Immortals Crowned by the French Academy, Monsieur de Camors
by Octave Feuillet
OCTAVE FEUILLET'S works abound with rare qualities, forming a
harmonious ensemble; they also exhibit great observation and knowledge
of humanity, and through all of them runs an incomparable and
distinctive charm. He will always be considered the leader of the
idealistic school in the nineteenth century. It is now fifteen years
since his death, and the judgment of posterity is that he had a great
imagination, linked to great analytical power and insight; that his
style is neat, pure, and fine, and at the same time brilliant and
concise. He unites suppleness with force, he combines grace with
Octave Feuillet was born at Saint-Lo (Manche), August 11, 1821, his
father occupying the post of Secretary-General of the Prefecture de la
Manche. Pupil at the Lycee Louis le Grand, he received many prizes,
and was entered for the law. But he became early attracted to
literature, and like many of the writers at that period attached
himself to the "romantic school." He collaborated with Alexander
Dumas pere and with Paul Bocage. It can not now be ascertained what
share Feuillet may have had in any of the countless tales of the elder
Dumas. Under his own name he published the novels 'Onesta' and
'Alix', in 1846, his first romances. He then commenced writing for the
stage. We mention 'Echec et Mat' (Odeon, 1846); 'Palma, ou la Nuit du
Vendredi-Saint' (Porte St. Martin, 1847); 'La Vieillesse de
Richelieu' (Theatre Francais, 1848); 'York' (Palais Royal, 1852).
Some of them are written in collaboration with Paul Bocage. They are
dramas of the Dumas type, conventional, not without cleverness, but
making no lasting mark.
Realizing this, Feuillet halted, pondered, abruptly changed front,
and began to follow in the footsteps of Alfred de Musset. 'La Grise'
(1854), 'Le Village' (1856), 'Dalila' (1857), 'Le Cheveu Blanc', and
other plays obtained great success, partly in the Gymnase, partly in
the Comedie Francaise. In these works Feuillet revealed himself as an
analyst of feminine character, as one who had spied out all their
secrets, and could pour balm on all their wounds. 'Le Roman d'un
Jeune Homme Pauvre' (Vaudeville, 1858) is probably the best known of
all his later dramas; it was, of course, adapted for the stage from
his romance, and is well known to the American public through Lester
Wallack and Pierrepont Edwards. 'Tentation' was produced in the year
1860, also well known in this country under the title 'Led Astray';
then followed 'Montjoye' (1863), etc. The influence of Alfred de
Musset is henceforth less perceptible. Feuillet now became a follower
of Dumas fils, especially so in 'La Belle au Bois Dormant'
(Vaudeville, 1865); 'Le Cas de Conscience (Theatre Francais, 1867);
'Julie' (Theatre Francais 1869). These met with success, and are
still in the repertoire of the Comedie Francaise.
As a romancer, Feuillet occupies a high place. For thirty years he
was the representative of a noble and tender genre, and was
preeminently the favorite novelist of the brilliant society of the
Second Empire. Women literally devoured him, and his feminine public
has always remained faithful to him. He is the advocate of morality
and of the aristocracy of birth and feeling, though under this
disguise he involves his heroes and heroines in highly romantic
complications, whose outcome is often for a time in doubt. Yet as the
accredited painter of the Faubourg Saint- Germain he contributed an
essential element to the development of realistic fiction. No one has
rendered so well as he the high-strung, neuropathic women of the upper
class, who neither understand themselves nor are wholly comprehensible
to others. In 'Monsieur de Camors', crowned by the Academy, he has
yielded to the demands of a stricter realism. Especially after the
fall of the Empire had removed a powerful motive for gilding the vices
of aristocratic society, he painted its hard and selfish qualities as
none of his contemporaries could have done. Octave Feuillet was
elected to the Academie Francaise in 1862 to succeed Scribe. He died
December 29, 1890. MAXIME DU CAMP de l'Acadamie Francaise.
CHAPTER I. "THE WAGES OF SIN IS
Near eleven o'clock, one evening in the month of May, a man about
fifty years of age, well formed, and of noble carriage, stepped from a
coupe in the courtyard of a small hotel in the Rue Barbet-de-Jouy. He
ascended, with the walk of a master, the steps leading to the
entrance, to the hall where several servants awaited him. One of them
followed him into an elegant study on the first floor, which
communicated with a handsome bedroom, separated from it by a curtained
arch. The valet arranged the fire, raised the lamps in both rooms,
and was about to retire, when his master spoke:
"Has my son returned home?"
"No, Monsieur le Comte. Monsieur is not ill?"
"Because Monsieur le Comte is so pale."
"Ah! It is only a slight cold I have taken this evening on the
banks of the lake."
"Will Monsieur require anything?"
"Nothing," replied the Count briefly, and the servant retired.
Left alone, his master approached a cabinet curiously carved in the
Italian style, and took from it a long flat ebony box.
This contained two pistols. He loaded them with great care,
adjusting the caps by pressing them lightly to the nipple with his
thumb. That done, he lighted a cigar, and for half an hour the
muffled beat of his regular tread sounded on the carpet of the
gallery. He finished his cigar, paused a moment in deep thought, and
then entered the adjoining room, taking the pistols with him.
This room, like the other, was furnished in a style of severe
elegance, relieved by tasteful ornament. It showed some pictures by
famous masters, statues, bronzes, and rare carvings in ivory. The
Count threw a glance of singular interest round the interior of this
chamber, which was his own—on the familiar objects—on the sombre
hangings—on the bed, prepared for sleep. Then he turned toward a
table, placed in a recess of the window, laid the pistols upon it, and
dropping his head in his hands, meditated deeply many minutes.
Suddenly he raised his head, and wrote rapidly as follows:
"TO MY SON:
"Life wearies me, my son, and I shall relinquish it. The true
superiority of man over the inert or passive creatures that surround
him, lies in his power to free himself, at will, from those,
pernicious servitudes which are termed the laws of nature. Man,
if he will it, need not grow old: the lion must. Reflect, my son,
upon this text, for all human power lies in it.
"Science asserts and demonstrates it. Man, intelligent and free,
is an animal wholly unpremeditated upon this planet. Produced by
unexpected combinations and haphazard transformations, in the midst
of a general subordination of matter, he figures as a dissonance and
"Nature has engendered without having conceived him. The result is
as if a turkey-hen had unconsciously hatched the egg of an eagle.
Terrified at the monster, she has sought to control it, and has
overloaded it with instincts, commonly called duties, and police
regulations known as religion. Each one of these shackles broken,
each one of these servitudes overthrown, marks a step toward the
thorough emancipation of humanity.
"I must say to you, however, that I die in the faith of my century,
believing in matter uncreated, all-powerful, and eternal—the Nature
of the ancients. There have been in all ages philosophers who have
had conceptions of the truth. But ripe to-day, it has become the
common property of all who are strong enough to stand it—for, in
sooth, this latest religion of humanity is food fit only for the
strong. It carries sadness with it, for it isolates man; but it
also involves grandeur, making man absolutely free, or, as it were,
a very god. It leaves him no actual duties except to himself, and
it opens a superb field to one of brain and courage.
"The masses still remain, and must ever remain, submissive under the
yoke of old, dead religions, and under the tyranny of instincts.
There will still be seen very much the same condition of things as
at present in Paris; a society the brain of which is atheistic, and
the heart religious. And at bottom there will be no more belief in
Christ than in Jupiter; nevertheless, churches will continue to be
built mechanically. There are no longer even Deists; for the old
chimera of a personal, moral God-witness, sanction, and judge,—is
virtually extinct; and yet hardly a word is said, or a line written,
or a gesture made, in public or private life, which does not ever
affirm that chimera. This may have its uses perchance, but it is
nevertheless despicable. Slip forth from the common herd, my son,
think for yourself, and write your own catechism upon a virgin page.
"As for myself, my life has been a failure, because I was born many
years too soon. As yet the earth and the heavens were heaped up and
cumbered with ruins, and people did not see. Science, moreover, was
relatively still in its infancy. And, besides, I retained the
prejudices and the repugnance to the doctrines of the new world that
belonged to my name. I was unable to comprehend that there was
anything better to be done than childishly to pout at the conqueror;
that is, I could not recognize that his weapons were good, and that
I should seize and destroy him with them. In short, for want of a
definite principle of action I have drifted at random, my life
without plan—I have been a mere trivial man of pleasure.
"Your life shall be more complete, if you will only follow my
"What, indeed, may not a man of this age become if he have the good
sense and energy to conform his life rigidly to his belief!
"I merely state the question, you must solve it; I can leave you
only some cursory ideas, which I am satisfied are just, and upon
which you may meditate at your leisure. Only for fools or the weak
does materialism become a debasing dogma; assuredly, in its code
there are none of those precepts of ordinary morals which our
fathers entitled virtue; but I do find there a grand word which may
well counterbalance many others, that is to say, Honor, self-esteem!
Unquestionably a materialist may not be a saint; but he can be a
gentleman, which is something. You have happy gifts, my son, and I
know of but one duty that you have in the world—that of developing
those gifts to the utmost, and through them to enjoy life
unsparingly. Therefore, without scruple, use woman for your
pleasure, man for your advancement; but under no circumstances do
"In order that ennui shall not drive you, like myself, prematurely
from the world so soon as the season for pleasure shall have ended,
you should leave the emotions of ambition and of public life for the
gratification of your riper age. Do not enter into any engagements
with the reigning government, and reserve for yourself to hear its
eulogium made by those who will have subverted it. That is the
French fashion. Each generation must have its own prey. You will
soon feel the impulse of the coming generation. Prepare yourself,
from afar, to take the lead in it.
"In politics, my son, you are not ignorant that we all take our
principles from our temperament. The bilious are demagogues, the
sanguine, democrats, the nervous, aristocrats. You are both
sanguine and nervous, an excellent constitution, for it gives you a
choice. You may, for example, be an aristocrat in regard to
yourself personally, and, at the same time, a democrat in relation
to others; and in that you will not be exceptional.
"Make yourself master of every question likely to interest your
contemporaries, but do not become absorbed in any yourself. In
reality, all principles are indifferent—true or false according to
the hour and circumstance. Ideas are mere instruments with which
you should learn to play seasonably, so as to sway men. In that
path, likewise, you will have associates.
"Know, my son, that having attained my age, weary of all else, you
will have need of strong sensations. The sanguinary diversions of
revolution will then be for you the same as a love-affair at twenty.
"But I am fatigued, my son, and shall recapitulate. To be loved by
women, to be feared by men, to be as impassive and as imperturbable
as a god before the tears of the one and the blood of the other, and
to end in a whirlwind—such has been the lot in which I have failed,
but which, nevertheless, I bequeath to you. With your great
faculties you, however, are capable of accomplishing it, unless
indeed you should fail through some ingrained weakness of the heart
that I have noticed in you, and which, doubtless, you have imbibed
with your mother's milk.
"So long as man shall be born of woman, there will be something
faulty and incomplete in his character. In fine, strive to relieve
yourself from all thraldom, from all natural instincts, affections,
and sympathies as from so many fetters upon your liberty, your
"Do not marry unless some superior interest shall impel you to do
so. In that event, have no children.
"Have no intimate friends. Caesar having grown old, had a friend.
It was Brutus!
"Contempt for men is the beginning of wisdom.
"Change somewhat your style of fencing, it is altogether too open,
my son. Do not get angry. Rarely laugh, and never weep. Adieu.
The feeble rays of dawn had passed through the slats of the blinds.
The matin birds began their song in the chestnut-tree near the window.
M. de Camors raised his head and listened in an absent mood to the
sound which astonished him. Seeing that it was daybreak, he folded in
some haste the pages he had just finished, pressed his seal upon the
envelope, and addressed it, "For the Comte Louis de Camors." Then he
M. de Camors was a great lover of art, and had carefully preserved
a magnificent ivory carving of the sixteenth century, which had
belonged to his wife. It was a Christ the pallid white relieved by a
medallion of dark velvet.
His eye, meeting this pale, sad image, was attracted to it for a
moment with strange fascination. Then he smiled bitterly, seized one
of the pistols with a firm hand and pressed it to his temple.
A shot resounded through the house; the fall of a heavy body shook
the floor-fragments of brains strewed the carpet. The Comte de Camors
had plunged into eternity!
His last will was clenched in his hand.
To whom was this document addressed? Upon what kind of soil will
these seeds fall?
At this time Louis de Camors was twenty-seven years old. His
mother had died young. It did not appear that she had been
particularly happy with her husband; and her son barely remembered her
as a young woman, pretty and pale, and frequently weeping, who used to
sing him to sleep in a low, sweet voice. He had been brought up
chiefly by his father's mistress, who was known as the Vicomtesse
d'Oilly, a widow, and a rather good sort of woman. Her natural
sensibility, and the laxity of morals then reigning at Paris,
permitted her to occupy herself at the same time with the happiness of
the father and the education of the son. When the father deserted her
after a time, he left her the child, to comfort her somewhat by this
mark of confidence and affection. She took him out three times a
week; she dressed him and combed him; she fondled him and took him
with her to church, and made him play with a handsome Spaniard, who
had been for some time her secretary. Besides, she neglected no
opportunity of inculcating precepts of sound morality. Thus the
child, being surprised at seeing her one evening press a kiss upon the
forehead of her secretary, cried out, with the blunt candor of his
"Why, Madame, do you kiss a gentleman who is not your husband?"
"Because, my dear," replied the Countess, "our good Lord commands
us to be charitable and affectionate to the poor, the infirm, and the
exile; and Monsieur Perez is an exile."
Louis de Camors merited better care, for he was a generous-hearted
child; and his comrades of the college of Louis-le-Grand always
remembered the warm-heartedness and natural grace which made them
forgive his successes during the week, and his varnished boots and
lilac gloves on Sunday. Toward the close of his college course, he
became particularly attached to a poor bursar, by name Lescande, who
excelled in mathematics, but who was very ungraceful, awkwardly shy
and timid, with a painful sensitiveness to the peculiarities of his
person. He was nicknamed "Wolfhead," from the refractory nature of
his hair; but the elegant Camors stopped the scoffers by protecting
the young man with his friendship. Lescande felt this deeply, and
adored his friend, to whom he opened the inmost recesses of his heart,
letting out some important secrets.
He loved a very young girl who was his cousin, but was as poor as
himself. Still it was a providential thing for him that she was poor,
otherwise he never should have dared to aspire to her. It was a sad
occurrence that had first thrown Lescande with his cousin—the loss of
her father, who was chief of one of the Departments of State.
After his death she lived with her mother in very straitened
circumstances; and Lescande, on occasion of his last visit, found her
with soiled cuffs. Immediately after he received the following note:
"Pardon me, dear cousin! Pardon my not wearing white cuffs. But I
must tell you that we can change our cuffs—my mother and I—only
three times a week. As to her, one would never discover it. She is
neat as a bird. I also try to be; but, alas! when I practise the
piano, my cuffs rub. After this explanation, my good Theodore, I
hope you will love me as before.
Lescande wept over this note. Luckily he had his prospects as an
architect; and Juliette had promised to wait for him ten years, by
which time he would either be dead, or living deliciously in a humble
house with his cousin. He showed the note, and unfolded his plans to
Camors. "This is the only ambition I have, or which I can have," added
Lescande. "You are different. You are born for great things."
"Listen, my old Lescande," replied Camors, who had just passed his
rhetoric examination in triumph. "I do not know but that my destiny
may be ordinary; but I am sure my heart can never be. There I feel
transports—passions, which give me sometimes great joy, sometimes
inexpressible suffering. I burn to discover a world—to save a
nation— to love a queen! I understand nothing but great ambitions
and noble alliances, and as for sentimental love, it troubles me but
little. My activity pants for a nobler and a wider field!
"I intend to attach myself to one of the great social parties,
political or religious, that agitate the world at this era. Which one
I know not yet, for my opinions are not very fixed. But as soon as I
leave college I shall devote myself to seeking the truth. And truth
is easily found. I shall read all the newspapers.
"Besides, Paris is an intellectual highway, so brilliantly lighted
it is only necessary to open one's eyes and have good faith and
independence, to find the true road.
And I am in excellent case for this, for though born a gentleman, I
have no prejudices. My father, who is himself very enlightened and
very liberal, leaves me free. I have an uncle who is a Republican; an
aunt who is a Legitimist—and what is still more, a saint; and another
uncle who is a Conservative. It is not vanity that leads me to speak
of these things; but only a desire to show you that, having a foot in
all parties, I am quite willing to compare them dispassionately and
make a good choice. Once master of the holy truth, you may be sure,
dear old Lescande, I shall serve it unto death—with my tongue, with
my pen, and with my sword!"
Such sentiments as these, pronounced with sincere emotion and
accompanied by a warm clasp of the hand, drew tears from the old
Lescande, otherwise called Wolfhead.
CHAPTER II. FRUIT FROM THE HOTBED OF
Early one morning, about eight years after these high resolves,
Louis de Camors rode out from the 'porte-cochere' of the small hotel
he had occupied with his father.
Nothing could be gayer than Paris was that morning, at that
charming golden hour of the day when the world seems peopled only with
good and generous spirits who love one another. Paris does not pique
herself on her generosity; but she still takes to herself at this
charming hour an air of innocence, cheerfulness, and amiable
The little carts with bells, that pass one another rapidly, make
one believe the country is covered with roses. The cries of old Paris
cut with their sharp notes the deep murmur of a great city just
You see the jolly concierges sweeping the white footpaths;
half-dressed merchants taking down their shutters with great noise;
and groups of ostlers, in Scotch caps, smoking and fraternizing on the
You hear the questions of the sociable neighborhood; the news
proper to awakening; speculations on the weather bandied across from
door to door, with much interest.
Young milliners, a little late, walk briskly toward town with
elastic step, making now a short pause before a shop just opened;
again taking wing like a bee just scenting a flower.
Even the dead in this gay Paris morning seem to go gayly to the
cemetery, with their jovial coachmen grinning and nodding as they
Superbly aloof from these agreeable impressions, Louis de Camors,
a little pale, with half-closed eyes and a cigar between his teeth,
rode into the Rue de Bourgogne at a walk, broke into a canter on the
Champs Elysees, and galloped thence to the Bois. After a brisk run,
he returned by chance through the Porte Maillot, then not nearly so
thickly inhabited as it is to-day. Already, however, a few pretty
houses, with green lawns in front, peeped out from the bushes of lilac
and clematis. Before the green railings of one of these a gentleman
played hoop with a very young, blond-haired child. His age belonged
in that uncertain area which may range from twenty-five to forty. He
wore a white cravat, spotless as snow; and two triangles of short,
thick beard, cut like the boxwood at Versailles, ornamented his
cheeks. If Camors saw this personage he did not honor him with the
slightest notice. He was, notwithstanding, his former comrade
Lescande, who had been lost sight of for several years by his warmest
college friend. Lescande, however, whose memory seemed better, felt
his heart leap with joy at the majestic appearance of the young
cavalier who approached him. He made a movement to rush forward; a
smile covered his good-natured face, but it ended in a grimace.
Evidently he had been forgotten. Camors, now not more than a couple
of feet from him, was passing on, and his handsome countenance gave
not the slightest sign of emotion. Suddenly, without changing a
single line of his face, he drew rein, took the cigar from his lips,
and said, in a tranquil voice:
"Hello! You have no longer a wolf head!"
"Ha! Then you know me?" cried Lescande.
"Know you? Why not?"
"I thought—I was afraid—on account of my beard—"
"Bah! your beard does not change you—except that it becomes you.
But what are you doing here?"
"Doing here! Why, my dear friend, I am at home here. Dismount, I
pray you, and come into my house."
"Well, why not?" replied Camors, with the same voice and manner of
supreme indifference; and, throwing his bridle to the servant who
followed him, he passed through the gardengate, led, supported,
caressed by the trembling hand of Lescande.
The garden was small, but beautifully tended and full of rare
plants. At the end, a small villa, in the Italian style, showed its
"Ah, that is pretty!" exclaimed Camors, at last.
"And you recognize my plan, Number Three, do you not?" asked
"Your plan Number Three? Ah, yes, perfectly," replied Camors,
absently. "And your pretty little cousin—is she within?"
"She is there, my dear friend," answered Lescande, in a low
voice—and he pointed to the closed shutters of a large window of a
balcony surmounting the veranda. "She is there; and this is our son."
Camors let his hand pass listlessly over the child's hair. "The
deuce!" he said; "but you have not wasted time. And you are happy, my
"So happy, my dear friend, that I am sometimes uneasy, for the good
God is too kind to me. It is true, though, I had to work very hard.
For instance, I passed two years in Spain—in the mountains of that
infernal country. There I built a fairy palace for the Marquis of
Buena-Vista, a great nobleman, who had seen my plan at the Exhibition
and was delighted with it. This was the beginning of my fortune; but
you must not imagine that my profession alone has enriched me so
quickly. I made some successful speculations—some unheard of chances
in lands; and, I beg you to believe, honestly, too. Still, I am not a
millionaire; but you know I had nothing, and my wife less; now, my
house paid for, we have ten thousand francs' income left. It is not a
fortune for us, living in this style; but I still work and keep good
courage, and my Juliette is happy in her paradise!"
"She wears no more soiled cuffs, then?" said Camors.
"I warrant she does not! Indeed, she has a slight tendency to
luxury— like all women, you know. But I am delighted to see you
remember so well our college follies. I also, through all my
distractions, never forgot you a moment. I even had a foolish idea of
asking you to my wedding, only I did not dare. You are so brilliant,
so petted, with your establishment and your racers. My wife knows you
very well; in fact, we have talked of you a hundred thousand times.
Since she patronizes the turf and subscribes for 'The Sport', she
says to me, 'Your friend's horse has won again'; and in our family
circle we rejoice over your triumphs."
A flush tinged the cheek of Camors as he answered, quietly, "You
are really too good."
They walked a moment in silence over the gravel path bordered by
grass, before Lescande spoke again.
"And yourself, dear friend, I hope that you also are happy."
"I—happy!" Camors seemed a little astonished. "My happiness is
simple enough, but I believe it is unclouded. I rise in the morning,
ride to the Bois, thence to the club, go to the Bois again, and then
back to the club. If there is a first representation at any theatre,
I wish to see it. Thus, last evening they gave a new piece which was
really exquisite. There was a song in it, beginning:
"He was a woodpecker,
A little woodpecker,
A young woodpecker—
and the chorus imitated the cry of the woodpecker! Well, it was
charming, and the whole of Paris will sing that song with delight for
a year. I also shall do like the whole of Paris, and I shall be
"Good heavens! my friend," laughed Lescande, "and that suffices you
"That and—the principles of 'eighty-nine," replied Camors,
lighting a fresh cigar from the old one.
Here their dialogue was broken by the fresh voice of a woman
calling from the blinds of the balcony—
"Is that you, Theodore?"
Camors raised his eyes and saw a white hand, resting on the slats
of the blind, bathed in sunlight.
"That is my wife. Conceal yourself!" cried Lescande, briskly; and
he pushed Camors behind a clump of catalpas, as he turned to the
balcony and lightly answered:
"Yes, my dear; do you wish anything?"
"Maxime is with you?"
"Yes, mother. I am here," cried the child. "It is a beautiful
morning. Are you quite well?"
"I hardly know. I have slept too long, I believe." She opened the
shutters, and, shading her eyes from the glare with her hand, appeared
on the balcony.
She was in the flower of youth, slight, supple, and graceful, and
appeared, in her ample morning-gown of blue cashmere, plumper and
taller than she really was. Bands of the same color interlaced, in
the Greek fashion, her chestnut hair—which nature, art, and the night
had dishevelled—waved and curled to admiration on her small head.
She rested her elbows on the railing, yawned, showing her white
teeth, and looking at her husband, asked:
"Why do you look so stupid?"
At the instant she observed Camors—whom the interest of the moment
had withdrawn from his concealment—gave a startled cry, gathered up
her skirts, and retired within the room.
Since leaving college up to this hour, Louis de Camors had never
formed any great opinion of the Juliet who had taken Lescande as her
Romeo. He experienced a flash of agreeable surprise on discovering
that his friend was more happy in that respect than he had supposed.
"I am about to be scolded, my friend," said Lescande, with a hearty
laugh, "and you also must stay for your share. You will stay and
breakfast with us?"
Camors hesitated; then said, hastily, "No, no! Impossible! I have
an engagement which I must keep."
Notwithstanding Camors's unwillingness, Lescande detained him until
he had extorted a promise to come and dine with them—that is, with
him, his wife, and his mother-in-law, Madame Mursois—on the following
Tuesday. This acceptance left a cloud on the spirit of Camors until
the appointed day. Besides abhorring family dinners, he objected to
being reminded of the scene of the balcony. The indiscreet kindness
of Lescande both touched and irritated him; for he knew he should play
but a silly part near this pretty woman. He felt sure she was a
coquette, notwithstanding which, the recollections of his youth and
the character of her husband should make her sacred to him. So he was
not in the most agreeable frame of mind when he stepped out of his
dog-cart, that Tuesday evening, before the little villa of the Avenue
At his reception by Madame Lescande and her mother he took heart a
little. They appeared to him what they were, two honest-hearted
women, surrounded by luxury and elegance. The mother—an
ex-beauty—had been left a widow when very young, and to this time had
avoided any stain on her character. With them, innate delicacy held
the place of those solid principles so little tolerated by French
society. Like a few other women of society, Madame had the quality of
virtue just as ermine has the quality of whiteness. Vice was not so
repugnant to her as an evil as it was as a blemish. Her daughter had
received from her those instincts of chastity which are oftener than
we imagine hidden under the appearance of pride. But these amiable
women had one unfortunate caprice, not uncommon at this day among
Parisians of their position. Although rather clever, they bowed down,
with the adoration of bourgeoises, before that aristocracy, more or
less pure, that paraded up and down the Champs Elysees, in the
theatres, at the race-course, and on the most frequented promenades,
its frivolous affairs and rival vanities.
Virtuous themselves, they read with interest the daintiest bits of
scandal and the most equivocal adventures that took place among the
elite. It was their happiness and their glory to learn the smallest
details of the high life of Paris; to follow its feasts, speak in its
slang, copy its toilets, and read its favorite books. So that if not
the rose, they could at least be near the rose and become impregnated
with her colors and her perfumes. Such apparent familiarity
heightened them singularly in their own estimation and in that of
Now, although Camors did not yet occupy that bright spot in the
heaven of fashion which was surely to be his one day, still he could
here pass for a demigod, and as such inspire Madame Lescande and her
mother with a sentiment of most violent curiosity. His early intimacy
with Lescande had always connected a peculiar interest with his name:
and they knew the names of his horses—most likely knew the names of
So it required all their natural tact to conceal from their guest
the flutter of their nerves caused by his sacred presence; but they
did succeed, and so well that Camors was slightly piqued. If not a
coxcomb, he was at least young: he was accustomed to please: he knew
the Princess de Clam-Goritz had lately applied to him her learned
definition of an agreeable man—"He is charming, for one always feels
in danger near him!"
Consequently, it seemed a little strange to him that the simple
mother of the simple wife of simple Lescande should be able to bear
his radiance with such calmness; and this brought him out of his
He took the trouble to be irresistible—not to Madame Lescande, to
whom he was studiously respectful—but to Madame Mursois. The whole
evening he scattered around the mother the social epigrams intended to
dazzle the daughter; Lescande meanwhile sitting with his mouth open,
delighted with the success of his old schoolfellow.
Next afternoon, Camors, returning from his ride in the Bois, by
chance passed the Avenue Maillot. Madame Lescande was embroidering on
the balcony, by chance, and returned his salute over her tapestry. He
remarked, too, that she saluted very gracefully, by a slight
inclination of the head, followed by a slight movement of her
symmetrical, sloping shoulders.
When he called upon her two or three days after—as was only his
duty— Camors reflected on a strong resolution he had made to keep
very cool, and to expatiate to Madame Lescande only on her husband's
virtues. This pious resolve had an unfortunate effect; for Madame,
whose virtue had been piqued, had also reflected; and while an
obtrusive devotion had not failed to frighten her, this course only
reassured her. So she gave up without restraint to the pleasure of
receiving in her boudoir one of the brightest stars from the heaven of
It was now May, and at the races of La Marche—to take place the
following Sunday—Camors was to be one of the riders. Madame Mursois
and her daughter prevailed upon Lescande to take them, while Camors
completed their happiness by admitting them to the weighing-stand.
Further, when they walked past the judge's stand, Madame Mursois, to
whom he gave his arm, had the delight of being escorted in public by a
cavalier in an orange jacket and topboots. Lescande and his wife
followed in the wake of the radiant mother-in-law, partaking of her
These agreeable relations continued for several weeks, without
seeming to change their character. One day Camors would seat himself
by the lady, before the palace of the Exhibition, and initiate her
into the mysteries of all the fashionables who passed before them.
Another time he would drop into their box at the opera, deign to
remain there during an act or two, and correct their as yet incomplete
views of the morals of the ballet. But in all these interviews he
held toward Madame Lescande the language and manner of a brother:
perhaps because he secretly persisted in his delicate resolve; perhaps
because he was not ignorant that every road leads to Rome—and one as
surely as another.
Madame Lescande reassured herself more and more; and feeling it
unnecessary to be on her guard, as at first, thought she might permit
herself a little levity. No woman is flattered at being loved only as
Camors, a little disquieted by the course things were taking, made
some slight effort to divert it. But, although men in fencing wish to
spare their adversaries, sometimes they find habit too strong for
them, and lunge home in spite of themselves. Besides, he began to be
really interested in Madame Lescande—in her coquettish ways, at once
artful and simple, provoking and timid, suggestive and reticent—in
The same evening that M. de Camors, the elder, returned to his home
bent on suicide, his son, passing up the Avenue Maillot, was stopped
by Lescande on the threshold of his villa.
"My friend," said the latter, "as you are here you can do me a
great favor. A telegram calls me suddenly to Melun—I must go on the
instant. The ladies will be so lonely, pray stay and dine with them!
I can't tell what the deuce ails my wife. She has been weeping all
day over her tapestry; my mother-in-law has a headache. Your presence
will cheer them. So stay, I beg you."
Camors refused, hesitated, made objections, and consented. He sent
back his horse, and his friend presented him to the ladies, whom the
presence of the unexpected guest seemed to cheer a little. Lescande
stepped into his carriage and departed, after receiving from his wife
an embrace more fervent than usual.
The dinner was gay. In the atmosphere was that subtle suggestion
of coming danger of which both Camors and Madame Lescande felt the
exhilarating influence. Their excitement, as yet innocent, employed
itself in those lively sallies—those brilliant combats at the
barriers —that ever precede the more serious conflict. About nine
o'clock the headache of Madame Mursois—perhaps owing to the cigar
they had allowed Camors—became more violent. She declared she could
endure it no longer, and must retire to her chamber. Camors wished to
withdraw, but his carriage had not yet arrived and Madame Mursois
insisted that he should wait for it.
"Let my daughter amuse you with a little music until then," she
Left alone with her guest, the younger lady seemed embarrassed.
"What shall I play for you?" she asked, in a constrained voice,
taking her seat at the piano.
"Oh! anything—play a waltz," answered Camors, absently.
The waltz finished, an awkward silence ensued. To break it she
arose hesitatingly; then clasping her hands together exclaimed, "It
seems to me there is a storm. Do you not think so?" She approached
the window, opened it, and stepped out on the balcony. In a second
Camors was at her side.
The night was beautifully clear. Before them stretched the sombre
shadow of the wood, while nearer trembling rays of moonlight slept
upon the lawn.
How still all was! Their trembling hands met and for a moment did
"Juliette!" whispered the young man, in a low, broken voice. She
shuddered, repelled the arm that Camors passed round her, and hastily
reentered the room.
"Leave me, I pray you!" she cried, with an impetuous gesture of
her hand, as she sank upon the sofa, and buried her face in her hands.
Of course Camors did not obey. He seated himself by her.
In a little while Juliette awoke from her trance; but she awoke a
How bitter was that awakening! She measured at a first glance the
depth of the awful abyss into which she had suddenly plunged. Her
husband, her mother, her infant, whirled like spectres in the mad
chaos of her brain.
Sensible of the anguish of an irreparable wrong, she rose, passed
her hand vacantly across her brow, and muttering, "Oh, God! oh, God!"
peered vainly into the dark for light—hope—refuge! There was none!
Her tortured soul cast herself utterly on that of her lover. She
turned her swimming eyes on him and said:
"How you must despise me!"
Camors, half kneeling on the carpet near her, kissed her hand
indifferently and half raised his shoulders in sign of denial. "Is it
not so?" she repeated. "Answer me, Louis."
His face wore a strange, cruel smile—"Do not insist on an answer,
I pray you," he said.
"Then I am right? You do despise me?"
Camors turned himself abruptly full toward her, looked straight in
her face, and said, in a cold, hard voice, "I do!"
To this cruel speech the poor child replied by a wild cry that
seemed to rend her, while her eyes dilated as if under the influence
of strong poison. Camors strode across the room, then returned and
stood by her as he said, in a quick, violent tone:
"You think I am brutal? Perhaps I am, but that can matter little
now. After the irreparable wrong I have done you, there is one
service—and only one which I can now render you. I do it now, and
tell you the truth. Understand me clearly; women who fall do not
judge themselves more harshly than their accomplices judge them. For
myself, what would you have me think of you?
"To his misfortune and my shame, I have known your husband since
his boyhood. There is not a drop of blood in his veins that does not
throb for you; there is not a thought of his day nor a dream of his
night that is not yours; your every comfort comes from his
sacrifices—your every joy from his exertion! See what he is to you!
"You have only seen my name in the journals; you have seen me ride
by your window; I have talked a few times with you, and you yield to
me in one moment the whole of his life with your own—the whole of his
happiness with your own.
"I tell you, woman, every man like me, who abuses your vanity and
your weakness and afterward tells you he esteems you—lies! And if
after all you still believe he loves you, you do yourself fresh
injury. No: we soon learn to hate those irksome ties that become
duties where we only sought pleasures; and the first effort after they
are formed is to shatter them.
"As for the rest: women like you are not made for unholy love like
ours. Their charm is their purity, and losing that, they lose
everything. But it is a blessing to them to encounter one wretch,
like myself, who cares to say—Forget me, forever! Farewell!"
He left her, passed from the room with rapid strides, and, slamming
the door behind him, disappeared. Madame Lescande, who had listened,
motionless, and pale as marble, remained in the same lifeless
attitude, her eyes fixed, her hands clenched—yearning from the depths
of her heart that death would summon her. Suddenly a singular noise,
seeming to come from the next room, struck her ear. It was only a
convulsive sob, or violent and smothered laughter. The wildest and
most terrible ideas crowded to the mind of the unhappy woman; the
foremost of them, that her husband had secretly returned, that he knew
all—that his brain had given way, and that the laughter was the
gibbering of his madness.
Feeling her own brain begin to reel, she sprang from the sofa, and
rushing to the door, threw it open. The next apartment was the
dining- room, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp. There she saw Camors,
crouched upon the floor, sobbing furiously and beating his forehead
against a chair which he strained in a convulsive embrace. Her tongue
refused its office; she could find no word, but seating herself near
him, gave way to her emotion, and wept silently. He dragged himself
nearer, seized the hem of her dress and covered it with kisses; his
breast heaved tumultuously, his lips trembled and he gasped the almost
inarticulate words, "Pardon! Oh, pardon me!"
This was all. Then he rose suddenly, rushed from the house, and
the instant after she heard the rolling of the wheels as his carriage
whirled him away.
If there were no morals and no remorse, French people would perhaps
be happier. But unfortunately it happens that a young woman, who
believes in little, like Madame Lescande, and a young man who believes
in nothing, like M. de Camors, can not have the pleasures of an
independent code of morals without suffering cruelly afterward.
A thousand old prejudices, which they think long since buried,
start up suddenly in their consciences; and these revived scruples are
nearly fatal to them.
Camors rushed toward Paris at the greatest speed of his
thoroughbred, Fitz-Aymon, awakening along the route, by his elegance
and style, sentiments of envy which would have changed to pity were
the wounds of the heart visible. Bitter weariness, disgust of life
and disgust for himself, were no new sensations to this young man; but
he never had experienced them in such poignant intensity as at this
cursed hour, when flying from the dishonored hearth of the friend of
his boyhood. No action of his life had ever thrown such a flood of
light on the depths of his infamy in doing such gross outrage to the
friend of his purer days, to the dear confidant of the generous
thoughts and proud aspirations of his youth. He knew he had trampled
all these under foot. Like Macbeth, he had not only murdered one
asleep, but had murdered sleep itself.
His reflections became insupportable. He thought successively of
becoming a monk, of enlisting as a soldier, and of getting drunk—ere
he reached the corner of the Rue Royale and the Boulevard. Chance
favored his last design, for as he alighted in front of his club, he
found himself face to face with a pale young man, who smiled as he
extended his hand. Camors recognized the Prince d'Errol.
"The deuce! You here, my Prince! I thought you in Cairo."
"I arrived only this morning."
"Ah, then you are better?—Your chest?"
"Bah! you look perfectly well. And isn't Cairo a strange place?"
"Rather; but I really believe Providence has sent you to me."
"You really think so, my Prince? But why?"
"Because—pshaw! I'll tell you by-and-bye; but first I want to
hear all about your quarrel."
"Your duel for Sarah."
"That is to say, against Sarah!"
"Well, tell me all that passed; I heard of it only vaguely while
"Well, I only strove to do a good action, and, according to custom,
I was punished for it. I heard it said that that little imbecile La
Brede borrowed money from his little sister to lavish it upon that
Sarah. This was so unnatural that you may believe it first disgusted,
and then irritated me. One day at the club I could not resist saying,
'You are an ass, La Bride, to ruin yourself—worse than that, to ruin
your sister, for the sake of a snail, as little sympathetic as Sarah,
a girl who always has a cold in her head, and who has already deceived
you.' 'Deceived me!' cried La Brede, waving his long arms. 'Deceived
me! and with whom?'—'With me.' As he knew I never lied, he panted
for my life. Luckily my life is a tough one."
"You put him in bed for three months, I hear."
"Almost as long as that, yes. And now, my friend, do me a service.
I am a bear, a savage, a ghost! Assist me to return to life. Let us
go and sup with some sprightly people whose virtue is extraordinary."
"Agreed! That is recommended by my physician."
"From Cairo? Nothing could be better, my Prince."
Half an hour later Louis de Camors, the Prince d'Errol, and a
half-dozen guests of both sexes, took possession of an apartment, the
closed doors of which we must respect.
Next morning, at gray dawn, the party was about to disperse; and at
the moment a ragpicker, with a gray beard, was wandering up and down
before the restaurant, raking with his hook in the refuse that awaited
the public sweepers. In closing his purse, with an unsteady hand,
Camors let fall a shining louis d'or, which rolled into the mud on the
sidewalk. The ragpicker looked up with a timid smile.
"Ah! Monsieur," he said, "what falls into the trench should belong
to the soldier."
"Pick it up with your teeth, then," answered Camors, laughing, "and
it is yours."
The man hesitated, flushed under his sunburned cheeks, and threw a
look of deadly hatred upon the laughing group round him. Then he
knelt, buried his chest in the mire, and sprang up next moment with
the coin clenched between his sharp white teeth. The spectators
applauded. The chiffonnier smiled a dark smile, and turned away.
"Hello, my friend!" cried Camors, touching his arm, "would you
like to earn five Louis? If so, give me a knock-down blow. That will
give you pleasure and do me good."
The man turned, looked him steadily in the eye, then suddenly dealt
him such a blow in the face that he reeled against the opposite wall.
The young men standing by made a movement to fall upon the graybeard.
"Let no one harm him!" cried Camors. "Here, my man, are your
"Keep them," replied the other, "I am paid;" and walked away.
"Bravo, Belisarius!" laughed Camors. "Faith, gentlemen, I do not
know whether you agree with me, but I am really charmed with this
little episode. I must go dream upon it. By-bye, young ladies!
An early cab was passing, he jumped in, and was driven rapidly to
his hotel, on the Rue Babet-de-Jouy.
The door of the courtyard was open, but being still under the
influence of the wine he had drunk, he failed to notice a confused
group of servants and neighbors standing before the stable-doors.
Upon seeing him, these people became suddenly silent, and exchanged
looks of sympathy and compassion. Camors occupied the second floor of
the hotel; and ascending the stairs, found himself suddenly facing his
father's valet. The man was very pale, and held a sealed paper, which
he extended with a trembling hand.
"What is it, Joseph?" asked Camors.
"A letter which—which Monsieur le Comte wrote for you before he
"Before he left! my father is gone, then? But—where—how? What,
the devil! why do you weep?"
Unable to speak, the servant handed him the paper. Camors seized
it and tore it open.
"Good God! there is blood! what is this!" He read the first
words— "My son, life is a burden to me. I leave it—" and fell
fainting to the floor.
The poor lad loved his father, notwithstanding the past.
They carried him to his chamber.
CHAPTER III. DEBRIS FROM THE
De Camors, on leaving college had entered upon life with a heart
swelling with the virtues of youth—confidence, enthusiasm, sympathy.
The horrible neglect of his early education had not corrupted in his
veins those germs of weakness which, as his father declared, his
mother's milk had deposited there; for that father, by shutting him up
in a college to get rid of him for twelve years, had rendered him the
greatest service in his power.
Those classic prisons surely do good. The healthy discipline of
the school; the daily contact of young, fresh hearts; the long
familiarity with the best works, powerful intellects, and great souls
of the ancients—all these perhaps may not inspire a very rigid
morality, but they do inspire a certain sentimental ideal of life and
of duty which has its value.
The vague heroism which Camors first conceived he brought away with
him. He demanded nothing, as you may remember, but the practical
formula for the time and country in which he was destined to live. He
found, doubtless, that the task he set himself was more difficult than
he had imagined; that the truth to which he would devote himself—but
which he must first draw from the bottom of its well—did not stand
upon many compliments. But he failed no preparation to serve her
valiantly as a man might, as soon as she answered his appeal. He had
the advantage of several years of opposing to the excitements of his
age and of an opulent life the austere meditations of the poor
During that period of ardent, laborious youth, he faithfully shut
himself up in libraries, attended public lectures, and gave himself a
solid foundation of learning, which sometimes awakened surprise when
discovered under the elegant frivolity of the gay turfman. But while
arming himself for the battle of life, he lost, little by little, what
was more essential than the best weapons-true courage.
In proportion as he followed Truth day by day, she flew before and
eluded him, taking, like an unpleasant vision, the form of the
About the middle of the last century, Paris was so covered with
political and religious ruins, that the most piercing vision could
scarcely distinguish the outlines of the fresh structures of the
future. One could, see that everything was overthrown; but one could
not see any power that was to raise the ruins. Over the confused
wrecks and remains of the Past, the powerful intellectual life of the
Present-Progress—the collision of ideas—the flame of French wit,
criticism and the sciences— threw a brilliant light, which, like the
sun of earlier ages, illuminated the chaos without making it
productive. The phenomena of Life and of Death were commingled in one
huge fermentation, in which everything decomposed and whence nothing
seemed to spring up again.
At no period of history, perhaps, has Truth been less simple, more
enveloped in complications; for it seemed that all essential notions
of humanity had been fused in a great furnace, and none had come out
The spectacle is grand; but it troubles profoundly all souls—or at
least those that interest and curiosity do not suffice to fill; which
is to say, nearly all. To disengage from this bubbling chaos one pure
religious moral, one positive social idea, one fixed political creed,
were an enterprise worthy of the most sincere. This should not be
beyond the strength of a man of good intentions; and Louis de Camors
might have accomplished the task had he been aided by better
instruction and guidance.
It is the common misfortune of those just entering life to find in
it less than their ideal. But in this respect Camors was born under a
particularly unfortunate star, for he found in his surroundings—in
his own family even—only the worst side of human nature; and, in some
respects, of those very opinions to which he was tempted to adhere.
The Camors were originally from Brittany, where they had held, in
the eighteenth century, large possessions, particularly some extensive
forests, which still bear their name. The grandfather of Louis, the
Comte Herve de Camors, had, on his return from the emigration, bought
back a small part of the hereditary demesne. There he established
himself in the old-fashioned style, and nourished until his death
incurable prejudices against the French Revolution and against Louis
Count Herve had four children, two boys and two girls, and, feeling
it his duty to protest against the levelling influences of the Civil
Code, he established during his life, by a legal subterfuge, a sort of
entail in favor of his eldest son, Charles-Henri, to the prejudice of
Robert- Sosthene, Eleanore-Jeanne and Louise-Elizabeth, his other
heirs. Eleanore-Jeanne and Louise-Elizabeth accepted with apparent
willingness the act that benefited their brother at their
expense—notwithstanding which they never forgave him. But
Robert-Sosthene, who, in his position as representative of the younger
branch, affected Liberal leanings and was besides loaded with debt,
rebelled against the paternal procedure. He burned his visiting-cards,
ornamented with the family crest and his name "Chevalier Lange
d'Ardennes"—and had others printed, simply "Dardennes, junior (du
Of these he sent a specimen to his father, and from that hour
became a declared Republican.
There are people who attach themselves to a party by their virtues;
others, again, by their vices. No recognized political party exists
which does not contain some true principle; which does not respond to
some legitimate aspiration of human society. At the same time, there
is not one which can not serve as a pretext, as a refuge, and as a
hope, for the basest passions of our nature.
The most advanced portion of the Liberal party of France is
composed of generous spirits, ardent and absolute, who torture a
really elevated ideal; that of a society of manhood, constituted with
a sort of philosophic perfection; her own mistress each day and each
hour; delegating few of her powers, and yielding none; living, not
without laws, but without rulers; and, in short, developing her
activity, her well-being, her genius, with that fulness of justice, of
independence, and of dignity, which republicanism alone gives to all
and to each one.
Every other system appears to them to preserve some of the
slaveries and iniquities of former ages; and it also appears open to
the suspicion of generating diverse interests—and often hostile
ones—between the governors and the governed. They claim for all that
political system which, without doubt, holds humanity in the most
esteem; and however one may despise the practical working of their
theory, the grandeur of its principles can not be despised.
They are in reality a proud race, great-hearted and high-spirited.
They have had in their age their heroes and their martyrs; but they
have had, on the other hand, their hypocrites, their adventurers, and
their radicals—their greatest enemies.
Young Dardennes, to obtain grace for the equivocal origin of his
convictions, placed himself in the front rank of these last.
Until he left college Louis de Camors never knew his uncle, who had
remained on bad terms with his father; but he entertained for him, in
secret; an enthusiastic admiration, attributing to him all the virtues
of that principle of which he seemed the exponent.
The Republic of '48 soon died: his uncle was among the vanquished;
and this, to the young man, had but an additional attraction. Without
his father's knowledge, he went to see him, as if on a pilgrimage to a
holy shrine; and he was well received.
He found his uncle exasperated—not so much against his enemies as
against his own party, to which he attributed all the disasters of the
"They never can make revolutions with gloves on," he said in a
solemn, dogmatic tone. "The men of 'ninety-three did not wear them.
You can not make an omelette without first breaking the eggs.
"The pioneers of the future should march on, axe in hand!
"The chrysalis of the people is not hatched upon roses!
"Liberty is a goddess who demands great holocausts. Had they made
a Reign of Terror in 'forty-eight, they would now be masters!"
These high-flown maxims astonished Louis de Camors. In his
youthful simplicity he had an infinite respect for the men who had
governed his country in her darkest hour; not more that they had given
up power as poor as when they assumed it, than that they left it with
their hands unstained with blood: To this praise—which will be
accorded them in history, which redresses many contemporary
injustices—he added a reproach which he could not reconcile with the
strange regrets of his uncle. He reproached them with not having more
boldly separated the New Republic, in its management and minor
details, from the memories of the old one. Far from agreeing with his
uncle that a revival of the horrors of 'ninety-three would have
assured the triumph of the New Republic, he believed it had sunk under
the bloody shadow of its predecessor. He believed that, owing to this
boasted Terror, France had been for centuries the only country in
which the dangers of liberty outweighed its benefits.
It is useless to dwell longer on the relations of Louis de Camors
with his uncle Dardennes. It is enough that he was doubtful and
discouraged, and made the error of holding the cause responsible for
the violence of its lesser apostles, and that he adopted the fatal
error, too common in France at that period, of confounding progress
with discord, liberty with license, and revolution with terrorism!
The natural result of irritation and disenchantment on this ardent
spirit was to swing it rapidly around to the opposite pole of opinion.
After all, Camors argued, his birth, his name, his family ties all
pointed out his true course, which was to combat the cruel and
despotic doctrines which he believed he detected under these
democratic theories. Another thing in the habitual language of his
uncle also shocked and repelled him—the profession of an absolute
atheism. He had within him, in default of a formal creed, a fund of
general belief and respect for holy things—that kind of religious
sensibility which was shocked by impious cynicism. Further he could
not comprehend then, or ever afterward, how principles alone, without
faith in some higher sanction, could sustain themselves by their own
strength in the human conscience.
God—or no principles! This was the dilemma from which no German
philosophy could rescue him.
This reaction in his mind drew him closer to those other branches
of his family which he had hitherto neglected. His two aunts, living
at Paris, had been compelled, in consequence of their small fortunes,
to make some sacrifices to enter into the blessed state of matrimony.
The elder, Eleanore-Jeanne, had married, during her father's life,
the Comte de la Roche-Jugan—a man long past fifty, but still well
worthy of being loved. Nevertheless, his wife did not love him. Their
views on many essential points differed widely. M. de la Roche-Jugan
was one of those who had served the Government of the Restoration with
an unshaken but hopeless devotion. In his youth he had been attached
to the person and to the ministry of the Duc de Richelieu; and he had
preserved the memory of that illustrious man—of the elevated
moderation of his sentiments—of the warmth of his patriotism and of
his constancy. He saw the pitfalls ahead, pointed them out to his
prince—displeased him by so doing, but still followed his fortunes.
Once more retired to private life with but small means, he guarded
his political principles rather like a religion than a hope. His
hopes, his vivacity, his love of right—all these he turned toward
His piety, as enlightened as profound, ranked him among the
choicest spirits who then endeavored to reconcile the national faith
of the past with the inexorable liberty of thought of the present.
Like his colaborers in this work, he experienced only a mortal
sadness under which he sank. True, his wife contributed no little to
hasten his end by the intemperance of her zeal and the acrimony of her
She had little heart and great pride, and made her God subserve her
passions, as Dardennes made liberty subserve his malice.
No sooner had she become a widow than she purified her salons.
Thenceforth figured there only parishioners more orthodox than their
bishops, French priests who denied Bossuet; consequently she believed
that religion was saved in France. Louis de Camors, admitted to this
choice circle by title both of relative and convert, found there the
devotion of Louis XI and the charity of Catherine de Medicis; and he
there lost very soon the little faith that remained to him.
He asked himself sadly whether there was no middle ground between
Terror and Inquisition; whether in this world one must be a fanatic or
nothing. He sought a middle course, possessing the force and cohesion
of a party; but he sought in vain. It seemed to him that the whole
world of politics and religion rushed to extremes; and that what was
not extreme was inert and indifferent—dragging out, day by day, an
existence without faith and without principle.
Thus at least appeared to him those whom the sad changes of his
life showed him as types of modern politics.
His younger aunt, Louise-Elizabeth, who enjoyed to the full all the
pleasures of modern life, had already profited by her father's death
to make a rich misalliance. She married the Baron Tonnelier, whose
father, although the son of a miller, had shown ability and honesty
enough to fill high positions under the First Empire.
The Baron Tonnelier had a large fortune, increasing every day by
successful speculation. In his youth he had been a good horseman, a
Voltairian, and a Liberal.
In time—though he remained a Voltairian—he renounced
horsemanship, and Liberalism. Although he was a simple deputy, he had
a twinge of democracy now and then; but after he was invested with the
peerage, he felt sure from that moment that the human species had no
more progress to make.
The French Revolution was ended; its giddiest height attained. No
longer could any one walk, talk, write, or rise. That perplexed him.
Had he been sincere, he would have avowed that he could not
comprehend that there could be storms, or thunder-clouds in the
heavens—that the world was not perfectly happy and tranquil, while he
himself was so. When his nephew was old enough to comprehend him,
Baron Tonnelier was no longer peer of France; but being one who does
himself no hurt—and sometimes much good by a fall, he filled a high
office under the new government. He endeavored to discharge its duties
conscientiously, as he had those of the preceding reign.
He spoke with peculiar ease of suppressing this or that
journal—such an orator, such a book; of suppressing everything, in
short, except himself. In his view, France had been in the wrong road
since 1789, and he sought to lead her back from that fatal date.
Nevertheless, he never spoke of returning, in his proper person, to
his grandfather's mill; which, to say the least, was inconsistent.
Had Liberty been mother to this old gentleman, and had he met her in
a clump of woods, he would have strangled her. We regret to add that
he had the habit of terming "old duffers" such ministers as he
suspected of liberal views, and especially such as were in favor of
popular education. A more hurtful counsellor never approached a
throne; but luckily, while near it in office, he was far from it in
He was still a charming man, gallant and fresh—more gallant,
however, than fresh. Consequently his habits were not too good, and
he haunted the greenroom of the opera. He had two daughters, recently
married, before whom he repeated the most piquant witticisms of
Voltaire, and the most improper stories of Tallemant de Reaux; and
consequently both promised to afford the scandalmongers a series of
racy anecdotes, as their mother had before them.
While Louis de Camors was learning rapidly, by the association and
example of the collateral branches of his family, to defy equally all
principles and all convictions, his terrible father finished the task.
Worldling to the last extreme, depraved to his very core;
past-master in the art of Parisian high life; an unbridled egotist,
thinking himself superior to everything because he abased everything
to himself; and, finally, flattering himself for despising all duties,
which he had all his life prided himself on dispensing with—such was
his father. But for all this, he was the pride of his circle, with a
pleasing presence and an indefinable charm of manner.
The father and son saw little of each other. M. de Camors was too
proud to entangle his son in his own debaucheries; but the course of
every-day life sometimes brought them together at meal-time. He would
then listen with cool mockery to the enthusiastic or despondent
speeches of the youth. He never deigned to argue seriously, but
responded in a few bitter words, that fell like drops of sleet on the
few sparks still glowing in the son's heart.
Becoming gradually discouraged, the latter lost all taste for work,
and gave himself up, more and more, to the idle pleasures of his
position. Abandoning himself wholly to these, he threw into them all
the seductions of his person, all the generosity of his character—but
at the same time a sadness always gloomy, sometimes desperate.
The bitter malice he displayed, however, did not prevent his being
loved by women and renowned among men. And the latter imitated him.
He aided materially in founding a charming school of youth without
smiles. His air of ennui and lassitude, which with him at least had
the excuse of a serious foundation, was servilely copied by the youth
around him, who never knew any greater distress than an overloaded
stomach, but whom it pleased, nevertheless, to appear faded in their
flower and contemptuous of human nature.
We have seen Camors in this phase of his existence. But in reality
nothing was more foreign to him than the mask of careless disdain that
the young man assumed. Upon falling into the common ditch, he,
perhaps, had one advantage over his fellows: he did not make his bed
with base resignation; he tried persistently to raise himself from it
by a violent struggle, only to be hurled upon it once more.
Strong souls do not sleep easily: indifference weighs them down.
They demand a mission—a motive for action—and faith.
Louis de Camors was yet to find his.
CHAPTER IV. A NEW ACTRESS IN A NOVEL
Louis de Camor's father had not I told him all in that last letter.
Instead of leaving him a fortune, he left him only embarrassments,
for he was three fourths ruined. The disorder of his affairs had
begun a long time before, and it was to repair them that he had
married; a process that had not proved successful. A large
inheritance on which he had relied as coming to his wife went
elsewhere—to endow a charity hospital. The Comte de Camors began a
suit to recover it before the tribunal of the Council of State, but
compromised it for an annuity of thirty thousand francs. This stopped
at his death. He enjoyed, besides, several fat sinecures, which his
name, his social rank, and his personal address secured him from some
of the great insurance companies. But these resources did not survive
him; he only rented the house he had occupied; and the young Comte de
Camors found himself suddenly reduced to the provision of his mother's
dowry—a bare pittance to a man of his habits and rank.
His father had often assured him he could leave him nothing, so the
son was accustomed to look forward to this situation. Therefore, when
he realized it, he was neither surprised nor revolted by the
improvident egotism of which he was the victim. His reverence for his
father continued unabated, and he did not read with the less respect
or confidence the singular missive which figures at the beginning of
this story. The moral theories which this letter advanced were not
new to him. They were a part of the very atmosphere around him; he
had often revolved them in his feverish brain; yet, never before had
they appeared to him in the condensed form of a dogma, with the clear
precision of a practical code; nor as now, with the authorization of
such a voice and of such an example.
One incident gave powerful aid in confirming the impression of
these last pages on his mind. Eight days after his father's death, he
was reclining on the lounge in his smoking-room, his face dark as
night and as his thoughts, when a servant entered and handed him a
card. He took it listlessly, and read" Lescande, architect." Two red
spots rose to his pale cheeks—"I do not see any one," he said.
"So I told this gentleman," replied the servant, "but he insists in
such an extraordinary manner—"
"In an extraordinary manner?"
"Yes, sir; as if he had something very serious to communicate."
"Something serious—aha! Then let him in." Camors rose and paced
the chamber, a smile of bitter mockery wreathing his lips. "And must
I now kill him?" he muttered between his teeth.
Lescande entered, and his first act dissipated the apprehension his
conduct had caused. He rushed to the young Count and seized him by
both hands, while Camors remarked that his face was troubled and his
lips trembled. "Sit down and be calm," he said.
"My friend," said the other, after a pause, "I come late to see
you, for which I crave pardon; but—I am myself so miserable! See, I
am in mourning!"
Camors felt a chill run to his very marrow. "In mourning! and
why?" he asked, mechanically.
"Juliette is dead!" sobbed Lescande, and covered his eyes with his
"Great God!" cried Camors in a hollow voice. He listened a moment
to Lescande's bitter sobs, then made a movement to take his hand, but
dared not do it. "Great God! is it possible?" he repeated.
"It was so sudden!" sobbed Lescande, brokenly. "It seems like a
dream— a frightful dream! You know the last time you visited us she
was not well. You remember I told you she had wept all day. Poor
child! The morning of my return she was seized with congestion—of
the lungs—of the brain—I don't know!—but she is dead! And so
good!—so gentle, so loving! to the last moment! Oh, my friend! my
friend! A few moments before she died, she called me to her side.
'Oh, I love you so! I love you so!' she said. 'I never loved any
but you—you only! Pardon me!— oh, pardon me!' Pardon her, poor
child! My God, for what? for dying? —for she never gave me a
moment's grief before in this world. Oh, God of mercy!"
"I beseech you, my friend—"
"Yes, yes, I do wrong. You also have your griefs.
But we are all selfish, you know. However, it was not of that that
I came to speak. Tell me—I know not whether a report I hear is
correct. Pardon me if I mistake, for you know I never would dream of
offending you; but they say that you have been left in very bad
circumstances. If this is indeed so, my friend—"
"It is not," interrupted Camors, abruptly.
"Well, if it were—I do not intend keeping my little house. Why
should I, now? My little son can wait while I work for him. Then,
after selling my house, I shall have two hundred thousand francs.
Half of this is yours—return it when you can!"
"I thank you, my unselfish friend," replied Camors, much moved,
"but I need nothing. My affairs are disordered, it is true; but I
shall still remain richer than you."
"Yes, but with your tastes—"
"At all events, you know where to find me. I may count upon
you—may I not?"
"Adieu, my friend! I can do you no good now; but I shall see you
again —shall I not?"
Lescande departed, and the young Count remained immovable, with his
features convulsed and his eyes fixed on vacancy.
This moment decided his whole future.
Sometimes a man feels a sudden, unaccountable impulse to smother in
himself all human love and sympathy.
In the presence of this unhappy man, so unworthily treated, so
broken- spirited, so confiding, Camors—if there be any truth in old
spiritual laws—should have seen himself guilty of an atrocious act,
which should have condemned him to a remorse almost unbearable.
But if it were true that the human herd was but the product of
material forces in nature, producing, haphazard, strong beings and
weak ones— lambs and lions—he had played only the lion's part in
destroying his companion. He said to himself, with his father's
letter beneath his eyes, that this was the fact; and the reflection
The more he thought, that day and the next, in depth of the retreat
in which he had buried himself, the more was he persuaded that this
doctrine was that very truth which he had sought, and which his father
had bequeathed to him as the whole rule of his life. His cold and
barren heart opened with a voluptuous pleasure under this new flame
that filled and warmed it.
From this moment he possessed a faith—a principle of action—a
plan of life—all that he needed; and was no longer oppressed by
doubts, agitation, and remorse. This doctrine, if not the most
elevated, was at least above the level of the most of mankind. It
satisfied his pride and justified his scorn.
To preserve his self-esteem, it was only necessary for him to
preserve his honor, to do nothing low, as his father had said; and he
determined never to do anything which, in his eyes, partook of that
character. Moreover, were there not men he himself had met thoroughly
steeped in materialism, who were yet regarded as the most honorable
men of their day?
Perhaps he might have asked himself whether this incontestable fact
might not, in part, have been attributed rather to the individual than
to the doctrine; and whether men's beliefs did not always influence
their actions. However that might have been, from the date of this
crisis Louis de Camors made his father's will the rule of his life.
To develop in all their strength the physical and intellectual
gifts which he possessed; to make of himself the polished type of the
civilization of the times; to charm women and control men; to revel in
all the joys of intellect, of the senses, and of rank; to subdue as
servile instincts all natural sentiments; to scorn, as chimeras and
hypocrisies, all vulgar beliefs; to love nothing, fear nothing,
respect nothing, save honor—such, in fine, were the duties which he
recognized, and the rights which he arrogated to himself.
It was with these redoubtable weapons, and strengthened by a keen
intelligence and vigorous will, that he would return to the world—his
brow calm and grave, his eye caressing while unyielding, a smile upon
his lips, as men had known him.
From this moment there was no cloud either upon his mind or upon
his face, which wore the aspect of perpetual youth. He determined,
above all, not to retrench, but to preserve, despite the narrowness of
his present fortune, those habits of elegant luxury in which he still
might indulge for several years, by the expenditure of his principal.
Both pride and policy gave him this council in an equal degree. He
was not ignorant that the world is as cold toward the needy as it is
warm to those not needing its countenance. Had he been thus ignorant,
the attitude of his family, just after the death of his father, would
have opened his eyes to the fact.
His aunt de la Roche-Jugan and his uncle Tonnelier manifested
toward him the cold circumspection of people who suspected they were
dealing with a ruined man. They had even, for greater security, left
Paris, and neglected to notify the young Count in what retreat they
had chosen to hide their grief. Nevertheless he was soon to learn it,
for while he was busied in settling his father's affairs and
organizing his own projects of fortune and ambition, one fine morning
in August he met with a lively surprise.
He counted among his relatives one of the richest landed
proprietors of France, General the Marquis de Campvallon d'Armignes,
celebrated for his fearful outbursts in the Corps Legislatif. He had
a voice of thunder, and when he rolled out, "Bah! Enough! Stop this
order of the day!" the senate trembled, and the government
commissioners bounced on their chairs. Yet he was the best fellow in
the world, although he had killed two fellow-creatures in duels—but
then he had his reasons for that.
Camors knew him but slightly, paid him the necessary respect that
politeness demanded toward a relative; met him sometimes at the club,
over a game of whist, and that was all.
Two years before, the General had lost a nephew, the direct heir to
his name and fortune. Consequently he was hunted by an eager pack of
cousins and relatives; and Madame de la Roche-Jugan and the Baroness
Tonnelier gave tongue in their foremost rank.
Camors was indifferent, and had, since that event, been
particularly reserved in his intercourse with the General. Therefore
he was considerably astonished when he received the following letter:
"Your two aunts and their families are with me in the country.
When it is agreeable to you to join them, I shall always feel happy
to give a cordial greeting to the son of an old friend and
"I presented myself at your house before leaving Paris, but you were
"Believe me, I comprehend your grief: that you have experienced an
irreparable loss, in which I sympathize with you most sincerely.
"Receive, my dear kinsman, the best wishes of
GENERAL, THE MARQUIS DE CAMPVALLON D'ARMIGNES.
"CHATEAU DE CAMPVALLON, Voie de l'ouest.
"P.S.—It is probable, my young cousin, that I may have something of
interest to communicate to you!"
This last sentence, and the exclamation mark that followed it,
failed not to shake slightly the impassive calm that Camors was at
that moment cultivating. He could not help seeing, as in a mirror,
under the veil of the mysterious postscript, the reflection of seven
hundred thousand francs of ground-rent which made the splendid income
of the General. He recalled that his father, who had served some time
in Africa, had been attached to the staff of M. de Campvallon as
aide-de-camp, and that he had besides rendered him a great service of
a different nature.
Notwithstanding that he felt the absurdity of these dreams, and
wished to keep his heart free from them, he left the next day for
Campvallon. After enjoying for seven or eight hours all the comforts
and luxuries the Western line is reputed to afford its guests, Camors
arrived in the evening at the station, where the General's carriage
awaited him. The seignorial pile of the Chateau Campvallon soon
appeared to him on a height, of which the sides were covered with
magnificent woods, sloping down nearly to the plain, there spreading
It was almost the dinner-hour; and the young man, after arranging
his toilet, immediately descended to the drawing-room, where his
presence seemed to throw a wet blanket over the assembled circle. To
make up for this, the General gave him the warmest welcome; only—as
he had a short memory or little imagination—he found nothing better
to say than to repeat the expressions of his letter, while squeezing
his hand almost to the point of fracture.
"The son of my old friend and companion-in-arms," he cried; and the
words rang out in such a sonorous voice they seemed to impress even
himself— for it was noticeable that after a remark, the General
always seemed astonished, as if startled by the words that came out of
his mouth—and that seemed suddenly to expand the compass of his ideas
and the depth of his sentiments.
To complete his portrait: he was of medium size, square, and stout;
panting when he ascended stairs, or even walking on level ground; a
face massive and broad as a mask, and reminding one of those fabled
beings who blew fire from their nostrils; a huge moustache, white and
grizzly; small gray eyes, always fixed, like those of a doll, but
still terrible. He marched toward a man slowly, imposingly, with eyes
fixed, as if beginning a duel to the death, and demanded of him
imperatively—the time of day!
Camors well knew this innocent weakness of his host, but,
notwithstanding, was its dupe for one instant during the evening.
They had left the dining-table, and he was standing carelessly in
the alcove of a window, holding a cup of coffee, when the General
approached him from the extreme end of the room with a severe yet
confidential expression, which seemed to preface an announcement of
the greatest importance.
The postscript rose before him. He felt he was to have an
The General approached, seized him by the buttonhole, and
withdrawing him from the depth of the recess, looked into his eyes as
if he wished to penetrate his very soul. Suddenly he spoke, in his
thunderous voice. He said:
"What do you take in the morning, young man?"
"Aha! Then give your orders to Pierre—just as if you were at
home;" and, turning on his heel and joining the ladies, he left Camors
to digest his little comedy as he might.
Eight days passed. Twice the General made his guest the object of
his formidable advance. The first time, having put him out of
countenance, he contented himself with exclaiming:
"Well, young man!" and turned on his heel.
The next time he bore down upon Camors, he said not a word, and
retired in silence.
Evidently the General had not the slightest recollection of the
postscript. Camors tried to be contented, but would continually ask
himself why he had come to Campvallon, in the midst of his family, of
whom he was not overfond, and in the depths of the country, which he
execrated. Luckily, the castle boasted a library well stocked with
works on civil and international law, jurisprudence, and political
economy. He took advantage of it; and, resuming the thread of those
serious studies which had been broken off during his period of
hopelessness, plunged into those recondite themes that pleased his
active intelligence and his awakened ambition. Thus he waited
patiently until politeness would permit him to bring to an explanation
the former friend and companion-in-arms of his father. In the morning
he rode on horseback; gave a lesson in fencing to his cousin
Sigismund, the son of Madame de la Roche-Jugan; then shut himself up
in the library until the evening, which he passed at bezique with the
General. Meantime he viewed with the eye of a philosopher the strife
of the covetous relatives who hovered around their rich prey.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan had invented an original way of making
herself agreeable to the General, which was to persuade him he had
disease of the heart. She continually felt his pulse with her plump
hand, sometimes reassuring him, and at others inspiring him with a
salutary terror, although he denied it.
"Good heavens! my dear cousin!" he would exclaim, "let me alone.
I know I am mortal like everybody else. What of that? But I see
your aim- it is to convert me! Ta-ta!"
She not only wished to convert him, but to marry him, and bury him
She based her hopes in this respect chiefly on her son Sigismund;
knowing that the General bitterly regretted having no one to inherit
his name. He had but to marry Madame de la Roche-Jugan and adopt her
son to banish this care. Without a single allusion to this fact, the
Countess failed not to turn the thoughts of the General toward it with
all the tact of an accomplished intrigante, with all the ardor of a
mother, and with all the piety of an unctuous devotee.
Her sister, the Baroness Tonnelier, bitterly confessed her own
disadvantage. She was not a widow. And she had no son. But she had
two daughters, both of them graceful, very elegant and sparkling. One
was Madame Bacquiere, the wife of a broker; the other, Madame
Van-Cuyp, wife of a young Hollander, doing business at Paris.
Both interpreted life and marriage gayly; both floated from one
year into another dancing, riding, hunting, coquetting, and singing
recklessly the most risque songs of the minor theatres. Formerly,
Camors, in his pensive mood, had taken an aversion to these little
examples of modern feminine frivolity. Since he had changed his views
of life he did them more justice. He said, calmly:
"They are pretty little animals that follow their instincts."
Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, instigated by their mother,
applied themselves assiduously to making the General feel all the
sacred joys that cluster round the domestic hearth. They enlivened
his household, exercised his horses, killed his game, and tortured his
piano. They seemed to think that the General, once accustomed to
their sweetness and animation, could not do without it, and that their
society would become indispensable to him. They mingled, too, with
their adroit manoeuvres, familiar and delicate attentions, likely to
touch an old man. They sat on his knees like children, played gently
with his moustache, and arranged in the latest style the military knot
of his cravat.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan never ceased to deplore confidentially to
the General the unfortunate education of her nieces; while the
Baroness, on her side, lost no opportunity of holding up in bold
relief the emptiness, impertinence, and sulkiness of young Count
In the midst of these honorable conflicts one person, who took no
part in them, attracted the greatest share of Camors's interest; first
for her beauty and afterward for her qualities. This was an orphan of
excellent family, but very poor, of whom Madame de la Roche-Jugan and
Madame Tonnelier had taken joint charge. Mademoiselle Charlotte de
Luc d'Estrelles passed six months of each year with the Countess and
six with the Baroness. She was twenty-five years of age, tall and
blonde, with deep-set eyes under the shadow of sweeping, black lashes.
Thick masses of hair framed her sad but splendid brow; and she was
badly, or rather poorly dressed, never condescending to wear the
cast-off clothes of her relatives, but preferring gowns of simplest
material made by her own hands. These draperies gave her the
appearance of an antique statue.
Her Tonnelier cousins nicknamed her "the goddess." They hated her;
she despised them. The name they gave her, however, was marvellously
When she walked, you would have imagined she had descended from a
pedestal; the pose of her head was like that of the Greek Venus; her
delicate, dilating nostrils seemed carved by a cunning chisel from
transparent ivory. She had a startled, wild air, such as one sees in
pictures of huntress nymphs. She used a naturally fine voice with
great effect; and had already cultivated, so far as she could, a taste
She was naturally so taciturn one was compelled to guess her
thoughts; and long since Camors had reflected as to what was passing
in that self- centred soul. Inspired by his innate generosity, as
well as his secret admiration, he took pleasure in heaping upon this
poor cousin the attentions he might have paid a queen; but she always
seemed as indifferent to them as she was to the opposite course of her
involuntary benefactress. Her position at Campvallon was very odd.
After Camors's arrival, she was more taciturn than ever; absorbed,
estranged, as if meditating some deep design, she would suddenly raise
the long lashes of her blue eyes, dart a rapid glance here and there,
and finally fix it on Camors, who would feel himself tremble under it.
One afternoon, when he was seated in the library, he heard a gentle
tap at the door, and Mademoiselle entered, looking very pale.
Somewhat astonished, he rose and saluted her.
"I wish to speak with you, cousin," she said. The accent was pure
and grave, but slightly touched with evident emotion. Camors stared
at her, showed her to a divan, and took a chair facing her.
"You know very little of me, cousin," she continued, "but I am
frank and courageous. I will come at once to the object that brings
me here. Is it true that you are ruined?"
"Why do you ask, Mademoiselle?"
"You always have been very good to me—you only. I am very
grateful to you; and I also—" She stopped, dropped her eyes, and a
bright flush suffused her cheeks. Then she bent her head, smiling
like one who has regained courage under difficulty. "Well, then," she
resumed, "I am ready to devote my life to you. You will deem me very
romantic, but I have wrought out of our united poverty a very charming
picture, I believe. I am sure I should make an excellent wife for the
husband I loved. If you must leave France, as they tell me you must,
I will follow you—I will be your brave and faithful helpmate. Pardon
me, one word more, Monsieur de Camors. My proposition would be
immodest if it concealed any afterthought. It conceals none. I am
poor. I have but fifteen hundred francs' income. If you are richer
than I, consider I have said nothing; for nothing in the world would
then induce me to marry you!"
She paused; and with a manner of mingled yearning, candor, and
anguish, fixed on him her large eyes full of fire.
There was a solemn pause. Between these strange natures, both high
and noble, a terrible destiny seemed pending at this moment, and both
At length Camors responded in a grave, calm voice: "It is
impossible, Mademoiselle, that you can appreciate the trial to which
you expose me; but I have searched my heart, and I there find nothing
worthy of you. Do me the justice to believe that my decision is based
neither upon your fortune nor upon my own: but I am resolved never to
marry." She sighed deeply, and rose. "Adieu, cousin," she said.
"I beg—I pray you to remain one moment," cried the young man,
reseating her with gentle force upon the sofa. He walked half across
the room to repress his agitation; then leaning on a table near the
young girl, said:
"Mademoiselle Charlotte, you are unhappy; are you not?"
"A little, perhaps," she answered.
"I do not mean at this moment, but always?"
"Aunt de la Roche-Jugan treats you harshly?"
"Undoubtedly; she dreads that I may entrap her son. Good heavens!"
"The little Tonneliers are jealous of you, and Uncle Tonnelier
"Basely!" she said; and two tears swam on her eyelashes, then
glistened like diamonds on her cheek.
"And what do you believe of the religion of our aunt?"
"What would you have me believe of religion that bestows no
virtue— restrains no vice?"
"Then you are a non-believer?"
"One may believe in God and the Gospel without believing in the
religion of our aunt."
"But she will drive you into a convent. Why, then, do you not
"I love life," the girl said.
He looked at her silently a moment, then continued "Yes, you love
life— the sunlight, the thoughts, the arts, the luxuries—everything
that is beautiful, like yourself. Then, Mademoiselle Charlotte, all
these are in your hands; why do you not grasp them?"
"How?" she queried, surprised and somewhat startled.
"If you have, as I believe you have, as much strength of soul as
intelligence and beauty, you can escape at once and forever the
miserable servitude fate has imposed upon you. Richly endowed as you
are, you might become to-morrow a great artiste, independent, feted,
rich, adored —the mistress of Paris and of the world!"
"And yours also?—No!" said this strange girl.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle Charlotte. I did not suspect you of any
improper idea, when you offered to share my uncertain fortunes.
Render me, I pray you, the same justice at this moment. My moral
principles are very lax, it is true, but I am as proud as yourself. I
never shall reach my aim by any subterfuge. No; strive to study art.
I find you beautiful and seductive, but I am governed by sentiments
superior to personal interests. I was profoundly touched by your
sympathetic leaning toward me, and have sought to testify my gratitude
by friendly counsel. Since, however, you now suspect me of striving
to corrupt you for my own ends, I am silent, Mademoiselle, and permit
you to depart."
"Pray proceed, Monsieur de Camors."
"You will then listen to me with confidence?"
"I will do so."
"Well, then, Mademoiselle, you have seen little of the world, but
you have seen enough to judge and to be certain of the value of its
esteem. The world! That is your family and mine: Monsieur and Madame
Tonnelier, Monsieur and Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and the little
"Well, then, Mademoiselle Charlotte, the day that you become a
great artiste, rich, triumphant, idolized, wealthy—drinking, in deep
draughts, all the joys of life—that day Uncle Tonnelier will invoke
outraged morals, our aunt will swoon with prudery in the arms of her
old lovers, and Madame de la Roche-Jugan will groan and turn her
yellow eyes to heaven! But what will all that matter to you?"
"Then, Monsieur, you advise me to lead an immoral life."
"By no manner of means. I only urge you, in defiance of public
opinion, to become an actress, as the only sure road to independence,
fame, and fortune. And besides, there is no law preventing an actress
marrying and being 'honorable,' as the world understands the word.
You have heard of more than one example of this."
"Without mother, family, or protector, it would be an extraordinary
thing for me to do! I can not fail to see that sooner or later I
should be a lost girl."
Camors remained silent. "Why do you not answer?" she asked.
"Heavens! Mademoiselle, because this is so delicate a subject, and
our ideas are so different about it. I can not change mine; I must
leave you yours. As for me, I am a very pagan."
"How? Are good and bad indifferent to you?"
"No; but to me it seems bad to fear the opinion of people one
despises, to practise what one does not believe, and to yield before
prejudices and phantoms of which one knows the unreality. It is bad
to be a slave or a hypocrite, as are three fourths of the world. Evil
is ugliness, ignorance, folly, and baseness. Good is beauty, talent,
ability, and courage! That is all."
"And God?" the girl cried. He did not reply. She looked fixedly
at him a moment without catching the eyes he kept turned from her.
Her head drooped heavily; then raising it suddenly, she said: "There
are sentiments men can not understand. In my bitter hours I have
often dreamed of this free life you now advise; but I have always
recoiled before one thought—only one."
"Perhaps the sentiment is not peculiar to me—perhaps it is
excessive pride, but I have a great regard for myself—my person is
sacred to me. Should I come to believe in nothing, like you—and I am
far from that yet, thank God!—I should even then remain honest and
true—faithful to one love, simply from pride. I should prefer," she
added, in a voice deep and sustained, but somewhat strained, "I should
prefer to desecrate an altar rather than myself!"
Saying these words, she rose, made a haughty movement of the head
in sign of an adieu, and left the room.
CHAPTER V. THE COUNT LOSES A LADY
AND FINDS A MISSION
Camors sat for some time plunged in thought.
He was astonished at the depths he had discovered in her character;
he was displeased with himself without well knowing why; and, above
all, he was much struck by his cousin.
However, as he had but a slight opinion of the sincerity of women,
he persuaded himself that Mademoiselle de Luc d'Estrelles, when she
came to offer him her heart and hand, nevertheless knew he was not
altogether a despicable match for her. He said to himself that a few
years back he might have been duped by her apparent sincerity, and
congratulated himself on not having fallen into this attractive
snare—on not having listened to the first promptings of credulity and
He might have spared himself these compliments. Mademoiselle de
Luc d'Estrelles, as he was soon to discover, had been in that
perfectly frank, generous, and disinterested state of mind in which
women sometimes are.
Only, would it happen to him to find her so in the future? That
was doubtful, thanks to M. de Camors. It often happens that by
despising men too much, we degrade them; in suspecting women too much,
we lose them.
About an hour passed; there was another rap at the library door.
Camors felt a slight palpitation and a secret wish that it should
prove Mademoiselle Charlotte.
It was the General who entered. He advanced with measured stride,
puffed like some sea-monster, and seized Camors by the lapel of his
coat. Then he said, impressively:
"Well, young gentleman!"
"What are you doing in here?"
"Oh, I am at work."
"At work? Um! Sit down there—sit down, sit down!" He threw
himself on the sofa where Mademoiselle had been, which rather changed
the perspective for Camors.
"Well, well!" he repeated, after a long pause.
"But what then, General?"
"What then? The deuce! Why, have you not noticed that I have been
for some days extraordinarily agitated?"
"No, General, I have not noticed it."
"You are not very observing! I am extraordinarily agitated—enough
to fatigue the eyes. So agitated, upon my word of honor, that there
are moments when I am tempted to believe your aunt is right: that I
have disease of the heart!"
"Bah, General! My aunt is dreaming; you have the pulse of an
"You believe so, really? I do not fear death; but it is always
annoying to think of it. But I am too much agitated—it is necessary
to put a stop to it. You understand?"
"Perfectly; but how can it concern me?"
"Concern you? You are about to hear. You are my cousin, are you
"Truly, General, I have that honor."
"But very distant, eh? I have thirty-six cousins as near as you,
and— the devil! To speak plainly, I owe you nothing."
"And I have never demanded payment even of that, General."
"Ah, I know that! Well, you are my cousin, very far removed! But
you are more than that. Your father saved my life in the Atlas. He
has related it all to you—No? Well, that does not astonish me; for
he was no braggart, that father of yours; he was a man! Had he not
quitted the army, a brilliant career was before him. People talk a
great deal of Pelissier, of Canrobert, of MacMahon, and of others. I
say nothing against them; they are good men doubtless—at least I hear
so; but your father would have eclipsed them all had he taken the
trouble. But he didn't take the trouble!
"Well, for the story: We were crossing a gorge of the Atlas; we
were in retreat; I had lost my command; I was following as a
volunteer. It is useless to weary you with details; we were in
retreat; a shower of stones and bullets poured upon us, as if from the
moon. Our column was slightly disordered; I was in the
rearguard—whack! my horse was down, and I under him!
We were in a narrow gorge with sloping sides some fifteen feet
high; five dirty guerillas slid down the sides and fell upon me and on
the beast— forty devils! I can see them now! Just here the gorge
took a sudden turn, so no one could see my trouble; or no one wished
to see it, which comes to the same thing.
"I have told you things were in much disorder; and I beg you to
remember that with a dead horse and five live Arabs on top of me, I
was not very comfortable. I was suffocating; in fact, I was devilish
far from comfortable.
"Just then your father ran to my assistance, like the noble fellow
he was! He drew me from under my horse; he fell upon the Arabs. When
I was up, I aided him a little—but that is nothing to the point—I
never shall forget him!"
There was a pause, when the General added:
"Let us understand each other, and speak plainly. Would it be very
repugnant to your feelings to have seven hundred thousand francs a
year, and to be called, after me, Marquis de Campvallon d'Armignes?
Come, speak up, and give me an answer."
The young Count reddened slightly.
"My name is Camors," he said, gently.
"What! You would not wish me to adopt you? You refuse to become
the heir of my name and of my fortune?"
"Do you not wish time to reflect upon it?"
"No, General. I am sincerely grateful for your goodness; your
generous intentions toward me touch me deeply, but in a question of
honor I never reflect or hesitate."
The General puffed fiercely, like a locomotive blowing off steam.
Then he rose and took two or three turns up and down the gallery,
shuffling his feet, his chest heaving. Then he returned and reseated
"What are your plans for the future?" he asked, abruptly.
"I shall try, in the first place, General, to repair my fortune,
which is much shattered. I am not so great a stranger to business as
people suppose, and my father's connections and my own will give me a
footing in some great financial or industrial enterprise. Once there,
I shall succeed by force of will and steady work. Besides, I shall
fit myself for public life, and aspire, when circumstances permit me,
to become a deputy."
"Well, well, a man must do something. Idleness is the parent of
all vices. See; like yourself, I am fond of the horse—a noble
animal. I approve of racing; it improves the breed of horses, and aids
in mounting our cavalry efficiently. But sport should be an
amusement, not a profession. Hem! so you aspire to become a deputy?"
"Then I can help you in that, at least. When you are ready I will
send in my resignation, and recommend to my brave and faithful
constituents that you take my place. Will that suit you?"
"Admirably, General; and I am truly grateful. But why should you
"Why? Well, to be useful to you in the first place; in the second,
I am sick of it. I shall not be sorry to give personally a little
lesson to the government, which I trust will profit by it. You know
me—I am no Jacobin; at first I thought that would succeed. But when
I see what is going on!"
"What is going on, General?"
"When I see a Tonnelier a great dignitary! It makes me long for
the pen of Tacitus, on my word. When I was retired in 'forty-eight,
under a mean and cruel injustice they did me, I had not reached the
age of exemption. I was still capable of good and loyal service; but
probably I could have waited until an amendment. I found it at least
in the confidence of my brave and faithful constituents. But, my
young friend, one tires of everything. The Assemblies at the
Luxembourg—I mean the Palace of the Bourbons—fatigue me. In short,
whatever regret I may feel at parting from my honorable colleagues,
and from my faithful constituents, I shall abdicate my functions
whenever you are ready and willing to accept them. Have you not some
property in this district?"
"Yes, General, a little property which belonged to my mother; a
small manor, with a little land round it, called Reuilly."
"Reuilly! Not two steps from Des Rameures! Certainly—certainly!
Well, that is one foot in the stirrup."
"But then there is one difficulty; I am obliged to sell it."
"The devil! And why?"
"It is all that is left to me, and it only brings me eleven
thousand francs a year; and to embark in business I need capital—a
beginning. I prefer not to borrow."
The General rose, and once more his military tramp shook the
gallery. Then he threw himself back on the sofa.
"You must not sell that property! I owe you nothing, 'tis true,
but I have an affection for you. You refuse to be my adopted son.
Well, I regret this, and must have recourse to other projects to aid
you. I warn you I shall try other projects. You must not sell your
lands if you wish to become a deputy, for the country
people—especially those of Des Rameures—will not hear of it.
Meantime you will need funds. Permit me to offer you three hundred
thousand francs. You may return them when you can, without interest,
and if you never return them you will confer a very great favor upon
"But in truth, General—"
"Come, come! Accept it as from a relative—from a friend—from
your father's friend—on any ground you please, so you accept. If
not, you will wound me seriously."
Camors rose, took the General's hand, and pressing it with emotion,
"I accept, sir. I thank you!"
The General sprang up at these words like a furious lion, his
moustache bristling, his nostrils dilating, his chest heaving.
Staring at the young Count with real ferocity, he suddenly drew him
to his breast and embraced him with great fervor. Then he strode to
the door with his usual solemnity, and quickly brushing a tear from
his cheek, left the room.
The General was a good man; but, like many good people, he had not
been happy. You might smile at his oddities: you never could reproach
him with vices.
He was a small man, but he had a great soul. Timid at heart,
especially with women, he was delicate, passionate, and chaste. He
had loved but little, and never had been loved at all. He declared
that he had retired from all friendship with women, because of a wrong
that he had suffered. At forty years of age he had married the
daughter of a poor colonel who had been killed by the enemy. Not long
after, his wife had deceived him with one of his aides-de-camp.
The treachery was revealed to him by a rival, who played on this
occasion the infamous role of Iago. Campvallon laid aside his starred
epaulettes, and in two successive duels, still remembered in Africa,
killed on two successive days the guilty one and his betrayer. His
wife died shortly after, and he was left more lonely than ever. He
was not the man to console himself with venal love; a gross remark
made him blush; the corps de ballet inspired him with terror. He did
not dare to avow it, but the dream of his old age, with his fierce
moustache and his grim countenance, was the devoted love of some young
girl, at whose feet he might pour out, without shame, without distrust
even, all the tenderness of his simple and heroic heart.
On the evening of the day which had been marked for Camors by these
two interesting episodes, Mademoiselle de Luc d'Estrelles did not come
down to dinner, but sent word she had a headache. This message was
received with a general murmur, and with some sharp remarks from
Madame de la Roche-Jugan, which implied Mademoiselle was not in a
position which justified her in having a headache. The dinner,
however, was not less gay than usual, thanks to Mesdames Bacquiere and
Van-Cuyp, and to their husbands, who had arrived from Paris to pass
Sunday with them.
To celebrate this happy meeting, they drank very freely of
champagne, talked slang, and imitated actors, causing much amusement
to the servants. Returning to the drawing-room, these innocent young
things thought it very funny to take their husbands' hats, put their
feet in them, and, thus shod, to run a steeplechase across the room.
Meantime Madame de la Roche-Jagan felt the General's pulse
frequently, and found it variable.
Next morning at breakfast all the General's guests assembled,
except Mademoiselle d'Estrelles, whose headache apparently was no
better. They remarked also the absence of the General, who was the
embodiment of politeness and punctuality. A sense of uneasiness was
beginning to creep over all, when suddenly the door opened and the
General appeared leading Mademoiselle d'Estrelles by the hand.
The young girl's eyes were red; her face was very pale. The
General's face was scarlet. He advanced a few steps, like an actor
about to address his audience; cast fierce glances on all sides of
him, and cleared his throat with a sound that echoed like the bass
notes of a grand piano. Then he spoke in a voice of thunder:
"My dear guests and friends, permit me to present to you the
Marquise de Campvallon d'Armignes!"
An iceberg at the North Pole is not colder than was the General's
salon at this announcement.
He held the young lady by the hand, and retaining his position in
the centre of the room, launched out fierce glances. Then his eyes
began to wander and roll convulsively in their sockets, as if he was
himself astonished at the effect his announcement had produced.
Camors was the first to come to the rescue, and taking his hand,
said: "Accept, my dear General, my congratulations. I am extremely
happy, and rejoice at your good fortune; the more so, as I feel the
lady is so well worthy of you." Then, bowing to Mademoiselle
d'Estrelles with a grave grace, he pressed her hand, and turning away,
was struck dumb at seeing Madame de la Roche-Jugan in the arms of the
General. She passed from his into those of Mademoiselle d'Estrelles,
who feared at first, from the violence of the caresses, that there was
a secret design to strangle her.
"General," said Madame de la Roche-Jugan in a plaintive voice, "you
remember I always recommended her to you. I always spoke well of her.
She is my daughter—my second child. Sigismund, embrace your sister!
You permit it, General? Ah, we never know how much we love these
children until we lose them! I always spoke well of her; did I
not—Ge— General?" And here Madame de la Roche-Jugan burst into
The General, who began to entertain a high opinion of the
Countess's heart, declared that Mademoiselle d'Estrelles would find in
him a friend and father. After which flattering assurance, Madame de
la Roche-Jugan seated herself in a solitary corner, behind a curtain,
whence they heard sobs and moans issue for a whole hour. She could
not even breakfast; happiness had taken away her appetite.
The ice once broken, all tried to make themselves agreeable. The
Tonneliers did not behave, however, with the same warmth as the tender
Countess, and it was easy to see that Mesdames Bacquiere and VanCuyp
could not picture to themselves, without envy, the shower of gold and
diamonds about to fall into the lap of their cousin. Messrs.
Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp were naturally the first sufferers, and their
charming wives made them understand, at intervals during the day, that
they thoroughly despised them. It was a bitter Sunday for those poor
fellows. The Tonnelier family also felt that little more was to be
done there, and left the next morning with a very cold adieu.
The conduct of the Countess was more noble. She declared she would
wait upon her dearly beloved Charlotte from the altar to the very
threshold of the nuptial chamber; that she would arrange her
trousseau, and that the marriage should take place from her house.
"Deuce take me, my dear Countess!" cried the General, "I must
declare one thing—you astonish me. I was unjust, cruelly unjust,
toward you. I reproach myself, on my faith! I believed you worldly,
interested, not open-hearted. But you are none of these; you are an
excellent woman— a heart of gold—a noble soul! My dear friend, you
have found the best way to convert me. I have always believed the
religion of honor was sufficient for a man—eh, Camors? But I am not
an unbeliever, my dear Countess, and, on my sacred word, when I see a
perfect creature like you, I desire to believe everything she
believes, if only to be pleasant to her!"
When Camors, who was not quite so innocent, asked himself what was
the secret of his aunt's politic conduct, but little effort was
necessary to understand it.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who had finally convinced herself that
the General had an aneurism, flattered herself that the cares of
matrimony would hasten the doom of her old friend. In any event, he
was past seventy years of age. But Charlotte was young, and so also
was Sigismund. Sigismund could become tender; if necessary, could
quietly court the young Marquise until the day when he could marry
her, with all her appurtenances, over the mausoleum of the General.
It was for this that Madame de la Roche-Jugan, crushed for a moment
under the unexpected blow that ruined her hopes, had modified her
tactics and drawn her batteries, so to speak, under cover of the
enemy. This was what she was contriving while she was weeping behind
Camors's personal feelings at the announcement of this marriage
were not of the most agreeable description. First, he was obliged to
acknowledge that he had unjustly judged Mademoiselle d'Estrelles, and
that at the moment of his accusing her of speculating on his small
fortune, she was offering to sacrifice for him the annual seven
hundred thousand francs of the General.
He felt his vanity injured, that he had not had the best part of
this affair. Besides, he felt obliged to stifle from this moment the
secret passion with which the beautiful and singular girl had inspired
him. Wife or widow of the General, it was clear that Mademoiselle
d'Estrelles had forever escaped him. To seduce the wife of this good
old man from whom he accepted such favors, or even to marry her,
widowed and rich, after refusing her when poor, were equal
unworthiness and baseness that honor forbade in the same degree and
with the same rigor as if this honor, which he made the only law of
his life, were not a mockery and an empty word.
Camors, however, did not fail to comprehend the position in this
light, and he resigned himself to it.
During the four or five days he remained at Campvallon his conduct
was perfect. The delicate and reserved attentions with which he
surrounded Mademoiselle d'Estrelles were tinged with a melancholy that
showed her at the same time his gratitude, his respect, and his
M. de Campvallon had not less reason to congratulate himself on the
conduct of the young Count. He entered into the folly of his host
with affectionate grace. He spoke to him little of the beauty of his
fiancee: much of her high moral qualities; and let him see his most
flattering confidence in the future of this union.
On the eve of his departure Camors was summoned into the General's
study. Handing his young relative a check for three hundred thousand
francs, the General said:
"My dear young friend, I ought to tell you, for the peace of your
conscience, that I have informed Mademoiselle d'Estrelles of this
little service I render you. She has a great deal of love and
affection for you, my dear young friend; be sure of that.
"She therefore received my communication with sincere pleasure. I
also informed her that I did not intend taking any receipt for this
sum, and that no reclamation of it should be made at any time, on any
"Now, my dear Camors, do me one favor. To tell you my inmost
thought, I shall be most happy to see you carry into execution your
project of laudable ambition. My own new position, my age, my tastes,
and those I perceive in the Marquise, claim all my leisure—all my
liberty of action. Consequently, I desire as soon as possible to
present you to my generous and faithful constituents, as well for the
Corps Legislatif as for the General Council. You had better make your
preliminary arrangements as soon as possible. Why should you defer
it? You are very well cultivated—very capable. Well, let us go
ahead—let us begin at once. What do you say?"
"I should prefer, General, to be more mature; but it would be both
folly and ingratitude in me not to accede to your kind wish. What
shall I do first?"
"Well, my young friend, instead of leaving tomorrow for Paris, you
must go to your estate at Reuilly: go there and conquer Des Rameures."
"And who are the Des Rameures, General?"
"You do not know the Des Rameures? The deuce! no; you can not
know them! That is unfortunate, too.
Des Rameures is a clever fellow, a very clever fellow, and
all-powerful in his neighborhood. He is an original, as you will see;
and with him lives his niece, a charming woman. I tell you, my boy,
you must please them, for Des Rameures is the master of the county.
He protects me, or else, upon my honor, I should be stopped on the
"But, General, what shall I do to please this Des Rameures?"
"You will see him. He is, as I tell you, a great oddity. He has
not been in Paris since 1825; he has a horror of Paris and Parisians.
Very well, it only needs a little tact to flatter his views on that
point. We always need a little tact in this world, young man."
"But his niece, General?"
"Ah, the deuce! You must please the niece also. He adores her,
and she manages him completely, although he grumbles a little
"And what sort of woman is she?"
"Oh, a respectable woman—a perfectly respectable woman. A widow;
somewhat a devotee, but very well informed. A woman of great merit."
"But what course must I take to please this lady?"
"What course? By my faith, young man, you ask a great many
questions. I never yet learned to please a woman. I am green as a
goose with them always. It is a thing I can not understand; but as
for you, my young comrade, you have little need to be instructed in
that matter. You can't fail to please her; you have only to make
yourself agreeable. But you will know how to do it—you will conduct
yourself like an angel, I am sure."
"Captivate Des Rameures and his niece—this is your advice!"
Early next morning Camors left the Chateau de Campvallon, armed
with these imperfect instructions; and, further, with a letter from
the General to Des Rameures.
He went in a hired carriage to his own domain of Reuilly, which lay
ten leagues off. While making this transit he reflected that the path
of ambition was not one of roses; and that it was hard for him, at the
outset of his enterprise, to by compelled to encounter two faces
likely to be as disquieting as those of Des Rameures and his niece.
CHAPTER VI. THE OLD DOMAIN OF REUILLY
The domain of Reuilly consisted of two farms and of a house of some
pretension, inhabited formerly by the maternal family of M. de Camors.
He had never before seen this property when he reached it on the
evening of a beautiful summer day. A long and gloomy avenue of elms,
interlacing their thick branches, led to the dwelling-house, which was
quite unequal to the imposing approach to it; for it was but an
inferior construction of the past century, ornamented simply by a
gable and a bull's-eye, but flanked by a lordly dovecote.
It derived a certain air of dignity from two small terraces, one
above the other, in front of it, while the triple flight of steps was
supported by balusters of granite. Two animals, which had once,
perhaps, resembled lions, were placed one upon each side of the
balustrade at the platform of the highest terrace; and they had been
staring there for more than a hundred and fifty years. Behind the
house stretched the garden; and in its midst, mounted on a stone arch,
stood a dismal sun-dial with hearts and spades painted between its
figures; while the trees around it were trimmed into the shapes of
confessionals and chess-pawns. To the right, a labyrinth of young
trees, similarly clipped in the fashion of the time, led by a thousand
devious turns to a mysterious valley, where one heard continually a
low, sad murmur. This proceeded from a nymph in terra- cotta, from
whose urn dripped, day and night, a thin rill of water into a small
fishpond, bordered by grand old poplars, whose shadows threw upon its
surface, even at mid-day, the blackness of Acheron.
Camors's first reflection at viewing this prospect was an
exceedingly painful one; and the second was even more so.
At another time he would doubtless have taken an interest in
searching through these souvenirs of the past for traces of an infant
nurtured there, who had a mother, and who had perhaps loved these old
relics. But his system did not admit of sentiment, so he crushed the
ideas that crowded to his mind, and, after a rapid glance around him,
called for his dinner.
The old steward and his wife—who for thirty years had been the
sole inhabitants of Reuilly—had been informed of his coming. They
had spent the day in cleaning and airing the house; an operation which
added to the discomfort they sought to remove, and irritated the old
residents of the walls, while it disturbed the sleep of hoary spiders
in their dusty webs. A mixed odor of the cellar, of the sepulchre, and
of an old coach, struck Camors when he penetrated into the principal
room, where his dinner was to be served.
Taking up one or two flickering candles, the like of which he had
never seen before, Camors proceeded to inspect the quaint portraits of
his ancestors, who seemed to stare at him in great surprise from their
cracked canvases. They were a dilapidated set of old nobles, one
having lost a nose, another an arm, others again sections of their
faces. One of them—a chevalier of St. Louis—had received a bayonet
thrust through the centre in the riotous times of the Revolution; but
he still smiled at Camors, and sniffed at a flower, despite the
daylight shining through him.
Camors finished his inspection, thinking to himself they were a
highly respectable set of ancestors, but not worth fifteen francs
apiece. The housekeeper had passed half the previous night in
slaughtering various dwellers in the poultry-yard; and the results of
the sacrifice now successively appeared, swimming in butter. Happily,
however, the fatherly kindness of the General had despatched a hamper
of provisions from Campvallon, and a few slices of pate, accompanied
by sundry glasses of Chateau-Yquem helped the Count to combat the
dreary sadness with which his change of residence, solitude, the
night, and the smoke of his candles, all conspired to oppress him.
Regaining his usual good spirits, which had deserted him for a
moment, he tried to draw out the old steward, who was waiting on him.
He strove to glean from him some information of the Des Rameures; but
the old servant, like every Norman peasant, held it as a tenet of
faith that he who gave a plain answer to any question was a dishonored
man. With all possible respect he let Camors understand plainly that
he was not to be deceived by his affected ignorance into any belief
that M. le Comte did not know a great deal better than he who and what
M. des Rameures was—where he lived, and what he did; that M. le Comte
was his master, and as such was entitled to his respect, but that he
was nevertheless a Parisian, and— as M. des Rameures said—all
Parisians were jesters.
Camors, who had taken an oath never to get angry, kept it now; drew
from the General's old cognac a fresh supply of patience, lighted a
cigar, and left the room.
For a few moments he leaned over the balustrade of the terrace and
looked around. The night, clear and beautiful, enveloped in its
shadowy veil the widestretching fields, and a solemn stillness,
strange to Parisian ears, reigned around him, broken only at intervals
by the distant bay of a hound, rising suddenly, and dying into peace
again. His eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness, Camors descended
the terrace stairs and passed into the old avenue, which was darker
and more solemn than a cathedral-aisle at midnight, and thence into an
open road into which it led by chance.
Strictly speaking, Camors had never, until now, been out of Paris;
for wherever he had previously gone, he had carried its bustle,
worldly and artificial life, play, and the races with him; and the
watering-places and the seaside had never shown him true country, or
provincial life. It gave him a sensation for the first time; but the
sensation was an odious one.
As he advanced up this silent road, without houses or lights, it
seemed to him he was wandering amid the desolation of some lunar
region. This part of Normandy recalled to him the least cultivated
parts of Brittany. It was rustic and savage, with its dense shrubbery,
tufted grass, dark valleys, and rough roads.
Some dreamers love this sweet but severe nature, even at night;
they love the very things that grated most upon the pampered senses of
Camors, who strode on in deep disgust, flattering himself, however,
that he should soon reach the Boulevard de Madeleine. But he found,
instead, peasants' huts scattered along the side of the road, their
low, mossy roofs seeming to spring from the rich soil like an enormous
fungus growth. Two or three of the dwellers in these huts were taking
the fresh evening air on their thresholds, and Camors could
distinguish through the gloom their heavy figures and limbs, roughened
by coarse toil in the fields, as they stood mute, motionless, and
ruminating in the darkness like tired beasts.
Camors, like all men possessed by a dominant idea, had, ever since
he adopted the religion of his father as his rule of life, taken the
pains to analyze every impression and every thought. He now said to
himself, that between these countrymen and a refined man like himself
there was doubtless a greater difference than between them and their
beasts of burden; and this reflection was as balm to the scornful
aristocracy that was the cornerstone of his theory. Wandering on to
an eminence, his discouraged eye swept but a fresh horizon of
apple-trees and heads of barley, and he was about to turn back when a
strange sound suddenly arrested his steps. It was a concert of voice
and instruments, which in this lost solitude seemed to him like a
dream, or a miracle. The music was good-even excellent. He
recognized a prelude of Bach, arranged by Gounod. Robinson Crusoe, on
discovering the footprint in the sand, was not more astonished than
Camors at finding in this desert so lively a symptom of civilization.
Filled with curiosity, and led by the melody he heard, he descended
cautiously the little hill, like a king's son in search of the
enchanted princess. The palace he found in the middle of the path, in
the shape of the high back wall of a dwelling, fronting on another
road. One of the upper windows on this side, however, was open; a
bright light streamed from it, and thence he doubted not the sweet
To an accompaniment of the piano and stringed instruments rose a
fresh, flexible woman's voice, chanting the mystic words of the master
with such expression and power as would have given even him delight.
Camors, himself a musician, was capable of appreciating the masterly
execution of the piece; and was so much struck by it that he felt an
irresistible desire to see the performers, especially the singer.
With this impulse he climbed the little hedge bordering the road,
placed himself on the top, and found himself several feet above the
level of the lighted window. He did not hesitate to use his skill as
a gymnast to raise himself to one of the branches of an old oak
stretching across the lawn; but during the ascent he could not
disguise from himself that his was scarcely a dignified position for
the future deputy of the district. He almost laughed aloud at the
idea of being surprised in this position by the terrible Des Rameures,
or his niece.
He established himself on a large, leafy branch, directly in front
of the interesting window; and notwithstanding that he was at a
respectful distance, his glance could readily penetrate into the
chamber where the concert was taking place. A dozen persons, as he
judged, were there assembled; several women, of different ages, were
seated at a table working; a young man appeared to be drawing; while
other persons lounged on comfortable seats around the room. Around
the piano was a group which chiefly attracted the attention of the
young Count. At the instrument was seated a grave young girl of about
twelve years; immediately behind her stood an old man, remarkable for
his great height, his head bald, with a crown of white hair, and his
bushy black eyebrows. He played the violin with priestly dignity.
Seated near him was a man of about fifty, in the dress of an
ecclesiastic, and wearing a huge pair of silver-rimmed spectacles, who
played the violincello with great apparent gusto.
Between them stood the singer. She was a pale brunette, slight and
graceful, and apparently not more than twenty-five years of age. The
somewhat severe oval of her face was relieved by a pair of bright
black eyes that seemed to grow larger as she sang. One hand rested
gently on the shoulder of the girl at the piano, and with this she
seemed to keep time, pressing gently on the shoulder of the performer
to stimulate her zeal. And that hand was delicious!
A hymn by Palestrina had succeeded the Bach prelude. It was a
quartette, to which two new voices lent their aid. The old priest
laid aside his violoncello, stood up, took off his spectacles, and his
deep bass completed the full measure of the melody.
After the quartette followed a few moments of general conversation,
during which—after embracing the child pianist, who immediately left
the room—the songstress walked to the window. She leaned out as if
to breathe the fresh air, and her profile was sharply relieved against
the bright light behind her, in which the others formed a group around
the priest, who once more donned his spectacles, and drew from his
pocket a paper that appeared to be a manuscript.
The lady leaned from the window, gently fanning herself, as she
looked now at the sky, now at the dark landscape. Camors imagined he
could distinguish her gentle breathing above the sound of the fan; and
leaning eagerly forward for a better view, he caused the leaves to
rustle slightly. She started at the sound, then remained immovable,
and the fixed position of her head showed that her gaze was fastened
upon the oak in which he was concealed.
He felt the awkwardness of his position, but could not judge
whether or not he was visible to her; but, under the danger of her
fixed regard, he passed the most painful moments of his life.
She turned into the room and said, in a calm voice, a few words
which brought three or four of her friends to the window; and among
them Camors recognized the old man with the violin.
The moment was a trying one. He could do nothing but lie still in
his leafy retreat—silent and immovable as a statue. The conduct of
those at the window went far to reassure him, for their eyes wandered
over the gloom with evident uncertainty, convincing him that his
presence was only suspected, not discovered. But they exchanged
animated observations, to which the hidden Count lent an attentive
ear. Suddenly a strong voice— which he recognized as belonging to
him of the violin-rose over them all in the pleasing order: "Loose the
This was sufficient for Camors. He was not a coward; he would not
have budged an inch before an enraged tiger; but he would have
travelled a hundred miles on foot to avoid the shadow of ridicule.
Profiting by the warning and a moment when he seemed unobserved, he
slid from the tree, jumped into the next field, and entered the wood
at a point somewhat farther down than the spot where he had scaled the
hedge. This done, he resumed his walk with the assured tread of a man
who had a right to be there. He had gone but a few steps, when he
heard behind him the wild barking of the dog, which proved his retreat
had been opportune.
Some of the peasants he had noticed as he passed before, were still
standing at their doors. Stopping before one of them he asked:
"My friend, to whom does that large house below there, facing the
other road, belong? and whence comes that music?"
"You probably know that as well as I," replied the man, stolidly.
"Had I known, I should hardly have asked you," said Camors.
The peasant did not deign further reply. His wife stood near him;
and Camors had remarked that in all classes of society women have more
wit and goodhumor than their husbands. Therefore he turned to her and
"You see, my good woman, I am a stranger here. To whom does that
house belong? Probably to Monsieur des Rameures?"
"No, no," replied the woman, "Monsieur des Rameures lives much
"Ah! Then who lives here?"
"Why, Monsieur de Tecle, of course!"
"Ah, Monsieur de Tecle! But tell me, he does not live alone?
There is a lady who sings—his wife?—his sister? Who is she?"
"Ah, that is his daughter-in-law, Madame de Tecle Madame Elise,
"Ah! thank you, thank you, my good woman! You have children? Buy
them sabots with this," and drop ping a gold piece in the lap of the
obliging peasant, Camors walked rapidly away. Returning home the road
seemed less gloomy and far shorter than when he came. As he strode
on, humming the Bach prelude, the moon rose, the country looked more
beautiful, and, in short, when he perceived, at the end of its gloomy
avenue, his chateau bathed in the white light, he found the spectacle
rather enjoyable than otherwise. And when he had once more ensconced
himself in the maternal domicile, and inhaled the odor of damp paper
and mouldy trees that constituted its atmosphere, he found great
consolation in the reflection that there existed not very far away
from him a young woman who possessed a charming face, a delicious
voice, and a pretty name.
Next morning, after plunging into a cold bath, to the profound
astonishment of the old steward and his wife, the Comte de Camors went
to inspect his farms. He found the buildings very similar in
construction to the dams of beavers, though far less comfortable; but
he was amazed to hear his farmers arguing, in their patois, on the
various modes of culture and crops, like men who were no strangers to
all modern improvements in agriculture. The name of Des Rameures
frequently occurred in the conversation as confirmation of their own
theories, or experiments. M. des Rameures gave preference to this
manure, to this machine for winnowing; this breed of animals was
introduced by him. M. des Rameures did this, M. des Rameures did
that, and the farmers did like him, and found it to their advantage.
Camors found the General had not exaggerated the local importance of
this personage, and that it was most essential to conciliate him.
Resolving therefore to call on him during the day, he went to
This duty toward himself fulfilled, the young Count lounged on the
terrace, as he had the evening before, and smoked his cigar. Though
it was near midday, it was doubtful to him whether the solitude and
silence appeared less complete and oppressive than on the preceding
night. A hushed cackling of fowls, the drowsy hum of bees, and the
muffled chime of a distant bell—these were all the sounds to be
Camors lounged on the terrace, dreaming of his club, of the noisy
Paris crowd, of the rumbling omnibuses, of the playbill of the little
kiosk, of the scent of heated asphalt—and the memory of the least of
these enchantments brought infinite peace to his soul. The inhabitant
of Paris has one great blessing, which he does not take into account
until he suffers from its loss—one great half of his existence is
filled up without the least trouble to himself. The all-potent
vitality which ceaselessly envelops him takes away from him in a vast
degree the exertion of amusing himself. The roar of the city, rising
like a great bass around him, fills up the gaps in his thoughts, and
never leaves that disagreeable sensation—a void.
There is no Parisian who is not happy in the belief that he makes
all the noise he hears, writes all the books he reads, edits all the
journals on which he breakfasts, writes all the vaudevilles on which
he sups, and invents all the 'bon mots' he repeats.
But this flattering allusion vanishes the moment chance takes him a
mile away from the Rue Vivienne. The proof confounds him, for he is
bored terribly, and becomes sick of himself. Perhaps his secret soul,
weakened and unnerved, may even be assailed by the suspicion that he
is a feeble human creature after all! But no! He returns to Paris;
the collective electricity again inspires him; he rebounds; he
recovers; he is busy, keen to discern, active, and recognizes once
more, to his intense satisfaction, that he is after all one of the
elect of God's creatures— momentarily degraded, it may be, by contact
with the inferior beings who people the departments.
Camors had within himself more resources than most men to conquer
the blue-devils; but in these early hours of his experience in country
life, deprived of his club, his horses, and his cook, banished from
all his old haunts and habits, he began to feel terribly the weight of
time. He, therefore, experienced a delicious sensation when suddenly
he heard that regular beat of hoofs upon the road which to his trained
ear announced the approach of several riding-horses. The next moment
he saw advancing up his shaded avenue two ladies on horseback,
followed by a groom with a black cockade.
Though quite amazed at this charming spectacle, Camors remembered
his duty as a gentleman and descended the steps of the terrace. But
the two ladies, at sight of him, appeared as surprised as himself,
suddenly drew rein and conferred hastily. Then, recovering, they
continued their way, traversed the lower court below the terraces, and
disappeared in the direction of the lake.
As they passed the lower balustrade Camors bowed low, and they
returned his salutation by a slight inclination; but he was quite
sure, in spite of the veils that floated from their riding-hats, that
he recognized the black-eyed singer and the young pianist. After a
moment he called to his old steward
"Monsieur Leonard," he said, "is this a public way?"
"It certainly is not a public way, Monsieur le Comte," replied
"Then what do these ladies mean by using this road?"
"Bless me, Monsieur le Comte, it is so long since any of the owners
have been at Reuilly ! These ladies mean no harm by passing through
your woods; and sometimes they even stop at the chateau while my wife
gives them fresh milk. Shall I tell them that this displeases
Monsieur le Comte?"
"My good Leonard, why the deuce do you suppose it displeases me? I
only asked for information. And now who are the ladies?"
"Oh! Monsieur, they are quite respectable ladies; Madame de Tecle,
and her daughter, Mademoiselle Marie."
"So? And the husband of Madame, Monsieur de Tecle, never rides out
"Heavens! no, Monsieur. He never rides with them." And the old
steward smiled a dry smile. "He has been among the dead men for a
long time, as Monsieur le Comte well knows."
"Granting that I know it, Monsieur Leonard, I wish it understood
these ladies are not to be interfered with. You comprehend?"
Leonard seemed pleased that he was not to be the bearer of any
disagreeable message; and Camors, suddenly conceiving that his stay at
Reuilly might be prolonged for some time, reentered the chateau and
examined the different rooms, arranging with the steward the best plan
of making the house habitable. The little town of I———, but two
leagues distant, afforded all the means, and M. Leonard proposed going
there at once to confer with the architect.
CHAPTER VII. ELISE DE TECLE
Meantime Camors directed his steps toward the residence of M. des
Rameures, of which he at last obtained correct information. He took
the same road as the preceding evening, passed the monastic-looking
building that held Madame de Tecle, glanced at the old oak that had
served him for an observatory, and about a mile farther on he
discovered the small house with towers that he sought.
It could only be compared to those imaginary edifices of which we
have all read in childhood's happy days in taking text, under an
attractive picture: "The castle of M. de Valmont was agreeably
situated at the summit of a pretty hill." It had a really picturesque
surrounding of fields sloping away, green as emerald, dotted here and
there with great bouquets of trees, or cut by walks adorned with huge
roses or white bridges thrown over rivulets. Cattle and sheep were
resting here and there, which might have figured at the Opera Comique,
so shining were the skins of the cows and so white the wool of the
sheep. Camors swung open the gate, took the first road he saw, and
reached the top of the hill amid trees and flowers. An old servant
slept on a bench before the door, smiling in his dreams.
Camors waked him, inquired for the master of the house, and was
ushered into a vestibule. Thence he entered a charming apartment,
where a young lady in a short skirt and round hat was arranging
bouquets in Chinese vases.
She turned at the noise of the opening door, and Camors saw—Madame
As he saluted her with an air of astonishment and doubt, she looked
fixedly at him with her large eyes. He spoke first, with more of
hesitation than usual.
"Pardon me, Madame, but I inquired for Monsieur des Rameures."
"He is at the farm, but will soon return. Be kind enough to wait."
She pointed to a chair, and seated herself, pushing away with her
foot the branches that strewed the floor.
"But, Madame, in the absence of Monsieur des Rameures may I have
the honor of speaking with his niece?"
The shadow of a smile flitted over Madame de Tecle's brown but
charming face. "His niece?" she said: "I am his niece."
"You I Pardon me, Madame, but I thought—they said—I expected to
find an elderly—a—person—that is, a respectable" he hesitated, then
added simply" and I find I am in error."
Madame de Tecle seemed completely unmoved by this compliment.
"Will you be kind enough, Monsieur," she said, "to let me know whom
I have the honor of receiving?"
"I am Monsieur de Camors."
"Ah! Then I have excuses also to make. It was probably you whom
we saw this morning. We have been very rude—my daughter and I—but
we were ignorant of your arrival; and Reuilly has been so long
"I sincerely hope, Madame, that your daughter and yourself will
make no change in your rides."
Madame de Tecle replied by a movement of the hand that implied
certainly she appreciated the offer, and certainly she should not
accept it. Then there was a pause long enough to embarrass Camors,
during which his eye fell upon the piano, and his lips almost formed
the original remark— "You are a musician, Madame." Suddenly
recollecting his tree, however, he feared to betray himself by the
allusion, and was silent.
"You come from Paris, Monsieur de Camors?" Madame de Tecle at
"No, Madame, I have been passing several weeks with my kinsman,
General de Campvallon, who has also the honor, I believe, to be a
friend of yours; and who has requested me to call upon you."
"We are delighted that you have done so; and what an excellent man
the General is!"
"Excellent indeed, Madame." There was another pause.
"If you do not object to a short walk in the sun," said Madame de
Tecle at length, "let us walk to meet my uncle. We are almost sure to
meet him." Camors bowed. Madame de Tecle rose and rang the bell:
"Ask Mademoiselle Marie," she said to the servant, "to be kind enough
to put on her hat and join us."
A moment after, Mademoiselle Marie entered, cast on the stranger
the steady, frank look of an inquisitive child, bowed slightly to him,
and they all left the room by a door opening on the lawn.
Madame de Tecle, while responding courteously to the graceful
speeches of Camors, walked on with a light and rapid step, her
fairy-like little shoes leaving their impression on the smooth fine
sand of the path.
She walked with indescribable, unconscious grace; with that supple,
elastic undulation which would have been coquettish had it not been
undeniably natural. Reaching the wall that enclosed the right side of
the park, she opened a wicket that led into a narrow path through a
large field of ripe corn. She passed into this path, followed in
single file by Mademoiselle Marie and by Camors. Until now the child
had been very quiet, but the rich golden corn-tassels, entangled with
bright daisies, red poppies, and hollyhocks, and the humming concert
of myriads of flies- blue, yellow, and reddishbrownwhich sported amid
the sweets, excited her beyond self-control. Stopping here and there
to pluck a flower, she would turn and cry, "Pardon, Monsieur;" until,
at length, on an apple- tree growing near the path she descried on a
low branch a green apple, no larger than her finger. This temptation
proved irresistible, and with one spring into the midst of the corn,
she essayed to reach the prize, if Providence would permit. Madame de
Tecle, however, would not permit. She seemed much displeased, and
"Marie, my child! In the midst of the corn! Are you crazy!"
The child returned promptly to the path, but unable to conquer her
wish for the apple, turned an imploring eye to Camors and said,
softly: "Pardon, Monsieur, but that apple would make my bouquet
Camors had only to reach up, stretch out his hand, and detach the
branch from the tree.
"A thousand thanks!" cried the child, and adding this crowning
glory to her bouquet, she placed the whole inside the ribbon around
her hat and walked on with an air of proud satisfaction.
As they approached the fence running across the end of the field,
Madame de Tecle suddenly said: "My uncle, Monsieur;" and Camors,
raising his head, saw a very tall man looking at them over the fence
and shading his eyes with his hand. His robust limbs were clad in
gaiters of yellow leather with steel buttons, and he wore a loose coat
of maroon velvet and a soft felt hat. Camors immediately recognized
the white hair and heavy black eyebrows as the same he had seen
bending over the violin the night before.
"Uncle," said Madame de Tecle, introducing the young Count by a
wave of the hand: "This is Monsieur de Camors."
"Monsieur de Camors," repeated the old man, in a deep and sonorous
voice, "you are most welcome;" and opening the gate he gave his guest
a soft, brown hand, as he continued: "I knew your mother intimately,
and am charmed to have her son under my roof. Your mother was a most
amiable person, Monsieur, and certainly merited—" The old man
hesitated, and finished his sentence by a sonorous "Hem!" that
resounded and rumbled in his chest as if in the vault of a church.
Then he took the letter Camors handed to him, held it a long
distance from his eyes, and began reading it. The General had told
the Count it would be impolite to break suddenly to M. des Rameures
the plan they had concocted. The latter, therefore, found the note
only a very warm introduction of Camors. The postscript gave him the
announcement of the marriage.
"The devil!" he cried. "Did you know this, Elise? Campvallon is
to be married!"
All women, widows, matrons, or maids, are deeply interested in
matters pertaining to marriage.
"What, uncle! The General! Can it be? Are you sure?"
"Um—rather. He writes the news himself. Do you know the lady,
Monsieur le Comte?"
"Mademoiselle de Luc d'Estrelles is my cousin," Camors replied.
"Ah! That is right; and she is of a certain age?"
"She is about twenty-five."
M. des Rameures received this intelligence with one of the resonant
coughs peculiar to him.
"May I ask, without indiscretion, whether she is endowed with a
"She is exceedingly beautiful," was the reply.
"Hem! So much the better. It seems to me the General is a little
old for her: but every one is the best judge of his own affairs: Hem!
the best judge of his own affairs. Elise, my dear, whenever you are
ready we will follow you. Pardon me, Monsieur le Comte, for receiving
you in this rustic attire, but I am a laborer. Agricola—a mere
herdsman—'custos gregis', as the poet says. Walk before me, Monsieur
le Comte, I beg you. Marie, child, respect my corn!
"And can we hope, Monsieur de Camors, that you have the happy idea
of quitting the great Babylon to install yourself among your rural
possessions? It will be a good example, Monsieur—an excellent
example! For unhappily today more than ever we can say with the poet:
'Non ullus aratro
Dignus honos; squalent abductis arva colonis,
"And, by gracious! I've forgotten the rest—poor memory! Ah,
young sir, never grow old-never grow old!"
"'Et curvae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem,"'
said Camors, continuing the broken quotation.
"Ah! you quote Virgil. You read the classics. I am charmed,
really charmed. That is not the characteristic of our rising
generation, for modern youth has an idea it is bad taste to quote the
ancients. But that is not my idea, young sir—not in the least. Our
fathers quoted freely because they were familiar with them. And
Virgil is my poet. Not that I approve of all his theories of
cultivation. With all the respect I accord him, there is a great deal
to be said on that point; and his plan of breeding in particular will
never do—never do! Still, he is delicious, eh? Very well, Monsieur
Camors, now you see my little domain —'mea paupera regna'—the
retreat of the sage. Here I live, and live happily, like an old
shepherd in the golden age—loved by my neighbors, which is not easy;
and venerating the gods, which is perhaps easier. Ah, young sir, as
you read Virgil, you will excuse me once more. It was for me he
'Fortunate senex, hic inter flumina nota,
Et fontes sacros frigus captabis opacum.'
And this as well:
'Fortunatus et ille deos qui novit agrestes,
Panaque, Silvanumque senem!'"
"Nymphasque sorores!" finished Camors, smiling and moving his head
slightly in the direction of Madame de Tecle and her daughter, who
"Quite to the point. That is pure truth!" cried M. des Rameures,
gayly. "Did you hear that, niece?"
"And did you understand it, niece?"
"I do not believe you, my dear! I do not believe you!" The old
man laughed heartily. "Do not believe her, Monsieur de Camors; women
have the faculty of understanding compliments in every language."
This conversation brought them to the chateau, where they sat down
on a bench before the drawing-room windows to enjoy the view.
Camors praised judiciously the well-kept park, accepted an
invitation to dinner the next week, and then discreetly retired,
flattering himself that his introduction had made a favorable
impression upon M. des Rameures, but regretting his apparent want of
progress with the fairy- footed niece.
He was in error.
"This youth," said M. des Rameures, when he was left alone with
Madame de Tecle, "has some touch of the ancients, which is something;
but he still resembles his father, who was vicious as sin itself. His
eyes and his smile recall some traits of his admirable mother; but
positively, my dear Elise, he is the portrait of his father, whose
manners and whose principles they say he has inherited."
"Who says so, uncle?"
"Current rumor, niece."
"Current rumor, my dear uncle, is often mistaken, and always
exaggerates. For my part, I like the young man, who seems thoroughly
refined and at his ease."
"Bah! I suppose because he compared you to a nymph in the fable."
"If he compared me to a nymph in the fable he was wrong; but he
never addressed to me a word in French that was not in good taste.
Before we condemn him, uncle, let us see for ourselves. It is a
habit you have always recommended to me, you know."
"You can not deny, niece," said the old man with irritation, "that
he exhales the most decided and disagreeable odor of Paris! He is too
polite—too studied! Not a shadow of enthusiasm—no fire of youth!
He never laughs as I should wish to see a man of his age laugh; a
young man should roar to split his waistband!"
"What! you would see him merry so soon after losing his father in
such a tragic manner, and he himself nearly ruined! Why, uncle, what
can you mean?"
"Well, well, perhaps you are right. I retract all I have said
against him. If he be half ruined I will offer him my advice—and my
purse if he need it—for the sake of the memory of his mother, whom
you resemble. Ah, 'tis thus we end all our disputes, naughty child! I
grumble; I am passionate; I act like a Tartar. Then you speak with
your good sense and sweetness, my darling, and the tiger becomes a
lamb. All unhappy beings whom you approach in the same way submit to
your subtle charm. And that is the reason why my old friend, La
Fontaine, said of you:
'Sur differentes fleurs l'abeille se repose,
Et fait du miel de toute chose!'"
CHAPTER VIII. A DISH OF POLITICS
Elise de Tecle was thirty years of age, but appeared much younger.
At seventeen she had married, under peculiar conditions, her cousin
Roland de Tecle. She had been left an orphan at an early age and
educated by her mother's brother, M. des Rameures. Roland lived very
near her Everything brought them together—the wishes of the family,
compatibility of fortune, their relations as neighbors, and a personal
sympathy. They were both charming; they were destined for each other
from infancy, and the time fixed for their marriage was the nineteenth
birthday of Elise. In anticipation of this happy event the. Comte de
Tecle rebuilt almost entirely one wing of his castle for the exclusive
use of the young pair. Roland was continually present, superintending
and urging on the work with all the ardor of a lover.
One morning loud and alarming cries from the new wing roused all
the inhabitants of the castle; the Count burned to the spot, and found
his son stunned and bleeding in the arms of one of the workmen. He
had fallen from a high scaffolding to the pavement. For several
months the unfortunate young man hovered between life and death; but
in the paroxysms of fever he never ceased calling for his cousin—his
betrothed; and they were obliged to admit the young girl to his
bedside. Slowly he recovered, but was ever after disfigured and lame;
and the first time they allowed him to look in a glass he had a
fainting-fit that proved almost fatal.
But he was a youth of high principle and true courage. On
recovering from his swoon he wept a flood of bitter tears, which would
not, however, wash the scars from his disfigured face. He prayed long
and earnestly; then shut himself up with his father. Each wrote a
letter, the one to M. des Rameures, the other to Elise. M. des
Rameures and his niece were then in Germany. The excitement and
fatigue consequent upon nursing her cousin had so broken her health
that the physicians urged a trial of the baths of Ems. There she
received these letters; they released her from her engagement and gave
her absolute liberty.
Roland and his father implored her not to return in haste;
explained that their intention was to leave the country in a few
weeks' time and establish themselves at Paris; and added that they
expected no answer, and that their resolution—impelled by simple
justice to her—was irrevocable.
Their wishes were complied with. No answer came.
Roland, his sacrifice once made, seemed calm and resigned; but he
fell into a sort of languor, which made fearful progress and hinted at
a speedy and fatal termination, for which in fact he seemed to long.
One evening they had taken him to the lime-tree terrace at the foot
of the garden. He gazed with absent eye on the tints with which the
setting sun purpled the glades of the wood, while his father paced the
terrace with long strides-smiling as he passed him and hastily
brushing away a tear as he turned his back.
Suddenly Elise de Tecle appeared before them, like an angel dropped
from heaven. She knelt before the crippled youth, kissed his hand,
and, brightening him with the rays of her beautiful eyes, told him she
never had loved him half so well before. He felt she spoke truly; he
accepted her devotion, and they were married soon after.
Madame de Tecle was happy—but she alone was so. Her husband,
notwithstanding the tenderness with which she treated him—
notwithstanding the happiness which he could not fail to read in her
tranquil glance—notwithstanding the birth of a daughter—seemed never
to console himself. Even with her he was always possessed by a cold
constraint; some secret sorrow consumed him, of which they found the
key only on the day of his death.
"My darling," he then said to his young wife—"my darling, may God
reward you for your infinite goodness! Pardon me, if I never have
told you how entirely I love you. With a face like mine, how could I
speak of love to one like you! But my poor heart has been brimming
over with it all the while. Oh, Elise! how I have suffered when I
thought of what I was before—how much more worthy of you! But we
shall be reunited, dearest— shall we not?—where I shall be as
perfect as you, and where I may tell you how much I adore you! Do not
weep for me, my own Elise! I am happy now, for the first time, for I
have dared to open my heart to you. Dying men do not fear ridicule.
Farewell, Elise—darling-wife! I love you!" These tender words were
After her husband's death, Madame de Tecle lived with her
father-in-law, but passed much of her time with her uncle. She busied
herself with the greatest solicitude in the education of her daughter,
and kept house for both the old men, by both of whom she was equally
From the lips of the priest at Reuilly, whom he called on next day,
Camors learned some of these details, while the old man practiced the
violoncello with his heavy spectacles on his nose. Despite his fixed
resolution of preserving universal scorn, Camors could not resist a
vague feeling of respect for Madame de Tecle; but it did not entirely
eradicate the impure sentiment he was disposed to dedicate to her.
Fully determined to make her, if not his victim, at least his ally,
he felt that this enterprise was one of unusual difficulty. But he
was energetic, and did not object to difficulties—especially when
they took such charming shape as in the present instance.
His meditations on this theme occupied him agreeably the rest of
that week, during which time he overlooked his workmen and conferred
with his architect. Besides, his horses, his books, his domestics,
and his journals arrived successively to dispel ennui. Therefore he
looked remarkably well when he jumped out of his dog-cart the ensuing
Monday in front of M. des Rameures's door under the eyes of Madame de
Tecle. As the latter gently stroked with her white hand the black and
smoking shoulder of the thoroughbred Fitz-Aymon, Camors was for the
first time presented to the Comte de Tecle, a quiet, sad, and taciturn
old gentleman. The cure, the subprefect of the district and his wife,
the tax-collector, the family physician, and the tutor completed, as
the journals say, the list of the guests.
During dinner Camors, secretly excited by the immediate vicinity of
Madame de Tecle, essayed to triumph over that hostility that the
presence of a stranger invariably excites in the midst of intimacies
which it disturbs. His calm superiority asserted itself so mildly it
was pardoned for its grace. Without a gayety unbecoming his mourning,
he nevertheless made such lively sallies and such amusing jokes about
his first mishaps at Reuilly as to break up the stiffness of the
party. He conversed pleasantly with each one in turn, and, seeming to
take the deepest interest in his affairs, put him at once at his ease.
He skilfully gave M. des Rameures the opportunity for several happy
quotations; spoke naturally to him of artificial pastures, and
artificially of natural pastures; of breeding and of non-breeding
cows; of Dishley sheep—and of a hundred other matters he had that
morning crammed from an old encyclopaedia and a county almanac.
To Madame de Tecle directly he spoke little, but he did not speak
one word during the dinner that was not meant for her; and his manner
to women was so caressing, yet so chivalric, as to persuade them, even
while pouring out their wine, that he was ready to die for them. The
dear charmers thought him a good, simple fellow, while he was the
On leaving the table they went out of doors to enjoy the starlight
evening, and M. des Rameures—whose natural hospitality was somewhat
heightened by a goblet of his own excellent wine—said to Camors:
"My dear Count, you eat honestly, you talk admirably, you drink
like a man. On my word, I am disposed to regard you as perfection—as
a paragon of neighbors—if in addition to all the rest you add the
crowning one. Do you love music?"
"Passionately!" answered Camors, with effusion.
"Passionately? Bravo! That is the way one should love everything
that is worth loving. I am delighted, for we make here a troupe of
fanatical melomaniacs, as you will presently perceive. As for myself,
I scrape wildly on the violin, as a simple country amateur—'Orpheus
in silvis'. Do not imagine, however, Monsieur le Comte, that we let
the worship of this sweet art absorb all our faculties—all our
time-certainly not. When you take part in our little reunions, which
of course you will do, you will find we disdain no pursuit worthy of
thinking beings. We pass from music to literature—to science—even
to philosophy; but we do this —I pray you to believe—without
pedantry and without leaving the tone of familiar converse. Sometimes
we read verses, but we never make them; we love the ancients and do
not fear the moderns: we only fear those who would lower the mind and
debase the heart. We love the past while we render justice to the
present; and flatter ourselves at not seeing many things that to you
appear beautiful, useful, and true.
"Such are we, my young friend. We call ourselves the 'Colony of
Enthusiasts,' but our malicious neighbors call us the 'Hotel de
Rambouillet.' Envy, you know, is a plant that does not flourish in
the country; but here, by way of exception, we have a few jealous
people— rather bad for them, but of no consequence to us.
"We are an odd set, with the most opposite opinions. For me, I am
a Legitimist; then there is Durocher, my physician and friend, who is
a rabid Republican; Hedouin, the tutor, is a parliamentarian; while
Monsieur our sub-prefect is a devotee to the government, as it is his
duty to be. Our cure is a little Roman—I am Gallican—'et sic
ceteris'. Very well—we all agree wonderfully for two reasons: first,
because we are sincere, which is a very rare thing; and then because
all opinions contain at bottom some truth, and because, with some
slight mutual concessions, all really honest people come very near
having the same opinions.
"Such, my dear Count, are the views that hold in my drawing-room,
or rather in the drawing-room of my niece; for if you would see the
divinity who makes all our happiness—look at her! It is in deference
to her good taste, her good sense, and her moderation, that each of us
avoids that violence and that passion which warps the best intentions.
In one word, to speak truly, it is love that makes our common tie and
our mutual protection. We are all in love with my niece—myself
first, of course; next Durocher, for thirty years; then the subprefect
and all the rest of them.
"You, too, Cure! you know that you are in love with Elise, in all
honor and all good faith, as we all are, and as Monsieur de Camors
shall soon be, if he is not so already—eh, Monsieur le Comte?"
Camors protested, with a sinister smile, that he felt very much
inclined to fulfil the prophecy of his host; and they reentered the
dining-room to find the circle increased by the arrival of several
visitors. Some of these rode, others came on foot from the
M. des Rameures soon seized his violin; while he tuned it, little
Marie seated herself at the piano, and her mother, coming behind her,
rested her hand lightly on her shoulder, as if to beat the measure.
"The music will be nothing new to you," Camors's host said to him.
"It is simply Schubert's Serenade, which we have arranged, or
deranged, after our own fancy; of which you shall judge. My niece
sings, and the curate and I—'Arcades ambo'—respond successively—he
on the bass-viol and I on my Stradivarius. Come, my dear Cure, let us
begin—'incipe, Mopse, prior."
In spite of the masterly execution of the old gentleman and of the
delicate science of the cure, it was Madame de Tecle who appeared to
Camors the most remarkable of the three virtuosi. The calm repose of
her features, and the gentle dignity of her attitude, contrasting with
the passionate swell of her voice, he found most attractive.
In his turn he seated himself at the piano, and played a difficult
accompaniment with real taste; and having a good tenor voice, and a
thorough knowledge of its powers, he exerted them so effectually as to
produce a profound sensation. During the rest of the evening he kept
much in the background in order to observe the company, and was much
astonished thereby. The tone of this little society, as much removed
from vulgar gossip as from affected pedantry, was truly elevated.
There was nothing to remind him of a porter's lodge, as in most
provincial salons; or of the greenroom of a theatre, as in many salons
of Paris; nor yet, as he had feared, of a lecture-room.
There were five or six women—some pretty, all well bred—who, in
adopting the habit of thinking, had not lost the habit of laughing,
nor the desire to please. But they all seemed subject to the same
charm; and that charm was sovereign. Madame de Tecle, half hidden on
her sofa, and seemingly busied with her embroidery, animated all by a
glance, softened all by a word. The glance was inspiring; the word
always appropriate. Her decision on all points they regarded as
final—as that of a judge who sentences, or of a woman who is beloved.
No verses were read that evening, and Camors was not bored. In the
intervals of the music, the conversation touched on the new comedy by
Augier; the last work of Madame Sand; the latest poem of Tennyson; or
the news from America.
"My dear Mopsus," M. des Rameures said to the cure, "you were about
to read us your sermon on superstition last Thursday, when you were
interrupted by that joker who climbed the tree in order to hear you
better. Now is the time to recompense us. Take this seat and we will
all listen to you."
The worthy cure took the seat, unfolded his manuscript, and began
his discourse, which we shall not here report: profiting by the
example of our friend Sterne, not to mingle the sacred with the
The sermon met with general approval, though some persons, M. des
Rameures among them, thought it above the comprehension of the humble
class for whom it was intended. M. de Tecle, however, backed by
republican Durocher, insisted that the intelligence of the people was
underrated; that they were frequently debased by those who pretended
to speak only up to their level—and the passages in dispute were
How they passed from the sermon on superstition to the approaching
marriage of the General, I can not say; but it was only natural after
all, for the whole country, for twenty miles around, was ringing with
it. This theme excited Camors's attention at once, especially when the
sub- prefect intimated with much reserve that the General, busied with
his new surroundings, would probably resign his office as deputy.
"But that would be embarrassing," exclaimed Des Rameures. "Who the
deuce would replace him? I give you warning, Monsieur Prefect, if you
intend imposing on us some Parisian with a flower in his buttonhole, I
shall pack him back to his club—him, his flower, and his buttonhole!
You may set that down for a sure thing—"
"Dear uncle!" said Madame de Tecle, indicating Camors with a
"I understand you, Elise," laughingly rejoined M. des Rameures,
"but I must beg Monsieur de Camors to believe that I do not in any
case intend to offend him. I shall also beg him to tolerate the
monomania of an old man, and some freedom of language with regard to
the only subject which makes him lose his sang froid."
"And what is that subject, Monsieur?" said Camors, with his
habitual captivating grace of manner.
"That subject, Monsieur, is the arrogant supremacy assumed by Paris
over all the rest of France. I have not put my foot in the place
since 1825, in order to testify the abhorrence with which it inspires
me. You are an educated, sensible young man, and, I trust, a good
Frenchman. Very well! Is it right, I ask, that Paris shall every
morning send out to us our ideas ready-made, and that all France shall
become a mere humble, servile faubourg to the capital? Do me the
favor, I pray you, Monsieur, to answer that?"
"There is doubtless, my dear sir," replied Camors, "some excess in
this extreme centralization of France; but all civilized countries
must have their capitals, and a head is just as necessary to a nation
as to an individual."
"Taking your own image, Monsieur, I shall turn it against you.
Yes, doubtless a head is as necessary to a nation as to an
individual; if, however, the head becomes monstrous and deformed, the
seat of intelligence will be turned into that of idiocy, and in place
of a man of intellect, you have a hydrocephalus. Pray give heed to
what Monsieur the Sub-prefect, may say in answer to what I shall ask
him. Now, my dear Sub-prefect, be frank. If tomorrow, the deputation
of this district should become vacant, can you find within its broad
limits, or indeed within the district, a man likely to fill all
functions, good and bad?"
"Upon my word," answered the official, "if you continue to refuse
the office, I really know of no one else fit for it."
"I shall persist all my life, Monsieur, for at my age assuredly I
shall not expose myself to the buffoonery of your Parisian jesters."
"Very well! In that event you will be obliged to take some
stranger— perhaps, even one of those Parisian jesters."
"You have heard him, Monsieur de Camors," said M. des Rameures,
with exultation. "This district numbers six hundred thousand souls,
and yet does not contain within it the material for one deputy. There
is no other civilized country, I submit, in which we can find a
similar instance so scandalous. For the people of France this shame
is reserved exclusively, and it is your Paris that has brought it upon
us. Paris, absorbing all the blood, life, thought, and action of the
country, has left a mere geographical skeleton in place of a nation!
These are the benefits of your centralization, since you have
pronounced that word, which is quite as barbarous as the thing
"But pardon me, uncle," said Madame de Tecle, quietly plying her
needle, "I know nothing of these matters, but it seems to me that I
have heard you say this centralization was the work of the Revolution
and of the First Consul. Why, therefore, do you call Monsieur de
Camors to account for it? That certainly does not seem to me just."
"Nor does it seem so to me," said Camors, bowing to Madame de
"Nor to me either," rejoined M. des Rameures, smiling.
"However, Madame," resumed Camors, "I may to some extent be held
responsible in this matter, for though, as you justly suggest, I have
not brought about this centralization, yet I confess I strongly
approve the course of those who did."
"Bravo! So much the better, Monsieur. I like that. One should
have his own positive opinions, and defend them."
"Monsieur," said Camors, "I shall make an exception in your honor,
for when I dine out, and especially when I dine well, I always have
the same opinion with my host; but I respect you too highly not to
dare to differ with you. Well, then, I think the revolutionary
Assembly, and subsequently the First Consul, were happily inspired in
imposing a vigorous centralized political administration upon France.
I believe, indeed, that it was indispensable at the time, in order to
mold and harden our social body in its new form, to adjust it in its
position, and fix it firmly under the new laws—that is, to establish
and maintain this powerful French unity which has become our national
peculiarity, our genius and our strength."
"You speak rightly, sir," exclaimed Durocher.
"Parbleu I unquestionably you are right," warmly rejoined M. des
Rameures. "Yes, that is quite true. The excessive centralization of
which I complain has had its hour of utility, nay, even of necessity,
I will admit; but, Monsieur, in what human institution do you pretend
to implant the absolute, the eternal? Feudalism, also, my dear sir,
was a benefit and a progress in its day, but that which was a benefit
yesterday may it not become an evil to-morrow—a danger? That which
is progress to-day, may it not one hundred years hence have become
mere routine, and a downright trammel? Is not that the history of the
world? And if you wish to know, Monsieur, by what sign we may
recognize the fact that a social or political system has attained its
end, I will tell you: it is when it is manifest only in its
inconveniences and abuses. Then the machine has finished its work,
and should be replaced. Indeed, I declare that French centralization
has reached its critical term, that fatal point at which, after
protecting, it oppresses; at which, after vivifying, it paralyzes; at
which, having saved France, it crushes her."
"Dear uncle, you are carried away by your subject," said Madame de
"Yes, Elise, I am carried away, I admit, but I am right.
Everything justifies me—the past and the present, I am sure; and so
will the future, I fear. Did I say the past? Be assured, Monsieur de
Camors, I am not a narrow-minded admirer of the past. Though a
Legitimist from personal affections, I am a downright Liberal in
principles. You know that, Durocher? Well, then, in short, formerly
between the Alps, the Rhine, and the Pyrenees, was a great country
which lived, thought, and acted, not exclusively through its capital,
but for itself. It had a head, assuredly; but it had also a heart,
muscles, nerves, and veins with blood in them, and yet the head lost
nothing by that. There was then a France, Monsieur. The province had
an existence, subordinate doubtless, but real, active, and
independent. Each government, each office, each parliamentary centre
was a living intellectual focus. The great provincial institutions
and local liberties exercised the intellect on all sides, tempered the
character, and developed men. And now note well, Durocher! If France
had been centralized formerly as to-day, your dear Revolution never
would have occurred—do you understand? Never! because there would
have been no men to make it. For may I not ask, whence came that
prodigious concourse of intelligences all fully armed, and with heroic
hearts, which the great social movement of '78 suddenly brought upon
the scene? Please recall to mind the most illustrious men of that
era—lawyers, orators, soldiers. How many were from Paris? All came
from the provinces, the fruitful womb of France! But to-day we have
simply need of a deputy, peaceful times; and yet, out of six hundred
thousand souls, as we have seen, we can not find one suitable man.
Why is this the case, gentlemen? Because upon the soil of
uncentralized France men grew, while only functionaries germinate in
the soil of centralized France."
"God bless you, Monsieur!" said the Sub-prefect, with a smile.
"Pardon me, my dear Sub-prefect, but you, too, should understand
that I really plead your cause as well as my own, when I claim for the
provinces, and for all the functions of provincial life, more
independence, dignity, and grandeur. In the state to which these
functions are reduced at present, the administration and the judiciary
are equally stripped of power, prestige, and patronage. You smile,
Monsieur, but no longer, as formerly, are they the centres of life, of
emulation, and of light, civic schools and manly gymnasiums; they have
become merely simple, passive clockwork; and that is the case with the
rest, Monsieur de Camors. Our municipal institutions are a mere
farce, our provincial assemblies only a name, our local liberties
naught! Consequently, we have not now a man for a deputy. But why
should we complain? Does not Paris undertake to live, to think for
us? Does she not deign to cast to us, as of yore the Roman Senate
cast to the suburban plebeians, our food for the day-bread and
vaudevilles—'panem et circenses'. Yes, Monsieur, let us turn from
the past to the present— to France of to-day! A nation of forty
millions of people who await each morning from Paris the signal to
know whether it is day or night, or whether, indeed, they shall laugh
or weep! A great people, once the noblest, the cleverest in the
world, repeating the same day, at the same hour, in all the salons,
and at all the crossways in the empire, the same imbecile gabble
engendered the evening before in the mire of the boulevards. I tell
you? Monsieur, it is humiliating that all Europe, once jealous of us,
should now shrug her shoulders in our faces.— Besides, it is fatal
even for Paris, which, permit me to add, drunk with prosperity in its
haughty isolation and self-fetishism, not a little resembles the
Chinese Empire-a focus of warmed-over, corrupt, and frivolous
civilization! As for the future, my dear sir, may God preserve me
from despair, since it concerns my country! This age has already seen
great things, great marvels, in fact; for I beg you to remember I am
by no means an enemy to my time. I approve the Revolution, liberty,
equality, the press, railways, and the telegraph; and as I often say
to Monsieur le Cure, every cause that would live must accommodate
itself cheerfully to the progress of its epoch, and study how to serve
itself by it. Every cause that is in antagonism with its age commits
suicide. Indeed, Monsieur, I trust this century will see one more
great event, the end of this Parisian tyranny, and the resuscitation
of provincial life; for I must repeat, my dear sir, that your
centralization, which was once an excellent remedy, is a detestable
regimen! It is a horrible instrument of oppression and tyranny,
ready-made for all hands, suitable for every despotism, and under it
France stifles and wastes away. You must agree with me yourself,
Durocher; in this sense the Revolution overshot its mark, and placed
in jeopardy even its purposes; for you, who love liberty, and do not
wish it merely for yourself alone, as some of your friends do, but for
all the world, surely you can not admire centralization, which
proscribes liberty as manifestly as night obscures the day. As for my
part, gentlemen, there are two things which I love equally—liberty
and France. Well, then, as I believe in God, do I believe that both
must perish in the throes of some convulsive catastrophe if all the
life of the nation shall continue to be concentrated in the brain, and
the great reform for which I call is not made: if a vast system of
local franchise, if provincial institutions, largely independent and
conformable to the modern spirit, are not soon established to yield
fresh blood for our exhausted veins, and to fertilize our impoverished
soil. Undoubtedly the work will be difficult and complicated; it will
demand a firm resolute hand, but the hand that may accomplish it will
have achieved the most patriotic work of the century. Tell that to
your sovereign, Monsieur Sub-prefect; say to him that if he do that,
there is one old French heart that will bless him. Tell him, also,
that he will encounter much passion, much derision, much danger,
peradventure; but that he will have a commensurate recompense when he
shall see France, like Lazarus, delivered from its swathings and its
shroud, rise again, sound and whole, to salute him!"
These last words the old gentleman had pronounced with fire,
emotion, and extraordinary dignity; and the silence and respect with
which he had been listened to were prolonged after he had ceased to
speak. This appeared to embarrass him, but taking the arm of Camors
he said, with a smile, "'Semel insanivimus omnes.' My dear sir, every
one has his madness. I trust that mine has not offended you. Well,
then, prove it to me by accompanying me on the piano in this song of
the sixteenth century."
Camors complied with his usual good taste; and the song of the
sixteenth century terminated the evening's entertainment; but the
young Count, before leaving, found the means of causing Madame de
Tecle the most profound astonishment. He asked her, in a low voice,
and with peculiar emphasis, whether she would be kind enough, at her
leisure, to grant him the honor of a moment's private conversation.
Madame de Tecle opened still wider those large eyes of hers,
blushed slightly, and replied that she would be at home the next
afternoon at four o'clock.
CHAPTER IX. LOVE CONQUERS PHILOSOPHY
To M. de Camors, in principle it was a matter of perfect
indifference whether France was centralized or decentralized. But his
Parisian instinct induced him to prefer the former. In spite of this
preference, he would not have scrupled to adopt the opinions of M. des
Rameures, had not his own fine tact shown him that the proud old
gentleman was not to be won by submission.
He therefore reserved for him the triumph of his gradual
conversion. Be that as it might, it was neither of centralization nor
of decentralization that the young Count proposed to speak to Madame
de Tecle, when, at the appointed hour, he presented himself before
her. He found her in the garden, which, like the house, was of an
ancient, severe, and monastic style. A terrace planted with limetrees
extended on one side of the garden. It was at this spot that Madame
de Tecle was seated under a group of lime-trees, forming a rustic
She was fond of this place, because it recalled to her that evening
when her unexpected apparition had suddenly inspired with a celestial
joy the pale, disfigured face of her betrothed.
She was seated on a low chair beside a small rustic table, covered
with pieces of wool and silk; her feet rested on a stool, and she
worked on a piece of tapestry, apparently with great tranquillity.
M. de Camors, an expert in all the niceties and exquisite devices
of the feminine mind, smiled to himself at this audience in the open
air. He thought he fathomed its meaning. Madame de Tecle desired to
deprive this interview of the confidential character which closed
doors would have given it.
It was the simple truth. This young woman, who was one of the
noblest of her sex, was not at all simple. She had not passed ten
years of her youth, her beauty, and her widowhood without receiving,
under forms more or less direct, dozens of declarations that had
inspired her with impressions, which, although just, were not always
too flattering to the delicacy and discretion of the opposite sex.
Like all women of her age, she knew her danger, and, unlike most of
them, she did not love it. She had invariably turned into the broad
road of friendship all those she had surprised rambling within the
prohibited limits of love. The request of M. de Camors for a private
interview had seriously preoccupied her since the previous evening.
What could be the object of this mysterious interview? She puzzled
her brain to imagine, but could not divine.
It was not probable that M. de Camors, at the beginning of their
acquaintance, would feel himself entitled to declare a passion.
However vividly the famed gallantry of the young Count rose to her
memory, she thought so noted a ladykiller as he might adopt unusual
methods, and might think himself entitled to dispense with much
ceremony in dealing with an humble provincial.
Animated by these ideas, she resolved to receive him in the garden,
having remarked, during her short experience, that open air and a
wide, open space were not favorable to bold wooers.
M. de Camors bowed to Madame de Tecle as an Englishman would have
bowed to his queen; then seating himself, drew his chair nearer to
hers, mischievously perhaps, and lowering his voice into a
confidential tone, said: "Madame, will you permit me to confide a
secret to you, and to ask your counsel?"
She raised her graceful head, fixed upon the Count her soft, bright
gaze, smiled vaguely, and by a slight movement of the hand intimated
to him, "You surprise me; but I will listen to you."
"This is my first secret, Madame—I desire to become deputy for
At this unexpected declaration, Madame de Tecle looked at him,
breathed a slight sigh of relief, and gravely awaited what he had to
"The General de Campvallon, Madame," continued the young man, "has
manifested a father's kindness to me. He intends to resign in my
favor, and has not concealed from me that the support of your uncle is
indispensable to my success as a candidate. I have therefore come
here, by the General's advice, in the hope of obtaining this support,
but the ideas and opinions expressed yesterday by your uncle appear to
me so directly opposed to my pretensions that I feel truly
discouraged. To be brief, Madame, in my perplexity I conceived the
idea—indiscreet doubtless—to appeal to your kindness, and ask your
advice—which I am determined to follow, whatever it may be."
"But, Monsieur! you embarrass me greatly," said the young woman,
whose pretty face, at first clouded, brightened up immediately with a
"I have no special claims on your kindness—on the contrary
perhaps—but I am a human being, and you are charitable. Well, in
truth, Madame, this matter seriously concerns my fortune, my future,
and my whole destiny. This opportunity which now presents itself for
me to enter public life so young is exceptional. I should regret very
much to lose it; would you therefore be so kind as to aid me?"
"But how can I?" replied Madame de Tecle. "I never interfere in
politics, and that is precisely what you ask me."
"Nevertheless, Madame, I pray you not to oppose me."
"Why should I oppose you?"
"Ah, Madame! You have a right more than any other person to be
severe. My youth was a little dissipated. My reputation, in some
respects, is not over-good, I know, and I doubt not you may have heard
so, and I can not help fearing it has inspired you with some dislike
"Monsieur, we lived a retired life here. We know nothing of what
passes in Paris. If we did, this would not prevent my assisting you,
if I knew how, for I think that serious and elevated labors could not
fail happily to change your ordinary habits."
"It is truly a delicious thing," thought the young Count, "to
mystify so spiritual a person."
"Madame," he continued, with his quiet grace, "I join in your
hopes, and as you deign to encourage my ambition, I believe I shall
succeed in obtaining your uncle's support. You know him well. What
shall I do to conciliate him? What course shall I adopt?—because I
can not do without his assistance. Were I to renounce that, I should
be compelled to renounce my projects."
"It is truly difficult," said Madame de Tecle, with a reflective
air— "very difficult!"
"Is it not, Madame?"
Camors's voice expressed such confidence and submission that Madame
de Tecle was quite touched, and even the devil himself would have been
charmed by it, had he heard it in Gehenna.
"Let me reflect on this a little," she said, and she placed her
elbows on the table, leaned her head on her hands, her fingers, like a
fan, half shading her eyes, while sparks of fire from her rings
glittered in the sunshine, and her ivory nails shone against her
smooth brow. M. de Camors continued to regard her with the same
submissive and candid air.
"Well, Monsieur," she said at last, smiling, "I think you can do
nothing better than keep on."
"Pardon me, but how?"
"By persevering in the same system you have already adopted with my
uncle! Say nothing to him for the present. Beg the General also to
be silent. Wait quietly until intimacy, time, and your own good
qualities have sufficiently prepared my uncle for your nomination. My
role is very simple. I cannot, at this moment, aid you, without
betraying you. My assistance would only injure you, until a change
comes in the aspect of affairs. You must conciliate him."
"You overpower me," said Camors, "in taking you for my confidante
in my ambitious projects, I have committed a blunder and an
impertinence, which a slight contempt from you has mildly punished.
But speaking seriously, Madame, I thank you with all my heart. I
feared to find in you a powerful enemy, and I find in you a strong
neutral, almost an ally."
"Oh! altogether an ally, however secret," responded Madame de
Tecle, laughing. "I am glad to be useful to you; as I love General
Campvallon very much, I am happy to enter into his views. Come here,
Marie?" These last words were addressed to her daughter, who appeared
on the steps of the terrace, her cheeks scarlet, and her hair
dishevelled, holding a card in her hand. She immediately approached
her mother, giving M. de Camors one of those awkward salutations
peculiar to young, growing girls.
"Will you permit me," said Madame de Tecle, "to give to my daughter
a few orders in English, which we are translating? You are too
warm—do not run any more. Tell Rosa to prepare my bodice with the
small buttons. While I am dressing, you may say your catechism to me."
"Have you written your exercise?"
"Yes, mother. How do you say 'joli' in English for a man?" asked
the little girl.
"That question is in my exercise, to be said of a man who is 'beau,
"Handsome, nice, and charming," replied her mother.
"Very well, mother, this gentleman, our neighbor, is altogether
handsome, nice, and charming."
"Silly child!" exclaimed Madame de Tecle, while the little girl
rushed down the steps.
M. de Camors, who had listened to this dialogue with cool calmness,
rose. "I thank you again, Madame," he said; "and will you now excuse
me? You will allow me, from time to time, to confide in you my
political hopes and fears?"
He bowed and retired. As he was crossing the courtyard, he found
himself face to face with Mademoiselle Marie. He gave her a most
respectful bow. "Another time, Miss Mary, be more careful. I
understand English perfectly well!"
Mademoiselle Marie remained in the same attitude, blushed up to the
roots of her hair, and cast on M. de Camors a startled look of mingled
shame and anger.
"You are not satisfied, Miss Mary," continued Camors.
"Not at all," said the child, quickly, her strong voice somewhat
M. Camors laughed, bowed again, and departed, leaving Mademoiselle
Marie in the midst of the court, transfixed with indignation.
A few moments later Marie threw herself into the arms of her
mother, weeping bitterly, and told her, through her tears, of her
Madame de Tecle, in using this opportunity of giving her daughter a
lesson on reserve and on convenance, avoided treating the matter too
seriously and even seemed to laugh heartily at it, although she had
little inclination to do so, and the child finished by laughing with
Camors, meanwhile, remained at home, congratulating himself on his
campaign, which seemed to him, not without reason, to have been a
masterpiece of stratagem. By a clever mingling of frankness and
cunning he had quickly enlisted Madame de Tecle in his interest. From
that moment the realization of his ambitious dreams seemed assured,
for he was not ignorant of the incomparable value of woman's
assistance, and knew all the power of that secret and continued labor,
of those small but cumulative efforts, and of those subterranean
movements which assimilate feminine influence with the secret and
irresistible forces of nature. Another point gained-he had established
a secret between that pretty woman and himself, and had placed himself
on a confidential footing with her. He had gained the right to keep
secret their clandestine words and private conversation, and such a
situation, cleverly managed, might aid him to pass very agreeably the
period occupied in his political canvass.
Camors on entering the house sat down to write the General, to
inform him of the opening of his operations, and admonish him to have
patience. From that day he turned his attention to following up the
two persons who could control his election.
His policy as regarded M. des Rameures was as simple as it was
clever. It has already been clearly indicated, and further details
would be unnecessary. Profiting by his growing familiarity as
neighbor, he went to school, as it were, at the model farm of the
gentleman-farmer, and submitted to him the direction of his own
domain. By this quiet compliment, enhanced by his captivating
courtesy, he advanced insensibly in the good graces of the old man.
But every day, as he grew to know M. de Rameures better, and as he
felt more the strength of his character, he began to fear that on
essential points he was quite inflexible.
After some weeks of almost daily intercourse, M. des Rameures
graciously praised his young neighbor as a charming fellow, an
excellent musician, an amiable associate; but, regarding him as a
possible deputy, he saw some things which might disqualify him.
Madame de Tecle feared this, and did not hide it from M. de Camors.
The young Count did not preoccupy himself so much on this subject as
might be supposed, for his second ambition had superseded his first;
in other words his fancy for Madame de Tecle had become more ardent
and more pressing than his desire for the deputyship. We are
compelled to admit, not to his credit, that he first proposed to
himself, to ensnare his charming neighbor as a simple pastime, as an
interesting adventure, and, above all, as a work of art, which was
extremely difficult and would greatly redound to his honor. Although
he had met few women of her merit, he judged her correctly. He
believed Madame de Tecle was not virtuous simply from force of habit
or duty. She had passion. She was not a prude, but was chaste. She
was not a devotee, but was pious. He discerned in her at the same
time a spirit elevated, yet not narrow; lofty and dignified
sentiments, and deeply rooted principles; virtue without rigor, pure
and lambent as flame.
Nevertheless he did not despair, trusting to his own principles, to
the fascinations of his manner and his previous successes.
Instinctively, he knew that the ordinary forms of gallantry would not
answer with her. All his art was to surround her with absolute
respect, and to leave the rest to time and to the growing intimacy of
There was something very touching to Madame de Tecle in the
reserved and timid manner of this 'mauvais sujet', in her
presence—the homage of a fallen spirit, as if ashamed of being such,
in presence of a spirit of light.
Never, either in public or when tete-a-tete, was there a jest, a
word, or a look which the most sensitive virtue could fear.
This young man, ironical with all the rest of the world, was
serious with her. From the moment he turned toward her, his voice,
face, and conversation became as serious as if he had entered a
church. He had a great deal of wit, and he used and abused it beyond
measure in conversations in the presence of Madame de Tecle, as if he
were making a display of fireworks in her honor. But on coming to her
this was suddenly extinguished, and he became all submission and
Not every woman who receives from a superior man such delicate
flattery as this necessarily loves him, but she does like him. In the
shadow of the perfect security in which M. de Camors had placed her,
Madame de Tecle could not but be pleased in the company of the most
distinguished man she had ever met, who had, like herself, a taste for
art, music, and for high culture.
Thus these innocent relations with a young man whose reputation was
rather equivocal could not but awaken in the heart of Madame de Tecle
a sentiment, or rather an illusion, which the most prudish could not
Libertines offer to vulgar women an attraction which surprises, but
which springs from a reprehensible curiosity. To a woman of society
they offer another, more noble yet not less dangerous—the attraction
of reforming them. It is rare that virtuous women do not fall into
the error of believing that it is for virtue's sake alone such men
love them. These, in brief, were the secret sympathies whose slight
tendrils intertwined, blossomed, and flowered little by little in this
soul, as tender as it was pure.
M. de Camors had vaguely foreseen all this: that which he had not
foreseen was that he himself would be caught in his own snare, and
would be sincere in the role which he had so judiciously adopted.
From the first, Madame de Tecle had captivated him. Her very
puritanism, united with her native grace and worldly elegance,
composed a kind of daily charm which piqued the imagination of the
cold young man. If it was a powerful temptation for the angels to
save the tempted, the tempted could not harbor with more delight the
thought of destroying the angels. They dream, like the reckless
Epicureans of the Bible, of mingling, in a new intoxication, the earth
with heaven. To these sombre instincts of depravity were soon united
in the feelings of Camors a sentiment more worthy of her. Seeing her
every day with that childlike intimacy which the country
encourages—enhancing the graceful movements of this accomplished
person, ever self-possessed and equally prepared for duty or for
pleasure—as animated as passion, yet as severe as virtue—he
conceived for her a genuine worship. It was not respect, for that
requires the effort of believing in such merits, and he did not wish
to believe. He thought Madame de Tecle was born so. He admired her
as he would admire a rare plant, a beautiful object, an exquisite
work, in which nature had combined physical and moral grace with
perfect proportion and harmony. His deportment as her slave when near
her was not long a mere bit of acting. Our fair readers have
doubtless remarked an odd fact: that where a reciprocal sentiment of
two feeble human beings has reached a certain point of maturity,
chance never fails to furnish a fatal occasion which betrays the
secret of the two hearts, and suddenly launches the thunderbolt which
has been gradually gathering in the clouds. This is the crisis of all
love. This occasion presented itself to Madame de Tecle and M. de
Camors in the form of an unpoetic incident.
It occurred at the end of October. Camors had gone out after
dinner to take a ride in the neighborhood. Night had already fallen,
clear and cold; but as the Count could not see Madame de Tecle that
evening, he began only to think of being near her, and felt that
unwillingness to work common to lovers—striving, if possible, to kill
time, which hung heavy on his hands.
He hoped also that violent exercise might calm his spirit, which
never had been more profoundly agitated. Still young and unpractised
in his pitiless system, he was troubled at the thought of a victim so
pure as Madame de Tecle. To trample on the life, the repose, and the
heart of such a woman, as the horse tramples on the grass of the road,
with as little care or pity, was hard for a novice.
Strange as it may appear, the idea of marrying her had occurred to
him. Then he said to himself that this weakness was in direct
contradiction to his principles, and that she would cause him to lose
forever his mastery over himself, and throw him back into the
nothingness of his past life. Yet with the corrupt inspirations of his
depraved soul he foresaw that the moment he touched her hands with the
lips of a lover a new sentiment would spring up in her soul. As he
abandoned himself to these passionate imaginings, the recollection of
young Madame Lescande came back suddenly to his memory. He grew pale
in the darkness. At this moment he was passing the edge of a little
wood belonging to the Comte de Tecle, of which a portion had recently
been cleared. It was not chance alone that had directed the Count's
ride to this point. Madame de Tecle loved this spot, and had
frequently taken him there, and on the preceding evening, accompanied
by her daughter and her father-in-law, had visited it with him.
The site was a peculiar one. Although not far from houses, the
wood was very wild, as if a thousand miles distant from any inhabited
You would have said it was a virgin forest, untouched by the axe of
the pioneer. Enormous stumps without bark, trunks of gigantic trees,
covered the declivity of the hill, and barricaded, here and there, in
a picturesque manner, the current of the brook which ran into the
valley. A little farther up the dense wood of tufted trees contributed
to diffuse that religious light half over the rocks, the brushwood and
the fertile soil, and on the limpid water, which is at once the charm
and the horror of old neglected woods. In this solitude, and on a
space of cleared ground, rose a sort of rude hut, constructed by a
poor devil who was a sabot-maker by trade, and who had been allowed to
establish himself there by the Comte de Tecle, and to use the
beech-trees to gain his humble living. This Bohemian interested
Madame de Tecle, probably because, like M. de Camors, he had a bad
reputation. He lived in his cabin with a woman who was still pretty
under her rags, and with two little boys with golden curls.
He was a stranger in the neighborhood, and the woman was said not
to be his wife. He was very taciturn, and his features seemed fine
and determined under his thick, black beard.
Madame de Tecle amused herself seeing him make his sabots. She
loved the children, who, though dirty, were beautiful as angels; and
she pitied the woman. She had a secret project to marry her to the
man, in case she had not yet been married, which seemed probable.
Camors walked his horse slowly over the rocky and winding path on
the slope of the hillock. This was the moment when the ghost of
Madame Lescande had risen before him, and he believed he could almost
hear her weep. Suddenly this illusion gave place to a strange
reality. The voice of a woman plainly called him by name, in accents
of distress—"Monsieur de Camors!"
Stopping his horse on the instant, he felt an icy shudder pass
through his frame. The same voice rose higher and called him again.
He recognized it as the voice of Madame de Tecle. Looking around him
in the obscure light with a rapid glance, he saw a light shining
through the foliage in the direction of the cottage of the
sabot-maker. Guided by this, he put spurs to his horse, crossed the
cleared ground up the hillside, and found himself face to face with
Madame de Tecle. She was standing at the threshold of the hut, her
head bare, and her beautiful hair dishevelled under a long, black lace
veil. She was giving a servant some hasty orders. When she saw
Camors approach, she came toward him.
"Pardon me," she said, "but I thought I recognized you, and I
called you. I am so much distressed—so distressed! The two children
of this man are dying! What is to be done? Come in—come in, I beg
He leaped to the ground, threw the reins to his servant, and
followed Madame de Tekle into the interior of the cabin.
The two children with the golden hair were lying side by side on a
little bed, immovable, rigid, their eyes open and the pupils strangely
dilated— their faces red, and agitated by slight convulsions. They
seemed to be in the agony of death. The old doctor, Du Rocher, was
leaning over them, looking at them with a fixed, anxious, and
despairing eye. The mother was on her knees, her head clasped in her
hands, and weeping bitterly. At the foot of the bed stood the father,
with his savage mien—his arms crossed, and his eyes dry. He
shuddered at intervals, and murmured, in a hoarse, hollow voice: "Both
of them! Both of them!" Then he relapsed into his mournful attitude.
M. Durocher, approached Camors quickly. "Monsieur," said he, "what
can this be? I believe it to be poisoning, but can detect no definite
symptoms: otherwise, the parents should know— but they know nothing!
A sunstroke, perhaps; but as both were struck at the same time—and
then at this season—ah! our profession is quite useless sometimes."
Camors made rapid inquiries. They had sought M. Durocher, who was
dining with Madame de Tecle an hour before. He had hastened, and
found the children already speechless, in a state of fearful
congestion. It appeared they had fallen into this state when first
attacked, and had become delirious.
Camors conceived an idea. He asked to see the clothes the children
had worn during the day. The mother gave them to him. He examined
them with care, and pointed out to the doctor several red stains on
the poor rags. The doctor touched his forehead, and turned over with a
feverish hand the small linen—the rough waistcoat—searched the
pockets, and found dozens of a small fruit-like cherries, half
crushed. "Belladonna!" he exclaimed. "That idea struck me several
times, but how could I be sure? You can not find it within twenty
miles of this place, except in this cursed wood—of that I am sure."
"Do you think there is yet time?" asked the young Count, in a low
voice. "The children seem to me to be very ill."
"Lost, I fear; but everything depends on the time that has passed,
the quantity they have taken, and the remedies I can procure."
The old man consulted quickly with Madame de Tecle, who found she
had not in her country pharmacy the necessary remedies, or
counter-irritants, which the urgency of the case demanded. The doctor
was obliged to content himself with the essence of coffee, which the
servant was ordered to prepare in haste, and to send to the village
for the other things needed.
"To the village!" cried Madame de Tecle. "Good heavens! it is
four leagues—it is night, and we shall have to wait probably three or
Camors heard this: "Doctor, write your prescription," he said:
"Trilby is at the door, and with him I can do the four leagues in an
hour—in one hour I promise to return here."
"Oh! thank you, Monsieur!" said Madame de Tecle.
He took the prescription which Dr. Durocher had rapidly traced on a
leaf of his pocketbook, mounted his horse, and departed.
The highroad was fortunately not far distant. When he reached it
he rode like the phantom horseman.
It was nine o'clock when Madame de Tecle witnessed his
departure—it was a few moments after ten when she heard the tramp of
his horse at the foot of the hill and ran to the door of the hut. The
condition of the two children seemed to have grown worse in the
interval, but the old doctor had great hopes in the remedies which
Camors was to bring. She waited with impatience, and received him
like the dawn of the last hope. She contented herself with pressing
his hand, when, breathless, he descended from his horse. But this
adorable creature threw herself on Trilby, who was covered with foam
and steaming like a furnace.
"Poor Trilby," she said, embracing him in her two arms, "dear
Trilby— good Trilby! you are half dead, are you not? But I love you
well. Go quickly, Monsieur de Camors, I will attend to Trilby"—and
while the young man entered the cabin, she confided Trilby to the
charge of her servant, with orders to take him to the stable, and a
thousand minute directions to take good care of him after his noble
conduct. Dr. Durocher had to obtain the aid of Camors to pass the new
medicine through the clenched teeth of the unfortunate children.
While both were engaged in this work, Madame de Tecle was sitting on
a stool with her head resting against the cabin wall. Durocher
suddenly raised his eyes and fixed them on her.
"My dear Madame," he said, "you are ill. You have had too much
excitement, and the odors here are insupportable. You must go home."
"I really do not feel very well," she murmured.
"You must go at once. We shall send you the news. One of your
servants will take you home."
She raised herself, trembling; but one look from the young wife of
the sabot-maker arrested her. To this poor woman, it seemed that
Providence deserted her with Madame de Tecle.
"No!" she said with a divine sweetness; "I will not go. I shall
only breathe a little fresh air. I will remain until they are safe, I
promise you;" and she left the room smiling upon the poor woman.
After a few minutes, Durocher said to M. de Camors:
"My dear sir, I thank you—but I really have no further need of
your services; so you too may go and rest yourself, for you also are
Camors, exhausted by his long ride, felt suffocated by the
atmosphere of the hut, and consented to the suggestion of the old man,
saying that he would not go far.
As he put his foot outside of the cottage, Madame de Tecle, who was
sitting before the door, quickly rose and threw over his shoulders a
cloak which they had brought for her. She then reseated herself
"But you can not remain here all night," he said.
"I should be too uneasy at home."
"But the night is very cold—shall I make you a fire?"
"If you wish," she said.
"Let us see where we can make this little fire. In the midst of
this wood it is impossible—we should have a conflagration to finish
the picture. Can you walk?
Then take my arm, and we shall go and search for a place for our
She leaned lightly on his arm, and took a few steps with him toward
"Do you think they are saved?" she asked.
"I hope so," he replied. "The face of Doctor Durocher is more
"Oh! how glad I am!"
Both of them stumbled over a root, and laughed like two children
for several minutes.
"We shall soon be in the woods," said Madame de Tecle, "and I
declare I can go no farther: good or bad, I choose this spot."
They were still quite close to the hut, but the branches of the old
trees which had been spared by the axe spread like a sombre dome over
their heads. Near by was a large rock, slightly covered with moss,
and a number of old trunks of trees, on which Madame de Tecle took her
"Nothing could be better," said Camors, gayly. "I must collect my
A moment after he reappeared, bringing in his arms brushwood, and
also a travelling-rug which his servant had brought him.
He got on his knees in front of the rock, prepared the fagots, and
lighted them with a match. When the flame began to flicker on the
rustic hearth Madame de Tecle trembled with joy, and held out both
hands to the blaze.
"Ah! how nice that is!" she said; "and then it is so amusing; one
would say we had been shipwrecked.
Now, Monsieur, if you would be perfect go and see what Durocher
He ran to the hut. When he returned he could not avoid stopping
half way to admire the elegant and simple silhouette of the young
woman, defined sharply against the blackness of the wood, her fine
countenance slightly. illuminated by the firelight. The moment she
"Well!" she cried.
"A great deal of hope."
"Oh! what happiness, Monsieur!" She pressed his hand.
"Sit down there," she said.
He sat down on a rock contiguous to hers, and replied to her eager
questions. He repeated, in detail, his conversation with the doctor,
and explained at length the properties of belladonna. She listened at
first with interest, but little by little, with her head wrapped in
her veil and resting on the boughs interlaced behind her, she seemed
to be uncomfortably resting from fatigue.
"You are likely to fall asleep there," he said, laughing.
"Perhaps!" she murmured—smiled, and went to sleep.
Her sleep resembled death, it was so profound, and so calm was the
beating of her heart, so light her breathing.
Camors knelt down again by the fire, to listen breathlessly and to
gaze upon her. From time to time he seemed to meditate, and the
solitude was disturbed only by the rustling of the leaves. His eyes
followed the flickering of the flame, sometimes resting on the white
cheek, sometimes on the grove, sometimes on the arches of the high
trees, as if he wished to fix in his memory all the details of this
sweet scene. Then his gaze rested again on the young woman, clothed
in her beauty, grace, and confiding repose.
What heavenly thoughts descended at that moment on this sombre
soul—what hesitation, what doubt assailed it! What images of peace,
truth, virtue, and happiness passed into that brain full of storm, and
chased away the phantoms of the sophistries he cherished! He himself
knew, but never told.
The brisk crackling of the wood awakened her. She opened her eyes
in surprise, and as soon as she saw the young man kneeling before her,
"How are they now, Monsieur?"
He did not know how to tell her that for the last hour he had had
but one thought, and that was of her. Durocher appeared suddenly
"They are saved, Madame," said the old man, brusquely; "come
quickly, embrace them, and return home, or we shall have to treat you
to-morrow. You are very imprudent to have remained in this damp wood,
and it was absurd of Monsieur to let you do so."
She took the arm of the old doctor, smiling, and reentered the hut.
The two children, now roused from the dangerous torpor, but who
seemed still terrified by the threatened death, raised their little
round heads. She made them a sign to keep quiet, and leaned over
their pillow smiling upon them, and imprinted two kisses on their
"To-morrow, my angels," she said. But the mother, half laughing,
half crying, followed Madame de Tecle step by step, speaking to her,
and kissing her garments.
"Let her alone," cried the old doctor, querulously. "Go home,
Madame. Monsieur de Camors, take her home."
She was going out, when the man, who had not before spoken, and who
was sitting in the corner of his but as if stupefied, rose suddenly,
seized the arm of Madame de Tecle, who, slightly terrified, turned
round, for the gesture of the man was so violent as to seem menacing;
his eyes, hard and dry, were fixed upon her, and he continued to press
her arm with a contracted hand.
"My friend!" she said, although rather uncertain.
"Yes, your friend," muttered the man with a hollow voice; "yes,
He could not continue, his mouth worked as if in a convulsion,
suppressed weeping shook his frame; he then threw himself on his
knees, and they saw a shower of tears force themselves through the
hands clasped over his face.
"Take her away, Monsieur," said the old doctor.
Camors gently pushed her out of the but and followed her. She took
his arm and descended the rugged path which led to her home.
It was a walk of twenty minutes from the wood. Half the distance
was passed without interchanging a word. Once or twice, when the rays
of the moon pierced through the clouds, Camors thought he saw her wipe
away a tear with the end of her glove. He guided her cautiously in
the darkness, although the light step of the young woman was little
slower in the obscurity. Her springy step pressed noiselessly the
fallen leaves— avoided without assistance the ruts and marshes, as if
she had been endowed with a magical clairvoyance. When they reached a
crossroad, and Camors seemed uncertain, she indicated the way by a
slight pressure of the arm. Both were no doubt embarrassed by the
long silence—it was Madame de Tecle who first broke it.
"You have been very good this evening, Monsieur," she said in a low
and slightly agitated voice.
"I love you so much!" said the young man.
He pronounced these simple words in such a deep impassioned tone
that Madame de Tecle trembled and stood still in the road.
"Monsieur de Camors!"
"What, Madame?" he demanded, in a strange tone.
"Heavens!—in fact-nothing!" said she, "for this is a declaration
of friendship, I suppose—and your friendship gives me much pleasure."
He let go her arm at once, and in a hoarse and angry voice said—
"I am not your friend!"
"What are you then, Monsieur?"
Her voice was calm, but she recoiled a few steps, and leaned
against one of the trees which bordered the road. The explosion so
long pent up burst forth, and a flood of words poured from the young
man's lips with inexpressible impetuosity.
"What I am I know not! I no longer know whether I am myself—if I
am dead or alive—if I am good or bad—whether I am dreaming or
waking. Oh, Madame, what I wish is that the day may never rise
again—that this night would never finish—that I should wish to feel
always—always—in my head, my heart, my entire being—that which I
now feel, near you—of you —for you! I should wish to be stricken
with some sudden illness, without hope, in order to be watched and
wept for by you, like those children—and to be embalmed in your
tears; and to see you bowed down in terror before me is horrible to
me! By the name of your God, whom you have made me respect, I swear
you are sacred to me—the child in the arms of its mother is not more
"I have no fear," she murmured.
"Oh, no!—have no fear!" he repeated in a tone of voice infinitely
softened and tender. "It is I who am afraid—it is I who tremble—you
see it; for since I have spoken, all is finished. I expect nothing
more —I hope for nothing—this night has no possible tomorrow. I
know it. Your husband I dare not be—your lover I should not wish to
be. I ask nothing of you—understand well! I should like to burn my
heart at your feet, as on an altar—this is all. Do you believe me?
Answer! Are you tranquil? Are you confident? Will you hear me?
May I tell you what image I carry of you in the secret recesses of my
heart? Dear creature that you are, you do not—ah, you do not know
how great is your worth; and I fear to tell you; so much am I afraid
of stripping you of your charms, or of one of your virtues. If you
had been proud of yourself, as you have a right to be, you would be
less perfect, and I should love you less. But I wish to tell you how
lovable and how charming you are. You alone do not know it. You alone
do not see the soft flame of your large eyes—the reflection of your
heroic soul on your young but serene brow. Your charm is over
everything you do—your slightest gesture is engraven on my heart.
Into the most ordinary duties of every-day life you carry a peculiar
grace, like a young priestess who recites her daily devotions. Your
hand, your touch, your breath purifies everything—even the most
humble and the most wicked beings—and myself first of all!
"I am astonished at the words which I dare to pronounce, and the
sentiments which animate me, to whom you have made clear new truths.
Yes, all the rhapsodies of the poets, all the loves of the martyrs, I
comprehend in your presence. This is truth itself. I understand those
who died for their faith by the torture—because I should like to
suffer for you—because I believe in you—because I respect you—I
cherish you— I adore you!"
He stopped, shivering, and half prostrating himself before her,
seized the end of her veil and kissed it.
"Now," he continued, with a kind of grave sadness, "go, Madame, I
have forgotten too long that you require repose. Pardon me—proceed.
I shall follow you at a distance, until you reach your home, to
protect you—but fear nothing from me."
Madame de Tecle had listened, without once interrupting him even by
a sigh. Words would only excite the young man more. Probably she
understood, for the first time in her life, one of those songs of
love— one of those hymns alive with passion, which every woman wishes
to hear before she dies. Should she die because she had heard it?
She remained without speaking, as if just awakening from a dream, and
said quite simply, in a voice as soft and feeble as a sigh, "My God!"
After another pause she advanced a few steps on the road.
"Give me your arm as far as my house, Monsieur," she said.
He obeyed her, and they continued their walk toward the house, the
lights of which they soon saw. They did not exchange a word—only as
they reached the gate, Madame de Tecle turned and made him a slight
gesture with her hand, in sign of adieu. In return, M. de Camors
bowed low, and withdrew.
CHAPTER X. THE PROLOGUE TO THE
The Comte de Camors had been sincere. When true passion surprises
the human soul, it breaks down all resolves, sweeps away all logic,
and crushes all calculations.
In this lies its grandeur, and also its danger. It suddenly seizes
on you, as the ancient god inspired the priestess on her
tripod—speaks through your lips, utters words you hardly comprehend,
falsifies your thoughts, confounds your reason, and betrays your
secrets. When this sublime madness possesses you, it elevates you—it
transfigures you. It can suddenly convert a common man into a poet, a
coward into a hero, an egotist into a martyr, and Don Juan himself
into an angel of purity.
With women—and it is to their honor—this metamorphosis can be
durable, but it is rarely so with men. Once transported to this
stormy sky, women frankly accept it as their proper home, and the
vicinity of the thunder does not disquiet them.
Passion is their element—they feel at home there. There are few
women worthy of the name who are not ready to put in action all the
words which passion has caused to bubble from their lips. If they
speak of flight, they are ready for exile. If they talk of dying,
they are ready for death. Men are far less consistent with their
It was not until late the next morning that Camors regretted his
outbreak of sincerity; for, during the remainder of the night, still
filled with his excitement, agitated and shaken by the passage of the
god, sunk into a confused and feverish reverie, he was incapable of
reflection. But when, on awakening, he surveyed the situation calmly
and by the plain light of day, and thought over the preceding evening
and its events, he could not fail to recognize the fact that he had
been cruelly duped by his own nervous system. To love Madame de Tecle
was perfectly proper, and he loved her still—for she was a person to
be loved and desired— but to elevate that love or any other as the
master of his life, instead of its plaything, was one of those
weaknesses interdicted by his system more than any other. In fact, he
felt that he had spoken and acted like a school-boy on a holiday. He
had uttered words, made promises, and taken engagements on himself
which no one demanded of him. No conduct could have been more
ridiculous. Happily, nothing was lost. He had yet time to give his
love that subordinate place which this sort of fantasy should occupy
in the life of man. He had been imprudent; but this very imprudence
might finally prove of service to him. All that remained of this
scene was a declaration—gracefully made, spontaneous, natural— which
subjected Madame de Tecle to the double charm of a mystic idolatry
which pleased her sex, and to a manly ardor which could not displease
He had, therefore, nothing to regret—although he certainly would
have preferred, from the point of view of his principles, to have
displayed a somewhat less childish weakness.
But what course should he now adopt? Nothing could be more simple.
He would go to Madame de Tecle—implore her forgiveness—throw
himself again at her feet, promising eternal respect, and succeed.
Consequently, about ten o'clock, M. de Camors wrote the following
"I can not leave without bidding you adieu, and once more demanding
"Will you permit me?
This letter he was about despatching, when he received one
containing the following words:
"I shall be happy, Monsieur, if you will call upon me to-day, about
"ELISE DE TECLE."
Upon which M. de Camors threw his own note in the fire, as entirely
No matter what interpretation he put upon this note, it was an
evident sign that love had triumphed and that virtue was defeated;
for, after what had passed the previous evening between Madame de
Tecle and himself, there was only one course for a virtuous woman to
take; and that was never to see him again. To see him was to pardon
him; to pardon him was to surrender herself to him, with or without
circumlocution. Camors did not allow himself to deplore any further
an adventure which had so suddenly lost its gravity. He soliloquized
on the weakness of women. He thought it bad taste in Madame de Tecle
not to have maintained longer the high ideal his innocence had created
for her. Anticipating the disenchantment which follows possession, he
already saw her deprived of all her prestige, and ticketed in the
museum of his amorous souvenirs.
Nevertheless, when he approached her house, and had the feeling of
her near presence, he was troubled. Doubt—and anxiety assailed him.
When he saw through the trees the window of her room, his heart
throbbed so violently that he had to sit down on the root of a tree
for a moment.
"I love her like a madman!" he murmured; then leaping up suddenly
he exclaimed, "But she is only a woman, after all—I shall go on!"
For the first time Madame de Tecle received him in her own
apartment. This room M. de Camors had never seen. It was a large and
lofty apartment, draped and furnished in sombre tints.
It contained gilded mirrors, bronzes, engravings, and old family
jewelry lying on tables—the whole presenting the appearance of the
ornamentation of a church.
In this severe and almost religious interior, however rich, reigned
a vague odor of flowers; and there were also to be seen boxes of lace,
drawers of perfumed linen, and that dainty atmosphere which ever
accompanies refined women.
But every one has her personal individuality, and forms her own
atmosphere which fascinates her lover. Madame de Tecle, finding
herself almost lost in this very large room, had so arranged some
pieces of furniture as to make herself a little private nook near the
chimneypiece, which her daughter called, "My mother's chapel." It was
there Camors now perceived her, by the soft light of a lamp, sitting
in an armchair, and, contrary to her custom, having no work in her
hands. She appeared calm, though two dark circles surrounded her
eyes. She had evidently suffered much, and wept much.
On seeing that dear face, worn and haggard with grief, Camors
forgot the neat phrases he had prepared for his entrance. He forgot
all except that he really adored her.
He advanced hastily toward her, seized in his two hands those of
the young woman and, without speaking, interrogated her eyes with
tenderness and profound pity.
"It is nothing," she said, withdrawing her hand and bending her
pale face gently; "I am better; I may even be very happy, if you wish
There was in the smile, the look, and the accent of Madame de Tecle
something indefinable, which froze the blood of Camors.
He felt confusedly that she loved him, and yet was lost to him;
that he had before him a species of being he did not understand, and
that this woman, saddened, broken, and lost by love, yet loved
something else in this world better even than that love.
She made him a slight sign, which he obeyed like a child, and he
sat down beside her.
"Monsieur," she said to him, in a voice tremulous at first, but
which grew stronger as she proceeded, "I heard you last night perhaps
with a little too much patience. I shall now, in return, ask from you
the same kindness. You have told me that you love me, Monsieur; and I
avow frankly that I entertain a lively affection for you. Such being
the case, we must either separate forever, or unite ourselves by the
only tie worthy of us both. To part:—that will afflict me much, and
I also believe it would occasion much grief to you. To unite
ourselves:—for my own part, Monsieur, I should be willing to give you
my life; but I can not do it, I can not wed you without manifest
folly. You are younger than I; and as good and generous as I believe
you to be, simple reason tells me that by so doing I should bring
bitter repentance on myself. But there is yet another reason. I do
not belong to myself, I belong to my daughter, to my family, to my
past. In giving up my name for yours I should wound, I should cruelly
afflict, all the friends who surround me, and, I believe, some who
exist no longer. Well, Monsieur," she continued, with a smile of
celestial grace and resignation, "I have discovered a way by which we
yet can avoid breaking off an intimacy so sweet to both of us—in
fact, to make it closer and more dear. My proposal may surprise you,
but have the kindness to think over it, and do not say no, at once."
She glanced at him, and was terrified at the pallor which
overspread his face. She gently took his hand, and said:
"Speak on!" he muttered, hoarsely.
"Monsieur," she continued, with her smile of angelic charity, "God
be praised, you are quite young; in our society men situated as you
are do not marry early, and I think they are right. Well, then, this
is what I wish to do, if you will allow me to tell you. I wish to
blend in one affection the two strongest sentiments of my heart! I
wish to concentrate all my care, all my tenderness, all my joy on
forming a wife worthy of you—a young soul who will make you happy, a
cultivated intellect of which you can be proud. I will promise you,
Monsieur, I will swear to you, to consecrate to you this sweet duty,
and to consecrate to it all that is best in myself. I shall devote to
it all my time, every instant of my life, as to the holy work of a
saint. I swear to you that I shall be very happy if you will only
tell me that you will consent to this."
His answer was an impatient exclamation of irony and anger: then he
"You will pardon me, Madame," he said, "if so sudden a change in my
sentiments can not be as prompt as you wish."
She blushed slightly.
"Yes," she said, with a faint smile; "I can understand that the
idea of my being your mother-in-law may seem strange to you; but in
some years, even in a very few years' time, I shall be an old woman,
and then it will seem to you very natural."
To consummate her mournful sacrifice, the poor woman did not shrink
from covering herself, even in the presence of the man she loved, with
the mantle of old age.
The soul of Camors was perverted, but not base, and it was suddenly
touched at this simple heroism. He rendered it the greatest homage he
could pay, for his eyes suddenly filled with tears. She observed it,
for she watched with an anxious eye the slightest impression she
produced upon him. So she continued more cheerfully:
"And see, Monsieur, how this will settle everything. In this way
we can continue to see each other without danger, because your little
affianced wife will be always between us. Our sentiments will soon be
in harmony with our new thoughts. Even your future prospects, which
are now also mine, will encounter fewer obstacles, because I shall
push them more openly, without revealing to my uncle what ought to
remain a secret between us two. I can let him suspect my hopes, and
that will enlist him in your service. Above all, I repeat to you that
this will insure my happiness. Will you thus accept my maternal
M. de Camors, by a powerful effort of will, had recovered his self-
"Pardon me, Madame," he said, with a faint smile, "but I should
wish at least to preserve honor. What do you ask of me? Do you
yourself fully comprehend? Have you reflected well on this? Can
either of us contract, without imprudence, an engagement of so
delicate a nature for so long a time?"
"I demand no engagement of you," she replied, "for I feel that
would be unreasonable. I only pledge myself as far as I can, without
compromising the future fate of my daughter. I shall educate her for
you. I shall, in my secret heart, destine her for you, and it is in
this light I shall think of you for the future. Grant me this.
Accept it like an honest man, and remain single. This is probably a
folly, but I risk my repose upon it. I will run all the risk, because
I shall have all the joy. I have already had a thousand thoughts on
this subject, which I can not yet tell you, but which I shall confess
to God this night. I believe— I am convinced that my daughter, when
I have done all that I can for her, will make an excellent wife for
you. She will benefit you, and be an honor to you, and will, I hope,
one day thank me with all her heart; for I perceive already what she
wishes, and what she loves. You can not know, you can not even
suspect—but I—I know it. There is already a woman in that child,
and a very charming woman—much more charming than her mother,
Monsieur, I assure you."
Madame de Tecle stopped suddenly, the door opened, and Mademoiselle
Marie entered the room brusquely, holding in each hand a gigantic
M. Camors rose, bowed gravely to her, and bit his lip to avoid
smiling, which did not altogether escape Madame de Tecle.
"Marie!" she cried out, "really you are absurd with your dolls!"
"My dolls! I adore them!" replied Mademoiselle Marie.
"You are absurd! Go away with your dolls," said her mother.
"Not without embracing you," said the child.
She laid her dolls on the carpet, sprang on her mother's neck, and
kissed her on both cheeks passionately, after which she took up her
dolls, saying to them:
"Come, my little dears!" and left the room.
"Good heavens!" said Madame de Tecle, laughing, "this is an
unfortunate incident; but I still insist, and I implore you to take my
word. She will have sense, courage, and goodness. Now," she
continued in a more serious tone, "take time to think over it, and
return to give me your decision, should it be favorable. If not, we
must bid each other adieu."
"Madame," said Camors, rising and standing before her, "I will
promise never to address a word to you which a son might not utter to
his mother. Is it not this which you demand?"
Madame de Tecle fixed upon him for an instant her beautiful eyes,
full of joy and gratitude, then suddenly covered her face with her two
"I thank you!" she murmured, "I am very happy!" She extended her
hand, wet with her tears, which he took and pressed to his lips, bowed
low, and left the room.
If there ever was a moment in his fatal career when the young man
was really worthy of admiration, it was this. His love for Madame de
Tecle, however unworthy of her it might be, was nevertheless great.
It was the only true passion he had ever felt. At the moment when he
saw this love, the triumph of which he thought certain, escape him
forever, he was not only wounded in his pride but was crushed in his
Yet he took the stroke like a gentleman. His agony was well borne.
His first bitter words, checked at once, alone betrayed what he
He was as pitiless for his own sorrows as he sought to be for those
of others. He indulged in none of the common injustice habitual to
He recognized the decision of Madame de Tecle as true and final,
and was not tempted for a moment to mistake it for one of those
equivocal arrangements by which women sometimes deceive themselves,
and of which men always take advantage. He realized that the refuge
she had sought was inviolable. He neither argued nor protested
against her resolve. He submitted to it, and nobly kissed the noble
hand which smote him. As to the miracle of courage, chastity, and
faith by which Madame de Tecle had transformed and purified her love,
he cared not to dwell upon it. This example, which opened to his view
a divine soul, naked, so to speak, destroyed his theories. One word
which escaped him, while passing to his own house, proved the judgment
which he passed upon it, from his own point of view. "Very childish,"
he muttered, "but sublime!"
On returning home Camors found a letter from General Campvallon,
notifying him that his marriage with Mademoiselle d'Estrelles would
take place in a few days, and inviting him to be present. The
marriage was to be strictly private, with only the family to assist at
Camors did not regret this invitation, as it gave him the excuse
for some diversion in his thoughts, of which he felt the need. He was
greatly tempted to go away at once to diminish his sufferings, but
conquered this weakness. The next evening he passed at the chateau of
M. des Rameures; and though his heart was bleeding, he piqued himself
on presenting an unclouded brow and an inscrutable smile to Madame de
Tecle. He announced the brief absence he intended, and explained the
"You will present my best wishes to the General," said M. des
Rameures. "I hope he may be happy, but I confess I doubt it
"I shall bear your good wishes to the General, Monsieur."
"The deuce you will! 'Exceptis excipiendis', I hope," responded
the old gentleman, laughing.
As for Madame de Tecle, to tell of all the tender attentions and
exquisite delicacies, that a sweet womanly nature knows so well how to
apply to heal the wounds it has inflicted—how graciously she glided
into her maternal relation with Camors—to tell all this would require
a pen wielded by her own soft hands.
Two days later M. de Camors left Reuilly for Paris. The morning
after his arrival, he repaired at an early hour to the General's
house, a magnificent hotel in the Rue Vanneau. The marriage contract
was to be signed that evening, and the civil and religious ceremonies
were to take place next morning.
Camors found the General in a state of extraordinary agitation,
pacing up and down the three salons which formed the ground floor of
the hotel. The moment he perceived the young man entering—" Ah, it is
you!" he cried, darting a ferocious glance upon him. "By my faith,
your arrival is fortunate."
"Well, what! Why do you not embrace me?"
"Very well! It is for to-morrow, you know!"
"Sacrebleu! You are very cool! Have you seen her?"
"Not yet, General. I have just arrived."
"You must go and see her this morning. You owe her this mark of
interest; and if you discover anything, you must tell me."
"But what should I discover, General?"
"How do I know? But you understand women much better than I! Does
she love me, or does she not love me? You understand, I make no
pretensions of turning her head, but still I do not wish to be an
object of repulsion to her. Nothing has given me reason to suppose
so, but the girl is so reserved, so impenetrable."
"Mademoiselle d'Estrelles is naturally cold," said Camors.
"Yes," responded the General. "Yes, and in some respects I—but
really now, should you discover anything, I rely on your communicating
it to me. And stop!—when you have seen her, have the kindness to
return here, for a few moments—will you? You will greatly oblige
"Certainly, General, I shall do so."
"For my part, I love her like a fool."
"That is only right, General!"
"Hum—and what of Des Rameures?"
"I think we shall agree, General!"
"Bravo! we shall talk more of this later. Go and see her, my dear
Camors proceeded to the Rue St. Dominique, where Madame de la
"Is my aunt in, Joseph?" he inquired of the servant whom he found
in the antechamber, very busy in the preparations which the occasion
"Yes, Monsieur le Comte, Madame la Comtesse is in and will see
"Very well," said Camors; and directed his steps toward his aunt's
chamber. But this chamber was no longer hers. This worthy woman had
insisted on giving it up to Mademoiselle Charlotte, for whom she
manifested, since she had become the betrothed of the seven hundred
thousand francs' income of the General, the most humble deference.
Mademoiselle d'Estrelles had accepted this change with a disdainful
indifference. Camors, who was ignorant of this change, knocked
therefore most innocently at the door. Obtaining no answer, he
entered without hesitation, lifted the curtain which hung in the
doorway, and was immediately arrested by a strange spectacle. At the
other extremity of the room, facing him, was a large mirror, before
which stood Mademoiselle d'Estrelles. Her back was turned to him.
She was dressed, or rather draped, in a sort of dressing-gown of
white cashmere, without sleeves, which left her arms and shoulders
bare. Her auburn hair was unbound and floating, and fell in heavy
masses almost to her feet. One hand rested lightly on the
toilet-table, the other held together, over her bust, the folds of her
She was gazing at herself in the glass, and weeping bitterly.
The tears fell drop by drop on her white, fresh bosom, and
glittered there like the drops of dew which one sees shining in the
morning on the shoulders of the marble nymphs in the gardens.
Then Camors noiselessly dropped the portiere and noiselessly
retired, taking with him, nevertheless, an eternal souvenir of this
stolen visit. He made inquiries; and finally received the embraces of
his aunt, who had taken refuge in the chamber of her son, whom she had
put in the little chamber formerly occupied by Mademoiselle
d'Estrelles. His aunt, after the first greetings, introduced her
nephew into the salon, where were displayed all the pomps of the
trousseau. Cashmeres, laces, velvets, silks of the finest quality,
covered the chairs. On the chimneypiece, the tables, and the
consoles, were strewn the jewel-cases.
While Madame de la Roche-Jugan was exhibiting to Camors these
magnificent things—of which she failed not to give him the
prices—Charlotte, who had been notified of the Count's presence,
entered the salon.
Her face was not only serene—it was joyous. "Good morning,
cousin!" she said gayly, extending her hand to Camors. "How very kind
of you to come! Well, you see how the General spoils me?"
"This is the trousseau of a princess, Mademoiselle!"
"And if you knew, Louis," said Madame de la Roche, "how well all
this suits her! Dear child! you would suppose she had been born to a
throne. However, you know she is descended from the kings of Spain."
"Dear aunt!" said Mademoiselle, kissing her on the forehead.
"You know, Louis, that I wish her to call me aunt now?" said the
Countess, affecting the plaintive tone, which she thought the highest
expression of human tenderness.
"Ah, indeed!" said Camors.
"Let us see, little one! Only try on your coronet before your
"I should like to see it on your brow," said Camors.
"Your slightest wishes are commands," replied Charlotte, in a voice
harmonious and grave, but not untouched with irony.
In the midst of the jewelry which encumbered the salon was a full
marquise's coronet set in precious stones and pearls. The young girl
adjusted it on her head before the glass, and then stood near Camors
with majestic composure.
"Look!" she said; and he gazed at her bewildered, for she looked
wonderfully beautiful and proud under her coronet.
Suddenly she darted a glance full into the eyes of the young man,
and lowering her voice to a tone of inexpressible bitterness, said:
"At least I sell myself dearly, do I not?" Then turning her back
to him she laughed, and took off her coronet.
After some further conversation Camors left, saying to himself that
this adorable person promised to become very dangerous; but not
admitting that he might profit by it.
In conformity with his promise he returned immediately to the
General, who continued to pace the three rooms, and cried out as he
"Very well indeed, General, perfect—everything goes well."
"You have seen her?"
"And she said to you—"
"Not much; but she seemed enchanted."
"Seriously, you did not remark anything strange?"
"I remarked she was very lovely!"
"Parbleu! and you think she loves me a little?"
"Assuredly, after her way—as much as she can love, for she has
naturally a very cold disposition."
"Ah! as to that I console myself. All that I demand is not to be
disagreeable to her. Is it not so? Very well, you give me great
pleasure. Now, go where you please, my dear boy, until this evening."
"Adieu until this evening, General!"
The signing of the contract was marked by no special incident; only
when the notary, with a low, modest voice read the clause by which the
General made Mademoiselle d'Estrelles heiress to all his fortune,
Camors was amused to remark the superb indifference of Mademoiselle
Charlotte, the smiling exasperation of Mesdames Bacquiere and
Van-Cuyp, and the amorous regard which Madame de la Roche-Jugan threw
at the same time on Charlotte, her son, and the notary. Then the eye
of the Countess rested with a lively interest on the General, and
seemed to say that it detected with pleasure in him an unhealthy
The next morning, on leaving the Church of St. Thomas daikon, the
young Marquise only exchanged her wedding-gown for a
travelling-costume, and departed with her husband for Campvallon,
bathed in the tears of Madame de la Roche-Jugan, whose lacrimal glands
were remarkably tender.
Eight days later M. de Camors returned to Reuilly. Paris had
revived him, his nerves were strong again.
As a practical man he took a more healthy view of his adventure
with Madame de Tecle, and began to congratulate himself on its
denouement. Had things taken a different turn, his future destiny
would have been compromised and deranged for him. His political
future especially would have been lost, or indefinitely postponed, for
his liaison with Madame de Tecle would have been discovered some day,
and would have forever alienated the friendly feelings of M. des
On this point he did not deceive himself. Madame de Tecle, in the
first conversation she had with him, confided to him that her uncle
seemed much pleased when she laughingly let him see her idea of
marrying her daughter some day to M. de Camors.
Camors seized this occasion to remind Madame de Tecle, that while
respecting her projects for the future, which she did him the honor to
form, he had not pledged himself to their realization; and that both
reason and honor compelled him in this matter to preserve his absolute
She assented to this with her habitual sweetness. From this
moment, without ceasing to exhibit toward him every mark of
affectionate preference, she never allowed herself the slightest
allusion to the dear dream she cherished. Only her tenderness for her
daughter seemed to increase, and she devoted herself to the care of
her education with redoubled fervor. All this would have touched the
heart of M. de Camors, if the heart of M. de Camors had not lost, in
its last effort at virtue, the last trace of humanity.
His honor set at rest by his frank avowals to Madame de Tecle, he
did not hesitate to profit by the advantages of the situation. He
allowed her to serve him as much as she desired, and she desired it
passionately. Little by little she had persuaded her uncle that M. de
Camors was destined by his character and talents for a great future,
and that he would, one day, be an excellent match for Marie; that he
was becoming daily more attached to agriculture, which turned toward
decentralization, and that he should be attached by firmer bonds to a
province which he would honor. While this was going on General
Campvallon brought the Marquise to present her to Madame de Tecle; and
in a confidential interview with M. des Rameures unmasked his
batteries. He was going to Italy to remain some time, but desired
first to tender his resignation, and to recommend Camors to his
M. des Rameures, gained over beforehand, promised his aid; and that
aid was equivalent to success. Camors had only to make some personal
visits to the more influential electors; but his appearance was as
seductive as it was striking, and he was one of those fortunate men
who can win a heart or a vote by a smile. Finally, to comply with the
requisitions, he established himself for several weeks in the chief
town of the department. He made his court to the wife of the prefect,
sufficiently to flatter the functionary without disquieting the
husband. The prefect informed the minister that the claims of the
Comte de Camors were pressed upon the department by an irresistible
influence; that the politics of the young Count appeared undecided and
a little suspicious, but that the administration, finding it useless
to oppose, thought it more politic to sustain him.
The minister, not less politic than the prefect, was of the same
In consequence of this combination of circumstances, M. de Camors,
toward the end of his twenty-eighth year, was elected, at intervals of
a few days, member of the Council-General, and deputy to the Corps
"You have desired it, my dear Elise," said M. des Rameures, on
learning this double result "you have desired it, and I have supported
this young Parisian with all my influence. But I must say, he does
not possess my confidence. May we never regret our triumph. May we
never have to say with the poet: 'Vita Dais oxidated Malians.'"—[The
evil gods have heard our vows.]
CHAPTER XI. NEW MAN OF THE NEW EMPIRE
It was now five years since the electors of Reuilly had sent the
Comte de Camors to the Corps Legislatif, and they had seen no cause to
regret their choice. He understood marvellously well their little
local interests, and neglected no occasion of forwarding them.
Furthermore, if any of his constituents, passing through Paris,
presented themselves at his small hotel on the Rue de
l'Imperatrice—it had been built by an architect named Lescande, as a
compliment from the deputy to his old friend—they were received with
a winning affability that sent them back to the province with softened
hearts. M. de Camors would condescend to inquire whether their wives
or their daughters had borne them company; he would place at their
disposal tickets for the theatres and passes into the Legislative
Chamber; and would show them his pictures and his stables. He also
trotted out his horses in the court under their eyes. They found him
much improved in personal appearance, and even reported affectionately
that his face was fuller and had lost the melancholy cast it used to
wear. His manner, once reserved, was now warmer, without any loss of
dignity; his expression, once morose, was now marked by a serenity at
once pleasing and grave. His politeness was almost a royal grace; for
he showed to women—young or old, rich or poor, virtuous or
otherwise—the famous suavity of Louis the Fourteenth.
To his equals, as to his inferiors, his urbanity was perfection;
for he cultivated in the depths of his soul—for women, for his
inferiors, for his equals, and for his constituents—the same
He loved, esteemed, and respected only himself; but that self he
loved, esteemed, and respected as a god! In fact, he had now,
realized as completely as possible, in his own person, that almost
superhuman ideal he had conceived in the most critical hour of his
When he surveyed himself from head to foot in the mental mirror
before him, he was content! He was truly that which he wished to be.
The programme of his life, as he had laid it down, was faithfully
By a powerful effort of his mighty will, he succeeded in himself
adopting, rather than disdaining in others, all those animal instincts
that govern the vulgar. These he believed fetters which bound the
feeble, but which the strong could use. He applied himself
ceaselessly to the development and perfection of his rare physical and
intellectual gifts, only that he might, during the short passage from
the cradle to the tomb, extract from them the greatest amount of
pleasure. Fully convinced that a thorough knowledge of the world,
delicacy of taste and elegance, refinement and the point of honor
constituted a sort of moral whole which formed the true gentleman, he
strove to adorn his person with the graver as well as the lighter
graces. He was like a conscientious artist, who would leave no
smallest detail incomplete. The result of his labor was so
satisfactory, that M. de Camors, at the moment we rejoin him, was not
perhaps one of the best men in the world, but he was beyond doubt one
of the happiest and most amiable. Like all men who have determined to
cultivate ability rather than scrupulousness, he saw all things
developing to his satisfaction. Confident of his future, he
discounted it boldly, and lived as if very opulent. His rapid
elevation was explained by his unfailing audacity, by his cool
judgment and neat finesse, by his great connection and by his moral
independence. He had a hard theory, which he continually expounded
with all imaginable grace: "Humanity," he would say, "is composed of
Thoroughly imbued with this axiom, he had taken his degree in the
grand lodge of financiers. There he at once made himself an authority
by his manner and address; and he knew well how to use his name, his
political influence, and his reputation for integrity. Employing all
these, yet never compromising one of them, he influenced men by their
virtues, or their vices, with equal indifference. He was incapable of
meanness; he never wilfully entrapped a friend, or even an enemy, into
a disastrous speculation; only, if the venture proved unsuccessful, he
happened to get out and leave the others in it. But in financial
speculations, as in battles, there must be what is called "food for
powder;" and if one be too solicitous about this worthless pabulum,
nothing great can be accomplished. So Camors passed as one of the
most scrupulous of this goodly company; and his word was as potential
in the region of "the rings," as it was in the more elevated sphere of
the clubs and of the turf.
Nor was he less esteemed in the Corps Legislatif, where he assumed
the curious role of a working member until committees fought for him.
It surprised his colleagues to see this elegant young man, with such
fine abilities, so modest and so laborious—to see him ready on the
dryest subjects and with the most tedious reports. Ponderous laws of
local interest neither frightened nor mystified him. He seldom spoke
in the public debates, except as a reporter; but in the committee he
spoke often, and there his manner was noted for its grave precision,
tinged with irony. No one doubted that he was one of the statesmen of
the future; but it could be seen he was biding his time.
The exact shade of his politics was entirely unknown. He sat in
the "centre left;" polite to every one, but reserved with all.
Persuaded, like his father, that the rising generation was preparing,
after a time, to pass from theories to revolution—and calculating
with pleasure that the development of this periodical catastrophe
would probably coincide with his fortieth year, and open to his blase
maturity a source of new emotions—he determined to wait and mold his
political opinions according to circumstances.
His life, nevertheless, had sufficient of the agreeable to permit
him to wait the hour of ambition. Men respected, feared, and envied
him. Women adored him.
His presence, of which he was not prodigal, adorned an
entertainment: his intrigues could not be gossiped about, being at the
same time choice, numerous, and most discreetly conducted.
Passions purely animal never endure long, and his were most
ephemeral; but he thought it due to himself to pay the last honors to
his victims, and to inter them delicately under the flowers of his
friendship. He had in this way made many friends among the Parisian
women—a few only of whom detested him. As for the husbands—they
were universally fond of him.
To these elegant pleasures he sometimes added a furious debauch,
when his imagination was for the moment maddened by champagne. But
low company disgusted him, and he shunned it; he was not a man for
frequent orgies, and economized his health, his energies, and his
strength. His tastes were as thoroughly elevated as could be those of
a being who strove to repress his soul. Refined intrigues, luxury in
music, paintings, books, and horses—these constituted all the joy of
his soul, of his sense, and of his pride. He hovered over the flowers
of Parisian elegance; as a bee in the bosom of a rose, he drank in its
essence and revelled in its beauty.
It is easy to understand that M. de Camors, relishing this
prosperity, attached himself more and more to the moral and religious
creed that assured it to him; that he became each day more and more
confirmed in the belief that the testament of his father and his own
reflection had revealed to him the true evangel of men superior to
their species. He was less and less tempted to violate the rules of
the game of life; but among all the useless cards, to hold which might
disturb his system, the first he discarded was the thought of
marriage. He pitied himself too tenderly at the idea of losing the
liberty of which he made such agreeable use; at the idea of taking on
himself gratuitously the restraints, the tedium, the ridicule, and
even the danger of a household. He shuddered at the bare thought of a
community of goods and interest; and of possible paternity.
With such views he was therefore but little disposed to encourage
the natural hopes in which Madame de Tecle had entombed her love. He
determined so to conduct himself toward her as to leave no ground for
the growth of her illusion. He ceased to visit Reuilly, remaining
there but two or three weeks in each year, as such time as the session
of the Council-General summoned him to the province.
It is true that during these rare visits Camors piqued himself on
rendering Madame de Tecle and M. des Rameures all the duties of
respectful gratitude. Yet avoiding all allusion to the past, guarding
himself scrupulously from confidential converse, and observing a
frigid politeness to Mademoiselle Marie, there remained doubt in his
mind that, the fickleness of the fair sex aiding him, the young mother
of the girl would renounce her chimerical project. His error was
great: and it may be here remarked that a hard and scornful scepticism
may in this world engender as many false judgments and erroneous
calculations as candor or even inexperience can. He believed too much
in what had been written of female fickleness; in deceived lovers, who
truly deserved to be such; and in what disappointed men had judged of
The truth is, women are generally remarkable for the tenacity of
their ideas and for fidelity to their sentiments. Inconstancy of
heart is the special attribute of man; but he deems it his privilege
as well, and when woman disputes the palm with him on this ground, he
cries aloud as if the victim of a robber.
Rest assured this theory is no paradox; as proven by the prodigies
of patient devotion—tenacious, inviolable—every day displayed by
women of the lower classes, whose natures, if gross, retain their
primitive sincerity. Even with women of the world, depraved though
they be by the temptations that assail them, nature asserts herself;
and it is no rarity to see them devote an entire life to one idea, one
thought, or one affection! Their lives do not know the thousand
distractions which at once disturb and console men; and any idea that
takes hold upon them easily becomes fixed. They dwell upon it in the
crowd and in solitude; when they read and while they sew; in their
dreams and in their prayers. In it they live—for it they die.
It was thus that Madame de Tecle had dwelt year after year on the
project of this alliance with unalterable fervor, and had blended the
two pure affections that shared her heart in this union of her
daughter with Camors, and in thus securing the happiness of both.
Ever since she had conceived this desire—which could only have had
its birth in a soul as pure as it was tender—the education of her
child had become the sweet romance of her life. She dreamed of it
always, and of nothing else.
Without knowing or even suspecting the evil traits lurking in the
character of Camors, she still understood that, like the great
majority of the young men of his day, the young Count was not
overburdened with principle. But she held that one of the privileges
of woman, in our social system, was the elevation of their husbands by
connection with a pure soul, by family affections, and by the sweet
religion of the heart. Seeking, therefore, by making her daughter an
amiable and lovable woman, to prepare her for the high mission for
which she was destined, she omitted nothing which could improve her.
What success rewarded her care the sequel of this narrative will
show. It will suffice, for the present, to inform the reader that
Mademoiselle de Tecle was a young girl of pleasing countenance, whose
short neck was placed on shoulders a little too high. She was not
beautiful, but extremely pretty, well educated, and much more
vivacious than her mother.
Mademoiselle Marie was so quick-witted that her mother often
suspected she knew the secret which concerned herself. Sometimes she
talked too much of M. de Camors; sometimes she talked too little, and
assumed a mysterious air when others spoke of him.
Madame de Tecle was a little disturbed by these eccentricities.
The conduct of M. de Camors, and his more than reserved bearing,
annoyed her occasionally; but when we love any one we are likely to
interpret favorably all that he does, or all that he omits to do.
Madame de Tecle readily attributed the equivocal conduct of the Count
to the inspiration of a chivalric loyalty. As she believed she knew
him thoroughly, she thought he wished to avoid committing himself, or
awakening public observation, before he had made up his mind.
He acted thus to avoid disturbing the repose of both mother and
daughter. Perhaps also the large fortune which seemed destined for
Mademoiselle de Tecle might add to his scruples by rousing his pride.
His not marrying was in itself a good augury, and his little
fiancee was reaching a marriageable age. She therefore did not
despair that some day M. de Camors would throw himself at her feet,
and say, "Give her to met!"
If God did not intend that this delicious page should ever be
written in the book of her destiny, and she was forced to marry her
daughter to another, the poor woman consoled herself with the thought
that all the cares she lavished upon her would not be lost, and that
her dear child would thus be rendered better and happier.
The long months which intervened between the annual apparition of
Camors at Reuilly, filled up by Madame de Tecle with a single idea and
by the sweet monotony of a regular life, passed more rapidly than the
Count could have imagined. His own life, so active and so occupied,
placed ages and abysses between each of his periodical voyages. But
Madame de Tecle, after five years, was always only a day removed from
the cherished and fatal night on which her dream had begun. Since
that period there had been no break in her thoughts, no void in her
heart, no wrinkle on her forehead. Her dream continued young, like
herself. But in spite of the peaceful and rapid succession of her
days, it was not without anxiety that she saw the approach of the
season which always heralded the return of Camors.
As her daughter matured, she preoccupied herself with the
impression she would make on the mind of the Count, and felt more
sensibly the solemnity of the matter.
Mademoiselle Marie, as we have already stated, was a cunning little
puss, and had not failed to perceive that her tender mother chose
habitually the season of the convocation of the Councils-General to
try a new style of hair-dressing for her. The same year on which we
have resumed our recital there passed, on one occasion, a little scene
which rather annoyed Madame de Tecle. She was trying a new coiffure
on Mademoiselle Marie, whose hair was very pretty and very black; some
stray and rebellious portions had frustrated her mother's efforts.
There was one lock in particular, which in spite of all combing and
brushing would break away from the rest, and fall in careless curls.
Madame de Tecle finally, by the aid of some ribbons, fastened down the
"Now I think it will do," she said sighing, and stepping back to
admire the effect of her work.
"Don't believe it," said Marie, who was laughing and mocking. "I
do not think so. I see exactly what will happen: the bell rings—I
run out— my net gives way—Monsieur de Camors walks in—my mother is
"I should like to know what Monsieur de Camors has to do with it?"
said Madame de Tecle.
Her daughter threw her arms around her neck—"Nothing!" she said.
Another time Madame de Tecle detected her speaking of M. de Camors
in a tone of bitter irony. He was "the great man"—"the mysterious
personage"—"the star of the neighborhood"—"the phoenix of guests in
their woods"—or simply "the Prince!"
Such symptoms were of so serious a nature as not to escape Madame
In presence of "the Prince," it is true, the young girl lost her
gayety; but this was another cross. Her mother found her cold,
awkward, and silent—brief, and slightly caustic in her replies. She
feared M. de Camors would misjudge her from such appearances.
But Camors formed no judgment, good or bad; Mademoiselle de Tecle
was for him only an insignificant little girl, whom he never thought
of for a moment in the year.
There was, however, at this time in society a person who did
interest him very much, and the more because against his will. This
was the Marquise de Campvallon, nee de Luc d'Estrelles.
The General, after making the tour of Europe with his young wife,
had taken possession of his hotel in the Rue Vanneau, where he lived
in great splendor. They resided at Paris during the winter and
spring, but in July returned to their chateau at Campvallon, where
they entertained in great state until the autumn. The General invited
Madame de Tecle and her daughter, every year, to pass some weeks at
Campvallon, rightly judging that he could not give his young wife
better companions. Madame de Tecle accepted these invitations
cheerfully, because it gave her an opportunity of seeing the elite of
the Parisian world, from whom the whims of her uncle had always
isolated her. For her own part, she did not much enjoy it; but her
daughter, by moving in the midst of such fashion and elegance could
thus efface some provincialisms of toilet or of language; perfect her
taste in the delicate and fleeting changes of the prevailing modes,
and acquire some additional graces. The young Marquise, who reigned
and scintillated like a bright star in these high regions of social
life, lent herself to the designs of her neighbor. She seemed to take
a kind of maternal interest in Mademoiselle de Tecle, and frequently
added her advice to her example. She assisted at her toilet and gave
the final touches with her own dainty hands; and the young girl, in
return, loved, admired, and confided in her.
Camors also enjoyed the hospitalities of the General once every
season, but was not his guest as often as he wished. He seldom
remained at Campvallon longer than a week. Since the return of the
Marquise to France he had resumed the relations of a kinsman and
friend with her husband and herself; but, while trying to adopt the
most natural manner, he treated them both with a certain reserve,
which astonished the General. It will not surprise the reader, who
recollects the secret and powerful reasons which justified this
For Camors, in renouncing the greater part of the restraints which
control and bind men in their relations with one another, had
religiously intended to preserve one—the sentiment of honor. Many
times, in the course of this life, he had felt himself embarrassed to
limit and fix with certainty the boundaries of the only moral law he
wished to respect.
It is easy to know exactly what is in the Bible; it is not easy to
know exactly what the code of honor commands.
CHAPTER XII. CIRCE
But there exists, nevertheless, in this code one article, as to
which M. de Camors could not deceive himself, and it was that which
forbade his attempting to assail the honor of the General under
penalty of being in his own eyes, as a gentleman, a felon and
foresworn. He had accepted from this old man confidence, affection,
services, benefits—everything which could bind one man inviolably to
another man—if there be beneath the heavens anything called honor.
He felt this profoundly.
His conduct toward Madame de Campvallon had been irreproachable;
and all the more so, because the only woman he was interdicted from
loving was the only woman in Paris, or in the universe, who naturally
pleased him most. He entertained for her, at once, the interest which
attaches to forbidden fruit, to the attraction of strange beauty, and
to the mystery of an impenetrable sphinx. She was, at this time, more
goddess-like than ever. The immense fortune of her husband, and the
adulation which it brought her, had placed her on a golden car. On
this she seated herself with a gracious and native majesty, as if in
her proper place.
The luxury of her toilet, of her jewels, of her house and of her
equipages, was of regal magnificence. She blended the taste of an
artist with that of a patrician. Her person appeared really to be
made divine by the rays of this splendor. Large, blonde, graceful,
the eyes blue and unfathomable, the forehead grave, the mouth pure and
proud it was impossible to see her enter a salon with her light,
gliding step, or to see her reclining in her carriage, her hands
folded serenely, without dreaming of the young immortals whose love
She had even those traits of physiognomy, stern and wild, which the
antique sculptors doubtless had surprised in supernatural visitations,
and which they have stamped on the eyes and the lips of their marble
gods. Her arms and shoulders, perfect in form, seemed models, in the
midst of the rosy and virgin snow which covered the neighboring
mountains. She was truly superb and bewitching. The Parisian world
respected as much as it admired her, for she played her difficult part
of young bride to an old man so perfectly as to avoid scandal.
Without any pretence of extraordinary devotion, she knew how to join
to her worldly pomps the exercise of charity, and all the other
practices of an elegant piety. Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who watched
her closely, as one watching a prey, testified, herself, in her favor;
and judged her more and more worthy of her son. And Camors, who
observed her, in spite of himself, with an eager curiosity, was
finally induced to believe, as did his aunt and all the world, that
she conscientiously performed her difficult duties, and that she found
in the eclat of her life and the gratification of her pride a
sufficient compensation for the sacrifice of her youth, her heart, and
her beauty; but certain souvenirs of the past, joined to certain
peculiarities, which he fancied he remarked in the Marquise, induced
him to distrust.
There were times, when recalling all that he had once
witnessed—the abysses and the flame at the bottom of that heart—he
was tempted to suspect the existence of many storms under all this
calm exterior, and perhaps some wickedness. It is true she never was
with him precisely as she was before the world. The character of
their relations was marked by a peculiar tone. It was precisely that
tone of covert irony adopted by two persons who desired neither to
remember nor to forget. This tone, softened in the language of Camors
by his worldly tact and his respect, was much more pointed, and had
much more of bitterness on the side of the young woman.
He even fancied, at times, that he discovered a shade of coquetry
under this treatment; and this provocation, vague as it was, coming
from this beautiful, cold, and inscrutable creature, seemed to him a
game fearfully mysterious, that at once attracted and disturbed him.
This was the state of things when the Count came, according to
custom, to pass the first days of September at the chateau of
Campvallon, and met there Madame de Tecle and her daughter. The visit
was a painful one, this year, for Madame de Tecle. Her confidence
deserted her, and serious concern took its place. She had, it is
true, fixed in her mind, as the last point of her hopes, the moment
when her daughter should have reached twenty years of age; and Marie
was only eighteen.
But she already had had several offers, and several times public
rumor had already declared her to be betrothed.
Now, Camors could not have been ignorant of the rumors circulating
in the neighborhood, and yet he did not speak. His countenance did
not change. He was coldly affectionate to Madame de Tecle, but toward
Marie, in spite of her beautiful blue eyes, like her mother's, and her
curly hair, he preserved a frozen indifference. For Camors had other
anxieties, of which Madame de Tecle knew nothing. The manner of
Madame Campvallon toward him had assumed a more marked character of
aggressive raillery. A defensive attitude is never agreeable to a man,
and Camors felt it more disagreeable than most men—being so little
accustomed to it.
He resolved promptly to shorten his visit at Campvallon.
On the eve of his departure, about five o'clock in the afternoon,
he was standing at his window, looking beyond the trees at the great
black clouds sailing over the valley, when he heard the sound of a
voice that had power to move him deeply—"Monsieur de Camors!" He saw
the Marquise standing under his window.
"Will you walk with me?" she added.
He bowed and descended immediately. At the moment he reached her:
"It is suffocating," she said. "I wish to walk round the park and
will take you with me."
He muttered a few polite phrases, and they began walking, side by
side, through the alleys of the park.
She moved at a rapid pace, with her majestic motion, her body
swaying, her head erect. One would have looked for a page behind her,
but she had none, and her long blue robe—she rarely wore short
skirts—trailed on the sand and over the dry leaves with the soft
rustle of silk.
"I have disturbed you, probably?" she said, after a moment's
pause. "What were you dreaming of up there?"
"Nothing—only watching the coming storm."
"Are you becoming poetical, cousin?"
"There is no necessity for becoming, for I already am infinitely
"I do not think so. Shall you leave to-morrow?"
"Why so soon?"
"I have business elsewhere."
"Very well. But Vau—Vautrot—is he not there?"
Vautrot was the secretary of M. de Camors.
"Vautrot can not do everything," he replied.
"By the way, I do not like your Vautrot."
"Nor I. But he was recommended to me by my old friend, Madame
d'Oilly, as a freethinker, and at the same time by my aunt, Madame de
la Roche- Jugan, as a religious man!"
"Nevertheless," said Camors, "he is intelligent and witty, and
writes a fine hand."
"How? What of me?"
"Do you also write a good hand?"
"I will show you, whenever you wish!"
"Ah! and will you write to me?"
It is difficult to imagine the tone of supreme indifference and
haughty persiflage with which the Marquise sustained this dialogue,
without once slackening her pace, or glancing at her companion, or
changing the proud and erect pose of her head.
"I will write you either prose or verse, as you wish," said Camors.
"Ah! you know how to compose verses?"
"When I am inspired!"
"And when are you inspired?"
"Usually in the morning."
"And we are now in the evening. That is not complimentary to me."
"But you, Madame, had no desire to inspire me, I think."
"Why not, then? I should be happy and proud to do so. Do you know
what I should like to put there?" and she stopped suddenly before a
rustic bridge, which spanned a murmuring rivulet.
"I do not know!"
"You can not even guess? I should like to put an artificial rock
"Why not a natural one? In your place I should put a natural one!"
"That is an idea," said the Marquise, and walking on she crossed
"But it really thunders. I like to hear thunder in the country.
"I prefer to hear it thunder at Paris."
"Because then I should not hear it."
"You have no imagination."
"I have; but I smother it."
"Possibly. I have suspected you of hiding your merits, and
particularly from me."
"Why should I conceal my merits from you?"
"'Why should I conceal my merits' is good!" said the Marquise,
ironically. "Why? Out of charity, Monsieur, not to dazzle me, and in
regard for my repose! You are really too good, I assure you. Here
comes the rain."
Large drops of rain began to fall on the dry leaves, and on the
yellow sand of the alley. The day was dying, and the sudden shower
bent the boughs of the trees.
"We must return," said the young woman; "this begins to get
She took, in haste, the path which led to the chateau; but after a
few steps a bright flash broke over her head, the noise of the thunder
resounded, and a deluge of rain fell upon the fields.
There was fortunately, near by, a shelter in which the Marquise and
her companion could take refuge. It was a ruin, preserved as an
ornament to the park, which had formerly been the chapel of the
ancient chateau. It was almost as large as the village chapel—the
broken walls half concealed under a thick mantle of ivy. Its branches
had pushed through the roof and mingled with the boughs of the old
trees which surrounded and shaded it. The timbers had disappeared.
The extremity of the choir, and the spot formerly occupied by the
altar, were alone covered by the remains of the roof. Wheelbarrows,
rakes, spades, and other garden tools were piled there.
The Marquise had to take refuge in the midst of this rubbish, in
the narrow space, and her companion followed her.
The storm, in the mean time, increased in violence. The rain fell
in torrents through the old walls, inundating the soil in the ancient
nave. The lightning flashed incessantly. Every now and then fragments
of earth and stone detached themselves from the roof, and fell into
"I find this magnificent!" said Madame de Campvallon.
"I also," said Camors, raising his eyes to the crumbling roof which
half protected them; "but I do not know whether we are safe here!"
"If you fear, you would better go!" said the Marquise.
"I fear for you."
"You are too good, I assure you."
She took off her cap and brushed it with her glove, to remove the
drops of rain which had fallen upon it. After a slight pause, she
suddenly raised her uncovered head and cast on Camors one of those
searching looks which prepares a man for an important question.
"Cousin!" she said, "if you were sure that one of these flashes of
lightning would kill you in a quarter of an hour, what would you do?"
"Why, cousin, naturally I should take a last farewell of you."
He regarded her steadily, in his turn. "Do you know," he said,
"there are moments when I am tempted to think you a devil?"
"Truly! Well, there are times when I am tempted to think so
myself—for example, at this moment. Do you know what I should wish?
I wish I could control the lightning, and in two seconds you would
cease to exist."
"For what reason?"
"Because I recollect there was a man to whom I offered myself, and
who refused me, and that this man still lives. And this displeases me
a little—a great deal—passionately."
"Are you serious, Madame?" replied Camors.
"I hope you did not think so. I am not so wicked. It was a
joke—and in bad taste, I admit. But seriously now, cousin, what is
your opinion of me? What kind of woman has time made me?"
"I swear to you I am entirely ignorant."
"Admitting I had become, as you did me the honor to suppose, a
diabolical person, do you think you had nothing to do with it? Tell
me! Do you not believe that there is in the life of a woman a
decisive hour, when the evil seed which is cast upon her soul may
produce a terrible harvest? Do you not believe this? Answer me! And
should I not be excusable if I entertained toward you the sentiment of
an exterminating angel; and have I not some merit in being what I
am—a good woman, who loves you well— with a little rancor, but not
much—and who wishes you all sorts of prosperity in this world and the
next? Do not answer me: it might embarrass you, and it would be
She left her shelter, and turned her face toward the lowering sky
to see whether the storm was over.
"It has stopped raining," she said, "let us go."
She then perceived that the lower part of the nave had been
transformed into a lake of mud and water. She stopped at its brink,
and uttered a little cry:
"What shall I do?" she said, looking at her light shoes. Then,
turning toward Camors, she added, laughing:
"Monsieur, will you get me a boat?"
Camors, himself, recoiled from stepping into the greasy mud and
stagnant water which filled the whole space of the nave.
"If you will wait a little," he said, "I shall find you some boots
or sabots, no matter what."
"It will be much easier," she said abruptly, "for you to carry me
to the door;" and without waiting for the young man's reply, she
tucked up her skirts carefully, and when she had finished, she said,
He looked at her with astonishment, and thought for a moment she
was jesting; but soon saw she was perfectly serious.
"Of what are you afraid?" she asked.
"I am not at all afraid," he answered.
"Is it that you are not strong enough?"
"Mon Dieu! I should think I was."
He took her in his arms, as in a cradle, while she held up her
skirts with both hands. He then descended the steps and moved toward
the door with his strange burden. He was obliged to be very careful
not to slip on the wet earth, and this absorbed him during the first
few steps; but when he found his footing more sure, he felt a natural
curiosity to observe the countenance of the Marquise.
The uncovered head of the young woman rested a little on the arm
with which he held her. Her lips were slightly parted with a
half-wicked smile that showed her fine white teeth; the same
expression of ungovernable malice burned in her dark eyes, which she
riveted for some seconds on those of Camors with persistent
penetration—then suddenly veiled them under the fringe of her dark
lashes. This glance sent a thrill like lightning to his very marrow.
"Do you wish to drive me mad?" he murmured.
"Who knows?" she replied.
The same moment she disengaged herself from his arms, and placing
her foot on the ground again, left the ruin.
They reached the chateau without exchanging a word. Just before
entering the house the young Marquise turned toward Camors and said to
"Be sure that at heart I am very good, really."
Notwithstanding this assertion, Camors was yet more determined to
leave the next morning, as he had previously decided. He carried away
the most painful impression of the scene of that evening.
She had wounded his pride, inflamed his hopeless passion, and
disquieted his honor.
"What is this woman, and what does she want of me? Is it love or
vengeance that inspires her with this fiendish coquetry?" he asked
himself. Whatever it was, Camors was not such a novice in similar
adventures as not to perceive clearly the yawning abyss under the
broken ice. He resolved sincerely to close it again between them, and
forever. The best way to succeed in this, avowedly, was to cease all
intercourse with the Marquise. But how could such conduct be
explained to the General, without awakening his suspicion and lowering
his wife in his esteem? That plan was impossible. He armed himself
with all his courage, and resigned himself to endure with resolute
soul all the trials which the love, real or pretended, of the Marquise
reserved for him.
He had at this time a singular idea. He was a member of several of
the most aristocratic clubs. He organized a chosen group of men from
the elite of his companions, and formed with them a secret
association, of which the object was to fix and maintain among its
members the principles and points of honor in their strictest form.
This society, which had only been vaguely spoken of in public under
the name of "Societe des Raffines," and also as "The Templars" which
latter was its true name— had nothing in common with "The Devourers,"
illustrated by Balzac. It had nothing in it of a romantic or dramatic
character. Those who composed this club did not, in any way, defy
ordinary morals, nor set themselves above the laws of their country.
They did not bind themselves by any vows of mutual aid in extremity.
They bound themselves simply by their word of honor to observe, in
their reciprocal relations, the rules of purest honor.
These rules were specified in their code. The text it is difficult
to give; but it was based entirely on the point of honor, and
regulated the affairs of the club, such as the card-table, the turf,
duelling, and gallantry. For example, any member was disqualified
from belonging to this association who either insulted or interfered
with the wife or relative of one of his colleagues. The only penalty
was exclusion: but the consequences of this exclusion were grave; for
all the members ceased thereafter to associate with, recognize, or
even bow to the offender. The Templars found in this secret society
many advantages. It was a great security in their intercourse with
one another, and in the different circumstances of daily life, where
they met continually either at the opera, in salons, or on the turf.
Camors was an exception among his companions and rivals in Parisian
life by the systematic decision of his doctrine. It was not so much
an embodiment of absolute scepticism and practical materialism; but
the want of a moral law is so natural to man, and obedience to higher
laws so sweet to him, that the chosen adepts to whom the project of
Camors was submitted accepted it with enthusiasm. They were happy in
being able to substitute a sort of positive and formal religion for
restraints so limited as their own confused and floating notions of
honor. For Camors himself, as is easily understood, it was a new
barrier which he wished to erect between himself and the passion which
fascinated him. He attached himself to this with redoubled force, as
the only moral bond yet left him. He completed his work by making the
General accept the title of President of the Association. The
General, to whom Honor was a sort of mysterious but real goddess, was
delighted to preside over the worship of his idol. He felt flattered
by his young friend's selection, and esteemed him the more.
It was the middle of winter. The Marquise Campvallon had resumed
for some time her usual course of life, which was at the same time
strict but elegant. Punctual at church every morning, at the Bois and
at charity bazaars during the day, at the opera or the theatres in the
evening, she had received M. de Camors without the shadow of apparent
emotion. She even treated him more simply and more naturally than
ever, with no recurrence to the past, no allusion to the scene in the
park during the storm; as if she had, on that day, disclosed
everything that had lain hidden in her heart. This conduct so much
resembled indifference, that Camors should have been delighted; but he
was not—on the contrary he was annoyed by it. A cruel but powerful
interest, already too dear to his blase soul, was disappearing thus
from his life. He was inclined to believe that Madame de Campvallon
possessed a much less complicated character than he had fancied; and
that little by little absorbed in daily trifles, she had become in
reality what she pretended to be—a good woman, inoffensive, and
contented with her lot.
He was one evening in his orchestra-stall at the opera. They were
singing The Huguenots. The Marquise occupied her box between the
columns. The numerous acquaintances Camors met in the passages during
the first entr'acte prevented his going as soon as usual to pay his
respects to his cousin. At last, after the fourth act, he went to
visit her in her box, where he found her alone, the General having
descended to the parterre for a few moments. He was astonished, on
entering, to find traces of tears on the young woman's cheeks. Her
eyes were even moist. She seemed displeased at being surprised in the
very act of sentimentality.
"Music always excites my nerves," she said.
"Indeed!" said Camors. "You, who always reproach me with hiding
my merits, why do you hide yours? If you are still capable of
weeping, so much the better."
"No! I claim no merit for that. Oh, heavens! If you only knew!
It is quite the contrary."
"What a mystery you are!"
"Are you very curious to fathom this mystery? Only that? Very
well—be happy! It is time to put an end to this."
She drew her chair from the front of the box out of public view,
and, turning toward Camors, continued: "You wish to know what I am,
what I feel, and what I think; or rather, you wish to know simply
whether I dream of love? Very well, I dream only of that! Have I
lovers, or have I not? I have none, and never shall have, but that
will not be because of my virtue. I believe in nothing, except my own
self-esteem and my contempt of others. The little intrigues, the
petty passions, which I see in the world, make me indignant to the
bottom of my soul. It seems to me that women who give themselves for
so little must be base creatures. As for myself, I remember having
said to you one day—it is a million years since then!—that my person
is sacred to me; and to commit a sacrilege I should wish, like the
vestals of Rome, a love as great as my crime, and as terrible as
death. I wept just now during that magnificent fourth act. It was
not because I listened to the most marvellous music ever heard on this
earth; it was because I admire and envy passionately the superb and
profound love of that time. And it is ever thus—when I read the
history of the glorious sixteenth century, I am in ecstacies. How
well those people knew how to love and how to die! One night of
love—then death. That is delightful. Now, cousin, you must leave
me. We are observed. They will believe we love each other, and as we
have not that pleasure, it is useless to incur the penalties. Since I
am still in the midst of the court of Charles Tenth, I pity you, with
your black coat and round hat. Good-night."
"I thank you very much," replied Camors, taking the hand she
extended to him coldly, and left the box. He met M. de Campvallon in
"Parbleu! my dear friend," said the General, seizing him by the
arm. "I must communicate to you an idea which has been in my brain all
"What idea, General?"
"Well, there are here this evening a number of charming young
girls. This set me to thinking of you, and I even said to my wife that
we must marry you to one of these young women!"
"Well, why not?"
"That is a very serious thing—if one makes a mistake in his
choice—that is everything."
"Bah! it is not so difficult a thing. Take a wife like mine, who
has a great deal of religion, not much imagination, and no fancies.
That is the whole secret. I tell you this in confidence, my dear
"Well, General, I will think of it."
"Do think of it," said the General, in a serious tone; and went to
join his young wife, whom he understood so well.
As to her, she thoroughly understood herself, and analyzed her own
character with surprising truth.
Madame de Campvallon was just as little what her manner indicated
as was M. de Camors on his side. Both were altogether exceptional in
French society. Equally endowed by nature with energetic souls and
enlightened minds, both carried innate depravity to a high degree.
The artificial atmosphere of high Parisian civilization destroys in
women the sentiment and the taste for duty, and leaves them, nothing
but the sentiment and the taste for pleasure. They lose in the midst
of this enchanted and false life, like theatrical fairyland, the true
idea of life in general, and Christian life in particular. And we can
confidently affirm that all those who do not make for themselves,
apart from the crowd, a kind of Thebaid—and there are such—are
pagans. They are pagans, because the pleasures of the senses and of
the mind alone interest them, and they have not once, during the year,
an impression of the moral law, unless the sentiment, which some of
them detest, recalls it to them. They are pagans, like the beautiful,
worldly Catholics of the fifteenth century— loving luxury, rich
stuffs, precious furniture, literature, art, themselves, and love.
They were charming pagans, like Marie Stuart, and capable, like her,
of remaining true Catholics even under the axe.
We are speaking, let it be understood, of the best of the elite—of
those that read, and of those that dream. As to the rest, those who
participate in the Parisian life on its lighter side, in its childish
whirl, and the trifling follies it entails, who make rendezvous, waste
their time, who dress and are busy day and night doing nothing, who
dance frantically in the rays of the Parisian sun, without thought,
without passion, without virtue, and even without vice—we must own it
is impossible to imagine anything more contemptible.
The Marquise de Campvallon was then—as she truly said to the man
she resembled—a great pagan; and, as she also said to herself in one
of her serious moments when a woman's destiny is decided by the
influence of those they love, Camors had sown in her heart a seed
which had marvellously fructified.
Camors dreamed little of reproaching himself for it, but struck
with all the harmony that surrounded the Marquise, he regretted more
bitterly than ever the fatality which separated them.
He felt, however, more sure of himself, since he had bound himself
by the strictest obligations of honor. He abandoned himself from this
moment with less scruple to the emotions, and to the danger against
which he believed himself invincibly protected. He did not fear to
seek often the society of his beautiful cousin, and even contracted
the habit of repairing to her house two or three times a week, after
leaving the Chamber of Deputies. Whenever he found her alone, their
conversation invariably assumed a tone of irony and of raillery, in
which both excelled. He had not forgotten her reckless confidences at
the opera, and recalled it to her, asking her whether she had yet
discovered that hero of love for whom she was looking, who should be,
according to her ideas, a villain like Bothwell, or a musician like
"There are," she replied, "villains who are also musicians; but
that is imagination. Sing me, then, something apropos."
It was near the close of winter. The Marquise gave a ball. Her
fetes were justly renowned for their magnificence and good taste. She
did the honors with the grace of a queen. This evening she wore a
very simple costume, as was becoming in the courteous hostess. It was
a gown of dark velvet, with a train; her arms were bare, without
jewels; a necklace of large pearls lay on her rose-tinted bosom, and
the heraldic coronet sparkled on her fair hair.
Camors caught her eye as he entered, as if she were watching for
him. He had seen her the previous evening, and they had had a more
lively skirmish than usual. He was struck by her brilliancy—her
beauty heightened, without doubt, by the secret ardor of the quarrel,
as if illuminated by an interior flame, with all the clear, soft
splendor of a transparent alabaster vase.
When he advanced to join her and salute her, yielding, against his
will, to an involuntary movement of passionate admiration, he said:
"You are truly beautiful this evening. Enough so to make one
commit a crime."
She looked fixedly in his eyes, and replied:
"I should like to see that," and then left him, with superb
The General approached, and tapping the Count on the shoulder,
"Camors! you do not dance, as usual. Let us play a game of
"Willingly, General;" and traversing two or three salons they
reached the private boudoir of the Marquise. It was a small oval
room, very lofty, hung with thick red silk tapestry, covered with
black and white flowers. As the doors were removed, two heavy curtains
isolated the room completely from the neighboring gallery. It was
there that the General usually played cards and slept during his
fetes. A small card-table was placed before a divan. Except this
addition, the boudoir preserved its every-day aspect. Woman's work,
half finished, books, journals, and reviews were strewn upon the
furniture. They played two or three games, which the General won, as
Camors was very abstracted.
"I reproach myself, young man," said the former, "in having kept
you so long away from the ladies. I give you back your liberty—I
shall cast my eye on the journals."
"There is nothing new in them, I think," said Camors, rising. He
took up a newspaper himself, and placing his back against the
mantelpiece, warmed his feet, one after the other. The General threw
himself on the divan, ran his eye over the 'Moniteur de l'Armee',
approving of some military promotions, and criticising others; and,
little by little, he fell into a doze, his head resting on his chest.
But Camors was not reading. He listened vaguely to the music of
the orchestra, and fell into a reverie. Through these harmonies,
through the murmurs and warm perfume of the ball, he followed, in
thought, all the evolutions of her who was mistress and queen of all.
He saw her proud and supple step—he heard her grave and musical
voice—he felt her breath.
This young man had exhausted everything. Love and pleasure had no
longer for him secrets or temptations; but his imagination, cold and
blase, had arisen all inflamed before this beautiful, living,
palpitating statue. She was really for him more than a woman—more
than a mortal. The antique fables of amorous goddesses and drunken
Bacchantes—the superhuman voluptuousness unknown in terrestrial
pleasures—were in reach of his hand, separated from him only by the
shadow of this sleeping old man. But a shadow was ever between
them—it was honor.
His eyes, as if lost in thought, were fixed straight before him on
the curtain opposite the chimney. Suddenly this curtain was
noiselessly raised, and the young Marquise appeared, her brow
surmounted by her coronet. She threw a rapid glance over the boudoir,
and after a moment's pause, let the curtain fall gently, and advanced
directly toward Camors, who stood dazzled and immovable. She took
both his hands, without speaking, looked at his steadily—throwing a
rapid glance at her husband, who still slept—and, standing on tiptoe,
offered her lips to the young man.
Bewildered, and forgetting all else, he bent, and imprinted a kiss
on her lips.
At that very moment, the General made a sudden movement and woke
up; but the same instant the Marquise was standing before him, her
hands resting on the card-table; and smiling upon him, she said,
"Good-morning, my General!"
The General murmured a few words of apology, but she laughingly
pushed him back on his divan.
"Continue your nap," she said; "I have come in search of my cousin,
for the last cotillon." The General obeyed.
She passed out by the gallery. The young man; pale as a spectre,
Passing under the curtain, she turned toward him with a wild light
burning in her eyes. Then, before she was lost in the throng, she
whispered, in a low, thrilling voice:
"There is the crime!"
CHAPTER XIII. THE FIRST ACT OF THE
Camors did not attempt to rejoin the Marquise, and it seemed to him
that she also avoided him. A quarter of an hour later, he left the
He returned immediately home. A lamp was burning in his chamber.
When he saw himself in the mirror, his own face terrified him. This
exciting scene had shaken his nerves.
He could no longer control himself. His pupil had become his
master. The fact itself did not surprise him. Woman is more exalted
than man in morality. There is no virtue, no devotion, no heroism in
which she does not surpass him; but once impelled to the verge of the
abyss, she falls faster and lower than man. This is attributable to
two causes: she has more passion, and she has no honor. For honor is
a reality and must not be underrated. It is a noble, delicate, and
salutary quality. It elevates manly attributes; in fact, it
constitutes the modesty of man. It is sometimes a force, and always a
grace. But to think that honor is all-sufficient; that in the face of
great interests, great passions, great trials in life, it is a support
and an infallible defence; that it can enforce the precepts which come
from God—in fact that it can replace God—this is a terrible mistake.
It exposes one in a fatal moment to the loss of one's self-esteem,
and to fall suddenly and forever into that dismal ocean of bitterness
where Camors at that instant was struggling in despair, like a
drowning man in the darkness of midnight.
He abandoned himself, on this evil night, to a final conflict full
of agony; and he was beaten.
The next evening at six o'clock he was at the house of the
Marquise. He found her in her boudoir, surrounded by all her regal
luxury. She was half buried in a fauteuil in the chimney-corner,
looking a little pale and fatigued. She received him with her usual
coldness and self- possession.
"Good-day," she said. "How are you?"
"Not very well," replied Camors.
"What is the matter?"
"I fancy that you know."
She opened her large eyes wide with surprise, but did not reply.
"I entreat you, Madame," continued Camors, smiling—" no more
music, the curtain is raised, and the drama has begun."
"Ah! we shall see."
"Do you love me?" he continued; "or were you simply acting, to try
me, last night? Can you, or will you, tell me?"
"I certainly could, but I do not wish to do so."
"I had thought you more frank."
"I have my hours."
"Well, then," said Camors, "if your hours of frankness have passed,
mine have begun."
"That would be compensation," she replied.
"And I will prove it to you," continued Camors.
"I shall make a fete of it," said the Marquise, throwing herself
back on the sofa, as if to make herself comfortable in order to enjoy
an agreeable conversation.
"I love you, Madame; and as you wish to be loved. I love you
devotedly and unto death—enough to kill myself, or you!"
"That is well," said the Marquise, softly.
"But," he continued in a hoarse and constrained tone, "in loving
you, in telling you of it, in trying to make you share my love, I
violate basely the obligations of honor of which you know, and others
of which you know not. It is a crime, as you have said. I do not try
to extenuate my offence. I see it, I judge it, and I accept it. I
break the last moral tie that is left me; I leave the ranks of men of
honor, and I leave also the ranks of humanity. I have nothing human
left except my love, nothing sacred but you; but my crime elevates
itself by its magnitude. Well, I interpret it thus: I imagine two
beings, equally free and strong, loving and valuing each other beyond
all else, having no affection, no loyalty, no devotion, no honor,
except toward each other—but possessing all for each other in a
"I give and consecrate absolutely to you, my person, all that I can
be, or may become, on condition of an equal return, still preserving
the same social conventionalities, without which we should both be
"Secretly united, and secretly isolated; though in the midst of the
human herd, governing and despising it; uniting our gifts, our
faculties, and our powers, our two Parisian royalties—yours, which
can not be greater, and mine, which shall become greater if you love
me and living thus, one for the other, until death. You have dreamed,
you told me, of strange and almost sacrilegious love. Here it is;
only before accepting it, reflect well, for I assure you it is a
serious thing. My love for you is boundless. I love you enough to
disdain and trample under foot that which the meanest human being
still respects. I love you enough to find in you alone, in your
single esteem, and in your sole tenderness, in the pride and madness
of being yours, oblivion and consolation for friendship outraged,
faith betrayed, and honor lost. But, Madame, this is a sentiment
which you will do well not to trifle with. You should thoroughly
understand this. If you desire my love, if you consent to this
alliance, opposed to all human laws, but grand and singular also,
deign to tell me so, and I shall fall at your feet. If you do not
wish it, if it terrifies you, if you are not prepared for the double
obligation it involves, tell me so, and fear not a word of reproach.
Whatever it might cost me—I would ruin my life, I would leave you
forever, and that which passed yesterday should be eternally
He ceased, and remained with his eyes fixed on the young woman with
a burning anxiety. As he went on speaking her air became more grave;
she listened to him, her head a little inclined toward him in an
attitude of overpowering interest, throwing upon him at intervals a
glance full of gloomy fire. A slight but rapid palpitation of the
bosom, a scarcely perceptible quivering of the nostrils, alone
betrayed the storm raging within her.
"This," she said, after a moment's silence, "becomes really
interesting; but you do not intend to leave this evening, I suppose?"
"No," said Camors.
"Very well," she replied, inclining her head in sign of dismissal,
without offering her hand; "we shall see each other again."
"At an early day."
He thought she required time for reflection, a little terrified
doubtless by the monster she had evoked; he saluted her gravely and
The next day, and on the two succeeding days, he vainly presented
himself at her door.
The Marquise was either dining out or dressing.
It was for Camors a whole century of torment. One thought which
often disquieted him revisited him with double poignancy. The
Marquise did not love him. She only wished to revenge herself for the
past, and after disgracing him would laugh at him. She had made him
sign the contract, and then had escaped him. In the midst of these
tortures of his pride, his passion, instead of weakening, increased.
The fourth day after their interview he did not go to her house.
He hoped to meet her in the evening at the Viscountess d'Oilly's,
where he usually saw her every Friday. This lady had been formerly
the most tender friend of the Count's father. It was to her the Count
had thought proper to confide the education of his son.
Camors had preserved for her a kind of affection. She was an
amiable woman, whom he liked and laughed at.
No longer young, she had been compelled to renounce gallantry,
which had been the chief occupation of her youth, and never having had
much taste for devotion, she conceived the idea of having a salon.
She received there some distinguished men, savants and artists, who
piqued themselves on being free-thinkers.
The Viscountess, in order to fit herself for her new position,
resolved to enlighten herself. She attended public lectures and
conferences, which began to be fashionable. She spoke easily about
spontaneous generation. She manifested a lively surprise when Camors,
who delighted in tormenting her, deigned to inform her that men were
descended from monkeys.
"Now, my friend," she said to him, "I can not really admit that.
How can you think your grandfather was a monkey, you who are so
She reasoned on everything with the same force.
Although she boasted of being a sceptic, sometimes in the morning
she went out, concealed by a thick veil, and entered St. Sulpice,
where she confessed and put herself on good terms with God, in case He
should exist. She was rich and well connected, and in spite of the
irregularities of her youth, the best people visited her house.
Madame de Campvallon permitted herself to be introduced by M. de
Camors. Madame de la Roche-Jugan followed her there, because she
followed her everywhere, and took her son Sigismund. On this evening
the reunion was small. M. de Camors had only been there a few
moments, when he had the satisfaction of seeing the General and the
Marquise enter. She tranquilly expressed to him her regret at not
having been at home the preceding day; but it was impossible to hope
for a more decided explanation in a circle so small, and under the
vigilant eye of Madame de la Roche-Jugan. Camors interrogated vainly
the face of his young cousin. It was as beautiful and cold as usual.
His anxiety increased; he would have given his life at that moment to
hear her say one word of love.
The Viscountess liked the play of wit, as she had little herself.
They played at her house such little games as were then fashionable.
Those little games are not always innocent, as we shall see.
They had distributed pencils, pens, and packages of paper—some of
the players sitting around large tables, and some in separate
chairs—and scratched mysteriously, in turn, questions and answers.
During this time the General played whist with Madame de la
Roche-Jugan. Madame Campvallon did not usually take part in these
games, as they fatigued her. Camors was therefore astonished to see
her accept the pencil and paper offered her.
This singularity awakened his attention and put him on his guard.
He himself joined in the game, contrary to his custom, and even
charged himself with collecting in the basket the small notes as they
An hour passed without any special incident. The treasures of wit
were dispensed. The most delicate and unexpected questions—such as,
"What is love?" "Do you think that friendship can exist between the
sexes?" "Is it sweeter to love or to beloved?"—succeeded each other
with corresponding replies. All at once the Marquise gave a slight
scream, and they saw a drop of blood trickle down her forehead. She
laughed, and showed her little silver pencil-case, which had a pen at
one end, with which she had scratched her forehead in her abstraction.
The attention of Camors was redoubled from this moment—the more so
from a rapid and significant glance from the Marquise, which seemed to
warn him of an approaching event. She was sitting a little in shadow
in one corner, in order to meditate more at ease on questions and
answers. An instant later Camors was passing around the room
collecting notes. She deposited one in the basket, slipping another
into his hand with the cat- like dexterity of her sex. In the midst
of these papers, which each person amused himself with reading, Camors
found no difficulty in retaining without remark the clandestine note
of the Marquise. It was written in red ink, a little pale, but very
legible, and contained these words:
"I belong, soul, body, honor, riches, to my best-beloved cousin,
Louis de Camors, from this moment and forever.
"Written and signed with the pure blood of my veins, March 5, 185-.
"CHARLOTTE DE LUC. D'ESTRELLES.
All the blood of Camors surged to his brain—a cloud came over his
eyes —he rested his hand on the marble table, then suddenly his face
was covered with a mortal paleness. These symptoms did not arise from
remorse or fear; his passion overshadowed all. He felt a boundless
joy. He saw the world at his feet.
It was by this act of frankness and of extraordinary audacity,
seasoned by the bloody mysticism so familiar to the sixteenth century,
which she adored, that the Marquise de Campvallon surrendered herself
to her lover and sealed their fatal union.
CHAPTER XIV. AN ANONYMOUS LETTER
Nearly six weeks had passed after this last episode. It was five
o'clock in the afternoon and the Marquise awaited Camors, who was to
come after the session of the Corps Legislatif. There was a sudden
knock at one of the doors of her room, which communicated with her
husband's apartment. It was the General. She remarked with surprise,
and even with fear, that his countenance was agitated.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she said. "Are you ill?"
"No," replied the General, "not at all."
He placed himself before her, and looked at her some moments before
speaking, his eyes rolling wildly.
"Charlotte!" he said at last, with a painful smile, "I must own to
you my folly. I am almost mad since morning—I have received such a
singular letter. Would you like to see it?"
"If you wish," she replied.
He took a letter from his pocket, and gave it to her. The writing
was evidently carefully disguised, and it was not signed.
"An anonymous letter?" said the Marquise, whose eyebrows were
slightly raised, with an expression of disdain; then she read the
letter, which was as follows:
"A true friend, General, feels indignant at seeing your confidence
and your loyalty abused. You are deceived by those whom you love
"A man who is covered with your favors and a woman who owes
everything to you are united by a secret intimacy which outrages
you. They are impatient for the hour when they can divide your
"He who regards it as a pious duty to warn you does not desire to
calumniate any one. He is sure that your honor is respected by her
to whom you have confided it, and that she is still worthy of your
confidence and esteem. She wrongs you in allowing herself to count
upon the future, which your best friend dates from your death. He
seeks your widow and your estate.
"The poor woman submits against her will to the fascinations of a
man too celebrated for his successful affairs of the heart. But
this man, your friend—almost your son—how can he excuse his
conduct? Every honest person must be shocked by such behavior, and
particularly he whom a chance conversation informed of the fact, and
who obeys his conscience in giving you this information."
The Marquise, after reading it, returned the letter coldly to the
"Sign it Eleanore-Jeanne de la Roche-Jugan!" she said.
"Do you think so?" asked the General.
"It is as clear as day," replied the Marquise. "These expressions
betray her—'a pious duty to warn you—'celebrated for his successful
affairs of the heart'—'every honest person.' She can disguise her
writing, but not her style. But what is still more conclusive is that
which she attributes to Monsieur de Camors—for I suppose it alludes
to him—and to his private prospects and calculations. This can not
have failed to strike you, as it has me, I suppose?"
"If I thought this vile letter was her work," cried the General, "I
never would see her again during my life."
"Why not? It is better to laugh at it!"
The General began one of his solemn promenades across the room.
The Marquise looked uneasily at the clock. Her husband, intercepting
one of these glances, suddenly stopped.
"Do you expect Camors to-day?" he inquired.
"Yes; I think he will call after the session."
"I think he will," responded the General, with a convulsive smile.
"And do you know, my dear," he added, "the absurd idea which has
haunted me since I received this infamous letter?—for I believe that
infamy is contagious."
"You have conceived the idea of observing our interview?" said the
Marquise, in a tone of indolent raillery.
"Yes," said the General, "there—behind that curtain—as in a
theatre; but, thank God! I have been able to resist this base
intention. If ever I allow myself to play so mean a part, I should
wish at least to do it with your knowledge and consent."
"And do you ask me to consent to it?" asked the Marquise.
"My poor Charlotte!" said the General, in a sad and almost
supplicating tone, "I am an old fool—an overgrown child—but I feel
that this miserable letter will poison my life. I shall have no more
an hour of peace and confidence. What can you expect? I was so
cruelly deceived before. I am an honorable man, but I have been
taught that all men are not like myself. There are some things which
to me seem as impossible as walking on my head, yet I see others doing
these things every day. What can I say to you? After reading this
perfidious letter, I could not help recollecting that your intimacy
with Camors has greatly increased of late!"
"Without doubt," said the Marquise, "I am very fond of him!"
"I remembered also your tete-a-tete with him, the other night, in
the boudoir, during the ball. When I awoke you had both an air of
mystery. What mysteries could there be between you two?"
"Ah, what indeed!" said the Marquise, smiling.
"And will you not tell me?"
"You shall know it at the proper time."
"Finally, I swear to you that I suspect neither of you—I neither
suspect you of wronging me—of disgracing me—nor of soiling my name .
. . God help me!
"But if you two should love each other, even while respecting my
honor: if you love each other and confess it—if you two, even at my
side, in my heart—if you, my two children, should be calculating with
impatient eyes the progress of my old age—planning your projects for
the future, and smiling at my approaching death—postponing your
happiness only for my tomb you may think yourselves guiltless, but no,
I tell you it would be shameful!"
Under the empire of the passion which controlled him, the voice of
the General became louder. His common features assumed an air of
sombre dignity and imposing grandeur. A slight shade of paleness
passed over the lovely face of the young woman and a slight frown
contracted her forehead.
By an effort, which in a better cause would have been sublime, she
quickly mastered her weakness, and, coldly pointing out to her husband
the draped door by which he had entered, said:
"Very well, conceal yourself there!"
"You will never forgive me?"
"You know little of women, my friend, if you do not know that
jealousy is one of the crimes they not only pardon but love."
"My God, I am not jealous!"
"Call it yourself what you will, but station yourself there!"
"And you are sincere in wishing me to do so?"
"I pray you to do so! Retire in the interval, leave the door open,
and when you hear Monsieur de Camors enter the court of the hotel,
"No!" said the General, after a moment's hesitation; "since I have
gone so far"—and he sighed deeply "I do not wish to leave myself the
least pretext for distrust. If I leave you before he comes, I am
capable of fancying—"
"That I might secretly warn him? Nothing more natural. Remain
here, then. Only take a book; for our conversation, under such
circumstances, can not be lively."
He sat down.
"But," he said, "what mystery can there be between you two?"
"You shall hear!" she said, with her sphinx-like smile.
The General mechanically took up a book. She stirred the fire, and
reflected. As she liked terror, danger, and dramatic incidents to
blend with her intrigues, she should have been content; for at that
moment shame, ruin, and death were at her door. But, to tell the
truth, it was too much for her; and when she looked, in the midst of
the silence which surrounded her, at the true character and scope of
the perils which surrounded her, she thought her brain would fail and
her heart break.
She was not mistaken as to the origin of the letter. This shameful
work had indeed been planned by Madame de la Roche-Jugan. To do her
justice, she had not suspected the force of the blow she was dealing.
She still believed in the virtue of the Marquise; but during the
perpetual surveillance she had never relaxed, she could not fail to
see the changed nature of the intercourse between Camors and the
Marquise. It must not be forgotten that she dreamed of securing for
her son Sigismund the succession to her old friend; and she foresaw a
dangerous rivalry—the germ of which she sought to destroy. To awaken
the distrust of the General toward Camors, so as to cause his doors to
be closed against him, was all she meditated. But her anonymous
letter, like most villainies of this kind, was a more fatal and
murderous weapon than its base author imagined.
The young Marquise, then, mused while stirring the fire, casting,
from time to time, a furtive glance at the clock.
M. de Camors would soon arrive—how could she warn him? In the
present state of their relations it was not impossible that the very
first words of. Camors might immediately divulge their secret: and
once betrayed, there was not only for her personal dishonor, a
scandalous fall, poverty, a convent—but for her husband or her
lover—perhaps for both—death!
When the bell in the lower court sounded, announcing the Count's
approach, these thoughts crowded into the brain of the Marquise like a
legion of phantoms. But she rallied her courage by a desperate effort
and strained all her faculties to the execution of the plan she had
hastily conceived, which was her last hope. And one word, one
gesture, one mistake, or one carelessness of her lover, might
overthrow it in a second. A moment later the door was opened by a
servant, announcing M. de Camors. Without speaking, she signed to her
husband to gain his hiding-place. The General, who had risen at the
sound of the bell, seemed still to hesitate, but shrugging his
shoulders, as if in disdain of himself, retired behind the curtain
which faced the door.
M. de Camors entered the room carelessly, and advanced toward the
fireplace where sat the Marquise; his smiling lips half opened to
speak, when he was struck by the peculiar expression on the face of
the Marquise, and the words were frozen on his lips. This look, fixed
upon him from his entrance, had a strange, weird intensity, which,
without expressing anything, made him fear everything. But he was
accustomed to trying situations, and as wary and prudent as he was
intrepid. He ceased to smile and did not speak, but waited.
She gave him her hand without ceasing to look at him with the same
"Either she is mad," he said to himself, "or there is some great
With the rapid perception of her genius and of her love, she felt
he understood her; and not leaving him time to speak and compromise
her, instantly said:
"It is very kind of you to keep your promise."
"Not at all," said Camors, seating himself.
"Yes! For you know you come here to be tormented." There was a
"Have you at last become a convert to my fixed idea?" she added
after a second.
"What fixed idea? It seems to me you have a great many!"
"Yes! But I speak of a good one—my best one, at least—of your
"What! again, cousin?" said Camors, who, now assured of his
danger and its nature, marched with a firmer foot over the burning
"Yes, again, cousin; and I will tell you another thing—I have
found the person."
"Ah! Then I shall run away!"
She met his smile with an imperious glance.
"Then you still adhere to that plan?" said Camors, laughing.
"Most firmly! I need not repeat to you my reasons—having preached
about it all winter—in fact so much so as to disturb the General, who
suspects some mystery between us."
"The General? Indeed!"
"Oh, nothing serious, you must understand. Well, let us resume the
subject. Miss Campbell will not do—she is too blonde—an odd
objection for me to make by the way; not Mademoiselle de Silas—too
thin; not Mademoiselle Rolet, in spite of her millions; not
Mademoiselle d'Esgrigny—too much like the Bacquieres and Van-Cuyps.
All this is a little discouraging, you will admit; but finally
everything clears up. I tell you I have discovered the right one—a
"Her name?" said Camors.
"Marie de Tecle!"
There was silence.
"Well, you say nothing," resumed the Marquise, "because you can
have nothing to say! Because she unites everything—personal beauty,
family, fortune, everything—almost like a dream. Then, too, your
properties join. You see how I have thought of everything, my friend!
I can not imagine how we never came to think of this before!"
M. de Camors did not reply, and the Marquise began to be surprised
at his silence.
"Oh!" she exclaimed; "you may look a long time—there can not be a
single objection—you are caught this time. Come, my friend, say yes,
I implore you!" And while her lips said "I implore you," in a tone of
gracious entreaty, her look said, with terrible emphasis, "You must!"
"Will you allow me to reflect upon it, Madame?" he said at last.
"No, my friend!"
"But really," said Camors, who was very pale, "it seems to me you
dispose of the hand of Mademoiselle de Tecle very readily.
Mademoiselle de Tecle is rich and courted on all sides—also, her
great-uncle has ideas of the province, and her mother, ideas of
religion, which might well—"
"I charge myself with all that," interrupted the Marquise.
"What a mania you have for marrying people!"
"Women who do not make love, cousin, always have a mania for
"But seriously, you will give me a few days for reflection?"
"To reflect about what? Have you not always told me you intended
marrying and have been only waiting the chance? Well, you never can
find a better one than this; and if you let it slip, you will repent
the rest of your life."
"But give me time to consult my family!"
"Your family—what a joke! It seems to me you have reached full
age; and then—what family? Your aunt, Madame de la Roche-Jugan?"
"Doubtless! I do not wish to offend her:"
"Ah, my dear cousin, don't be uneasy; suppress this uneasiness; I
assure you she will be delighted!"
"Why should she?"
"I have my reasons for thinking so;" and the young woman in
uttering these words was seized with a fit of sardonic laughter which
came near convulsion, so shaken were her nerves by the terrible
Camors, to whom little by little the light fell stronger on the
more obscure points of the terrible enigma proposed to him, saw the
necessity of shortening a scene which had overtasked her faculties to
an almost insupportable degree. He rose:
"I am compelled to leave you," he said; "for I am not dining at
home. But I will come to-morrow, if you will permit me."
"Certainly. You authorize me to speak to the General?"
"Well, yes, for I really can see no reasonable objection."
"Very good. I adore you!" said the Marquise. She gave him her
hand, which he kissed and immediately departed.
It would have required a much keener vision than that of M. de
Campvallon to detect any break, or any discordance, in the audacious
comedy which had just been played before him by these two great
The mute play of their eyes alone could have betrayed them; and
that he could not see.
As to their tranquil, easy, natural dialogue there was not in it a
word which he could seize upon, and which did not remove all his
disquietude, and confound all his suspicions. From this moment, and
ever afterward, every shadow was effaced from his mind; for the
ability to imagine such a plot as that in which his wife in her
despair had sought refuge, or to comprehend such depth of perversity,
was not in the General's pure and simple spirit.
When he reappeared before his wife, on leaving his concealment, he
was constrained and awkward. With a gesture of confusion and humility
he took her hand, and smiled upon her with all the goodness and
tenderness of his soul beaming from his face.
At this moment the Marquise, by a new reaction of her nervous
system, broke into weeping and sobbing; and this completed the
Out of respect to this worthy man, we shall pass over a scene the
interest of which otherwise is not sufficient to warrant the
unpleasant effect it would produce on all honest people. We shall
equally pass over without record the conversation which took place the
next day between the Marquise and M. de Camors.
Camors had experienced, as we have observed, a sentiment of
repulsion at hearing the name of Mademoiselle de Tecle appear in the
midst of this intrigue. It amounted almost to horror, and he could
not control the manifestation of it. How could he conquer this
supreme revolt of his conscience to the point of submitting to the
expedient which would make his intrigue safe? By what detestable
sophistries he dared persuade himself that he owed everything to his
accomplice—even this, we shall not attempt to explain. To explain
would be to extenuate, and that we wish not to do. We shall only say
that he resigned himself to this marriage. On the path which he had
entered a man can check himself as little as he can check a flash of
As to the Marquise, one must have formed no conception of this
depraved though haughty spirit, if astonished at her persistence, in
cold blood, and after reflection, in the perfidious plot which the
imminence of her danger had suggested to her. She saw that the
suspicions of the General might be reawakened another day in a more
dangerous manner, if this marriage proved only a farce. She loved
Camors passionately; and she loved scarcely less the dramatic mystery
of their liaison. She had also felt a frantic terror at the thought
of losing the great fortune which she regarded as her own; for the
disinterestedness of her early youth had long vanished, and the idea
of sinking miserably in the Parisian world, where she had long reigned
by her luxury as well as her beauty, was insupportable to her.
Love, mystery, fortune-she wished to preserve them all at any
price; and the more she reflected, the more the marriage of Camors
appeared to her the surest safeguard.
It was true, it would give her a sort of rival. But she had too
high an opinion of herself to fear anything; and she preferred
Mademoiselle de Tecle to any other, because she knew her, and regarded
her as an inferior in everything.
About fifteen days after, the General called on Madame de Tecle one
morning, and demanded for M. de Camors her daughter's hand. It would
be painful to dwell on the joy which Madame de Tecle felt; and her
only surprise was that Camors had not come in person to press his
suit. But Camors had not the heart to do so. He had been at Reuilly
since that morning, and called on Madame de Tecle, where he learned
his overture was accepted. Once having resolved on this monstrous
action, he was determined to carry it through in the most correct
manner, and we know he was master of all social arts.
In the evening Madame de Tecle and her daughter, left alone, walked
together a long time on their dear terrace, by the soft light of the
stars—the daughter blessing her mother, and the mother thanking God—
both mingling their hearts, their dreams, their kisses, and their
tears —happier, poor women, than is permitted long to human beings.
The marriage took place the ensuing month.
CHAPTER XV. THE COUNTESS DE CAMORS
After passing the few weeks of the honeymoon at Reuilly, the Comte
and Comtesse de Camors returned to Paris and established themselves at
their hotel in the Rue de l'Imperatrice. From this moment, and during
the months that followed, the young wife kept up an active
correspondence with her mother; and we here transcribe some of the
letters, which will make us more intimately acquainted with the
character of the young woman.
Madame de Camors to Madame de Tecle.
"Am I happy? No, my dearest mother! No—not happy! I have only
wings and soar to heaven like a bird! I feel the sunshine in my
head, in my eyes, in my heart.
"It blinds me, it enchants me, it causes me to shed delicious tears!
Happy? No, my tender mother; that is not possible, when I think
that I am his wife! The wife—understand me—of him who has reigned
in my poor thoughts since I was able to think—of him whom I should
have chosen out of the whole universe! When I remember that I am
his wife, that we are united forever, how I love life! how I love
you! how I love God!
"The Bois and the lake are within a few steps of us, as you know.
We ride thither nearly every morning, my husband and I!—I repeat,
I and my husband! We go there, my husband and I—I and my husband!
"I know not how it is, but it is always delicious weather to me,
even when it rains—as it does furiously to-day; for we have just
come in, driven home by the storm.
"During our ride to-day, I took occasion to question him quietly as
to some points of our history which puzzled me. First, why had he
"'Because you pleased me apparently, Miss Mary.' He likes to give me
this name, which recalls to him I know not what episode of my
untamed youth—untamed still to him.
"'If I pleased you, why did I see you so seldom?'
"'Because I did not wish to court you until I had decided on
"'How could I have pleased you, not being at all beautiful?'
"'You are not beautiful, it is true,' replies this cruel young man,
'but you are very pretty; and above all you are grace itself, like
"All these obscure points being cleared up to the complete
satisfaction of Miss Mary, Miss Mary took to fast galloping; not
because it was raining, but because she became suddenly—we do not
know the reason why—as red as a poppy.
"Oh, beloved mother! how sweet it is to be loved by him we adore,
and to be loved precisely as we wish—as we have dreamed—according
to the exact programme of our young, romantic hearts!
"Did you ever believe I had ideas on such a delicate subject? Yes,
dear mother, I had them. Thus, it seemed to me there were many
different styles of loving—some vulgar, some pretentious, some
foolish, and others, again, excessively comic. None of these seemed
suited to the Prince, our neighbor. I ever felt he should love,
like the Prince he is, with grace and dignity; with serious
tenderness, a little stern perhaps; with amiability, but almost with
condescension—as a lover, but as a master, too—in fine, like my
"Dear angel, who art my mother! be happy in my happiness, which was
your sole work. I kiss your hands—I kiss your wings!
"I thank you! I bless you! I adore you!
"If you were near me, it would be too much happiness! I should die,
I think. Nevertheless, come to us very soon. Your chamber awaits
you. It is as blue as the heavens in which I float. I have already
told you this, but I repeat it.
"Good-by, mother of the happiest woman in the world!
"Comtesse de Camors."
"You made me weep—I who await you every morning. I will say
nothing to you, however; I will not beg you. If the health of my
grandfather seems to you so feeble as to demand your presence, I
know no prayer would take you away from your duty. Nor would I make
the prayer, my angel mother!
"But exaggerate nothing, I pray you, and think your little Marie can
not pass by the blue chamber without feeling a swelling of the
heart. Apart from this grief which you cause her, she continues to
be as happy as even you could wish.
"Her charming Prince is ever charming and ever her Prince! He takes
her to see the monuments, the museums, the theatres, like the poor
little provincial that she is. Is it not touching on the part of so
great a personage?
"He is amused at my ecstasies—for I have ecstasies. Do not breathe
it to my Uncle Des Rameures, but Paris is superb! The days here
count double our own for thought and life.
"My husband took me to Versailles yesterday. I suspect that this,
in the eyes of the people here, is rather a ridiculous episode; for
I notice the Count did not boast of it. Versailles corresponds
entirely with the impressions you had given me of it; for there is
not the slightest change since you visited it with my grandfather.
"It is grand, solemn, and cold. There is, though, a new and very
curious museum in the upper story of the palace, consisting chiefly
of original portraits of the famous men of history. Nothing pleases
me more than to see these heroes of my memory passing before me in
grand procession—from Charles the Bold to George Washington. Those
faces my imagination has so often tried to evoke, that it seems to
me we are in the Elysian Fields, and hold converse with the dead:
"You must know, my mother, I was familiar with many things that
surprised M. de Camors very much. He was greatly struck by my
knowledge of science and my genius. I did no more, as you may
imagine, than respond to his questions; but it seemed to astonish
him that I could respond at all.
"Why should he ask me these things? If he did not know how to
distinguish the different Princesses of Conti, the answer is simple.
"But I knew, because my mother taught me. That is simple enough
"We dined afterward, at my suggestion, at a restaurant. Oh, my
mother! this was the happiest moment of my life! To dine at a
restaurant with my husband was the most delightful of all
"I have said he seemed astonished at my learning. I ought to add in
general, he seemed astonished whenever I opened my lips. Did he
imagine me a mute? I speak little, I acknowledge, however, for he
inspires me with a ceaseless fear: I am afraid of displeasing him,
of appearing silly before him, or pretentious, or pedantic. The day
when I shall be at ease with him, and when I can show him my good
sense and gratitude—if that day ever comes—I shall be relieved of
a great weight on my mind, for truly I sometimes fear he looks on me
as a child.
"The other day I stopped before a toy-shop on the Boulevard. What a
blunder! And as he saw my eye fixed on a magnificent squadron of
"'Do you wish one, Miss Mary?' he said.
"Was not this horrible, my mother—from him who knows everything
except the Princesses of Conti? He explained everything to me; but
briefly in a word, as if to a person he despaired of ever making
understand him. And I understand so well all the time, my poor
"But so much the better, say I; for if he loves me while thinking me
silly, what will it be later!
"With fond love, your
"All Paris has returned once more, my dear mother, and for fifteen
days I have been occupied with visits. The men here do not usually
visit; but my husband is obliged to present me for the first time to
the persons I ought to know. He accompanies me there, which is much
more agreeable to me than to him, I believe.
"He is more serious than usual. Is not this the only form in which
amiable men show their bad humor? The people we visit look on me
with a certain interest. The woman whom this great lord has honored
with his choice is evidently an object of great curiosity. This
flatters and intimidates me; I blush and feel constrained; I appear
awkward. When they find me awkward and insignificant, they stare.
They believe he married me for my fortune: then I wish to cry. We
reenter the carriage, he smiles upon me, and I am in heaven! Such
are our visits.
"You must know, my mother, that to me Madame Campvallon is divine.
She often takes me to her box at the Italiens, as mine will not be
vacant until January. Yesterday she gave a little fete for me in
her beautiful salon: the General opened the ball with me.
"Oh! my mother, what a wonderfully clever man the General is! And I
admire him because he admires you!
"The Marquise presented to me all the best dancers. They were young
gentlemen, with their necks so uncovered it almost gave me a chill.
I never before had seen men bare-necked and the fashion is not
becoming. It was very evident, however, that they considered
themselves indispensable and charming. Their deportment was
insolent and self-sufficient; their eyes were disdainful and all-
"Their mouths ever open to breathe freer, their coat-tails flapping
like wings, they take one by the waist—as one takes his own
property. Informing you by a look that they are about to do you the
honor of removing you, they whirl you away; then, panting for
breath, inform you by another look that they will do themselves the
pleasure of stopping—and they stop. Then they rest a moment,
panting, laughing, showing their teeth; another look—and they
repeat the same performance. They are wonderful!
"Louis waltzed with me and seemed satisfied. I saw him for the
first time waltz with the Marquise. Oh, my mother, it was the dance
of the stars!
"One thing which struck me this evening, as always, was the manifest
idolatry with which the women regard my husband. This, my tender
mother, terrifies me. Why—I ask myself—why did he choose me?
How can I please him? How can I succeed?
"Behold the result of all my meditations! A folly perhaps, but of
which the effect is to reassure me:
"Portrait of the Comtesse de Camors, drawn by herself.
"The Comtesse de Camors, formerly Marie de Tecle, is a personage
who, having reached her twentieth year, looks older. She is not
beautiful, as her husband is the first person to confess. He says
she is pretty; but she doubts even this. Let us see. She has very
long limbs, a fault which she shares with Diana, the Huntress, and
which probably gives to the gait of the Countess a lightness it
might not otherwise possess. Her body is naturally short, and on
horseback appears to best advantage. She is plump without being
"Her features are irregular; the mouth being too large and the lips
too thick, with—alas! the shade of a moustache; white teeth, a
little too small; a commonplace nose, a slightly pug; and her
mother's eyes—her best feature. She has the eyebrows of her Uncle
Des Rameures, which gives an air of severity to the face and
neutralizes the good-natured expression-a reflex from the softness
of her heart.
"She has the dark complexion of her mother, which is more becoming
to her mother than to her. Add to all this, blue-black hair in
great silky masses. On the whole, one knows not what to pronounce
"There, my mother, is my portrait! Intended to reassure me, it has
hardly done so; for it seems to me to be that of an ugly little
"I wish to be the most lively of women; I wish to be one of the most
distinguished. I wish to be one of the most captivating! But, oh,
my mother! if I please him I am still more enchanted! On the
whole, thank God! he finds me perhaps much better than I am: for
men have not the same taste in these matters that we have.
"But what I really can not comprehend, is why he has so little
admiration for the Marquise de Campvallon. His manner is very cold
to her. Were I a man, I should be wildly in love with that superb
woman! Good-night, most beloved of mothers!
"You complain of me, my cherished one! The tone of my letters
wounds you! You can not comprehend how this matter of my personal
appearance haunts me. I scrutinize it; I compare it with that of
others. There is something of levity in that which hurts you? You
ask how can I think a man attaches himself to these things, while
the merits of mind and soul go for nothing?
"But, my dearest mother, how will these merits of mind and of soul
—supposing your daughter to possess them—serve her, unless she
possesses the courage or has the opportunity to display them? And
when I summon up the courage, it seems to me the occasion never
"For I must confess to you that this delicious Paris is not perfect;
and I discover, little by little, the spots upon the sun.
"Paris is the most charming place! The only pity is that it has
inhabitants! Not but that they are agreeable, for they are only too
much so; only they are also very careless, and appear to my view to
live and die without reflecting much on what they are doing. It is
not their fault; they have no time.
"Without leaving Paris, they are incessant travellers, eternally
distracted by motion and novelty. Other travellers, when they have
visited some distant corner—forgetting for a while their families,
their duties, and their homes—return and settle down again. But
these Parisians never do. Their life is an endless voyage; they
have no home. That which elsewhere is the great aim of life is
secondary here. One has here, as elsewhere, an establishment—a
house, a private chamber. One must have. Here one is wife or
mother, husband or father, just as elsewhere; but, my poor mother,
they are these things just as little as possible. The whole
interest centres not in the homes; but in the streets, the museums,
the salons, the theatres, and the clubs. It radiates to the immense
outside life, which in all its forms night and day agitates Paris,
attracts, excites, and enervates you; steals your time, your mind,
your soul—and devours them all!
"Paris is the most delicious of places to visit—the worst of places
to live in.
"Understand well, my mother, that in seeking by what qualifies I can
best attract my husband—who is the best of men, doubtless, but of
Parisian men nevertheless—I have continually reflected on merits
which may be seen at once, which do not require time to be
"Finally, I do not deny that all this is miserable cynicism,
unworthy of you and of myself; for you know I am not at heart a bad
little woman. Certainly, if I could keep Monsieur de Camors for a
year or two at an old chateau in the midst of a solitary wood, I
should like it much. I could then see him more frequently, I could
then become familiar with his august person, and could develop my
little talents under his charmed eyes. But then this might weary
him and would be too easy. Life and happiness, I know, are not so
easily managed. All is difficulty, peril, and conflict.
"What joy, then, to conquer! And I swear to you, my mother, that I
will conquer! I will force him to know me as you know me; to love
me, not as he now does, but as you do, for many good reasons of
which he does not yet dream.
"Not that he believes me absolutely a fool; I think he has abandoned
that idea for at least two days past.
"How he came thus to think, my next letter shall explain.
CHAPTER XVI. THE REPTILE STRIVES TO
You will remember, my mother, that the Count has as secretary a man
named Vautrot. The name is a bad one; but the man himself is a good
enough creature, except that I somewhat dislike his catlike style of
looking at one.
"Well, Monsieur de Vautrot lives in the house with us. He comes
early in the morning, breakfasts at some neighboring cafe, passes
the day in the Count's study, and often remains to dine with us, if
he has work to finish in the evening.
"He is an educated man, and knows a little of everything; and he has
undertaken many occupations before he accepted the subordinate
though lucrative post he now occupies with my husband. He loves
literature; but not that of his time and of his country, perhaps
because he himself has failed in this. He prefers foreign writers
and poets, whom he quotes with some taste, though with too much
"Most probably his early education was defective; for on all
occasions, when speaking with us, he says, 'Yes, Monsieur le Comte!'
or 'Certainly, Madame la Comtesse!' as if he were a servant. Yet
withal, he has a peculiar pride, or perhaps I should say
insufferable vanity. But his great fault, in my eyes, is the
scoffing tone he adopts, when the subject is religion or morals.
"Two days ago, while we were dining, Vautrot allowed himself to
indulge in a rather violent tirade of this description. It was
certainly contrary to all good taste.
"'My dear Vautrot,' my husband said quietly to him, 'to me these
pleasantries of yours are indifferent; but pray remember, that while
you are a strong-minded man, my wife is a weak-minded woman; and
strength, you know, should respect weakness.'
"Monsieur Vautrot first grew white, then red, and finally green. He
rose, bowed awkwardly, and immediately afterward left the table.
Since that time I have remarked his manner has been more reserved.
The moment I was alone with Louis, I said:
"'You may think me indiscreet, but pray let me ask you a question.
How can you confide all your affairs and all your secrets to a man
who professes to have no principles?'
"Monsieur de Camors laughed.
"'Oh, he talks thus out of bravado,' he answered. 'He thinks to
make himself more interesting in your eyes by these Mephistophelian
airs. At bottom he is a good fellow.'
"'But,' I answered, 'he has faith in nothing.'
"'Not in much, I believe. Yet he has never deceived me. He is an
"I opened my eyes wide at this.
"'Well,' he said, with an amused look, 'what is the matter, Miss
"'What is this honor you speak of?'
"'Let me ask your definition of it, Miss Mary,' he replied.
"'Mon Dieu!' I cried, blushing deeply, 'I know but little of it, but
it seems to me that honor separated from morality is no great thing;
and morality without religion is nothing. They all constitute a
chain. Honor hangs to the last link, like a flower; but if the
chain be broken, honor falls with the rest.' He looked at me with
strange eyes, as if he were not only confounded but disquieted by my
philosophy. Then he gave a deep sigh, and rising said:
"'Very neat, that definition-very neat.'
"That night, at the opera, he plied me with bonbons and orange ices.
Madame de Campvallon accompanied us; and at parting, I begged her to
call for me next day on her way to the Bois, for she is my idol.
She is so lovely and so distinguished—and she I knows it well. I
love to be with her. On our return home, Louis remained silent,
contrary to his custom. Suddenly he said, brusquely:
"'Marie, do you go with the Marquise to the Bois to-morrow?'
"'But you see her often, it seems to me-morning and evening. You
are always with her.'
"'Heavens! I do it to be agreeable to you. Is not Madame de
Campvallon a good associate?'
"'Excellent; only in general I do not admire female friendships.
But I did wrong to speak to you on this subject. You have wit and
discretion enough to preserve the proper limits.'
"This, my mother, was what he said to me. I embrace you.
"I hope, my own mother, not to bore you this year with a catalogue
of fetes and festivals, lamps and girandoles; for Lent is coming.
To-day is Ash-Wednesday. Well, we dance to-morrow evening at Madame
d'Oilly's. I had hoped not to go, but I saw Louis was disappointed,
and I feared to offend Madame d'Oilly, who has acted a mother's part
to my husband. Lent here is only an empty name. I sigh to myself:
'Will they never stop! Great heavens! will they never cease
"I must confess to you, my darling mother, I amuse myself too much
to be happy. I depended on Lent for some time to myself, and see
how they efface the calendar!
"This dear Lent! What a sweet, honest, pious invention it is,
notwithstanding. How sensible is our religion! How well it
understands human weakness and folly! How far-seeing in its
regulations! How indulgent also! for to limit pleasure is to
"I also love pleasure—the beautiful toilets that make us resemble
flowers, the lighted salons, the music, the gay voices and the
dance. Yes, I love all these things; I experience their charming
confusion; I palpitate, I inhale their intoxication. But always—
always! at Paris in the winter—at the springs in summer—ever this
crowd, ever this whirl, this intoxication of pleasure! All become
like savages, like negroes, and—dare I say so?—bestial! Alas for
"HE foresaw it. HE told us, as the priest told me this morning:
'Remember you have a soul: Remember you have duties!—a husband
—a child—a mother—a God!'
"Then, my mother, we should retire within ourselves; should pass the
time in grave thought between the church and our homes; should
converse on solemn and serious subjects; and should dwell in the
moral world to gain a foothold in heaven! This season is intended
as a wholesome interval to prevent our running frivolity into
dissipation, and pleasure into convulsion; to prevent our winter's
mask from becoming our permanent visage. This is entirely the
opinion of Madame Jaubert.
"Who is this Madame Jaubert? you will ask. She is a little
Parisian angel whom my mother would dearly love! I met her almost
everywhere—but chiefly at St. Phillipe de Roule—for several months
without being aware that she is our neighbor, that her hotel adjoins
ours. Such is Paris!
"She is a graceful person, with a soft and tender, but decided air.
We sat near each other at church; we gave each other side-glances;
we pushed our chairs to let each other pass; and in our softest
voices would say, 'Excuse me, Madame!' 'Oh, Madame!' My glove would
fall, she would pick it up; I would offer her the holy water, and
receive a sweet smile, with 'Dear Madame!' Once at a concert at the
Tuileries we observed each other at a distance, and smiled
recognition; when any part of the music pleased us particularly we
glanced smilingly at each other. Judge of my surprise next morning
when I saw my affinity enter the little Italian house next ours—and
enter it, too, as if it were her home. On inquiry I found she was
Madame Jaubert, the wife of a tall, fair young man who is a civil
"I was seized with a desire to call upon my neighbor. I spoke of it
to Louis, blushing slightly, for I remembered he did not approve of
intimacies between women. But above all, he loves me!
"Notwithstanding he slightly shrugged his shoulders—'Permit me at
least, Miss Mary, to make some inquiries about these people.'
"A few days afterward he had made them, for he said: 'Miss Mary, you
may visit Madame Jaubert; she is a perfectly proper person.'
"I first flew to my husband's neck, and thence went to call upon
"'It is I, Madame!'
"'Oh, Madame, permit me!'
"And we embraced each other and were good friends immediately.
"Her husband is a civil engineer, as I have said. He was once
occupied with great inventions and with great industrial works; but
that was only for a short time. Having inherited a large estate, he
abandoned his studies and did nothing—at least nothing but
mischief. When he married to increase his fortune, his pretty
little wife had a sad surprise. He was never seen at home; always
at the club—always behind the scenes at the opera—always going to
the devil! He gambled, he had mistresses and shameful affairs. But
worse than all, he drank—he came to his wife drunk. One incident,
which my pen almost refuses to write, will give you an idea. Think
of it! He conceived the idea of sleeping in his boots! There, my
mother, is the pretty fellow my sweet little friend transformed,
little by little, into a decent man, a man of merit, and an
"And she did it all by gentleness, firmness, and sagacity. Now is
not this encouraging?—for, God knows, my task is less difficult.
"Their household charms me; for it proves that one may build for
one's self, even in the midst of this Paris, a little nest such as
one dreams of. These dear neighbors are inhabitants of Paris—not
its prey. They have their fireside; they own it, and it belongs to
them. Paris is at their door—so much the better. They have ever a
relish for refined amusement; 'they drink at the fountain,' but do
not drown themselves in it. Their habits are the same, passing
their evenings in conversation, reading, or music; stirring the fire
and listening to the wind and rain without, as if they were in a
"Life slips gently through their fingers, thread by thread, as in
our dear old country evenings.
"My mother, they are happy!
"Here, then, is my dream—here is my plan.
"My husband has no vices, as Monsieur Jaubert had. He has only the
habits of all the brilliant men of his Paris-world. It is
necessary, my own mother, gradually to reform him; to suggest
insensibly to him the new idea that one may pass one evening at home
in company with a beloved and loving wife, without dying suddenly of
"The rest will follow.
"What is this rest? It is the taste for a quiet life, for the
serious sweetness of the domestic hearth—the family taste—the idea
of seclusion—the recovered soul!
"Is it not so, my good angel? Then trust me. I am more than ever
full of ardor, courage, and confidence. For he loves me with all
his heart, with more levity, perhaps, than I deserve; but still—he
"He loves me; he spoils me; he heaps presents upon me. There is no
pleasure he does not offer me, except, be it understood, the
pleasure of passing one evening at home together.
"But he loves me! That is the great point—he loves me!
"Now, dearest mother, let me whisper one final word-a word that
makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It seems to me that for
some time past I have had two hearts—a large one of my own, and—
"Oh, my mother! I see you in tears. But it is a great mystery
this. It is a dream of heaven; but perhaps only a dream, which I
have not yet told even to my husband—only to my adorable mother!
Do not weep, for it is not yet quite certain.
In reply to this letter Madame de Camors received one three
mornings after, announcing to her the death of her grandfather. The
Comte de Tecle had died of apoplexy, of which his state of health had
long given warning. Madame de Tecle foresaw that the first impulse of
her daughter would be to join her to share her sad bereavement. She
advised her strongly against undertaking the fatigue of the journey,
and promised to visit her in Paris, as soon as she conveniently could.
The mourning in the family heightened in the heart of the Countess
the uneasy feeling and vague sadness her last letters had indicated.
She was much less happy than she told her mother; for the first
enthusiasm and first illusions of marriage could not long deceive a
spirit so quick and acute as hers.
A young girl who marries is easily deceived by the show of an
affection of which she is the object. It is rare that she does not
adore her husband and believe she is adored by him, simply because he
has married her.
The young heart opens spontaneously and diffuses its delicate
perfume of love and its songs of tenderness; and enveloped in this
heavenly cloud all seems love around it. But, little by little, it
frees itself; and, too often, recognizes that this delicious harmony
and intoxicating atmosphere which charmed it came only from itself.
Thus was it with the Countess; so far as the pen can render the
shadows of a feminine soul. Such were the impressions which, day by
day, penetrated the very soul of our poor "Miss Mary."
It was nothing more than this; but this was everything to her!
The idea of being betrayed by her husband—and that, too, with
cruel premeditation—never had arisen to torture her soul. But,
beyond those delicate attentions to her which she never exaggerated in
her letters to her mother, she felt herself disdained and slighted.
Marriage had not changed Camors's habits: he dined at home, instead
of at his club, that was all. She believed herself loved, however,
but with a lightness that was almost offensive. Yet, though she was
sometimes sad and nearly in tears, she did not despair; this valiant
little heart attached itself with intrepid confidence to all the happy
chances the future might have in store for it.
M. de Camors continued very indifferent—as one may readily
comprehend— to the agitation which tormented this young heart, but
which never occurred to him for a moment. For himself, strange as it
may appear, he was happy enough. This marriage had been a painful
step to take; but, once confirmed in his sin, he became reconciled to
it. But his conscience, seared as it was, had some living fibres in
it; and he would not have failed in the duty he thought he owed to his
wife. These sentiments were composed of a sort of indifference,
blended with pity. He was vaguely sorry for this child, whose
existence was absorbed and destroyed between those of two beings of
nature superior to her own; and he hoped she would always remain
ignorant of the fate to which she was condemned. He resolved never to
neglect anything that might extenuate its rigor; but he belonged,
nevertheless, more than ever solely to the passion which was the
supreme crime of his life. For his intrigue with Madame de
Campvallon, continually excited by mystery and danger—and conducted
with profound address by a woman whose cunning was equal to her
beauty—continued as strong, after years of enjoyment, as at first.
The gracious courtesy of M. de Camors, on which he piqued himself,
as regarded his wife, had its limits; as the young Countess perceived
whenever she attempted to abuse it. Thus, on several occasions she
declined receiving guests on the ground of indisposition, hoping her
husband would not abandon her to her solitude. She was in error.
The Count gave her in reality, under these circumstances, a
tete-a-tete of a few minutes after dinner; but near nine o'clock he
would leave her with perfect tranquillity. Perhaps an hour later she
would receive a little packet of bonbons, or a pretty basket of choice
fruit, that would permit her to pass the evening as she might. These
little gifts she sometimes divided with her neighbor, Madame Jaubert;
sometimes with M. de Vautrot, secretary to her husband.
This M. de Vautrot, for whom she had at first conceived an
aversion, was gradually getting into her good graces. In the absence
of her husband she always found him at hand; and referred to him for
many little details, such as addresses, invitations, the selection of
books and the purchase of furniture. From this came a certain
familiarity; she began to call him Vautrot, or "My good Vautrot,"
while he zealously performed all her little commissions. He
manifested for her a great deal of respectful attention, and even
refrained from indulging in the sceptical sneers which he knew
displeased her. Happy to witness this reform and to testify her
gratitude, she invited him to remain on two or three evenings when he
came to take his leave, and talked with him of books and the theatres.
When her mourning kept her at home, M. de Camors passed the two
first evenings with her until ten o'clock. But this effort fatigued
him, and the poor young woman, who had already erected an edifice for
the future on this frail basis, had the mortification of observing
that on the third evening he had resumed his bachelor habits.
This was a great blow to her, and her sadness became greater than
it had been up to that time; so much so in fact, that solitude was
almost unbearable. She had hardly been long enough in Paris to form
intimacies. Madame Jaubert came to her friend as often as she could;
but in the intervals the Countess adopted the habit of retaining
Vautrot, or even of sending for him. Camors himself, three fourths of
the time, would bring him in before going out in the evening.
"I bring you Vautrot, my dear," he would say, "and Shakespeare.
You can read him together."
Vautrot read well; and though his heavy declamatory style
frequently annoyed the Countess, she thus managed to kill many a long
evening, while waiting the expected visit of Madame de Tecle. But
Vautrot, whenever he looked at her, wore such a sympathetic air and
seemed so mortified when she did not invite him to stay, that, even
when wearied of him, she frequently did so.
About the end of the month of April, M. Vautrot was alone with the
Countess de Camors about ten o'clock in the evening. They were
reading Goethe's Faust, which she had never before heard. This
reading seemed to interest the young woman more than usual, and with
her eyes fixed on the reader, she listened to it with rapt attention.
She was not alone fascinated by the work, but—as is frequently the
case-she traced her own thoughts and her own history in the fiction of
We all know with what strange clairvoyance a mind possessed with a
fixed idea discovers resemblances and allusions in accidental
description. Madame de Camors perceived without doubt some remote
connection between her husband and Faust—between herself and
Marguerite; for she could not help showing that she was strangely
agitated. She could not restrain the violence of her emotion, when
Marguerite in prison cries out, in her agony and madness:
Who has given you, headsman, this power over me? You come to me
while it is yet midnight. Be merciful and let me live.
Is not to-morrow morning soon enough?
I am yet so young—so young! and am to die already! I was fair,
too; that was my undoing. My true love was near, now he is far away.
Torn lies my garland; scattered the flowers. Don't take hold of me
so roughly! spare me! spare me. What have I done to you? Let me
not implore you in vain! I never saw you before in all my life; you
Can I endure this misery?
I am now entirely in thy power. Only let me give suck to the
child. I pressed it this whole night to my heart. They took it away
to vex me, and now say I killed it, and I shall never be happy again.
They sing songs upon me! It is wicked of the people. An old tale
ends so—who bids them apply it?
A lover lies at thy feet, to unloose the bonds of wickedness.
What a blending of confused sentiments, of powerful sympathies, of
vague apprehensions, suddenly seized on the breast of the young
Countess! One can hardly imagine their force—to the very verge of
distracting her. She turned on her fauteuil and closed her beautiful
eyes, as if to keep back the tears which rolled under the fringe of
the long lashes.
At this moment Vautrot ceased to read, dropped his book, sighed
profoundly, and stared a moment.
Then he knelt at the feet of the Comtesse de Camors! He took her
hand; he said, with a tragic sigh, "Poor angel!"
It will be difficult to understand this incident and the
unfortunately grave results that followed it, without having the moral
and physical portrait of its principal actor.
M. Hippolyte Vautrot was a handsome man and knew it perfectly. He
even flattered himself on a certain resemblance to his patron, the
Comte de Camors. Partly from nature and partly from continual
imitation, this idea had some foundation; for he resembled the Count
as much as a vulgar man can resemble one of the highest polish.
He was the son of a small confectioner in the provinces; had
received from his father an honestly acquired fortune, and had
dissipated it in the varied enterprises of his adventurous life. The
influence of his college, however, obtained for him a place in the
Seminary. He left it to come to Paris and study law; placed himself
with an attorney; attempted literature without success; gambled on the
Bourse and lost there.
He had successively knocked with feverish hand at all the doors of
Fortune, and none had opened to him, because, though his ambition was
great, his capacity was limited. Subordinate positions, for which
alone he was fit, he did not want. He would have made a good tutor:
he sighed to be a poet. He would have been a respectable cure in the
country: he pined to be a bishop. Fitted for an excellent secretary,
he aspired to be a minister. In fine, he wished to be a great man,
and consequently was a failure as a little one.
But he made himself a hypocrite; and that he found much easier. He
supported himself on the one hand by the philosophic society to be met
at Madame d'Oilly's; on the other, by the orthodox reunions of Madame
de la Roche-Jugan.
By these influences he contrived to secure the secretaryship to the
Comte de Camors, who, in his general contempt of the human species,
judged Vautrot to be as good as any other. Now, familiarity with M.
de Camors was, morally, fearfully prejudicial to the secretary. It
had, it is true, the effect of stripping off his devout mask, which he
seldom put on before his patron; but it terribly increased in venom
the depravity which disappointment and wounded pride had secreted in
his ulcerated heart.
Of course no one will imagine that M. de Camors had the bad taste
to undertake deliberately the demoralization of his secretary; but
contact, intimacy, and example sufficed fully to do this. A secretary
is always more or less a confidant. He divines that which is not
revealed to him; and Vautrot could not be long in discovering that his
patron's success did not arise, morally, from too much principle—in
politics, from excess of conviction—in business, from a mania for
scruples! The intellectual superiority of Camors, refined and
insolent as it was, aided to blind Vautrot, showing him evil which was
not only prosperous, but was also radiant in grace and prestige. For
these reasons he most profoundly admired his master—admired,
imitated, and execrated him!
Camors professed for him and for his solemn airs an utter contempt,
which he did not always take the trouble to conceal; and Vautrot
trembled when some burning sarcasm fell from such a height on the old
wound of his vanity—that wound which was ever sore within him. What
he hated most in Camors was his easy and insolent triumph—his rapid
and unmerited fortune—all those enjoyments which life yielded him
without pain, without toil, without conscience—peacefully tasted!
But what he hated above all, was that this man had thus obtained
these things while he had vainly striven for them.
Assuredly, in this Vautrot was not an exception. The same example
presented to a healthier mind would not have been much more salutary,
for we must tell those who, like M. de Camors, trample under foot all
principles of right, and nevertheless imagine that their secretaries,
their servants, their wives and their children, may remain virtuous—
we must tell these that while they wrong others they deceive
themselves! And this was the case with Hippolyte Vautrot.
He was about forty years of age—a period of life when men often
become very vicious, even when they have been passably virtuous up to
that time. He affected an austere and puritanical air; was the great
man of the caf‚ he frequented; and there passed judgment on his
contemporaries and pronounced them all inferior. He was difficult to
please—in point of virtue demanding heroism; in talent, genius; in
His political opinions were those of Erostratus, with this
difference— always in favor of the ancient—that Vautrot, after
setting fire to the temple, would have robbed it also. In short, he
was a fool, but a vicious fool as well.
If M. de Camors, at the moment of leaving his luxurious study that
evening, had had the bad taste to turn and apply his eye to the
keyhole, he would have seen something greatly to astonish even him.
He would have seen this "honorable man" approach a beautiful
Italian cabinet inlaid with ivory, turn over the papers in the
drawers, and finally open in the most natural manner a very
complicated lock, the key of which the Count at that moment had in his
It was after this search that M. Vautrot repaired with his volume
of Faust to the boudoir of the young Countess, at whose feet we have
already left him too long.
CHAPTER XVII. LIGHTNING FROM A CLEAR
Madame de Camors had closed her eyes to conceal her tears. She
opened them at the instant Vautrot seized her hand and called her
Seeing the man on his knees, she could not comprehend it, and only
"Are you mad, Vautrot?"
"Yes, I am mad!" Vautrot threw his hair back with a romantic
gesture common to him, and, as he believed, to the poets-"Yes, I am
mad with love and with pity, for I see your sufferings, pure and noble
The Countess only stared in blank astonishment.
"Repose yourself with confidence," he continued, "on a heart that
will be devoted to you until death—a heart into which your tears now
penetrate to its most sacred depths!"
The Countess did not wish her tears to penetrate to such a
distance, so she dried them.
A man on his knees before a woman he adores must appear to her
either sublime or ridiculous. Unfortunately, the attitude of Vautrot,
at once theatrical and awkward, did not seem sublime to the Countess.
To her lively imagination it was irresistibly ludicrous. A bright
gleam of amusement illumined her charming countenance; she bit her lip
to conceal it, but it shone out of her eyes nevertheless.
A man never should kneel unless sure of rising a conqueror.
Otherwise, like Vautrot, he exposes himself to be laughed at.
"Rise, my good Vautrot," the Countess said, gravely. "This book
has evidently bewildered you. Go and take some rest and we will
forget this; only you must never forget yourself again in this
Vautrot rose. He was livid.
"Madame la Comtesse," he said, bitterly, "the love of a great heart
never can be an offence. Mine at least would have been sincere; mine
would have been faithful: mine would not have been an infamous snare!"
The emphasis of these words displayed so evident an intention, the
countenance of the young woman changed immediately. She moved
uneasily on her fauteuil.
"What do you mean, Monsieur Vautrot?"
"Nothing, Madame, which you do not know, I think," he replied,
"You shall explain your meaning immediately to me, Monsieur!" she
exclaimed; "or later, to my husband."
"But your sadness, your tears," cried the secretary, in a tone of
admirable sincerity—"these made me sure you were not ignorant of it!"
"Of what? You hesitate! Speak, man!"
"I am not a wretch! I love you and pity you!—that is all;" and
Vautrot sighed deeply.
"And why do you pity me?" She spoke haughtily; and though Vautrot
had never suspected this imperiousness of manner or of language, he
reflected hurriedly on the point at which he had arrived. More sure
than ever of success, after a moment he took from his pocket a folded
letter. It was one with which he had provided himself to confirm the
suspicions of the Countess, now awakened for the first time.
In profound silence he unfolded and handed it to her. She
hesitated a moment, then seized it. A single glance recognized the
writing, for she had often exchanged notes with the Marquise de
Words of the most burning passion terminated thus:
"—Always a little jealous of Mary; half vexed at having given her
to you. For—she is pretty and—but I! I am beautiful, am I not, my
beloved?—and, above all, I adore you!"
At the first word the Countess became fearfully pale. Finishing,
she uttered a deep groan; then she reread the letter and returned it
to Vautrot, as if unconscious of what she was doing.
For a few seconds she remained motionless-petrified -her eyes fixed
on vacancy. A world seemed rolling down and crushing her heart.
Suddenly she turned, passed with rapid steps into her boudoir; and
Vautrot heard the sound of opening and shutting drawers. A moment
after she reappeared with bonnet and cloak, and crossed the boudoir
with the same strong and rapid step.
Vautrot, greatly terrified, rushed to stop her.
"Madame!" he cried, throwing himself before her.
She waved him aside with an imperious gesture of her hand; he
trembled and obeyed, and she left the boudoir. A moment later she was
in the Avenue des Champs Elysees, going toward Paris.
It was now near midnight; cold, damp April weather, with the rain
falling in great drops. The few pedestrians still on the broad
pavement turned to follow with their eyes this majestic young woman,
whose gait seemed hastened by some errand of life or death.
But in Paris nothing is surprising, for people witness all manner
of things there. Therefore the strange appearance of Madame de Camors
did not excite any extraordinary attention. A few men smiled and
nodded; others threw a few words of raillery at her—both were
unheeded alike. She traversed the Place de la Concorde with the same
convulsive haste, and passed toward the bridge. Arriving on it, the
sound of the swollen Seine rushing under the arches and against the
pillars, caught her ear; she stopped, leaned against the parapet, and
gazed into the angry water; then bowing her head she uttered a deep
sigh, and resumed her rapid walk.
In the Rue Vanneau she stopped before a brilliantly lighted
mansion, isolated from the adjoining houses by a garden wall. It was
the dwelling of the Marquise de Campvallon: Arrived there, the
unfortunate child knew not what to do, nor even why she had come. She
had some vague design of assuring herself palpably of her misfortune;
to touch it with her finger; or perhaps to find some reason, some
pretext to doubt it.
She dropped down on a stone bench against the garden wall, and hid
her face in both her hands, vainly striving to think. It was past
midnight. The streets were deserted: a shower of rain was falling over
Paris, and she was chilled to numbness.
A sergent-de-ville passed, enveloped in his cape. He turned and
stared at the young woman; then took her roughly by the arm.
"What are you doing here?" he said, brutally.
She looked up at him with wondering eyes.
"I do not know myself," she answered.
The man looked more closely at her, discovered through all her
confusion a nameless refinement and the subtle perfume of purity. He
took pity on her.
"But, Madame, you can not stay here," he rejoined in a softer
"You must have some great sorrow?"
"What is your name?"
"The Comtesse de Camors," she said, simply.
The man looked bewildered.
"Will you tell me where you live, Madame?"
She gave the address with perfect simplicity and perfect
indifference. She seemed to be thinking nothing of what she was
saying. The man took a few steps, then stopped and listened to the
sound of wheels approaching. The carriage was empty. He stopped it,
opened the door, and requested the Countess to get in. She did so
quietly, and he placed himself beside the driver.
The Comte de Camors had just reached his house and heard with
surprise, from the lips of his wife's maid, the details of the
Countess's mysterious disappearance, when the bell rang violently.
He rushed out and met his wife on the stairs. She had somewhat
recovered her calmness on the road, and as he interrogated her with a
searching glance, she made a ghastly effort to smile.
"I was slightly ill and went out a little," she said. "I do not
know the streets and lost my way."
Notwithstanding the improbability of the explanation, he did not
hesitate. He murmured a few soft words of reproach and placed her in
the hands of her maid, who removed her wet garments.
During that time he called the sergent-de-ville, who remained in
the vestibule, and closely interrogated him. On learning in what
street and what precise spot he had found the Countess, her husband
knew at once and fully the whole truth.
He went directly to his wife. She had retired and was trembling in
every limb. One of her hands was resting outside the coverlet. He
rushed to take it, but she withdrew it gently, with sad and resolute
The simple gesture told him they were separated forever.
By a tacit agreement, arranged by her and as tacitly accepted by
him, Madame de Camors became virtually a widow.
He remained for some seconds immovable, his expression lost in the
shadow of the bed-hangings; then walked slowly across the chamber.
The idea of lying to defend himself never occurred to him.
His line of conduct was already arranged—calmly, methodically.
But two blue circles had sunk around his eyes, and his face wore a
waxen pallor. His hands, joined behind his back, were clenched; and
the ring he wore sparkled with their tremulous movement. At intervals
he seemed to cease breathing, as he listened to the chattering teeth
of his young wife.
After half an hour he approached the bed.
"Marie!" he said in a low voice. She turned upon him her eyes
gleaming with fever.
"Marie, I am ignorant of what you know, and I shall not ask," he
continued. "I have been very criminal toward you, but perhaps less so
than you think. Terrible circumstances bound me with iron bands.
Fate ruled me! But I seek no palliation. Judge me as severely as
you wish; but I beg of you to calm yourself—preserve yourself! You
spoke to me this morning of your presentiments—of your maternal
hopes. Attach yourself to those thoughts, and you will always be
mistress of your life. As for myself, I shall be whatever you will—a
stranger or a friend. But now I feel that my presence makes you ill.
I would leave you for the present, but not alone. Do you wish Madame
Jaubert to come to you tonight?"
"Yes!" she murmured, faintly.
"I shall go for her; but it is not necessary to tell you that there
are confidences one must reserve even from one's dearest friends."
"Except a mother?" She murmured the question with a supplicating
agony very painful to see.
He grew still paler. After an instant, "Except a mother!" he
said. "Be it so!"
She turned her face and buried it in the pillow.
"Your mother arrives to-morrow, does she not?" She made an
affirmative motion of her head. "You can make your arrangements with
her. I shall accept everything."
"Thank you," she replied, feebly.
He left the room and went to find Madame Jaubert, whom he awakened,
and briefly told her that his wife had been seized with a severe
nervous attack—the effect of a chill. The amiable little woman ran
hastily to her friend and spent the night with her.
But she was not the dupe of the explanation Camors had given her.
Women quickly understand one another in their grief. Nevertheless
she asked no confidences and received none; but her tenderness to her
friend redoubled. During the silence of that terrible night, the only
service she could render her was to make her weep.
Nor did those laggard hours pass less bitterly for M. de Camors.
He tried to take no rest, but walked up and down his apartment until
daylight in a sort of frenzy. The distress of this poor child wounded
him to the heart. The souvenirs of the past rose before him and
passed in sad procession. Then the morrow would show him the crushed
daughter with her mother—and such a mother! Mortally stricken in all
her best illusions, in all her dearest beliefs, in all connected with
the happiness of life!
He found that he still had in his heart lively feelings of pity;
still some remorse in his conscience.
This weakness irritated him, and he denounced it to himself. Who
had betrayed him? This question agitated him to an equal degree; but
from the first instant he had not been deceived in this matter.
The sudden grief and half-crazed conviction of his wife, her
despairing attitude and her silence, could only be explained by strong
assurance and certain revelation. After turning the matter over and
over in his own mind, he arrived at the conclusion that nothing could
have thrown such clear light into his life save the letters of Madame
He never wrote the Marquise, but could not prevent her writing to
him; for to her, as to all women, love without letters was incomplete.
But the fault of the Count—inexcusable in a man of his tact—was
in preserving these letters. No one, however, is perfect, and he was
an artist. He delighted in these the 'chefs-d'oeuvre' of passionate
eloquence, was proud of inspiring them, and could not make up his mind
to burn or destroy them. He examined at once the secret drawer where
he had concealed them and, by certain signs, discovered the lock had
been tampered with. Nevertheless no letter was missing; the
arrangement of them alone had been disturbed.
His suspicions at once reverted to Vautrot, whose scruples he
suspected were slight; and in the morning they were confirmed beyond
doubt by a letter from the secretary. In fact Vautrot, after passing
on his part a most wretched night, did not feel his nerves equal in
the morning to meeting the reception the Count possibly had in waiting
for him. His letter was skilfully penned to put suspicion to sleep if
it had not been fully roused, and if the Countess had not betrayed
It announced his acceptance of a lucrative situation suddenly
offered him in a commercial house in London. He was obliged to decide
at once, and to sail that same morning for fear of losing an
opportunity which could not occur again. It concluded with
expressions of the liveliest gratitude and regret.
Camors could not reach his secretary to strangle him; so he
resolved to pay him. He not only sent him all arrears of salary, but
a large sum in addition as a testimonial of his sympathy and good
This, however, was a simple precaution; for the Count apprehended
nothing more from the venomous reptile so far beneath him, after he
had once shaken it off. Seeing him deprived of the only weapon he
could use against him, he felt safe. Besides, he had lost the only
interest he could desire to subserve, for he knew M. Vautrot had done
him the compliment of courting his Wife.
And he really esteemed him a little less low, after discovering
this gentlemanly taste!
CHAPTER XVIII. ONE GLEAM OF HOPE
It required on the part of M. de Camors, this morning, an exertion
of all his courage to perform his duty as a gentleman in going to
receive Madame de Tecle at the station. But courage had been for some
time past his sole remaining virtue; and this at least he sought never
to lose. He received, then, most gracefully his mother-in-law, robed
in her mourning attire. She was surprised at not seeing her daughter
with him. He informed her that she had been a little indisposed since
the preceding evening. Notwithstanding the precautions he took in his
language and by his smile, he could not prevent Madame de Tecle from
feeling a lively alarm.
He did not pretend, however, entirely to reassure her. Under his
reserved and measured replies, she felt the presentiment of some
disaster. After first pressing him with many questions, she kept
silent during the rest of the drive.
The young Countess, to spare her mother the first shock, had
quitted her bed; and the poor child had even put a little rouge on her
pale cheeks. M. de Camors himself opened for Madame de Tecle the door
of her daughter's chamber, and then withdrew.
The young woman raised herself with difficulty from her couch, and
her mother took her in her arms.
All that passed between them at first was a silent interchange of
mutual caresses. Then the mother seated herself near her daughter,
drew her head on her bosom, and looked into the depths of her eyes.
"What is the matter?" she said, sadly.
"Oh, nothing—nothing hopeless! only you must love your little
Mary more than ever. Will you not?"
"Yes; but why?"
"I must not worry you; and I must not wrong myself either—you know
"Yes; but I implore you, my darling, to tell me."
"Very well; I will tell you everything; but, mother, you must be
brave as I am."
She buried her head lower still on her mother's breast, and
recounted to her, in a low voice, without looking up once, the
terrible revelation which had been made to her, and which her
husband's avowal had confirmed.
Madame de Tecle did not once interrupt her during this cruel
recital. She only imprinted a kiss on her hair from time to time. The
young Countess, who did not dare to raise her eyes to her, as if she
were ashamed of another's crime, might have imagined that she had
exaggerated the gravity of her misfortune, since her mother had
received the confidence with so much calmness. But the calmness of
Madame de Tecle at this terrible moment was that of the martyrs; for
all that could have been suffered by the Christians under the claws of
the tiger, or on the rack of the torturer, this mother was suffering
at the hands of her best- beloved daughter. Her beautiful pale
face—her large eyes upturned to heaven, like those that artists give
to the pure victims kneeling in the Roman circus—seemed to ask God
whether He really had any consolation for such torture.
When she had heard all, she summoned strength to smile at her
daughter, who at last looked up to her with an expression of timid
uncertainty— embracing her more tightly still.
"Well, my darling," said she, at last, "it is a great affliction,
it is true. You are right, notwithstanding; there is nothing to
"Do you really believe so?"
"Certainly. There is some inconceivable mystery under all this;
but be assured that the evil is not so terrible as it appears."
"My poor mother! but he has acknowledged it?"
"I am better pleased that he has acknowledged it. That proves he
has yet some pride, and that some good is left in his soul. Then,
too, he feels very much afflicted—he suffers as much as we. Think of
that. Let us think of the future, my darling."
They clasped each other's hands, and smiled at each other to
restrain the tears which filled the eyes of both. After a few
minutes—"I wish much, my child," said Madame de Tecle, "to repose for
half an hour; and then also I wish to arrange my toilet."
"I will conduct you to your chamber. Oh, I can walk! I feel a
great deal better."
Madame de Camors took her mother's arm and conducted her as far as
the door of the chamber prepared for her. On the threshold she left
"Be sensible," said Madame de Tecle, turning and giving her another
"And you also," said the young woman, whose voice failed her.
Madame de Tecle, as soon as the door was closed, raised her clasped
hands toward heaven; then, falling on her knees before the bed, she
buried her head in it, and wept despairingly.
The library of M. de Camors was contiguous to this chamber. He had
been walking with long strides up and down this corridor, expecting
every moment to see Madame de Tecle enter. As the time passed, he sat
himself down and tried to read, but his thoughts wandered. His ear
eagerly caught, against his will, the slightest sounds in the house.
If a foot seemed approaching him, he rose suddenly and tried to
compose his countenance. When the door of the neighboring chamber was
opened, his agony was redoubled. He distinguished the whispering of
the two voices; then, an instant after, the dull fall of Madame de
Tecle upon the carpet; then her despairing sobs. M. de Camors threw
from him violently the book which he was forcing himself to read, and,
placing his elbows on the bureau which was before him, held, for a
long time, his pale brow tightened in his contracted hands. When the
sound of sobs abated little by little, and then ceased, he breathed
freer. About midday he received this note:
"If you will permit me to take my daughter to the country for a few
days, I shall be grateful to you.
"ELISE DE TECLE."
He returned immediately this simple reply:
"You can do nothing of which I do not approve to-day and always.
Madame de Tecle, in fact, having consulted the inclination and the
strength of her daughter, had determined to remove her without delay,
if possible, from the impressions of the spot where she had suffered
so severely from the presence of her husband, and from the unfortunate
embarrassment of their situation. She desired also to meditate in
solitude, in order to decide what course to take under such unexampled
circumstances. Finally, she had not the courage to see M. de Camors
again—if she ever could see him again—until some time had elapsed.
It was not without anxiety that she awaited the reply of the Count to
the request she had addressed him.
In the midst of the troubled confusion of her ideas, she believed
him capable of almost anything; and she feared everything from him.
The Count's note reassured her. She hastened to read it to her
daughter; and both of them, like two poor lost creatures who cling to
the smallest twig, remarked with pleasure the tone of respectful
abandonment with which he had reposed their destinies in their own
hands. He spent his whole day at the session of the Corps Legislatif;
and when he returned, they had departed.
Madame de Camors woke up the next morning in the chamber where her
girlhood had passed. The birds of spring were singing under her
windows in the old ancestral gardens. As she recognized these
friendly voices, so familiar to her infancy, her heart melted; but
several hours' sleep had restored to her her natural courage. She
banished the thoughts which had weakened her, rose, and went to
surprise her mother at her first waking. Soon after, both of them
were walking together on the terrace of lime-trees. It was near the
end of April; the young, scented verdure spread itself out beneath the
sunbeams; buzzing flies already swarmed in the half-opened roses, in
the blue pyramids of lilacs, and in the clusters of pink clover.
After a few turns made in silence in the midst of this fresh and
enchanting scene, the young Countess, seeing her mother absorbed in
reverie, took her hand.
"Mother," she said, "do not be sad. Here we are as formerly—both
of us in our little nook. We shall be happy."
The mother looked at her, took her head and kissed her fervently on
"You are an angel!" she said.
It must be confessed that their uncle, Des Rameures,
notwithstanding the tender affection he showed them, was rather in the
way. He never had liked Camors; he had accepted him as a nephew as he
had accepted him for a deputy—with more of resignation than
enthusiasm. His antipathy was only too well justified by the event;
but it was necessary to keep him in ignorance of it. He was an
excellent man; but rough and blunt. The conduct of Camors, if he had
but suspected it, would surely have urged him to some irreparable
quarrel. Therefore Madame de Tecle and her daughter, in his presence,
were compelled to make only half utterances, and maintain great
reserve—as much as if he had been a stranger. This painful restraint
would have become insupportable had not the young Countess's health,
day by day, assumed a less doubtful character, and furnished them with
excuses for their preoccupation, their disquiet, and their retired
Madame de Tecle, who reproached herself with the misfortunes of her
daughter, as her own work, and who condemned herself with an
unspeakable bitterness, did not cease to search, in the midst of those
ruins of the past and of the present, some reparation, some refuge for
the future. The first idea which presented itself to her imagination
had been to separate absolutely, and at any cost, the Countess from
her husband. Under the first shock of fright which the duplicity of
Camors had inflicted upon her, she could not dwell without horror on
the thought of replacing her child at the side of such a man. But
this separation- supposing they could obtain it, through the consent
of M. de Camors, or the authority of the law—would give to the public
a secret scandal, and might entail redoubled catastrophes. Were it
not for these consequences she would, at least, have dug between
Madame de Camors and her husband an eternal abyss. Madame de Tecle
did not desire this. By force of reflection she had finally seen
through the character of M. de Camors in one day—not probably more
favorably, but more truly. Madame de Tecle, although a stranger to
all wickedness, knew the world and knew life, and her penetrating
intelligence divined yet more than she knew certainly. She then very
nearly understood what species of moral monster M. de Camors was.
Such as she understood him, she hoped something from him still.
However, the condition of the Countess offered her some consolation
in the future, which she ought not to risk depriving herself of; and
God might permit that this pledge of this unfortunate union might some
day reunite the severed ties.
Madame de Tecle, in communicating her reflections, her hopes, and
her fears to her daughter, added: "My poor child, I have almost lost
the right to give you counsel; but I tell you, were it myself I should
"Very well, mother, I shall do so," replied the young woman.
"Reflect well on it first, for the situation which you are about to
accept will have much bitterness in it; but we have only a choice of
At the close of this conversation, and eight days after their
arrival in the country, Madame de Tecle wrote M. de Camors a letter,
which she read to her daughter, who approved it.
"I understood you to say, that you would restore to your wife her
liberty if she wished to resume it. She neither wishes, nor could
she accept it. Her first duty is to the child which will bear your
name. It does not depend on her to keep this name stainless. She
prays you, then, to reserve for her a place in your house. You need
not fear any trouble or any reproach from her. She and I know how
to suffer in silence. Nevertheless, I supplicate you to be true to
her—to spare her. Will you leave her yet a few days in peace, then
recall, or come for her?"
This letter touched M. de Camors deeply. Impassive as he was, it
can easily be imagined that after the departure of his wife he had not
enjoyed perfect ease of mind. Uncertainty is the worst of all evils,
because everything may be apprehended. Deprived entirely of all news
for eight days, there was no possible catastrophe he did not fancy
floating over his head. He had the haughty courage to conceal from
Madame de Campvallon the event that had occurred in his house, and to
leave her undisturbed while he himself was sleepless for many nights.
It was by such efforts of energy and of indomitable pride that this
strange man preserved within his own consciousness a proud
self-esteem. The letter of Madame de Tecle came to him like a
deliverance. He sent the following brief reply:
"I accept your decision with gratitude and respect. The resolution
of your daughter is generous. I have yet enough of generosity left
myself to comprehend this. I am forever, whether you wish it or
not, her friend and yours.
A week later, having taken the precaution of announcing his
intention, he arrived one evening at Madame de Tecle's.
His young wife kept her chamber. They had taken care to have no
witnesses, but their meeting was less painful and less embarrassing
than they apprehended.
Madame de Tecle and her daughter found in his courteous reply a
gleam of nobleness which inspired them with a shadow of confidence.
Above all, they were proud, and more averse to noisy scenes than
women usually are. They received him coldly, then, but calmly. On his
part, he displayed toward them in his looks and language a subdued
seriousness and sadness, which did not lack either dignity or grace.
The conversation having dwelt for some time on the health of the
Countess, turned on current news, on local incidents, and took, little
by little, an easy and ordinary tone. M. de Camors, under the pretext
of slight fatigue, retired as he had entered—saluting both the
ladies, but without attempting to take their hands. Thus was
inaugurated, between Madame de Camors and her husband, the new,
singular relation which should hereafter be the only tie in their
The world might easily be silenced, because M. de Camors never had
been very demonstrative in public toward his wife, and his courteous
but reserved manner toward her did not vary from his habitual
demeanor. He remained two days at Reuilly.
Madame de Tecle vainly waited for these two days for a slight
explanation, which she did not wish to demand, but which she hoped
What were the terrible circumstances which had overruled the will
of M. de Camors, to the point of making him forget the most sacred
sentiments? When her thoughts plunged into this dread mystery, they
never approached the truth. M. de Camors might have committed this
base action under the menace of some great danger to save the fortune,
the honor, probably the life of Madame de Campvallon. This, though a
poor excuse in the mother's eyes, still was an extenuation. Probably
also he had in his heart, while marrying her daughter, the resolution
to break off this fatal liaison, which he had again resumed against
his will, as often happens. On all these painful points she dwelt
after the departure of M. de Camors, as she had previous to his
arrival; confined to her own conjectures, when she suggested to her
daughter the most consolatory appearances. It was agreed upon that
Madame de Camors should remain in the country until her health was
reestablished: only her husband expressed the desire that she should
reside ordinarily on his estate at Reuilly, the chateau on which had
recently been restored with the greatest taste.
Madame de Tecle felt the propriety of this arrangement. She
herself abandoned the old habitation of the Comte de Tecle, to install
herself near her daughter in the modest chateau which belonged to the
maternal ancestors of M. de Camors, and which we have already
described in another place, with its solemn avenue, its balustrades of
granite, its labyrinths of hornbeams and the black fishpond, shaded
Both dwelt there in the midst of their sweetest and most pleasant
souvenirs; for this little chateau, so long deserted—the neglected
woods which surrounded it the melancholy piece of water—the solitary
nymph all this had been their particular domain, the favorite
framework of their reveries, the legend of their infancy, the poetry
of their youth. It was doubtless a great grief to revisit again, with
tearful eyes and wounded hearts and heads bowed by the storms of life,
the familiar paths where they once knew happiness and peace. But,
nevertheless, all these dear confidants of past joys, of blasted
hopes, of vanished dreams—if they are mournful witnesses they are
also friends. We love them; and they seem to love us. Thus these two
poor women, straying amid these woods, these waters, these solitudes,
bearing with them their incurable wounds, fancied they heard voices
which pitied them and breathed a healing sympathy. The most cruel
trial reserved to Madame de Camors in the life which she had the
courage and judgment to adopt, was assuredly the duty of again seeing
the Marquise de Campvallon, and preserving with her such relations as
might blind the eyes of the General and of the world.
She resigned herself even to this; but she desired to defer as long
as possible the pain of such a meeting. Her health supplied her with
a natural excuse for not going, during that summer, to Campvallon, and
also for keeping herself confined to her own room the day the Marquise
visited Reuilly, accompanied by the General.
Madame de Tecle received her with her usual kindness. Madame de
Campvallon, whom M. de Camors had already warned, did not trouble
herself much; for the best women, like the worst, excel in comedy, and
everything passed off without the General having conceived the shadow
of a suspicion.
The fine season had passed. M. de Camors had visited the country
several times, strengthening at every interview the new tone of his
relations with his wife. He remained at Reuilly, as was his custom,
during the month of August; and under the pretext of the health of the
Countess, did not multiply his visits that year to Campvallon. On his
return to Paris, he resumed his old habits, and also his careless
egotism, for he recovered little by little from the blow he had
received. He began to forget his sufferings and those of his wife;
and even to felicitate himself secretly on the turn that chance had
given to her situation. He had obtained the advantage and had no
longer any annoyance. His wife had been enlightened, and he no longer
deceived her—which was a comfortable thing for him. As for her, she
would soon be a mother, she would have a plaything, a consolation; and
he designed redoubling his attentions and regards to her.
She would be happy, or nearly so; as much so as two thirds of the
women in the world.
Everything was for the best. He gave anew the reins to his car and
launched himself afresh on his brilliant career-proud of his royal
mistress, and foreseeing in the distance, to crown his life, the
triumphs of ambition and power. Pleading various doubtful
engagements, he went to Reuilly only once during the autumn; but he
wrote frequently, and Madame de Tecle sent him in return brief
accounts of his wife's health.
One morning toward the close of November, he received a despatch
which made him understand, in telegraphic style, that his presence was
immediately required at Reuilly, if he wished to be present at the
birth of his son.
Whenever social duties or courtesy were required of M. de Camors,
he never hesitated. Seeing he had not a moment to spare if he wished
to catch the train which left that morning, he jumped into a cab and
drove to the station. His servant would join him the next morning.
The station at Reuilly was several miles distant from the house.
In the confusion no arrangement had been made to receive him on his
arrival, and he was obliged to content himself with making the
intermediate journey in a heavy country-wagon. The bad condition of
the roads was a new obstacle, and it was three o'clock in the morning
when the Count, impatient and travel-worn, jumped out of the little
cart before the railings of his avenue. He strode toward the house
under the dark and silent dome of the tufted elms. He was in the
middle of the avenue when a sharp cry rent the air. His heart bounded
in his breast: he suddenly stopped and listened attentively. The cry
echoed through the stillness of the night. One would have deemed it
the despairing shriek of a human being under the knife of a murderer.
These dolorous sounds gradually ceasing, he continued his walk with
greater haste, and only heard the hollow and muffled sound of his own
beating heart. At the moment he saw the lights of the chateau,
another agonized cry, more shrill and alarming than the first, arose.
This time Camors stopped. Notwithstanding that the natural
explanation of these agonized cries presented itself to his mind, he
It is not unusual that men like him, accustomed to a purely
artificial life, feel a strange surprise when one of the simplest laws
of nature presents itself all at once before them with a violence as
imperious and irresistible as a divine law. Camors soon reached the
house, and receiving some information from the servants, notified
Madame de Tecle of his arrival. Madame de Tecle immediately descended
from her daughter's room. On seeing her convulsed features and
streaming eyes, "Are you alarmed?" Camors asked, quickly.
"Alarmed? No," she replied; "but she suffers much, and it is very
"Can I see her?"
There was a moment's silence.
Madame de Tecle, whose forehead was contracted, lowered her eyes,
then raised them. "If you insist on it," she said.
"I insist on nothing! If you believe my presence would do her
harm—" The voice of Camors was not as steady as usual.
"I am afraid," replied Madame de Tecle, "that it would agitate her
greatly; and if you will have confidence in me, I shall be much
obliged to you."
"But at least," said Camors, "she might probably be glad to know
that I have come, and that I am here—that I have not abandoned her."
"I shall tell her."
"It is well." He saluted Madame de Tecle with a slight movement of
his head, and turned away immediately.
He entered the garden at the back of the house, and walked
abstractedly from alley to alley. We know that generally the role of
men in the situation in which M. de Camors at this moment was placed
is not very easy or very glorious; but the common annoyance of this
position was particularly aggravated to him by painful reflections.
Not only was his assistance not needed, but it was repelled; not only
was he far from a support on the contrary, he was but an additional
danger and sorrow. In this thought was a bitterness which he keenly
felt. His native generosity, his humanity, shuddered as he heard the
terrible cries and accents of distress which succeeded each other
without intermission. He passed some heavy hours in the damp garden
this cold night, and the chilly morning which succeeded it. Madame de
Tecle came frequently to give him the news. Near eight o'clock he saw
her approach him with a grave and tranquil air.
"Monsieur," she said, "it is a boy."
"I thank you. How is she?"
"Well. I shall request you to go and see her shortly."
Half an hour later she reappeared on the threshold of the
vestibule, and called:
"Monsieur de Camors!" and when he approached her, she added, with
an emotion which made her lips tremble:
"She has been uneasy for some time past. She is afraid that you
have kept terms with her in order to take the child. If ever you have
such a thought—not now, Monsieur. Have you?"
"You are severe, Madame," he replied in a hoarse voice.
She breathed a sigh.
"Come!" she said, and led the way upstairs. She opened the door
of the chamber and permitted him to enter it alone.
His first glance caught the eyes of his young wife fixed upon him.
She was half sitting up in bed, supported by pillows, and whiter than
the curtains whose shadow enveloped her. She held clasped to her
breast her sleeping infant, which was already covered, like its
mother, with lace and pink ribbons. From the depths of this nest she
fixed on her husband her large eyes, sparkling with a kind of savage
light—an expression in which the sentiment of triumph was blended
with one of profound terror. He stopped within a few feet of the bed,
and saluted her with his most winning smile.
"I have pitied you very much, Marie," he said.
"I thank you!" she replied, in a voice as feeble as a sigh.
She continued to regard him with the same suppliant and affrighted
"Are you a little happier now?" he continued.
The glittering eye of the young woman was fastened on the calm face
of her infant. Then turning toward Camors:
"You will not take him from me?"
"Never!" he replied.
As he pronounced these words his eyes were suddenly dimmed, and he
was astonished himself to feel a tear trickling down his cheek. He
experienced a singular feeling, he bent over, seized the folds of the
sheet, raised them to his lips, rose immediately and left the room.
In this terrible struggle, too often victorious against nature and
truth, the man was for once vanquished. But it would be idle to
imagine that a character of this temperament and of this obduracy
could transform itself, or could be materially modified under the
stroke of a few transitory emotions, or of a few nervous shocks. M.
de Camors rallied quickly from his weakness, if even he did not repent
it. He spent eight days at Reuilly, remarking in the countenance of
Madame de Tecle and in her manner toward him, more ease than formerly.
On his return to Paris, with thoughtful care he made some changes
in the interior arrangement of his mansion. This was to prepare for
the Countess and her son, who were to join him a few weeks later,
larger and more comfortable apartments, in which they were to be
CHAPTER XIX. THE REPTILE TURNS TO
When Madame de Camors came to Paris and entered the home of her
husband, she there experienced the painful impressions of the past,
and the sombre preoccupations of the future; but she brought with her,
although in a fragile form, a powerful consolation.
Assailed by grief, and ever menaced by new emotion she was obliged
to renounce the nursing of her child; but, nevertheless, she never
left him, for she was jealous even of his nurse. She at least wished
to be loved by him. She loved him with an infinite passion. She
loved him because he was her own son and of her blood. He was the
price of her misfortune —of her pain. She loved him because he was
her only hope of human happiness hereafter. She loved him because she
found him as beautiful as the day. And it was true he was so; for he
resembled his father—and she loved him also on that account. She
tried to concentrate her heart and all her thoughts on this dear
creature, and at first she thought she had succeeded. She was
surprised at herself, at her own tranquillity, when she saw Madame de
Campvallon; for her lively imagination had exhausted, in advance, all
the sadness which her new existence could contain; but when she had
lost the kind of torpor into which excessive suffering had plunged
her—when her maternal sensations were a little quieted by custom, her
woman's heart recovered itself in the mother's. She could not prevent
herself from renewing her passionate interest in her graceful though
Madame de Tecle went to pass two months with her daughter in Paris,
and then returned to the country.
Madame de Camors wrote to her, in the beginning of the following
spring, a letter which gave her an exact idea of the sentiments of the
young woman at the time, and of the turn her domestic life had taken.
After a long and touching detail of the health and beauty of her son
Robert, she added:
"His father is always to me what you have seen him. He spares me
everything he can spare me, but evidently the fatality he has obeyed
continues under the same form. Notwithstanding, I do not despair of
the future, my beloved mother. Since I saw that tear in his eye,
confidence has entered my poor heart. Be assured, my adored mother,
that he will love me one day, if it is only through our child, whom
he begins quietly to love without himself perceiving it. At first,
as you remember, this infant was no more to him than I was. When he
surprised him on my knee, he would give him a cold kiss, say, '
Good-morning, Monsieur,' and withdraw. It is just one month—I have
forgotten the date—it was, 'Good-morning, my son—how pretty you
are!' You see the progress; and do you know, finally, what passed
yesterday? I entered Robert's room noiselessly; the door was open—
what did I behold, my mother! Monsieur de Camors, with his head
resting on the pillow of the cradle, and laughing at this little
creature, who smiled back at him! I assure you, he blushed and
excused himself: 'The door was open,' he said, 'and I came in.'
I assured him that he had done nothing wrong.
"Monsieur de Camors is very odd sometimes. He occasionally passes
the limits which were agreed upon as necessary. He is not only
polite, but takes great trouble. Alas! once these courtesies would
have fallen upon my heart like roses from heaven—now they annoy me
a little. Last evening, for example, I sat down, as is my custom,
at my piano after dinner, he reading a journal at the chimney-
corner—his usual hour for going out passed. Behold me, much
surprised. I threw a furtive glance, between two bars of music,
at him: he was not reading, he was not sleeping—he was dreaming.
'Is there anything new in the Journal?'—'No, no; nothing at all.'
Another two or three bars of music, and I entered my son's room.
He was in bed and asleep. I devoured him with kisses and returned—
Monsieur de Camors was still there. And now, surprise after
surprise: 'Have you heard from your mother? What does she say?
Have you seen Madame Jaubert? Have you read this review?' Just
like one who sought to open a conversation. Once I would willingly
have paid with my blood for one of these evenings, and now he offers
them to me, when I know not what to do with them. Notwithstanding I
remember the advice of my mother, I do not wish to discourage these
symptoms. I adopt a festive manner. I light four extra waxlights.
I try to be amiable without being coquettish; for coquetry here
would be shameful—would it not, my dear mother? Finally, we
chatted together; he sang two airs to the piano; I played two
others; he painted the design of a little Russian costume for Robert
to wear next year; then talked politics to me. This enchanted me.
He explained to me his situation in the Chamber. Midnight arrived;
I became remarkably silent; he rose: 'May I press your hand in
friendship?'—' Mon Dieu! yes.'—'Good-night, Marie.'—'
Goodnight.' Yes, my mother, I read your thoughts. There is danger
here! but you have shown it to me; and I believe also, I should
have perceived it by myself. Do not fear, then. I shall be happy
at his good inclinations, and shall encourage them to the best of my
power; but I shall not be in haste to perceive a return, on his
part, toward virtue and myself. I see here in society arrangements
which revolt me. In the midst of my misfortune I remain pure and
proud; but I should fall into the deepest contempt of myself if I
should ever permit myself to be a plaything for Monsieur de Camors.
A man so fallen does not raise himself in a day. If ever he really
returns to me, it will be necessary for me to have much proof. I
never have ceased to love him, and probably he doubts it: but he
will learn that if this sad love can break my heart it can never
abase it; and it is unnecessary to tell my mother that I shall live
and die courageously in my widow's robe.
"There are other symptoms which also strike me. He is more
attentive to me when she is present. This may probably be arranged
between them, but I doubt it. The other evening we were at the
General's. She was waltzing, and Monsieur de Camors, as a rare
favor, came and seated himself at your daughter's side. In passing
before us she threw him a look—a flash. I felt the flame. Her
blue eyes glared ferociously. He perceived it. I have not
assuredly much tenderness for her. She is my most cruel enemy; but
if ever she suffers what she has made me suffer-yes, I believe I
shall pity her. My mother, I embrace you. I embrace our dear lime-
trees. I taste their young leaves as in olden times. Scold me as
in old times, and love, above all things, as in old times, your
This wise young woman, matured by misfortune, observed everything
saw everything—and exaggerated nothing. She touched, in this letter,
on the most delicate points in the household of M. de Camors—and even
of his secret thoughts—with accurate justice. For Camors was not at
all converted, nor near being so; but it would be belying human nature
to attribute to his heart, or that of any other human being, a
supernatural impassibility. If the dark and implacable theories which
M. de Camors had made the law of his existence could triumph
absolutely, this would be true. The trials he had passed through did
not reform him, they only staggered him. He did not pursue his paths
with the same firmness; he strayed from his programme. He pitied one
of his victims, and, as one wrong always entails another, after
pitying his wife, he came near loving his child. These two weaknesses
had glided into his petrified soul as into a marble fount, and there
took root-two imperceptible roots, however. The child occupied him
not more than a few moments every day. He thought of him, however, and
would return home a little earlier than usual each day than was his
habit, secretly attracted by the smile of that fresh face. The mother
was for him something more. Her sufferings, her youthful heroism had
touched him. She became somebody in his eyes. He discovered many
merits in her. He perceived she was remarkably well- informed for a
woman, and prodigiously so for a French woman. She understood half a
word—knew a great deal—and guessed at the remainder. She had, in
short, that blending of grace and solidity which gives to the
conversation of a woman of cultivated mind an incomparable charm.
Habituated from infancy to her mental superiority as to her pretty
face, she carried the one as unconsciously as the other. She devoted
herself to the care of his household as if she had no idea beyond it.
There were domestic details which she would not confide to servants.
She followed them into her salons, into her boudoirs, a blue
feather-brush in hand, lightly dusting the 'etageres', the
'jardinieres', the 'consoles'. She arranged one piece of furniture
and removed another, put flowers in a vase-gliding about and singing
like a bird in a cage.
Her husband sometimes amused himself in following her with his eye
in these household occupations. She reminded him of the princesses
one sees in the ballet of the opera, reduced by some change of fortune
to a temporary servitude, who dance while putting the house in order.
"How you love order, Marie!" said he to her one day.
"Order" she said, gravely, "is the moral beauty of things."
She emphasized the word things—and, fearing she might be
considered pretentious, she blushed.
She was a lovable creature, and it can be understood that she might
have many attractions, even for her husband. Yet though he had not
for one instant the idea of sacrificing to her the passion that ruled
his life, it is certain, however, that his wife pleased him as a
charming friend, which she was, and probably as a charming forbidden
fruit, which she also was. Two or three years passed without making
any sensible change in the relations of the different persons in this
history. This was the most brilliant phase and probably the happiest
in the life of M. de Camors.
His marriage had doubled his fortune, and his clever speculations
augmented it every day. He had increased the retinue of his house in
proportion to his new resources. In the region of elegant high life
he decidedly held the sceptre. His horses, his equipages, his
artistic tastes, even his toilet, set the law.
His liaison with Madame de Campvallon, without being proclaimed,
was suspected, and completed his prestige. At the same time his
capacity as a political man began to be acknowledged. He had spoken
in some recent debate, and his maiden speech was a triumph. His
prosperity was great. It was nevertheless true that M. de Camors did
not enjoy it without trouble. Two black spots darkened the sky above
his head, and might contain destroying thunder. His life was
eternally suspended on a thread.
Any day General Campvallon might be informed of the intrigue which
dishonored him, either through some selfish treason, or through some
public rumor, which might begin to spread. Should this ever happen,
he knew the General never would submit to it; and he had determined
never to defend his life against his outraged friend.
This resolve, firmly decided upon in his secret soul, gave him the
last solace to his conscience. All his future destiny was thus at the
mercy of an accident most likely to happen. The second cause of his
disquietude was the jealous hatred of Madame Campvallon toward the
young rival she had herself selected. After jesting freely on this
subject at first, the Marquise had, little by little, ceased even to
allude to it.
M. de Camors could not misunderstand certain mute symptoms, and was
sometimes alarmed at this silent jealousy. Fearing to exasperate this
most violent feminine sentiment in so strong a soul, he was compelled
day by day to resort to tricks which wounded his pride, and probably
his heart also; for his wife, to whom his new conduct was
inexplicable, suffered intensely, and he saw it.
One evening in the month of May, 1860, there was a reception at the
Hotel Campvallon. The Marquise, before leaving for the country, was
making her adieus to a choice group of her friends. Although this
fete professed to be but an informal gathering, she had organized it
with her usual elegance and taste. A kind of gallery, composed of
verdure and of flowers, connected the salon with the conservatory at
the other end of the garden.
This evening proved a very painful one to the Comtesse de Camors.
Her husband's neglect of her was so marked, his assiduities to the
Marquise so persistent, their mutual understanding so apparent, that
the young wife felt the pain of her desertion to an almost
insupportable degree. She took refuge in the conservatory, and finding
herself alone there, she wept.
A few moments later, M. de Camors, not seeing her in the salon,
became uneasy. She saw him, as he entered the conservatory, in one of
those instantaneous glances by which women contrive to see without
looking. She pretended to be examining the flowers, and by a strong
effort of will dried her tears. Her husband advanced slowly toward
"What a magnificent camellia!" he said to her. "Do you know this
"Very well," she replied; "this is the camellia that weeps."
He broke off the flowers.
"Marie," he said, "I never have been much addicted to
sentimentality, but this flower I shall keep."
She turned upon him her astonished eyes.
"Because I love it," he added.
The noise of a step made them both turn. It was Madame de
Campvallon, who was crossing the conservatory on the arm of a foreign
"Pardon me," she said, smiling; "I have disturbed you! How awkward
of me!" and she passed out.
Madame de Camors suddenly grew very red, and her husband very pale.
The diplomat alone did not change color, for he comprehended nothing.
The young Countess, under pretext of a headache, which her face did
not belie, returned home immediately, promising her husband to send
back the carriage for him. Shortly after, the Marquise de Campvallon,
obeying a secret sign from M. de Camors, rejoined him in the retired
boudoir, which recalled to them both the most culpable incident of
their lives. She sat down beside him on the divan with a haughty
"What is it?" she said.
"Why do you watch me?" asked Camors. "It is unworthy of you!"
"Ah! an explanation? a disagreeable thing. It is the first
between us— at least let us be quick and complete."
She spoke in a voice of restrained passion—her eyes fixed on her
foot, which she twisted in her satin shoe.
"Well, tell the truth," she said. "You are in love with your
He shrugged his shoulders. "Unworthy of you, I repeat."
"What, then, mean these delicate attentions to her?"
"You ordered me to marry her, but not to kill her, I suppose?"
She made a strange movement of her eyebrows, which he did not see,
for neither of them looked at the other. After a pause she said:
"She has her son! She has her mother! I have no one but you.
Hear me, my friend; do not make me jealous, for when I am so, ideas
torment me which terrify even myself. Wait an instant. Since we are
on this subject, if you love her, tell me so. You know me—you know I
am not fond of petty artifices. Well, I fear so much the sufferings
and humiliations of which I have a presentiment, I am so much afraid
of myself, that I offer you, and give you, your liberty. I prefer
this horrible grief, for it is at least open and noble! It is no
snare that I set for you, believe me! Look at me. I seldom weep."
The dark blue of her eyes was bathed in tears. "Yes, I am sincere;
and I beg of you, if it is so, profit by this moment, for if you let
it escape, you never will find it again."
M. de Camors was little prepared for this decided proposal. The
idea of breaking off his liaison with the Marquise never had entered
his mind. This liaison seemed to him very reconcilable with the
sentiments with which his wife could inspire him.
It was at the same time the greatest wickedness and the perpetual
danger of his life, but it was also the excitement, the pride, and the
magnificent voluptuousness of it. He shuddered. The idea of losing
the love which had cost him so dear exasperated him. He cast a
burning glance on this beautiful face, refined and exalted as that of
a warring archangel.
"My life is yours," he said. "How could you have dreamed of
breaking ties like ours? How could you have alarmed yourself, or even
thought of my feelings toward another? I do what honor and humanity
command me— nothing more. As for you—I love you—understand that."
"Is it true?" she asked. "It is true! I believe you!"
She took his hand, and gazed at him a moment without speaking—her
eye dimmed, her bosom palpitating; then suddenly rising, she said, "My
friend, you know I have guests!" and saluting him with a smile, left
This scene, however, left a disagreeable impression on the mind of
Camors. He thought of it impatiently the next morning, while trying a
horse on the Champs Elysees—when he suddenly found himself face to
face with his former secretary, Vautrot. He had never seen this
person since the day he had thought proper to give himself his own
The Champs Elysees was deserted at this hour. Vautrot could not
avoid, as he had probably done more than once, encountering Camors.
Seeing himself recognized he saluted him and stopped, with an
uneasy smile on his lips. His worn black coat and doubtful linen
showed a poverty unacknowledged but profound. M. de Camors did not
notice these details, or his natural generosity would have awakened,
and curbed the sudden indignation that took possession of him.
He reined in his horse sharply.
"Ah, is it you, Monsieur Vautrot?" he said. "You have left
England then! What are you doing now?"
"I am looking for a situation, Monsieur de Camors," said Vautrot,
humbly, who knew his old patron too well not to read clearly in the
curl of his moustache the warning of a storm.
"And why," said Camors, "do you not return to your trade of
locksmith? You were so skilful at it! The most complicated locks had
no secrets for you."
"I do not understand your meaning," murmured Vautrot.
"Droll fellow!" and throwing out these words with an accent of
withering scorn, M. de Camors struck Vautrot's shoulder lightly with
the end of his riding-whip, and tranquilly passed on at a walk.
Vautrot was truly in search of a place, had he consented to accept
one fitted to his talents; but he was, as will be remembered, one of
those whose vanity was greater than his merit, and one who loved an
office better than work.
CHAPTER XX. THE SECOND ACT OF THE
Vautrot had at this time fallen into the depth of want and
distress, which, if aggravated, would prompt him to evil and even to
crime. There are many examples of the extremes to which this kind of
intelligence, at once ambitious, grasping, yet impotent, can transport
its possessor. Vautrot, in awaiting better times, had relapsed into
his old role of hypocrite, in which he had formerly succeeded so well.
Only the evening before he had returned to the house of Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, and made honorable amends for his philosophical heresies;
for he was like the Saxons in the time of Charlemagne, who asked to be
baptized every time they wanted new tunics. Madame de la Roche-Jugan
had given a kind reception to this sad prodigal son, but she chilled
perceptibly on seeing him more discreet than she desired on certain
subjects, the mystery of which she had set her heart upon unravelling.
She was now more preoccupied than ever about the relations which
she suspected to exist between M. de Camors and Madame de Campvallon.
These relations could not but prove fatal to the hopes she had so
long founded on the widowhood of the Marquise and the heritage of the
General. The marriage of M. de Camors had for the moment deceived
her, but she was one of those pious persons who always think evil, and
whose suspicions are soon reawakened. She tried to obtain from
Vautrot, who had so long been intimate with her nephew, some
explanation of the mystery; but as Vautrot was too prudent to
enlighten her, she turned him out of doors.
After his encounter with M. de Camors, he immediately turned his
steps toward the Rue St. Dominique, and an hour later Madame de la
Roche-Jugan had the pleasure of knowing all that he knew of the
liaison between the Count and the Marquise. But we remember that he
knew everything. These revelations, though not unexpected, terrified
Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who saw her maternal projects destroyed
forever. To her bitter feeling at this deception was immediately
joined, in this base soul, a sudden thirst for revenge. It was true
she had been badly recompensed for her anonymous letter, by which she
had previously attempted to open the eyes of the unfortunate General;
for from that moment the General, the Marquise, and M. de Camors
himself, without an open rupture, let her feel their marks of
contempt, which embittered her heart. She never would again expose
herself to a similar slight of this kind; but she must assuredly, in
the cause of good morals, at once confront the blind with the
culpable, and this time with such proofs as would make the blow
irresistible. By the mere thought, Madame de la Roche-Jugan had
persuaded herself that the new turn events were taking might become
favorable to the expectations which had become the fixed idea of her
Madame de Campvallon destroyed, M. de Camors set aside, the General
would be alone in the world; and it was natural to suppose he would
turn to his young relative Sigismund, if only to recognize the
far-sighted affection and wounded heart of Madame de la Roche-Jugan.
The General, in fact, had by his marriage contract settled all his
property on his wife; but Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who had consulted
a lawyer on this question, knew that he had the power of alienating
his fortune during life, and of stripping his unworthy wife and
transferring it to Sigismund.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan did not shrink from the probability—which
was most likely—of an encounter between the General and Camors.
Every one knows the disdainful intrepidity of women in the matter of
duels. She had no scruple, therefore, in engaging Vautrot in the
meritorious work she meditated. She secured him by some immediate
advantages and by promises; she made him believe the General would
recompense him largely. Vautrot, smarting still from the cut of
Camors's whip on his shoulder, and ready to kill him with his own hand
had he dared, hardly required the additional stimulus of gain to aid
his protectress in her vengeance by acting as her instrument.
He resolved, however, since he had the opportunity, to put himself,
once for all, beyond misery and want, by cleverly speculating, through
the secret he held, on the great fortune of the General. This secret
he had already given to Madame de Camors under the inspiration of
another sentiment, but he had then in his hands the proofs, which he
now was without.
It was necessary, then, for him to arm himself with new and
infallible proofs; but if the intrigue he was required to unmask still
existed, he did not despair of detecting something certain, aided by
the general knowledge he had of the private habits and ways of Camors.
This was the task to which he applied himself from this moment, day
and night, with an evil ardor of hate and jealousy. The absolute
confidence which the General reposed in his wife and Camors after the
latter's marriage with Marie de Tecle, had doubtless allowed them to
dispense with much of the mystery and adventure of their intrigue; but
that which was ardent, poetic, and theatrical to the Marquise's
imagination had not been lost. Love alone was not sufficient for her.
She needed danger, scenic effect, and pleasure heightened by terror.
Once or twice, in the early time, she was reckless enough to leave
her house during the night and to return before day. But she was
obliged to renounce these audacious flights, finding them too
These nocturnal interviews with M. de Camors were rare, and she had
usually received him at home. This was their arrangement: An open
space, sometimes used as a woodyard, was next the garden of the Hotel
Campvallon. The General had purchased a portion of it and had had a
cottage erected in the midst of a kitchen-garden, and had placed in
it, with his usual kind-heartedness, an old 'sous-officier', named
Mesnil, who had served under him in the artillery. This Mesnil
enjoyed his master's confidence. He was a kind of forester on the
property; he lived in Paris in the winter, but occasionally passed two
or three days in the country whenever the General wished to obtain
information about the crops. Madame de Campvallon and M. de Camors
chose the time of these absences for their dangerous interviews at
night. Camors, apprised from within by some understood signal,
entered the enclosure surrounding the cottage of Mesnil, and thence
proceeded to the garden belonging to the house. Madame de Campvallon
always charged herself with the peril that charmed her—with keeping
open one of the windows on the ground floor. The Parisian custom of
lodging the domestics in the attics gave to this hardihood a sort of
security, notwithstanding its being always hazardous. Near the end of
May, one of these occasions, always impatiently awaited on both sides,
presented itself, and M. de Camors at midnight penetrated into the
little garden of the old 'sous-officier'. At the moment when he
turned the key in the gate of the enclosure, he thought he heard a
slight sound behind him. He turned, cast a rapid glance over the dark
space that surrounded him, and thinking himself mistaken, entered. An
instant after, the shadow of a man appeared at the angle of a pile of
lumber, which was scattered over the carpenter's yard. This shadow
remained for some time immovable in front of the windows of the hotel
and then plunged again into the darkness.
The following week M. de Camors was at the club one evening,
playing whist with the General. He remarked that the General was not
playing his usual game, and saw also imprinted on his features a
"Are you in pain, General?" said he, after they had finished their
"No, no!" said the General; "I am only annoyed—a tiresome affair
between two of my people in the country. I sent Mesnil away this
morning to examine into it."
The General took a few steps, then returned to Camors and took him
aside: "My friend," he said, "I deceived you, just now; I have
something on my mind—something very serious. I am even very
"What is the matter?" said Camors, whose heart sank.
"I shall tell you that probably to-morrow. Come, in any case, to
see me to-morrow morning. Won't you?"
"Thanks! Now I shall go—for I am really not well."
He clasped his hand more affectionately than usual.
"Adieu, my dear child," he added, and turned around brusquely to
hide the tears which suddenly filled his eyes. M. de Camors
experienced for some moments a lively disquietude, but the friendly
and tender adieus of the General reassured him that it did not relate
to himself. Still he continued astonished and even affected by the
emotion of the old man.
Was it not strange? If there was one man in the world whom he
loved, or to whom he would have devoted himself, it was this one whom
he had mortally wronged.
He had, however, good reason to be uneasy; and was wrong in
reassuring himself; for the General in the course of that evening had
been informed of the treachery of his wife—at least he had been
prepared for it. Only he was still ignorant of the name of her
Those who informed him were afraid of encountering the blind and
obstinate faith of the General, had they named Camors.
It was probable, also, after what had already occurred, that had
they again pronounced that name, the General would have repelled the
suspicion as a monstrous impossibility, regretting even the thought.
M. de Camors remained until one o'clock at the club and then went
to the Rue Vanneau. He was introduced into the Hotel Campvallon with
the customary precautions; and this time we shall follow him there.
In traversing the garden, he raised his eyes to the General's window,
and saw the soft light of the night-lamp burning behind the blinds.
The Marquise awaited him at the door of her boudoir, which opened
on a rotunda at an elevation of a few feet. He kissed her hand, and
told her in few words of the General's sadness.
She replied that she had been very uneasy about his health for some
days. This explanation seemed natural to M. de Camors, and he followed
the Marquise through the dark and silent salon. She held in her hand
a candle, the feeble light of which threw on her delicate features a
strange pallor. When they passed up the long, echoing staircase, the
rustling of her skirt on the steps was the only sound that betrayed
her light movement.
She stopped from time to time, shivering—as if better to taste the
dramatic solemnity that surrounded them—turned her blonde head a
little to look at Camors; then cast on him her inspiring smile, placed
her hand on her heart, as if to say, "I am fearful," and went on.
They reached her chamber, where a dim lamp faintly illumined the
sombre magnificence, the sculptured wainscotings, and the heavy
The flame on the hearth which flickered up at intervals, threw a
bright gleam on two or three pictures of the Spanish school, which
were the only decorations of this sumptuous, but stern-looking
The Marquise sank as if terrified on a divan near the chimney, and
pushed with her feet two cushions before her, on which Camors half
reclined; she then thrust back the thick braids of her hair, and
leaned toward her lover.
"Do you love me to-day?" she asked.
The soft breath of her voice was passing over the face of Camors,
when the door suddenly opened before them. The General entered. The
Marquise and Camors instantly rose to their feet, and standing side by
side, motionless, gazed upon him. The General paused near the door.
As he saw them a shudder passed over his frame, and his face assumed
a livid pallor. For an instant his eye rested on Camors with a
stupefied surprise and almost bewilderment; then he raised his arms
over his head, and his hands struck together with a sharp sound. At
this terrible moment Madame de Campvallon seized the arm of Camors,
and threw him a look so profound, supplicating, and tragic, that it
He roughly pushed her from him, crossed his arms, and waited the
The General walked slowly toward him. Suddenly his face became
inflamed with a purple hue; his lips half opened, as if about to
deliver some deadly insult. He advanced rapidly, his hand raised; but
after a few steps the old man suddenly stopped, beat the air with both
hands, as if seeking some support, then staggered and fell forward,
striking his head against the marble mantelpiece, rolled on the
carpet, and remained motionless. There was an ominous silence. A
stifled cry from M. de Camors broke it. At the same time he threw
himself on his knees by the side of the motionless old man, touched
first his hand, then his heart. He saw that he was dead. A thin
thread of blood trickled down his pale forehead where it had struck
the marble; but this was only a slight wound. It was not that which
had killed him. It was the treachery of those two beings whom he had
loved, and who, he believed, loved him. His heart had been broken by
the violence of the surprise, the grief, and the horror.
One look of Camors told Madame de Campvallon she was a widow. She
threw herself on the divan, buried her face in the cushions and sobbed
aloud. Camors still stood, his back against the mantelpiece, his eyes
fixed, wrapped in his own thoughts. He wished in all sincerity of
heart that he could have awakened the dead and restored him to life.
He had sworn to deliver himself up to him without defence, if ever
the old man demanded it of him for forgotten favors, betrayed
friendship, and violated honor. Now he had killed him. If he had not
slain him with his own hand, the crime was still there, in its most
hideous form. He saw it before him, he inhaled its odor—he breathed
its blood. An uneasy glance of the Marquise recalled him to himself
and he approached her. They then conversed together in whispers, and
he hastily explained to her the line of conduct she should adopt.
She must summon the servants, say the General had been taken
suddenly ill, and that on entering her room he had been seized by an
It was with some effort that she understood she was to wait long
enough before giving the alarm to give Camors sufficient time to
escape; and until then she was to remain in this frightful
tete-a-tete, alone with the dead.
He pitied her, and decided on leaving the hotel by the apartment of
M. de Campvallon, which had a private entrance on the street.
The Marquise immediately rang violently several times, and Camors
did not retire till he heard the sound of hastening feet on the
stairs. The apartment of the General communicated with that of his
wife by a short gallery. There was a suite of apartments—first a
study, then his sleeping-room. M. de Camors traversed this room with
feelings we shall not attempt to describe and gained the street. The
surgeon testified that the General had died from the rupture of a
vessel in the heart. Two days after the interment took place, at which
M. de Camors attended. The same evening he left Paris to join his
wife, who had gone to Reuilly the preceding week.
CHAPTER XXI. THE FEATHER IN THE
One of the sweetest sensations in the world is that of a man who
has just escaped the fantastic terrors of night mare; and who,
awaking, his fore head bathed with icy sweat, says to himself, "It was
only a dream!" This was, in some degree, the impression which Camors
felt on awaking, the morning after his arrival at Reuilly, when his
first glance fell on the sunlight streaming over the foliage, and when
he heard beneath his window the joyous laugh of his little son. He,
however, was not dreaming; but his soul, crushed by the horrible
tension of recent emotions, had a moment's respite, and drank in,
almost without alloy, the new calm that surrounded him. He hastily
dressed himself and descended to the garden, where his son ran to meet
M. de Camors embraced the child with tenderness; and leaning toward
him, spoke to him in a low voice, and asked after his mother and about
his amusements, with a singularly soft and sad manner. Then he let
him go, and walked with a slow step, breathing the fresh morning air,
examining the leaves and the flowers with extraordinary interest.
From time to time a deep, sad sigh broke from his oppressed chest; he
passed his hand over his brow as if to efface the importunate images.
He sat down amid the quaintly clipped boxwood which ornamented the
garden in the antique fashion, called his son again to him, held him
between his knees, interrogating him again, in a low voice, as he had
done before; then drew him toward him and clasped him tightly for a
long time, as if to draw into his own heart the innocence and peace of
the child's. Madame de Camors surprised him in this gush of feeling,
and remained mute with astonishment. He rose immediately and took her
"How well you bring him up!" he said. "I thank you for it. He
will be worthy of you and of your mother."
She was so surprised at the soft, sad tone of his voice, that she
replied, stammering with embarrassment, "And worthy of you also, I
"Of me?" said Camors, whose lips were slightly tremulous. "Poor
child, I hope not!" and rapidly withdrew.
Madame de Camors and Madame de Tecle had learned, the previous
morning, of the death of the General. The evening of the Count's
arrival they did not speak to him on the subject, and were cautious
not to make any allusion to it. The next day, and the succeeding
ones, they practised the same reserve, though very far from suspecting
the fatal circumstances which rendered this souvenir so painful to M.
de Camors. They thought it only natural he should be pained at so
sudden a catastrophe, and that his conscience should be disturbed; but
they were astonished when this impression prolonged itself from day to
day, until it took the appearance of a lasting sentiment.
They began to believe that there had arisen between Madame de
Campvallon and himself, probably occasioned by the General's death,
some quarrel which had weakened the tie between them.
A journey of twenty-four hours, which he made fifteen days after
his arrival, was to them a confirmation of the truth they before
suspected; but his prompt return, his new tastes, which kept him at
Reuilly during the summer, seemed to them favorable symptoms.
He was singularly sad, pensive, and more inactive than usual in his
habits. He took long walks alone. Sometimes he took his son with
him, as if by chance. He sometimes attempted a little timid
tenderness with his wife; and this awkwardness, on his part, was quite
"Marie," he said to her one day, "you, who are a fairy, wave your
wand over Reuilly and make of it an island in mid-ocean."
"You say that because you know how to swim," said she, laughing and
shaking her head; but the heart of the young woman was joyful.
"You embrace me now every moment, my little one," said Madame de
Tecle to her. "Is this really all intended for me?"
"My adorable mother," while embracing her again, "I assure you he
is really courting me again. Why, I am ignorant; but he is courting
me and you also, my mother. Observe it!"
Madame de Tecle did observe it. In his conversation with her, M.
de Camors sought, under every pretext, to recall the souvenirs of the
past, common to them both. It seemed he wished to link the past with
his new life; to forget the rest, and pray of them to forget it also.
It was not without fear that these two charming women abandoned
themselves to their hopes. They remembered they were in the presence
of an uncertain person; they little trusted a change so sudden, the
reason of which they could not comprehend. They feared it was some
passing caprice, which would return to them, if they were its dupes,
all their misfortunes, without the dignity which had hitherto attended
They were not the only ones struck by this transformation. M. des
Rameures remarked it to them. The neighboring country people felt in
the Count's language something new—as it were, a tender humility;
they said that in other years he had been polite, but this year he was
angelic. Even the inanimate things, the woods, the trees, the heavens,
should have borne the same testimony, for he looked at and studied
them with a benevolent curiosity with which he had never before
In truth, a profound trouble had invaded him and would not leave
him. More than once, before this epoch, his soul, his philosophy, his
pride, had received a rude shock, but he had no less pursued his path,
rising after every blow, like a lion wounded, but unconquered. In
trampling under his feet all moral belief which binds the vulgar, he
had reserved honor as an inviolable limit. Then, under the empire of
his passions, he said to himself that, after all, honor, like all the
rest, was conventional. Then he encountered crime—he touched it with
his hand— horror seized him—and he recoiled. He rejected with
disgust the principle which had conducted him there—asked himself
what would become of human society if it had no other.
The simple truths which he had misunderstood now appeared to him in
their tranquil splendor. He could not yet distinguish them clearly;
he did not try to give them a name, but he plunged with a secret
delight into their shadows and their peace. He sought them in the
pure heart of his child, in the pure love of his young wife, in the
daily miracles of nature, in the harmonies of the heavens, and
probably already in the depths of his thoughts—in God. In the midst
of this approach toward a new life he hesitated. Madame de Campvallon
was there. He still loved her vaguely. Above all, he could not
abandon her without being guilty of a kind of baseness. Terrible
struggles agitated him. Having done so much evil, would he now be
permitted to do good, and gracefully partake of the joys he foresaw?
These ties with the past, his fortune dishonestly acquired, his fatal
mistress—the spectre of that old man would they permit it?
And we may add, would Providence suffer it? Not that we should
lightly use this word Providence, and suspend over M. de Camors a
menace of supernatural chastisement. Providence does not intervene in
human events except through the logic of her eternal laws. She has
only the sanction of these laws; and it is for this reason she is
feared. At the end of August M. de Camors repaired to the principal
town in the district, to perform his duties in the Council-General.
The session finished, he paid a visit to Madame de Campvallon before
returning to Reuilly. He had neglected her a little in the course of
the summer, and had only visited Campvallon at long intervals, as
politeness compelled him. The Marquise wished to keep him for dinner,
as she had no guests with her. She pressed him so warmly that,
reproaching himself all the time, he consented. He never saw her
without pain. She always brought back to him those terrible memories,
but also that terrible intoxication. She had never been more
beautiful. Her deep mourning embellished yet more her languishing and
regal grace; it made her pale complexion yet more fair, and it
heightened the brilliancy of her look. She had the air of a young
tragic queen, or of an allegory of Night. In the evening an hour
arrived when the reserve which for some time had marked their
relations was forgotten. M. de Camors found himself, as in olden
time, at the feet of the young Marquise—his eyes gazing into hers,
and covering with kisses her lovely hands. She was strange that
evening. She looked at him with a wild tenderness, instilling, at
pleasure, into his veins the poison of burning passion then escaping
him, the tears gathering in her eyes. Suddenly, by one of those
magical movements of hers, she enveloped with her hands the head of
her lover, and spoke to him quite low beneath the shadow of this
"We might be so happy!" she said.
"Are we not so?" said Camors.
"No! I at least am not, for you are not all mine, as I am yours.
This appears harder, now that I am free. If you had remained
free—when I think of it! or if you could become so, it would be
"You know that I am not so! Why speak of it?"
She drew nearer to him, and with her breath, more than with her
"Is it impossible? Tell me!"
"How?" he demanded.
She did not reply, but her fixed look, caressing and cruel,
"Speak, then, I beg of you!" murmured Camors.
"Have you not told me—I have not forgotten it—that we are united
by ties stronger than all others; that the world and its laws exist no
longer for us; that there is no other good, no other bad for us, but
our happiness or our unhappiness? Well, we are not happy, and if we
could be so—listen, I have thought well over it!"
Her lips touched the cheek of Camors, and the murmur of her last
words was lost in her kisses.
Camors roughly repelled her, sprang up, and stood before her.
"Charlotte," he said, sternly, "this is only a trial, I hope; but,
trial or no, never repeat it—never! Remember!"
She also quickly drew herself up.
"Ah! how you love her!" she cried. "Yes, you love her, it is she
you love-I know it, I feel it, and I-I am only the wretched object of
your pity, or of your caprice. Very well, go back to her—go and
protect her, for I swear to you she is in peril!"
He smiled with his haughty irony.
"Let us see your plot," he said. "So you intend to kill her?"
"If I can!" she said; and her superb arm was stretched out as if
to seize a weapon.
"What! with your own hand?"
"The hand shall be found."
"You are so beautiful at this moment!" said Camors; "I am dying
with the desire to fall at your feet. Acknowledge only that you
wished to try me, or that you were mad for a moment."
She gave a savage smile.
"Oh! you fear, my friend," she said, coldly; then raising again
her voice, which assumed a malignant tone, "You are right, I am not
mad, I did not wish to try you; I am jealous, I am betrayed, and I
shall revenge myself—no matter what it costs me—for I care for
nothing more in this world!—Go, and guard her!"
"Be it so; I go," said Camors. He immediately left the salon and
the chateau; he reached the railway station on foot, and that evening
arrived at Reuilly.
Something terrible there awaited him.
During his absence, Madame de Camors, accompanied by her mother,
had gone to Paris to make some purchases. She remained there three
days. She had returned only that morning. He himself arrived late in
the evening. He thought he observed some constraint in their
reception of him, but he did not dwell upon it in the state of mind in
which he was.
This is what had occurred: Madame de Camors, during her stay in
Paris, had gone, as was her custom, to visit her aunt, Madame de la
Roche-Jugan. Their intercourse had always been very constrained.
Neither their characters nor their religion coincided. Madame de
Camors contented herself with not liking her aunt, but Madame de la
Roche-Jugan hated her niece. She found a good occasion to prove this,
and did not lose it. They had not seen each other since the General's
death. This event, which should have caused Madame de la Roche-Jugan
to reproach herself, had simply exasperated her. Her bad action had
recoiled upon herself. The death of M. Campvallon had finally
destroyed her last hopes, which she had believed she could have
founded on the anger and desperation of the old man. Since that time
she was animated against her nephew and the Marquise with the rage of
one of the Furies. She learned through Vautrot that M. de Camors had
been in the chamber of Madame de Campvallon the night of the General's
death. On this foundation of truth she did not fear to frame the most
odious suspicions; and Vautrot, baffled like her in his vengeance and
in his envy, had aided her. A few sinister rumors, escaping
apparently from this source, had even crept at this time into Parisian
M. de Camors and Madame de Campvallon, suspecting that they had
been betrayed a second time by Madame de la Roche-Jugan, had broken
with her; and she could presume that, should she present herself at
the door of the Marquise, orders would have been given not to admit
her. This affront made her angrier still. She was still a prey to
the violence of her wrath when she received a visit from Madame de
Camors. She affected to make the General's death the theme of
conversation, shed a few tears over her old friend, and kissed the
hand of her niece with a burst of tenderness.
"My poor little thing!" she said to her; "it is for you also I
weep—for you will yet be more unhappy than heretofore, if that can be
"I do not understand you, Madame," answered the young woman,
"If you do not understand me, so much the better," replied Madame
de la Roche-Jugan, with a shade of bitterness; then, after a moment's
pause—" Listen, my dear! this is a duty of conscience which I comply
with. You see, an honest creature like you merits a better fate; and
your mother too, who is also a dupe. That man would deceive the good
God. In the name of my family, I feel bound to ask your pardon for
both of them."
"I repeat, Madame, that I do not understand you."
"But it is impossible, my child—come!—it is impossible that all
this time you have suspected nothing."
"I suspect nothing, Madame," said Madame de Camors, "because I know
"Ah!" continued Madame de la Roche-Jugan, dryly; "if this be so, I
have nothing to say. But there are persons, in that case, who can
accommodate their consciences to very strange things."
"That is what I thought a moment ago, Madame," said the young
"As you wish, my dear; but I speak in your own interest, and I
shall reproach myself for not having spoken to you more clearly. I
know my nephew better than you will ever know him; and the other also.
Notwithstanding you say so, you do not know all; let me tell you. The
General died very suddenly; and after him, it is your turn! Be very
careful, my poor child!"
"Oh, Madame!" cried the young woman, becoming ghastly pale; "I
shall never see you again while I live!" She left on the instant-ran
home, and there found her mother. She repeated to her the terrible
words she had just heard, and her mother tried to calm her; but she
herself was disturbed. She went immediately to Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, and supplicated her to have pity on them and to retract
the abominable innuendo she had thrown out, or to explain it more
fully. She made her understand that she would inform M. de Camors of
the affair in case of need, and that he would hold his cousin
Sigismund responsible. Terrified in her turn, Madame de la
Roche-Jugan judged the best method was to destroy M. de Camors in the
estimation of Madame de Tecle. She related what had been told her by
Vautrot, being careful not to compromise herself in the recital. She
informed her of the presence of M. de Camors at the General's house
the night of his death. She told her of the reports that were
circulated, and mingling calumny with truth, redoubling at the same
time her affection, her caresses, and her tears, she succeeded in
giving Madame de Tecle such an estimate of the character of M. de
Camors, that there were no suspicions or apprehensions which the poor
woman, from that moment, did not consider legitimate as connected with
Madame de la Roche-Jugan finally offered to send Vautrot to her,
that she might herself interrogate him. Madame de Tecle, affecting an
incredulity and a tranquillity she did not feel, refused and withdrew.
On her returning to her daughter, she forced herself to deceive her
as to the impressions she had received, but she did not succeed; for
her anxious face belied her reassuring words. They separated the
following night, mutually concealing the trouble and distress of their
souls; but accustomed so long to think, feel, and suffer together,
they met, so to speak, in the same reflections, the same reasonings,
and in the same terrors. They went over, in their memories, all the
incidents of the life of Camors—all his faults; and, under the shadow
of the monstrous action imputed to him, his faults took a criminal
character which they were surprised they had not seen before. They
discovered a series and a sequence in his designs, all of which were
imputed to him as crimes—even his good actions. Thus his conduct
during the last few months, his strange ways, his fancy for his child
and for his wife, his assiduous tenderness toward her, were nothing
more than the hypocritical meditation of a new crime—a mask which he
was preparing in advance.
What was to be done? What kind of life was it possible to live in
common, under the weight of such thoughts? What present—what future?
These thoughts bewildered them. Next day Camors could not fail
remarking the singular change in their countenances in his presence;
but he knew that his servant, without thinking of harm, had spoken of
his visit to Madame de Campvallon, and he attributed the coldness and
embarrassment of the two women to this fact. He was less disquieted
at this, because he was resolved to keep them entirely safe. As a
result of his reflections during the night, he had determined to break
off forever his intrigue with Madame de Campvallon. For this rupture,
which he had made it a point of honor not to provoke, Madame de
Campvallon had herself furnished him a sufficient pretext.
The criminal thought she had suggested was, he knew, only a feint
to test him, but it was enough to justify his abandonment of her. As
to the violent and menacing words the Marquise had used, he held them
of little value, though at times the remembrance of them troubled him.
Nevertheless, for many years he had not felt his heart so light. This
wicked tie once broken, it seemed as if he had resumed, with his
liberty, his youth and virtue. He walked and played a part of the day
with his little son. After dinner, just as night fell, clear and
pure, he proposed to Madame de Camors a tete-a-tete excursion in the
woods. He spoke to her of a view which had struck him shortly before
on such a night, and which would please, he said laughingly, her
He would not permit himself to be surprised at the disinclination
she manifested, at the disquietude which her face indicated, or at the
rapid glance she exchanged with her mother.
The same thought, and that a most fearful one; entered the minds of
both these unfortunate women at the same moment.
They were still under the impression of the shock which had so
weakened their nerves, and the brusque proposition of M. de Camors, so
contrary to his usual habits-the hour, the night, and the solitary
walk—had suddenly awakened in their brains the sinister images which
Madame de la Roche- Jugan had laid there. Madame de Camors, however,
with an air of resolution the circumstances did not seem entitled to
demand, prepared immediately to go out, then followed her husband from
the house, leaving her little son in charge of her mother. They had
only to cross the garden to find themselves on the edge of the wood
which almost touched their dwelling, and which stretched to the old
fields inherited from the Comte de Tecle. The intention of Camors in
seeking this tete-a-tete was to confide to his wife the decisive
determination he had taken of delivering up to her absolutely and
without reserve his heart and life, and to enjoy in these solitudes
his first taste of true happiness. Surprised at the cold distraction
with which his young wife replied to the affectionate gayety of his
language, he redoubled his efforts to bring their conversation to a
tone of more intimacy and confidence. While stopping at intervals to
point out to her some effects of light and shadow in their walk, he
began to question her on her recent trip to Paris, and on the persons
she had seen there. She named Madame Jaubert and a few others; then,
lowering her voice against her will, mentioned Madame de la
"That one," said Camors, "you could very well have dispensed with.
I forgot to warn you that I no longer recognize her."
"Why?" asked she, timidly.
"Because she is a bad woman," said Camors. "When we are a little
more intimate with each other, you and I," he added, laughing, "I
shall edify you on this character, I shall tell you all—all,
There was so much of nature, and even of goodness in the accent
with which he pronounced these words, that the Countess felt her heart
half comforted from the oppression which had weighed it down. She
gave herself up with more abandon to the gracious advances of her
husband and to the slight incidents of her walk.
The phantoms disappeared little by little from her mind, and she
began to say to herself that she had been the sport of a bad dream,
and of a true madness, when a singular change in her husband's face
renewed all her terrors. M. de Camors, in his turn, had become absent
and visibly preoccupied with some grave care. He spoke with an
effort, made half replies, meditated; then stopped quickly to look
around him, like a frightened child. These strange ways, so different
from his former temper, alarmed the young woman, the more so as she
just then found herself in the most distant part of the wood.
There was an extraordinary similarity in the thoughts which
occupied them both. At the moment when Madame Camors was trembling
for fear near her husband, he was trembling for her.
He thought he detected that they were followed; at different times
he thought he heard in the thicket the cracking of branches, rattling
of leaves, and finally the sound of stealthy steps. These noises
always ceased on his stopping, and began again the moment he resumed
his walk. He thought, a moment later, he saw the shadow of a man pass
rapidly among the underwood behind them. The idea of some woodman
came first to his mind, but he could not reconcile this with the
persistence with which they were followed.
He finally had no doubt that they were dogged—but by whom? The
repeated menaces of Madame de Campvallon against the life of Madame de
Camors, the passionate and unbridled character of this woman, soon
presented itself to his thoughts, suggested this mysterious pursuit,
and awakened these frightful suspicions.
He did not imagine for a moment that the Marquise would charge
herself personally with the infliction of her vengeance; but she had
said—he then remembered—that the hand would be found. She was rich
enough to find it, and this hand might now be here.
He did not wish to alarm his wife by calling her attention to this
spectre, which he believed at her side, but he could not hide from her
his agitation, which every movement of his caused her to construe as
falsely as cruelly.
"Marie," he said, "let us walk a little faster, I beg of you! I am
He quickened his steps, resolved to return to the chateau by the
public road, which was bordered with houses.
When he reached the border of the woods, although he thought he
still heard at intervals the sound which had alarmed him, he reassured
himself and resumed his flow of spirits as if a little ashamed even of
his panic. He stopped the Countess to look at the pretext of this
excursion. This was the rocky wall of the deep excavation of a
marl-pit, long since abandoned. The arbutus-trees of fantastic shape
which covered the summit of these rocks, the pendant vines, the sombre
ivy which carpeted the cliffs, the gleaming white stones, the vague
reflections in the stagnant pool at the bottom of the pit, the
mysterious light of the moon, made a scene of wild beauty.
The ground in the neighborhood of the marl-pit was so irregular,
and the thorny underbrush so thick, that when pedestrians wished to
reach the nearest highway they, were compelled either to make a long
detour or to cross the deepest part of the excavation by means of the
trunks of two great trees, which had been cut in half, lashed
together, and thrown across the chasm. Thus they formed a crude
bridge, affording a passage across the deep hollow and adding to the
picturesque aspect of this romantic spot.
Madame de Camors never had seen anything like this peculiar bridge,
which had been laid recently at her husband's orders. After they had
gazed in silence a moment into the depths of the marl-pit, Camors
called his wife's attention to the unique construction.
"Do you intend to cross that?" she asked, briefly.
"Yes, if you are not afraid," said Camors; "I shall be close beside
you, you know."
He saw that she hesitated, and, looking at her closely in the
moonlight, he thought her face was strangely pale, and could not
refrain from saying:
"I believed that you had more courage."
She hesitated no longer, but stepped upon the dangerous bridge. In
spite of herself, she turned her head half around, in a backward
glance, and her steady step faltered. Suddenly she tottered. M. de
Camors sprang forward, and, in the agitation of the moment, seized her
in an almost violent grasp. The unhappy woman uttered a piercing
shriek, made a gesture as if to defend herself, repelling his touch;
then, running wildly across the bridge, she rushed into the woods. M.
de Camors, astounded, alarmed, not knowing how to interpret his wife's
strange conduct, immediately followed her. He found her a short
distance beyond the bridge, leaning against the first tree she had
been able to reach. She turned to face. him, with an expression of
mingled terror and menace, and as he approached, she shot forth the
He stared at her in sheer amazement. At that moment there was a
sound of hurried footsteps; a shadowy form glided toward them from the
depth of the thicket, and the next instant Camors recognized Madame de
Tecle. She ran, dishevelled and breathless, toward her daughter,
seized her by the hand and, drawing herself up, said to Camors:
"If you kill one of us, kill both!"
He understood the mystery in a flash. A stifled cry escaped him;
for an instant he buried his face in his hands; then; flinging out his
arms in a gesture of despair, he said:
"So you took me for a murderer!"
There was a moment of dead silence.
"Well!" he cried, stamping his foot with sudden violence, "why do
you stay here, then? Run! Fly! Save yourselves from me!"
Overcome with terror, the two women fled, the mother dragging her
daughter. The next moment they had disappeared in the darkness of the
Camors remained in that lonely spot many hours, without being aware
of the passage of time. At intervals he paced feverishly to and fro
along the narrow strip of land between the woods and the bridge; then,
stopping short, with fixed eyes, he became lost in thought, and stood
as motionless as the trunk of the tree against which he leaned. If,
as we hope, there is a Divine hand which measures justly our sorrows
according to our sins, the unhappy man, in this dark hour, must have
rendered his account.
CHAPTER XXII. THE CURTAIN FALLS
The next morning the Marquise de Campvallon was strolling beside a
large circular sheet of water which ornamented the lower part of her
park, the metallic gleam of the rippling waves being discernible from
afar through the branches of the surrounding trees.
She walked slowly along the bank of the lake, her head bowed, and
the long skirt of her mourning-robe sweeping the grass. Two large and
dazzlingly white swans, watching their mistress eagerly, in
expectation of receiving their usual titbits from her hands, swam
close to the bank, following her steps as if escorting her.
Suddenly the Comte de Camors appeared before her. She had believed
that she never should see him again. She raised her head quickly and
pressed one hand to her heart.
"Yes, it is I!" said Camors. "Give me your hand."
She gave it to him.
"You were right, Charlotte," he said, after a moment of silence.
"Ties like ours can not be broken. I have reflected on everything.
I was seized with a momentary cowardice, for which I have reproached
myself bitterly, and for which, moreover, I have been sufficiently
punished. But I come to you to ask your forgiveness."
The Marquise led him tenderly into the deep shadow of the great
plane- trees that surrounded the lake; she knelt before him with
theatric grace, and fixed on him her swimming eyes. She covered his
head with kisses. He raised her and pressed her to his heart.
"But you do not wish that crime to be committed?" he said in a low
She bent her head with mournful indecision.
"For that matter," he added, bitterly, "it would only make us
worthier of each other; for, as to myself, they have already believed
me capable of it."
He took her arm and recounted to her briefly the scene of the night
He told her he had not returned home, and never should. This was
the result of his mournful meditations. To attempt an explanation
with those who had so mortally outraged him—to open to them the depth
of his heart —to allude to the criminal thought they had accused him
of—he had repelled with horror, the evening before, when proposed by
another. He thought of all this; but this humiliation—if he could
have so abased himself—would have been useless. How could he hope to
conquer by these words the distrust capable of creating such
He confusedly divined the origin, and understood that this
distrust, envenomed by remembrance of the past, was incurable.
The sentiment of the irreparable, of revolted pride, indignation,
and even injustice, had shown him but one refuge, and it was this to
which he had fled.
The Comtesse de Camors and Madame de Tecle learned only through
their servants and the public of the removal of the Count to a
country-house he had rented near the Chateau Campvallon. After
writing ten letters—all of which he had burned—he had decided to
maintain an absolute silence. They sometimes trembled at the thought
he might take away his son. He thought of it; but it was a kind of
vengeance that he disdained.
This move, which publicly proclaimed the relations existing between
M. de Camors and the Marquise, made a sensation in the Parisian world,
where it was soon known. It revived again the strange recollections
and rumors that all remembered. Camors heard of them, but despised
His pride, which was then exasperated by a savage irritation, was
gratified at defying public opinion, which had been so easily duped
before. He knew there was no situation one could not impose upon the
world providing one had wealth and audacity. From this day he resumed
energetically the love of his life, his habits, his labors, and his
thoughts for the future. Madame de Campvallon was the confidante of
all his projects, and added her own care to them; and both occupied
themselves in organizing in advance their mutual existence, hereafter
blended forever. The personal fortune of M. de Camors, united to that
of the Marquise, left no limits to the fancies which their imagination
could devise. They arranged to live separately at Paris, though the
Marquise's salon should be common to both; but their double influence
would shine at the same time, and they would be the social centre of a
sovereign influence. The Marquise would reign by the splendor of her
person over the society of letters, art, and politics. Camors would
there find the means of action which could not fail to accomplish the
high destiny to which his talent and his ambition called him.
This was the life that had appeared to them in the origin of their
liaison as a sort of ideal of human happiness—that of two superior
beings, who proudly shared, above the masses, all the pleasures of
earth, the intoxication of passion, the enjoyment of intellectual
strength, the satisfaction of pride, and the emotions of power. The
eclat of such a life would constitute the vengeance of Camors, and
force to repent bitterly those who had dared to misunderstand him.
The recent mourning of the Marquise commanded them, notwithstanding,
to adjourn the realization of their dream, if they did not wish to
wound the conscience of the public. They felt it, and resolved to
travel for a few months before settling in Paris. The time that
passed in their preparations for the future, and in arrangements for
this voyage, was to Madame de Campvallon the sweetest period of her
life. She finally tasted to the full an intimacy, so long troubled,
of which the charm, in truth, was very great; for her lover, as if to
make her forget his momentary desertion, was prodigal in the effusion
of his tenderness. He brought to private studies, as well as to their
common schemes, an ardor, a fire, which displayed itself in his face,
in his eyes, and which seemed yet more to heighten his manly beauty.
It often happened, after quitting the Marquise in the evening, that
he worked very late at home, sometimes until morning. One night,
shortly before the day fixed for their departure, a private servant of
the Count, who slept in the room above his master's, heard a noise
which alarmed him.
He went down in great haste, and found M. de Camors stretched
apparently lifeless on the floor at the foot of his desk. The
servant, whose name was Daniel, had all his master's confidence, and
he loved him with that singular affection which strong natures often
inspire in their inferiors.
He sent for Madame de Campvallon, who soon came. M. de Camors,
recovering from his fainting-fit, was very pale, and was walking
across the room when she entered. He seemed irritated at seeing her,
and rebuked his servant sharply for his ill-advised zeal.
He said he had only had a touch of vertigo, to which he was
subject. Madame de Campvallon soon retired, having first supplicated
him not to overwork himself again. When he came to her next day, she
could not help being surprised at the dejection stamped on his face,
which she attributed to the attack he had had the night before. But
when she spoke of their approaching departure, she was astonished, and
even alarmed by his reply:
"Let us defer it a little, I beg of you," he said. "I do not feel
in a state fit for travelling."
Days passed; he made no further allusion to the voyage. He was
serious, silent, and cold. The active ardor, almost feverish, which
had animated until then his life, his speech, his eyes, was suddenly
quenched. One symptom which disquieted the Marquise above all was the
absolute idleness to which he now abandoned himself.
He left her in the evening at an early hour. Daniel told the
Marquise that the Count worked no longer; that he heard him pacing up
and down the greater part of the night. At the same time his health
failed visibly. The Marquise ventured once to interrogate him. As
they were both walking one day in the park, she said:
"You are hiding something from me. You suffer, my friend. What is
"There is nothing."
"I pray you tell me!"
"Nothing is the matter with me," he replied, petulantly.
"Is it your son that you regret?"
"I regret nothing." After a few steps taken in silence—" When I
think," he said, quickly, "that there is one person in the world who
considers me a coward—for I hear always that word in my ear—and who
treated me like a coward, and who believed it when it was said, and
believes it still! If it had been a man, it would be easy, but it was
After this sudden explosion he was silent.
"Very well; what do you desire?" said the Marquise, with vexation.
"Do you wish that I should go and tell her the truth—tell her that
you were ready to defend her against me—that you love her, and hate
me? If it be that you wish, say so. I believe if this life continues
I shall be capable of doing anything!"
"Do not you also outrage me! Dismiss me, if that will give you
pleasure; but I love you only. My pride bleeds, that is all; and I
give you my word of honor that if you ever affront me by going to
justify me, I shall never in my life see you or her. Embrace me!"
and he pressed her to his heart.
She was calm for a few hours.
The house he occupied was about to be taken again by its
proprietor. The middle of September approached, and it was the time
when the Marquise was in the habit of returning to Paris. She
proposed to M. de Camors to occupy the chateau during the few days he
purposed passing in the country. He accepted; but whenever she spoke
of returning to Paris:
"Why so soon?" he would say; "are we not very well here?"
A little later she reminded him that the session of the Chamber was
about to open. He made his health a pretext for delay, saying that he
felt weak and wished to send in his resignation as deputy. She
induced him only by her urgent prayer to content himself with asking
leave of absence.
"But you, my beloved!" he said, "I am condemning you to a sad
"With you," she replied, "I am happy everywhere and always!"
It was not true that she was happy, but it was true that she loved
him and was devoted to him. There was no suffering she would not have
resigned herself to, no sacrifice she would not make, were it for him.
From this moment the prospect of worldly sovereignty, which she
thought she had touched with her hand, escaped her. She had a
presentiment of a melancholy future of solitude, of renunciation, of
secret tears; but near him grief became a fete. One knows with what
rapidity life passes with those who busy themselves without
distraction in some profound grief—the days themselves are long, but
the succession of them is rapid and imperceptible. It was thus that
the months and then the seasons succeeded one another, for Camors and
the Marquise, with a monotony that left hardly any trace on their
thoughts. Their daily relations were marked, on the part of the Count
with an invariably cold and distant courtesy, and very often silence;
on the part of the Marquise by an attentive tenderness and a
constrained grief. Every day they rode out on horseback, both clad in
black, sympathetic by their beauty and their sadness, and surrounded
in the country by distant respect. About the beginning of the ensuing
winter Madame de Campvallon experienced a serious disquietude.
Although M. de Camors never complained, it was evident his health was
gradually failing. A dark and almost clayey tint covered his thin
cheeks, and spread nearly to the whites of his eyes. The Marquise
showed some emotion on perceiving it, and persuaded him to consult a
physician. The physician perceived symptoms of chronic debility. He
did not think it dangerous, but recommended a season at Vichy, a few
hygienic precautions, and absolute repose of mind and body.
When the Marquise proposed to Camors this visit to Vichy, he only
shrugged his shoulders without reply.
A few days after, Madame de Campvallon on entering the stable one
morning, saw Medjid, the favorite mare of Camors, white with foam,
panting and exhausted. The groom explained, with some awkwardness,
the condition of the animal, by a ride the Count had taken that
morning. The Marquise had recourse to Daniel, of whom she made a
confidant, and having questioned him, drew out the acknowledgment that
for some time his master had been in the habit of going out in the
evening and not returning until morning. Daniel was in despair with
these nightly wanderings, which he said greatly fatigued his master.
He ended by confessing to Madame de Campvallon the goal of his
The Comtesse de Camors, yielding to considerations the details of
which would not be interesting, had continued to live at Reuilly since
her husband had abandoned her. Reuilly was distant twelve leagues
from Campvallon, which could be made shorter by a crosscut. M. de
Camors did not hesitate to pass over this distance twice in the same
night, to give himself the emotion of breathing for a few minutes the
same air with his wife and child.
Daniel had accompanied him two or three times, but the Count
generally went alone. He left his horse in the wood, and approached
as near as he could without risking discovery; and, hiding himself
like a malefactor behind the shadows of the trees, he watched the
windows, the lights, the house, the least signs of those dear beings,
from whom an eternal abyss had divided him.
The Marquise, half frightened, half irritated, by an oddity which
seemed to border on madness, pretended to be ignorant of it. But
these two spirits were too accustomed to each other, day by day, to be
able to hide anything. He knew she was aware of his weakness, and
seemed no longer to care to make a mystery of it.
One evening in the month of July, he left on horseback in the
afternoon, and did not return for dinner. He arrived at the woods of
Reuilly at the close of the day, as he had premeditated. He entered
the garden with his usual precaution, and, thanks to his knowledge of
the habits of the household, he could approach, without being noticed,
the pavilion where the Countess's chamber was situated, and which was
also that of his son. This chamber, by a particular arrangement of the
house, was elevated at the side of the court by the height of an
entresol, but was level with the garden. One of the windows was open,
owing to the heat of the evening. Camors hid himself behind the
shutters, which were half closed, and gazed eagerly into the chamber.
He had not seen for two years either his wife, his child, or Madame
de Tecle. He now saw all three there. Madame de Tecle was working
near the chimney. Her face was unchanged. She had the same youthful
look, but her hair was as white, as snow. Madame de Camors was
sitting on a couch nearly in front of the window and undressing her
son, at the same time talking to and caressing him.
The child, at a sign, knelt down at his mother's feet in his light
night- garments, and while she held his joined hands in her own, he
began in a loud voice his evening prayers. She whispered him from
time to time a word that escaped him. This prayer, composed of a
number of phrases adapted to a youthful mind, terminated with these
words: "O God! be good and merciful to my mother, my grandmother, to
me—and above all, O God, to my unfortunate father." He pronounced
these words with childish haste, but under a serious look from his
mother, he repeated them immediately, with some emotion, as a child
who repeats the inflection of a voice which has been taught him.
Camors turned suddenly and retired noiselessly, leaving the garden
by the nearest gate. A fixed idea tortured him. He wished to see his
son—to speak to him—to embrace him, and to press him to his heart.
After that, he cared for little.
He remembered they had formerly the habit of taking the child to
the dairy every morning to give him a cup of milk. He hoped they had
continued this custom. Morning arrived, and soon came the hour for
which he waited. He hid himself in the walk which led to the farm.
He heard the noise of feet, of laughter, and of joyous cries, and his
son suddenly appeared running in advance. He was a charming little
boy of five or six years, of a graceful and proud mien. On perceiving
M. de Camors in the middle of the walk he stopped, he hesitated at
this unknown or half- forgotten face; but the tender and
half-supplicating smile of Camors reassured him.
"Monsieur!" he said, doubtfully.
Camors opened his arms and bent as if to kneel before him.
"Come and embrace me, I beg of you," he murmured.
The child had already advanced smiling, when the woman who was
following him, who was his old nurse, suddenly appeared. 'She made a
gesture of fright:
"Your father!" she said, in a stifled voice.
At these words the child uttered a cry of terror, rushed back to
the nurse, pressed against her, and regarded his father with
The nurse took him by the arm, and earned him off in great haste.
M. de Camors did not weep. A frightful contraction distorted the
corners of his mouth, and exaggerated the thinness of his cheeks. He
had two or three shudderings as if seized with sudden fever. He
slowly passed his hand over his forehead, sighed profoundly, and
Madame de Campvallon knew nothing of this sad scene, but she saw
its consequences; and she herself felt them bitterly. The character
of M. de Camors, already so changed, became after this unrecognizable.
He showed her no longer even the cold politeness he had manifested
for her up to that period. He exhibited a strange antipathy toward
her. He fled from her. She perceived he avoided even touching her
They saw each other rarely now. The health of Camors did not admit
of his taking regular meals. These two desolate existences offered
then, in the midst of the almost royal state which surrounded them, a
spectacle of pity.
In this magnificent park—across these beautiful gardens, with
great vases of marble—under long arcades of verdure peopled with more
statues- both wandered separately, like two sad shadows, meeting
sometimes but never speaking.
One day, near the end of September, Camors did not descend from his
apartment. Daniel told the Marquise he had given orders to let no one
"Not even me?" she said. He bent his head mournfully. She
"Madame, I should lose my place!"
The Count persisted in this mania of absolute seclusion. She was
compelled from this moment to content herself with the news she
obtained from his servant. M. de Camors was not bedridden. He passed
his time in a sad reverie, lying on his divan. He got up at
intervals, wrote a few lines, then lay down again. His weakness
appeared great, though he did not complain of any suffering.
After two or three weeks, the Marquise read in the features of
Daniel a more marked disquietude than usual. He supplicated her to
call in the country physician who had once before seen him. It was so
decided. The unfortunate woman, when the physician was shown into the
Count's apartment, leaned against the door listening in agony. She
thought she heard the voice of Camors loudly raised, then the noise
The doctor, when departing, simply said to her: "Madame, his sad
case appears to me serious—but not hopeless. I did not wish to press
him to-day, but he allows me to return tomorrow."
In the night which followed, at two o'clock, Madame de Campvallon
heard some one calling her, and recognized the voice of Daniel. She
rose immediately, threw a mantle around her, and admitted him.
"Madame," he said, "Monsieur le Comte asks for you," and burst into
"Mon Dieu! what is the matter?"
"Come, Madame—you must hasten!"
She accompanied him immediately. From the moment she put her foot
in the chamber, she could not deceive herself—Death was there.
Crushed by sorrow, this existence, so full, so proud, so powerful,
was about to terminate. The head of Camors, turned on the pillow,
seemed already to have assumed a death-like immobility. His beautiful
features, sharpened by suffering, took the rigid outline of sculpture;
his eye alone yet lived and looked at her.
She approached him hastily and wished to seize the hand resting on
He withdrew it. She gave a despairing groan. He continued to look
fixedly at her. She thought he was trying to speak, but could not;
but his eyes spoke. They addressed to her some request, at the same
time with an imperious though supplicating expression, which she
doubtless understood; for she said aloud, with an accent full of
sadness and tenderness:
"I promise it to you."
He appeared to make a painful effort, and his look indicated a
large sealed letter lying on the bed. She took it, and read on the
envelope- "To my son."
"I promise you," she said, again, falling on her knees, and
moistening the sheet with her tears.
He extended his hand toward her. "Thanks!" was all he said. Her
tears flowed faster. She set her lips on this hand already cold.
When she raised her head, she saw at the same instant the eyes of
Camors slightly moist, rolling wildly—then extinguished! She uttered
a cry, threw herself on the bed, and kissed madly those eyes still
open—yet void of light forever!
Thus ended Camors, who was a great sinner, but nevertheless a MAN!