The Mystery of Orcival
Part 4 out of 7
He was filled with a joy which made him forget the night's torture.
Twelve hundred francs! How many days it would last! Had he not
heard there were clerks who hardly got that in a year?
Hector waited a long time, when one of the clerks, who was writing
at a desk, called out:
"Whose are the twelve hundred francs?"
The count stepped forward.
"Mine," said he.
Hector hesitated. He would never give his name aloud in such a
place as this. He gave the first name that occurred to him.
"Where are your papers?"
"A passport, a receipt for lodgings, a license to hunt - "
"I haven't any."
"Go for them, or bring two well-known witnesses."
"But - "
"There is no but. The next - "
Hector was provoked by the clerk's abrupt manner.
"Well, then," said he, "give me back the jewelry."
The clerk looked at him jeeringly.
"Can't be done. No goods that are registered, can be returned
without proof of rightful possession." So saying, he went on with
his work. "One French shawl, thirty-five francs, whose is it?"
Hector meanwhile went out of the establishment. He had never
suffered so much, had never imagined that one could suffer so much.
After this ray of hope, so abruptly put out, the clouds lowered
over him thicker and more hopelessly. He was worse off than the
shipwrecked sailor; the pawnbroker had taken his last resources.
All the romance with which he had invested the idea of his suicide
now vanished, leaving bare the stern and ignoble reality. He must
kill himself, not like the gay gamester who voluntarily leaves upon
the roulette table the remains of his fortune, but like the Greek,
who surprised and hunted, knows that every door will be shut upon
him. His death would not be voluntary; he could neither hesitate
nor choose the fatal hour; he must kill himself because he had not
the means of living one day longer.
And life never before seemed to him so sweet a thing as now. He
never felt so keenly the exuberance of his youth and strength. He
suddenly discovered all about him a crowd of pleasures each more
enviable than the others, which he had never tasted. He who
flattered himself that he had squeezed life to press out its
pleasures, had not really lived. He had had all that is to be
bought or sold, nothing of what is given or achieved. He already
not only regretted giving the ten thousand francs to Jenny, but the
two hundred francs to the servants - nay the six sous given to the
waiter at the restaurant, even the money he had spent on the bunch
of violets. The bouquet still hung in his buttonhole, faded and
shrivelled. What good did it do him? While the sous which he had
paid for it - ! He did not think of his wasted millions, but could
not drive away the thought of that wasted franc!
True, he might, if he chose, find plenty of money still, and easily.
He had only to return quietly to his house, to discharge the bailiffs,
and to resume the possession of his remaining effects. But he would
thus confront the world, and confess his terrors to have overcome
him at the last moment; he would have to suffer glances more cruel
than the pistol-ball. The world must not be deceived; when a man
announces that he is going to kill himself - he must kill himself.
So Hector was going to die because he had said he would, because
the newspapers had announced the fact. He confessed this to himself
as he went along, and bitterly reproached himself.
He remembered a pretty spot in Viroflay forest, where he had once
fought a duel; he would commit the deed there. He hastened toward
it. The weather was fine and he met many groups of young people
going into the country for a good time. Workmen were drinking and
clinking their glasses under the trees along the river-bank. All
seemed happy and contented, and their gayety seemed to insult
Hector's wretchedness. He left the main road at the Sevres bridge,
and descending the embankment reached the borders of the Seine.
Kneeling down, he took up some water in the palm of his hand, and
drank - an invincible lassitude crept over him. He sat, or rather
fell, upon the sward. The fever of despair came, and death now
seemed to him a refuge, which he could almost welcome with joy.
Some feet above him the windows of a Sevres restaurant opened toward
the river. He could be seen from them, as well as from the bridge;
but he did not mind this, nor anything else.
"As well here, as elsewhere," he said to himself.
He had just drawn his pistol out, when he heard someone call:
He jumped up at a bound, concealed the pistol, and looked about.
A man was running down the embankment toward him with outstretched
arms. This was a man of his own age, rather stout, but well shaped,
with a fine open face and, large black eyes in which one read
frankness and good-nature; one of those men who are sympathetic at
first sight, whom one loves on a week's acquaintance.
Hector recognized him. It was his oldest friend, a college mate;
they had once been very intimate, but the count not finding the
other fast enough for him, had little by little dropped his intimacy,
and had now lost sight of him for two years.
"Sauvresy!" he exclaimed, stupefied.
"Yes," said the young man, hot, and out of breath, "I've been watching
you the last two minutes; what were you doing here?"
"Why - nothing."
"How! What they told me at your house this morning was true, then!
I went there."
"What did they say?"
"That nobody knew what had become of you, and that you declated to
Jenny when you left her the night before that you were going to blow
your brains out. The papers have already announced your death, with
This news seemed to have a great effect on the count.
"You see, then," he answered tragically, "that I must kill myself!"
"Why? In order to save the papers from the inconvenience of
correcting their error."
"People will say that I shrunk - "
"Oh, 'pon my word now! According to you, a man must make a fool
of himself because it has been reported that he would do it.
Absurd, old fellow. What do you want to kill yourself for?"
Hector reflected; he almost saw the possibility of living.
"I am ruined," answered he, sadly.
"And it's for this that - stop, my friend, let me tell you, you
are an ass! Ruined! It's a misfortune, but when a man is of your
age he rebuilds his fortune. Besides, you aren't as ruined as you
say, because I've got an income of a hundred thousand francs."
"A hundred thousand francs - "
"Well, my fortune is in land, which brings in about four per cent."
Tremorel knew that his friend was rich, but not that he was as rich
as this. He answered with a tinge of envy in his tone:
"Well, I had more than that; but I had no breakfast this morning."
"And you did not tell me! But true, you are in a pitiable state;
come along, quick!"
And he led him toward the restaurant.
Tremorel reluctantly followed this friend, who had just saved his
life. He was conscious of having been surprised in a distressingly
ridiculous situation. If a man who is resolved to blow his brains
out is accosted, he presses the trigger, he doesn't conceal his
pistol. There was one alone, among all his friends, who loved him
enough not to see the ludicrousness of his position; one alone
generous enough not to torture him with raillery; it was Sauvresy.
But once seated before a well-filled table, Hector could not
preserve his rigidity. He felt the joyous expansion of spirit
which follows assured safety after terrible peril. He was himself,
young again, once more strong. He told Sauvresy everything; his
vain boasting, his terror at the last moment, his agony at the
hotel, his fury, remorse, and anguish at the pawnbroker's.
"Ah!" said he. "You have saved me! You are my friend, my only
friend, my brother."
They talked for more than two hours.
"Come," said Sauvresy at last, "let us arrange our plans. You want
to disappear awhile'; I see that. But to-night you must write four
lines to the papers. To-morrow I propose to take your affairs in
hand, that's a thing I know how to do. I don't know exactly how
you stand; but I will agree to save something from the wreck. We've
got money, you see; your creditors will be easy with us."
"But where shall I go?" asked Hector, whom the mere idea of
"What? You'll come home with me, parbleu, to Valfeuillu. Don't
you know that I am married? Ah, my friend, a happier man than I
does not exist! I've married - for love - the loveliest and best
of women. You will be a brother to us. But come, my carriage is
right here near the door."
M. Plantat stopped. His companions had not suffered a gesture or
a word to interrupt him. M. Lecoq, as he listened, reflected. He
asked himself where M. Plantat could have got all these minute
details. Who had written Tremorel's terrible biography? As he
glanced at the papers from which Plantat read, he saw that they
were not all in the same handwriting.
The old justice of the peace pursued the story:
Bertha Lechaillu, though by an unhoped-for piece of good fortune
she had become Madame Sauvresy, did not love her husband. She was
the daughter of a poor country school-master, whose highest ambition
had been to be an assistant teacher in a Versailles school; yet she
was not now satisfied. Absolute queen of one of the finest domains
in the land, surrounded by every luxury, spending as she pleased,
beloved, adored, she was not content. Her life, so well regulated,
so constantly smooth, without annoyances and disturbance, seemed to
her insipid. There were always the same monotonous pleasures,
always recurring each in its season. There were parties and
receptions, horse rides, hunts, drives - and it was always thus!
Alas, this was not the life she had dreamed of; she was born for
more exciting pleasures. She yearned for unknown emotions and
sensations, the unforeseen, abrupt transitions, passions, adventures.
She had not liked Sauvresy from the first day she saw him, and her
secret aversion to him increased in proportion as her influence over
him grew more certain. She thought him common, vulgar, ridiculous.
She thought the simplicity of his manners, silliness. She looked
at him, and saw nothing in him to admire. She did not listen to
him when he spoke, having already decided in her wisdom that he
could say nothing that was not tedious or commonplace. She was angry
that he had not been a wild young man, the terror of his family.
He had, however, done as other young men do. He had gone to Paris
and tried the sort of life which his friend Tremorel led. He had
enough of it in six months, and hastily returned to Valfeuillu, to
rest after such laborious pleasures. The experience cost him a
hundred thousand francs, but he said he did not regret purchasing
it at this price.
Bertha was wearied with the constancy and adoration of her husband.
She had only to express a desire to be at once obeyed, and this
blind submission to all her wishes appeared to her servile in a man.
A man is born, she thought, to command, and not to obey; to be
master, and not slave. She would have preferred a husband who
would come in in the middle of the night, still warm from his orgy,
having lost at play, and who would strike her if she upbraided him.
A tyrant, but a man. Some months after her marriage she suddenly
took it into her head to have absurd freaks and extravagant caprices.
She wished to prove him, and see how far his constant complacence
would go. She thought she would tire him out. It was intolerable
to feel absolutely sure of her husband, to know that she so filled
his heart that he had room for no other, to have nothing to fear,
not even the caprice of an hour. Perhaps there was yet more than
this in Bertha's aversion. She knew herself, and confessed to
herself that had Sauvresy wished, she wouldhave been his without
being his wife. She was so lonely at her father's, so wretched in
her poverty, that she would have fled from her home, even for this.
And she despised her husband because he had not despised her enough!
People were always telling her that she was the happiest of women.
Happy! And there were days when she wept when she thought that she
was married. Happy! There were times when she longed to fly, to
seek adventure and pleasure, all that she yearned for, what she had
not had and never would have. The fear of poverty - which she knew
we1l - restrained her. This fear was caused in part by a wise
precaution which her father, recently dead, had taken. Sauvresy
wished to insert in the marriage-contract a settlement of five
hundred thousand francs on his affianced. The worthy Lechailin had
opposed this generous act.
"My daughter," he said, "brings you nothing. Settle forty thousand
francs on her if you will, not a sou more; otherwise there shall be
As Sauvresy insisted, the old man added:
"I hope that she will be a good and worthy wife; if so, your fortune
will be hers. But if she is not, forty thousand francs will be none
too little for her. Of course, if you are afraid that you will die
first, you can make a will."
Sauvresy was forced to yield. Perhaps the worthy school-master
knew his daughter; if so he was the only one. Never did so
consummate a hypocrisy minister to so profound a perversity, and a
depravity so inconceivable in a young and seemingly innocent girl.
If, at the bottom of her heart, she thought herself the most
wretched of women, there was nothing of it apparent - it was a
well-kept secret. She knew how to show to her husband, in place
of the love she did not feel, the appearance of a passion at once
burning and modest, betraying furtive glances and a flush as of
pleasure, when he entered the room.
All the world said:
"Bertha is foolishly fond of her husband."
Sauvresy was sure of it, and he was the first to say, not caring
to conceal his joy:
"My wife adores me."
Such were man and wife at Valfeuillu when Sauvresy found Tremorel
on the banks of the Seine with a pistol in his hand. Sauvresy
missed his dinner that evening for the first time since his marriage,
though he had promised to be prompt, and the meal was kept waiting
for him. Bertha might have been anxious about this delay; she was
only indignant at what she called inconsiderateness. She was asking
herself how she should punish her husband, when, at ten o'clock at
night, the drawing-room door was abruptly thrown open, and Sauvresy
stood smiling upon the threshold.
"Bertha," said he, "I've brought you an apparition."
She scarcely deigned to raise her head. Sauvresy continued:
"An apparition whom you know, of whom I have often spoken to you,
whom you will like because I love him, and because he is my oldest
comrade, my best friend."
And standing aside, he gently pushed Hector into the room.
"Madame Sauvresy, permit me to present to you Monsieur the Count
Bertha rose suddenly, blushing, confused, agitated by an indefinable
emotion, as if she saw in reality an apparition. For the first time
in her life she was abashed, and did not dare to raise her large,
clear blue eyes.
"Monsieur," she stammered, "you are welcome."
She knew Tremorel's name well. Sauvresy had often mentioned it,
and she had seen it often in the papers, and had heard it in the
drawing-rooms of all her friends. He who bore it seemed to her,
after what she had heard a great personage. He was, according to
his reputation, a hero of another age, a social Don Quixote, a
terribly fast man of the world. He was one of those men whose lives
astonish common people, whom the well-to-do citizen thinks faithless
and lawless, whose extravagant passions overleap the narrow bounds
of social prejudice; a man who tyrannizes over others, whom all fear,
who fights on the slightest provocation, who scatters gold with a
prodigal hand, whose iron health resists the most terrible excesses.
She had often in her miserable reveries tried to imagine what kind
of man this Count de Tremorel was. She awarded him with such
qualities as she desired for her fancied hero, with whom she could
fly from her husband in search, of new adventures. And now, of a
sudden, he appeared before her.
"Give Hector your hand, dear," said Sauvresy. She held out her
hand, which Tremorel lightly pressed, and his touch seemed to give
her an electric shock.
Sauvresy threw himself into an arm-chair.
"You see, Bertha," said he, "our friend Hector is exhausted with
the life he has been leading. He has been advised to rest, and
has come to seek it here, with us."
"But, dear," responded Bertha, "aren't you afraid that the count
will be bored a little here?"
"Valfeuillu is very quiet, and we are but dull country folks."
Bertha talked for the sake of talking, to break a silence which
embarrassed her, to make Tremorel speak, and hear his voice. As
she talked she observed him, and studied the impression she made
on him. Her radiant beauty usually struck those who saw her for
the first time with open admiration. He remained impassible. She
recognized the worn-out rake of title, the fast man who has tried,
experienced, exhausted all things, in his coldness and superb
indifference. And because he did not admire her she admired him
"What a difference," thought she, "between him and that vulgar
Sauvresy, who is surprised at everything, whose face shows all
that he thinks, whose eye betrays what he is going to say before
he opens his mouth."
Bertha was mistaken. Hector was not as cold and indifferent as she
imagined. He was simply wearied, utterly exhausted. He could
scarcely sit up after the terrible excitements of the last
twenty-four hours. He soon asked permission to retire. Sauvresy,
when left alone with his wife, told her all that happened, and the
events which resulted in Tremorel's coming to Valfeuillu; but like
a true friend omitted everything that would cast ridicule upon his
"He's a big child," said he, "a foolish fellow, whose brain is weak
but we'll take care of him and cure him."
Bertha never listened to her husband so attentively before. She
seemed to agree with him, but she really admired Tremorel. Like
Jenny, she was struck with the heroism which could squander a
fortune and then commit suicide.
"Ah! "sighed she, "Sauvresy would not have done it!
No, Sauvresy was quite a different man from the Count de Tremorel.
The next day he declared his intention to adjust his friend's
affairs. Hector had slept well, having spent the night on an
excellent bed, undisturbed by pressing anxieties; and he appeared
in the morning sleek and well-dressed, the disorder and desperation
of the previous evening having quite disappeared. He had a nature
not deeply impressible by events; twenty-four hours consoled him
for the worst catastrophes, and he soon forgot the severest lessons
of life. If Sauvresy had bid him begone, he would not have known
where to go; yet he had already resumed the haughty carelessness of
the millionnaire, accustomed to bend men and circumstances to his
will. He was once more calm and cold, coolly joking, as if years
had passed since that night at the hotel, and as if all the disasters
to his fortune had been repaired. Bertha was amazed at this
tranquillity after such great reverses, and thought this childish
recklessness force of character.
"Now," said Sauvresy, "as I've become your man of business, give me
my instructions, and some valuable hints. What is, or was, the
amount of your fortune?"
"I haven't the least idea."
Sauvresy provided himself with a pencil and a large sheet of paper,
ready to set down the figures. He seemed a little surprised.
"All right," said he, "we'll put x down as the unknown quantity of
the assets: now for the liabilities.
Hector made a superbly disdainful gesture.
"Don't know, I'm sure, what they are."
"What, can't you give a rough guess?"
"Oh, perhaps. For instance, I owe between five and six hundred
thousand francs to Clair & Co., five hundred thousand to Dervoy;
about as much to Dubois, of Orleans - "
"I can't remember any more."
"But you must have a memorandum of your loans somewhere?"
"You have at least kept your bonds, bills, and the sums of your
"None of them. I burnt up all my papers yesterday."
Sauvresy jumped up from his chair in astonishment; such a method
of doing business seemed to him monstrous; he could not suppose
that Hector was lying. Yet he was lying, and this affectation of
ignorance was a conceit of the aristocratic man of the world. It
was very noble, very distingue, to ruin one's self without knowing
"But, my dear fellow," cried Sauvresy, "how can we clear up your
"Oh, don't clear them up at all; do as I do - let the creditors act
as they please, they will know how to settle 'it all, rest assured;
let them sell out my property."
"Never! Then you would be ruined, indeed!"
"Well, it's only a little more or a little less."
"What splendid disinterestedness!" thought Bertha; "what coolness,
what admirable contempt of money, what noble disdain of the petty
details which annoy common people! Was Sauvresy capable of all
She could not at least accuse him of avarice, since for her he was
as prodigal as a thief; he had never refused her anything; he
anticipated her most extravagant fancies. Still he had a strong
appetite for gain, and despite his large fortune, he retained the
hereditary respect for money. When he had business with one of his
farmers, he would rise very early, mount his horse, though it were
mid-winter, and go several leagues in the snow to get a hundred
crowns. He would have ruined himself for her if she had willed it,
this she was convinced of; but he would have ruined himself
economically, in an orderly way.
"You are right," said he to Hector, "your creditors ought to know
your exact position. Who knows that they are not acting in concert?
Their simultaneous refusal to lend you a hundred thousand makes me
suspect it. I will go and see them."
"Clair & Co., from whom I received my first loans, ought to be the
"Well, I will see Clair & Co. But look here, do you know what you
would do if you were reasonable?"
"You would go to Paris with me, and both of us - "
Hector turned very pale, and his eyes shone.
"Never!" he interrupted, violently, "never!"
His "dear friends" still terrified him. What! Reappear on the
theatre of his glory, now that he was fallen, ruined, ridiculous by
his unsuccessful suicide? Sauvresy had held out his arms to him.
Sauvresy was a noble fellow, and loved Hector sufficiently not to
perceive the falseness of his position, and not to judge him a
coward because he shrank from suicide. But the others! -
"Don't talk to me about Paris," said he in a calmer tone. "I shall
never set my foot in it again.
"All right - so much the better; stay with us; I sha'n't complain of
it, nor my wife either. Some fine day we'll find you a pretty
heiress in the neighborhood. But," added Sauvresy, consulting his
watch, "I must go if I don't want to lose the train."
"I'll go to the station with you," said Tremorel.
This was not solely from a friendly impulse. He wanted to ask
Sauvresy to look after the articles left at the pawnbroker's in the
Rue de Condo, and to call on Jenny. Bertha, from her window,
followed with her eyes the two friends; who, with arms interlocked,
ascended the road toward Orcival. "What a difference," thought she,
"between these two men! My husband said he wished to be his friend's
steward; truly he has the air of a steward. What a noble gait the
count has, what youthful ease, what real distinction! And yet I'm
sure that my husband despises him, because he has ruined himself by
dissipation. He affected - I saw it - an air of protection. Poor
youth! But everything about the count betrays an innate or acquired
superiority; even his name, Hector - how it sounds!" And she
repeated "Hector" several times, as if it pleased her, adding,
contemptuously, "My husband's name is Clement!"
M. de Tremorel returned alone from the station, as gayly as a
convalescent taking his first airing. As soon as Bertha saw him
she left the window. She wished to remain alone, to reflect upon
this event which had happened so suddenly, to analyze her
sensations, listen to her presentiments, study her impressions and
decide, if possible, upon her line of conduct. She only reappeared
when the tea was set for her husband, who returned at eleven in the
evening. Sauvresy was faint from hunger, thirst, and fatigue, but
his face glowed with satisfaction.
"Victory!" exclaimed he, as he ate his soup. "We'll snatch you
from the hands of the Philistines yet. Parbleu! The finest
feathers of your plumage will remain, after all, and you will be
able to save enough for a good cosey nest."
Bertha glanced at her husband.
"How is that?" said she.
"It's very simple. At the very first, I guessed the game of our
friend's creditors. They reckoned on getting a sale of his effects;
would have bought them in a lump dirt cheap, as it always happens,
and then sold them in detail, dividing the profits of the operation."
"And can you prevent that?" asked Tremorel, incredulously.
"Certainly. Ah, I've completely checkmated these gentlemen. I've
succeeded by chance - I had the good luck to get them all together
this evening. I said to them, you'll let us sell this property as
we please, voluntarily, or I'll outbid you all, and spoil your cards.
They looked at me in amazement. My notary, who was with me, remarked
that I was Monsieur Sauvresy, worth two millions. Our gentlemen
opened their eyes very wide, and consented to grant my request."
Hector, notwithstanding what he had said, knew enough about his
affairs to see that this action would save him a fortune - a small
one, as compared with what he had possessed, yet a fortune.
The certainty of this delighted him, and moved by a momentary and
sincere gratitude, he grasped both of Sauvresy's hands in his.
"Ah, my friend," cried he, "you give me my honor, after saving my
ife! How can I ever repay you?"
"By committing no imprudences or foolishnesses, except reasonable
ones. Such as this," added Sauvresy, leaning toward Bertha and
"And there is nothing more to fear?"
"Nothing! Why I could have borrowed the two millions in an hour,
and they knew it. But that's not all. The search for you is
suspended. I went to your house, took the responsibility of sending
away all your servants except your valet and a groom. If you agree,
we'll send the horses to be sold to-morrow, and they'll fetch a
good price; your own saddle-horse shall be brought here."
"These details annoyed Bertha. She thought her husband exaggerated
his services, carrying them even to servility.
"Really," thought she, "he was born to be a steward."
"Do you know what else I did?" pursued Sauvresy. Thinking that
perhaps you were in want of a wardrobe, I had three or four trunks
filled with your clothes, sent them out by rail, and one of the
servants has just gone after them."
Hector, too, began to find Sauvresy's services excessive, and thought
he treated him too much like a child who could foresee nothing. The
idea of having it said before a woman that he was in want of clothes
irritated him. He forgot that he had found it a very simple thing
in the morning to ask his friend for some linen.
Just then a noise was heard in the vestibule. Doubtless the trunks
had come. Bertha went out to give the necessary orders.
"Quick!" cried Sauvresy. "Now that we are alone, here are your
trinkets. I had some trouble in getting them. They are suspicious
at the pawnbroker's. I think they began to suspect that I was one
of a band of thieves."
"You didn't mention my name, did you?"
"That would have been useless. My notary was with me, fortunately.
One never knows how useful one's notary may be. Don't you think
society is unjust toward notaries?"
Tremorel thought his friend talked very lightly about a serious
matter, and this flippancy vexed him.
"To finish up, I paid a visit to Miss Jenny. She has been abed
since last evening, and her chambermaid told me she had not ceased
sobbing bitterly ever since your departure."
"Had she seen no one?"
"Nobody at all. She really thought you dead, and when I told her
you were here with me, alive and well, I thought she would go mad
for joy. Do you know, Hector, she's really pretty."
"Yes - not bad."
"And a very good little body, I imagine. She told me some very
touching things. I would wager, my friend, that she don't care so
much for your money as she does for yourself."
Hector smiled superciliously.
"In short, she was anxious to follow me, to see and speak to you.
I had to swear with terrible oaths that she should see you
to-morrow, before she would let me go; not at Paris, as you said
you would never go there, but at Corbeil."
"Ah, as for that-"
"She will be at the station to-morrow at twelve. We will go down
together, and I will take the train for Paris. You can get into
the Corbeil train, and breakfast with Miss Jenny at the hotel of
the Belle Image."
Hector began to offer an objection. Sauvresy stopped him with a
"Not a word," said he. "Here is my wife."
On going to bed, that night, the count was less enchanted than ever
with the devotion of his friend Sauvresy. There is not a diamond on
which a spot cannot be found with a microscope.
"Here he is," thought he, "abusing his privileges as the saver of
my life. Can't a man do you a service, without continually making
you feel it? It seems as though because he prevented me from
blowing my brains out, I had somehow become something that belongs
to him! He came very near upbraiding me for Jenny's extravagance.
Where will he stop?"
The next day at breakfast he feigned indisposition so as not to
eat, and suggested to Sauvresy that he would lose the train.
Bertha, as on the evening before, crouched at the window to see
them go away. Her troubles during the past eight-and-forty hours
had been so great that she hardly recognized herself. She scarcely
dared to reflect or to descend to the depths of her heart. What
mysterious power did this man possess, to so violently affect her
life? She wished that he would go, never to return, while at the
same time she avowed to herself that in going he would carry with
him all her thoughts. She struggled under the charm, not knowing
whether she ought to rejoice or grieve at the inexpressible emotions
which agitated her, being irritated to submit to an influence
stronger than her own will.
She decided that to-day she would go down to the drawing-room. He
would not fail - were it only for politeness - to go in there; and
then, she thought, by seeing him nearer, talking with him, knowing
him better, his influence over her would vanish. Doubtless he
would return, and so she watched for him, ready to go down as soon
as she saw him approaching. She waited with feverish shudderings,
anxiously believing that this first tete-a-tete in her husband's
absence would be decisive. Time passed; it was more than two hours
since he had gone out with Sauvresy, and he had not reappeared.
Where could he be?
At this moment, Hector was awaiting Jenny at the Corbeil station.
The train arrived, and Jenny soon appeared. Her grief, joy, emotion
had not made her forget her toilet, and never had she been so
rollickingly elegant and pretty. She wore a green dress with a
train, a velvet mantle, and the jauntiest little hat in the world.
As soon as she saw Hector standing near the door, she uttered a cry,
pushed the people aside, and rushed into his arms, laughing and
crying at the same time. She spoke quite loud, with wild gestures,
so that everyone could hear what she said.
"You didn't kill yourself, after all," said she. "Oh, how I have
suffered; but what happiness I feel to-day!"
Tremorel struggled with her as he could, trying to calm her
enthusiastic exclamations, softly repelling her, charmed and
irritated at once, and exasperated at all these eyes rudely fixed
on him. For none of the passengers had gone out. They were all
there, staring and gazing. Hector and Jenny were surrounded by a
circle of curious folks.
"Come along," said Hector, his patience exhausted. He drew her out
of the door, hoping to escape this prying curiosity; but he did not
succeed. They were persistently followed. Some of the Corbeil
people who were on the top of the omnibus begged the conductor to
walk his horses, that this singular couple might not be lost to
view, and the horses did not get into a trot until they had
disappeared in the hotel.
Sauvresy's foresight in recommending the place of meeting had thus
been disconcerted by Jenny's sensational arrival. Questions were
asked; the hostess was adroitly interrogated, and it was soon known
that this person, who waited for eccentric young ladies at the
Corbeil station, was an intimate friend of the owner of Valfeuillu.
Neither Hector nor Jenny doubted that they formed the general topic
of conversation. They breakfasted gayly in the best room at the
Belle Image, during which Tremorel recounted a very pretty story
about his restoration to life, in which he played a part, the
heroism of which was well calculated to redouble the little lady's
admiration. Then Jenny in her turn unfolded her plans for the
future, which were, to do her justice, most reasonable. She had
resolved more than ever to remain faithful to Hector now that he
was ruined, to give up her elegant rooms, sell her furniture, and
undertake some honest trade. She had found one of her old friends,
who was now an accomplished dressmaker, and who was anxious to
obtain a partner who had some money, while she herself furnished
the experience. They would purchase an establishment in the Breda
quarter, and between them could scarcely fail to prosper. Jenny
talked with a pretty, knowing, business-like air, which made Hector
laugh. These projects seemed very comic to him; yet he was touched
by this unselfishness on the part of a young and pretty woman, who
was willing to work in order to please him.
But, unhappily, they were forced to part. Jenny had gone to Corbeil
intending to stay a week; but the count told her this was absolutely
impossible. She cried bitterly at first, then got angry, and finally
consoled herself with a plan to return on the following Tuesday.
"Good-by," said she, embracing Hector, "think of me." She smilingly
added, "I ought to be jealous; for they say your friend's wife is
perhaps the handsomest woman in France. Is it true?"
"Upon my word, I don't know. I've forgotten to look at her."
Hector told the truth. Although he did not betray it, he was still
under the surprise of his chagrin at the failure of his attempt at
suicide. He felt the dizziness which follows great moral crises as
well as a heavy blow on the head, and which distracts the attention
from exterior things. But Jenny's words, "the handsomest woman in
France," attracted his notice, and he could, that very evening,
repair his forgetfulness. When he returned to Valfeuillu, his
friend had not returned; Mme. Sauvresy was alone reading, in the
brilliantly lighted drawing-room. Hector seated himself opposite
her, a little aside, and was thus able to observe her at his ease,
while engaging her in conversation. His first impression was an
unfavorable one. He found her beauty too sculptural and polished.
He sought for imperfections, and finding none, was almost terrified
by this lovely, motionless face, these clear, cold eyes. Little by
little, however, he accustomed himself to pass the greater part of
the afternoon with Bertha, while Sauvresy was away arranging his
affairs - selling, negotiating, using his time in cutting down
interests and discussing with agents and attorneys. He soon
perceived that she listened to him with pleasure, and he judged
from this that she was a decidedly superior woman, much better than
her husband. He had no wit, but possessed an inexhaustible fund of
anecdotes and adventures. He had seen so many things and known so
many people that he was as interesting as a chronicle. He had a
sort of frothy fervor, not wanting in brilliancy, and a polite
cynicism which, at first, surprised one. Had Bertha been
unimpassioned, she might have judged him at his value; but she had
lost her power of insight. She heard him, plunged in a foolish
ecstasy, as one hears a traveller who has returned from far and
dangerous countries, who has visited peoples of whose language the
hearer is ignorant, and lived in the midst of manners and customs
incomprehensible to ourselves.
Days, weeks, months passed on, and the Count de Tremorel did not
find life at Valfeuillu as dull as he had thought. He insensibly
slipped along the gentle slope of material well-being, which leads
directly to brutishness. A physical and moral torpor had succeeded
the fever of the first days, free from disagreeable sensations,
though wanting in excitement. He ate and drank much, and slept
twelve round hours. The rest of the time, when he did not talk
with Bertha, he wandered in the park, lounged in a rocking-chair,
or took a jaunt in the saddle. He even went fishing under the
willows at the foot of the garden; and grew fat. His best days
were those which he spent at Corbeil with Jenny. He found in her
something of his past, and she always quarrelled with him, which
woke him up. Besides, she brought him the gossip of Paris and the
small talk of the boulevards. She came regularly every week, and
her love for Hector, far from diminishing, seemed to grow with each
interview. The poor girl's affairs were in a troubled condition.
She had bought her establishment at too high a price, and her
partner at the end of the first month decamped, carrying off three
thousand francs. She knew nothing about the trade which she had
undertaken, and she was robbed without mercy on all sides. She
said nothing of these troubles to Hector, but she intended to ask
him to come to her assistance. It was the least that he could do.
At first, the visitors to Valfeuillu were somewhat astonished at
the constant presence there of a young man of leisure; but they got
accustomed to him. Hector assumed a melancholy expression of
countenance, such as a man ought to have who had undergone
unheard-of misfortunes, and whose life had failed of its promise.
He appeared inoffensive; people said:
"The count has a charming simplicity."
But sometimes, when alone, he had sudden and terrible relapses.
"This life cannot last," thought he; and he was overcome with
childish rage when he contrasted the past with the present. How
could he shake off this dull existence, and rid himself of these
stiffly good people who surrounded him, these friends of Sauvresy?
Where should he take refuge? He was not tempted to return to Paris;
what could he do there? His house had been sold to an old leather
merchant; and he had no money except that which he borrowed of
Sauvresy. Yet Sauvresy, to Hector's mind, was a most uncomfortable,
wearisome, implacable friend; he did not understand half-way
measures in desperate situations.
"Your boat is foundering," he said to Hector; "let us begin by
throwing all that is superfluous into the sea. Let us keep nothing
of the past; that is dead; we will bury it, and nothing shall recall
it. When your situation is relieved, we will see."
The settlement of Hector's affairs was very laborious. Creditors
sprung up at every step, on every side, and the list of them seemed
never to be finished. Some had even come from foreign lands.
Several of them had been already paid, but their receipts could not
be found, and they were clamorous. Others, whose demands had been
refused as exorbitant, threatened to go to law, hoping to frighten
Sauvresy into paying. Sauvresy wearied his friend by his incessant
activity. Every two or three days he went to Paris, and he attended
the sales of the property in Burgundy and Orleans. The count at
last detested and hated him; Sauvresy's happy, cheerful air annoyed
him; jealousy stung him. One thought - that a wretched one -
consoled him a little. " Sauvresy's happiness," said he to himself,
"is owing to his imbecility. He thinks his wife dead in love with
him, whereas she can't bear him."
Bertha had, indeed, permitted Hector to perceive her aversion to
her husband. She no longer studied the emotions of her heart; she
loved Tremorel, and confessed it to herself. In her eyes he realized
the ideal of her dreams. At the same time she was exasperated to
see in him no signs of love for her. Her beauty was not, then,
irresistible, as she had often been told. He was gallant and
courteous to her - nothing more.
"If he loved me," thought she, "he would tell me so, for he is
bold with women and fears no one."
Then she began to hate the girl, her rival, whom Hector went to
meet at Corbeil every week. She wished to see her, to know her.
Who could she be? Was she handsome? Hector had been very reticent
about Jenny. He evaded all questions about her, not sorry to let
Bertha's imagination work on his mysterious visits.
The day at last came when she could no longer resist the intensity
of her curiosity. She put on the simplest of her toilets, in black,
threw a thick veil over her head, and hastened to the Corbeil station
at the hour that she thought the unknown girl would present herself
there. She took a seat on a bench in the rear of the waiting-room.
She had not long to wait. She soon perceived the count and a young
girl coming along the avenue, which she could see from where she sat.
They were arm in arm, and seemed to be in a very happy mood. They
passed within a few steps of her, and as they walked very slowly,
she was able to scrutinize Jenny at her ease. She saw that she was
pretty, but that was all. Having seen that which she wished, and
become satisfied that Jenny was not to be feared (which showed her
inexperience) Bertha directed her steps homeward. But she chose her
time of departure awkwardly; for as she was passing along behind the
cabs, which concealed her, Hector came out of the station. They
crossed each other's paths at the gate, and their eyes met. Did he
recognize her? His face expressed great surprise, yet he did not
bow to her. "Yes, be recognized me," thought Bertha, as she returned
home by the river-road; and surprised, almost terrified by her
boldness, she asked herself whether she ought to rejoice or mourn
over this meeting. What would be its result? Hector cautiously
followed her at a little distance. He was greatly astonished. His
vanity, always on the watch, had already apprised him of what was
passing in Bertha's heart, but, though modesty was no fault of his,
he was far from guessing that she was so much enamoured of him as
to take such a step.
"She loves me'!" he repeated to himself, as he went along. "She
He did not yet know what to do. Should he fly? Should he still
appear the same in his conduct toward her, pretending not to have
seen her? He ought to fly that very evening, without hesitation,
without turning his head; to fly as if the house were about to
tumble about his head. This was his first thought. It was quickly
stifled under the explosion of the base passions which fermented in
him. Ah, Sauvresy had saved him when he was dying! Sauvresy, after
saving him, had welcomed him, opened to him his heart, purse, house;
at this very moment he was making untiring efforts to restore his
fortunes. Men like Tremorel can only receive such services as
outrages. Had not his sojourn at Valfeuillu been a continual
suffering? Was not his self-conceit tortured from morning till
night? He might count the days by their humiliations. What! Must
he always submit to - if he was not grateful for - the superiority
of a man whom he had always been wont to treat as his inferior?
"Besides," thought he, judging his friend by himself, "he only acts
thus from pride and ostentation. What am I at his house, but a
living witness of his generosity and devotion? He seems to live
for me - it's Tremorel here and Tremorel there! He triumphs over
my misfortunes, and makes his conduct a glory and title to the public
He could not forgive his friend for being so rich, so happy, so
highly respected, for having known how to regulate his life, while
he had exhausted his own fortune at thirty. And should he not seize
so good an opportunity to avenge himself for the favors which
"Have I run after his wife?" said he to himself, trying to impose
silence on his conscience. "She comes to me of her own will,
herself, without the least temptation from me. I should be a fool
if I repelled her."
Conceit has irresistible arguments. Hector, when he entered the
house, had made up his mind. He did not fly. Yet he had the excuse
neither of passion nor of temptation; he did not love her, and his
infamy was deliberate, coldly premeditated. Between her and him a
chain more solid than mutual attraction was riveted; their common
hatred of Sauvresy. They owed too much to him. His hand had held
both from degradation.
The first hours of their mutual understanding were spent in angry
words, rather than the cooings of love. They perceived too clearly
the disgrace of their conduct not to try to reassure each other
against their remorse. They tried to prove to each other that
Sauvresy was ridiculous and odious; as if they were absolved by his
deficiencies, if deficiencies he had. If indeed trustfulness is
foolishness, Sauvresy was indeed a fool, because he could be deceived
under his own eyes, in his own house, because he had perfect faith
in his wife and his friend. He suspected nothing, and every day he
rejoiced that he had been able to keep Tremorel by him. He often
repeated to his wife:
"I am too happy."
Bertha employed all her art to encourage these joyous illusions.
She who had before been so capricious, so nervous, wilful, became
little by little submissive to the degree of an angelic softness.
The future of her love depended on her husband, and she spared no
pains to prevent the slightest suspicion from ruffling his calm
confidence. Such was their prudence that no one in the house
suspected their state. And yet Bertha was not happy. Her love did
not yield her the joys she had expected. She hoped to be transported
to the clouds, and she remained on the earth, hampered by all the
miserable ties of a life of lies and deceit.
Perhaps she perceived that she was Hector's revenge on her husband,
and that he only loved in her the dishonored wife of an envied
friend. And to crown all, she was jealous. For several months she
tried to persuade Tremorel to break with Jenny. He always had the
same reply, which, though it might be prudent, was irritating.
"Jenny is our security - you must think of that."
The fact was, however, that he was trying to devise some means of
getting rid of Jenny. It was a difficult matter. The poor girl,
having fallen into comparative poverty, became more and more
tenacious of Hector's affection. She often gave him trouble by
telling him that he was no longer the same, that he was changed;
she was sad, and wept, and had red eyes.
One evening, in a fit of anger, she menaced him with a singular
"You love another," she said. "I know it, for I have proofs of it.
Take care! If you ever leave me, my anger will fall on her head,
and I will not have any mercy on her."
The count foolishly attached no importance to these words; they only
hastened the separation.
"She is getting very troublesome," thought he. "If some day I
shouldn't go when she was expecting me, she might come up to
Valfeuillu, and make a wretched scandal."
He armed himself with all his courage, which was assisted by Bertha's
tears and entreaties, and started for Corbeil resolved to break off
with Jenny. He took every precaution in declaring his intentions,
giving the best reasons for his decision that he could think of.
"We must be careful, you know, Jenny," said he, "and cease to meet
for a while. I am ruined, you know, and the only thing that can
save me is marriage."
Hector had prepared himself foran explosion of fury, piercing cries,
hysterics, fainting-fits. To his great surprise, Jenny did not
answer a word. She became as white as her collar, her ruddy lips
blanched, her eyes stared.
"So," said she, with her teeth tightly shut to contain herself, "so
you are going to get married?"
"Alas, I must," he answered with a hypocritical sigh. "You know
that lately I have only been able to get money for you by borrowing
from my friend; his purse will not be at my service forever."
Jenny took Hector by the hand, and led him to the window. There,
looking intently at him, as if her gaze could frighten the truth
out of him, she said, slowly:
" It is really true, is it, that you are going to leave me to get
Hector disengaged one of his hands, and placed it on his heart.
"I swear it on my honor," said he.
"I ought to believe you, then."
Jenny returned to the middle of the room. Standing erect before
the mirror, she put on her hat, quietly disposing its ribbons as
if nothing had occurred. When she was ready to go, she went up
to Tremorel. "For the last time," said she, in a tone which she
forced to be firm, and which belied her tearful, glistening eyes.
"For the last time, Hector, are we really to part?"
Jenny made a gesture which Tremorel did not see; her face had a
malicious expression.; her lips parted to utter some sarcastic
response; but she recovered herself almost immediately.
"I am going, Hector," said she, after a moment's reflection; "If
you are really leaving me to get married, you shall never hear of
"Why, Jenny, I hope I shall still remain your friend."
"Well, only if you abandon me for another reason, remember what I
tell you; you will be a dead man, and she, a lost woman."
She opened the door; he tried to take her hand; she repulsed him.
Hector ran to the window to assure himself of her departure. She
was ascending the avenue leading to the station.
"Well, that's over," thought he, with a sigh of relief. "Jenny was
a good girl."
The count told half a truth when he spoke to Jenny of his marriage.
Sauvresy and he had discussed the subject, and if the matter was
not as ripe as he had represented, there was at least some prospect
of such an event. Sauvresy had proposed it in his anxiety to
complete his work of restoring Hector to fortune and society.
One evening, about a month before the events just narrated, he had
led Hector into the library, saying:
"Give me your ear for a quarter of an hour, and don't answer me
hastily. What I am going to propose to you deserves serious
"Well, I can be serious when it is necessary."
"Let's begin with your debts. Their payment is not yet completed,
but enough has been done to enable us to foresee the end. It is
certain that you will have, after all debts are paid, from three
to four hundred thousand francs."
Hector had never, in his wildest hopes, expected such success.
"Why, I'm going to be rich," exclaimed he joyously.
"No, not rich, but quite above want. There is, too, a mode in
which you can regain your lost position."
"A mode? what?"
Sauvresy paused a moment, and looked steadily at his friend.
"You must marry," said he at last.
This seemed to surprise Hector, but not disagreeably.
"I, marry? It's easier to give that advice than to follow it."
"Pardon me - you ought to know that I do not speak rashly. What
would you say to a young girl of good family, pretty, well brought
up, so charming that, excepting my own wife, I know of no one more
attractive, and who would bring with her a dowry of a million?"
"Ah, my friend, I should say that I adore her! And do you know
such an angel?"
"Yes, and you too, for the angel is Mademoiselle Laurence Courtois."
Hector's radiant face overclouded at this name, and he made a
"Never," said he. "That stiff and obstinate old merchant, Monsieur
Courtois, would never consent to give his daughter to a man who has
been fool enough to waste his fortune."
Sauvresy shrugged his shoulders.
"Now, there's what it is to have eyes, and not see. Know that this
Courtois, whom you think so obstinate, is really the most romantic
of men, and an ambitious old fellow to boot. It would seem to him
a grand good speculation to give his daughter to the Count Hector de
Tremorel, cousin of the Duke of Samblemeuse, the relative of the
Commarins, even though you hadn't a sou. What wouldn't he give to
have the delicious pleasure of saying, Monsieur the Count, my
son-in-law; or my daughter, Madame the Countess Hector! And you
aren't ruined, you know, you are going to have an income of twenty
thousand francs, and perhaps enough more to raise your capital to a
Hector was silent. He had thought his life ended, and now, all of
a sudden, a splendid perspective unrolled itself before him. He
might then rid himself of the patronizing protection of his friend;
he would be free, rich, would have a better wife, as he thought,
than Bertha; his house would outshine Sauvresy's. The thought of
Bertha crossed his mind, and it occurred to him that he, might thus
escape a lover who although beautiful and loving, was proud and bold,
and whose domineering temper began to be burdensome to him.
"I may say," said he, seriously to his friend, "that I have always
thought Monsieur Courtois an excellent and honorable man, and
Mademoiselle Laurence seems to me so accomplished a young lady, that
a man might be happy in marrying her even without a dowry."
"So much the better, my dear Hector, so much the better. But you
know, the first thing is to engage Laurence's affections; her father
adores her, and would not, I am sure, give her to a man whom she
herself had not chosen."
"Don't disturb yourself," answered Hector, with a gesture of triumph,
"she will love me."
The next day he took occasion to encounter M. Courtois, who invited
him to dinner. The count employed all his practised seductions on
Laurence, which were so brilliant and able that they were well
fitted to surprise and dazzle a young girl. It was not long before
the count was the hero of the mayor's household. Nothing formal
had been said, nor any direct allusion or overture made; yet M.
Courtois was sure that Hector would some day ask his daughter's
hand, and that he should freely answer, "yes;" while he thought it
certain that Laurence would not say "no."
Bertha suspected nothing; she was now very much worried about Jenny,
and saw nothing else. Sauvresy, after spending an evening with the
count at the mayor's, during which Hector had not once quitted the
whist-table, decided to speak to his wife of the proposed marriage,
which he thought would give her an agreeable surprise. At his first
words, she grew pale. Her emotion was so great that, seeing she
would betray herself, she hastily retired to her boudoir. Sauvresy,
quietly seated in one of the bedroom arm-chairs, continued to
expatiate on the advantages of such a marriage - raising his voice,
so that Bertha might hear him in the neighboring room.
"Do you know," said he, "that our friend has an income of sixty
thousand crowns? We'll find an estate for him near by, and then we
shall see him and his wife every day. They will be very pleasant
society for us in the autumn months. Hector is a fine fellow, and
you've often told me how charming Laurence is.
Bertha did not reply. This unexpected blow was so terrible that
she could not think clearly, and her brain whirled.
"You don't say anything," pursued Sauvresy. "Don't you approve of
my project? I thought you'd be enchanted with it."
She saw that if she were silent any longer, her husband would go
in and find her sunk upon a chair, and would guess all. She made
an effort and said, in a strangled voice, without attaching any
sense to her words:
"Yes, yes; it is a capital idea."
"How you say that! Do you see any objections?"
She was trying to find some objection, but could not.
"I have a little fear of Laurence's future," said she at last.
"I only say what I've heard you say. You told me that Monsieur
Tremorel has been a libertine, a gambler, a prodigal - "
"All the more reason for trusting him. His past follies guarantee
his future prudence. He has received a lesson which he will not
forget. Besides, he will love his wife."
"How do you know?"
"Barbleu, he loves her already."
" Who told you so?"
And Sauvresy began to laugh about Hector's passion, which he said
was becoming quite pastoral.
"Would you believe," said he, laughing, "that he thinks our worthy
Courtois a man of wit? Ah, what spectacles these lovers look
through! He spends two or three hours every day with the mayor.
What do you suppose he does there?"
Bertha, by great effort, succeeded in dissembling her grief; she
reappeared with a smiling face. She went and came, apparently calm,
though suffering the bitterest anguish a woman can endure. And she
could not run to Hector, and ask him if it were true!
For Sauvresy must be deceiving her. Why? She knew not. No matter.
She felt her hatred of him increasing to disgust; for she excused
and pardoned her lover, and she blamed her husband alone. Whose
idea was this marriage? His. Who had awakened Hector's hopes, and
encouraged them? He, always he. While he had been harmless, she
had been able to pardon him for having married her; she had
compelled herself to bear him, to feign a love quite foreign to her
heart. But now he became hateful; should she submit to his
interference in a matter which was life or death to her?
She did not close her eyes all night; she had one of those horrible
nights in which crimes are conceived. She did not find herself
alone with Hector until after breakfast the next day, in the
"Is it true?" she asked.
The expression of her face was so menacing that he quailed before
it. He stammered:
"True - what?"
He was silent at first, asking himself whether he should tell the
truth or equivocate. At last, irritated by Bertha's imperious tone,
She was thunderstruck at this response. Till then, she had a
glimmer of hope. She thought that he would at least try to reassure
her, to deceive her. There are times when a falsehood is the highest
homage. But no - he avowed it. She was speechless; words failed her.
Tremorel began to tell her the motives which prompted his conduct.
He could not live forever at Valfeuillu. What could he, with his
habits and tastes, do with a few thousand crowns a year? He was
thirty; he must, now or never, think of the future. M. Courtois
would give his daughter a million, and at his death there would be
a great deal more. Should he let this chance slip? He cared little
for Laurence, it was the dowry he wanted. He took no pains to
conceal his meanness; he rather gloried in it, speaking of the
marriage as simply a bargain, in which he gave his name and title
in exchange for riches. Bertha stopped him with a look full of
"Spare yourself," said she. "You love Laurence."
He would have protested; he really disliked her.
"Enough," resumed Bertha. "Another woman would have reproached you;
I simply tell you that this marriage shall not be; I do not wish it.
Believe me, give it up frankly, don't force me to act."
She retired, shutting the door violently; Hector was furious.
"How she treats me!" said he to himself. "Just as a queen would
speak to a serf. Ah, she don't want me to marry Laurence!" His
coolness returned, and with it serious reflections. If he insisted
on marrying, would not Bertha carry out her threats? Evidently;
for he knew well that she was one of those women who shrink from
nothing, whom no consideration could arrest. He guessed what she
would do, from what she had said in a quarrel with him about Jenny.
She had told him, "I will confess everything to Sauvresy, and we
will be the more bound together by shame than by all the ceremonies
of the church."
This was surely the mode she would adopt to break a marriage which
was so hateful to her; and Tremorel trembled at the idea of Sauvresy
"What would he do," thought he, "if Bertha told him? He would kill
me off-hand - that's what I would do in his place. Suppose he
didn't; I should have to fight a duel with him, and if I killed him,
quit the country. Whatever would happen, my marriage is irrevocably
broken, and Bertha seems to be on my hands for all time."
He saw no possible way out of the horrible situation in which he had
"I must wait," thought he.
And he waited, going secretly to the mayor's, for he really loved
Laurence, He waited, devoured by anxiety, struggling between
Sauvresy's urgency and Bertha's threats. How he detested this woman
who held him, whose will weighed so heavily on him! Nothing could
curb her ferocious obstinacy. She had one fixed idea. He had
thought to conciliate her by dismissing Jenny. It was a mistake.
When he said to her:
"Bertha, I shall never see Jenny again."
She answered, ironically:
"Mademoiselle Courtois will be very grateful to you!"
That evening, while Sauvresy Was crossing the court-yard, he saw a
beggar at the gate, making signs to him.
"What do you want, my good man?"
The beggar looked around to see that no one was listening.
"I have brought you a note," said he, rapidly, and in a low tone.
"Iwas told to give it, only to you, and to ask you to read it when
you are alone."
He mysteriously slipped a note, carefully sealed, into Sauvresy's
"It comes from pretty girl," added he, winking.
Sauvresy, turning his back to the house, opened it and read:
"SIR-You will do a great favor to a poor and unhappy girl, if
you will come to-morrow to the Belle Image, at Corbeil, where
you will be awaited all day.
"Your humble servant,
There was also a postscript.
"Please, sir, don't say a word of this to the Count de Tremorel."
"Ah ha," thought Sauvresy, "there's some trouble about Hector,
that's bad for the marriage."
"I was told, sir," said the beggar, "there would be an answer."
"Say that I will come," answered Sauvresy, throwing him a franc piece.
The next day was cold and damp. A fog, so thick that one could not
discern objects ten steps off, hung over the earth. Sauvresy, after
breakfast, took his gun and whistled to his dogs.
"I'm going to take a turn in Mauprevoir wood," said he.
"A queer idea," remarked Hector, "for you won't see the end of your
gun-barrel in the woods."
"No matter, if I see some pheasants."
This was only a pretext, for Sauvresy, on leaving Valfeuillu, took
the direct road to Corbeil, and half an hour later, faithful to his
promise, he entered the Belle Image tavern.
Jenny was waiting for him in the large room which had always been
reserved for her since she became a regular customer of the house.
Her eyes were red with recent-tears; she was very pale, and her
marble color showed that she had not slept. Her breakfast lay
untouched on the table near the fireplace, where a bright fire was
burning. When Sauvresy came in, she rose to meet him, and took him
by the hand with a friendly motion.
"Thank you for coming," said she. "Ah, you are very good."
Jenny was only a girl, and Sauvresy detested girls; but her grief
was so sincere and seemed so deep, that he was touched.
"You are suffering, Madame?" asked he.
"Oh, yes, very much."
Her tears choked her, and she concealed her face in her handkerchief.
"I guessed right," thought Sauvresy. "Hector has deserted her.
Now I must smooth the wound, and yet make future meetings between
He took the weeping Jenny's hand, and softly pulled away the
"Have courage," said he.
She lifted her tearful eyes to him, and said:
"You know, then?"
"I know nothing, for, as you asked me, I have said nothing to
Tremorel; but I can imagine what the trouble is."
"He will not see me any more," murmured Jenny. "He has deserted me."
Sauvresy summoned up all his eloquence. The moment to be persuasive
and paternal had come. He drew a chair up to Jenny's, and sat down.
"Come, my child," pursued he, "be resigned. People are not always
young, you know. A time comes when the voice of reason must be
heard. Hector does not desert you, but he sees the necessity of
assuring his future, and placing his life on a domestic foundation;
he feels the need of a home."
Jenny stopped crying. Nature took the upper hand, and her tears
were dried by the fire of anger which took possession of her. She
rose, overturning her chair, and walked restlessly up and down the
"Do you believe that?" said she. "Do you believe that Hector
troubles himself about his future? I see you don't know his
character. He dream of a home, or a family? He never has and never
will think of anything but himself. If he had any heart, would he
have gone to live with you as he has? He had two arms to gain his
bread and mine. I was ashamed to ask money of him, knowing that
what he gave me came from you."
"But he is my friend, my dear child."
"Would you do as he has done?"
Sauvresy did not know what to say; he was embarrassed by the logic
of this daughter of the people, judging her lover rudely, but justly.
"Ah, I know him, I do," continued Jenny, growing more excited as her
mind reverted to the past." He has only deceived me once - the
morning he came and told me he was going to kill himself. I was
stupid enough to think him dead, and to cry about it. He, kill
himself? Why, he's too much of a coward to hurt himself! Yes, I
love him, but I don't esteem him. That's our fate, you see, only
to love the men we despise."
Jenny talked loud, gesticulating, and every now and then thumping
the table with her fist so that the bottles and glasses jingled.
Sauvresy was somewhat fearful lest the hotel people should hear her;
they knew him, and had seen him come in. He began to be sorry that
he had come, and tried to calm the girl.
"But Hector is not deserting you," repeated he. "He will assure
you a good position."
"Humph! I should laugh at such a thing! Have I any need of him?
As long as I have ten fingers and good eyes, I shall not be at the
mercy of any man. He made me change my name, and wanted to accustom
me to luxury! And now there is neither a Miss Jenny, nor riches, but
there is a Pelagie, who proposes to get her fifty sous a day, without
"No," said Sauvresy, "you will not need - "
"What? To work? But I like work; I am not a do-nothing. I will
go back to my old life. I used to breakfast on a sou's worth of
biscuit and a sou's worth of potatoes, and was well and happy. On
Sundays, I dined at the Turk for thirty sous. I laughed more then
in one afternoon, than in all the years I have known Tremorel."
She no longer cried, nor was she angry; she was laughing. She was
thinking of her old breakfasts, and her feasts at the Turk.
Sauvresy was stupefied. He had no idea of this Parisian nature,
detestable and excellent, emotional to excess, nervous, full of
transitions, which laughs and cries, caresses and strikes in the
same minute, which a passing idea whirls a hundred leagues from
the present moment.
"So," said Jenny, more calmly, "I snap my fingers at Hector "
- she had just said exactly the contrary, and had forgotten it - "
I don't care for him, but I will not let him leave me in this way.
It sha'n't be said that he left me for another. I won't have it."
Jenny was one of those women who do not reason, but who feel; with
whom it is folly to argue, for their fixed idea is impregnable to
the most victorious arguments. Sauvresy asked himself why she had
asked him to come, and said to himself that the part he had intended
to play would be a difficult one. But he was patient.
"I see, my child," he commenced, "that you haven't understood or
even heard me. I told you that Hector was intending to marry."
"He!" answered Jenny, with an ironical gesture. "He get married."
She reflected a moment, and added:
"If it were true, though - "
"I tell you it is so."
"No," cried Jenny, "no, that can't be possible. He loves another,
I am sure of it, for I have proofs."
Sauvresy smiled; this irritated her.
"What does this letter mean," cried she warmly, "which I found in
his pocket, six months ago? It isn't signed to be sure, but it must
have come from a woman."
"Yes, one that destroys all doubts. Perhaps you ask, why I did not
speak to him about it? Ah, you see, I did not dare. I loved him.
I was afraid if I said anything, and it was true he loved another,
I should lose him. And so I resigned myself to humiliation, I
concealed myself to weep, for I said to myself, he will come back to
me. Poor fool!"
"Well, but what will you do?"
"Me? I don't know - anything. I didn't say anything about the
letter, but I kept it; it is my weapon - I will make use of it.
When I want to, I shall find out who she is, and then - "
"You will compel Tremorel, who is kindly disposed toward you, to
"He? What can he do to me? Why, I will follow him like his shadow
- I will cry out everywhere the name of this other. Will he have
me put in St. Lazare prison? I will invent the most dreadful
calumnies against him. They will not believe me at first; later,
part of it will be believed. I have nothing to fear - I have no
parents, no friends, nobody on earth who cares for me. That's what
it is to raise girls from the gutter. I have fallen so low that I
defy him to push me lower. So, if you are his friend, sir, advise
him to come back to me."
Sauvresy was really alarmed; he saw clearly how real and earnest
Jenny's menaces were. There are persecutions against which the
law is powerless. But he dissimulated his alarm under the blandest
air he could assume.
"Hear me, my child," said he. "If I give you my word of honor to
tell you the truth, you'll believe me, won't you?"
She hesitated a moment, and said:
"Yes, you are honorable; I will believe you."
"Then, I swear to you that Tremorel hopes to marry a young girl who
is immensely rich, whose dowry will secure his future."
"He tells you so; he wants you to believe it."
"Why should he? Since he came to Valfeuillu, he could have had no
other affair than this with you. He lives in my house, as if he
were my brother, between my wife and myself, and I could tell you
how he spends his time every hour of every day as well as what I do
Jenny opened her mouth to reply, but a sudden reflection froze the
words on her lips. She remained silent and blushed violently,
looking at Sauvresy with an indefinable expression. He did not
observe this, being inspired by a restless though aimless curiosity.
This proof, which Jenny talked about, worried him.
"Suppose," said he, "you should show me this letter."
She seemed to feel at these words an electric shock.
"To you?" she said, shuddering. "Never!"
If, when one is sleeping, the thunder rolls and the storm bursts,
it often happens that the sleep is not troubled; then suddenly, at
a certain moment, the imperceptible flutter of a passing insect's
wing awakens one.
Jenny's shudder was like such a fluttering to Sauvresy. The sinister
light of doubt struck on his soul. Now his confidence, his
happiness, his repose, were gone forever. He rose with a flashing
eye and trembling lips.
"Give me the letter," said he, in an imperious tone. Jenny recoiled
with terror. She tried to conceal her agitation, to smile, to turn
the matter into a joke.
"Not to-day," said she. "Another time; you are too curious."
But Sauvresy's anger was terrible; he became as purple as if he had
had a stroke of apoplexy, and he repeated, in a choking voice:
"The letter, I demand the letter."
"Impossible," said Jenny. "Because," she added, struck with an
idea, " I haven't got it here."
"Where is it?"
"At my room, in Paris."
"Come, then, let us go there."
She saw that she was caught; and she could find no more excuses,
quick-witted as she was. She might, however, easily have followed
Sauvresy, put his suspicions to sleep with her gayety, and when
once in the Paris streets, might have eluded him and fled. But she
did not think of that. It occurred to her that she might have time
to reach the door, open it, and rush downstairs. She started to do
so. Sauvresy caught her at a bound, shut the door, and said, in a
low, hoarse voice:
"Wretched girl! Do you wish me to strike you?"
He pushed her into a chair, returned to the door, double locked it,
and put the keys in his pocket. Now," said he, returning to the
girl, "the letter."
Jenny had never been so terrified in her life. This man's rage
made her tremble; she saw that he was beside himself, that she was
completely at his mercy; yet she still resisted him.
"You have hurt me very much," said she, crying, "but I have done
you no harm."
He grasped her hands in his, and bending over her, repeated:
"For the last time, the letter; give it to me, or I will take it
It would have been folly to resist longer. "Leave me alone," said
she. "You shall have it."
He released her, remaining, however, close by her side, while she
searched in all her pockets. Her hair had been loosened in the
struggle, her collar was torn, she was tired, her teeth chattered,
but her eyes shone with a bold resolution.
"Wait - here it is - no. It's odd - I am sure I've got it though
- I had it a minute ago - "
And, suddenly, with a rapid gesture, she put the letter, rolled into
a ball, into her mouth, and tried to swallow it. But Sauvresy as
quickly grasped her by the throat, and she was forced to disgorge it.
He had the letter at last. His hands trembled so that he could
scarcely open it.
It was, indeed, Bertha's writing.
Sauvresy tottered with a horrible sensation of dizziness; he could
not see clearly; there was a red cloud before his eyes; his legs
gave way under him, he staggered, and his hands stretched out for
a support. Jenny, somewhat recovered, hastened to give him help;
but her touch made him shudder, and he repulsed her. What had
happened he could not tell. Ah, he wished to read this letter and
could not. He went to the table, turned out and drank two large
glasses of water one after another. The cold draught restored him,
his blood resumed its natural course, and he could see. The note
was short, and this was what he read:
" Don't go to-morrow to Petit-Bourg; or rather, return before
breakfast. He has just told me that he must go to Melun, and that
he should return late. A whole day!"
"He" - that was himself. This other lover of Hector's was Bertha,
his wife. For a moment he saw nothing but that; all thought was
crushed within him. His temples beat furiously, he heard a dreadful
buzzing in his ears, it seemed to him as if the earth were about to
swallow him up. He fell into a chair; from purple he became ashy
white. Great tears trickled down his cheeks.
Jenny understood the miserable meanness of her conduct when she saw
this great grief, this silent despair, this man with a broken heart.
Was she not the cause of all? She had guessed who the writer of the
note was. She thought when she asked Sauvresy to come to her, that
she could tell him all, and thus avenge herself at once upon Hector
and her rival. Then, on seeing this man refusing to comprehend her
hints, she had been full of pity for him. She had said to herself
that he would be the one who would be most cruelly punished; and
then she had recoiled - but too late - and he had snatched the
secret from her.
She approached Sauvresy and tried to take his hands; he still
"Let me alone," said he.
Pardon me, sir - I am a wretch, I am horrified at myself."
He rose suddenly; he was gradually coming to himself.
"What do you want?"
"That letter - I guessed - "
He burst into a loud, bitter, discordant laugh, and replied:
God forgive me! Why, my dear, did you dare to suspect my wife?"
While Jenny was muttering confused excuses, he drew out his
pocket-book and took from it all the money it contained - some
seven or eight hundred francs - which he put on the table.
"Take this, from Hector," said he, "he will not permit you to suffer
for anything; but, believe me, you had best let him get married."
Then he mechanically took up his gun, opened the door, and went out.
His dogs leaped upon him to caress him; he kicked them off. Where
was he going? What was he going to do?
A small, fine, chilly rain had succeeded the morning fog; but
Sauvresy did not perceive it. He went across the fields with his
head bare, wandering at hazard, without aim or discretion. He
talked aloud as he went, stopping ever and anon, then resuming
his course. The peasants who met him - they all knew him - turned
to look at him after having saluted him, asking themselves whether
the master of Valfeuillu had not gone mad. Unhappily he was not
mad. Overwhelmed by an unheard-of, unlooked-for catastrophe, his
brain had been for a moment paralyzed. But one by one he collected
his scattered ideas and acquired the faculty of thinking and of
suffering. Each one of his reflections increased his mortal anguish.
Yes, Bertha and Hector had deceived, had dishonored him. She,
beloved to idolatry; he, his best and oldest friend, a wretch that
he had snatched from misery, who owed him everything. And it was
in his house, under his own roof, that this infamy had taken place.
They had taken advantage of his noble trust, had made a dupe of him.
The frightful discovery not only embittered the future, but also
the past. He longed to blot out of his life these years passed with
Bertha, with whom, but the night before, he had recalled these
"happiest years of his life." The memory of his former happiness
filled his soul with disgust. But how had this been done? When?
How was it he had seen nothing of it? And now things came into
his mind which should have warned him had he not been blind. He
recalled certain looks of Bertha, certain tones of voice, which were
an avowal. At times, he tried to doubt. There are misfortunes so
great that to be believed there must be more than evidence.
"It is not possible!" muttered he.
Seating himself upon a prostrate tree in the midst of Mauprevoir
forest, he studied the fatal letter for the tenth time within four
"It proves all," said he, "and it proves nothing."
And he read once more.
"Do not go to-morrow to Petit-Bourg - "
Well, had he not again and again, in his idiotic confidence, said
"I shall be away to-morrow, stay here and keep Bertha company."
This sentence, then, had no positive signification. But why add:
"Or rather, return before breakfast."
This was what betrayed fear, that is, the fault. To go away and
return again anon, was to be cautious, to avoid suspicion. Then,
why "he," instead of, "Clement?" This word was striking. "He"
- that is, the dear one, or else, the master that one hates. There
is no medium - 'tis the husband, or the lover. "He," is never an
indifferent person. A husband is lost when his wife, in speaking
of him, says, "He."
But when had Bertha written these few lines? Doubtless some evening
after they had retired to their room. He had said to her, "I'm
going to-morrow to Melun," and then she had hastily scratched off
this note and given it, in a book, to Hector.
Alas! the edifice of his happiness, which had seemed to him strong
enough to defy every tempest of life, had crumbled, and he stood
there lost in the midst of its debris. No more happiness, joys,
hopes-nothing! All his plans for the future rested on Bertha; her
name was mingled in his every dream, she was at once the future and
the dream. He had so loved her that she had become something of
himself, that he could not imagine himself without her. Bertha
lost to him, he saw no direction in life to take, he had no further
reason for living. He perceived this so vividly that the idea of
suicide came to him. He had his gun, powder and balls; his death
would be attributed to a hunting accident, and all would be over.
Oh, but the guilty ones!
They would doubtless go on in their infamous comedy - would seem
to mourn for him, while really their hearts would bound with joy.
No more husband, no more hypocrisies or terrors. His will giving
his fortune to Bertha, they would be rich. They would sell
everything, and would depart rejoicing to some distant clime. As
to his memory, poor man, it would amuse them to think of him as the
cheated and despised husband.
"Never!" cried he, drunk with fury, "never! I must kill myself,
but first, I must avenge my dishonor!"
But he tried in vain to imagine a punishment cruel or terrible
enough. What chastisement could expiate the horrible tortures which
he endured? He said to himself that, in order to assure his
vengeance, he must wait - and he swore that he would wait. He would
feign the same stolid confidence, and resigned himself to see and
"My hypocrisy will equal theirs," thought he.
Indeed a cautious duplicity was necessary. Bertha was most cunning,
and at the first suspicion would fly with her lover. Hector had
already - thanks to him - several hundred thousand francs. The
idea that they might escape his vengeance gave him energy and a
It was only then that he thought of the flight of time, the rain
falling in torrents, and the state of his clothes.
"Bah!" thought he, "I will make up some story to account for myself."
He was only a league from Valfeuillu, but he was an hour and a half
reaching home. He was broken, exhausted; he felt chilled to the
marrow of his bones. But when he entered the gate, he had succeeded
in assuming his usual expression, and the gayety which so well
hinted his perfect trustfulness. He had been waited for, but in
spite of his resolutions, he could not sit at table between this
man and woman, his two most cruel enemies. He said that he had
taken cold, and would go to bed. Bertha insisted in vain that he
should take at least a bowl of broth, and a glass of claret.
Really," said he, " I don't feel well."
When he had retired, Bertha said:
"Did you notice, Hector?"
"Something unusual has happened to him."
"Very likely, after being all day in the rain."
"No. His eye had a look I never saw before."
"He seemed to be very cheerful, as he always is."
"Hector, my husband suspects!"
"He? Ah, my poor good friend has too much confidence in us to think
of being jealous."
"You deceive yourself, Hector; he did not embrace me when he came
in, and it is the first time since our marriage."
Thus, at the very first, he had made a blunder. He knew it well;
but it was beyond his power to embrace Bertha at that moment; and
he was suffering more than he thought he should. When his wife and
his friend ascended to his room, after dinner, they found him
shivering under the sheets, red, his forehead burning, his throat
dry, and his eyes shining with an unusual brilliancy. A fever soon
came on, attended by delirium. A doctor was called, who at first
said he would not answer for him. The next day he was worse. From
this time both Hector and Bertha conceived for him the most tender
devotion. Did they think they should thus in some sort expiate
their crime? It is doubtful. More likely they tried to impose on
the people about them; everyone was anxious for Sauvresy. They
never deserted him for a moment, passing the night by turns near
his bed. And it was painful to watch over him; a furious delirium
never left him. Several times force had to be used to keep him on
the bed; he tried to throw himself out of the window. The third
day he had a strange fancy; he did not wish to stay in his chamber.
He kept crying out:
"Carry me away from here, carry me away from here."
The doctor advised that he should be humored; so a bed was made up
for him in a little room on the ground-floor, overlooking the garden.
His wanderings did not betray anything of his suspicions; perhaps
the firm will was able even to control the delirium. The fever
finally yielded on the ninth day. His breathing became calmer, and
he slept. When he awoke, reason had returned. That was a frightful
moment. He had, so to speak, to take up the burden of his misery.
At first he thought it the memory of a horrid night-mare; but no.
He had not dreamed. He recalled the Belle Image, Jenny, the forest,
the letter. What had become of the letter? Then, having the vague
impression of a serious illness, he asked himself if he had said
anything to betray the source of his misery. This anxiety prevented
his making the slightest movement, and he opened his eyes softly and
cautiously. It was eleven at night, and all the servants had gone
to bed. Hector and Bertha alone were keeping watch; he was reading
a paper, she was crocheting. Sauvresy saw by their placid
countenances that he had betrayed nothing. He moved slightly;
Bertha at once arose and came to him.
"How are you, dear Clement?" asked she, kissing him fondly on the
"I am no longer in pain."
"You see the result of being careless."
"How many days have I been sick?"
"Why was I brought here?"
"Because you wished it."
Tremorel had approached the bedside.
"You refused to stay upstairs," said he, "you were ungovernable
till we had you brought here."
"But don't tire yourself," resumed Hector. "Go to sleep again, and
you will be well by to-morrow. And good-night, for I am going to
bed now, and shall return and wake your wife at four o'clock."
He went out, and Bertha, having given Sauvresy something to drink,
returned to her seat.
"What a friend Tremorel is," murmured she. Sauvresy did not answer
this terribly ironical exclamation. He shut his eyes, pretended to
sleep, and thought of the letter. What had he done with it? He
remembered that he had carefully folded it and put it in the
right-hand pocket of his vest. He must have this letter. It would
balk his vengeance, should it fall into his wife's hands; and this
might happen at any moment. It was a miracle that his valet had
not put it on the mantel, as he was accustomed to do with the things
which he found in his master's pockets. He was reflecting on some
means of getting it, of the possibility of going up to his bedroom,
where his vest ought to be, when Bertha got up softly. She came to
the bed and whispered gently:
He did not open his eyes, and she, persuaded that he was sleeping,
though very lightly, stole out of the room, holding her breath as
Oh, the wretch!" muttered Sauvresy, "she is going to him!"
At the same time the necessity of recovering the letter occurred to
him more vividly than ever.
"I can get to my room," thought he, "without being seen, by the
garden and back-stairs. She thinks I'm asleep; I shall get back
and abed before she returns."
Then, without asking himself whether he were not too feeble, or
what danger there might be in exposing himself to the cold, he got
up, threw a gown around him, put on his slippers and went toward
"If anyone sees me, I will feign delirium," said he to himself.
The vestibule lamp was out and he found some difficulty in opening
the door; finally, he descended into the garden. It was intensely
cold, and snow had fallen. The wind shook the limbs of the trees
crusted with ice. The front of the house was sombre. One window
only was lighted - that of Tremorel's room; that was lighted
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