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Title: The Duchesse of Langeais
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE DUCHESSE OF LANGEAIS


By Honore De Balzac


Translated by Ellen Marriage



Preparer’s Note:

  The Duchesse of Langeais is the second part of a trilogy. Part
  one is entitled Ferragus and part three is The Girl with the
  Golden Eyes. The three stories are frequently combined under the
  title The Thirteen.


                           To Franz Liszt



THE DUCHESSE OF LANGEAIS

In a Spanish city on an island in the Mediterranean, there stands a
convent of the Order of Barefoot Carmelites, where the rule instituted
by St. Theresa is still preserved with all the first rigor of the
reformation brought about by that illustrious woman. Extraordinary as
this may seem, it is none the less true. Almost every religious house
in the Peninsula, or in Europe for that matter, was either destroyed or
disorganized by the outbreak of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic
wars; but as this island was protected through those times by the
English fleet, its wealthy convent and peaceable inhabitants were secure
from the general trouble and spoliation. The storms of many kinds which
shook the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century spent their
force before they reached those cliffs at so short a distance from the
coast of Andalusia.

If the rumour of the Emperor’s name so much as reached the shore of the
island, it is doubtful whether the holy women kneeling in the cloisters
grasped the reality of his dream-like progress of glory, or the majesty
that blazed in flame across kingdom after kingdom during his meteor
life.

In the minds of the Roman Catholic world, the convent stood out
pre-eminent for a stern discipline which nothing had changed; the purity
of its rule had attracted unhappy women from the furthest parts of
Europe, women deprived of all human ties, sighing after the long suicide
accomplished in the breast of God. No convent, indeed, was so well
fitted for that complete detachment of the soul from all earthly things,
which is demanded by the religious life, albeit on the continent of
Europe there are many convents magnificently adapted to the purpose
of their existence. Buried away in the loneliest valleys, hanging
in mid-air on the steepest mountainsides, set down on the brink
of precipices, in every place man has sought for the poetry of the
Infinite, the solemn awe of Silence; in every place man has striven to
draw closer to God, seeking Him on mountain peaks, in the depths below
the crags, at the cliff’s edge; and everywhere man has found God. But
nowhere, save on this half-European, half-African ledge of rock could
you find so many different harmonies, combining so to raise the soul,
that the sharpest pain comes to be like other memories; the strongest
impressions are dulled, till the sorrows of life are laid to rest in the
depths.

The convent stands on the highest point of the crags at the uttermost
end of the island. On the side towards the sea the rock was once rent
sheer away in some globe-cataclysm; it rises up a straight wall from
the base where the waves gnaw at the stone below high-water mark. Any
assault is made impossible by the dangerous reefs that stretch far out
to sea, with the sparkling waves of the Mediterranean playing over them.
So, only from the sea can you discern the square mass of the convent
built conformably to the minute rules laid down as to the shape, height,
doors, and windows of monastic buildings. From the side of the town, the
church completely hides the solid structure of the cloisters and their
roofs, covered with broad slabs of stone impervious to sun or storm or
gales of wind.

The church itself, built by the munificence of a Spanish family, is the
crowning edifice of the town. Its fine, bold front gives an imposing
and picturesque look to the little city in the sea. The sight of such
a city, with its close-huddled roofs, arranged for the most part
amphitheatre-wise above a picturesque harbour, and crowned by a glorious
cathedral front with triple-arched Gothic doorways, belfry towers, and
filigree spires, is a spectacle surely in every way the sublimest on
earth. Religion towering above daily life, to put men continually
in mind of the End and the way, is in truth a thoroughly Spanish
conception. But now surround this picture by the Mediterranean, and a
burning sky, imagine a few palms here and there, a few stunted evergreen
trees mingling their waving leaves with the motionless flowers and
foliage of carved stone; look out over the reef with its white fringes
of foam in contrast to the sapphire sea; and then turn to the city, with
its galleries and terraces whither the townsfolk come to take the air
among their flowers of an evening, above the houses and the tops of the
trees in their little gardens; add a few sails down in the harbour; and
lastly, in the stillness of falling night, listen to the organ music,
the chanting of the services, the wonderful sound of bells pealing out
over the open sea. There is sound and silence everywhere; oftener still
there is silence over all.

The church is divided within into a sombre mysterious nave and narrow
aisles. For some reason, probably because the winds are so high, the
architect was unable to build the flying buttresses and intervening
chapels which adorn almost all cathedrals, nor are there openings of any
kind in the walls which support the weight of the roof. Outside there
is simply the heavy wall structure, a solid mass of grey stone further
strengthened by huge piers placed at intervals. Inside, the nave and its
little side galleries are lighted entirely by the great stained-glass
rose-window suspended by a miracle of art above the centre doorway; for
upon that side the exposure permits of the display of lacework in stone
and of other beauties peculiar to the style improperly called Gothic.

The larger part of the nave and aisles was left for the townsfolk, who
came and went and heard mass there. The choir was shut off from the
rest of the church by a grating and thick folds of brown curtain, left
slightly apart in the middle in such a way that nothing of the choir
could be seen from the church except the high altar and the officiating
priest. The grating itself was divided up by the pillars which supported
the organ loft; and this part of the structure, with its carved wooden
columns, completed the line of the arcading in the gallery carried by
the shafts in the nave. If any inquisitive person, therefore, had been
bold enough to climb upon the narrow balustrade in the gallery to look
down into the choir, he could have seen nothing but the tall eight-sided
windows of stained glass beyond the high altar.

At the time of the French expedition into Spain to establish Ferdinand
VII once more on the throne, a French general came to the island after
the taking of Cadiz, ostensibly to require the recognition of the King’s
Government, really to see the convent and to find some means of
entering it. The undertaking was certainly a delicate one; but a man of
passionate temper, whose life had been, as it were, but one series of
poems in action, a man who all his life long had lived romances instead
of writing them, a man pre-eminently a Doer, was sure to be tempted by a
deed which seemed to be impossible.

To open the doors of a convent of nuns by lawful means! The metropolitan
or the Pope would scarcely have permitted it! And as for force or
stratagem--might not any indiscretion cost him his position, his whole
career as a soldier, and the end in view to boot? The Duc d’Angouleme
was still in Spain; and of all the crimes which a man in favour with the
Commander-in-Chief might commit, this one alone was certain to find him
inexorable. The General had asked for the mission to gratify private
motives of curiosity, though never was curiosity more hopeless. This
final attempt was a matter of conscience. The Carmelite convent on the
island was the only nunnery in Spain which had baffled his search.

As he crossed from the mainland, scarcely an hour’s distance, he felt a
presentiment that his hopes were to be fulfilled; and afterwards, when
as yet he had seen nothing of the convent but its walls, and of the nuns
not so much as their robes; while he had merely heard the chanting of
the service, there were dim auguries under the walls and in the sound of
the voices to justify his frail hope. And, indeed, however faint those
so unaccountable presentiments might be, never was human passion more
vehemently excited than the General’s curiosity at that moment. There
are no small events for the heart; the heart exaggerates everything; the
heart weighs the fall of a fourteen-year-old Empire and the dropping of
a woman’s glove in the same scales, and the glove is nearly always
the heavier of the two. So here are the facts in all their prosaic
simplicity. The facts first, the emotions will follow.

An hour after the General landed on the island, the royal authority was
re-established there. Some few Constitutional Spaniards who had found
their way thither after the fall of Cadiz were allowed to charter
a vessel and sail for London. So there was neither resistance nor
reaction. But the change of government could not be effected in the
little town without a mass, at which the two divisions under the
General’s command were obliged to be present. Now, it was upon this mass
that the General had built his hopes of gaining some information as
to the sisters in the convent; he was quite unaware how absolutely the
Carmelites were cut off from the world; but he knew that there might be
among them one whom he held dearer than life, dearer than honour.

His hopes were cruelly dashed at once. Mass, it is true, was celebrated
in state. In honour of such a solemnity, the curtains which always hid
the choir were drawn back to display its riches, its valuable paintings
and shrines so bright with gems that they eclipsed the glories of
the ex-votos of gold and silver hung up by sailors of the port on
the columns in the nave. But all the nuns had taken refuge in the
organ-loft. And yet, in spite of this first check, during this very mass
of thanksgiving, the most intimately thrilling drama that ever set a
man’s heart beating opened out widely before him.

The sister who played the organ aroused such intense enthusiasm, that
not a single man regretted that he had come to the service. Even the men
in the ranks were delighted, and the officers were in ecstasy. As for
the General, he was seemingly calm and indifferent. The sensations
stirred in him as the sister played one piece after another belong to
the small number of things which it is not lawful to utter; words are
powerless to express them; like death, God, eternity, they can only be
realised through their one point of contact with humanity. Strangely
enough, the organ music seemed to belong to the school of Rossini, the
musician who brings most human passion into his art.

Some day his works, by their number and extent, will receive the
reverence due to the Homer of music. From among all the scores that we
owe to his great genius, the nun seemed to have chosen _Moses in Egypt_
for special study, doubtless because the spirit of sacred music finds
therein its supreme expression. Perhaps the soul of the great musician,
so gloriously known to Europe, and the soul of this unknown executant
had met in the intuitive apprehension of the same poetry. So at least
thought two dilettanti officers who must have missed the Theatre Favart
in Spain.

At last in the _Te Deum_ no one could fail to discern a French soul in
the sudden change that came over the music. Joy for the victory of the
Most Christian King evidently stirred this nun’s heart to the depths.
She was a Frenchwoman beyond mistake. Soon the love of country shone
out, breaking forth like shafts of light from the fugue, as the sister
introduced variations with all a Parisienne’s fastidious taste, and
blended vague suggestions of our grandest national airs with her music.
A Spaniard’s fingers would not have brought this warmth into a
graceful tribute paid to the victorious arms of France. The musician’s
nationality was revealed.

“We find France everywhere, it seems,” said one of the men.

The General had left the church during the _Te Deum_; he could not
listen any longer. The nun’s music had been a revelation of a woman
loved to frenzy; a woman so carefully hidden from the world’s eyes,
so deeply buried in the bosom of the Church, that hitherto the most
ingenious and persistent efforts made by men who brought great influence
and unusual powers to bear upon the search had failed to find her. The
suspicion aroused in the General’s heart became all but a certainty with
the vague reminiscence of a sad, delicious melody, the air of _Fleuve
du Tage_. The woman he loved had played the prelude to the ballad in
a boudoir in Paris, how often! and now this nun had chosen the song
to express an exile’s longing, amid the joy of those that triumphed.
Terrible sensation! To hope for the resurrection of a lost love, to find
her only to know that she was lost, to catch a mysterious glimpse of her
after five years--five years, in which the pent-up passion, chafing
in an empty life, had grown the mightier for every fruitless effort to
satisfy it!

Who has not known, at least once in his life, what it is to lose some
precious thing; and after hunting through his papers, ransacking his
memory, and turning his house upside down; after one or two days spent
in vain search, and hope, and despair; after a prodigious expenditure
of the liveliest irritation of soul, who has not known the ineffable
pleasure of finding that all-important nothing which had come to be a
king of monomania? Very good. Now, spread that fury of search over five
years; put a woman, put a heart, put love in the place of the trifle;
transpose the monomania into the key of high passion; and, furthermore,
let the seeker be a man of ardent temper, with a lion’s heart and a
leonine head and mane, a man to inspire awe and fear in those who come
in contact with him--realise this, and you may, perhaps, understand why
the General walked abruptly out of the church when the first notes of
a ballad, which he used to hear with a rapture of delight in a
gilt-paneled boudoir, began to vibrate along the aisles of the church in
the sea.

The General walked away down the steep street which led to the port, and
only stopped when he could not hear the deep notes of the organ. Unable
to think of anything but the love which broke out in volcanic eruption,
filling his heart with fire, he only knew that the _Te Deum_ was over
when the Spanish congregation came pouring out of the church. Feeling
that his behaviour and attitude might seem ridiculous, he went back to
head the procession, telling the alcalde and the governor that, feeling
suddenly faint, he had gone out into the air. Casting about for a plea
for prolonging his stay, it at once occurred to him to make the most of
this excuse, framed on the spur of the moment. He declined, on a plea of
increasing indisposition, to preside at the banquet given by the town
to the French officers, betook himself to his bed, and sent a message to
the Major-General, to the effect that temporary illness obliged him
to leave the Colonel in command of the troops for the time being.
This commonplace but very plausible stratagem relieved him of all
responsibility for the time necessary to carry out his plans. The
General, nothing if not “catholic and monarchical,” took occasion to
inform himself of the hours of the services, and manifested the greatest
zeal for the performance of his religious duties, piety which caused no
remark in Spain.

The very next day, while the division was marching out of the town, the
General went to the convent to be present at vespers. He found an empty
church. The townsfolk, devout though they were, had all gone down to the
quay to watch the embarkation of the troops. He felt glad to be the only
man there. He tramped noisily up the nave, clanking his spurs till the
vaulted roof rang with the sound; he coughed, he talked aloud to himself
to let the nuns know, and more particularly to let the organist know
that if the troops were gone, one Frenchman was left behind. Was this
singular warning heard and understood? He thought so. It seemed to him
that in the _Magnificat_ the organ made response which was borne to him
on the vibrating air. The nun’s spirit found wings in music and fled
towards him, throbbing with the rhythmical pulse of the sounds. Then, in
all its might, the music burst forth and filled the church with warmth.
The Song of Joy set apart in the sublime liturgy of Latin Christianity
to express the exaltation of the soul in the presence of the glory of
the ever-living God, became the utterance of a heart almost terrified by
its gladness in the presence of the glory of a mortal love; a love that
yet lived, a love that had risen to trouble her even beyond the grave in
which the nun is laid, that she may rise again as the bride of Christ.

The organ is in truth the grandest, the most daring, the most
magnificent of all instruments invented by human genius. It is a whole
orchestra in itself. It can express anything in response to a skilled
touch. Surely it is in some sort a pedestal on which the soul poises for
a flight forth into space, essaying on her course to draw picture after
picture in an endless series, to paint human life, to cross the Infinite
that separates heaven from earth? And the longer a dreamer listens to
those giant harmonies, the better he realizes that nothing save this
hundred-voiced choir on earth can fill all the space between kneeling
men, and a God hidden by the blinding light of the Sanctuary. The music
is the one interpreter strong enough to bear up the prayers of humanity
to heaven, prayer in its omnipotent moods, prayer tinged by the
melancholy of many different natures, coloured by meditative ecstasy,
upspringing with the impulse of repentance--blended with the myriad
fancies of every creed. Yes. In those long vaulted aisles the melodies
inspired by the sense of things divine are blended with a grandeur
unknown before, are decked with new glory and might. Out of the dim
daylight, and the deep silence broken by the chanting of the choir in
response to the thunder of the organ, a veil is woven for God, and the
brightness of His attributes shines through it.

And this wealth of holy things seemed to be flung down like a grain of
incense upon the fragile altar raised to Love beneath the eternal throne
of a jealous and avenging God. Indeed, in the joy of the nun there
was little of that awe and gravity which should harmonize with the
solemnities of the _Magnificat_. She had enriched the music with
graceful variations, earthly gladness throbbing through the rhythm of
each. In such brilliant quivering notes some great singer might strive
to find a voice for her love, her melodies fluttered as a bird flutters
about her mate. There were moments when she seemed to leap back into
the past, to dally there now with laughter, now with tears. Her changing
moods, as it were, ran riot. She was like a woman excited and happy over
her lover’s return.

But at length, after the swaying fugues of delirium, after the
marvellous rendering of a vision of the past, a revulsion swept over the
soul that thus found utterance for itself. With a swift transition from
the major to the minor, the organist told her hearer of her present lot.
She gave the story of long melancholy broodings, of the slow course
of her moral malady. How day by day she deadened the senses, how every
night cut off one more thought, how her heart was slowly reduced
to ashes. The sadness deepened shade after shade through languid
modulations, and in a little while the echoes were pouring out a torrent
of grief. Then on a sudden, high notes rang out like the voices of
angels singing together, as if to tell the lost but not forgotten lover
that their spirits now could only meet in heaven. Pathetic hope! Then
followed the _Amen_. No more joy, no more tears in the air, no sadness,
no regrets. The _Amen_ was the return to God. The final chord was deep,
solemn, even terrible; for the last rumblings of the bass sent a shiver
through the audience that raised the hair on their heads; the nun shook
out her veiling of crepe, and seemed to sink again into the grave from
which she had risen for a moment. Slowly the reverberations died away;
it seemed as if the church, but now so full of light, had returned to
thick darkness.

The General had been caught up and borne swiftly away by this
strong-winged spirit; he had followed the course of its flight from
beginning to end. He understood to the fullest extent the imagery of
that burning symphony; for him the chords reached deep and far. For
him, as for the sister, the poem meant future, present, and past. Is
not music, and even opera music, a sort of text, which a susceptible
or poetic temper, or a sore and stricken heart, may expand as memories
shall determine? If a musician must needs have the heart of a poet, must
not the listener too be in a manner a poet and a lover to hear all that
lies in great music? Religion, love, and music--what are they but a
threefold expression of the same fact, of that craving for expansion
which stirs in every noble soul. And these three forms of poetry ascend
to God, in whom all passion on earth finds its end. Wherefore the holy
human trinity finds a place amid the infinite glories of God; of God,
whom we always represent surrounded with the fires of love and seistrons
of gold--music and light and harmony. Is not He the Cause and the End of
all our strivings?

The French General guessed rightly that here in the desert, on this bare
rock in the sea, the nun had seized upon music as an outpouring of the
passion that still consumed her. Was this her manner of offering up her
love as a sacrifice to God? Or was it Love exultant in triumph over God?
The questions were hard to answer. But one thing at least the General
could not mistake--in this heart, dead to the world, the fire of passion
burned as fiercely as in his own.

Vespers over, he went back to the alcalde with whom he was staying.
In the all-absorbing joy which comes in such full measure when a
satisfaction sought long and painfully is attained at last, he could see
nothing beyond this--he was still loved! In her heart love had grown
in loneliness, even as his love had grown stronger as he surmounted one
barrier after another which this woman had set between them! The glow of
soul came to its natural end. There followed a longing to see her again,
to contend with God for her, to snatch her away--a rash scheme, which
appealed to a daring nature. He went to bed, when the meal was over, to
avoid questions; to be alone and think at his ease; and he lay absorbed
by deep thought till day broke.

He rose only to go to mass. He went to the church and knelt close to
the screen, with his forehead touching the curtain; he would have torn
a hole in it if he had been alone, but his host had come with him out of
politeness, and the least imprudence might compromise the whole future
of his love, and ruin the new hopes.

The organ sounded, but it was another player, and not the nun of the
last two days whose hands touched the keys. It was all colorless and
cold for the General. Was the woman he loved prostrated by emotion which
well-nigh overcame a strong man’s heart? Had she so fully realised and
shared an unchanged, longed-for love, that now she lay dying on her bed
in her cell? While innumerable thoughts of this kind perplexed his mind,
the voice of the woman he worshipped rang out close beside him; he knew
its clear resonant soprano. It was her voice, with that faint tremor in
it which gave it all the charm that shyness and diffidence gives to a
young girl; her voice, distinct from the mass of singing as a _prima
donna’s_ in the chorus of a finale. It was like a golden or silver
thread in dark frieze.

It was she! There could be no mistake. Parisienne now as ever, she had
not laid coquetry aside when she threw off worldly adornments for the
veil and the Carmelite’s coarse serge. She who had affirmed her love
last evening in the praise sent up to God, seemed now to say to her
lover, “Yes, it is I. I am here. My love is unchanged, but I am beyond
the reach of love. You will hear my voice, my soul shall enfold you,
and I shall abide here under the brown shroud in the choir from which no
power on earth can tear me. You shall never see me more!”

“It is she indeed!” the General said to himself, raising his head. He
had leant his face on his hands, unable at first to bear the intolerable
emotion that surged like a whirlpool in his heart, when that well-known
voice vibrated under the arcading, with the sound of the sea for
accompaniment.

Storm was without, and calm within the sanctuary. Still that rich voice
poured out all its caressing notes; it fell like balm on the lover’s
burning heart; it blossomed upon the air--the air that a man would fain
breathe more deeply to receive the effluence of a soul breathed forth
with love in the words of the prayer. The alcalde coming to join
his guest found him in tears during the elevation, while the nun was
singing, and brought him back to his house. Surprised to find so much
piety in a French military man, the worthy magistrate invited the
confessor of the convent to meet his guest. Never had news given the
General more pleasure; he paid the ecclesiastic a good deal of attention
at supper, and confirmed his Spanish hosts in the high opinion they had
formed of his piety by a not wholly disinterested respect.

He inquired with gravity how many sisters there were in the convent, and
asked for particulars of its endowment and revenues, as if from
courtesy he wished to hear the good priest discourse on the subject most
interesting to him. He informed himself as to the manner of life led by
the holy women. Were they allowed to go out of the convent, or to see
visitors?

“Senor,” replied the venerable churchman, “the rule is strict. A woman
cannot enter a monastery of the order of St. Bruno without a special
permission from His Holiness, and the rule here is equally stringent.
No man may enter a convent of Barefoot Carmelites unless he is a priest
specially attached to the services of the house by the Archbishop. None
of the nuns may leave the convent; though the great Saint, St. Theresa,
often left her cell. The Visitor or the Mothers Superior can alone give
permission, subject to an authorization from the Archbishop, for a nun
to see a visitor, and then especially in a case of illness. Now we are
one of the principal houses, and consequently we have a Mother Superior
here. Among other foreign sisters there is one Frenchwoman, Sister
Theresa; she it is who directs the music in the chapel.”

“Oh!” said the General, with feigned surprise. “She must have rejoiced
over the victory of the House of Bourbon.”

“I told them the reason of the mass; they are always a little bit
inquisitive.”

“But Sister Theresa may have interests in France. Perhaps she would like
to send some message or to hear news.”

“I do not think so. She would have come to ask me.”

“As a fellow-countryman, I should be quite curious to see her,” said the
General. “If it is possible, if the Lady Superior consents, if----”

“Even at the grating and in the Reverend Mother’s presence, an interview
would be quite impossible for anybody whatsoever; but, strict as the
Mother is, for a deliverer of our holy religion and the throne of his
Catholic Majesty, the rule might be relaxed for a moment,” said the
confessor, blinking. “I will speak about it.”

“How old is Sister Theresa?” inquired the lover. He dared not ask any
questions of the priest as to the nun’s beauty.

“She does not reckon years now,” the good man answered, with a
simplicity that made the General shudder.

Next day before siesta, the confessor came to inform the French General
that Sister Theresa and the Mother consented to receive him at the
grating in the parlour before vespers. The General spent the siesta in
pacing to and fro along the quay in the noonday heat. Thither the priest
came to find him, and brought him to the convent by way of the gallery
round the cemetery. Fountains, green trees, and rows of arcading
maintained a cool freshness in keeping with the place.

At the further end of the long gallery the priest led the way into a
large room divided in two by a grating covered with a brown curtain. In
the first, and in some sort of public half of the apartment, where the
confessor left the newcomer, a wooden bench ran round the wall, and two
or three chairs, also of wood, were placed near the grating. The ceiling
consisted of bare unornamented joists and cross-beams of ilex wood. As
the two windows were both on the inner side of the grating, and the dark
surface of the wood was a bad reflector, the light in the place was so
dim that you could scarcely see the great black crucifix, the portrait
of Saint Theresa, and a picture of the Madonna which adorned the grey
parlour walls. Tumultuous as the General’s feelings were, they took
something of the melancholy of the place. He grew calm in that homely
quiet. A sense of something vast as the tomb took possession of him
beneath the chill unceiled roof. Here, as in the grave, was there not
eternal silence, deep peace--the sense of the Infinite? And besides this
there was the quiet and the fixed thought of the cloister--a thought
which you felt like a subtle presence in the air, and in the dim dusk
of the room; an all-pervasive thought nowhere definitely expressed, and
looming the larger in the imagination; for in the cloister the great
saying, “Peace in the Lord,” enters the least religious soul as a living
force.

The monk’s life is scarcely comprehensible. A man seems confessed a
weakling in a monastery; he was born to act, to live out a life of work;
he is evading a man’s destiny in his cell. But what man’s strength,
blended with pathetic weakness, is implied by a woman’s choice of the
convent life! A man may have any number of motives for burying himself
in a monastery; for him it is the leap over the precipice. A woman
has but one motive--she is a woman still; she betrothes herself to a
Heavenly Bridegroom. Of the monk you may ask, “Why did you not fight
your battle?” But if a woman immures herself in the cloister, is there
not always a sublime battle fought first?

At length it seemed to the General that that still room, and the lonely
convent in the sea, were full of thoughts of him. Love seldom attains
to solemnity; yet surely a love still faithful in the breast of God was
something solemn, something more than a man had a right to look for
as things are in this nineteenth century? The infinite grandeur of the
situation might well produce an effect upon the General’s mind; he had
precisely enough elevation of soul to forget politics, honours, Spain,
and society in Paris, and to rise to the height of this lofty climax.
And what in truth could be more tragic? How much must pass in the souls
of these two lovers, brought together in a place of strangers, on
a ledge of granite in the sea; yet held apart by an intangible,
unsurmountable barrier! Try to imagine the man saying within himself,
“Shall I triumph over God in her heart?” when a faint rustling sound
made him quiver, and the curtain was drawn aside.

Between him and the light stood a woman. Her face was hidden by the veil
that drooped from the folds upon her head; she was dressed according
to the rule of the order in a gown of the colour become proverbial. Her
bare feet were hidden; if the General could have seen them, he would
have known how appallingly thin she had grown; and yet in spite of the
thick folds of her coarse gown, a mere covering and no ornament, he
could guess how tears, and prayer, and passion, and loneliness had
wasted the woman before him.

An ice-cold hand, belonging, no doubt, to the Mother Superior, held back
the curtain. The General gave the enforced witness of their interview a
searching glance, and met the dark, inscrutable gaze of an aged recluse.
The Mother might have been a century old, but the bright, youthful eyes
belied the wrinkles that furrowed her pale face.

“Mme la Duchesse,” he began, his voice shaken with emotion, “does your
companion understand French?” The veiled figure bowed her head at the
sound of his voice.

“There is no duchess here,” she replied. “It is Sister Theresa whom you
see before you. She whom you call my companion is my mother in God, my
superior here on earth.”

The words were so meekly spoken by the voice that sounded in other years
amid harmonious surroundings of refined luxury, the voice of a queen of
fashion in Paris. Such words from the lips that once spoke so lightly
and flippantly struck the General dumb with amazement.

“The Holy Mother only speaks Latin and Spanish,” she added.

“I understand neither. Dear Antoinette, make my excuses to her.”

The light fell full upon the nun’s figure; a thrill of deep emotion
betrayed itself in a faint quiver of her veil as she heard her name
softly spoken by the man who had been so hard in the past.

“My brother,” she said, drawing her sleeve under her veil, perhaps to
brush tears away, “I am Sister Theresa.”

Then, turning to the Superior, she spoke in Spanish; the General knew
enough of the language to understand what she said perfectly well;
possibly he could have spoken it had he chosen to do so.

“Dear Mother, the gentleman presents his respects to you, and begs you
to pardon him if he cannot pay them himself, but he knows neither of the
languages which you speak----”

The aged nun bent her head slowly, with an expression of angelic
sweetness, enhanced at the same time by the consciousness of her power
and dignity.

“Do you know this gentleman?” she asked, with a keen glance.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Go back to your cell, my daughter!” said the Mother imperiously.

The General slipped aside behind the curtain lest the dreadful tumult
within him should appear in his face; even in the shadow it seemed to
him that he could still see the Superior’s piercing eyes. He was afraid
of her; she held his little, frail, hardly-won happiness in her hands;
and he, who had never quailed under a triple row of guns, now trembled
before this nun. The Duchess went towards the door, but she turned back.

“Mother,” she said, with dreadful calmness, “the Frenchman is one of my
brothers.”

“Then stay, my daughter,” said the Superior, after a pause.

The piece of admirable Jesuitry told of such love and regret, that a man
less strongly constituted might have broken down under the keen delight
in the midst of a great and, for him, an entirely novel peril. Oh! how
precious words, looks, and gestures became when love must baffle lynx
eyes and tiger’s claws! Sister Theresa came back.

“You see, my brother, what I have dared to do only to speak to you for
a moment of your salvation and of the prayers that my soul puts up for
your soul daily. I am committing mortal sin. I have told a lie. How many
days of penance must expiate that lie! But I shall endure it for your
sake. My brother, you do not know what happiness it is to love in
heaven; to feel that you can confess love purified by religion, love
transported into the highest heights of all, so that we are permitted
to lose sight of all but the soul. If the doctrine and the spirit of
the Saint to whom we owe this refuge had not raised me above earth’s
anguish, and caught me up and set me, far indeed beneath the Sphere
wherein she dwells, yet truly above this world, I should not have
seen you again. But now I can see you, and hear your voice, and remain
calm----”

The General broke in, “But, Antoinette, let me see you, you whom I love
passionately, desperately, as you could have wished me to love you.”

“Do not call me Antoinette, I implore you. Memories of the past hurt me.
You must see no one here but Sister Theresa, a creature who trusts in
the Divine mercy.” She paused for a little, and then added, “You must
control yourself, my brother. Our Mother would separate us without pity
if there is any worldly passion in your face, or if you allow the tears
to fall from your eyes.”

The General bowed his head to regain self-control; when he looked up
again he saw her face beyond the grating--the thin, white, but still
impassioned face of the nun. All the magic charm of youth that once
bloomed there, all the fair contrast of velvet whiteness and the colour
of the Bengal rose, had given place to a burning glow, as of a porcelain
jar with a faint light shining through it. The wonderful hair in which
she took such pride had been shaven; there was a bandage round her
forehead and about her face. An ascetic life had left dark traces about
the eyes, which still sometimes shot out fevered glances; their ordinary
calm expression was but a veil. In a few words, she was but the ghost of
her former self.

“Ah! you that have come to be my life, you must come out of this tomb!
You were mine; you had no right to give yourself, even to God. Did you
not promise me to give up all at the least command from me? You may
perhaps think me worthy of that promise now when you hear what I have
done for you. I have sought you all through the world. You have been in
my thoughts at every moment for five years; my life has been given to
you. My friends, very powerful friends, as you know, have helped with
all their might to search every convent in France, Italy, Spain, Sicily,
and America. Love burned more brightly for every vain search. Again and
again I made long journeys with a false hope; I have wasted my life and
the heaviest throbbings of my heart in vain under many a dark convent
wall. I am not speaking of a faithfulness that knows no bounds, for what
is it?--nothing compared with the infinite longings of my love. If your
remorse long ago was sincere, you ought not to hesitate to follow me
today.”

“You forget that I am not free.”

“The Duke is dead,” he answered quickly.

Sister Theresa flushed red.

“May heaven be open to him!” she cried with a quick rush of feeling. “He
was generous to me.--But I did not mean such ties; it was one of my sins
that I was ready to break them all without scruple--for you.”

“Are you speaking of your vows?” the General asked, frowning. “I did not
think that anything weighed heavier with your heart than love. But do
not think twice of it, Antoinette; the Holy Father himself shall absolve
you of your oath. I will surely go to Rome, I will entreat all the
powers of earth; if God could come down from heaven, I would----”

“Do not blaspheme.”

“So do not fear the anger of God. Ah! I would far rather hear that
you would leave your prison for me; that this very night you would let
yourself down into a boat at the foot of the cliffs. And we would go
away to be happy somewhere at the world’s end, I know not where. And
with me at your side, you should come back to life and health under the
wings of love.”

“You must not talk like this,” said Sister Theresa; “you do not know
what you are to me now. I love you far better than I ever loved you
before. Every day I pray for you; I see you with other eyes. Armand, if
you but knew the happiness of giving yourself up, without shame, to a
pure friendship which God watches over! You do not know what joy it is
to me to pray for heaven’s blessing on you. I never pray for myself: God
will do with me according to His will; but, at the price of my soul, I
wish I could be sure that you are happy here on earth, and that you
will be happy hereafter throughout all ages. My eternal life is all that
trouble has left me to offer up to you. I am old now with weeping; I am
neither young nor fair; and in any case, you could not respect the
nun who became a wife; no love, not even motherhood, could give me
absolution.... What can you say to outweigh the uncounted thoughts that
have gathered in my heart during the past five years, thoughts that have
changed, and worn, and blighted it? I ought to have given a heart less
sorrowful to God.”

“What can I say? Dear Antoinette, I will say this, that I love you; that
affection, love, a great love, the joy of living in another heart that
is ours, utterly and wholly ours, is so rare a thing and so hard to
find, that I doubted you, and put you to sharp proof; but now, today, I
love you, Antoinette, with all my soul’s strength.... If you will follow
me into solitude, I will hear no voice but yours, I will see no other
face.”

“Hush, Armand! You are shortening the little time that we may be
together here on earth.”

“Antoinette, will you come with me?”

“I am never away from you. My life is in your heart, not through the
selfish ties of earthly happiness, or vanity, or enjoyment; pale and
withered as I am, I live here for you, in the breast of God. As God is
just, you shall be happy----”

“Words, words all of it! Pale and withered? How if I want you? How if I
cannot be happy without you? Do you still think of nothing but duty with
your lover before you? Is he never to come first and above all things
else in your heart? In time past you put social success, yourself,
heaven knows what, before him; now it is God, it is the welfare of my
soul! In Sister Theresa I find the Duchess over again, ignorant of
the happiness of love, insensible as ever, beneath the semblance of
sensibility. You do not love me; you have never loved me----”

“Oh, my brother----!”

“You do not wish to leave this tomb. You love my soul, do you say?
Very well, through you it will be lost forever. I shall make away with
myself----”

“Mother!” Sister Theresa called aloud in Spanish, “I have lied to you;
this man is my lover!”

The curtain fell at once. The General, in his stupor, scarcely heard the
doors within as they clanged.

“Ah! she loves me still!” he cried, understanding all the sublimity of
that cry of hers. “She loves me still. She must be carried off....”



The General left the island, returned to headquarters, pleaded
ill-health, asked for leave of absence, and forthwith took his departure
for France.

And now for the incidents which brought the two personages in this Scene
into their present relation to each other.



The thing known in France as the Faubourg Saint-Germain is neither a
Quarter, nor a sect, nor an institution, nor anything else that admits
of a precise definition. There are great houses in the Place Royale, the
Faubourg Saint-Honore, and the Chaussee d’Antin, in any one of which you
may breathe the same atmosphere of Faubourg Saint-Germain. So, to begin
with, the whole Faubourg is not within the Faubourg. There are men and
women born far enough away from its influences who respond to them and
take their place in the circle; and again there are others, born within
its limits, who may yet be driven forth forever. For the last forty
years the manners, and customs, and speech, in a word, the tradition of
the Faubourg Saint-Germain, has been to Paris what the Court used to be
in other times; it is what the Hotel Saint-Paul was to the fourteenth
century; the Louvre to the fifteenth; the Palais, the Hotel Rambouillet,
and the Place Royale to the sixteenth; and lastly, as Versailles was to
the seventeenth and the eighteenth.

Just as the ordinary workaday Paris will always centre about some point;
so, through all periods of history, the Paris of the nobles and
the upper classes converges towards some particular spot. It is a
periodically recurrent phenomenon which presents ample matter for
reflection to those who are fain to observe or describe the various
social zones; and possibly an enquiry into the causes that bring about
this centralization may do more than merely justify the probability of
this episode; it may be of service to serious interests which some
day will be more deeply rooted in the commonwealth, unless, indeed,
experience is as meaningless for political parties as it is for youth.

In every age the great nobles, and the rich who always ape the great
nobles, build their houses as far as possible from crowded streets. When
the Duc d’Uzes built his splendid hotel in the Rue Montmartre in
the reign of Louis XIV, and set the fountain at his gates--for which
beneficent action, to say nothing of his other virtues, he was held in
such veneration that the whole quarter turned out in a body to follow
his funeral--when the Duke, I say, chose this site for his house, he
did so because that part of Paris was almost deserted in those days. But
when the fortifications were pulled down, and the market gardens beyond
the line of the boulevards began to fill with houses, then the d’Uzes
family left their fine mansion, and in our time it was occupied by a
banker. Later still, the noblesse began to find themselves out of their
element among shopkeepers, left the Place Royale and the centre of
Paris for good, and crossed the river to breathe freely in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, where palaces were reared already about the great
hotel built by Louis XIV for the Duc de Maine--the Benjamin among his
legitimated offspring. And indeed, for people accustomed to a stately
life, can there be more unseemly surroundings than the bustle, the mud,
the street cries, the bad smells, and narrow thoroughfares of a populous
quarter? The very habits of life in a mercantile or manufacturing
district are completely at variance with the lives of nobles. The
shopkeeper and artisan are just going to bed when the great world is
thinking of dinner; and the noisy stir of life begins among the former
when the latter have gone to rest. Their day’s calculations never
coincide; the one class represents the expenditure, the other the
receipts. Consequently their manners and customs are diametrically
opposed.

Nothing contemptuous is intended by this statement. An aristocracy is in
a manner the intellect of the social system, as the middle classes and
the proletariat may be said to be its organizing and working power. It
naturally follows that these forces are differently situated; and of
their antagonism there is bred a seeming antipathy produced by the
performance of different functions, all of them, however, existing for
one common end.

Such social dissonances are so inevitably the outcome of any charter
of the constitution, that however much a Liberal may be disposed to
complain of them, as of treason against those sublime ideas with which
the ambitious plebeian is apt to cover his designs, he would none the
less think it a preposterous notion that M. le Prince de Montmorency,
for instance, should continue to live in the Rue Saint-Martin at the
corner of the street which bears that nobleman’s name; or that M. le Duc
de Fitz-James, descendant of the royal house of Scotland, should have
his hotel at the angle of the Rue Marie Stuart and the Rue Montorgueil.
_Sint ut sunt, aut non sint_, the grand words of the Jesuit, might be
taken as a motto by the great in all countries. These social differences
are patent in all ages; the fact is always accepted by the people; its
“reasons of state” are self-evident; it is at once cause and effect, a
principle and a law. The common sense of the masses never deserts them
until demagogues stir them up to gain ends of their own; that common
sense is based on the verities of social order; and the social order is
the same everywhere, in Moscow as in London, in Geneva as in Calcutta.
Given a certain number of families of unequal fortune in any given
space, you will see an aristocracy forming under your eyes; there will
be the patricians, the upper classes, and yet other ranks below them.
Equality may be a _right_, but no power on earth can convert it into
_fact_. It would be a good thing for France if this idea could be
popularized. The benefits of political harmony are obvious to the least
intelligent classes. Harmony is, as it were, the poetry of order, and
order is a matter of vital importance to the working population. And
what is order, reduced to its simplest expression, but the agreement
of things among themselves--unity, in short? Architecture, music, and
poetry, everything in France, and in France more than in any other
country, is based upon this principle; it is written upon the very
foundations of her clear accurate language, and a language must always
be the most infallible index of national character. In the same way
you may note that the French popular airs are those most calculated to
strike the imagination, the best-modulated melodies are taken over by
the people; clearness of thought, the intellectual simplicity of an idea
attracts them; they like the incisive sayings that hold the greatest
number of ideas. France is the one country in the world where a little
phrase may bring about a great revolution. Whenever the masses have
risen, it has been to bring men, affairs, and principles into agreement.
No nation has a clearer conception of that idea of unity which should
permeate the life of an aristocracy; possibly no other nation has so
intelligent a comprehension of a political necessity; history will never
find her behind the time. France has been led astray many a time, but
she is deluded, woman-like, by generous ideas, by a glow of enthusiasm
which at first outstrips sober reason.

So, to begin with, the most striking characteristic of the Faubourg
is the splendour of its great mansions, its great gardens, and a
surrounding quiet in keeping with princely revenues drawn from great
estates. And what is this distance set between a class and a whole
metropolis but visible and outward expression of the widely different
attitude of mind which must inevitably keep them apart? The position of
the head is well defined in every organism. If by any chance a nation
allows its head to fall at its feet, it is pretty sure sooner or later
to discover that this is a suicidal measure; and since nations have no
desire to perish, they set to work at once to grow a new head. If they
lack the strength for this, they perish as Rome perished, and Venice,
and so many other states.

This distinction between the upper and lower spheres of social activity,
emphasized by differences in their manner of living, necessarily
implies that in the highest aristocracy there is real worth and some
distinguishing merit. In any state, no matter what form of “government”
 is affected, so soon as the patrician class fails to maintain that
complete superiority which is the condition of its existence, it ceases
to be a force, and is pulled down at once by the populace. The people
always wish to see money, power, and initiative in their leaders, hands,
hearts, and heads; they must be the spokesmen, they must represent the
intelligence and the glory of the nation. Nations, like women, love
strength in those who rule them; they cannot give love without respect;
they refuse utterly to obey those of whom they do not stand in awe.
An aristocracy fallen into contempt is a _roi faineant_, a husband in
petticoats; first it ceases to be itself, and then it ceases to be.

And in this way the isolation of the great, the sharply marked
distinction in their manner of life, or in a word, the general custom
of the patrician caste is at once the sign of a real power, and their
destruction so soon as that power is lost. The Faubourg Saint-Germain
failed to recognise the conditions of its being, while it would still
have been easy to perpetuate its existence, and therefore was brought
low for a time. The Faubourg should have looked the facts fairly in the
face, as the English aristocracy did before them; they should have seen
that every institution has its climacteric periods, when words lose
their old meanings, and ideas reappear in a new guise, and the whole
conditions of politics wear a changed aspect, while the underlying
realities undergo no essential alteration.

These ideas demand further development which form an essential part of
this episode; they are given here both as a succinct statement of the
causes, and an explanation of the things which happen in the course of
the story.

The stateliness of the castles and palaces where nobles dwell; the
luxury of the details; the constantly maintained sumptuousness of the
furniture; the “atmosphere” in which the fortunate owner of landed
estates (a rich man before he was born) lives and moves easily and
without friction; the habit of mind which never descends to calculate
the petty workaday gains of existence; the leisure; the higher education
attainable at a much earlier age; and lastly, the aristocratic tradition
that makes of him a social force, for which his opponents, by dint
of study and a strong will and tenacity of vocation, are scarcely a
match-all these things should contribute to form a lofty spirit in a
man, possessed of such privileges from his youth up; they should
stamp his character with that high self-respect, of which the least
consequence is a nobleness of heart in harmony with the noble name that
he bears. And in some few families all this is realised. There are
noble characters here and there in the Faubourg, but they are marked
exceptions to a general rule of egoism which has been the ruin of this
world within a world. The privileges above enumerated are the birthright
of the French noblesse, as of every patrician efflorescence ever formed
on the surface of a nation; and will continue to be theirs so long as
their existence is based upon real estate, or money; _domaine-sol_ and
_domaine-argent_ alike, the only solid bases of an organized society;
but such privileges are held upon the understanding that the patricians
must continue to justify their existence. There is a sort of moral
_fief_ held on a tenure of service rendered to the sovereign, and here
in France the people are undoubtedly the sovereigns nowadays. The times
are changed, and so are the weapons. The knight-banneret of old wore
a coat of chain armor and a hauberk; he could handle a lance well and
display his pennon, and no more was required of him; today he is bound
to give proof of his intelligence. A stout heart was enough in the days
of old; in our days he is required to have a capacious brain-pan. Skill
and knowledge and capital--these three points mark out a social triangle
on which the scutcheon of power is blazoned; our modern aristocracy must
take its stand on these.

A fine theorem is as good as a great name. The Rothschilds, the Fuggers
of the nineteenth century, are princes _de facto_. A great artist is in
reality an oligarch; he represents a whole century, and almost always he
is a law to others. And the art of words, the high pressure machinery
of the writer, the poet’s genius, the merchant’s steady endurance,
the strong will of the statesman who concentrates a thousand dazzling
qualities in himself, the general’s sword--all these victories, in
short, which a single individual will win, that he may tower above the
rest of the world, the patrician class is now bound to win and keep
exclusively. They must head the new forces as they once headed the
material forces; how should they keep the position unless they are
worthy of it? How, unless they are the soul and brain of a nation,
shall they set its hands moving? How lead a people without the power of
command? And what is the marshal’s baton without the innate power of
the captain in the man who wields it? The Faubourg Saint-Germain took to
playing with batons, and fancied that all the power was in its hands.
It inverted the terms of the proposition which called it into existence.
And instead of flinging away the insignia which offended the people,
and quietly grasping the power, it allowed the bourgeoisie to seize the
authority, clung with fatal obstinacy to its shadow, and over and over
again forgot the laws which a minority must observe if it would live.
When an aristocracy is scarce a thousandth part of the body social, it
is bound today, as of old, to multiply its points of action, so as to
counterbalance the weight of the masses in a great crisis. And in our
days those means of action must be living forces, and not historical
memories.

In France, unluckily, the noblesse were still so puffed up with the
notion of their vanished power, that it was difficult to contend against
a kind of innate presumption in themselves. Perhaps this is a national
defect. The Frenchman is less given than anyone else to undervalue
himself; it comes natural to him to go from his degree to the one above
it; and while it is a rare thing for him to pity the unfortunates
over whose heads he rises, he always groans in spirit to see so many
fortunate people above him. He is very far from heartless, but too
often he prefers to listen to his intellect. The national instinct which
brings the Frenchman to the front, the vanity that wastes his substance,
is as much a dominant passion as thrift in the Dutch. For three
centuries it swayed the noblesse, who, in this respect, were certainly
pre-eminently French. The scion of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, beholding
his material superiority, was fully persuaded of his intellectual
superiority. And everything contributed to confirm him in his belief;
for ever since the Faubourg Saint-Germain existed at all--which is
to say, ever since Versailles ceased to be the royal residence--the
Faubourg, with some few gaps in continuity, was always backed up by the
central power, which in France seldom fails to support that side. Thence
its downfall in 1830.

At that time the party of the Faubourg Saint-Germain was rather like
an army without a base of operation. It had utterly failed to take
advantage of the peace to plant itself in the heart of the nation.
It sinned for want of learning its lesson, and through an utter
incapability of regarding its interests as a whole. A future certainty
was sacrificed to a doubtful present gain. This blunder in policy may
perhaps be attributed to the following cause.

The class-isolation so strenuously kept up by the noblesse brought about
fatal results during the last forty years; even caste-patriotism was
extinguished by it, and rivalry fostered among themselves. When the
French noblesse of other times were rich and powerful, the nobles
(_gentilhommes_) could choose their chiefs and obey them in the hour
of danger. As their power diminished, they grew less amenable to
discipline; and as in the last days of the Byzantine Empire, everyone
wished to be emperor. They mistook their uniform weakness for uniform
strength.

Each family ruined by the Revolution and the abolition of the law of
primogeniture thought only of itself, and not at all of the great family
of the noblesse. It seemed to them that as each individual grew rich,
the party as a whole would gain in strength. And herein lay their
mistake. Money, likewise, is only the outward and visible sign of
power. All these families were made up of persons who preserved a high
tradition of courtesy, of true graciousness of life, of refined speech,
with a family pride, and a squeamish sense of _noblesse oblige_ which
suited well with the kind of life they led; a life wholly filled with
occupations which become contemptible so soon as they cease to be
accessories and take the chief place in existence. There was a certain
intrinsic merit in all these people, but the merit was on the surface,
and none of them were worth their face-value.

Not a single one among those families had courage to ask itself the
question, “Are we strong enough for the responsibility of power?” They
were cast on the top, like the lawyers of 1830; and instead of taking
the patron’s place, like a great man, the Faubourg Saint-Germain showed
itself greedy as an upstart. The most intelligent nation in the world
perceived clearly that the restored nobles were organizing everything
for their own particular benefit. From that day the noblesse was doomed.
The Faubourg Saint-Germain tried to be an aristocracy when it could
only be an oligarchy--two very different systems, as any man may see
for himself if he gives an intelligent perusal to the list of the
patronymics of the House of Peers.

The King’s Government certainly meant well; but the maxim that the
people must be made to _will_ everything, even their own welfare, was
pretty constantly forgotten, nor did they bear in mind that La France is
a woman and capricious, and must be happy or chastised at her own good
pleasure. If there had been many dukes like the Duc de Laval, whose
modesty made him worthy of the name he bore, the elder branch would have
been as securely seated on the throne as the House of Hanover at this
day.

In 1814 the noblesse of France were called upon to assert their
superiority over the most aristocratic bourgeoisie in the most feminine
of all countries, to take the lead in the most highly educated epoch the
world had yet seen. And this was even more notably the case in 1820. The
Faubourg Saint-Germain might very easily have led and amused the middle
classes in days when people’s heads were turned with distinctions, and
art and science were all the rage. But the narrow-minded leaders of
a time of great intellectual progress all of them detested art and
science. They had not even the wit to present religion in attractive
colours, though they needed its support. While Lamartine, Lamennais,
Montalembert, and other writers were putting new life and elevation into
men’s ideas of religion, and gilding it with poetry, these bunglers in
the Government chose to make the harshness of their creed felt all over
the country. Never was nation in a more tractable humour; La France,
like a tired woman, was ready to agree to anything; never was
mismanagement so clumsy; and La France, like a woman, would have
forgiven wrongs more easily than bungling.

If the noblesse meant to reinstate themselves, the better to found a
strong oligarchy, they should have honestly and diligently searched
their Houses for men of the stamp that Napoleon used; they should
have turned themselves inside out to see if peradventure there was a
Constitutionalist Richelieu lurking in the entrails of the Faubourg; and
if that genius was not forthcoming from among them, they should have set
out to find him, even in the fireless garret where he might happen to
be perishing of cold; they should have assimilated him, as the English
House of Lords continually assimilates aristocrats made by chance; and
finally ordered him to be ruthless, to lop away the old wood, and cut
the tree down to the living shoots. But, in the first place, the great
system of English Toryism was far too large for narrow minds; the
importation required time, and in France a tardy success is no better
than a fiasco. So far, moreover, from adopting a policy of redemption,
and looking for new forces where God puts them, these petty great folk
took a dislike to any capacity that did not issue from their midst; and,
lastly, instead of growing young again, the Faubourg Saint-Germain grew
positively older.

Etiquette, not an institution of primary necessity, might have been
maintained if it had appeared only on state occasions, but as it was,
there was a daily wrangle over precedence; it ceased to be a matter of
art or court ceremonial, it became a question of power. And if from
the outset the Crown lacked an adviser equal to so great a crisis, the
aristocracy was still more lacking in a sense of its wider interests, an
instinct which might have supplied the deficiency. They stood nice about
M. de Talleyrand’s marriage, when M. de Talleyrand was the one man among
them with the steel-encompassed brains that can forge a new political
system and begin a new career of glory for a nation. The Faubourg
scoffed at a minister if he was not gently born, and produced no one of
gentle birth that was fit to be a minister. There were plenty of nobles
fitted to serve their country by raising the dignity of justices of
the peace, by improving the land, by opening out roads and canals, and
taking an active and leading part as country gentlemen; but these had
sold their estates to gamble on the Stock Exchange. Again the Faubourg
might have absorbed the energetic men among the bourgeoisie, and opened
their ranks to the ambition which was undermining authority; they
preferred instead to fight, and to fight unarmed, for of all that
they once possessed there was nothing left but tradition. For their
misfortune there was just precisely enough of their former wealth left
them as a class to keep up their bitter pride. They were content with
their past. Not one of them seriously thought of bidding the son of the
house take up arms from the pile of weapons which the nineteenth century
flings down in the market-place. Young men, shut out from office, were
dancing at Madame’s balls, while they should have been doing the
work done under the Republic and the Empire by young, conscientious,
harmlessly employed energies. It was their place to carry out at Paris
the programme which their seniors should have been following in the
country. The heads of houses might have won back recognition of their
titles by unremitting attention to local interests, by falling in with
the spirit of the age, by recasting their order to suit the taste of the
times.

But, pent up together in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where the spirit of
the ancient court and traditions of bygone feuds between the nobles and
the Crown still lingered on, the aristocracy was not whole-hearted in
its allegiance to the Tuileries, and so much the more easily defeated
because it was concentrated in the Chamber of Peers, and badly organized
even there. If the noblesse had woven themselves into a network over
the country, they could have held their own; but cooped up in their
Faubourg, with their backs against the Chateau, or spread at full length
over the Budget, a single blow cut the thread of a fast-expiring life,
and a petty, smug-faced lawyer came forward with the axe. In spite of M.
Royer-Collard’s admirable discourse, the hereditary peerage and law of
entail fell before the lampoons of a man who made it a boast that he had
adroitly argued some few heads out of the executioner’s clutches, and
now forsooth must clumsily proceed to the slaying of old institutions.

There are examples and lessons for the future in all this. For if there
were not still a future before the French aristocracy, there would be
no need to do more than find a suitable sarcophagus; it were something
pitilessly cruel to burn the dead body of it with fire of Tophet. But
though the surgeon’s scalpel is ruthless, it sometimes gives back life
to a dying man; and the Faubourg Saint-Germain may wax more powerful
under persecution than in its day of triumph, if it but chooses to
organize itself under a leader.

And now it is easy to give a summary of this semi-political survey. The
wish to re-establish a large fortune was uppermost in everyone’s mind;
a lack of broad views, and a mass of small defects, a real need of
religion as a political factor, combined with a thirst for pleasure
which damaged the cause of religion and necessitated a good deal of
hypocrisy; a certain attitude of protest on the part of loftier and
clearer-sighted men who set their faces against Court jealousies; and
the disaffection of the provincial families, who often came of
purer descent than the nobles of the Court which alienated them from
itself--all these things combined to bring about a most discordant state
of things in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. It was neither compact in its
organisation, nor consequent in its action; neither completely moral,
nor frankly dissolute; it did not corrupt, nor was it corrupted; it
would neither wholly abandon the disputed points which damaged its
cause, nor yet adopt the policy that might have saved it. In short,
however effete individuals might be, the party as a whole was none
the less armed with all the great principles which lie at the roots of
national existence. What was there in the Faubourg that it should perish
in its strength?

It was very hard to please in the choice of candidates; the Faubourg
had good taste, it was scornfully fastidious, yet there was nothing very
glorious nor chivalrous truly about its fall.

In the Emigration of 1789 there were some traces of a loftier feeling;
but in the Emigration of 1830 from Paris into the country there was
nothing discernible but self-interest. A few famous men of letters, a
few oratorical triumphs in the Chambers, M. de Talleyrand’s attitude
in the Congress, the taking of Algiers, and not a few names that found
their way from the battlefield into the pages of history--all these
things were so many examples set before the French noblesse to show that
it was still open to them to take their part in the national existence,
and to win recognition of their claims, if, indeed, they could
condescend thus far. In every living organism the work of bringing
the whole into harmony within itself is always going on. If a man is
indolent, the indolence shows itself in everything that he does; and,
in the same manner, the general spirit of a class is pretty plainly
manifested in the face it turns on the world, and the soul informs the
body.

The women of the Restoration displayed neither the proud disregard
of public opinion shown by the court ladies of olden time in their
wantonness, nor yet the simple grandeur of the tardy virtues by which
they expiated their sins and shed so bright a glory about their names.
There was nothing either very frivolous or very serious about the woman
of the Restoration. She was hypocritical as a rule in her passion, and
compounded, so to speak, with its pleasures. Some few families led
the domestic life of the Duchesse d’Orleans, whose connubial couch was
exhibited so absurdly to visitors at the Palais Royal. Two or three kept
up the traditions of the Regency, filling cleverer women with something
like disgust. The great lady of the new school exercised no influence at
all over the manners of the time; and yet she might have done much.
She might, at worst, have presented as dignified a spectacle as
English-women of the same rank. But she hesitated feebly among old
precedents, became a bigot by force of circumstances, and allowed
nothing of herself to appear, not even her better qualities.

Not one among the Frenchwomen of that day had the ability to create a
salon whither leaders of fashion might come to take lessons in taste and
elegance. Their voices, which once laid down the law to literature, that
living expression of a time, now counted absolutely for nought. Now
when a literature lacks a general system, it fails to shape a body for
itself, and dies out with its period.

When in a nation at any time there is a people apart thus constituted,
the historian is pretty certain to find some representative figure,
some central personage who embodies the qualities and the defects of the
whole party to which he belongs; there is Coligny, for instance, among
the Huguenots, the Coadjuteur in the time of the Fronde, the Marechal de
Richelieu under Louis XV, Danton during the Terror. It is in the nature
of things that the man should be identified with the company in which
history finds him. How is it possible to lead a party without conforming
to its ideas? or to shine in any epoch unless a man represents the ideas
of his time? The wise and prudent head of a party is continually obliged
to bow to the prejudices and follies of its rear; and this is the
cause of actions for which he is afterwards criticised by this or that
historian sitting at a safer distance from terrific popular explosions,
coolly judging the passion and ferment without which the great struggles
of the world could not be carried on at all. And if this is true of
the Historical Comedy of the Centuries, it is equally true in a more
restricted sphere in the detached scenes of the national drama known as
the _Manners of the Age_.



At the beginning of that ephemeral life led by the Faubourg
Saint-Germain under the Restoration, to which, if there is any truth in
the above reflections, they failed to give stability, the most perfect
type of the aristocratic caste in its weakness and strength, its
greatness and littleness, might have been found for a brief space in a
young married woman who belonged to it. This was a woman artificially
educated, but in reality ignorant; a woman whose instincts and feelings
were lofty while the thought which should have controlled them was
wanting. She squandered the wealth of her nature in obedience to social
conventions; she was ready to brave society, yet she hesitated till her
scruples degenerated into artifice. With more wilfulness than real force
of character, impressionable rather than enthusiastic, gifted with more
brain than heart; she was supremely a woman, supremely a coquette,
and above all things a Parisienne, loving a brilliant life and gaiety,
reflecting never, or too late; imprudent to the verge of poetry, and
humble in the depths of her heart, in spite of her charming insolence.
Like some straight-growing reed, she made a show of independence; yet,
like the reed, she was ready to bend to a strong hand. She talked much
of religion, and had it not at heart, though she was prepared to find in
it a solution of her life. How explain a creature so complex? Capable
of heroism, yet sinking unconsciously from heroic heights to utter a
spiteful word; young and sweet-natured, not so much old at heart as
aged by the maxims of those about her; versed in a selfish philosophy in
which she was all unpractised, she had all the vices of a courtier, all
the nobleness of developing womanhood. She trusted nothing and no one,
yet there were times when she quitted her sceptical attitude for a
submissive credulity.

How should any portrait be anything but incomplete of her, in whom the
play of swiftly-changing colour made discord only to produce a poetic
confusion? For in her there shone a divine brightness, a radiance of
youth that blended all her bewildering characteristics in a certain
completeness and unity informed by her charm. Nothing was feigned. The
passion or semi-passion, the ineffectual high aspirations, the actual
pettiness, the coolness of sentiment and warmth of impulse, were all
spontaneous and unaffected, and as much the outcome of her own position
as of the position of the aristocracy to which she belonged. She was
wholly self-contained; she put herself proudly above the world and
beneath the shelter of her name. There was something of the egoism of
Medea in her life, as in the life of the aristocracy that lay a-dying,
and would not so much as raise itself or stretch out a hand to any
political physician; so well aware of its feebleness, or so conscious
that it was already dust, that it refused to touch or be touched.

The Duchesse de Langeais (for that was her name) had been married for
about four years when the Restoration was finally consummated, which is
to say, in 1816. By that time the revolution of the Hundred Days had let
in the light on the mind of Louis XVIII. In spite of his surroundings,
he comprehended the situation and the age in which he was living; and it
was only later, when this Louis XI, without the axe, lay stricken down
by disease, that those about him got the upper hand. The Duchesse de
Langeais, a Navarreins by birth, came of a ducal house which had made
a point of never marrying below its rank since the reign of Louis XIV.
Every daughter of the house must sooner or later take a _tabouret_ at
Court. So, Antoinette de Navarreins, at the age of eighteen, came out of
the profound solitude in which her girlhood had been spent to marry the
Duc de Langeais’ eldest son. The two families at that time were living
quite out of the world; but after the invasion of France, the return
of the Bourbons seemed to every Royalist mind the only possible way of
putting an end to the miseries of the war.

The Ducs de Navarreins and de Langeais had been faithful throughout to
the exiled Princes, nobly resisting all the temptations of glory under
the Empire. Under the circumstances they naturally followed out the old
family policy; and Mlle Antoinette, a beautiful and portionless girl,
was married to M. le Marquis de Langeais only a few months before the
death of the Duke his father.

After the return of the Bourbons, the families resumed their rank,
offices, and dignity at Court; once more they entered public life, from
which hitherto they held aloof, and took their place high on the sunlit
summits of the new political world. In that time of general baseness and
sham political conversions, the public conscience was glad to recognise
the unstained loyalty of the two houses, and a consistency in political
and private life for which all parties involuntarily respected them.
But, unfortunately, as so often happens in a time of transition, the
most disinterested persons, the men whose loftiness of view and wise
principles would have gained the confidence of the French nation and led
them to believe in the generosity of a novel and spirited policy--these
men, to repeat, were taken out of affairs, and public business was
allowed to fall into the hands of others, who found it to their interest
to push principles to their extreme consequences by way of proving their
devotion.

The families of Langeais and Navarreins remained about the Court,
condemned to perform the duties required by Court ceremonial amid the
reproaches and sneers of the Liberal party. They were accused of gorging
themselves with riches and honours, and all the while their family
estates were no larger than before, and liberal allowances from the
civil list were wholly expended in keeping up the state necessary for
any European government, even if it be a Republic.

In 1818, M. le Duc de Langeais commanded a division of the army, and the
Duchess held a post about one of the Princesses, in virtue of which she
was free to live in Paris and apart from her husband without scandal.
The Duke, moreover, besides his military duties, had a place at Court,
to which he came during his term of waiting, leaving his major-general
in command. The Duke and Duchess were leading lives entirely apart, the
world none the wiser. Their marriage of convention shared the fate
of nearly all family arrangements of the kind. Two more antipathetic
dispositions could not well have been found; they were brought together;
they jarred upon each other; there was soreness on either side; then
they were divided once for all. Then they went their separate ways,
with a due regard for appearances. The Duc de Langeais, by nature
as methodical as the Chevalier de Folard himself, gave himself up
methodically to his own tastes and amusements, and left his wife at
liberty to do as she pleased so soon as he felt sure of her character.
He recognised in her a spirit pre-eminently proud, a cold heart, a
profound submissiveness to the usages of the world, and a youthful
loyalty. Under the eyes of great relations, with the light of a prudish
and bigoted Court turned full upon the Duchess, his honour was safe.

So the Duke calmly did as the _grands seigneurs_ of the eighteenth
century did before him, and left a young wife of two-and-twenty to her
own devices. He had deeply offended that wife, and in her nature there
was one appalling characteristic--she would never forgive an offence
when woman’s vanity and self-love, with all that was best in her nature
perhaps, had been slighted, wounded in secret. Insult and injury in the
face of the world a woman loves to forget; there is a way open to her of
showing herself great; she is a woman in her forgiveness; but a secret
offence women never pardon; for secret baseness, as for hidden virtues
and hidden love, they have no kindness.

This was Mme la Duchesse de Langeais’ real position, unknown to the
world. She herself did not reflect upon it. It was the time of the
rejoicings over the Duc de Berri’s marriage. The Court and the Faubourg
roused itself from its listlessness and reserve. This was the real
beginning of that unheard-of splendour which the Government of the
Restoration carried too far. At that time the Duchess, whether for
reasons of her own, or from vanity, never appeared in public without a
following of women equally distinguished by name and fortune. As queen
of fashion she had her _dames d’atours_, her ladies, who modeled their
manner and their wit on hers. They had been cleverly chosen. None of her
satellites belonged to the inmost Court circle, nor to the highest
level of the Faubourg Saint-Germain; but they had set their minds upon
admission to those inner sanctuaries. Being as yet simple denominations,
they wished to rise to the neighbourhood of the throne, and mingle with
the seraphic powers in the high sphere known as _le petit chateau_. Thus
surrounded, the Duchess’s position was stronger and more commanding and
secure. Her “ladies” defended her character and helped her to play her
detestable part of a woman of fashion. She could laugh at men at her
ease, play with fire, receive the homage on which the feminine nature is
nourished, and remain mistress of herself.

At Paris, in the highest society of all, a woman is a woman still; she
lives on incense, adulation, and honours. No beauty, however undoubted,
no face, however fair, is anything without admiration. Flattery and
a lover are proofs of power. And what is power without recognition?
Nothing. If the prettiest of women were left alone in a corner of a
drawing-room, she would droop. Put her in the very centre and summit of
social grandeur, she will at once aspire to reign over all hearts--often
because it is out of her power to be the happy queen of one. Dress and
manner and coquetry are all meant to please one of the poorest creatures
extant--the brainless coxcomb, whose handsome face is his sole merit;
it was for such as these that women threw themselves away. The gilded
wooden idols of the Restoration, for they were neither more nor less,
had neither the antecedents of the _petits maitres_ of the time of the
Fronde, nor the rough sterling worth of Napoleon’s heroes, not the wit
and fine manners of their grandsires; but something of all three they
meant to be without any trouble to themselves. Brave they were, like
all young Frenchmen; ability they possessed, no doubt, if they had had
a chance of proving it, but their places were filled up by the old
worn-out men, who kept them in leading strings. It was a day of
small things, a cold prosaic era. Perhaps it takes a long time for a
Restoration to become a Monarchy.

For the past eighteen months the Duchesse de Langeais had been leading
this empty life, filled with balls and subsequent visits, objectless
triumphs, and the transient loves that spring up and die in an evening’s
space. All eyes were turned on her when she entered a room; she reaped
her harvest of flatteries and some few words of warmer admiration, which
she encouraged by a gesture or a glance, but never suffered to penetrate
deeper than the skin. Her tone and bearing and everything else about her
imposed her will upon others. Her life was a sort of fever of vanity
and perpetual enjoyment, which turned her head. She was daring enough in
conversation; she would listen to anything, corrupting the surface, as
it were, of her heart. Yet when she returned home, she often blushed at
the story that had made her laugh; at the scandalous tale that supplied
the details, on the strength of which she analyzed the love that she had
never known, and marked the subtle distinctions of modern passion, not
with comment on the part of complacent hypocrites. For women know how
to say everything among themselves, and more of them are ruined by each
other than corrupted by men.

There came a moment when she discerned that not until a woman is loved
will the world fully recognise her beauty and her wit. What does a
husband prove? Simply that a girl or woman was endowed with wealth, or
well brought up; that her mother managed cleverly that in some way she
satisfied a man’s ambitions. A lover constantly bears witness to her
personal perfections. Then followed the discovery still in Mme de
Langeais’ early womanhood, that it was possible to be loved without
committing herself, without permission, without vouchsafing any
satisfaction beyond the most meagre dues. There was more than one demure
feminine hypocrite to instruct her in the art of playing such dangerous
comedies.

So the Duchess had her court, and the number of her adorers and
courtiers guaranteed her virtue. She was amiable and fascinating; she
flirted till the ball or the evening’s gaiety was at an end. Then the
curtain dropped. She was cold, indifferent, self-contained again till
the next day brought its renewed sensations, superficial as before. Two
or three men were completely deceived, and fell in love in earnest.
She laughed at them, she was utterly insensible. “I am loved!” she told
herself. “He loves me!” The certainty sufficed her. It is enough for the
miser to know that his every whim might be fulfilled if he chose; so it
was with the Duchess, and perhaps she did not even go so far as to form
a wish.

One evening she chanced to be at the house of an intimate friend Mme la
Vicomtesse de Fontaine, one of the humble rivals who cordially detested
her, and went with her everywhere. In a “friendship” of this sort both
sides are on their guard, and never lay their armor aside; confidences
are ingeniously indiscreet, and not unfrequently treacherous. Mme de
Langeais had distributed her little patronizing, friendly, or freezing
bows, with the air natural to a woman who knows the worth of her smiles,
when her eyes fell upon a total stranger. Something in the man’s large
gravity of aspect startled her, and, with a feeling almost like dread,
she turned to Mme de Maufrigneuse with, “Who is the newcomer, dear?”

“Someone that you have heard of, no doubt. The Marquis de Montriveau.”

“Oh! is it he?”

She took up her eyeglass and submitted him to a very insolent scrutiny,
as if he had been a picture meant to receive glances, not to return
them.

“Do introduce him; he ought to be interesting.”

“Nobody more tiresome and dull, dear. But he is the fashion.”

M. Armand de Montriveau, at that moment all unwittingly the object of
general curiosity, better deserved attention than any of the idols that
Paris needs must set up to worship for a brief space, for the city is
vexed by periodical fits of craving, a passion for _engouement_ and sham
enthusiasm, which must be satisfied. The Marquis was the only son of
General de Montriveau, one of the _ci-devants_ who served the Republic
nobly, and fell by Joubert’s side at Novi. Bonaparte had placed his son
at the school at Chalons, with the orphans of other generals who fell
on the battlefield, leaving their children under the protection of the
Republic. Armand de Montriveau left school with his way to make, entered
the artillery, and had only reached a major’s rank at the time of the
Fontainebleau disaster. In his section of the service the chances of
advancement were not many. There are fewer officers, in the first place,
among the gunners than in any other corps; and in the second place, the
feeling in the artillery was decidedly Liberal, not to say Republican;
and the Emperor, feeling little confidence in a body of highly educated
men who were apt to think for themselves, gave promotion grudgingly in
the service. In the artillery, accordingly, the general rule of the
army did not apply; the commanding officers were not invariably the most
remarkable men in their department, because there was less to be feared
from mediocrities. The artillery was a separate corps in those days, and
only came under Napoleon in action.

Besides these general causes, other reasons, inherent in Armand de
Montriveau’s character, were sufficient in themselves to account for his
tardy promotion. He was alone in the world. He had been thrown at
the age of twenty into the whirlwind of men directed by Napoleon; his
interests were bounded by himself, any day he might lose his life; it
became a habit of mind with him to live by his own self-respect and
the consciousness that he had done his duty. Like all shy men, he was
habitually silent; but his shyness sprang by no means from timidity;
it was a kind of modesty in him; he found any demonstration of vanity
intolerable. There was no sort of swagger about his fearlessness in
action; nothing escaped his eyes; he could give sensible advice to his
chums with unshaken coolness; he could go under fire, and duck upon
occasion to avoid bullets. He was kindly; but his expression was haughty
and stern, and his face gained him this character. In everything he was
rigorous as arithmetic; he never permitted the slightest deviation from
duty on any plausible pretext, nor blinked the consequences of a fact.
He would lend himself to nothing of which he was ashamed; he never asked
anything for himself; in short, Armand de Montriveau was one of many
great men unknown to fame, and philosophical enough to despise it;
living without attaching themselves to life, because they have not found
their opportunity of developing to the full their power to do and feel.

People were afraid of Montriveau; they respected him, but he was not
very popular. Men may indeed allow you to rise above them, but to
decline to descend as low as they can do is the one unpardonable sin.
In their feeling towards loftier natures, there is a trace of hate and
fear. Too much honour with them implies censure of themselves, a thing
forgiven neither to the living nor to the dead.

After the Emperor’s farewells at Fontainebleau, Montriveau, noble though
he was, was put on half-pay. Perhaps the heads of the War Office took
fright at uncompromising uprightness worthy of antiquity, or perhaps it
was known that he felt bound by his oath to the Imperial Eagle. During
the Hundred Days he was made a Colonel of the Guard, and left on the
field of Waterloo. His wounds kept him in Belgium he was not present
at the disbanding of the Army of the Loire, but the King’s government
declined to recognise promotion made during the Hundred Days, and Armand
de Montriveau left France.

An adventurous spirit, a loftiness of thought hitherto satisfied by
the hazards of war, drove him on an exploring expedition through Upper
Egypt; his sanity or impulse directed his enthusiasm to a project of
great importance, he turned his attention to that unexplored Central
Africa which occupies the learned of today. The scientific expedition
was long and unfortunate. He had made a valuable collection of notes
bearing on various geographical and commercial problems, of which
solutions are still eagerly sought; and succeeded, after surmounting
many obstacles, in reaching the heart of the continent, when he was
betrayed into the hands of a hostile native tribe. Then, stripped of all
that he had, for two years he led a wandering life in the desert,
the slave of savages, threatened with death at every moment, and more
cruelly treated than a dumb animal in the power of pitiless children.
Physical strength, and a mind braced to endurance, enabled him to
survive the horrors of that captivity; but his miraculous escape
well-nigh exhausted his energies. When he reached the French colony at
Senegal, a half-dead fugitive covered with rags, his memories of his
former life were dim and shapeless. The great sacrifices made in his
travels were all forgotten like his studies of African dialects, his
discoveries, and observations. One story will give an idea of all that
he passed through. Once for several days the children of the sheikh of
the tribe amused themselves by putting him up for a mark and flinging
horses’ knuckle-bones at his head.

Montriveau came back to Paris in 1818 a ruined man. He had no interest,
and wished for none. He would have died twenty times over sooner than
ask a favour of anyone; he would not even press the recognition of his
claims. Adversity and hardship had developed his energy even in trifles,
while the habit of preserving his self-respect before that spiritual
self which we call conscience led him to attach consequence to the most
apparently trivial actions. His merits and adventures became known,
however, through his acquaintances, among the principal men of science
in Paris, and some few well-read military men. The incidents of his
slavery and subsequent escape bore witness to a courage, intelligence,
and coolness which won him celebrity without his knowledge, and that
transient fame of which Paris salons are lavish, though the artist that
fain would keep it must make untold efforts.

Montriveau’s position suddenly changed towards the end of that year. He
had been a poor man, he was now rich; or, externally at any rate, he had
all the advantages of wealth. The King’s government, trying to attach
capable men to itself and to strengthen the army, made concessions
about that time to Napoleon’s old officers if their known loyalty and
character offered guarantees of fidelity. M. de Montriveau’s name once
more appeared in the army list with the rank of colonel; he received his
arrears of pay and passed into the Guards. All these favours, one
after another, came to seek the Marquis de Montriveau; he had asked
for nothing however small. Friends had taken the steps for him which he
would have refused to take for himself.

After this, his habits were modified all at once; contrary to his
custom, he went into society. He was well received, everywhere he met
with great deference and respect. He seemed to have found some end
in life; but everything passed within the man, there were no external
signs; in society he was silent and cold, and wore a grave, reserved
face. His social success was great, precisely because he stood out in
such strong contrast to the conventional faces which line the walls
of Paris salons. He was, indeed, something quite new there. Terse
of speech, like a hermit or a savage, his shyness was thought to be
haughtiness, and people were greatly taken with it. He was something
strange and great. Women generally were so much the more smitten
with this original person because he was not to be caught by their
flatteries, however adroit, nor by the wiles with which they circumvent
the strongest men and corrode the steel temper. Their Parisian’s
grimaces were lost upon M. de Montriveau; his nature only responded to
the sonorous vibration of lofty thought and feeling. And he would very
promptly have been dropped but for the romance that hung about his
adventures and his life; but for the men who cried him up behind his
back; but for a woman who looked for a triumph for her vanity, the woman
who was to fill his thoughts.

For these reasons the Duchesse de Langeais’ curiosity was no less lively
than natural. Chance had so ordered it that her interest in the man
before her had been aroused only the day before, when she heard the
story of one of M. de Montriveau’s adventures, a story calculated to
make the strongest impression upon a woman’s ever-changing fancy.

During M. de Montriveau’s voyage of discovery to the sources of the
Nile, he had had an argument with one of his guides, surely the most
extraordinary debate in the annals of travel. The district that he
wished to explore could only be reached on foot across a tract of
desert. Only one of his guides knew the way; no traveller had penetrated
before into that part of the country, where the undaunted officer hoped
to find a solution of several scientific problems. In spite of the
representations made to him by the guide and the older men of the place,
he started upon the formidable journey. Summoning up courage, already
highly strung by the prospect of dreadful difficulties, he set out in
the morning.

The loose sand shifted under his feet at every step; and when, at the
end of a long day’s march, he lay down to sleep on the ground, he had
never been so tired in his life. He knew, however, that he must be up
and on his way before dawn next day, and his guide assured him that they
should reach the end of their journey towards noon. That promise kept
up his courage and gave him new strength. In spite of his sufferings,
he continued his march, with some blasphemings against science; he was
ashamed to complain to his guide, and kept his pain to himself. After
marching for a third of the day, he felt his strength failing, his feet
were bleeding, he asked if they should reach the place soon. “In an
hour’s time,” said the guide. Armand braced himself for another hour’s
march, and they went on.

The hour slipped by; he could not so much as see against the sky the
palm-trees and crests of hill that should tell of the end of the journey
near at hand; the horizon line of sand was vast as the circle of the
open sea.

He came to a stand, refused to go farther, and threatened the guide--he
had deceived him, murdered him; tears of rage and weariness flowed over
his fevered cheeks; he was bowed down with fatigue upon fatigue, his
throat seemed to be glued by the desert thirst. The guide meanwhile
stood motionless, listening to these complaints with an ironical
expression, studying the while, with the apparent indifference of an
Oriental, the scarcely perceptible indications in the lie of the sands,
which looked almost black, like burnished gold.

“I have made a mistake,” he remarked coolly. “I could not make out the
track, it is so long since I came this way; we are surely on it now, but
we must push on for two hours.”

“The man is right,” thought M. de Montriveau.

So he went on again, struggling to follow the pitiless native. It seemed
as if he were bound to his guide by some thread like the invisible tie
between the condemned man and the headsman. But the two hours went by,
Montriveau had spent his last drops of energy, and the skyline was a
blank, there were no palm-trees, no hills. He could neither cry out
nor groan, he lay down on the sand to die, but his eyes would have
frightened the boldest; something in his face seemed to say that he
would not die alone. His guide, like a very fiend, gave him back a cool
glance like a man that knows his power, left him to lie there, and kept
at a safe distance out of reach of his desperate victim. At last M.
Montriveau recovered strength enough for a last curse. The guide came
nearer, silenced him with a steady look, and said, “Was it not your own
will to go where I am taking you, in spite of us all? You say that I
have lied to you. If I had not, you would not be even here. Do you want
the truth? Here it is. _We have still another five hours’ march before
us, and we cannot go back_. Sound yourself; if you have not courage
enough, here is my dagger.”

Startled by this dreadful knowledge of pain and human strength, M.
de Montriveau would not be behind a savage; he drew a fresh stock of
courage from his pride as a European, rose to his feet, and followed
his guide. The five hours were at an end, and still M. de Montriveau
saw nothing, he turned his failing eyes upon his guide; but the Nubian
hoisted him on his shoulders, and showed him a wide pool of water with
greenness all about it, and a noble forest lighted up by the sunset. It
lay only a hundred paces away; a vast ledge of granite hid the glorious
landscape. It seemed to Armand that he had taken a new lease of life.
His guide, that giant in courage and intelligence, finished his work of
devotion by carrying him across the hot, slippery, scarcely discernible
track on the granite. Behind him lay the hell of burning sand, before
him the earthly paradise of the most beautiful oasis in the desert.

The Duchess, struck from the first by the appearance of this romantic
figure, was even more impressed when she learned that this was that
Marquis de Montriveau of whom she had dreamed during the night. She had
been with him among the hot desert sands, he had been the companion of
her nightmare wanderings; for such a woman was not this a delightful
presage of a new interest in her life? And never was a man’s exterior
a better exponent of his character; never were curious glances so well
justified. The principal characteristic of his great, square-hewn head
was the thick, luxuriant black hair which framed his face, and gave him
a strikingly close resemblance to General Kleber; and the likeness still
held good in the vigorous forehead, in the outlines of his face, the
quiet fearlessness of his eyes, and a kind of fiery vehemence expressed
by strongly marked features. He was short, deep-chested, and muscular
as a lion. There was something of the despot about him, and an
indescribable suggestion of the security of strength in his gait,
bearing, and slightest movements. He seemed to know that his will was
irresistible, perhaps because he wished for nothing unjust. And yet,
like all really strong men, he was mild of speech, simple in his
manners, and kindly natured; although it seemed as if, in the stress of
a great crisis, all these finer qualities must disappear, and the man
would show himself implacable, unshaken in his resolve, terrific in
action. There was a certain drawing in of the inner line of the lips
which, to a close observer, indicated an ironical bent.

The Duchesse de Langeais, realising that a fleeting glory was to be
won by such a conquest, made up her mind to gain a lover in Armand de
Montriveau during the brief interval before the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse
brought him to be introduced. She would prefer him above the others; she
would attach him to herself, display all her powers of coquetry for him.
It was a fancy, such a merest Duchess’s whim as furnished a Lope or a
Calderon with the plot of the _Dog in the Manger_. She would not suffer
another woman to engross him; but she had not the remotest intention of
being his.

Nature had given the Duchess every qualification for the part of
coquette, and education had perfected her. Women envied her, and men
fell in love with her, not without reason. Nothing that can inspire
love, justify it, and give it lasting empire was wanting in her. Her
style of beauty, her manner, her voice, her bearing, all combined to
give her that instinctive coquetry which seems to be the consciousness
of power. Her shape was graceful; perhaps there was a trace of
self-consciousness in her changes of movement, the one affectation that
could be laid to her charge; but everything about her was a part of her
personality, from her least little gesture to the peculiar turn of her
phrases, the demure glance of her eyes. Her great lady’s grace, her
most striking characteristic, had not destroyed the very French quick
mobility of her person. There was an extraordinary fascination in her
swift, incessant changes of attitude. She seemed as if she surely would
be a most delicious mistress when her corset and the encumbering costume
of her part were laid aside. All the rapture of love surely was latent
in the freedom of her expressive glances, in her caressing tones, in the
charm of her words. She gave glimpses of the high-born courtesan within
her, vainly protesting against the creeds of the duchess.

You might sit near her through an evening, she would be gay and
melancholy in turn, and her gaiety, like her sadness, seemed
spontaneous. She could be gracious, disdainful, insolent, or confiding
at will. Her apparent good nature was real; she had no temptation to
descend to malignity. But at each moment her mood changed; she was full
of confidence or craft; her moving tenderness would give place to a
heart-breaking hardness and insensibility. Yet how paint her as she
was, without bringing together all the extremes of feminine nature? In
a word, the Duchess was anything that she wished to be or to seem.
Her face was slightly too long. There was a grace in it, and a certain
thinness and fineness that recalled the portraits of the Middle Ages.
Her skin was white, with a faint rose tint. Everything about her erred,
as it were, by an excess of delicacy.

M. de Montriveau willingly consented to be introduced to the Duchesse
de Langeais; and she, after the manner of persons whose sensitive taste
leads them to avoid banalities, refrained from overwhelming him with
questions and compliments. She received him with a gracious deference
which could not fail to flatter a man of more than ordinary powers,
for the fact that a man rises above the ordinary level implies that
he possesses something of that tact which makes women quick to read
feeling. If the Duchess showed any curiosity, it was by her glances;
her compliments were conveyed in her manner; there was a winning grace
displayed in her words, a subtle suggestion of a desire to please which
she of all women knew the art of manifesting. Yet her whole conversation
was but, in a manner, the body of the letter; the postscript with the
principal thought in it was still to come. After half an hour spent in
ordinary talk, in which the words gained all their value from her tone
and smiles, M. de Montriveau was about to retire discreetly, when the
Duchess stopped him with an expressive gesture.

“I do not know, monsieur, whether these few minutes during which I have
had the pleasure of talking to you proved so sufficiently attractive,
that I may venture to ask you to call upon me; I am afraid that it may
be very selfish of me to wish to have you all to myself. If I should
be so fortunate as to find that my house is agreeable to you, you will
always find me at home in the evening until ten o’clock.”

The invitation was given with such irresistible grace, that M. de
Montriveau could not refuse to accept it. When he fell back again among
the groups of men gathered at a distance from the women, his
friends congratulated him, half laughingly, half in earnest, on the
extraordinary reception vouchsafed him by the Duchesse de Langeais. The
difficult and brilliant conquest had been made beyond a doubt, and the
glory of it was reserved for the Artillery of the Guard. It is easy to
imagine the jests, good and bad, when this topic had once been started;
the world of Paris salons is so eager for amusement, and a joke lasts
for such a short time, that everyone is eager to make the most of it
while it is fresh.

All unconsciously, the General felt flattered by this nonsense. From his
place where he had taken his stand, his eyes were drawn again and again
to the Duchess by countless wavering reflections. He could not help
admitting to himself that of all the women whose beauty had captivated
his eyes, not one had seemed to be a more exquisite embodiment of faults
and fair qualities blended in a completeness that might realise the
dreams of earliest manhood. Is there a man in any rank of life that has
not felt indefinable rapture in his secret soul over the woman singled
out (if only in his dreams) to be his own; when she, in body, soul, and
social aspects, satisfies his every requirement, a thrice perfect woman?
And if this threefold perfection that flatters his pride is no argument
for loving her, it is beyond cavil one of the great inducements to the
sentiment. Love would soon be convalescent, as the eighteenth century
moralist remarked, were it not for vanity. And it is certainly true
that for everyone, man or woman, there is a wealth of pleasure in
the superiority of the beloved. Is she set so high by birth that a
contemptuous glance can never wound her? is she wealthy enough to
surround herself with state which falls nothing short of royalty, of
kings, of finance during their short reign of splendour? is she so
ready-witted that a keen-edged jest never brings her into confusion?
beautiful enough to rival any woman?--Is it such a small thing to know
that your self-love will never suffer through her? A man makes these
reflections in the twinkling of an eye. And how if, in the future opened
out by early ripened passion, he catches glimpses of the changeful
delight of her charm, the frank innocence of a maiden soul, the perils
of love’s voyage, the thousand folds of the veil of coquetry? Is not
this enough to move the coldest man’s heart?

This, therefore, was M. de Montriveau’s position with regard to woman;
his past life in some measure explaining the extraordinary fact. He
had been thrown, when little more than a boy, into the hurricane of
Napoleon’s wars; his life had been spent on fields of battle. Of women
he knew just so much as a traveller knows of a country when he travels
across it in haste from one inn to another. The verdict which Voltaire
passed upon his eighty years of life might, perhaps, have been applied
by Montriveau to his own thirty-seven years of existence; had he not
thirty-seven follies with which to reproach himself? At his age he was
as much a novice in love as the lad that has just been furtively reading
_Faublas_. Of women he had nothing to learn; of love he knew nothing;
and thus, desires, quite unknown before, sprang from this virginity of
feeling.

There are men here and there as much engrossed in the work demanded of
them by poverty or ambition, art or science, as M. de Montriveau by war
and a life of adventure--these know what it is to be in this unusual
position if they very seldom confess to it. Every man in Paris is
supposed to have been in love. No woman in Paris cares to take what
other women have passed over. The dread of being taken for a fool is the
source of the coxcomb’s bragging so common in France; for in France to
have the reputation of a fool is to be a foreigner in one’s own country.
Vehement desire seized on M. de Montriveau, desire that had gathered
strength from the heat of the desert and the first stirrings of a heart
unknown as yet in its suppressed turbulence.

A strong man, and violent as he was strong, he could keep mastery over
himself; but as he talked of indifferent things, he retired within
himself, and swore to possess this woman, for through that thought lay
the only way to love for him. Desire became a solemn compact made with
himself, an oath after the manner of the Arabs among whom he had lived;
for among them a vow is a kind of contract made with Destiny a man’s
whole future is solemnly pledged to fulfil it, and everything even his
own death, is regarded simply as a means to the one end.

A younger man would have said to himself, “I should very much like to
have the Duchess for my mistress!” or, “If the Duchesse de Langeais
cared for a man, he would be a very lucky rascal!” But the General said,
“I will have Mme de Langeais for my mistress.” And if a man takes such
an idea into his head when his heart has never been touched before, and
love begins to be a kind of religion with him, he little knows in what a
hell he has set his foot.

Armand de Montriveau suddenly took flight and went home in the first hot
fever-fit of the first love that he had known. When a man has kept all
his boyish beliefs, illusions, frankness, and impetuosity into middle
age, his first impulse is, as it were, to stretch out a hand to take the
thing that he desires; a little later he realizes that there is a gulf
set between them, and that it is all but impossible to cross it. A sort
of childish impatience seizes him, he wants the thing the more,
and trembles or cries. Wherefore, the next day, after the stormiest
reflections that had yet perturbed his mind, Armand de Montriveau
discovered that he was under the yoke of the senses, and his bondage
made the heavier by his love.

The woman so cavalierly treated in his thoughts of yesterday had become
a most sacred and dreadful power. She was to be his world, his life,
from this time forth. The greatest joy, the keenest anguish, that he
had yet known grew colorless before the bare recollection of the least
sensation stirred in him by her. The swiftest revolutions in a man’s
outward life only touch his interests, while passion brings a complete
revulsion of feeling. And so in those who live by feeling, rather than
by self-interest, the doers rather than the reasoners, the sanguine
rather than the lymphatic temperaments, love works a complete
revolution. In a flash, with one single reflection, Armand de Montriveau
wiped out his whole past life.

A score of times he asked himself, like a boy, “Shall I go, or shall I
not?” and then at last he dressed, came to the Hotel de Langeais
towards eight o’clock that evening, and was admitted. He was to see the
woman--ah! not the woman--the idol that he had seen yesterday, among
lights, a fresh innocent girl in gauze and silken lace and veiling.
He burst in upon her to declare his love, as if it were a question of
firing the first shot on a field of battle.

Poor novice! He found his ethereal sylphide shrouded in a brown cashmere
dressing-gown ingeniously befrilled, lying languidly stretched out upon
a sofa in a dimly lighted boudoir. Mme de Langeais did not so much as
rise, nothing was visible of her but her face, her hair was loose but
confined by a scarf. A hand indicated a seat, a hand that seemed white
as marble to Montriveau by the flickering light of a single candle at
the further side of the room, and a voice as soft as the light said:

“If it had been anyone else, M. le Marquis, a friend with whom I could
dispense with ceremony, or a mere acquaintance in whom I felt but slight
interest, I should have closed my door. I am exceedingly unwell.”

“I will go,” Armand said to himself.

“But I do not know how it is,” she continued (and the simple warrior
attributed the shining of her eyes to fever), “perhaps it was a
presentiment of your kind visit (and no one can be more sensible of the
prompt attention than I), but the vapors have left my head.”

“Then may I stay?”

“Oh, I should be very sorry to allow you to go. I told myself this
morning that it was impossible that I should have made the slightest
impression on your mind, and that in all probability you took my request
for one of the commonplaces of which Parisians are lavish on every
occasion. And I forgave your ingratitude in advance. An explorer
from the deserts is not supposed to know how exclusive we are in our
friendships in the Faubourg.”

The gracious, half-murmured words dropped one by one, as if they had
been weighted with the gladness that apparently brought them to her
lips. The Duchess meant to have the full benefit of her headache, and
her speculation was fully successful. The General, poor man, was really
distressed by the lady’s simulated distress. Like Crillon listening to
the story of the Crucifixion, he was ready to draw his sword against the
vapors. How could a man dare to speak just then to this suffering woman
of the love that she inspired? Armand had already felt that it would be
absurd to fire off a declaration of love point-blank at one so far above
other women. With a single thought came understanding of the delicacies
of feeling, of the soul’s requirements. To love: what was that but to
know how to plead, to beg for alms, to wait? And as for the love that
he felt, must he not prove it? His tongue was mute, it was frozen by the
conventions of the noble Faubourg, the majesty of a sick headache, the
bashfulness of love. But no power on earth could veil his glances; the
heat and the Infinite of the desert blazed in eyes calm as a panther’s,
beneath the lids that fell so seldom. The Duchess enjoyed the steady
gaze that enveloped her in light and warmth.

“Mme la Duchesse,” he answered, “I am afraid I express my gratitude for
your goodness very badly. At this moment I have but one desire--I wish
it were in my power to cure the pain.”

“Permit me to throw this off, I feel too warm now,” she said, gracefully
tossing aside a cushion that covered her feet.

“Madame, in Asia your feet would be worth some ten thousand sequins.

“A traveler’s compliment!” smiled she.

It pleased the sprightly lady to involve a rough soldier in a labyrinth
of nonsense, commonplaces, and meaningless talk, in which he manoeuvred,
in military language, as Prince Charles might have done at close
quarters with Napoleon. She took a mischievous amusement in
reconnoitring the extent of his infatuation by the number of foolish
speeches extracted from a novice whom she led step by step into a
hopeless maze, meaning to leave him there in confusion. She began by
laughing at him, but nevertheless it pleased her to make him forget how
time went.

The length of a first visit is frequently a compliment, but Armand was
innocent of any such intent. The famous explorer spent an hour in chat
on all sorts of subjects, said nothing that he meant to say, and was
feeling that he was only an instrument on whom this woman played, when
she rose, sat upright, drew the scarf from her hair, and wrapped it
about her throat, leant her elbow on the cushions, did him the honour
of a complete cure, and rang for lights. The most graceful movement
succeeded to complete repose. She turned to M. de Montriveau, from whom
she had just extracted a confidence which seemed to interest her deeply,
and said:

“You wish to make game of me by trying to make me believe that you
have never loved. It is a man’s great pretension with us. And we always
believe it! Out of pure politeness. Do we not know what to expect
from it for ourselves? Where is the man that has found but a single
opportunity of losing his heart? But you love to deceive us, and we
submit to be deceived, poor foolish creatures that we are; for your
hypocrisy is, after all, a homage paid to the superiority of our
sentiments, which are all purity.”

The last words were spoken with a disdainful pride that made the novice
in love feel like a worthless bale flung into the deep, while the
Duchess was an angel soaring back to her particular heaven.

“Confound it!” thought Armand de Montriveau, “how am I to tell this wild
thing that I love her?”

He had told her already a score of times; or rather, the Duchess had
a score of times read his secret in his eyes; and the passion in this
unmistakably great man promised her amusement, and an interest in her
empty life. So she prepared with no little dexterity to raise a certain
number of redoubts for him to carry by storm before he should gain an
entrance into her heart. Montriveau should overleap one difficulty after
another; he should be a plaything for her caprice, just as an insect
teased by children is made to jump from one finger to another, and in
spite of all its pains is kept in the same place by its mischievous
tormentor. And yet it gave the Duchess inexpressible happiness to see
that this strong man had told her the truth. Armand had never loved, as
he had said. He was about to go, in a bad humour with himself, and still
more out of humour with her; but it delighted her to see a sullenness
that she could conjure away with a word, a glance, or a gesture.

“Will you come tomorrow evening?” she asked. “I am going to a ball, but
I shall stay at home for you until ten o’clock.”

Montriveau spent most of the next day in smoking an indeterminate
quantity of cigars in his study window, and so got through the hours
till he could dress and go to the Hotel de Langeais. To anyone who had
known the magnificent worth of the man, it would have been grievous to
see him grown so small, so distrustful of himself; the mind that might
have shed light over undiscovered worlds shrunk to the proportions of
a she-coxcomb’s boudoir. Even he himself felt that he had fallen so low
already in his happiness that to save his life he could not have told
his love to one of his closest friends. Is there not always a trace
of shame in the lover’s bashfulness, and perhaps in woman a certain
exultation over diminished masculine stature? Indeed, but for a host of
motives of this kind, how explain why women are nearly always the first
to betray the secret?--a secret of which, perhaps, they soon weary.

“Mme la Duchesse cannot see visitors, monsieur,” said the man; “she is
dressing, she begs you to wait for her here.”

Armand walked up and down the drawing-room, studying her taste in the
least details. He admired Mme de Langeais herself in the objects of her
choosing; they revealed her life before he could grasp her personality
and ideas. About an hour later the Duchess came noiselessly out of her
chamber. Montriveau turned, saw her flit like a shadow across the room,
and trembled. She came up to him, not with a bourgeoise’s enquiry, “How
do I look?” She was sure of herself; her steady eyes said plainly, “I am
adorned to please you.”

No one surely, save the old fairy godmother of some princess in
disguise, could have wound a cloud of gauze about the dainty throat, so
that the dazzling satin skin beneath should gleam through the gleaming
folds. The Duchess was dazzling. The pale blue colour of her gown,
repeated in the flowers in her hair, appeared by the richness of its hue
to lend substance to a fragile form grown too wholly ethereal; for as
she glided towards Armand, the loose ends of her scarf floated about
her, putting that valiant warrior in mind of the bright damosel flies
that hover now over water, now over the flowers with which they seem to
mingle and blend.

“I have kept you waiting,” she said, with the tone that a woman can
always bring into her voice for the man whom she wishes to please.

“I would wait patiently through an eternity,” said he, “if I were sure
of finding a divinity so fair; but it is no compliment to speak of your
beauty to you; nothing save worship could touch you. Suffer me only to
kiss your scarf.”

“Oh, fie!” she said, with a commanding gesture, “I esteem you enough to
give you my hand.”

She held it out for his kiss. A woman’s hand, still moist from the
scented bath, has a soft freshness, a velvet smoothness that sends a
tingling thrill from the lips to the soul. And if a man is attracted to
a woman, and his senses are as quick to feel pleasure as his heart is
full of love, such a kiss, though chaste in appearance, may conjure up a
terrific storm.

“Will you always give it me like this?” the General asked humbly when he
had pressed that dangerous hand respectfully to his lips.

“Yes, but there we must stop,” she said, smiling. She sat down,
and seemed very slow over putting on her gloves, trying to slip the
unstretched kid over all her fingers at once, while she watched M.
de Montriveau; and he was lost in admiration of the Duchess and those
repeated graceful movements of hers.

“Ah! you were punctual,” she said; “that is right. I like punctuality.
It is the courtesy of kings, His Majesty says; but to my thinking, from
you men it is the most respectful flattery of all. Now, is it not? Just
tell me.”

Again she gave him a side glance to express her insidious friendship,
for he was dumb with happiness sheer happiness through such nothings
as these! Oh, the Duchess understood _son metier de femme_--the art
and mystery of being a woman--most marvelously well; she knew, to
admiration, how to raise a man in his own esteem as he humbled himself
to her; how to reward every step of the descent to sentimental folly
with hollow flatteries.

“You will never forget to come at nine o’clock.”

“No; but are you going to a ball every night?”

“Do I know?” she answered, with a little childlike shrug of the
shoulders; the gesture was meant to say that she was nothing if not
capricious, and that a lover must take her as she was.--“Besides,” she
added, “what is that to you? You shall be my escort.”

“That would be difficult tonight,” he objected; “I am not properly
dressed.”

“It seems to me,” she returned loftily, “that if anyone has a right
to complain of your costume, it is I. Know, therefore, _monsieur le
voyageur_, that if I accept a man’s arm, he is forthwith above the laws
of fashion, nobody would venture to criticise him. You do not know the
world, I see; I like you the better for it.”

And even as she spoke she swept him into the pettiness of that world by
the attempt to initiate him into the vanities of a woman of fashion.

“If she chooses to do a foolish thing for me, I should be a simpleton to
prevent her,” said Armand to himself. “She has a liking for me beyond a
doubt; and as for the world, she cannot despise it more than I do. So,
now for the ball if she likes.”

The Duchess probably thought that if the General came with her and
appeared in a ballroom in boots and a black tie, nobody would hesitate
to believe that he was violently in love with her. And the General was
well pleased that the queen of fashion should think of compromising
herself for him; hope gave him wit. He had gained confidence, he brought
out his thoughts and views; he felt nothing of the restraint that
weighed on his spirits yesterday. His talk was interesting and animated,
and full of those first confidences so sweet to make and to receive.

Was Mme de Langeais really carried away by his talk, or had she
devised this charming piece of coquetry? At any rate, she looked up
mischievously as the clock struck twelve.

“Ah! you have made me too late for the ball!” she exclaimed, surprised
and vexed that she had forgotten how time was going.

The next moment she approved the exchange of pleasures with a smile that
made Armand’s heart give a sudden leap.

“I certainly promised Mme de Beauseant,” she added. “They are all
expecting me.”

“Very well--go.”

“No--go on. I will stay. Your Eastern adventures fascinate me. Tell
me the whole story of your life. I love to share in a brave man’s
hardships, and I feel them all, indeed I do!”

She was playing with her scarf, twisting it and pulling it to
pieces, with jerky, impatient movements that seemed to tell of inward
dissatisfaction and deep reflection.

“_We_ are fit for nothing,” she went on. “Ah! we are contemptible,
selfish, frivolous creatures. We can bore ourselves with amusements,
and that is all we can do. Not one of us that understands that she has
a part to play in life. In old days in France, women were beneficent
lights; they lived to comfort those that mourned, to encourage high
virtues, to reward artists and stir new life with noble thoughts. If the
world has grown so petty, ours is the fault. You make me loathe the ball
and this world in which I live. No, I am not giving up much for you.”

She had plucked her scarf to pieces, as a child plays with a flower,
pulling away all the petals one by one; and now she crushed it into a
ball, and flung it away. She could show her swan’s neck.

She rang the bell. “I shall not go out tonight,” she told the footman.
Her long, blue eyes turned timidly to Armand; and by the look of
misgiving in them, he knew that he was meant to take the order for a
confession, for a first and great favour. There was a pause, filled with
many thoughts, before she spoke with that tenderness which is often in
women’s voices, and not so often in their hearts. “You have had a hard
life,” she said.

“No,” returned Armand. “Until today I did not know what happiness was.”

“Then you know it now?” she asked, looking at him with a demure, keen
glance.

“What is happiness for me henceforth but this--to see you, to hear
you?... Until now I have only known privation; now I know that I can be
unhappy----”

“That will do, that will do,” she said. “You must go; it is past
midnight. Let us regard appearances. People must not talk about us. I
do not know quite what I shall say; but the headache is a good-natured
friend, and tells no tales.”

“Is there to be a ball tomorrow night?”

“You would grow accustomed to the life, I think. Very well. Yes, we will
go again tomorrow night.”

There was not a happier man in the world than Armand when he went out
from her. Every evening he came to Mme de Langeais’ at the hour kept for
him by a tacit understanding.

It would be tedious, and, for the many young men who carry a redundance
of such sweet memories in their hearts, it were superfluous to follow
the story step by step--the progress of a romance growing in those hours
spent together, a romance controlled entirely by a woman’s will. If
sentiment went too fast, she would raise a quarrel over a word, or when
words flagged behind her thoughts, she appealed to the feelings. Perhaps
the only way of following such Penelope’s progress is by marking its
outward and visible signs.

As, for instance, within a few days of their first meeting, the
assiduous General had won and kept the right to kiss his lady’s
insatiable hands. Wherever Mme de Langeais went, M. de Montriveau
was certain to be seen, till people jokingly called him “Her Grace’s
orderly.” And already he had made enemies; others were jealous, and
envied him his position. Mme de Langeais had attained her end. The
Marquis de Montriveau was among her numerous train of adorers, and a
means of humiliating those who boasted of their progress in her good
graces, for she publicly gave him preference over them all.

“Decidedly, M. de Montriveau is the man for whom the Duchess shows a
preference,” pronounced Mme de Serizy.

And who in Paris does not know what it means when a woman “shows a
preference?” All went on therefore according to prescribed rule. The
anecdotes which people were pleased to circulate concerning the General
put that warrior in so formidable a light, that the more adroit quietly
dropped their pretensions to the Duchess, and remained in her train
merely to turn the position to account, and to use her name and
personality to make better terms for themselves with certain stars of
the second magnitude. And those lesser powers were delighted to take a
lover away from Mme de Langeais. The Duchess was keen-sighted enough to
see these desertions and treaties with the enemy; and her pride would
not suffer her to be the dupe of them. As M. de Talleyrand, one of her
great admirers, said, she knew how to take a second edition of revenge,
laying the two-edged blade of a sarcasm between the pairs in these
“morganatic” unions. Her mocking disdain contributed not a little to
increase her reputation as an extremely clever woman and a person to
be feared. Her character for virtue was consolidated while she amused
herself with other people’s secrets, and kept her own to herself. Yet,
after two months of assiduities, she saw with a vague dread in the
depths of her soul that M. de Montriveau understood nothing of the
subtleties of flirtation after the manner of the Faubourg Saint-Germain;
he was taking a Parisienne’s coquetry in earnest.

“You will not tame _him_, dear Duchess,” the old Vidame de Pamiers had
said. “‘Tis a first cousin to the eagle; he will carry you off to his
eyrie if you do not take care.”

Then Mme de Langeais felt afraid. The shrewd old noble’s words sounded
like a prophecy. The next day she tried to turn love to hate. She was
harsh, exacting, irritable, unbearable; Montriveau disarmed her with
angelic sweetness. She so little knew the great generosity of a large
nature, that the kindly jests with which her first complaints were met
went to her heart. She sought a quarrel, and found proofs of affection.
She persisted.

“When a man idolizes you, how can he have vexed you?” asked Armand.

“You do not vex me,” she answered, suddenly grown gentle and submissive.
“But why do you wish to compromise me? For me you ought to be nothing
but a _friend_. Do you not know it? I wish I could see that you had the
instincts, the delicacy of real friendship, so that I might lose neither
your respect nor the pleasure that your presence gives me.”

“Nothing but your _friend_!” he cried out. The terrible word sent an
electric shock through his brain. “On the faith of these happy hours
that you grant me, I sleep and wake in your heart. And now today, for no
reason, you are pleased to destroy all the secret hopes by which I live.
You have required promises of such constancy in me, you have said so
much of your horror of women made up of nothing but caprice; and now do
you wish me to understand that, like other women here in Paris, you have
passions, and know nothing of love? If so, why did you ask my life of
me? why did you accept it?”

“I was wrong, my friend. Oh, it is wrong of a woman to yield to such
intoxication when she must not and cannot make any return.”

“I understand. You have merely been coquetting with me, and----”

“Coquetting?” she repeated. “I detest coquetry. A coquette Armand, makes
promises to many, and gives herself to none; and a woman who keeps such
promises is a libertine. This much I believed I had grasped of our code.
But to be melancholy with humorists, gay with the frivolous, and politic
with ambitious souls; to listen to a babbler with every appearance
of admiration, to talk of war with a soldier, wax enthusiastic with
philanthropists over the good of the nation, and to give to each one his
little dole of flattery--it seems to me that this is as much a matter of
necessity as dress, diamonds, and gloves, or flowers in one’s hair. Such
talk is the moral counterpart of the toilette. You take it up and lay it
aside with the plumed head-dress. Do you call this coquetry? Why, I have
never treated you as I treat everyone else. With you, my friend, I am
sincere. Have I not always shared your views, and when you convinced me
after a discussion, was I not always perfectly glad? In short, I love
you, but only as a devout and pure woman may love. I have thought it
over. I am a married woman, Armand. My way of life with M. de Langeais
gives me liberty to bestow my heart; but law and custom leave me no
right to dispose of my person. If a woman loses her honour, she is
an outcast in any rank of life; and I have yet to meet with a single
example of a man that realizes all that our sacrifices demand of him in
such a case. Quite otherwise. Anyone can foresee the rupture between Mme
de Beauseant and M. d’Ajuda (for he is going to marry Mlle de Rochefide,
it seems), that affair made it clear to my mind that these very
sacrifices on the woman’s part are almost always the cause of the man’s
desertion. If you had loved me sincerely, you would have kept away for a
time.--Now, I will lay aside all vanity for you; is not that something?
What will not people say of a woman to whom no man attaches himself?
Oh, she is heartless, brainless, soulless; and what is more, devoid
of charm! Coquettes will not spare me. They will rob me of the very
qualities that mortify them. So long as my reputation is safe, what do I
care if my rivals deny my merits? They certainly will not inherit them.
Come, my friend; give up something for her who sacrifices so much for
you. Do not come quite so often; I shall love you none the less.”

“Ah!” said Armand, with the profound irony of a wounded heart in his
words and tone. “Love, so the scribblers say, only feeds on illusions.
Nothing could be truer, I see; I am expected to imagine that I am loved.
But, there!--there are some thoughts like wounds, from which there is no
recovery. My belief in you was one of the last left to me, and now I see
that there is nothing left to believe in this earth.”

She began to smile.

“Yes,” Montriveau went on in an unsteady voice, “this Catholic faith to
which you wish to convert me is a lie that men make for themselves; hope
is a lie at the expense of the future; pride, a lie between us and our
fellows; and pity, and prudence, and terror are cunning lies. And now
my happiness is to be one more lying delusion; I am expected to delude
myself, to be willing to give gold coin for silver to the end. If you
can so easily dispense with my visits; if you can confess me neither
as your friend nor your lover, you do not care for me! And I, poor fool
that I am, tell myself this, and know it, and love you!”

“But, dear me, poor Armand, you are flying into a passion!”

“I flying into a passion?”

“Yes. You think that the whole question is opened because I ask you to
be careful.”

In her heart of hearts she was delighted with the anger that leapt out
in her lover’s eyes. Even as she tortured him, she was criticising
him, watching every slightest change that passed over his face. If
the General had been so unluckily inspired as to show himself generous
without discussion (as happens occasionally with some artless souls),
he would have been a banished man forever, accused and convicted of not
knowing how to love. Most women are not displeased to have their code of
right and wrong broken through. Do they not flatter themselves that they
never yield except to force? But Armand was not learned enough in this
kind of lore to see the snare ingeniously spread for him by the Duchess.
So much of the child was there in the strong man in love.

“If all you want is to preserve appearances,” he began in his
simplicity, “I am willing to----”

“Simply to preserve appearances!” the lady broke in; “why, what idea can
you have of me? Have I given you the slightest reason to suppose that I
can be yours?”

“Why, what else are we talking about?” demanded Montriveau.

“Monsieur, you frighten me!... No, pardon me. Thank you,” she added,
coldly; “thank you, Armand. You have given me timely warning of
imprudence; committed quite unconsciously, believe it, my friend. You
know how to endure, you say. I also know how to endure. We will not
see each other for a time; and then, when both of us have contrived to
recover calmness to some extent, we will think about arrangements for
a happiness sanctioned by the world. I am young, Armand; a man with no
delicacy might tempt a woman of four-and-twenty to do many foolish, wild
things for his sake. But _you_! You will be my friend, promise me that
you will?”

“The woman of four-and-twenty,” returned he, “knows what she is about.”

He sat down on the sofa in the boudoir, and leant his head on his hands.

“Do you love me, madame?” he asked at length, raising his head, and
turning a face full of resolution upon her. “Say it straight out; Yes or
No!”

His direct question dismayed the Duchess more than a threat of suicide
could have done; indeed, the woman of the nineteenth century is not to
be frightened by that stale stratagem, the sword has ceased to be part
of the masculine costume. But in the effect of eyelids and lashes, in
the contraction of the gaze, in the twitching of the lips, is there not
some influence that communicates the terror which they express with such
vivid magnetic power?

“Ah, if I were free, if----”

“Oh! is it only your husband that stands in the way?” the General
exclaimed joyfully, as he strode to and fro in the boudoir. “Dear
Antoinette, I wield a more absolute power than the Autocrat of all the
Russias. I have a compact with Fate; I can advance or retard destiny,
so far as men are concerned, at my fancy, as you alter the hands of a
watch. If you can direct the course of fate in our political machinery,
it simply means (does it not?) that you understand the ins and outs of
it. You shall be free before very long, and then you must remember your
promise.”

“Armand!” she cried. “What do you mean? Great heavens! Can you imagine
that I am to be the prize of a crime? Do you want to kill me? Why! you
cannot have any religion in you! For my own part, I fear God. M. de
Langeais may have given me reason to hate him, but I wish him no manner
of harm.”

M. de Montriveau beat a tattoo on the marble chimney-piece, and only
looked composedly at the lady.

“Dear,” continued she, “respect him. He does not love me, he is not kind
to me, but I have duties to fulfil with regard to him. What would I not
do to avert the calamities with which you threaten him?--Listen,” she
continued after a pause, “I will not say another word about separation;
you shall come here as in the past, and I will still give you my
forehead to kiss. If I refused once or twice, it was pure coquetry,
indeed it was. But let us understand each other,” she added as he came
closer. “You will permit me to add to the number of my satellites; to
receive even more visitors in the morning than heretofore; I mean to be
twice as frivolous; I mean to use you to all appearance very badly;
to feign a rupture; you must come not quite so often, and then,
afterwards----”

While she spoke, she had allowed him to put an arm about her waist,
Montriveau was holding her tightly to him, and she seemed to feel the
exceeding pleasure that women usually feel in that close contact, an
earnest of the bliss of a closer union. And then, doubtless she meant to
elicit some confidence, for she raised herself on tiptoe, and laid her
forehead against Armand’s burning lips.

“And then,” Montriveau finished her sentence for her, “you shall not
speak to me of your husband. You ought not to think of him again.”

Mme de Langeais was silent awhile.

“At least,” she said, after a significant pause, “at least you will do
all that I wish without grumbling, you will not be naughty; tell me so,
my friend? You wanted to frighten me, did you not? Come, now, confess
it?... You are too good ever to think of crimes. But is it possible that
you can have secrets that I do not know? How can you control Fate?”

“Now, when you confirm the gift of the heart that you have already given
me, I am far too happy to know exactly how to answer you. I can trust
you, Antoinette; I shall have no suspicion, no unfounded jealousy of
you. But if accident should set you free, we shall be one----”

“Accident, Armand?” (With that little dainty turn of the head that seems
to say so many things, a gesture that such women as the Duchess can use
on light occasions, as a great singer can act with her voice.) “Pure
accident,” she repeated. “Mind that. If anything should happen to M. de
Langeais by your fault, I should never be yours.”

And so they parted, mutually content. The Duchess had made a pact
that left her free to prove to the world by words and deeds that M. de
Montriveau was no lover of hers. And as for him, the wily Duchess
vowed to tire him out. He should have nothing of her beyond the little
concessions snatched in the course of contests that she could stop
at her pleasure. She had so pretty an art of revoking the grant
of yesterday, she was so much in earnest in her purpose to remain
technically virtuous, that she felt that there was not the slightest
danger for her in preliminaries fraught with peril for a woman less sure
of her self-command. After all, the Duchess was practically separated
from her husband; a marriage long since annulled was no great sacrifice
to make to her love.

Montriveau on his side was quite happy to win the vaguest promise, glad
once for all to sweep aside, with all scruples of conjugal fidelity, her
stock of excuses for refusing herself to his love. He had gained ground
a little, and congratulated himself. And so for a time he took unfair
advantage of the rights so hardly won. More a boy than he had ever been
in his life, he gave himself up to all the childishness that makes first
love the flower of life. He was a child again as he poured out all
his soul, all the thwarted forces that passion had given him, upon her
hands, upon the dazzling forehead that looked so pure to his eyes; upon
her fair hair; on the tufted curls where his lips were pressed. And the
Duchess, on whom his love was poured like a flood, was vanquished by
the magnetic influence of her lover’s warmth; she hesitated to begin
the quarrel that must part them forever. She was more a woman than she
thought, this slight creature, in her effort to reconcile the demands
of religion with the ever-new sensations of vanity, the semblance of
pleasure which turns a Parisienne’s head. Every Sunday she went to Mass;
she never missed a service; then, when evening came, she was steeped in
the intoxicating bliss of repressed desire. Armand and Mme de Langeais,
like Hindoo fakirs, found the reward of their continence in the
temptations to which it gave rise. Possibly, the Duchess had ended by
resolving love into fraternal caresses, harmless enough, as it might
have seemed to the rest of the world, while they borrowed extremes
of degradation from the license of her thoughts. How else explain the
incomprehensible mystery of her continual fluctuations? Every morning
she proposed to herself to shut her door on the Marquis de Montriveau;
every evening, at the appointed hour, she fell under the charm of his
presence. There was a languid defence; then she grew less unkind. Her
words were sweet and soothing. They were lovers--lovers only could have
been thus. For him the Duchess would display her most sparkling wit, her
most captivating wiles; and when at last she had wrought upon his senses
and his soul, she might submit herself passively to his fierce caresses,
but she had her _nec plus ultra_ of passion; and when once it was
reached, she grew angry if he lost the mastery of himself and made
as though he would pass beyond. No woman on earth can brave the
consequences of refusal without some motive; nothing is more natural
than to yield to love; wherefore Mme de Langeais promptly raised a
second line of fortification, a stronghold less easy to carry than
the first. She evoked the terrors of religion. Never did Father of
the Church, however eloquent, plead the cause of God better than the
Duchess. Never was the wrath of the Most High better justified than
by her voice. She used no preacher’s commonplaces, no rhetorical
amplifications. No. She had a “pulpit-tremor” of her own. To Armand’s
most passionate entreaty, she replied with a tearful gaze, and a gesture
in which a terrible plenitude of emotion found expression. She stopped
his mouth with an appeal for mercy. She would not hear another word; if
she did, she must succumb; and better death than criminal happiness.

“Is it nothing to disobey God?” she asked him, recovering a voice grown
faint in the crises of inward struggles, through which the fair
actress appeared to find it hard to preserve her self-control. “I would
sacrifice society, I would give up the whole world for you, gladly; but
it is very selfish of you to ask my whole after-life of me for a moment
of pleasure. Come, now! are you not happy?” she added, holding out her
hand; and certainly in her careless toilette the sight of her afforded
consolations to her lover, who made the most of them.

Sometimes from policy, to keep her hold on a man whose ardent passion
gave her emotions unknown before, sometimes in weakness, she suffered
him to snatch a swift kiss; and immediately, in feigned terror, she
flushed red and exiled Armand from the sofa so soon as the sofa became
dangerous ground.

“Your joys are sins for me to expiate, Armand; they are paid for by
penitence and remorse,” she cried.

And Montriveau, now at two chairs’ distance from that aristocratic
petticoat, betook himself to blasphemy and railed against Providence.
The Duchess grew angry at such times.

“My friend,” she said drily, “I do not understand why you decline to
believe in God, for it is impossible to believe in man. Hush, do not
talk like that. You have too great a nature to take up their Liberal
nonsense with its pretension to abolish God.”

Theological and political disputes acted like a cold douche on
Montriveau; he calmed down; he could not return to love when the Duchess
stirred up his wrath by suddenly setting him down a thousand miles away
from the boudoir, discussing theories of absolute monarchy, which she
defended to admiration. Few women venture to be democrats; the attitude
of democratic champion is scarcely compatible with tyrannous feminine
sway. But often, on the other hand, the General shook out his mane,
dropped politics with a leonine growling and lashing of the flanks, and
sprang upon his prey; he was no longer capable of carrying a heart and
brain at such variance for very far; he came back, terrible with love,
to his mistress. And she, if she felt the prick of fancy stimulated to
a dangerous point, knew that it was time to leave her boudoir; she came
out of the atmosphere surcharged with desires that she drew in with
her breath, sat down to the piano, and sang the most exquisite songs
of modern music, and so baffled the physical attraction which at times
showed her no mercy, though she was strong enough to fight it down.

At such times she was something sublime in Armand’s eyes; she was not
acting, she was genuine; the unhappy lover was convinced that she loved
him. Her egoistic resistance deluded him into a belief that she was a
pure and sainted woman; he resigned himself; he talked of Platonic love,
did this artillery officer!

When Mme de Langeais had played with religion sufficiently to suit her
own purposes, she played with it again for Armand’s benefit. She wanted
to bring him back to a Christian frame of mind; she brought out her
edition of _Le Genie du Christianisme_, adapted for the use of military
men. Montriveau chafed; his yoke was heavy. Oh! at that, possessed by
the spirit of contradiction, she dinned religion into his ears, to see
whether God might not rid her of this suitor, for the man’s persistence
was beginning to frighten her. And in any case she was glad to prolong
any quarrel, if it bade fair to keep the dispute on moral grounds for
an indefinite period; the material struggle which followed it was more
dangerous.

But if the time of her opposition on the ground of the marriage law
might be said to be the _epoque civile_ of this sentimental warfare, the
ensuing phase which might be taken to constitute the _epoque religieuse_
had also its crisis and consequent decline of severity.

Armand happening to come in very early one evening, found M. l’Abbe
Gondrand, the Duchess’s spiritual director, established in an armchair
by the fireside, looking as a spiritual director might be expected to
look while digesting his dinner and the charming sins of his penitent.
In the ecclesiastic’s bearing there was a stateliness befitting a
dignitary of the Church; and the episcopal violet hue already appeared
in his dress. At sight of his fresh, well-preserved complexion, smooth
forehead, and ascetic’s mouth, Montriveau’s countenance grew uncommonly
dark; he said not a word under the malicious scrutiny of the other’s
gaze, and greeted neither the lady nor the priest. The lover apart,
Montriveau was not wanting in tact; so a few glances exchanged with the
bishop-designate told him that here was the real forger of the Duchess’s
armory of scruples.

That an ambitious abbe should control the happiness of a man of
Montriveau’s temper, and by underhand ways! The thought burst in a
furious tide over his face, clenched his fists, and set him chafing and
pacing to and fro; but when he came back to his place intending to make
a scene, a single look from the Duchess was enough. He was quiet.

Any other woman would have been put out by her lover’s gloomy silence;
it was quite otherwise with Mme de Langeais. She continued her
conversation with M. de Gondrand on the necessity of re-establishing the
Church in its ancient splendour. And she talked brilliantly.

The Church, she maintained, ought to be a temporal as well as a
spiritual power, stating her case better than the Abbe had done, and
regretting that the Chamber of Peers, unlike the English House of Lords,
had no bench of bishops. Nevertheless, the Abbe rose, yielded his place
to the General, and took his leave, knowing that in Lent he could play a
return game. As for the Duchess, Montriveau’s behaviour had excited
her curiosity to such a pitch that she scarcely rose to return her
director’s low bow.

“What is the matter with you, my friend?”

“Why, I cannot stomach that Abbe of yours.”

“Why did you not take a book?” she asked, careless whether the Abbe,
then closing the door, heard her or no.

The General paused, for the gesture which accompanied the Duchess’s
speech further increased the exceeding insolence of her words.

“My dear Antoinette, thank you for giving love precedence of the Church;
but, for pity’s sake, allow me to ask one question.”

“Oh! you are questioning me! I am quite willing. You are my friend, are
you not? I certainly can open the bottom of my heart to you; you will
see only one image there.”

“Do you talk about our love to that man?”

“He is my confessor.”

“Does he know that I love you?”

“M. de Montriveau, you cannot claim, I think, to penetrate the secrets
of the confessional?”

“Does that man know all about our quarrels and my love for you?”

“That man, monsieur; say God!”

“God again! _I_ ought to be alone in your heart. But leave God alone
where He is, for the love of God and me. Madame, you _shall not_ go to
confession again, or----”

“Or?” she repeated sweetly.

“Or I will never come back here.”

“Then go, Armand. Good-bye, good-bye forever.”

She rose and went to her boudoir without so much as a glance at Armand,
as he stood with his hand on the back of a chair. How long he stood
there motionless he himself never knew. The soul within has the
mysterious power of expanding as of contracting space.

He opened the door of the boudoir. It was dark within. A faint voice was
raised to say sharply:

“I did not ring. What made you come in without orders? Go away,
Suzette.”

“Then you are ill,” exclaimed Montriveau.

“Stand up, monsieur, and go out of the room for a minute at any rate,”
 she said, ringing the bell.

“Mme la Duchesse rang for lights?” said the footman, coming in with the
candles. When the lovers were alone together, Mme de Langeais still lay
on her couch; she was just as silent and motionless as if Montriveau had
not been there.

“Dear, I was wrong,” he began, a note of pain and a sublime kindness in
his voice. “Indeed, I would not have you without religion----”

“It is fortunate that you can recognise the necessity of a conscience,”
 she said in a hard voice, without looking at him. “I thank you in God’s
name.”

The General was broken down by her harshness; this woman seemed as
if she could be at will a sister or a stranger to him. He made one
despairing stride towards the door. He would leave her forever without
another word. He was wretched; and the Duchess was laughing within
herself over mental anguish far more cruel than the old judicial
torture. But as for going away, it was not in his power to do it. In any
sort of crisis, a woman is, as it were, bursting with a certain quantity
of things to say; so long as she has not delivered herself of them,
she experiences the sensation which we are apt to feel at the sight of
something incomplete. Mme de Langeais had not said all that was in her
mind. She took up her parable and said:

“We have not the same convictions, General, I am pained to think. It
would be dreadful if a woman could not believe in a religion which
permits us to love beyond the grave. I set Christian sentiments aside;
you cannot understand them. Let me simply speak to you of expediency.
Would you forbid a woman at court the table of the Lord when it is
customary to take the sacrament at Easter? People must certainly do
something for their party. The Liberals, whatever they may wish to do,
will never destroy the religious instinct. Religion will always be
a political necessity. Would you undertake to govern a nation of
logic-choppers? Napoleon was afraid to try; he persecuted ideologists.
If you want to keep people from reasoning, you must give them something
to feel. So let us accept the Roman Catholic Church with all its
consequences. And if we would have France go to mass, ought we not to
begin by going ourselves? Religion, you see, Armand, is a bond uniting
all the conservative principles which enable the rich to live in
tranquillity. Religion and the rights of property are intimately
connected. It is certainly a finer thing to lead a nation by ideas of
morality than by fear of the scaffold, as in the time of the Terror--the
one method by which your odious Revolution could enforce obedience.
The priest and the king--that means you, and me, and the Princess
my neighbour; and, in a word, the interests of all honest people
personified. There, my friend, just be so good as to belong to your
party, you that might be its Scylla if you had the slightest ambition
that way. I know nothing about politics myself; I argue from my own
feelings; but still I know enough to guess that society would
be overturned if people were always calling its foundations in
question----”

“If that is how your Court and your Government think, I am sorry for
you,” broke in Montriveau. “The Restoration, madam, ought to say, like
Catherine de Medici, when she heard that the battle of Dreux was lost,
‘Very well; now we will go to the meeting-house.’ Now 1815 was your
battle of Dreux. Like the royal power of those days, you won in
fact, while you lost in right. Political Protestantism has gained an
ascendancy over people’s minds. If you have no mind to issue your Edict
of Nantes; or if, when it is issued, you publish a Revocation; if you
should one day be accused and convicted of repudiating the Charter,
which is simply a pledge given to maintain the interests established
under the Republic, then the Revolution will rise again, terrible in her
strength, and strike but a single blow. It will not be the Revolution
that will go into exile; she is the very soil of France. Men die, but
people’s interests do not die. ... Eh, great Heavens! what are France
and the crown and rightful sovereigns, and the whole world besides, to
us? Idle words compared with my happiness. Let them reign or be hurled
from the throne, little do I care. Where am I now?”

“In the Duchesse de Langeais’ boudoir, my friend.”

“No, no. No more of the Duchess, no more of Langeais; I am with my dear
Antoinette.”

“Will you do me the pleasure to stay where you are,” she said, laughing
and pushing him back, gently however.

“So you have never loved me,” he retorted, and anger flashed in
lightning from his eyes.

“No, dear”; but the “No” was equivalent to “Yes.”

“I am a great ass,” he said, kissing her hands. The terrible queen was a
woman once more.--“Antoinette,” he went on, laying his head on her feet,
“you are too chastely tender to speak of our happiness to anyone in this
world.”

“Oh!” she cried, rising to her feet with a swift, graceful spring,
“you are a great simpleton.” And without another word she fled into the
drawing-room.

“What is it now?” wondered the General, little knowing that the touch of
his burning forehead had sent a swift electric thrill through her from
foot to head.

In hot wrath he followed her to the drawing-room, only to hear divinely
sweet chords. The Duchess was at the piano. If the man of science or the
poet can at once enjoy and comprehend, bringing his intelligence to bear
upon his enjoyment without loss of delight, he is conscious that the
alphabet and phraseology of music are but cunning instruments for
the composer, like the wood and copper wire under the hands of the
executant. For the poet and the man of science there is a music existing
apart, underlying the double expression of this language of the spirit
and senses. _Andiamo mio ben_ can draw tears of joy or pitying laughter
at the will of the singer; and not unfrequently one here and there in
the world, some girl unable to live and bear the heavy burden of an
unguessed pain, some man whose soul vibrates with the throb of passion,
may take up a musical theme, and lo! heaven is opened for them, or they
find a language for themselves in some sublime melody, some song lost to
the world.

The General was listening now to such a song; a mysterious music unknown
to all other ears, as the solitary plaint of some mateless bird dying
alone in a virgin forest.

“Great Heavens! what are you playing there?” he asked in an unsteady
voice.

“The prelude of a ballad, called, I believe, _Fleuve du Tage_.”

“I did not know that there was such music in a piano,” he returned.

“Ah!” she said, and for the first time she looked at him as a woman
looks at the man she loves, “nor do you know, my friend, that I love
you, and that you cause me horrible suffering; and that I feel that I
must utter my cry of pain without putting it too plainly into words. If
I did not, I should yield----But you see nothing.”

“And you will not make me happy!”

“Armand, I should die of sorrow the next day.”

The General turned abruptly from her and went. But out in the street he
brushed away the tears that he would not let fall.

The religious phase lasted for three months. At the end of that time the
Duchess grew weary of vain repetitions; the Deity, bound hand and foot,
was delivered up to her lover. Possibly she may have feared that by
sheer dint of talking of eternity she might perpetuate his love in this
world and the next. For her own sake, it must be believed that no man
had touched her heart, or her conduct would be inexcusable. She was
young; the time when men and women feel that they cannot afford to lose
time or to quibble over their joys was still far off. She, no doubt, was
on the verge not of first love, but of her first experience of the bliss
of love. And from inexperience, for want of the painful lessons which
would have taught her to value the treasure poured out at her feet, she
was playing with it. Knowing nothing of the glory and rapture of the
light, she was fain to stay in the shadow.

Armand was just beginning to understand this strange situation; he put
his hope in the first word spoken by nature. Every evening, as he came
away from Mme de Langeais’, he told himself that no woman would accept
the tenderest, most delicate proofs of a man’s love during seven months,
nor yield passively to the slighter demands of passion, only to cheat
love at the last. He was waiting patiently for the sun to gain power,
not doubting but that he should receive the earliest fruits. The married
woman’s hesitations and the religious scruples he could quite well
understand. He even rejoiced over those battles. He mistook the
Duchess’s heartless coquetry for modesty; and he would not have had her
otherwise. So he had loved to see her devising obstacles; was he not
gradually triumphing over them? Did not every victory won swell the
meagre sum of lovers’ intimacies long denied, and at last conceded with
every sign of love? Still, he had had such leisure to taste the full
sweetness of every small successive conquest on which a lover feeds
his love, that these had come to be matters of use and wont. So far as
obstacles went, there were none now save his own awe of her; nothing
else left between him and his desire save the whims of her who allowed
him to call her Antoinette. So he made up his mind to demand more, to
demand all. Embarrassed like a young lover who cannot dare to believe
that his idol can stoop so low, he hesitated for a long time. He passed
through the experience of terrible reactions within himself. A set
purpose was annihilated by a word, and definite resolves died within him
on the threshold. He despised himself for his weakness, and still his
desire remained unuttered. Nevertheless, one evening, after sitting
in gloomy melancholy, he brought out a fierce demand for his illegally
legitimate rights. The Duchess had not to wait for her bond-slave’s
request to guess his desire. When was a man’s desire a secret? And have
not women an intuitive knowledge of the meaning of certain changes of
countenance?

“What! you wish to be my friend no longer?” she broke in at the first
words, and a divine red surging like new blood under the transparent
skin, lent brightness to her eyes. “As a reward for my generosity, you
would dishonor me? Just reflect a little. I myself have thought much
over this; and I think always for us _both_. There is such a thing as
a woman’s loyalty, and we can no more fail in it than you can fail in
honour. _I_ cannot blind myself. If I am yours, how, in any sense, can
I be M. de Langeais’ wife? Can you require the sacrifice of my position,
my rank, my whole life in return for a doubtful love that could not wait
patiently for seven months? What! already you would rob me of my right
to dispose of myself? No, no; you must not talk like this again. No, not
another word. I will not, I cannot listen to you.”

Mme de Langeais raised both hands to her head to push back the tufted
curls from her hot forehead; she seemed very much excited.

“You come to a weak woman with your purpose definitely planned out. You
say--‘For a certain length of time she will talk to me of her husband,
then of God, and then of the inevitable consequences. But I will use
and abuse the ascendancy I shall gain over her; I will make myself
indispensable; all the bonds of habit, all the misconstructions of
outsiders, will make for me; and at length, when our _liaison_ is taken
for granted by all the world, I shall be this woman’s master.’--Now, be
frank; these are your thoughts! Oh! you calculate, and you say that you
love. Shame on you! You are enamoured? Ah! that I well believe! You
wish to possess me, to have me for your mistress, that is all! Very well
then, No! The _Duchesse de Langeais_ will not descend so far. Simple
_bourgeoises_ may be the victims of your treachery--I, never! Nothing
gives me assurance of your love. You speak of my beauty; I may lose
every trace of it in six months, like the dear Princess, my neighbour.
You are captivated by my wit, my grace. Great Heavens! you would soon
grow used to them and to the pleasures of possession. Have not the
little concessions that I was weak enough to make come to be a matter of
course in the last few months? Some day, when ruin comes, you will give
me no reason for the change in you beyond a curt, ‘I have ceased to
care for you.’--Then, rank and fortune and honour and all that was the
Duchesse de Langeais will be swallowed up in one disappointed hope.
I shall have children to bear witness to my shame, and----” With an
involuntary gesture she interrupted herself, and continued: “But I am
too good-natured to explain all this to you when you know it better than
I. Come! let us stay as we are. I am only too fortunate in that I can
still break these bonds which you think so strong. Is there anything so
very heroic in coming to the Hotel de Langeais to spend an evening
with a woman whose prattle amuses you?--a woman whom you take for a
plaything? Why, half a dozen young coxcombs come here just as regularly
every afternoon between three and five. They, too, are very generous, I
am to suppose? I make fun of them; they stand my petulance and insolence
pretty quietly, and make me laugh; but as for you, I give all the
treasures of my soul to you, and you wish to ruin me, you try my
patience in endless ways. Hush, that will do, that will do,” she
continued, seeing that he was about to speak, “you have no heart,
no soul, no delicacy. I know what you want to tell me. Very well,
then--yes. I would rather you should take me for a cold, insensible
woman, with no devotion in her composition, no heart even, than be
taken by everybody else for a vulgar person, and be condemned to your
so-called pleasures, of which you would most certainly tire, and to
everlasting punishment for it afterwards. Your selfish love is not worth
so many sacrifices....”

The words give but a very inadequate idea of the discourse which the
Duchess trilled out with the quick volubility of a bird-organ. Nor,
truly, was there anything to prevent her from talking on for some time
to come, for poor Armand’s only reply to the torrent of flute notes was
a silence filled with cruelly painful thoughts. He was just beginning to
see that this woman was playing with him; he divined instinctively
that a devoted love, a responsive love, does not reason and count
the consequences in this way. Then, as he heard her reproach him with
detestable motives, he felt something like shame as he remembered that
unconsciously he had made those very calculations. With angelic honesty
of purpose, he looked within, and self-examination found nothing but
selfishness in all his thoughts and motives, in the answers which he
framed and could not utter. He was self-convicted. In his despair
he longed to fling himself from the window. The egoism of it was
intolerable.

What indeed can a man say when a woman will not believe in love?--Let me
prove how much I love you.--The _I_ is always there.

The heroes of the boudoir, in such circumstances, can follow the example
of the primitive logician who preceded the Pyrrhonists and denied
movement. Montriveau was not equal to this feat. With all his audacity,
he lacked this precise kind which never deserts an adept in the formulas
of feminine algebra. If so many women, and even the best of women, fall
a prey to a kind of expert to whom the vulgar give a grosser name, it is
perhaps because the said experts are great _provers_, and love, in spite
of its delicious poetry of sentiment, requires a little more geometry
than people are wont to think.

Now the Duchess and Montriveau were alike in this--they were both
equally unversed in love lore. The lady’s knowledge of theory was but
scanty; in practice she knew nothing whatever; she felt nothing, and
reflected over everything. Montriveau had had but little experience, was
absolutely ignorant of theory, and felt too much to reflect at all. Both
therefore were enduring the consequences of the singular situation.
At that supreme moment the myriad thoughts in his mind might have
been reduced to the formula--“Submit to be mine----” words which seem
horribly selfish to a woman for whom they awaken no memories, recall no
ideas. Something nevertheless he must say. And what was more, though her
barbed shafts had set his blood tingling, though the short phrases that
she discharged at him one by one were very keen and sharp and cold, he
must control himself lest he should lose all by an outbreak of anger.

“Mme la Duchesse, I am in despair that God should have invented no way
for a woman to confirm the gift of her heart save by adding the gift of
her person. The high value which you yourself put upon the gift teaches
me that I cannot attach less importance to it. If you have given me
your inmost self and your whole heart, as you tell me, what can the rest
matter? And besides, if my happiness means so painful a sacrifice, let
us say no more about it. But you must pardon a man of spirit if he feels
humiliated at being taken for a spaniel.”

The tone in which the last remark was uttered might perhaps have
frightened another woman; but when the wearer of a petticoat has allowed
herself to be addressed as a Divinity, and thereby set herself above all
other mortals, no power on earth can be so haughty.

“M. le Marquis, I am in despair that God should not have invented
some nobler way for a man to confirm the gift of his heart than by the
manifestation of prodigiously vulgar desires. We become bond-slaves
when we give ourselves body and soul, but a man is bound to nothing by
accepting the gift. Who will assure me that love will last? The very
love that I might show for you at every moment, the better to keep your
love, might serve you as a reason for deserting me. I have no wish to be
a second edition of Mme de Beauseant. Who can ever know what it is that
keeps you beside us? Our persistent coldness of heart is the cause of
an unfailing passion in some of you; other men ask for an untiring
devotion, to be idolized at every moment; some for gentleness, others
for tyranny. No woman in this world as yet has really read the riddle of
man’s heart.”

There was a pause. When she spoke again it was in a different tone.

“After all, my friend, you cannot prevent a woman from trembling at the
question, ‘Will this love last always?’ Hard though my words may be,
the dread of losing you puts them into my mouth. Oh, me! it is not I
who speaks, dear, it is reason; and how should anyone so mad as I be
reasonable? In truth, I am nothing of the sort.”

The poignant irony of her answer had changed before the end into the
most musical accents in which a woman could find utterance for ingenuous
love. To listen to her words was to pass in a moment from martyrdom to
heaven. Montriveau grew pale; and for the first time in his life, he
fell on his knees before a woman. He kissed the Duchess’s skirt hem, her
knees, her feet; but for the credit of the Faubourg Saint-Germain it is
necessary to respect the mysteries of its boudoirs, where many are fain
to take the utmost that Love can give without giving proof of love in
return.

The Duchess thought herself generous when she suffered herself to be
adored. But Montriveau was in a wild frenzy of joy over her complete
surrender of the position.

“Dear Antoinette,” he cried. “Yes, you are right; I will not have you
doubt any longer. I too am trembling at this moment--lest the angel of
my life should leave me; I wish I could invent some tie that might bind
us to each other irrevocably.”

“Ah!” she said, under her breath, “so I was right, you see.”

“Let me say all that I have to say; I will scatter all your fears with
a word. Listen! if I deserted you, I should deserve to die a thousand
deaths. Be wholly mine, and I will give you the right to kill me if I
am false. I myself will write a letter explaining certain reasons for
taking my own life; I will make my final arrangements, in short. You
shall have the letter in your keeping; in the eye of the law it will be
a sufficient explanation of my death. You can avenge yourself, and fear
nothing from God or men.”

“What good would the letter be to me? What would life be if I had lost
your love? If I wished to kill you, should I not be ready to follow? No;
thank you for the thought, but I do not want the letter. Should I not
begin to dread that you were faithful to me through fear? And if a man
knows that he must risk his life for a stolen pleasure, might it not
seem more tempting? Armand, the thing I ask of you is the one hard thing
to do.”

“Then what is it that you wish?”

“Your obedience and my liberty.”

“Ah, God!” cried he, “I am a child.”

“A wayward, much spoilt child,” she said, stroking the thick hair,
for his head still lay on her knee. “Ah! and loved far more than he
believes, and yet he is very disobedient. Why not stay as we are? Why
not sacrifice to me the desires that hurt me? Why not take what I can
give, when it is all that I can honestly grant? Are you not happy?”

“Oh yes, I am happy when I have not a doubt left. Antoinette, doubt in
love is a kind of death, is it not?”

In a moment he showed himself as he was, as all men are under the
influence of that hot fever; he grew eloquent, insinuating. And the
Duchess tasted the pleasures which she reconciled with her conscience
by some private, Jesuitical ukase of her own; Armand’s love gave her a
thrill of cerebral excitement which custom made as necessary to her as
society, or the Opera. To feel that she was adored by this man, who rose
above other men, whose character frightened her; to treat him like a
child; to play with him as Poppaea played with Nero--many women, like
the wives of King Henry VIII, have paid for such a perilous delight with
all the blood in their veins. Grim presentiment! Even as she surrendered
the delicate, pale, gold curls to his touch, and felt the close pressure
of his hand, the little hand of a man whose greatness she could not
mistake; even as she herself played with his dark, thick locks, in that
boudoir where she reigned a queen, the Duchess would say to herself:

“This man is capable of killing me if he once finds out that I am
playing with him.”

Armand de Montriveau stayed with her till two o’clock in the morning.
From that moment this woman, whom he loved, was neither a duchess nor a
Navarreins; Antoinette, in her disguises, had gone so far as to appear
to be a woman. On that most blissful evening, the sweetest prelude ever
played by a Parisienne to what the world calls “a slip”; in spite of all
her affectations of a coyness which she did not feel, the General saw
all maidenly beauty in her. He had some excuse for believing that so
many storms of caprice had been but clouds covering a heavenly soul;
that these must be lifted one by one like the veils that hid her divine
loveliness. The Duchess became, for him, the most simple and girlish
mistress; she was the one woman in the world for him; and he went away
quite happy in that at last he had brought her to give him such pledges
of love, that it seemed to him impossible but that he should be but her
husband henceforth in secret, her choice sanctioned by Heaven.

Armand went slowly home, turning this thought in his mind with the
impartiality of a man who is conscious of all the responsibilities that
love lays on him while he tastes the sweetness of its joys. He went
along the Quais to see the widest possible space of sky; his heart had
grown in him; he would fain have had the bounds of the firmament and of
earth enlarged. It seemed to him that his lungs drew an ampler breath.
In the course of his self-examination, as he walked, he vowed to love
this woman so devoutly, that every day of her life she should find
absolution for her sins against society in unfailing happiness. Sweet
stirrings of life when life is at the full! The man that is strong
enough to steep his soul in the colour of one emotion, feels infinite
joy as glimpses open out for him of an ardent lifetime that knows no
diminution of passion to the end; even so it is permitted to certain
mystics, in ecstasy, to behold the Light of God. Love would be naught
without the belief that it would last forever; love grows great
through constancy. It was thus that, wholly absorbed by his happiness,
Montriveau understood passion.

“We belong to each other forever!”

The thought was like a talisman fulfilling the wishes of his life. He
did not ask whether the Duchess might not change, whether her love might
not last. No, for he had faith. Without that virtue there is no future
for Christianity, and perhaps it is even more necessary to society.
A conception of life as feeling occurred to him for the first time;
hitherto he had lived by action, the most strenuous exertion of human
energies, the physical devotion, as it may be called, of the soldier.

Next day M. de Montriveau went early in the direction of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain. He had made an appointment at a house not far from the
Hotel de Langeais; and the business over, he went thither as if to his
own home. The General’s companion chanced to be a man for whom he felt
a kind of repulsion whenever he met him in other houses. This was the
Marquis de Ronquerolles, whose reputation had grown so great in Paris
boudoirs. He was witty, clever, and what was more--courageous; he set
the fashion to all the young men in Paris. As a man of gallantry, his
success and experience were equally matters of envy; and neither fortune
nor birth was wanting in his case, qualifications which add such lustre
in Paris to a reputation as a leader of fashion.

“Where are you going?” asked M. de Ronquerolles.

“To Mme de Langeais’.”

“Ah, true. I forgot that you had allowed her to lime(sp) you. You are
wasting your affections on her when they might be much better employed
elsewhere. I could have told you of half a score of women in the
financial world, any one of them a thousand times better worth your
while than that titled courtesan, who does with her brains what less
artificial women do with----”

“What is this, my dear fellow?” Armand broke in. “The Duchess is an
angel of innocence.”

Ronquerolles began to laugh.

“Things being thus, dear boy,” said he, “it is my duty to enlighten you.
Just a word; there is no harm in it between ourselves. Has the Duchess
surrendered? If so, I have nothing more to say. Come, give me your
confidence. There is no occasion to waste your time in grafting
your great nature on that unthankful stock, when all your hopes and
cultivation will come to nothing.”

Armand ingenuously made a kind of general report of his position,
enumerating with much minuteness the slender rights so hardly won.
Ronquerolles burst into a peal of laughter so heartless, that it would
have cost any other man his life. But from their manner of speaking and
looking at each other during that colloquy beneath the wall, in a corner
almost as remote from intrusion as the desert itself, it was easy to
imagine the friendship between the two men knew no bounds, and that no
power on earth could estrange them.

“My dear Armand, why did you not tell me that the Duchess was a puzzle
to you? I would have given you a little advice which might have brought
your flirtation properly through. You must know, to begin with, that the
women of our Faubourg, like any other women, love to steep themselves in
love; but they have a mind to possess and not to be possessed. They have
made a sort of compromise with human nature. The code of their parish
gives them a pretty wide latitude short of the last transgression. The
sweets enjoyed by this fair Duchess of yours are so many venial sins
to be washed away in the waters of penitence. But if you had the
impertinence to ask in earnest for the moral sin to which naturally
you are sure to attach the highest importance, you would see the deep
disdain with which the door of the boudoir and the house would be
incontinently shut upon you. The tender Antoinette would dismiss
everything from her memory; you would be less than a cipher for her.
She would wipe away your kisses, my dear friend, as indifferently as she
would perform her ablutions. She would sponge love from her cheeks as
she washes off rouge. We know women of that sort--the thorough-bred
Parisienne. Have you ever noticed a grisette tripping along the street?
Her face is as good as a picture. A pretty cap, fresh cheeks, trim hair,
a guileful smile, and the rest of her almost neglected. Is not this true
to the life? Well, that is the Parisienne. She knows that her face is
all that will be seen, so she devotes all her care, finery, and vanity
to her head. The Duchess is the same; the head is everything with her.
She can only feel through her intellect, her heart lies in her brain,
she is a sort of intellectual epicure, she has a head-voice. We call
that kind of poor creature a Lais of the intellect. You have been taken
in like a boy. If you doubt it, you can have proof of it tonight, this
morning, this instant. Go up to her, try the demand as an experiment,
insist peremptorily if it is refused. You might set about it like the
late Marechal de Richelieu, and get nothing for your pains.”

Armand was dumb with amazement.

“Has your desire reached the point of infatuation?”

“I want her at any cost!” Montriveau cried out despairingly.

“Very well. Now, look here. Be as inexorable as she is herself. Try to
humiliate her, to sting her vanity. Do _not_ try to move her heart,
nor her soul, but the woman’s nerves and temperament, for she is both
nervous and lymphatic. If you can once awaken desire in her, you are
safe. But you must drop these romantic boyish notions of yours. If when
once you have her in your eagle’s talons you yield a point or draw back,
if you so much as stir an eyelid, if she thinks that she can regain her
ascendancy over you, she will slip out of your clutches like a fish, and
you will never catch her again. Be as inflexible as law. Show no more
charity than the headsman. Hit hard, and then hit again. Strike and keep
on striking as if you were giving her the knout. Duchesses are made of
hard stuff, my dear Armand; there is a sort of feminine nature that is
only softened by repeated blows; and as suffering develops a heart in
women of that sort, so it is a work of charity not to spare the rod.
Do you persevere. Ah! when pain has thoroughly relaxed those nerves and
softened the fibres that you take to be so pliant and yielding; when
a shriveled heart has learned to expand and contract and to beat under
this discipline; when the brain has capitulated--then, perhaps, passion
may enter among the steel springs of this machinery that turns out tears
and affectations and languors and melting phrases; then you shall see a
most magnificent conflagration (always supposing that the chimney takes
fire). The steel feminine system will glow red-hot like iron in the
forge; that kind of heat lasts longer than any other, and the glow of it
may possibly turn to love.

“Still,” he continued, “I have my doubts. And, after all, is it worth
while to take so much trouble with the Duchess? Between ourselves a man
of my stamp ought first to take her in hand and break her in; I would
make a charming woman of her; she is a thoroughbred; whereas, you two
left to yourselves will never get beyond the A B C. But you are in love
with her, and just now you might not perhaps share my views on this
subject----. A pleasant time to you, my children,” added Ronquerolles,
after a pause. Then with a laugh: “I have decided myself for facile
beauties; they are tender, at any rate, the natural woman appears in
their love without any of your social seasonings. A woman that haggles
over herself, my poor boy, and only means to inspire love! Well, have
her like an extra horse--for show. The match between the sofa and
confessional, black and white, queen and knight, conscientious scruples
and pleasure, is an uncommonly amusing game of chess. And if a man knows
the game, let him be never so little of a rake, he wins in three moves.
Now, if I undertook a woman of that sort, I should start with the
deliberate purpose of----” His voice sank to a whisper over the last
words in Armand’s ear, and he went before there was time to reply.

As for Montriveau, he sprang at a bound across the courtyard of the
Hotel de Langeais, went unannounced up the stairs straight to the
Duchess’s bedroom.

“This is an unheard-of thing,” she said, hastily wrapping her
dressing-gown about her. “Armand! this is abominable of you! Come, leave
the room, I beg. Just go out of the room, and go at once. Wait for me in
the drawing-room.--Come now!”

“Dear angel, has a plighted lover no privilege whatsoever?”

“But, monsieur, it is in the worst possible taste of a plighted lover or
a wedded husband to break in like this upon his wife.”

He came up to the Duchess, took her in his arms, and held her tightly to
him.

“Forgive, dear Antoinette; but a host of horrid doubts are fermenting in
my heart.”

“_Doubts_? Fie!--Oh, fie on you!”

“Doubts all but justified. If you loved me, would you make this quarrel?
Would you not be glad to see me? Would you not have felt a something
stir in your heart? For I, that am not a woman, feel a thrill in my
inmost self at the mere sound of your voice. Often in a ballroom a
longing has come upon me to spring to your side and put my arms about
your neck.”

“Oh! if you have doubts of me so long as I am not ready to spring to
your arms before all the world, I shall be doubted all my life long, I
suppose. Why, Othello was a mere child compared with you!”

“Ah!” he cried despairingly, “you have no love for me----”

“Admit, at any rate, that at this moment you are not lovable.”

“Then I have still to find favour in your sight?”

“Oh, I should think so. Come,” added she, “with a little imperious air,
go out of the room, leave me. I am not like you; I wish always to find
favour in your eyes.”

Never woman better understood the art of putting charm into insolence,
and does not the charm double the effect? is it not enough to infuriate
the coolest of men? There was a sort of untrammeled freedom about Mme
de Langeais; a something in her eyes, her voice, her attitude, which is
never seen in a woman who loves when she stands face to face with him at
the mere sight of whom her heart must needs begin to beat. The Marquis
de Ronquerolles’ counsels had cured Armand of sheepishness; and further,
there came to his aid that rapid power of intuition which passion will
develop at moments in the least wise among mortals, while a great man
at such a time possesses it to the full. He guessed the terrible truth
revealed by the Duchess’s nonchalance, and his heart swelled with the
storm like a lake rising in flood.

“If you told me the truth yesterday, be mine, dear Antoinette,” he
cried; “you shall----”

“In the first place,” said she composedly, thrusting him back as he
came nearer--“in the first place, you are not to compromise me. My woman
might overhear you. Respect me, I beg of you. Your familiarity is all
very well in my boudoir in an evening; here it is quite different.
Besides, what may your ‘you shall’ mean? ‘You shall.’ No one as yet
has ever used that word to me. It is quite ridiculous, it seems to me,
absolutely ridiculous.

“Will you surrender nothing to me on this point?”

“Oh! do you call a woman’s right to dispose of herself a ‘point?’ A
capital point indeed; you will permit me to be entirely my own mistress
on that ‘point.’”

“And how if, believing in your promises to me, I should absolutely
require it?”

“Oh! then you would prove that I made the greatest possible mistake when
I made you a promise of any kind; and I should beg you to leave me in
peace.”

The General’s face grew white; he was about to spring to her side, when
Mme de Langeais rang the bell, the maid appeared, and, smiling with a
mocking grace, the Duchess added, “Be so good as to return when I am
visible.”

Then Montriveau felt the hardness of a woman as cold and keen as a steel
blade; she was crushing in her scorn. In one moment she had snapped
the bonds which held firm only for her lover. She had read Armand’s
intention in his face, and held that the moment had come for teaching
the Imperial soldier his lesson. He was to be made to feel that though
duchesses may lend themselves to love, they do not give themselves, and
that the conquest of one of them would prove a harder matter than the
conquest of Europe.

“Madame,” returned Armand, “I have not time to wait. I am a spoilt
child, as you told me yourself. When I seriously resolve to have that of
which we have been speaking, I shall have it.”

“You will have it?” queried she, and there was a trace of surprise in
her loftiness.

“I shall have it.”

“Oh! you would do me a great pleasure by ‘resolving’ to have it. For
curiosity’s sake, I should be delighted to know how you would set about
it----”

“I am delighted to put a new interest into your life,” interrupted
Montriveau, breaking into a laugh which dismayed the Duchess. “Will you
permit me to take you to the ball tonight?”

“A thousand thanks. M. de Marsay has been beforehand with you. I gave
him my promise.”

Montriveau bowed gravely and went.

“So Ronquerolles was right,” thought he, “and now for a game of chess.”

Thenceforward he hid his agitation by complete composure. No man is
strong enough to bear such sudden alternations from the height of
happiness to the depths of wretchedness. So he had caught a glimpse of
happy life the better to feel the emptiness of his previous existence?
There was a terrible storm within him; but he had learned to endure,
and bore the shock of tumultuous thoughts as a granite cliff stands out
against the surge of an angry sea.

“I could say nothing. When I am with her my wits desert me. She does not
know how vile and contemptible she is. Nobody has ventured to bring her
face to face with herself. She has played with many a man, no doubt; I
will avenge them all.”

For the first time, it may be, in a man’s heart, revenge and love were
blended so equally that Montriveau himself could not know whether love
or revenge would carry all before it. That very evening he went to the
ball at which he was sure of seeing the Duchesse de Langeais, and almost
despaired of reaching her heart. He inclined to think that there was
something diabolical about this woman, who was gracious to him and
radiant with charming smiles; probably because she had no wish to
allow the world to think that she had compromised herself with M. de
Montriveau. Coolness on both sides is a sign of love; but so long as
the Duchess was the same as ever, while the Marquis looked sullen and
morose, was it not plain that she had conceded nothing? Onlookers know
the rejected lover by various signs and tokens; they never mistake the
genuine symptoms for a coolness such as some women command their adorers
to feign, in the hope of concealing their love. Everyone laughed at
Montriveau; and he, having omitted to consult his cornac, was abstracted
and ill at ease. M. de Ronquerolles would very likely have bidden him
compromise the Duchess by responding to her show of friendliness by
passionate demonstrations; but as it was, Armand de Montriveau came away
from the ball, loathing human nature, and even then scarcely ready to
believe in such complete depravity.

“If there is no executioner for such crimes,” he said, as he looked up
at the lighted windows of the ballroom where the most enchanting women
in Paris were dancing, laughing, and chatting, “I will take you by the
nape of the neck, Mme la Duchesse, and make you feel something that
bites more deeply than the knife in the Place de la Greve. Steel against
steel; we shall see which heart will leave the deeper mark.”

For a week or so Mme de Langeais hoped to see the Marquis de Montriveau
again; but he contented himself with sending his card every morning to
the Hotel de Langeais. The Duchess could not help shuddering each time
that the card was brought in, and a dim foreboding crossed her mind, but
the thought was vague as a presentiment of disaster. When her eyes fell
on the name, it seemed to her that she felt the touch of the implacable
man’s strong hand in her hair; sometimes the words seemed like a
prognostication of a vengeance which her lively intellect invented in
the most shocking forms. She had studied him too well not to dread him.
Would he murder her, she wondered? Would that bull-necked man dash out
her vitals by flinging her over his head? Would he trample her body
under his feet? When, where, and how would he get her into his power?
Would he make her suffer very much, and what kind of pain would he
inflict? She repented of her conduct. There were hours when, if he had
come, she would have gone to his arms in complete self-surrender.

Every night before she slept she saw Montriveau’s face; every night it
wore a different aspect. Sometimes she saw his bitter smile, sometimes
the Jovelike knitting of the brows; or his leonine look, or some
disdainful movement of the shoulders made him terrible for her. Next day
the card seemed stained with blood. The name of Montriveau stirred her
now as the presence of the fiery, stubborn, exacting lover had never
done. Her apprehensions gathered strength in the silence. She was
forced, without aid from without, to face the thought of a hideous duel
of which she could not speak. Her proud hard nature was more responsive
to thrills of hate than it had ever been to the caresses of love. Ah! if
the General could but have seen her, as she sat with her forehead
drawn into folds between her brows; immersed in bitter thoughts in that
boudoir where he had enjoyed such happy moments, he might perhaps
have conceived high hopes. Of all human passions, is not pride alone
incapable of engendering anything base? Mme de Langeais kept her
thoughts to herself, but is it not permissible to suppose that M. de
Montriveau was no longer indifferent to her? And has not a man gained
ground immensely when a woman thinks about him? He is bound to make
progress with her either one way or the other afterwards.

Put any feminine creature under the feet of a furious horse or other
fearsome beast; she will certainly drop on her knees and look for death;
but if the brute shows a milder mood and does not utterly slay her,
she will love the horse, lion, bull, or what not, and will speak of him
quite at her ease. The Duchess felt that she was under the lion’s paws;
she quaked, but she did not hate him.

The man and woman thus singularly placed with regard to each other met
three times in society during the course of that week. Each time,
in reply to coquettish questioning glances, the Duchess received a
respectful bow, and smiles tinged with such savage irony, that all her
apprehensions over the card in the morning were revived at night.
Our lives are simply such as our feelings shape them for us; and the
feelings of these two had hollowed out a great gulf between them.

The Comtesse de Serizy, the Marquis de Ronquerolles’ sister, gave a
great ball at the beginning of the following week, and Mme de Langeais
was sure to go to it. Armand was the first person whom the Duchess saw
when she came into the room, and this time Armand was looking out for
her, or so she thought at least. The two exchanged a look, and suddenly
the woman felt a cold perspiration break from every pore. She had
thought all along that Montriveau was capable of taking reprisals in
some unheard-of way proportioned to their condition, and now the revenge
had been discovered, it was ready, heated, and boiling. Lightnings
flashed from the foiled lover’s eyes, his face was radiant with exultant
vengeance. And the Duchess? Her eyes were haggard in spite of her
resolution to be cool and insolent. She went to take her place beside
the Comtesse de Serizy, who could not help exclaiming, “Dear Antoinette!
what is the matter with you? You are enough to frighten one.”

“I shall be all right after a quadrille,” she answered, giving a hand to
a young man who came up at that moment.

Mme de Langeais waltzed that evening with a sort of excitement and
transport which redoubled Montriveau’s lowering looks. He stood in front
of the line of spectators, who were amusing themselves by looking on.
Every time that _she_ came past him, his eyes darted down upon her
eddying face; he might have been a tiger with the prey in his grasp. The
waltz came to an end, Mme de Langeais went back to her place beside the
Countess, and Montriveau never took his eyes off her, talking all the
while with a stranger.

“One of the things that struck me most on the journey,” he was saying
(and the Duchess listened with all her ears), “was the remark which the
man makes at Westminster when you are shown the axe with which a man in
a mask cut off Charles the First’s head, so they tell you. The King made
it first of all to some inquisitive person, and they repeat it still in
memory of him.”

“What does the man say?” asked Mme de Serizy.

“‘Do not touch the axe!’” replied Montriveau, and there was menace in
the sound of his voice.

“Really, my Lord Marquis,” said Mme de Langeais, “you tell this old
story that everybody knows if they have been to London, and look at my
neck in such a melodramatic way that you seem to me to have an axe in
your hand.”

The Duchess was in a cold sweat, but nevertheless she laughed as she
spoke the last words.

“But circumstances give the story a quite new application,” returned he.

“How so; pray tell me, for pity’s sake?”

“In this way, madame--you have touched the axe,” said Montriveau,
lowering his voice.

“What an enchanting prophecy!” returned she, smiling with assumed grace.
“And when is my head to fall?”

“I have no wish to see that pretty head of yours cut off. I only fear
some great misfortune for you. If your head were clipped close, would
you feel no regrets for the dainty golden hair that you turn to such
good account?”

“There are those for whom a woman would love to make such a sacrifice;
even if, as often happens, it is for the sake of a man who cannot make
allowances for an outbreak of temper.”

“Quite so. Well, and if some wag were to spoil your beauty on a sudden
by some chemical process, and you, who are but eighteen for us, were to
be a hundred years old?”

“Why, the smallpox is our Battle of Waterloo, monsieur,” she
interrupted. “After it is over we find out those who love us sincerely.”

“Would you not regret the lovely face that?”

“Oh! indeed I should, but less for my own sake than for the sake of
someone else whose delight it might have been. And, after all, if I were
loved, always loved, and truly loved, what would my beauty matter to
me?--What do you say, Clara?”

“It is a dangerous speculation,” replied Mme de Serizy.

“Is it permissible to ask His Majesty the King of Sorcerers when I made
the mistake of touching the axe, since I have not been to London as
yet?----”

“_Not so_,” he answered in English, with a burst of ironical laughter.

“And when will the punishment begin?”

At this Montriveau coolly took out his watch, and ascertained the hour
with a truly appalling air of conviction.

“A dreadful misfortune will befall you before this day is out.”

“I am not a child to be easily frightened, or rather, I am a child
ignorant of danger,” said the Duchess. “I shall dance now without fear
on the edge of the precipice.”

“I am delighted to know that you have so much strength of character,” he
answered, as he watched her go to take her place in a square dance.

But the Duchess, in spite of her apparent contempt for Armand’s dark
prophecies, was really frightened. Her late lover’s presence weighed
upon her morally and physically with a sense of oppression that scarcely
ceased when he left the ballroom. And yet when she had drawn freer
breath, and enjoyed the relief for a moment, she found herself
regretting the sensation of dread, so greedy of extreme sensations is
the feminine nature. The regret was not love, but it was certainly akin
to other feelings which prepare the way for love. And then--as if the
impression which Montriveau had made upon her were suddenly revived--she
recollected his air of conviction as he took out his watch, and in a
sudden spasm of dread she went out.

By this time it was about midnight. One of her servants, waiting with
her pelisse, went down to order her carriage. On her way home she fell
naturally enough to musing over M. de Montriveau’s prediction. Arrived
in her own courtyard, as she supposed, she entered a vestibule almost
like that of her own hotel, and suddenly saw that the staircase was
different. She was in a strange house. Turning to call her servants, she
was attacked by several men, who rapidly flung a handkerchief over her
mouth, bound her hand and foot, and carried her off. She shrieked aloud.

“Madame, our orders are to kill you if you scream,” a voice said in her
ear.

So great was the Duchess’s terror, that she could never recollect how
nor by whom she was transported. When she came to herself, she was lying
on a couch in a bachelor’s lodging, her hands and feet tied with silken
cords. In spite of herself, she shrieked aloud as she looked round and
met Armand de Montriveau’s eyes. He was sitting in his dressing-gown,
quietly smoking a cigar in his armchair.

“Do not cry out, Mme la Duchesse,” he said, coolly taking the cigar out
of his mouth; “I have a headache. Besides, I will untie you. But listen
attentively to what I have the honour to say to you.”

Very carefully he untied the knots that bound her feet.

“What would be the use of calling out? Nobody can hear your cries.
You are too well bred to make any unnecessary fuss. If you do not stay
quietly, if you insist upon a struggle with me, I shall tie your
hands and feet again. All things considered, I think that you have
self-respect enough to stay on this sofa as if you were lying on your
own at home; cold as ever, if you will. You have made me shed many tears
on this couch, tears that I hid from all other eyes.”

While Montriveau was speaking, the Duchess glanced about her; it was
a woman’s glance, a stolen look that saw all things and seemed to see
nothing. She was much pleased with the room. It was rather like a
monk’s cell. The man’s character and thoughts seemed to pervade it. No
decoration of any kind broke the grey painted surface of the walls.
A green carpet covered the floor. A black sofa, a table littered with
papers, two big easy-chairs, a chest of drawers with an alarum clock by
way of ornament, a very low bedstead with a coverlet flung over it--a
red cloth with a black key border--all these things made part of a
whole that told of a life reduced to its simplest terms. A triple
candle-sconce of Egyptian design on the chimney-piece recalled the
vast spaces of the desert and Montriveau’s long wanderings; a huge
sphinx-claw stood out beneath the folds of stuff at the bed-foot;
and just beyond, a green curtain with a black and scarlet border was
suspended by large rings from a spear handle above a door near one
corner of the room. The other door by which the band had entered was
likewise curtained, but the drapery hung from an ordinary curtain-rod.
As the Duchess finally noted that the pattern was the same on both, she
saw that the door at the bed-foot stood open; gleams of ruddy light
from the room beyond flickered below the fringed border. Naturally, the
ominous light roused her curiosity; she fancied she could distinguish
strange shapes in the shadows; but as it did not occur to her at the
time that danger could come from that quarter, she tried to gratify a
more ardent curiosity.

“Monsieur, if it is not indiscreet, may I ask what you mean to do with
me?” The insolence and irony of the tone stung through the words. The
Duchess quite believed that she read extravagant love in Montriveau’s
speech. He had carried her off; was not that in itself an acknowledgment
of her power?

“Nothing whatever, madame,” he returned, gracefully puffing the last
whiff of cigar smoke. “You will remain here for a short time. First
of all, I should like to explain to you what you are, and what I am. I
cannot put my thoughts into words whilst you are twisting on the sofa
in your boudoir; and besides, in your own house you take offence at the
slightest hint, you ring the bell, make an outcry, and turn your lover
out at the door as if he were the basest of wretches. Here my mind is
unfettered. Here nobody can turn me out. Here you shall be my victim for
a few seconds, and you are going to be so exceedingly kind as to listen
to me. You need fear nothing. I did not carry you off to insult you, nor
yet to take by force what you refused to grant of your own will to my
unworthiness. I could not stoop so low. You possibly think of outrage;
for myself, I have no such thoughts.”

He flung his cigar coolly into the fire.

“The smoke is unpleasant to you, no doubt, madame?” he said, and rising
at once, he took a chafing-dish from the hearth, burnt perfumes, and
purified the air. The Duchess’s astonishment was only equaled by her
humiliation. She was in this man’s power; and he would not abuse his
power. The eyes in which love had once blazed like flame were now quiet
and steady as stars. She trembled. Her dread of Armand was increased by
a nightmare sensation of restlessness and utter inability to move; she
felt as if she were turned to stone. She lay passive in the grip of
fear. She thought she saw the light behind the curtains grow to a blaze,
as if blown up by a pair of bellows; in another moment the gleams of
flame grew brighter, and she fancied that three masked figures suddenly
flashed out; but the terrible vision disappeared so swiftly that she
took it for an optical delusion.

“Madame,” Armand continued with cold contempt, “one minute, just one
minute is enough for me, and you shall feel it afterwards at every
moment throughout your lifetime, the one eternity over which I have
power. I am not God. Listen carefully to me,” he continued, pausing to
add solemnity to his words. “Love will always come at your call. You
have boundless power over men: but remember that once you called love,
and love came to you; love as pure and true-hearted as may be on earth,
and as reverent as it was passionate; fond as a devoted woman’s, as a
mother’s love; a love so great indeed, that it was past the bounds of
reason. You played with it, and you committed a crime. Every woman has a
right to refuse herself to love which she feels she cannot share; and
if a man loves and cannot win love in return, he is not to be pitied,
he has no right to complain. But with a semblance of love to attract
an unfortunate creature cut off from all affection; to teach him to
understand happiness to the full, only to snatch it from him; to rob him
of his future of felicity; to slay his happiness not merely today,
but as long as his life lasts, by poisoning every hour of it and every
thought--this I call a fearful crime!”

“Monsieur----”

“I cannot allow you to answer me yet. So listen to me still. In any case
I have rights over you; but I only choose to exercise one--the right of
the judge over the criminal, so that I may arouse your conscience. If
you had no conscience left, I should not reproach you at all; but you
are so young! You must feel some life still in your heart; or so I like
to believe. While I think of you as depraved enough to do a wrong which
the law does not punish, I do not think you so degraded that you cannot
comprehend the full meaning of my words. I resume.”

As he spoke the Duchess heard the smothered sound of a pair of bellows.
Those mysterious figures which she had just seen were blowing up the
fire, no doubt; the glow shone through the curtain. But Montriveau’s
lurid face was turned upon her; she could not choose but wait with a
fast-beating heart and eyes fixed in a stare. However curious she felt,
the heat in Armand’s words interested her even more than the crackling
of the mysterious flames.

“Madame,” he went on after a pause, “if some poor wretch commits a
murder in Paris, it is the executioner’s duty, you know, to lay hands on
him and stretch him on the plank, where murderers pay for their crimes
with their heads. Then the newspapers inform everyone, rich and poor, so
that the former are assured that they may sleep in peace, and the latter
are warned that they must be on the watch if they would live. Well, you
that are religious, and even a little of a bigot, may have masses said
for such a man’s soul. You both belong to the same family, but yours is
the elder branch; and the elder branch may occupy high places in peace
and live happily and without cares. Want or anger may drive your brother
the convict to take a man’s life; you have taken more, you have taken
the joy out of a man’s life, you have killed all that was best in his
life--his dearest beliefs. The murderer simply lay in wait for his
victim, and killed him reluctantly, and in fear of the scaffold; but
_you_ ...! You heaped up every sin that weakness can commit against
strength that suspected no evil; you tamed a passive victim, the better
to gnaw his heart out; you lured him with caresses; you left nothing
undone that could set him dreaming, imagining, longing for the bliss of
love. You asked innumerable sacrifices of him, only to refuse to make
any in return. He should see the light indeed before you put out his
eyes! It is wonderful how you found the heart to do it! Such villainies
demand a display of resource quite above the comprehension of those
bourgeoises whom you laugh at and despise. They can give and forgive;
they know how to love and suffer. The grandeur of their devotion dwarfs
us. Rising higher in the social scale, one finds just as much mud as at
the lower end; but with this difference, at the upper end it is hard and
gilded over.

“Yes, to find baseness in perfection, you must look for a noble bringing
up, a great name, a fair woman, a duchess. You cannot fall lower than
the lowest unless you are set high above the rest of the world.--I
express my thoughts badly; the wounds you dealt me are too painful as
yet, but do not think that I complain. My words are not the expression
of any hope for myself; there is no trace of bitterness in them. Know
this, madame, for a certainty--I forgive you. My forgiveness is so
complete that you need not feel in the least sorry that you came hither
to find it against your will.... But you might take advantage of other
hearts as child-like as my own, and it is my duty to spare them anguish.
So you have inspired the thought of justice. Expiate your sin here
on earth; God may perhaps forgive you; I wish that He may, but He is
inexorable, and will strike.”

The broken-spirited, broken-hearted woman looked up, her eyes filled
with tears.

“Why do you cry? Be true to your nature. You could look on indifferently
at the torture of a heart as you broke it. That will do, madame, do not
cry. I cannot bear it any longer. Other men will tell you that you have
given them life; as for myself, I tell you, with rapture, that you have
given me blank extinction. Perhaps you guess that I am not my own, that
I am bound to live for my friends, that from this time forth I must
endure the cold chill of death, as well as the burden of life? Is it
possible that there can be so much kindness in you? Are you like the
desert tigress that licks the wounds she has inflicted?”

The Duchess burst out sobbing.

“Pray spare your tears, madame. If I believed in them at all, it would
merely set me on my guard. Is this another of your artifices? or is it
not? You have used so many with me; how can one think that there is any
truth in you? Nothing that you do or say has any power now to move me.
That is all I have to say.”

Mme de Langeais rose to her feet, with a great dignity and humility in
her bearing.

“You are right to treat me very hardly,” she said, holding out a hand to
the man who did not take it; “you have not spoken hardly enough; and I
deserve this punishment.”

“_I_ punish you, madame! A man must love still, to punish, must he not?
From me you must expect no feeling, nothing resembling it. If I chose, I
might be accuser and judge in my cause, and pronounce and carry out the
sentence. But I am about to fulfil a duty, not a desire of vengeance of
any kind. The cruelest revenge of all, I think, is scorn of revenge when
it is in our power to take it. Perhaps I shall be the minister of your
pleasures; who knows? Perhaps from this time forth, as you gracefully
wear the tokens of disgrace by which society marks out the criminal, you
may perforce learn something of the convict’s sense of honour. And then,
you will love!”

The Duchess sat listening; her meekness was unfeigned; it was no
coquettish device. When she spoke at last, it was after a silence.

“Armand,” she began, “it seems to me that when I resisted love, I was
obeying all the instincts of woman’s modesty; I should not have looked
for such reproaches from _you_. I was weak; you have turned all my
weaknesses against me, and made so many crimes of them. How could you
fail to understand that the curiosity of love might have carried me
further than I ought to go; and that next morning I might be angry
with myself, and wretched because I had gone too far? Alas! I sinned in
ignorance. I was as sincere in my wrongdoing, I swear to you, as in
my remorse. There was far more love for you in my severity than in my
concessions. And besides, of what do you complain? I gave you my heart;
that was not enough; you demanded, brutally, that I should give my
person----”

“Brutally?” repeated Montriveau. But to himself he said, “If I once
allow her to dispute over words, I am lost.”

“Yes. You came to me as if I were one of those women. You showed none
of the respect, none of the attentions of love. Had I not reason to
reflect? Very well, I reflected. The unseemliness of your conduct is not
inexcusable; love lay at the source of it; let me think so, and
justify you to myself.--Well, Armand, this evening, even while you were
prophesying evil, I felt convinced that there was happiness in store for
us both. Yes, I put my faith in the noble, proud nature so often tested
and proved.” She bent lower. “And I was yours wholly,” she murmured in
his ear. “I felt a longing that I cannot express to give happiness to a
man so violently tried by adversity. If I must have a master, my master
should be a great man. As I felt conscious of my height, the less I
cared to descend. I felt I could trust you, I saw a whole lifetime of
love, while you were pointing to death.... Strength and kindness always
go together. My friend, you are so strong, you will not be unkind to
a helpless woman who loves you. If I was wrong, is there no way of
obtaining forgiveness? No way of making reparation? Repentance is the
charm of love; I should like to be very charming for you. How could I,
alone among women, fail to know a woman’s doubts and fears, the timidity
that it is so natural to feel when you bind yourself for life, and
know how easily a man snaps such ties? The bourgeoises, with whom you
compared me just now, give themselves, but they struggle first. Very
well--I struggled; but here I am!--Ah! God, he does not hear me!” she
broke off, and wringing her hands, she cried out “But I love you! I am
yours!” and fell at Armand’s feet.

“Yours! yours! my one and only master!”

Armand tried to raise her.

“Madame, it is too late! Antoinette cannot save the Duchesse de
Langeais. I cannot believe in either. Today you may give yourself;
tomorrow, you may refuse. No power in earth or heaven can insure me the
sweet constancy of love. All love’s pledges lay in the past; and now
nothing of that past exists.”

The light behind the curtain blazed up so brightly, that the Duchess
could not help turning her head; this time she distinctly saw the three
masked figures.

“Armand,” she said, “I would not wish to think ill of you. Why are those
men there? What are you going to do to me?”

“Those men will be as silent as I myself with regard to the thing which
is about to be done. Think of them simply as my hands and my heart. One
of them is a surgeon----”

“A surgeon! Armand, my friend, of all things, suspense is the hardest
to bear. Just speak; tell me if you wish for my life; I will give it to
you, you shall not take it----”

“Then you did not understand me? Did I not speak just now of justice?
To put an end to your misapprehensions,” continued he, taking up a small
steel object from the table, “I will now explain what I have decided
with regard to you.”

He held out a Lorraine cross, fastened to the tip of a steel rod.

“Two of my friends at this very moment are heating another cross, made
on this pattern, red-hot. We are going to stamp it upon your forehead,
here between the eyes, so that there will be no possibility of hiding
the mark with diamonds, and so avoiding people’s questions. In short,
you shall bear on your forehead the brand of infamy which your brothers
the convicts wear on their shoulders. The pain is a mere trifle, but I
feared a nervous crisis of some kind, of resistance----”

“Resistance?” she cried, clapping her hands for joy. “Oh no, no! I would
have the whole world here to see. Ah, my Armand, brand her quickly,
this creature of yours; brand her with your mark as a poor little trifle
belonging to you. You asked for pledges of my love; here they are all in
one. Ah! for me there is nothing but mercy and forgiveness and eternal
happiness in this revenge of yours. When you have marked this woman with
your mark, when you set your crimson brand on her, your slave in soul,
you can never afterwards abandon her, you will be mine for evermore?
When you cut me off from my kind, you make yourself responsible for my
happiness, or you prove yourself base; and I know that you are noble and
great! Why, when a woman loves, the brand of love is burnt into her
soul by her own will.--Come in, gentlemen! come in and brand her,
this Duchesse de Langeais. She is M. de Montriveau’s forever! Ah! come
quickly, all of you, my forehead burns hotter than your fire!”

Armand turned his head sharply away lest he should see the Duchess
kneeling, quivering with the throbbings of her heart. He said some word,
and his three friends vanished.

The women of Paris salons know how one mirror reflects another. The
Duchess, with every motive for reading the depths of Armand’s heart, was
all eyes; and Armand, all unsuspicious of the mirror, brushed away two
tears as they fell. Her whole future lay in those two tears. When he
turned round again to help her to rise, she was standing before him,
sure of love. Her pulses must have throbbed fast when he spoke with the
firmness she had known so well how to use of old while she played with
him.

“I spare you, madame. All that has taken place shall be as if it had
never been, you may believe me. But now, let us bid each other goodbye.
I like to think that you were sincere in your coquetries on your sofa,
sincere again in this outpouring of your heart. Good-bye. I feel that
there is no faith in you left in me. You would torment me again; you
would always be the Duchess, and----But there, good-bye, we shall never
understand each other.

“Now, what do you wish?” he continued, taking the tone of a master of
the ceremonies--“to return home, or to go back to Mme de Serizy’s
ball? I have done all in my power to prevent any scandal. Neither your
servants nor anyone else can possibly know what has passed between us
in the last quarter of an hour. Your servants have no idea that you have
left the ballroom; your carriage never left Mme de Serizy’s courtyard;
your brougham may likewise be found in the court of your own hotel.
Where do you wish to be?”

“What do you counsel, Armand?”

“There is no Armand now, Mme la Duchesse. We are strangers to each
other.”

“Then take me to the ball,” she said, still curious to put Armand’s
power to the test. “Thrust a soul that suffered in the world, and must
always suffer there, if there is no happiness for her now, down into
hell again. And yet, oh my friend, I love you as your bourgeoises love;
I love you so that I could come to you and fling my arms about your neck
before all the world if you asked it off me. The hateful world has not
corrupted me. I am young at least, and I have grown younger still. I am
a child, yes, your child, your new creature. Ah! do not drive me forth
out of my Eden!”

Armand shook his head.

“Ah! let me take something with me, if I go, some little thing to wear
tonight on my heart,” she said, taking possession of Armand’s glove,
which she twisted into her handkerchief.

“No, I am _not_ like all those depraved women. You do not know the
world, and so you cannot know my worth. You shall know it now! There are
women who sell themselves for money; there are others to be gained by
gifts, it is a vile world! Oh, I wish I were a simple bourgeoise, a
working girl, if you would rather have a woman beneath you than a woman
whose devotion is accompanied by high rank, as men count it. Oh, my
Armand, there are noble, high, and chaste and pure natures among us;
and then they are lovely indeed. I would have all nobleness that I might
offer it all up to you. Misfortune willed that I should be a duchess;
I would I were a royal princess, that my offering might be complete. I
would be a grisette for you, and a queen for everyone besides.”

He listened, damping his cigars with his lips.

“You will let me know when you wish to go,” he said.

“But I should like to stay----”

“That is another matter!”

“Stay, that was badly rolled,” she cried, seizing on a cigar and
devouring all that Armand’s lips had touched.

“Do you smoke?”

“Oh, what would I not do to please you?”

“Very well. Go, madame.”

“I will obey you,” she answered, with tears in her eyes.

“You must be blindfolded; you must not see a glimpse of the way.”

“I am ready, Armand,” she said, bandaging her eyes.

“Can you see?”

“No.”

Noiselessly he knelt before her.

“Ah! I can hear you!” she cried, with a little fond gesture, thinking
that the pretence of harshness was over.

He made as if he would kiss her lips; she held up her face.

“You can see, madame.”

“I am just a little bit curious.”

“So you always deceive me?”

“Ah! take off this handkerchief, sir,” she cried out, with the passion
of a great generosity repelled with scorn, “lead me; I will not open my
eyes.”

Armand felt sure of her after that cry. He led the way; the Duchess
nobly true to her word, was blind. But while Montriveau held her hand
as a father might, and led her up and down flights of stairs, he was
studying the throbbing pulses of this woman’s heart so suddenly invaded
by Love. Mme de Langeais, rejoicing in this power of speech, was glad to
let him know all; but he was inflexible; his hand was passive in reply
to the questionings of her hand.

At length, after some journey made together, Armand bade her go forward;
the opening was doubtless narrow, for as she went she felt that his hand
protected her dress. His care touched her; it was a revelation surely
that there was a little love still left; yet it was in some sort a
farewell, for Montriveau left her without a word. The air was warm; the
Duchess, feeling the heat, opened her eyes, and found herself standing
by the fire in the Comtesse de Serizy’s boudoir.

She was alone. Her first thought was for her disordered toilette; in a
moment she had adjusted her dress and restored her picturesque coiffure.

“Well, dear Antoinette, we have been looking for you everywhere.” It was
the Comtesse de Serizy who spoke as she opened the door.

“I came here to breathe,” said the Duchess; “it is unbearably hot in the
rooms.”

“People thought that you had gone; but my brother Ronquerolles told me
that your servants were waiting for you.”

“I am tired out, dear, let me stay and rest here for a minute,” and the
Duchess sat down on the sofa.

“Why, what is the matter with you? You are shaking from head to foot!”

The Marquis de Ronquerolles came in.

“Mme la Duchesse, I was afraid that something might have happened. I
have just come across your coachman, the man is as tipsy as all the
Swiss in Switzerland.”

The Duchess made no answer; she was looking round the room, at the
chimney-piece and the tall mirrors, seeking the trace of an opening.
Then with an extraordinary sensation she recollected that she was again
in the midst of the gaiety of the ballroom after that terrific scene
which had changed the whole course of her life. She began to shiver
violently.

“M. de Montriveau’s prophecy has shaken my nerves,” she said. “It was
a joke, but still I will see whether his axe from London will haunt me
even in my sleep. So good-bye, dear.--Good-bye, M. le Marquis.”

As she went through the rooms she was beset with inquiries and regrets.
Her world seemed to have dwindled now that she, its queen, had fallen so
low, was so diminished. And what, moreover, were these men compared with
him whom she loved with all her heart; with the man grown great by all
that she had lost in stature? The giant had regained the height that he
had lost for a while, and she exaggerated it perhaps beyond measure. She
looked, in spite of herself, at the servant who had attended her to the
ball. He was fast asleep.

“Have you been here all the time?” she asked.

“Yes, madame.”

As she took her seat in her carriage she saw, in fact, that her coachman
was drunk--so drunk, that at any other time she would have been afraid;
but after a great crisis in life, fear loses its appetite for common
food. She reached home, at any rate, without accident; but even there
she felt a change in herself, a new feeling that she could not shake
off. For her, there was now but one man in the world; which is to say
that henceforth she cared to shine for his sake alone.

While the physiologist can define love promptly by following out natural
laws, the moralist finds a far more perplexing problem before him if
he attempts to consider love in all its developments due to social
conditions. Still, in spite of the heresies of the endless sects that
divide the church of Love, there is one broad and trenchant line of
difference in doctrine, a line that all the discussion in the world can
never deflect. A rigid application of this line explains the nature
of the crisis through which the Duchess, like most women, was to pass.
Passion she knew, but she did not love as yet.

Love and passion are two different conditions which poets and men of the
world, philosophers and fools, alike continually confound. Love implies
a give and take, a certainty of bliss that nothing can change; it
means so close a clinging of the heart, and an exchange of happiness so
constant, that there is no room left for jealousy. Then possession is a
means and not an end; unfaithfulness may give pain, but the bond is not
less close; the soul is neither more nor less ardent or troubled, but
happy at every moment; in short, the divine breath of desire spreading
from end to end of the immensity of Time steeps it all for us in the
selfsame hue; life takes the tint of the unclouded heaven. But Passion
is the foreshadowing of Love, and of that Infinite to which all
suffering souls aspire. Passion is a hope that may be cheated. Passion
means both suffering and transition. Passion dies out when hope is
dead. Men and women may pass through this experience many times without
dishonor, for it is so natural to spring towards happiness; but there is
only one love in a lifetime. All discussions of sentiment ever
conducted on paper or by word of mouth may therefore be resumed by
two questions--“Is it passion? Is it love?” So, since love comes into
existence only through the intimate experience of the bliss which gives
it lasting life, the Duchess was beneath the yoke of passion as yet; and
as she knew the fierce tumult, the unconscious calculations, the fevered
cravings, and all that is meant by that word _passion_--she suffered.
Through all the trouble of her soul there rose eddying gusts of tempest,
raised by vanity or self-love, or pride or a high spirit; for all these
forms of egoism make common cause together.

She had said to this man, “I love you; I am yours!” Was it possible that
the Duchesse de Langeais should have uttered those words--in vain? She
must either be loved now or play her part of queen no longer. And then
she felt the loneliness of the luxurious couch where pleasure had never
yet set his glowing feet; and over and over again, while she tossed and
writhed there, she said, “I want to be loved.”

But the belief that she still had in herself gave her hope of success.
The Duchess might be piqued, the vain Parisienne might be humiliated;
but the woman saw glimpses of wedded happiness, and imagination,
avenging the time lost for nature, took a delight in kindling the
inextinguishable fire in her veins. She all but attained to the
sensations of love; for amid her poignant doubt whether she was loved in
return, she felt glad at heart to say to herself, “I love him!” As for
her scruples, religion, and the world she could trample them under foot!
Montriveau was her religion now. She spent the next day in a state
of moral torpor, troubled by a physical unrest, which no words could
express. She wrote letters and tore them all up, and invented a thousand
impossible fancies.

When M. de Montriveau’s usual hour arrived, she tried to think that he
would come, and enjoyed the feeling of expectation. Her whole life was
concentrated in the single sense of hearing. Sometimes she shut her
eyes, straining her ears to listen through space, wishing that she
could annihilate everything that lay between her and her lover, and so
establish that perfect silence which sounds may traverse from afar. In
her tense self-concentration, the ticking of the clock grew hateful
to her; she stopped its ill-omened garrulity. The twelve strokes of
midnight sounded from the drawing-room.

“Ah, God!” she cried, “to see him here would be happiness. And yet, it
is not so very long since he came here, brought by desire, and the tones
of his voice filled this boudoir. And now there is nothing.”

She remembered the times that she had played the coquette with him, and
how that her coquetry had cost her her lover, and the despairing tears
flowed for long.

Her woman came at length with, “Mme la Duchesse does not know, perhaps,
that it is two o’clock in the morning; I thought that madame was not
feeling well.”

“Yes, I am going to bed,” said the Duchess, drying her eyes. “But
remember, Suzanne, never to come in again without orders; I tell you
this for the last time.”

For a week, Mme de Langeais went to every house where there was a hope
of meeting M. de Montriveau. Contrary to her usual habits, she came
early and went late; gave up dancing, and went to the card-tables. Her
experiments were fruitless. She did not succeed in getting a glimpse of
Armand. She did not dare to utter his name now. One evening, however, in
a fit of despair, she spoke to Mme de Serizy, and asked as carelessly as
she could, “You must have quarreled with M. de Montriveau? He is not to
be seen at your house now.”

The Countess laughed. “So he does not come here either?” she returned.
“He is not to be seen anywhere, for that matter. He is interested in
some woman, no doubt.”

“I used to think that the Marquis de Ronquerolles was one of his
friends----” the Duchess began sweetly.

“I have never heard my brother say that he was acquainted with him.”

Mme de Langeais did not reply. Mme de Serizy concluded from the
Duchess’s silence that she might apply the scourge with impunity to a
discreet friendship which she had seen, with bitterness of soul, for a
long time past.

“So you miss that melancholy personage, do you? I have heard most
extraordinary things of him. Wound his feelings, he never comes back,
he forgives nothing; and, if you love him, he keeps you in chains. To
everything that I said of him, one of those that praise him sky-high
would always answer, ‘He knows how to love!’ People are always telling
me that Montriveau would give up all for his friend; that his is a great
nature. Pooh! society does not want such tremendous natures. Men of that
stamp are all very well at home; let them stay there and leave us to our
pleasant littlenesses. What do you say, Antoinette?”

Woman of the world though she was, the Duchess seemed agitated, yet she
replied in a natural voice that deceived her fair friend:

“I am sorry to miss him. I took a great interest in him, and promised
to myself to be his sincere friend. I like great natures, dear friend,
ridiculous though you may think it. To give oneself to a fool is a clear
confession, is it not, that one is governed wholly by one’s senses?”

Mme de Serizy’s “preferences” had always been for commonplace men; her
lover at the moment, the Marquis d’Aiglemont, was a fine, tall man.

After this, the Countess soon took her departure, you may be sure Mme
de Langeais saw hope in Armand’s withdrawal from the world; she wrote to
him at once; it was a humble, gentle letter, surely it would bring him
if he loved her still. She sent her footman with it next day. On the
servant’s return, she asked whether he had given the letter to M. de
Montriveau himself, and could not restrain the movement of joy at the
affirmative answer. Armand was in Paris! He stayed alone in his house;
he did not go out into society! So she was loved! All day long she
waited for an answer that never came. Again and again, when impatience
grew unbearable, Antoinette found reasons for his delay. Armand felt
embarrassed; the reply would come by post; but night came, and she could
not deceive herself any longer. It was a dreadful day, a day of pain
grown sweet, of intolerable heart-throbs, a day when the heart squanders
the very forces of life in riot.

Next day she sent for an answer.

“M. le Marquis sent word that he would call on Mme la Duchesse,”
 reported Julien.

She fled lest her happiness should be seen in her face, and flung
herself on her couch to devour her first sensations.

“He is coming!”

The thought rent her soul. And, in truth, woe unto those for whom
suspense is not the most horrible time of tempest, while it increases
and multiplies the sweetest joys; for they have nothing in them of
that flame which quickens the images of things, giving to them a second
existence, so that we cling as closely to the pure essence as to its
outward and visible manifestation. What is suspense in love but a
constant drawing upon an unfailing hope?--a submission to the terrible
scourging of passion, while passion is yet happy, and the disenchantment
of reality has not set in. The constant putting forth of strength and
longing, called suspense, is surely, to the human soul, as fragrance
to the flower that breathes it forth. We soon leave the brilliant,
unsatisfying colours of tulips and coreopsis, but we turn again and
again to drink in the sweetness of orange-blossoms or volkameria-flowers
compared separately, each in its own land, to a betrothed bride, full of
love, made fair by the past and future.

The Duchess learned the joys of this new life of hers through the
rapture with which she received the scourgings of love. As this change
wrought in her, she saw other destinies before her, and a better
meaning in the things of life. As she hurried to her dressing-room, she
understood what studied adornment and the most minute attention to
her toilet mean when these are undertaken for love’s sake and not for
vanity. Even now this making ready helped her to bear the long time of
waiting. A relapse of intense agitation set in when she was dressed; she
passed through nervous paroxysms brought on by the dreadful power which
sets the whole mind in ferment. Perhaps that power is only a disease,
though the pain of it is sweet. The Duchess was dressed and waiting
at two o clock in the afternoon. At half-past eleven that night M.
de Montriveau had not arrived. To try to give an idea of the anguish
endured by a woman who might be said to be the spoilt child of
civilization, would be to attempt to say how many imaginings the heart
can condense into one thought. As well endeavour to measure the forces
expended by the soul in a sigh whenever the bell rang; to estimate the
drain of life when a carriage rolled past without stopping, and left her
prostrate.

“Can he be playing with me?” she said, as the clocks struck midnight.

She grew white; her teeth chattered; she struck her hands together and
leapt up and crossed the boudoir, recollecting as she did so how often
he had come thither without a summons. But she resigned herself. Had she
not seen him grow pale, and start up under the stinging barbs of irony?
Then Mme de Langeais felt the horror of the woman’s appointed lot; a
man’s is the active part, a woman must wait passively when she loves. If
a woman goes beyond her beloved, she makes a mistake which few men can
forgive; almost every man would feel that a woman lowers herself by this
piece of angelic flattery. But Armand’s was a great nature; he surely
must be one of the very few who can repay such exceeding love by love
that lasts forever.

“Well, I will make the advance,” she told herself, as she tossed on her
bed and found no sleep there; “I will go to him. I will not weary myself
with holding out a hand to him, but I will hold it out. A man of a
thousand will see a promise of love and constancy in every step that a
woman takes towards him. Yes, the angels must come down from heaven to
reach men; and I wish to be an angel for him.”

Next day she wrote. It was a billet of the kind in which the intellects
of the ten thousand Sevignes that Paris now can number particularly
excel. And yet only a Duchesse de Langeais, brought up by Mme la
Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, could have written that delicious note; no
other woman could complain without lowering herself; could spread wings
in such a flight without draggling her pinions in humiliation; rise
gracefully in revolt; scold without giving offence; and pardon without
compromising her personal dignity.

Julien went with the note. Julien, like his kind, was the victim of
love’s marches and countermarches.

“What did M. de Montriveau reply?” she asked, as indifferently as she
could, when the man came back to report himself.

“M. le Marquis requested me to tell Mme la Duchesse that it was all
right.”

Oh the dreadful reaction of the soul upon herself! To have her heart
stretched on the rack before curious witnesses; yet not to utter a
sound, to be forced to keep silence! One of the countless miseries of
the rich!

More than three weeks went by. Mme de Langeais wrote again and again,
and no answer came from Montriveau. At last she gave out that she was
ill, to gain a dispensation from attendance on the Princess and from
social duties. She was only at home to her father the Duc de Navarreins,
her aunt the Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, the old Vidame de Pamiers
(her maternal great-uncle), and to her husband’s uncle, the Duc de
Grandlieu. These persons found no difficulty in believing that the
Duchess was ill, seeing that she grew thinner and paler and more
dejected every day. The vague ardour of love, the smart of wounded
pride, the continual prick of the only scorn that could touch her,
the yearnings towards joys that she craved with a vain continual
longing--all these things told upon her, mind and body; all the forces
of her nature were stimulated to no purpose. She was paying the arrears
of her life of make-believe.

She went out at last to a review. M. de Montriveau was to be there. For
the Duchess, on the balcony of the Tuileries with the Royal Family,
it was one of those festival days that are long remembered. She looked
supremely beautiful in her languor; she was greeted with admiration in
all eyes. It was Montriveau’s presence that made her so fair.

Once or twice they exchanged glances. The General came almost to her
feet in all the glory of that soldier’s uniform, which produces an
effect upon the feminine imagination to which the most prudish will
confess. When a woman is very much in love, and has not seen her lover
for two months, such a swift moment must be something like the phase of
a dream when the eyes embrace a world that stretches away forever.
Only women or young men can imagine the dull, frenzied hunger in the
Duchess’s eyes. As for older men, if during the paroxysms of early
passion in youth they had experience of such phenomena of nervous power;
at a later day it is so completely forgotten that they deny the very
existence of the luxuriant ecstasy--the only name that can be given to
these wonderful intuitions. Religious ecstasy is the aberration of a
soul that has shaken off its bonds of flesh; whereas in amorous ecstasy
all the forces of soul and body are embraced and blended in one. If
a woman falls a victim to the tyrannous frenzy before which Mme de
Langeais was forced to bend, she will take one decisive resolution
after another so swiftly that it is impossible to give account of them.
Thought after thought rises and flits across her brain, as clouds are
whirled by the wind across the grey veil of mist that shuts out the sun.
Thenceforth the facts reveal all. And the facts are these.

The day after the review, Mme de Langeais sent her carriage and liveried
servants to wait at the Marquis de Montriveau’s door from eight o’clock
in the morning till three in the afternoon. Armand lived in the Rue de
Tournon, a few steps away from the Chamber of Peers, and that very
day the House was sitting; but long before the peers returned to their
palaces, several people had recognised the Duchess’s carriage and
liveries. The first of these was the Baron de Maulincour. That young
officer had met with disdain from Mme de Langeais and a better reception
from Mme de Serizy; he betook himself at once therefore to his mistress,
and under seal of secrecy told her of this strange freak.

In a moment the news was spread with telegraphic speed through all the
coteries in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; it reached the Tuileries and the
Elysee-Bourbon; it was the sensation of the day, the matter of all the
talk from noon till night. Almost everywhere the women denied the facts,
but in such a manner that the report was confirmed; the men one and
all believed it, and manifested a most indulgent interest in Mme de
Langeais. Some among them threw the blame on Armand.

“That savage of a Montriveau is a man of bronze,” said they; “he
insisted on making this scandal, no doubt.”

“Very well, then,” others replied, “Mme de Langeais has been guilty of
a most generous piece of imprudence. To renounce the world and rank, and
fortune, and consideration for her lover’s sake, and that in the face
of all Paris, is as fine a _coup d’etat_ for a woman as that barber’s
knife-thrust, which so affected Canning in a court of assize. Not one
of the women who blame the Duchess would make a declaration worthy of
ancient times. It is heroic of Mme de Langeais to proclaim herself so
frankly. Now there is nothing left to her but to love Montriveau. There
must be something great about a woman if she says, ‘I will have but one
passion.’”

“But what is to become of society, monsieur, if you honour vice in this
way without respect for virtue?” asked the Comtesse de Granville, the
attorney-general’s wife.

While the Chateau, the Faubourg, and the Chaussee d’Antin were
discussing the shipwreck of aristocratic virtue; while excited young men
rushed about on horseback to make sure that the carriage was standing in
the Rue de Tournon, and the Duchess in consequence was beyond a doubt in
M. de Montriveau’s rooms, Mme de Langeais, with heavy throbbing pulses,
was lying hidden away in her boudoir. And Armand?--he had been out all
night, and at that moment was walking with M. de Marsay in the Gardens
of the Tuileries. The elder members, of Mme de Langeais’ family were
engaged in calling upon one another, arranging to read her a homily
and to hold a consultation as to the best way of putting a stop to the
scandal.

At three o’clock, therefore, M. le Duc de Navarreins, the Vidame de
Pamiers, the old Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, and the Duc de Grandlieu
were assembled in Mme la Duchesse de Langeais’ drawing-room. To them, as
to all curious inquirers, the servants said that their mistress was not
at home; the Duchess had made no exceptions to her orders. But these
four personages shone conspicuous in that lofty sphere, of which the
revolutions and hereditary pretensions are solemnly recorded year by
year in the _Almanach de Gotha_, wherefore without some slight sketch of
each of them this picture of society were incomplete.

The Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, in the feminine world, was a most
poetic wreck of the reign of Louis Quinze. In her beautiful prime, so it
was said, she had done her part to win for that monarch his appellation
of _le Bien-aime_. Of her past charms of feature, little remained save
a remarkably prominent slender nose, curved like a Turkish scimitar, now
the principal ornament of a countenance that put you in mind of an old
white glove. Add a few powdered curls, high-heeled pantoufles, a cap
with upstanding loops of lace, black mittens, and a decided taste for
_ombre_. But to do full justice to the lady, it must be said that she
appeared in low-necked gowns of an evening (so high an opinion of her
ruins had she), wore long gloves, and raddled her cheeks with Martin’s
classic rouge. An appalling amiability in her wrinkles, a prodigious
brightness in the old lady’s eyes, a profound dignity in her whole
person, together with the triple barbed wit of her tongue, and an
infallible memory in her head, made of her a real power in the land. The
whole Cabinet des Chartes was entered in duplicate on the parchment
of her brain. She knew all the genealogies of every noble house in
Europe--princes, dukes, and counts--and could put her hand on the last
descendants of Charlemagne in the direct line. No usurpation of title
could escape the Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry.

Young men who wished to stand well at Court, ambitious men, and young
married women paid her assiduous homage. Her salon set the tone of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain. The words of this Talleyrand in petticoats
were taken as final decrees. People came to consult her on questions of
etiquette or usages, or to take lessons in good taste. And, in truth,
no other old woman could put back her snuff-box in her pocket as the
Princess could; while there was a precision and a grace about the
movements of her skirts, when she sat down or crossed her feet, which
drove the finest ladies of the young generation to despair. Her voice
had remained in her head during one-third of her lifetime; but she could
not prevent a descent into the membranes of the nose, which lent to it a
peculiar expressiveness. She still retained a hundred and fifty thousand
livres of her great fortune, for Napoleon had generously returned her
woods to her; so that personally and in the matter of possessions she
was a woman of no little consequence.

This curious antique, seated in a low chair by the fireside, was
chatting with the Vidame de Pamiers, a contemporary ruin. The Vidame was
a big, tall, and spare man, a seigneur of the old school, and had been
a Commander of the Order of Malta. His neck had always been so tightly
compressed by a strangulation stock, that his cheeks pouched over it a
little, and he held his head high; to many people this would have given
an air of self-sufficiency, but in the Vidame it was justified by a
Voltairean wit. His wide prominent eyes seemed to see everything, and as
a matter of fact there was not much that they had not seen. Altogether,
his person was a perfect model of aristocratic outline, slim and
slender, supple and agreeable. He seemed as if he could be pliant or
rigid at will, and twist and bend, or rear his head like a snake.

The Duc de Navarreins was pacing up and down the room with the Duc de
Grandlieu. Both were men of fifty-six or thereabouts, and still hale;
both were short, corpulent, flourishing, somewhat florid-complexioned
men with jaded eyes, and lower lips that had begun to hang already. But
for an exquisite refinement of accent, an urbane courtesy, and an ease
of manner that could change in a moment to insolence, a superficial
observer might have taken them for a couple of bankers. Any such mistake
would have been impossible, however, if the listener could have heard
them converse, and seen them on their guard with men whom they feared,
vapid and commonplace with their equals, slippery with the inferiors
whom courtiers and statesmen know how to tame by a tactful word, or to
humiliate with an unexpected phrase.

Such were the representatives of the great noblesse that determined to
perish rather than submit to any change. It was a noblesse that deserved
praise and blame in equal measure; a noblesse that will never be judged
impartially until some poet shall arise to tell how joyfully the nobles
obeyed the King though their heads fell under a Richelieu’s axe, and how
deeply they scorned the guillotine of ‘89 as a foul revenge.

Another noticeable trait in all the four was a thin voice that agreed
peculiarly well with their ideas and bearing. Among themselves, at any
rate, they were on terms of perfect equality. None of them betrayed
any sign of annoyance over the Duchess’s escapade, but all of them had
learned at Court to hide their feelings.

And here, lest critics should condemn the puerility of the opening of
the forthcoming scene, it is perhaps as well to remind the reader that
Locke, once happening to be in the company of several great lords,
renowned no less for their wit than for their breeding and political
consistency, wickedly amused himself by taking down their conversation
by some shorthand process of his own; and afterwards, when he read
it over to them to see what they could make of it, they all burst out
laughing. And, in truth, the tinsel jargon which circulates among the
upper ranks in every country yields mighty little gold to the crucible
when washed in the ashes of literature or philosophy. In every rank of
society (some few Parisian salons excepted) the curious observer finds
folly a constant quantity beneath a more or less transparent varnish.
Conversation with any substance in it is a rare exception, and
boeotianism is current coin in every zone. In the higher regions they
must perforce talk more, but to make up for it they think the less.
Thinking is a tiring exercise, and the rich like their lives to flow by
easily and without effort. It is by comparing the fundamental matter of
jests, as you rise in the social scale from the street-boy to the peer
of France, that the observer arrives at a true comprehension of M. de
Talleyrand’s maxim, “The manner is everything”; an elegant rendering of
the legal axiom, “The form is of more consequence than the matter.” In
the eyes of the poet the advantage rests with the lower classes, for
they seldom fail to give a certain character of rude poetry to their
thoughts. Perhaps also this same observation may explain the sterility
of the salons, their emptiness, their shallowness, and the repugnance
felt by men of ability for bartering their ideas for such pitiful small
change.

The Duke suddenly stopped as if some bright idea occurred to him, and
remarked to his neighbour:

“So you have sold Tornthon?”

“No, he is ill. I am very much afraid I shall lose him, and I should be
uncommonly sorry. He is a very good hunter. Do you know how the Duchesse
de Marigny is?”

“No. I did not go this morning. I was just going out to call when
you came in to speak about Antoinette. But yesterday she was very ill
indeed; they had given her up, she took the sacrament.”

“Her death will make a change in your cousin’s position.”

“Not at all. She gave away her property in her lifetime, only keeping
an annuity. She made over the Guebriant estate to her niece, Mme de
Soulanges, subject to a yearly charge.”

“It will be a great loss for society. She was a kind woman. Her family
will miss her; her experience and advice carried weight. Her son Marigny
is an amiable man; he has a sharp wit, he can talk. He is pleasant, very
pleasant. Pleasant? oh, that no one can deny, but--ill regulated to
the last degree. Well, and yet it is an extraordinary thing, he is
very acute. He was dining at the club the other day with that moneyed
Chaussee-d’Antin set. Your uncle (he always goes there for his game
of cards) found him there to his astonishment, and asked if he was a
member. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I don’t go into society now; I am living among
the bankers.’--You know why?” added the Marquis, with a meaning smile.

“No,” said the Duke.

“He is smitten with that little Mme Keller, Gondreville’s daughter; she
is only lately married, and has a great vogue, they say, in that set.”

“Well, Antoinette does not find time heavy on her hands, it seems,”
 remarked the Vidame.

“My affection for that little woman has driven me to find a singular
pastime,” replied the Princess, as she returned her snuff-box to her
pocket.

“Dear aunt, I am extremely vexed,” said the Duke, stopping short in his
walk. “Nobody but one of Bonaparte’s men could ask such an indecorous
thing of a woman of fashion. Between ourselves, Antoinette might have
made a better choice.”

“The Montriveaus are a very old family and very well connected, my
dear,” replied the Princess; “they are related to all the noblest houses
of Burgundy. If the Dulmen branch of the Arschoot Rivaudoults should
come to an end in Galicia, the Montriveaus would succeed to the Arschoot
title and estates. They inherit through their great-grandfather.

“Are you sure?”

“I know it better than this Montriveau’s father did. I told him about
it, I used to see a good deal of him; and, Chevalier of several orders
though he was, he only laughed; he was an encyclopaedist. But his
brother turned the relationship to good account during the emigration.
I have heard it said that his northern kinsfolk were most kind in every
way----”

“Yes, to be sure. The Comte de Montriveau died at St. Petersburg,”
 said the Vidame. “I met him there. He was a big man with an incredible
passion for oysters.”

“However many did he eat?” asked the Duc de Grandlieu.

“Ten dozen every day.”

“And did they not disagree with him?”

“Not the least bit in the world.”

“Why, that is extraordinary! Had he neither the stone nor gout, nor any
other complaint, in consequence?”

“No; his health was perfectly good, and he died through an accident.”

“By accident! Nature prompted him to eat oysters, so probably he
required them; for up to a certain point our predominant tastes are
conditions of our existence.”

“I am of your opinion,” said the Princess, with a smile.

“Madame, you always put a malicious construction on things,” returned
the Marquis.

“I only want you to understand that these remarks might leave a wrong
impression on a young woman’s mind,” said she, and interrupted herself
to exclaim, “But this niece, this niece of mine!”

“Dear aunt, I still refuse to believe that she can have gone to M. de
Montriveau,” said the Duc de Navarreins.

“Bah!” returned the Princess.

“What do you think, Vidame?” asked the Marquis.

“If the Duchess were an artless simpleton, I should think that----”

“But when a woman is in love she becomes an artless simpleton,” retorted
the Princess. “Really, my poor Vidame, you must be getting older.”

“After all, what is to be done?” asked the Duke.

“If my dear niece is wise,” said the Princess, “she will go to Court
this evening--fortunately, today is Monday, and reception day--and you
must see that we all rally round her and give the lie to this absurd
rumour. There are hundreds of ways of explaining things; and if the
Marquis de Montriveau is a gentleman, he will come to our assistance. We
will bring these children to listen to reason----”

“But, dear aunt, it is not easy to tell M. de Montriveau the truth to
his face. He is one of Bonaparte’s pupils, and he has a position. Why,
he is one of the great men of the day; he is high up in the Guards, and
very useful there. He has not a spark of ambition. He is just the man to
say, ‘Here is my commission, leave me in peace,’ if the King should say
a word that he did not like.”

“Then, pray, what are his opinions?”

“Very unsound.”

“Really,” sighed the Princess, “the King is, as he always has been, a
Jacobin under the Lilies of France.”

“Oh! not quite so bad,” said the Vidame.

“Yes; I have known him for a long while. The man that pointed out the
Court to his wife on the occasion of her first state dinner in public
with, ‘These are our people,’ could only be a black-hearted scoundrel.
I can see Monsieur exactly the same as ever in the King. The bad brother
who voted so wrongly in his department of the Constituent Assembly was
sure to compound with the Liberals and allow them to argue and talk.
This philosophical cant will be just as dangerous now for the younger
brother as it used to be for the elder; this fat man with the little
mind is amusing himself by creating difficulties, and how his successor
is to get out of them I do not know; he holds his younger brother in
abhorrence; he would be glad to think as he lay dying, ‘He will not
reign very long----’”

“Aunt, he is the King, and I have the honour to be in his service----”

“But does your post take away your right of free speech, my dear? You
come of quite as good a house as the Bourbons. If the Guises had shown a
little more resolution, His Majesty would be a nobody at this day. It is
time I went out of this world, the noblesse is dead. Yes, it is all
over with you, my children,” she continued, looking as she spoke at the
Vidame. “What has my niece done that the whole town should be talking
about her? She is in the wrong; I disapprove of her conduct, a useless
scandal is a blunder; that is why I still have my doubts about this want
of regard for appearances; I brought her up, and I know that----”

Just at that moment the Duchess came out of her boudoir. She had
recognised her aunt’s voice and heard the name of Montriveau. She
was still in her loose morning-gown; and even as she came in, M.
de Grandlieu, looking carelessly out of the window, saw his niece’s
carriage driving back along the street. The Duke took his daughter’s
face in both hands and kissed her on the forehead.

“So, dear girl,” he said, “you do not know what is going on?”

“Has anything extraordinary happened, father dear?”

“Why, all Paris believes that you are with M. de Montriveau.”

“My dear Antoinette, you were at home all the time, were you not?”
 said the Princess, holding out a hand, which the Duchess kissed with
affectionate respect.

“Yes, dear mother; I was at home all the time. And,” she added, as she
turned to greet the Vidame and the Marquis, “I wished that all Paris
should think that I was with M. de Montriveau.”

The Duke flung up his hands, struck them together in despair, and folded
his arms.

“Then, cannot you see what will come of this mad freak?” he asked at
last.

But the aged Princess had suddenly risen, and stood looking steadily
at the Duchess, the younger woman flushed, and her eyes fell. Mme de
Chauvry gently drew her closer, and said, “My little angel, let me kiss
you!”

She kissed her niece very affectionately on the forehead, and continued
smiling, while she held her hand in a tight clasp.

“We are not under the Valois now, dear child. You have compromised your
husband and your position. Still, we will arrange to make everything
right.”

“But, dear aunt, I do not wish to make it right at all. It is my wish
that all Paris should say that I was with M. de Montriveau this morning.
If you destroy that belief, however ill grounded it may be, you will do
me a singular disservice.”

“Do you really wish to ruin yourself, child, and to grieve your family?”

“My family, father, unintentionally condemned me to irreparable
misfortune when they sacrificed me to family considerations. You may,
perhaps, blame me for seeking alleviations, but you will certainly feel
for me.”

“After all the endless pains you take to settle your daughters
suitably!” muttered M. de Navarreins, addressing the Vidame.

The Princess shook a stray grain of snuff from her skirts. “My dear
little girl,” she said, “be happy, if you can. We are not talking of
troubling your felicity, but of reconciling it with social usages. We
all of us here assembled know that marriage is a defective institution
tempered by love. But when you take a lover, is there any need to make
your bed in the Place du Carrousel? See now, just be a bit reasonable,
and hear what we have to say.”

“I am listening.”

“Mme la Duchesse,” began the Duc de Grandlieu, “if it were any part of
an uncle’s duty to look after his nieces, he ought to have a position;
society would owe him honours and rewards and a salary, exactly as if
he were in the King’s service. So I am not here to talk about my nephew,
but of your own interests. Let us look ahead a little. If you persist in
making a scandal--I have seen the animal before, and I own that I have
no great liking for him--Langeais is stingy enough, and he does not care
a rap for anyone but himself; he will have a separation; he will stick
to your money, and leave you poor, and consequently you will be a
nobody. The income of a hundred thousand livres that you have just
inherited from your maternal great-aunt will go to pay for his
mistresses’ amusements. You will be bound and gagged by the law;
you will have to say _Amen_ to all these arrangements. Suppose M. de
Montriveau leaves you----dear me! do not let us put ourselves in a
passion, my dear niece; a man does not leave a woman while she is young
and pretty; still, we have seen so many pretty women left disconsolate,
even among princesses, that you will permit the supposition, an all but
impossible supposition I quite wish to believe.----Well, suppose that
he goes, what will become of you without a husband? Keep well with your
husband as you take care of your beauty; for beauty, after all, is a
woman’s parachute, and a husband also stands between you and worse. I
am supposing that you are happy and loved to the end, and I am leaving
unpleasant or unfortunate events altogether out of the reckoning. This
being so, fortunately or unfortunately, you may have children. What are
they to be? Montriveaus? Very well; they certainly will not succeed to
their father’s whole fortune. You will want to give them all that you
have; he will wish to do the same. Nothing more natural, dear me!
And you will find the law against you. How many times have we
seen heirs-at-law bringing a law-suit to recover the property from
illegitimate children? Every court of law rings with such actions all
over the world. You will create a _fidei commissum_ perhaps; and if the
trustee betrays your confidence, your children have no remedy against
him; and they are ruined. So choose carefully. You see the perplexities
of the position. In every possible way your children will be sacrificed
of necessity to the fancies of your heart; they will have no recognised
status. While they are little they will be charming; but, Lord! some day
they will reproach you for thinking of no one but your two selves. We
old gentlemen know all about it. Little boys grow up into men, and men
are ungrateful beings. When I was in Germany, did I not hear young de
Horn say, after supper, ‘If my mother had been an honest woman, I should
be prince-regnant!’ _If_?’ We have spent our lives in hearing plebeians
say _if_. _If_ brought about the Revolution. When a man cannot lay the
blame on his father or mother, he holds God responsible for his hard
lot. In short, dear child, we are here to open your eyes. I will say all
I have to say in a few words, on which you had better meditate: A woman
ought never to put her husband in the right.”

“Uncle, so long as I cared for nobody, I could calculate; I looked at
interests then, as you do; now, I can only feel.”

“But, my dear little girl,” remonstrated the Vidame, “life is simply a
complication of interests and feelings; to be happy, more particularly
in your position, one must try to reconcile one’s feelings with
one’s interests. A grisette may love according to her fancy, that is
intelligible enough, but you have a pretty fortune, a family, a name and
a place at Court, and you ought not to fling them out of the window.
And what have we been asking you to do to keep them all?--To manoeuvre
carefully instead of falling foul of social conventions. Lord! I shall
very soon be eighty years old, and I cannot recollect, under any regime,
a love worth the price that you are willing to pay for the love of this
lucky young man.”

The Duchess silenced the Vidame with a look; if Montriveau could have
seen that glance, he would have forgiven all.

“It would be very effective on the stage,” remarked the Duc de
Grandlieu, “but it all amounts to nothing when your jointure and
position and independence is concerned. You are not grateful, my dear
niece. You will not find many families where the relatives have courage
enough to teach the wisdom gained by experience, and to make rash young
heads listen to reason. Renounce your salvation in two minutes, if it
pleases you to damn yourself; well and good; but reflect well beforehand
when it comes to renouncing your income. I know of no confessor who
remits the pains of poverty. I have a right, I think, to speak in this
way to you; for if you are ruined, I am the one person who can offer you
a refuge. I am almost an uncle to Langeais, and I alone have a right to
put him in the wrong.”

The Duc de Navarreins roused himself from painful reflections.

“Since you speak of feeling, my child,” he said, “let me remind you that
a woman who bears your name ought to be moved by sentiments which do
not touch ordinary people. Can you wish to give an advantage to the
Liberals, to those Jesuits of Robespierre’s that are doing all they
can to vilify the noblesse? Some things a Navarreins cannot do
without failing in duty to his house. You would not be alone in your
dishonor----”

“Come, come!” said the Princess. “Dishonor? Do not make such a fuss
about the journey of an empty carriage, children, and leave me alone
with Antoinette. All three of you come and dine with me. I will
undertake to arrange matters suitably. You men understand nothing;
you are beginning to talk sourly already, and I have no wish to see a
quarrel between you and my dear child. Do me the pleasure to go.”

The three gentlemen probably guessed the Princess’s intentions; they
took their leave. M. de Navarreins kissed his daughter on the forehead
with, “Come, be good, dear child. It is not too late yet if you choose.”

“Couldn’t we find some good fellow in the family to pick a quarrel with
this Montriveau?” said the Vidame, as they went downstairs.

When the two women were alone, the Princess beckoned her niece to a
little low chair by her side.

“My pearl,” said she, “in this world below, I know nothing worse
calumniated than God and the eighteenth century; for as I look back over
my own young days, I do not recollect that a single duchess trampled the
proprieties underfoot as you have just done. Novelists and scribblers
brought the reign of Louis XV into disrepute. Do not believe them. The
du Barry, my dear, was quite as good as the Widow Scarron, and the more
agreeable woman of the two. In my time a woman could keep her dignity
among her gallantries. Indiscretion was the ruin of us, and the
beginning of all the mischief. The philosophists--the nobodies whom we
admitted into our salons--had no more gratitude or sense of decency than
to make an inventory of our hearts, to traduce us one and all, and to
rail against the age by way of a return for our kindness. The people are
not in a position to judge of anything whatsoever; they looked at the
facts, not at the form. But the men and women of those times, my heart,
were quite as remarkable as at any other period of the Monarchy. Not one
of your Werthers, none of your notabilities, as they are called, never
a one of your men in yellow kid gloves and trousers that disguise the
poverty of their legs, would cross Europe in the dress of a travelling
hawker to brave the daggers of a Duke of Modena, and to shut himself up
in the dressing-room of the Regent’s daughter at the risk of his life.
Not one of your little consumptive patients with their tortoiseshell
eyeglasses would hide himself in a closet for six weeks, like Lauzun,
to keep up his mistress’s courage while she was lying in of her child.
There was more passion in M. de Jaucourt’s little finger than in
your whole race of higglers that leave a woman to better themselves
elsewhere! Just tell me where to find the page that would be cut in
pieces and buried under the floorboards for one kiss on the Konigsmark’s
gloved finger!

“Really, it would seem today that the roles are exchanged, and women
are expected to show their devotion for men. These modern gentlemen are
worth less, and think more of themselves. Believe me, my dear, all these
adventures that have been made public, and now are turned against our
good Louis XV, were kept quite secret at first. If it had not been for
a pack of poetasters, scribblers, and moralists, who hung about our
waiting-women, and took down their slanders, our epoch would have
appeared in literature as a well-conducted age. I am justifying the
century and not its fringe. Perhaps a hundred women of quality were
lost; but for every one, the rogues set down ten, like the gazettes
after a battle when they count up the losses of the beaten side. And in
any case I do not know that the Revolution and the Empire can reproach
us; they were coarse, dull, licentious times. Faugh! it is revolting.
Those are the brothels of French history.

“This preamble, my dear child,” she continued after a pause, “brings
me to the thing that I have to say. If you care for Montriveau, you are
quite at liberty to love him at your ease, and as much as you can. I
know by experience that, unless you are locked up (but locking people
up is out of fashion now), you will do as you please; I should have done
the same at your age. Only, sweetheart, I should not have given up my
right to be the mother of future Ducs de Langeais. So mind appearances.
The Vidame is right. No man is worth a single one of the sacrifices
which we are foolish enough to make for their love. Put yourself in
such a position that you may still be M. de Langeais’ wife, in case you
should have the misfortune to repent. When you are an old woman, you
will be very glad to hear mass said at Court, and not in some provincial
convent. Therein lies the whole question. A single imprudence means an
allowance and a wandering life; it means that you are at the mercy of
your lover; it means that you must put up with insolence from women
that are not so honest, precisely because they have been very vulgarly
sharp-witted. It would be a hundred times better to go to Montriveau’s
at night in a cab, and disguised, instead of sending your carriage in
broad daylight. You are a little fool, my dear child! Your carriage
flattered his vanity; your person would have ensnared his heart. All
this that I have said is just and true; but, for my own part, I do not
blame you. You are two centuries behind the times with your false ideas
of greatness. There, leave us to arrange your affairs, and say that
Montriveau made your servants drunk to gratify his vanity and to
compromise you----”

The Duchess rose to her feet with a spring. “In Heaven’s name, aunt, do
not slander him!”

The old Princess’s eyes flashed.

“Dear child,” she said, “I should have liked to spare such of your
illusions as were not fatal. But there must be an end of all illusions
now. You would soften me if I were not so old. Come, now, do not vex
him, or us, or anyone else. I will undertake to satisfy everybody; but
promise me not to permit yourself a single step henceforth until you
have consulted me. Tell me all, and perhaps I may bring it all right
again.”

“Aunt, I promise----”

“To tell me everything?”

“Yes, everything. Everything that can be told.”

“But, my sweetheart, it is precisely what cannot be told that I want
to know. Let us understand each other thoroughly. Come, let me put my
withered old lips on your beautiful forehead. No; let me do as I wish. I
forbid you to kiss my bones. Old people have a courtesy of their own....
There, take me down to my carriage,” she added, when she had kissed her
niece.

“Then may I go to him in disguise, dear aunt?”

“Why--yes. The story can always be denied,” said the old Princess.

This was the one idea which the Duchess had clearly grasped in the
sermon. When Mme de Chauvry was seated in the corner of her carriage,
Mme de Langeais bade her a graceful adieu and went up to her room. She
was quite happy again.

“My person would have snared his heart; my aunt is right; a man cannot
surely refuse a pretty woman when she understands how to offer herself.”

That evening, at the Elysee-Bourbon, the Duc de Navarreins, M. de
Pamiers, M. de Marsay, M. de Grandlieu, and the Duc de Maufrigneuse
triumphantly refuted the scandals that were circulating with regard to
the Duchesse de Langeais. So many officers and other persons had seen
Montriveau walking in the Tuileries that morning, that the silly story
was set down to chance, which takes all that is offered. And so,
in spite of the fact that the Duchess’s carriage had waited before
Montriveau’s door, her character became as clear and as spotless as
Membrino’s sword after Sancho had polished it up.

But, at two o’clock, M. de Ronquerolles passed Montriveau in a deserted
alley, and said with a smile, “She is coming on, is your Duchess. Go on,
keep it up!” he added, and gave a significant cut of the riding whip to
his mare, who sped off like a bullet down the avenue.

Two days after the fruitless scandal, Mme de Langeais wrote to M. de
Montriveau. That letter, like the preceding ones, remained unanswered.
This time she took her own measures, and bribed M. de Montriveau’s man,
Auguste. And so at eight o’clock that evening she was introduced into
Armand’s apartment. It was not the room in which that secret scene had
passed; it was entirely different. The Duchess was told that the General
would not be at home that night. Had he two houses? The man would give
no answer. Mme de Langeais had bought the key of the room, but not the
man’s whole loyalty.

When she was left alone she saw her fourteen letters lying on an
old-fashioned stand, all of them uncreased and unopened. He had not
read them. She sank into an easy-chair, and for a while she lost
consciousness. When she came to herself, Auguste was holding vinegar for
her to inhale.

“A carriage; quick!” she ordered.

The carriage came. She hastened downstairs with convulsive speed, and
left orders that no one was to be admitted. For twenty-four hours she
lay in bed, and would have no one near her but her woman, who brought
her a cup of orange-flower water from time to time. Suzette heard
her mistress moan once or twice, and caught a glimpse of tears in the
brilliant eyes, now circled with dark shadows.

The next day, amid despairing tears, Mme de Langeais took her
resolution. Her man of business came for an interview, and no doubt
received instructions of some kind. Afterwards she sent for the
Vidame de Pamiers; and while she waited, she wrote a letter to M.
de Montriveau. The Vidame punctually came towards two o’clock that
afternoon, to find his young cousin looking white and worn, but
resigned; never had her divine loveliness been more poetic than now in
the languor of her agony.

“You owe this assignation to your eighty-four years, dear cousin,” she
said. “Ah! do not smile, I beg of you, when an unhappy woman has reached
the lowest depths of wretchedness. You are a gentleman, and after the
adventures of your youth you must feel some indulgence for women.”

“None whatever,” said he.

“Indeed!”

“Everything is in their favour.”

“Ah! Well, you are one of the inner family circle; possibly you will be
the last relative, the last friend whose hand I shall press, so I can
ask your good offices. Will you, dear Vidame, do me a service which I
could not ask of my own father, nor of my uncle Grandlieu, nor of any
woman? You cannot fail to understand. I beg of you to do my bidding, and
then to forget what you have done, whatever may come of it. It is this:
Will you take this letter and go to M. de Montriveau? will you see him
yourself, give it into his hands, and ask him, as you men can ask things
between yourselves--for you have a code of honour between man and man
which you do not use with us, and a different way of regarding things
between yourselves--ask him if he will read this letter? Not in
your presence. Certain feelings men hide from each other. I give you
authority to say, if you think it necessary to bring him, that it is a
question of life or death for me. If he deigns----”

“_Deigns_!” repeated the Vidame.

“If he deigns to read it,” the Duchess continued with dignity, “say one
thing more. You will go to see him about five o’clock, for I know that
he will dine at home today at that time. Very good. By way of answer he
must come to see me. If, three hours afterwards, by eight o’clock, he
does not leave his house, all will be over. The Duchesse de Langeais
will have vanished from the world. I shall not be dead, dear friend, no,
but no human power will ever find me again on this earth. Come and dine
with me; I shall at least have one friend with me in the last agony.
Yes, dear cousin, tonight will decide my fate; and whatever happens to
me, I pass through an ordeal by fire. There! not a word. I will hear
nothing of the nature of comment or advice----Let us chat and laugh
together,” she added, holding out a hand, which he kissed. “We will be
like two grey-headed philosophers who have learned how to enjoy life to
the last moment. I will look my best; I will be very enchanting for
you. You perhaps will be the last man to set eyes on the Duchesse de
Langeais.”

The Vicomte bowed, took the letter, and went without a word. At five
o’clock he returned. His cousin had studied to please him, and she
looked lovely indeed. The room was gay with flowers as if for a
festivity; the dinner was exquisite. For the grey-headed Vidame the
Duchess displayed all the brilliancy of her wit; she was more charming
than she had ever been before. At first the Vidame tried to look on
all these preparations as a young woman’s jest; but now and again the
attempted illusion faded, the spell of his fair cousin’s charm was
broken. He detected a shudder caused by some kind of sudden dread, and
once she seemed to listen during a pause.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“Hush!” she said.

At seven o’clock the Duchess left him for a few minutes. When she came
back again she was dressed as her maid might have dressed for a journey.
She asked her guest to be her escort, took his arm, sprang into a
hackney coach, and by a quarter to eight they stood outside M. de
Montriveau’s door.

Armand meantime had been reading the following letter:--


“MY FRIEND,--I went to your rooms for a few minutes without your
knowledge; I found my letters there, and took them away. This cannot
be indifference, Armand, between us; and hatred would show itself quite
differently. If you love me, make an end of this cruel play, or you will
kill me, and afterwards, learning how much you were loved, you might be
in despair. If I have not rightly understood you, if you have no feeling
towards me but aversion, which implies both contempt and disgust, then
I give up all hope. A man never recovers from those feelings. You will
have no regrets. Dreadful though that thought may be, it will comfort me
in my long sorrow. Regrets? Oh, my Armand, may I never know of them; if
I thought that I had caused you a single regret----But, no, I will not
tell you what desolation I should feel. I should be living still, and I
could not be your wife; it would be too late!

“Now that I have given myself wholly to you in thought, to whom else
should I give myself?--to God. The eyes that you loved for a little
while shall never look on another man’s face; and may the glory of God
blind them to all besides. I shall never hear human voices more since I
heard yours--so gentle at the first, so terrible yesterday; for it seems
to me that I am still only on the morrow of your vengeance. And now
may the will of God consume me. Between His wrath and yours, my friend,
there will be nothing left for me but a little space for tears and
prayers.

“Perhaps you wonder why I write to you? Ah! do not think ill of me if I
keep a gleam of hope, and give one last sigh to happy life before I take
leave of it forever. I am in a hideous position. I feel all the inward
serenity that comes when a great resolution has been taken, even while I
hear the last growlings of the storm. When you went out on that terrible
adventure which so drew me to you, Armand, you went from the desert to
the oasis with a good guide to show you the way. Well, I am going out of
the oasis into the desert, and you are a pitiless guide to me. And yet
you only, my friend, can understand how melancholy it is to look back
for the last time on happiness--to you, and you only, I can make moan
without a blush. If you grant my entreaty, I shall be happy; if you are
inexorable, I shall expiate the wrong that I have done. After all, it is
natural, is it not, that a woman should wish to live, invested with all
noble feelings, in her friend’s memory? Oh! my one and only love, let
her to whom you gave life go down into the tomb in the belief that she
is great in your eyes. Your harshness led me to reflect; and now that I
love you so, it seems to me that I am less guilty than you think. Listen
to my justification, I owe it to you; and you that are all the world to
me, owe me at least a moment’s justice.

“I have learned by my own anguish all that I made you suffer by my
coquetry; but in those days I was utterly ignorant of love. _You_ know
what the torture is, and you mete it out to me! During those first eight
months that you gave me you never roused any feeling of love in me. Do
you ask why this was so, my friend? I can no more explain it than I can
tell you why I love you now. Oh! certainly it flattered my vanity that I
should be the subject of your passionate talk, and receive those burning
glances of yours; but you left me cold. No, I was not a woman; I had
no conception of womanly devotion and happiness. Who was to blame? You
would have despised me, would you not, if I had given myself without
the impulse of passion? Perhaps it is the highest height to which we
can rise--to give all and receive no joy; perhaps there is no merit in
yielding oneself to bliss that is foreseen and ardently desired. Alas,
my friend, I can say this now; these thoughts came to me when I played
with you; and you seemed to me so great even then that I would not have
you owe the gift to pity----What is this that I have written?

“I have taken back all my letters; I am flinging them one by one on the
fire; they are burning. You will never know what they confessed--all the
love and the passion and the madness----

“I will say no more, Armand; I will stop. I will not say another word of
my feelings. If my prayers have not echoed from my soul through yours,
I also, woman that I am, decline to owe your love to your pity. It is my
wish to be loved, because you cannot choose but love me, or else to
be left without mercy. If you refuse to read this letter, it shall be
burnt. If, after you have read it, you do not come to me within three
hours, to be henceforth forever my husband, the one man in the world for
me; then I shall never blush to know that this letter is in your hands,
the pride of my despair will protect my memory from all insult, and my
end shall be worthy of my love. When you see me no more on earth, albeit
I shall still be alive, you yourself will not think without a shudder
of the woman who, in three hours’ time, will live only to overwhelm
you with her tenderness; a woman consumed by a hopeless love, and
faithful--not to memories of past joys--but to a love that was slighted.

“The Duchesse de la Valliere wept for lost happiness and vanished power;
but the Duchesse de Langeais will be happy that she may weep and be a
power for you still. Yes, you will regret me. I see clearly that I was
not of this world, and I thank you for making it clear to me.

“Farewell; you will never touch _my_ axe. Yours was the executioner’s
axe, mine is God’s; yours kills, mine saves. Your love was but mortal,
it could not endure disdain or ridicule; mine can endure all things
without growing weaker, it will last eternally. Ah! I feel a sombre joy
in crushing you that believe yourself so great; in humbling you with the
calm, indulgent smile of one of the least among the angels that lie at
the feet of God, for to them is given the right and the power to protect
and watch over men in His name. You have but felt fleeting desires,
while the poor nun will shed the light of her ceaseless and ardent
prayer about you, she will shelter you all your life long beneath the
wings of a love that has nothing of earth in it.

“I have a presentiment of your answer; our trysting place shall be--in
heaven. Strength and weakness can both enter there, dear Armand; the
strong and the weak are bound to suffer. This thought soothes the
anguish of my final ordeal. So calm am I that I should fear that I had
ceased to love you if I were not about to leave the world for your sake.

                                                “ANTOINETTE.”


“Dear Vidame,” said the Duchess as they reached Montriveau’s house, “do
me the kindness to ask at the door whether he is at home.” The Vidame,
obedient after the manner of the eighteenth century to a woman’s wish,
got out, and came back to bring his cousin an affirmative answer that
sent a shudder through her. She grasped his hand tightly in hers,
suffered him to kiss her on either cheek, and begged him to go at once.
He must not watch her movements nor try to protect her. “But the people
passing in the street,” he objected.

“No one can fail in respect to me,” she said. It was the last word
spoken by the Duchess and the woman of fashion.

The Vidame went. Mme de Langeais wrapped herself about in her cloak,
and stood on the doorstep until the clocks struck eight. The last stroke
died away. The unhappy woman waited ten, fifteen minutes; to the last
she tried to see a fresh humiliation in the delay, then her faith ebbed.
She turned to leave the fatal threshold.

“Oh, God!” the cry broke from her in spite of herself; it was the first
word spoken by the Carmelite.



Montriveau and some of his friends were talking together. He tried to
hasten them to a conclusion, but his clock was slow, and by the time he
started out for the Hotel de Langeais the Duchess was hurrying on foot
through the streets of Paris, goaded by the dull rage in her heart. She
reached the Boulevard d’Enfer, and looked out for the last time through
falling tears on the noisy, smoky city that lay below in a red mist,
lighted up by its own lamps. Then she hailed a cab, and drove away,
never to return. When the Marquis de Montriveau reached the Hotel de
Langeais, and found no trace of his mistress, he thought that he had
been duped. He hurried away at once to the Vidame, and found that worthy
gentleman in the act of slipping on his flowered dressing-gown, thinking
the while of his fair cousin’s happiness.

Montriveau gave him one of the terrific glances that produced the effect
of an electric shock on men and women alike.

“Is it possible that you have lent yourself to some cruel hoax,
monsieur?” Montriveau exclaimed. “I have just come from Mme de Langeais’
house; the servants say that she is out.”

“Then a great misfortune has happened, no doubt,” returned the Vidame,
“and through your fault. I left the Duchess at your door----”

“When?”

“At a quarter to eight.”

“Good evening,” returned Montriveau, and he hurried home to ask the
porter whether he had seen a lady standing on the doorstep that evening.

“Yes, my Lord Marquis, a handsome woman, who seemed very much put out.
She was crying like a Magdalen, but she never made a sound, and stood
as upright as a post. Then at last she went, and my wife and I that were
watching her while she could not see us, heard her say, ‘Oh, God!’ so
that it went to our hearts, asking your pardon, to hear her say it.”

Montriveau, in spite of all his firmness, turned pale at those few
words. He wrote a few lines to Ronquerolles, sent off the message at
once, and went up to his rooms. Ronquerolles came just about midnight.

Armand gave him the Duchess’s letter to read.

“Well?” asked Ronquerolles.

“She was here at my door at eight o’clock; at a quarter-past eight she
had gone. I have lost her, and I love her. Oh! if my life were my own, I
could blow my brains out.”

“Pooh, pooh! Keep cool,” said Ronquerolles. “Duchesses do not fly off
like wagtails. She cannot travel faster than three leagues an hour, and
tomorrow we will ride six.--Confound it! Mme de Langeais is no ordinary
woman,” he continued. “Tomorrow we will all of us mount and ride.
The police will put us on her track during the day. She must have a
carriage; angels of that sort have no wings. We shall find her whether
she is on the road or hidden in Paris. There is the semaphore. We can
stop her. You shall be happy. But, my dear fellow, you have made a
blunder, of which men of your energy are very often guilty. They judge
others by themselves, and do not know the point when human nature gives
way if you strain the cords too tightly. Why did you not say a word
to me sooner? I would have told you to be punctual. Good-bye till
tomorrow,” he added, as Montriveau said nothing. “Sleep if you can,” he
added, with a grasp of the hand.

But the greatest resources which society has ever placed at the disposal
of statesmen, kings, ministers, bankers, or any human power, in fact,
were all exhausted in vain. Neither Montriveau nor his friends could
find any trace of the Duchess. It was clear that she had entered a
convent. Montriveau determined to search, or to institute a search, for
her through every convent in the world. He must have her, even at the
cost of all the lives in a town. And in justice to this extraordinary
man, it must be said that his frenzied passion awoke to the same
ardour daily and lasted through five years. Only in 1829 did the Duc de
Navarreins hear by chance that his daughter had travelled to Spain as
Lady Julia Hopwood’s maid, that she had left her service at Cadiz, and
that Lady Julia never discovered that Mlle Caroline was the illustrious
duchess whose sudden disappearance filled the minds of the highest
society of Paris.



The feelings of the two lovers when they met again on either side of the
grating in the Carmelite convent should now be comprehended to the full,
and the violence of the passion awakened in either soul will doubtless
explain the catastrophe of the story.

In 1823 the Duc de Langeais was dead, and his wife was free. Antoinette
de Navarreins was living, consumed by love, on a ledge of rock in
the Mediterranean; but it was in the Pope’s power to dissolve Sister
Theresa’s vows. The happiness bought by so much love might yet bloom
for the two lovers. These thoughts sent Montriveau flying from Cadiz to
Marseilles, and from Marseilles to Paris.

A few months after his return to France, a merchant brig, fitted out and
munitioned for active service, set sail from the port of Marseilles for
Spain. The vessel had been chartered by several distinguished men, most
of them Frenchmen, who, smitten with a romantic passion for the East,
wished to make a journey to those lands. Montriveau’s familiar knowledge
of Eastern customs made him an invaluable travelling companion, and at
the entreaty of the rest he had joined the expedition; the Minister
of War appointed him lieutenant-general, and put him on the Artillery
Commission to facilitate his departure.

Twenty-fours hours later the brig lay to off the north-west shore of an
island within sight of the Spanish coast. She had been specially chosen
for her shallow keel and light mastage, so that she might lie at anchor
in safety half a league away from the reefs that secure the island from
approach in this direction. If fishing vessels or the people on the
island caught sight of the brig, they were scarcely likely to feel
suspicious of her at once; and besides, it was easy to give a reason for
her presence without delay. Montriveau hoisted the flag of the United
States before they came in sight of the island, and the crew of the
vessel were all American sailors, who spoke nothing but English. One
of M. de Montriveau’s companions took the men ashore in the ship’s
longboat, and made them so drunk at an inn in the little town that
they could not talk. Then he gave out that the brig was manned by
treasure-seekers, a gang of men whose hobby was well known in the United
States; indeed, some Spanish writer had written a history of them. The
presence of the brig among the reefs was now sufficiently explained.
The owners of the vessel, according to the self-styled boatswain’s mate,
were looking for the wreck of a galleon which foundered thereabouts in
1778 with a cargo of treasure from Mexico. The people at the inn and the
authorities asked no more questions.

Armand, and the devoted friends who were helping him in his difficult
enterprise, were all from the first of the opinion that there was no
hope of rescuing or carrying off Sister Theresa by force or stratagem
from the side of the little town. Wherefore these bold spirits, with one
accord, determined to take the bull by the horns. They would make a way
to the convent at the most seemingly inaccessible point; like General
Lamarque, at the storming of Capri, they would conquer Nature. The cliff
at the end of the island, a sheer block of granite, afforded even less
hold than the rock of Capri. So it seemed at least to Montriveau, who
had taken part in that incredible exploit, while the nuns in his eyes
were much more redoubtable than Sir Hudson Lowe. To raise a hubbub over
carrying off the Duchess would cover them with confusion. They might as
well set siege to the town and convent, like pirates, and leave not a
single soul to tell of their victory. So for them their expedition wore
but two aspects. There should be a conflagration and a feat of arms
that should dismay all Europe, while the motives of the crime remained
unknown; or, on the other hand, a mysterious, aerial descent which
should persuade the nuns that the Devil himself had paid them a visit.
They had decided upon the latter course in the secret council held
before they left Paris, and subsequently everything had been done to
insure the success of an expedition which promised some real excitement
to jaded spirits weary of Paris and its pleasures.

An extremely light pirogue, made at Marseilles on a Malayan model,
enabled them to cross the reef, until the rocks rose from out of the
water. Then two cables of iron wire were fastened several feet apart
between one rock and another. These wire ropes slanted upwards and
downwards in opposite directions, so that baskets of iron wire could
travel to and fro along them; and in this manner the rocks were covered
with a system of baskets and wire-cables, not unlike the filaments
which a certain species of spider weaves about a tree. The Chinese, an
essentially imitative people, were the first to take a lesson from the
work of instinct. Fragile as these bridges were, they were always ready
for use; high waves and the caprices of the sea could not throw them
out of working order; the ropes hung just sufficiently slack, so as to
present to the breakers that particular curve discovered by Cachin, the
immortal creator of the harbour at Cherbourg. Against this cunningly
devised line the angry surge is powerless; the law of that curve was
a secret wrested from Nature by that faculty of observation in which
nearly all human genius consists.

M. de Montriveau’s companions were alone on board the vessel, and out of
sight of every human eye. No one from the deck of a passing vessel could
have discovered either the brig hidden among the reefs, or the men at
work among the rocks; they lay below the ordinary range of the most
powerful telescope. Eleven days were spent in preparation, before the
Thirteen, with all their infernal power, could reach the foot of the
cliffs. The body of the rock rose up straight from the sea to a height
of thirty fathoms. Any attempt to climb the sheer wall of granite seemed
impossible; a mouse might as well try to creep up the slippery sides of
a plain china vase. Still there was a cleft, a straight line of fissure
so fortunately placed that large blocks of wood could be wedged firmly
into it at a distance of about a foot apart. Into these blocks the
daring workers drove iron cramps, specially made for the purpose, with
a broad iron bracket at the outer end, through which a hole had been
drilled. Each bracket carried a light deal board which corresponded with
a notch made in a pole that reached to the top of the cliffs, and was
firmly planted in the beach at their feet. With ingenuity worthy of
these men who found nothing impossible, one of their number, a skilled
mathematician, had calculated the angle from which the steps must start;
so that from the middle they rose gradually, like the sticks of a fan,
to the top of the cliff, and descended in the same fashion to its
base. That miraculously light, yet perfectly firm, staircase cost them
twenty-two days of toil. A little tinder and the surf of the sea would
destroy all trace of it forever in a single night. A betrayal of the
secret was impossible; and all search for the violators of the convent
was doomed to failure.

At the top of the rock there was a platform with sheer precipice on all
sides. The Thirteen, reconnoitring the ground with their glasses from
the masthead, made certain that though the ascent was steep and rough,
there would be no difficulty in gaining the convent garden, where the
trees were thick enough for a hiding-place. After such great efforts
they would not risk the success of their enterprise, and were compelled
to wait till the moon passed out of her last quarter.

For two nights Montriveau, wrapped in his cloak, lay out on the rock
platform. The singing at vespers and matins filled him with unutterable
joy. He stood under the wall to hear the music of the organ, listening
intently for one voice among the rest. But in spite of the silence, the
confused effect of music was all that reached his ears. In those sweet
harmonies defects of execution are lost; the pure spirit of art comes
into direct communication with the spirit of the hearer, making
no demand on the attention, no strain on the power of listening.
Intolerable memories awoke. All the love within him seemed to break into
blossom again at the breath of that music; he tried to find auguries of
happiness in the air. During the last night he sat with his eyes fixed
upon an ungrated window, for bars were not needed on the side of the
precipice. A light shone there all through the hours; and that instinct
of the heart, which is sometimes true, and as often false, cried within
him, “She is there!”

“She is certainly there! Tomorrow she will be mine,” he said to himself,
and joy blended with the slow tinkling of a bell that began to ring.

Strange unaccountable workings of the heart! The nun, wasted by yearning
love, worn out with tears and fasting, prayer and vigils; the woman of
nine-and-twenty, who had passed through heavy trials, was loved more
passionately than the lighthearted girl, the woman of four-and-twenty,
the sylphide, had ever been. But is there not, for men of vigorous
character, something attractive in the sublime expression engraven on
women’s faces by the impetuous stirrings of thought and misfortunes of
no ignoble kind? Is there not a beauty of suffering which is the most
interesting of all beauty to those men who feel that within them there
is an inexhaustible wealth of tenderness and consoling pity for a
creature so gracious in weakness, so strong with love? It is the
ordinary nature that is attracted by young, smooth, pink-and-white
beauty, or, in one word, by prettiness. In some faces love awakens
amid the wrinkles carved by sorrow and the ruin made by melancholy;
Montriveau could not but feel drawn to these. For cannot a lover,
with the voice of a great longing, call forth a wholly new creature? a
creature athrob with the life but just begun breaks forth for him alone,
from the outward form that is fair for him, and faded for all the world
besides. Does he not love two women?--One of them, as others see her,
is pale and wan and sad; but the other, the unseen love that his heart
knows, is an angel who understands life through feeling, and is adorned
in all her glory only for love’s high festivals.

The General left his post before sunrise, but not before he had heard
voices singing together, sweet voices full of tenderness sounding
faintly from the cell. When he came down to the foot of the cliffs where
his friends were waiting, he told them that never in his life had
he felt such enthralling bliss, and in the few words there was that
unmistakable thrill of repressed strong feeling, that magnificent
utterance which all men respect.



That night eleven of his devoted comrades made the ascent in the
darkness. Each man carried a poniard, a provision of chocolate, and
a set of house-breaking tools. They climbed the outer walls with
scaling-ladders, and crossed the cemetery of the convent. Montriveau
recognised the long, vaulted gallery through which he went to the
parlour, and remembered the windows of the room. His plans were made and
adopted in a moment. They would effect an entrance through one of the
windows in the Carmelite’s half of the parlour, find their way along
the corridors, ascertain whether the sister’s names were written on the
doors, find Sister Theresa’s cell, surprise her as she slept, and carry
her off, bound and gagged. The programme presented no difficulties to
men who combined boldness and a convict’s dexterity with the knowledge
peculiar to men of the world, especially as they would not scruple to
give a stab to ensure silence.

In two hours the bars were sawn through. Three men stood on guard
outside, and two inside the parlour. The rest, barefooted, took up their
posts along the corridor. Young Henri de Marsay, the most dexterous
man among them, disguised by way of precaution in a Carmelite’s robe,
exactly like the costume of the convent, led the way, and Montriveau
came immediately behind him. The clock struck three just as the two men
reached the dormitory cells. They soon saw the position. Everything was
perfectly quiet. With the help of a dark lantern they read the names
luckily written on every door, together with the picture of a saint or
saints and the mystical words which every nun takes as a kind of
motto for the beginning of her new life and the revelation of her
last thought. Montriveau reached Sister Theresa’s door and read the
inscription, _Sub invocatione sanctae matris Theresae_, and her motto,
_Adoremus in aeternum_. Suddenly his companion laid a hand on his
shoulder. A bright light was streaming through the chinks of the door.
M. de Ronquerolles came up at that moment.

“All the nuns are in the church,” he said; “they are beginning the
Office for the Dead.”

“I will stay here,” said Montriveau. “Go back into the parlour, and shut
the door at the end of the passage.”

He threw open the door and rushed in, preceded by his disguised
companion, who let down the veil over his face.

There before them lay the dead Duchess; her plank bed had been laid on
the floor of the outer room of her cell, between two lighted candles.
Neither Montriveau nor de Marsay spoke a word or uttered a cry; but they
looked into each other’s faces. The General’s dumb gesture tried to say,
“Let us carry her away!”

“Quickly” shouted Ronquerolles, “the procession of nuns is leaving the
church. You will be caught!”

With magical swiftness of movement, prompted by an intense desire, the
dead woman was carried into the convent parlour, passed through the
window, and lowered from the walls before the Abbess, followed by the
nuns, returned to take up Sister Theresa’s body. The sister left in
charge had imprudently left her post; there were secrets that she longed
to know; and so busy was she ransacking the inner room, that she heard
nothing, and was horrified when she came back to find that the body was
gone. Before the women, in their blank amazement, could think of making
a search, the Duchess had been lowered by a cord to the foot of the
crags, and Montriveau’s companions had destroyed all traces of their
work. By nine o’clock that morning there was not a sign to show that
either staircase or wire-cables had ever existed, and Sister Theresa’s
body had been taken on board. The brig came into the port to ship her
crew, and sailed that day.

Montriveau, down in the cabin, was left alone with Antoinette
de Navarreins. For some hours it seemed as if her dead face was
transfigured for him by that unearthly beauty which the calm of death
gives to the body before it perishes.

“Look here,” said Ronquerolles when Montriveau reappeared on deck,
“_that_ was a woman once, now it is nothing. Let us tie a cannon ball
to both feet and throw the body overboard; and if ever you think of her
again, think of her as of some book that you read as a boy.”

“Yes,” assented Montriveau, “it is nothing now but a dream.”

“That is sensible of you. Now, after this, have passions; but as for
love, a man ought to know how to place it wisely; it is only a woman’s
last love that can satisfy a man’s first love.”



ADDENDUM

Note: The Duchesse de Langeais is the second part of a trilogy. Part one
is entitled Ferragus and part three is The Girl with the Golden Eyes. In
other addendum references all three stories are usually combined under
the title The Thirteen.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

   Blamont-Chauvry, Princesse de
     Madame Firmiani
     The Lily of the Valley

   Grandlieu, Duc Ferdinand de
     The Gondreville Mystery
     A Bachelor’s Establishment
     Modeste Mignon
     Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life

   Granville, Comtesse Angelique de
     A Second Home
     A Daughter of Eve

   Keller, Madame Francois
     Domestic Peace
     The Member for Arcis

   Langeais, Duc de
     An Episode under the Terror

   Langeais, Duchesse Antoinette de
     Father Goriot
     Ferragus

   Marsay, Henri de
     Ferragus
     The Girl with the Golden Eyes
     The Unconscious Humorists
     Another Study of Woman
     The Lily of the Valley
     Father Goriot
     Jealousies of a Country Town
     Ursule Mirouet
     A Marriage Settlement
     Lost Illusions
     A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
     Letters of Two Brides
     The Ball at Sceaux
     Modeste Mignon
     The Secrets of a Princess
     The Gondreville Mystery
     A Daughter of Eve

   Montriveau, General Marquis Armand de
     Father Goriot
     Lost Illusions
     A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
     Another Study of Woman
     Pierrette
     The Member for Arcis

   Navarreins, Duc de
     A Bachelor’s Establishment
     Colonel Chabert
     The Muse of the Department
     Jealousies of a Country Town
     The Peasantry
     Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
     The Country Parson
     The Magic Skin
     The Gondreville Mystery
     The Secrets of a Princess
     Cousin Betty

   Pamiers, Vidame de
     Ferragus
     Jealousies of a Country Town

   Ronquerolles, Marquis de
     The Imaginary Mistress
     The Peasantry
     Ursule Mirouet
     A Woman of Thirty
     Another Study of Woman
     Ferragus
     The Girl with the Golden Eyes
     The Member for Arcis

   Serizy, Comtesse de
     A Start in Life
     Ferragus
     Ursule Mirouet
     A Woman of Thirty
     Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
     Another Study of Woman
     The Imaginary Mistress

   Soulanges, Comtesse Hortense de
     Domestic Peace
     The Peasantry

   Talleyrand-Perigord, Charles-Maurice de
     The Chouans
     The Gondreville Mystery
     Letters of Two Brides
     Gaudissart II





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