Charles de Bernard
Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
By CHARLES DE BERNARD
While the two friends are devouring to the very last morsel the feast
prepared for them by Madame Gobillot, it may not be out of place to
explain in a few words the nature of the bonds that united these two men.
The Vicomte de Gerfaut was one of those talented beings who are the
veritable champions of an age when the lightest pen weighs more in the
social balance than our ancestors' heaviest sword. He was born in the
south of France, of one of those old families whose fortune had
diminished each generation, their name finally being almost all that they
had left. After making many sacrifices to give their son an education
worthy of his birth, his parents did not live to enjoy the fruits of
their efforts, and Gerfaut became an orphan at the time when he had just
finished his law studies. He then abandoned the career of which his
father had dreamed for him, and the possibilities of a red gown bordered
with ermine. A mobile and highly colored imagination, a passionate love
for the arts, and, more than all, some intimacies contracted with men of
letters, decided his vocation and launched him into literature.
The ardent young man, without a murmur or any misgivings, drank to the
very dregs the cup poured out to neophytes in the harsh career of letters
by editors, theatrical managers, and publishers. With some, this course
ends in suicide, but it only cost Gerfaut a portion of his slender
patrimony; he bore this loss like a man who feels that he is strong
enough to repair it. When his plans were once made, he followed them up
with indefatigable perseverance, and became a striking example of the
irresistible power of intelligence united to will-power. Reputation, for
him, lay in the unknown depths of an arid and rocky soil; he was obliged,
in order to reach it, to dig a sort of artesian well. Gerfaut accepted
this heroic labor; he worked day and night for several years, his
forehead, metaphorically, bathed in a painful perspiration alleviated
only by hopes far away. At last the untiring worker's drill struck the
underground spring over which so many noble ones breathlessly bend,
although their thirst is never quenched. At this victorious stroke,
glory burst forth, falling in luminous sparks, making this new name--his
name--flash with a brilliancy too dearly paid for not to be lasting.
At the time of which we speak, Octave had conquered every obstacle in the
literary field. With a versatility of talent which sometimes recalled
Voltaire's "proteanism," he attacked in succession the most difficult
styles. Besides their poetic value, his dramas had this positive merit,
the highest in the theatre world they were money-makers; so the managers
greeted him with due respect, while collaborators swarmed about him.
The journals paid for his articles in their weight in gold; reviews
snatched every line of his yet unfinished novels; his works were
illustrated by Porret and Tony Johannot--the masters of the day--
and shone resplendent behind the glass cases in the Orleans gallery.
Gerfaut had at last made a place for himself among that baker's dozen
of writers who call themselves, and justly, too, the field-marshals of
French literature, of which Chateaubriand was then commander-in-chief.
What was it that had brought such a person a hundred leagues from the
opera balcony, to put on a pretty woman's slipper? Was the fair lady one
of those caprices, so frequent and fleeting in an artist's thoughts, or
had she given birth to one of those sentiments that end by absorbing the
rest of one's life?
The young man seated opposite Gerfaut was, physically and morally, as
complete a contrast to him as one could possibly imagine. He was one of
the kind very much in request in fashionable society. There is not a
person who has not met one of these worthy fellows, destined to make good
officers, perfect merchants, and very satisfactory lawyers, but who,
unfortunately, have been seized with a mania for notoriety. Ordinarily
they think of it on account of somebody else's talent. This one is
brother to a poet, another son-in-law to a historian; they conclude that
they also have a right to be poet and historian in their turn. Thomas
Corneille is their model; but we must admit that very few of our writers
reach the rank attained by Corneille the younger.
Marillac was train-bearer to Gerfaut, and was rewarded for this bondage
by a few bribes of collaboration, crumbs that fall from the rich man's
table. They had been close friends since they both entered the law
school, where they were companions in folly rather than in study.
Marillac also had thrown himself into the arena of literature; then,
different fortunes having greeted the two friends' efforts, he had
descended little by little from the role of a rival to that of an
inferior. Marillac was an artist, talent accepted, from the tip of his
toes to the sole of his boots, which he wished to lengthen by pointed
toes out of respect for the Middle Ages; for he excelled above all things
in his manner of dressing, and possessed, among other intellectual
merits, the longest moustache in literature.
If he had not art in his brain, to make up for it he always had its name
at his tongue's end. Vaudeville writing or painting, poetry or music,
he dabbled in all these, like those horses sold as good for both riding
and driving, which are as bad in the saddle as in front of a tilbury.
He signed himself "Marillac, man of letters"; meanwhile, aside from his
profound disdain for the bourgeois, whom he called vulgar, and for the
French Academy, to which he had sworn never to belong, one could reproach
him with nothing. His penchant for the picturesque in expression was not
always, it is true, in the most excellent taste, but, in spite of these
little oddities, his unfortunate passion for art, and his affection for
the Middle Ages, he was a brave, worthy, and happy fellow, full of good
qualities, very much devoted to his friends, above all to Gerfaut. One
could, therefore, pardon him for being a pseudo-artist.
"Will your story be a long one?" said he to the playwright, when
Catherine had conducted them after supper to the double-bedded room,
where they were to pass the night.
"Long or short, what does it matter, since you must listen to it?"
"Because, first, I would make some grog and fill my pipe; otherwise, I
would content myself with a cigar."
"Take your pipe and make your grog."
"Here!" said the artist, running after Catherine, "don't rush downstairs
so. You are wanted. Fear nothing, interesting maid; you are safe with
us; but bring us a couple of glasses, brandy, sugar, a bowl, and some hot
"They want some hot water," cried the servant, rushing into the kitchen
with a frightened look; "can they be ill at this hour?"
"Give the gentlemen what they want, you little simpleton!" replied
Mademoiselle Reine; "they probably want to concoct some of their Paris
When all the articles necessary for the grog were on the table, Marillac
drew up an old armchair, took another chair to stretch his legs upon,
replaced his cap with a handkerchief artistically knotted about his head,
his boots with a pair of slippers, and, finally, lighted his pipe.
"Now," said he, as he seated himself, "I will listen without moving an
eyelid should your story last, like the creation, six days and nights."
Gerfaut took two or three turns about the room with the air of an orator
who is seeking for a beginning to a speech.
"You know," said he, "that Fate has more or less influence over our
lives, according to the condition of mind in which we happen to be.
In order that you may understand the importance of the adventure I am
about relating to you, it will be necessary for me to picture the state
of mind which I was in at the time it happened; this will he a sort of
philosophical and psychological preamble."
"Thunder!" interrupted Marillac, "if I had known that, I would have
ordered a second bowl."
"You will remember," continued Gerfaut, paying no attention to this
pleasantry, "the rather bad attack of spleen which I had a little over a
"Before your trip to Switzerland?"
"If I remember right," said the artist, "you were strangely cross and
whimsical at the time. Was it not just after the failure of our drama at
the Porte Saint-Martin?"
"You might also add of our play at the Gymnase."
"I wash my hands of that. You know very well that it only went as far as
the second act, and I did not write one word in the first."
"And hardly one in the second. However, I take the catastrophe upon my
shoulders; that made two perfect failures in that d---d month of August."
"Two failures that were hard to swallow," replied Marillac, "We can say,
for our consolation, that there never were more infamous conspiracies
against us, above all, than at the Gymnase. My ears ring with the hisses
yet! I could see, from our box, a little villain in a dress coat, in one
corner of the pit, who gave the signal with a whistle as large as a
horse-pistol. How I would have liked to cram it down his throat!" As he
said these words, he brought his fist down upon the table, and made the
glasses and candles dance 'upon it.
"Conspiracy or not, this time they judged the play aright. I believe it
would be impossible to imagine two worse plays; but, as Brid Oison says,
'These are things that one admits only to himself'; it is always
disagreeable to be informed of one's stupidity by an ignorant audience
that shouts after you like a pack of hounds after a hare. In spite of my
pretension of being the least susceptible regarding an author's vanity of
all the writers in Paris, it is perfectly impossible to be indifferent to
such a thing--a hiss is a hiss. However, vanity aside, there was a
question of money which, as I have a bad habit of spending regularly my
capital as well as my income, was not without its importance. It meant,
according to my calculation, some sixty thousand francs cut off from my
resources, and my trip to the East was indefinitely postponed.
"They say, with truth, that misfortunes never come singly. You know
Melanie, whom I prevented from making her debut at the Vaudeville? By
taking her away from all society, lodging her in a comfortable manner and
obliging her to work, I rendered her a valuable service. She was a good
girl, and, aside from her love for the theatre and a certain indolence
that was not without charm, I did not find any fault in her and grew more
attached to her every day. Sometimes after spending long hours with her,
a fancy for a retired life and domestic happiness would seize me.
Gentlemen with brains are privileged to commit foolish acts at times, and
I really do not know what I might have ended in doing, had I not been
preserved from the danger in an unexpected manner.
"One evening, when I arrived at Melanie's, I found the bird had flown.
That great ninny of a Ferussac, whom I never had suspected, and had
introduced to her myself, had turned her head by making capital out of
her love for the stage. As he was about to leave for Belgium, he
persuaded her to go there and dethrone Mademoiselle Prevost. I have
since learned that a Brussels banker revenged me by taking this Helene of
the stage away from Ferussac. Now she is launched and can fly with her
own wings upon the great highway of bravos, flowers, guineas--"
"And wreck and ruin," added Marillac. "Here's to her health!"
"This triple disappointment of pride, money, and heart did not cause,
I hope you will believe me, the deep state of melancholy into which I
soon fell; but the malady manifested itself upon this occasion, for it
had been lurking about me for a long time, as the dormant pain of a wound
is aroused if one pours a caustic upon its surface.
"There is some dominant power in each individual which is developed at
the expense of the other faculties, above all when the profession one
chooses suits his nature. The vital powers thus condensed manifest
themselves externally, and gush out with an abundance which would become
impossible if all the faculties were used alike, and if life filtered
away, so to speak. To avoid such destruction, and concentrate life upon
one point, in order to increase the action, is the price of talent and
individuality. Among athletes, the forehead contracts according as the
chest enlarges; with men of thought, it is the brain which causes the
other organs to suffer, insatiable vampire, exhausting at times the last
drop of blood in the body which serves as its victim. This vampire was
"For ten years I had crowded romance upon poetry, vaudeville upon drama,
literary criticism upon leader; I proved, through my own self, in a
physical way, the phenomena of the absorption of the senses by
intelligence. Many times, after several nights of hard work, the chords
of my mind being too violently stretched, they relaxed and gave only
indistinct harmony. Then, if I happened to resist this lassitude of
nature demanding repose, I felt the pressure of my will exhausting the
sources at the very depths of my being. It seemed to me that I dug out
my ideas from the bottom of a mine, instead of gathering them upon the
surface of the brain. The more material organs came to the rescue of
their failing chief. The blood from my heart rushed to my head to revive
it; the muscles of my limbs communicated to the fibres of the brain their
galvanic tension. Nerves turned into imagination, flesh into life.
Nothing has developed my materialistic beliefs like this decarnation of
which I had such a sensible, or rather visible perception.
"I destroyed my health with these psychological experiments, and the
abuse of work perhaps shortened my life. When I was thirty years old my
face was wrinkled, my cheeks were pallid, and my heart blighted and
empty. For what result, grand Dieu! For a fleeting and fruitless
"The failure of my two plays warned me that others judged me as I judged
myself. I recalled to mind the Archbishop of Granada, and I thought I
could hear Gil Blas predicting the failure of my works. We can not
dismiss the public as we can our secretary; meanwhile, I surrendered to a
too severe justice in order to decline others' opinions. A horrible
thought suddenly came into my mind; my artistic life was ended, I was a
worn-out man; in one word, to picture my situation in a trivial but
correct manner, I had reached the end of my rope.
"I could not express to you the discouragement that I felt at this
conviction. Melanie's infidelity was the crowning touch. It was not my
heart, but my vanity which had been rendered more irritable by recent
disappointments. This, then, was the end of all my ambitious dreams!
I had not enough mind left, at thirty years of age, to write a vaudeville
or to be loved by a grisette!
"One day Doctor Labanchie came to see me.
"'What are you doing there' said he, as he saw me seated at my desk.
"'Doctor,' said I, reaching out my hand to him, 'I believe that I am a
"'Your pulse is a little rapid,' said he, after making careful
examination, 'but your fever is more of imagination than of blood.'
"I explained to him my condition, which was now becoming almost
unendurable. Without believing in medicine very much, I had confidence
in him and knew him to be a man who would give good advice.
"'You work too much,' said he, shaking his head. 'Your brain is put to
too strong a tension. This is a warning nature gives you, and you will
make a mistake if you do not follow it. When you are sleepy, go to bed;
when you are tired, you must have rest. It is rest for your brain that
you now need. Go into the country, confine yourself to a regular and
healthy diet: vegetables, white meat, milk in the morning, a very little
wine, but, above all things, no coffee. Take moderate exercise, hunt--
and avoid all irritating thoughts; read the 'Musee des familles' or the
'Magasin Pittoresque'. This regime will have the effect of a soothing
poultice upon your brain, and before the end of six months you will be in
your normal condition again.'
"'Six months!' I exclaimed. 'You wretch of a doctor, tell me, then, to
let my beard and nails grow like Nebuchadnezzar. Six months! You do not
know how I detest the country, partridges, rabbits and all. For heaven's
sake, find some other remedy for me.'
"'There is homoeopathy,' said he, smiling. 'Hahnemann is quite the
"'Let us have homoeopathy!'
"'You know the principles of the system: 'Similia similibus!' If you have
fever, redouble it; if you have smallpox, be inoculated with a triple
dose. So far as you are concerned, you are a little used up and 'blase',
as we all are in this Babylon of ours; have recourse, then, as a remedy,
to the very excesses which have brought you into this state.
Homoeopathize yourself morally. It may cure you, it may kill you; I wash
my hands of it.'
"The doctor was joking, I said to myself after he had left. Does he
think that passions are like the Wandering Jew's five sous, that there
is nothing to do but to put your hand in your pocket and take them out
at your convenience when necessary. However, this idea, strange as it
seemed, struck me forcibly. I decided to try it.
"The next day at seven o'clock in the evening, I was rolling along the
road to Lyons. Eight days later, I was rowing in a boat on Lake Geneva.
For a long time I had wanted to go to Switzerland, and it seemed as if I
could not have chosen a better time. I hoped that the fresh mountain air
and the soft pure breezes from the lakes would communicate some of their
calm serenity to my heart and brain.
"There is something in Parisian life, I do not know what, so exclusive
and hardening, that it ends by making one irresponsive to sensations of a
more simple order.
"'My kingdom for the gutter in the Rue du Bac!' I exclaimed with Madame
de Stael from the height of the Coppet terrace. The spectacle of nature
interests only contemplative and religious minds powerfully. Mine was
neither the one nor the other. My habits of analysis and observation
make me find more attraction in a characteristic face than in a
magnificent landscape; I prefer the exercising of thought to the careless
gratification of ecstasy, the study of flesh and soul to earthly
horizons, of human passions to a perfectly pure atmosphere.
"I met at Geneva an Englishman, who was as morose as myself. We vented
our spleen in common and were both bored together. We travelled thus
through the Oberland and the best part of Valais; we were often rolled up
in our travelling robes in the depths of the carriage, and fast asleep
when the most beautiful points of interest were in sight.
"From Valais we went to Mont-Blanc, and one night we arrived at
"Did you see any idiots in Valais?" suddenly interrupted Marillac, as he
filled his pipe the second time.
"Several, and they were all horrible."
"Do you not think we might compose something with an idiot in it? It
might be rather taking."
"It would not equal Caliban or Quasimodo; will you be so kind as to spare
me just now these efforts of imagination, and listen to me, for I am
reaching the interesting part of my story?"
"God be praised!" said the artist, as he puffed out an enormous cloud of
"The next day the Englishman was served with tea in his bedroom, and when
I asked him to go to the 'Mer de Glace' he turned his head toward the
wall; so, leaving my phlegmatic companion enveloped in bedclothes up to
his ears, I started alone for the Montanvert.
"It was a magnificent morning, and small parties of travellers, some on
foot, others mounted, skirted the banks of the Arve or climbed the sides
of the mountain. They looked like groups of mice in the distance, and
this extreme lessening in size made one comprehend, better than anything
else, the immense proportions of the landscape. As for myself, I was
alone: I had not even taken a guide, this was too favorite a resort for
tourists, for the precaution to be necessary. For a wonder, I felt
rather gay, with an elasticity of body and mind which I had not felt in
I courageously began climbing the rough pathway which led to the Mer de
Glace, aiding myself with a long staff, which I had procured at the inn.
"At every step I breathed with renewed pleasure the fresh, pure, morning
air; I gazed vaguely at the different effects of the sun or mist, at the
undulations of the road, which sometimes rose almost straight up in the
air, sometimes followed a horizontal line, while skirting the open abyss
at the right. The Arve, wending its course like a silvery ribbon, seemed
at times to recede, while the ridges of the perpendicular rocks stood out
more plainly. At times, the noise of a falling avalanche was repeated,
echo after echo. A troupe of German students below me were responding to
the voice of the glaciers by a chorus from Oberon. Following the turns
in the road, I could see through the fir-trees, or, rather, at my feet,
their long Teutonic frock-coats, their blond beards, and caps about the
size of one's fist. As I walked along, when the path was not too steep,
I amused myself by throwing my stick against the trunks of the trees
which bordered the roadside; I remember how pleased I was when I
succeeded in hitting them, which I admit was not very often.
"In the midst of this innocent amusement, I reached the spot where the
reign of the Alpine plants begins. All at once I saw, above me, a rock
decked with rhododendrons; these flowers looked like tufts of oleanders
through the dark foliage of the fir-trees, and produced a charming
effect. I left the path in order to reach them sooner, and when I had
gathered a bouquet, I threw my staff and at the same time uttered a
joyous cry, in imitation of the students, my companions on this trip.
"A frightened scream responded to mine. My staff in its flight had
crossed the path and darted into an angle in the road. At that same
moment, I saw a mule's head appear with ears thrown back in terror, then
the rest of its body, and upon its back a lady ready to fall into the
abyss. Fright paralyzed me. All aid was impossible on account of the
narrowness of the road, and this stranger's life depended upon her
coolness and the intelligence of her beast. Finally the animal seemed to
regain its courage and began to walk away, lowering its head as if it
could still hear the terrible whistle of the javelin in his ears. I
slipped from the rock upon which I stood and seized the mule by the
bridle, and succeeded in getting them out of a bad position. I led the
animal in this way for some distance, until I reached a place where the
path was broader, and danger was over.
"I then offered my apologies to the person whose life I had just
compromised by my imprudence, and for the first time took a good look at
her. She was young and well dressed; a black silk gown fitted her
slender form to perfection; her straw hat was fastened to the saddle, and
her long chestnut hair floated in disorder over her pale cheeks. As she
heard my voice, she opened her eyes, which in her fright she had
instinctively closed; they seemed to me the most beautiful I had ever
seen in my life.
"She looked at the precipice and turned away with a shudder. Her glance
rested upon me, and then upon the rhododendrons which I held in my hand.
"The frightened expression on her face was replaced immediately by one of
"'What pretty flowers!' she exclaimed, in a fresh, young voice. "Are
those rhododendrons, Monsieur?'
"I presented her my bouquet without replying; as she hesitated about
taking it, I said:
"'If you refuse these flowers, Madame, I shall not believe that you have
"By this time, the persons who were with her had joined us. There were
two other ladies, three or four men mounted upon mules, and several
guides. At the word rhododendron, a rather large, handsome fellow,
dressed in a pretentious style, slipped from his mule and climbed the
somewhat steep precipice in quest of the flowers which seemed to be so
much in favor. When he returned, panting for breath, with an enormous
bunch of them in his hand, the lady had already accepted mine.
"'Thank you, Monsieur de Mauleon,' said she, with a rather scornful air;
'offer your flowers to these ladies.' Then, with a slight inclination of
the head to me, she struck her mule with her whip, and they rode away.
"The rest of the company followed her, gazing at me as they passed, the
big, fashionable fellow especially giving me a rather impertinent glance.
I did not try to pick a quarrel with him on account of this discourteous
manifestation. When the cavalcade was at some distance, I went in search
of my stick, which I found under a tree on the edge of the precipice;
then I continued climbing the steep path, with my eyes fastened upon the
rider in the black silk gown, her hair flying in the wind and my bouquet
in her hand.
"A few moments later, I reached the pavilion at the Montanvert, where I
found a gay company gathered together, made up principally of English
people. As for myself, I must admit the frivolous, or, rather mundane,
bent of my tastes; the truly admirable spectacle presented to my eyes
interested me much less than the young stranger, who at this moment was
descending with the lightness of a sylph the little road which led to the
Mer de Glace.
"I do not know what mysterious link bound me to this woman. I had met
many much more beautiful, but the sight of them had left me perfectly
indifferent. This one attracted me from the first. The singular
circumstances of this first interview, doubtless, had something to do
with the impression. I felt glad to see that she had kept my bouquet;
she held it in one hand, while she leaned with the other upon a staff
somewhat like my own. The two other ladies, and even the men had stopped
on the edge of the ice.
Monsieur de Mauleon wished to fulfil his duties as escort, but at the
first crevasse he had also halted without manifesting the slightest
desire to imitate the chamois. The young woman seemed to take a
malicious pleasure in contemplating her admirer's prudent attitude, and,
far from listening to the advice he gave her, she began to run upon the
ice, bounding over the crevasses with the aid of her stick. I was
admiring her lightness and thoughtlessness, but with an uneasy feeling,
when I saw her suddenly stop. I instinctively ran toward her. An
enormous crevasse of great depth lay at her feet, blue at its edges and
dark in its depths. She stood motionless before this frightful gulf with
hands thrown out before her in horror, but charmed like a bird about to
be swallowed by a serpent. I knew the irresistible effect upon nervous
temperaments of this magnetic attraction toward an abyss. I seized her
by the arm, the suddenness of the movement made her drop her staff and
flowers, which fell into the depths of the chasm.
"I tried to lead her away, but after she had taken a few steps, I felt
her totter; she had grown pale; her eyes were closed. I threw my arm
about her, in order to support her and turned her face toward the north;
the cold air striking her revived her, and she soon opened her beautiful
brown eyes. I do not know what sudden tenderness seized me then, but I
pressed this lovely creature within my grasp, and she remained in my arms
unresistingly. I felt that I loved her already.
"She remained for a moment with her languishing eyes fixed on mine,
making no response, perhaps not even having heard me. The shouts of her
party, some of whom were coming toward her, broke the charm. With a
rapid movement, she withdrew from my embrace, and I offered her my arm,
just as if we were in a drawing-room and I was about to lead her out for
a dance; she took it, but I did not feel elated at this, for I could feel
her knees waver at every step. The smallest crevasse, which she had
crossed before with such agility, now inspired her with a horror which I
could divine by the trembling of her arm within mine. I was obliged to
make numerous detours in order to avoid them, and thus prolonged the
distance, for which I was not sorry. Did I not know that when we reached
our destination, the world, that other sea of ice, was going to take her
away from me, perhaps forever? We walked silently, occasionally making a
few trivial remarks, both deeply embarrassed. When we reached the
persons who awaited her, I said, as she disengaged my arm:
"'You dropped my flowers, Madame; will it be the same with your memory of
"She looked at me, but made no reply. I loved this silence. I bowed
politely to her and returned to the pavilion, while she related her
adventure to her friends; but I am quite sure she did not tell all the
"The register for travellers who visit the Montan-Vert is a mixture of
all nationalities, and no tourist refuses his tribute; modest ones write
down their names only. I hoped in this way to learn the name of the
young traveller, and I was not disappointed. I soon saw the corpulent
Monsieur de Mauleon busily writing his name upon the register in
characters worthy of Monsieur Prudhomme; the other members of the little
party followed his example. The young woman was the last to write down
her name. I took the book in my turn, after she had left, and with
apparent composure I read upon the last line these words, written in a
"Baroness Clemence de Bergenheim."
GERFAUT ASKS A FAVOR
"The Baroness de Bergenheim!" exclaimed Marillac. "Ah! I understand it
all now, and you may dispense with the remainder of your story. So this
was the reason why, instead of visiting the banks of the Rhine as we
agreed, you made me leave the route at Strasbourg under the pretext of
walking through the picturesque sites of the Vosges. It was unworthy of
you to abuse my confidence as a friend. And I allowed myself to be led
by the nose to within a mile of Bergenheim!"
"Peace," interrupted Gerfaut; "I have not finished. Smoke and listen.
"I followed Madame de Bergenheim as far as Geneva. She had gone there
from here with her aunt, and had availed herself of this journey to visit
Mont Blanc. She left for her home the next day without my meeting her
again; but I preserved her name, and it was not unknown to me. I had
heard it spoken in several houses in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and I
knew that I should certainly have an opportunity of meeting her during
"So I remained at Geneva, yielding to a sensation as new as it was
strange. It first acted upon my brain whose ice I felt melting away,
and its sources ready to gush forth. I seized my pen with a passion not
unlike an access of rage. I finished in four days two acts of a drama
that I was then writing. I never had written anything more vigorous or
more highly colored. My unconstrained genius throbbed in my arteries,
ran through my blood, and bubbled over as if it wished to burst forth.
My hand could not keep even with the course of my imagination; I was
obliged to write in hieroglyphics.
"Adieu to the empty reveries brought about by spleen, and to the
meditations 'a la Werther'! The sky was blue, the air pure, life
delightful--my talent was not dead.
"After this first effort, I slackened a little! Madame de Bergenheim's
face, which I had seen but dimly during this short time, returned to me
in a less vaporous form; I took extreme delight in calling to mind the
slightest circumstances of our meeting, the smallest details of her
features, her toilette, her manner of walking and carrying her head.
What had impressed me most was the extreme softness of her dark eyes,
the almost childish tone of her voice, a vague odor of heliotrope with
which her hair was perfumed; also the touch of her hand upon my arm.
I sometimes caught myself embracing myself in order to feel this last
sensation again, and then I could not help laughing at my thoughts, which
were worthy of a fifteen-year-old lover.
"I had felt so convinced of my powerlessness to love, that the thought of
a serious passion did not at first enter my mind. However, a remembrance
of my beautiful traveller pervaded my thoughts more and more, and
threatened to usurp the place of everything else. I then subjected
myself to a rigid analysis; I sought for the exact location of this
sentiment whose involuntary yoke I already felt; I persuaded myself,
for some time yet, that it was only the transient excitement of my brain,
one of those fevers of imagination whose fleeting titillations I had felt
more than once.
"But I realized that the evil, or the good--for why call love an evil?--
had penetrated into the most remote regions of my being, and I realized
the energy of my struggle like a person entombed who tries to extricate
himself. From the ashes of this volcano which I had believed to be
extinct, a flower had suddenly blossomed, perfumed with the most fragrant
of odors and decked with the most charming colors. Artless enthusiasm,
faith in love, all the brilliant array of the fresh illusions of my youth
returned, as if by enchantment, to greet this new bloom of my life; it
seemed to me as if I had been created a second time, since I was aided by
intelligence and understood its mysteries while tasting of its delights.
My past, in the presence of this regeneration, was nothing more than a
shadow at the bottom of an abyss. I turned toward the future with the
faith of a Mussulman who kneels with his face toward the East--I loved!
"I returned to Paris, and applied to my friend Casorans, who knows the
Faubourg Saint-Germain from Dan to Beersheba.
"'Madame de Bergenheim,' he said to me, 'is a very popular society woman,
not very pretty, perhaps, rather clever, though, and very amiable. She
is one of our coquettes of the old nobility, and with her twenty-four
carats' virtue she always has two sufferers attached to her chariot,
and a third on the waiting-list, and yet it is impossible for one to find
a word to say against her behavior. Just at this moment, Mauleon and
d'Arzenac compose the team; I do not know who is on the waiting-list.
She will probably spend the winter here with her aunt, Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, one of the hatefullest old women on the Rue de Varennes.
The husband is a good fellow who, since the July revolution, has lived
upon his estates, caring for his forests and killing wild boars without
troubling himself much about his wife.'
"He then told me which houses these ladies frequented, and left me,
saying with a knowing air:
"'Take care, if you intend to try the power of your seductions upon the
little Baroness; whoever meddles with her smarts for it!'
"This information from a viper like Casorans satisfied me in every way.
Evidently the place was not taken; impregnable, that was another thing.
"Before Madame de Bergenheim's return, I began to show myself assiduously
at the houses of which my friend had spoken. My position in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain is peculiar, but good, according to my opinion. I have
enough family ties to be sustained by several should I be attacked by
many, and this is the essential point. It is true that, thanks to my
works, I am regarded as an atheist and a Jacobin; aside from these two
little defects, they think well enough of me. Besides, it is a notorious
fact that I have rejected several offers from the present government,
and refused last year the 'croix d'honneur'; this makes amends and washes
away half my sins. Finally, I have the reputation of having a certain-
knowledge of heraldry, which I owe to my uncle, a confirmed hunter after
genealogical claims. This gains me a respect which makes me laugh
sometimes, when I see people who detest me greet me as cordially as the
Cure of Saint-Eustache greeted Bayle, for fear that I might destroy their
favorite saint. However, in this society, I am no longer Gerfaut of the
Porte-Saint-Martin, but I am the Vicomte de Gerfaut. Perhaps, with your
bourgeois ideas, you do not understand--"
"Bourgeois!" exclaimed Marillac, bounding from his seat, "what are you
talking about? Do you wish that we should cut each other's throats
before breakfast to-morrow? Bourgeois! why not grocer? I am an artist--
don't you know that by this time?"
"Don't get angry, my dear fellow; I meant to say that in certain places
the title of a Vicomte has still a more powerful attraction than you,
with your artistic but plebeian ideas, would suppose in this year of our
"Well and good. I accept your apology."
"A vicomte's title is a recommendation in the eyes of people who still
cling to the baubles of nobility, and all women are of this class. There
is something, I know not what, delicate and knightly in this title, which
suits a youngish bachelor. Duke above all titles is the one that sounds
the best. Moliere and Regnard have done great harm to the title of
marquis. Count is terribly bourgeois, thanks to the senators of the
empire. As to a Baron, unless he is called Montmorency or Beaufremont,
it is the lowest grade of nobility; vicomte, on the contrary, is above
reproach; it exhales a mixed odor of the old regime and young France;
then, don't you know, our Chateaubriand was a vicomte.
"I departed from my subject in speaking of nobility. I accidentally
turned over one day to the article upon my family in the Dictionnaire de
Saint-Allais; I found that one of my ancestors, Christophe de Gerfaut,
married, in 1569, a Mademoiselle Yolande de Corandeuil.
"'O my ancestor! O my ancestress!' I exclaimed, 'you had strange
baptismal names; but no matter, I thank you. You are going to serve me
as a grappling iron; I shall be very unskilful if at the very first
meeting the old aunt escapes Christophe.'
"A few days later I went to the Marquise de Chameillan's, one of the most
exclusive houses in the noble Faubourg. When I enter her drawing-room,
I usually cause the same sensation that Beelzebub would doubtless produce
should he put his foot into one of the drawing-rooms in Paradise. That
evening, when I was announced, I saw a certain undulation of heads in a
group of young women who were whispering to one another; many curious
eyes were fastened upon me, and among these beautiful eyes were two more
beautiful than all the others: they were those of my bewitching
"I exchanged a rapid glance with her, one only; after paying my respects
to the mistress of the house, I mingled with a crowd of men, and entered
into conversation with an old peer upon some political question, avoiding
to look again toward Madame de Bergenheim.
"A moment later, Madame de Chameillan came to ask the peer to play whist;
he excused himself, he could not remain late.
"'I dare not ask you to play with Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,' said she,
turning toward me; 'besides, I understand too well that it is to my
interest and the pleasure of these ladies, not to exile you to a whist
"I took the card which she half offered me with an eagerness which might
have made her suppose that I had become a confirmed whist expert during
"Mademoiselle de Corandeuil certainly was the ugly, crabbed creature that
Casorans had described; but had she been as frightful as the witches in
Macbeth I was determined to make her conquest. So I began playing with
unusual attention. I was her partner, and I knew from experience the
profound horror which the loss of money inspires in old women. Thank
heaven, we won! Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who has an income of one
hundred thousand francs, was not at all indifferent to the gain of two or
three louis. She, therefore, with an almost gracious air, congratulated
me, as we left the table, upon my manner of playing.
"'I would willingly contract an alliance, offensive and defensive with
you,' said she to me.
"'The alliance is already contracted, Mademoiselle,' said I, seizing the
"'How is that, Monsieur?' she replied, raising her head with a dignified
air, as if she were getting ready to rebuke some impertinent speech.
"I also gravely straightened up and gave a feudal look to my face.
"'Mademoiselle, I have the honor of belonging to your family, a little
distantly, to be sure; that is what makes me speak of an alliance between
us as a thing already concluded. One of my ancestors, Christophe de
Gerfaut, married Mademoiselle Yolande de Corandeuil, one of your great-
grand-aunts, in 1569.'
"'Yolande is really a family name,' replied the old lady, with the most
affable smile that her face would admit; 'I bear it myself. The
Corandeuils, Monsieur, never have denied their alliances, and it is a
pleasure for me to recognize my relationship with such a man as you. We
address by the title of cousin relatives as far back as 1300.'
"'I am nearer related to you by three centuries,' I replied, in my most
insinuating voice; 'may I hope that this good fortune will authorize me
to pay my respects to you?'
"Mademoiselle de Corandeuil replied to my 'tartuferie' by granting me
permission to call upon her. My attention was not so much absorbed in
our conversation that I did not see in a mirror, during this time, the
interest with which Madame de Bergenheim watched my conversation with her
aunt; but I was careful not to turn around, and I let her take her
departure without giving her a second glance.
"Three days later, I made my first call. Madame de Bergenheim received
my greeting like a woman who had been warned and was, therefore,
prepared. We exchanged only one rapid, earnest glance, that was all.
Availing myself of the presence of other callers, numerous enough to
assure each one his liberty, I began to observe, with a practised eye,
the field whereon I had just taken my position.
"Before the end of the evening, I recognized the correctness of
Casorans's information. Among all the gentlemen present I found only
two professed admirers: Monsieur de Mauleon, whose insignificance was
notorious, and Monsieur d'Arzenac, who appeared at first glance as if
he might be more to be feared. D'Arzenac, thanks to an income of ten
thousand livres, beside being a man of rank, occupies also one of the
finest positions that one could desire; he is not unworthy of his name
and his fortune. Irreproachable in morals as in manners; sufficiently
well informed; of an exquisite but reserved politeness; understanding
perfectly the ground that he is walking upon; making also more advances
than is customary among the pachas of modern France, he was, without
doubt, the flower of the flock in Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's drawing-
room. In spite of all these advantages, an attentive examination showed
me that his passion was hopeless. Madame de Bergenheim received his
attentions very kindly--too kindly. She usually listened to him with a
smile in which one could read gratitude for the devotion he lavished upon
her. She willingly accepted him as her favorite partner in the galop,
which he danced to perfection. His success stopped there.
"At the end of several days, the ground having been carefully explored
and the admirers, dangerous and otherwise, having been passed in review,
one after another, I felt convinced that Clemence loved nobody.
"'She shall love me,' said I, on the day I reached this conclusion. In
order to formulate in a decisive manner the accomplishment of my desire,
I relied upon the following propositions, which are to me articles of
"No woman is unattainable, except when she loves another. Thus, a woman
who does not love, and who has resisted nine admirers, will yield to the
tenth. The only question for me was to be the tenth. Here began the
problem to be solved.
"Madame de Bergenheim had been married only three years; her husband, who
was good-looking and young, passed for a model husband; if these latter
considerations were of little importance, the first was of great weight.
According to all probability, it was too soon for any serious attack.
Without being beautiful, she pleased much and many; a second obstacle,
since sensibility in women is almost always developed in inverse ratio to
their success. She had brains; she was wonderfully aristocratic in all
Last, being very much the fashion, sought after and envied, she was under
the special surveillance of pious persons, old maids, retired beauties in
one word, all that feminine mounted police, whose eyes, ears, and mouths
seem to have assumed the express mission of annoying sensitive hearts
while watching over the preservation of good morals.
"This mass of difficulties, none of which escaped me, traced as many
lines upon my forehead as if I had been commanded to solve at once all
the propositions in Euclid. She shall love me! these words flashed
unceasingly before my eyes; but the means to attain this end? No
satisfactory plan came to me. Women are so capricious, deep, and
unfathomable! It is, with them, the thing soonest done which is soonest
ended! A false step, the least awkwardness, a want of intelligence, a
quarter of an hour too soon or too late! One thing only was evident: it
needed a grand display of attractions, a complete plan of gallant
strategy; but, then, what more?
"That earthly paradise of the Montanvert was far from us, where I had
been able in less time than it would take to walk over a quadrille, to
expose her to death, to save her afterward, and finally to say to her 'I
love you!' Passion in drawing-rooms is not allowed those free, dramatic
ways; flowers fade in the candle-light; the oppressive atmosphere of
balls and fetes stifles the heart, so ready to dilate in pure mountain
air. The unexpected and irresistible influence of the glacier would have
been improper and foolish in Paris. There, an artless sympathy, stronger
than social conventions, had drawn us to each other--Octave and Clemence.
Here, she was the Baroness de Bergenheim, and I the Vicomte de Gerfaut.
I must from necessity enter the ordinary route, begin the romance at the
first page, without knowing how to connect the prologue with it.
"What should be my plan of campaign?
"Should I pose as an agreeable man, and try to captivate her attention
and good graces by the minute attentions and delicate flattery which
constitute what is classically called paying court? But D'Arzenac had
seized this role, and filled it in such a superior way that all
competition would be unsuccessful. I saw where this had led him. It
needed, in order to inflame this heart, a more active spark than foppish
gallantry; the latter flatters the vanity without reaching the heart.
"There was the passionate method--ardent, burning, fierce love. There
are some women upon whom convulsive sighs drawn from the depths of the
stomach, eyebrows frowning in a fantastic manner, and eyes in which only
the whites are to be seen and which seem to say: 'Love me, or I will kill
you!' produce a prodigious effect. I had myself felt the power of this
fascination while using it one day upon a softhearted blond creature who
thought it delightful to have a Blue-Beard for a lover. But the drooping
corners of Clemence's mouth showed at times an ironical expression which
would have cooled down even an Othello's outbursts.
"'She has brains, and she knows it,' said I to myself; 'shall I attack
her in that direction?' Women rather like such a little war of words; it
gives them an opportunity for displaying a mine of pretty expressions,
piquant pouts, fresh bursts of laughter, graceful peculiarities of which
they well know the effect. Should I be the Benedict to this Beatrice?
But this by-play would hardly fill the prologue, and I very much wished
to reach the epilogue.
"I passed in review the different routes that a lover might take to reach
his end; I recapitulated every one of the more or less infallible methods
of conquering female hearts; in a word, I went over my tactics like a
lieutenant about to drill a battalion of recruits. When I had ended I
had made no farther advance than before.
"'To the devil with systems!' exclaimed I; 'I will not be so foolish as
wilfully to adopt the role of roue when I feel called upon to play the
plain role of true lover. Let those who like play the part of Lovelace!
As for myself, I will love; upon the whole, that is what pleases best.'
And I jumped headlong into the torrent without troubling myself as to the
place of landing.
"While I was thus scheming my attack, Madame de Bergenheim was upon her
guard and had prepared her means of defence. Puzzled by my reserve,
which was in singular contrast with my almost extravagant conduct at our
first meeting, her woman's intelligence had surmised, on my part, a plan
which she proposed to baffle. I was partly found out, but I knew it and
thus kept the advantage.
"I could not help smiling at the Baroness's clever coquetry, when I
decided to follow the inspirations of my heart, instead of choosing
selfish motives as my guide. Every time I took her hand when dancing
with her, I expected to feel a little claw ready to pierce the cold
glove. But, while waiting for the scratch, it was a very soft, velvety
little hand that was given me; and I, who willingly lent myself to her
deception, did not feel very much duped. It was evident that the sort of
halo which my merited or unmerited reputation had thrown over me had made
me appear to her as a conquest of some value, a victim upon whom one
could lavish just enough flowers in order to bring him to the sacrificial
altar. In order to wind the first chain around my neck, Mauleon and
D'Arzenac, 'a tutti quanti', were sacrificed for me without my
soliciting, even by a glance, this general disbandment. I could
interpret this discharge. I saw that the fair one wished to concentrate
all her seductions against me, so as to leave me no means of escape;
people neglect the hares to hunt for the deer. You must excuse my
"This conduct wounded me at first, but I afterward forgave her, when a
more careful examination taught me to know this adorable woman's
character. Coquetry was with her not a vice of the heart or of an
unscrupulous mind; having nothing better to do, she enjoyed it as a
legitimate pastime, without giving it any importance or feeling any
scruples. Like all women, she liked to please; her success was sweet to
her vanity; perhaps flattery turned her head at times, but in the midst
of this tumult her heart remained in perfect peace. She found so little
danger for herself in the game she played that it did not seem to her
that it could be very serious for others. Genuine love is not common
enough in Parisian parlors for a pretty woman to conceive any great
remorse at pleasing without loving.
"Madame de Bergenheim was thus, ingenuously, unsuspectingly, a matchless
coquette. Never having loved, not even her husband, she looked upon her
little intriguing as one of the rights earned on the day of her marriage,
the same as her diamonds and cashmeres. There was something touching in
the sound of her voice and in her large, innocent eyes which she
sometimes allowed to rest upon mine, without thinking to turn them away,
and which said, 'I have never loved.' As for myself, I believed it all;
one is so happy to believe!
"Far from being annoyed at the trap she laid for me, I, on the contrary,
ran my head into it and presented my neck to the yoke with a docility
which must have amused her, I think; but I hoped not to bear it alone.
A coquette who coolly flaunts her triumphs to the world resembles those
master-swimmers who, while spectators are admiring the grace of their
poses, are struck by an unexpected current; the performer is sometimes
swept away and drowned without his elegant strokes being of much service
to him. Throw Celimene into the current of genuine passion--I do not
mean the brutality of Alceste--I will wager that coquetry will be swept
away by love. I had such faith in mine that I thought to be able to fix
the moment when I should call myself victorious and sure of being obeyed.
"You know that sadness and ennui were considered etiquette last winter,
in a certain society, which was thrown into mourning by the July
revolution. Reunions were very few; there were no balls or soirees;
dancing in drawing-rooms to the piano was hardly permissible, even with
intimate friends. When once I was installed in Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil's drawing-room upon a friendly footing, this cessation of
worldly festivities gave me an opportunity to see Clemence in a rather
"It would take too long to tell you now all the thousand and one little
incidents which compose the history of all passions. Profiting by her
coquetry, which made her receive me kindly in order to make me expiate my
success afterward, my love for her was soon an understood thing between
us; she listened to me in a mocking way, but did not dispute my right to
speak. She ended by receiving my letters, after being constrained to do
so through a course of strategies in which, truly, I showed incredible
invention. I was listened to and she read my letters; I asked for
"My love, from the first, had been her secret as well as mine; but every
day I made to sparkle some unexpected facet of this prism of a thousand
colors. Even after telling her a hundred times how much I adored her,
my love still had for her the attraction of the unknown. I really had
something inexhaustible in my heart, and I was sure, in the end,
to intoxicate her with this philtre, which I constantly poured out
and which she drank, while making sport of it like a child.
"One day I found her thoughtful and silent. She did not reply to me with
her usual sprightliness during the few moments that I was able to talk
with her; the expression of her eyes had changed; there was something
deeper and less glowing in their depths; instead of dazzling me by their
excessive splendor, as had often happened to me before, they seemed to
soften as they rested on mine; she kept her eyelids a trifle lowered,
as if she were tired of being gazed at by me. Her voice, as she spoke,
had a low, soft sound, a sort of inexplicable something which came from
the very depths of her soul. She never had looked at me with that glance
or spoken to me in that tone before. Upon that day I knew that she loved
"I returned to my home unutterably happy, for I loved this woman with a
love of which I believed myself incapable.
"When I met Madame de Bergenheim again, I found her completely changed
toward me; an icy gravity, an impassible calm, an ironical and disdainful
haughtiness had taken the place of the delicious abandon of her former
bearing. In spite of my strong determination to allow myself to love
with the utmost candor, it was impossible for me to return to that happy
age when the frowning brows of the beautiful idol to whom we paid court
inspired us with the resolve to drown ourselves. I could not isolate
myself from my past experiences. My heart was rejuvenated, but my head
remained old. I was, therefore, not in the least discouraged by this
change of humor, and the fit of anger which it portended.
"'Now,' said I to myself, 'there is an end to coquetry, it is beaten on
all sides; it is gone, never to return. She has seen that the affair is
a little too deep for that, and the field not tenable. She will erect
barriers in order to defend herself and will no longer attack.' Thus we
pass from the period of amiable smiles, sweet glances, and half-avowals
to that of severity and prudery, while waiting for the remorse and
despair of the denouement. I am sure that at this time she called to her
help all her powers of resistance. From that day she would retreat
behind the line of duty, conjugal fidelity, honor, and all the other fine
sentiments which would need numbering after the fashion of Homer. At the
first attack, all this household battalion would make a furious sortie;
should I succeed in overthrowing them and take up my quarters in the
trenches, there would then be a gathering of the reserve force, and
boiling oil or tar would rain upon my head, representing virtue,
religion, heaven, and hell."
"A sort of conjugal earthquake," interrupted Marillac.
"I calculated the strength and approximate duration of these means of
defence. The whole thing appeared to me only a question of time, a few
days or weeks at most--so long on the husband's account, so long on the
father confessor's account. I deserved to be boxed on the ears for my
presumption; I was.
"A combat is necessary in order to secure a victory. In spite of all my
efforts and ruses, it was not possible for me to fight this combat; I did
not succeed, in spite of all my challenges, in shattering, as I expected,
this virtuous conjugal fortress. Madame de Bergenheim still persisted in
her systematic reserve, with incredible prudence and skill. During the
remainder of the winter, I did not find more than one opportunity of
speaking to her alone. As I was a permanent fixture every evening in her
aunt's parlors, she entered them only when other guests were there. She
never went out alone, and in every place where I was likely to meet her
I was sure to find a triple rampart of women erected between us, through
which it was impossible to address one word to her. In short, I was
encountering a desperate resistance; and, yet, she loved me! I could see
her cheeks gradually grow pale; her brilliant eyes often had dark rings
beneath them, as if sleep had deserted her. Sometimes, when she thought
she was not observed, I surprised them fastened upon me; but she
immediately turned them away.
"She had been coquettish and indifferent; she was now loving but
"Spring came. One afternoon I went to call upon Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who had been ill for several days. I was received, however,
probably through some mistake of the servants. As I entered the room
I saw Madame de Bergenheim; she was alone at her embroidery, seated upon
a divan. There were several vases of flowers in the windows, whose
curtains only permitted a soft, mysterious light to penetrate the room.
The perfume from the flowers, the sort of obscurity, the solitude in
which I found her, overcame me for a moment; I was obliged to pause in
order to quiet the beating of my heart.
"She arose as she heard my name announced; without speaking or laying
down her work, she pointed to a chair and seated herself; but instead of
obeying her, I fell upon my knees before her and seized her hands, which
she did not withdraw. It had been impossible for me to say another word
to her before, save 'I love you!' I now told her of all my love. Oh!
I am sure of it, my words penetrated to the very depth of her heart,
for I felt her hands tremble as they left mine. She listened without
interrupting me or making any reply, with her face bent toward me as if
she were breathing the perfume of a flower. When I begged her to answer
me, when I implored her for one single word from her heart, she withdrew
one of her hands, imprisoned within mine, and placed it upon my forehead,
pushing back my head with a gesture familiar to women. She gazed at me
thus for a long time; her eyes were so languishing under their long
lashes, and their languor was so penetrating, that I closed mine, not
being able to endure the fascination of this glance any longer.
"A shiver which ran over her and which went through me also, like an
electric shock, aroused me. When I opened my eyes I saw her face bathed
in tears. She drew back and repelled me. I arose impetuously, seated
myself by her side and took her in my arms.
"'Am I not a wretched, unhappy woman?' said she, and fell upon my breast,
"'Madame la Comtesse de Pontiviers,' announced the servant, whom I would
willingly have assassinated, as well as the visiting bore who followed in
"I never saw Madame de Bergenheim in Paris again. I was obliged to go to
Bordeaux the next day, on account of a lawsuit which you know all about.
Upon my return, at the end of three weeks, I found she had left. I
finally learned that she had come to this place, and I followed her.
That is the extent of my drama.
"Now you know very well that I have not related this long story to you
for the sole pleasure of keeping you awake until one o'clock in the
morning. I wanted to explain to you that it was really a serious thing
for me, so that you might not refuse to do what I wish to ask of you."
"I think I understand what you are aiming at," said Marillac, rather
"You know Bergenheim; you will go to see him to-morrow. He will invite
you to pass a few days with him; you will stay to dinner. You will see
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, in whose presence you will speak my name as
you refer to our journey; and before night, my venerable cousin of 1569
shall send me an invitation to come to see her."
"I would rather render you any other service than this," replied the
artist, walking up and down the room in long strides. "I know very well
that in all circumstances bachelors should triumph over husbands, but
that does not prevent my conscience from smiting me. You know that I
saved Bergenheim's life?"
"Rest assured that he runs no very great danger at present. Nothing will
result from this step save the little enjoyment I shall take in annoying
the cruel creature who defied me today. Is it agreed?"
"Since you insist upon it. But then, when our visit is ended, shall we
go to work at our drama or upon 'The Chaste Suzannah' opera in three
acts? For, really, you neglected art terribly for the sake of your love
"The Chaste Suzannah or the whole Sacred History we shall put into
vaudeville, if you exact it. Until to-morrow, then."
A LOVER'S RUSE
It was three o'clock in the afternoon; the drawing-room of the Chateau
de Bergenheim presented its usual aspect and occupants. The fire on the
hearth, lighted during the morning, was slowly dying, and a beautiful
autumn sun threw its rays upon the floor through the half-opened windows.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, stretched on the couch before the fireplace
with Constance at her feet, was reading, according to her habit, the
newspapers which had just arrived. Madame de Bergenheim seemed very
busily occupied with a piece of tapestry in her lap; but the slow manner
in which her needle moved, and the singular mistakes she made, showed
that her mind was far away from the flowers she was working. She had
just finished a beautiful dark lily, which contrasted strangely with its
neighbors, when a servant entered.
"Madame," said he, "there is a person here inquiring for Monsieur le
Baron de Bergenheim."
"Is Monsieur de Bergenheim not at home?" asked Mademoiselle de
"Monsieur has gone to ride with Mademoiselle Aline."
"Who is this person?"
"It is a gentleman; but I did not ask his name."
"Let him enter."
Clemence arose at the servant's first words and threw her work upon a
chair, making a movement as if to leave the room; but after a moment's
reflection, she resumed her seat and her work, apparently indifferent as
to who might enter.
"Monsieur de Marillac," announced the lackey, as he opened the door a
Madame de Bergenheim darted a rapid glance at the individual who
presented himself, and then breathed freely again.
After setting to rights his coiffure 'a la Perinet', the artist entered
the room, throwing back his shoulders. Tightly buttoned up in his
travelling redingote, and balancing with ease a small gray hat, he bowed
respectfully to the two ladies and then assumed a pose a la Van Dyke.
Constance was so frightened at the sight of this imposing figure that,
instead of jumping at the newcomer's legs, as was her custom, she
sheltered herself under her mistress's chair, uttering low growls; at
first glance the latter shared, if not the terror, at least the aversion
of her dog. Among her numerous antipathies, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
detested a beard. This was a common sentiment with all old ladies, who
barely tolerated moustaches: "Gentlemen did not wear them in 1780," they
Marillac's eyes turned involuntarily toward the portraits, and other
picturesque details of a room which was worthy the attention of a
connoisseur; but he felt that the moment was not opportune for indulging
in artistic contemplation, and that he must leave the dead for the
"Ladies," said he, "I ought, first of all, to ask your pardon for thus
intruding without having had the honor of an introduction. I hoped to
find here Monsieur de Bergenheim, with whom I am on very intimate terms.
I was told that he was at the chateau."
"My husband's friends do not need to be presented at his house," said
Clemence; "Monsieur de Bergenheim probably will return soon." And with a
gracious gesture she motioned the visitor to a seat.
"Your name is not unknown to me," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil in her
turn, having succeeded in calming Constance's agitation. "I remember
having heard Monsieur de Bergenheim mention you often."
"We were at college together, although I am a few years younger than
"But," exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, struck by some sudden thought,
"there is more than a college friendship between you. Are you not,
Monsieur, the person who saved my husband's life in 1830?"
Marillac smiled, bowed his head, and seated himself. Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil herself could not but graciously greet her nephew's preserver,
had he had a moustache as long as that of the Shah of Persia, who ties
his in a bow behind his neck.
After the exchange of a few compliments, Madame de Bergenheim, with the
amiability of a mistress of the house who seeks subjects of conversation
that may show off to best advantage the persons she receives, continued:
"My husband does not like to talk of himself, and never has told us the
details of this adventure, in which he ran such great danger. Will you
be kind enough to gratify our curiosity on this point?"
Marillac, among his other pretensions, had that of being able to relate a
story in an impressive manner. These words were as pleasing to his ears
as the request for a song is to a lady who requires urging, although she
is dying to sing.
"Ladies," said he, crossing one leg over the other and leaning upon one
arm of his chair, "it was on the twenty-eighth of July, 1830; the
disastrous decrees had produced their effects; the volcano which--"
"Pardon me, Monsieur, if I interrupt you," said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, quickly; "according to my opinion, and that of many others,
the royal decrees you speak of were good and necessary. The only mistake
of Charles Tenth was not to have fifty thousand men around Paris to force
their acceptance. I am only a woman, Monsieur, but if I had had under my
command twenty cannon upon the quays, and as many upon the boulevards, I
assure you that your tricolored flag never should have floated over the
"Pitt and Cobourg!" said the artist between his teeth, as, with an
astonished air, he gazed at the old lady; but his common-sense told him
that republicanism was not acceptable within this castle. Besides,
remembering the mission with which he was charged, he did not think his
conscience would feel much hurt if he made a little concession of
principles and manoeuvred diplomatically.
"Madame," replied he, "I call the decrees disastrous when I think of
their result. You will certainly admit that our situation to-day ought
to make everybody regret the causes which brought it about."
"We are exactly of the same opinion regarding that point, Monsieur," said
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, resuming her serenity.
"The open volcano beneath our feet," continued Marillac, who still stuck
to his point, "warned us by deep rumblings of the hot lava which was
about to gush forth. The excitement of the people was intense. Several
engagements with the soldiers had already taken place at different
points. I stood on the Boulevard Poissonniere, where I had just taken my
luncheon, and was gazing with an artist's eye upon the dramatic scene
spread out before me. Men with bare arms and women panting with
excitement were tearing up the pavements or felling trees. An omnibus
had just been upset; the rioters added cabriolets, furniture, and casks
to it; everything became means of defence. The crashing of the trees as
they fell, the blows of crowbars on the stones, the confused roaring of
thousands of voices, the Marseillaise sung in chorus, and the irregular
cannonading which resounded from the direction of the Rue Saint-Denis,
all composed a strident, stupefying, tempestuous harmony, beside which
Beethoven's Tempest would have seemed like the buzzing of a bee.
"I was listening to the roaring of the people, who were gnawing at their
chains before breaking them, when my eyes happened to fall upon a window
of a second-floor apartment opposite me. A man about sixty years of age,
with gray hair, a fresh, plump face, an honest, placid countenance, and
wearing a mouse-colored silk dressing-gown, was seated before a small,
round table. The window opened to the floor, and I could see him in this
frame like a full-length portrait. There was a bowl of coffee upon the
table, in which he dipped his roll as he read his journal. I beg your
pardon, ladies, for entering into these petty details, but the habit of
"I assure you, Monsieur, your story interests me very much," said Madame
de Bergenheim, kindly.
"A King Charles spaniel, like yours, Mademoiselle, was standing near the
window with his paws resting upon it; he was gazing with curiosity at the
revolution of July, while his master was reading his paper and sipping
his coffee, as indifferent to all that passed as if he had been in Pekin
or New York.
"'Oh, the calm of a pure, sincere soul!' I exclaimed to myself, at the
sight of this little tableau worthy of Greuze; 'oh, patriarchal
philosophy! in a few minutes perhaps blood will flow in the streets, and
here sits a handsome old man quietly sipping his coffee.' He seemed like
a lamb browsing upon a volcano."
Marillac loved volcanoes, and never lost an opportunity to bring one in
at every possible opportunity.
"Suddenly a commotion ran through the crowd; the people rushed in every
direction, and in an instant the boulevard was empty. Plumes waving from
high caps, red-and-white flags floating from the ends of long lances,
and the cavalcade that I saw approaching through the trees told me the
cause of this panic. A squadron of lancers was charging. Have you ever
seen a charge of lancers?"
"Never!" said both of the ladies at once.
"It is a very grand sight, I assure you. Fancy, ladies, a legion of
demons galloping along upon their horses, thrusting to the right and left
with long pikes, whose steel points are eighteen inches long. That is a
charge of lancers. I beg you to believe that I had shown before this the
mettle there was in me, but I will not conceal from you that at this
moment I shared with the crowd the impression which the coming of these
gentlemen made. I had only time to jump over the sidewalk and to dart up
a staircase which ran on the outside of a house, every door being closed.
I never shall forget the face of one of those men who thrust the point of
a lance at me, long enough to pierce through six men at once. I admit
that I felt excited then! The jinn having passed--"
"The--what?" asked Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who was not familiar with
"I beg a thousand pardons, it was a poetical reminiscence. The lancers,
having rushed through the boulevard like an avalanche, a laggard rider,
a hundred steps behind the others, galloped proudly by, erect in his
stirrups and flourishing his sword. Suddenly the report of a gun
resounded, the lancer reeled backward, then forward, and finally fell
upon his horse's neck; a moment later he turned in his saddle and lay
stretched upon the ground, his foot caught in the stirrup; the horse,
still galloping, dragged the man and the lance, which was fastened to his
arm by a leather band."
"How horrible!" said Clemence, clasping her hands.
Marillac, much pleased with the effect of his narration, leaned back in
his chair and continued his tale with his usual assurance.
"I looked to the neighboring roofs to discover whence came this shot; as
I was glancing to the right and left I saw smoke issuing through the
blinds of the room on the second floor, which had been closed at the
approach of the lancers.
"'Good God!' I exclaimed; 'it must be this handsome old man in the mouse-
colored silk dressing-gown who amuses himself by firing upon the lancers,
as if they were rabbits in a warren!'
"Just then the blinds were opened, and the strange fellow with the
unruffled countenance leaned out and gazed with a smiling face in the
direction the horse was taking, dragging his master's body after him.
The patriarch had killed his man between two sips of his coffee."
"And that is the cowardly way in which members of the royal guard were
assassinated by the 'heroes' of your glorious insurrection!" exclaimed
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, indignantly.
"When the troops had passed," Marillac continued, "the crowd returned,
more excited and noisy than ever. Barricades were erected with wonderful
rapidity; two of those were on the boulevard close to the place where I
was. I saw a horseman suddenly bound over the first; he wore a tuft of
red-and-white feathers in his hat. I saw that it was a staff officer,
doubtless carrying some despatch to headquarters. He continued his way,
sabre in its sheath, head erect, proud and calm in the midst of insulting
shouts from the crowd; stones were thrown at him and sticks at his
horse's legs; he looked as if he were parading upon the Place du
"When he reached the second barricade, he drew his horse up, as if it
were merely a question of jumping a hurdle in a steeplechase. just then
I saw the window on the first floor open again. 'Ah! you old rascal!'
I exclaimed. The report of a gun drowned my voice; the horse which had
just made the leap, fell on his knees; the horseman tried to pull him up,
but after making one effort the animal fell over upon his side. The ball
had gone through the steed's head."
"It was that poor Fidele that I gave your husband," said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who was always very sentimental in the choice of names she
gave to animals.
"He merited his name, Mademoiselle, for the poor beast died for his
master, for whom the shot was in tended. Several of those horrible
faces, which upon riot days suddenly appear as if they came out of the
ground, darted toward the unhorsed officer. I, and several other young
men who were as little disposed as myself to allow a defenceless man to
be slaughtered, ran toward him. I recognized Christian as I approached;
his right leg was caught under the horse, and he was trying to unsheath
his sword with his left hand. Sticks and stones were showered at him.
I drew out the sword, which his position prevented him from doing, and
exclaimed as I waved it in the air: 'The first rascal who advances, I
will cut open like a dog.'
"I accompanied these words with a flourish which kept the cannibals at a
distance for the time being.
"The young fellows who were with me followed my example. One took a
pickaxe, another seized the branch of a tree, while others tried to
release Christian from his horse. During this time the crowd increased
around us; the shouts redoubled: 'Down with the ordinances! These are
disguised gendarmes! Vive la liberte!--We must kill them! Let's hang
the spies to the lamp-posts!'
"Danger was imminent, and I realized that only a patriotic harangue would
get us out of the scrape. While they were releasing Christian, I jumped
upon Fidele so as to be seen by all and shouted:
"'Vive la liberte !'
"'Vive la liberte!' replied the crowd.
"'Down with Charles Tenth! Down with the ministers! Down with the
"'Down!' shouted a thousand voices at once.
"You understand, ladies, this was a sort of bait, intended to close the
mouths of these brutes.
"'We are all citizens, we are all Frenchmen,' I continued; 'we must not
soil our hands with the blood of one of our disarmed brothers. After a
victory there are no enemies. This officer was doing his duty in
fulfilling his chief's commands; let us do ours by dying, if necessary,
for our country and the preservation of our rights.'
"'Vive la liberte! vive la liberte!' shouted the crowd. 'He is right;
the officer was doing his duty. It would be assassination!' exclaimed
"'Thanks, Marillac,' said Bergenheim to me, as I took his hand to lead
him away, availing ourselves of the effect of my harangue; 'but do not
press me so hard, for I really believe that my right arm is broken; only
for that, I should ask you to return me my sword that I might show this
rabble that they can not kill a Bergenheim as they would a chicken.'
"'Let him cry: Vive la Charte!' roared out a man, with a ferocious face.
"'I receive orders from nobody,' Christian replied, in a very loud voice,
as he glared at him with eyes which would have put a rhinoceros to
"Your husband is really a very brave man," said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, addressing Clemence.
"Brave as an old warrior. This time he pushed his courage to the verge
of imprudence; I do not know what the result might have been if the crowd
had not been dispersed a second time by the approach of the lancers, who
were returning through the boulevard. I led Bergenheim into a caf‚;
fortunately, his arm was only sprained." Just at this moment Marillac's
story was interrupted by a sound of voices and hurried steps. The door
opened suddenly, and Aline burst into the room with her usual
"What has happened to you, Aline?" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim,
hurrying to her sister's side. The young girl's riding-habit and hat
were covered with splashes of mud.
"Oh, nothing," replied the young girl, in a broken voice; "it was only
Titania, who wanted to throw me into the river. Do you know where
Rousselet is? They say it is necessary to bleed him; and he is the only
one who knows how to do it."
"Whom do you mean, child? Is my husband wounded?" asked Clemence,
"No, not Christian; it is a gentleman I do not know; only for him I
should have been drowned. Mon Dieu! can not Rousselet be found?"
Aline left the room in great agitation. They all went over to the
windows that opened out into the court, whence the sound of voices seemed
to arise, and where they could hear the master's voice thundering out his
commands. Several servants had gone to his assistance: one of them held
Titania by the bridle; she was covered with foam and mud, and was
trembling, with distended nostrils, like a beast that knows it has just
committed a wicked action. A young man was seated upon a stone bench,
wiping away blood which streamed from his forehead. It was Monsieur de
At this sight Clemence supported herself against the framework of the
window, and Marillac hurriedly left the room.
Pere Rousselet, who had at last been found in the kitchen, advanced
majestically, eating an enormous slice of bread and butter.
"Good heavens! have you arrived at last?" exclaimed Bergenheim. "Here
is a gentleman this crazy mare has thrown against a tree, and who has
received a violent blow on the head. Do you not think it would be the
proper thing to bleed him?"
"A slight phlebotomy might be very advantageous in stopping the
extravasation of blood in the frontal region," replied the peasant,
calling to his aid all the technical terms he had learned when he was a
"Are you sure you can do this bleeding well?"
"I'll take the liberty of saying to Monsieur le Baron that I
phlebotomized Perdreau last week and Mascareau only a month ago, without
any complaint from them."
"Indeed! I believe you," sneered the groom, "both are on their last
"I am neither Perdreau nor Mascareau," observed the wounded man with a
Rousselet drew himself up at full height, with the dignity of a man of
talent who scorns to reply to either criticism or mistrust.
"Monsieur," said Gerfaut, turning to the Baron, "I am really causing you
too much trouble. This trifle does not merit the attention you give it.
I do not suffer in the least. Some water and a napkin are all that I
need. I fancy that I resemble an Iroquois Indian who has just been
scalped; my pride is really what is most hurt," he added, with a smile,
"when I think of the grotesque sight I must present to the ladies whom I
notice at the window."
"Why, it is Monsieur de Gerfaut!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
toward whom he raised his eyes.
Octave bowed to her with a gracious air. His glance wandered from the
old lady to Clemence, who did not seem to have the strength to leave the
window. M. de Bergenheim, after hurriedly greeting Marillac, finally
yielded to the assurance that a surgeon was unnecessary, and conducted
the two friends to his own room, where the wounded man could find
everything that he needed.
"What the devil was the use in sending me as ambassador, since you were
to make such a fine entrance upon the stage?" murmured Marillac in his
"Silence!" replied the latter as he pressed his hand; "I am only behind
the scenes as yet."
During this time Clemence and her aunt had led Aline to her room.
"Now, tell us what all this means?" said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
while the young girl was changing her dress.
"It was Christian's fault," replied Aline. "We were galloping along
beside the river when Titania became frightened by the branch of a tree.
'Do not be afraid!' exclaimed my brother. I was not in the least
frightened; but when he saw that my horse was about to run away, he urged
his on in order to join me. When Titania heard the galloping behind her
she did run away in earnest; she left the road and started straight for
the river. Then I began to be a little frightened. Just fancy,
Clemence, I bounded in the saddle at each leap, sometimes upon the mare's
neck, sometimes upon the crupper; it was terrible! I tried to withdraw
my foot from the stirrup as Christian had told me to do; but just then
Titania ran against the trunk of a tree, and I rolled over with her. A
gentleman, whom I had not seen before, and who, I believe, actually
jumped out of the ground, raised me from the saddle, where I was held by
something, I do not know what; then that naughty Titania threw him
against the tree as he was helping me to my feet, and when I was able to
look at him his face was covered with blood. Christian rushed on the
scene, and, when he saw that I was not badly hurt, he ran after Titania
and beat her! Oh! how he beat her! Mon Dieu! how cruel men are! It
was in vain for me to cry for mercy; he would not listen to me. Then we
came home, and, since this gentleman is not badly wounded, it seems that
my poor dress has fared worst of all."
The young girl took her riding-habit from the chair as she said these
words, and could not restrain a cry of horror when she saw an enormous
rent in it.
"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed, as she showed it to her sister-in-law. It was
all that she had strength to articulate.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil took the skirt in her turn, and looked at it
with the practised eye of a person who had made a special study of little
disasters of the toilet and the ways of remedying them.
"It is in the fullness," said she, "and by putting in a new breadth it
will never be seen."
Aline, once convinced that the evil could be repaired, soon recovered her
When the three ladies entered the drawing-room they found the Baron and
his two guests chatting amicably. Gerfaut had his forehead tied up with
a black silk band which gave him a slight resemblance to Cupid with his
bandage just off his eyes. His sparkling glance showed that blindness
was not what there was in common between him and the charming little god.
After the first greetings, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who was always
strict as to etiquette, and who thought that Titania had been a rather
unceremonious master of ceremonies between her nephew and M. de Gerfaut,
advanced toward the latter in order to introduce them formally to each
"I do not think," said she, "that Monsieur de Bergenheim has had the
honor of meeting you before today; allow me then to present you to him.
Baron, this is Monsieur le Vicomte de Gerfaut, one of my relatives."
When Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was in good humor, she treated Gerfaut as
a relative on account of their family alliance of 1569. At this moment
the poet felt profoundly grateful for this kindness.
"Monsieur has presented himself so well," said Christian frankly, "that
your recommendation, my dear aunt, in spite of the respect I have for it,
will not add to my gratitude. Only for Monsieur de Gerfaut, here is a
madcap little girl whom we should be obliged to look for now at the
bottom of the river."
As he said these words, he passed his arm about his sister's waist and
kissed her tenderly, while Aline was obliged to stand upon the tips of
her toes to reach her brother's lips.
"These gentlemen," he continued, "have agreed to sacrifice for us the
pleasure of the Femme-sans-Tete, as well as Mademoiselle Gobillot's
civilities, and establish their headquarters in my house. They can
pursue their picturesque and romantic studies from here just as well;
I suppose, Marillac, that you are still a determined dauber of canvas?"
"To tell the truth," replied the poet, "art absorbs me a great deal."
"As to myself, I never succeeded in drawing a nose that did not resemble
an ear and vice versa. But for that worthy Baringnier, who was kind
enough to look over my plans, I ran a great risk of leaving Saint Cyr
without a graduating diploma. But seriously, gentlemen, when you are
tired of sketching trees and tumbledown houses, I can give you some good
boar hunting. Are you a hunter, Monsieur de Gerfaut?"
"I like hunting very much," replied the lover, with rare effrontery.
The conversation continued thus upon the topics that occupy people who
meet for the first time. When the Baron spoke of the two friends
installing themselves at the chateau, Octave darted a glance at Madame de
Bergenheim, as if soliciting a tacit approbation of his conduct; but met
with no response. Clemence, with a gloomy, sombre air fulfilled the
duties that politeness imposed upon her as mistress of the house. Her
conduct did not change during the rest of the evening, and Gerfaut no
longer tried by a single glance to soften the severity she seemed
determined to adopt toward him. All his attentions were reserved for
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil and Aline, who listened with unconcealed
pleasure to the man whom she regarded as her saviour; for the young
girl's remembrance of the danger which she had run excited her more and
After supper Mademoiselle de Corandeuil proposed a game of whist to
M. de Gerfaut, whose talent for the game had made a lasting impression
upon her. The poet accepted this diversion with an enthusiasm equal to
that he had shown for hunting, and quite as sincere too. Christian and
his sister--a little gamester in embryo, like all of her family--
completed the party, while Clemence took up her work and listened with
an absentminded air to Marillac's conversation. It was in vain for the
latter to call art and the Middle Ages to his aid, using the very
quintessence of his brightest speeches--success did not attend his
effort. After the end of an hour, he had a firm conviction that Madame
de Bergenheim was, everything considered, only a woman of ordinary
intelligence and entirely unworthy of the passion she had inspired in his
"Upon my soul," he thought, "I would a hundred times rather have Reine
Gobillot for a sweetheart. I must take a trip in that direction
When they separated for the night, Gerfaut, bored by his evening and
wounded by his reception from Clemence, which, he thought, surpassed
anything he could have expected of her capricious disposition, addressed
to the young woman a profound bow and a look which said:
"I am here in spite of you; I shall stay here in spite of you; you shall
love me in spite of yourself."
Madame de Bergenheim replied by a glance none the less expressive, in
which a lover the most prone to conceit could read:
"Do as you like; I have as much indifference for your love as disdain for
This was the last shot in this preliminary skirmish.
GERFAUT, THE WIZARD
There are some women who, like the heroic Cure Merino, need but one
hour's sleep. A nervous, irritable, subtle organization gives them a
power for waking, without apparent fatigue, refused to most men. And
yet, when a strong emotion causes its corrosive waters to filtrate into
the veins of these impressionable beings, it trickles there drop by drop,
until it has hollowed out in the very depths of their hearts a lake full
of trouble and storms. Then, in the silence of night and the calm of
solitude, insomnia makes the rosy cheeks grow pale and dark rings
encircle the most sparkling eyes. It is in vain for the burning forehead
to seek the cool pillow; the pillow grows warm without the forehead
cooling. In vain the mind hunts for commonplace ideas, as a sort of
intellectual poppy-leaves that may lead to a quiet night's rest; a
persistent thought still returns, chasing away all others, as an eagle
disperses a flock of timid birds in order to remain sole master of its
prey. If one tries to repeat the accustomed prayer, and invoke the aid
of the Virgin, or the good angel who watches at the foot of young girls'
beds, in order to keep away the charms of the tempter, the prayer is only
on the lips, the Virgin is deaf, the angel sleeps! The breath of passion
against which one struggles runs through every fibre of the heart, like a
storm over the chords of an Tolian harp, and extorts from it those magic
melodies to which a poor, troubled, and frightened woman listens with
remorse and despair; but to which she listens, and with which at last she
is intoxicated, for the allegory of Eve is an immortal myth, that repeats
itself, through every century and in every clime.
Since her entrance into society, Madame de Bergenheim had formed the
habit of keeping late hours. When the minute details of her toilette for
the night were over, and she had confided her beautiful body to the snowy
sheets of her couch, some new novel or fashionable magazine helped her
wile away the time until sleep came to her. Christian left his room,
like a good country gentleman, at sunrise; he left it either for the
chase--or to oversee workmen, who were continually being employed upon
some part of his domain. Ordinarily, he returned only in time for
dinner, and rarely saw Clemence except between that time and supper, at
the conclusion of which, fatigued by his day's work, he hastened to seek
the repose of the just. Husband and wife, while living under the same
roof, were thus almost completely isolated from each other; night for one
was day for the other.
By the haste with which Clemence shortened her preparations for the
night, one would have said that she must have been blessed with an
unusually sleepy sensation. But when she lay in bed, with her head under
her arm, like a swan with his neck under his wing, and almost in the
attitude of Correggio's Magdalen, her eyes, which sparkled with a
feverish light, betrayed the fact that she had sought the solitude of her
bed in order to indulge more freely in deep meditation.
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
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