A Woman of Thirty
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 4
suspect, or she seemed not to suspect, his love for her; and Charles,
in utter confusion turning upon himself, was forced to admit that he
had said and done nothing which could warrant such a belief on her
part. For M. de Vandenesse that evening, the Marquise was, as she had
always been, simple and friendly, sincere in her sorrow, glad to have
a friend, proud to find a nature responsive to her own--nothing more.
It had not entered her mind that a woman could yield twice; she had
known love--love lay bleeding still in the depths of her heart, but
she did not imagine that bliss could bring her its rapture twice, for
she believed not merely in the intellect, but in the soul; and for her
love was no simple attraction; it drew her with all noble attractions.
In a moment Charles became a young man again, enthralled by the
splendor of a nature so lofty. He wished for a fuller initiation into
the secret history of a life blighted rather by fate than by her own
fault. Mme. d'Aiglemont heard him ask the cause of the overwhelming
sorrow which had blended all the harmonies of sadness with her beauty;
she gave him one glance, but that searching look was like a seal set
upon some solemn compact.
"Ask no more such questions of me," she said. "Four years ago, on this
very day, the man who loved me, for whom I would have given up
everything, even my own self-respect, died, and died to save my name.
That love was still young and pure and full of illusions when it came
to an end. Before I gave way to passion--and never was a woman so
urged by fate--I had been drawn into the mistake that ruins many a
girl's life, a marriage with a man whose agreeable manners concealed
his emptiness. Marriage plucked my hopes away one by one. And now,
to-day, I have forfeited happiness through marriage, as well as the
happiness styled criminal, and I have known no happiness. Nothing is
left to me. If I could not die, at least I ought to be faithful to my
No tears came with the words. Her eyes fell, and there was a slight
twisting of the fingers interclasped, according to her wont. It was
simply said, but in her voice there was a note of despair, deep as her
love seemed to have been, which left Charles without a hope. The
dreadful story of a life told in three sentences, with that twisting
of the fingers for all comment, the might of anguish in a fragile
woman, the dark depths masked by a fair face, the tears of four years
of mourning fascinated Vandenesse; he sat silent and diminished in the
presence of her woman's greatness and nobleness, seeing not the
physical beauty so exquisite, so perfectly complete, but the soul so
great in its power to feel. He had found, at last, the ideal of his
fantastic imaginings, the ideal so vigorously invoked by all who look
on life as the raw material of a passion for which many a one seeks
ardently, and dies before he has grasped the whole of the dreamed-of
With those words of hers in his ears, in the presence of her sublime
beauty, his own thoughts seemed poor and narrow. Powerless as he felt
himself to find words of his own, simple enough and lofty enough to
scale the heights of this exaltation, he took refuge in platitudes as
to the destiny of women.
"Madame, we must either forget our pain, or hollow out a tomb for
But reason always cuts a poor figure beside sentiment; the one being
essentially restricted, like everything that is positive, while the
other is infinite. To set to work to reason where you are required to
feel, is the mark of a limited nature. Vandenesse therefore held his
peace, sat awhile with his eyes fixed upon her, then came away. A prey
to novel thoughts which exalted woman for him, he was in something the
same position as a painter who has taken the vulgar studio model for a
type of womanhood, and suddenly confronts the /Mnemosyne/ of the Musee
--that noblest and least appreciated of antique statues.
Charles de Vandenesse was deeply in love. He loved Mme. d'Aiglemont
with the loyalty of youth, with the fervor that communicates such
ineffable charm to a first passion, with a simplicity of heart of
which a man only recovers some fragments when he loves again at a
later day. Delicious first passion of youth, almost always deliciously
savored by the woman who calls it forth; for at the golden prime of
thirty, from the poetic summit of a woman's life, she can look out
over the whole course of love--backwards into the past, forwards into
the future--and, knowing all the price to be paid for love, enjoys her
bliss with the dread of losing it ever present with her. Her soul is
still fair with her waning youth, and passion daily gathers strength
from the dismaying prospect of the coming days.
"This is love," Vandenesse said to himself this time as he left the
Marquise, "and for my misfortune I love a woman wedded to her
memories. It is hard work to struggle against a dead rival, never
present to make blunders and fall out of favor, nothing of him left
but his better qualities. What is it but a sort of high treason
against the Ideal to attempt to break the charm of memory, to destroy
the hopes that survive a lost lover, precisely because he only
awakened longings, and all that is loveliest and most enchanting in
These sober reflections, due to the discouragement and dread of
failure with which love begins in earnest, were the last expiring
effort of diplomatic reasoning. Thenceforward he knew no
afterthoughts, he was the plaything of his love, and lost himself in
the nothings of that strange inexplicable happiness which is full fed
by a chance word, by silence, or a vague hope. He tried to love
Platonically, came daily to breathe the air that she breathed, became
almost a part of her house, and went everywhere with her, slave as he
was of a tyrannous passion compounded of egoism and devotion of the
completest. Love has its own instinct, finding the way to the heart,
as the feeblest insect finds the way to its flower, with a will which
nothing can dismay or turn aside. If feeling is sincere, its destiny
is not doubtful. Let a woman begin to think that her life depends on
the sincerity or fervor or earnestness which her lover shall put into
his longings, and is there not sufficient in the thought to put her
through all the tortures of dread? It is impossible for a woman, be
she wife or mother, to be secure from a young man's love. One thing it
is within her power to do--to refuse to see him as soon as she learns
a secret which she never fails to guess. But this is too decided a
step to take at an age when marriage has become a prosaic and tiresome
yoke, and conjugal affection is something less than tepid (if indeed
her husband has not already begun to neglect her). Is a woman plain?
she is flattered by a love which gives her fairness. Is she young and
charming? She is only to be won by a fascination as great as her own
power to charm, that is to say, a fascination well-nigh irresistible.
Is she virtuous? There is a love sublime in its earthliness which
leads her to find something like absolution in the very greatness of
the surrender and glory in a hard struggle. Everything is a snare. No
lesson, therefore, is too severe where the temptation is so strong.
The seclusion in which the Greeks and Orientals kept and keep their
women, an example more and more followed in modern England, is the
only safeguard of domestic morality; but under this system there is an
end of all the charm of social intercourse; and society, and good
breeding, and refinement of manners become impossible. The nations
must take their choice.
So a few months went by, and Mme. d'Aiglemont discovered that her life
was closely bound with this young man's life, without overmuch
confusion in her surprise, and felt with something almost like
pleasure that she shared his tastes and his thoughts. Had she adopted
Vandenesse's ideas? Or was it Vandenesse who had made her lightest
whims his own? She was not careful to inquire. She had been swept out
already into the current of passion, and yet this adorable woman told
herself with the confident reiteration of misgiving;
"Ah! no. I will be faithful to him who died for me."
Pascal said that "the doubt of God implies belief in God." And
similarly it may be said that a woman only parleys when she has
surrendered. A day came when the Marquise admitted to herself that she
was loved, and with that admission came a time of wavering among
countless conflicting thoughts and feelings. The superstitions of
experience spoke their language. Should she be happy? Was it possible
that she should find happiness outside the limits of the laws which
society rightly or wrongly has set up for humanity to live by?
Hitherto her cup of life had been full of bitterness. Was there any
happy issue possible for the ties which united two human beings held
apart by social conventions? And might not happiness be bought too
dear? Still, this so ardently desired happiness, for which it is so
natural to seek, might perhaps be found after all. Curiosity is always
retained on the lover's side in the suit. The secret tribunal was
still sitting when Vandenesse appeared, and his presence put the
metaphysical spectre, reason, to flight.
If such are the successive transformations through which a sentiment,
transient though it be, passes in a young man and a woman of thirty,
there comes a moment of time when the shades of difference blend into
each other, when all reasonings end in a single and final reflection
which is lost and absorbed in the desire which it confirms. Then the
longer the resistance, the mightier the voice of love. And here endeth
this lesson, or rather this study made from the /ecorche/, to borrow a
most graphic term from the studio, for in this history it is not so
much intended to portray love as to lay bare its mechanism and its
dangers. From this moment every day adds color to these dry bones,
clothes them again with living flesh and blood and the charm of youth,
and puts vitality into their movements; till they glow once more with
the beauty, the persuasive grace of sentiment, the loveliness of life.
Charles found Mme. d'Aiglemont absorbed in thought, and to his "What
is it?" spoken in thrilling tones grown persuasive with the heart's
soft magic, she was careful not to reply. The delicious question bore
witness to the perfect unity of their spirits; and the Marquise felt,
with a woman's wonderful intuition, that to give any expression to the
sorrow in her heart would be to make an advance. If, even now, each
one of those words was fraught with significance for them both, in
what fathomless depths might she not plunge at the first step? She
read herself with a clear and lucid glance. She was silent, and
Vandenesse followed her example.
"I am not feeling well," she said at last, taking alarm at the pause
fraught with such great moment for them both, when the language of the
eyes completely filled the blank left by the helplessness of speech.
"Madame," said Charles, and his voice was tender but unsteady with
strong feeling, "soul and body are both dependent on each other. If
you were happy, you would be young and fresh. Why do you refuse to ask
of love all that love has taken from you? You think that your life is
over when it is only just beginning. Trust yourself to a friend's
care. It is so sweet to be loved."
"I am old already," she said; "there is no reason why I should not
continue to suffer as in the past. And 'one must love,' do you say?
Well, I must not, and I cannot. Your friendship has put some sweetness
into my life, but beside you I care for no one, no one could efface my
memories. A friend I accept; I should fly from a lover. Besides, would
it be a very generous thing to do, to exchange a withered heart for a
young heart; to smile upon illusions which now I cannot share, to
cause happiness in which I should either have no belief, or tremble to
lose? I should perhaps respond to his devotion with egoism, should
weigh and deliberate while he felt; my memory would resent the
poignancy of his happiness. No, if you love once, that love is never
replaced, you see. Indeed, who would have my heart at this price?"
There was a tinge of heartless coquetry in the words, the last effort
"If he loses courage, well and good, I shall live alone and faithful."
The thought came from the very depths of the woman, for her it was the
too slender willow twig caught in vain by a swimmer swept out by the
Vandenesse's involuntary shudder at her dictum plead more eloquently
for him than all his past assiduity. Nothing moves a woman so much as
the discovery of a gracious delicacy in us, such a refinement of
sentiment as her own, for a woman the grace and delicacy are sure
tokens of truth. Charles' start revealed the sincerity of his love.
Mme. d'Aiglemont learned the strength of his affection from the
intensity of his pain.
"Perhaps you are right," he said coldly. "New love, new vexation of
Then he changed the subject, and spoke of indifferent matters; but he
was visibly moved, and he concentrated his gaze on Mme. d'Aiglemont as
if he were seeing her for the last time.
"Adieu, madame," he said, with emotion in his voice.
"/Au revoir/," said she, with that subtle coquetry, the secret of a
very few among women.
He made no answer and went.
When Charles was no longer there, when his empty chair spoke for him,
regrets flocked in upon her, and she found fault with herself. Passion
makes an immense advance as soon as a woman persuades herself that she
has failed somewhat in generosity or hurt a noble nature. In love
there is never any need to be on our guard against the worst in us;
that is a safeguard; a woman only surrenders at the summons of a
virtue. "The floor of hell is paved with good intentions,"--it is no
Vandenesse stopped away for several days. Every evening at the
accustomed hour the Marquise sat expectant in remorseful impatience.
She could not write--that would be a declaration, and, moreover, her
instinct told her that he would come back. On the sixth day he was
announced, and never had she heard the name with such delight. Her joy
"You have punished me well," she said, addressing him.
Vandenesse gazed at her in astonishment.
"Punished?" he echoed. "And for what?" He understood her quite well,
but he meant to be avenged for all that he had suffered as soon as she
"Why have you not come to see me?" she demanded with a smile.
"Then you have seen no visitors?" asked he, parrying the question.
"Yes. M. de Ronquerolles and M. de Marsay and young d'Escrignon came
and stayed for nearly two hours, the first two yesterday, the last
this morning. And besides, I have had a call, I believe, from Mme.
Firmiani and from your sister, Mme. de Listomere."
Here was a new infliction, torture which none can comprehend unless
they know love as a fierce and all-invading tyrant whose mildest
symptom is a monstrous jealousy, a perpetual desire to snatch away the
beloved from every other influence.
"What!" thought he to himself, "she has seen visitors, she has been
with happy creatures, and talking to them, while I was unhappy and all
He buried his annoyance forthwith, and consigned love to the depths of
his heart, like a coffin to the sea. His thoughts were of the kind
that never find expression in words; they pass through the mind
swiftly as a deadly acid, that poisons as it evaporates and vanishes.
His brow, however, was over-clouded; and Mme. d'Aiglemont, guided by
her woman's instinct, shared his sadness without understanding it. She
had hurt him, unwittingly, as Vandenesse knew. He talked over his
position with her, as if his jealousy were one of those hypothetical
cases which lovers love to discuss. Then the Marquise understood it
all. She was so deeply moved, that she could not keep back the tears--
and so these lovers entered the heaven of love.
Heaven and Hell are two great imaginative conceptions formulating our
ideas of Joy and Sorrow--those two poles about which human existence
revolves. Is not heaven a figure of speech covering now and for
evermore an infinite of human feeling impossible to express save in
its accidents--since that Joy is one? And what is Hell but the symbol
of our infinite power to suffer tortures so diverse that of our pain
it is possible to fashion works of art, for no two human sorrows are
One evening the two lovers sat alone and side by side, silently
watching one of the fairest transformations of the sky, a cloudless
heaven taking hues of pale gold and purple from the last rays of the
sunset. With the slow fading of the daylight, sweet thoughts seem to
awaken, and soft stirrings of passion, and a mysterious sense of
trouble in the midst of calm. Nature sets before us vague images of
bliss, bidding us enjoy the happiness within our reach, or lament it
when it has fled. In those moments fraught with enchantment, when the
tender light in the canopy of the sky blends in harmony with the
spells working within, it is difficult to resist the heart's desires
grown so magically potent. Cares are blunted, joy becomes ecstasy;
pain, intolerable anguish. The pomp of sunset gives the signal for
confessions and draws them forth. Silence grows more dangerous than
speech for it gives to eyes all the power of the infinite of the
heavens reflected in them. And for speech, the least word has
irresistible might. Is not the light infused into the voice and purple
into the glances? Is not heaven within us, or do we feel that we are
in the heavens?
Vandenesse and Julie--for so she had allowed herself to be called for
the past few days by him whom she loved to speak of as Charles--
Vandenesse and Julie were talking together, but they had drifted very
far from their original subject; and if their spoken words had grown
meaningless they listened in delight to the unspoken thoughts that
lurked in the sounds. Her hand lay in his. She had abandoned it to him
without a thought that she had granted a proof of love.
Together they leaned forward to look out upon a majestic cloud
country, full of snows and glaciers and fantastic mountain peaks with
gray stains of shadow on their sides, a picture composed of sharp
contrasts between fiery red and the shadows of darkness, filling the
skies with a fleeting vision of glory which cannot be reproduced--
magnificent swaddling-bands of sunrise, bright shrouds of the dying
sun. As they leaned Julie's hair brushed lightly against Vandenesse's
cheek. She felt that light contact, and shuddered violently, and he
even more, for imperceptibly they both had reached one of those
inexplicable crises when quiet has wrought upon the senses until every
faculty of perception is so keen that the slightest shock fills the
heart lost in melancholy with sadness that overflows in tears; or
raises joy to ecstasy in a heart that is lost in the vertigo of love.
Almost involuntarily Julie pressed her lover's hand. That wooing
pressure gave courage to his timidity. All the joy of the present, all
the hopes of the future were blended in the emotion of a first caress,
the bashful trembling kiss that Mme. d'Aiglemont received upon her
cheek. The slighter the concession, the more dangerous and insinuating
it was. For their double misfortune it was only too sincere a
revelation. Two noble natures had met and blended, drawn each to each
by every law of natural attraction, held apart by every ordinance.
General d'Aiglemont came in at that very moment.
"The Ministry has gone out," he said. "Your uncle will be in the new
cabinet. So you stand an uncommonly good chance of an embassy,
Charles and Julie looked at each other and flushed red. That blush was
one more tie to unite them; there was one thought and one remorse in
either mind; between two lovers guilty of a kiss there is a bond quite
as strong and terrible as the bond between two robbers who have
murdered a man. Something had to be said by way of reply.
"I do not care to leave Paris now," Charles said.
"We know why," said the General, with the knowing air of a man who
discovers a secret. "You do not like to leave your uncle, because you
do not wish to lose your chance of succeeding to the title."
The Marquise took refuge in her room, and in her mind passed a
pitiless verdict upon her husband.
"His stupidity is really beyond anything!"
THE FINGER OF GOD
Between the Barriere d'Italie and the Barriere de la Sante, along the
boulevard which leads to the Jardin des Plantes, you have a view of
Paris fit to send an artist or the tourist, the most /blase/ in
matters of landscape, into ecstasies. Reach the slightly higher ground
where the line of boulevard, shaded by tall, thick-spreading trees,
curves with the grace of some green and silent forest avenue, and you
see spread out at your feet a deep valley populous with factories
looking almost countrified among green trees and the brown streams of
the Bievre or the Gobelins.
On the opposite slope, beneath some thousands of roofs packed close
together like heads in a crowd, lurks the squalor of the Faubourg
Saint-Marceau. The imposing cupola of the Pantheon, and the grim
melancholy dome of the Val-du-Grace, tower proudly up above a whole
town in itself, built amphitheatre-wise; every tier being grotesquely
represented by a crooked line of street, so that the two public
monuments look like a huge pair of giants dwarfing into insignificance
the poor little houses and the tallest poplars in the valley. To your
left behold the observatory, the daylight, pouring athwart its windows
and galleries, producing such fantastical strange effects that the
building looks like a black spectral skeleton. Further yet in the
distance rises the elegant lantern tower of the Invalides, soaring up
between the bluish pile of the Luxembourg and the gray tours of Saint-
Sulpice. From this standpoint the lines of the architecture are
blended with green leaves and gray shadows, and change every moment
with every aspect of the heavens, every alteration of light or color
in the sky. Afar, the skyey spaces themselves seem to be full of
buildings; near, wind the serpentine curves of waving trees and green
Away to your right, through a great gap in this singular landscape,
you see the canal Saint-Martin, a long pale stripe with its edging of
reddish stone quays and fringes of lime avenue. The long rows of
buildings beside it, in genuine Roman style, are the public granaries.
Beyond, again, on the very last plane of all, see the smoke-dimmed
slopes of Belleville covered with houses and windmills, which blend
their freaks of outline with the chance effects of cloud. And still,
between that horizon, vague as some childish recollection, and the
serried range of roofs in the valley, a whole city lies out of sight:
a huge city, engulfed, as it were, in a vast hollow between the
pinnacles of the Hopital de la Pitie and the ridge line of the
Cimetiere de l'Est, between suffering on the one hand and death on the
other; a city sending up a smothered roar like Ocean grumbling at the
foot of a cliff, as if to let you know that "I am here!"
When the sunlight pours like a flood over this strip of Paris,
purifying and etherealizing the outlines, kindling answering lights
here and there in the window panes, brightening the red tiles, flaming
about the golden crosses, whitening walls and transforming the
atmosphere into a gauzy veil, calling up rich contrasts of light and
fantastic shadow; when the sky is blue and earth quivers in the heat,
and the bells are pealing, then you shall see one of the eloquent
fairy scenes which stamp themselves for ever on the imagination, a
scene that shall find as fanatical worshipers as the wondrous views of
Naples and Byzantium or the isles of Florida. Nothing is wanting to
complete the harmony, the murmur of the world of men and the idyllic
quiet of solitude, the voices of a million human creatures and the
voice of God. There lies a whole capital beneath the peaceful
cypresses of Pere-Lachaise.
The landscape lay in all its beauty, sparkling in the spring sunlight,
as I stood looking out over it one morning, my back against a huge
elm-tree that flung its yellow flowers to the wind. At the sight of
the rich and glorious view before me, I thought bitterly of the scorn
with which even in our literature we affect to hold this land of ours,
and poured maledictions on the pitiable plutocrats who fall out of
love with fair France, and spend their gold to acquire the right of
sneering at their own country, by going through Italy at a gallop and
inspecting that desecrated land through an opera-glass. I cast loving
eyes on modern Paris. I was beginning to dream dreams, when the sound
of a kiss disturbed the solitude and put philosophy to flight. Down
the sidewalk, along the steep bank, above the rippling water, I saw
beyond the Ponte des Gobelins the figure of a woman, dressed with the
daintiest simplicity; she was still young, as it seemed to me, and the
blithe gladness of the landscape was reflected in her sweet face. Her
companion, a handsome young man, had just set down a little boy. A
prettier child has never been seen, and to this day I do not know
whether it was the little one or his mother who received the kiss. In
their young faces, in their eyes, their smile, their every movement,
you could read the same deep and tender thought. Their arms were
interlaced with such glad swiftness; they drew close together with
such marvelous unanimity of impulse that, conscious of nothing but
themselves, they did not so much as see me. A second child, however--a
little girl, who had turned her back upon them in sullen discontent--
threw me a glance, and the expression in her eyes startled me. She was
as pretty and engaging as the little brother whom she left to run
about by himself, sometimes before, sometimes after their mother and
her companion; but her charm was less childish, and now, as she stood
mute and motionless, her attitude and demeanor suggested a torpid
snake. There was something indescribably mechanical in the way in
which the pretty woman and her companion paced up and down. In absence
of mind, probably, they were content to walk to and fro between the
little bridge and a carriage that stood waiting nearby at a corner in
the boulevard, turning, stopping short now and again, looking into
each other's eyes, or breaking into laughter as their casual talk grew
lively or languid, grave or gay.
I watched this delicious picture a while from my hiding-place by the
great elm-tree, and should have turned away no doubt and respected
their privacy, if it had not been for a chance discovery. In the face
of the brooding, silent, elder child I saw traces of thought overdeep
for her age. When her mother and the young man at her side turned and
came near, her head was frequently lowered; the furtive sidelong
glances of intelligence that she gave the pair and the child her
brother were nothing less than extraordinary. Sometimes the pretty
woman or her friend would stroke the little boy's fair curls, or lay a
caressing finger against the baby throat or the white collar as he
played at keeping step with them; and no words can describe the shrewd
subtlety, the ingenuous malice, the fierce intensity which lighted up
that pallid little face with the faint circles already round the eyes.
Truly there was a man's power of passion in the strange-looking,
delicate little girl. Here were traces of suffering or of thought in
her; and which is the more certain token of death when life is in
blossom--physical suffering, or the malady of too early thought
preying upon a soul as yet in bud? Perhaps a mother knows. For my own
part, I know of nothing more dreadful to see than an old man's
thoughts on a child's forehead; even blasphemy from girlish lips is
The almost stupid stolidity of this child who had begun to think
already, her rare gestures, everything about her, interested me. I
scrutinized her curiously. Then the common whim of the observer drew
me to compare her with her brother, and to note their likeness and
Her brown hair and dark eyes and look of precocious power made a rich
contrast with the little one's fair curled head and sea-green eyes and
winning helplessness. She, perhaps, was seven or eight years of age;
the boy was full four years younger. Both children were dressed alike;
but here again, looking closely, I noticed a difference. It was very
slight, a little thing enough; but in the light of after events I saw
that it meant a whole romance in the past, a whole tragedy to come.
The little brown-haired maid wore a linen collar with a plain hem, her
brother's was edged with dainty embroidery, that was all; but therein
lay the confession of a heart's secret, a tacit preference which a
child can read in the mother's inmost soul as clearly as if the spirit
of God revealed it. The fair-haired child, careless and glad, looked
almost like a girl, his skin was so fair and fresh, his movements so
graceful, his look so sweet; while his older sister, in spite of her
energy, in spite of the beauty of her features and her dazzling
complexion, looked like a sickly little boy. In her bright eyes there
was none of the humid softness which lends such charm to children's
faces; they seemed, like courtiers' eyes, to be dried by some inner
fire; and in her pallor there was a certain swarthy olive tint, the
sign of vigorous character. Twice her little brother came to her,
holding out a tiny hunting-horn with a touching charm, a winning look,
and wistful expression, which would have sent Charlet into ecstasies,
but she only scowled in answer to his "Here, Helene, will you take
it?" so persuasively spoken. The little girl, so sombre and vehement
beneath her apparent indifference, shuddered, and even flushed red
when her brother came near her; but the little one seemed not to
notice his sister's dark mood, and his unconsciousness, blended with
earnestness, marked a final difference in character between the child
and the little girl, whose brow was overclouded already by the gloom
of a man's knowledge and cares.
"Mamma, Helene will not play," cried the little one, seizing an
opportunity to complain while the two stood silent on the Ponte des
"Let her alone, Charles; you know very well that she is always cross."
Tears sprang to Helene's eyes at the words so thoughtlessly uttered by
her mother as she turned abruptly to the young man by her side. The
child devoured the speech in silence, but she gave her brother one of
those sagacious looks that seemed inexplicable to me, glancing with a
sinister expression from the bank where he stood to the Bievre, then
at the bridge and the view, and then at me.
I as afraid lest my presence should disturb the happy couple; I
slipped away and took refuge behind a thicket of elder trees, which
completely screened me from all eyes. Sitting quietly on the summit of
the bank, I watched the ever-changing landscape and the fierce-looking
little girl, for with my head almost on a level with the boulevard I
could still see her through the leaves. Helene seemed uneasy over my
disappearance, her dark eyes looked for me down the alley and behind
the trees with indefinable curiosity. What was I to her? Then Charles'
baby laughter rang out like a bird's song in the silence. The tall,
young man, with the same fair hair, was dancing him in his arms,
showering kisses upon him, and the meaningless baby words of that
"little language" which rises to our lips when we play with children.
The mother looked on smiling, now and then, doubtless, putting in some
low word that came up from the heart, for her companion would stop
short in his full happiness, and the blue eyes that turned towards her
were full of glowing light and love and worship. Their voices,
blending with the child's voice, reached me with a vague sense of a
caress. The three figures, charming in themselves, composed a lovely
scene in a glorious landscape, filling it with a pervasive
unimaginable grace. A delicately fair woman, radiant with smiles, a
child of love, a young man with the irresistible charm of youth, a
cloudless sky; nothing was wanting in nature to complete a perfect
harmony for the delight of the soul. I found myself smiling as if
their happiness had been my own.
The clocks struck nine. The young man gave a tender embrace to his
companion, and went towards the tilbury which an old servant drove
slowly to meet him. The lady had grown grave and almost sad. The
child's prattle sounded unchecked through the last farewell kisses.
Then the tilbury rolled away, and the lady stood motionless, listening
to the sound of the wheels, watching the little cloud of dust raised
by its passage along the road. Charles ran down the green pathway back
to the bridge to join his sister. I heard his silver voice calling to
"Why did you not come to say good-bye to my good friend?" cried he.
Helene looked up. Never surely did such hatred gleam from a child's
eyes as from hers at that moment when she turned them on the brother
who stood beside her on the bank side. She gave him an angry push.
Charles lost his footing on the steep slope, stumbled over the roots
of a tree, and fell headlong forwards, dashing his forehead on the
sharp-edged stones of the embankment, and, covered with blood,
disappeared over the edge into the muddy river. The turbid water
closed over a fair, bright head with a shower of splashes; one sharp
shriek after another rang in my ears; then the sounds were stifled by
the thick stream, and the poor child sank with a dull sound as if a
stone had been thrown into the water. The accident had happened with
more than lightning swiftness. I sprang down the footpath, and Helene,
stupefied with horror, shrieked again and again:
The mother was there at my side. She had flown to the spot like a
bird. But neither a mother's eyes nor mine could find the exact place
where the little one had gone under. There was a wide space of black
hurrying water, and below in the bed of the Bievre ten feet of mud.
There was not the smallest possibility of saving the child. No one was
stirring at that hour on a Sunday morning, and there are neither
barges nor anglers on the Bievre. There was not a creature in sight,
not a pole to plumb the filthy stream. What need was there for me to
explain how the ugly-looking accident had happened--accident or
misfortune, whichever it might be? Had Helene avenged her father? Her
jealousy surely was the sword of God. And yet when I looked at the
mother I shivered. What fearful ordeal awaited her when she should
return to her husband, the judge before whom she must stand all her
days? And here with her was an inseparable, incorruptible witness. A
child's forehead is transparent, a child's face hides no thoughts, and
a lie, like a red flame set within glows out red that colors even the
eyes. But the unhappy woman had not thought as yet of the punishment
awaiting her at home; she was staring into the Bievre.
Such an event must inevitably send ghastly echoes through a woman's
life, and here is one of the most terrible of the reverberations that
troubled Julie's love from time to time.
Several years had gone by. The Marquis de Vandenesse wore mourning for
his father, and succeeded to his estates. One evening, therefore,
after dinner it happened that a notary was present in his house. This
was no pettifogging lawyer after Sterne's pattern, but a very solid,
substantial notary of Paris, one of your estimable men who do a stupid
thing pompously, set down a foot heavily upon your private corn, and
then ask what in the world there is to cry out about? If, by accident,
they come to know the full extent of the enormity, "Upon my word," cry
they, "I hadn't a notion!" This was a well-intentioned ass, in short,
who could see nothing in life but deeds and documents.
Mme. de Aiglemont had been dining with M. de Vandenesse; her husband
had excused himself before dinner was over, for he was taking his two
children to the play. They were to go to some Boulevard theatre or
other, to the Ambigu-Comique or the Gaiete, sensational melodrama
being judged harmless here in Paris, and suitable pabulum for
childhood, because innocence is always triumphant in the fifth act.
The boy and girl had teased their father to be there before the
curtain rose, so he had left the table before dessert was served.
But the notary, the imperturbable notary, utterly incapable of asking
himself why Mme. d'Aiglemont should have allowed her husband and
children to go without her to the play, sat on as if he were screwed
to his chair. Dinner was over, dessert had been prolonged by
discussion, and coffee delayed. All these things consumed time,
doubtless precious, and drew impatient movements from that charming
woman; she looked not unlike a thoroughbred pawing the ground before a
race; but the man of law, to whom horses and women were equally
unknown quantities, simply thought the Marquise a very lively and
sparkling personage. So enchanted was he to be in the company of a
woman of fashion and a political celebrity, that he was exerting
himself to shine in conversation, and taking the lady's forced smile
for approbation, talked on with unflagging spirit, till the Marquise
was almost out of patience.
The master of the house, in concert with the lady, had more than once
maintained an eloquent silence when the lawyer expected a civil reply;
but these significant pauses were employed by the talkative nuisance
in looking for anecdotes in the fire. M. de Vandenesse had recourse to
his watch; the charming Marquise tried the experiment of fastening her
bonnet strings, and made as if she would go. But she did not go, and
the notary, blind and deaf, and delighted with himself, was quite
convinced that his interesting conversational powers were sufficient
to keep the lady on the spot.
"I shall certainly have that woman for a client," said he to himself.
Meanwhile the Marquise stood, putting on her gloves, twisting her
fingers, looking from the equally impatient Marquis de Vandenesse to
the lawyer, still pounding away. At every pause in the worthy man's
fire of witticisms the charming pair heaved a sigh of relief, and
their looks said plainly, "At last! He is really going!"
Nothing of the kind. It was a nightmare which could only end in
exasperating the two impassioned creatures, on whom the lawyer had
something of the fascinating effect of a snake on a pair of birds;
before long they would be driven to cut him short.
The clever notary was giving them the history of the discreditable
ways in which one du Tillet (a stockbroker then much in favor) had
laid the foundations of his fortune; all the ins and outs of the whole
disgraceful business were accurately put before them; and the narrator
was in the very middle of his tale when M. de Vandenesse heard the
clock strike nine. Then it became clear to him that his legal adviser
was very emphatically an idiot who must be sent forthwith about his
business. He stopped him resolutely with a gesture.
"The tongs, my lord Marquis?" queried the notary, handing the object
in question to his client.
"No, monsieur, I am compelled to send you away. Mme. d'Aiglemont
wishes to join her children, and I shall have the honor of escorting
"Nine o'clock already! Time goes like a shadow in pleasant company,"
said the man of law, who had talked on end for the past hour.
He looked for his hat, planted himself before the fire, with a
suppressed hiccough; and, without heeding the Marquise's withering
glances, spoke once more to his impatient client:
"To sum up, my lord Marquis. Business before all things. To-morrow,
then, we must subpoena your brother; we will proceed to make out the
inventory, and faith, after that----"
So ill had the lawyer understood his instructions, that his impression
was the exact opposite to the one intended. It was a delicate matter,
and Vandenesse, in spite of himself, began to put the thick-headed
notary right. The discussion which followed took up a certain amount
"Listen," the diplomatist said at last at a sign from the lady, "You
are puzzling my brains; come back to-morrow, and if the writ is not
issued by noon to-morrow, the days of grace will expire, and then--"
As he spoke, a carriage entered the courtyard. The poor woman turned
sharply away at the sound to hide the tears in her eyes. The Marquis
rang to give the servant orders to say that he was not at home; but
before the footman could answer the bell, the lady's husband
reappeared. He had returned unexpectedly from the Gaiete, and held
both children by the hand. The little girl's eyes were red; the boy
was fretful and very cross.
"What can have happened?" asked the Marquise.
"I will tell you by and by," said the General, and catching a glimpse
through an open door of newspapers on the table in the adjoining
sitting-room, he went off. The Marquise, at the end of her patience,
flung herself down on the sofa in desperation. The notary, thinking it
incumbent upon him to be amiable with the children, spoke to the
little boy in an insinuating tone:
"Well, my little man, and what is there on at the theatre?"
"/The Valley of the Torrent/," said Gustave sulkily.
"Upon my word and honor," declared the notary, "authors nowadays are
half crazy. /The Valley of the Torrent/! Why not the Torrent of the
Valley? It is conceivable that a valley might be without a torrent in
it; now if they had said the Torrent of the Valley, that would have
been something clear, something precise, something definite and
comprehensible. But never mind that. Now, how is the drama to take
place in a torrent and in a valley? You will tell me that in these
days the principal attraction lies in the scenic effect, and the title
is a capital advertisement.--And did you enjoy it, my little friend?"
he continued, sitting down before the child.
When the notary pursued his inquiries as to the possibilities of a
drama in the bed of a torrent, the little girl turned slowly away and
began to cry. Her mother did not notice this in her intense annoyance.
"Oh! yes, monsieur, I enjoyed it very much," said the child. "There is
a dear little boy in the play, and he was all alone in the world,
because his papa could not have been his real papa. And when he came
to the top of the bridge over the torrent, a big, naughty man with a
beard, dressed all in black, came and threw him into the water. And
then Helene began to sob and cry, and everybody scolded us, and father
brought us away quick, quick----"
M. de Vandenesse and the Marquise looked on in dull amazement, as if
all power to think or move had been suddenly paralyzed.
"Do be quiet, Gustave!" cried the General. "I told you that you were
not to talk about anything that happened at the play, and you have
forgotten what I said already."
"Oh, my lord Marquis, your lordship must excuse him," cried the
notary. "I ought not to have asked questions, but I had no idea--"
"He ought not to have answered them," said the General, looking
sternly at the child.
It seemed that the Marquise and the master of the house both perfectly
understood why the children had come back so suddenly. Mme.
d'Aiglemont looked at her daughter, and rose as if to go to her, but a
terrible convulsion passed over her face, and all that could be read
in it was relentless severity.
"That will do, Helene," she said. "Go into the other room, and leave
"What can she have done, poor child!" asked the notary, thinking to
appease the mother's anger and to stop Helene's tears at one stroke.
"So pretty as she his, she must be as good as can be; never anything
but a joy to her mother, I will be bound. Isn't that so, my little
Helene cowered, looked at her mother, dried her eyes, struggled for
composure, and took refuge in the next room.
"And you, madame, are too good a mother not to love all your children
alike. You are too good a woman, besides, to have any of those
lamentable preferences which have such fatal effects, as we lawyers
have only too much reason to know. Society goes through our hands; we
see its passions in that most revolting form, greed. Here it is the
mother of a family trying to disinherit her husband's children to
enrich the others whom she loves better; or it is the husband who
tries to leave all his property to the child who has done his best to
earn his mother's hatred. And then begin quarrels, and fears, and
deeds, and defeasances, and sham sales, and trusts, and all the rest
of it; a pretty mess, in fact, it is pitiable, upon my honor,
pitiable! There are fathers that will spend their whole lives in
cheating their children and robbing their wives. Yes, robbing is the
only word for it. We were talking of tragedy; oh! I can assure you of
this that if we were at liberty to tell the real reasons of some
donations that I know of, our modern dramatists would have the
material for some sensational /bourgeois/ dramas. How the wife manages
to get her way, as she invariably does, I cannot think; for in spite
of appearances, and in spite of their weakness, it is always the women
who carry the day. Ah! by the way, they don't take /me/ in. I always
know the reason at the bottom of those predilections which the world
politely styles 'unaccountable.' But in justice to the husbands, I
must say that /they/ never discover anything. You will tell me that
this is a merciful dispens--"
Helene had come back to the drawing-room with her father, and was
listening attentively. So well did she understand all that was said,
that she gave her mother a frightened glance, feeling, with a child's
quick instinct, that these remarks would aggravate the punishment
hanging over her. The Marquise turned her white face to Vandenesse;
and, with terror in her eyes, indicated her husband, who stood with
his eyes fixed absently on the flower pattern of the carpet. The
diplomatist, accomplished man of the world though he was, could no
longer contain his wrath, he gave the man of law a withering glance.
"Step this way, sir," he said, and he went hurriedly to the door of
the ante-chamber; the notary left his sentence half finished, and
followed, quaking, and the husband and wife were left together.
"Now, sir" said the Marquise de Vandenesse--he banged the drawing-room
door, and spoke with concentrated rage--"ever since dinner you have
done nothing but make blunders and talk folly. For heaven's sake, go.
You will make the most frightful mischief before you have done. If you
are a clever man in your profession, keep to your profession; and if
by any chance you should go into society, endeavor to be more
With that he went back to the drawing-room, and did not even wish the
notary good-evening. For a moment that worthy stood dumfounded,
bewildered, utterly at a loss. Then, when the buzzing in his ears
subsided, he thought he heard someone moaning in the next room.
Footsteps came and went, and bells were violently rung. He was by no
means anxious to meet the Marquis again, and found the use of his legs
to make good his escape, only to run against a hurrying crowd of
servants at the door.
"Just the way of all these grand folk," said he to himself outside in
the street as he looked about for a cab. "They lead you on to talk
with compliments, and you think you are amusing them. Not a bit of it.
They treat you insolently; put you at a distance; even put you out at
the door without scruple. After all, I talked very cleverly, I said
nothing but what was sensible, well turned, and discreet; and, upon my
word, he advises me to be more circumspect in future. I will take good
care of that! Eh! the mischief take it! I am a notary and a member of
my chamber!--Pshaw! it was an ambassador's fit of temper, nothing is
sacred for people of that kind. To-morrow he shall explain what he
meant by saying that I had done nothing but blunder and talk nonsense
in his house. I will ask him for an explanation--that is, I will ask
him to explain my mistake. After all is done and said, I am in the
wrong perhaps---- Upon my word, it is very good of me to cudgel my
brains like this. What business is it of mine?"
So the notary went home and laid the enigma before his spouse, with a
complete account of the evening's events related in sequence.
And she replied, "My dear Crottat, His Excellency was perfectly right
when he said that you had done nothing but blunder and talk folly."
"My dear, if I told you why, it would not prevent you from doing the
same thing somewhere else to-morrow. I tell you again--talk of nothing
but business when you go out; that is my advice to you."
"If you will not tell me, I shall ask him to-morrow--"
"Why, dear me! the veriest noodle is careful to hide a thing of that
kind, and do you suppose that an ambassador will tell you about it?
Really, Crottat, I have never known you so utterly devoid of common-
"Thank you, my dear."
One of Napoleon's orderly staff-officers, who shall be known in this
history only as the General or the Marquis, had come to spend the
spring at Versailles. He made a large fortune under the Restoration;
and as his place at Court would not allow him to go very far from
Paris, he had taken a country house between the church and the barrier
of Montreuil, on the road that leads to the Avenue de Saint-Cloud.
The house had been built originally as a retreat for the short-lived
loves of some /grand seigneur/. The grounds were very large; the
gardens on either side extending from the first houses of Montreuil to
the thatched cottages near the barrier, so that the owner could enjoy
all the pleasures of solitude with the city almost at his gates. By an
odd piece of contradiction, the whole front of the house itself, with
the principal entrance, gave directly upon the street. Perhaps in time
past it was a tolerably lonely road, and indeed this theory looks all
the more probable when one comes to think of it; for not so very far
away, on this same road, Louis Quinze built a delicious summer villa
for Mlle. de Romans, and the curious in such things will discover that
the wayside /casinos/ are adorned in a style that recalls traditions
of the ingenious taste displayed in debauchery by our ancestors who,
with all the license paid to their charge, sought to invest it with
secrecy and mystery.
One winter evening the family were by themselves in the lonely house.
The servants had received permission to go to Versailles to celebrate
the wedding of one of their number. It was Christmas time, and the
holiday makers, presuming upon the double festival, did not scruple to
outstay their leave of absence; yet, as the General was well known to
be a man of his word, the culprits felt some twinges of conscience as
they danced on after the hour of return. The clocks struck eleven, and
still there was no sign of the servants.
A deep silence prevailed over the country-side, broken only by the
sound of the northeast wind whistling through the black branches,
wailing about the house, dying in gusts along the corridors. The hard
frost had purified the air, and held the earth in its grip; the roads
gave back every sound with the hard metallic ring which always strikes
us with a new surprise; the heavy footsteps of some belated reveler,
or a cab returning to Paris, could be heard for a long distance with
unwonted distinctness. Out in the courtyard a few dead leaves set a-
dancing by some eddying gust found a voice for the night which fain
had been silent. It was, in fact, one of those sharp, frosty evenings
that wring barren expressions of pity from our selfish ease for
wayfarers and the poor, and fills us with a luxurious sense of the
comfort of the fireside.
But the family party in the salon at that hour gave not a thought to
absent servants nor houseless folk, nor to the gracious charm with
which a winter evening sparkles. No one played the philosopher out of
season. Secure in the protection of an old soldier, women and children
gave themselves up to the joys of home life, so delicious when there
is no restraint upon feeling; and talk and play and glances are bright
with frankness and affection.
The General sat, or more properly speaking, lay buried, in the depths
of a huge, high-back armchair by the hearth. The heaped-up fire burned
scorching clear with the excessive cold of the night. The good father
leaned his head slightly to one side against the back of the chair, in
the indolence of perfect serenity and a glow of happiness. The
languid, half-sleepy droop of his outstretched arms seemed to complete
his expression of placid content. He was watching his youngest, a boy
of five or thereabouts, who, half clad as he was, declined to allow
his mother to undress him. The little one fled from the night-gown and
cap with which he was threatened now and again, and stoutly declined
to part with his embroidered collar, laughing when his mother called
to him, for he saw that she too was laughing at this declaration of
infant independence. The next step was to go back to a game of romps
with his sister. She was as much a child as he, but more mischievous;
and she was older by two years, and could speak distinctly already,
whereas his inarticulate words and confused ideas were a puzzle even
to his parents. Little Moina's playfulness, somewhat coquettish
already, provoked inextinguishable laughter, explosions of merriment
which went off like fireworks for no apparent cause. As they tumbled
about before the fire, unconcernedly displaying little plump bodies
and delicate white contours, as the dark and golden curls mingled in a
collision of rosy cheeks dimpled with childish glee, a father surely,
a mother most certainly, must have understood those little souls, and
seen the character and power of passion already developed for their
eyes. As the cherubs frolicked about, struggling, rolling, and
tumbling without fear of hurt on the soft carpet, its flowers looked
pale beside the glowing white and red of their cheeks and the
brilliant color of their shining eyes.
On the sofa by the fire, opposite the great armchair, the children's
mother sat among a heap of scattered garments, with a little scarlet
shoe in her hand. She seemed to have given herself up completely to
the enjoyment of the moment; wavering discipline had relaxed into a
sweet smile engraved upon her lips. At the age of six-and-thirty, or
thereabouts, she was a beautiful woman still, by reason of the rare
perfection of the outlines of her face, and at this moment light and
warmth and happiness filled it with preternatural brightness.
Again and again her eyes wandered from her children, and their tender
gaze was turned upon her husband's grave face; and now and again the
eyes of husband and wife met with a silent exchange of happiness and
thoughts from some inner depth.
The General's face was deeply bronzed, a stray lock of gray hair
scored shadows on his forehead. The reckless courage of the
battlefield could be read in the lines carved in his hollow cheeks,
and gleams of rugged strength in the blue eyes; clearly the bit of red
ribbon flaunting at his button-hole had been paid for by hardship and
toil. An inexpressible kindliness and frankness shone out of the
strong, resolute face which reflected his children's merriment; the
gray-haired captain found it not so very hard to become a child again.
Is there not always a little love of children in the heart of a
soldier who has seen enough of the seamy side of life to know
something of the piteous limitations of strength and the privileges of
At a round table rather further away, in a circle of bright lamplight
that dimmed the feebler illumination of the wax candles on the
chimney-piece, sat a boy of thirteen, rapidly turning the pages of a
thick volume which he was reading, undisturbed by the shouts of the
children. There was a boy's curiosity in his face. From his /lyceens/
uniform he was evidently a schoolboy, and the book he was reading was
the /Arabian Nights/. Small wonder that he was deeply absorbed. He sat
perfectly still in a meditative attitude, with his elbow on the table,
and his hand propping his head--the white fingers contrasting strongly
with the brown hair into which they were thrust. As he sat, with the
light turned full upon his face, and the rest of his body in shadow,
he looked like one of Raphael's dark portraits of himself--a bent head
and intent eyes filled with visions of the future.
Between the table and the Marquise a tall, beautiful girl sat at her
tapestry frame; sometimes she drew back from her work, sometimes she
bent over it, and her hair, picturesque in its ebony smoothness and
darkness, caught the light of the lamp. Helene was a picture in
herself. In her beauty there was a rare distinctive character of power
and refinement. Though her hair was gathered up and drawn back from
her face, so as to trace a clearly marked line about her head, so
thick and abundant was it, so recalcitrant to the comb, that it sprang
back in curl-tendrils to the nape of her neck. The bountiful line of
eyebrows was evenly marked out in dark contrasting outline upon her
pure forehead. On her upper lip, beneath the Grecian nose with its
sensitively perfect curve of nostril, there lay a faint, swarthy
shadow, the sign-manual of courage; but the enchanting roundness of
contour, the frankly innocent expression of her other features, the
transparence of the delicate carnations, the voluptuous softness of
the lips, the flawless oval of the outline of the face, and with
these, and more than all these, the saintlike expression in the
girlish eyes, gave to her vigorous loveliness the distinctive touch of
feminine grace, that enchanting modesty which we look for in these
angels of peace and love. Yet there was no suggestion of fragility
about her; and, surely, with so grand a woman's frame, so attractive a
face, she must possess a corresponding warmth of heart and strength of
She was as silent as her schoolboy brother. Seemingly a prey to the
fateful maiden meditations which baffle a father's penetration and
even a mother's sagacity, it was impossible to be certain whether it
was the lamplight that cast those shadows that flitted over her face
like thin clouds over a bright sky, or whether they were passing
shades of secret and painful thoughts.
Husband and wife had quite forgotten the two older children at that
moment, though now and again the General's questioning glance traveled
to that second mute picture; a larger growth, a gracious realization,
as it were, of the hopes embodied in the baby forms rioting in the
foreground. Their faces made up a kind of living poem, illustrating
life's various phases. The luxurious background of the salon, the
different attitudes, the strong contrasts of coloring in the faces,
differing with the character of differing ages, the modeling of the
forms brought into high relief by the light--altogether it was a page
of human life, richly illuminated beyond the art of painter, sculptor,
or poet. Silence, solitude, night and winter lent a final touch of
majesty to complete the simplicity and sublimity of this exquisite
effect of nature's contriving. Married life is full of these sacred
hours, which perhaps owe their indefinable charm to some vague memory
of a better world. A divine radiance surely shines upon them, the
destined compensation for some portion of earth's sorrows, the solace
which enables man to accept life. We seem to behold a vision of an
enchanted universe, the great conception of its system widens out
before our eyes, and social life pleads for its laws by bidding us
look to the future.
Yet in spite of the tender glances that Helene gave Abel and Moina
after a fresh outburst of merriment; in spite of the look of gladness
in her transparent face whenever she stole a glance at her father, a
deep melancholy pervaded her gestures, her attitude, and more than
all, her eyes veiled by their long lashes. Those white, strong hands,
through which the light passed, tinting them with a diaphanous, almost
fluid red--those hands were trembling. Once only did the eyes of the
mother and daughter clash without shrinking, and the two women read
each other's thoughts in a look, cold, wan, and respectful on Helene's
part, sombre and threatening on her mother's. At once Helene's eyes
were lowered to her work, she plied her needle swiftly, and it was
long before she raised her head, bowed as it seemed by a weight of
thought too heavy to bear. Was the Marquise over harsh with this one
of her children? Did she think this harshness needful? Was she jealous
of Helene's beauty?--She might still hope to rival Helene, but only by
the magic arts of the toilette. Or again, had her daughter, like many
a girl who reaches the clairvoyant age, read the secrets which this
wife (to all appearance so religiously faithful in the fulfilment of
her duties) believed to be buried in her own heart as deeply as in a
Helene had reached an age when purity of soul inclines to pass over-
rigid judgments. A certain order of mind is apt to exaggerate
transgression into crime; imagination reacts upon conscience, and a
young girl is a hard judge because she magnifies the seriousness of
the offence. Helene seemed to think herself worthy of no one. Perhaps
there was a secret in her past life, perhaps something had happened,
unintelligible to her at the time, but with gradually developing
significance for a mind grown susceptible to religious influences;
something which lately seemed to have degraded her, as it were, in her
own eyes, and according to her own romantic standard. This change in
her demeanor dated from the day of reading Schiller's noble tragedy of
/Wilhelm Tell/ in a new series of translations. Her mother scolded her
for letting the book fall, and then remarked to herself that the
passage which had so worked on Helene's feelings was the scene in
which Wilhelm Tell, who spilt the blood of a tyrant to save a nation,
fraternizes in some sort with John the Parricide. Helene had grown
humble, dutiful, and self-contained; she no longer cared for gaiety.
Never had she made so much of her father, especially when the Marquise
was not by to watch her girlish caresses. And yet, if Helene's
affection for her mother had cooled at all, the change in her manner
was so slight as to be almost imperceptible; so slight that the
General could not have noticed it, jealous though he might be of the
harmony of home. No masculine insight could have sounded the depths of
those two feminine natures; the one was young and generous, the other
sensitive and proud; the first had a wealth of indulgence in her
nature, the second was full of craft and love. If the Marquise made
her daughter's life a burden to her by a woman's subtle tyranny, it
was a tyranny invisible to all but the victim; and for the rest, these
conjectures only called forth after the event must remain conjectures.
Until this night no accusing flash of light had escaped either of
them, but an ominous mystery was too surely growing up between them, a
mystery known only to themselves and God.
"Come, Abel," called the Marquise, seizing on her opportunity when the
children were tired of play and still for a moment. "Come, come,
child; you must be put to bed--"
And with a glance that must be obeyed, she caught him up and took him
on her knee.
"What!" exclaimed the General. "Half-past ten o'clock, and not one of
the servants has come back! The rascals!--Gustave," he added, turning
to his son, "I allowed you to read that book only on the condition
that you should put it away at ten o'clock. You ought to have shut up
the book at the proper time and gone to bed, as you promised. If you
mean to make your mark in the world, you must keep your word; let it
be a second religion to you, and a point of honor. Fox, one of the
greatest English orators, was remarkable, above all things, for the
beauty of his character, and the very first of his qualities was the
scrupulous faithfulness with which he kept his engagements. When he
was a child, his father (an Englishman of the old school) gave him a
pretty strong lesson which he never forgot. Like most rich Englishmen,
Fox's father had a country house and a considerable park about it.
Now, in the park there was an old summer-house, and orders had been
given that this summer-house was to be pulled down and put up
somewhere else where there was a finer view. Fox was just about your
age, and had come home for the holidays. Boys are fond of seeing
things pulled to pieces, so young Fox asked to stay on at home for a
few days longer to see the old summer-house taken down; but his father
said that he must go back to school on the proper day, so there was
anger between father and son. Fox's mother (like all mammas) took the
boy's part. Then the father solemnly promised that the summer-house
should stay where it was till the next holidays.
"So Fox went back to school; and his father, thinking that lessons
would soon drive the whole thing out of the boy's mind, had the
summer-house pulled down and put up in the new position. But as it
happened, the persistent youngster thought of nothing but that summer-
house; and as soon as he came home again, his first care was to go out
to look at the old building, and he came in to breakfast looking quite
doleful, and said to his father, 'You have broken your promise.' The
old English gentleman said with confusion full of dignity, 'That is
true, my boy; but I will make amends. A man ought to think of keeping
his word before he thinks of his fortune; for by keeping his word he
will gain fortune, while all the fortunes in the world will not efface
the stain left on your conscience by a breach of faith.' Then he gave
orders that the summer-house should be put up again in the old place,
and when it had been rebuilt he had it taken down again for his son to
see. Let this be a lesson to /you/, Gustave."
Gustave had been listening with interest, and now he closed the book
at once. There was a moment's silence, while the General took
possession of Moina, who could scarcely keep her eyes open. The little
one's languid head fell back on her father's breast, and in a moment
she was fast asleep, wrapped round about in her golden curls.
Just then a sound of hurrying footsteps rang on the pavement out in
the street, immediately followed by three knocks on the street door,
waking the echoes of the house. The reverberating blows told, as
plainly as a cry for help that here was a man flying for his life. The
house dog barked furiously. A thrill of excitement ran through Helene
and Gustave and the General and his wife; but neither Abel, with the
night-cap strings just tied under his chin, nor Moina awoke.
"The fellow is in a hurry!" exclaimed the General. He put the little
girl down on the chair, and hastened out of the room, heedless of his
wife's entreating cry, "Dear, do not go down--"
He stepped into his own room for a pair of pistols, lighted a dark
lantern, sprang at lightning speed down the staircase, and in another
minute reached the house door, his oldest boy fearlessly following.
"Who is there?" demanded he.
"Let me in," panted a breathless voice.
"Are you a friend?"
"Are you alone?"
"Yes! But let me in; /they/ are after me!"
The General had scarcely set the door ajar before a man slipped into
the porch with the uncanny swiftness of a shadow. Before the master of
the house could prevent him, the intruder had closed the door with a
well-directed kick, and set his back against it resolutely, as if he
were determined that it should not be opened again. In a moment the
General had his lantern and pistol at a level with the stranger's
breast, and beheld a man of medium height in a fur-lined pelisse. It
was an old man's garment, both too large and too long for its present
wearer. Chance or caution had slouched the man's hat over his eyes.
"You can lower your pistol, sir," said this person. "I do not claim to
stay in your house against your will; but if I leave it, death is
waiting for me at the barrier. And what a death! You would be
answerable to God for it! I ask for your hospitality for two hours.
And bear this in mind, sir, that, suppliant as I am, I have a right to
command with the despotism of necessity. I want the Arab's
hospitality. Either I and my secret must be inviolable, or open the
door and I will go to my death. I want secrecy, a safe hiding-place,
and water. Oh! water!" he cried again, with a rattle in his throat.
"Who are you?" demanded the General, taken aback by the stranger's
"Ah! who am I? Good, open the door, and I will put a distance between
us," retorted the other, and there was a diabolical irony in his tone.
Dexterously as the Marquis passed the light of the lantern over the
man's face, he could only see the lower half of it, and that in nowise
prepossessed him in favor of this singular claimant of hospitality.
The cheeks were livid and quivering, the features dreadfully
contorted. Under the shadow of the hat-brim a pair of eyes gleamed out
like flames; the feeble candle-light looked almost dim in comparison.
Some sort of answer must be made however.
"Your language, sir, is so extraordinary that in my place you
"My life is in your hands!" the intruder broke in. The sound of his
voice was dreadful to hear.
"Two hours?" said the Marquis, wavering.
"Two hours," echoed the other.
Then quite suddenly, with a desperate gesture, he pushed back his hat
and left his forehead bare, and, as if he meant to try a final
expedient, he gave the General a glance that seemed to plunge like a
vivid flash into his very soul. That electrical discharge of
intelligence and will was swift as lightning and crushing as a
thunderbolt; for there are moments when a human being is invested for
a brief space with inexplicable power.
"Come, whoever you may be, you shall be in safety under my roof," the
master of the house said gravely at last, acting, as he imagined, upon
one of those intuitions which a man cannot always explain to himself.
"God will repay you!" said the stranger, with a deep, involuntary
"Have you weapons?" asked the General.
For all answer the stranger flung open his fur pelisse, and scarcely
gave the other time for a glance before he wrapped it about him again.
To all appearance he was unarmed and in evening dress. Swift as the
soldier's scrutiny had been, he saw something, however, which made him
"Where the devil have you been to get yourself in such a mess in such
"More questions!" said the stranger haughtily.
At the words the Marquis caught sight of his son, and his own late
homily on the strict fulfilment of a given word came up to his mind.
In lively vexation, he exclaimed, not without a touch of anger:
"What! little rogue, you here when you ought to be in bed?"
"Because I thought I might be of some good in danger," answered
"There, go up to your room," said his father, mollified by the reply.
--"And you" (addressing the stranger), "come with me."
The two men grew as silent as a pair of gamblers who watch each
other's play with mutual suspicions. The General himself began to be
troubled with ugly presentiments. The strange visit weighed upon his
mind already like a nightmare; but he had passed his word, there was
no help for it now, and he led the way along the passages and
stairways till they reached a large room on the second floor
immediately above the salon. This was an empty room where linen was
dried in the winter. It had but the one door, and for all decoration
boasted one solitary shabby looking-glass above the chimney-piece,
left by the previous owner, and a great pier glass, placed
provisionally opposite the fireplace until such time as a use should
be found for it in the rooms below. The four yellowish walls were
bare. The floor had never been swept. The huge attic was icy-cold, and
the furniture consisted of a couple of rickety straw-bottomed chairs,
or rather frames of chairs. The General set the lantern down upon the
chimney-piece. Then he spoke:
"It is necessary for your own safety to hide you in this comfortless
attic. And, as you have my promise to keep your secret, you will
permit me to lock you in."
The other bent his head in acquiescence.
"I asked for nothing but a hiding-place, secrecy, and water," returned
"I will bring you some directly," said the Marquis, shutting the door
cautiously. He groped his way down into the salon for a lamp before
going to the kitchen to look for a carafe.
"Well, what is it?" the Marquise asked quickly.
"Nothing, dear," he returned coolly.
"But we listened, and we certainly heard you go upstairs with
"Helene," said the General, and he looked at his daughter, who raised
her face, "bear in mind that your father's honor depends upon your
discretion. You must have heard nothing."
The girl bent her head in answer. The Marquise was confused and
smarting inwardly at the way in which her husband had thought fit to
Meanwhile the General went for the bottle and a tumbler, and returned
to the room above. His prisoner was leaning against the chimney-piece,
his head was bare, he had flung down his hat on one of the two chairs.
Evidently he had not expected to have so bright a light turned upon
him, and he frowned and looked anxious as he met the General's keen
eyes; but his face softened and wore a gracious expression as he
thanked his protector. When the latter placed the bottle and glass on
the mantel-shelf, the stranger's eyes flashed out on him again; and
when he spoke, it was in musical tones with no sign of the previous
guttural convulsion, though his voice was still unsteady with
"I shall seem to you to be a strange being, sir, but you must pardon
the caprices of necessity. If you propose to remain in the room, I beg
that you will not look at me while I am drinking."
Vexed at this continual obedience to a man whom he disliked, the
General sharply turned his back upon him. The stranger thereupon drew
a white handkerchief from his pocket and wound it about his right
hand. Then he seized the carafe and emptied it at a draught. The
Marquis, staring vacantly into the tall mirror across the room,
without a thought of breaking his implicit promise, saw the stranger's
figure distinctly reflected by the opposite looking-glass, and saw,
too, a red stain suddenly appear through the folds of the white
bandage. The man's hands were steeped in blood.
"Ah! you saw me!" cried the other. He had drunk off the water and
wrapped himself again in his cloak, and now scrutinized the General
suspiciously. "It is all over with me! Here they come!"
"I don't hear anything," said the Marquis.
"You have not the same interest that I have in listening for sounds in
"You have been fighting a duel, I suppose, to be in such a state?"
queried the General, not a little disturbed by the color of those
broad, dark patches staining his visitor's cloak.
"Yes, a duel; you have it," said the other, and a bitter smile flitted
over his lips.
As he spoke a sound rang along the distant road, a sound of galloping
horses; but so faint as yet, that it was the merest dawn of a sound.
The General's trained ear recognized the advance of a troop of
"That is the gendarmerie," said he.
He glanced at his prisoner to reassure him after his own involuntary
indiscretion, took the lamp, and went down to the salon. He had
scarcely laid the key of the room above upon the chimney-piece when
the hoof beats sounded louder and came swiftly nearer and nearer the
house. The General felt a shiver of excitement, and indeed the horses
stopped at the house door; a few words were exchanged among the men,
and one of them dismounted and knocked loudly. There was no help for
it; the General went to open the door. He could scarcely conceal his
inward perturbation at the sight of half a dozen gendarmes outside,
the metal rims of their caps gleaming like silver in the moonlight.
"My lord," said the corporal, "have you heard a man run past towards
the barrier within the last few minutes?"
"Towards the barrier? No."
"Have you opened the door to any one?"
"Now, am I in the habit of answering the door myself--"
"I ask your pardon, General, but just now it seems to me that--"
"Really!" cried the Marquis wrathfully. "Have you a mind to try joking
with me? What right have you--?"
"None at all, none at all, my lord," cried the corporal, hastily
putting in a soft answer. "You will excuse our zeal. We know, of
course, that a peer of France is not likely to harbor a murderer at
this time of night; but as we want any information we can get--"
"A murderer!" cried the General. "Who can have been--"
"M. le Baron de Mauny has just been murdered. It was a blow from an
axe, and we are in hot pursuit of the criminal. We know for certain
that he is somewhere in this neighborhood, and we shall hunt him down.
By your leave, General," and the man swung himself into the saddle as
he spoke. It was well that he did so, for a corporal of gendarmerie
trained to alert observation and quick surmise would have had his
suspicions at once if he had caught sight of the General's face.
Everything that passed through the soldier's mind was faithfully
revealed in his frank countenance.
"Is it known who the murderer is?" asked he.
"No," said the other, now in the saddle. "He left the bureau full of
banknotes and gold untouched."
"It was revenge, then," said the Marquis.
"On an old man? pshaw! No, no, the fellow hadn't time to take it, that
was all," and the corporal galloped after his comrades, who were
almost out of sight by this time.
For a few minutes the General stood, a victim to perplexities which
need no explanation; but in a moment he heard the servants returning
home, their voices were raised in some sort of dispute at the cross-
roads of Montreuil. When they came in, he gave vent to his feelings in
an explosion of rage, his wrath fell upon them like a thunderbolt, and
all the echoes of the house trembled at the sound of his voice. In the
midst of the storm his own man, the boldest and cleverest of the
party, brought out an excuse; they had been stopped, he said, by the
gendarmerie at the gate of Montreuil, a murder had been committed, and
the police were in pursuit. In a moment the General's anger vanished,
he said not another word; then, bethinking himself of his own singular
position, drily ordered them all off to bed at once, and left them
amazed at his readiness to accept their fellow servant's lying excuse.
While these incidents took place in the yard, an apparently trifling
occurrence had changed the relative positions of three characters in
this story. The Marquis had scarcely left the room before his wife
looked first towards the key on the mantel-shelf, and then at Helene;
and, after some wavering, bent towards her daughter and said in a low
voice, "Helene your father has left the key on the chimney-piece."
The girl looked up in surprise and glanced timidly at her mother. The
Marquise's eyes sparkled with curiosity.
"Well, mamma?" she said, and her voice had a troubled ring.
"I should like to know what is going on upstairs. If there is anybody
up there, he has not stirred yet. Just go up--"
"/I/?" cried the girl, with something like horror in her tones.
"Are you afraid?"
"No, mamma, but I thought I heard a man's footsteps."
"If I could go myself, I should not have asked you to go, Helene,"
said her mother with cold dignity. "If your father were to come back
and did not see me, he would go to look for me perhaps, but he would
not notice your absence."
"Madame, if you bid me go, I will go," said Helene, "but I shall lose
my father's good opinion--"
"What is this!" cried the Marquise in a sarcastic tone. "But since you
take a thing that was said in joke in earnest, I now /order/ you to go
upstairs and see who is in the room above. Here is the key, child.
When your father told you to say nothing about this thing that
happened, he did not forbid you to go up to the room. Go at once--and
learn that a daughter ought never to judge her mother."
The last words were spoken with all the severity of a justly offended
mother. The Marquise took the key and handed it to Helene, who rose
without a word and left the room.
"My mother can always easily obtain her pardon," thought the girl;
"but as for me, my father will never think the same of me again. Does
she mean to rob me of his tenderness? Does she want to turn me out of
These were the thoughts that set her imagination in a sudden ferment,
as she went down the dark passage to the mysterious door at the end.
When she stood before it, her mental confusion grew to a fateful
pitch. Feelings hitherto forced down into inner depths crowded up at
the summons of these confused thoughts. Perhaps hitherto she had never
believed that a happy life lay before her, but now, in this awful
moment, her despair was complete. She shook convulsively as she set
the key in the lock; so great indeed was her agitation, that she
stopped for a moment and laid her hand on her heart, as if to still
the heavy throbs that sounded in her ears. Then she opened the door.
The creaking of the hinges sounded doubtless in vain on the murderer's
ears. Acute as were his powers of hearing, he stood as if lost in
thought, and so motionless that he might have been glued to the wall
against which he leaned. In the circle of semi-opaque darkness, dimly
lit by the bull's-eye lantern, he looked like the shadowy figure of
some dead knight, standing for ever in his shadowy mortuary niche in
the gloom of some Gothic chapel. Drops of cold sweat trickled over the
broad, sallow forehead. An incredible fearlessness looked out from
every tense feature. His eyes of fire were fixed and tearless; he
seemed to be watching some struggle in the darkness beyond him. Stormy
thoughts passed swiftly across a face whose firm decision spoke of a
character of no common order. His whole person, bearing, and frame
bore out the impression of a tameless spirit. The man looked power and
strength personified; he stood facing the darkness as if it were the
visible image of his own future.
These physical characteristics had made no impression upon the
General, familiar as he was with the powerful faces of the group of
giants gathered about Napoleon; speculative curiosity, moreover, as to
the why and wherefore of the apparition had completely filled his
mind; but Helene, with feminine sensitiveness to surface impressions,
was struck by the blended chaos of light and darkness, grandeur and
passion, suggesting a likeness between this stranger and Lucifer
recovering from his fall. Suddenly the storm apparent in his face was
stilled as if by magic; and the indefinable power to sway which the
stranger exercised upon others, and perhaps unconsciously and as by
reflex action upon himself, spread its influence about him with the
progressive swiftness of a flood. A torrent of thought rolled away
from his brow as his face resumed its ordinary expression. Perhaps it
was the strangeness of this meeting, or perhaps it was the mystery
into which she had penetrated, that held the young girl spellbound in
the doorway, so that she could look at a face pleasant to behold and
full of interest. For some moments she stood in the magical silence; a
trouble had come upon her never known before in her young life.
Perhaps some exclamation broke from Helene, perhaps she moved
unconsciously; or it may be that the hunted criminal returned of his
own accord from the world of ideas to the material world, and heard
some one breathing in the room; however it was, he turned his head
towards his host's daughter, and saw dimly in the shadow a noble face
and queenly form, which he must have taken for an angel's, so
motionless she stood, so vague and like a spirit.
"Monsieur . . ." a trembling voice cried.
The murderer trembled.
"A woman!" he cried under his breath. "Is it possible? Go," he cried,
"I deny that any one has a right to pity, to absolve, or condemn me. I
must live alone. Go, my child," he added, with an imperious gesture,
"I should ill requite the service done me by the master of the house
if I were to allow a single creature under his roof to breathe the
same air with me. I must submit to be judged by the laws of the
The last words were uttered in a lower voice. Even as he realized with
a profound intuition all the manifold misery awakened by that
melancholy thought, the glance that he gave Helene had something of
the power of the serpent, stirring a whole dormant world in the mind
of the strange girl before him. To her that glance was like a light
revealing unknown lands. She was stricken with strange trouble,
helpless, quelled by a magnetic power exerted unconsciously. Trembling
and ashamed, she went out and returned to the salon. She had scarcely
entered the room before her father came back, so that she had not time
to say a word to her mother.
The General was wholly absorbed in thought. He folded his arms, and
paced silently to and fro between the windows which looked out upon
the street and the second row which gave upon the garden. His wife lay
the sleeping Abel on her knee, and little Moina lay in untroubled
slumber in the low chair, like a bird in its nest. Her older sister
stared into the fire, a skein of silk in one hand, a needle in the
Deep silence prevailed, broken only by lagging footsteps on the
stairs, as one by one the servants crept away to bed; there was an
occasional burst of stifled laughter, a last echo of the wedding
festivity, or doors were opened as they still talked among themselves,
then shut. A smothered sound came now and again from the bedrooms, a
chair fell, the old coachman coughed feebly, then all was silent.
In a little while the dark majesty with which sleeping earth is
invested at midnight brought all things under its sway. No lights
shone but the light of the stars. The frost gripped the ground. There
was not a sound of a voice, nor a living creature stirring. The
crackling of the fire only seemed to make the depth of the silence
more fully felt.
The church clock of Montreuil had just struck one, when an almost
inaudible sound of a light footstep came from the second flight of
stairs. The Marquis and his daughter, both believing that M. de
Mauny's murderer was a prisoner above, thought that one of the maids
had come down, and no one was at all surprised to hear the door open
in the ante-chamber. Quite suddenly the murderer appeared in their
midst. The Marquis himself was sunk in deep musings, the mother and
daughter were silent, the one from keen curiosity, the other from
sheer astonishment, so that the visitor was almost half-way across the
room when he spoke to the General.
"Sir, the two hours are almost over," he said, in a voice that was
strangely calm and musical.
"/You here/!" cried the General. "By what means----?" and he gave wife
and daughter a formidable questioning glance. Helene grew red as fire.
"You!" he went on, in a tone filled with horror. "/You/ among us! A
murderer covered with blood! You are a blot on this picture! Go, go
out!" he added in a burst of rage.
At that word "murderer," the Marquise cried out; as for Helene, it
seemed to mark an epoch in her life, there was not a trace of surprise
in her face. She looked as if she had been waiting for this--for him.
Those so vast thoughts of hers had found a meaning. The punishment
reserved by Heaven for her sins flamed out before her. In her own eyes
she was as great a criminal as this murderer; she confronted him with
her quiet gaze; she was his fellow, his sister. It seemed to her that
in this accident the command of God had been made manifest. If she had
been a few years older, reason would have disposed of her remorse, but
at this moment she was like one distraught.
The stranger stood impassive and self-possessed; a scornful smile
overspread his features and his thick, red lips.
"You appreciate the magnanimity of my behavior very badly," he said
slowly. "I would not touch with my fingers the glass of water you
brought me to allay my thirst; I did not so much as think of washing
my blood-stained hands under your roof; I am going away, leaving
nothing of /my crime/" (here his lips were compressed) "but the
memory; I have tried to leave no trace of my presence in this house.
Indeed, I would not even allow your daughter to--"
"/My daughter/!" cried the General, with a horror-stricken glance at
Helene. "Vile wretch, go, or I will kill you--"
"The two hours are not yet over," said the other; "if you kill me or
give me up, you must lower yourself in your own eyes--and in mine."
At these last words, the General turned to stare at the criminal in
dumb amazement; but he could not endure the intolerable light in those
eyes which for the second time disorganized his being. He was afraid
of showing weakness once more, conscious as he was that his will was
"An old man! You can never have seen a family," he said, with a
father's glance at his wife and children.
"Yes, an old man," echoed the stranger, frowning slightly.
"Fly!" cried the General, but he did not dare to look at his guest.
"Our compact is broken. I shall not kill you. No! I will never be
purveyor to the scaffold. But go out. You make us shudder."
"I know that," said the other patiently. "There is not a spot on
French soil where I can set foot and be safe; but if man's justice,
like God's, took all into account, if man's justice deigned to inquire
which was the monster--the murderer or his victim--then I might hold
up my head among my fellows. Can you not guess that other crimes
preceded that blow from an axe? I constituted myself his judge and
executioner; I stepped in where man's justice failed. That was my
crime. Farewell, sir. Bitter though you have made your hospitality, I
shall not forget it. I shall always bear in my heart a feeling of
gratitude towards one man in the world, and you are that man. . . .
But I could wish that you had showed yourself more generous!"
He turned towards the door, but in the same instant Helene leaned to
whisper something in her mother's ear.
"Ah! . . ."
At the cry that broke from his wife, the General trembled as if he had
seen Moina lying dead. There stood Helene and the murderer had turned
instinctively, with something like anxiety about these folk in his
"What is it, dear?" asked the General.
"Helene wants to go with him."
The murderer's face flushed.
"If that is how my mother understands an almost involuntary
exclamation," Helene said in a low voice, "I will fulfil her wishes.
She glanced about her with something like fierce pride; then the
girl's eyes fell, and she stood, admirable in her modesty.
"Helene, did you go up to the room where----?"
"Helene" (and his voice shook with a convulsive tremor), "is this the
first time that you have seen this man?"
"Then it is not natural that you should intend to--"
"If it is not natural, father, at any rate it is true."
"Oh! child," said the Marquise, lowering her voice, but not so much
but that her husband could hear her, "you are false to all the
principles of honor, modesty, and right which I have tried to
cultivate in your heart. If until this fatal hour you life has only
been one lie, there is nothing to regret in your loss. It can hardly
be the moral perfection of this stranger that attracts you to him? Can
it be the kind of power that commits crime? I have too good an opinion
of you to suppose that--"
"Oh, suppose everything, madame," Helene said coldly.
But though her force of character sustained this ordeal, her flashing
eyes could scarcely hold the tears that filled them. The stranger,
watching her, guessed the mother's language from the girl's tears, and
turned his eagle glance upon the Marquise. An irresistible power
constrained her to look at this terrible seducer; but as her eyes met
his bright, glittering gaze, she felt a shiver run through her frame,
such a shock as we feel at the sight of a reptile or the contact of a
"Dear!" she cried, turning to her husband, "this is the Fiend himself.
He can divine everything!"
The General rose to his feet and went to the bell.
"He means ruin for you," Helene said to the murderer.
The stranger smiled, took one forward stride, grasped the General's
arm, and compelled him to endure a steady gaze which benumbed the
soldier's brain and left him powerless.
"I will repay you now for your hospitality," he said, "and then we
shall be quits. I will spare you the shame by giving myself up. After
all, what should I do now with my life?"
"You could repent," answered Helene, and her glance conveyed such hope
as only glows in a young girl's eyes.
"/I shall never repent/," said the murderer in a sonorous voice, as he
raised his head proudly.
"His hands are stained with blood," the father said.
"I will wipe it away," she answered.
"But do you so much as know whether he cares for you?" said her
father, not daring now to look at the stranger.
The murderer came up a little nearer. Some light within seemed to glow
through Helene's beauty, grave and maidenly though it was, coloring
and bringing into relief, as it were, the least details, the most
delicate lines in her face. The stranger, with that terrible face
still blazing in his eyes, gave one tender glance to her enchanting
loveliness, then he spoke, his tones revealing how deeply he had been
"And if I refuse to allow this sacrifice of yourself, and so discharge
my debt of two hours of existence to your father; is not this love,
love for yourself alone?"
"Then do you too reject me?" Helene's cry rang painfully through the
hearts of all who heard her. "Farewell, then, to you all; I will die."
"What does this mean?" asked the father and mother.
Helene gave her mother an eloquent glance and lowered her eyes.
Since the first attempt made by the General and his wife to contest by
word or action the intruder's strange presumption to the right of
staying in their midst, from their first experience of the power of
those glittering eyes, a mysterious torpor had crept over them, and
their benumbed faculties struggled in vain with the preternatural
influence. The air seemed to have suddenly grown so heavy, that they
could scarcely breathe; yet, while they could not find the reason of
this feeling of oppression, a voice within told them that this
magnetic presence was the real cause of their helplessness. In this
moral agony, it flashed across the General that he must make every
effort to overcome this influence on his daughter's reeling brain; he
caught her by the waist and drew her into the embrasure of a window,
as far as possible from the murderer.
"Darling," he murmured, "if some wild love has been suddenly born in
your heart, I cannot believe that you have not the strength of soul to
quell the mad impulse; your innocent life, your pure and dutiful soul,
has given me too many proofs of your character. There must be
something behind all this. Well, this heart of mine is full of
indulgence, you can tell everything to me; even if it breaks, dear
child, I can be silent about my grief, and keep your confession a
secret. What is it? Are you jealous of our love for your brothers or
your little sister? Is it some love trouble? Are you unhappy here at
home? Tell me about it, tell me the reasons that urge you to leave
your home, to rob it of its greatest charm, to leave your mother and
brothers and your little sister?"
"I am in love with no one, father, and jealous of no one, not even of
your friend the diplomatist, M. de Vandenesse."
The Marquise turned pale; her daughter saw this, and stopped short.
"Sooner or later I must live under some man's protection, must I not?"
"That is true."
"Do we ever know," she went on, "the human being to whom we link our
destinies? Now, I believe in this man."
"Oh, child," said the General, raising his voice, "you have no idea of
all the misery that lies in store for you."
"I am thinking of /his/."
"What a life!" groaned the father.
"A woman's life," the girl murmured.
"You have a great knowledge of life!" exclaimed the Marquise, finding
speech at last.
"Madame, my answers are shaped by the questions; but if you desire it,
I will speak more clearly."
"Speak out, my child . . . I am a mother."
Mother and daughter looked each other in the face, and the Marquise
said no more. At last she said:
"Helene, if you have any reproaches to make, I would rather bear them
than see you go away with a man from whom the whole world shrinks in
"Then you see yourself, madame, that but for me he would be quite
"That will do, madame," the General cried; "we have but one daughter
left to us now," and he looked at Moina, who slept on. "As for you,"
he added, turning to Helene, "I will put you in a convent."
"So be it, father," she said, in calm despair, "I shall die there. You
are answerable to God alone for my life and for /his/ soul."
A deep sullen silence fell after these words. The on-lookers during
this strange scene, so utterly at variance with all the sentiments of
ordinary life, shunned each other's eyes.
Suddenly the Marquis happened to glance at his pistols. He caught up
one of them, cocked the weapon, and pointed it at the intruder. At the
click of firearms the other turned his piercing gaze full upon the
General; the soldier's arm slackened indescribably and fell heavily to
his side. The pistol dropped to the floor.
"Girl, you are free," said he, exhausted by this ghastly struggle.
"Kiss your mother, if she will let you kiss her. For my own part, I
wish never to see nor to hear of you again."
"Helene," the mother began, "only think of the wretched life before
A sort of rattling sound came from the intruder's deep chest, all eyes
were turned to him. Disdain was plainly visible in his face.
The General rose to his feet. "My hospitality has cost me dear," he
cried. "Before you came you had taken an old man's life; now your are
dealing a deadly blow at a whole family. Whatever happens, there must
be unhappiness in this house."
"And if your daughter is happy?" asked the other, gazing steadily at
The father made a superhuman effort for self-control. "If she is happy
with you," he said, "she is not worth regretting."
Helene knelt timidly before her father.
"Father, I love and revere you," she said, "whether you lavish all the
treasures of your kindness upon me, or make me feel to the full the
rigor of disgrace. . . . But I entreat that your last words of
farewell shall not be words of anger."
The General could not trust himself to look at her. The stranger came
nearer; there was something half-diabolical, half-divine in the smile
that he gave Helene.
"Angel of pity, you that do not shrink in horror from a murderer,
come, since you persist in your resolution of intrusting your life to
"Inconceivable!" cried her father.
The Marquise then looked strangely at her daughter, opened her arms,
and Helene fled to her in tears.
"Farewell," she said, "farewell, mother!" The stranger trembled as
Helene, undaunted, made sign to him that she was ready. She kissed her
father's hand; and, as if performing a duty, gave a hasty kiss to
Moina and little Abel, then she vanished with the murderer.
"Which way are they going?" exclaimed the General, listening to the
footsteps of the two fugitives.--"Madame," he turned to his wife, "I
think I must be dreaming; there is some mystery behind all this, I do
not understand it; you must know what it means."
The Marquise shivered.
"For some time past your daughter has grown extraordinarily romantic
and strangely high-flown in her ideas. In spite of the pains I have
taken to combat these tendencies in her character--"
"This will not do----" began the General, but fancying that he heard
footsteps in the garden, he broke off to fling open the window.
"Helene!" he shouted.
His voice was lost in the darkness like a vain prophecy. The utterance
of that name, to which there should never be answer any more, acted
like a counterspell; it broke the charm and set him free from the evil
enchantment which lay upon him. It was as if some spirit passed over
his face. He now saw clearly what had taken place, and cursed his
incomprehensible weakness. A shiver of heat rushed from his heart to
his head and feet; he became himself once more, terrible, thirsting
for revenge. He raised a dreadful cry.
"Help!" he thundered, "help!"
He rushed to the bell-pull, pulled till the bells rang with a strange
clamor of din, pulled till the cord gave way. The whole house was
roused with a start. Still shouting, he flung open the windows that
looked upon the street, called for the police, caught up his pistols,
and fired them off to hurry the mounted patrols, the newly-aroused
servants, and the neighbors. The dogs barked at the sound of their
master's voice; the horses neighed and stamped in their stalls. The
quiet night was suddenly filled with hideous uproar. The General on
the staircase, in pursuit of his daughter, saw the scared faces of the
servants flocking from all parts of the house.
"My daughter!" he shouted. "Helene has been carried off. Search the
garden. Keep a lookout on the road! Open the gates for the
With the strength of fury he snapped the chain and let loose the great
"Helene!" he cried, "Helene!"
The dog sprang out like a lion, barking furiously, and dashed into the
garden, leaving the General far behind. A troop of horses came along
the road at a gallop, and he flew to open the gates himself.
"Corporal!" he shouted, "cut off the retreat of M. de Mauny's
murderer. They have gone through my garden. Quick! Put a cordon of men
to watch the ways by the Butte de Picardie.--I will beat up the
grounds, parks, and houses.--The rest of you keep a lookout along the
road," he ordered the servants, "form a chain between the barrier and
Versailles. Forward, every man of you!"
He caught up the rifle which his man had brought out, and dashed into
"Find them!" he called to the dog.
An ominous baying came in answer from the distance, and he plunged in
the direction from which the growl seemed to come.
It was seven o'clock in the morning; all the search made by gendarmes,
servants, and neighbors had been fruitless, and the dog had not come
back. The General entered the salon, empty now for him though the
other three children were there; he was worn out with fatigue, and
looked old already with that night's work.
"You have been very cold to your daughter," he said, turning his eyes
on his wife.--"And now this is all that is left to us of her," he
added, indicating the embroidery frame, and the flower just begun.
"Only just now she was there, and now she is lost . . . lost!"
Tears followed; he hid his face in his hands, and for a few minutes he
said no more; he could not bear the sight of the room, which so short
a time ago had made a setting to a picture of the sweetest family
happiness. The winter dawn was struggling with the dying lamplight;
the tapers burned down to their paper- wreaths and flared out;
everything was all in keeping with the father's despair.
"This must be destroyed," he said after a pause, pointing to the
tambour-frame. "I shall never bear to see anything again that reminds
us of /her/!"
The terrible Christmas night when the Marquis and his wife lost their
oldest daughter, powerless to oppose the mysterious influence
exercised by the man who involuntarily, as it were, stole Helene from
them, was like a warning sent by Fate. The Marquis was ruined by the
failure of his stock-broker; he borrowed money on his wife's property,
and lost it in the endeavor to retrieve his fortunes. Driven to
desperate expedients, he left France. Six years went by. His family
seldom had news of him; but a few days before Spain recognized the
independence of the American Republics, he wrote that he was coming
So, one fine morning, it happened that several French merchants were
on board a Spanish brig that lay a few leagues out from Bordeaux,
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