Charles de Bernard
Part 3 out of 6
With marvelous fidelity she went over the slightest events of the day, to
which by a constant effort of willpower, she had seemed so indifferent.
First, she saw Gerfaut with his face covered with blood, and the thought
of the terrible sensation which this sight caused her made her heart
throb violently. She then recalled him as she next saw him, in the
drawing-room by her husband's side, seated in the very chair that she had
left but a moment before. This trifling circumstance impressed her; she
saw in this a proof of sympathetic understanding, a sort of gift of
second sight which Octave possessed, and which in her eyes was so
formidable a weapon. According to her ideas, he must have suspected that
this was her own favorite chair and have seized it for that reason, just
as he would have loved to take her in his arms.
For the first time, Clemence had seen together the man to whom she
belonged and the man whom she regarded somewhat as her property. For,
by one of those arrangements with their consciences of which women alone
possess the secret, she had managed to reason like this: "Since I am
certain always to belong to Monsieur de Bergenheim only, Octave can
certainly belong to me." An heterodoxical syllogism, whose two premises
she reconciled with an inconceivable subtlety. A feeling of shame had
made her dread this meeting, which the most hardened coquette could never
witness without embarrassment. A woman, between her husband and her
lover, is like a plant one sprinkles with ice-cold water while a ray of
sunlight is trying to comfort it. The sombre and jealous, or even
tranquil and unsuspecting, face of a husband has a wonderful power of
repression. One is embarrassed to love under the glance of an eye that
darts flashes as bright as steel; and a calm, kindly look is more
terrible yet, for all jealousy seems tyrannical, and tyranny leads to
revolt; but a confiding husband is like a victim strangled in his sleep,
and inspires, by his very calmness, the most poignant remorse.
The meeting of these two men naturally led Clemence to a comparison which
could but be to Christian's advantage. Gerfaut had nothing remarkable
about him save an intelligent, intensely clever air; there was a
thoughtful look in his eyes and an archness in his smile, but his
irregular features showed no mark of beauty; his face wore an habitually
tired expression, peculiar to those people who have lived a great deal in
a short time, and it made him look older than Christian, although he was
really several years younger. The latter, on the contrary, owed to his
strong constitution, fortified by country life, an appearance of blooming
youth that enhanced his noble regularity of features.
In a word, Christian was handsomer than his rival, and Clemence
exaggerated her husband's superiority over her lover. Not being able to
find the latter awkward or insignificant, she tried to persuade herself
that he was ugly. She then reviewed in her mind all M. de Bergenheim's
good qualities, his attachment and kindness to her, his loyal, generous
ways; she recalled the striking instance that Marillac had related of his
bravery, a quality without which there is no hope of success for a man in
the eyes of any woman. She did all in her power to inflame her
imagination and to see in her husband a hero worthy of inspiring the most
fervent love. When she had exhausted her efforts toward such enthusiasm
and admiration, she turned round, in despair, and, burying her head in
her pillow, she sobbed:
"I cannot, I cannot love him!"
She wept bitterly for a long while. As she recalled her own severity in
the past regarding women whose conduct had caused scandal, she employed
in her turn the harshness of her judgment in examining her own actions.
She felt herself more guilty than all the others, for her weakness
appeared less excusable to her. She felt that she was unworthy and
contemptible, and wished to die that she might escape the shame that made
her blush scarlet, and the remorse that tortured her soul.
How many such unhappy tears bathe the eyes of those who should shed only
tears of joy! How many such sighs break the silence of the night! There
are noble, celestial beings among women whom remorse stretches out upon
its relentless brasier, but in the midst of the flames that torture them
the heart palpitates, imperishable as a salamander. Is it not human fate
to suffer? After Madame de Bergenheim had given vent, by convulsive sobs
and stifled sighs, to her grief for this love which she could not tear
from her breast, she formed a desperate resolution. From the manner in
which M. de Gerfaut had taken possession of the chateau the very first
day, she recognized that he was master of the situation. The sort of
infatuation which Mademoiselle de Corandeuil seemed to have for him, and
Christian's courteous and hospitable habits, would give him an
opportunity to prolong his stay as long as he desired. She thus compared
herself to a besieged general, who sees the enemy within his ramparts.
"Very well! I will shut myself up in the fortress!" said she, smiling
in spite of herself in the midst of her tears. "Since this insupportable
man has taken possession of my drawing-room, I will remain in my own
room; we will see whether he dares to approach that!"
She shook her pretty head with a defiant air, but she could not help
glancing into the room which was barely lighted with a night lamp. She
sat up and listened for a moment rather anxiously, as if Octave's dark
eyes might suddenly glisten in the obscurity. When she had assured
herself that all was tranquil, and that the throbbing of her heart was
all that disturbed the silence, she continued preparing her plan of
She decided that she would be ill the next day and keep to her bed, if
necessary, until her persecutor should make up his mind to beat a
retreat. She solemnly pledged herself to be firm, courageous, and
inflexible; then she tried to pray. It was now two o'clock in the
morning. For some time Clemence remained motionless, and one might have
thought that at least she was asleep. Suddenly she arose. Without
stopping to put on her dressing-gown, she lighted a candle by the night-
lamp, pushed the bolt of her door and then went to the windows, the space
between them forming a rather deep projection on account of the thickness
of the walls. A portrait of the Duke of Bordeaux hung there; she raised
it and pressed a button concealed in the woodwork. A panel opened,
showing a small empty space. The shelf in this sort of closet contained
only a rosewood casket. She opened this mysterious box and took from it
a package of letters, then returned to her bed with the eagerness of a
miser who is about to gaze upon his treasures.
Had she not struggled and prayed? Had she not offered upon the
tyrannical altar of duty as an expiation, tears, pale cheeks and a
tortured soul? Had she not just taken a solemn vow, in the presence of
God and herself, which should protect her against her weakness? Was she
not a virtuous wife, and had she not paid dearly enough for a moment of
sad happiness? Was it a crime to breathe for an instant the balmy air of
love through the gratings of this prison-cell, the doors of which she had
just locked with her own hand? Admirable logic for loving hearts, which,
not being able to control their feelings, suffer in order to prove
themselves less guilty, and clothe themselves in haircloth so that each
shudder may cause a pain that condones the sin!
Being at peace with herself, she read as women read who are in love;
leaning her head upon her hand, she drew out the letters, one by one,
from her bosom where she had placed them. She drank with her heart and
eyes the poison these passionate words contained; she allowed herself to
be swayed at will by these melodies which lulled but did not benumb.
When one of those invincible appeals of imploring passion awoke all the
echoes of her love, and ran through her veins with a thrill, striking the
innermost depths of her heart, she threw herself back and imprinted her
burning lips upon the cold paper. With one letter pressed to her heart,
and another pressed to her lips, she gave herself up completely,
exclaiming in an inaudible voice: "I love thee! I am thine!"
The next morning, when Aline entered her sister-in law's room, according
to her usual custom, the latter was not obliged to feign the
indisposition she had planned; the sensations of this sleepless night had
paled her cheeks and altered her features; it would have been difficult
to imagine a more complete contrast than that between these two young
women at this moment. Clemence, lying upon her bed motionless and white
as the sheet which covered her, resembled Juliet sleeping in her tomb;
Aline, rosy, vivacious, and more petulant than usual, looked very much
the madcap Mademoiselle de Corandeuil had reproached her with being. Her
face was full of that still childish grace, more lovely than calm, more
pleasing than impressive, which makes young girls so charming to the eye
but less eloquent to the heart; for are they not fresh flowers more rich
in coloring than in perfume?
Clemence could hardly stifle a sigh as she gazed at those rosy checks,
those sparkling eyes, that life so full of the rich future. She recalled
a time when she was thus, when grief glided over her cheeks without
paling them, when tears dried as they left her eyes; she also had had her
happy, careless days, her dreams of unalloyed bliss.
Aline, after presenting her face like a child who asks for a kiss, wished
to tease her as usual, but, with a tired gesture, her sister-in-law
begged for mercy.
"Are you ill?" asked the young girl anxiously, as she seated herself
upon the edge of the bed.
Madame de Bergenheim smiled, a forced smile.
"Thank me for my poor health," said she, "for it obliges you to do the
honors; I shall doubtless not be able to go down to dinner, and you must
take my place. You know that it tires my aunt to have to trouble herself
Aline made a little grimace as she replied:
"If I thought you were speaking seriously, I would go and get into my own
bed at once!"
"Child! will you not in your turn be mistress of a home? Is it not
necessary for you to become accustomed to it? It is an excellent
opportunity, and, with my aunt as a guide, you are sure to acquit
These last words were spoken rather maliciously, for the young woman knew
that of all the possible mentors, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was the one
whom Aline dreaded most.
"I beg of you, my kind sister," replied the girl, clasping her hands, "do
not be ill to-day. Is it the neuralgia of the day before yesterday you
are suffering from? Do be a good sister, and get up and come and take a
walk in the park; the fresh air will cure you, I am sure of it "
"And I shall not be obliged to preside at the dinner-table, you would
add; is it not so? You selfish girl!"
"I am afraid of Monsieur de Gerfaut," said the child, lowering her voice.
When she heard pronounced this name, so deeply agitating her, Madame de
Bergenheim was silent for a moment; at last she said:
"What has Monsieur de Gerfaut done to you? Is it not downright
ungrateful to be afraid of him so soon after the service he has rendered
"No, I am not ungrateful," replied the young girl quickly. "I never
shall forget that I owe my life to him, for certainly, but for him, I
should have been dragged into the river. But he has such black, piercing
eyes that they seem to look into your very soul; and then, he is such a
brilliant man! I am all the time afraid of saying something that he may
laugh at. You know, some people think I talk too much; but I shall never
dare open my mouth in his presence. Why do some persons' eyes make such
an impression upon one?"
Clemence lowered her own beautiful eyes and made no reply.
"His friend, Monsieur Marillac, does not frighten me one bit, in spite of
his big moustache. Tell me, does not this Monsieur de Gerfaut frighten
you a little too?"
"Not at all, I assure you," replied Madame de Bergenheim, trying to
smile. "But," she continued, in order to change the conversation, "how
fine you look! You have certainly some plan of conquest. What! a city
gown at nine o'clock in the morning, and hair dressed as if for a ball?"
"Would you like to know the compliment your aunt just paid me?"
"Some little jest of hers, I suppose?"
"You might say some spiteful remark, for she is the hatefulest thing!
She told me that blue ribbons suited red hair very badly and advised me
to change one or the other. Is it true that my hair is red?"
Mademoiselle de Bergenheim asked this question with so much anxiety that
her sister-in-law could not repress a smile.
"You know that my aunt delights in annoying you," said she. "Your hair
is very pretty, a bright blond, very pleasant to the eye; only Justine
waves it a little too tight; it curls naturally. She dresses your hair
too high; it would be more becoming to you if she pushed it back from
your temples a little than to wave it as much as she does. Come a little
nearer to me."
Aline knelt before Madame de Bergenheim's bed, and the latter, adding a
practical lesson to verbal advice, began to modify the maid's work to
suit her own taste.
"It curls like a little mane," said the young girl, as she saw the
trouble her sister-in-law had in succeeding; "it was my great trouble at
the Sacred Heart. The sisters wished us to wear our hair plain, and I
always had a terrible time to keep it in place. However, blond hair
looks ugly when too plainly dressed, and Monsieur de Gerfaut said
yesterday that it was the shade he liked best."
"Monsieur de Gerfaut told you he liked blond hair best!"
"Take care; you are pulling my hair! Yes, blond hair and blue eyes. He
said that when speaking of Carlo Dolci's Virgin, and he said she was of
the most beautiful Jewish type; if he intended it as a compliment to me,
I am very much obliged to him. Do you think that my eyes are as blue as
that of the painted Virgin's. Monsieur de Gerfaut pretends that there is
a strong resemblance."
Madame de Bergenheim withdrew her hand so quickly that she pulled out
half a dozen or more hairs from her sister-in-law's head, and buried
herself up to the chin in the bedclothes.
"Oh! Monsieur de Gerfaut knows how to pay very pretty compliments!" she
said. "And you doubtless are very well pleased to resemble Carlo Dolci's
"She is very pretty!--and then it is the Holy Virgin, you know--Ah!
I hear Monsieur de Gerfaut's voice in the garden."
The young girl arose quickly and ran to the window, where, concealed
behind the curtains, she could see what was going on outside without
being seen herself.
"He is with Christian," she continued. "There, they are going to the
library. They must have just taken a long walk, for they are bespattered
with mud. If you could only see what a pretty little cap Monsieur de
Gerfaut has on!"
"Truly, he will turn her head," thought Madame de Bergenheim, with a
decided feeling of anger; then she closed her eyes as if she wished to
Gerfaut had, in fact, just returned from paying his respects to the
estate. He had followed his host, who, under the pretext of showing him
several picturesque sights, promenaded him, in the morning dew, through
the lettuce in the kitchen garden and the underbrush in the park. But he
knew through experience that all was not roses in a lover's path;
watching in the snow, climbing walls, hiding in obscure closets,
imprisonment in wardrobes, were more disagreeable incidents than a quiet
tete-a-tete with a husband.
He listened, therefore, complacently enough to Bergenheim's prolix
explanations, interested himself in the planting of trees, thought the
fields very green, the forests admirable, the granite rocks more
beautiful than those of the Alps, went into ecstasies over the smallest
vista, advised the establishment of a new mill on the river, which, being
navigable for rafts, might convey lumber to all the cities on the
Moselle, and thus greatly increase the value of the owner's woods. They
fraternized like Glaucus and Diomede; Gerfaut hoping, of course, to play
the part of the Greek, who, according to Homer, received in return for a
common iron armor a gold one of inestimable value. There is always such
a secret mental reservation in the lover's mind when associating with the
husband of his inamorata.
When he entered the room of his wife, whose indisposition had been
reported to him, Christian's first words were:
"This Monsieur de Gerfaut appears to be a very excellent fellow, and I
shall be delighted if he will stay with us a while. It is too bad that
you are ill. He is a good musician, as well as Marillac; you might have
sung together. Try to get better quickly and come down to dinner."
"I can not really tell him that Monsieur de Gerfaut has loved me for more
than a year," said Madame de Bergenheim to herself.
A moment later, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil appeared, and with a prim air
seated herself beside the bed.
"Perhaps you think that I am fooled by this indisposition. I see plainly
that you wish to be impolite to Monsieur de Gerfaut, for you can not
endure him. It seems to me, however, that a relative of your family
ought to be treated with more respect by you, above all, when you know
how much I esteem him. This is unheard-of absurdity, and I shall end by
speaking to your husband about it; we shall see if his intervention will
not have more effect than mine."
"You shall not do that, aunt," Clemence interrupted, sitting up in bed
and trying to take her aunt's hand.
"If you wish that your discourteous conduct should rest a secret between
us, I advise you to get rid of your neuralgia this very day. Now, you
had better decide immediately--"
"This is genuine persecution," exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, falling
back upon her bed when the old lady had departed. "He has bewitched
everybody! Aline, my aunt, and my husband; to say nothing of myself,
for I shall end by going mad. I must end this, at any price." She rang
the bell violently.
"Justine," said she to her maid, "do not let any one enter this room
under any pretext whatsoever, and do not come in yourself until I ring;
I will try to sleep."
Justine obeyed, after closing the blinds. She had hardly gone out when
her mistress arose, put on her dressing-gown and slippers with a vivacity
which betokened anger; she then seated herself at her desk and began to
write rapidly, dashing her pen over the satiny paper without troubling
herself as to blots. The last word was ended with a dash as
energetically drawn as the Napoleonic flourish.
When a young man who, according to custom, begins to read the end of his
letters first finds an arabesque of this style at the bottom of a lady's
letter, he ought to arm himself with patience and resignation before he
reads its contents.
That evening, when Gerfaut entered his room he hardly took time to place
the candlestick which he held in his hand upon the mantel before he took
from his waistcoat pocket a paper reduced to microscopic dimensions,
which he carried to his lips and kissed passionately before opening. His
eyes fell first upon the threatening flourish of the final word; this
word was: Adieu!
"Hum!" said the lover, whose exaltation was sensibly cooled at this
He read the whole letter with one glance of the eye, darting to the
culminating point of each phrase as a deer bounds over ledges of rocks;
he weighed the plain meaning as well as the innuendoes of the slightest
expression, like a rabbi who comments upon the Bible, and deciphered the
erasures with the patience of a seeker after hieroglyphics, so as to
detach from them some particle of the idea they had contained. After
analyzing and criticising this note in all its most imperceptible shades,
he crushed it within his hand and began to pace the floor, uttering from
time to time some of those exclamations which the Dictionnaire de
l'Academie has not yet decided to sanction; for all lovers resemble the
lazzaroni who kiss San-Gennaro's feet when he acts well, but who call him
briconne as soon as they have reason to complain of him. However, women
are very kind, and almost invariably excuse the stones that an angry
lover throws at them in such moments of acute disappointment, and
willingly say with the indulgent smile of the Roman emperor: "I feel no
In the midst of this paroxysm of furious anger, two or three knocks
resounded behind the woodwork.
"Are you composing?" asked a voice like that of a ventriloquist; "I am
A minute later, Marillac appeared upon the threshold, in his slippers and
with a silk handkerchief tied about his head, holding his candlestick in
one hand and a pipe in the other; he stood there motionless.
"You are fine," said he, "you are magnificent, fatal and accursed--You
remind me of Kean in Othello--
"Have you pray'd to-night, Desdemona?"
Gerfaut gazed at him with frowning brows, but made no reply.
"I will wager that it is the last scene in our third act," replied the
artist, placing his candlestick upon the mantel; "it seems that it is to
be very tragic. Now listen! I also feel the poetical afflatus coming
over me, and, if you like, we will set about devouring paper like two
boa-constrictors. Speaking of serpents, have you a rattle? Ah, yes!
Here is the bell-rope. I was about to say that we would have a bowl of
coffee. Or rather, I will go into the kitchen myself; I am very good
friends with Marianne, the cook; besides, the motto of the house of
Bergenheim is liberte, libertas. Coffee is my muse; in this respect, I
"Marillac!" exclaimed Gerfaut, as the artist was about to leave the room.
The artist turned, and meekly retraced his steps.
"You will be so good as to do me the favor of returning to your room,"
said Gerfaut. "You may work or you may sleep, just as you like; between
us, you would do well to sleep. I wish to be alone."
"You say that as if you meditated an attempt upon your illustrious
person. Are you thinking of suicide? Let us see whether you have some
concealed weapon, some poisoned ring. Curse upon it! the poison of the
Borgias! Is the white substance in this china bowl, vulgarly called
sugar, by some terrible chance infamous arsenic disguised under the
appearance of an honest colonial commodity?"
"Be kind enough to spare your jokes," said Octave, as his friend poked
about in all the corners of the room with an affectation of anxiety,
"and, as I can not get rid of you, listen to my opinion: if you think
that I brought you here for you to conduct yourself as you have for the
last two days, you are mistaken."
"What have I done?"
"You left me the whole morning with that tiresome Bergenheim on my hands,
and I verily believe he made me count every stick in his park and every
frog in his pond. Tonight, when that old witch of Endor proposed her
infernal game of whist, to which it seems I am to be condemned daily,
you-excused yourself upon the pretext of ignorance, and yet you play as
good a game as I."
"I can not endure whist at twenty sous a point."
"Do I like it any better?"
"Well, you are a nice fellow! You have an object in view which should
make you swallow all these disagreeable trifles as if they were as sweet
as honey. Is it possible you would like me to play Bertrand and Raton?
I should be Raton the oftener of the two!"
"But, really, what did you do all day?"
Marillac posed before the mirror, arranged his kerchief about his head in
a more picturesque fashion, twisted his moustache, puffed out, through
the corner of his mouth, a cloud of smoke, which surrounded his face like
a London fog, then turned to his friend and said, with the air of a
person perfectly satisfied with himself:
"Upon my faith, my dear friend, each one for himself and God for us all!
You, for example, indulge in romantic love-affairs; you must have titled
ladies. Titles turn your head and make you exclusive. You make love to
the aristocracy; so be it, that is your own concern. As for me, I have
another system; I am, in all matters of sentiment, what I am in politics:
I want republican institutions."
"What is all that nonsense about?"
"Let me tell you. I want universal suffrage, the cooperation of all
citizens, admission to all offices, general elections, a popular
government, in a word, a sound, patriotic hash. Which means regarding
women that I carry them all in my heart, that I recognize between them no
distinction of caste or rank. Article First of my set of laws: all women
are equal in love, provided they are young, pretty, admirably attractive
in shape and carriage, above all, not too thin."
"And what of equality?"
"So much the worse. With this eminently liberal and constitutional
policy, I intend to gather all the flowers that will allow themselves to
be gathered by me, without one being esteemed more fresh than another,
because it belongs to the nobility, or another less sweet, because
plebeian. And as field daisies are a little more numerous than imperial
roses, it follows that I very often stoop. That is the reason why, at
this very moment, I am up to my ears in a little rustic love affair:
Simple et naive bergerette, elle regne--"
"Stop that noise; Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's room is just underneath."
"I will tell you then, since I must give an account of myself, that I
went into the park to sketch a few fir-trees before dinner; they are more
beautiful of their kind than the ancient Fontainebleau oaks. That is for
art. At dinner, I dined nobly and well. To do the Bergenheims justice,
they live in a royal manner. That is for the stomach. Afterward I
stealthily ordered a horse to be saddled and rode to La Fauconnerie in a
trice, where I presented the expression of my adoration to Mademoiselle
Reine Gobillot, a minor yet, but enjoying her full rights already. That
is for the heart."
"No sarcasm, if you please; not everybody can share your taste for
princesses, who make you go a hundred leagues to follow them and then
upon your arrival, only give you the tip of a glove to kiss. Such
intrigues are not to my fancy.
Je suis sergent,
"Again, I say, will you stop that noise? Don't you know that I have
nobody on my side at present but this respectable dowager on the first
floor below? If she supposes that I am making all this racket over her
head we shall be deadly enemies by to-morrow."
"Zitto, zitto, piano, piano,
Senza strepito e rumore,"
replied Marillac, putting his finger to his lips and lowering his voice.
"What you say is a surprise to me. From the way in which you offered
your arm to Madame de Bergenheim to lead her into the drawing-room after
supper, I thought you understood each other perfectly. As I was
returning, for I made it my duty to offer my arm to the old lady--and you
say that I do nothing for you--it seemed to me that I noticed a meeting
of hands--You know that I have an eagle eye. She slipped a note into
your hand as sure as my name is Marillac."
Gerfaut took the note which he held crumpled up in his hand, and held it
in the flame of one of the candles. The paper ignited, and in less than
a second nothing of it remained but a few dark pieces which fell into
ashes upon the marble mantel.
"You burn it! You are wrong," said the artist; "as for me, I keep
everything, letters and hair. When I am old, I shall have the letters
to read evenings, and shall weave an allegorical picture with the hair.
I shall hang it before my desk, so as to have before me a souvenir of the
adorable creatures who furnished the threads. I will answer for it that
there will be every shade in it from that of Camille Hautier, my first
love, who was an albino, to this that I have here."
As he spoke, he took out of his pocket a small parcel from which he drew
a lock of coal-black hair, which he spread out upon his hand.
"Did you pull this hair from Titania's mane?" asked Gerfaut, as he drew
through his fingers the more glossy than silky lock, which he ridiculed
by this ironical supposition.
"They might be softer, I admit," replied Marillac negligently; and he
examined the lock submitted to this merciless criticism as if it were
simply a piece of goods, of the fineness of whose texture he wished to
"You will admit at least that the color is beautiful, and the quantity
makes up for the quality. Upon my word, this poor Reine has given me
enough to make a pacha's banner. Provincial and primitive simplicity!
I know of one woman in particular who never gave an adorer more than
seven of her hairs; and yet, at the end of three years, this cautious
beauty was obliged to wear a false front. All her hair had disappeared.
"Are you like me, Octave? The first thing I ask for is one of these
locks. Women rather like this sort of childishness, and when they have
granted you that, it is a snare spread for them which catches them."
Marillac took the long, dark tress and held it near the candle; but his
movement was so poorly calculated that the hair caught fire and was
"A bad sign," exclaimed Gerfaut, who could not help laughing at his
friend's dismayed look.
"This is a day of autos-de-fe," said the artist, dropping into a chair;
"but bah! small loss; if Reine asks to see this lock, I will tell her
that I destroyed it with kisses. That always flatters them, and I am
sure it will please this little field-flower. It is a fact that she has
cheeks like rosy apples! On my way back I thought of a vaudeville that I
should like to write about this. Only I should lay the scene in
Switzerland and I should call the young woman Betty or Kettly instead of
Reine, a name ending in 'Y' which would rhyme with Rutly, on account of
local peculiarities. Will you join in it? I have almost finished the
scenario. First scene--Upon the rising of the curtain, harvesters are
"Will you do me the favor of going to bed?" interrupted Gerfaut.
"Chorus of harvesters:
Qui se colore--"
"If you do not leave me alone, I will throw the contents of this water-
pitcher at your head."
"I never have seen you in such a surly temper. It looks indeed as if
your divinity had treated you cruelly."
"She has treated me shamefully!" exclaimed the lover, whose anger was
freshly kindled at this question; "she has treated me as one would treat
a barber's boy. This note, which I just burned, was a most formal,
unpleasant, insolent dismissal. This woman is a monster, do you
"A monster! your angel, a monster!" said Marillac, suppressing with
difficulty a violent outburst of laughter.
"She, an angel? I must say that she is a demon--This woman--"
"Do you not adore her?"
"I hate her, I abhor her, she makes me shudder. You may laugh, if you
As he said these words, Gerfaut struck a violent blow upon the table with
"You forget that Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's room is just beneath us,"
said the artist, in a teasing way.
"Listen to me, Marillac! Your system with women is vulgar, gross, and
trivial. The daisies which you gather, the maidens from whom you cut
handfuls of hair excellent for stuffing mattresses, your rustic beauties
with cheeks like rosy apples are conquests worthy of counter-jumpers in
their Sunday clothes. That is nothing but the very lowest grade of love-
making, and yet you are right, a thousand times right, and wonderfully
wise compared with me."
"You do me too much honor! So, then, you are not loved?"
"Truly, I had an idea I was, or, if I was not loved to-day, I hoped to be
to-morrow. But you are mistaken as to what discourages me. I simply
fear that her heart is narrow. I believe that she loves me as much as
she is able to love; unfortunately, that is not enough for me."
"It certainly seems to me that, so far, she has not shown herself madly
in love with you."
"Ah, madly! Do you know many women who love madly with their hearts and
souls? You talk like a college braggart. There are conquerors like
yourself who, if we are to believe them, would devour a whole convent at
their breakfast. These men excite my pity. As for me, really, I have
always felt that it was most difficult to make one's self really loved.
In these days of prudery, almost all women of rank appear 'frappe a la
glace', like a bottle of champagne. It is necessary to thaw them first,
and there are some of them whose shells are so frigid that they would put
out the devil's furnace. They call this virtue; I call it social
servitude. But what matters the name? the result is the same."
"But, really, are you sure that Madame de Bergenheim loves you?" asked
Marillac, emphasizing the word "love" so strongly as to attract his
"Sure? of course I am!" replied the latter. "Why do you ask me?"
"Because, when you are not quite so angry, I want to ask you something."
He hesitated a moment. "If you learned that she cares more for another
than for you, what would you do?"
Gerfaut looked at him and smiled disdainfully.
"Listen!" said he, "you have heard me storm and curse, and you took this
nonsense for genuine hatred. My good fellow! do you know why I raved in
such a manner? It was because, knowing my temperament, I felt the
necessity of getting angry and giving vent to what was in my heart.
If I had not employed this infallible remedy, the annoyance which this
note caused me would have disturbed my nerves all night, and when I do
not sleep my complexion is more leaden than usual and I have dark rings
under my eyes."
"Do you take me for a dandy? Do you not understand why I wish to sleep
soundly? It is simply because I do not wish to appear before her with a
face like a ghost. That would be all that was needed to encourage her in
her severity. I shall take good care that she does not discover how hard
her last thrust has hit me. I would give you a one-hundred-franc note if
I could secure for to-morrow morning your alderman's face and your
complexion a la Teniers."
"Thanks, we are not masquerading just at present.
Nevertheless, all that you have said does not prove in the slightest that
she loves you."
"My dear Marillac, words may have escaped me in my anger which have
caused you to judge hastily. Now that I am calm and that my remedy has
brought back my nervous system to its normal state, I will explain to you
my real position. She is my Galatea, I her Pygmalion. 'An allegory as
old as the world,' you are about to say; old or not, it is my true story.
I have not yet broken the marble-virtue, education, propriety, duty,
prejudices--which covers the flesh of my statue; but I am nearing my goal
and I shall reach it. Her desperate resistance is the very proof of my
progress. It is a terrible step for a woman to take, from No to Yes. My
Galatea begins to feel the blows from my heart over her heart and she is
afraid--afraid of the world, of me, of her husband, of herself, of heaven
and hell. Do you not adore women who are afraid of everything? She,
love another! never! It is written in all eternity that she shall be
mine. What did you wish to say to me?"
"Nothing, since you are so sure of her."
"Sure--more than of my eternal life! But I wish to know what you mean."
"But you won't be told. just a suspicion that came to me; something that
was told to me the other day; a conjecture so vague that it would be
useless to dwell upon it."
"I am not good at guessing enigmas," said Octave, in a dry tone.
"We will speak of this again to-morrow."
"As you like," replied the lover, with somewhat affected indifference.
"If you wish to play the part of Iago with me, I warn you I am not
disposed to jealousy."
"To-morrow, I tell you, I shall enlighten myself as to this affair;
whatever the result of my inquiries may be, I will tell you the truth.
After all, it was nothing but woman's gossip."
"Very well, take your time. But I have another favor to ask of you.
Tomorrow I shall try to persuade the ladies to take a walk in the park.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil will probably not go; you must do me the favor
of sticking to Bergenheim and the little sister, and gradually to walk on
ahead of us, in such a way as to give me an opportunity of speaking with
this cruel creature alone for a few moments; for she has given me to
understand that I shall not succeed in speaking with her alone under any
circumstances, and it is absolutely necessary that I should do so."
"There will be one difficulty in the way, though--they expect about
twenty persons at dinner, and all her time will probably be taken up with
her duties as hostess."
"That is true," exclaimed Gerfaut, jumping up so suddenly that he upset
"You still forget that Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's room is beneath us."
"The devil is playing her hand!" exclaimed the lover, as he paced the
room in long strides. "I wish that during the night he would wring the
neck of all these visitors. Now; then, she has her innings. Today and
tomorrow this little despot's battle of Ligny will be fought and won; but
the day after to-morrow, look out for her Waterloo!"
"Good-night, my Lord Wellington," said Marillac, as he arose and took up
"Good-night, Iago! Ah! you think you have annoyed me with your
mysterious words and melodramatic reticence?"
"To-morrow! to-morrow!" replied the artist as he left the room.
The next morning, before most of the inhabitants of the chateau had
thought of leaving their beds, or at least their rooms, a man, on
horseback, and alone, took his departure through a door opening from the
stable-yard into the park. He wore a long travelling redingote trimmed
with braid and fur, rather premature clothing for the season, but which
the sharp cold air that was blowing at this moment made appear very
comfortable. He galloped away, and continued this pace for about three-
quarters of a mile, in spite of the unevenness of the road, which
followed a nearly straight line over hilly ground. It would have been
difficult to decide which to admire more, the horse's limbs or the
rider's lungs; for the latter, during this rapid ride, had sung without
taking breath, so to speak, the whole overture to Wilhelm Tell. We must
admit that the voice in which he sang the andante of the Swiss
mountaineer's chorus resembled a reed pipe more than a hautboy; but, to
make amends when he reached the presto, his voice, a rather good bass,
struck the horse's ears with such force that the latter redoubled his
vigor as if this melody had produced upon him the effect of a trumpet
sounding the charge on the day of battle.
The traveller, whom we have probably recognized by his musical feat,
concluded his concert by stopping at the entrance to some woods which
extended from the top of the rocks to the river, breaking, here and
there, the uniformity of the fields. After gazing about him for some
time, he left the road and, entering the woods on the right, stopped at
the foot of a large tree. Near this tree was a very small brook, which
took its source not far away and descended with a sweet murmur to the
river, making a narrow bed in the clayey ground which it watered. Such
was the modesty of its course that a little brighter green and fresher
grass a few feet away from it were the only indications of its presence.
Nothing was wanting to make this an idyllic place for a rendezvous,
neither the protecting shade, the warbling of birds in the trees, the
picturesque landscape surrounding it, nor the soft grass.
After dismounting from his steed and tying him to the branches of an oak,
thus conforming to the time-honored custom of lovers, the cavalier struck
his foot upon the ground three or four times to start the circulation in
his legs, and then drew from his pocket a very pretty Breguet watch.
"Ten minutes past eight," said he; "I am late and yet I am early. It
looks as if the clocks at La Fauconnerie were not very well regulated."
He walked up and down with a quick step whistling with a vengeance:
"Quand je quittai la Normandie
a refrain which the occasion brought to his mind. When this pastime was
exhausted he had recourse to another, the nature of which proved that if
the expected beauty had not punctuality for a virtue, she was not one of
those little exacting creatures always ready to faint or whose delicate
nerves make them intolerant of their lovers' imperfections. Plunging his
hand into one of the pockets in his redingote, the waiting cavalier drew
out a sealskin case filled with Havana cigars, and, lighting one, began
to smoke, while continuing his promenade.
But at the end of a few moments this palliative, like the first, had
exhausted its effect.
"Twenty-five minutes past eight!" exclaimed Marillac, as he looked at
his watch a second time; "I should like to know what this little
miniature rose takes me for? It was hardly worth the trouble of over-
straining this poor horse, who looks as wet as if he had come out of the
river. It is enough to give him inflammation of the lungs. If
Bergenheim were to see him sweating and panting like this in this bleak
wind, he would give me a sound blowing-up. Upon my word, it is becoming
comical! There are no more young girls! I shall see her appear
presently as spruce and conceited as if she had been playing the finest
trick in the world. It will do for once; but if we sojourn in these
quarters some time yet, she must be educated and taught to say, 'If you
please' and 'Thanks.' Ah! ha! she has no idea what sort of man she is
dealing with! Half past eight! If she is not here in five minutes I
shall go to La Fauconnerie and raise a terrible uproar. I will break
every bit of crockery there is in the 'Femme-sans-Tete' with blows from
my whip. What can I do to kill time?" He raised his head quickly, as he
felt himself suddenly almost smothered under a shower of dust. This was
a fatal movement for him, for his eyes received part of the libation
destined for his hair. He closed them with a disagreeable sensation,
after seeing Mademoiselle Reine Gobillot's fresh, chubby face, her figure
prim beyond measure in a lilac-and-green plaid gingham dress, and
carrying a basket on her arm, a necessary burden to maidens of a certain
class who play truant.
"What sort of breeding is this?" exclaimed Marillac, rubbing his eyes;
"you have made me dance attendance for an hour and now you have blinded
me. I do not like this at all, you understand."
"How you scold me, just for a little pinch of dust!" replied Reine,
turning as red as a cherry as she threw the remainder of the handful
which she had taken from a mole-heap close by them.
"It is because it smarts like the devil," replied the artist, in a milder
tone, for he realized the ridiculousness of his anger; "since you have
hurt me, try at least to ease the pain; they say that to blow in the eye
will cure it."
"No. I'll do nothing of the kind--I don't like to be spoken to harshly."
The artist arose at once as he saw the young girl make a movement as if
to go; he put his arm about her waist and half forced her to sit beside
"The grass is damp and I shall stain my dress," said she, as a last
A handkerchief was at once spread upon the ground, in lieu of a carpet,
by the lover, who had suddenly become very polite again.
"Now, my dear Reine," continued he, "will you tell me why you come so
late? Do you know that for an hour I have been tearing my hair in
"Perhaps the dust will make it grow again," she replied, with a malicious
glance at Marillac, whose head was powdered with brown dust as if a
tobacco-box had been emptied upon it.
"Naughty girl!" he exclaimed, laughing, although his eyes looked as if
he were crying; and, acting upon the principle of retaliation less odious
in love than in war, he tried to snatch a kiss to punish her.
"Stop that, Monsieur Marillac! you know very well what you promised me."
"To love you forever, you entrancing creature," said he, in the voice of
a crocodile that sighs to attract his prey.
Reine pursed up her lips and assumed important airs, but, in order to
obey the feminine instinct which prescribes changing the subject of
conversation after too direct an avowal, with the firm intention of
returning to it later through another channel, she said:
"What were you doing just as I arrived? You were so busy you did not
hear me coming. You were so droll; you waved your arms in the air and
struck your forehead as you talked."
"I was thinking of you."
"But it was not necessary, in order to do that, to strike your head with
your fist. It must have hurt you."
"Adorable woman!" exclaimed the artist, in a passionate tone.
"Mon Dieu! how you frighten me. If I had known I would not have come
here at all. I must go away directly."
"Leave me already, queen of my heart! No! do not expect to do that; I
would sooner lose my life--"
"Will you stop! what if some one should hear you? they might be
passing," said Reine, gazing anxiously about her. "If you knew how
frightened I was in coming! I told mamma that I was going to the mill to
see my uncle; but that horrid old Lambernier met me just as I entered the
woods. What shall I do if he tells that he saw me? This is not the road
to the mill. It is to be hoped that he has not followed me! I should be
in a pretty plight!"
"You can say that you came to gather berries or nuts, or to hear the
nightingale sing; Mother Gobillot will not think anything of it. Who is
"You know--the carpenter. You saw him at our house the other day."
"Ah! ah!" said Marillac, with interest, "the one who was turned away
from the chateau?"
"Yes, and they did well to do it, too; he is a downright bad man."
"He is the one who told you something about Madame de Bergenheim. Tell
me the story. Your mother interrupted us yesterday just as you began
telling it to me.--What was it that he said?"
"Oh! falsehoods probably. One can not believe anything that he says."
"But what did he tell you?"
"What difference does it make to you what is said about the Baroness?"
replied the young girl, rather spitefully, as she saw that Marillac was
not occupied in thinking of her exclusively.
"Pure curiosity. He told you then that he would tell the Baron what he
knew, and that the latter would give him plenty of money to make him keep
"It makes no difference what he told me. Ask him if you wish to know.
Why did you not stay at the chateau if you can think only of the
Baroness? Are you in love with her?"
"I am in love with you, my dear. [The devil take me if she is not
jealous now! How shall I make her talk?] I am of the same opinion as
you," he replied, in a loud voice, "that all this talk of Lambernier's is
"There is no doubt about it. He is well known about the place; he has a
wicked tongue and watches everything that one does or says in order to
report it at cross-purposes. Mon Dieu! suppose he should make some
story out of his seeing me enter these woods!"
"Madame de Bergenheim," continued the artist, with affectation, "is
certainly far above the gossip of a scoundrel of this kind."
Reine pursed up her lips, but made no reply.
"She has too many good qualities and virtues for people to believe
anything he says."
"Oh, as to that, there are hypocrites among the Parisian ladies as well
as elsewhere," said the young girl, with a sour look.
"Bless me!" thought Marillac, "we have it now. I'd wager my last franc
that I'll loosen her tongue."
"Madame de Bergenheim," he replied, emphasizing each word, "is such a
good woman, so sensible and so pretty!"
"Mon Dieu! say that you love her at once, then--that'll be plain talk,"
exclaimed Reine, suddenly disengaging herself from the arm which was
still about her waist. "A great lady who has her carriages and footmen
in livery is a conquest to boast of! While a country girl, who has only
She lowered her eyes with an air of affected modesty, and did not finish
"A virtue which grants a rendezvous at the end of three days'
acquaintance, and in the depths of the woods! That is amusing!" thought
"Still, you will not be the first of the fine lady's lovers," she
continued, raising her head and trying to conceal her vexation under an
"These are falsehoods."
"Falsehoods, when I tell you that I know what I am speaking about!
Lambernier is not a liar."
"Lambernier is not a liar?" repeated a harsh, hoarse voice, which seemed
to come from the cavity of the tree under which they were seated. "Who
has said that Lambernier was a liar?"
At the same moment, the carpenter in person suddenly appeared upon the
scene. He stood before the amazed pair with his brown coat thrown over
his shoulders, as usual, and his broad-brimmed gray hat pulled down over
his ears, gazing at them with his deep, ugly eyes and a sardonic laugh
escaping from his lips.
Mademoiselle Reine uttered a shriek as if she had seen Satan rise up from
the ground at her feet; Marillac rose with a bound and seized his whip.
"You are a very insolent fellow," said he, in his ringing bass voice."
Go your way!"
"I receive no such orders," replied the workman, in a tone which
justified the epithet which had just been bestowed upon him; "we are upon
public ground, and I have a right to be here as well as you."
"If you do not take to your heels at once," said the artist, becoming
purple with rage, "I will cut your face in two."
"Apples are sometimes cut in two," said Lambernier, sneeringly advancing
his face with an air of bravado. "My face is not afraid of your whip;
you can not frighten me because you are a gentleman and I am a workman!
I snap my fingers at bourgeois like--"
This time he did not have time to finish his comparison; a blow from the
whip cut him in the face and made him reel in spite of himself.
"By heaven!" he exclaimed, in a voice like thunder, "may I lose my name
if I do not polish you off well!"
He threw his coat on the grass, spat, in his hands and rubbed them
together, assuming the position of an athlete ready for a boxing-bout.
Mademoiselle Gobillot, arose, trembling with fright at this
demonstration, and uttered two or three inarticulate cries; but, instead
of throwing herself between the combatants in the approved style, she ran
away as fast as she could.
Although the weapons of the adversaries were not of a nature to spill
blood upon the turf, there was something warlike about their countenances
which would have done honor to ancient paladins. Lambernier squatting
upon his legs, according to the rules of pugilism, and with his fists on
a level with his shoulders, resembled, somewhat, a cat ready to bound
upon its prey. The artist stood with his body thrown backward, his legs
on a tension, his chin buried up to his moustache in the fur collar of
his coat, with whip lowered, watching all his adversary's movements with
a steady eye. When he saw the carpenter advancing toward him, he raised
his arm and gave him on the left side a second lash from his whip, so
vigorously applied that the workman beat a retreat once more, rubbing his
hands and roaring:
"Thunder! I'll finish you--"
He put his hands in his trousers' pockets and drew out one of those large
iron compasses such as carpenters use, and opened it with a rapid
movement. He then seized it in the centre and was thus armed with a sort
of double-pointed stiletto, which he brandished with a threatening
Marillac, at this sight, drew back a few paces, passed his whip to his
left hand and, arming himself with his Corsican poniard, placed himself
in a position of defence.
"My friend," said he, with perfect deliberation, "my needle is shorter
than yours, but it pricks better. If you take one step nearer me, if you
raise your hand, I will bleed you like a wild boar."
Seeing the firm attitude of the artist, whose solid figure seemed to
denote rather uncommon vigor, and whose moustache and sparkling eyes gave
him a rather formidable aspect at this moment; above all, when he saw the
large, sharp blade of the poniard, Lambernier stopped.
"By the gods!" exclaimed Marillac, who saw that his bold looks had
produced their effect, "you are a Provencal, and I a Gascon. You have a
quick hand, comrade--"
"But, by Jove! you are the one who has the quick hand; you struck me
with your whip as if I had been a horse. You have put my eye almost out.
Do you imagine that I am well provided for like yourself and have nothing
to do but to flirt with girls? I need my eyes in order to work, by God!
Because you are a bourgeois and I am a workman--"
"I am not more of a bourgeois than you," replied the artist, rather glad
to see his adversary's fury exhaust itself in words, and his attitude
assume a less threatening character; "pick up your compass and return to
your work. Here," he added, taking two five-franc pieces from his
pocket. "You were a little boorish and I a little hasty. Go and bathe
your eyes with a glass of wine."
Lambernier scowled and his eyes darted ugly, hateful glances. He
hesitated a moment, as if he were thinking what he had better do, and was
weighing his chances of success in case of a hostile resolve. After a
few moments' reflection, prudence got the better of his anger. He closed
his compass and put it in his pocket, but he refused the silver offered
"You are generous," said he, with a bitter smile; "five francs for each
blow of the whip! I know a good many people who would offer you their
cheek twelve hours of the day at that price. But I am not one of that
kind; I ask nothing of nobody."
"If Leonardo da Vinci could have seen this fellow's face just now,"
thought the artist, "he would not have had to seek so long for his model
for the face of Judas. Only for my poniard, my fate would have been
settled. This man was ready to murder me."
"Listen, Lambernier," said he, "I was wrong to strike you, and I would
like to atone for it. I have been told that you were sent away from the
chateau against your will. I am intimate enough with Monsieur de
Bergenheim to be useful to you; do you wish me to speak to him for you?"
The carpenter stood motionless in his place, with his eyes fixed upon his
adversary while the latter was preparing his horse to mount, eyes which
seemed filled with hatred to their very depths. His face suddenly
changed its expression and became abjectly polite when he heard himself
addressed anew. He shook his head two or three times before replying.
"Unless you are the very devil," he said, "I defy you to make this
gentleman say yes when he has once said no. He turned me away like a
dog; all right. Let them laugh that win. It was that old idiot of a
Rousselet and that old simpleton of a coachman of Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil's who told tales about me. I could tell tales also if I
"But what motive could they have to send you away?" continued Marillac,
"you are a clever workman. I have seen your work at the chateau; there
are some rooms yet unfinished; there must have been some very grave
reason for their not employing you just at the moment when they needed
"They said that I talked with Mademoiselle Justine, and Madame caused me
to be discharged. She is mistress there, is she not? But I am the one
to make her repent for it."
"And how can you make her repent for it?" asked the artist, whose
curiosity, left ungratified by Mademoiselle Reine, was growing more and
more excited, "what can you have in common with Madame la Baronne?"
"Because she is a lady and I am a workman, you mean? All the same, if I
could only whisper two or three words in her ear, she would give me more
gold than I have earned since I worked at the chateau, I am sure of it."
"By the powers! if I were in your place, I would say those words to her
this very day."
"So as to be thrown out by that band of idle fellows in their red coats.
None of that for me. I have my own scheme; let them laugh that win!."
As he repeated this proverb, the workman uttered his usual sardonic
"Lambernier," said the artist, in a serious tone, "I have heard of
certain very strange speeches that you have made within the last few
days. Do you know that there is a punishment by law for those who invent
"Is it a calumny, when one can prove what he says?" replied the
carpenter, with assurance.
"What is it that you undertake to prove?" exclaimed Marillac, suddenly.
"Eh! you know very well that if Monsieur le Baron--" he did not continue,
but with a coarse gesture he finished explaining his thoughts.
"You can prove this?"
"Before the courts, if necessary."
"Before the courts would not amount to very much for you; but if you will
cease this talk and never open your mouth about all this, whatever it may
be, and will give to me, and me only, this proof of which you speak, I
will give you ten napoleons."
For a moment Lambernier gazed at the artist with a singularly penetrating
"So you have two sweethearts, then--one from the city and one from the
country, a married woman and this poor girl," said he, in a jeering tone;
"does little Reine know that she is playing second fiddle?"
"What do you mean to insinuate?"
"Oh! you are more clever than!"
The two men looked at each other in silence, trying to read each other's
"This is a lover of Madame de Bergenheim," thought Lambernier, with the
barefaced impudence of his kind; "if I were to tell him what I know, my
vengeance would be in good hands, without my taking the trouble to commit
"Here is a sneaking fellow who pretends to be deucedly strong in
diplomacy," said Marillac to himself; "but he is revengeful and I must
make him explain himself."
"Ten napoleons are not to be found every day," continued the carpenter,
after a moment's silence; "you may give them to me, if you like, in a
"You will be able to prove to me, then, what you have said," replied
Marillac, with hesitation, blushing in spite of himself at the part he
was playing at that moment, upon the odious side of which he had not
looked until now. "Bah!" said he to himself, in order to quiet his
conscience, "if this rascal really knows anything it is much better that
I should buy the secret than anybody else. I never should take advantage
of it, and I might be able to render the lady a service. Is it not a
gentleman's sworn duty to devote himself to the defence of an imprudent
beauty who is in danger?"
"I will bring you the proof you want," said the carpenter.
"Meet me Monday at four o'clock in the afternoon at the cross-roads near
the corner of the Come woods."
"At the end of the park?"
"Yes, a little above the rocks."
"I will be there. Until then, you will not say a word to anybody?"
"That is a bargain, since you buy the goods I have for sale--"
"Here is some money to bind the trade," replied the artist. And he
handed him the silver pieces he still held in his hand; Lambernier took
them this time without any objections, and put them in his pocket.
"Monday, at four o'clock!"
"Monday, at four o'clock!" repeated Marillac, as he mounted his horse
and rode away in great haste as if eager to take leave of his companion.
He turned when he reached the road, and, looking behind him, saw the
workman standing motionless at the foot of the tree.
"There is a scamp," thought he, "whose ball and chain are waiting for him
at Toulon or Brest, and I have just concluded a devilish treaty with him.
Bah! I have nothing to reproach myself with. Of two evils choose the
least; it remains to be seen whether Gerfaut is the dupe of a coquette or
whether his love is threatened with some catastrophe; at all events, I am
his friend, and I ought to clear up this mystery and put him on his
"Ten francs to-day, and ten napoleons Monday," said Lambernier as, with
an eye in which there was a mixture of scorn and hatred, he watched the
traveller disappear. "I should be a double idiot to refuse. But this
does not pay for the blows from your whip, you puppy; when we have
settled this affair of the fine lady, I shall attend to you."
AN INHARMONIOUS MUSICALE
The visitors referred to in the conversation between the two friends
arrived at the castle at an early hour, according to the custom in the
country, where they dine in the middle of the day. Gerfaut saw from his
chamber, where he had remained like Achilles under his tent, half a dozen
carriages drive one after another up the avenue, bringing the guests
announced by Marillac. Little by little the company scattered through
the gardens in groups; four or five young girls under Aline's escort
hurried to a swing, to which several good-natured young men attached
themselves, and among them Gerfaut recognized his Pylades. During this
time Madame de Bergenheim was doing the honors of the house to the
matrons, who thought this amusement too youthful for their age and
preferred a quiet walk through the park. Christian, on his side, was
explaining methods of improvements to gentlemen of agricultural and
industrial appearance, who seemed to listen to him with great interest.
Three or four others had taken possession of the billiard-table; while
the more venerable among the guests had remained in the parlor with
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.
"Have you a pair of clean trousers?" asked Marillac, hastily entering
his friend's room as the first bell rang for dinner. An enormous green
stain upon one of his knees was all the explanation necessary on this
"You, lose no time," said Gerfaut, as he opened a drawer in his closet.
"Which of these rustic beauties has had the honor of seeing you on your
knees at her feet?"
"It was that confounded swing! Silly invention! To sacrifice one's self
to please little girls! If I am ever caught at it again I'll let you
know! Your selfish method is a better, one. By the way, Madame de
Bergenheim asked me, with a rather sly look, whether you were ill and
whether you would not come down to dinner?"
"It: seemed like it. The lady smiled in a decidedly disagreeable manner.
I am not timid, but I would rather write a vaudeville in three acts than
to be obliged to make a declaration to her if she had that impish smile
on her lips. She has a way of protruding her under lip-ugh! do you know
you are terribly slender? Will you let me cut the band of your trousers?
I never could dance with my stomach compressed in this manner."
"What about this secret you were to reveal to me?" Gerfaut interrupted,
with a smile which seemed to denote perfect security.
Marillac looked at his friend with a grave countenance, then began to
laugh in an embarrassed manner.
"We will leave serious matters until to-morrow," he replied. "The
essential thing to-day is to make ourselves agreeable. Madame de
Bergenheim asked me a little while ago whether we would be kind enough to
sing a few duets? I accepted for us both. I do not suppose that the
inhabitants of this valley have often heard the duet from Mose with the
embellishments a la Tamburini:
Palpito a quello aspetto,
'Gemo nel suo dolor.'
Would you prefer that or the one from 'Il Barbiere'? although that is
out of date, now."
"Whatever pleases you, but do not split my head about it in advance.
I wish that music and dancing were at the bottom of the Moselle."
"With all my heart, but not the dinner. I gave a glance into the dining-
room; it promises to be very fine. Now, then, everybody has returned to
the house; to the table!"
The time has long since passed when Paris and the province formed two
regions almost foreign to each other. To-day, thanks to the rapidity of
communication, and the importations of all kinds which reach the centre
from the circumference without having time to spoil on the way, Paris and
the rest of France are only one immense body excited by the same
opinions, dressed in the same fashions, laughing at the same bon mot,
revolutionized by the same opinions.
Provincial customs have almost entirely lost their peculiarities; a
drawing-room filled with guests is the same everywhere. There are
sometimes exceptions, however. The company gathered at the Bergenheim
chateau was an example of one of those heterogeneous assemblies which the
most exclusive mistress of a mansion can not avoid if she wishes to be
neighborly, and in which a duchess may have on her right at the table the
village mayor, and the most elegant of ladies a corpulent justice of the
peace who believes he is making himself agreeable when he urges his fair
neighbor to frequent potations.
Madame de Bergenheim had discovered symptoms of haughty jealousy among
her country neighbors, always ready to feel themselves insulted and very
little qualified to make themselves agreeable in society. So she
resolved to extend a general invitation to all those whom she felt
obliged to receive, in order to relieve herself at once of a nuisance for
which no pleasure could prove an equivalent. This day was one of her
Among these ladies, much more gorgeously than elegantly attired, these
healthy young girls with large arms, and feet shaped like flat-irons,
ponderous gentlemen strangled by their white cravats and puffed up in
their frock-coats, Gerfaut, whose nervous system had been singularly
irritated by his disappointment of the night before, felt ready to burst
with rage. He was seated at the table between two ladies, who seemed to
have exhausted, in their toilettes, every color in the solar spectrum,
and whose coquettish instincts were aroused by the proximity of a
celebrated writer. But their simperings were all lost; the one for whom
they were intended bore himself in a sulky way, which fortunately passed
for romantic melancholy; this rendered him still more interesting in the
eyes of his neighbor on the left, a plump blonde about twenty-five years
old, fresh and dimpled, who doted upon Lord Byron, a common pretension
among pretty, buxom women who adore false sentimentality.
With the exception of a bow when he entered the drawing-room, Octave had
not shown Madame de Bergenheim any attention. The cold, disdainful,
bored manner in which he patiently endured the pleasures of the day
exceeded even the privilege for boorish bearing willingly granted to
gentlemen of unquestionable talent. Clemence, on the contrary, seemed to
increase in amiability and liveliness. There was not one of her tiresome
guests to whom she did not address some pleasant remark, not one of those
vulgar, pretentious women to whom she was not gracious and attentive; one
would have said that she had a particular desire to be more attractive
than usual, and that her lover's sombre air added materially to her good
After dinner they retired to the drawing-room where coffee was served.
A sudden shower, whose drops pattered loudly against the windows,
rendered impossible all plans for amusement out of doors. Gerfaut soon
noticed a rather animated conversation taking place between Madame de
Bergenheim, who was somewhat embarrassed as to how to amuse her guests
for the remainder of the afternoon, and Marillac, who, with his
accustomed enthusiasm, had constituted himself master of ceremonies. A
moment later, the drawing-room door opened, and servants appeared bending
under the burden of an enormous grand piano which was placed between the
windows. At this sight, a tremor of delight ran through the group of
young girls, while Octave, who was standing in one corner near the
mantel, finished his Mocha with a still more melancholy air.
"Now, then!" said Marillac, who had been extremely busy during these
preparations, and had spread a dozen musical scores upon the top of the
piano, "it is agreed that we shall sing the duet from Mose. There are
two or three little boarding-school misses here whose mothers are dying
for them to show off. You understand that we must sacrifice ourselves to
encourage them. Besides, a duet for male voices is the thing to open a
"A concert! has Madame de Bergenheim arranged to pasture us in this
sheepfold in order to make use of us this evening?" replied Gerfaut,
whose ill-humor increased every moment.
"Five or six pieces only, afterward they will have a dance. I have an
engagement with your diva; if you wish for a quadrille and have not yet
secured your number, I should advise you to ask her for it now, for there
are five or six dandies who seem to be terribly attentive to her. After
our duet I shall sing the trio from La Date Blanche, with those young
ladies who have eyes as round as a fish's, and apricot-colored gowns on--
those two over there in the corner, near that pretty blonde who sat
beside you at table and ogled you all the time. She had already bored me
to death! I do not know whether I shall be able to hit my low 'G' right
or not. I have a cataclysm of charlotte-russe in my stomach. Just
'A cette complaisance!--'"
Marillac leaned toward his friend and roared in his ear the note supposed
to be the "G" in question.
"Like an ophicleide," said Gerfaut, who could not help laughing at the
importance the artist attached to his display of talent.
"In that case I shall risk my great run at the end of the first solo.
Two octaves from 'E' to 'E'! Zuchelli was good enough to give me a few
points as to the time, and I do it rather nicely."
"Madame would like to speak to Monsieur," said a servant, who interrupted
him in the midst of his sentence.
"Dolce, soave amor," warbled the artist, softly, as he responded to the
call from the lady of the house, trying to fix in his mind that run,
which he regarded as one of the most beautiful flowers in his musical
Everybody was seated, Madame de Bergenheim sat at the piano and Marillac
stood behind her. The artist selected one of the scores, spread it out
on the rack, turned down the corners so that during the execution he
might not be stopped by some refractory leaf, coughed in his deep bass
voice, placed himself in such a manner as to show the side of his head
which he thought would produce the best effect upon the audience, then
gave a knowing nod to Gerfaut, who still stood gloomy and isolated in a
"We trespass upon your kindness too much, Monsieur," said Madame de
Bergenheim to him, when he had responded to this mute invitation; and as
she struck a few chords, she raised her dark, brown eyes to his. It was
the first glance she had given him that day; from coquetry, perhaps, or
because sorrow for her lover had softened her heart, or because she felt
remorse for the extreme harshness of her note the night before, we must
admit that this glance had nothing very discouraging in it. Octave
bowed, and spoke a few words as coldly polite as he would have spoken to
a woman sixty years of age.
Madame de Bergenheim lowered her eyes and endeavored to smile
disdainfully, as she struck the first bars of the duet.
The concert began. Gerfaut had a sweet, clear, tenor voice which he used
skilfully, gliding over dangerous passages, skipping too difficult ones
which he thought beyond his execution, singing, in fact, with the
prudence of an amateur who can not spend his time studying runs and
chromatic passages four hours daily. He sang his solo with a simplicity
bordering upon negligence, and even substituted for the rather
complicated passage at the end a more than modest ending.
Clemence, for whom he had often sung, putting his whole soul into the
performance, was vexed with this affectation of indifference. It seemed
to her as if he ought, for her sake, to make more of an effort in her
drawing-room, whatever might be their private quarrel; she felt it was a
consideration due to her and to which his numerous homages had accustomed
her. She entered this new grievance in a double-entry book, which a
woman always devotes to the slightest actions of the man who pays court
Marillac, on the contrary, was grateful to his friend for this
indifference of execution, for he saw in it an occasion to shine at his
expense. He began his solo 'E il ciel per noi sereno,' with an unusual
tension of the larynx, roaring out his low notes. Except for the
extension being a little irregular and unconnected, he did not acquit
himself very badly in the first part. When he reached his final run,
he took a long breath, as if it devolved upon him to set in motion all
the windmills in Montmartre, and started with a majestic fury; the first
forty notes, while they did not resemble Mademoiselle Grisi's pearly
tones, ascended and descended without any notable accident; but at the
last stages of the descent, the singer's breath and voice failed him at
the same moment, the "A" came out weak, the "G" was stifled, the "F"
resembled the buzzing of a bee, and the "E" was absent!
Zuchelli's run was like one of those Gothic staircases which show an
almost complete state of preservation upon the upper floor, but whose
base, worn by time, leaves a solution of continuity between the ground
and the last step.
Madame de Bergenheim waited the conclusion of this dangerous run, not
thinking to strike the final chord; the only sound heard was the rustling
of the dilettante's beard, as his chin sought his voice in vain in the
depths of his satin cravat, accompanied by applause from a benevolent old
lady who had judged of the merit of the execution by the desperate
contortions of the singer.
"D--n that charlotte-russe!" growled the artist, whose face was as red
as a lobster.
The rest of the duet was sung without any new incident, and gave general
"Madame, your piano is half a tone too low," said the basso, with a
"That is true," replied Clemence, who could not restrain a smile; "I have
so little voice that I am obliged to have my piano tuned to suit it. You
can well afford to pardon me for my selfishness, for you sang like an
Marillac bowed, partly consoled by this compliment, but thinking to
himself that a hostess's first duty was to have her piano in tune, and
not to expose a bass singer to the danger of imperilling his low "E"
before an audience of forty.
"Madame, can I be of any more service to you?" asked Gerfaut, as he
leaned toward Madame de Bergenheim, with one of his coldest smiles.
"I do not wish to impose further upon your kindness, Monsieur," said she,
in a voice which showed her secret displeasure.
The poet bowed and walked away.
Then Clemence, upon general request, sang a romance with more taste than
brilliancy, and more method than expression. It seemed as if Octave's
icy manner had reacted upon her, in spite of the efforts she had made at
first to maintain a cheerful air. A singular oppression overcame her;
once or twice she feared her voice would fail her entirely. When she
finished, the compliments and applause with which she was overwhlemed
seemed so insupportable to her that it was with difficulty she could
restrain herself from leaving the room. While exasperated by her
weakness, she could not help casting a glance in Octave's direction.
She could not catch his eye, however, as he was busy talking with Aline.
She felt so lonely and deserted at this moment, and longed so for this
glance which she could not obtain, that tears of vexation filled her
"I was wrong to write him as I did," thought she; "but if he really loved
me, he would not so quickly resign himself to obeying me!"
A woman in a drawing-room resembles a soldier on a breastwork; self-
abnegation is the first of her duties; however much she may suffer, she
must present as calm and serene a countenance as a warrior in the hour of
danger, and fall, if necessary, upon the spot, with death in her heart
and a smile upon her lips. In order to obey this unwritten law, Madame
de Bergenheim, after a slight interruption, seated herself at the piano
to accompany three or four young girls who were each to sing in turn the
songs that they had been drilled on for six months.
Marillac, who had gone to strengthen his stomach with a glass of rum,
atoned for his little mishap, in the trio from La Dame Blanche, and
everything went smoothly. Finally, to close this concert (may heaven
preserve us from all exhibitions of this kind!), Aline was led to the
piano by her brother, who, like all people who are not musical, could not
understand why one should study music for years if not from love for the
art. Christian was fond of his little sister and very proud of her
talents. The poor child, whose courage had all disappeared, sang in a
fresh, trembling little voice, a romance revised and corrected at her
boarding-school. The word love had been replaced by that of friendship,
and to repair this slight fault of prosody, the extra syllable
disappeared in a hiatus which would have made Boileau's blond wig stand
on end. But the Sacred Heart has a system of versification of its own
which, rather than allow the dangerous expression to be used, let ultra-
modesty destroy poetry!
This sample of sacred music was the final number of the concert; after
that, they began dancing, and Gerfaut invited Aline. Whether because he
wished to struggle against his ill-humor, or from kindness of heart
because he understood her emotion, he began to talk with the young girl,
who was still blushing at her success. Among his talents, Octave
possessed in a peculiar degree that of adapting his conversation to the
age, position, and character of his companions. Aline listened with
unconcealed pleasure to her partner's words; the elasticity of her step
and a sort of general trembling made her seem like a flower swaying to
the breeze, and revealed the pleasure which his conversation gave her.
Every time her eyes met Octave's penetrating glance they fell, out of
instinctive modesty. Each word, however indifferent it might be, rang in
her ears sweet and melodious; each contact with his hand seemed to her
like a tender pressure.
Gerfaut experienced a feeling of melancholy as he noticed how this fresh,
innocent rose brightened up at each word he uttered, and he thought:
"She would love me as I want to be loved, with all her heart, mind, and
soul. She would kneel before my love as before an altar, while this
He glanced in the direction where Madame de Bergenheim was dancing with
Marillac, and met her gaze fixed full upon him. The glance which he
received was rapid, displeased, and imperious. It signified clearly:
"I forbid you to speak thus to your partner."
Octave, at that moment; was not disposed to obedience. After glancing
over the quadrille, as if it were by mere chance that his eyes had met
Clemence's, he turned toward Aline and redoubled his amiability:
A moment later, he received, not directly, but through the medium of the
mirror--that so often indiscreet confidant--a second glance more sombre
and threatening than before.
"Very good," said he, to himself, as he led the young girl to her seat;
"we are jealous. That alters the situation. I know now where the
ramparts are the weakest and where to begin my attack."
No other incident marked the day. The guests left at nightfall, and the
society was reduced to the usual members of the household. Octave
entered his room after supper, humming an Italian air, evidently in such
good spirits that his friend was quite surprised.
"I give it up, I can not understand your conduct," said the latter; "you
have been as solemn as an owl all day, and now here you are as gay as a
lark; have you had an understanding?"
"I am more vexed than ever."
"And you enjoy being so?"
"Ah! you are playing 'who loses wins!'"
"Not exactly; but as my good sentiments lead to nothing, I hope to
conduct myself in such a disagreeable way as to force this capricious
creature to adore me."
"The devil! that is clever. Besides, it is a system as good as any
other. Women are such extraordinary creatures!"
"Woman," said Octave, "resembles a pendulum, whose movement is a
continual reaction; when it moves to the right, it has to go to the left
in order to return to the right again, and so on. Suppose virtue is on
one side and love on the other, and the feminine balance between them,
the odds are that, having moved to the right in a violent manner, it will
return none the less energetically to the left; for the longer a
vibration has been, the greater play the contrary vibration has. In
order to hasten the action of this pendulum I am about to attach to it--
to act as extra balance-weight--a little anguish which I ought to have
"Why make her suffer, since you believe that she loves you?"
"Why? Because she drives me to it. Do you fancy that I torture her
willingly; that I take pleasure in seeing her cheeks grow pale from
insomnia and her eyes show traces of tears? I love her, I tell you;
I suffer and weep with her. But I love her, and I must make sure of her
love. If she will leave but a road full of brambles and sharp stones for
me to reach her, must I give up the struggle just because I run the risk
by taking her with me, of wounding her charming feet? I will cure them
with my kisses!"
"Listen to me! I am not in love; I am an artist. If I have some
peculiar ideas, it is not my fault. And you, in your character of docile
lover, have you decided to yield?"
"Very well! after all, you are right. The science of love resembles
those old signs upon which one reads: 'Here, hair is dressed according to
one's fancy.' If this angel wishes her hair pulled, do it for her."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
I believed it all; one is so happy to believe!
It is a terrible step for a woman to take, from No to Yes
Lady who requires urging, although she is dying to sing
Let them laugh that win!
Let ultra-modesty destroy poetry
Misfortunes never come single
No woman is unattainable, except when she loves another
These are things that one admits only to himself
Topics that occupy people who meet for the first time
You are playing 'who loses wins!'
By CHARLES DE BERNARD
MONSIEUR DE BERGENHEIM
Some men in society marry too soon, a great number too late, a small and
fortunate proportion at an opportune time. Young men in the country, of
good family, are usually established in marriage by their parents as
early as possible. When the family council finds an heiress who answers
all the conditions of the programme laid out, they begin by giving the
victim his cue. Provided the young lady has not a positively crooked
nose, arms too red, and too uncouth a waist--sometimes even
notwithstanding these little misfortunes--the transaction is concluded
without any difficulty.
Clemence and Christian should be placed in the first rank of privileged
couples of this kind. The most fastidious old uncle or precise old
dowager could not discover the slightest pretense for criticism. Age,
social position, wealth, physical endowments, all seemed united by a
chance as rare as fortunate. So Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who had very
high pretensions for her niece, made no objection upon receiving the
first overtures. She had not, at this time, the antipathy for her future
nephew's family which developed later. The Bergenheims were in her eyes
very well-born gentleman.
A meeting took place at the Russian Embassy. Bergenheim came in uniform;
it was etiquette to do so, as the minister of war was present; but at the
same time, of course, there was a little vanity on his part, for his
uniform showed off his tall, athletic figure to the best advantage.
Christian was certainly a very handsome soldier; his moustache and
eyebrows were of a lighter tint than his complexion, and gave him that
martial air which pleases women. Clemence could find no reason for a
refusal. The way in which she had been brought up by her aunt had not
rendered her so happy but that she often desired to change her situation.
Like the greater number of young girls, she consented to become a wife so
as not to remain a maiden; she said yes, so as not to say no.
As to Christian, he was in love with his wife as nine out of ten cavalry
officers know how to love, and he seemed perfectly satisfied with the
sentiment that he received in return for this sudden affection. A few
successes with young belles, for whom an epaulette has an irresistible
attraction, had inspired Baron de Bergenheim with a confidence in himself
the simplicity of which excused the conceit. He persuaded himself that
he pleased Clemence because she suited him exactly.
There are singers who pretend to read music at sight; give them a score
by Gluck--"I beg your pardon," they will say, "my part is written here in
the key of 'C' and I sing only in the key of 'G'!" How many men do not
know even the key of 'G' in matters of love! Unfortunately for him,
Bergenheim was one of that number. After three years of married life,
he had not divined the first note in Clemence's character. He decided
in his own mind, at the end of a few months, that she was cold, if not
heartless. This discovery, which ought to have wounded his vanity,
inspired him, on the contrary, with a deeper respect for her; insensibly
this reserve reacted upon himself, for love is a fire whose heat dies out
for want of fuel, and its cooling off is more sudden when the flame is
more on the surface than in the depths.
The revolution of 1830 stopped Christian's career, and gave further
pretexts for temporary absences which only added to the coolness which
already existed between husband and wife. After handing in his
resignation, the Baron fixed his residence at his chateau in the Vosges
mountains, for which he shared the hereditary predilection of his family.
His tastes were in perfect harmony with this dwelling, for he had quickly
become the perfect type of a country gentleman, scorning the court and
rarely leaving his ancestral acres. He was too kind-hearted to exact
that his wife should share his country tastes and retired life. The
unlimited confidence which he had in her, a loyalty which never allowed
him to suppose evil or suspect her, a nature very little inclined to
jealousy, made him allow Clemence the greatest liberty. The young woman
lived at will in Paris with her aunt, or at Bergenheim with her husband,
without a suspicious thought ever entering his head. Really,--what had
he to fear? What wrong could she reproach him with? Was he not full of
kindness and attention toward her? Did he not leave her mistress of her
own fortune, free to do as she liked, to gratify every caprice? He thus
lived upon his faith in the marriage contract, with unbounded confidence
and old-fashioned loyalty.
According to general opinion, Madame de Bergenheim was a very fortunate
woman, to whom virtue must be so easy that it could hardly be called a
merit. Happiness, according to society, consists in a box at the Opera,
a fine carriage, and a husband who pays the bills without frowning. Add
to the above privileges, a hundred thousand francs' worth of diamonds,
and a woman has really no right to dream or to suffer. There are,
however, poor, loving creatures who stifle under this happiness as if
under one of those leaden covers that Dante speaks of; they breathe, in
imagination, the pure, vital air that a fatal instinct has revealed to
them; they struggle between duty and desire; they gaze, like captive
doves and with a sorrowful eye, upon the forbidden region where it would
be so blissful to soar; for, in fastening a chain to their feet, the law
did not bandage their eyes, and nature gave them wings; if the wings tear
the chain asunder, shame and misfortune await them! Society will never
forgive the heart that catches a glimpse of the joys it is unacquainted
with; even a brief hour in that paradise has to be expiated by implacable
social damnation and its everlasting flames.
There almost always comes a moment when a woman, in her combat against
love, is obliged to call falsehood to the help of duty. Madame de
Bergenheim had entered this terrible period, in which virtue, doubting
its own strength, does not blush to resort to other resources. At the
moment when Octave, a man of experience, was seeking assistance in
exciting her jealousy, she was meditating a plan of defence founded upon
deceit. In order to take away all hope from her lover, she pretended a
sudden affection for her husband, and in spite of her secret remorse she
persisted in this role for two days; but during the night her tears
expiated her treachery. Christian greeted his wife's virtuous coquetry
with the gratitude and eagerness of a husband who has been deprived of
love more than he likes. Gerfaut was very indignant at the sight of this
perfidious manoeuvre, the intention of which he immediately divined; and
his rage wanted only provocation to break out in full force.
One evening they were all gathered in the drawing-room with the exception
of Aline, whom a reprimand from Mademoiselle de Corandeuil had exiled to
her room. The old lady, stretched out in her chair, had decided to be
unfaithful to her whist in favor of conversation. Marillac, leaning his
elbows upon a round table, was negligently sketching some political
caricatures, at that time very much the fashion, and particularly
agreeable to the Legitimist party. Christian, who was seated near his
wife, whose hand he was pressing with caressing familiarity, passed from
one subject to another, and showed in his conversation the overwhelming
conceit of a happy man who regards his happiness as a proof of
Gerfaut, standing, gazed gloomily at Clemence, who leaned toward her
husband and seemed to listen eagerly to his slightest word. Bergenheim
was a faithful admirer of the classics, as are all country gentlemen,
who introduce a sentiment of propriety into their literary opinions and
prefer the ancient writers to the modern, for the reason that their
libraries are much richer in old works than in modern books. The Baron
unmercifully sacrificed Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, whom he had
never read, upon the altar of Racine and Corneille, of which he possessed
two or three editions, and yet it would have embarrassed him to recite
half a dozen verses from them. Marillac boldly defended the cause of
contemporary literature, which he considered as a personal matter, and
poured out a profusion of sarcastic remarks in which there was more wit
than good taste.
"The gods fell from Olympus, why should they not also fall from
Parnassus?" said the artist, finally, with a triumphant air. "Say what
you will, Bergenheim, your feeble opposition will not prevail against the
instincts of the age. The future is ours, let me tell you, and we are
the high priests of the new religion; is it not so, Gerfaut?"
At these words, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil shook her head, gravely.
"A new religion!" said she; "if this pretension should be verified you
would only be guilty of heresy, and, without allowing myself to be taken
in, I can understand how elevated minds and enthusiastic hearts might be
attracted by the promises of a deceptive Utopia; but you, gentlemen, whom
I believe to be sincere, do you not see to what an extent you delude
yourselves? What you call religion is the most absolute negation of
religious principles; it is the most distressing impiety ornamented with
a certain sentimental hypocrisy which has not even the courage frankly to
proclaim its principles."
"I swear to you, Mademoiselle, that I am religious three days out of
four," replied Marillac; "that is something; there are some Christians
who are pious only on Sunday."
"Materialism is the source from which modern literature takes its
inspiration," continued the old lady; "and this poisonous stream not only
dries up the thoughts which would expand toward heaven, but also withers
all that is noble in human sentiment. To-day, people are not content to
deny God, because they are not pure enough to comprehend Him; they disown
even the weakness of the heart, provided they have an exalted and
dignified character. They believe no longer in love. All the women that
your fashionable writers tell us about are vulgar and sometimes unchaste
creatures, to whom formerly a gentleman would have blushed to give one
glance or to offer a supper. I say this for your benefit, Monsieur
de Gerfaut, for in this respect you are far from being irreproachable;
and I could bring forth your books to support my theory. If I accuse you
of atheism, in love, what have you to say in reply?"
Carried away by one of those impulsive emotions which men of imagination
can not resist, Octave arose and said:
"I should not deny such an accusation. Yes, it is a sad thing, but true,
and only weak minds recoil from the truth: reality exists only in
material objects; all the rest is merely deception and fancy. All poetry
is a dream, all spiritualism a fraud! Why not apply to love the
accommodating philosophy which takes the world as it is, and does not
throw a savory fruit into the press under the pretext of extracting I
know not what imaginary essence? Two beautiful eyes, a satin skin, white
teeth, and a shapely foot and hand are of such positive and inestimable
value! Is it not unreasonable, then, to place elsewhere than in them all
the wealth of love? Intellect sustains its owner, they say; no,
intelligence kills. It is thought that corrupts sensation and causes
suffering where, but for that, joy would reign supreme.
"Thought! accursed gift! Do we give or ask a thought of the rose whose
perfume we breathe? Why not love as we breathe? Would not woman,
considered simply as a perfectly organized vegetation, be the queen of
creation? Why not enjoy her perfume as we bend before her, leaving her
clinging to the ground where she was born and lives? Why tear her from
the earth, this flower so fresh, and have her wither in our hands as we
raise her up like an offering? Why make of so weak and fragile a
creature a being above all others, for whom our enthusiasm can find no
name, and then discover her to be but an unworthy angel?
"Angel! yes, of course, but an angel of the Earth, not of Heaven;
an angel of flesh, not of light! By dint of loving, we love wrongly.
We place our mistress too high and ourselves too low; there is never a
pedestal lofty enough for her, according to our ideas. Fools! Oh!
reflection is always wise, but desire is foolish, and our conduct is
regulated by our desire. We, above all, with our active, restless minds,
blase in many respects, unbelieving in others and disrespectful in the
remainder, soar over life as over an impure lake, and look at everything
with contempt, seeking in love an altar before which we can humble our
pride and soften our disdain.
"For there is in every man an insurmountable need to fall on his knees
before no matter what idol, if it remains standing and allows itself to
be adored. At certain hours, a prayerbell rings in the depth of the
heart, the sound of which throws him upon his knees as it cries: 'Kneel!'
And then the very being who ignores God in His churches and scorns kings
upon their thrones, the being who has already exhausted the hollow idols
of glory and fame, not having a temple to pray in, makes a fetich for
himself in order to have a divinity to adore, so as not to be alone in
his impiety, and to see, above his head when he arises, something that
shall not be empty and vacant space. This man seeks a woman, takes all
that he has, talent passion, youth, enthusiasm, all the wealth of his
heart, and throws them at her feet like the mantle that Raleigh spread
out before Elizabeth, and he says to this woman: 'Walk, O my queen;
trample under your blessed feet the heart of your adoring slave!' This
man is a fool, is he not? For when the queen has passed, what remains
upon the mantle? Mud!"
Gerfaut accompanied these words with such a withering glance that the one
for whom they were intended felt her blood freeze in her veins, and
withdrew the hand her husband had kept till then in his; she soon arose
and seated herself at the other side of the table, under the pretext of
getting nearer the lamp to work, but in reality in order to withdraw from
Christian's vicinity. Clemence had expected her lover's anger, but not
his scorn; she had not strength to endure this torture, and the conjugal
love which had, not without difficulty, inflamed her heart for the last
few days, fell to ashes at the first breath of Octave's indignation.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil greeted the Vicomte's words indulgently; for,
from consummate pride, she separated herself from other women.
"So then," said she, "you pretend that if to-day love is painted under
false and vulgar colors, the fault is the model's, not the artist's."
"You express my thought much better than I could have done it myself,"
said Gerfaut, in an ironical tone; "where are the angels whose portraits
are called for?"
"They are in our poetical dreams," said Marillac, raising his eyes to the
ceiling with an inspired air.
"Very well! tell us your dreams then, instead of copying a reality which
it is impossible for you to render poetic, since you yourselves see it
Gerfaut smiled bitterly at this suggestion, artlessly uttered by the
"My dreams," he replied, "I should tell them to you poorly indeed, for
the first blessing of the awakening is forgetfulness, and to-day I am
awake. However, I remember how I allowed myself to be once overcome by a
dream that has now vanished, but still emits its luminous trail in my
eyes. I thought I had discovered, under a beautiful and attractive
appearance, the richest treasure that the earth can bestow upon the heart
of man; I thought I had discovered a soul, that divine mystery, deep as
the ocean, ardent as a flame, pure as air, glorious as heaven itself,
infinite as space, immortal as eternity! It was another universe, where
I should be king. With what ardent and holy love I attempted the
conquest of this new world, but, less fortunate than Columbus, I met with
shipwreck instead of triumph."
Clemence, at this avowal of her lover's defeat, threw him a glance of
intense contradiction, then lowered her eyes, for she felt her face
suffused with burning blushes.
When he entered his room that night, Gerfaut went straight to the window.
He could see in the darkness the light which gleamed in Clemence's room.
"She is alone," said he to himself; "certainly heaven protects us, for in
the state of exasperation I am in, I should have killed them both."
DECLARATION OF WAR
Far from rejoicing at this moment in the triumph he had just obtained,
Gerfaut fell into one of those attacks of disenchantment, during which,
urged on by some unknown demon, he unmercifully administered to himself
his own dreaded sarcasm. Being unable to sleep, he arose and opened his
window again, and remained with his elbows resting upon the sill for some
Back to Full Books