to Paris. Our little paradise is prepared for us, and I wish to enter it
to-night. I have my carriage and horses here. I am taking away my wife
post-haste.”

“That is an elopement,” said Serge; gayly, “quite in the style of the
regency!”

“Yes, my dear Prince, that’s how we bankers do it,” said Cayrol,
laughing.

Then changing his tone:

“See, I vibrate, I am palpitating. I am hot and cold by turns. Just
fancy, I have never loved before; my heart is whole, and I love to
distraction!”

Serge instinctively glanced at Jeanne. She was seated, looking sad and
tired.

Madame Desvarennes, between Jeanne and Micheline, had her arms twined
round the two young girls. Regret filled her eyes. The mother felt
that the last moments of her absolute reign were near, and she was
contemplating with supreme adoration these two children who had grown
up around her like two fragile and precious flowers. She was saying to
them,

“Well, the great day is over. You are both married. You don’t belong to
me any longer. How I shall miss you! This morning I had two children,
and now--”

“You have four,” interrupted Micheline. “Why do you complain?”

“I don’t complain,” retorted Madame Desvarennes, quickly.

“That’s right!” said Micheline, gayly.

Then going toward Jeanne:

“But you are not speaking, you are so quiet; are you ill?”

Jeanne shuddered, and made an effort to soften the hard lines on her
face.

“It is nothing. A little fatigue.”

“And emotion,” added Micheline. “This morning when we entered the
church, at the sound of the organ, in the midst of flowers, surrounded
by all our friends, I felt that I was whiter than my veil. And the
crossing to my place seemed so long, I thought I should never get there.
I did so, though. And now everybody calls me ‘Madame’ and some call me
‘Princess.’ It amuses me!”

Serge had approached.

“But you are a Princess,” said he, smiling, “and everybody must call you
so.”

“Oh, not mamma, nor Jeanne, nor you,” said the young wife, quickly;
“always call me Micheline. It will be less respectful, but it will be
more tender.”

Madame Desvarennes could not resist drawing her daughter once more to
her heart.

“Dear child,” she said with emotion, “you need affection, as flowers
need the sun! But I love you, there.”

She stopped and added:

“We love you.”

And she held out her hand to her son-in-law. Then changing the subject:

“But I am thinking, Cayrol, as you are returning to Paris, you might
take some orders for me which I will write out.”

“What? Business? Even on my wedding-day?” exclaimed Micheline.

“Eh! my daughter, we must have flour,” replied the mistress, laughing.
“While we are enjoying ourselves Paris eats, and it has a famous
appetite.”

Micheline, leaving her mother, went to her husband.

“Serge, it is not yet late. Suppose we put in an appearance at the
work-people’s ball? I promised them, and the good folks will be so
happy!”

“As you please. I am awaiting your orders. Let us make ourselves
popular!”

Madame Desvarennes had gone to her room. Carol took the opportunity
of telling his coachman to drive round by the park to the door of the
little conservatory and wait there. Thus, his wife and he would avoid
meeting any one, and would escape the leave-taking of friends and the
curiosity of lookers-on.

Micheline went up to Jeanne, and said:

“As you are going away quietly, dear, I shall not see you again this
evening. Adieu!”

And with a happy smile, she kissed her. Then taking her husband’s arm
she led him toward the park.



CHAPTER X. CAYROL’S DISAPPOINTMENT

Jeanne left alone, watched them as they disappeared with the light and
easy movements of lovers.

Serge, bending toward Micheline, was speaking tenderly. A rush of bitter
feeling caused Jeanne’s heart to swell. She was alone, she, while he
whom she loved-her whole being revolted. Unhappy one! Why did she think
of this man? Had she the right to do so now? She no longer belonged to
herself. Another, who was as kind to her as Serge was ungrateful, was
her husband. She thought thus in sincerity of heart. She wished to
love Cayrol. Alas, poor Jeanne! She would load him with attentions and
caresses! And Serge would be jealous, for he could never have forgotten
her so soon.

Her thoughts again turned to him whom she wished to forget. She made
an effort, but in vain. Serge was uppermost; he possessed her. She was
afraid. Would she never be able to break off the remembrance? Would his
name be ever on her lips, his face ever before her eyes?

Thank heaven! she was about to leave. Travelling, and the sight of
strange places other than those where she had lived near Serge, would
draw her attention from the persecution she suffered. Her husband was
about to take her away, to defend her. It was his duty, and she would
help him with energy. With all the strength of her will she summoned
Cayrol. She clung violently to him as a drowning person catches at a
straw, with the vigor of despair.

There was between Jeanne and Cayrol a sympathetic communication.
Mentally called by his wife, the husband appeared.

“Ah! at last!” said she.

Cayrol, surprised at this welcome, smiled. Jeanne, without noticing,
added:

“Well, Monsieur; are we leaving soon?”

The banker’s surprise increased. But as this surprise was decidedly an
agreeable one he did not protest.

“In a moment, Jeanne, dear,” he said.

“Why this delay?” asked the young wife, nervously.

“You will understand. There are more than twenty carriages before the
front door. Our coachman is driving round, and we will go out by the
conservatory door without being seen.”

“Very well; we will wait.”

This delay displeased Jeanne. In the ardor of her resolution, in the
first warmth of her struggle, she wished at once to put space between
her and Serge. Unfortunately, Cayrol had thwarted this effort of proud
revolt. She was vexed with him. He, without knowing the motives which
actuated his wife, guessed that something had displeased her. He wished
to change the current of her thoughts.

“You were marvellously beautiful to-night,” he said, approaching her
gallantly. “You were much admired, and I was proud of you. If you had
heard my friends! It was a concert of congratulations: What a fortunate
fellow that Cayrol is! He is rich; he has a charming wife! You see,
Jeanne, thanks to you, in the eyes of all, my happiness is complete.”

Jeanne frowned, and without answering, shook her head haughtily. Cayrol
continued, without noticing this forecast of a storm:

“They envy me; and I can understand it! I would not change places with
anybody. There, our friend Prince Panine is very happy; he has married
a woman whom he loves and who adores him. Well, he is not happier than I
am!”

Jeanne rose abruptly, and gave her husband a terrible look.

“Monsieur!” she cried with rage.

“I beg your pardon,” said Cayrol, humbly; “I appear ridiculous to you,
but my happiness is stronger than I am, and I cannot hide my joy. You
will see that I can be grateful. I will spend my life in trying to
please you. I have a surprise for you to begin with.”

“What kind of surprise?” asked Jeanne, with indifference.

Cayrol rubbed his hands with a mysterious air. He was enjoying
beforehand the pleasant surprise he had in store for his wife.

“You think we are going to Paris to spend our honeymoon like ordinary
folk?”

Jeanne started. Cayrol seemed unfortunate in his choice of words.

“Well, not at all,” continued the banker. “Tomorrow I leave my offices.
My customers may say what they like; I will leave my business, and we
are off.”

Jeanne showed signs of pleasure. A flash of joy lit up her face. To go
away, that was rest for her!

“And where shall we go?”

“That is the surprise! You know that the Prince and his wife intend
travelling!”

“Yes; but they refused to say where they were going;” interrupted
Jeanne, with a troubled expression.

“Not to me. They are going to Switzerland. Well, we shall join them
there.”

Jeanne arose like a startled deer when it hears the sound of a gun.

“Join them there!” she exclaimed.

“Yes; to continue the journey together. A party of four; two
newly-married couples. It will be charming. I spoke to Serge on the
subject. He objected at first, but the Princess came to my assistance.
And when he saw that his wife and I were agreed, he commenced to laugh,
and said: ‘You wish it? I consent. Don’t say anything more!’ It is
all very well to talk of love’s solitude; in about a fortnight, passed
tete-a-tete, Serge will be glad to have us. We will go to Italy to see
the lakes; and there, in a boat, all four, of us will have such pleasant
times.”

Cayrol might have gone on talking for an hour, but Jeanne was not
listening. She was thinking. Thus all the efforts which she had
decided to make to escape from him whom she loved would be useless. An
invincible fatality ever brought her toward him whom she was seeking
to avoid. And it was her husband who was aiding this inevitable
and execrable meeting. A bitter smile played on her lips. There was
something mournfully comic in this stubbornness of Cayrol’s, in throwing
her in the way of Serge.

Cayrol, embarrassed by Jeanne’s silence, waited a moment.

“What is the matter?” he asked. “You are just like the Prince when I
spoke to him on the subject.”

Jeanne turned away abruptly. Cayrol’s comparison was too direct. His
blunders were becoming wearisome.

The banker, quite discomfited on seeing the effect of his words,
continued:

“You object to this journey? If so, I am willing to give it up.”

The young wife was touched by this humble servility.

“Well, yes,” she said, softly, “I should be grateful to you.”

“I had hoped to please you,” said Cayrol. “It is for me to beg pardon
for having succeeded so badly. Let us remain in Paris. It does not
matter to me what place we are in! Being near to you is all I desire.”

He approached her, and, with beaming eyes, added:

“You are so beautiful, Jeanne; and I have loved you so long a time!”

She moved away, full of a vague dread. Cayrol, very excitedly, put her
cloak round her shoulders, and looking toward the door, added:

“The carriage is there, we can go now.”

Jeanne, much troubled, did not rise.

“Wait another minute,” said she.

Cayrol smiled constrainedly:

“A little while ago you were hurrying me off.”

It was true. But a sudden change had come over Jeanne. Her energy had
given way. She felt very weary. The idea of going away with Cayrol,
and of being alone with him in the carriage frightened her. She looked
vaguely at her husband, and saw, in a sort of mist, this great fat man,
with a protruding shirt-front, rolls of red flesh on his neck above his
collar, long fat ears which only needed gold ear-rings, and his great
hairy hands, on the finger of one of which shone the new wedding-ring.
Then, in a rapid vision, she beheld the refined profile, the beautiful
blue eyes, and the long, fair mustache of Serge. A profound sadness came
over the young woman, and tears rushed to her eyes.

“What is the matter with you? You are crying!” exclaimed Cayrol,
anxiously.

“It is nothing; my nerves are shaken. I am thinking of this chateau
which bears my name. Here I spent my youth, and here my father died. A
thousand ties bind me to this dwelling, and I cannot leave it without
being overcome.”

“Another home awaits you, luxuriantly adorned,” murmured Cayrol, “and
worthy of receiving you. It is there you will live henceforth with me,
happy through me, and belonging to me.”

Then, ardently supplicating her, he added:

“Let us go, Jeanne!”

He tried to take her in his arms, but the young wife disengaged herself.

“Leave me alone!” she said, moving away.

Cayrol looked at her in amazement.

“What is it? You are trembling and frightened!”

He tried to jest:

“Am I so very terrible, then? Or is it the idea of leaving here that
troubles you so much? If so, why did you not tell me sooner? I can
understand things. Let us remain here for a few days, or as long as
you like. I have arranged my affairs so as to be at liberty. Our little
paradise can wait for us.”

He spoke pleasantly, but with an undercurrent of anxiety.

Jeanne came slowly to him, and calmly taking his hand, said:

“You are very good.”

“I am not making any efforts to be so,” retorted Cayrol, smiling. “What
do I ask? That you may be happy and satisfied.”

“Well, do you wish to please me?” asked the young wife.

“Yes!” exclaimed Cayrol, warmly, “tell me how.”

“Madame Desvarennes will be very lonely tomorrow when her daughter will
be gone. She will need consoling--”

“Ah, ah,” said Cayrol, thinking that he understood, “and you would
like--”

“I would like to remain some time with her. You could come every day and
see us. I would be very grateful to you, and would love you very much!”

“But--but--but--!” exclaimed Cayrol, much confounded, “you cannot mean
what you say, Jeanne! What, my dear? You wish me to return alone to
Paris to-night? What would my servants say? You would expose me to
ridicule!”

Poor Cayrol made a piteous face. Jeanne looked at him as she had never
looked before. It made his blood boil.

“Would you be so very ridiculous for having been delicate and tender?”

“I don’t see what tenderness has to do with it,” cried Cayrol; “on the
contrary! But I love you. You don’t seem to think it!”

“Prove it,” replied Jeanne, more provokingly.

This time Cayrol lost all patience.

“Is it in leaving you that I shall prove it? Really, Jeanne, I am
disposed to be kind and to humor your whims, but on condition that they
are reasonable. You seem to be making fun of me! If I give way on such
important points on the day of our marriage, whither will you lead me?
No; no! You are my wife. The wife must follow her husband; the law says
so!”

“Is it by law only that you wish to keep me? Have you forgotten what I
told you when you made me an offer of marriage? It is my hand only which
I give you.”

“And I answered you, that it would be my aim to gain your heart. Well,
but give me the means. Come, dear,” said the banker in a resolute tone,
“you take me for a child. I am not so simple as that! I know what this
resistance means; charming modesty so long as it is not everlasting.”

Jeanne turned away without answering. Her face had changed its
expression; it was hard and determined.

“Really,” continued Cayrol, “you would make a saint lose patience. Come,
answer me, what does this attitude mean?”

The young wife remained silent. She felt she could not argue any longer,
and seeing no way out of her trouble, felt quite discouraged. Still she
would not yield. She shuddered at the very idea of belonging to this
man; she had never thought of the issue of this brutal and vulgar
adventure. Now that she realized it, she felt terribly disgusted.

Cayrol anxiously watched the increasing anguish depicted on his wife’s
face. He had a presentiment that she was hiding something from him, and
the thought nearly choked him. And, with this suspicion, his ingenuity
came to his aid. He approached Jeanne, and said, affectionately:

“Come, dear child, we are misleading one another; I in speaking too
harshly, you in refusing to understand me. Forget that I am your
husband; see in me only a friend and open your heart; your resistance
hides a mystery. You have had some grief or have been deceived.”

Jeanne, softened, said, in a low tone:

“Don’t speak to me like that; leave me.”

“No,” resumed Cayrol, quietly, “we are beginning life; there must be no
misunderstanding. Be frank, and you will find me indulgent. Come, young
girls are often romantic. They picture an ideal; they fall in love with
some one who does not return their love, which is sometimes even unknown
to him who is their hero. Then, suddenly, they have to return to a
reality. They find themselves face to face with a husband who is not
the expected Romeo, but who is a good man, devoted, loving, and ready to
heal the wounds he has not made. They are afraid of this husband; they
mistrust him, and will not follow him. It is wrong, because it is
near him, in honorable and right existence, that they find peace and
forgetfulness.”

Cayrol’s heart was torn by anxiety, and with trembling voice he tried to
read the effect of his words on Jeanne’s features. She had turned away.
Cayrol bent toward her and said:

“You don’t answer me.”

And as she still remained silent, he took her hand and forced her to
look at him. He saw that her face was covered with tears. He shuddered,
and then flew into a terrible passion.

“You are crying! It is true then? You have loved?”

Jeanne rose with a bound; she saw her imprudence. She understood the
trap he had laid; her cheeks burned. Drying her tears, she turned toward
Cayrol, and cried:

“Who has said so?”

“You cannot deceive me,” replied the banker, violently. “I saw it in
your looks. Now, I want to know the man’s name!”

Jeanne looked him straight in the face.

“Never!” she said.

“Ah, that is an avowal!” exclaimed Cayrol.

“You have deceived me unworthily by your pretended kindness,”
 interrupted Jeanne, proudly, “I will not say anything more.”

Cayrol flew at her--the churl reappeared. He muttered a fearful oath,
and seizing her by the arm, shouted:

“Take care! Don’t play with me. Speak, I insist, or--” and he shook her
brutally.

Jeanne, indignant, screamed and tore herself away from him.

“Leave me,” she said, “you fill me with horror!”

The husband, beside himself, pale as death and trembling convulsively,
could not utter a word, and was about to rush upon her when the door
opened, and Madame Desvarennes appeared, holding in her hand the letters
which she had written for Cayrol to take back to Paris. Jeanne uttered a
cry of joy, and with a bound threw herself into the arms of her who had
been a mother to her.



CHAPTER XI. CONFESSION

Madame Desvarennes understood the situation at a glance. She beheld
Cayrol livid, tottering, and excited. She felt Jeanne trembling on her
breast; she saw something serious had occurred. She calmed herself and
put on a cold manner to enable her the better to suppress any resistance
that they might offer.

“What is the matter?” she asked, looking severely at Cayrol.

“Something quite unexpected,” replied the banker, laughing nervously.
“Madame refuses to follow me.”

“And for what reason?” she asked.

“She dare not speak!” Cayrol resumed, whose excitement increased as he
spoke. “It appears she has in her heart an unhappy love! And as I do not
resemble the dreamed-of type, Madame has repugnances. But you understand
the affair is not going to end there. It is not usual to come and say
to a husband, twelve hours after marriage, ‘Sir, I am very sorry, but I
love somebody else!’ It would be too convenient. I shall not lend myself
to these whims.”

“Cayrol, oblige me by speaking in a lower tone,” said Madame
Desvarennes, quietly. “There is some misunderstanding between you and
this child.”

The husband shrugged his broad shoulders.

“A misunderstanding? Faith! I think so! You have a delicacy of language
which pleases me! A misunderstanding! Say rather a shameful deception!
But I want to know the gentleman’s name. She will have to speak. I am
not a scented, educated gentleman. I am a peasant, and if I have to--”

“Enough,” said Madame Desvarennes, sharply tapping with the tips of
her fingers Cayrol’s great fist which he held menacingly like a butcher
about to strike. Then, taking him quietly aside toward the window, she
added:

“You are a fool to go on like this! Go to my room for a moment. To you,
now, she will not say anything; to me she will confide all and we shall
know what to do.”

Cayrol’s face brightened.

“You are right,” he said. “Yes, as ever, you are right. You must excuse
rile, I do not know how to talk to women. Rebuke her and put a little
sense in her head. But don’t leave her; she is fit to commit any folly.”

Madame Desvarennes smiled.

“Be easy,” she answered.

And making a sign to Cayrol, who was leaving the room, she returned to
Jeanne.

“Come, my child, compose yourself. We are alone and you will tell me
what happened. Among women we understand each other. Come, you were
frightened, eh?”

Jeanne was one petrified, immovable, and dumb, she fixed her eyes on a
flower which was hanging from a vase. This red flower fascinated her.
She could not take her eyes off it. Within her a persistent thought
recurred: that of her irremediable misfortune. Madame Desvarennes looked
at her for a moment; then, gently touching her shoulder, resumed;

“Won’t you answer me? Have you not confidence in me? Have I not brought
you up? And if you are not born of me, have not the tenderness and care
I have lavished upon you made me your real mother?”

Jeanne did not answer, but her eyes filled with tears;

“You know that I love you,” continued the mistress. “Come, come to my
arms as you used to do when you were little and were suffering. Place
your head thereon my heart and let your tears flow. I see they are
choking you.”

Jeanne could no longer resist, and falling on her knees beside Madame
Desvarennes, she buried her face in the silky and scented folds of her
dress like a frightened bird that flies to the nest and hides itself
under the wings of its mother.

This great and hopeless grief was to the mistress a certain proof that
Cayrol was right. Jeanne had loved and still loved another man than
her husband. But why had she not said anything, and why had she allowed
herself to be married to the banker? She had resisted, she remembered
now. She had struggled, and the refusals they had put down to pride they
must now attribute to passion.

She did not wish to be separated from him whom she loved. Hence the
struggle that had ended in her abandoning her hand to Cayrol, perhaps
in a moment of despair and discouragement. But why had he whom she loved
not married her? What obstacle had arisen between him and the young
girl? Jeanne, so beautiful, and dowered by Madame Desvarennes, who then
could have hesitated to ask her hand?

Perhaps he whom Jeanne loved was unworthy of her? No! She would not have
chosen him. Perhaps he was not free to marry? Yes, it must be that.
Some married man, perhaps! A scoundrel who did not mind breaking a young
girl’s heart! Where had she met him? In society at her house in the Rue
Saint-Dominique, perhaps! Who could tell? He very likely still continued
to come there. At the thought Madame Desvarennes grew angry. She wished
to know the name of the man so that she might have an explanation with
him, and tell him what she thought of his base conduct. The gentleman
should have respectable, well-educated girls to trifle with, should he?
And he risked nothing! He should be shown to the door with all honors
due to his shameful conduct.

Jeanne was still weeping silently at Madame Desvarennes’s knee. The
latter raised her head gently and wiped away the tears with her lace
pocket-handkerchief.

“Come, my child! all this deluge means nothing. You must make up your
mind. I can understand your hiding anything from your husband, but not
from me! What is your lover’s name?”

This question so simply put, threw a faint light on Jeanne’s troubled
brain. She saw the danger she was running. To speak before Madame
Desvarennes! To tell the name of him who had been false to her! To
her! Was it possible? In a moment she understood that she was about to
destroy Micheline and Serge. Her conscience revolted and she would
not. She raised herself and looking at Madame Desvarennes with still
frightened eyes,

“For pity’s sake, forget my tears! Don’t believe what my husband
has told you. Never seek to know. Remain ignorant as you are on the
subject!”

“Then he whom you love is related to me, as: you wish to hide his name
even from me,” said Madame Desvarennes with instinctive anguish.

She was silent. Her eyes became fixed. They looked without seeing. She
was thinking.

“I beseech you,” cried Jeanne, madly placing her hands before Madame
Desvarennes’s face as if to check her scrutiny.

“If I had a son,” continued the mistress, “I would believe--” Suddenly
she ceased speaking; she became pale, and bending toward Jeanne, she
looked into her very soul.

“Is it--” she began.

“No! no!” interrupted Jeanne, terrified at seeing that the mistress had
found out the truth.

“You deny it before I have pronounced the name?” said Madame Desvarennes
in a loud voice. “You read it then on my lips? Unhappy girl! The man
whom you love is the husband of my daughter!”

My daughter! The accent with which Madame Desvarennes pronounced the
word “my” was full of tragical power. It revealed the mother capable
of doing anything to defend the happiness of the child whom she
adored. Serge had calculated well. Between Jeanne and Micheline, Madame
Desvarennes would not hesitate. She would have allowed the world to
crumble away to make of its ruins a shelter where her daughter would be
joyous and happy.

Jeanne had fallen back overwhelmed. The mistress raised her roughly.
She had no more consideration for her. It was necessary that she should
speak. Jeanne was the sole witness, and if the truth had to be got by
main force she should be made to speak it.

“Ah, forgive me!” moaned the young girl.

“It is not a question of that! In one word, answer me: Does he love
you?”

“Do I know?”

“Did he tell you he did?”

“Yes.”

“And he has married Micheline!” exclaimed Madame Desvarennes, with a
fearful gesture. “I distrusted him. Why did I not obey my instinct?”

And she began walking about like a lioness in a cage. Then, suddenly
stopping and placing herself before Jeanne, she continued:

“You must help me to save Micheline!”

She thought only of her own flesh and blood. Without hesitation,
unconsciously, she abandoned the other--the child of adoption. She
claimed the safety of her daughter as a debt.

“What has she to fear?” asked Jeanne, bitterly. “She triumphs, as she is
his wife.”

“If he were to abandon her,” said the mother with anguish. Then,
reflecting: “Still, he has sworn to me that he loved her.”

“He lied!” cried Jeanne, with rage. “He wanted Micheline for her
fortune!”

“But why that?” inquired Madame Desvarennes, menacingly. “Is she not
pretty enough to have pleased him? Do you think that you are the only
one to be loved?”

“If I had been rich he would have married me!”, replied Jeanne,
exasperated.

She had risen in revolt. They were treading too heavily on her. With a
ferocious cry of triumph; she added:

“The night he used his influence with me to get me to marry Cayrol, he
assured me so on his word of honor!”

“Honor!” ironically repeated Madame Desvarennes, overwhelmed. “How
he has deceived us all! But what can I do? What course can I take? A
separation? Micheline would not consent. She loves him.”

And, in an outburst of fury, she cried:

“Is it possible that that stupid girl loves that worthless dandy? And
she has my blood in her veins! If she knew the truth she would die!”

“Am I dead?” asked Jeanne, gloomily.

“You have an energetic nature,” retorted the mistress, compassionately;
“but she is so weak, so gentle! Ah! Jeanne, think what I have been to
you; raise some insurmountable barrier between yourself and Serge!

“Go back to your husband. You would not go with him a little while ago.
It was folly. If you separate from Cayrol, you will not be able to keep
away Serge, and you will take my daughter’s husband from her!”

“Ah! you think only of her! Her, always! She above all!” cried Jeanne,
with rage. “But me, I exist, I count, I have the right to be protected,
of being happy! And you wish me to sacrifice myself, to give myself up
to this man, whom I do not love, and who terrifies me?”

This time the question was plainly put. Madame Desvarennes became
herself. She straightened her figure, and in her commanding voice whose
authority no one resisted, said:

“What then? You wish to be separated from him? To regain your liberty at
the price of scandal? And what liberty? You will be repulsed, disdained.
Believe me, impose silence on your heart and listen to your reason. Your
husband is a good, loyal man. If you cannot love him, he will command
your respect. In marrying him, you have entered into engagements toward
him. Fulfil them; it is your duty.”

Jeanne felt overpowered and vanquished. “But what will my life be?” she
groaned.

“That of an honest woman,” replied Madame Desvarennes, with true
grandeur. “Be a wife; God will make you a mother, and you will be
saved.”

Jeanne bowed herself at these words. She no longer felt in them the
selfishness of the mother. What the mistress now said was sincere and
true. It was no longer her agitated and alarmed heart that inspired her;
it was her conscience, calm and sincere.

“Very well; I will obey you,” said the young wife, simply. “Kiss me
then, mother.”

She bent her brow, and Madame Desvarennes let tears of gratitude and
admiration fall on it. Then Jeanne went of her own accord to the room
door.

“Come, Monsieur,” called she to Cayrol.

The husband, grown cooler while waiting, and troubled at the length of
the interview, showed his anxious face on the threshold. He saw Madame
Desvarennes grave, and Jeanne collected. He dared not speak.

“Cayrol, everything is explained,” said the mistress. “You have nothing
to fear from him whom you suspected. He is separated from Jeanne
forever, And; besides, nothing has passed between him and her who is
your wife that could arouse your jealousy. I will not tell you the name
of this man now. But if perchance he by some impossibility reappeared
and threatened your happiness, I would myself--you understand,
me?--point him out to you!”

Cayrol remained thinking for, a moment; then addressing Madame
Desvarennes, replied:

“It is well. I have confidence in you.”

Then turning toward Jeanne, he added:

“Forgive me and let everything be forgotten.”

The mistress’s face beamed with joy, as she followed their departing
figures with her eyes, and murmured:

“Brave hearts!”

Then, changing her expression:

“Now for the other one!” exclaimed she.

And she went out on to the terrace.



CHAPTER XII. THE FETE

The air was mild, the night clear and bright. Cayrol’s carriage rolled
rapidly along the broad avenue of the park shadowed by tall trees,
the lanterns throwing, as they passed, their quivering light on the
thickets. The rumbling carriages took the last guests to the railway
station. It was past midnight. A nightingale began singing his song of
love to the stars.

Madame Desvarennes mechanically stopped to listen. A sense of sorrow
came over this mother who was a prey to the most cruel mental anguish.
She thought that she could have been very happy on that splendid night,
if her heart had been full of quietude and serenity. Her two daughters
were married; her last task was accomplished. She ought to have
nothing to do but enjoy life after her own fashioning, and be calm and
satisfied. Instead of that, here were fear and dissimulation taking
possession of her mind; and an ardent, pitiless struggle beginning
against the man who had deceived her daughter and lied to her. The bark
which carried her fortune, on reaching port, had caught fire, and it was
necessary to begin laboring again amid cares and pains.

A dull rage filled her heart. To have so surely built up the edifice
of her happiness, to have embellished it every hour, and then to see an
intruder audaciously taking possession of it, and making his despotic
and hateful authority prevail! And what could she do against this new
master? Nothing. He was marvellously protected by Micheline’s mad
love for him. To strike Serge would be to wound Micheline, surely
and mortally. So this scoundrel could laugh at her and dare her with
impunity!

What must she do? Take him aside and tell him that she knew of his
disloyal conduct, and tell him of her contempt and hatred for him? And
after that? What would be the consequence of this outburst of violence?
The Prince, using his power over Micheline, would separate the daughter
from the mother. And Madame Desvarennes would be alone in her corner,
abandoned like a poor dog, and would die of despair and anger. What
other course then? She must dissemble, mask her face with indifference,
if possible with tenderness, and undertake the difficult task of
separating Micheline from the man whom she adored. It was quite a feat
of strategy to plan. To bring out the husband’s faults and to make his
errors known, and give her the opportunity of proving his worthlessness.
In a word, to make the young wife understand that she had married an
elegant manikin, unworthy of her love.

It would be an easy matter to lay snares for Serge. He was a gambler.
She could let him have ready money to satisfy his passion. Once in the
clutches of the demon of play, he would neglect his wife, and the mother
might regain a portion of the ground she had lost. Micheline’s
fortune once broken into, she would interpose between her daughter and
son-in-law. She would make him pull up, and holding him tightly by her
purse strings, would lead him whither she liked.

Already in fancy she saw her authority regained, and her daughter, her
treasure, her life, true mistress of the situation, grateful to her
for having saved her. And then, she thought, a baby will come, and if
Micheline is really my daughter, she will adore the little thing, and
the blind love which she has given to her husband will be diminished by
so much.

Serge did not know what an adversary he had against him in his
mother-in-law. It was a bad thing to cross the mistress when business
matters were concerned, but now that her daughter’s happiness was at
stake! A smile came to her lips. A firm resolution from that hour must
guide her, and the struggle between her son-in-law and herself could
only end by the crushing of one of them.

In the distance the music from the work-people’s ball was heard. Madame
Desvarennes mechanically bent her steps toward the tent under which the
heavy bounds of the dancers reechoed. Every now and then large shadows
appeared on the canvas. A joyful clamor issued from the ballroom. Loud
laughter resounded, mingled with piercing cries of tickled women.

The voice of the master of the ceremonies could be heard jocose and
solemn: “La poule! Advance! Set to partners!” Then the stamping of heavy
shoes on the badly planed floor, and, above all, the melancholy sounds
of the clarionet and the shrill notes of the cornet were audible.

At the entrance of the ballroom, surrounded by tables and stools, two
barrels of wine on stands presented their wooden taps, ready for those
who wanted to quench their thirst. A large red mark under each
barrel showed that the hands of the drinkers wire no longer steady. A
cake-seller had taken up his place at the other side, and was kneading a
last batch of paste, while his apprentice was ringing a bell which hung
over the iron cooking-stove to attract customers. There was an odor of
rancid butter, spilled wine, and paraffin oil.

Adjoining the ballroom, a merry-go-round; which had been the delight
of the village urchins all day, appealed for custom by the aid of a
barrel-organ on which a woman in a white bodice was playing the waltz
from ‘Les Cloches de Corneville’.

The animation of this fete, in the midst of which Madame Desvarennes
suddenly appeared, was a happy diversion from the serious thoughts which
beset her. She remembered that Serge and Micheline must be there.
She came from under the shadow of the avenue into the full light. On
recognizing her, all the workpeople, who were seated, rose. She was
really mistress and lady of the place. And then she had fed these people
since morning. With a sign she bade them be seated, and walking quickly
toward the dancing-room, lifted the red and white cotton curtain which
hung over the entrance.

There, in a space of a hundred square yards or so, about a hundred and
fifty people were sitting or standing. At the end, on a stage, were
the musicians, each with a bottle of wine at his feet, from which they
refreshed themselves during the intervals. An impalpable dust, raised
by the feet of the dancers, filled the air charged with acrid odors.
The women in light dresses and bareheaded, and the men arrayed in their
Sunday clothes, gave themselves up with frantic ardor to their favorite
pleasure.

Ranged in double rows, vis-a-vis, they were waiting with impatience for
the music to strike up for the last figure. Near the orchestra, Serge
was dancing with the Mayor’s daughter opposite Micheline, whose partner
was the mayor himself. An air of joyful gravity lit up the municipal
officer’s face. He was enjoying the honor which the Princess had done
him. His pretty young daughter, dressed, in her confirmation dress,
which had been lengthened with a muslin flounce, a rose in her hair, and
her hands encased in straw-colored one-button kid gloves, hardly dared
raise her eyes to the Prince, and with burning cheeks, answered in
monosyllables the few remarks Serge felt forced to address to her.

The orchestra bellowed, the floor shook; the two lines of dancers had
advanced in a body. Madame Desvarennes, leaning against the door-post,
followed with her eyes her daughter, whose light footsteps contrasted
strangely with the heavy tread of the women around her. The mayor, eager
and respectful, followed her, making efforts to keep up with her without
treading on her long train. It was,

“Excuse me, Madame la Princesse. If Madame la Princesse will do me the
honor to give me her hand, it is our turn to cross.”

They had just crossed. Serge suddenly found himself facing his
mother-in-law. His face lit up, and he uttered a joyful exclamation.
Micheline raised her eyes, and following her husband’s look, perceived
her mother. Then it was a double joy. With a mischievous wink, Serge
called Madame Desvarennes’s attention to the mayor’s solemn appearance
as he was galloping with Micheline, also the comical positions of the
rustics.

Micheline was smiling. She was enjoying herself. All this homely
gayety, of which she was the cause, made her feel happy. She enjoyed the
pleasure of those around her. With her compassionate eyes she thanked
her mother in the distance for having prepared this fete in honor of her
marriage. The clarionet, violin, and cornet sounded a last modulation,
then the final cadence put an end to the bounds of the dances. Each took
his lady to her place--the mayor with pompous gait, Serge with as much
grace as if he had been at an ambassador’s ball and was leading a young
lady of highest rank.

Madame Desvarennes was suddenly surrounded; cheers resounded, the band
struck up the Marseillaise.

“Let us escape,” said Serge, “because these good people will think
nothing of carrying us in triumph.”

And leading away his mother-in-law and his wife, he left the ballroom
followed by cheers.

Outside they all three walked in silence. The night air was delightful
after coming out of that furnace. The cheering had ceased, and the
orchestra was playing a polka. Micheline had taken her husband’s arm.

They went along slowly, and close together. Not a word was exchanged;
they all three seemed to be listening within themselves. When they
reached the house, they went up the steps leading into the greenhouse,
which served also as a boudoir to Madame Desvarennes.

The atmosphere was still warm and scented, the lamps still burning. The
guests had left; Micheline looked round. The remembrance of this happy
evening, which had been the crowning of her happiness, filled her heart
with emotion. Turning toward her mother with a radiant face, she cried:

“Ah! mamma! I am so happy,” and threw her arms around her.

Serge started at this cry. Two tears came to his eyes, and looking a
little pale, he stretched out to Madame Desvarennes his hands, which she
felt trembling in hers, and said:

“Thank you.”

Madame Desvarennes gazed at him for a moment. She did not see the
shadow of a wicked thought on his brow. He was sincerely affected, truly
grateful. The idea occurred to her that Jeanne had deceived her, or had
deceived herself, and that Serge had not loved her. A feeling of relief
took possession of her. But distrust had unfortunately entered her mind.
She put away that flattering hope. And giving her son-in-law such a
look, which, had he been less moved, he would have understood, she
murmured,

“We shall see.”



BOOK 3.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE FIRST BREAK

The first two months of this union were truly enchanting. Serge and
Micheline never left each other. After an absence of eight days they had
returned to Paris with Madame Desvarennes, and the hitherto dull mansion
in the Rue Saint-Dominique was filled with joyful bustle. The splendid
stables, formerly too large for the mistress’s three horses, were now
insufficient for the service of the Prince. There were eight splendid
carriage-horses, a pair of charming ponies--bought especially for
Micheline’s use, but which the young wife had not been able to make up
her mind to drive herself--four saddle-horses, upon which every morning
about eight o’clock, when the freshness of night had perfumed the Bois
de Boulogne, the young people took their ride round the lake.

A bright sun made the sheet of water sparkle between its borders of
dark fir-trees; the fresh air played in Micheline’s veil, and the tawny
leather of the saddles creaked. Those were happy days for Micheline, who
was delighted at having Serge near her, attentive to her every want, and
controlling his thoroughbred English horse to her gentle pace. Every now
and then his mount would wheel about and rear in revolt, she following
him with fond looks, proud of the elegant cavalier who could subdue
without apparent effort, by the mere pressure of his thighs, that
impetuous steed.

Then she would give her horse a touch with the whip, and off she would
go at a gallop, feeling happy with the wind blowing in her face, and
he whom she loved by her side to smile on and encourage her. Then they
would scamper along; the dog with his thin body almost touching the
ground, racing and frightening the rabbits, which shot across the road
swift as bullets. Out of breath by the violent ride, Micheline would
stop, and pat the neck of her lovely chestnut horse. Slowly the young
people would return to the Rue Saint-Dominique, and, on arriving in the
courtyard, there was such a pawing of feet as brought the clerks to
the windows, hiding behind the curtains. Tired with healthy exercise,
Micheline would go smiling to the office where her mother was hard at
work, and say:

“Here we are, mamma!”

The mistress would rise and kiss her daughter beaming with freshness.
Then they would go up to breakfast.

Madame Desvarennes’s doubts were lulled to rest. She saw her daughter
happy. Her son-in-law was in every respect cordial and charming
toward her. Cayrol and his wife had scarcely been in Paris since their
marriage. The banker had joined Herzog in his great scheme of the
“Credit,” and was travelling all over Europe establishing offices and
securing openings. Jeanne accompanied him. They were then in Greece.
The young wife’s letters to her adopted mother breathed calmness and
satisfaction. She highly praised her husband’s kindness to her, and said
it was unequalled.

No allusion was made to that evening of their marriage, when, escaping
from Cayrol’s wrath, she had thrown herself in Madame Desvarennes’s
arms, and had allowed her secret to be found out. The mistress might
well think then that the thought which at times still troubled her mind
was a remembrance of a bad dream.

What contributed especially to make her feel secure was Jeanne’s
absence. If the young woman had been near Serge, Madame Desvarennes
might have trembled. But Micheline’s beautiful rival was far away, and
Serge seemed very much in love with his wife.

Everything was for the best. The formidable projects which Madame
Desvarennes had formed in the heat of her passion had not been carried
out. Serge had as yet not given Madame Desvarennes cause for real
displeasure. Certainly he was spending money foolishly, but then his
wife was so rich!

He had put his household on an extraordinary footing. Everything that
most refined luxury had invented he had introduced as a matter of
course, and for everyday use. He entertained magnificently several times
a week. And Madame Desvarennes, from her apartments, for she would never
appear at these grand receptions, heard the noise of these doings. This
woman, modest and simple in her ideas, whose luxury had always
been artistic, wondered that they could spend so much on frivolous
entertainments. But Micheline was queen of these sumptuous ceremonies.
She came in full dress to be admired by her mother, before going down
to receive her guests, and the mistress had not courage to offer any
remonstrances as to expense when she saw her daughter so brilliant and
contented.

They played cards very much. The great colony of foreigners who came
every week to Panine’s receptions brought with them their immoderate
passion for cards, and he was only too willing to give way to it. These
gentlemen, among them all, almost without taking off their white kid
gloves, would win or lose between forty and fifty thousand francs at
bouillotte, just to give them an appetite before going to the club to
finish the night at baccarat.

Meanwhile the ladies, with their graceful toilettes displayed on the low
soft chairs, talked of dress behind their fans, or listened to the songs
of a professional singer, while young men whispered soft nothings in
their ears.

It was rumored that the Prince lost heavily. It was not to be wondered
at; he was so happy in love! Madame Desvarennes, who used every means of
gaining information on the subject, even to the gossip of the servants,
heard that the sums were enormous. No doubt they were exaggerated, but
the fact remained the same. The Prince was losing.

Madame Desvarennes could not resist the inclination of finding out
whether Micheline knew what was going on, and one morning when the young
wife came down to see her mother, dressed in a lovely pink gown, the
mistress, while teasing her daughter, said, carelessly:

“It seems your husband lost heavily last night.”

Micheline looked astonished at Madame Desvarennes, and in a quiet voice
replied:

“A good host may not win from his guests; it would look as if he
invited them to rob them. Losses at cards are included in the costs of a
reception.”

Madame Desvarennes thought that her daughter had become a very grand
lady, and had soon acquired expanded ideas. But she dared not say
anything more. She dreaded a quarrel with her daughter, and would have
sacrificed everything to retain her cajoling ways.

She threw herself into her work with renewed vigor.

“If the Prince spends large sums,” she said to herself, “I will earn
larger ones. There can be no hole dug deep enough by him that I shall
not be able, to fill up.”

And she made the money come in at the door so that her son-in-law might
throw it out of the window.

One fine day these great people who visited at the mansion in the Rue
Saint-Dominique hastened away to the country. September had arrived,
bringing with it the shooting season. The Prince and Micheline settled
themselves at Cernay, not as in the first days of their marriage as
lovers who sought quietude, but as people sure of their happiness, who
wished to make a great show. They took all the carriages with them, and
there was nothing but bustle and movement. The four keepers, dressed in
the Prince’s livery, came daily for orders as to shooting arrangements.
And every week shoals of visitors arrived, brought from the station in
large breaks drawn by four horses.

The princely dwelling was in its full splendor. There was a continual
going and coming of fashionable worldlings. From top to bottom of the
castle was a constant rustling of silk dresses; groups of pretty women,
coming downstairs with peals of merry laughter and singing snatches from
the last opera. In the spacious hall they played billiards and other
games, while one of the gentlemen performed on the large organ. There
was a strange mixture of freedom and strictness. The smoke of Russian
cigarettes mingled with the scent of opoponax. An elegant confusion
which ended about six o’clock in a general flight, when the sportsmen
came home, and the guests went to their rooms. An hour afterward all
these people met in the large drawing-room; the ladies in low-bodied
evening dresses; the gentlemen in dress-coats and white satin
waistcoats, with a sprig of mignonette and a white rose in their
buttonholes. After dinner, they danced in the drawing-rooms, where a mad
waltz would even restore energy to the gentlemen tired out by six hours
spent in the field.

Madame Desvarennes did not join in that wild existence. She had remained
in Paris, attentive to business. On Saturdays she came down by the five
o’clock train and regularly returned on the Monday morning. Her presence
checked their wild gayety a little. Her black dress was like a blot
among the brocades and satins. Her severe gravity, that of a woman who
pays and sees the money going too fast, was like a reproach, silent but
explicit, to that gay and thoughtless throng of idlers, solely taken up
by their pleasure.

The servants made fun of her. One day the Prince’s valet, who thought
himself a clever fellow, said before all the other servants that
Mother Damper had arrived. Of course they all roared with laughter and
exclaimed:

“Bother the old woman! Why does she come and worry us? She had far
better stop in the office and earn money; that’s all she’s good for!”

The disdain which the servants learned from their master grew rapidly.
So much so that one Monday morning, toward nine o’clock, Madame
Desvarennes came down to the courtyard, expecting to find the carriage
which generally took her to the station. It was the second coachman’s
duty to drive her, and she did not see him. Thinking that he was a
little late, she walked to the stable-yard. There, instead of the
victoria which usually took her, she saw a large mail-coach to which
two grooms were harnessing the Prince’s four bays. The head coachman, an
Englishman, dressed like a gentleman, with a stand-up collar, and a
rose in his buttonhole, stood watching the operations with an air of
importance.

Madame Desvarennes went straight to him. He had seen her coming, out of
the corner of his eye, without disturbing himself.

“How is it that the carriage is not ready to take me to the station?”
 asked the mistress.

“I don’t know, Madame,” answered this personage, condescendingly,
without taking his hat off.

“But where is the coachman who generally drives me?”

“I don’t know. If Madame would like to see in the stables--”

And with a careless gesture, the Englishman pointed out to Madame
Desvarennes the magnificent buildings at the end of the courtyard.

The blood rose to the mistress’s cheeks; she gave the coachman such a
look that he moved away a little. Then glancing at her watch, she said,
coldly:

“I have only a quarter of an hour before the train leaves, but here are
horses that ought to go well. Jump on the box, my man, you shall drive
me.”

The Englishman shook his head.

“Those horses are not for service; they are only for pleasure,” he
answered. “I drive the Prince. I don’t mind driving the Princess, but I
am not here to drive you, Madame.”

And with an insolent gesture, setting his hat firmly on his head, he
turned his back upon the mistress. At the same moment, a sharp stroke
from a light cane made his hat roll on the pavement. And as the
Englishman turned round, red with rage, he found himself face to face
with the Prince, whose approach neither Madame Desvarennes nor he had
heard.

Serge, in an elegant morning suit, was going round his stables when he
had been attracted by this discussion. The Englishman, uneasy, sought to
frame an excuse.

“Hold your tongue!” exclaimed the Prince, sharply, “and go and wait my
orders.”

And turning toward the mistress:

“Since this man refuses to drive you, I shall have the pleasure of
taking you to the station myself,” he said, with a charming smile.

And as Madame Desvarennes remonstrated,

“Oh! I can drive four-in-hand,” he added. “For once in my life that
talent will have been of some use to me. Pray jump in.”

And opening the door of the mail-coach he handed her into the vast
carriage. Then, climbing with one bound to the box, he gathered the
reins and, cigar in mouth, with all the coolness of an old coachman, he
started the horses in the presence of all the grooms, and made a perfect
semicircle on the gravel of the courtyard.

The incident was repeated favorably for Serge. It was agreed that he had
behaved like a true nobleman. Micheline was proud of it, and saw in this
act of deference to her mother a proof of his love for her. As to the
mistress, she understood the advantage this clever manoeuvre gave to the
Prince. At the same time she felt the great distance which henceforth
separated her from the world in which her daughter lived.

The insolence of that servant was a revelation to her. They despised
her. The Prince’s coachman would not condescend to drive a plebeian like
her. She paid the wages of these servants to no purpose. Her plebeian
origin and business habits were a vice. They submitted to her; they did
not respect her.

Although her son-in-law and daughter were perfect toward her in their
behavior, she became gloomy and dull, and but seldom went now to Cernay.
She felt in the way, and uncomfortable. The smiling and superficial
politeness of the visitors irritated her nerves. These people were too
well bred to be rude toward Panine’s mother-in-law, but she felt that
their politeness was forced. Under their affected nicety she detected
irony. She began to hate them all.

Serge, sovereign lord of Cernay, was really happy. Every moment he
experienced new pleasure in gratifying his taste for luxury. His love
for horses grew more and more. He gave orders to have a model stud-house
erected in the park amid the splendid meadows watered by the Oise; and
bought stallions and breeding mares from celebrated English breeders. He
contemplated starting a racing stable.

One day when Madame Desvarennes arrived at Cernay, she was surprised to
see the greensward bordering the woods marked out with white stakes. She
asked inquiringly what these stakes meant? Micheline answered in an easy
tone:

“Ah! you saw them? That is the track for training. We made Mademoiselle
de Cernay gallop there to-day. She’s a level-going filly with which
Serge hopes to win the next Poule des Produits.”

The mistress was amazed. A child who had been brought up so simply, in
spite of her large fortune, a little commoner, speaking of level-going
fillies and the Poule des Produits! What a change had come over her
and what incredible influence this frivolous, vain Panine had over that
young and right-minded girl! And that in a few months! What would it be
later? He would succeed in imparting to her his tastes and would mould
her to his whims, and the young modest girl whom he had received from
the mother would become a horsey and fast woman.

Was it possible that Micheline could be happy in that hollow and empty
life? The love of her husband satisfied her. His love was all she
asked for, all else was indifferent to her. Thus of her mother, the
impassioned toiler, was born the passionate lover! All the fervency
which the mother had given to business, Micheline had given to love.

Moreover, Serge behaved irreproachably. One must do him that justice.
Not even an appearance accused him. He was faithful, unlikely as that
may seem in a man of his kind; he never left his wife. He had hardly
ever gone out without her; they were a couple of turtle-doves. They were
laughed at.

“The Princess has tied a string round Serge’s foot,” was said by some of
Serge’s former woman friends!

It was something to be sure of her daughter’s happiness. That happiness
was dearly, bought; but as the proverb says:

“Money troubles are not mortal!”

And, besides, it was evident that the Prince did not keep account of
his money; his hand was always open. And never did a great lord do
more honor to his fortune. Panine, in marrying Micheline, had found the
mistress’s cash-box at his disposal.

This prodigious cash-box had seemed to him inexhaustible, and he had
drawn on it like a Prince in the Arabian Nights on the treasure of the
genii.

Perhaps it would suffice to let him see that he was spending the capital
as well as the income to make him alter his line of conduct. At all
events, the moment was not yet opportune, and, besides, the amount was
not yet large enough. Cry out about some hundred thousand francs! Madame
Desvarennes would be thought a miser and would be covered with shame.
She must wait.

And, shut up in her office in the Rue Saint-Dominique with Marechal, who
acted as her confidant, she worked with heart and soul full of passion
and anger, making money. It was fine to witness the duel between
these two beings: the one useful, the other useless; one sacrificing
everything to work, the other everything to pleasure.

Toward the end of October, the weather at Cernay became unsettled, and
Micheline complained of the cold. Country life so pleased Serge that he
turned a deaf ear to her complaints. But lost in that large house, the
autumn winds rustling through the trees, whose leaves were tinted with
yellow, Micheline became sad, and the Prince understood that it was time
to go back to Paris.

The town seemed deserted to Serge. Still, returning to his splendid
apartments was a great satisfaction and pleasure to him. Everything
appeared new. He reviewed the hangings, the expensive furniture, the
paintings and rare objects. He was charmed. It was really of wonderful
beauty, and the cage seemed worthy of the bird. For several evenings
he remained quietly at home with Micheline, in the little silver-gray
drawing-room that was his favorite room. He looked through albums, too,
while his wife played at her piano quietly or sang.

They retired early and came down late. Then he had become a gourmand. He
spent hours in arranging menus and inventing unknown dishes about which
he consulted his chef, a cook of note.

He rode in the Bois in the course of the day, but did not meet any
one there; for of every two carriages one was a hackney coach with a
worn-out sleepy horse, his head hanging between his knees, going the
round of the lake. He ceased going to the Bois, and went out on foot in
the Champs-Elysees. He crossed the Pont de la Concorde, and walked up
and down the avenues near the Cirque.

He was wearied. Life had never appeared so monotonous to him. Formerly
he had at least the preoccupations of the future. He asked himself how
he could alter the sad condition in which he vegetated! Shut up in
this happy existence, without a care or a cross, he grew weary like a
prisoner in his cell. He longed for the unforeseen; his wife irritated
him, she was of too equable a temperament. She always met him with the
same smile on her lips. And then happiness agreed with her too well; she
was growing stout.

One day, on the Boulevard des Italiens, Serge met an old friend, the
Baron de Prefont, a hardened ‘roue’. He had not seen him since his
marriage. It was a pleasure to him. They had a thousand things to say to
each other. And walking along, they came to the Rue Royale.

“Come to the club,” said Prefont, taking Serge by the arm.

The Prince, having nothing else to do, allowed himself to be led away,
and went. He felt a strange pleasure in those large rooms of the club,
the Grand Cercle, with their glaring furniture. The common easy-chairs,
covered with dark leather, seemed delightful. He did not notice the
well-worn carpets burned here and there by the hot cigar-ash; the strong
smell of tobacco, impregnated in the curtains, did not make him feel
qualmish. He was away from home, and was satisfied with anything for a
change. He had been domesticated long enough.

One morning, taking up the newspaper, a name caught Madame Desvarennes’s
eye-that of the Prince. She read:

“The golden book of the Grand Cercle has just had another illustrious
name inscribed in it. The Prince Panine was admitted yesterday, proposed
by the Baron de Prefont and the Duc de Bligny.”

These few lines made Madame Desvarennes’s blood boil. Her ears tingled
as if all the bells of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont had been rung together.
In a rapid vision, she saw misfortune coming. Her son-in-law, that born
gambler, at the Grand Cercle! No more smiles for Micheline; henceforth
she had a terrible rival--the devouring love of play.

Then Madame Desvarennes reflected. The husband’s deserting his fireside
would be salvation for herself. The door by which he went out, would
serve as an entrance for her. The plan which she had conceived at Cernay
that terrible night of the marriage when Jeanne had confided in her,
remained for her to execute. By opening her purse widely to the Prince,
she would help him in his vice. And she would infallibly succeed in
separating Serge and Micheline.

But the mistress checked herself. Lend her hands to the destruction of
her son-in-law in a fit of fierce maternal egoism? Was it not unworthy
of her? How many tears would the Prince’s errors cost her whom she
wished to regain at all price? And then would she always be there to
compensate by her devoted affection the bitterly regretted estrangement
from the husband? She would, in dying, leave the household disunited.

She was horrified at what she had for an instant dreamed of doing. And
instead of helping the Prince on to destruction, she determined to
do all in her power to keep him in the path of honor. That resolution
formed, Madame Desvarennes was satisfied. She felt superior to Serge,
and to a mind like hers the thought was strengthening.

The admission to the Grand Cercle gave Serge a powerful element of
interest in life: He had to manoeuvre to obtain his liberty. His first
evenings spent from home troubled Micheline deeply. The young wife was
jealous when she saw her husband going out. She feared a rival, and
trembled for her love. Serge’s mysterious conduct caused her intolerable
torture. She dared not say anything to her mother, and remained
perfectly quiet on the subject before her husband. She sought
discreetly, listened to the least word that might throw any light on the
matter.

One day she found an ivory counter, bearing the stamp of the Grand
Cercle, in her husband’s dressing-room. It was in the Rue Royale then
that her husband spent his evenings. This discovery was a great relief
to her. It was not very wrong to go there, and if the Prince did go
and smoke a few cigars and have a game at bouillotte, it was not a very
great crime. The return of his usual friends to Paris and the resumption
of their receptions would bring him home again.

Serge now left Micheline about ten o’clock in the evening regularly and
arrived at the club about eleven. High play did not commence until after
midnight. Then he seated himself at the gaming-table with all the
ardor of a professional gambler. His face changed its expression. When
winning, it was animated with an expression of awful joy; when losing,
he looked as hard as a stone, his features contracted, and his eyes were
full of gloomy fire. He bit his mustache convulsively. Moreover, always
silent, winning or losing with superb indifference.

He lost. His bad luck had followed him. At the club his losses were no
longer limited. There was always some one willing to take a hand, and
until dawn he played, wasting his life and energies to satisfy his
insane love of gambling.

One morning, Marechal entered Madame Desvarennes’s private office,
holding a little square piece of paper. Without speaking a word, he
placed it on the desk. The mistress took it, read what was written upon
it in shaky handwriting, and suddenly becoming purple, rose. The paper
bore these simple words:

“Received from Monsieur Salignon the sum of one hundred thousand francs.
Serge Panine.”

“Who brought this paper?” asked Madame Desvarennes, crushing it between
her fingers.

“The waiter who attends the card-room at the club.”

“The waiter?” cried Madame Desvarennes, astonished.

“Oh, he is a sort of banker,” said Marechal. “These gentlemen apply to
him when they run short of money. The Prince must have found himself in
that predicament. Still he has just received the rents for the property
in the Rue de Rivoli.”

“The rents!” grumbled Madame Desvarennes, with an energetic movement.
“The rents! A drop of water in a river! You don’t know that he is a man
to lose the hundred thousand francs which they claim, in one night.”

The mistress paced up and down the room. She suddenly came to a
standstill. “If I don’t stop him, the rogue will sell the feather-bed
from under my daughter! But he shall have a little of my mind! He has
provoked me long enough. Pay it! I’ll take my money’s worth out of him.”

And in a second, Madame Desvarennes was in the Prince’s room.

Serge, after a delicate breakfast, was smoking and dozing on the
smoking-room sofa. The night had been a heavy one for him. He had won
two hundred and fifty thousand francs from Ibrahim Bey, then he had lost
all, besides five thousand louis advanced by the obliging Salignon. He
had told the waiter to come to the Rue Saint-Dominique, and by mistake
the man had gone to the office.

The sudden opening of the smoking-room door roused Serge. He unclosed
his eyes and looked very much astonished at seeing Madame Desvarennes
appear. Pale, frowning, and holding the accusing paper in her hand, she
angrily inquired:

“Do you recognize that?” and placed the receipt which he had signed,
before him, as he slowly rose.

Serge seized it quickly, and then looking coldly at his mother-in-law,
said:

“How did this paper come into your hands?”

“It has just been brought to my cashier. A hundred thousand francs!
Faith! You are going ahead! Do you know how many bushels of corn must be
ground to earn that?”

“I beg your pardon, Madame,” said the Prince, interrupting Madame
Desvarennes. “I don’t suppose you came here to give me a lesson in
commercial statistics. This paper was presented to your cashier by
mistake. I was expecting it, and here is the money ready to pay it. As
you have been good enough to do so, pray refund yourself.”

And taking a bundle of bank-notes from a cabinet, the Prince handed them
to the astonished mistress.

“But,” she sought to say, very much put out by this unexpected answer,
“where did you get this money from? You must have inconvenienced
yourself.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the Prince, quietly, “that only concerns
myself. Be good enough to see whether the amount is there,” added he
with a smile. “I reckon so badly that it is possible I may have made a
mistake to your disadvantage.”

Madame Desvarennes pushed away the hand which presented the bank-notes,
and shook her head gravely:

“Keep this money,” she said; “unfortunately you will need it. You have
entered on a very dangerous path, which grieves me very much. I would
willingly give ten times the amount, at once, to be sure that you would
never touch another card.”

“Madame!” said the Prince with impatience.

“Oh! I know what I am risking by speaking thus. It weighs so heavily
on my heart. I must give vent to it or I shall choke. You are spending
money like a man who does not know what it is to earn it. And if you
continue--”

Madame Desvarennes raised her eyes and looked at the Prince. She saw him
so pale with suppressed rage that she dared not say another word. She
read deadly hatred in the young man’s look. Frightened at what she had
just been saying, she stepped back, and went quickly toward the door.

“Take this money, Madame,” said Serge, in a trembling voice. “Take it,
or all is over between us forever.”

And, seizing the notes, he put them by force in Madame Desvarennes’s
hands. Then tearing up with rage the paper that had been the cause of
this painful scene, he threw the pieces in the fireplace.

Deeply affected, Madame Desvarennes descended the stairs which she had
a few minutes before gone up with so much resolution. She had a
presentiment that an irreparable rupture had just taken place between
herself and her son-in-law. She had ruffled Panine’s pride. She
felt that he would never forgive her. She went to her room sad and
thoughtful. Life was becoming gloomy for this poor woman. Her confidence
in herself had disappeared. She hesitated now, and was irresolute when
she had to take a decision. She no longer went straight to the point by
the shortest road. Her sonorous voice was softened. She was no longer
the same willing energetic woman who feared no obstacles. She had known
defeat.

The attitude of her daughter had changed toward her. It seemed as
if Micheline wished to absolve herself of all complicity with Madame
Desvarennes. She kept away to prove to her husband that if her mother
had displeased him in any way, she had nothing to do with it. This
behavior grieved her mother, who felt that Serge was working secretly
to turn Micheline against her. And the mad passion of the young wife for
him whom she recognized as her master did not allow the mother to doubt
which side she would take if ever she had to choose between husband and
mother.

One day Micheline came down to see her mother. It was more than a month
since she had visited her. In a moment Madame Desvarennes saw that she
had something of an embarrassing nature to speak of. To begin with she
was more affectionate than usual, seeming to wish with the honey of
her kisses to sweeten the bitter cross which the mistress was doomed to
bear. Then she hesitated. She fidgeted about the room humming. At last
she said that the doctor had come at the request of Serge, who was most
anxious about his wife’s health. And that excellent Doctor Rigaud, who
had known her from a child, had found her suffering from great weakness.
He had ordered change of air.

At these words Madame Desvarennes raised her head and gave her daughter
a terrible look:

“Come, no nonsense! Speak the truth! He is taking you away!”

“But, mamma,” said Micheline, disconcerted at this interruption, “I
assure you, you are mistaken. Anxiety for my health alone guides my
husband.”

“Your husband!” broke forth Madame Desvarennes. “Your husband! Ah,
there; go away! Because if you stop here, I shall not be able to control
myself, and shall say things about him that you will not forgive in
a hurry! As you are ill, you are right to have change of air. I shall
remain here, without you, fastened to my chain, earning money for you
while you are far, away. Go along!”

And seizing her daughter by the arm with convulsive strength, she pushed
her roughly; for the first time in her life, repeating, in a low tone:

“Go away! Leave me alone!”

Micheline suffered herself to be put outside the room, and went to her
own apartments astonished and frightened. The young wife had hardly left
the room when Madame Desvarennes suffered the reaction of the emotion
she had just felt. Her nerves were unstrung, and falling on a chair she
remained immovable and humbled. Was it possible that her daughter, her
adored child, would abandon her to obey the grudges of her husband? No,
Micheline, when back in her room, would remember that she was carrying
away all the joy of the house, and that it was cruel to deprive her
mother of her only happiness in life.

Slightly reassured, she went down to the office. As she reached the
landing, she saw the Prince’s servants carrying up trunks belonging to
their master to be packed. She felt sick at heart. She understood that
this project had been discussed and settled beforehand. It seemed to her
that all was over; that her daughter was going away forever, and that
she would never see her again. She thought of going to beseech Serge and
ask him what sum he would take in exchange for Micheline’s liberty;
but the haughty and sarcastic face of the Prince forcibly putting the
bank-notes in her hands, passed before her, and she guessed that she
would not obtain anything. Cast down and despairing, she entered her
office and set to work.

The next day, by the evening express, the Prince and Princess left
for Nice with all their household, and the mansion in the Rue
Saint-Dominique remained silent and deserted.



CHAPTER XIV. A SUDDEN JOURNEY

At the end of the Promenade des Anglais, on the pleasant road bordered
with tamarind-trees, stands, amid a grove of cork-oaks and eucalypti,
a charming white villa with pink shutters. A Russian lady, the Countess
Woreseff, had it built five years ago, and occupied it one winter. Then,
tired of the monotonous noise of the waves beating on the terrace and
the brightness of the calm blue sky, she longed for the mists of her
native country, and suddenly started for St. Petersburg, leaving that
charming residence to be let.

It was there, amid rhododendrons and strawberry-trees in full bloom,
that Micheline and Serge had taken up their abode. Until that day
the Princess had scarcely travelled. Her mother, always occupied in
commercial pursuits, had never left Paris. Micheline had remained with
her. During this long journey, accomplished in most luxurious style, she
had behaved like a child astonished at everything, and pleased at the
least thing. With her face close to the window she saw through the
transparent darkness of a lovely winter’s night, villages and forests
gliding past like phantoms. Afar off, in the depths of the country, she
caught sight of a light glimmering, and she loved to picture a family
gathered by the fire, the children asleep and the mother working in the
silence.

Children! She often thought of them, and never without a sigh of regret
rising to her lips. She had been married for some months, and her dreams
of becoming a mother had not been realized. How happy she would have
been to have a baby, with fair hair, to fondle and kiss! Then the idea
of a child reminded her of her own mother. She thought of the deep love
one must feel for a child. And the image of the mistress, sad and alone,
in the large house of the Rue Saint-Dominique, came to her mind. A vague
remorse seized her heart. She felt she had behaved badly. She said to
herself: “If, to punish me, Heaven will not grant me a child!” She
wept, and soon her grief and trouble vanished with her tears. Sleep
overpowered her, and when she awoke it was broad daylight and they were
in Provence.

From that moment everything was dazzling. The arrival at Marseilles;
the journey along the coast, the approach to Nice, were all matters of
ecstacy to Micheline. But it was when the carriage, which was waiting
for them at the railway station, stopped at the gates of the villa,
that she broke into raptures. She could not feast her eyes enough on the
scene which was before her. The blue sea, the sky without a cloud,
the white houses rising on the hill amid the dark foliage, and in the
distance the mountaintops covered with snow, and tinged with pink under
the brilliant rays of the sun. All this vigorous and slightly wild
nature surprised the Parisienne. It was a new experience. Dazzled by
the light and intoxicated with the perfumes, a sort of languor came over
her. She soon recovered and became quite strong--something altogether
new for her, and she felt thoroughly happy.

The life of the Prince and the Princess became at Nice what it had been
in Paris during the early days of their marriage. Visitors flocked to
their house. All that the colony could reckon of well-known Parisians
and foreigners of high repute presented themselves at the villa. The
fetes recommenced. They gave receptions three times a week; the other
evenings Serge went to the Cercle.

This absorbing life had gone on for two months. It was the beginning
of February, and already nature was assuming a new appearance under
the influence of spring. One evening, three people--two gentlemen and a
lady--stepped out of a carriage at the villa gates, and found themselves
face to face with a traveller who had come on foot. Two exclamations
broke out simultaneously.

“Marechal!” “Monsieur Savinien!”

“You! at Nice? And by what miracle?”

“A miracle which makes you travel fifteen leagues an hour in exchange
for a hundred and thirty-three francs first-class, and is called the
Marseilles express!”

“I beg your pardon, my dear friend. I have not introduced you to
Monsieur and Mademoiselle Herzog.”

“I have already had the honor of meeting Mademoiselle Herzog at Madame
Desvarennes’s,” said Marechal, bowing to the young girl, without
appearing to notice the father.

“You were going to the villa?” asked Savinien. “We, too, were going. But
how is my aunt? When did you leave her?”

“I have not left her.”

“What’s that you say?”

“I say that she is here.”

Savinien let his arms drop in profound consternation to show how
difficult it was for him to believe what was going on. Then, in a faint
treble voice, he said:

“My aunt! At Nice! Promenade des Anglais! That’s something more
wonderful than the telephone and phonograph! If you had told me that the
Pantheon had landed one fine night on the banks of the Paillon, I should
not be more astonished. I thought Madame Desvarennes was as deeply
rooted in Paris as the Colonne Vendome! But tell me, what is the object
of this journey?”

“A freak.”

“Which manifested itself--”

“Yesterday morning at breakfast. Pierre Delarue, who is going to
finish his business in Algeria, and then settle in France, came to say
‘Good-by’ to Madame Desvarennes. A letter arrived from the Princess.
She commenced reading it, then all at once she exclaimed ‘Cayrol and his
wife arrived at Nice two days ago!’ Pierre and I were astonished at the
tone in which she uttered these words. She was lost in thought for a
few moments, then she said to Pierre: ‘You are leaving tonight for
Marseilles? Well, I shall go with you. You will accompany me to Nice.’
And turning toward me, she added: ‘Marechal, pack up your portmanteau. I
shall take you with me.”’

While speaking, they had walked across the garden, and reached the steps
leading to the villa.

“Nothing is easier than to explain this sudden journey,” remarked
Mademoiselle Herzog. “On learning that Monsieur and Madame Cayrol were
at Nice with the Princess, Madame Desvarennes must have felt how
very lonely she was in Paris. She had a longing to be near them, and
started.”

Herzog listened attentively, and seemed to be seeking the connection
which should exist between the arrival of the Cayrols and the departure
of Madame Desvarennes.

“The funniest thing to me is Marechal taking a holiday,” observed
Savinien. “They are still at dinner,” he added, entering the
drawing-room, through the great doors of which sounds of voices and
rattling of plates were heard.

“Well, let us wait for them; we are in agreeable company,” said Herzog,
turning toward Marechal, who only answered by a cold bow.

“What are you going to do here, Marechal?” inquired Savinien. “You will
be awfully bored.”

“Why? Once in a way I am going to enjoy myself and be a swell. You will
teach me, Monsieur Savinien. It cannot be very difficult. It is only
necessary to wear a dove-colored coat like you, a gardenia in my
buttonhole like Monsieur Le Bride, frizzled hair like Monsieur du
Tremblay, and to assail the bank at Monaco.”

“Like all these gentlemen,” said Suzanne, gayly, “you are a gambler
then?”

“I have never touched a card.”

“But then you ought to have great good luck,” said the young girl.

Herzog had come up to them.

“Will you go partners?” he asked of Marechal. “We will divide the
winnings.”

“You are too kind,” replied Marechal, dryly, turning away.

He could not get used to Herzog’s familiarity, and there was something
in the man which displeased him greatly. There was, he thought, a
police-court atmosphere about him.

Suzanne, on the contrary, interested him. The simple, lively, and frank
young girl attracted him, and he liked to talk with her. On several
occasions, at Madame Desvarennes’s, he had been her partner. There was
through this a certain intimacy between them which he could not extend
to the father.

Herzog had that faculty, fortunately for him, of never appearing
offended at what was said to him. He took Savinien’s arm in a familiar
manner and asked: “Have you noticed that the Prince has looked very
preoccupied for the last few days?”

“I don’t wonder at it,” replied Savinien. “He has been very unlucky at
cards. It is all very well for his wife, my charming cousin, to be rich,
but if he is going on like that it won’t last long!”

The two men withdrew to the window.

Suzanne went up to Marechal. She had resumed her thoughtful air. He
saw her advancing, and, guessing what she was going to say, felt
uncomfortable at having to tell an untruth if he did not wish to hurt
her feelings by brutal frankness.

“Monsieur Marechal,” she began, “how is it that you are always so cold
and formal with my father?”

“My dear young lady, there is a great difference between your father and
me. I keep my place, that’s all.”

The young girl shook her head sadly.

“It is not that; you are amiable and ever friendly with me--”

“You are a woman, and the least politeness--”

“No! My father must have hurt your feelings unwittingly; for he is very
good. I have asked him, and he did not seem to understand what I meant.
But my questions drew his attention to you. He thinks highly of you
and would like to see you filling a position more in harmony with your
merit. You know that Monsieur Cayrol and my father have just launched a
tremendous undertaking?”

“The ‘Credit European’?”

“Yes. They will have offices in all the commercial centres of European
commerce. Would you like the management of one of these branches?”

“I, Mademoiselle?” cried Marechal, astonished, and already asking
himself what interest Herzog could have in making him leave the house of
Desvarennes.

“The enterprise is colossal,” continued Suzanne, “and frightens me at
times. Is it necessary to be so rich? I would like my father to retire
from these enormous speculations into which he has thrown himself, body
and soul. I have simple tastes. My father wishes to make a tremendous
fortune for me, he says. All he undertakes is for me, I know. It seems
to me that he runs a great risk. That is why I am talking to you. I am
very superstitious, and I fancy if you were with us it would bring us
luck.”

Suzanne, while speaking, had leaned toward Marechal. Her face reflected
the seriousness of her thoughts. Her lovely eyes implored. The young
man asked himself how this charming girl could belong to that horrible
Herzog.

“Believe me that I am deeply touched, Mademoiselle, by the favor you
have done me,” said he, with emotion. “I owe it solely to your kindness,
I know; but I do not belong to myself. I am bound to Madame Desvarennes
by stronger ties than those of interest--those of gratitude.”

“You refuse?” she cried, painfully.

“I must.”

“The position you fill is humble.”

“I was very glad to accept it at a time when my daily bread was not
certain.”

“You have been reduced,” said the young girl, with trembling voice, “to
such--”

“Wretchedness. Yes, Mademoiselle, my outset in life was hard. I am
without relations. Mother Marechal, a kind fruiterer of the Rue Pavee au
Marais, found me one morning by the curbstone, rolled in a number of the
Constitutionnel, like an old pair of boots. The good woman took me home,
brought me up and sent me to college. I must tell you that I was very
successful and gained a scholarship. I won all the prizes. Yes, and I
had to sell my gilt-edged books from the Lycee Charlemagne in the days
of distress. I was eighteen when my benefactress, Mother Marechal, died.
I was without help or succor. I tried to get along by myself. After
ten years of struggling and privations I felt physical and moral vigor
giving way. I looked around me and saw those who overcame obstacles were
stronger than I. I felt that I was doomed not to make way in the world,
not being one of those who could command, so I resigned myself to obey.
I fill a humble position as you know, but one which satisfies my wants.
I am without ambition. A little philosophical, I observe all that goes
on around me. I live happily like Diogenes in his tub.”

“You are a wise man,” resumed Suzanne. “I, too, am a philosopher, and I
live amid surroundings which do not please me. I, unfortunately, lost
my mother when I was very young, and although my father is very kind, he
has been obliged to neglect me a little. I see around me people who are
millionaires or who aspire to be. I am doomed to receive the attentions
of such men as Le Bride and Du Tremblay--empty-headed coxcombs, who
court my money, and to whom I am not a woman, but a sack of ducats
trimmed with lace.”

“These gentlemen are the modern Argonauts. They are in search of the
Golden Fleece,” observed Marechal.

“The Argonauts!” cried Suzanne, laughing. “You are right. I shall never
call them anything else.”

“Oh, they will not understand you!” said Marechal, gayly. “I don’t think
they know much of mythology.”

“Well, you see I am not very happy in the bosom of riches,” continued
the young girl. “Do not abandon me. Come and talk with me sometimes. You
will not chatter trivialities. It will be a change from the others.”

And, nodding pleasantly to Marechal, Mademoiselle Herzog joined her
father, who was gleaning details about the house of Desvarennes from
Savinien.

The secretary remained silent for a moment.

“Strange girl!” he murmured. “What a pity she has such a father.”

The door of the room in which Monsieur and Mademoiselle Herzog, Marechal
and Savinien were, opened, and Madame Desvarennes entered, followed by
her daughter, Cayrol, Serge and Pierre. The room, at the extreme end of
the villa, was square, surrounded on three sides by a gallery shut in
by glass and stocked with greenhouse plants. Lofty archways, half veiled
with draperies, led to the gallery. This room had been the favorite one
of Countess Woreseff. She had furnished it in Oriental style, with low
seats and large divans, inviting one to rest and dream during the heat
of the day. In the centre of the apartment was a large ottoman, the
middle of which formed a flower-stand. Steps led down from the gallery
to the terrace whence there was a most charming view of sea and land.

On seeing his aunt enter, Savinien rushed forward and seized both her
hands. Madame Desvarennes’s arrival was an element of interest in his
unoccupied life. The dandy guessed at some mysterious business and
thought it possible that he might get to know it. With open ears and
prying eyes, he sought the meaning of the least words.

“If you knew, my dear aunt, how surprised I am to see you here,” he
exclaimed in his hypocritical way.

“Not more so than I am to find myself here,” said she, with a smile.
“But, bah! I have slipped my traces for a week.”

“And what are you going to do here?” continued Savinien.

“What everybody does. By-the-bye, what do they do?” asked Madame
Desvarennes, with vivacity.

“That depends,” answered the Prince. “There are two distinct populations
here. On the one hand, those who take care of themselves; on the other,
those who enjoy themselves. For the former there is the constitutional
every morning in the sun, with slow measured steps on the Promenade des
Anglais. For the latter there are excursions, races, regattas. The first
economize their life like misers; the second waste it like prodigals.
Then night comes on, and the air grows cold. Those who take care of
themselves go home, those who amuse themselves go out. The first put
on dressing-gowns; the second put on ball-dresses. Here, the house is
quiet, lit up by a night-light; there, the rooms sparkle with light, and
resound with the noise of music and dancing. Here they cough, there they
laugh. Infusion on the one hand, punch on the other. In fact, everywhere
and always, a contrast. Nice is at once the saddest and the gayest town.
One dies of over-enjoyment, and one amuses one’s self at the risk of
dying.”

“A sojourn here is very dangerous, then?”

“Oh! aunt, not so dangerous, nor, above all, so amusing as the
Prince says. We are a set of jolly fellows, who kill time between the
dining-room of the hotel, pigeon-shooting, and the Cercle, which is not
so very amusing after all.”

“The dining-room is bearable,” said Marechal, “but pigeon-shooting must
in time become--”

“We put some interest into the game.”

“How so?”

“Oh! It is very simple: a gentleman with a gun in his hand stands before
the boxes which contain the pigeons. You say to me: ‘I bet fifty louis
that the bird will fall.’ I answer, ‘Done.’ The gentleman calls out,
‘Pull;’ the box opens, the pigeon flies, the shot follows. The bird
falls or does not fall. I lose or win fifty louis.”

“Most interesting!” exclaimed Mademoiselle Herzog.

“Pshaw!” said Savinien with ironical indifference, “it takes the place
of ‘trente et quarante,’ and is better than ‘odd or even’ on the numbers
of the cabs which pass.”

“And what do the pigeons say to that?” asked Pierre, seriously.

“They are not consulted,” said Serge, gayly.

“Then there are races and regattas,” continued Savinien.

“In which case you bet on the horses?” interrupted Marechal.

“Or on the boats.”

“In fact, betting is applied to all circumstances of life?”

“Exactly; and to crown all, we have the Cercle, where we go in the
evening. Baccarat triumphs there. It is not very varied either: A
hundred louis? Done--Five. I draw. There are some people who draw at
five. Nine, I show up, I win or I lose, and the game continues.”

“And that amid the glare of gas and the smoke of tobacco,” said
Marechal, “when the nights are so splendid and the orange-trees smell so
sweetly. What a strange existence!”

“An existence for idiots, Marechal,” sighed Savinien, “that I, a man of
business, must submit to, through my aunt’s domineering ways! You know
now how men of pleasure spend their lives, my friend, and you might
write a substantial resume entitled, ‘The Fool’s Breviary.’ I am sure it
would sell well.”

Madame Desvarennes, who had heard the last words, was no longer
listening. She was lost in a deep reverie. She was much altered since
grief and trouble had come upon her; her face was worn, her temples
hollow, her chin was more prominent. Her eyes had sunk into her head,
and were surrounded by dark rims.

Serge, leaning against the wall near the window, was observing her. He
was wondering with secret anxiety what had brought Madame Desvarennes
so suddenly to his house after a separation of two months, during which
time she had scarcely written to Micheline. Was the question of money to
be resumed? Since the morning Madame had been smiling, calm and pleased
like a schoolgirl home for her holidays. This was the first time she
had allowed a sad expression to rest on her face. Her gayety was feigned
then.

A look crossing his made him start. Jeanne had just turned her eyes
toward him. For a second they met his own. Serge could not help
shuddering. Jeanne was calling his attention to Madame Desvarennes; she,
too, was observing her. Was it on their account she had come to Nice?
Had their secret fallen into her hands? He resolved to find out.

Jeanne had turned away her eyes from him. He could feast his on her now.
She had become more beautiful. The tone of her complexion had become
warmer. Her figure had developed. Serge longed to call her his own. For
a moment his hands trembled; his throat was dry, his heart seemed to
stop beating.

He tried to shake off this attraction, and walked to the centre of
the room. At the same time visitors were announced. Le Bride, with
his inseparable friend, Du Tremblay, escorting Lady Harton, Serge’s
beautiful cousin, who had caused Micheline some anxiety on the day
of her marriage, but whom she no longer feared; then the Prince and
Princess Odescalchi, Venetian nobles, followed by Monsieur Clement
Souverain, a young Belgian, starter of the Nice races, a great pigeon
shot, and a mad leader of cotillons.

“Oh, dear me! my lady, all in black?” said Micheline, pointing to the
tight-fitting black satin worn by the English beauty.

“Yes, my dear Princess; mourning,” replied Lady Harton, with a vigorous
shake of the hands. “Ball-room mourning--one of my best partners;
gentlemen, you know Harry Tornwall?”

“Countess Alberti’s cavalier?” added Serge. “Well?”

“Well! he has just killed himself.”

A concert of exclamations arose in the drawing-room, and the visitors
suddenly surrounded her.

“What! did you not know? It was the sole topic of conversation at Monaco
to-day. Poor Tornwall, being completely cleared out, went during the
night to the park belonging to the villa occupied by Countess Alberti,
and blew his brains out under her window.”

“How dreadful!” exclaimed Micheline.

“It was very bad taste on your countryman’s part,” observed Serge.

“The Countess was furious, and said that Tornwall’s coming to her
house to kill himself proved clearly to her that he did not know how to
behave.”

“Do you wish to prevent those who are cleared out from blowing out their
brains?” inquired Cayrol. “Compel the pawnbrokers of Monaco to lend a
louis on all pistols.”

“Well,” retorted young Monsieur Souverain, “when the louis is lost the
players will still be able to hang themselves.”

“Yes,” concluded Marechal, “then at any rate the rope will bring luck to
others.”

“Gentlemen, do you know that what you have been relating to us is very
doleful?” said Suzanne Herzog. “Suppose, to vary our impressions, you
were to ask us to waltz?”

“Yes, on the terrace,” said Le Brede, warmly. “A curtain of orange-trees
will protect us from the vulgar gaze.”

“Oh! Mademoiselle, what a dream!” sighed Du Tremblay, approaching
Suzanne. “Waltzing with you! By moonlight.”

“Yes, friend Pierrot!” sang Suzanne, bursting into a laugh.

Already the piano, vigorously attacked by Pierre, desirous of making
himself useful since he could not be agreeable, was heard in the next
room. Serge had slowly approached Jeanne.

“Will you do me the favor of dancing with me?” he asked, softly.

The young woman started; her cheeks became pale, and in a sharp tone she
answered:

“Why don’t you ask your wife?”

Serge smiled.

“You or nobody.”

Jeanne raised her eyes boldly, and looking at him in the face, said,
defiantly:

“Well, then, nobody!”

And, rising, she took the arm of Cayrol, who was advancing toward her.

The Prince remained motionless for a moment, following them with his
eyes. Then, seeing his wife alone with Madame Desvarennes, he went out
on the terrace. Already the couples were dancing on the polished marble.
Joyful bursts of laughter rose in the perfumed air that sweet March
night. A deep sorrow came over Serge; an intense disgust with all
things. The sea sparkled, lit up by the moon. He had a mad longing to
seize Jeanne in his arms and carry her far away from the world, across
that immense calm space which seemed made expressly to rock sweetly
eternal loves.



CHAPTER XV. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER

Micheline intended following her husband, but Madame Desvarennes,
without rising, took hold of her hand.

“Stay with me for a little while,” she said, tenderly. “We have scarcely
exchanged ten words since my arrival. Come, tell me, are you pleased to
see me?”

“How can you ask me that?” answered Micheline, seating herself on the
sofa beside her mother.

“I ask you so that you may tell me so,” resumed Madame Desvarennes,
softly. “I know what you think, but that is not enough.” She added
pleadingly:

“Kiss me, will you?”

Micheline threw her arms round her mother’s neck, saying, “Dear mamma!”
 which made tears spring to the tortured mother’s eyes. She folded
her-daughter in her arms, and clasped her as a miser holds his treasure.

“It is a long time since I have heard you speak thus to me. Two months!
And I have been desolate in that large house you used to fill alone in
the days gone by.”

The young wife interrupted her mother, reproachfully:

“Oh! mamma; I beg you to be reasonable.”

“To be reasonable? In other words, I suppose you mean that I am to get
accustomed to living without you, after having for twenty years devoted
my life to you? Bear, without complaining, that my happiness should be
taken away, and now that I am old lead a life without aim, without joy,
without trouble even, because I know if you had any troubles you would
not tell me!”

There was a moment’s pause. Then Micheline, in a constrained manner,
said:

“What griefs could I have?”

Madame Desvarennes lost all patience, and giving vent to her feelings
exclaimed, bitterly:

“Those which your husband causes you!”

Micheline arose abruptly.

“Mother!” she cried.

But the mistress had commenced, and with unrestrained bitterness, went
on:

“That gentleman has behaved toward me in such a manner as to shake my
confidence in him! After vowing that he would never separate you from
me, he brought you here, knowing that I could not leave Paris.”

“You are unjust,” retorted Micheline. “You know the doctors ordered me
to go to Nice.”

“Pooh! You can make doctors order you anything you like!” resumed her
mother, excitedly, and shaking her head disdainfully. “Your husband said
to our good Doctor Rigaud: ‘Don’t you think that a season in the South
would do my wife good?’ The doctor answered: ‘If it does not do her any
good it certainly won’t do her any harm.’ Then your husband added, ‘just
take a sheet of paper and write out a prescription. You understand? It
is for my mother-in-law, who will not be pleased at our going away.’”

And as Micheline seemed to doubt what she was saying, the latter added:

“The doctor told me when I went to see him about it. I never had much
faith in doctors, and now--”

Micheline felt she was on delicate ground, and wanted to change the
subject. She soothed her mother as in days gone by, saying:

“Come, mamma; will you never be able to get used to your part? Must
you always be jealous? You know all wives leave their mothers to follow
their husbands. It is the law of nature. You, in your day, remember,
followed your husband, and your mother must have wept.”

“Did my mother love me as I love you?” asked Madame Desvarennes,
impetuously. “I was brought up differently. We had not time to love each
other so much. We had to work. The happiness of spoiling one’s child is
a privilege of the rich. For you there was no down warm enough or silk
soft enough to line your cradle. You have been petted and worshipped
for twenty years. Yet, it only needed a man, whom you scarcely knew six
months ago, to make you forget everything.”

“I have not forgotten anything,” replied Micheline, moved by these
passionate expressions. “And in my heart you still hold the same place.”

The mistress looked at the young wife, then, in a sad tone, said:

“It is no longer the first place.”

This simple, selfish view made Micheline smile.

“It is just like you, you tyrant!” she exclaimed. “You must be first.
Come, be satisfied with equality! Remember that you were first in the
field, and that for twenty years I have loved you, while he has to make
up for lost time. Don’t try to make a comparison between my love for him
and my affection for you. Be kind: instead of looking black at him, try
to love him. I should be so happy to see you united, and to be able,
without reservation, to think of you both with the same tenderness!”

“Ah! how you talk me over. How charming and caressing you can be when
you like. And how happy Serge ought to be with a wife like you! It is
always the way; men like him always get the best wives.”

“I don’t suppose, mamma, you came all the way from Paris to run down my
husband to me.”

Madame Desvarennes became serious again.

“No; I came to defend you.”

Micheline looked surprised.

“It is time for me to speak. You are seriously menaced,” continued the
mother.

“In my love?” asked the young wife, in an altered tone.

“No; in your fortune.”

Micheline smiled superbly.

“If that be all!”

This indifference made her mother positively jump.

“You speak very coolly about it! At the rate your husband is spending,
there will be nothing left of your dowry in six months.”

“Well!” said the Princess, gayly, “you will give us another.”

Madame Desvarennes assumed her cold businesslike manner.

“Ta! ta! ta! Do you think there is no limit to my resources? I gave
you four millions when you were married, represented by fifteen hundred
thousand francs, in good stock, a house in the Rue de Rivoli, and eight
hundred thousand francs which I prudently kept in the business, and
for which I pay you interest. The fifteen hundred thousand francs have
vanished. My lawyer came to tell me that the house in the Rue de Rivoli
had been sold without a reinvestment taking place.”

The mistress stopped. She had spoken in that frank, determined, way of
hers that was part of her strength. She looked fixedly at Micheline, and
asked:

“Did you know this, my girl?”

The Princess, deeply troubled, because now it was not a question of
sentiment, but of serious moment, answered, in a low tone:

“No, mamma.”

“How is that possible?” Madame Desvarennes demanded, hotly. “Nothing can
be done without your signature.”

“I gave it,” murmured Micheline.

“You gave it!” repeated the mistress in a tone of anger. “When?”

“The day after my marriage.”

“Your husband had the impudence to ask for it the day after your
marriage?”

Micheline smiled.

“He did not ask for it, mamma,” she replied, with sweetness; “I offered
it to him. You had settled all on me.”

“Prudently! With a fellow like your husband!”

“Your mistrust must have been humiliating to him. I was ashamed of it.
I said nothing to you, because I knew you would rather prevent the
marriage, and I loved Serge. I, therefore, signed the contract which you
had had prepared. Only the next day I gave a general power of attorney
to my husband.”

Madame Desvarennes’s anger was over. She was observing Micheline, and
wished to find out the depth of the abyss into which her daughter had
thrown herself with blind confidence.

“And what did he say then?” she inquired.

“Nothing,” answered Micheline, simply. “Tears came to his eyes, and he
kissed me. I saw that this delicacy touched his heart and I was happy.
There, mamma,” she added with eyes sparkling at the remembrance of the
pleasure she had experienced, “he may spend as much as he likes; I am
amply repaid beforehand.”

Madame Desvarennes shrugged her shoulders, and said:

“My dear child, you are mad enough to be locked up. What is there about
the fellow to turn every woman’s brain?”

“Every woman’s?” exclaimed Micheline, anxiously, looking at her mother.

“That is a manner of speaking. But, my dear, you must understand that I
cannot be satisfied with what you have just told me. A tear and a kiss!
Bah! That is not worth your dowry.”

“Come, mamma, do let me be happy.”

“You can be happy without committing follies. You do not need a
racing-stable.”

“Oh, he has chosen such pretty colors,” interrupted Micheline, with a
smile. “Pearl-gray and silver, and pink cap. It is charming!”

“You think so? Well, you are not difficult to please. And the club? What
do you say to his gambling?”

Micheline turned pale, and with a constraint which hurt her mother,
said:

“Is it necessary to make a fuss about a few games at bouillotte?”

This continual defense of Serge exasperated Madame Desvarennes.

“Don’t talk to me,” she continued, violently. “I am well informed on
that subject. He leaves you alone every evening to go and play with
gentlemen who turn up the king with a dexterity the Legitimists must
envy. My dear, shall I tell you his fortune? He commenced with cards; he
continues with horses; he will finish with worthless women!”

“Mamma!” cried Micheline, wounded to the heart.

“And your money will pay the piper! But, happily, I am here to put your
household matters right. I am going to keep your gentleman so well under
that in future he will walk straight, I’ll warrant you!”

Micheline rose and stood before her mother, looking so pale that the
latter was frightened.

“Mother,” she said, in trembling tones, “if ever you say one word to my
husband, take care! I shall never see you again!”

Madame Desvarennes flinched before her daughter. It was no longer the
weak Micheline who trusted to her tears, but a vehement woman ready to
defend him whom she loved. And as she remained silent, not daring to
speak again:

“Mother,” continued Micheline, with sadness, yet firmly, “this
explanation was inevitable; I have suffered beforehand, knowing that I
should have to choose between my affection for my husband and my respect
for you.”

“Between the one and the other,” said the mistress, bitterly, “you don’t
hesitate, I see.”

“It is my duty; and if I failed in it, you yourself, with your good
sense, would see it.”

“Oh! Micheline, could I have expected to find you thus?” cried the
mother, in despair. “What a change! It is not you who are speaking; it
is not my daughter. Fool that you are! Don’t you see whither you are
being led? You, yourself, are preparing your own misfortune. Don’t think
that my words are inspired by jealousy. A higher sentiment dictates
them, and at this moment my maternal love gives me, I fear, a foresight
of the future. There is only just time to rescue you from the danger
into which you are running. You hope to retain your husband by your
generosity? There where you think you are giving proofs of love he will
only see proofs of weakness. If you make yourself cheap he will count
you as nothing. If you throw yourself at his feet he will trample on
you.”

The Princess shook her head haughtily, and smiled.

“You don’t know him, mamma. He is a gentleman; he understands all these
delicacies, and there is more to be gained by submitting one’s self to
his discretion, than by trying to resist his will. You blame his manner
of existence, but you don’t understand him. I know him. He belongs to
a different race than you and I. He needs refinements of luxury which
would be useless to us, but the deprivation of which would be hard to
him. He suffered much when he was poor, he is making up for it now. We
are guilty of some extravagances, ‘tis true; but what does it matter?
For whom have you made a fortune? For me! For what object? My happiness!
Well, I am happy to surround my Prince with the glory and pomp which
suits him so well. He is grateful to me; he loves me, and I hold his
love dearer than all else in the world; for if ever he ceases to love me
I shall die!”

“Micheline!” cried Madame Desvarennes, beside herself, and seizing her
daughter with nervous strength.

The young wife quietly allowed her fair head to fall on her mother’s
shoulder, and whispered faintly in her ear:

“You don’t want to wreck my life. I understand your displeasure. It
is natural; I feel it. You cannot think otherwise than you do, being a
simple, hardworking woman; but I beg of you to banish all hatred, and
confine these ideas within yourself. Say nothing more about them for
love of me!”

The mother was vanquished. She had never been able to resist that
suppliant voice.

“Ah! cruel child,” she moaned, “what pain you are causing me!”

“You consent, don’t you, dear mother?” murmured Micheline, falling into
the arms of her by whom she knew she was adored.

“I will do as you wish,” said Madame Desvarennes, kissing her daughter’s
hair--that golden hair which, in former days, she loved to stroke.

The strains of the piano sounded on the terrace. In the shade, groups
of merry dancers were enjoying themselves. Happy voices were heard
approaching, and Savinien, followed by Marechal and Suzanne, came
briskly up the steps.

“Oh, aunt, it is not fair,” said the dandy. “If you have come here
to monopolize Micheline, you will be sent back to Paris. We want a
vis-a-vis for a quadrille. Come, Princess, it is delightfully cool
outside, and I am sure you will enjoy it.”

“Monsieur Le Brede has gathered some oranges, and is trying to play
at cup and ball with them on his nose, while his friend, Monsieur du
Tremblay, jealous of his success, talks of illuminating the trees with
bowls of punch,” said Marechal.

“And what is Serge doing?” inquired Micheline, smiling.

“He is talking to my wife on the terrace,” said Cayrol, appearing in the
gallery.

The young people went off and were lost in the darkness. Madame
Desvarennes looked at Cayrol. He was happy and calm. There was no trace
of his former jealousy. During the six months which had elapsed since
his marriage, the banker had observed his wife closely, her actions, her
words: nothing had escaped him. He had never found her at fault. Thus,
reassured, he had given her his confidence and this time forever. Jeanne
was adorable; he loved her more than ever. She seemed very much changed
to him. Her disposition, formerly somewhat harsh, had softened, and the
haughty, capricious girl had become a mild, demure, and somewhat
serious woman. Unable to read his companion’s thoughts, Cayrol sincerely
believed that he had been unnecessarily anxious, and that Jeanne’s
troubles had only been passing fancies. He took credit of the change in
his wife to himself, and was proud of it.

“Cayrol, oblige me by removing that lamp; it hurts my eyes,” said Madame
Desvarennes, anxious that the traces on her face, caused by her late
discussion with her daughter, should not be visible. “Then ask Jeanne to
come here for a few minutes. I have something to say to her.”

“Certainly,” said Cayrol, taking the lamp off the table and carrying it
into the adjoining room.

Darkness did Madame Desvarennes good. It refreshed her mind and calmed
her brow. The noise of dancing reached her. She commenced thinking. So
it had vainly tried to prove to her that a life of immoderate pleasure
was not conducive to happiness. The young wife had stopped her ears so
that she might not hear, and closed her eyes that she might not see. Her
mother asked herself if she did not exaggerate the evil. Alas! no. She
saw that she was not mistaken. Examining the society around her, men and
women: everywhere was feverish excitement, dissipation, and nullity. You
might rummage through their brains without finding one practical idea;
in all their hearts, there was not one lofty aspiration. These people,
in their daily life were like squirrels in a cage, and because they
moved, they thought they were progressing. In them scepticism had killed
belief; religion, family, country, were, as they phrased it, all humbug.
They had only one aim, one passion--to enjoy themselves. Their watchword
was “pleasure.” All those who did not perish of consumption would die in
lunatic asylums.

What was she doing in the midst of this rottenness? She, the woman
of business? Could she hope to regenerate these poor wretches by her
example? No! She could not teach them to be good, and they excelled in
teaching others harm. She must leave this gilded vice, taking with
her those she loved, and leave the idle and incompetent to consume and
destroy themselves.

She felt disgusted, and resolved to do all to tear Micheline away
from the contagion. In the meantime she must question Jeanne. A shadow
appeared on the threshold: it was hers. In the darkness of the gallery
Serge crept behind her without being seen. He had been watching Jeanne,
and seeing her go away alone, had followed her. In the angle of the
large bay-window, opening into the garden, he waited with palpitating
heart. Madame Desvarennes’s voice was heard in the silence of the
drawing-room; he listened.

“Sit down, Jeanne; our interview will be short, and it could not be
delayed, for to-morrow I shall not be here.”

“You are leaving so soon?”

“Yes; I only left Paris on my daughter’s account, and on yours. My
daughter knows what I had to tell her; now it is your turn! Why did you
come to Nice?”

“I could not do otherwise.”

“Because?”

“Because my husband wished it.”

“You ought to have made him wish something else. Your power over him is
absolute.”

There was a moment’s pause. Then Jeanne answered:

“I feared to insist lest I should awaken his suspicions.”

“Good! But admitting that you came to Nice, why accept hospitality in
this house?”

“Micheline offered it to us,” said Jeanne.

“And even that did not make you refuse. What part do you purpose playing
here? After six months of honesty, are you going to change your mind?”

Serge, behind his shelter, shuddered. Madame Desvarennes’s words were
clear. She knew all.

Jeanne’s voice was indignant when she replied:

“By what right do you insult me by such a suspicion?”

“By the right which you have given me in not keeping to your bargain.
You ought to have kept out of the way, and I find you here, seeking
danger and already trying those flirtations which are the forerunners of
sin, and familiarizing yourself with evil before wholly giving yourself
up to it.”

“Madame!” cried Jeanne, passionately.

“Answer! Have you kept the promise you made me?”

“Have the hopes which you held out to me been realized?” replied Jeanne,
with despair. “For six months I have been away, and have I found peace
of mind and heart? The duty which you pointed out to me as a remedy for
the pain which tortured me I have fruitlessly followed. I have wept,
hoping that the trouble within me would be washed away with my tears. I
have prayed to Heaven, and asked that I might love my husband. But, no!
That man is as odious to me as ever. Now I have lost all my illusions,
and find myself joined to him for the rest of my days! I have to tell
lies, to wear a mask, to smile! It is revolting, and I suffer! Now
that you know what is passing within me, judge, and say whether your
reproaches are not a useless cruelty.”

On hearing Jeanne, Madame Desvarennes felt herself moved with deep
pity. She asked herself whether it was not unjust for that poor child to
suffer so much. She had never done anything wrong, and her conduct was
worthy of esteem.

“Unhappy woman!” she said.

“Yes, unhappy, indeed,” resumed Jeanne, “because I have nothing to cling
to, nothing to sustain me. My mind is afflicted with feverish thoughts,
my heart made desolate with bitter regrets. My will alone protects me,
and in a moment of weakness it may betray me.”

“You still love him?” asked Madame Desvarennes, in a deep voice which
made Serge quiver.

“Do I know? There are times when I think I hate him. What I have endured
since I have been here is incredible! Everything galls me, irritates me.
My husband is blind, Micheline unsuspicious, and Serge smiles quietly,
as if he were preparing some treachery. Jealousy, anger, contempt, are
all conflicting within me. I feel that I ought to go away, and still I
feel a horrible delight in remaining.”

“Poor child!” said Madame Desvarennes. “I pity you from my soul. Forgive
my unjust words; you have done all in your power. You have had momentary
weaknesses like all human beings. You must be helped, and may rely on
me. I will speak to your husband to-morrow; he shall take you away.
Lacking happiness, you must have peace. Go you are a brave heart, and if
Heaven be just, you will be rewarded.”

Serge heard the sound of a kiss. In an embrace, the mother had blessed
her adopted daughter. Then the Prince saw Madame Desvarennes go slowly
past him. And the silence was broken only by the sobs of Jeanne who was
half lying on the sofa in the darkness.



CHAPTER XVI. THE TELLTALE KISS

Serge slipped from his hiding-place and came toward Jeanne. The carpet
deadened the sound of his steps. The young woman was gazing into vacancy
and breathing with difficulty. He looked at her for a moment without
speaking; then, leaning over her shoulder.

“Is it true, Jeanne,” he murmured, softly, “that you hate me?”

Jeanne arose, bewildered, exclaiming,

“Serge!”

“Yes, Serge,” answered the Prince, “who has never ceased to love you.”

A deep blush spread over the young woman’s face.

“Leave me,” she said. “Your language is unworthy of a man. I will not
listen to you.”

And with a quick step she walked toward the gallery. Serge threw himself
in her way, saying:

“You must stop; you cannot escape me.”

“But this is madness,” exclaimed Jeanne, moving away. “Do you forget
where we are?”

“Do you forget what you have just been saying?” retorted Serge. “I was
there; I did not miss a word.”

“If you heard me,” said Jeanne, “you know that everything separates us.
My duty, yours, and my will.”

“A will which is enforced, and against which your heart rebels. A will
to which I will not submit.”

As he spoke, Serge advanced toward her, trying to seize her in his arms.

“Take care!” replied Jeanne. “Micheline and my husband are there. You
must be mad to forget it. If you come a step farther I shall call out.”

“Call, then!” cried Serge, clasping her in his arms.

Jeanne tried to free herself from him, but could not.

“Serge,” she said, paling with mingled anguish and rapture in the arms
of him whom she adored, “what you are doing is cowardly and base!”

A kiss stopped the words on her lips. Jeanne felt herself giving way.
She made a supreme effort.

“I won’t, Serge!” she stammered. “Have mercy!”

Tears of shame rolled down her face.

“No! you belong to me. The other, your husband, stole you from me. I
take you back. I love you!”

The young woman fell on a seat.

Serge repeated,

“I love you! I love you! I love you!”

A fearful longing took possession of Jeanne. She no longer pushed away
the arms which clasped her. She placed her hands on Serge’s shoulder,
and with a deep sigh gave herself up.

A profound silence reigned around. Suddenly a sound of approaching
voices roused them, and at the same moment the heavy curtain which
separated the room from the adjoining drawing-room was lifted. A shadow
appeared on the threshold, as they were still in each other’s arms. The
stifled exclamation, “O God!” followed by a sob of agony, resounded.
The door curtain fell, surrounding with its folds the unknown witness of
that terrible scene.

Jeanne had risen, trying to collect her ideas. A sudden light dawned on
her mind; she realized in a moment the extent of her crime, and uttering
a cry of horror and despair, she escaped, followed by Serge, through the
gallery.

Then the heavy curtain was lifted again, and tottering, livid, almost
dead, Micheline entered the room. Pierre, serious and cold, walked
behind her. The Princess, feeling tired, had come into the house. Chance
had led her there to witness this proof of misfortune and treason.

Both she and Delarue looked at each other, silent and overwhelmed. Their
thoughts whirled through their brains with fearful rapidity. In a moment
they looked back on their existence. He saw the pale betrothed of whom
he had dreamed as a wife, who had willingly given herself to another,
and who now found herself so cruelly punished. She measured the distance
which separated these two men: the one good, loyal, generous; the other
selfish, base, and unworthy. And seeing him whom she adored, so vile and
base compared to him whom she had disdained, Micheline burst into bitter
tears.

Pierre tremblingly hastened toward her. The Princess made a movement
to check him, but she saw on the face of her childhood’s friend such
sincere grief and honest indignation, that she felt as safe, with him
as if he had really been her brother. Overcome, she let her head fall on
his shoulder, and wept.

The sound of approaching footsteps made Micheline arise. She recognized
her husband’s step, and hastily seizing Pierre’s hand, said:

“Never breathe a word; forget what you have seen.”

Then, with deep grief, she added:

“If Serge knew that I had seen him unawares he would never forgive me!”

Drying her tears, and still tottering from the shock, she left the room.
Pierre remained alone, quite stunned; pitying, yet blaming the poor
woman, who, in her outraged love, still had the absurd courage to hold
her tongue and to resign herself. Anger seized on him, and the more
timid Micheline seemed herself, the more violent and passionate he felt.

Serge came back to the room. After the first moment of excitement, he
had reflected, and wanted to know by whom he had been observed. Was it
Madame Desvarennes, Micheline, or Cayrol, who had come in? At this idea
he trembled, measuring the possible results of the imprudence he had
been guilty of. He resolved to face the difficulty if it were either of
these three interested parties, and to impose silence if he had to deal
with an indifferent person. He took the lamp which Madame Desvarennes
had a short time before asked Cayrol to remove and went into the room.
Pierre was there alone.

The two men measured each other with their looks. Delarue guessed the
anxiety of Serge, and the Prince understood the hostility of Pierre. He
turned pale.

“It was you who came in?” he asked, boldly.

“Yes,” replied Pierre, with severity.

The Prince hesitated for a second. He was evidently seeking a polite
form to express his request. He did not find one, and in a threatening
manner, he resumed:

“You must hold your tongue, otherwise--”

“Otherwise?” inquired Pierce, aggressively.

“What is the use of threats?” replied Serge, already calmed. “Excuse me;
I know that you will not tell; if not for my sake at least for that of
others.”

“Yes, for others,” said Pierre, passionately; “for others whom you have
basely sacrificed, and who deserve all your respect and love; for
Madame Desvarennes, whose high intelligence you have not been able to
understand; for Micheline, whose tender heart you have not been able to
appreciate. Yes, for their sakes I will hold my peace, not out of regard
for you, because you neither deserve consideration nor esteem.”

The Prince advanced a step, and exclaimed:

“Pierre!”

Pierre did not move, and looking Serge in the face, continued:

“The truth is unpleasant to you, still you must hear it. You act
according to your fancies. Principles and morals, to which all men
submit, are dead letters to you. Your own pleasure above all things, and
always! That is your rule, eh? and so much the worse if ruin and trouble
to others are the consequences? You only have to deal with two women,
and you profit by it. But I warn you that if you continue to crush them
I will be their defender.”

Serge had listened to all this with disdainful impassibility, and when
Pierre had finished, he smiled, snapped his fingers, and turning toward
the young man:

“My dear fellow,” said he, “allow me to tell you that I think you are
very impertinent. You come here meddling with my affairs. What authority
have you? Are you a relative? A connection? By what right do you preach
this sermon?”

As he concluded, Serge seated himself and laughed with a careless air.

Pierre answered, gravely:

“I was betrothed to Micheline when she saw and loved you: that is my
right! I could have married her, but sacrificed my love to hers: that
is my authority! And it is in the name of my shattered hopes and lost
happiness that I call you to account for her future peace.”

Serge had risen, he was deeply embittered at what Delarue had just told
him, and was trying to recover his calmness. Pierre, trembling with
emotion and anger, was also striving to check their influence.

“It seems to me,” said the Prince, mockingly, “that in your claim there
is more than the outcry of an irritated conscience; it is the complaint
of a heart that still loves.”

“And if that were so?” retorted Pierre. “Yes, I love her, but with a
pious love, from the depth of my soul, as one would love a saint; and I
only suffer the more to see her suffering.”

Somewhat irritated the Prince exclaimed, impatiently:

“Oh, don’t let us have a lyric recitation; let us be brief and clear.
What do you want? Explain yourself. I don’t suppose that you have
addressed this rebuke to me solely for the purpose of telling me that
you are in love with my wife!”

Pierre disregarded what was insulting in the Prince’s answer, and
calming himself, by force of will, replied:

“I desire, since you ask me, that you forget the folly and error of
a moment, and that you swear to me on your honor never to see Madame
Cayrol again.”

Pierre’s moderation wounded the Prince more than his rage had affected
him. He felt petty beside this devoted friend, who only thought of the
happiness of her whom he loved without hope. His temper increased.

“And what if I refuse to lend myself to those whims which you express so
candidly?”

“Then,” said Pierre, resolutely, “I shall remember that, when renouncing
Micheline, I promised to be a brother to her, and if you compel me I
will defend her.”

“You are threatening me, I think,” cried Serge, beside himself.

“No! I warn you.”

“Enough,” said the Prince, scarcely able to command himself. “For any
little service you have rendered me, from henceforth we are quits. Don’t
think that I am one of those who yield to violence. Keep out of my path;
it will be prudent.”

“Listen, then, to this. I am not one of those who shirk a duty,
whatever the peril be in accomplishing it. You know what price I put on
Micheline’s happiness; you are responsible for it, and I shall oblige
you to respect it.”

And leaving Serge dumb with suppressed rage, Pierre went out on the
terrace.

On the high road the sound of the carriages bearing away Savinien,
Herzog and his daughter, resounded in the calm starry night. In
the villa everything was quiet. Pierre breathed with delight; he
instinctively turned his eyes toward the brilliant sky, and in the
far-off firmament, the star which he appropriated to himself long ago,
and which he had so desperately looked for when he was unhappy, suddenly
appeared bright and twinkling. He sighed and moved on.

The Prince spent a part of the night at the club; he was excessively
nervous, and after alternate losses and gains, he retired, carrying off
a goodly sum from his opponents. It was a long time since he had been so
lucky, and on his way home he smiled when he thought how false was the
proverb, “Lucky at play, unlucky in love.” He thought of that adorable
Jeanne whom he had held in his arms a few hours before, and who had so
eagerly clung to him. He understood that she had never ceased to belong
to him. The image of Cayrol, self-confident man, happy in his love,
coming to his mind, caused Serge to laugh.

There was no thought for Micheline; she had been the stepping-stone to
fortune for him; he knew that she was gentle and thought her not very
discerning. He could easily deceive her; with a few caresses and a
little consideration he could maintain the illusion of his love for her.
Madame Desvarennes alone inconvenienced him in his arrangements. She was
sagacious, and on several occasions he had seen her unveil plots which
he thought were well contrived. He must really beware of her. He had
often noticed in her voice and look an alarming hardness. She was not a
woman to be afraid of a scandal. On the contrary, she would hail it with
joy, and be happy to get rid of him whom she hated with all her might.

In spite of himself, Serge remembered the night of his union to
Micheline, when he had said to Madame Desvarennes: “Take my life; it is
yours!” She had replied seriously, and almost threateningly: “Very well;
I accept it!” These words now resounded in his ears like a verdict.
He promised himself to play a sure game with Madame Desvarennes. As
to Cayrol, he was out of the question; he had only been created as a
plaything for princes such as Serge; his destiny was written on his
forehead, and he could not escape. If it had not been Panine, some one
else would have done the same thing for him. Besides, how could that
ex-cowherd expect to keep such a woman as Jeanne was to himself. It
would have been manifestly unfair.

The Prince found his valet asleep in the hall. He went quickly to his
bedroom, and slept soundly without remorse, without dreams, until noon.
Coming down to breakfast, he found the family assembled. Savinien had
come to see his aunt, before whom he wanted to place a “colossal
idea.” This time, he said, it was worth a fortune. He hoped to draw six
thousand francs from the mistress who, according to her usual custom,
could not fail to buy from him what he called his idea.

The dandy was thoughtful; he was preparing his batteries. Micheline,
pale, and her eyes red for want of rest, was seated near the gallery,
silently watching the sea, on which were passing, in the distance,
fishing-smacks with their sails looking like white-winged birds. Madame
Desvarennes was serious, and was giving Marechal instructions respecting
her correspondence, while at the same time watching her daughter out
of the corner of her eye. Micheline’s depressed manner caused her some
anxiety; she guessed some mystery. Still the young wife’s trouble might
be the result of last evening’s serious interview. But the sagacity of
the mistress guessed a new incident. Perhaps some scene between Serge
and Micheline in regard to the club. She was on the watch.

Cayrol and Jeanne had gone for a drive to Mentone. With a single glance
the Prince took in the attitude of one and all, and after a polite
exchange of words and a careless kiss on Micheline’s brow, he seated
himself at table. The repast was silent. Each one seemed preoccupied.
Serge anxiously asked himself whether Pierre had spoken. Marechal,
deeply interested in his plate, answered briefly, when addressed by
Madame Desvarennes. All the guests seemed constrained. It was a relief
when they rose from the table.

Micheline took her husband’s arm and leading him into the garden, under
the shade of the magnolias, said to him:

“My mother leaves us to-night. She has received a letter recalling her
to Paris. Her journey here was, you no doubt know, on our account. Our
absence made her sad, and she could no longer refrain from seeing me, so
she came. On her return to Paris she will feel very lonely, and as I am
so often alone--”

“Micheline!” interrupted Serge, with astonishment.

“It is not a reproach, dear,” continued the young wife, sweetly. “You
have your engagements. There are necessities to which one must submit;
you do what you think is expected of you, and it must be right. Only
grant me a favor.”

“A favor? To you?” replied Serge, troubled at the unexpected turn the
interview was taking. “Speak, dear one; are you not at liberty to do as
you like?”

“Well,” said Micheline, with a faint smile, “as you are so kindly
disposed, promise that we shall leave for Paris this week. The season is
far advancing. All your friends will have returned. It will not be such
a great sacrifice which I ask from you.”

“Willingly,” said Serge, surprised at Micheline’s sudden resolution.
“But, admit,” added he, gravely, “that your mother has worried you a
little on the subject.”

“My mother knows nothing of my project,” returned the Princess, coldly.
“I did not care to say anything about it to her until I had your
consent. A refusal on your part would have seemed too cruel. Already,
you are not the best of friends, and it is one of my regrets. You must
be good to my mother, Serge; she is getting old, and we owe her much
gratitude and love.”

Panine remained silent. Could such a sudden change have come over
Micheline in one day? She who lately sacrificed her mother for her
husband now came and pleaded in favor of Madame Desvarennes. What had
happened?

He promptly decided on his course of action.

“All that you ask me shall be religiously fulfilled. No concession will
be too difficult for me to make if it please you. You wish to return
to Paris, we will go as soon as our arrangements have been made. Tell
Madame Desvarennes, then, and let her see in our going a proof that I
wish to live on good terms with her.”

Micheline simply said: “Thank you.” And Serge having gallantly kissed
her hand, she regained the terrace.

Left alone, Serge asked himself the meaning of the transformation in his
wife. For the first time she had shown signs of taking the initiative.
Had the question of money been raised by Madame Desvarennes, and was
Micheline taking him back to Paris in the hope of inducing a change in
his habits? They would see. The idea that Micheline had seen him with
Jeanne never occurred to him. He did not think his wife capable of so
much self-control. Loving as she was, she could not have controlled
her feelings, and would have made a disturbance. Therefore he had no
suspicions.

As to their leaving for Paris he was delighted at the idea. Jeanne and
Cayrol were leaving Nice at the end of the week. Lost in the vastness of
the capital, the lovers would be more secure. They could see each other
at leisure. Serge would hire a small house in the neighborhood of
the Bois de Boulogne, and there they could enjoy each other’s society
without observation.



CHAPTER XVII. CAYROL IS BLIND

Micheline, on her return to Paris, was a cause of anxiety to all her
friends. Morally and physically she was changed. Her former gayety had
disappeared. In a few weeks she became thin and seemed to be wasting
away. Madame Desvarennes, deeply troubled, questioned her daughter,
who answered, evasively, that she was perfectly well and had nothing to
trouble her. The mother called in Doctor Rigaud, although she did not
believe in the profession, and, after a long conference, took him to
see Micheline. The doctor examined her, and declared it was nothing but
debility. Madame Desvarennes was assailed with gloomy forebodings. She
spent sleepless nights, during which she thought her daughter was dead;
she heard the funeral dirges around her coffin. This strong woman wept,
not daring to show her anxiety, and trembling lest Micheline should
suspect her fears.

Serge was careless and happy, treating the apprehensions of those
surrounding him with perfect indifference. He did not think his wife was
ill--a little tired perhaps, or it might be change of climate, nothing
serious. He had quite fallen into his old ways, spending every night at
the club, and a part of the day in a little house in the Avenue Maillot,
near the Bois de Boulogne. He had found one charmingly furnished, and
there he sheltered his guilty happiness.

It was here that Jeanne came, thickly veiled, since her return from
Nice. They each had a latchkey belonging to the door opening upon the
Bois. The one who arrived first waited for the other, within the house,
whose shutters remained closed to deceive passers-by. Then the hour of
departure came; the hope of meeting again did not lessen their sadness
at parting.

Jeanne seldom went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. The welcome that
Micheline gave her was the same as usual, but Jeanne thought she
discovered a coldness which made her feel uncomfortable; and she did not
care to meet her lover’s wife, so she made her visits scarce.

Cayrol came every morning to talk on business matters with Madame
Desvarennes. He had resumed the direction of his banking establishment.
The great scheme of the European Credit Company had been launched
by Herzog, and promised great results. Still Herzog caused Cayrol
considerable anxiety. Although a man of remarkable intelligence, he
had a great failing, and by trying to grasp too much often ended by
accomplishing nothing. Scarcely was one scheme launched when another
idea occurred to him, to which he sacrificed the former.

Thus, Herzog was projecting a still grander scheme to be based on the
European Credit. Cayrol, less sanguine, and more practical, was afraid
of the new scheme, and when Herzog spoke to him about it, said that
things were well enough for him as they were, and that he would not be
implicated in any fresh financial venture however promising.

Cayrol’s refusal had vexed Herzog. The German knew what opinion he was
held in by the public, and that without the prestige of Cayrol’s name,
and behind that, the house of Desvarennes, he would never have been able
to float the European Credit as it had been. He was too cunning not to
know this, and Cayrol having declined to join him, he looked round in
search of a suitable person to inspire the shareholders with confidence.

His daughter often went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. Madame Desvarennes
and Micheline had taken a fancy to her, as she was serious, natural, and
homelike. They liked to see her, although her father was not congenial
to their taste. Herzog had not succeeded in making friends with the
mistress; she disliked and instinctively mistrusted him.

One day it was rumored that Suzanne Herzog had gone in for an
examination at the Hotel de Ville, and had gained a certificate: People
thought it was very ridiculous. What was the good of so much learning
for a girl who would have such a large fortune, and who would never know
want. Savinien thought it was affectation and most laughable! Madame
Desvarennes thought it was most interesting; she liked workers, and
considered that the richer people were, the more reason they had
to work. Herzog had allowed his daughter to please herself and said
nothing.

Springtime had come, and fine weather, yet Micheline’s health did not
improve. She did not suffer, but a sort of languor had come over
her. For days she never quitted her reclining-chair. She was very
affectionate toward her mother, and seemed to be making up for the lack
of affection shown during the first months of her marriage.

She never questioned Serge as to his manner of spending his time,
though she seldom saw him, except at meal hours. Every week she wrote to
Pierre, who was buried in his mines, and after every despatch her mother
noticed that she seemed sadder and paler.

Serge and Jeanne grew bolder. They felt that they were not watched. The
little house seemed too small for them, and they longed to go beyond the
garden, as the air of the Bois was so sweet and scented with violets.
A feeling of bravado came over them, and they did not mind being seen
together. People would think they were a newly-married couple.

One afternoon they sallied forth, Jeanne wearing a thick veil, and
trembling at the risk she was running, yet secretly delighted at going.
They chose the most unfrequented paths and solitary nooks. Then, after
an hour’s stroll, they returned briskly, frightened at the sounds of
carriages rolling in the distance. They often went out after that, and
chose in preference the paths near the pond of Madrid where, behind
sheltering shrubs, they sat talking and listening to the busy hum of
Parisian life, seemingly so far away.

One day, about four o’clock, Madame Desvarennes was going to Saint-Cloud
on business, and was crossing the Bois de Boulogne. Her coachman had
chosen the most unfrequented paths to save time. She had opened the
carriage-window, and was enjoying the lovely scent from the shrubs.
Suddenly a watering-cart stopped the way. Madame Desvarennes looked
through the window to see what was the matter, and remained stupefied.
At the turning of a path she espied Serge, with a woman on his arm. She
uttered a cry that caused the couple to turn round. Seeing that pale
face, they sought to hide themselves.

In a moment Madame Desvarennes was out of the carriage. The guilty
couple fled down a path. Without caring what might be said of her, and
goaded on by a fearful rage, she tried to follow them. She especially
wished to see the woman who was closely veiled. She guessed her to be
Jeanne. But the younger woman, terrified, fled like a deer down a side
walk. Madame Desvarennes, quite out of breath, was obliged to stop. She
heard the slamming of a carriage-door, and a hired brougham that had
been waiting at the end of the path swept by her bearing the lovers
toward the town.

The mistress hesitated a moment, then said to her coachman:

“Drive home.” And, abandoning her business, she arrived in the Rue
Saint-Dominique a few minutes after the Prince.

With a bound, without going through the offices, without even taking
off her bonnet and cloak, she went up to Serge’s apartments. Without
hesitating, she entered the smoking-room.

Panine was there. Evidently he was expecting her. On seeing Madame
Desvarennes he rose, with a smile:

“One can see that you are at home,” said he, ironically; “you come in
without knocking.”

“No nonsense; the moment is ill-chosen,” briefly retorted the mistress.
“Why did you run away when you saw me a little while ago?”

“You have such a singular way of accosting people,” he answered,
lightly. “You come on like a charge of cavalry. The person with whom I
was talking was frightened, she ran away and I followed her.”

“She was doing wrong then if she was frightened. Does she know me?”

“Who does not know you? You are almost notorious--in the corn-market!”

Madame Desvarennes allowed the insult to pass without remark, and
advancing toward Serge, said:

“Who is this woman?”

“Shall I introduce her to you?” inquired the Prince, quietly. “She is
one of my countrywomen, a Polish--”

“You are a liar!” cried Madame Desvarennes, unable to control her temper
any longer. “You are lying most impudently!”

And she was going to add, “That woman was Jeanne!” but prudence checked
the sentence on her lips.

Serge turned pale.

“You forget yourself strangely, Madame,” he said, in a dry tone.

“I forgot myself a year ago, not now! It was when I was weak that I
forgot myself. When Micheline was between you and me I neither dared to
speak nor act.

“But now, since after almost ruining my poor daughter, you deceive her,
I have no longer any consideration for you. To make her come over to my
side I have only to speak one word.”

“Well, speak it! She is there. I will call her!”

Madame Desvarennes, in that supreme moment, was assailed by a doubt.
What if Micheline, in her blind love, did not believe her?

She raised her hand to stop Serge.

“Will not the fear of killing my daughter by this revelation stay you?”
 asked she, bitterly. “What manner of man are you to have so little heart
and conscience?”

Panine burst into laughter.

“You see what your threats are worth, and what value I place on them.
Spare them in the future. You ask me what manner of man I am? I will
tell you. I have not much patience, I hate to have my liberty interfered
with, and I have a horror of family jars. I expect to be master of my
own house.”

Madame Desvarennes was roused at these words. Her rage had abated on her
daughter’s account, but now it rose to a higher pitch.

“Ah! so this is it, is it?” she said. “You would like perfect liberty,
I see! You make such very good use of it. You don’t like to hear remarks
upon it. It is more convenient, in fact! You wish to be master in your
own house? In your own house! But, in truth, what are you here to put on
airs toward me? Scarcely more than a servant. A husband receiving wages
from me!”

Serge, with flashing eyes, made a terrible movement. He tried to speak,
but his lips trembled, and he could not utter a sound. By a sign he
showed Madame Desvarennes the door. The latter looked resolutely at the
Prince, and with energy which nothing could henceforth soften, added:

“You will have to deal with me in future! Good-day!”

And, leaving the room with as much calmness as she felt rage when
entering it, she went down to the counting-house.

Cayrol was sitting chatting with Marechal in his room. He was telling
him that Herzog’s rashness caused him much anxiety. Marechal did
not encourage his confidence. The secretary’s opinion on the want of
morality on the part of the financier had strengthened. The good feeling
he entertained toward the daughter had not counterbalanced the bad
impression he had of the father, and he warmly advised Cayrol to break
off all financial connection with such a man. Cayrol, indeed, had now
very little to do with the European Credit. The office was still at
his banking house, and the payments for shares were still made into
his bank, but as soon as the new scheme which Herzog was preparing was
launched, the financier intended settling in splendid offices which were
being rapidly completed in the neighborhood of the Opera. Herzog might
therefore commit all the follies which entered his head. Cayrol would be
out of it.

Madame Desvarennes entered. At the first glance, the men noticed the
traces of the emotion she had just experienced. They rose and waited in
silence. When the mistress was in a bad humor everybody gave way to
her. It was the custom. She nodded to Cayrol, and walked up and down the
office, absorbed in her own thoughts. Suddenly stopping, she said:

“Marechal, prepare Prince Panine’s account.”

The secretary looked up amazed, and did not seem to understand.

“Well! The Prince has had an overdraft; you will give me a statement;
that’s all! I wish to see how we two stand.”

The two men, astonished to hear Madame Desvarennes speak of her
son-in-law as she would of a customer, exchanged looks.

“You have lent my son-in-law money, Cayrol?”

And as the banker remained silent, still looking at the secretary,
Madame added:

“Does the presence of Marechal make you hesitate in answering me? Speak
before him; I have told you more than a hundred times that he knows my
business as well as I do.”

“I have, indeed, advanced some money to the Prince,” replied Cayrol.

“How much?” inquired Madame Desvarennes.

“I don’t remember the exact amount. I was happy to oblige your
son-in-law.”

“You were wrong, and have acted unwisely in not acquainting me of the
fact. It is thus that his follies have been encouraged by obliging
friends. At all events, I ask you now not to lend him any more.”

Cayrol seemed put out, and, with his hands in his pockets and his
shoulders up, replied:

“This is a delicate matter which you ask of me. You will cause a quarrel
between the Prince and myself--”

“Do you prefer quarreling with me?” asked the mistress.

“Zounds! No!” replied the banker. “But you place me in an embarrassing
position! I have just promised to lend Serge a considerable sum
to-night.”

“Well! you will not give it to him.”

“That is an act which he will scarcely forgive,” sighed Cayrol.

Madame Desvarennes placed her hand on the shoulder of the banker, and
looking seriously at him, said:

“You would not have forgiven me if I had allowed you to render him this
service.”

A vague uneasiness filled Cayrol’s heart, a shadow seemed to pass before
his eyes, and in a troubled voice he said to the mistress:

“Why so?”

“Because he would have repaid you badly.”

Cayrol thought the mistress was alluding to the money he had already
lent, and his fears vanished. Madame Desvarennes would surely repay it.

“So you are cutting off his resources?” he asked.

“Completely,” answered the mistress. “He takes too much liberty, that
young gentleman. He was wrong to forget that I hold the purse-strings. I
don’t mind paying, but I want a little deference shown me for my money.
Good-by! Cayrol, remember my instructions.”

And, shaking hands with the banker, Madame Desvarennes entered her own
office, leaving the two men together.

There was a moment’s pause: Cayrol was the first to break the silence.

“What do you think of the Prince’s position?”

“His financial position?” asked Marechal.

“Oh, no! I know all about that! I mean his relation to Madame
Desvarennes.”

“Zounds! If we were in Venice in the days of the Aqua-Toffana, the
sbirri and the bravi--”

“What rubbish!” interrupted Cayrol, shrugging his shoulders.

“Let me continue,” said the secretary, “and you can shrug your shoulders
afterward if you like. If we had been in Venice, knowing Madame
Desvarennes as I do, it would not have been surprising to me to have had
Master Serge found at the bottom of the canal some fine morning.”

“You are not in earnest,” muttered the banker.

“Much more so than you think. Only you know we live in the nineteenth
century, and we cannot make Providence interpose in the form of a
dagger or poison so easily as in former days. Arsenic and verdigris are
sometimes used, but it does not answer. Scientific people have had the
meanness to invent tests by which poison can be detected even when there
is none.”

“You are making fun of me,” said Cayrol, laughing.

“I! No. Come, do you wish to do a good stroke of business? Find a man
who will consent to rid Madame Desvarennes of her son-in-law. If he
succeed, ask Madame Desvarennes for a million francs. I will pay it at
only twenty-five francs’ discount, if you like!”

Cayrol was thoughtful. Marechal continued:

“You have known the house a long time, how is it you don’t understand
the mistress better? I tell you, and remember this: between Madame
Desvarennes and the Prince there is a mortal hatred. One of the two will
destroy the other. Which? Betting is open.”

“But what must I do? The Prince relies on me--”

“Go and tell him not to do so any longer.”

“Faith, no! I would rather he came to my office. I should be more at
ease. Adieu, Marechal.”

“Adieu, Monsieur Cayrol. But on whom will you bet?”

“Before I venture I should like to know on whose side the Princess is.”

“Ah, dangler! You think too much of the women! Some day you will be let
in through that failing of yours!”

Cayrol smiled conceitedly, and went away. Marechal sat down at his desk,
and took out a sheet of paper.

“I must tell Pierre that everything is going on well here,” he murmured.
“If he knew what was taking place he would soon be back, and might be
guilty of some foolery or other.” So he commenced writing.



BOOK 4.



CHAPTER XVIII. THE UNIVERSAL CREDIT COMPANY

The banking-house of Cayrol had not a very imposing appearance. It was
a narrow two-storied building, the front blackened by time. There was
a carriage gateway, on the right-hand side of which was the entrance
to the offices. The stairs leading to the first floor were covered by
a well-worn carpet. Here was a long corridor into which the different
offices opened. On their glass doors might be read: “Payments of
dividends.” “Accounts.” “Foreign correspondence.” “General office.”
 Cayrol’s own room was quite at the end, and communicated with his
private apartments. Everything breathed of simplicity and honesty.
Cayrol had never tried to throw dust into people’s eyes. He had started
modestly when opening the bank; his business had increased, but his
habits had remained the same. It was not a difficult matter to obtain
an interview, even by people not known to him. They sent in their cards,
and were admitted to his sanctum.

It was amid the coming and going of customers and clerks that Prince
Panine came the following day to find Cayrol. For the first time Serge
had put himself out for the banker. He was introduced with marks of the
most profound respect. The great name of Desvarennes seemed to cast a
kind of halo round his head in the eyes of the clerks.

Cayrol, a little embarrassed, but still resolute, went toward him.
Serge seemed nervous and somewhat abrupt in manner. He foresaw some
difficulty.

“Well! my dear fellow,” he said, without sitting down. “What are you up
to? I have waited since yesterday for the money you promised me.”

Cayrol scratched his ear, and felt taken aback by this plain speaking.

“The fact is--” stammered he.

“Have you forgotten your engagement?” asked Serge, frowning.

“No,” replied Cayrol, speaking slowly, “but I met Madame Desvarennes
yesterday.”

“And what had that to do with your intentions?”

“Zounds! It had everything to do with them. Your mother-in-law made a
scene, and forbade my lending you any money. You must understand, my
dear Prince, that my relations with Madame Desvarennes are important.
I hold a great deal of money of hers in my bank. She first gave me a
start. I cannot, without appearing ungrateful, act contrary to her will.
Place yourself in my position, and judge impartially of the terrible
alternative between obliging you and displeasing my benefactress.”

“Don’t cry; it is useless,” said Serge, with a scornful laugh. “I
sympathize with your troubles. You side with the money-bags. It remains
to be seen whether you will gain by it.”

“My dear Prince, I swear to you that I am in despair,” cried Cayrol,
annoyed at the turn the interview was taking. “Listen; be reasonable! I
don’t know what you have done to your mother-in-law, but she seems much
vexed with you. In your place I would rather make a few advances than
remain hostile toward Madame Desvarennes. That would mend matters, you
see. Flies are not to be caught with vinegar.”

Serge looked contemptuously at Cayrol, and put on his hat with supreme
insolence.

“Pardon me, my dear fellow; as a banker you are excellent when you have
any money to spare, but as a moralist you are highly ridiculous.”

And, turning on his heel, he quitted the office, leaving Cayrol quite
abashed. He passed along the corridor switching his cane with suppressed
rage. Madame Desvarennes had, with one word, dried up the source from
which he had been drawing most of the money which he had spent during
the last three months. He had to pay a large sum that evening at the
club, and he did not care to apply to the money-lenders of Paris.

He went down the stairs wondering how he would get out of this scrape!
Go to Madame Desvarennes and humble himself as Cayrol advised? Never!
He regretted, for a moment, the follies which had led him into this
difficulty. He ought to have been able to live on two hundred
thousand francs a year! He had squandered money foolishly, and now the
inexhaustible well from which he had drawn his treasure was closed by an
invincible will.

He was crossing the gateway, when a well-known voice struck his ear, and
he turned round. Herzog, smiling in his enigmatical manner, was before
him. Serge bowed, and wanted to pass on, but the financier put his hand
on his arm, saying:

“What a hurry you are in, Prince. I suppose your pocketbook is full of
notes, and you are afraid of being plundered.”

And with his finger, Herzog touched the silver mounted pocketbook, the
corner of which was peeping out of the Prince’s pocket. Panine could not
control a gesture of vexation, which made the financier smile.

“Am I wrong?” asked Herzog. “Can our friend Cayrol have refused your
request? By-the-bye, did you not quarrel with Madame Desvarennes
yesterday? Whoever was it told me that? Your mother-in-law spoke of
cutting off all your credit, and from your downcast look I guess that
fool Cayrol has obeyed the orders he has received.”

Serge, exasperated and stamping with rage, wanted to speak, but it was
no easy matter interrupting Herzog. Besides, there was something in the
latter’s look which annoyed Serge. His glance seemed to be fathoming the
depths of Panine’s pockets, and the latter instinctively tightened his
arms across his chest, so that Herzog might not see that his pocketbook
was empty.

“What are you talking about?” asked Serge, at last, with a constrained
smile.

“About things which must greatly interest you,” said Herzog, familiarly.
“Come, be sincere. Cayrol has just refused you a sum of money. He’s a
simpleton! How much do you want? Will a hundred thousand francs do just
now?”

And writing a few words on a check, the financier handed it to Serge,
adding:

“A man of your position should not be in any difficulty for such a
paltry sum!”

“But, sir,” said Serge, astonished, and pushing away Herzog’s hand.

“Accept it, and don’t feel indebted to me. It is hardly worth while
between you and me.”

And taking Panine’s arm Herzog walked on with him.

“Your carriage is there? all right, mine will follow. I want to talk to
you. Your troubles cannot last. I will show you the means of extricating
yourself and that without delay, my dear sir.”

And without consulting Panine he seated himself beside him in the
carriage.

“I told you once, if you remember,” continued the financier, “that I
might prove useful to you. You were haughty, and I did not insist; yet
you see the day has come. Let me speak frankly with you. It is my usual
manner, and there is some good in it.”

“Speak,” answered Serge, rather puzzled.

“You find yourself at this moment, vulgarly speaking, left in the lurch.
Your wants are many and your resources few.”

“At least--” protested Serge.

“Good! There you are refractory,” said the financier, laughingly, “and I
have not finished. The day after your marriage you formed your
household on a lavish footing; you gave splendid receptions; you bought
race-horses; in short, you went the pace like a great lord. Undoubtedly
it costs a lot of money to keep up such an establishment. As you spent
without counting the cost, you confounded the capital with the interest,
so that at this moment you are three parts ruined. I don’t think you
would care to change your mode of living, and it is too late in the day
to cut down expenses and exist on what remains? No. Well, to keep up
your present style you need at least a million francs every year.”

“You calculate like Cocker,” remarked Serge, smiling with some
constraint.

“That is my business,” answered Herzog. “There are two ways by which
you can obtain that million. The first is by making it up with your
mother-in-law, and consenting, for money, to live under her dominion. I
know her, she will agree to this.”

“But,” said Serge, “I refuse to submit.”

“In that case you must get out of your difficulties alone.”

“And how?” inquired the Prince, with astonishment.

Herzog looked at him seriously.

“By entering on the path which I am ready to open up to you,” replied
Herzog, “and in which I will guide you. By going in for business.”

Serge returned Herzog’s glance and tried to read his face, but found him
impenetrable.

“To go into business one needs experience, and I have none.”

“Mine will suffice,” retorted the financier.

“Or money,” continued the Prince, “and I have none, either.”

“I don’t ask money from you. I offer you some.”

“What, then, do I bring into the concern?”

“The prestige of your name, and your relations with Madame Desvarennes.”

The Prince answered, haughtily:

“My relations are personal, and I doubt whether they will serve you. My
mother-in-law is hostile, and will do nothing for me. As to my name, it
does not belong to me, it belongs to those who bore it nobly before me.”

“Your relations will serve me,” said Herzog. “I am satisfied. Your
mother-in-law cannot get out of your being her daughter’s husband, and
for that you are worth your weight in gold. As to your name, it is
just because it has been nobly borne that it is valuable. Thank your
ancestors, therefore, and make the best of the only heritage they left
you. Besides, if you care to examine things closely, your ancestors will
not have reason to tremble in their graves. What did they do formerly?
They imposed taxes on their vassals and extorted money from the
vanquished. We financiers do the same. Our vanquished are the
speculators; our vassals the shareholders. And what a superiority
there is about our proceedings! There is no violence. We persuade; we
fascinate; and the money flows into our coffers. What do I say? They
beseech us to take it. We reign without contest. We are princes, too
princes of finance. We have founded an aristocracy as proud and as
powerful as the old one. Feudality of nobility no longer exists; it has
given way to that of money.”

Serge laughed. He saw what Herzog was driving at.

“Your great barons of finance are sometimes subject to executions,” said
he.

“Were not Chalais, Cinq-Mars, Biron, and Montmorency executed?” asked
Herzog, with irony.

“That was on a scaffold,” replied Panine.

“Well! the speculator’s scaffold is the Bourse! But only small dabblers
in money succumb; the great ones are safe from danger. They are
supported in their undertakings by such powerful and numerous interests
that they cannot fail without involving public credit; even
governments are forced to come to their aid. One of these powerful and
indestructible enterprises I have dreamed of grafting on to the European
Credit Company, the Universal Credit Company. Its very name is a
programme in itself. To stretch over the four quarters of the globe like
an immense net, and draw into its meshes all financial speculators: such
is its aim. Nobody will be able to withstand us. I am offering you great
things, but I dream of still greater. I have ideas. You will see them
developed, and will profit by them, if you join my fortunes. You are
ambitious, Prince. I guessed it; but your ambition hitherto has been
satisfied with small things--luxurious indulgences and triumphs of
elegance! What are these worth to what I can give you? The sphere in
which you move is narrow. I will make it immense. You will no longer
reign over a small social circle, you will rule a world.”

Serge, more affected than he cared to show, tried to banter.

“Are you repeating the prologue to Faust?” asked he. “Where is your
magical compact? Must I sign it?”

“Not at all. Your consent is sufficient. Look into the business, study
it at your leisure, and measure the results; and then if it suit you,
you can sign a deed of partnership. Then in a few years you may possess
a fortune surpassing all that you have dreamed of.”

The financier remained silent. Serge was weighing the question. Herzog
was happy; he had shown himself to all Paris in company with Madame
Desvarennes’s son-in-law. He had already realized one of his projects.
The carriage was just passing down the Champs Elysees. The weather was
lovely, and in the distance could be seen the trees of the Tuileries and
the different monuments of the Place de la Concorde bathed in blue mist.
Groups of horsemen were cantering along the side avenues. Long files of
carriages were rolling rapidly by with well-dressed ladies. The capital
displayed at that hour all the splendor of its luxury. It was Paris in
all its strength and gayety.

Herzog stretched out his hand, and calling the Prince’s attention to the
sight, said:

“There’s your empire!”

Then, looking at him earnestly, he asked:

“Is it agreed?”

Serge hesitated for a moment, and then bowed his head, saying:

“It is agreed.”

Herzog pulled the check-string communicating with the coachman and
alighted.

“Good-by,” said he to Panine.

He slipped into his own carriage, which had followed closely behind, and
drove off.

From that day, even Jeanne had a rival. The fever of speculation had
seized on Serge; he had placed his little finger within the wheels and
he must follow--body, name, and soul. The power which this new game
exercised over him was incredible. It was quite different to the stupid
games at the club, always the same. On the Bourse, everything was new,
unexpected, sudden, and formidable. The intensity of the feelings were
increased a hundredfold, owing to the importance of the sums risked.

It was really a splendid sight to see Herzog manipulating matters,
maneuvering with a miraculous dexterity millions of francs. And then the
field for operations was large. Politics, the interests of nations, were
the mainsprings which impelled the play, and the game assumed diplomatic
vastness and financial grandeur.

From his private office Herzog issued orders, and whether his ability
was really extraordinary, or whether fortune exceptionally favored him,
success was certain. Serge, from the first week, realized considerable
sums. This brilliant success threw him in a state of great excitement.
He believed everything that Herzog said to him as if it were gospel. He
saw the world bending under the yoke which he was about to impose upon
it. People working and toiling every day were doing so for him alone,
and like one of those kings who had conquered the world, he pictured all
the treasures of the earth laid at his feet. From that time he lost
the sense of right and wrong. He admitted the unlikely, and found the
impossible quite natural. He was a docile tool in the hands of Herzog.

The rumor of this unforeseen change in Panine’s circumstances soon
reached Madame Desvarennes’s ears. The mistress was frightened, and sent
for Cayrol, begging him to remain a director of the European Credit, in
order to watch the progress of the new affair. With her practical common
sense, she foresaw disasters, and even regretted that Serge had not
confined himself to cards and reckless living.

Cayrol was most uneasy, and made a confidant of his wife, who, deeply
troubled, told Panine the fears his friends entertained on his account.
The Prince smiled disdainfully, saying these fears were the effect
of plebeian timidity. The mistress understood nothing of great
speculations, and Cayrol was a narrow-minded banker! He knew what he was
doing. The results of his speculations were mathematical. So far they
had not disappointed his hopes. The great Universal Credit Company, of
which he was going to be a director, would bring him in such an immense
fortune that he would be independent of Madame Desvarennes.

Jeanne, terrified at this blind confidence, tried to persuade him. Serge
took her in his arms, kissed her, and banished her fears.

Madame Desvarennes had forbidden her people to tell Micheline anything
of what was going on, as she wished her to remain in perfect ignorance.
By a word, the mistress, if she could not have prevented the follies
of which Serge was guilty, could, at least, have spared herself and her
daughter. It would have only been necessary to reveal his behavior and
betrayal to Micheline, and to provoke a separation. If the house of
Desvarennes were no longer security for Panine, his credit would fall.
Disowned by his mother-in-law, and publicly given up by her, he would
be of no use to Herzog, and would be promptly thrown over by him. The
mistress did not wish her daughter to know the heartrending truth. She
would not willingly cause her to shed tears, and therefore preferred
risking ruin.

Micheline, too, tried to hide her troubles from her mother. She knew
too well that Serge would have the worst of it if he got into her black
books. With the incredible persistence of a loving heart, she hoped to
win back Serge. Thus a terrible misunderstanding caused these two women
to remain inactive and silent, when, by united efforts, they might,
perhaps, have prevented dangers.

The great speculation was already being talked about. Herzog was boldly
placing his foot on the summit whereon the five or six demigods, who
ruled the stock market, were firmly placed. The audacious encroachments
of this newcomer had vexed these formidable potentates, and already they
had decided secretly his downfall because he would not let them share in
his profits.

One morning, the Parisians, on awakening, found the walls placarded with
notices advertising the issue of shares in the Universal Credit Company,
and announcing the names of the directors, among which appeared that
of the Prince. Some were members of the Legion d’Honneur; others recent
members of the Cabinet Council, and Prefets retired into private life. A
list of names to dazzle the public, but all having a weak point.

This created a great sensation in the business world. Madame
Desvarennes’s son-in-law was on the board. It was a good speculation,
then? People consulted the mistress, who found herself somewhat in a
dilemma; either she must disown her son-in-law, or speak well of the
affair. Still she did not hesitate, for she was loyal and honest above
all things. She declared the speculation was a poor one, and did all she
could to prevent any of her friends becoming shareholders.

The issue of shares was disastrous. The great banks remained hostile,
and capitalists were mistrustful. Herzog landed a few million francs.
Doorkeepers and cooks brought him their savings. He covered expenses.
But it was no use advertising and puffing in the newspapers, as a word
had gone forth which paralyzed the speculation. Ugly rumors were afloat.
Herzog’s German origin was made use of by the bankers, who whispered
that the aim of the Universal Credit Company was exclusively political.
It was to establish branch banks in every part of the world to further
the interests of German industry. Further, at a given moment, Germany
might have need of a loan in case of war, and the Universal Credit
Company would be there to supply the necessary aid to the great military
nation.

Herzog was not a man to be put down without resisting, and he made
supreme efforts to float his undertaking. He caused a number of unissued
shares to be sold on ‘Change, and had them bought up by his own men,
thus creating a fictitious interest in the company. In a few days the
shares rose and were at a premium, simply through the jobbery to which
Herzog lent himself.

Panine was little disposed to seek for explanations, and, besides,
had such unbounded faith in his partner that he suspected nothing. He
remained in perfect tranquillity. He had increased his expenditure, and
his household was on a royal footing. Micheline’s sweetness emboldened
him; he no longer took the trouble of dissimulating, and treated his
young wife with perfect indifference.

Jeanne and Serge met every day at the little house in the Avenue
Maillot. Cayrol was too much engaged with the new anxieties which Herzog
caused him, to look after his wife, and left her quite free to amuse
herself. Besides, he had not the least suspicion. Jeanne, like all
guilty women, overwhelmed him with kind attentions, which the good man
mistook for proofs of love. The fatal passion was growing daily stronger
in the young woman’s heart, and she would have found it impossible to
have given up her dishonorable happiness with Panine. She felt herself
capable of doing anything to preserve her lover.

Jeanne had already said, “Oh! if we were but free!” And they formed
projects. They would go away to Lake Lugano, and, in a villa hidden
by trees and shrubs, would enjoy the pleasures of being indissolubly
united. The woman was more eager than the man in giving way to these
visions of happiness. She sometimes said, “What hinders us now? Let
us go.” But Serge, prudent and discreet, even in the most affectionate
moments, led Jeanne to take a more sensible view. What was the use of a
scandal? Did they not belong to each other?

Then the young woman reproached him for not loving her as much as she
loved him. She was tired of dissimulating; her husband was an object
of horror to her, and she had to tell him untruths and submit to his
caresses which were revolting to her. Serge calmed her with a kiss, and
bade her wait awhile.

Pierre, rendered anxious on hearing that Serge had joined Herzog in
his dangerous financial speculations, had left his mines and had just
arrived. The letters which Micheline addressed to the friend of her
youth, her enforced confidant in trouble, were calm and resigned.
Full of pride, she had carefully hidden from Pierre the cause of her
troubles. He was the last person by whom she would like to be pitied,
and her letters had represented Serge as repentant and full of good
feeling. Marechal, for similar reasons, had kept his friend in the
dark. He feared Pierre’s interference, and he wished to spare Madame
Desvarennes the grief of seeing her adopted son quarreling with her
son-in-law.

But the placards announcing the establishment of the Universal Credit
Company made their way into the provinces, and one morning Pierre found
some stuck on the walls of his establishment. Seeing the name of Panine,
and not that of Cayrol, Pierre shuddered. The unpleasant ideas which
he experienced formerly when Herzog was introduced to the Desvarennes
recurred to his mind. He wrote to the mistress to ask what was going
on, and not receiving an answer, he started off without hesitation for
Paris.

He found Madame Desvarennes in a terrible state of excitement. The
shares had just fallen a hundred and twenty francs. A panic had ensued.
The affair was considered as absolutely lost, and the shareholders were
aggravating matters by wanting to sell out at once.

Savinien was just coming away from the mistress’s room. He wanted to see
the downfall of the Prince, whom he had always hated, looking upon him
as a usurper of his own rights upon the fortune of the Desvarennes.
He began lamenting to his aunt, when she turned upon him with unusual
harshness, and he felt bound as he said, laughing, to leave the
“funereal mansion.”

Cayrol, as much interested in the affairs of the Prince as if they were
his own, went backward and forward between the Rue Saint-Dominique and
the Rue Taitbout, pale and troubled, but without losing his head. He
had already saved the European Credit Company by separating it six
weeks before from the Universal Credit Company, notwithstanding Madame
Desvarennes’s supplications to keep them together, in the hope that the
one would save the other. But Cayrol, practical, clear, and implacable,
had refused, for the first time, to obey Madame Desvarennes. He acted
with the resolution of a captain of a vessel, who throws overboard a
portion of the cargo to save the ship, the crew, and the rest of the
merchandise. He did well, and the European Credit was safe. The shares
had fallen a little, but a favorable reaction was already showing
itself. The name of Cayrol, and his presence at the head of affairs, had
reassured the public, and the shareholders gathered round him, passing a
vote of confidence.

The banker, devoted to his task, next sought to save Panine, who was at
that very moment robbing him of his honor and happiness in the house of
the Avenue Maillot.

Pierre, Cayrol, and Madame Desvarennes met in Marechal’s private office.
Pierre declared that it was imperative to take strong measures and
to speak to the Prince. It was the duty of the mistress to enlighten
Panine, who was no doubt Herzog’s dupe.

Madame Desvarennes shook her head sadly. She feared that Serge was not
a dupe but an accomplice. And what could she tell him? Let him ruin
himself! He would not believe her. She knew how he received her advice
and bore her remonstrances.

An explanation between her and Serge was impossible, and her
interference would only hurry him into the abyss.

“Well, then, I will speak to him,” said Pierre, resolutely.

“No,” said Madame Desvarennes, “not you! Only one here can tell him
efficaciously what he must hear, and that is Cayrol. Let us above all
things keep guard over our words and our behavior. On no account must
Micheline suspect anything.”

Thus, at the most solemn moments, when fortune and honor, perhaps, were
compromised, the mother thought of her daughter’s welfare and happiness.

Cayrol went up to the Prince’s rooms. He had just come in, and was
opening his letters, while having a cigarette in the smoking-room. A
door, covered by curtains, led to a back stair which opened into the
courtyard. Cayrol had gone up that way, feeling sure that by so doing he
would not meet Micheline.

On seeing Jeanne’s husband, Serge rose quickly. He feared that Cayrol
had discovered everything, and instinctively stepped backward. The
banker’s manner soon undeceived him. He was serious, but not in a rage.
He had evidently come on business.

“Well, my dear Cayrol,” said the Prince, gayly, “what good fortune has
brought you here?”

“If it is fortune, it is certainly not good fortune,” answered the
banker, gravely. “I wish to have some talk with you, and I shall be
grateful if you will listen patiently.”

“Oh! oh!” said Serge. “How serious you are. You have some heavy payments
on hand, and want a little help, eh? I will speak to Herzog.”

Cayrol looked at the Prince in amazement. So he did not suspect
anything? Such carelessness and negligence frightened him. The banker
resolved to proceed clearly, and without beating about the bush; to do
away with such blind confidence a thunderbolt was necessary.

“I have not come about my business, but yours,” returned Cayrol. “The
Universal Credit Company is on the eve of disaster; there is still time
for you to withdraw safely and soundly from the sinking wreck. I bring
you the means.”

Serge laughed.

“Thank you, Cayrol; you are very kind, my friend. I know your intentions
are good, but I don’t believe a word you are saying. You have come
from Madame Desvarennes. You are both agreed that I shall give up the
Universal Credit, but I will not yield to any pressure. I know what I am
doing. Be easy.”

And quietly lighting another cigarette, he gracefully puffed the
smoke toward the ceiling. Cayrol did not trouble to argue, but took
a newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Panine, simply saying,
“Read!”

It was an article in a reliable financial paper prophesying the
failure of the Universal Credit Company, and basing its statements on
irrefutable calculations. Serge took the paper and looked over it. He
turned pale and crushed it in his hand.

“What infamy!” cried he. “I know our adversaries are enraged. Yes, they
know that our new company is destined to crush them in the future, and
they are doing all they can to run us aground. Jealousy! Envy! There is
no other foundation for these rumors, and they are unworthy a serious
man’s attention.”

“There is neither envy nor jealousy. All is true,” said Cayrol. “You
will admit that I am your sincere friend? Well, I swear to you that
the situation is terrible, and you must resign your directorship of the
Universal Credit without loss of time. There’s not a moment to lose. Sit
down and write your resignation.”

“Do you think I am a child to be led by the nose like that?” asked the
Prince, in a passion. “If you are sincere, Cayrol, as I wish to believe,
I also think you are a fool. You don’t understand! As to drawing out of
the company, never! I have a lot of money invested in it.”

“Well, lose your money, Madame Desvarennes will pay you back. At least
you can save your name.”

“Ah, I see you are conniving with her!” exclaimed the Prince, loudly.
“Don’t tell me another word, I don’t believe you. I shall go straight
to the office, and I will speak to Herzog. We will take measures to
prosecute the papers for libel if they dare to publish these untruths.”

Cayrol saw that nothing would convince Panine. He hoped that an
interview with Herzog would enlighten him. He left the matter to chance,
as reasoning was of no avail, and went down to the mistress.

Serge drove to the Universal Credit Company. It was the first day in the
new offices. Herzog had furnished them splendidly, thinking that this
would give the shareholders a high opinion of the undertaking. How could
they have any doubts when they saw such splendid furniture and large
offices? How could they refuse to place their money in the hands of
speculators that could cover their floors with such soft carpets? The
porters, with their dark blue and red cloth liveries, and buttons
with the company’s monogram on them, answered inquiries with haughty
condescension. Everything foretold success. It was in the air. You could
hear the cashier shovelling heaps of gold. The people who had placed the
Universal Credit Company on such a footing were either very powerful or
very impudent.

Serge walked in, as he would have done at home, with his hat on, amid a
number of small shareholders, who had come full of anxiety after reading
the accounts in the newspapers, and who felt full of confidence after
seeing the splendor of the place. Panine reached Herzog’s office, but
when about to open the door, loud voices struck his ear. The financier
was arguing with a director, and Panine listened.

“The speculation is safe and sure,” Herzog was saying. “The shares are
low, I know, because I have ceased to keep them up. I have given orders
in London, Vienna, and Berlin, and we are buying up all shares that
are offered in the market. I shall then run the shares up again, and we
shall realize an enormous sum. It is most simple.”

“But it is shady,” said the other voice.

“Why? I defend myself as I am attacked. The great banks seek to
deteriorate my stock. I buy in, and take it out of my adversaries. Is it
not just and lawful?”

Panine breathed freely and felt reassured. The depreciation was caused
by Herzog; he had just said so. There was nothing to fear then. It was
just a trick of Herzog’s, and the company would come out brighter than
ever.

Serge went in.

“Oh! here’s Prince Panine,” said Herzog. “Ask him what he thinks of the
matter. I defer to his judgment.”

“I don’t want to know anything,” said Serge. “I have full confidence in
you, my dear manager, and our business will prosper in your hands, I am
sure. Besides, I know the manoeuvres of our opponents, and I think every
financial means justifiable to answer them.”

“Ah! What did I say to you a few minutes ago?” cried Herzog, addressing
his questioner in a tone of triumph. “Let me act and you will see.
Besides, I don’t want to keep you against your will,” he added, harshly.
“You are at liberty to withdraw from us if you like.”

The other protested that what he had said was for the best interests of
all concerned. He did not dream of leaving the company; on the contrary,
they might rely on him. He appreciated the experience and ability of
Herzog too well to separate his fortune from his friend’s. And, shaking
hands with the financier, he took his leave.

“Come! What is all this clamor in the newspapers?” asked Serge, when
he found himself alone with Herzog. “Do you know that the articles
published are very perfidious?”

“All the more perfidious because they are founded on truth,” said the
financier, coldly.

“What do you mean?” cried Serge, in alarm.

“The truth. Do you think I am to tell you lies as I did to that idiot
who has just gone out? The Universal Credit has at this moment a screw
loose. But patience! I have an idea, and in a fortnight the shares will
have doubled in value. I have a splendid scheme in hand which will kill
the gas companies. It is a plan for lighting by magnesium. Its effect
will be startling. I shall publish sensational articles describing the
invention in the London and Brussels papers. Gas shares will fall very
low. I shall buy up all I can, and when I am master of the situation,
I shall announce that the threatened gas companies are buying up the
invention. Shares will rise again, and I shall realize a goodly sum,
which will be for the benefit of the Universal Credit.”

“But for such a formidable speculation foreign agents will require
security?”

“I will offer it to them. I have here ten million francs’ worth of
shares in the European Credit belonging to Cayrol. We will give the
cashier a joint receipt for them. The speculation will last three days.
It is safe, and when the result is achieved we will replace the shares,
and take back the receipt.”

“But,” asked Serge, “is this plan of taking the shares which don’t
belong to us legal?”

“It is a transfer,” said Herzog, with simplicity. “Besides, don’t forget
that we have to do with Cayrol, that is to say with a partner.”

“Suppose we tell him of it,” insisted the Prince.

“No! The deuce! We should have to explain everything to him. He knows
what’s what, and would find the idea too good, and want a share of the
spoil. No! Sign that, and don’t be alarmed. The sheep will be back in
the fold before the shepherd comes to count them.”

A dark presentiment crossed Serge’s mind, and he was afraid. At that
moment, when his fate was being decided, he hesitated to go deeper into
the rut where he had already been walking too long. He stood silent and
undecided. Confused thoughts crowded his brain; his temples throbbed,
and a buzzing noise sounded in his ears. But the thought of giving
up his liberty, and again subjecting himself to Madame Desvarennes’s
protection was like the lash of a whip, and he blushed for having
hesitated.

Herzog looked at him, and, smiling in a constrained way, said:

“You, too, may give up the affair if you like. If I share it with you it
is because you are so closely allied to me. I don’t so very much care
to cut the pear in two. Don’t think that I am begging of you to be my
partner! Do as you like.”

Serge caught hold of the paper and, having signed it, handed it to the
financier.

“All right,” said Herzog. “I shall leave to-night and be absent
three days. Watch the money market. You will see the results of my
calculations.”

And shaking hands with the Prince, Herzog went to the cashier to get the
scrip and deposit the receipt.



CHAPTER XIX. SIN GROWS BOLDER

There was a party at Cayrol’s. In the drawing-rooms of the mansion in
the Rue Taitbout everything was resplendent with lights, and there
was quite a profusion of flowers. Cayrol had thought of postponing
the party, but was afraid of rousing anxieties, and like an actor who,
though he has just lost his father, must play the following day, so
Cayrol gave his party and showed a smiling face, so as to prevent harm
to his business.

Matters had taken a turn for the worse during the last three days. The
bold stroke, to carry out which Herzog had gone to London so as to be
more secret, had been got wind of. The fall of the shares had not
taken place. Working with considerable sums of money, the loss on
the difference was as great as the gains would have been. The shares
belonging to the European Credit Company had defrayed the cost of the
game. It was a disaster. Cayrol, in his anxiety, had applied for the
scrip and had only found the receipt given to the cashier. Although
the transaction was most irregular, Cayrol had not said anything; but,
utterly cast down, had gone to Madame Desvarennes to tell her of the
fact.

The Prince was in bed, pretending to be ill. His wife, happily ignorant
of all that was going on, rejoiced secretly at his indisposition because
she was allowed to nurse him and have him all to herself. Panine,
alarmed at the check they had experienced, was expecting Herzog with
feverish impatience, and to keep out of sight had chosen the privacy of
his own room.

Still, Cayrol had been allowed to see him, and with great circumspection
told him that his non-appearance at the same time that Herzog was absent
was most fatal for the Universal Credit Company. It was absolutely
necessary that he should be seen in public. He must come to his party,
and appear with a calm face. Serge promised to come, and had imposed
on Micheline the heavy task of accompanying him to Jeanne’s. It was the
first time since her return from Nice that she had entered the house of
her husband’s mistress.

The concert was over, and a crowd of guests were coming from the large
drawing-room to the boudoir and little drawing-room.

“The symphony is over. Ouf!” said Savinien, yawning.

“You don’t like music?” asked Marechal, with a laugh.

“Yes, military music. But two hours of Schumann and Mendelssohn at high
pressure is too much for one man. But I say, Marechal, what do you think
of Mademoiselle Herzog’s being at Cayrol’s soiree. It is a little too
strong.”

“How so?”

“Why, the father has bolted, and the daughter is preparing a dance. Each
has a different way of using their feet.”

“Very pretty, Monsieur Desvarennes, but I advise you to keep your
flashes of wit to yourself,” said Marechal, seriously. “That may not
suit everybody.”

“Oh, Marechal, you, too, making a fuss!”

And turning on his heel, he went to the refreshment table.

Prince and Princess Panine were just coming in. Micheline was smiling,
and Serge was pale, though calm. Cayrol and Jeanne came toward them.
Everybody turned to look at them. Jeanne, without embarrassment, shook
hands with her friend. Cayrol bowed respectfully to Micheline.

“Princess,” he said, “will you honor me by taking my arm? You are just
in time, they are going to begin dancing.”

“Not myself, though, thank you,” replied Micheline, with a sad smile, “I
am still very weak, but I will look on.”

And on Cayrol’s arm she entered the large drawing-room. Serge followed
with Jeanne.

The festivities were at their height. The orchestra was playing a
waltz, and in a whirl of silk and gauze the young people seemed to be
thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Suzanne Herzog was sitting alone near a window, in a simple white dress,
and without a single ornament. Marechal had just approached her, and she
had welcomed him with a smile.

“Are you not dancing to-night, Mademoiselle?” he asked.

“I am waiting to be invited,” she answered, sadly, “and, like sister
Anne, I see nobody coming. There are ugly reports abroad about my
father’s fortune, and the Argonauts are drawing off.”

“Will you give me a dance?” said Marechal. “I don’t dance to perfection,
never having practised much, but with a good will.”

“Thank you, Monsieur Marechal, I would rather talk. I am not very
cheerful to-night, and, believe me, I only came because Madame
Desvarennes wished it. I would rather have remained at home. Business
has gone wrong with my father by what I can hear, for I don’t know what
goes on at the office. I feel more inclined to cry than to laugh. Not
that I regret the loss of money, you know; I don’t care for it, but my
father must be in despair.”

Marechal listened silently to Suzanne, not daring to tell her what he
thought of Herzog, and respected the real ignorance or willing blindness
of the young girl who did not doubt her father’s loyalty.

The Princess, leaning on Cayrol’s arm, had just finished promenading
round the rooms, when she perceived Suzanne and, leaving the banker,
came and seated herself beside her. Many of the guests looked at each
other and whispered words which Micheline did not hear, and if she
had heard would not have understood. “It is heroic!” some said. Others
answered, “It is the height of impudence.”

The Princess was talking with Suzanne and was looking at her husband
who, leaning against a door, was following Jeanne with his eyes.

At a sign from Cayrol, Marechal left the room. The secretary joined
Madame Desvarennes, who had come with Pierre and had remained in
Cayrol’s private office. During this party matters of moment were to
be discussed, and a consultation was about to take place between the
interested parties. On seeing Marechal enter, Madame only uttered one
word:

“Cayrol?”

“Here he is,” answered the secretary.

Cayrol came in, hurriedly.

“Well,” he asked, with great anxiety, “have you any news?”

“Pierre has just come from London,” answered the mistress. “What we
feared is true. Herzog, conjointly with my son-in-law, has made use of
the ten millions belonging to the European Credit.”

“Do you think that Herzog has really bolted?” inquired Marechal.

“No! he is too deep for that,” replied Cayrol. “He will return. He knows
that in compromising the Prince it is as if he had compromised the firm
of Desvarennes, therefore he is quite easy on the matter.”

“Can the one be saved without the other?” asked the mistress.

“It is impossible. Herzog has so firmly bound up his interests with
those of the Prince that it will be necessary to extricate both or let
both perish together.”

“Well, we must save Herzog into the bargain, then!” said Madame
Desvarennes, coldly. “But by what means?”

“These,” answered Cayrol. “The shares taken away by Herzog, under the
security of the Prince’s signature, were deposited by the shareholders.
When the Universal Credit removed to its new offices, these shares were
taken away by mistake. It will suffice to replace the scrip. I will give
back the receipt to the Prince and all trace of this deplorable affair
will be wiped out.”

“But the numbers of the shares will not be the same,” said Madame
Desvarennes, accustomed to minute regularity in all operations.

“We can explain the change by feigning a sale when they were high, and
buying them up when low. We will show a profit, and the shareholders
will not quarrel. Besides, I reserve the right of divulging Herzog’s
fraud without implicating Panine, if the shareholders insist. Trust me,
I will catch Herzog another time. It is my stupid confidence in that
man which has been partly the cause of this disaster. I will make your
business mine and force him to shell out. I shall leave for London
to-night, by the 1.50 train. Promptness of action in such a case is the
first step toward success.”

“Thank you, Cayrol,” said the mistress. “Have my daughter and the Prince
arrived?”

“Yes, Serge is calm; he has more power over himself than I could have
believed.”

“What does it matter to him what is going on? Is it he who will feel the
blow? No. He knows that I shall go on working to keep him in idleness
and maintain him in luxury. I may think myself lucky if he is reclaimed
by this hard lesson, and does not again begin to rummage in other
people’s safes, for then I should be unable to save him.”

The mistress rose and, with flashing eyes, walked up and down the room.

“Oh, the wretch!” she said. “If ever my daughter ceases to come between
him and me!”

A terrible gesture finished the sentence.

Cayrol, Marechal, and Pierre looked at each other. The same thought
came to their minds, dark and fearful. In a paroxysm of rage this fond
mother, this energetic and passionate woman, would be capable of killing
any one.

“You remember what I told you one day,” murmured Marechal, approaching
Cayrol.

“I would prefer the hatred of ten men to that of such a woman,” answered
Cayrol.

“Cayrol!” continued Madame Desvarennes, after a few moments of
meditation, “the conduct of the business of which you spoke to us a
little while ago depends solely on you, does it not?”

“On me alone.”

“Do it at once, then, cost me what it may. Has it been noised abroad?”

“No one has the slightest suspicion. I have not mentioned it to a living
soul,” said the banker--“except to my wife,” added he with a frankness
which drew a smile from Pierre. “But my wife and I are one.”

“What did she say?” asked Madame Desvarenes, looking straight at Cayrol.

“If I had been the person concerned,” he said, “she could not possibly
have been more affected. She loves you so much, Madame, you and those
belonging to you. She besought me to do all in my power to get the
Prince out of this scrape. She had tears in her eyes: And, truly, if
I did not feel bound to serve you from gratitude I would do it for her
sake and to give her pleasure. I was touched, I can assure you. Really,
she has a heart!”

Marechal exchanged a look with Madame Desvarennes, who advanced toward
the banker, and shook him by the hand, saying:

“Cayrol, you are truly a good man!”

“I know it,” said Cayrol, smiling to hide his emotion, “and you may rely
upon me.”

Micheline appeared on the threshold of the room. Through the half-open
door the dancers could be seen passing to and fro, and the sound of
music floated in the air.

“What has become of you, mamma? I hear that you have been here for more
than an hour.”

“I was talking on business matters with these gentlemen,” answered
Madame Desvarennes, smoothing from her brow the traces of her cares by
an effort of will. “But you, dear, how do you feel? Are you not tired?”

“Not more so than usual,” replied Micheline, looking round to follow the
movements of her husband, who was trying to reach Jeanne.

“Why did you come to this party? It was unwise.”

“Serge wished me to come, and I did not care to let him come without
me.”

“Eh! dear me!” exclaimed Madame Desvarennes. “Let him do what he likes.
Men are savages. When you are ill it won’t hurt him.”

“I am not ill, and I won’t be,” resumed Micheline, warmly. “We are going
away now.”

She motioned to Serge with her fan. Panine came to her.

“You will take me home, won’t you, Serge?”

“Certainly, dear one,” answered Serge.

Jeanne, who was listening at a distance, raised her hand to her forehead
as a sign that she wanted him. A feeling of surprise came over the
Prince, and he did not understand what she meant. Micheline had seen the
sign. A deadly pallor spread over her features, and a cold perspiration
broke out on her forehead. She felt so ill that she could have cried
out. It was the first time she had seen Serge and Jeanne together
since the dreadful discovery at Nice. She had avoided witnessing
their meeting, feeling uncertain of herself, and fearing to lose her
self-control. But seeing the two lovers before her, devouring each other
with their looks, and making signs to each other, made her feel most
terribly jealous and angry.

Serge had decided to obey the imperious signs which Jeanne made to him,
and turning toward his wife, said:

“I remember now, my dear, that before going home I must call at the
club. I promised, and cannot put it off. Excuse my not going with you,
and ask your mother to accompany you.”

“Very well,” said Micheline, in a trembling voice. “I will ask her. You
are not going just yet?”

“In a moment.”

“I, too, shall leave in a moment.”

The young wife did not want to lose one detail of the horrible comedy
being played under her very eyes. She remained to learn, unawares, the
reason for which Jeanne kept her husband.

Not thinking that he was watched, Serge had gone across to Jeanne, and
affecting a smile, inquired:

“What is the matter?”

“Serious news.” And she explained that she must speak to her lover that
evening.

“Where?” Serge asked, with astonishment.

“Here,” answered Jeanne.

“But your husband?” the Prince said.

“Is leaving in an hour. Our guests will not remain late. Go to the
garden, and wait in the pavilion. The door of the back stairs leading to
my dressing-room will be open. When everybody has gone, come up.”

“Take care; we are observed,” said Serge, uneasily.

And they began to laugh with affectation and talked aloud about
frivolous things, as if nothing serious were occupying their thoughts.
Cayrol had come back again. He went up to Madame Desvarennes, who was
talking with her daughter, and, full of business, thoughtlessly said:

“I will telegraph you as soon as I reach London.”

“Are you going away?” inquired Micheline, a light dawning on her mind.

“Yes,” said Cayrol; “I have an important matter to settle.”

“And when do you start?” continued Micheline, in such a changed voice
that her mother was frightened.

“In a moment,” answered the banker. “Allow me to leave you. I have
several orders to give.”

And leaving the boudoir, he regained the little drawing-room.

Micheline, with clinched hands and fixed gaze, was saying to herself:

“She will be alone to-night, and has asked him to come to her. He told
me an untruth about his having to go to the club. He is going to see
her!”

And passing her hand across her brow, as if to drive away an unpleasant
thought, the young wife remained silent, dismayed and crushed.

“Micheline, what is the matter with you?” asked Madame Desvarennes,
seizing her daughter’s hand, which was icy cold.

“Nothing,” stammered Micheline.

“You are ill, I see. Come, let us go home. Come and kiss Jeanne--”

“I!” cried Micheline, with horror, instinctively recoiling as if
dreading some impure contact.

Madame Desvarennes became suddenly cold and calm. She foresaw a terrible
revelation, and observing her daughter narrowly, said:

“Why do you cry out when I speak of your kissing Jeanne? Whatever is the
matter?”

Micheline grasped her mother’s arm, and pointed to Serge and Jeanne, who
were in the little drawing-room, laughing and talking, surrounded by a
group of people, yet alone.

“Look at them!” she cried.

“What do you mean?” exclaimed the mother in agony. She read the truth in
her daughter’s eyes.

“You know--” she began.

“That he is her lover,” cried Micheline, interrupting her. “Don’t you
see that I am dying through it?” she added, sobbing bitterly and falling
into her mother’s arms.

The mistress carried her as if she had been a child into Cayrol’s
private office, and shut the door. Then, kneeling beside the couch on
which Micheline was stretched, she gave vent to her grief. She begged
her daughter to speak to her, and warmed her hands with kisses; then,
seeing her still cold and motionless, she was frightened, and wanted to
call for help.

“No; be quiet!” murmured Micheline, recovering. “Let no one know. I
ought to have held my peace; but I have suffered so much I could not
help myself.

“My life is blasted, you see. Take me away; save me from this infamy!
Jeanne, my sister, and Serge. Oh! make me forget it! For pity’s sake,
mamma, you who are so strong, you who have always done what you wished,
take from my heart all the pain that is there!”

Madame Desvarennes, overcome by such a load of grief, lost command of
herself, and, quite brokenhearted, began to cry and moan.

“O God! Micheline, my poor child! you were suffering so and did not tell
me. Oh! I knew you no longer trusted your old mother. And I stupidly did
not guess it! I said to myself, at least she knows nothing about it, and
sacrificed everything to keep the knowledge of their wrong-doing from
you. Don’t cry any more, darling, you will break my heart. I, who would
have given up everything in the world to see you happy! Oh, I have loved
you too much! How I am punished!”

“It is I who am punished,” said Micheline, sobbing, “for not obeying
you. Ah! children ought always to heed their mother. She divines the
danger. Is it not too horrible, mamma? I, who have sacrificed everything
for him, to think that he does not love me, and never will love me!
What will my life be without confidence, hope, or affection? I am too
unhappy. It would be better to die!”

“Die! you!” cried her mother, whose eyes, wet with tears, dried in a
moment, as if by an inward fire. “Die! Come, don’t talk such nonsense!
Because a man treats you with scorn and betrays you? Are men worth dying
for? No, you shall live, my darling, with your old mother. You shall
have a deed of separation from your husband.”

“And he will be free,” exclaimed Micheline, angrily. “He will go on
loving her! Oh! I cannot bear that thought. Do you know, what I am going
to tell you seems awful. I love him so much, that I would rather see him
dead than unfaithful.”

Madame Desvarennes was struck, and remained silent. Serge dead! That
idea had already occurred to her as a dream of deliverance. It came
upon her peremptorily, violently, irresistibly. She repelled it with an
effort.

“I can never think of him but as vile and odious,” continued Micheline.
“Every day his sin will seem more dastardly and his hypocrisy more base.
There, a little while ago, he was smiling; and do you know why? Because
Cayrol is going away, and during his absence Serge will return here
tonight.”

“Who told you?”

“I read it in his joyful looks. I love him. He cannot hide anything from
me. A traitor to me, and a traitor toward his friend, that is the man
whom--I am ashamed to own it--I love!”

“Compose yourself! Someone is coming,” said Madame Desvarennes, and at
the same time the door opened and Jeanne appeared, followed by Marechal,
who was anxious at their disappearance.

“Is Micheline ill?” inquired Madame Cayrol, coming forward.

“No; it is nothing. Just a little fatigue,” said Madame Desvarennes.
“Marechal, give my daughter your arm, and take her to her carriage. I
shall be down in a minute.”

And holding Jeanne by the hand to prevent her following Micheline, she
added:

“Stay; I have something to say to you.”

Jeanne looked surprised. Madame Desvarennes was silent for a moment. She
was thinking about Serge coming there that night. She had only to say
one word to Cayrol to prevent his going away. The life of this wretch
was entirely in her hands then! But Jeanne! Was she going to ruin her?
Had she the right thus to destroy one who had struggled and had defended
herself? Would it be just? Jeanne had been led on against her will. She
must question her. If the poor girl were suffering, if she repented, she
must spare her.

Madame Desvarennes, having thus made up her mind, turned toward Jeanne
who was waiting.

“It is a long time since I have seen you, my dear, and I find you happy
and smiling. It is the first time since your marriage that you have
seemed so happy.”

Jeanne looked at the mistress without answering. In these words she
detected irony.

“You have found peace,” continued Madame Desvarennes, looking
steadfastly at Jeanne with her piercing eyes. “You see, my dear, when
you have a clear conscience--for you have nothing to reproach yourself
with?”

Jeanne saw in this sentence a question and not an affirmation. She
answered, boldly:

“Nothing!”

“You know that I love you, and would be most lenient,” continued Madame
Desvarennes, sweetly, “and that you might safely confide in me!”

“I have nothing to fear, having nothing to tell,” said Jeanne.

“Nothing?” repeated the mistress, with emphasis.

“Nothing,” affirmed Jeanne.

Madame Desvarennes once more looked at her adopted daughter as if she
would read her very soul. She found her quite calm.

“Very well, then!” said she, hastily walking toward the door.

“Are you going already?” asked Jeanne, offering her brow to Madame
Desvarennes’s lips.

“Yes, good-by!” said the latter, with an icy kiss.

Jeanne, without again turning round, went into the drawing-room. At the
same moment, Cayrol, in a travelling-coat, entered the office, followed
by Pierre.

“Here I am, quite ready,” said the banker to Madame Desvarennes. “Have
you any new suggestion to make to me, or anything else to say?”

“Yes,” replied Madame Desvarennes, in a stern voice which made Cayrol
start.

“Then make haste. I have only a moment to spare, and you know the train
waits for no one.”

“You will not go!”

Cayrol, in amazement, answered:

“Do you mean it? Your interests are at stake yonder.”

“Your honor is in danger here,” cried the mistress, vehemently.

“My honor!” repeated Cayrol, starting back. “Madame, do you know what
you are saying?”

“Ay!” answered Madame Desvarennes. “And do you remember what I promised
you? I undertook to warn you, myself, if ever the day came when you
would be threatened.”

“Well?” questioned Cayrol, turning quite livid.

“Well! I keep my promise. If you wish to know who your rival is, come
home to-night.”

Some inaudible words rattled in Cayrol’s throat.

“A rival! in my house! Can Jeanne be guilty? Do you know, if it is true
I will kill them both!”

“Deal with them as your conscience dictates,” said Madame Desvarennes.
“I have acted according to mine.”

Pierre, hitherto dumb with horror at the scene of which he had been a
witness, shook off his stupor, and going up to Madame Desvarennes, said:

“Madame, do you know that what you have just done is frightful!”

“How? That man will be acting within his rights the same as I am. They
are seeking to take away his wife, and they are killing my daughter, and
dishonoring me! We are defending ourselves! Woe to those who are guilty
of the crime!”

Cayrol had fallen, as if thunderstruck, on a chair, with haggard
eyes; his voice was gone, and he looked the image of despair. Madame
Desvarennes’s words came back to him like the refrain of a hated song.
To himself he kept repeating, without being able to chase away the one
haunting thought: “Her lover, to-night, at your house!” He felt as if
he were going mad. He was afraid he should not have time to wreak his
vengeance. He made a terrible effort, and, moaning with grief, he arose.

“Take care!” said Pierre. “Here’s your wife.”

Cayrol eyed Jeanne, who was approaching. Burning tears came to his eyes.
He murmured:

“She, with a look so pure, and a face so calm! Is it possible?”

He nodded a farewell to Pierre and Madame Desvarennes, who were leaving,
and recovering himself, advanced to meet Jeanne.

“Are you off?” she inquired. “You know you have no time to lose!”

Cayrol shuddered. She seemed anxious to get rid of him.

“I have still a few minutes to spend with you,” he said, with emotion.
“You see, Jeanne, I am sad at going away alone. It is the first time I
have left you. In a moment our guests will be gone--I beg of you, come
with me!”

Jeanne smiled. “But you see, dear, I am in evening dress.”

“The night of our marriage I brought you away from Cernay like
that. Wrap yourself up in your furs, and come! Give me this proof of
affection. I deserve it. I am not a bad man--and I love you so!”

Jeanne frowned. This pressing vexed her.

“This is childish,” she said. “You will return the day after tomorrow,
and I am tired. Have some pity for me.”

“You refuse?” asked Cayrol, becoming gloomy and serious.

Jeanne touched his face slightly with her white hand.

“Come! Don’t leave me in a temper! You won’t miss me much, you will
sleep all the way. Good-by!”

Cayrol kissed her; in a choking voice, he said:

“Good-by!”

And he left her.

Jeanne’s face brightened, as she stood listening for a moment and heard
the carriage which contained her husband rolling away. Uttering a sigh
of relief, she murmured:

“At last!”



CHAPTER XX. THE CRISIS

Jeanne had just taken off her ball-dress to put on a dressing-gown of
Oriental cloth richly embroidered with silk flowers. Leaning her elbows
on the mantelpiece, and breathing heavily, she was waiting. Her maid
came in, bringing a second lamp. The additional light displayed the rich
warm hangings of ruby plush embroidered in dull gold. The bed seemed one
mass of lace.

“Has everybody gone?” asked Jeanne, pretending to yawn.

“Messieurs Le Brede and Du Tremblay, the last guests, are just putting
on their overcoats,” answered the maid. “But Monsieur Pierre Delarue
has come back, and is asking whether Madame will speak with him for a
moment.”

“Monsieur Delarue?” repeated Jeanne, with astonishment.

“He says he has something important to say to Madame.”

“Where is he?” asked Jeanne.

“There, in the gallery. The lights were being put out in the
drawing-room.”

“Well, show him in.”

The maid went out. Jeanne, much puzzled, asked herself, what could have
brought Pierre back? It must certainly be something very important. She
had always felt somewhat awed in Pierre’s presence. At that moment the
idea of being face to face with the young man was most distressing to
her.

A curtain was lifted and Pierre appeared. He remained silent and
confused at the entrance of the room, his courage had deserted him.

“Well,” said Jeanne, with assumed stiffness, “whatever is the matter, my
friend?”

“The matter is, my dear Jeanne,” began Pierre, “that--”

But the explanation did not seem so very easy to give, for he stopped
and could not go on.

“That?” repeated Madame Cayrol.

“I beg your pardon,” resumed Pierre. “I am greatly embarrassed. In
coming here I obeyed a sudden impulse. I did not think of the manner in
which I should tell you what I have to say, and I see that I shall have
to run a great risk of offending you.”

Jeanne assumed a haughty air.

“Well, but, my dear friend, if what you have to say is so difficult,
don’t say it.”

“Impossible!” retorted Pierre. “My silence would cause irreparable
mischief. In mercy, Jeanne, make my task easier! Meet me half way! You
have projects for to-night which are known. Danger threatens you. Take
care!”

Jeanne shuddered. But controlling herself, she answered, laughing
nervously:

“What rubbish are you talking about? I am at home, surrounded by my
servants, and I have nothing to fear. I beg of you to believe me.”

“You deny it!” exclaimed Pierre. “I expected as much. But you are only
taking useless trouble. Come, Jeanne, I am the friend of your childhood;
you have no reason to fear aught from me. I am only trying to be of
use to you. You must know that, by my coming here, I know all. Jeanne,
listen to me!”

“Are you mad?” interrupted the young woman, proudly, “or are you taking
part in some absurd joke?”

“I am in my right mind, unfortunately for you!” said Pierre, roughly,
seeing that Jeanne refused to believe him. “And there is no joke in the
matter. Everything is true, serious and terrible! Since you compel me to
say things which may be unpalatable, they must out. Prince Panine is in
your house, or he soon will be. Your husband, whom you think far away,
is within call, perhaps, and will come and take you unawares. Is not
that a serious matter?”

A frown overspread her face, and in an ungovernable rage she stepped
forward, determined not to give in, and exclaimed:

“Go away! or I shall call for assistance!”

“Don’t call, it would look bad!” resumed Pierre, calmly. “On the
contrary, let the servants get out of the way, and get the Prince to go
if he be here, or if he has not yet arrived, prevent his coming in. So
long as I remain here you will dissimulate your fear and will not take
any precautions. I will leave you, then. Adieu, Jeanne! Believe that I
wished to render you a service, and be sure that when I have crossed the
threshold of this door I shall have forgotten everything that I may have
said.”

Pierre bowed, and, lifting the heavy curtain which hid the door leading
to the gallery, went out.

He had hardly gone when the opposite door opened, and Serge entered the
room. The young woman rushed into his arms and whispered into his ear,
with trembling lips:

“Serge, we are lost!”

“I was there,” answered Panine. “I heard all.”

“What shall we do?” cried Jeanne, terrified.

“Go away at once. To remain here a moment longer is an imprudence.”

“And I, if I remain, what shall I say to Cayrol when he comes?”

“Your husband!” said Serge, bitterly. “He loves you, he will forgive
you.”

“I know; but then we two shall be separated for ever. Is that what you
desire?”

“And what can I do?” cried Serge, in despair. “Everything around me is
giving way! Fortune, which has been my one aim in life, is escaping
from me. The family which I have scorned is forsaking me. The friendship
which I have betrayed overwhelms me. There is nothing left to me.”

“And my love, my devotion?” exclaimed Jeanne, passionately. “Do you
think that I will leave you? We must go away. I asked you long ago. You
resisted; the moment has now come. Be easy! Madame Desvarennes will pay
and save your name. In exchange you will give her back her daughter. You
don’t care about her, because you love me. I am your real wife; she who
ought to share your life. Well, I take back my rights. I pay for them
with my honor. I break all ties which could hold me back. I am yours,
Serge! Our sin and misfortune will bind us more closely than any laws
could.”

“Think, that with me you will have to endure poverty, and, perhaps,
misery,” said the Prince, moved by the young woman’s infatuation.

“My love will make you forget everything!”

“You will not feel regret or remorse?”

“Never, so long as you love me.”

“Come, then,” said the Prince, taking Jeanne in his arms. “And if life
is too hard--”

“Well,” added Jeanne, finishing the sentence with sparkling eyes, “we
will seek refuge together in death! Come!”

Serge bolted the door, through which Pierre had passed, and which alone
communicated with the other apartments. Then, taking his mistress by the
hand, he went with her into the dressing-room. Jeanne threw a dark cloak
round her shoulders, put a hat on her head, and without taking either
money, jewels, lace, or, in fact, anything that she had received from
Cayrol, they went down the little back stairs.

It was very dark. Jeanne did not take a light, as she did not care to
attract attention, so they had to feel every step of the way as quietly
as possible, striving not to make the least noise, holding their breath,
and with beating hearts. When they reached the bottom of the stairs,
Jeanne stretched out her hand, and sought the handle of the door which
opened into the courtyard. She turned it, but the door would not open.
She pushed, but it did not give way. Jeanne uttered a low groan. Serge
shook it vigorously, but it would not open.

“It has been fastened on the outside,” he whispered.

“Fastened?” murmured Jeanne, seized with fear. “Fastened, and by whom?”

Serge did not answer. The idea that Cayrol had done it came to his mind
at once. The husband lying in wait, had seen him enter, and to prevent
his escaping from his vengeance had cut off all means of retreating.

Silently, they went upstairs again, into the room through the
dressing-room. Jeanne took off her bonnet and cloak, and sank into an
armchair.

“I must get away!” said Serge, with suppressed rage; and he walked
toward the door of the gallery.

“No! don’t open that,” cried Jeanne, excitedly.

And with a frightened look, she added:

“What if he were behind the door?”

At the same moment, as if Jeanne’s voice had indeed evoked Cayrol, a
heavy step was heard approaching along the gallery, a hand tried to open
the bolted door. Serge and Jeanne remained motionless, waiting.

“Jeanne!” called the voice of Cayrol from the outside, sounding
mournfully in the silence, “Jeanne, open!”

And with his fist he knocked imperatively on the woodwork.

“I know you are there! Open, I say!” he cried, with increasing rage. “If
you don’t open the door, I’ll--”

“Go! I beseech you!” whispered Jeanne, in Panine’s ear. “Go downstairs
again, and break open the door. You won’t find any one there now.”

“Perhaps he has stationed some one there,” answered Serge. “Besides, I
won’t leave you here alone exposed to his violence.”

“You are not alone. I can hear you talking!” said Cayrol, beside
himself. “I shall break open this door!”

The husband made a tremendous effort. Under the pressure of his heavy
weight the lock gave way. With a bound he was in the middle of the room.
Jeanne threw herself before him; she no longer trembled. Cayrol took
another step and fixed his glaring eyes on the man whom he sought,
uttering a fearful oath.

“Serge!” cried he. “I might have guessed it. It is not only money of
which you are robbing me, you villain!”

Panine turned horribly pale, and advanced toward Cayrol, despite Jeanne,
who was clinging to him.

“Don’t insult me; it is superfluous,” said he. “My life belongs to you;
you can take it. I shall be at your service whenever you please.”

Cayrol burst into a fearful laugh.

“Ah! a duel! Come! Am I a gentleman? I am a plebeian! a rustic! a
cowherd! you know that! I have you now! I am going to smash you!”

He looked round the room as if seeking a weapon, and caught sight of
the heavy fire-dogs. He caught up one with a cry of triumph, and,
brandishing it like a club, rushed at Serge.

More rapid than he, Jeanne threw herself before her lover. She stretched
out her arms, and with a sharp voice, and the look of a she-wolf
defending her cubs,

“Keep behind me,” said she to Serge; “he loves me and will not dare to
strike!”

Cayrol had stopped. At these words he uttered a loud cry: “wretched
woman! You first, then!”

Raising his weapon, he was about to strike, when his eyes met Jeanne’s.
The young woman was smiling, happy to die for her lover. Her pale face
beamed from out her black hair with weird beauty. Cayrol trembled. That
look which he had loved, would he never see it again? That rosy mouth,
whose smile he cherished, would it be hushed in death? A thousand
thoughts of happy days came to his mind. His arm fell. A bitter flood
rushed from his heart to his eyes; the iron dropped heavily from his
hand on to the floor, and the poor man, overcome, sobbing, and ashamed
of his weakness, fell senseless on a couch.

Jeanne did not utter a word. By a sign she showed Serge the door,
which was open, and with a swollen heart she leaned on the mantelpiece,
waiting for the unfortunate man, from whom she had received such a deep
and sad proof of love, to come back to life.

Serge had disappeared.



CHAPTER XXI. “WHEN ROGUES FALL OUT”

The night seemed long to Madame Desvarennes. Agitated and feverish,
she listened through the silence, expecting every moment to hear some
fearful news. In fancy she saw Cayrol entering his wife’s room like a
madman, unawares. She seemed to hear a cry of rage, answered by a sigh
of terror; then a double shot resounded, the room filled with smoke,
and, struck down in their guilty love, Serge and Jeanne rolled in death,
interlaced in each other’s arms, like Paolo and Francesca de Rimini,
those sad lovers of whom Dante tells us.

Hour after hour passed; not a sound disturbed the mansion. The Prince
had not come in. Madame Desvarennes, unable to lie in bed, arose, and
now and again, to pass the time, stole on tiptoe to her daughter’s room.
Micheline, thoroughly exhausted with fatigue and emotion, had fallen
asleep on her pillow, which was wet with tears.

Bending over her, by the light of the lamp, the mistress gazed at
Micheline’s pale face, and a sigh rose to her lips.

“She is still young,” she thought; “she may begin life afresh. The
remembrance of these sad days will be wiped out, and I shall see her
revive and smile again. That wretch was nearly the death of her.”

And the image of Serge and Jeanne stretched beside each other in the
room full of smoke came before her eyes again. She shook her head to
chase the importunate vision away, and noiselessly regained her own
apartment.

The day dawned pale and bleak. Madame Desvarennes opened her window and
cooled her burning brow in the fresh morning air. The birds were awake,
and were singing on the trees in the garden.

Little by little, the distant sound of wheels rolling by was heard. The
city was awakening from its sleep.

Madame Desvarennes rang and asked for Marechal. The secretary appeared
instantly. He, too, had shared the anxieties and fears of the mistress,
and had risen early. Madame Desvarennes greeted him with a grateful
smile. She felt that she was really loved by this good fellow, who
understood her so thoroughly. She begged him to go to Cayrol’s, and gain
some information, without giving him further details, and she waited,
walking up and down the room to calm the fever of her mind.

On leaving the house in the Rue Taitbout, Serge felt bewildered, not
daring to go home, and unable to decide on any plan; yet feeling that
it was necessary to fix on something without delay, he reached the club.
The walk did him good, and restored his physical equilibrium. He was
thankful to be alive after such a narrow escape. He went upstairs with
a comparatively light step, and tossed his overcoat to a very sleepy
footman who had risen to receive him. He went into the card-room.
Baccarat was just finishing. It was three o’clock in the morning. The
appearance of the Prince lent the game a little fresh animation. Serge
plunged into it as if it were a battle. Luck was on his side. In a
short time he cleared the bank: a thousand louis. One by one the players
retired. Panine, left alone, threw himself on a couch and slept for a
few hours, but it was not a refreshing sleep. On the contrary, it made
him feel more tired.

The day servants disturbed him when they came in to sweep the rooms and
open the windows. He went into the lavatory, and there bathed his face.
When his ablutions were over he wrote a note to Jeanne, saying that
he had reflected, and could not possibly let her go away with him. He
implored her to do all in her power to forget him. He gave this letter
to one of the messengers, and told him to give it into the hands of
Madame Cayrol’s maid, and to none other.

The care of a woman and the worry of another household seemed unbearable
to him. Besides, what could he do with Jeanne? The presence of his
mistress would prevent his being able to go back to Micheline. And now
he felt that his only hope of safety was in Micheline’s love for him.

But first of all he must go and see if Herzog had returned, and
ascertain the real facts of the position in regard to the Universal
Credit Company.

Herzog occupied a little house on the Boulevard Haussmann, which he had
hired furnished from some Americans. The loud luxury of the Yankees had
not frightened him. On the contrary, he held that the gay colors of the
furniture and the glitter of the gilded cornices were bound to have a
fascination for prospective shareholders. Suzanne had reserved a little
corner for herself, modestly hung with muslin and furnished with simple
taste, which was a great contrast to the loud appearance of the other
part of the house.

On arriving, Serge found a stableman washing a victoria. Herzog
had returned. The Prince quietly went up the steps, and had himself
announced.

The financier was sitting in his study by the window, looking through
the newspapers. When Serge entered he rose. The two men stood facing
each other for a moment. The Prince was the first to speak.

“How is it that you have kept me without news during your absence?”
 asked he, harshly.

“Because,” replied Herzog, calmly, “the only news I had was not good
news.”

“At least I should have known it.”

“Would the result of the operation have been different?”

“You have led me like a child in this affair,” Serge continued, becoming
animated. “I did not know where I was going. You made me promises, how
have you kept them?”

“As I was able,” quietly answered Herzog. “Play has its chances. One
seeks Austerlitz and finds Waterloo.”

“But,” cried the Prince, angrily, “the shares which you sold ought not
to have gone out of your hands.”

“You believed that?” retorted the financier, ironically. “If they ought
not to have gone out of my hands it was hardly worth while putting them
into them.”

“In short,” said Panine, eager to find some responsible party on whom
he could pour out all the bitterness of his misfortune, “you took a mean
advantage of me.”

“Good! I expected you to say that!” returned Herzog, smiling. “If the
business had succeeded, you would have accepted your share of the spoil
without any scruples, and would have felt ready to crown me. It has
failed; you are trying to get out of the responsibility, and are on the
point of treating me as if I were a swindler. Still, the affair would
not have been more honest in the first instance than in the second, but
success embellishes everything.”

Serge looked hard at Herzog.

“What is there to prove,” replied he, “that this speculation, which
brings ruin and loss to me, does not enrich you?”

“Ungrateful fellow!” observed the financier, ironically, “you suspect
me!”

“Of having robbed me!” cried Serge, in a rage. “Why not?”

Herzog, for a moment, lost his temper and turned red in the face. He
seized Panine violently by the arm, and said:

“Gently, Prince; whatever insults you heap upon me must be shared by
you. You are my partner.”

“Scoundrel!” yelled Panine, exasperated at being held by Herzog.

“Personalities,” said the financier, in a jesting tone. “Then I take my
leave!”

And loosing his hold of the Prince, he went toward the door.

Serge sprang after him, exclaiming:

“You shall not leave this room until you have given me the means of
rectifying this disaster.”

“Then let us talk sensibly, as boon companions,” said Herzog. “I know
of a marvellous move by which we can get out of the difficulty. Let
us boldly call a general meeting. I will explain the thing, and amaze
everybody. We shall get a vote of confidence for the past, with funds
for the future. We shall be as white as snow, and the game is played.
Are you in with me?”

“Enough,” replied the Prince, intensely disgusted. “It does not suit me
to do a yet more shameful thing in order to get out of this trouble. It
is no use arguing further; we are lost.”

“Only the weak allow themselves to be lost!” exclaimed the financier.
“The strong defend themselves. You may give in if you like; I won’t.
Three times have I been ruined and three times have I risen again. My
head is good! I am down now. I shall rise again, and when I am well off,
and have a few millions to spare, I will settle old debts. Everybody
will be astonished because they won’t expect it, and I shall be more
thought of than if I had paid up at the time.”

“And if you are not allowed to go free?” asked Serge. “What if they
arrest you?”

“I shall be in Aix-la-Chapelle to-night,” said Herzog. “From there I
shall treat with the shareholders of the Universal Credit. People judge
things better at a distance. Are you coming with me?”

“No,” replied Serge, in a low voice.

“You are wrong. Fortune is capricious, and in six months we may be
richer than we ever have been. But as you have decided, let me give you
a piece of advice which will be worth the money you have lost. Confess
all to your wife; she can get you out of this difficulty.”

The financier held out a hand to Serge which he did not take.

“Ah! pride!” murmured Herzog. “After all it is your right--It is you who
pay!”

Without answering a word the Prince went out.

At that same hour, Madame Desvarennes, tired by long waiting, was pacing
up and down her little drawing-room. A door opened and Marechal, the
long-looked for messenger, appeared. He had been to Cayrol’s, but could
not see him. The banker, who had shut himself up in his private office
where he had worked all night, had given orders that no one should
interrupt him. And as Madame Desvarennes seemed to have a question on
her lips which she dared not utter, Marechal added that nothing unusual
seemed to have happened at the house.

But as the mistress was thanking her secretary, the great gate swung on
its hinges, and a carriage rolled into the courtyard. Marechal flew to
the window, and uttered one word,

“Cayrol!”

Madame Desvarennes motioned to him to leave her, and the banker appeared
on the threshold.

At a glance the mistress saw the ravages which the terrible night he
had passed through had caused. Yesterday, the banker was rosy, firm, and
upright as an oak, now he was bent, and withered like an old man. His
hair had become gray about the temples, as if scorched by his burning
thoughts. He was only the shadow of himself.

Madame Desvarennes advanced toward him, and in one word asked a world of
questions.

“Well?” she said.

Cayrol, gloomy and fierce, raised his eyes to the mistress, and
answered:

“Nothing!”

“Did he not come?”

“Yes, he came. But I had not the necessary energy to kill him. I thought
it was an easier matter to become a murderer. And you thought so too,
eh?”

“Cayrol!” cried Madame Desvarennes, shuddering, and troubled to find
that she had been so easily understood by him whom she had armed on her
behalf.

“The opportunity was a rare one, though,” continued Cayrol, getting
excited. “Fancy; I found them together under my own roof. The law
allowed me, if not the actual right to kill them, at least an excuse if
I did so. Well, at the decisive moment, when I ought to have struck the
blow, my heart failed me. He lives, and Jeanne loves him.”

There was a pause.

“What are you going to do?”

“Get rid of him in another way,” answered Cayrol. “I had only two ways
of killing him. One was to catch him in my own house, the other to call
him out. My will failed me in the one case; my want of skill would fail
me in the other. I will not fight Serge. Not because I fear death, for
my life is blighted, and I don’t value it; but if I were dead, Jeanne
would belong to him, and I could not bear the thought of that even in
death. I must separate them forever.”

“And how?”

“By forcing him to disappear.”

“And if he refuse?”

Cayrol shook his head menacingly, and exclaimed:

“I defy him! If he resist, I will bring him before the assizes!”

“You?” said Madame Desvarennes, going nearer to Cayrol.

“Yes, I!” answered the banker, with energy.

“Wretched man! And my daughter?” cried the mistress. “Think well what
you are saying! You would disgrace me and mine.”

“Am I not dishonored myself?” asked Cayrol. “Your son-in-law is a
robber, who has defiled my home and robbed my safe.”

“An honest man does not seek to revenge himself after the manner you
suggest,” said the mistress, gravely.

“An honest man defends himself as he can. I am not a knight. I am only
a financier. Money is my weapon. The Prince has stolen from me. I will
have him sentenced as a thief.”

Madame Desvarennes frowned.

“Make out your account. I will pay it.”

“Will you also pay me for my lost happiness?” cried the banker,
exasperated. “Should I not rather have chosen to be ruined than be
betrayed as I am? You can never repair the wrong he has done me. And
then I am suffering so, I must have my revenge!”

“Ah! fool that you are,” replied Madame Desvarennes. “The guilty will
not feel your blows, but the innocent. When my daughter and I are in
despair will you be less unhappy! Oh! Cayrol, take heed that you lose
not in dignity what you gain in revenge. The less one is respected
by others the more one must respect one’s self. Contempt and silence
elevate the victim, while rage and hatred make him descend to the level
of those who have outraged him.”

“Let people judge me as they please. I care only for myself! I am a
vulgar soul, and have a low mind--anything you like. But the idea that
that woman belongs to another drives me mad. I ought to hate her, but,
notwithstanding everything, I cannot live without her. If she will come
back to me I will forgive her. It is ignoble! I feel it, but it is too
strong for me. I adore her!”

Before that blind love Madame Desvarennes shuddered. She thought of
Micheline who loved Serge as Cayrol loved Jeanne.

“Suppose she chooses to go away with Serge,” said the mistress to
herself. In a moment she saw the house abandoned, Micheline and Serge in
foreign lands, and she alone in the midst of her overthrown happiness,
dying of sadness and regrets. She made a last effort to move Cayrol.

“Come, must I appeal in vain? Can you forget that I was a sure and
devoted friend to you, and that you owe your fortune to me? You are a
good man and will not forget the past. You have been outraged and have
the right of seeking revenge, but think that in carrying it out you will
hurt two women who have never done you any harm. Be generous! Be just!
Spare us!”

Cayrol remained silent; his face did not relax. After a moment he said:

“You see how low I have fallen, by not yielding at once to your
supplications! Friendship, gratitude, generosity, all the good feelings
I had, have been consumed by this execrable love. There is nothing left
but love for her. For her, I forget everything. I degrade and debase
myself. And what is worse than all, is that I know all this and yet I
cannot help myself.”

“Miserable man!” murmured the mistress.

“Oh! most miserable,” sobbed Cayrol, falling into an armchair.

Madame Desvarennes approached him, and quietly placed her hand on his
shoulder.

“Cayrol, you are weeping? Then, forgive.”

The banker arose and, with lowering brow, said:

“No! my resolution is irrevocable. I wish to place a world between
Jeanne and Serge. If he has not gone away by tonight my complaint will
be lodged in the courts of justice.”

Madame Desvarennes no longer persisted. She saw that the husband’s heart
was permanently closed.

“It is well. I thank you for having warned me. You might have taken
action without doing so. Good-by, Cayrol. I leave your conscience to
judge between you and me.”

The banker bowed, and murmured:

“Good-by!”

And with a heavy step, almost tottering, he went out.

The sun had risen, and lit up the trees in the garden. Nature seemed to
be making holiday. The flowers perfumed the air, and in the deep blue
sky swallows were flying to and fro. This earthly joy exasperated Madame
Desvarennes. She would have liked the world to be in mourning. She
closed the window hastily, and remained lost in her own reflections.

So everything was over! The great prosperity, the honor of the house,
everything was foundering in a moment. Even her daughter might escape
from her, and follow the infamous husband whom she adored in spite of
his faults--perhaps because of his very faults--and might drag on a
weary existence in a strange land, which would terminate in death.

For that sweet and delicate child could not live without material
comforts and mental ease, and her husband was doomed to go on from bad
to worse, and would drag her down with him! The mistress pictured her
daughter, that child whom she had brought up with the tenderest care,
dying on a pallet, and the husband, odious to the last, refusing her
admission to the room where Micheline was in agony.

A fearful feeling of anger overcame her. Her motherly love gained the
mastery, and in the silence of the room she roared out these words:

“That shall not be!”

The opening of the door recalled her to her senses, and she rose. It was
Marechal, greatly agitated. After Cayrol’s arrival, not knowing what
to do, he had gone to the Universal Credit Company, and there, to
his astonishment, had found the offices closed. He had heard from the
porter, one of those superb personages dressed in blue and red cloth,
who were so important in the eyes of the shareholders, that the evening
before, owing to the complaint of a director, the police had entered the
offices, and taken the books away, and that the official seal had been
placed on the doors. Marechal, much alarmed, had hastened back to Madame
Desvarennes to apprise her of the fact. It was evidently necessary to
take immediate steps to meet this new complication. Was this indeed the
beginning of legal proceedings? And if so how would the Prince come out
of it?

Madame Desvarennes listened to Marechal, without uttering a word. Events
were hurrying on even quicker than she had dreaded. The fears of the
interested shareholders outran even the hatred of Cayrol. What would the
judges call Herzog’s underhand dealings? Would it be embezzlement? Or
forgery? Would they come and arrest the Prince at her house? The house
of Desvarennes, which had never received a visit from a sheriff’s
officer, was it to be disgraced now by the presence of the police?

The mistress, in that fatal hour, became herself again. The
strong-minded woman of old reappeared. Marechal was more alarmed at this
sudden vigor than he had been at her late depression. When he saw Madame
Desvarennes going toward the door, he made an effort to detain her.

“Where are you going, Madame?” he inquired, with anxiety.

The mistress gave him a look that terrified him, and answered:

“I am going to square accounts with the Prince.”

And, passing through the door leading to the little staircase, Madame
Desvarennes went up to her son-in-law’s rooms.



CHAPTER XXII. THE MOTHER’S REVENGE

On leaving Herzog, Serge had turned his steps toward the Rue
Saint-Dominique. He had delayed the moment of going home as long as
possible, but the streets were beginning to be crowded. He might meet
some people of his acquaintance. He resolved to face what ever reception
was awaiting him on the way, he was planning what course he should adopt
to bring about a reconciliation with his redoubtable mother-in-law. He
was no longer proud, but felt quite broken down. Only Madame Desvarennes
could put him on his feet again; and, as cowardly in trouble as he had
been insolent in prosperity, he accepted beforehand all that she
might impose upon him; all, provided that she would cover him with her
protection.

He was frightened, not knowing how deep Herzog had led him in the mire.
His moral sense had disappeared, but he had a vague instinct of the
danger he had incurred. The financier’s last words came to his mind:
“Confess all to your wife; she can get you out of this difficulty!”
 He understood the meaning of them, and resolved to follow the advice.
Micheline loved him. In appealing to her heart, deeply wounded as it
was, he would have in her an ally, and he had long known that Madame
Desvarennes could not oppose her daughter in anything.

He entered the house through the back garden gate, and regained his
room without making the slightest noise. He dreaded meeting Madame
Desvarennes before seeing Micheline. First he changed his attire; he
had walked about Paris in evening clothes. Looking in the glass he was
surprised at the alteration in his features. Was his beauty going too?
What would become of him if he failed to please. And, like an actor
who is about to play an important part, he paid great attention to the
making up of his face. He wished once more to captivate his wife, as his
safety depended on the impression he was about to make on her. At last,
satisfied with himself, he tried to look smiling, and went to his wife’s
room.

Micheline was up.

At the sight of Serge she could not suppress an exclamation of surprise.
It was a long time since he had discontinued these familiar visits. The
presence of her beloved one in that room, which had seemed so empty when
he was not there, made her feel happy, and she went to him with a smile,
holding out her hand. Serge drew her gently toward him and kissed her
hair.

“Up, already, dear child,” said he, affectionately.

“I have scarcely slept,” answered Micheline. “I was so anxious. I sat up
for you part of the night. I had left you without saying good-night. It
was the first time it had occurred, and I wanted to beg your pardon. But
you came in very late.”

“Micheline, it is I who am ungrateful,” interrupted Panine, making
the young wife sit down beside him. “It is I who must ask you to be
indulgent.”

“Serge! I beg of you!” said the young wife, taking both his hands. “All
is forgotten. I would not reproach you, I love you so much!”

Micheline’s face beamed with joy, and tears filled her eyes.

“You are weeping,” said Panine. “Ah! I feel the weight of my wrongs
toward you. I see how deserving you are of respect and affection. I
feel unworthy, and would kneel before you to say how I regret all the
anxieties I have caused you, and that my only desire in the future will
be to make you forget them.”

“Oh! speak on! speak on!” cried Micheline, with delight. “What happiness
to hear you say such sweet words! Open your heart to me! You know I
would die to please you. If you have any anxieties or annoyances
confide in me. I can relieve them. Who could resist me when you are in
question?”

“I have none, Micheline,” answered Serge, with the constrained manner of
a man who is feigning. “Nothing but the regret of not having lived more
for you.”

“Is the future not in store for us?” said the young wife, looking
lovingly at him.

The Prince shook his head, saying:

“Who can answer for the future?”

Micheline came closer to her husband, not quite understanding what
Serge meant, but her mind was on the alert, and in an alarmed tone, she
resumed:

“What strange words you are uttering? Are we not both young? And, if you
like, is there not much happiness in store for us?”

And she clung to him. Serge turned away.

“Oh, stay,” she murmured, again putting her arms round him. “You are so
truly mine at this moment!”

Panine saw that the opportunity for confessing all had come. He was able
to bring tears to his eyes, and went toward the window as if to hide his
emotion. Micheline followed him, and, in an eager tone, continued:

“Ah! I knew you were hiding something. You are unhappy or in pain;
threatened perhaps? Ah! if you love me, tell me the truth!”

“Well, yes! It is true, I am threatened. I am suffering and unhappy! But
don’t expect a confession from me. I should blush to make it. But, thank
Heaven, if I cannot extricate myself from the difficulty in which I am
placed through my own folly and imprudence--there is yet another way out
of it.”

“Serge! you would kill yourself!” cried Micheline, terrified at the
gesture Panine had made. “What would become of me then? But what is
there that is so hard to explain? And to whom should it be said?”

“To your mother,” answered Serge, bowing his head.

“To my mother? Very well, I will go to her. Oh! don’t fear anything. I
can defend you, and to strike you she will first have to attack me.”

Serge put his arms round Micheline, and with a kiss, the hypocrite
inspired her whom he entrusted with his safety with indomitable courage.

“Wait for me here,” added the young wife, and passing through the little
drawing-room she reached the smoking-room.

She halted there a moment, out of breath and almost choked with emotion.
The long expected day had arrived. Serge was coming back to her.
She went on, and as she reached the door of the stair leading to her
mother’s rooms, she heard a light tap from without.

Greatly astonished, she opened the door, and suddenly drew back,
uttering an exclamation. A woman, thickly veiled, stood before her.

At the sight of Micheline the stranger seemed inclined to turn and
fly. But overcome with jealousy, the young wife seized her by the arm,
dragged off her veil, and recognizing her, exclaimed:

“Jeanne!”

Madame Cayrol approached Micheline, and beseechingly stretched out her
hands:

“Micheline! don’t think--I come--”

“Hold your tongue!” cried Micheline. “Don’t tell me any lies! I know
all! You are my husband’s mistress!”

Crushed by such a stroke, Jeanne hid her face in her hands and moaned:

“O God!”

“You must really be bold,” continued Micheline, in a furious tone, “to
seek him here, in my house, almost in my arms!”

Jeanne drew herself up, blushing with shame and grief.

“Ah! don’t think,” she said, “that love brings me here.”

“What is it then?” asked Micheline, contemptuously.

“The knowledge of inevitable and pressing danger which threatens Serge.”

“A danger! Of what kind?”

“Compromised by Herzog, he is at the mercy of my husband, who has sworn
to ruin him.”

“Your husband!”

“Yes, he is his rival. If you could ruin me, would you not do it?” said
Jeanne.

“You!” retorted Micheline, passionately. “Do you think I am going to
worry about you? Serge is my first thought. You say you came to warn
him. What must be done?”

“Without a moment’s delay he must go away!”

A strange suspicion crossed Micheline’s mind. She approached Jeanne, and
looking earnestly at her, said:

“He must go away without delay, eh? And it is you, braving everything,
without a thought of the trouble you leave behind you, who come to warn
him? Ah! you mean to go with him?”

Jeanne hesitated a moment. Then, boldly and impudently, defying and
almost threatening the legitimate wife:

“Well, yes, I wish to! Enough of dissimulation! I love him!” she
exclaimed.

Micheline, transfigured by passion, strong, and ready for a struggle,
threw herself in Jeanne’s way, with arms outstretched, as if to prevent
her going to Serge.

“Well!” she said; “try to take him from me!”

“Take him from you!” answered Jeanne, laughing like a mad woman. “To
whom does he most belong? To the woman who was as ignorant of his love
as she was of his danger; who could do nothing toward his happiness, and
can do nothing for his safety? Or to the mistress who has sacrificed her
honor to please him and risks her safety to save him?”

“Ah! wretch!” cried Micheline, “to invoke your infamy as a right!”

“Which of us has taken him from the other?” continued Jeanne, forgetting
respect, modesty, everything. “Do you know that he loved me before he
married you? Do you know that he abandoned me for you--for your money, I
should say? Now, do you wish to weigh what I have suffered with what you
suffer? Shall we make out a balance-sheet of our tears? Then, you will
be able to tell which of us he has loved more, and to whom he really
belongs.”

Micheline had listened to this furious address almost in a state of
stupor, and replied, vehemently:

“What matter who triumphs if his ruin is certain. Selfish creatures that
we are, instead of disputing about his love, let us unite in saving
him! You say he must go away! But flight is surely an admission of
guilt--humiliation and obscurity in a strange land. And that is what you
advise, because you hope to share that miserable existence with him.
You are urging him on to dishonor. His fate is in the hands of a man
who adores you, who would sacrifice everything for you, as I would for
Serge, and yet you have not thrown yourself at his feet! You have not
offered your life as the price of your lover’s! And you say that you
love him!”

“Ah!” stammered Jeanne, distracted. “You wish me to save him for you!”

“Is that the cry of your heart?” said Micheline, with crushing disdain.
“Well, see what I am ready to do. If, to remove your jealous fears, it
is necessary to sacrifice myself, I swear to you that if Serge be saved,
he shall be perfectly free, and I will never see him again!”

Micheline, chaste and calm, with hands raised to Heaven, seemed to grow
taller and nobler. Jeanne, trembling and overpowered, looked at her
rival with a painful effort, and murmured, softly:

“Would you do that?”

“I would do more!” said the lawful wife, bending before the mistress. “I
ought to hate you, and I kneel at your feet and beseech you to listen
to me. Do what I ask you and I will forgive you and bless you. Do not
hesitate! Follow me! Let us throw ourselves at the feet of him whom you
have outraged. His generosity cannot be less than ours, and to us,
who sacrifice our love, he will not be able to refuse to sacrifice his
vengeance.”

This greatness and goodness awaked feelings in Jeanne’s heart which she
thought dead. She was silent for a moment and then her breast heaved
with convulsive sobs, and she fell helpless into the arms which
Micheline, full of pity, held out to her.

“Forgive me,” moaned the unhappy woman. “I am conquered. Your rights are
sacred, and you have just made them still more so. Keep Serge: with you
he will once more become honest and happy, because, if your love is not
greater than mine, it is nobler and purer.”

The two women went hand in hand to try to save the man whom they both
adored.

All this time Serge remained in the little drawing-room enjoying the
hope of returning peace. It was sweet to him, after the troubles he had
gone through. He had not the slightest suspicion of the scene in the
adjoining room between Jeanne and Micheline. The fond heroism of his
wife and the self-denial of his mistress were unknown to him.

Time was passing. At least an hour had sped since Micheline left him to
go to her mother, and Serge was beginning to think that the interview
was very long, when a light step made him tremble. It came from the
gallery. He thought it was Micheline, and opening the door, he went to
meet her.

He drew back disappointed, vexed, and anxious, when he found it was
Pierre. The two men had never met alone since that terrible night at
Nice. Panine assumed a bold demeanor, and returned Pierre’s firm look.
Steadying his voice, he said:

“Ah! is it you?”

“Were you not expecting me?” answered Pierre whose harsh voice thrilled
Serge.

The Prince opened his mouth to speak, but Pierre, did not give him time.
In stern and provoking accents, he continued:

“I made you a promise once; have you forgotten it? I have a good memory.
You are a villain, and I come to chastise you!”

“Pierre!” exclaimed the Prince, starting fiercely.

But he suddenly calmed himself, and added:

“Leave me! I will not listen to you!”

“You will have to, though! You are a source of trouble and shame to
the family to which you have allied yourself, and as you have not the
courage to kill yourself, I have come to help you. You must leave Paris
to-night, or you will be arrested. We shall go together to Brussels and
there we shall fight. If chance favors you, you will be at liberty to
continue your infamies, but at any rate I shall have done my best to rid
two unfortunate women of your presence.”

“You are mad!” said Serge, sneeringly.

“Don’t think so! And know that I am ready for any emergency. Come; must
I strike you, to give you courage?” growled Pierre, ready to suit the
action to the word.

“Ah! take care!” snarled Serge, with an evil look.

And opening a drawer which was close to him, he took out a revolver.

“Thief first, then murderer!” said Pierre, with a terrible laugh. “Come,
let’s see you do it!”

And he was going toward the Prince when the door opened, and Madame
Desvarennes came forward. Placing her hand on Pierre’s shoulder, she
said, in that commanding tone which few could resist:

“Go; wait for me in my room. I wish it!”

Pierre bowed, and, without answering, went out.

Serge had placed the pistol on the table and was waiting.

“We have to talk over several matters,” said Madame Desvarennes,
gravely, “and you know it.”

“Yes, Madame,” answered Panine, sadly, “and, believe me, no one judges
my conduct more severely than I do.”

The mistress could not help looking surprised.

“Ah!” she said, with irony, “I did not expect to find you in such a
mood. You have not accustomed me to such humility and sweetness. You
must be afraid, to have arrived at that stage!”

The Prince appeared not to have understood the implied insult in
his mother-in-law’s words. One thing struck him, which was that she
evidently did not expect to find him repentant and humbled.

“Micheline must have told you,” he began.

“I have not seen my daughter,” interrupted the mistress, sharply, as if
to make him understand that he must depend solely upon himself.

Ignorant that Micheline had met Jeanne on her way to her mother, and
had gone to Cayrol, Serge thought he was abandoned by his only powerful
ally. He saw that he was lost and that his feigned resignation was
useless. Unable to control himself any longer, his face darkened with
rage.

“She, too, against me! Well! I will defend myself alone!”

Turning toward Madame Desvarennes, he added:

“To begin with, what do you want with me?”

“I wish to ask you a question. We business folk when we fail, and cannot
pay our way, throw blood on the blot and it disappears. You members of
the nobility, when you are disgraced, how do you manage?”

“If I am not mistaken, Madame,” answered the Prince, in a light tone,
“you do me the favor of asking what my intentions are for the future?
I will answer you with precision. I purpose leaving to-night for
Aix-la-Chapelle, where I shall join my friend Herzog. We shall begin our
business again. My wife, on whose good feelings I rely, will accompany
me, notwithstanding everything.”

And in these last words he put all the venom of his soul.

“My daughter will not leave me!” exclaimed Madame Desvarennes.

“Very well, then, you can accompany her,” retorted Panine. “That
arrangement will suit me. Since my troubles I have learned to appreciate
domestic happiness.”

“Ah! you hope to play your old games on me,” said Madame Desvarennes.
“You won’t get much out of me. My daughter and I with you--in the stream
where you are going to sink? Never!”

“Well, then,” cried Panine, “what do you expect?”

A violent ring at the front door resounded as Madame Desvarennes was
about to answer, and stopped the words on her lips. This signal, which
was used only on important occasions, sounded to Madame like a funeral
knell. Serge frowned, and instinctively moved back.

Marechal appeared through the half-open door with a scared face, and
silently handed Madame Desvarennes a card. She glanced at it, turned
pale, and said to the secretary:

“Very well, let him wait!” She threw the card on the table. Serge came
forward and read:

“Delbarre, sheriff’s officer.”

Haggard-looking and aghast, he turned to the mistress, as if seeking an
explanation.

“Well!” she observed: “it is clear, he has come to arrest you.”

Serge rushed to a cabinet, and opening a drawer, took forth some
handfuls of gold and notes, which he crammed into his pockets.

“By the back stairs I shall have time to get away. It is my last chance!
Keep the man for five minutes only.”

“And if the door is guarded?” asked Madame Desvarennes.

Serge remained abject before her. He felt himself enclosed in a ring
which he could not break through.

“One may be prosecuted without being condemned,” he gasped. “You will
use your influence, I know, and you will get me out of this mess. I
shall be grateful to you for ever, and will do anything you like! But
don’t leave me, it would be cowardly!”

He trembled, as he thus besought her distractedly.

“The son-in-law of Madame Desvarennes does not go before the Assize
Courts even to be acquitted,” said she, with a firm voice.

“What would you have me do?” cried Serge, passionately.

Madame Desvarennes did not answer, but pointed to the revolver on the
table.

“Kill myself? Ah! no; that would be giving you too much pleasure.”

And he gave the weapon a push, so that it rolled close to Madame
Desvarennes.

“Ah! wretch!” cried she, giving way to her suppressed rage. “You are not
even a Panine! The Panines knew how to die.”

“I have not time to act a melodrama with you,” snarled Serge. “I am
going to try to save myself.”

And he took a step toward the door.

The mistress seized the revolver, and threw herself before him.

“You shall not go out!” she cried.

“Are you mad?” he exclaimed, gnashing his teeth.

“You shall not go out!” repeated the mistress, with flashing eyes.

“We shall see!”

And with a strong arm he seized Madame Desvarennes, and threw her aside.

The mistress became livid. Serge had his hand on the handle of the door.
He was about to escape. Madame Desvarennes’s arm was stretched forth.

A shot made the windows rattle; the weapon fell from her hand, having
done its work and, amid the smoke, a body dropped heavily on the carpet,
which was soon dyed with blood.

At the same moment, the door opened, and Micheline entered, holding in
her hand the fatal receipt which she had just wrung from Cayrol. The
young wife uttered a heartrending cry, and fell senseless on Serge’s
body.

Behind Micheline came the officer and Marechal. The secretary exchanged
looks with the mistress, who was lifting her fainting daughter and
clasping her in her arms. He understood all.

Turning toward his companion, he said:

“Alas! sir, here is a sad matter! The Prince, on hearing that you had
come, took fright, although his fault was not very serious, and has shot
himself.”

The officer bowed respectfully to the mistress, who was bending over
Micheline.

“Please to withdraw, Madame. You have already suffered too much,” said
he. “I understand your legitimate grief. If I need any information, this
gentleman will give it to me.”

Madame Desvarennes arose, and, without bending under the burden, she
bore away on her bosom her daughter, regained.


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     A man weeps with difficulty before a woman
     A uniform is the only garb which can hide poverty honorably
     Antagonism to plutocracy and hatred of aristocrats
     Because they moved, they thought they were progressing
     Cowardly in trouble as he had been insolent in prosperity
     Enough to be nobody’s unless I belong to him
     Even those who do not love her desire to know her
     Everywhere was feverish excitement, dissipation, and nullity
     Flayed and roasted alive by the critics
     Forget a dream and accept a reality
     Hard workers are pitiful lovers
     He lost his time, his money, his hair, his illusions
     He was very unhappy at being misunderstood
     Heed that you lose not in dignity what you gain in revenge
     I thought the best means of being loved were to deserve it
     I don’t pay myself with words
     Implacable self-interest which is the law of the world
     In life it is only nonsense that is common-sense
     Is a man ever poor when he has two arms?
     Is it by law only that you wish to keep me?
     It was a relief when they rose from the table
     Men of pleasure remain all their lives mediocre workers
     Money troubles are not mortal
     My aunt is jealous of me because I am a man of ideas
     Negroes, all but monkeys!
     Nothing that provokes laughter more than a disappointed lover
     One amuses one’s self at the risk of dying
     Patience, should he encounter a dull page here or there
     Romanticism still ferments beneath the varnish of Naturalism
     Sacrifice his artistic leanings to popular caprice
     Scarcely was one scheme launched when another idea occurred
     She would have liked the world to be in mourning
     Suffering is a human law; the world is an arena
     Talk with me sometimes. You will not chatter trivialities
     The guilty will not feel your blows, but the innocent
     The uncontested power which money brings
     They had only one aim, one passion--to enjoy themselves
     Unqualified for happiness
     We had taken the dream of a day for eternal happiness
     What is a man who remains useless
     Without a care or a cross, he grew weary like a prisoner
     You are talking too much about it to be sincere





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