Crowned by the
French Academy, Gerfaut
by Charles de Bernard
PIERRE-MARIE-CHARLES DE BERNARD DU GRAIL DE LA VILLETTE, better
known by the name of Charles de Bernard, was born in Besancon,
February 24, 1804. He came from a very ancient family of the Vivarais,
was educated at the college of his native city, and studied for the
law in Dijon and at Paris. He was awarded a prize by the 'Jeux
floraux' for his dithyrambics, 'Une fete de Neron' in 1829. This
first success in literature did not prevent him aspiring to the
Magistrature, when the Revolution of 1830 broke out and induced him to
enter politics. He became one of the founders of the 'Gazette de
Franche-Comte' and an article in the pages of this journal about 'Peau
de chagrin' earned him the thanks and the friendship of Balzac.
The latter induced him to take up his domicile in Paris and
initiated him into the art of novel-writing. Bernard had published a
volume of odes: 'Plus Deuil que Joie' (1838), which was not much
noticed, but a series of stories in the same year gained him the
reputation of a genial 'conteur'. They were collected under the title
'Le Noeud Gordien', and one of the tales, 'Une Aventure du Magistrat,
was adapted by Sardou for his comedy 'Pommes du voisin'. 'Gerfaut',
his greatest work, crowned by the Academy, appeared also in 1838, then
followed 'Le Paravent', another collection of novels (1839); 'Les
Ailes d'Icare (1840); La Peau du Lion and La Chasse aux Amants (1841);
L'Ecueil (1842); Un Beau-pere (1845); and finally Le Gentilhomme
campagnard,' in 1847. Bernard died, only forty-eight years old, March
Charles de Bernard was a realist, a pupil of Balzac. He surpasses
his master, nevertheless, in energy and limpidity of composition. His
style is elegant and cultured. His genius is most fully represented
in a score or so of delightful tales rarely exceeding some sixty or
seventy pages in length, but perfect in proportion, full of invention
and originality, and saturated with the purest and pleasantest essence
of the spirit which for six centuries in tableaux, farces, tales in
prose and verse, comedies and correspondence, made French literature
the delight and recreation of Europe. 'Gerfaut' is considered De
Bernard's greatest work. The plot turns on an attachment between a
married woman and the hero of the story. The book has nothing that can
justly offend, the incomparable sketches of Marillac and Mademoiselle
de Corandeuil are admirable; Gerfaut and Bergenheim possess pronounced
originality, and the author is, so to speak, incarnated with the hero
of his romance.
The most uncritical reader can not fail to notice the success with
which Charles de Bernard introduces people of rank and breeding into
his stories. Whether or not he drew from nature, his portraits of
this kind are exquisitely natural and easy. It is sufficient to say
that he is the literary Sir Joshua Reynolds of the post-revolution
vicomtes and marquises. We can see that his portraits are faithful;
we must feel that they are at the same time charming. Bernard is an
amiable and spirited 'conteur' who excels in producing an animated
spectacle for a refined and selected public, whether he paints the
ridiculousness or the misery of humanity.
The works of Charles de Bernard in wit and urbanity, and in the
peculiar charm that wit and urbanity give, are of the best French
type. To any elevation save a lofty place in fiction they have no
claim; but in that phase of literature their worth is undisputed, and
from many testimonies it would seem that those whom they most amuse
are those who are best worth amusing.
These novels, well enough as they are known to professed students
of French literature, have, by the mere fact of their age, rather
slipped out of the list of books known to the general reader. The
general reader who reads for amusement can not possibly do better than
proceed to transform his ignorance of them into knowledge.
de l'Academie Francaise.
CHAPTER I. THE TRAVELLER
During the first days of the month of September, 1832, a young man
about thirty years of age was walking through one of the valleys in
Lorraine originating in the Vosges mountains. A little river which,
after a few leagues of its course, flows into the Moselle, watered
this wild basin shut in between two parallel lines of mountains. The
hills in the south became gradually lower and finally dwindled away
into the plain. Alongside the plateau, arranged in amphitheatres,
large square fields stripped of their harvest lay here and there in
the primitive forest; in other places, innumerable oaks and elms had
been dethroned to give place to plantations of cherry-trees, whose
symmetrical rows promised an abundant harvest.
This contest of nature with industry is everywhere, but is more
pronounced in hilly countries. The scene changed, however, as one
penetrated farther, and little by little the influence of the soil
gained ascendancy. As the hills grew nearer together, enclosing the
valley in a closer embrace, the clearings gave way to the natural
obduracy of the soil. A little farther on they disappeared entirely.
At the foot of one of the bluffs which bordered with its granite
bands the highest plateau of the mountain, the forest rolled
victoriously down to the banks of the river.
Now came patches of forest, like solid battalions of infantry;
sometimes solitary trees appeared, as if distributed by chance upon
the grassy slopes, or scaling the summit of the steepest rocks like a
body of bold sharpshooters. A little, unfrequented road, if one can
judge from the scarcity of tracks, ran alongside the banks of the
stream, climbing up and down hills; overcoming every obstacle, it
stretched out in almost a straight line. One might compare it to
those strong characters who mark out a course in life and
imperturbably follow it. The river, on the contrary, like those
docile and compliant minds that bend to agreeable emergencies,
described graceful curves, obeying thus the caprices of the soil which
served as its bed.
At a first glance, the young man who was walking alone in the midst
of this picturesque country seemed to have nothing remarkable in his
dress; a straw hat, a blue blouse and linen trousers composed his
costume. It would have been very natural to take him for an Alsatian
peasant returning to his village through the Vosges's rough pathways;
but a more attentive glance quickly dispelled this conjecture. There
is something in the way in which a person wears the plainest costume
which betrays the real man, no matter how he may be clothed. Thus,
nothing could be more modest than this traveller's blouse, but the
absence on collar and sleeves of the arabesques in white or red
thread, the pride of all village dandies, was sufficient for one to
realize that this was not a fancy costume.
His expressive, but not handsome face was dark, it is true, but it
did not look as if wind or sun had contributed to its complexion; it
seemed rather to have lost by a sedentary life something of the
southern carnation, which had ended by blending these warmer tints
into a dead uniform pallor. Finally, if, as one may suppose after
different diagnoses, this person had the slightest desire to play the
role of Tyrcis or Amintas, his white hand, as carefully cared for as a
pretty woman's, would have been sufficient to betray him. It was
evident that the man was above his costume; a rare thing! The lion's
ears pierced the ass's skin this time.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon; the sky, which had been
overcast all the morning, had assumed, within a few moments, a more
sombre aspect; large clouds were rapidly moving from south to north,
rolled one over another by an ominous wind. So the traveller, who had
just entered the wildest part of the valley, seemed very little
disposed to admire its fine vegetation and romantic sites. Impatient
to reach the end of his journey, or fearing the approaching storm, he
quickened his steps; but this pace was not kept long. At the end of a
few moments, having crossed a small clearing, he found himself at the
entrance of a lawn where the road divided in two directions, one
continuing to skirt the river banks, the other, broader and better
built, turning to the left into a winding ravine.
Which of these two roads should he follow? He did not know. The
profound solitude of the place made him fear that he might not meet
any one who could direct him, when the sound of a psalm vigorously
chanted reached his ears from the distance. Soon it became more
distinct, and he recognized the words, 'In exitu Israel de Egypto',
sung at the top of the lungs by a voice so shrill that it would have
irritated the larynx of any of the sopranos at the Opera. Its
vibrating but sharp tones resounded so clearly in the dead silence of
the forest that a number of stanzas were finished before the pious
musician came in sight. At last a drove of cattle appeared through
the trees which bordered the road on the left, walking with a slow,
grave step; they were driven by a little shepherd about nine or ten
years of age, who interrupted his song from time to time to reassemble
the members of his flock with heavy blows from his whip, thus uniting
temporal cares with those of a spiritual nature with a coolness which
the most important personages might have envied him.
"Which of these roads leads to Bergenheim?" called out the
traveller when they were near enough to speak to each other.
"Bergenheim!" repeated the child, taking off his cotton cap, which
was striped like a rainbow, and adding a few words in an
unintelligible Gallo-Germanic patois.
"You are not French, then?" asked the stranger, in a disappointed
The shepherd raised his head proudly and replied:
"I am Alsatian, not French!"
The young man smiled at this trait of local patriotism so common
then in the beautiful province by the Rhine; then he thought that
pantomime might be necessary, so he pointed with his finger first at
one road, then at the other:
"There or there, Bergenheim?" asked he.
The child, in his turn, pointed silently with the tip of his whip
to the banks of the river, designating, at some distance on the other
side, a thicket of woods behind which a slight column of smoke was
"The deuce!" murmured the stranger, "it seems that I have gone
astray; if the chateau is on the other side, where can I establish my
The shepherd seemed to understand the traveller's embarrassment.
Gazing at him with his intelligent blue eyes, he traced, with the tip
of his toe in the middle of the road, a furrow across which he rounded
his whip like the arch of a bridge; then he pointed a second time up
"You are an honor to your country, young fellow," exclaimed the
stranger; "there is the material in you to make one of Cooper's
redskins." As he said these words he threw a piece of money into the
child's cap and walked rapidly away in the direction indicated.
The Alsatian stood motionless for a few moments with one hand in
his blond hair and his eyes fastened upon the piece of silver which
shone like a star in the bottom of his cap; when the one whom he
considered as a model of extraordinary generosity had disappeared
behind the trees, he gave vent to his joy by heavy blows from his whip
upon the backs of the cattle, then he resumed his way, singing in a
still more triumphant tone: 'Mantes exultaverunt ut arites', and
jumping higher himself than all the hills and rams in the Bible.
The young man had not walked more than five minutes before he
recognized the correctness of the directions he had received. The
ground which he had passed over was a field covered with clumps of low
trees; it was easy to see by its disc-like shape that it had been
formed by successive alluvia, at the expense of the other shore, which
had been incessantly worn away by the stream. This sort of flat,
level peninsula was crossed in a straight line by the road, which
deviated from the river at the point where the two roads came together
again, like the cross and string of a bow at its extremity. The
trees, becoming thinner, revealed a perspective all the more wonderful
as it was unexpected. While the eye followed the widening stream,
which disappeared in the depths of a mountainous gorge, a new prospect
suddenly presented itself on the right upon the other shore.
A second valley, smaller than the first and in measure its vassal,
formed an amphitheatre the crest of which was bordered by a fringe of
perpendicular rocks as white as dried bones. Under this crown, which
rendered it almost inaccessible, the little valley was resplendent in
its wealth of evergreen trees, oaks with their knotty branches, and
its fresh green turf.
Taken as a whole, it was a foundation worthy of the picturesque
edifice which met one's eye in the foreground, and at which the
traveller gazed with extreme interest.
At the junction of the two valleys stood an enormous building, half
manorial, half monastic in appearance. The shore formed, at this
point, for an extent of several hundred feet, a bluff whose edge
plunged vertically into the river. The chateau and its outbuildings
rested upon this solid base. The principal house was a large
parallelogram of very old construction, but which had evidently been
almost entirely rebuilt at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
The stones, of grayish granite which abounds in the Vosges, were
streaked with blue and violet veins, and gave the facade a sombre
aspect, increased by the scarcity of windows, some of which were 'a la
Palladio', others almost as narrow as loop-holes. An immense roof of
red tile, darkened by rain, projected several feet over the whole
front, as is still to be seen in old cities in the North. Thanks to
this projecting weather-board, the apartments upon the upper floor
were shaded from the sun's rays, like those persons who have weak eyes
and who protect them from a strong light by wearing a green shade.
The view which this melancholy dwelling presented from the place
where the traveller had first seen it, was one which made it appear to
the best advantage; it seemed, from this point, to come immediately
out of the river, built as it was upon the very curb of the bluffs, at
this place at least thirty feet high. This elevation, added to that
of the building, effaced the lack of proportion of the roof and gave
to the whole a most imposing appearance; it seemed as if the rocks
were a part of the building to which it served as foundation, for the
stones had ended by assuming the same color, and it would have been
difficult to discover the junction of man's work and that of nature,
had it not been outlined by a massive iron balcony running across the
entire length of the first story, whence one could enjoy the pleasure
of line-fishing. Two round towers with pointed roofs stood at each
corner of the facade and seemed to gaze with proud satisfaction at
their own reflection in the water.
A long line of sycamore-trees skirted the banks of the river,
beginning from the foot of the chateau, and forming the edge of a park
which extended to the back of the double valley. A little wooden
bridge connected this sort of avenue with the road the traveller had
just passed over; but the latter did not seem disposed to profit by
this silent invitation to which large raindrops gave more emphasis.
He was so absorbed in his meditation that, to arouse him, it needed
the sound of a gruff voice behind him uttering these words:
"That is what I call an ugly castle! It is hardly as good as our
common country houses around Marseilles."
The stranger turned quickly around and found himself face to face
with a man wearing a gray cap and carrying his coat upon his shoulder,
as workmen do in the South. He held in his hand a knotty stick which
had been recently cut. The newcomer had a swarthy complexion, harsh
features, and deep-set eyes which gave his face an ugly, false
"I said an ugly castle," continued he. "However, the cage is made
for the bird."
"It seems, then, that you do not like its master?" said the
"The master!" repeated the workman, seizing hold of his stick with
a threatening air, "Monsieur le Baron de Bergenheim, as they say! He
is rich and a nobleman, and I am only a poor carpenter. Well, then,
if you stay here a few days, you will witness a comical ceremony; I
shall make this brigand repent."
"Brigand!" exclaimed the stranger, in a surprised tone. "What has
he done to you?"
"Yes, brigand! you may tell him so from me. But, by the way,"
continued the workman, surveying his companion from head to foot with
a searching, defiant air, "do you happen to be the carpenter who is
coming from Strasbourg? In that case, I have a few words to say to
you. Lambernier does not allow any one to take the bread out of his
mouth in that way; do you understand?"
The young man seemed very little moved by this declaration.
"I am not a carpenter," said he, smiling, "and I have no wish for
"Truly, you do not look as if you had pushed a plane very often.
It seems that in your business one does not spoil one's hands. You
are a workman about as much as I am pope."
This remark made the one to whom it was addressed feel in as bad a
humor as an author does when he finds a grammatical error in one of
"So you work at the chateau, then," said he, finally, to change the
"For six months I have worked in that shanty," replied the workman;
"I am the one who carved the new woodwork, and I will say it is well
done. Well, this great wild boar of a Bergenheim turned me out of the
house yesterday as if I had been one of his dogs."
"He doubtless had his reasons."
"I tell you, I will crush him—reasons! Damn it! They told him I
talked too often with his wife's maid and quarrelled with the
servants, a pack of idlers! Did he not forbid my putting my foot upon
his land? I am upon his land now; let him come and chase me off; let
him come, he will see how I shall receive him. Do you see this stick?
I have just cut it in his own woods to use it on himself!"
The young man no longer listened to the workman; his eyes were
turned toward the castle, whose slightest details he studied, as if he
hoped that in the end the stone would turn into glass and let him see
the interior. If this curiosity had any other object than the
architecture and form of the building it was not gratified. No human
figure came to enliven this sad, lonely dwelling. All the windows
were closed, as if the house were uninhabited. The baying of dogs,
probably imprisoned in their kennel, was the only sound which came to
break the strange silence, and the distant thunder, with its dull
rumbling, repeated by the echoes, responded plaintively, and gave a
lugubrious character to the scene.
"When one speaks of the devil he appears," said the workman,
suddenly, with an emotion which gave the lie to his recent bravado;
"if you wish to see this devil incarnate of a Bergenheim, just turn
your head. Good-by."
At these words he leaped a ditch at the left of the road and
disappeared in the bushes. The stranger also seemed to feel an
impression very like that of Lambernier's as he saw a man on horseback
advancing on a gallop. Instead of waiting for him, he darted into the
field which descended to the river, and hid behind a group of trees.
The Baron, who was not more than thirty-three years of age, had one
of those energetic, handsome faces whose type seems to belong
particularly to old military families. His bright, blond hair and
clear, blue eyes contrasted strongly with his ruddy complexion; his
aspect was severe, but noble and imposing, in spite of his negligent
dress, which showed that indifference to matters of personal attire
which becomes habitual with country lords. His tall figure was
beginning to grow stout, and that increased his athletic appearance.
He sat very erect in his saddle, and from the way in which he
straightened out his long legs against the sides of his beast, one
suspected that he could, if necessary, repeat the Marshal de Saxe's
feats of skill. He stopped his horse suddenly at the very spot which
the two men had just vacated and called out in a voice which would
startle a regiment of cuirassiers:
The carpenter hesitated a moment, at this imperative call, between
the fear which he could not overcome and shame at fleeing from a
single man in the presence of a witness; finally this last feeling
triumphed. He returned to the edge of the road without saying a word,
and stationed himself in an insolent way face to face with the Baron,
with his hat drawn down over his ears, and grasped through precaution
the knotty stick which served him as a weapon.
"Lambernier," said the master of the castle, in a severe tone,
"your account was settled yesterday; was it not paid in full? Is
anything due you?"
"I ask nothing of you," replied the workman, brusquely.
"In that case, why are you wandering about my place when I forbade
"I am upon the highway, nobody can prevent me from passing there."
"You are upon my land, and you came out of my woods," replied the
Baron, emphasizing his words with the firmness of a man who would
permit no violation of his rights as a landowner.
"The ground upon which I walk is mine," said the workman, in his
turn, as he struck the end of his stick upon the ground as if to take
possession. This gesture attracted Bergenheim's attention, and his
eyes flashed with a sudden light at the sight of the stick which
"You scoundrel!" he exclaimed, "you probably regard my trees also
as your own. Where did you cut that stick?"
"Go and find out," said the workman, accompanying his reply with a
flourish of the stick.
The Baron coolly dismounted, threw the bridle over his horse's
neck, walked up to the workman, who had taken the position of a
practised pugilist to receive him, and, without giving him time to
strike, he disarmed him with one hand by a blow which would have been
sufficient to uproot the beech rod before it was metamorphosed into a
club; with the other hand he seized the man by the collar and gave him
a shaking that it was as impossible to struggle against as if it had
been caused by a steam-engine. Obeying this irresistible force, in
spite of his kicking, Lambernier described a dozen circles around his
adversary, while the latter set these off with some of the hardest
blows from green wood that ever chastised an insolent fellow. This
gymnastic exercise ended by a sleight-of-hand trick, which, after
making the carpenter pirouette for the last time, sent him rolling
head-first into a ditch, the bottom of which, fortunately for him, was
provided with a bed of soft mud. When the punishment was over,
Bergenheim remounted his horse as tranquilly as he had dismounted it,
and continued his way toward the chateau.
The young man, in the midst of the thicket where he was concealed,
had lost no detail of this rural scene. He could not help having a
feeling of admiration for this energetic representative of the feudal
ages who, with no fear of any court of justice or other bourgeois
inventions, had thus exerted over his own domains the summary justice
in force in Eastern countries.
"France has thrashed Gaul," said he, smiling to himself; "if all
our men had this Bergenheim's iron fist many things determined upon
to-day might be called in question. If I ever have the slightest
difficulty with this Milo de Crotona, he may be sure I shall not
choose pugilism as my mode of discussion."
The storm now burst forth in all its fury. A dark curtain covered
the whole valley, and the rain fell in torrents. The Baron put spurs
to his horse, crossed the bridge and, entering the sycamore avenue,
was soon out of sight. Without paying any attention to Lambernier,
who was uttering imprecations at the bottom of the ditch, into which
he was sinking deeper and deeper, the stranger went to seek a less
illusive shelter than the trees under which he had taken his position;
but at this moment his attention was attracted to one side of the
castle. A window, or rather a glass door, just then opened upon the
balcony, and a young woman in a rose-colored negligee appeared upon
the dark facade. It would be impossible to imagine anything more
fresh or charming than this apparition at such a moment. Leaning upon
the balustrade, the young woman rested her face upon a hand which was
as white as a lily, and her finger smoothed with a mechanical caress
the ringlets of chestnut hair that lay upon her forehead, while her
large brown eyes gazed into the depths of the clouds from which the
lightning was flashing, and with which they vied in brilliancy. A
poet would have said it was Miranda evoked by the tempest.
The stranger parted the branches before him to get a better view;
at the same instant he was blinded by a terrible flash which lighted
the whole valley and was immediately followed by a terrific crash.
When he opened his eyes the chateau which he believed to be at the
bottom of the river stood still upright, solemn, and firm as before;
but the lady in the rose-colored gown had disappeared.
CHAPTER II. THE CASTLE OF BERGENHEIM
The appearance of the room into which the lady had precipitately
entered, when startled by the thunder, corresponded with the edifice
to which it belonged. It was a very large room, longer than it was
wide, and lighted by three windows, the middle one of which opened
from top to bottom like a door and led out upon the balcony. The
woodwork and ceiling were in chestnut, which time had polished and a
skilful hand had ornamented with a profusion of allegorical figures.
The beauty of this work of art was almost entirely concealed by a
very remarkable decoration which covered every side of the room,
consisting of one of the most glorious collections of family portraits
which a country chateau of the nineteenth century could offer.
The first of these portraits hung opposite the windows at the right
of the entrance door and was that of a chevalier in full armor, whose
teeth gleamed from under his long moustache like those of an untamed
tiger. Beginning with this formidable figure, which bore the date
1247, forty others of about the same dimensions were placed in order
according to their dates. It seemed as if each period had left its
mark upon those of the personages it had seen live and die, and had
left something of its own character there.
There were more gallant cavaliers cut after the same pattern as the
first. Their stern, harsh faces, red beards, and broad, square
military shoulders told that by swordthrusts and broken lances they
had founded the nobility of their race. An heroic preface to this
family biography! A rough and warlike page of the Middle Ages! After
these proud men-of- arms came several figures of a less ferocious
aspect, but not so imposing. In these portraits of the fifteenth
century beards had disappeared with the sword. In those wearing caps
and velvet toques, silk robes and heavy gold chains supporting a badge
of the same metal, one recognized lords in full and tranquil
possession of the fiefs won by their fathers, landowners who had
degenerated a little and preferred mountain life in a manor to the
chances of a more hazardous existence. These pacific gentlemen were,
for the most part, painted with the left hand gloved and resting upon
the hip; the right one was bare, a sort of token of disarmament which
one might take for a painter's epigram. Some of them had allowed their
favorite dogs to share the honors of the picture. All in this group
indicated that this branch of the family had many points of
resemblance with the more illustrious faces. It was the period of
A half dozen solemn personages with gold-braided hats and long red
robes bordered with ermine, and wearing starched ruffles, occupied one
corner of the parlor near the windows. These worthy advisers of the
Dukes of Lorraine explained the way in which the masters of the
chateau had awakened from the torpor in which they had been plunged
for several generations, in order to participate in the affairs of
their country and enter a more active sphere.
Here the portraits assumed the proportions of history. Did not
this branch, descended from warlike stock, seem like a fragment taken
from the European annals? Was it not a symbolical image of the
progress of civilization, of regular legislation struggling against
barbaric customs? Thanks to these respectable counsellors and judges,
one might reverse the motto: 'Non solum toga', in favor of their race.
But it did not seem as if these bearded ancestors looked with much
gratitude upon this parliamentary flower added to their feudal crest.
They appeared to look down from the height of their worm-eaten frames
upon their enrobed descendants with that disdainful smile with which
the peers of France used to greet men of law the first time they were
called to sit by their side, after being for so long a time at their
In the space between the windows and upon the remaining woodwork
was a crowd of military men, with here and there an Abbe with cross
and mitre, a Commander of Malta, and a solemn Canon, sterile branches
of this genealogical tree. Several among the military ones wore
sashes and plumes of the colors of Lorraine; others, even before the
union of this province to France, had served the latter country; there
were lieutenant- colonels of infantry and cavalry; some dressed in
blue coats lined with buff serge and little round patches of black
plush, which served as the uniform for the dragoons of the Lorraine
Last of all was a young man with an agreeable face, who smiled
superciliously from under a vast wig of powdered hair; a rose was in
the buttonhole of his green cloth pelisse with orange facings, a red
sabrecache hung against his boots a little lower than the hilt of his
sabre. The costume represented a sprightly officer of the Royal
Nassau hussars. The portrait was hung on the left of the entrance
door and only separated by it from his great-grandfather of 1247, whom
he might have assisted, had these venerable portraits taken some night
a fancy to descend from their frames to execute a dance such as
These two persons were the alpha and the omega of this genealogical
tree, the two extreme links of the chain-one, the root buried in the
sands of time; the other, the branch which had blossomed at the top.
Fate had created a tragical resemblance between these two lives,
separated by more than five centuries. The chevalier in coat-of-mail
had been killed in the battle of the Mansourah during the first
crusade of St. Louis. The young man with the supercilious smile had
mounted the scaffold during the Reign of Terror, holding between his
lips a rose, his usual decoration for his coat. The history of the
French nobility was embodied in these two men, born in blood, who had
died in blood.
Large gilded frames of Gothic style surrounded all these portraits.
At the right, on the bottom of each picture was painted a little
escutcheon having for its crest a baronial coronet and for supports
two wild men armed with clubs. The field was red; with its three
bulls' heads in silver, it announced to people well versed in heraldic
art that they had before them the lineaments of noble and powerful
lords, squires of Reisnach-Bergenheim, lords of Reisnach in Suabia,
barons of the Holy Empire, lords of Sapois, Labresse, Gerbamont, etc.,
counts of Bergenheim, the latter title granted them by Louis XV,
chevaliers of Lorraine, etc., etc., etc.
This ostentatious enumeration was not needed in order to recognize
the kindred of all these noble personages. Had they been mingled with
other portraits, a careful observer would have promptly distinguished
and reunited them, so pronounced were the family features common to
them all. The furniture of the room was not unworthy of these proud
defunct ones. High-backed chairs and enormous armchairs, dating from
the time of Louis XIII; more modern sofas, which had been made to
harmonize with the older furniture, filled the room. They were
covered with flowered tapestry in thousands of shades, which must have
busied the white hands of the ladies of the house for two or three
The row of portraits was interrupted on one side by a large
fireplace of grayish granite, which was too high for one to hang a
mirror above or to place ornaments upon its mantel. Opposite was an
ebony console inlaid with ivory, upon which was placed one of those
elegant clocks whose delicate and original chased work has not been
eclipsed by any modern workmanship. Two large Japanese vases
accompanied it; the whole was reflected in an antique mirror which
hung above the console; its edges were bevelled, doubtless in order to
cause one to admire the thickness of the glass.
It would be impossible to imagine a stronger contrast than that of
this Gothic room with the lady in the rose-colored gown who had just
entered it so precipitately. The fire upon the hearth threw a warm
light over the old portraits, and it was heightened by the heavy, red
damask curtains which hung by the windows. The light sometimes
softened, sometimes revivified by some sudden flash of the flames,
glanced over the scowling faces and red beards, enlivening the eyes
and giving a supernatural animation to those lifeless canvases. One
would have said that the cold, grave faces looked with curiosity at
the young woman with graceful movements and cool garments, whom
Aladdin's genii seemed to have transported from the most elegant
boudoir on the Chaussee d'Antin, and thrown, still frightened, into
the midst of this strange assembly.
"You are crazy, Clemence, to leave that window open!" said at this
moment an old voice issuing from an armchair placed in a corner near
The person who broke the charm of this silent scene was a woman of
sixty or seventy years of age, according to the gallantry of the
calculator. It was easy to judge that she was tall and thin as she
lay, rather than sat, in her chair with its back lowered down. She
was dressed in a yellowish-brown gown. A false front as black as jet,
surmounted by a cap with poppy-colored ribbons, framed her face. She
had sharp, withered features, and the brilliancy of her primitive
freshness had been converted into a blotched and pimpled complexion
which affected above all her nose and cheek-bones, but whose ardor had
been dimmed only a trifle by age. There was something about the whole
face as crabbed, sour, and unkind as if she had daily bathed it in
vinegar. One could read old maid in every feature! Besides, a slight
observation of her ways would have destroyed all lingering doubt in
A large, coffee-colored pug-dog was lying before the fire. This
interesting animal served as a footstool for his mistress, stretched
in her easy-chair, and recalled to mind the lions which sleep at the
foot of chevaliers in their Gothic tombs. As a pug-dog and an old
maid pertain to each other, it was only necessary, in order to divine
this venerable lady's state, to read the name upon the golden circlet
which served as a collar for the dog: "Constance belongs to
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil."
Before the younger lady, who was leaning upon the back of a chair,
seeming to breathe with difficulty, had time to reply, she received a
"But, aunt," said she, at last, "it was a horrible crash! Did you
not hear it?"
"I am not so deaf as that yet," replied the old maid. "Shut that
window; do you not know that currents of air attract lightning?"
Clemence obeyed, dropping the curtain to shut out the flashes of
lightning which continued to dart through the heavens; she then
approached the fireplace.
"Since you are so afraid of lightning," said her aunt; "which, by
the way, is perfectly ridiculous in a Corandeuil, what induced you to
go out upon the balcony? The sleeve of your gown is wet. That is the
way one gets cold; afterward, there is nothing but an endless array of
syrups and drugs. You ought to change your gown and put on something
warmer. Who would ever think of dressing like that in such weather as
"I assure you, aunt, it is not cold. It is because you have a
habit of always being near the fire—"
"Ah! habit! when you are my age you will not hint at such a thing.
Now, everything goes wonderfully well; you never listen to my
advice—you go out in the wind and rain with that flighty Aline and
your husband, who has no more sense than his sister; you will pay for
it later. Open the curtains, I pray; the storm is over, and I wish to
read the Gazette."
The young woman obeyed a second time and stood with her forehead
pressed against the glass. The distant rumbling of the thunder
announced the end of the storm; but a few flashes still traversed the
"Aunt," said she, after a moment's silence, "come and look at the
Montigny rocks; when the lightning strikes them they look like a file
of silver columns or a procession of ghosts."
"What a romantic speech," growled the old lady, never taking her
eyes from her paper.
"I assure you I am not romantic the least in the world," replied
Clemence. "I simply find the storm a distraction, and here, you know,
there is no great choice of pleasures."
"Then you find it dull?"
"Oh, aunt, horribly so!" At these words, pronounced with a
heartfelt accent, the young woman dropped into an armchair.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil took off her eye-glasses, put the paper
upon the table and gazed for several moments at her pretty niece's
face, which was tinged with a look of deep melancholy. She then
straightened herself up in her chair, and, leaning forward, asked in a
"Have you had any trouble with your husband?"
"If so, I should not be so bored," replied Clemence, in a gay tone,
which she repented immediately, for she continued more calmly:
"No, aunt; Christian is kind, very kind; he is very much attached
to me, and full of good-humor and attentions. You have seen how he
has allowed me to arrange my apartments to suit myself, even taking
down the partition and enlarging the windows; and yet, you know how
much he clings to everything that is old about the house. He tries to
do everything for my pleasure. Did he not go to Strasbourg the other
day to buy a pony for me, because I thought Titania was too skittish?
It would be impossible to show greater kindness."
"Your husband," suddenly interrupted Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
for she held the praise of others in sovereign displeasure, "is a
Bergenheim like all the Bergenheims present, past, and future,
including your little sister-in-law, who appears more as if she had
been brought up with boys than at the 'Sacred Heart.' He is a worthy
son of his father there," said she, pointing to one of the portraits
near the young Royal-Nassau officer; "and he was the most brutal,
unbearable, and detestable of all the dragoons in Lorraine; so much so
that he got into three quarrels at Nancy in one month, and at Metz,
over a game of checkers, he killed the poor Vicomte de Megrigny, who
was worth a hundred of him and danced so well! Some one described
Bergenheim as being 'proud as a peacock, as stubborn as a mule, and as
furious as a lion!' Ugly race! ugly race! What I say to you now,
Clemence, is to excuse your husband's faults, for it would be time
lost to try to correct them. However, all men are alike; and since
you are Madame de Bergenheim, you must accept your fate and bear it as
well as possible. And then, if you have your troubles, you still have
your good aunt to whom you can confide them and who will not allow you
to be tyrannized over. I will speak to your husband."
Clemence saw, from the first words of this tirade, that she must
arm herself with resignation; for anything which concerned the
Bergenheims aroused one of the hobbies which the old maid rode with a
most complacent spite; so she settled herself back in her chair like a
person who would at least be comfortable while she listened to a
tiresome discourse, and busied herself during this lecture caressing
with the tip of a very shapely foot the top of one of the andirons.
"But, aunt," said she at last, when the tirade was over, and she
gave a rather drawling expression to her voice, "I can not understand
why you have taken this idea into your head that Christian renders me
unhappy. I repeat it, it is impossible that one should be kinder to me
than he, and, on my side, I have the greatest respect and friendship
"Very well, if he is such a pearl of husbands, if you live so much
like turtle-doves-and, to tell the truth, I do not believe a word of
it—what causes this ennui of which you complain and which has been
perfectly noticeable for some time? When I say ennui, it is more than
that; it is sadness, it is grief? You grow thinner every day; you are
as pale as a ghost; just at this moment, your complexion is gone; you
will end by being a regular fright. They say that it is the fashion
to be pale nowadays; a silly notion, indeed, but it will not last, for
complexion makes the woman."
The old lady said this like a person who had her reasons for not
liking pale complexions, and who gladly took pimples for roses.
Madame de Bergenheim bowed her head as if to acquiesce in this
decision, and then resumed in her drawling voice:
"I know that I am very unreasonable, and I am often vexed with
myself for having so little control over my feelings, but it is beyond
my strength. I have a tired sensation, a disgust for everything,
something which I can not overcome. It is an inexplicable physical
and moral languor, for which, for this reason, I see no remedy. I am
weary and I suffer; I am sure it will end in my being ill. Sometimes
I wish I were dead. However, I have really no reason to be unhappy. I
suppose I am happy— I ought to be happy."
"Truly, I can not understand in the least the women of today.
Formerly, upon exciting occasions, we had a good nervous attack and
all was over; the crisis passed, we became amiable again, put on rouge
and went to a ball. Now it is languor, ennui, stomach troubles—all
imagination and humbug! The men are just as bad, and they call it
spleen! Spleen! a new discovery, an English importation! Fine things
come to us from England; to begin with, the constitutional government!
All this is perfectly ridiculous. As for you, Clemence, you ought to
put an end to such childishness. Two months ago, in Paris, you did
not have any of the rest that you enjoy here. I had serious reasons
for wishing to delay my departure; my apartment to refurnish, my
neuralgia which still troubles me—and Constance, who had just been in
the hands of the doctor, was hardly in a condition to travel, poor
creature! You would listen to nothing; we had to submit to your
caprices, and now—"
"But, aunt, you admitted yourself that it was the proper thing for
me to do, to join my husband. Was it not enough, and too much, to
have left him to pass the entire winter alone here while I was dancing
"It was very proper, of course, and I do not blame you. But why
does the very thing you so much desired two months ago bore you so
terribly now? In Paris you talked all the time of Bergenheim, longed
only for Bergenheim, you had duties to fulfil, you wished to be with
your husband; you bothered and wore me out with your conjugal love.
When back at Bergenheim, you dream and sigh for Paris. Do not shake
your head; I am an old aunt to whom you pay no heed, but who sees
clearly yet. Will you do me the favor to tell me what it is that you
regret in Paris at this time of the year, when there are no balls or
parties, and not one human being worth visiting, for all the people
you know are in the country? Is it because—"
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil did not finish her sentence, but she put
a severity into these three words which seemed to condense all the
quintessence of prudery that a celibacy of sixty years could coagulate
in an old maid's heart.
Clemence raised her eyes to her aunt's face as if to demand an
It was such a calm, steady glance that the latter could not help
being impressed by it.
"Well," said she, softening her voice, "there is no necessity for
putting on such queenly airs; we are here alone, and you know that I
am a kind aunt to you. Now, then, speak freely—have you left
anything or any person in Paris, the remembrance of which makes your
sojourn here more tiresome than it really is? Any of your adorers of
"What an idea, aunt! Did I have any adorers?" exclaimed Madame de
Bergenheim, quickly, as if trying to conceal by a smile the rosy flush
that mounted to her cheeks.
"And what if you should have some, child?" continued the old maid,
to whom curiosity lent an unaccustomed coaxing accent to her voice,
"where would be the harm? Is it forbidden to please? When one is of
good birth, must one not live in society and hold one's position
there? One need not bury one's self in a desert at twenty-three years
of age, and you really are charming enough to inspire love; you
understand, I do not say, to experience it; but when one is young and
pretty conquests are made almost unwittingly. You are not the first
of the family to whom that has happened; you are a Corandeuil. Now,
then, my good Clemence, what troubled heart is pining for you in
Paris? Is it Monsieur de Mauleon?"
"Monsieur de Mauleon!" exclaimed the young woman, bursting into
laughter; "he, a heart! and a troubled one, too! Oh, aunt, you do him
honor! Monsieur de Mauleon, who is past forty-five years old and
wears stays! an audacious man who squeezes his partners' hands in the
dance and looks at them with passionate glances! Oh! Monsieur de
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil sanctioned by a slight grimace of her
thin lips her niece's burst of gayety, when, with one hand upon her
heart, she rolled her sparkling eyes in imitation of the languishing
air of her unfortunate adorer.
"Perhaps it is Monsieur d'Arzenac?"
"Monsieur d'Arzenac is certainly very nice; he has perfect manners;
it may be that he did not disdain to chat with me; on my side, I found
his conversation very entertaining; but you may rest assured that he
did not think of me nor I of him. Besides, you know that he is
engaged to marry Mademoiselle de la Neuville."
"Monsieur de Gerfaut?" continued Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, with
the persistency with which aged people follow an idea, and as if
determined to pass in review all the young men of their acquaintance
until she had discovered her niece's secret.
The latter was silent a moment before replying.
"How can you think of such a thing, aunt?" said she at last, "a
man with such a bad reputation, who writes books that one hardly dares
read, and plays that it's almost a sin to witness! Did you not hear
Madame de Pontivers say that a young woman who cared for her
reputation would permit his visits very rarely?"
"Madame de Pontivers is a prude, whom I can not endure, with her
show of little, grimaces and her pretentious, outrageous mock-modesty.
Did she not take it into her head this winter to constitute me her
chaperon? I gave her to understand that a widow forty years old was
quite old enough to go about alone! She has a mania for fearing that
she may be compromised. The idea of turning up her nose at Monsieur
de Gerfaut! What presumption! He certainly is too clever ever to
solicit the honor of being bored to death in her house; for he is
clever, very clever. I never could understand your dislike for him,
nor your haughty manner of treating him; especially, during the latter
part of our stay in Paris."
"One is not mistress of one's dislikes or affections, aunt. But to
reply to your questions, I will say that you may rest assured that
none of these gentlemen, nor any of those whom you might name, has the
slightest effect upon my state of mind. I am bored because it
probably is my nature to need distractions, and there are none in this
deserted place. It is an involuntary disagreeableness, for which I
reproach myself and which I hope will pass away. Rest assured, that
the root of the evil does not lie in my heart."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil understood by the cold and rather dry
tone in which these words were spoken that her niece wished to keep
her secret, if she had one; she could not prevent a gesture of anger
as she saw her advances thus repelled, but felt that she was no wiser
than when she began the conversation. She manifested her
disappointment by pushing the dog aside with her foot—the poor thing
was perfectly innocent!—and in a cross tone, which was much more
familiar than her former coaxing one, she continued:
"Very well, since I am wrong, since your husband adores you and you
him, since, to sum it all up, your heart is perfectly tranquil and
free, your conduct is devoid of common-sense, and I advise you to
change it. I warn you that all this hypochondria, paleness, and
languor are caprices which are very disagreeable to others. There is
a Provence proverb which says: Vaillance de Blacas, prudence de
Pontevez, caprice de Corandeuil. If there was not such a saying, it
should be created for you, for you have something incomprehensible
enough in your character to make a saint swear. If anybody should
know you, it is I, who brought you up. I do not wish to reproach you,
but you gave me trouble enough; you were a most wayward, capricious,
and fantastic creature, a spoiled child—"
"Aunt," interrupted Clemence, with heightened color in her pale
cheeks, "you have told me of my faults often enough for me to know
them, and, if they were not corrected, it was not your fault, for you
never spared me scoldings. If I had not been so unfortunate as to
lose my mother when I was a baby, I should not have given you so much
Tears came into the young woman's eyes, but she had enough control
over herself to keep them from streaming down her burning cheeks.
Taking a journal from the table, she opened it, in order to conceal
her emotion and to put an end to this conversation, which had become
painful to her. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, on her side, carefully
replaced her eye- glasses upon her nose, and, solemnly stretching
herself upon her chair, she turned over the leaves of the 'Gazette de
France,' which she had neglected so long.
Silence reigned for some moments in the room. The aunt apparently
read the paper very attentively. Her niece sat motionless, with her
eyes fastened upon the yellow cover of the last number of 'La Mode,'
which had chanced to fall into her hands. She aroused herself at last
from her revery and carelessly turned over the leaves of the review in
a manner which showed how little interest she felt in it. As she
turned the first page a surprised cry escaped her, and her eyes were
fastened upon the pamphlet with eager curiosity. Upon the
frontispiece, where the Duchesse de Berry's coat-of-arms is engraved,
and in the middle of the shield, which was left empty at this time by
the absence of the usual fleurs de lys, was sketched with a pencil a
bird whose head was surmounted by a baron's coronet.
Curious to know what could have caused her niece so much surprise,
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil stretched out her neck and gazed for an
instant upon the page without seeing, at first, anything
extraordinary, but finally her glance rested upon the armorial
bearings, and she discovered the new feature added to the royal
"A cock!" exclaimed she, after a moment's reflection; "a cock upon
Madame's shield! What can that mean, 'bon Dieu'! and it is not
engraved nor lithographed; it is drawn with a pencil."
"It is not a cock, it is a crowned gerfaut," said Madame de
"A gerfaut! How do you know what a gerfaut is? At Corandeuil, in
your grandfather's time, there was a falconry, and I have seen
gerfauts there, but you—I tell you it is a cock, an old French cock;
ugly thing! What you take for a coronet—and it really does resemble
one—is a badly drawn cock's comb. How did this horrid creature come
to be there? I should like to know if such pretty tricks are
permitted at the postoffice. People protest against the 'cabinet
noir', but it is a hundred times worse if one is permitted to outrage
with impunity peaceable families in their own homes. I mean to find
out who has played this trick. Will you be so kind as to ring the
"It really is very strange!" said Madame de Bergenheim, pulling
the bell-rope with a vivacity which showed that she shared, if not the
indignation, at least the curiosity of her aunt.
A servant in green livery appeared.
"Who went to Remiremont yesterday for the newspapers?" asked
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.
"It was Pere Rousselet, Mademoiselle," replied the servant.
"Where is Monsieur de Bergenheim?"
"Monsieur le Baron is playing billiards with Mademoiselle Aline."
"Send Leonard Rousselet here."
And Mademoiselle de Corandeuil settled herself back in her chair
with the dignity of a chancellor about to hold court.
CHAPTER III. A DIVIDED HOUSEHOLD
The servants in the castle of Bergenheim formed a family whose
members were far from living in harmony. The Baron managed his
household himself, and employed a large number of day-laborers, farm
servants, and kitchen-girls, whom the liveried servants treated with
great disdain. The rustics, on their side, resisted these privileged
lackeys and called them "coxcombs" and "Parisians," sometimes
accompanying these remarks with the most expressive blows. Between
these tribes of sworn enemies a third class, much less numerous, found
them selves in a critical position; these were the two servants
brought by Mademoiselle de Corandeuil. It was fortunate for them that
their mistress liked large, vigorous men, and had chosen them for
their broad, military shoulders; but for that it would have been
impossible for them to come out of their daily quarrels safe and
The question of superiority between the two households had been the
first apple of discord; a number of personal quarrels followed to
inflame them. They fought for their colors the whole time; the
Bergenheim livery was red, the Corandeuil green. There were two
flags; each exalted his own while throwing that of his adversaries in
the mud. Greenhorn and crab were jokes; cucumber and lobster were
Such were the gracious terms exchanged every day between the two
parties. In the midst of this civil war, which was carefully concealed
from their masters' eyes, whose severity they feared, lived one rather
singular personage. Leonard Rousselet, Pere Rousselet, as he was
generally called, was an old peasant who, disheartened with life, had
made various efforts to get out of his sphere, but had never succeeded
in doing so. Having been successively hairdresser, sexton,
school-teacher, nurse, and gardener, he had ended, when sixty years
old, by falling back to the very point whence he started. He had no
particular employment in M. de Bergenheim's house; he went on errands,
cared for the gardens, and doctored the mules and horses; he was a
tall man, about as much at ease in his clothing as a dry almond in its
shell. A long, dark, yellow coat usually hung about the calves of his
legs, which were covered with long, blue woollen stockings, and looked
more like vine-poles than human legs; a conformation which furnished
daily jokes for the other servants, to which the old man deigned no
response save a disdainful smile, grumbling through his teeth,
"Menials, peasants without education." This latter speech expressed
the late gardener's scorn, for it had been his greatest grief to pass
for an uneducated man; and he had gathered from his various conditions
a singularly dignified and pretentious way of speaking.
In spite of his self-confidence, it was not without some emotion
that Leonard Rousselet responded to this call to appear in the
drawing-room before the person he most feared in the chateau. His
bearing showed this feeling when he presented himself at the
drawing-room door, where he stood as grave and silent as Banquo's
ghost. Constance arose at sight of this fantastic figure, barked
furiously and darted toward a pair of legs for which she seemed to
share the irreverence of the liveried servants; but the texture of the
blue stocking and the flesh which covered the tibia were rather too
hard morsels for the dowager's teeth; she was obliged to give up the
attack and content herself with impotent barks, while the old man, who
would gladly have given a month's wages to break her jaw with the tip
of his, boot, caressed her with his hand, saying, "Softly, pretty
dear! softly, pretty little creature!" in a hypocritical tone.
This courtier-like conduct touched the old lady's heart and
softened the severe look upon her face.
"Stop your noise, Constance," said she, "lie down beside your
mistress. Rousselet, come nearer."
The old man obeyed, walking across the floor with reverential bows,
and taking a position like a soldier presenting arms.
"You were the one," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, "who was sent
to Remiremont yesterday? Did you perform all the commissions that
were given you?"
"It is not among the impossibilities, Mademoiselle, that I may have
neglected some of them," replied the old man, fearing to compromise
himself by a positive affirmative.
"Tell us, then, what you did."
Leonard wiped his nose behind his hat, like a well-bred orator,
and, balancing himself upon his legs in a way not at all Bourbonic, he
"I went to the city that morning myself because Monsieur le Baron
had said the night before that he should hunt to-day, and that the
groom was to help Monsieur le Baron drive a wild boar out of the Corne
woods. I reached Remiremont; I went to the butcher's; I purchased five
kilogrammes of dressed goods—"
"Of dressed goods at the butcher's!" exclaimed Madame de
"I would say ten pounds of what uneducated people call pork," said
Rousselet, pronouncing this last word in a strangled voice.
"Pass over these details," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil. "You
went to the post-office."
"I went to the post-office, where I put in letters for
Mademoiselle, Madame, Monsieur le Baron, and one from Mademoiselle
Aline for Monsieur d'Artigues."
"Aline writing to her cousin! Did you know that?" said the old
aunt, turning quickly toward her niece.
"Certainly; they correspond regularly," replied Clemence with a
smile which seemed to say that she saw no harm in it.
The old maid shook her head and protruded her under lip, as much as
to say: We will attend to this another time.
Madame de Bergenheim, who was out of patience at this questioning,
began to speak in a quick tone which was a contrast to her aunt's
"Rousselet," said she, "when you took the newspapers out of the
office, did you notice whether the wrappers were intact, or whether
they had been opened?"
The good man half concealed his face in his cravat at this precise
questioning, and it was with embarrassment that he replied, after a
"Certainly, Madame—as to the wrappers—I do not accuse the
"If the journals were sealed when you received them, you are the
only one who could have opened them."
Rousselet straightened himself up to his full height, and, giving
to his nut-cracker face the most dignified look possible, he said in a
"With due deference to you, Madame, Leonard Rousselet is well
known. Fifty-seven years old on Saint-Hubert's day, I am incapable of
opening newspapers. When they have been read at the chateau and they
send me with them to the cure, I do not say—perhaps on my way—it is
a recreation—and then the cure is Jean Bartou, son of Joseph Bartou,
the tilemaker. But to read the newspaper before my masters have done
so! Never! Leonard Rousselet is an old man incapable of such
baseness. Baptized when a child; fifty-seven years on Saint-Hubert's
"When you speak of your pastor, do so in a more becoming manner,"
interrupted Mademoiselle de Colrandeuil, although she herself in
private did not speak of the plebeian priest in very respectful terms.
But if Joseph Bartou's son was always the son of Joseph Bartou to
her, she meant that he should be Monsieur le Cure to the peasants.
Madame de Bergenheim had not been much affected by Pere Rousselet's
harangue, and shook her head impatiently, saying in an imperative
"I am certain that the newspapers have been opened by you, or by
some person to whom you have given them, and I wish to know at once by
Rousselet dropped his pose of a Roman senator; passing his hand
behind his ears, a familiar gesture with people when in embarrassing
positions, he continued less emphatically:
"I stopped on my way back at La Fauconnerie, at the
"And what were you doing in a tavern?" interrupted Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil severely. "You know it is not intended that the servants
in this house should frequent taverns and such low places, which are
not respectable and corrupt the morals of the lower classes."
"Servants! lower classes! Old aristocrat!" growled Rousselet
secretly; but, not daring to show his ill humor, he replied in a bland
"If Mademoiselle had gone the same road that I did, with the same
conveyance, she would know that it is a rather thirsty stretch. I
stopped at the 'Femme-sans-Tete' to wash the dust down my parched
throat. Whereupon Mademoiselle Reine—the daughter of Madame Gobillot,
the landlady of the inn—Mademoiselle Reine asked me to allow her to
look at the yellow-journal in which there are fashions for ladies; I
asked her why; she said it was so that she might see how they made
their bonnets, gowns, and other finery in Paris. The frivolity of
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil threw herself back in her chair and gave
way to an access of hilarity in which she rarely indulged.
"Mademoiselle Gobillot reading La Mode! Mademoiselle Gobillot
talking of gowns, shawls, and cashmeres! Clemence, what do you say to
that? You will see, she will be ordering her bonnets from Herbault!
Ha! ha! This is what is called the progress of civilization, the
age of light!"
"Mademoiselle Gobillot," said Clemence, fixing a penetrating glance
upon the old man, "was not the only one who looked at La Mode. Was
there no other person in the tavern who saw it?"
"Madame," replied Rousselet, forced from his last refuge, "there
were two young men taking their refection, and one of them wore a
beard no longer than a goat's. Madame will pardon me if I allow
myself to use this vulgar expression, but Madame wished to know all."
"And the other young man?"
"The other had his facial epidermis shaved as close as a lady's or
mine. He was the one who held the journal while his comrade was
smoking outside the door."
Madame de Bergenheim made no further inquiries, but fell into a
profound revery. With eyes fixed upon the last number of La Mode, she
seemed to study the slightest lines of the sketch that had been made
thereon, as if she hoped to find a solution to the mystery. Her
irregular breathing, and the bright flush which tinged her usually
pale cheeks, would have denoted to an eye-witness one of those
tempests of the heart, the physical manifestations of which are like
those of a fever. The pale winter flower dying under the snow had
suddenly raised its drooping head and recovered its color; the
melancholy against which the young woman had so vainly struggled had
disappeared as if by enchantment. A little bird surmounted by a
coronet, the whole rather badly sketched, was the strange talisman
that had produced this change.
"They were commercial travellers," said the old aunt; "they always
pretend to know everything. One of them, doubtless, when reading the
well-known name of Monsieur de Bergenheim upon the wrapper, sketched
the animal in question. These gentlemen of industry usually have a
rather good education! But this is giving the affair more importance
than it merits. Leonard Rousselet," said she, raising her voice as a
judge does in court when pronouncing his charge, "you were wrong to
let anything addressed to your master leave your hands. We will
excuse you this time, but I warn you to be more careful in future;
when you go to Madame Gobillot's, you may say to Mademoiselle Reine,
from me, that if she wishes to read La Mode I shall be delighted to
procure a subscriber to one of our journals. You may retire now."
Without waiting for this invitation to be repeated, Rousselet
backed out of the room like an ambassador leaving the royal presence,
escorted by Constance acting as master of ceremonies. Not having
calculated the distance, he had just bumped against the door, when it
suddenly opened and a person of extreme vivacity bounded into the
middle of the room.
It was a very young and petite lady, whose perfectly developed form
predicted an inclination to stoutness in the future. She belonged to
the Bergenheim family, if one could credit the resemblance between her
characteristic features and several of the old portraits in the room;
she wore a dark-brown riding-habit, a gray hat perched on one side,
showing on the left a mass of very curly, bright blond hair. This
coiffure and the long green veil, floating at each movement like the
plume in a helmet, gave a singularly easy air to the fresh face of
this pretty amazon, who brandished, in guise of a lance, a billiard
"Clemence," she exclaimed, "I have just beaten Christian; I made
the red ball, I made the white, and then the double stroke; I made
all! Mademoiselle, I have just beaten Christian two games; is it not
glorious? He made only eighteen points in a single game. Pere
Rousselet, I have just beaten Christian! Do you know how to play
"Mademoiselle Aline, I am absolutely ignorant of the game," replied
the old man, with as gracious a smile as was possible, while he tried
to recover his equilibrium.
"You are needed no longer, Rousselet," said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil; "close the door as you go out."
When she had been obeyed, the old maid turned gravely toward Aline,
who was still dancing about the room, having seized her
sister-in-law's hands in order to force her to share her childish joy.
"Mademoiselle," said she in a severe tone, "is it the custom at the
'Sacred Heart' to enter a room without greeting the persons who are in
it, and to jump about like a crazy person? a thing that is never
permitted even in a peasant's house."
Aline stopped short in the midst of her dance and blushed a trifle;
she caressed the pug dog, instead of replying, for she knew as well as
Rousselet that it was the surest way of softening the old maid's
heart. The cajolery was lost this time.
"Do not touch Constance, I beg of you," exclaimed the aunt, as if a
dagger had been raised against the object of her love, "do not soil
this poor beast with your hands. What dreadful thing have you on your
fingers? Have you just come out of an indigo bag?"
The young girl blushed still deeper and gazed at her pretty hands,
which were really a little daubed, and began to wipe them with an
embroidered handkerchief which she took from her pocket.
"It was the billiards," she said, in a low voice, "it is the blue
chalk they rub the cue with in order to make good shots and caroms."
"Make good shots! Caroms! Will you be so good as to spare us your
slang speeches," continued Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who seemed to
become more crabbed as the young girl's confusion increased. "What a
fine education for a young lady! and one who has just come from the
'Sacred Heart'! One that has taken five prizes not fifteen days ago!
I really do not know what to think of those ladies, your teachers!
And now I suppose you are going to ride. Billiards and horses,
horses and billiards! It is fine! It is admirable!"
"But, Mademoiselle," said Aline, raising her large blue eyes, which
were on the verge of tears, "it is vacation now, and there is no wrong
in my playing a game of billiards with my brother; we have no
billiards at the 'Sacred Heart,' and it is such fun! It is like
riding; the doctor said that it would be very healthful for me, and
Christian hoped that it might make me grow a little."
As she said these words, the young girl glanced into the mirror in
order to see whether her brother's hopes had been realized; for her
small stature was her sole anxiety. But this glance was as quick as a
flash, for she feared that the severe old maid would make this act of
coquetry serve as the text for another sermon.
"You are not my niece, and I am thankful for it," continued the old
lady. "I am too old to begin another education; thank goodness, one is
quite enough! I have no authority over you, and your conduct is your
brother's concern. The advice which I give you is entirely
disinterested; your amusements are not such as seem to me proper for a
young girl of good birth. It may be possible that it is the fashion
today, so I will say no more about it; but there is one thing more
serious, upon which I should advise you to reflect. In my youth, a
young lady never was allowed to write letters except to her father and
mother. Your letters to your cousin d'Artigues are inconsiderate—do
not interrupt me—they are inconsiderate, and I should advise you to
mend your ways."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil arose, and, as she had found an
opportunity to read three sermons in one forenoon, she could not say,
like Titus, "I have wasted my morning." She left the room with a
majestic step, escorted by her dog and satisfied with herself,
bestowing an ironical curtsey on the young girl, which the latter did
not think it necessary to return.
"How hateful your aunt is!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Bergenheim
to her sister-in-law, when they were alone. "Christian says that I
must pay no attention to her, because all women become like her if
they never marry. As for myself, I know very well that if I am an old
maid I shall try not to hurt others' feelings—I, inconsiderate! When
she can think of nothing more to say, she scolds me about my cousin.
It is hardly worth while, for what we write about! Alphonse wrote of
nothing, in his last letter, but of the partridge he had shot and his
hunting costume; he is such a boy! But why do you not say something?
You sit there speechless; are you angry with me, too?"
She approached Clemence and was about to seat herself in her lap,
when the latter arose to avoid this loving familiarity.
"So you really have beaten Christian," said she, in a listless
tone; "are you going for a ride now? Your habit is very becoming."
"Truly? oh! I am so glad!" replied the young girl, planting
herself before the glass to look at her pretty figure. She pulled
down her waist, adjusted the folds of the skirt of her dress and
arranged her veil, placed her hat on her head with a little more
jaunty air, turned three quarters around to get a better view of her
costume; in one word, she went through the coquettish movements that
all pretty women learn upon entering society. On the whole, she
seemed very well pleased with her examination, for she smiled and
showed a row of small teeth which were as white as milk.
"I am sorry now," said she, "that I did not send for a black hat;
my hair is so light that gray makes me look ugly. Do you not think
so? Why do you not reply, Clemence? One can not get a word out of
you to-day; is it because you have your neuralgia?"
"I have a trifle of it," said Madame de Bergenheim, in order to
give some pretext for her preoccupation.
"Now, then, you ought to come with us for a ride; the fresh air
will do you good. Look how fine the weather is now; we will have a
good gallop. Will you? I will help you put on your habit, and in five
minutes you will be ready. Listen, I hear them in the yard now. I am
going to tell Christian to have your horse saddled; come."
Aline took her sister-in-law by the hand, led her into the next
room and opened the window to see what was going on outside, where the
cracking of whips and several voices were to be heard. A servant was
walking up and down the yard leading a large horse which he had just
brought from the stable; the Baron was holding a smaller one, which
bore a lady's saddle, while he carefully examined all the buckles. As
he heard the window open above his head, he turned and bowed to
Clemence with much chivalrous gallantry.
"You still refuse to go with us?" he asked.
"Is Aline going to ride Titania," replied Madame de Bergenheim,
making an effort to speak; "I am sure the mare will end by playing her
The young girl, who had a fancy for Titania because the skittish
creature had the attraction of forbidden fruit, nudged her sister with
her elbow, and made a little grimace.
"Aline is afraid of nothing," said the Baron; "we will enlist her
with the hussars as soon as she leaves the 'Sacred Heart.' Come,
The young girl kissed the Baroness, gathered up her skirt, and in a
few moments was in the yard patting the neck of her dear brown mare.
"Up with you!" said Christian, taking his sister's foot in one
hand while he raised her with the other, placing her in the saddle as
easily as he would a six-year-old child. Then he mounted his large
horse, saluted his wife, and the couple, starting at a trot, soon
disappeared down the avenue, which began at the gate of the courtyard.
As soon as they were out of sight, Clemence went to her room, took
a shawl from her bed, and went rapidly down a secret stairway which
led into the gardens.
CHAPTER IV. THE GALLANT IN THE GARDEN
Madame de Bergenheim's apartments occupied the first floor of the
wing on the left side of the house. On the ground floor were the
library, a bathroom, and several guest-chambers. The large windows
had a modern look, but they were made to harmonize with the rest of
the house by means of grayish paint. At the foot of this facade was a
lawn surrounded by a wall and orange-trees planted in tubs, forming a
sort of English garden, a sanctuary reserved for the mistress of the
castle, and which brought her, as a morning tribute, the perfume of
its flowers and the coolness of its shade.
Through the tops of the fir-trees and the tuliptrees, which rose
above the group of smaller shrubs, the eye could follow the winding
river until it finally disappeared at the extremity of the valley. It
was this picturesque view and a more extensive horizon which had
induced the Baroness to choose this part of the Gothic manor for her
own private apartments.
After crossing the lawn, the young woman opened a gate concealed by
shrubs and entered the avenue by the banks of the river. This avenue
described a curve around the garden, and led to the principal entrance
of the chateau. Night was approaching, the countryside, which had
been momentarily disturbed by the storm, had resumed its customary
serenity. The leaves of the trees, as often happens after a rain,
looked as fresh as a newly varnished picture. The setting sun cast
long shadows through the trees, and their interlaced branches looked
like a forest of boa- constrictors.
Clemence advanced slowly under this leafy dome, which became darker
and more mysterious every moment, with head bent and enveloped in a
large cashmere shawl which fell in irregular folds to the ground.
Madame de Bergenheim had one of those faces which other women would
call not at all remarkable, but which intelligent men ardently admire.
At the first glance she seemed hardly pretty; at the second, she
attracted involuntary admiration; afterward, it was difficult to keep
her out of one's thoughts. Her features, which taken separately might
seem irregular, were singularly harmonious, and, like a thin veil
which tempers a too dazzling light, softened the whole expression.
Her light chestnut hair was arranged about the temples in ingenious
waves; while her still darker eyebrows gave, at times, an imposing
gravity to her face. The same contrast was to be found in the mouth;
the short distance which separated it from the nose would indicate,
according to Lavater, unusual energy; but the prominent underlip
impregnated her smile with enchanting voluptuousness. Her rather
clearcut features, the exceeding brilliancy of her brown eyes, which
seemed like diamonds set in jet, would, perhaps, have given to the
whole rather too strong a character had not these eyes when veiled
given to their dazzling rays a glamour of indescribable softness.
The effect produced by this face might be compared to that of a
prism, every facet of which reflects a different color. The ardor
burning under this changeable surface, which, through some sudden
cause, betrayed its presence, was so deeply hidden, however, that it
seemed impossible to fathom it completely. Was she a coquette, or
simply a fashionable lady, or a devotee? In one word, was she imbued
with the most egotistical pride or the most exalted love? One might
suppose anything, but know nothing; one remained undecided and
thoughtful, but fascinated, the mind plunged into ecstatic
contemplation such as the portrait of Monna Lisa inspires. An
observer might have perceived that she had one of those hearts, so
finely strung, from which a clever hand might make incomparable
harmonies of passion gush; but perhaps he would be mistaken. So many
women have their souls only in their eyes!
Madame de Bergenheim's revery rendered the mysterious and
impenetrable veil which usually enveloped her countenance more
unfathomable yet. What sentiment made her bend her head and walk
slowly as she meditated? Was it the ennui of which she had just
complained to her aunt? Was it pure melancholy? The monotonous
ripple of the stream, the singing of the birds in the woods, the long
golden reflections under the trees, all seemed to unite in filling the
soul with sadness; but neither the murmuring water, the singing birds,
nor the sun's splendor was paid any attention to by Madame de
Bergenheim; she gave them neither a glance nor a sigh. Her meditation
was not revery, but thought; not thoughts of the past, but of the
present. There was something precise and positive in the rapid,
intelligent glance which flashed from her eyes when she raised them;
it was as if she had a lucid foresight of an approaching drama.
A moment after she had passed over the wooden bridge which led from
the avenue, a man wearing a blouse crossed it and followed her.
Hearing the sound of hurried steps behind her, she turned and saw,
not two steps from her, the stranger who, during the storm, had vainly
tried to attract her attention. There was a moment's silence. The
young man stood motionless, trying to catch his breath, which had been
hurried, either by emotion or rapid walking. Madame de Bergenheim,
with head thrown back and widely opened eyes, looked at him with a
more agitated than surprised look.
"It is you," exclaimed he, impulsively, "you whom I had lost and
now find again!"
"What madness, Monsieur!" she replied, in a low voice, putting out
her hand as if to stop him.
"I beg of you, do not look at me so! Let me gaze at you and assure
myself that it is really you—I have dreamed of this moment for so
long! Have I not paid dear enough for it? Two months passed away from
you— from heaven! Two months of sadness, grief, and unhappiness!
But you are pale! Do you suffer, too?"
"Much, at this moment."
"Call me Madame, Monsieur de Gerfaut," she interrupted, severely.
"Why should I disobey you? Are you not my lady, my queen?"
He bent his knee as a sign of bondage, and tried to seize her hand,
which she immediately withdrew. Madame de Bergenheim seemed to pay
very little attention to the words addressed her; her uneasy glances
wandered in every direction, into the depths of the bushes and the
slightest undulations of the ground. Gerfaut understood this
pantomime. He glanced, in his turn, over the place, and soon
discovered at some distance a more propitious place for such a
conversation as theirs. It was a semicircular recess in one of the
thickets in the park. A rustic seat under a large oak seemed to have
been placed there expressly for those who came to seek solitude and
speak of love. From there, one could see the approach of danger, and,
in case of alarm, the wood offered a secure retreat. The young man
had had enough experience in gallant strategies to seize the advantage
of this position, and wended his steps in that direction while
continuing to converse. It may be that instinct which, in a critical
situation, makes us follow mechanically an unknown impulse; it may be
that the same idea of prudence had also struck her, for Madame de
Bergenheim walked beside him.
"If you could understand what I suffered," said he, "when I found
that you had left Paris! I could not discover at first where you had
gone; some spoke of Corandeuil, others of Italy. I thought, from this
hasty departure and the care you took to conceal your abiding-place,
that you were fleeing from me. Oh! tell me that I was mistaken; or,
if it is true that you wished to separate yourself from me, say that
this cruel resolve had left your mind, and that you will pardon me for
following you! You will pardon me, will you not? If I trouble or
annoy you, lay the blame entirely upon my love, which I can not
restrain, and which drives me at times to do the most extravagant
things; call it reckless, insane love, if you will; but believe it to
be true and devoted!"
Clemence replied to this passionate tirade by simply shaking her
head as a child does who hears the buzzing of a wasp and fears its
sting; then, as they reached the bench, she said with affected
"You have made a mistake, this is not your road; you should have
gone over the bridge."
There was a little palpable insincerity in these words; for if the
road which they had taken did not lead to the bridge, neither did it
lead to the chateau, and the mistake, if there was one, was mutual.
"Listen to me, I beg of you," replied the lover, with 'a
supplicating glance, "I have so many things to say to you! I beg of
you, grant me one moment."
"Afterward, will you obey me?"
"Only a few words, and I will then do all that you wish."
She hesitated a moment; then, her conscience doubtless lulled by
this promise, she seated herself and made a gesture for M. de Gerfaut
to do likewise. The young man did not make her repeat this
invitation, but hypocritically seated himself on the farther end of
"Now, talk reasonably," she said, in a calm tone. "I suppose that
you are on your way to Germany or Switzerland, and as you passed near
me you wished to favor me with a call. I ought to be proud of this
mark of respect from a man so celebrated as you are, although you are
rather hiding your light under this garb. We are not very strict as
to dress in the country, but, really, yours is quite unceremonious.
Tell me, where did you find that headdress?"
These last words were spoken with the careless, mocking gayety of a
Gerfaut smiled, but he took off his cap. Knowing the importance
that women attach to little things, and what an irreparable impression
an ugly cravat or unblacked boots might produce in the most affecting
moments, he did not wish to compromise himself by a ridiculous
head-gear. He passed his hand through his hair, pushing it back from
his large, broad forehead, and said softly:
"You know very well that I am not going to Germany or Switzerland,
and that Bergenheim is the end of my journey, as it has been its aim."
"Then will you be so good as to tell me what your intention was in
taking such a step, and whether you have realized how strange,
inconsiderate, and in every way extravagant your conduct is?"
"I have realized it; I know it. You were here, I came because
there is a loadstone within you, that is my heart's sole attraction,
and I must follow my heart. I came because I wanted to see your
beautiful eyes again, to be intoxicated by your sweet voice, because
to live away from you is impossible for me; because your presence is
as necessary to my happiness as air to my life; because I love you.
That is why I came. Is it possible that you do not understand me,
that you will not pardon me?"
"I do not wish to believe that you are speaking seriously," said
Clemence, with increased severity. "What sort of an idea can you have
of me, if you think I will allow such conduct? And then, even if I
were foolish enough for that-which I never shall be—to what would it
lead? You know perfectly well that it is impossible for you to come to
the castle, as you are not acquainted with Monsieur de Bergenheim, and
I certainly shall not introduce you to him. My aunt is here, and she
would persecute me the whole day long with questions! Mon Dieu! how
you disturb me! how unhappy you make me!"
"Your aunt never goes out, so she will not see me, unless I am
officially received at the chateau, and then there could be no
"But the servants she brought with her, and mine, who have seen you
in her house! I tell you, the whole thing is as perilous as it is
crazy, and you will make me die of fright and chagrin."
"If one of those servants should chance to meet me, how could he
ever recognize me in this costume? Do not fear, I shall be prudent!
I would live in a log cabin, if necessary, for the joy of seeing you
Madame de Bergenheim smiled disdainfully.
"That would be quite pastoral," she replied; "but I believe that
such disguises are seldom seen now except upon the stage. If this is
a scene out of a play, which you wish to rehearse in order to judge
its effect, I warn you that it is entirely lost upon me, and that I
consider the play itself very ill-timed, improper, and ridiculous.
Besides, for a man of talent and a romantic poet you have not
exhibited any very great imagination. It is a classical imitation,
nothing better. There is something like it in mythology, I believe.
Did not Apollo disguise himself as a shepherd?"
Nothing more is to be feared by a lover than a witty woman who does
not love or loves but half; he is obliged to wear velvet gloves in all
such sentimental controversies; he owes it to himself out of propriety
first, out of prudence afterward. For it is not a question of taking
part in a conversation for the simple pleasure of brilliant repartee;
and while he applies himself carefully to play his part well, he feels
that he has been dexterously cut to pieces with a well-sharpened
Gerfaut indulged in these unpleasant reflections while gazing at
Madame de Bergenheim. Seated up on the bench as proudly as a queen
upon her throne, with shining eyes, scornful lips, and arms tightly
folded under her cashmere shawl, with that haughty gesture familiar to
her, the young woman looked as invulnerable under this light wrap as
if she had been covered with Ajax's shield, formed, if we can credit
Homer, of seven bulls' hides and a sheet of brass.
After gazing at this scornful face for a moment, Gerfaut glanced at
his coarse blouse, his leggings, and muddy boots. His usual dainty
ways made the details of this costume yet more shocking to him, and he
exaggerated this little disaster. He felt degraded and almost
ridiculous. The thought took away for a moment his presence of mind;
he began mechanically to twirl his hat in his hands, exactly as if he
had been Pere Rousselet himself. But instead of being hurtful to him,
this awkwardness served him better than the eloquence of Rousseau or
the coolness of Richelieu. Was it not a genuine triumph for Clemence
to reduce a man of his recognized talent, who was usually anything but
timid, to this state of embarrassment? What witty response, what
passionate speech could equal the flattery of this poet with bent head
and this expression of deep sadness upon his face?
Madame de Bergenheim continued her raillery, but in a softer tone.
"This time, instead of staying in a cabin, the god of poetry has
descended to a tavern. Have you not established your general
headquarters at La Fauconnerie?"
"How did you know that?"
"By the singular visiting-card that you drew in La Mode. Do I not
know your coat-of-arms? An expressive one, as my aunt would say."
At these words, which probably referred to some letters, doubtless
read without very much anger, since they were thus recalled, Gerfaut
"Yes," said he, "I am staying at La Fauconnerie; but I can not stay
there any longer, for I think your servants make the tavern their
pleasure- ground. I must come to some decision. I have two
propositions to submit to you: the first is, that you will allow me to
see you occasionally; there are numerous promenades about here; you go
out alone, so it would be very easy."
"Let us hear the second," said Clemence, with a shrug of the
"If you will not grant my first, I beg of you to persuade your aunt
that she is ill and to take her with you to Plombieres or Baden. The
season is not very far advanced; there, at least, I should be able to
"Let us end this folly," said the Baroness; "I have listened
patiently to you; now, in your turn, listen to me. You will be
sensible, will you not? You will leave me and go. You will go to
Switzerland, and return to the Montanvert, where you met me for the
first time, which I shall always remember, if you, yourself, do not
make it painful for me to do so. You will obey me, Octave, will you
not? Give me this proof of your esteem and friendship. You know very
well that it is impossible for me to grant what you ask; believe me,
it is painful to me to be forced to refuse you. So, say farewell to
me; you shall see me again next winter in Paris. Adieu!"
She arose and extended her hand; he took it, but, thinking to
profit by the emotion betrayed by Madame de Bergenheim's voice, he
exclaimed in a sort of transport:
"No! I will not wait until next winter to see you. I was about to
submit to your will; if you repulse me I will consult only myself; if
you repulse me, Clemence, I warn you that tomorrow I shall be in your
house, seated at your table and admitted to your drawing-room."
"And how will you do it, pray?" said she, defiantly.
"That is my secret, Madame," he replied, coldly.
Although her curiosity was greatly aroused, Clemence felt that it
would be beneath her to ask any more questions. She replied with an
affectation of mocking indifference:
"Since I am to have the pleasure of seeing you tomorrow, I hope you
will permit me to leave you today. You know that I am not well, and
it is showing me very little attention to allow me to stand here in
this wet grass."
She raised her skirt a trifle and extended her foot, showing her
slipper, which was really covered with pearly drops of rain. Octave
threw himself quickly upon his knees, and, taking a silk handkerchief
from his pocket, began to wipe away all traces of the storm. His
action was so rapid that Madame de Bergenheim stood for a moment
motionless and speechless, but when she felt her foot imprisoned in
the hand of the man who had just declared war against her, her
surprise gave place to a mingled feeling of impatience and anger. She
drew her foot back with a sudden movement, but unfortunately the foot
went one way and the slipper another. A fencing- master, who sees his
foil carried ten steps away from him by a back stroke, could not feel
more astonishment than that felt by Madame de Bergenheim. Her first
movement was to place her foot, so singularly undressed, upon the
ground; an instinctive horror of the damp, muddy walk made her draw it
quickly back. She stood thus with one foot lifted; the movement which
she had started to make threw her off her balance and as she was about
to fall she extended her hand to find some support. This support
proved to be Octave's head, for he still remained upon his knees. With
the usual presumption of lovers, he believed that he had the right to
give her the assistance which she seemed to ask for, and passed his
arm about the slender waist which was bent toward him.
Clemence drew herself up at once, and with frowning brow regained
her coolness, standing upright upon one foot, like Cupid in the
painting by Gerard; like him, also, she seemed about to fly away,
there was so much airy lightness in her improvised attitude.
Many puerile incidents and ridiculous events occur in life, which
it would render impossible for the most imperturbable of mandarins to
struggle against in order to preserve his gravity. When Louis XIV,
this king so expert in courtly ways, dressed his hair alone behind his
curtains before presenting himself to the eyes of his courtiers, he
feared that this disarray of costume might compromise even his royal
majesty. So, upon such authority, if one looks upon a complete head
of hair as indispensable to the dignity of manhood, the same reasoning
should exist for the covering of one's feet. In less than a second,
Madame de Bergenheim comprehended that in such circumstances prudish
airs would fail of their effect. Meanwhile, the agreeable side of her
position operated within her; she felt unable to keep up the show of
anger that she had wished to assume. The involuntary smile upon her
lips smoothed her forehead as a ray of sun dissipates a cloud. Thus,
disposed to clemency by reflection or fascination, it was in a very
sweet and coaxing voice that she said: "Octave, give me my slipper."
Gerfaut gazed at the lovely face bent toward him with an expression
of childish entreaty, then he glanced with an irresolute air at the
trophy which he held in his hand. This slipper, which was as small as
Cinderella's, was not green, but gray, the lining was of rose-colored
silk, and the whole was so pretty, coquettish, and dainty that it
seemed impossible its owner could be vexed with him if he examined it
closely. "I will give it back to you," said he, at last, "on
condition that you will allow me to put it on for you."
"As to that, certainly not," said she, in a sharp tone; "I should
much prefer to leave it with you and return home as I am."
Gerfaut shook his head and smiled incredulously.
"Think of your delicate lungs and of this terrible mud?"
Clemence drew her foot suddenly back under her skirt, concealing it
entirely from the sight of the young man, who gazed at it more than
she thought proper. Then she exclaimed, with the obstinacy of a
"Very well! I will return hopping on one foot; I could hop very
well when I was young, I should be able to do so now."
To give more weight to this observation, she took two little jumps
with a grace and sprightliness worthy of Mademoiselle Taglioni.
"I have had the pleasure of seeing you waltz," said he; "but I
admit that I shall be pleased to witness a new dance, and one executed
for me alone."
As he said these words, he pretended to conceal the innocent object
of this dispute in his blouse. The pretty dancer saw by this that a
compromise would be necessary. Recourse to concessions is often as
fatal to women as to kings; but what can one do when every other exit
is closed? Obliged by absolute necessity to accept the conditions
imposed upon her, Clemence wished at least to cover this defeat with
sufficient dignity, and escape from an awkward position with the
honors of war.
"Get down upon your knees, then," she said, haughtily, "and put on
my slipper, since you exact it, and let this end this ridiculous
scene. I think you should be too proud to regard a maid's privilege as
"As a favor which a king would envy," replied Gerfaut, in a voice
as tender as hers had been disdainful. He put one knee on the ground,
placed the little slipper upon the other and seemed to await his
enemy's pleasure. But the latter found a new subject for complaint in
the pedestal offered her, for she said with increased severity:
"On the ground, Monsieur; and let that end it."
He obeyed, without a reply, after giving her a reproachful glance
by which she was as much moved as by his silent obedience. She put
out her foot with a more gracious air, and thrust it into the slipper.
To be a correct historian, we must admit that this time she left it
in the hands which softly pressed it longer than was strictly
necessary. When Octave had fastened it with skill but with no haste,
he bent his head and pressed his lips to the openwork stocking,
through which he could catch a glimpse of white, satiny skin.
"My husband!" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, as she heard the
clatter of horses' hoofs at the end of the avenue; and without adding
a word she fled rapidly toward the chateau. Gerfaut arose from his
position no less rapidly and darted into the woods. A rustling of
branches which he heard a few steps from him made him uneasy at first,
for he feared that an invisible witness had been present at this
imprudent interview; but he was soon reassured by the silence which
reigned about him.
After the Baron and his sister had passed, he crossed the avenue
and soon disappeared over the winding road on the other side of the
CHAPTER V. ART AND MUSIC
A league below the castle of Bergenheim, the village of La
Fauconnerie was situated, at the junction of several valleys the
principal of which, by means of an unfrequented road, opened
communications between Lorraine and upper Alsatia. This position had
been one of some importance in the Middle Ages, at the time when the
Vosges were beset with partisans from the two countries, always ready
to renew border hostilities, the everlasting plague of all frontiers.
Upon a cliff overlooking the village were situated the ruins which
had given the village its name; it owed it to the birds of prey
[falcons, in French: 'faucons'], the habitual guests of the
perpendicular rocks. To render proper justice to whom it belongs, we
should add that the proprietors of La Fauconnerie had made it a point
at all times to justify this appellation by customs more warlike than
hospitable; but for some time the souvenirs of their feudal prowess
had slept with their race under the ruins of the manor; the chateau
had fallen without the hamlet extending over its ruins; from a bourg
of some importance La Fauconnerie had come down to a small village,
and had nothing remarkable about it but the melancholy ruins of the
It would be impossible to imagine anything more miserably prosaic
than the houses that bordered the road, in regular order; their one
story with its thatched roof blackened by rain; the sorry garden
surrounded by a little low wall and presenting as vegetables patches
of cabbage and a few rows of beans, gave an idea of the poverty of its
inhabitants. Save the church, which the Bishop of St.-Die had caused
to be built, and the manse that had naturally shared this fortunate
privilege, only one house rose above the condition of a thatched
cottage; this was the tavern called 'La Femme-sans-Tete', and kept by
Madame Gobillot, an energetic woman, who did not suggest in the least
the name of her establishment, "The Headless Woman."
A large sign shared with the inevitable bunch of juniper, the honor
of decorating the entrance and justified an appellation one might have
regarded as disrespectful to the fair sex. The original design had
been repainted in dazzling colors by the artist charged with restoring
the church. This alliance of the profane with the sacred had, it is
true, scandalized the parish priest, but he did not dare say a word
too much, as Madame Gobillot was one of his most important
parishioners. A woman in a rose-colored dress and large panniers,
standing upon very high- heeled shoes, displayed upon this sign the
rejuvenated costume of 1750; an enormous green fan, which she held in
her hand, entirely concealed her face, and it was through this caprice
of the painter that the tavern came to have the name it bore.
At the right of this original figure was painted, in a very
appetizing manner, a pie out of whose crust peeped a trio of
woodcocks' heads. A little farther, upon a bed of watercresses,
floated a sort of marine monster, carp or sturgeon, trout or
crocodile. The left of the sign was none the less tempting; it
represented a roast chicken lying upon its back with its head under
its wing, and raising its mutilated legs in the air with a piteous
look; it had for its companion a cluster of crabs, of a little too
fine a red to have been freshly caught. The whole was interspersed
with bottles and glasses brimful of wine. There were stone jugs at
each extremity, the sergeants of the rear-rank of this gastronomic
platoon, whose corks had blown out and were still flying in space,
while a bubbling white foam issued from their necks and fell
majestically over their sides after describing a long parabola. A
misleading sign, indeed!
A remorseful conscience, or a desire to protect herself from all
reproach of mendacity on the part of the customers, had made the owner
of the inn place a wire cupboard upon the sill of one of the windows
near the door; in which receptacle were some eggs on a plate, a bit of
bread with which David might have loaded his sling, a white glass
bottle filled with a liquid of some color intended to represent
kirsch, but which was in reality only water. This array gave a much
more correct idea of the resources of the establishment and formed a
menu like an anchorite's repast, and even this it was difficult for
the kitchen's resources to maintain.
A carriage-gate led into the yard and to the stables, cart-drivers
being the principal habitues of the place; another entrance, the one
which was crowned with the fantastic sign, was flanked by two stone
seats and opened directly into the kitchen, which also served as
parlor for the guests. A fireplace with an enormous mantel, under
which a whole family might warm themselves, occupied the middle of one
side of the room. There was a large oven in one corner which opened
its huge mouth, the door partly hiding the shovels and tongs employed
in its service. Two or three thoroughly smoked hams, suspended from
the beams, announced that there was no fear of a famine before the
gastronomic massacres of Middlemas. Opposite the window, a large,
polished oak dresser displayed an array of large flowered plates and
little octagon-shaped glasses. A huge kitchen kettle and some wooden
chairs completed the furniture of the room.
From the kitchen one passed into another room, where a permanent
table surrounded by benches occupied its entire length. The wall
paper, once green, was now a dirty gray; it was embellished by half a
dozen black frames representing the story of Prince Poniatowski, who
shares the honor of decorating village inns with Paul and Virginia and
Wilhelm Tell. On the upper floor-for this aristocratic dwelling had a
second story— several sleeping-rooms opened upon a long corridor, at
the end of which was a room with two beds in it. This room was very
neat and clean, and was destined for any distinguished guests whose
unlucky star led them into this deserted country.
That evening the inn presented an unaccustomed lively appearance;
the long seats, each side of the door, were occupied by rustics
stripping hemp, by some village lads, and three or four cart-drivers
smoking short pipes as black as coal. They were listening to two
girls who were singing in a most mournful way a song well known to all
in this country:
"Au chateau de Belfort
Sont trois jolies filles, etc."
The light from the hearth, shining through the open door, left this
group in the shadow and concentrated its rays upon a few faces in the
interior of the kitchen. First, there was Madame Gobillot in person,
wearing a long white apron, her head covered with an immense cap. She
went from oven to dresser, and from dresser to fireplace with a very
important air. A fat little servant disappeared frequently through the
dining-room door, where she seemed to be laying the cover for a feast.
With that particular dexterity of country girls, she made three trips
to carry two plates, and puffed like a porpoise at her work, while the
look of frightened amazement showed upon her face that every fibre of
her intelligence was under unaccustomed tension. Before the fire, and
upon the range, three or four stew-pans were bubbling. A plump
chicken was turning on the spit, or, rather, the spit and its victim
were turned by a bright-looking boy of about a dozen years, who with
one hand turned the handle and with the other, armed with a large
cooking-ladle, basted the roast.
But the two principal persons in this picture were a young country
girl and a young man seated opposite her, who seemed busily engaged in
making her portrait. One would easily recognize, from the airs and
elegance of the young woman, that she was the daughter of the house,
Mademoiselle Reine Gobillot, the one whose passion for fashion-plates
had excited Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's anger. She sat as straight
and rigid upon her stool as a Prussian corporal carrying arms, and
maintained an excessively gracious smile upon her lips, while she made
her bust more prominent by drawing back her shoulders as far as she
The young painter, on the contrary, was seated with artistic
abandon, balancing himself upon a two-legged chair with his heels
resting against the mantel; he was dressed in a black velvet coat, and
a very small Tam O'Shanter cap of the same material covered the right
side of his head, allowing a luxuriant crop of brown hair to be seen
upon the other side. This head-dress, accompanied by long moustaches
and a pointed beard covering only his chin, gave the stranger's face
the mediaeval look he probably desired. This travelling artist was
sketching in an album placed upon his knees, with a freedom which
indicated perfect confidence in his own talents. A cigar, skilfully
held in one corner of his mouth, did not prevent him from warbling
between each puff some snatches of Italian airs of which he seemed to
possess a complete repertoire. In spite of this triple occupation he
sustained a conversation with the ease of a man who, like Caesar,
could have dictated to three secretaries at once if necessary.
"Dell' Assiria, ai semidei
"I have already asked you not to purse up your mouth so,
Mademoiselle Reine; it gives you a Watteau air radically bourgeois."
"What sort of air does it give me?" she asked, anxiously.
"A Watteau, Regence, Pompadour air. You have a large mouth, and we
will leave it natural, if you please."
"I have a large mouth!" exclaimed Reine, blushing with anger; "how
polite you are!"
And she pinched up her lips until she reduced them to nearly the
size of Montmorency cherries.
"Stop this vulgar way of judging of art, queen of my heart. Learn
that there is nothing more appetizing than a large mouth. I do not
care for rosebud mouths!"
"If it is the fashion!" murmured the young girl, in a pleased
tone, as she spread out horizontally her vermillion lips, which might
have extended from ear to ear, not unlike—if we can credit that
slanderer, Bussy-Rabutin-the amorous smile of Mademoiselle de la
"Why did you not let me put on my gold necklace?
That would have given my portrait a smarter look. Sophie Mitoux
had hers painted with a coral comb and earrings. How shabby this
"I beg of you, my good Reine, let me follow my own fancy; an artist
is a being of inspiration and spontaneity. Meanwhile, you make your
bust too prominent; there is no necessity for you to look as if you
had swallowed a whale. L'art n'est pas fait pour toi, tu n'en as pas
besoin. Upon my word, you have a most astonishing bust; a genuine
Madame Gobillot was an austere woman, though an innkeeper, and
watched over her daughter with particular care, lest any ill-sounding
or insiduous expression should reach her child's ear. Considering the
company which frequented the house, the task was not easy. So she was
shocked at the young man's last words, and although she did not quite
understand his meaning, for that very reason she thought she scented a
concealed poison more dangerous for Mademoiselle Reine than the awful
words used by the drivers. She dared not, however, show her
displeasure to a customer, and one who seemed disposed to spend money
freely; and, as usual in such circumstances, she vented her
displeasure upon the persons immediately under her charge.
"Hurry now, Catherine! Will you never finish setting the table? I
told you before to put on the Britannia; these gentlemen are used to
eating with silver. Listen to me when I am talking to you. Who
washed these glasses? What a shame! You are as afraid of water as a
mad-dog. And you! what are you staring at that chicken for, instead
of basting it? If you let it burn you shall go to bed without any
supper. If it is not provoking!" she continued, in a scolding tone,
visiting her stewpans one after another, "everything is dried up; a
fillet that was as tender as it could be will be scorched! This is
the third time that I have diluted the gravy. Catherine! bring me a
dish. Now, then, make haste."
"One thing is certain," interrupted the artist, "that Gerfaut is
making a fool of me. I do not see what can have become of him. Tell
me, Madame Gobillot, are you certain that an amateur of art and the
picturesque, travelling at this hour, would not be eaten by wolves or
plundered by robbers in these mountains?"
"Our mountains are safe, Monsieur," replied the landlady, with
offended dignity; "except for the pedler who was assassinated six
months ago and whose body was found in the Combe-aux-Renards—"
"And the driver who was stopped three weeks ago in the Fosse,"
added Mademoiselle Reine; "the thieves did not quite kill him, but he
is still in the hospital at Remiremont."
"Oh! that is enough to make one's hair stand on end! This is
worse than the forest of Bondy! Truly, if I knew what direction my
friend took this morning, I would follow him with my pistols."
"Here is Fritz," said Madame Gobillot. "He met a stranger in the
woods who gave him ten sous for telling him the way to Bergenheim.
From his description, it seems that it must be the gentleman you
speak of. Tell us about it, Fritz."
The child related in his Alsatian patois his meeting of the
afternoon, and the artist was convinced that it was Gerfaut he had
"He must be wandering in the valley," said he, "dreaming about our
play. But did you not say something about Bergenheim? Is there a
village near here by that name?"
"There is a chateau of that name, Monsieur, and it is about a
league from here as you go up the river."
"And does this chateau happen to belong to the Baron de
Bergenheim— a large, blond, good-looking fellow, with rather reddish
"That's the picture of its owner, only that the Baron does not wear
a moustache now, not since he left the service. Do you know him,
"Yes, I know him! Speaking of service, I once rendered him one
which was of some account. Is he at the castle?"
"Yes, Monsieur, and his lady also."
"Ah! his wife, too. She was a Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, of
Provence. Is she pretty?"
"Pretty," said Mademoiselle Gobillot, pursing up her lips, "that
depends upon tastes. If a person likes a face as white as a ghost,
she is. And, then, she is so thin! It certainly can not be very
difficult to have a slender waist when one is as thin as that."
"Not everybody can have rosy cheeks and a form like an
enchantress," said the painter, in a low voice, as he looked at his
model in a seductive manner.
"There are some people who think that Monsieur's sister is prettier
than Madame," observed Madame Gobillot.
"O mother! how can you say that?" exclaimed Reine with a
disdainful air. "Mademoiselle Aline! A child of fifteen! She
certainly is not wanting in color; her hair is such a blond, such a
red, rather! It looks as if it were on fire."
"Do not say anything against red hair, I beg of you," said the
artist, "it is an eminently artistic shade, which is very popular."
"With some it may be so, but with Christians! It seems to me that
"When it is long and glossy like yours, it is wonderful," said the
young man, darting another killing glance. "Madame Gobillot, would
you mind closing that door? One can not hear one's self think here.
I am a little critical, so far as music is concerned, and you have
two sopranos outside who deafen me with their shrieks."
"It is Marguerite Mottet and her sister. Since our cure has taken
to teaching them, they bore us to death, coming here and singing their
fine songs. One of these days I shall notify them to leave."
As she said these words, Madame Gobillot went to close the door in
order to please her guest; as soon as her back was turned, the latter
leaned forward with the boldness of a Lovelace and imprinted a very
loving kiss upon the rosy cheek of Mademoiselle Reine, who never
thought of drawing back until the offence was committed.
The sole witness to this incident was the little kitchen drudge,
whose blue eyes had been fastened upon the artist's moustache and
beard for some time. They seemed to plunge him into a deep
admiration. But at this unexpected event his amazement was so
complete that he dropped his spoon into the ashes.
"Eh! mein herr, do you wish to go to bed without your supper, as
has been promised you?" said the young man, while the beautiful Reine
was trying to recover her countenance. "Now, then, sing us a little
song instead of staring at me as if I were a giraffe. Your little
cook has a nice voice, Madame Gobillot. Now, then, mein herr, give us
a little German lied. I will give you six kreutzers if you sing in
tune, and a flogging if you grate upon my ears."
He arose and put his album under his arm.
"And my portrait?" exclaimed the young girl, whose cheek was still
burning from the kiss she had just received.
The painter drew near her, smiling, and said in a mysterious tone:
"When I make a portrait of a pretty person like you, I never finish
it the first day. If you will give me another sitting in the morning
before your mother arises I promise to finish this sketch in a way
that will not be displeasing to you."
Mademoiselle Reine saw that her mother was watching her, and walked
away with no reply save a glance which was not discouraging.
"Now, then! You droll little fellow!" exclaimed the artist, as he
whirled on one foot; "triple time; one, two, begin."
The child burst into an Alsatian song in a high, ringing voice.
"Wait a moment! What devilish key are you singing that in? La,
la, la, la; mi, in E major, key of four sharps. By Jove, my little
man! here is a fellow who sings B's and C's away up in the clouds; an
E sharp, too!" he continued, with astonishment, while the singer made
a hold upon the keynote an octave higher in a voice as clear as a
The artist threw into the fire the cigar which he had just lighted,
and began pacing the kitchen floor, paying no more attention to
Mademoiselle Reine, who felt a little piqued at seeing herself
neglected for a kitchen drudge.
"A rare voice," said he, as he took a great stride; "per Bacco, a
very rare voice. Added to that, he sings very deep; two octaves and a
half, a clear, ringing tone, the two registers are well united. He
would make an admirable 'primo musico'. And the little fellow has a
pretty face, too. After supper I will make him wash his face, and I
will sketch it. I am sure that in less than a year's study, he could
make his debut with the greatest success. By Jove! I have an idea!
Why does not that Gerfaut return? Now, then, he would do very well
for 'Pippo' in La Gazza, or for Gemma in Wilhelm Tell. But we must
have a role for him to make his debut in. What subject could we take
properly to introduce a child's part? Why does not that Gerfaut come?
A child, girl or boy; a boy part would be better. 'Daniel,' of
course; viva 'Daniel!' 'The Chaste Suzannah,' opera in three acts.
Madame Begrand would be fine as Suzannah. By Jove! if Meyerbeer
would only take charge of the score! That falls to him by right as a
compatriot. Then, that would give him an opportunity to break lances
with Mehul and Rossini. If that fool of a Gerfaut would only come!
Let us see what would be the three characters: Soprano, Suzannah;
contralto, David; the old men, two basses; as for the tenor, he would
be, of course, Suzannah's husband. There would be a superb entrance
for him upon his return from the army, 'cavatina guerriera con cori'.
Oh! that terrible Gerfaut! the wolves must have devoured him. If
he were here, we would knock off the thing between our fruit and
Just at that moment the door opened suddenly. "Is supper ready?"
asked a deep voice.
"Eh, here he is, the dear friend!
"O surprise extreme!
Grand Dieu! c'est lui-meme—
alive and in the flesh."
"And hungry," said Gerfaut, as he dropped into a chair near the
"Would you like to compose an opera in three acts, The Chaste
Suzannah, music by Meyerbeer?"
"I should like some supper first. Madame Gobillot, I beseech you,
give me something to eat. Thanks to your mountain air, I am almost
"But, Monsieur, we have been waiting two hours for you," retorted
the landlady, as she made each stewpan dance in succession.
"That is a fact," said the artist; "let us go into the dining-room,
"Gia la mensa a preparata."
"While supping, I will explain my plans to you. I have just found
a Daniel in the ashes—"
"My dear Marillac, drop your Daniel and Suzannah," replied Gerfaut,
as he sat down to the table; "I have something much more important to
talk to you about."
CHAPTER VI. GERFAUT'S STORY
While the two friends are devouring to the very last morsel the
feast prepared for them by Madame Gobillot, it may not be out of place
to explain in a few words the nature of the bonds that united these
The Vicomte de Gerfaut was one of those talented beings who are the
veritable champions of an age when the lightest pen weighs more in the
social balance than our ancestors' heaviest sword. He was born in the
south of France, of one of those old families whose fortune had
diminished each generation, their name finally being almost all that
they had left. After making many sacrifices to give their son an
education worthy of his birth, his parents did not live to enjoy the
fruits of their efforts, and Gerfaut became an orphan at the time when
he had just finished his law studies. He then abandoned the career of
which his father had dreamed for him, and the possibilities of a red
gown bordered with ermine. A mobile and highly colored imagination, a
passionate love for the arts, and, more than all, some intimacies
contracted with men of letters, decided his vocation and launched him
The ardent young man, without a murmur or any misgivings, drank to
the very dregs the cup poured out to neophytes in the harsh career of
letters by editors, theatrical managers, and publishers. With some,
this course ends in suicide, but it only cost Gerfaut a portion of his
slender patrimony; he bore this loss like a man who feels that he is
strong enough to repair it. When his plans were once made, he
followed them up with indefatigable perseverance, and became a
striking example of the irresistible power of intelligence united to
will-power. Reputation, for him, lay in the unknown depths of an arid
and rocky soil; he was obliged, in order to reach it, to dig a sort of
artesian well. Gerfaut accepted this heroic labor; he worked day and
night for several years, his forehead, metaphorically, bathed in a
painful perspiration alleviated only by hopes far away. At last the
untiring worker's drill struck the underground spring over which so
many noble ones breathlessly bend, although their thirst is never
quenched. At this victorious stroke, glory burst forth, falling in
luminous sparks, making this new name—his name—flash with a
brilliancy too dearly paid for not to be lasting.
At the time of which we speak, Octave had conquered every obstacle
in the literary field. With a versatility of talent which sometimes
recalled Voltaire's "proteanism," he attacked in succession the most
difficult styles. Besides their poetic value, his dramas had this
positive merit, the highest in the theatre world they were
money-makers; so the managers greeted him with due respect, while
collaborators swarmed about him. The journals paid for his articles in
their weight in gold; reviews snatched every line of his yet
unfinished novels; his works were illustrated by Porret and Tony
Johannot—the masters of the day— and shone resplendent behind the
glass cases in the Orleans gallery. Gerfaut had at last made a place
for himself among that baker's dozen of writers who call themselves,
and justly, too, the field-marshals of French literature, of which
Chateaubriand was then commander-in-chief.
What was it that had brought such a person a hundred leagues from
the opera balcony, to put on a pretty woman's slipper? Was the fair
lady one of those caprices, so frequent and fleeting in an artist's
thoughts, or had she given birth to one of those sentiments that end
by absorbing the rest of one's life?
The young man seated opposite Gerfaut was, physically and morally,
as complete a contrast to him as one could possibly imagine. He was
one of the kind very much in request in fashionable society. There is
not a person who has not met one of these worthy fellows, destined to
make good officers, perfect merchants, and very satisfactory lawyers,
but who, unfortunately, have been seized with a mania for notoriety.
Ordinarily they think of it on account of somebody else's talent.
This one is brother to a poet, another son-in-law to a historian;
they conclude that they also have a right to be poet and historian in
their turn. Thomas Corneille is their model; but we must admit that
very few of our writers reach the rank attained by Corneille the
Marillac was train-bearer to Gerfaut, and was rewarded for this
bondage by a few bribes of collaboration, crumbs that fall from the
rich man's table. They had been close friends since they both entered
the law school, where they were companions in folly rather than in
study. Marillac also had thrown himself into the arena of literature;
then, different fortunes having greeted the two friends' efforts, he
had descended little by little from the role of a rival to that of an
inferior. Marillac was an artist, talent accepted, from the tip of
his toes to the sole of his boots, which he wished to lengthen by
pointed toes out of respect for the Middle Ages; for he excelled above
all things in his manner of dressing, and possessed, among other
intellectual merits, the longest moustache in literature.
If he had not art in his brain, to make up for it he always had its
name at his tongue's end. Vaudeville writing or painting, poetry or
music, he dabbled in all these, like those horses sold as good for
both riding and driving, which are as bad in the saddle as in front of
a tilbury. He signed himself "Marillac, man of letters"; meanwhile,
aside from his profound disdain for the bourgeois, whom he called
vulgar, and for the French Academy, to which he had sworn never to
belong, one could reproach him with nothing. His penchant for the
picturesque in expression was not always, it is true, in the most
excellent taste, but, in spite of these little oddities, his
unfortunate passion for art, and his affection for the Middle Ages, he
was a brave, worthy, and happy fellow, full of good qualities, very
much devoted to his friends, above all to Gerfaut. One could,
therefore, pardon him for being a pseudo-artist.
"Will your story be a long one?" said he to the playwright, when
Catherine had conducted them after supper to the double-bedded room,
where they were to pass the night.
"Long or short, what does it matter, since you must listen to it?"
"Because, first, I would make some grog and fill my pipe;
otherwise, I would content myself with a cigar."
"Take your pipe and make your grog."
"Here!" said the artist, running after Catherine, "don't rush
downstairs so. You are wanted. Fear nothing, interesting maid; you
are safe with us; but bring us a couple of glasses, brandy, sugar, a
bowl, and some hot water."
"They want some hot water," cried the servant, rushing into the
kitchen with a frightened look; "can they be ill at this hour?"
"Give the gentlemen what they want, you little simpleton!" replied
Mademoiselle Reine; "they probably want to concoct some of their Paris
When all the articles necessary for the grog were on the table,
Marillac drew up an old armchair, took another chair to stretch his
legs upon, replaced his cap with a handkerchief artistically knotted
about his head, his boots with a pair of slippers, and, finally,
lighted his pipe.
"Now," said he, as he seated himself, "I will listen without moving
an eyelid should your story last, like the creation, six days and
Gerfaut took two or three turns about the room with the air of an
orator who is seeking for a beginning to a speech.
"You know," said he, "that Fate has more or less influence over our
lives, according to the condition of mind in which we happen to be.
In order that you may understand the importance of the adventure I am
about relating to you, it will be necessary for me to picture the
state of mind which I was in at the time it happened; this will he a
sort of philosophical and psychological preamble."
"Thunder!" interrupted Marillac, "if I had known that, I would
have ordered a second bowl."
"You will remember," continued Gerfaut, paying no attention to this
pleasantry, "the rather bad attack of spleen which I had a little over
a year ago?"
"Before your trip to Switzerland?"
"If I remember right," said the artist, "you were strangely cross
and whimsical at the time. Was it not just after the failure of our
drama at the Porte Saint-Martin?"
"You might also add of our play at the Gymnase."
"I wash my hands of that. You know very well that it only went as
far as the second act, and I did not write one word in the first."
"And hardly one in the second. However, I take the catastrophe
upon my shoulders; that made two perfect failures in that d—-d month
"Two failures that were hard to swallow," replied Marillac, "We can
say, for our consolation, that there never were more infamous
conspiracies against us, above all, than at the Gymnase. My ears ring
with the hisses yet! I could see, from our box, a little villain in a
dress coat, in one corner of the pit, who gave the signal with a
whistle as large as a horse-pistol. How I would have liked to cram it
down his throat!" As he said these words, he brought his fist down
upon the table, and made the glasses and candles dance 'upon it.
"Conspiracy or not, this time they judged the play aright. I
believe it would be impossible to imagine two worse plays; but, as
Brid Oison says, 'These are things that one admits only to himself';
it is always disagreeable to be informed of one's stupidity by an
ignorant audience that shouts after you like a pack of hounds after a
hare. In spite of my pretension of being the least susceptible
regarding an author's vanity of all the writers in Paris, it is
perfectly impossible to be indifferent to such a thing—a hiss is a
hiss. However, vanity aside, there was a question of money which, as
I have a bad habit of spending regularly my capital as well as my
income, was not without its importance. It meant, according to my
calculation, some sixty thousand francs cut off from my resources, and
my trip to the East was indefinitely postponed.
"They say, with truth, that misfortunes never come singly. You
know Melanie, whom I prevented from making her debut at the
Vaudeville? By taking her away from all society, lodging her in a
comfortable manner and obliging her to work, I rendered her a valuable
service. She was a good girl, and, aside from her love for the
theatre and a certain indolence that was not without charm, I did not
find any fault in her and grew more attached to her every day.
Sometimes after spending long hours with her, a fancy for a retired
life and domestic happiness would seize me. Gentlemen with brains are
privileged to commit foolish acts at times, and I really do not know
what I might have ended in doing, had I not been preserved from the
danger in an unexpected manner.
"One evening, when I arrived at Melanie's, I found the bird had
flown. That great ninny of a Ferussac, whom I never had suspected, and
had introduced to her myself, had turned her head by making capital
out of her love for the stage. As he was about to leave for Belgium,
he persuaded her to go there and dethrone Mademoiselle Prevost. I
have since learned that a Brussels banker revenged me by taking this
Helene of the stage away from Ferussac. Now she is launched and can
fly with her own wings upon the great highway of bravos, flowers,
"And wreck and ruin," added Marillac. "Here's to her health!"
"This triple disappointment of pride, money, and heart did not
cause, I hope you will believe me, the deep state of melancholy into
which I soon fell; but the malady manifested itself upon this
occasion, for it had been lurking about me for a long time, as the
dormant pain of a wound is aroused if one pours a caustic upon its
"There is some dominant power in each individual which is developed
at the expense of the other faculties, above all when the profession
one chooses suits his nature. The vital powers thus condensed
manifest themselves externally, and gush out with an abundance which
would become impossible if all the faculties were used alike, and if
life filtered away, so to speak. To avoid such destruction, and
concentrate life upon one point, in order to increase the action, is
the price of talent and individuality. Among athletes, the forehead
contracts according as the chest enlarges; with men of thought, it is
the brain which causes the other organs to suffer, insatiable vampire,
exhausting at times the last drop of blood in the body which serves as
its victim. This vampire was my torturer.
"For ten years I had crowded romance upon poetry, vaudeville upon
drama, literary criticism upon leader; I proved, through my own self,
in a physical way, the phenomena of the absorption of the senses by
intelligence. Many times, after several nights of hard work, the
chords of my mind being too violently stretched, they relaxed and gave
only indistinct harmony. Then, if I happened to resist this lassitude
of nature demanding repose, I felt the pressure of my will exhausting
the sources at the very depths of my being. It seemed to me that I
dug out my ideas from the bottom of a mine, instead of gathering them
upon the surface of the brain. The more material organs came to the
rescue of their failing chief. The blood from my heart rushed to my
head to revive it; the muscles of my limbs communicated to the fibres
of the brain their galvanic tension. Nerves turned into imagination,
flesh into life. Nothing has developed my materialistic beliefs like
this decarnation of which I had such a sensible, or rather visible
"I destroyed my health with these psychological experiments, and
the abuse of work perhaps shortened my life. When I was thirty years
old my face was wrinkled, my cheeks were pallid, and my heart blighted
and empty. For what result, grand Dieu! For a fleeting and fruitless
"The failure of my two plays warned me that others judged me as I
judged myself. I recalled to mind the Archbishop of Granada, and I
thought I could hear Gil Blas predicting the failure of my works. We
can not dismiss the public as we can our secretary; meanwhile, I
surrendered to a too severe justice in order to decline others'
opinions. A horrible thought suddenly came into my mind; my artistic
life was ended, I was a worn-out man; in one word, to picture my
situation in a trivial but correct manner, I had reached the end of my
"I could not express to you the discouragement that I felt at this
conviction. Melanie's infidelity was the crowning touch. It was not
my heart, but my vanity which had been rendered more irritable by
recent disappointments. This, then, was the end of all my ambitious
dreams! I had not enough mind left, at thirty years of age, to write a
vaudeville or to be loved by a grisette!
"One day Doctor Labanchie came to see me.
"'What are you doing there' said he, as he saw me seated at my
"'Doctor,' said I, reaching out my hand to him, 'I believe that I
am a little feverish.'
"'Your pulse is a little rapid,' said he, after making careful
examination, 'but your fever is more of imagination than of blood.'
"I explained to him my condition, which was now becoming almost
unendurable. Without believing in medicine very much, I had
confidence in him and knew him to be a man who would give good advice.
"'You work too much,' said he, shaking his head. 'Your brain is
put to too strong a tension. This is a warning nature gives you, and
you will make a mistake if you do not follow it. When you are sleepy,
go to bed; when you are tired, you must have rest. It is rest for
your brain that you now need. Go into the country, confine yourself
to a regular and healthy diet: vegetables, white meat, milk in the
morning, a very little wine, but, above all things, no coffee. Take
moderate exercise, hunt— and avoid all irritating thoughts; read the
'Musee des familles' or the 'Magasin Pittoresque'. This regime will
have the effect of a soothing poultice upon your brain, and before the
end of six months you will be in your normal condition again.'
"'Six months!' I exclaimed. 'You wretch of a doctor, tell me,
then, to let my beard and nails grow like Nebuchadnezzar. Six months!
You do not know how I detest the country, partridges, rabbits and
all. For heaven's sake, find some other remedy for me.'
"'There is homoeopathy,' said he, smiling. 'Hahnemann is quite the
"'Let us have homoeopathy!'
"'You know the principles of the system: 'Similia similibus!' If
you have fever, redouble it; if you have smallpox, be inoculated with
a triple dose. So far as you are concerned, you are a little used up
and 'blase', as we all are in this Babylon of ours; have recourse,
then, as a remedy, to the very excesses which have brought you into
this state. Homoeopathize yourself morally. It may cure you, it may
kill you; I wash my hands of it.'
"The doctor was joking, I said to myself after he had left. Does
he think that passions are like the Wandering Jew's five sous, that
there is nothing to do but to put your hand in your pocket and take
them out at your convenience when necessary. However, this idea,
strange as it seemed, struck me forcibly. I decided to try it.
"The next day at seven o'clock in the evening, I was rolling along
the road to Lyons. Eight days later, I was rowing in a boat on Lake
Geneva. For a long time I had wanted to go to Switzerland, and it
seemed as if I could not have chosen a better time. I hoped that the
fresh mountain air and the soft pure breezes from the lakes would
communicate some of their calm serenity to my heart and brain.
"There is something in Parisian life, I do not know what, so
exclusive and hardening, that it ends by making one irresponsive to
sensations of a more simple order.
"'My kingdom for the gutter in the Rue du Bac!' I exclaimed with
Madame de Stael from the height of the Coppet terrace. The spectacle
of nature interests only contemplative and religious minds powerfully.
Mine was neither the one nor the other. My habits of analysis and
observation make me find more attraction in a characteristic face than
in a magnificent landscape; I prefer the exercising of thought to the
careless gratification of ecstasy, the study of flesh and soul to
earthly horizons, of human passions to a perfectly pure atmosphere.
"I met at Geneva an Englishman, who was as morose as myself. We
vented our spleen in common and were both bored together. We
travelled thus through the Oberland and the best part of Valais; we
were often rolled up in our travelling robes in the depths of the
carriage, and fast asleep when the most beautiful points of interest
were in sight.
"From Valais we went to Mont-Blanc, and one night we arrived at
"Did you see any idiots in Valais?" suddenly interrupted Marillac,
as he filled his pipe the second time.
"Several, and they were all horrible."
"Do you not think we might compose something with an idiot in it?
It might be rather taking."
"It would not equal Caliban or Quasimodo; will you be so kind as to
spare me just now these efforts of imagination, and listen to me, for
I am reaching the interesting part of my story?"
"God be praised!" said the artist, as he puffed out an enormous
cloud of smoke.
"The next day the Englishman was served with tea in his bedroom,
and when I asked him to go to the 'Mer de Glace' he turned his head
toward the wall; so, leaving my phlegmatic companion enveloped in
bedclothes up to his ears, I started alone for the Montanvert.
"It was a magnificent morning, and small parties of travellers,
some on foot, others mounted, skirted the banks of the Arve or climbed
the sides of the mountain. They looked like groups of mice in the
distance, and this extreme lessening in size made one comprehend,
better than anything else, the immense proportions of the landscape.
As for myself, I was alone: I had not even taken a guide, this was
too favorite a resort for tourists, for the precaution to be
necessary. For a wonder, I felt rather gay, with an elasticity of
body and mind which I had not felt in some time.
I courageously began climbing the rough pathway which led to the
Mer de Glace, aiding myself with a long staff, which I had procured at
"At every step I breathed with renewed pleasure the fresh, pure,
morning air; I gazed vaguely at the different effects of the sun or
mist, at the undulations of the road, which sometimes rose almost
straight up in the air, sometimes followed a horizontal line, while
skirting the open abyss at the right. The Arve, wending its course
like a silvery ribbon, seemed at times to recede, while the ridges of
the perpendicular rocks stood out more plainly. At times, the noise
of a falling avalanche was repeated, echo after echo. A troupe of
German students below me were responding to the voice of the glaciers
by a chorus from Oberon. Following the turns in the road, I could see
through the fir-trees, or, rather, at my feet, their long Teutonic
frock-coats, their blond beards, and caps about the size of one's
fist. As I walked along, when the path was not too steep, I amused
myself by throwing my stick against the trunks of the trees which
bordered the roadside; I remember how pleased I was when I succeeded
in hitting them, which I admit was not very often.
"In the midst of this innocent amusement, I reached the spot where
the reign of the Alpine plants begins. All at once I saw, above me, a
rock decked with rhododendrons; these flowers looked like tufts of
oleanders through the dark foliage of the fir-trees, and produced a
charming effect. I left the path in order to reach them sooner, and
when I had gathered a bouquet, I threw my staff and at the same time
uttered a joyous cry, in imitation of the students, my companions on
"A frightened scream responded to mine. My staff in its flight had
crossed the path and darted into an angle in the road. At that same
moment, I saw a mule's head appear with ears thrown back in terror,
then the rest of its body, and upon its back a lady ready to fall into
the abyss. Fright paralyzed me. All aid was impossible on account of
the narrowness of the road, and this stranger's life depended upon her
coolness and the intelligence of her beast. Finally the animal seemed
to regain its courage and began to walk away, lowering its head as if
it could still hear the terrible whistle of the javelin in his ears.
I slipped from the rock upon which I stood and seized the mule by the
bridle, and succeeded in getting them out of a bad position. I led
the animal in this way for some distance, until I reached a place
where the path was broader, and danger was over.
"I then offered my apologies to the person whose life I had just
compromised by my imprudence, and for the first time took a good look
at her. She was young and well dressed; a black silk gown fitted her
slender form to perfection; her straw hat was fastened to the saddle,
and her long chestnut hair floated in disorder over her pale cheeks.
As she heard my voice, she opened her eyes, which in her fright she
had instinctively closed; they seemed to me the most beautiful I had
ever seen in my life.
"She looked at the precipice and turned away with a shudder. Her
glance rested upon me, and then upon the rhododendrons which I held in
"The frightened expression on her face was replaced immediately by
one of childish curiosity.
"'What pretty flowers!' she exclaimed, in a fresh, young voice.
"Are those rhododendrons, Monsieur?'
"I presented her my bouquet without replying; as she hesitated
about taking it, I said:
"'If you refuse these flowers, Madame, I shall not believe that you
have pardoned me.'
"By this time, the persons who were with her had joined us. There
were two other ladies, three or four men mounted upon mules, and
several guides. At the word rhododendron, a rather large, handsome
fellow, dressed in a pretentious style, slipped from his mule and
climbed the somewhat steep precipice in quest of the flowers which
seemed to be so much in favor. When he returned, panting for breath,
with an enormous bunch of them in his hand, the lady had already
"'Thank you, Monsieur de Mauleon,' said she, with a rather scornful
air; 'offer your flowers to these ladies.' Then, with a slight
inclination of the head to me, she struck her mule with her whip, and
they rode away.
"The rest of the company followed her, gazing at me as they passed,
the big, fashionable fellow especially giving me a rather impertinent
glance. I did not try to pick a quarrel with him on account of this
discourteous manifestation. When the cavalcade was at some distance,
I went in search of my stick, which I found under a tree on the edge
of the precipice; then I continued climbing the steep path, with my
eyes fastened upon the rider in the black silk gown, her hair flying
in the wind and my bouquet in her hand.
"A few moments later, I reached the pavilion at the Montanvert,
where I found a gay company gathered together, made up principally of
English people. As for myself, I must admit the frivolous, or, rather
mundane, bent of my tastes; the truly admirable spectacle presented to
my eyes interested me much less than the young stranger, who at this
moment was descending with the lightness of a sylph the little road
which led to the Mer de Glace.
"I do not know what mysterious link bound me to this woman. I had
met many much more beautiful, but the sight of them had left me
perfectly indifferent. This one attracted me from the first. The
singular circumstances of this first interview, doubtless, had
something to do with the impression. I felt glad to see that she had
kept my bouquet; she held it in one hand, while she leaned with the
other upon a staff somewhat like my own. The two other ladies, and
even the men had stopped on the edge of the ice.
Monsieur de Mauleon wished to fulfil his duties as escort, but at
the first crevasse he had also halted without manifesting the
slightest desire to imitate the chamois. The young woman seemed to
take a malicious pleasure in contemplating her admirer's prudent
attitude, and, far from listening to the advice he gave her, she began
to run upon the ice, bounding over the crevasses with the aid of her
stick. I was admiring her lightness and thoughtlessness, but with an
uneasy feeling, when I saw her suddenly stop. I instinctively ran
toward her. An enormous crevasse of great depth lay at her feet, blue
at its edges and dark in its depths. She stood motionless before this
frightful gulf with hands thrown out before her in horror, but charmed
like a bird about to be swallowed by a serpent. I knew the
irresistible effect upon nervous temperaments of this magnetic
attraction toward an abyss. I seized her by the arm, the suddenness
of the movement made her drop her staff and flowers, which fell into
the depths of the chasm.
"I tried to lead her away, but after she had taken a few steps, I
felt her totter; she had grown pale; her eyes were closed. I threw my
arm about her, in order to support her and turned her face toward the
north; the cold air striking her revived her, and she soon opened her
beautiful brown eyes. I do not know what sudden tenderness seized me
then, but I pressed this lovely creature within my grasp, and she
remained in my arms unresistingly. I felt that I loved her already.
"She remained for a moment with her languishing eyes fixed on mine,
making no response, perhaps not even having heard me. The shouts of
her party, some of whom were coming toward her, broke the charm. With
a rapid movement, she withdrew from my embrace, and I offered her my
arm, just as if we were in a drawing-room and I was about to lead her
out for a dance; she took it, but I did not feel elated at this, for I
could feel her knees waver at every step. The smallest crevasse,
which she had crossed before with such agility, now inspired her with
a horror which I could divine by the trembling of her arm within mine.
I was obliged to make numerous detours in order to avoid them, and
thus prolonged the distance, for which I was not sorry. Did I not
know that when we reached our destination, the world, that other sea
of ice, was going to take her away from me, perhaps forever? We
walked silently, occasionally making a few trivial remarks, both
deeply embarrassed. When we reached the persons who awaited her, I
said, as she disengaged my arm:
"'You dropped my flowers, Madame; will it be the same with your
memory of me?'
"She looked at me, but made no reply. I loved this silence. I
bowed politely to her and returned to the pavilion, while she related
her adventure to her friends; but I am quite sure she did not tell all
"The register for travellers who visit the Montan-Vert is a mixture
of all nationalities, and no tourist refuses his tribute; modest ones
write down their names only. I hoped in this way to learn the name of
the young traveller, and I was not disappointed. I soon saw the
corpulent Monsieur de Mauleon busily writing his name upon the
register in characters worthy of Monsieur Prudhomme; the other members
of the little party followed his example. The young woman was the
last to write down her name. I took the book in my turn, after she
had left, and with apparent composure I read upon the last line these
words, written in a slender handwriting:
"Baroness Clemence de Bergenheim."
CHAPTER VII. GERFAUT ASKS A FAVOR
"The Baroness de Bergenheim!" exclaimed Marillac. "Ah! I
understand it all now, and you may dispense with the remainder of your
story. So this was the reason why, instead of visiting the banks of
the Rhine as we agreed, you made me leave the route at Strasbourg
under the pretext of walking through the picturesque sites of the
Vosges. It was unworthy of you to abuse my confidence as a friend.
And I allowed myself to be led by the nose to within a mile of
"Peace," interrupted Gerfaut; "I have not finished. Smoke and
"I followed Madame de Bergenheim as far as Geneva. She had gone
there from here with her aunt, and had availed herself of this journey
to visit Mont Blanc. She left for her home the next day without my
meeting her again; but I preserved her name, and it was not unknown to
me. I had heard it spoken in several houses in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, and I knew that I should certainly have an opportunity
of meeting her during the winter.
"So I remained at Geneva, yielding to a sensation as new as it was
strange. It first acted upon my brain whose ice I felt melting away,
and its sources ready to gush forth. I seized my pen with a passion
not unlike an access of rage. I finished in four days two acts of a
drama that I was then writing. I never had written anything more
vigorous or more highly colored. My unconstrained genius throbbed in
my arteries, ran through my blood, and bubbled over as if it wished to
burst forth. My hand could not keep even with the course of my
imagination; I was obliged to write in hieroglyphics.
"Adieu to the empty reveries brought about by spleen, and to the
meditations 'a la Werther'! The sky was blue, the air pure, life
delightful—my talent was not dead.
"After this first effort, I slackened a little! Madame de
Bergenheim's face, which I had seen but dimly during this short time,
returned to me in a less vaporous form; I took extreme delight in
calling to mind the slightest circumstances of our meeting, the
smallest details of her features, her toilette, her manner of walking
and carrying her head. What had impressed me most was the extreme
softness of her dark eyes, the almost childish tone of her voice, a
vague odor of heliotrope with which her hair was perfumed; also the
touch of her hand upon my arm. I sometimes caught myself embracing
myself in order to feel this last sensation again, and then I could
not help laughing at my thoughts, which were worthy of a
"I had felt so convinced of my powerlessness to love, that the
thought of a serious passion did not at first enter my mind. However,
a remembrance of my beautiful traveller pervaded my thoughts more and
more, and threatened to usurp the place of everything else. I then
subjected myself to a rigid analysis; I sought for the exact location
of this sentiment whose involuntary yoke I already felt; I persuaded
myself, for some time yet, that it was only the transient excitement
of my brain, one of those fevers of imagination whose fleeting
titillations I had felt more than once.
"But I realized that the evil, or the good—for why call love an
evil?— had penetrated into the most remote regions of my being, and I
realized the energy of my struggle like a person entombed who tries to
extricate himself. From the ashes of this volcano which I had
believed to be extinct, a flower had suddenly blossomed, perfumed with
the most fragrant of odors and decked with the most charming colors.
Artless enthusiasm, faith in love, all the brilliant array of the
fresh illusions of my youth returned, as if by enchantment, to greet
this new bloom of my life; it seemed to me as if I had been created a
second time, since I was aided by intelligence and understood its
mysteries while tasting of its delights. My past, in the presence of
this regeneration, was nothing more than a shadow at the bottom of an
abyss. I turned toward the future with the faith of a Mussulman who
kneels with his face toward the East—I loved!
"I returned to Paris, and applied to my friend Casorans, who knows
the Faubourg Saint-Germain from Dan to Beersheba.
"'Madame de Bergenheim,' he said to me, 'is a very popular society
woman, not very pretty, perhaps, rather clever, though, and very
amiable. She is one of our coquettes of the old nobility, and with
her twenty-four carats' virtue she always has two sufferers attached
to her chariot, and a third on the waiting-list, and yet it is
impossible for one to find a word to say against her behavior. Just
at this moment, Mauleon and d'Arzenac compose the team; I do not know
who is on the waiting-list. She will probably spend the winter here
with her aunt, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, one of the hatefullest old
women on the Rue de Varennes. The husband is a good fellow who, since
the July revolution, has lived upon his estates, caring for his
forests and killing wild boars without troubling himself much about
"He then told me which houses these ladies frequented, and left me,
saying with a knowing air:
"'Take care, if you intend to try the power of your seductions upon
the little Baroness; whoever meddles with her smarts for it!'
"This information from a viper like Casorans satisfied me in every
way. Evidently the place was not taken; impregnable, that was another
"Before Madame de Bergenheim's return, I began to show myself
assiduously at the houses of which my friend had spoken. My position
in the Faubourg Saint-Germain is peculiar, but good, according to my
opinion. I have enough family ties to be sustained by several should
I be attacked by many, and this is the essential point. It is true
that, thanks to my works, I am regarded as an atheist and a Jacobin;
aside from these two little defects, they think well enough of me.
Besides, it is a notorious fact that I have rejected several offers
from the present government, and refused last year the 'croix
d'honneur'; this makes amends and washes away half my sins. Finally,
I have the reputation of having a certain- knowledge of heraldry,
which I owe to my uncle, a confirmed hunter after genealogical claims.
This gains me a respect which makes me laugh sometimes, when I see
people who detest me greet me as cordially as the Cure of
Saint-Eustache greeted Bayle, for fear that I might destroy their
favorite saint. However, in this society, I am no longer Gerfaut of
the Porte-Saint-Martin, but I am the Vicomte de Gerfaut. Perhaps,
with your bourgeois ideas, you do not understand—"
"Bourgeois!" exclaimed Marillac, bounding from his seat, "what are
you talking about? Do you wish that we should cut each other's
throats before breakfast to-morrow? Bourgeois! why not grocer? I am
an artist— don't you know that by this time?"
"Don't get angry, my dear fellow; I meant to say that in certain
places the title of a Vicomte has still a more powerful attraction
than you, with your artistic but plebeian ideas, would suppose in this
year of our Lord 1832."
"Well and good. I accept your apology."
"A vicomte's title is a recommendation in the eyes of people who
still cling to the baubles of nobility, and all women are of this
class. There is something, I know not what, delicate and knightly in
this title, which suits a youngish bachelor. Duke above all titles is
the one that sounds the best. Moliere and Regnard have done great
harm to the title of marquis. Count is terribly bourgeois, thanks to
the senators of the empire. As to a Baron, unless he is called
Montmorency or Beaufremont, it is the lowest grade of nobility;
vicomte, on the contrary, is above reproach; it exhales a mixed odor
of the old regime and young France; then, don't you know, our
Chateaubriand was a vicomte.
"I departed from my subject in speaking of nobility. I
accidentally turned over one day to the article upon my family in the
Dictionnaire de Saint-Allais; I found that one of my ancestors,
Christophe de Gerfaut, married, in 1569, a Mademoiselle Yolande de
"'O my ancestor! O my ancestress!' I exclaimed, 'you had strange
baptismal names; but no matter, I thank you. You are going to serve
me as a grappling iron; I shall be very unskilful if at the very first
meeting the old aunt escapes Christophe.'
"A few days later I went to the Marquise de Chameillan's, one of
the most exclusive houses in the noble Faubourg. When I enter her
drawing-room, I usually cause the same sensation that Beelzebub would
doubtless produce should he put his foot into one of the drawing-rooms
in Paradise. That evening, when I was announced, I saw a certain
undulation of heads in a group of young women who were whispering to
one another; many curious eyes were fastened upon me, and among these
beautiful eyes were two more beautiful than all the others: they were
those of my bewitching traveller.
"I exchanged a rapid glance with her, one only; after paying my
respects to the mistress of the house, I mingled with a crowd of men,
and entered into conversation with an old peer upon some political
question, avoiding to look again toward Madame de Bergenheim.
"A moment later, Madame de Chameillan came to ask the peer to play
whist; he excused himself, he could not remain late.
"'I dare not ask you to play with Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,' said
she, turning toward me; 'besides, I understand too well that it is to
my interest and the pleasure of these ladies, not to exile you to a
"I took the card which she half offered me with an eagerness which
might have made her suppose that I had become a confirmed whist expert
during my voyage.
"Mademoiselle de Corandeuil certainly was the ugly, crabbed
creature that Casorans had described; but had she been as frightful as
the witches in Macbeth I was determined to make her conquest. So I
began playing with unusual attention. I was her partner, and I knew
from experience the profound horror which the loss of money inspires
in old women. Thank heaven, we won! Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who
has an income of one hundred thousand francs, was not at all
indifferent to the gain of two or three louis. She, therefore, with
an almost gracious air, congratulated me, as we left the table, upon
my manner of playing.
"'I would willingly contract an alliance, offensive and defensive
with you,' said she to me.
"'The alliance is already contracted, Mademoiselle,' said I,
seizing the opportunity.
"'How is that, Monsieur?' she replied, raising her head with a
dignified air, as if she were getting ready to rebuke some impertinent
"I also gravely straightened up and gave a feudal look to my face.
"'Mademoiselle, I have the honor of belonging to your family, a
little distantly, to be sure; that is what makes me speak of an
alliance between us as a thing already concluded. One of my
ancestors, Christophe de Gerfaut, married Mademoiselle Yolande de
Corandeuil, one of your great- grand-aunts, in 1569.'
"'Yolande is really a family name,' replied the old lady, with the
most affable smile that her face would admit; 'I bear it myself. The
Corandeuils, Monsieur, never have denied their alliances, and it is a
pleasure for me to recognize my relationship with such a man as you.
We address by the title of cousin relatives as far back as 1300.'
"'I am nearer related to you by three centuries,' I replied, in my
most insinuating voice; 'may I hope that this good fortune will
authorize me to pay my respects to you?'
"Mademoiselle de Corandeuil replied to my 'tartuferie' by granting
me permission to call upon her. My attention was not so much absorbed
in our conversation that I did not see in a mirror, during this time,
the interest with which Madame de Bergenheim watched my conversation
with her aunt; but I was careful not to turn around, and I let her
take her departure without giving her a second glance.
"Three days later, I made my first call. Madame de Bergenheim
received my greeting like a woman who had been warned and was,
therefore, prepared. We exchanged only one rapid, earnest glance,
that was all. Availing myself of the presence of other callers,
numerous enough to assure each one his liberty, I began to observe,
with a practised eye, the field whereon I had just taken my position.
"Before the end of the evening, I recognized the correctness of
Casorans's information. Among all the gentlemen present I found only
two professed admirers: Monsieur de Mauleon, whose insignificance was
notorious, and Monsieur d'Arzenac, who appeared at first glance as if
he might be more to be feared. D'Arzenac, thanks to an income of ten
thousand livres, beside being a man of rank, occupies also one of the
finest positions that one could desire; he is not unworthy of his name
and his fortune. Irreproachable in morals as in manners; sufficiently
well informed; of an exquisite but reserved politeness; understanding
perfectly the ground that he is walking upon; making also more
advances than is customary among the pachas of modern France, he was,
without doubt, the flower of the flock in Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's
drawing- room. In spite of all these advantages, an attentive
examination showed me that his passion was hopeless. Madame de
Bergenheim received his attentions very kindly—too kindly. She
usually listened to him with a smile in which one could read gratitude
for the devotion he lavished upon her. She willingly accepted him as
her favorite partner in the galop, which he danced to perfection. His
success stopped there.
"At the end of several days, the ground having been carefully
explored and the admirers, dangerous and otherwise, having been passed
in review, one after another, I felt convinced that Clemence loved
"'She shall love me,' said I, on the day I reached this conclusion.
In order to formulate in a decisive manner the accomplishment of my
desire, I relied upon the following propositions, which are to me
articles of faith.
"No woman is unattainable, except when she loves another. Thus, a
woman who does not love, and who has resisted nine admirers, will
yield to the tenth. The only question for me was to be the tenth.
Here began the problem to be solved.
"Madame de Bergenheim had been married only three years; her
husband, who was good-looking and young, passed for a model husband;
if these latter considerations were of little importance, the first
was of great weight. According to all probability, it was too soon for
any serious attack. Without being beautiful, she pleased much and
many; a second obstacle, since sensibility in women is almost always
developed in inverse ratio to their success. She had brains; she was
wonderfully aristocratic in all her tastes.
Last, being very much the fashion, sought after and envied, she was
under the special surveillance of pious persons, old maids, retired
beauties in one word, all that feminine mounted police, whose eyes,
ears, and mouths seem to have assumed the express mission of annoying
sensitive hearts while watching over the preservation of good morals.
"This mass of difficulties, none of which escaped me, traced as
many lines upon my forehead as if I had been commanded to solve at
once all the propositions in Euclid. She shall love me! these words
flashed unceasingly before my eyes; but the means to attain this end?
No satisfactory plan came to me. Women are so capricious, deep, and
unfathomable! It is, with them, the thing soonest done which is
soonest ended! A false step, the least awkwardness, a want of
intelligence, a quarter of an hour too soon or too late! One thing
only was evident: it needed a grand display of attractions, a complete
plan of gallant strategy; but, then, what more?
"That earthly paradise of the Montanvert was far from us, where I
had been able in less time than it would take to walk over a
quadrille, to expose her to death, to save her afterward, and finally
to say to her 'I love you!' Passion in drawing-rooms is not allowed
those free, dramatic ways; flowers fade in the candle-light; the
oppressive atmosphere of balls and fetes stifles the heart, so ready
to dilate in pure mountain air. The unexpected and irresistible
influence of the glacier would have been improper and foolish in
Paris. There, an artless sympathy, stronger than social conventions,
had drawn us to each other—Octave and Clemence. Here, she was the
Baroness de Bergenheim, and I the Vicomte de Gerfaut. I must from
necessity enter the ordinary route, begin the romance at the first
page, without knowing how to connect the prologue with it.
"What should be my plan of campaign?
"Should I pose as an agreeable man, and try to captivate her
attention and good graces by the minute attentions and delicate
flattery which constitute what is classically called paying court?
But D'Arzenac had seized this role, and filled it in such a superior
way that all competition would be unsuccessful. I saw where this had
led him. It needed, in order to inflame this heart, a more active
spark than foppish gallantry; the latter flatters the vanity without
reaching the heart.
"There was the passionate method—ardent, burning, fierce love.
There are some women upon whom convulsive sighs drawn from the depths
of the stomach, eyebrows frowning in a fantastic manner, and eyes in
which only the whites are to be seen and which seem to say: 'Love me,
or I will kill you!' produce a prodigious effect. I had myself felt
the power of this fascination while using it one day upon a
softhearted blond creature who thought it delightful to have a
Blue-Beard for a lover. But the drooping corners of Clemence's mouth
showed at times an ironical expression which would have cooled down
even an Othello's outbursts.
"'She has brains, and she knows it,' said I to myself; 'shall I
attack her in that direction?' Women rather like such a little war of
words; it gives them an opportunity for displaying a mine of pretty
expressions, piquant pouts, fresh bursts of laughter, graceful
peculiarities of which they well know the effect. Should I be the
Benedict to this Beatrice? But this by-play would hardly fill the
prologue, and I very much wished to reach the epilogue.
"I passed in review the different routes that a lover might take to
reach his end; I recapitulated every one of the more or less
infallible methods of conquering female hearts; in a word, I went over
my tactics like a lieutenant about to drill a battalion of recruits.
When I had ended I had made no farther advance than before.
"'To the devil with systems!' exclaimed I; 'I will not be so
foolish as wilfully to adopt the role of roue when I feel called upon
to play the plain role of true lover. Let those who like play the
part of Lovelace! As for myself, I will love; upon the whole, that is
what pleases best.' And I jumped headlong into the torrent without
troubling myself as to the place of landing.
"While I was thus scheming my attack, Madame de Bergenheim was upon
her guard and had prepared her means of defence. Puzzled by my
reserve, which was in singular contrast with my almost extravagant
conduct at our first meeting, her woman's intelligence had surmised,
on my part, a plan which she proposed to baffle. I was partly found
out, but I knew it and thus kept the advantage.
"I could not help smiling at the Baroness's clever coquetry, when I
decided to follow the inspirations of my heart, instead of choosing
selfish motives as my guide. Every time I took her hand when dancing
with her, I expected to feel a little claw ready to pierce the cold
glove. But, while waiting for the scratch, it was a very soft,
velvety little hand that was given me; and I, who willingly lent
myself to her deception, did not feel very much duped. It was evident
that the sort of halo which my merited or unmerited reputation had
thrown over me had made me appear to her as a conquest of some value,
a victim upon whom one could lavish just enough flowers in order to
bring him to the sacrificial altar. In order to wind the first chain
around my neck, Mauleon and D'Arzenac, 'a tutti quanti', were
sacrificed for me without my soliciting, even by a glance, this
general disbandment. I could interpret this discharge. I saw that
the fair one wished to concentrate all her seductions against me, so
as to leave me no means of escape; people neglect the hares to hunt
for the deer. You must excuse my conceit.
"This conduct wounded me at first, but I afterward forgave her,
when a more careful examination taught me to know this adorable
woman's character. Coquetry was with her not a vice of the heart or
of an unscrupulous mind; having nothing better to do, she enjoyed it
as a legitimate pastime, without giving it any importance or feeling
any scruples. Like all women, she liked to please; her success was
sweet to her vanity; perhaps flattery turned her head at times, but in
the midst of this tumult her heart remained in perfect peace. She
found so little danger for herself in the game she played that it did
not seem to her that it could be very serious for others. Genuine
love is not common enough in Parisian parlors for a pretty woman to
conceive any great remorse at pleasing without loving.
"Madame de Bergenheim was thus, ingenuously, unsuspectingly, a
matchless coquette. Never having loved, not even her husband, she
looked upon her little intriguing as one of the rights earned on the
day of her marriage, the same as her diamonds and cashmeres. There
was something touching in the sound of her voice and in her large,
innocent eyes which she sometimes allowed to rest upon mine, without
thinking to turn them away, and which said, 'I have never loved.' As
for myself, I believed it all; one is so happy to believe!
"Far from being annoyed at the trap she laid for me, I, on the
contrary, ran my head into it and presented my neck to the yoke with a
docility which must have amused her, I think; but I hoped not to bear
it alone. A coquette who coolly flaunts her triumphs to the world
resembles those master-swimmers who, while spectators are admiring the
grace of their poses, are struck by an unexpected current; the
performer is sometimes swept away and drowned without his elegant
strokes being of much service to him. Throw Celimene into the current
of genuine passion—I do not mean the brutality of Alceste—I will
wager that coquetry will be swept away by love. I had such faith in
mine that I thought to be able to fix the moment when I should call
myself victorious and sure of being obeyed.
"You know that sadness and ennui were considered etiquette last
winter, in a certain society, which was thrown into mourning by the
July revolution. Reunions were very few; there were no balls or
soirees; dancing in drawing-rooms to the piano was hardly permissible,
even with intimate friends. When once I was installed in Mademoiselle
de Corandeuil's drawing-room upon a friendly footing, this cessation
of worldly festivities gave me an opportunity to see Clemence in a
rather intimate way.
"It would take too long to tell you now all the thousand and one
little incidents which compose the history of all passions. Profiting
by her coquetry, which made her receive me kindly in order to make me
expiate my success afterward, my love for her was soon an understood
thing between us; she listened to me in a mocking way, but did not
dispute my right to speak. She ended by receiving my letters, after
being constrained to do so through a course of strategies in which,
truly, I showed incredible invention. I was listened to and she read
my letters; I asked for nothing more.
"My love, from the first, had been her secret as well as mine; but
every day I made to sparkle some unexpected facet of this prism of a
thousand colors. Even after telling her a hundred times how much I
adored her, my love still had for her the attraction of the unknown.
I really had something inexhaustible in my heart, and I was sure, in
the end, to intoxicate her with this philtre, which I constantly
poured out and which she drank, while making sport of it like a child.
"One day I found her thoughtful and silent. She did not reply to
me with her usual sprightliness during the few moments that I was able
to talk with her; the expression of her eyes had changed; there was
something deeper and less glowing in their depths; instead of dazzling
me by their excessive splendor, as had often happened to me before,
they seemed to soften as they rested on mine; she kept her eyelids a
trifle lowered, as if she were tired of being gazed at by me. Her
voice, as she spoke, had a low, soft sound, a sort of inexplicable
something which came from the very depths of her soul. She never had
looked at me with that glance or spoken to me in that tone before.
Upon that day I knew that she loved me.
"I returned to my home unutterably happy, for I loved this woman
with a love of which I believed myself incapable.
"When I met Madame de Bergenheim again, I found her completely
changed toward me; an icy gravity, an impassible calm, an ironical and
disdainful haughtiness had taken the place of the delicious abandon of
her former bearing. In spite of my strong determination to allow
myself to love with the utmost candor, it was impossible for me to
return to that happy age when the frowning brows of the beautiful idol
to whom we paid court inspired us with the resolve to drown ourselves.
I could not isolate myself from my past experiences. My heart was
rejuvenated, but my head remained old. I was, therefore, not in the
least discouraged by this change of humor, and the fit of anger which
"'Now,' said I to myself, 'there is an end to coquetry, it is
beaten on all sides; it is gone, never to return. She has seen that
the affair is a little too deep for that, and the field not tenable.
She will erect barriers in order to defend herself and will no longer
attack.' Thus we pass from the period of amiable smiles, sweet
glances, and half-avowals to that of severity and prudery, while
waiting for the remorse and despair of the denouement. I am sure that
at this time she called to her help all her powers of resistance.
From that day she would retreat behind the line of duty, conjugal
fidelity, honor, and all the other fine sentiments which would need
numbering after the fashion of Homer. At the first attack, all this
household battalion would make a furious sortie; should I succeed in
overthrowing them and take up my quarters in the trenches, there would
then be a gathering of the reserve force, and boiling oil or tar would
rain upon my head, representing virtue, religion, heaven, and hell."
"A sort of conjugal earthquake," interrupted Marillac.
"I calculated the strength and approximate duration of these means
of defence. The whole thing appeared to me only a question of time, a
few days or weeks at most—so long on the husband's account, so long
on the father confessor's account. I deserved to be boxed on the ears
for my presumption; I was.
"A combat is necessary in order to secure a victory. In spite of
all my efforts and ruses, it was not possible for me to fight this
combat; I did not succeed, in spite of all my challenges, in
shattering, as I expected, this virtuous conjugal fortress. Madame de
Bergenheim still persisted in her systematic reserve, with incredible
prudence and skill. During the remainder of the winter, I did not
find more than one opportunity of speaking to her alone. As I was a
permanent fixture every evening in her aunt's parlors, she entered
them only when other guests were there. She never went out alone, and
in every place where I was likely to meet her I was sure to find a
triple rampart of women erected between us, through which it was
impossible to address one word to her. In short, I was encountering a
desperate resistance; and, yet, she loved me! I could see her cheeks
gradually grow pale; her brilliant eyes often had dark rings beneath
them, as if sleep had deserted her. Sometimes, when she thought she
was not observed, I surprised them fastened upon me; but she
immediately turned them away.
"She had been coquettish and indifferent; she was now loving but
"Spring came. One afternoon I went to call upon Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who had been ill for several days. I was received,
however, probably through some mistake of the servants. As I entered
the room I saw Madame de Bergenheim; she was alone at her embroidery,
seated upon a divan. There were several vases of flowers in the
windows, whose curtains only permitted a soft, mysterious light to
penetrate the room. The perfume from the flowers, the sort of
obscurity, the solitude in which I found her, overcame me for a
moment; I was obliged to pause in order to quiet the beating of my
"She arose as she heard my name announced; without speaking or
laying down her work, she pointed to a chair and seated herself; but
instead of obeying her, I fell upon my knees before her and seized her
hands, which she did not withdraw. It had been impossible for me to
say another word to her before, save 'I love you!' I now told her of
all my love. Oh! I am sure of it, my words penetrated to the very
depth of her heart, for I felt her hands tremble as they left mine.
She listened without interrupting me or making any reply, with her
face bent toward me as if she were breathing the perfume of a flower.
When I begged her to answer me, when I implored her for one single
word from her heart, she withdrew one of her hands, imprisoned within
mine, and placed it upon my forehead, pushing back my head with a
gesture familiar to women. She gazed at me thus for a long time; her
eyes were so languishing under their long lashes, and their languor
was so penetrating, that I closed mine, not being able to endure the
fascination of this glance any longer.
"A shiver which ran over her and which went through me also, like
an electric shock, aroused me. When I opened my eyes I saw her face
bathed in tears. She drew back and repelled me. I arose impetuously,
seated myself by her side and took her in my arms.
"'Am I not a wretched, unhappy woman?' said she, and fell upon my
"'Madame la Comtesse de Pontiviers,' announced the servant, whom I
would willingly have assassinated, as well as the visiting bore who
followed in his footsteps.
"I never saw Madame de Bergenheim in Paris again. I was obliged to
go to Bordeaux the next day, on account of a lawsuit which you know
all about. Upon my return, at the end of three weeks, I found she had
left. I finally learned that she had come to this place, and I
followed her. That is the extent of my drama.
"Now you know very well that I have not related this long story to
you for the sole pleasure of keeping you awake until one o'clock in
the morning. I wanted to explain to you that it was really a serious
thing for me, so that you might not refuse to do what I wish to ask of
"I think I understand what you are aiming at," said Marillac,
"You know Bergenheim; you will go to see him to-morrow. He will
invite you to pass a few days with him; you will stay to dinner. You
will see Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, in whose presence you will speak
my name as you refer to our journey; and before night, my venerable
cousin of 1569 shall send me an invitation to come to see her."
"I would rather render you any other service than this," replied
the artist, walking up and down the room in long strides. "I know
very well that in all circumstances bachelors should triumph over
husbands, but that does not prevent my conscience from smiting me.
You know that I saved Bergenheim's life?"
"Rest assured that he runs no very great danger at present.
Nothing will result from this step save the little enjoyment I shall
take in annoying the cruel creature who defied me today. Is it
"Since you insist upon it. But then, when our visit is ended,
shall we go to work at our drama or upon 'The Chaste Suzannah' opera
in three acts? For, really, you neglected art terribly for the sake
of your love affairs."
"The Chaste Suzannah or the whole Sacred History we shall put into
vaudeville, if you exact it. Until to-morrow, then."
CHAPTER VIII. A LOVER'S RUSE
It was three o'clock in the afternoon; the drawing-room of the
Chateau de Bergenheim presented its usual aspect and occupants. The
fire on the hearth, lighted during the morning, was slowly dying, and
a beautiful autumn sun threw its rays upon the floor through the
half-opened windows. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, stretched on the
couch before the fireplace with Constance at her feet, was reading,
according to her habit, the newspapers which had just arrived. Madame
de Bergenheim seemed very busily occupied with a piece of tapestry in
her lap; but the slow manner in which her needle moved, and the
singular mistakes she made, showed that her mind was far away from the
flowers she was working. She had just finished a beautiful dark lily,
which contrasted strangely with its neighbors, when a servant entered.
"Madame," said he, "there is a person here inquiring for Monsieur
le Baron de Bergenheim."
"Is Monsieur de Bergenheim not at home?" asked Mademoiselle de
"Monsieur has gone to ride with Mademoiselle Aline."
"Who is this person?"
"It is a gentleman; but I did not ask his name."
"Let him enter."
Clemence arose at the servant's first words and threw her work upon
a chair, making a movement as if to leave the room; but after a
moment's reflection, she resumed her seat and her work, apparently
indifferent as to who might enter.
"Monsieur de Marillac," announced the lackey, as he opened the door
a second time.
Madame de Bergenheim darted a rapid glance at the individual who
presented himself, and then breathed freely again.
After setting to rights his coiffure 'a la Perinet', the artist
entered the room, throwing back his shoulders. Tightly buttoned up in
his travelling redingote, and balancing with ease a small gray hat, he
bowed respectfully to the two ladies and then assumed a pose a la Van
Constance was so frightened at the sight of this imposing figure
that, instead of jumping at the newcomer's legs, as was her custom,
she sheltered herself under her mistress's chair, uttering low growls;
at first glance the latter shared, if not the terror, at least the
aversion of her dog. Among her numerous antipathies, Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil detested a beard. This was a common sentiment with all old
ladies, who barely tolerated moustaches: "Gentlemen did not wear them
in 1780," they would say.
Marillac's eyes turned involuntarily toward the portraits, and
other picturesque details of a room which was worthy the attention of
a connoisseur; but he felt that the moment was not opportune for
indulging in artistic contemplation, and that he must leave the dead
for the living.
"Ladies," said he, "I ought, first of all, to ask your pardon for
thus intruding without having had the honor of an introduction. I
hoped to find here Monsieur de Bergenheim, with whom I am on very
intimate terms. I was told that he was at the chateau."
"My husband's friends do not need to be presented at his house,"
said Clemence; "Monsieur de Bergenheim probably will return soon."
And with a gracious gesture she motioned the visitor to a seat.
"Your name is not unknown to me," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
in her turn, having succeeded in calming Constance's agitation. "I
remember having heard Monsieur de Bergenheim mention you often."
"We were at college together, although I am a few years younger
"But," exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, struck by some sudden
thought, "there is more than a college friendship between you. Are
you not, Monsieur, the person who saved my husband's life in 1830?"
Marillac smiled, bowed his head, and seated himself. Mademoiselle
de Corandeuil herself could not but graciously greet her nephew's
preserver, had he had a moustache as long as that of the Shah of
Persia, who ties his in a bow behind his neck.
After the exchange of a few compliments, Madame de Bergenheim, with
the amiability of a mistress of the house who seeks subjects of
conversation that may show off to best advantage the persons she
"My husband does not like to talk of himself, and never has told us
the details of this adventure, in which he ran such great danger.
Will you be kind enough to gratify our curiosity on this point?"
Marillac, among his other pretensions, had that of being able to
relate a story in an impressive manner. These words were as pleasing
to his ears as the request for a song is to a lady who requires
urging, although she is dying to sing.
"Ladies," said he, crossing one leg over the other and leaning upon
one arm of his chair, "it was on the twenty-eighth of July, 1830; the
disastrous decrees had produced their effects; the volcano which—"
"Pardon me, Monsieur, if I interrupt you," said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, quickly; "according to my opinion, and that of many
others, the royal decrees you speak of were good and necessary. The
only mistake of Charles Tenth was not to have fifty thousand men
around Paris to force their acceptance. I am only a woman, Monsieur,
but if I had had under my command twenty cannon upon the quays, and as
many upon the boulevards, I assure you that your tricolored flag never
should have floated over the Tuileries."
"Pitt and Cobourg!" said the artist between his teeth, as, with an
astonished air, he gazed at the old lady; but his common-sense told
him that republicanism was not acceptable within this castle.
Besides, remembering the mission with which he was charged, he did
not think his conscience would feel much hurt if he made a little
concession of principles and manoeuvred diplomatically.
"Madame," replied he, "I call the decrees disastrous when I think
of their result. You will certainly admit that our situation to-day
ought to make everybody regret the causes which brought it about."
"We are exactly of the same opinion regarding that point,
Monsieur," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, resuming her serenity.
"The open volcano beneath our feet," continued Marillac, who still
stuck to his point, "warned us by deep rumblings of the hot lava which
was about to gush forth. The excitement of the people was intense.
Several engagements with the soldiers had already taken place at
different points. I stood on the Boulevard Poissonniere, where I had
just taken my luncheon, and was gazing with an artist's eye upon the
dramatic scene spread out before me. Men with bare arms and women
panting with excitement were tearing up the pavements or felling
trees. An omnibus had just been upset; the rioters added cabriolets,
furniture, and casks to it; everything became means of defence. The
crashing of the trees as they fell, the blows of crowbars on the
stones, the confused roaring of thousands of voices, the Marseillaise
sung in chorus, and the irregular cannonading which resounded from the
direction of the Rue Saint-Denis, all composed a strident, stupefying,
tempestuous harmony, beside which Beethoven's Tempest would have
seemed like the buzzing of a bee.
"I was listening to the roaring of the people, who were gnawing at
their chains before breaking them, when my eyes happened to fall upon
a window of a second-floor apartment opposite me. A man about sixty
years of age, with gray hair, a fresh, plump face, an honest, placid
countenance, and wearing a mouse-colored silk dressing-gown, was
seated before a small, round table. The window opened to the floor,
and I could see him in this frame like a full-length portrait. There
was a bowl of coffee upon the table, in which he dipped his roll as he
read his journal. I beg your pardon, ladies, for entering into these
petty details, but the habit of writing—"
"I assure you, Monsieur, your story interests me very much," said
Madame de Bergenheim, kindly.
"A King Charles spaniel, like yours, Mademoiselle, was standing
near the window with his paws resting upon it; he was gazing with
curiosity at the revolution of July, while his master was reading his
paper and sipping his coffee, as indifferent to all that passed as if
he had been in Pekin or New York.
"'Oh, the calm of a pure, sincere soul!' I exclaimed to myself, at
the sight of this little tableau worthy of Greuze; 'oh, patriarchal
philosophy! in a few minutes perhaps blood will flow in the streets,
and here sits a handsome old man quietly sipping his coffee.' He
seemed like a lamb browsing upon a volcano."
Marillac loved volcanoes, and never lost an opportunity to bring
one in at every possible opportunity.
"Suddenly a commotion ran through the crowd; the people rushed in
every direction, and in an instant the boulevard was empty. Plumes
waving from high caps, red-and-white flags floating from the ends of
long lances, and the cavalcade that I saw approaching through the
trees told me the cause of this panic. A squadron of lancers was
charging. Have you ever seen a charge of lancers?"
"Never!" said both of the ladies at once.
"It is a very grand sight, I assure you. Fancy, ladies, a legion
of demons galloping along upon their horses, thrusting to the right
and left with long pikes, whose steel points are eighteen inches long.
That is a charge of lancers. I beg you to believe that I had shown
before this the mettle there was in me, but I will not conceal from
you that at this moment I shared with the crowd the impression which
the coming of these gentlemen made. I had only time to jump over the
sidewalk and to dart up a staircase which ran on the outside of a
house, every door being closed. I never shall forget the face of one
of those men who thrust the point of a lance at me, long enough to
pierce through six men at once. I admit that I felt excited then!
The jinn having passed—"
"The—what?" asked Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who was not
familiar with Eastern terms.
"I beg a thousand pardons, it was a poetical reminiscence. The
lancers, having rushed through the boulevard like an avalanche, a
laggard rider, a hundred steps behind the others, galloped proudly by,
erect in his stirrups and flourishing his sword. Suddenly the report
of a gun resounded, the lancer reeled backward, then forward, and
finally fell upon his horse's neck; a moment later he turned in his
saddle and lay stretched upon the ground, his foot caught in the
stirrup; the horse, still galloping, dragged the man and the lance,
which was fastened to his arm by a leather band."
"How horrible!" said Clemence, clasping her hands.
Marillac, much pleased with the effect of his narration, leaned
back in his chair and continued his tale with his usual assurance.
"I looked to the neighboring roofs to discover whence came this
shot; as I was glancing to the right and left I saw smoke issuing
through the blinds of the room on the second floor, which had been
closed at the approach of the lancers.
"'Good God!' I exclaimed; 'it must be this handsome old man in the
mouse- colored silk dressing-gown who amuses himself by firing upon
the lancers, as if they were rabbits in a warren!'
"Just then the blinds were opened, and the strange fellow with the
unruffled countenance leaned out and gazed with a smiling face in the
direction the horse was taking, dragging his master's body after him.
The patriarch had killed his man between two sips of his coffee."
"And that is the cowardly way in which members of the royal guard
were assassinated by the 'heroes' of your glorious insurrection!"
exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, indignantly.
"When the troops had passed," Marillac continued, "the crowd
returned, more excited and noisy than ever. Barricades were erected
with wonderful rapidity; two of those were on the boulevard close to
the place where I was. I saw a horseman suddenly bound over the
first; he wore a tuft of red-and-white feathers in his hat. I saw
that it was a staff officer, doubtless carrying some despatch to
headquarters. He continued his way, sabre in its sheath, head erect,
proud and calm in the midst of insulting shouts from the crowd; stones
were thrown at him and sticks at his horse's legs; he looked as if he
were parading upon the Place du Carrousel.
"When he reached the second barricade, he drew his horse up, as if
it were merely a question of jumping a hurdle in a steeplechase. just
then I saw the window on the first floor open again. 'Ah! you old
rascal!' I exclaimed. The report of a gun drowned my voice; the horse
which had just made the leap, fell on his knees; the horseman tried to
pull him up, but after making one effort the animal fell over upon his
side. The ball had gone through the steed's head."
"It was that poor Fidele that I gave your husband," said
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who was always very sentimental in the
choice of names she gave to animals.
"He merited his name, Mademoiselle, for the poor beast died for his
master, for whom the shot was in tended. Several of those horrible
faces, which upon riot days suddenly appear as if they came out of the
ground, darted toward the unhorsed officer. I, and several other
young men who were as little disposed as myself to allow a defenceless
man to be slaughtered, ran toward him. I recognized Christian as I
approached; his right leg was caught under the horse, and he was
trying to unsheath his sword with his left hand. Sticks and stones
were showered at him. I drew out the sword, which his position
prevented him from doing, and exclaimed as I waved it in the air: 'The
first rascal who advances, I will cut open like a dog.'
"I accompanied these words with a flourish which kept the cannibals
at a distance for the time being.
"The young fellows who were with me followed my example. One took
a pickaxe, another seized the branch of a tree, while others tried to
release Christian from his horse. During this time the crowd
increased around us; the shouts redoubled: 'Down with the ordinances!
These are disguised gendarmes! Vive la liberte!—We must kill them!
Let's hang the spies to the lamp-posts!'
"Danger was imminent, and I realized that only a patriotic harangue
would get us out of the scrape. While they were releasing Christian,
I jumped upon Fidele so as to be seen by all and shouted:
"'Vive la liberte !'
"'Vive la liberte!' replied the crowd.
"'Down with Charles Tenth! Down with the ministers! Down with the
"'Down!' shouted a thousand voices at once.
"You understand, ladies, this was a sort of bait, intended to close
the mouths of these brutes.
"'We are all citizens, we are all Frenchmen,' I continued; 'we must
not soil our hands with the blood of one of our disarmed brothers.
After a victory there are no enemies. This officer was doing his
duty in fulfilling his chief's commands; let us do ours by dying, if
necessary, for our country and the preservation of our rights.'
"'Vive la liberte! vive la liberte!' shouted the crowd. 'He is
right; the officer was doing his duty. It would be assassination!'
exclaimed numerous voices.
"'Thanks, Marillac,' said Bergenheim to me, as I took his hand to
lead him away, availing ourselves of the effect of my harangue; 'but
do not press me so hard, for I really believe that my right arm is
broken; only for that, I should ask you to return me my sword that I
might show this rabble that they can not kill a Bergenheim as they
would a chicken.'
"'Let him cry: Vive la Charte!' roared out a man, with a ferocious
"'I receive orders from nobody,' Christian replied, in a very loud
voice, as he glared at him with eyes which would have put a rhinoceros
"Your husband is really a very brave man," said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, addressing Clemence.
"Brave as an old warrior. This time he pushed his courage to the
verge of imprudence; I do not know what the result might have been if
the crowd had not been dispersed a second time by the approach of the
lancers, who were returning through the boulevard. I led Bergenheim
into a caf‚; fortunately, his arm was only sprained." Just at this
moment Marillac's story was interrupted by a sound of voices and
hurried steps. The door opened suddenly, and Aline burst into the
room with her usual impetuosity.
"What has happened to you, Aline?" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim,
hurrying to her sister's side. The young girl's riding-habit and hat
were covered with splashes of mud.
"Oh, nothing," replied the young girl, in a broken voice; "it was
only Titania, who wanted to throw me into the river. Do you know
where Rousselet is? They say it is necessary to bleed him; and he is
the only one who knows how to do it."
"Whom do you mean, child? Is my husband wounded?" asked Clemence,
"No, not Christian; it is a gentleman I do not know; only for him I
should have been drowned. Mon Dieu! can not Rousselet be found?"
Aline left the room in great agitation. They all went over to the
windows that opened out into the court, whence the sound of voices
seemed to arise, and where they could hear the master's voice
thundering out his commands. Several servants had gone to his
assistance: one of them held Titania by the bridle; she was covered
with foam and mud, and was trembling, with distended nostrils, like a
beast that knows it has just committed a wicked action. A young man
was seated upon a stone bench, wiping away blood which streamed from
his forehead. It was Monsieur de Gerfaut.
At this sight Clemence supported herself against the framework of
the window, and Marillac hurriedly left the room.
Pere Rousselet, who had at last been found in the kitchen, advanced
majestically, eating an enormous slice of bread and butter.
"Good heavens! have you arrived at last?" exclaimed Bergenheim.
"Here is a gentleman this crazy mare has thrown against a tree, and
who has received a violent blow on the head. Do you not think it
would be the proper thing to bleed him?"
"A slight phlebotomy might be very advantageous in stopping the
extravasation of blood in the frontal region," replied the peasant,
calling to his aid all the technical terms he had learned when he was
a hospital nurse.
"Are you sure you can do this bleeding well?"
"I'll take the liberty of saying to Monsieur le Baron that I
phlebotomized Perdreau last week and Mascareau only a month ago,
without any complaint from them."
"Indeed! I believe you," sneered the groom, "both are on their
"I am neither Perdreau nor Mascareau," observed the wounded man
with a smile.
Rousselet drew himself up at full height, with the dignity of a man
of talent who scorns to reply to either criticism or mistrust.
"Monsieur," said Gerfaut, turning to the Baron, "I am really
causing you too much trouble. This trifle does not merit the
attention you give it. I do not suffer in the least. Some water and a
napkin are all that I need. I fancy that I resemble an Iroquois
Indian who has just been scalped; my pride is really what is most
hurt," he added, with a smile, "when I think of the grotesque sight I
must present to the ladies whom I notice at the window."
"Why, it is Monsieur de Gerfaut!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, toward whom he raised his eyes.
Octave bowed to her with a gracious air. His glance wandered from
the old lady to Clemence, who did not seem to have the strength to
leave the window. M. de Bergenheim, after hurriedly greeting
Marillac, finally yielded to the assurance that a surgeon was
unnecessary, and conducted the two friends to his own room, where the
wounded man could find everything that he needed.
"What the devil was the use in sending me as ambassador, since you
were to make such a fine entrance upon the stage?" murmured Marillac
in his friend's ear.
"Silence!" replied the latter as he pressed his hand; "I am only
behind the scenes as yet."
During this time Clemence and her aunt had led Aline to her room.
"Now, tell us what all this means?" said Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, while the young girl was changing her dress.
"It was Christian's fault," replied Aline. "We were galloping
along beside the river when Titania became frightened by the branch of
a tree. 'Do not be afraid!' exclaimed my brother. I was not in the
least frightened; but when he saw that my horse was about to run away,
he urged his on in order to join me. When Titania heard the galloping
behind her she did run away in earnest; she left the road and started
straight for the river. Then I began to be a little frightened. Just
fancy, Clemence, I bounded in the saddle at each leap, sometimes upon
the mare's neck, sometimes upon the crupper; it was terrible! I tried
to withdraw my foot from the stirrup as Christian had told me to do;
but just then Titania ran against the trunk of a tree, and I rolled
over with her. A gentleman, whom I had not seen before, and who, I
believe, actually jumped out of the ground, raised me from the saddle,
where I was held by something, I do not know what; then that naughty
Titania threw him against the tree as he was helping me to my feet,
and when I was able to look at him his face was covered with blood.
Christian rushed on the scene, and, when he saw that I was not badly
hurt, he ran after Titania and beat her! Oh! how he beat her! Mon
Dieu! how cruel men are! It was in vain for me to cry for mercy; he
would not listen to me. Then we came home, and, since this gentleman
is not badly wounded, it seems that my poor dress has fared worst of
The young girl took her riding-habit from the chair as she said
these words, and could not restrain a cry of horror when she saw an
enormous rent in it.
"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed, as she showed it to her sister-in-law.
It was all that she had strength to articulate.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil took the skirt in her turn, and looked
at it with the practised eye of a person who had made a special study
of little disasters of the toilet and the ways of remedying them.
"It is in the fullness," said she, "and by putting in a new breadth
it will never be seen."
Aline, once convinced that the evil could be repaired, soon
recovered her serenity.
When the three ladies entered the drawing-room they found the Baron
and his two guests chatting amicably. Gerfaut had his forehead tied
up with a black silk band which gave him a slight resemblance to Cupid
with his bandage just off his eyes. His sparkling glance showed that
blindness was not what there was in common between him and the
charming little god. After the first greetings, Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who was always strict as to etiquette, and who thought
that Titania had been a rather unceremonious master of ceremonies
between her nephew and M. de Gerfaut, advanced toward the latter in
order to introduce them formally to each other.
"I do not think," said she, "that Monsieur de Bergenheim has had
the honor of meeting you before today; allow me then to present you to
him. Baron, this is Monsieur le Vicomte de Gerfaut, one of my
When Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was in good humor, she treated
Gerfaut as a relative on account of their family alliance of 1569. At
this moment the poet felt profoundly grateful for this kindness.
"Monsieur has presented himself so well," said Christian frankly,
"that your recommendation, my dear aunt, in spite of the respect I
have for it, will not add to my gratitude. Only for Monsieur de
Gerfaut, here is a madcap little girl whom we should be obliged to
look for now at the bottom of the river."
As he said these words, he passed his arm about his sister's waist
and kissed her tenderly, while Aline was obliged to stand upon the
tips of her toes to reach her brother's lips.
"These gentlemen," he continued, "have agreed to sacrifice for us
the pleasure of the Femme-sans-Tete, as well as Mademoiselle
Gobillot's civilities, and establish their headquarters in my house.
They can pursue their picturesque and romantic studies from here just
as well; I suppose, Marillac, that you are still a determined dauber
"To tell the truth," replied the poet, "art absorbs me a great
"As to myself, I never succeeded in drawing a nose that did not
resemble an ear and vice versa. But for that worthy Baringnier, who
was kind enough to look over my plans, I ran a great risk of leaving
Saint Cyr without a graduating diploma. But seriously, gentlemen,
when you are tired of sketching trees and tumbledown houses, I can
give you some good boar hunting. Are you a hunter, Monsieur de
"I like hunting very much," replied the lover, with rare
The conversation continued thus upon the topics that occupy people
who meet for the first time. When the Baron spoke of the two friends
installing themselves at the chateau, Octave darted a glance at Madame
de Bergenheim, as if soliciting a tacit approbation of his conduct;
but met with no response. Clemence, with a gloomy, sombre air
fulfilled the duties that politeness imposed upon her as mistress of
the house. Her conduct did not change during the rest of the evening,
and Gerfaut no longer tried by a single glance to soften the severity
she seemed determined to adopt toward him. All his attentions were
reserved for Mademoiselle de Corandeuil and Aline, who listened with
unconcealed pleasure to the man whom she regarded as her saviour; for
the young girl's remembrance of the danger which she had run excited
her more and more.
After supper Mademoiselle de Corandeuil proposed a game of whist to
M. de Gerfaut, whose talent for the game had made a lasting impression
upon her. The poet accepted this diversion with an enthusiasm equal
to that he had shown for hunting, and quite as sincere too. Christian
and his sister—a little gamester in embryo, like all of her family—
completed the party, while Clemence took up her work and listened with
an absentminded air to Marillac's conversation. It was in vain for
the latter to call art and the Middle Ages to his aid, using the very
quintessence of his brightest speeches—success did not attend his
effort. After the end of an hour, he had a firm conviction that
Madame de Bergenheim was, everything considered, only a woman of
ordinary intelligence and entirely unworthy of the passion she had
inspired in his friend.
"Upon my soul," he thought, "I would a hundred times rather have
Reine Gobillot for a sweetheart. I must take a trip in that direction
When they separated for the night, Gerfaut, bored by his evening
and wounded by his reception from Clemence, which, he thought,
surpassed anything he could have expected of her capricious
disposition, addressed to the young woman a profound bow and a look
"I am here in spite of you; I shall stay here in spite of you; you
shall love me in spite of yourself."
Madame de Bergenheim replied by a glance none the less expressive,
in which a lover the most prone to conceit could read:
"Do as you like; I have as much indifference for your love as
disdain for your presumption."
This was the last shot in this preliminary skirmish.
CHAPTER IX. GERFAUT, THE WIZARD
There are some women who, like the heroic Cure Merino, need but one
hour's sleep. A nervous, irritable, subtle organization gives them a
power for waking, without apparent fatigue, refused to most men. And
yet, when a strong emotion causes its corrosive waters to filtrate
into the veins of these impressionable beings, it trickles there drop
by drop, until it has hollowed out in the very depths of their hearts
a lake full of trouble and storms. Then, in the silence of night and
the calm of solitude, insomnia makes the rosy cheeks grow pale and
dark rings encircle the most sparkling eyes. It is in vain for the
burning forehead to seek the cool pillow; the pillow grows warm
without the forehead cooling. In vain the mind hunts for commonplace
ideas, as a sort of intellectual poppy-leaves that may lead to a quiet
night's rest; a persistent thought still returns, chasing away all
others, as an eagle disperses a flock of timid birds in order to
remain sole master of its prey. If one tries to repeat the accustomed
prayer, and invoke the aid of the Virgin, or the good angel who
watches at the foot of young girls' beds, in order to keep away the
charms of the tempter, the prayer is only on the lips, the Virgin is
deaf, the angel sleeps! The breath of passion against which one
struggles runs through every fibre of the heart, like a storm over the
chords of an Tolian harp, and extorts from it those magic melodies to
which a poor, troubled, and frightened woman listens with remorse and
despair; but to which she listens, and with which at last she is
intoxicated, for the allegory of Eve is an immortal myth, that repeats
itself, through every century and in every clime.
Since her entrance into society, Madame de Bergenheim had formed
the habit of keeping late hours. When the minute details of her
toilette for the night were over, and she had confided her beautiful
body to the snowy sheets of her couch, some new novel or fashionable
magazine helped her wile away the time until sleep came to her.
Christian left his room, like a good country gentleman, at sunrise;
he left it either for the chase—or to oversee workmen, who were
continually being employed upon some part of his domain. Ordinarily,
he returned only in time for dinner, and rarely saw Clemence except
between that time and supper, at the conclusion of which, fatigued by
his day's work, he hastened to seek the repose of the just. Husband
and wife, while living under the same roof, were thus almost
completely isolated from each other; night for one was day for the
By the haste with which Clemence shortened her preparations for the
night, one would have said that she must have been blessed with an
unusually sleepy sensation. But when she lay in bed, with her head
under her arm, like a swan with his neck under his wing, and almost in
the attitude of Correggio's Magdalen, her eyes, which sparkled with a
feverish light, betrayed the fact that she had sought the solitude of
her bed in order to indulge more freely in deep meditation.
With marvelous fidelity she went over the slightest events of the
day, to which by a constant effort of willpower, she had seemed so
indifferent. First, she saw Gerfaut with his face covered with blood,
and the thought of the terrible sensation which this sight caused her
made her heart throb violently. She then recalled him as she next saw
him, in the drawing-room by her husband's side, seated in the very
chair that she had left but a moment before. This trifling
circumstance impressed her; she saw in this a proof of sympathetic
understanding, a sort of gift of second sight which Octave possessed,
and which in her eyes was so formidable a weapon. According to her
ideas, he must have suspected that this was her own favorite chair and
have seized it for that reason, just as he would have loved to take
her in his arms.
For the first time, Clemence had seen together the man to whom she
belonged and the man whom she regarded somewhat as her property. For,
by one of those arrangements with their consciences of which women
alone possess the secret, she had managed to reason like this: "Since
I am certain always to belong to Monsieur de Bergenheim only, Octave
can certainly belong to me." An heterodoxical syllogism, whose two
premises she reconciled with an inconceivable subtlety. A feeling of
shame had made her dread this meeting, which the most hardened
coquette could never witness without embarrassment. A woman, between
her husband and her lover, is like a plant one sprinkles with ice-cold
water while a ray of sunlight is trying to comfort it. The sombre and
jealous, or even tranquil and unsuspecting, face of a husband has a
wonderful power of repression. One is embarrassed to love under the
glance of an eye that darts flashes as bright as steel; and a calm,
kindly look is more terrible yet, for all jealousy seems tyrannical,
and tyranny leads to revolt; but a confiding husband is like a victim
strangled in his sleep, and inspires, by his very calmness, the most
The meeting of these two men naturally led Clemence to a comparison
which could but be to Christian's advantage. Gerfaut had nothing
remarkable about him save an intelligent, intensely clever air; there
was a thoughtful look in his eyes and an archness in his smile, but
his irregular features showed no mark of beauty; his face wore an
habitually tired expression, peculiar to those people who have lived a
great deal in a short time, and it made him look older than Christian,
although he was really several years younger. The latter, on the
contrary, owed to his strong constitution, fortified by country life,
an appearance of blooming youth that enhanced his noble regularity of
In a word, Christian was handsomer than his rival, and Clemence
exaggerated her husband's superiority over her lover. Not being able
to find the latter awkward or insignificant, she tried to persuade
herself that he was ugly. She then reviewed in her mind all M. de
Bergenheim's good qualities, his attachment and kindness to her, his
loyal, generous ways; she recalled the striking instance that Marillac
had related of his bravery, a quality without which there is no hope
of success for a man in the eyes of any woman. She did all in her
power to inflame her imagination and to see in her husband a hero
worthy of inspiring the most fervent love. When she had exhausted her
efforts toward such enthusiasm and admiration, she turned round, in
despair, and, burying her head in her pillow, she sobbed:
"I cannot, I cannot love him!"
She wept bitterly for a long while. As she recalled her own
severity in the past regarding women whose conduct had caused scandal,
she employed in her turn the harshness of her judgment in examining
her own actions. She felt herself more guilty than all the others, for
her weakness appeared less excusable to her. She felt that she was
unworthy and contemptible, and wished to die that she might escape the
shame that made her blush scarlet, and the remorse that tortured her
How many such unhappy tears bathe the eyes of those who should shed
only tears of joy! How many such sighs break the silence of the
night! There are noble, celestial beings among women whom remorse
stretches out upon its relentless brasier, but in the midst of the
flames that torture them the heart palpitates, imperishable as a
salamander. Is it not human fate to suffer? After Madame de
Bergenheim had given vent, by convulsive sobs and stifled sighs, to
her grief for this love which she could not tear from her breast, she
formed a desperate resolution. From the manner in which M. de Gerfaut
had taken possession of the chateau the very first day, she recognized
that he was master of the situation. The sort of infatuation which
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil seemed to have for him, and Christian's
courteous and hospitable habits, would give him an opportunity to
prolong his stay as long as he desired. She thus compared herself to
a besieged general, who sees the enemy within his ramparts.
"Very well! I will shut myself up in the fortress!" said she,
smiling in spite of herself in the midst of her tears. "Since this
insupportable man has taken possession of my drawing-room, I will
remain in my own room; we will see whether he dares to approach that!"
She shook her pretty head with a defiant air, but she could not
help glancing into the room which was barely lighted with a night
lamp. She sat up and listened for a moment rather anxiously, as if
Octave's dark eyes might suddenly glisten in the obscurity. When she
had assured herself that all was tranquil, and that the throbbing of
her heart was all that disturbed the silence, she continued preparing
her plan of defense.
She decided that she would be ill the next day and keep to her bed,
if necessary, until her persecutor should make up his mind to beat a
retreat. She solemnly pledged herself to be firm, courageous, and
inflexible; then she tried to pray. It was now two o'clock in the
morning. For some time Clemence remained motionless, and one might
have thought that at least she was asleep. Suddenly she arose.
Without stopping to put on her dressing-gown, she lighted a candle by
the night- lamp, pushed the bolt of her door and then went to the
windows, the space between them forming a rather deep projection on
account of the thickness of the walls. A portrait of the Duke of
Bordeaux hung there; she raised it and pressed a button concealed in
the woodwork. A panel opened, showing a small empty space. The shelf
in this sort of closet contained only a rosewood casket. She opened
this mysterious box and took from it a package of letters, then
returned to her bed with the eagerness of a miser who is about to gaze
upon his treasures.
Had she not struggled and prayed? Had she not offered upon the
tyrannical altar of duty as an expiation, tears, pale cheeks and a
tortured soul? Had she not just taken a solemn vow, in the presence
of God and herself, which should protect her against her weakness?
Was she not a virtuous wife, and had she not paid dearly enough for a
moment of sad happiness? Was it a crime to breathe for an instant the
balmy air of love through the gratings of this prison-cell, the doors
of which she had just locked with her own hand? Admirable logic for
loving hearts, which, not being able to control their feelings, suffer
in order to prove themselves less guilty, and clothe themselves in
haircloth so that each shudder may cause a pain that condones the sin!
Being at peace with herself, she read as women read who are in
love; leaning her head upon her hand, she drew out the letters, one by
one, from her bosom where she had placed them. She drank with her
heart and eyes the poison these passionate words contained; she
allowed herself to be swayed at will by these melodies which lulled
but did not benumb. When one of those invincible appeals of imploring
passion awoke all the echoes of her love, and ran through her veins
with a thrill, striking the innermost depths of her heart, she threw
herself back and imprinted her burning lips upon the cold paper. With
one letter pressed to her heart, and another pressed to her lips, she
gave herself up completely, exclaiming in an inaudible voice: "I love
thee! I am thine!"
The next morning, when Aline entered her sister-in law's room,
according to her usual custom, the latter was not obliged to feign the
indisposition she had planned; the sensations of this sleepless night
had paled her cheeks and altered her features; it would have been
difficult to imagine a more complete contrast than that between these
two young women at this moment. Clemence, lying upon her bed
motionless and white as the sheet which covered her, resembled Juliet
sleeping in her tomb; Aline, rosy, vivacious, and more petulant than
usual, looked very much the madcap Mademoiselle de Corandeuil had
reproached her with being. Her face was full of that still childish
grace, more lovely than calm, more pleasing than impressive, which
makes young girls so charming to the eye but less eloquent to the
heart; for are they not fresh flowers more rich in coloring than in
Clemence could hardly stifle a sigh as she gazed at those rosy
checks, those sparkling eyes, that life so full of the rich future.
She recalled a time when she was thus, when grief glided over her
cheeks without paling them, when tears dried as they left her eyes;
she also had had her happy, careless days, her dreams of unalloyed
Aline, after presenting her face like a child who asks for a kiss,
wished to tease her as usual, but, with a tired gesture, her
sister-in-law begged for mercy.
"Are you ill?" asked the young girl anxiously, as she seated
herself upon the edge of the bed.
Madame de Bergenheim smiled, a forced smile.
"Thank me for my poor health," said she, "for it obliges you to do
the honors; I shall doubtless not be able to go down to dinner, and
you must take my place. You know that it tires my aunt to have to
trouble herself about others."
Aline made a little grimace as she replied:
"If I thought you were speaking seriously, I would go and get into
my own bed at once!"
"Child! will you not in your turn be mistress of a home? Is it
not necessary for you to become accustomed to it? It is an excellent
opportunity, and, with my aunt as a guide, you are sure to acquit
These last words were spoken rather maliciously, for the young
woman knew that of all the possible mentors, Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil was the one whom Aline dreaded most.
"I beg of you, my kind sister," replied the girl, clasping her
hands, "do not be ill to-day. Is it the neuralgia of the day before
yesterday you are suffering from? Do be a good sister, and get up and
come and take a walk in the park; the fresh air will cure you, I am
sure of it "
"And I shall not be obliged to preside at the dinner-table, you
would add; is it not so? You selfish girl!"
"I am afraid of Monsieur de Gerfaut," said the child, lowering her
When she heard pronounced this name, so deeply agitating her,
Madame de Bergenheim was silent for a moment; at last she said:
"What has Monsieur de Gerfaut done to you? Is it not downright
ungrateful to be afraid of him so soon after the service he has
"No, I am not ungrateful," replied the young girl quickly. "I
never shall forget that I owe my life to him, for certainly, but for
him, I should have been dragged into the river. But he has such
black, piercing eyes that they seem to look into your very soul; and
then, he is such a brilliant man! I am all the time afraid of saying
something that he may laugh at. You know, some people think I talk
too much; but I shall never dare open my mouth in his presence. Why
do some persons' eyes make such an impression upon one?"
Clemence lowered her own beautiful eyes and made no reply.
"His friend, Monsieur Marillac, does not frighten me one bit, in
spite of his big moustache. Tell me, does not this Monsieur de
Gerfaut frighten you a little too?"
"Not at all, I assure you," replied Madame de Bergenheim, trying to
smile. "But," she continued, in order to change the conversation,
"how fine you look! You have certainly some plan of conquest. What!
a city gown at nine o'clock in the morning, and hair dressed as if for
"Would you like to know the compliment your aunt just paid me?"
"Some little jest of hers, I suppose?"
"You might say some spiteful remark, for she is the hatefulest
thing! She told me that blue ribbons suited red hair very badly and
advised me to change one or the other. Is it true that my hair is
Mademoiselle de Bergenheim asked this question with so much anxiety
that her sister-in-law could not repress a smile.
"You know that my aunt delights in annoying you," said she. "Your
hair is very pretty, a bright blond, very pleasant to the eye; only
Justine waves it a little too tight; it curls naturally. She dresses
your hair too high; it would be more becoming to you if she pushed it
back from your temples a little than to wave it as much as she does.
Come a little nearer to me."
Aline knelt before Madame de Bergenheim's bed, and the latter,
adding a practical lesson to verbal advice, began to modify the maid's
work to suit her own taste.
"It curls like a little mane," said the young girl, as she saw the
trouble her sister-in-law had in succeeding; "it was my great trouble
at the Sacred Heart. The sisters wished us to wear our hair plain,
and I always had a terrible time to keep it in place. However, blond
hair looks ugly when too plainly dressed, and Monsieur de Gerfaut said
yesterday that it was the shade he liked best."
"Monsieur de Gerfaut told you he liked blond hair best!"
"Take care; you are pulling my hair! Yes, blond hair and blue
eyes. He said that when speaking of Carlo Dolci's Virgin, and he said
she was of the most beautiful Jewish type; if he intended it as a
compliment to me, I am very much obliged to him. Do you think that my
eyes are as blue as that of the painted Virgin's. Monsieur de Gerfaut
pretends that there is a strong resemblance."
Madame de Bergenheim withdrew her hand so quickly that she pulled
out half a dozen or more hairs from her sister-in-law's head, and
buried herself up to the chin in the bedclothes.
"Oh! Monsieur de Gerfaut knows how to pay very pretty compliments!"
she said. "And you doubtless are very well pleased to resemble Carlo
"She is very pretty!—and then it is the Holy Virgin, you know—Ah!
I hear Monsieur de Gerfaut's voice in the garden."
The young girl arose quickly and ran to the window, where,
concealed behind the curtains, she could see what was going on outside
without being seen herself.
"He is with Christian," she continued. "There, they are going to
the library. They must have just taken a long walk, for they are
bespattered with mud. If you could only see what a pretty little cap
Monsieur de Gerfaut has on!"
"Truly, he will turn her head," thought Madame de Bergenheim, with
a decided feeling of anger; then she closed her eyes as if she wished
Gerfaut had, in fact, just returned from paying his respects to the
estate. He had followed his host, who, under the pretext of showing
him several picturesque sights, promenaded him, in the morning dew,
through the lettuce in the kitchen garden and the underbrush in the
park. But he knew through experience that all was not roses in a
lover's path; watching in the snow, climbing walls, hiding in obscure
closets, imprisonment in wardrobes, were more disagreeable incidents
than a quiet tete-a-tete with a husband.
He listened, therefore, complacently enough to Bergenheim's prolix
explanations, interested himself in the planting of trees, thought the
fields very green, the forests admirable, the granite rocks more
beautiful than those of the Alps, went into ecstasies over the
smallest vista, advised the establishment of a new mill on the river,
which, being navigable for rafts, might convey lumber to all the
cities on the Moselle, and thus greatly increase the value of the
owner's woods. They fraternized like Glaucus and Diomede; Gerfaut
hoping, of course, to play the part of the Greek, who, according to
Homer, received in return for a common iron armor a gold one of
inestimable value. There is always such a secret mental reservation
in the lover's mind when associating with the husband of his
When he entered the room of his wife, whose indisposition had been
reported to him, Christian's first words were:
"This Monsieur de Gerfaut appears to be a very excellent fellow,
and I shall be delighted if he will stay with us a while. It is too
bad that you are ill. He is a good musician, as well as Marillac; you
might have sung together. Try to get better quickly and come down to
"I can not really tell him that Monsieur de Gerfaut has loved me
for more than a year," said Madame de Bergenheim to herself.
A moment later, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil appeared, and with a
prim air seated herself beside the bed.
"Perhaps you think that I am fooled by this indisposition. I see
plainly that you wish to be impolite to Monsieur de Gerfaut, for you
can not endure him. It seems to me, however, that a relative of your
family ought to be treated with more respect by you, above all, when
you know how much I esteem him. This is unheard-of absurdity, and I
shall end by speaking to your husband about it; we shall see if his
intervention will not have more effect than mine."
"You shall not do that, aunt," Clemence interrupted, sitting up in
bed and trying to take her aunt's hand.
"If you wish that your discourteous conduct should rest a secret
between us, I advise you to get rid of your neuralgia this very day.
Now, you had better decide immediately—"
"This is genuine persecution," exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim,
falling back upon her bed when the old lady had departed. "He has
bewitched everybody! Aline, my aunt, and my husband; to say nothing
of myself, for I shall end by going mad. I must end this, at any
price." She rang the bell violently.
"Justine," said she to her maid, "do not let any one enter this
room under any pretext whatsoever, and do not come in yourself until I
ring; I will try to sleep."
Justine obeyed, after closing the blinds. She had hardly gone out
when her mistress arose, put on her dressing-gown and slippers with a
vivacity which betokened anger; she then seated herself at her desk
and began to write rapidly, dashing her pen over the satiny paper
without troubling herself as to blots. The last word was ended with a
dash as energetically drawn as the Napoleonic flourish.
When a young man who, according to custom, begins to read the end
of his letters first finds an arabesque of this style at the bottom of
a lady's letter, he ought to arm himself with patience and resignation
before he reads its contents.
CHAPTER X. PLOTS
That evening, when Gerfaut entered his room he hardly took time to
place the candlestick which he held in his hand upon the mantel before
he took from his waistcoat pocket a paper reduced to microscopic
dimensions, which he carried to his lips and kissed passionately
before opening. His eyes fell first upon the threatening flourish of
the final word; this word was: Adieu!
"Hum!" said the lover, whose exaltation was sensibly cooled at this
He read the whole letter with one glance of the eye, darting to the
culminating point of each phrase as a deer bounds over ledges of
rocks; he weighed the plain meaning as well as the innuendoes of the
slightest expression, like a rabbi who comments upon the Bible, and
deciphered the erasures with the patience of a seeker after
hieroglyphics, so as to detach from them some particle of the idea
they had contained. After analyzing and criticising this note in all
its most imperceptible shades, he crushed it within his hand and began
to pace the floor, uttering from time to time some of those
exclamations which the Dictionnaire de l'Academie has not yet decided
to sanction; for all lovers resemble the lazzaroni who kiss
San-Gennaro's feet when he acts well, but who call him briconne as
soon as they have reason to complain of him. However, women are very
kind, and almost invariably excuse the stones that an angry lover
throws at them in such moments of acute disappointment, and willingly
say with the indulgent smile of the Roman emperor: "I feel no wound!"
In the midst of this paroxysm of furious anger, two or three knocks
resounded behind the woodwork.
"Are you composing?" asked a voice like that of a ventriloquist;
"I am with you."
A minute later, Marillac appeared upon the threshold, in his
slippers and with a silk handkerchief tied about his head, holding his
candlestick in one hand and a pipe in the other; he stood there
"You are fine," said he, "you are magnificent, fatal and
accursed—You remind me of Kean in Othello—
"Have you pray'd to-night, Desdemona?"
Gerfaut gazed at him with frowning brows, but made no reply.
"I will wager that it is the last scene in our third act," replied
the artist, placing his candlestick upon the mantel; "it seems that it
is to be very tragic. Now listen! I also feel the poetical afflatus
coming over me, and, if you like, we will set about devouring paper
like two boa-constrictors. Speaking of serpents, have you a rattle?
Ah, yes! Here is the bell-rope. I was about to say that we would
have a bowl of coffee. Or rather, I will go into the kitchen myself;
I am very good friends with Marianne, the cook; besides, the motto of
the house of Bergenheim is liberte, libertas. Coffee is my muse; in
this respect, I resemble Voltaire—"
"Marillac!" exclaimed Gerfaut, as the artist was about to leave the
room. The artist turned, and meekly retraced his steps.
"You will be so good as to do me the favor of returning to your
room," said Gerfaut. "You may work or you may sleep, just as you
like; between us, you would do well to sleep. I wish to be alone."
"You say that as if you meditated an attempt upon your illustrious
person. Are you thinking of suicide? Let us see whether you have
some concealed weapon, some poisoned ring. Curse upon it! the poison
of the Borgias! Is the white substance in this china bowl, vulgarly
called sugar, by some terrible chance infamous arsenic disguised under
the appearance of an honest colonial commodity?"
"Be kind enough to spare your jokes," said Octave, as his friend
poked about in all the corners of the room with an affectation of
anxiety, "and, as I can not get rid of you, listen to my opinion: if
you think that I brought you here for you to conduct yourself as you
have for the last two days, you are mistaken."
"What have I done?"
"You left me the whole morning with that tiresome Bergenheim on my
hands, and I verily believe he made me count every stick in his park
and every frog in his pond. Tonight, when that old witch of Endor
proposed her infernal game of whist, to which it seems I am to be
condemned daily, you-excused yourself upon the pretext of ignorance,
and yet you play as good a game as I."
"I can not endure whist at twenty sous a point."
"Do I like it any better?"
"Well, you are a nice fellow! You have an object in view which
should make you swallow all these disagreeable trifles as if they were
as sweet as honey. Is it possible you would like me to play Bertrand
and Raton? I should be Raton the oftener of the two!"
"But, really, what did you do all day?"
Marillac posed before the mirror, arranged his kerchief about his
head in a more picturesque fashion, twisted his moustache, puffed out,
through the corner of his mouth, a cloud of smoke, which surrounded
his face like a London fog, then turned to his friend and said, with
the air of a person perfectly satisfied with himself:
"Upon my faith, my dear friend, each one for himself and God for us
all! You, for example, indulge in romantic love-affairs; you must have
titled ladies. Titles turn your head and make you exclusive. You
make love to the aristocracy; so be it, that is your own concern. As
for me, I have another system; I am, in all matters of sentiment, what
I am in politics: I want republican institutions."
"What is all that nonsense about?"
"Let me tell you. I want universal suffrage, the cooperation of
all citizens, admission to all offices, general elections, a popular
government, in a word, a sound, patriotic hash. Which means regarding
women that I carry them all in my heart, that I recognize between them
no distinction of caste or rank. Article First of my set of laws: all
women are equal in love, provided they are young, pretty, admirably
attractive in shape and carriage, above all, not too thin."
"And what of equality?"
"So much the worse. With this eminently liberal and constitutional
policy, I intend to gather all the flowers that will allow themselves
to be gathered by me, without one being esteemed more fresh than
another, because it belongs to the nobility, or another less sweet,
because plebeian. And as field daisies are a little more numerous
than imperial roses, it follows that I very often stoop. That is the
reason why, at this very moment, I am up to my ears in a little rustic
Simple et naive bergerette, elle regne—"
"Stop that noise; Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's room is just
"I will tell you then, since I must give an account of myself, that
I went into the park to sketch a few fir-trees before dinner; they are
more beautiful of their kind than the ancient Fontainebleau oaks.
That is for art. At dinner, I dined nobly and well. To do the
Bergenheims justice, they live in a royal manner. That is for the
stomach. Afterward I stealthily ordered a horse to be saddled and
rode to La Fauconnerie in a trice, where I presented the expression of
my adoration to Mademoiselle Reine Gobillot, a minor yet, but enjoying
her full rights already. That is for the heart."
"No sarcasm, if you please; not everybody can share your taste for
princesses, who make you go a hundred leagues to follow them and then
upon your arrival, only give you the tip of a glove to kiss. Such
intrigues are not to my fancy.
Je suis sergent,
"Again, I say, will you stop that noise? Don't you know that I
have nobody on my side at present but this respectable dowager on the
first floor below? If she supposes that I am making all this racket
over her head we shall be deadly enemies by to-morrow."
"Zitto, zitto, piano, piano,
Senza strepito e rumore,"
replied Marillac, putting his finger to his lips and lowering his
voice. "What you say is a surprise to me. From the way in which you
offered your arm to Madame de Bergenheim to lead her into the
drawing-room after supper, I thought you understood each other
perfectly. As I was returning, for I made it my duty to offer my arm
to the old lady—and you say that I do nothing for you—it seemed to
me that I noticed a meeting of hands—You know that I have an eagle
eye. She slipped a note into your hand as sure as my name is
Gerfaut took the note which he held crumpled up in his hand, and
held it in the flame of one of the candles. The paper ignited, and in
less than a second nothing of it remained but a few dark pieces which
fell into ashes upon the marble mantel.
"You burn it! You are wrong," said the artist; "as for me, I keep
everything, letters and hair. When I am old, I shall have the letters
to read evenings, and shall weave an allegorical picture with the
hair. I shall hang it before my desk, so as to have before me a
souvenir of the adorable creatures who furnished the threads. I will
answer for it that there will be every shade in it from that of
Camille Hautier, my first love, who was an albino, to this that I have
As he spoke, he took out of his pocket a small parcel from which he
drew a lock of coal-black hair, which he spread out upon his hand.
"Did you pull this hair from Titania's mane?" asked Gerfaut, as he
drew through his fingers the more glossy than silky lock, which he
ridiculed by this ironical supposition.
"They might be softer, I admit," replied Marillac negligently; and
he examined the lock submitted to this merciless criticism as if it
were simply a piece of goods, of the fineness of whose texture he
wished to assure himself.
"You will admit at least that the color is beautiful, and the
quantity makes up for the quality. Upon my word, this poor Reine has
given me enough to make a pacha's banner. Provincial and primitive
simplicity! I know of one woman in particular who never gave an adorer
more than seven of her hairs; and yet, at the end of three years, this
cautious beauty was obliged to wear a false front. All her hair had
"Are you like me, Octave? The first thing I ask for is one of
these locks. Women rather like this sort of childishness, and when
they have granted you that, it is a snare spread for them which
Marillac took the long, dark tress and held it near the candle; but
his movement was so poorly calculated that the hair caught fire and
was instantly destroyed.
"A bad sign," exclaimed Gerfaut, who could not help laughing at his
friend's dismayed look.
"This is a day of autos-de-fe," said the artist, dropping into a
chair; "but bah! small loss; if Reine asks to see this lock, I will
tell her that I destroyed it with kisses. That always flatters them,
and I am sure it will please this little field-flower. It is a fact
that she has cheeks like rosy apples! On my way back I thought of a
vaudeville that I should like to write about this. Only I should lay
the scene in Switzerland and I should call the young woman Betty or
Kettly instead of Reine, a name ending in 'Y' which would rhyme with
Rutly, on account of local peculiarities. Will you join in it? I
have almost finished the scenario. First scene—Upon the rising of
the curtain, harvesters are discovered—"
"Will you do me the favor of going to bed?" interrupted Gerfaut.
"Chorus of harvesters:
Qui se colore—"
"If you do not leave me alone, I will throw the contents of this
water- pitcher at your head."
"I never have seen you in such a surly temper. It looks indeed as
if your divinity had treated you cruelly."
"She has treated me shamefully!" exclaimed the lover, whose anger
was freshly kindled at this question; "she has treated me as one would
treat a barber's boy. This note, which I just burned, was a most
formal, unpleasant, insolent dismissal. This woman is a monster, do
you understand me?"
"A monster! your angel, a monster!" said Marillac, suppressing
with difficulty a violent outburst of laughter.
"She, an angel? I must say that she is a demon—This woman—"
"Do you not adore her?"
"I hate her, I abhor her, she makes me shudder. You may laugh, if
As he said these words, Gerfaut struck a violent blow upon the
table with his fist.
"You forget that Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's room is just beneath
us," said the artist, in a teasing way.
"Listen to me, Marillac! Your system with women is vulgar, gross,
and trivial. The daisies which you gather, the maidens from whom you
cut handfuls of hair excellent for stuffing mattresses, your rustic
beauties with cheeks like rosy apples are conquests worthy of
counter-jumpers in their Sunday clothes. That is nothing but the very
lowest grade of love- making, and yet you are right, a thousand times
right, and wonderfully wise compared with me."
"You do me too much honor! So, then, you are not loved?"
"Truly, I had an idea I was, or, if I was not loved to-day, I hoped
to be to-morrow. But you are mistaken as to what discourages me. I
simply fear that her heart is narrow. I believe that she loves me as
much as she is able to love; unfortunately, that is not enough for
"It certainly seems to me that, so far, she has not shown herself
madly in love with you."
"Ah, madly! Do you know many women who love madly with their
hearts and souls? You talk like a college braggart. There are
conquerors like yourself who, if we are to believe them, would devour
a whole convent at their breakfast. These men excite my pity. As for
me, really, I have always felt that it was most difficult to make
one's self really loved. In these days of prudery, almost all women of
rank appear 'frappe a la glace', like a bottle of champagne. It is
necessary to thaw them first, and there are some of them whose shells
are so frigid that they would put out the devil's furnace. They call
this virtue; I call it social servitude. But what matters the name?
the result is the same."
"But, really, are you sure that Madame de Bergenheim loves you?"
asked Marillac, emphasizing the word "love" so strongly as to attract
his friend's attention.
"Sure? of course I am!" replied the latter. "Why do you ask me?"
"Because, when you are not quite so angry, I want to ask you
something." He hesitated a moment. "If you learned that she cares
more for another than for you, what would you do?"
Gerfaut looked at him and smiled disdainfully.
"Listen!" said he, "you have heard me storm and curse, and you
took this nonsense for genuine hatred. My good fellow! do you know
why I raved in such a manner? It was because, knowing my temperament,
I felt the necessity of getting angry and giving vent to what was in
my heart. If I had not employed this infallible remedy, the annoyance
which this note caused me would have disturbed my nerves all night,
and when I do not sleep my complexion is more leaden than usual and I
have dark rings under my eyes."
"Do you take me for a dandy? Do you not understand why I wish to
sleep soundly? It is simply because I do not wish to appear before
her with a face like a ghost. That would be all that was needed to
encourage her in her severity. I shall take good care that she does
not discover how hard her last thrust has hit me. I would give you a
one-hundred-franc note if I could secure for to-morrow morning your
alderman's face and your complexion a la Teniers."
"Thanks, we are not masquerading just at present.
Nevertheless, all that you have said does not prove in the
slightest that she loves you."
"My dear Marillac, words may have escaped me in my anger which have
caused you to judge hastily. Now that I am calm and that my remedy
has brought back my nervous system to its normal state, I will explain
to you my real position. She is my Galatea, I her Pygmalion. 'An
allegory as old as the world,' you are about to say; old or not, it is
my true story. I have not yet broken the marble-virtue, education,
propriety, duty, prejudices—which covers the flesh of my statue; but
I am nearing my goal and I shall reach it. Her desperate resistance
is the very proof of my progress. It is a terrible step for a woman
to take, from No to Yes. My Galatea begins to feel the blows from my
heart over her heart and she is afraid—afraid of the world, of me, of
her husband, of herself, of heaven and hell. Do you not adore women
who are afraid of everything? She, love another! never! It is
written in all eternity that she shall be mine. What did you wish to
say to me?"
"Nothing, since you are so sure of her."
"Sure—more than of my eternal life! But I wish to know what you
"But you won't be told. just a suspicion that came to me;
something that was told to me the other day; a conjecture so vague
that it would be useless to dwell upon it."
"I am not good at guessing enigmas," said Octave, in a dry tone.
"We will speak of this again to-morrow."
"As you like," replied the lover, with somewhat affected
indifference. "If you wish to play the part of Iago with me, I warn
you I am not disposed to jealousy."
"To-morrow, I tell you, I shall enlighten myself as to this affair;
whatever the result of my inquiries may be, I will tell you the truth.
After all, it was nothing but woman's gossip."
"Very well, take your time. But I have another favor to ask of
you. Tomorrow I shall try to persuade the ladies to take a walk in the
park. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil will probably not go; you must do me
the favor of sticking to Bergenheim and the little sister, and
gradually to walk on ahead of us, in such a way as to give me an
opportunity of speaking with this cruel creature alone for a few
moments; for she has given me to understand that I shall not succeed
in speaking with her alone under any circumstances, and it is
absolutely necessary that I should do so."
"There will be one difficulty in the way, though—they expect about
twenty persons at dinner, and all her time will probably be taken up
with her duties as hostess."
"That is true," exclaimed Gerfaut, jumping up so suddenly that he
upset his chair.
"You still forget that Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's room is beneath
"The devil is playing her hand!" exclaimed the lover, as he paced
the room in long strides. "I wish that during the night he would
wring the neck of all these visitors. Now; then, she has her innings.
Today and tomorrow this little despot's battle of Ligny will be
fought and won; but the day after to-morrow, look out for her
"Good-night, my Lord Wellington," said Marillac, as he arose and
took up his candlestick.
"Good-night, Iago! Ah! you think you have annoyed me with your
mysterious words and melodramatic reticence?"
"To-morrow! to-morrow!" replied the artist as he left the room.
CHAPTER XI. A QUARREL
The next morning, before most of the inhabitants of the chateau had
thought of leaving their beds, or at least their rooms, a man, on
horseback, and alone, took his departure through a door opening from
the stable-yard into the park. He wore a long travelling redingote
trimmed with braid and fur, rather premature clothing for the season,
but which the sharp cold air that was blowing at this moment made
appear very comfortable. He galloped away, and continued this pace
for about three- quarters of a mile, in spite of the unevenness of the
road, which followed a nearly straight line over hilly ground. It
would have been difficult to decide which to admire more, the horse's
limbs or the rider's lungs; for the latter, during this rapid ride,
had sung without taking breath, so to speak, the whole overture to
Wilhelm Tell. We must admit that the voice in which he sang the
andante of the Swiss mountaineer's chorus resembled a reed pipe more
than a hautboy; but, to make amends when he reached the presto, his
voice, a rather good bass, struck the horse's ears with such force
that the latter redoubled his vigor as if this melody had produced
upon him the effect of a trumpet sounding the charge on the day of
The traveller, whom we have probably recognized by his musical
feat, concluded his concert by stopping at the entrance to some woods
which extended from the top of the rocks to the river, breaking, here
and there, the uniformity of the fields. After gazing about him for
some time, he left the road and, entering the woods on the right,
stopped at the foot of a large tree. Near this tree was a very small
brook, which took its source not far away and descended with a sweet
murmur to the river, making a narrow bed in the clayey ground which it
watered. Such was the modesty of its course that a little brighter
green and fresher grass a few feet away from it were the only
indications of its presence. Nothing was wanting to make this an
idyllic place for a rendezvous, neither the protecting shade, the
warbling of birds in the trees, the picturesque landscape surrounding
it, nor the soft grass.
After dismounting from his steed and tying him to the branches of
an oak, thus conforming to the time-honored custom of lovers, the
cavalier struck his foot upon the ground three or four times to start
the circulation in his legs, and then drew from his pocket a very
pretty Breguet watch.
"Ten minutes past eight," said he; "I am late and yet I am early.
It looks as if the clocks at La Fauconnerie were not very well
regulated." He walked up and down with a quick step whistling with a
"Quand je quittai la Normandie
a refrain which the occasion brought to his mind. When this
pastime was exhausted he had recourse to another, the nature of which
proved that if the expected beauty had not punctuality for a virtue,
she was not one of those little exacting creatures always ready to
faint or whose delicate nerves make them intolerant of their lovers'
imperfections. Plunging his hand into one of the pockets in his
redingote, the waiting cavalier drew out a sealskin case filled with
Havana cigars, and, lighting one, began to smoke, while continuing his
But at the end of a few moments this palliative, like the first,
had exhausted its effect.
"Twenty-five minutes past eight!" exclaimed Marillac, as he looked
at his watch a second time; "I should like to know what this little
miniature rose takes me for? It was hardly worth the trouble of over-
straining this poor horse, who looks as wet as if he had come out of
the river. It is enough to give him inflammation of the lungs. If
Bergenheim were to see him sweating and panting like this in this
bleak wind, he would give me a sound blowing-up. Upon my word, it is
becoming comical! There are no more young girls! I shall see her
appear presently as spruce and conceited as if she had been playing
the finest trick in the world. It will do for once; but if we sojourn
in these quarters some time yet, she must be educated and taught to
say, 'If you please' and 'Thanks.' Ah! ha! she has no idea what
sort of man she is dealing with! Half past eight! If she is not here
in five minutes I shall go to La Fauconnerie and raise a terrible
uproar. I will break every bit of crockery there is in the
'Femme-sans-Tete' with blows from my whip. What can I do to kill
time?" He raised his head quickly, as he felt himself suddenly almost
smothered under a shower of dust. This was a fatal movement for him,
for his eyes received part of the libation destined for his hair. He
closed them with a disagreeable sensation, after seeing Mademoiselle
Reine Gobillot's fresh, chubby face, her figure prim beyond measure in
a lilac-and-green plaid gingham dress, and carrying a basket on her
arm, a necessary burden to maidens of a certain class who play truant.
"What sort of breeding is this?" exclaimed Marillac, rubbing his
eyes; "you have made me dance attendance for an hour and now you have
blinded me. I do not like this at all, you understand."
"How you scold me, just for a little pinch of dust!" replied
Reine, turning as red as a cherry as she threw the remainder of the
handful which she had taken from a mole-heap close by them.
"It is because it smarts like the devil," replied the artist, in a
milder tone, for he realized the ridiculousness of his anger; "since
you have hurt me, try at least to ease the pain; they say that to blow
in the eye will cure it."
"No. I'll do nothing of the kind—I don't like to be spoken to
The artist arose at once as he saw the young girl make a movement
as if to go; he put his arm about her waist and half forced her to sit
"The grass is damp and I shall stain my dress," said she, as a last
A handkerchief was at once spread upon the ground, in lieu of a
carpet, by the lover, who had suddenly become very polite again.
"Now, my dear Reine," continued he, "will you tell me why you come
so late? Do you know that for an hour I have been tearing my hair in
"Perhaps the dust will make it grow again," she replied, with a
malicious glance at Marillac, whose head was powdered with brown dust
as if a tobacco-box had been emptied upon it.
"Naughty girl!" he exclaimed, laughing, although his eyes looked
as if he were crying; and, acting upon the principle of retaliation
less odious in love than in war, he tried to snatch a kiss to punish
"Stop that, Monsieur Marillac! you know very well what you
"To love you forever, you entrancing creature," said he, in the
voice of a crocodile that sighs to attract his prey.
Reine pursed up her lips and assumed important airs, but, in order
to obey the feminine instinct which prescribes changing the subject of
conversation after too direct an avowal, with the firm intention of
returning to it later through another channel, she said:
"What were you doing just as I arrived? You were so busy you did
not hear me coming. You were so droll; you waved your arms in the air
and struck your forehead as you talked."
"I was thinking of you."
"But it was not necessary, in order to do that, to strike your head
with your fist. It must have hurt you."
"Adorable woman!" exclaimed the artist, in a passionate tone.
"Mon Dieu! how you frighten me. If I had known I would not have
come here at all. I must go away directly."
"Leave me already, queen of my heart! No! do not expect to do
that; I would sooner lose my life—"
"Will you stop! what if some one should hear you? they might be
passing," said Reine, gazing anxiously about her. "If you knew how
frightened I was in coming! I told mamma that I was going to the mill
to see my uncle; but that horrid old Lambernier met me just as I
entered the woods. What shall I do if he tells that he saw me? This
is not the road to the mill. It is to be hoped that he has not
followed me! I should be in a pretty plight!"
"You can say that you came to gather berries or nuts, or to hear
the nightingale sing; Mother Gobillot will not think anything of it.
Who is this Lambernier?"
"You know—the carpenter. You saw him at our house the other day."
"Ah! ah!" said Marillac, with interest, "the one who was turned
away from the chateau?"
"Yes, and they did well to do it, too; he is a downright bad man."
"He is the one who told you something about Madame de Bergenheim.
Tell me the story. Your mother interrupted us yesterday just as you
began telling it to me.—What was it that he said?"
"Oh! falsehoods probably. One can not believe anything that he
"But what did he tell you?"
"What difference does it make to you what is said about the
Baroness?" replied the young girl, rather spitefully, as she saw that
Marillac was not occupied in thinking of her exclusively.
"Pure curiosity. He told you then that he would tell the Baron
what he knew, and that the latter would give him plenty of money to
make him keep silent?"
"It makes no difference what he told me. Ask him if you wish to
know. Why did you not stay at the chateau if you can think only of the
Baroness? Are you in love with her?"
"I am in love with you, my dear. [The devil take me if she is not
jealous now! How shall I make her talk?] I am of the same opinion as
you," he replied, in a loud voice, "that all this talk of Lambernier's
is pure calumny."
"There is no doubt about it. He is well known about the place; he
has a wicked tongue and watches everything that one does or says in
order to report it at cross-purposes. Mon Dieu! suppose he should
make some story out of his seeing me enter these woods!"
"Madame de Bergenheim," continued the artist, with affectation, "is
certainly far above the gossip of a scoundrel of this kind."
Reine pursed up her lips, but made no reply.
"She has too many good qualities and virtues for people to believe
anything he says."
"Oh, as to that, there are hypocrites among the Parisian ladies as
well as elsewhere," said the young girl, with a sour look.
"Bless me!" thought Marillac, "we have it now. I'd wager my last
franc that I'll loosen her tongue."
"Madame de Bergenheim," he replied, emphasizing each word, "is such
a good woman, so sensible and so pretty!"
"Mon Dieu! say that you love her at once, then—that'll be plain
talk," exclaimed Reine, suddenly disengaging herself from the arm
which was still about her waist. "A great lady who has her carriages
and footmen in livery is a conquest to boast of! While a country
girl, who has only her virtue—"
She lowered her eyes with an air of affected modesty, and did not
finish her sentence.
"A virtue which grants a rendezvous at the end of three days'
acquaintance, and in the depths of the woods! That is amusing!"
thought the artist.
"Still, you will not be the first of the fine lady's lovers," she
continued, raising her head and trying to conceal her vexation under
an ironical air.
"These are falsehoods."
"Falsehoods, when I tell you that I know what I am speaking about!
Lambernier is not a liar."
"Lambernier is not a liar?" repeated a harsh, hoarse voice, which
seemed to come from the cavity of the tree under which they were
seated. "Who has said that Lambernier was a liar?"
At the same moment, the carpenter in person suddenly appeared upon
the scene. He stood before the amazed pair with his brown coat thrown
over his shoulders, as usual, and his broad-brimmed gray hat pulled
down over his ears, gazing at them with his deep, ugly eyes and a
sardonic laugh escaping from his lips.
Mademoiselle Reine uttered a shriek as if she had seen Satan rise
up from the ground at her feet; Marillac rose with a bound and seized
"You are a very insolent fellow," said he, in his ringing bass
voice." Go your way!"
"I receive no such orders," replied the workman, in a tone which
justified the epithet which had just been bestowed upon him; "we are
upon public ground, and I have a right to be here as well as you."
"If you do not take to your heels at once," said the artist,
becoming purple with rage, "I will cut your face in two."
"Apples are sometimes cut in two," said Lambernier, sneeringly
advancing his face with an air of bravado. "My face is not afraid of
your whip; you can not frighten me because you are a gentleman and I
am a workman! I snap my fingers at bourgeois like—"
This time he did not have time to finish his comparison; a blow
from the whip cut him in the face and made him reel in spite of
"By heaven!" he exclaimed, in a voice like thunder, "may I lose my
name if I do not polish you off well!"
He threw his coat on the grass, spat, in his hands and rubbed them
together, assuming the position of an athlete ready for a boxing-bout.
Mademoiselle Gobillot, arose, trembling with fright at this
demonstration, and uttered two or three inarticulate cries; but,
instead of throwing herself between the combatants in the approved
style, she ran away as fast as she could.
Although the weapons of the adversaries were not of a nature to
spill blood upon the turf, there was something warlike about their
countenances which would have done honor to ancient paladins.
Lambernier squatting upon his legs, according to the rules of
pugilism, and with his fists on a level with his shoulders, resembled,
somewhat, a cat ready to bound upon its prey. The artist stood with
his body thrown backward, his legs on a tension, his chin buried up to
his moustache in the fur collar of his coat, with whip lowered,
watching all his adversary's movements with a steady eye. When he saw
the carpenter advancing toward him, he raised his arm and gave him on
the left side a second lash from his whip, so vigorously applied that
the workman beat a retreat once more, rubbing his hands and roaring:
"Thunder! I'll finish you—"
He put his hands in his trousers' pockets and drew out one of those
large iron compasses such as carpenters use, and opened it with a
rapid movement. He then seized it in the centre and was thus armed
with a sort of double-pointed stiletto, which he brandished with a
Marillac, at this sight, drew back a few paces, passed his whip to
his left hand and, arming himself with his Corsican poniard, placed
himself in a position of defence.
"My friend," said he, with perfect deliberation, "my needle is
shorter than yours, but it pricks better. If you take one step nearer
me, if you raise your hand, I will bleed you like a wild boar."
Seeing the firm attitude of the artist, whose solid figure seemed
to denote rather uncommon vigor, and whose moustache and sparkling
eyes gave him a rather formidable aspect at this moment; above all,
when he saw the large, sharp blade of the poniard, Lambernier stopped.
"By the gods!" exclaimed Marillac, who saw that his bold looks had
produced their effect, "you are a Provencal, and I a Gascon. You have
a quick hand, comrade—"
"But, by Jove! you are the one who has the quick hand; you struck
me with your whip as if I had been a horse. You have put my eye
almost out. Do you imagine that I am well provided for like yourself
and have nothing to do but to flirt with girls? I need my eyes in
order to work, by God! Because you are a bourgeois and I am a
"I am not more of a bourgeois than you," replied the artist, rather
glad to see his adversary's fury exhaust itself in words, and his
attitude assume a less threatening character; "pick up your compass
and return to your work. Here," he added, taking two five-franc
pieces from his pocket. "You were a little boorish and I a little
hasty. Go and bathe your eyes with a glass of wine."
Lambernier scowled and his eyes darted ugly, hateful glances. He
hesitated a moment, as if he were thinking what he had better do, and
was weighing his chances of success in case of a hostile resolve.
After a few moments' reflection, prudence got the better of his
anger. He closed his compass and put it in his pocket, but he refused
the silver offered him.
"You are generous," said he, with a bitter smile; "five francs for
each blow of the whip! I know a good many people who would offer you
their cheek twelve hours of the day at that price. But I am not one
of that kind; I ask nothing of nobody."
"If Leonardo da Vinci could have seen this fellow's face just now,"
thought the artist, "he would not have had to seek so long for his
model for the face of Judas. Only for my poniard, my fate would have
been settled. This man was ready to murder me."
"Listen, Lambernier," said he, "I was wrong to strike you, and I
would like to atone for it. I have been told that you were sent away
from the chateau against your will. I am intimate enough with
Monsieur de Bergenheim to be useful to you; do you wish me to speak to
him for you?"
The carpenter stood motionless in his place, with his eyes fixed
upon his adversary while the latter was preparing his horse to mount,
eyes which seemed filled with hatred to their very depths. His face
suddenly changed its expression and became abjectly polite when he
heard himself addressed anew. He shook his head two or three times
"Unless you are the very devil," he said, "I defy you to make this
gentleman say yes when he has once said no. He turned me away like a
dog; all right. Let them laugh that win. It was that old idiot of a
Rousselet and that old simpleton of a coachman of Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil's who told tales about me. I could tell tales also if I
"But what motive could they have to send you away?" continued
Marillac, "you are a clever workman. I have seen your work at the
chateau; there are some rooms yet unfinished; there must have been
some very grave reason for their not employing you just at the moment
when they needed you most."
"They said that I talked with Mademoiselle Justine, and Madame
caused me to be discharged. She is mistress there, is she not? But I
am the one to make her repent for it."
"And how can you make her repent for it?" asked the artist, whose
curiosity, left ungratified by Mademoiselle Reine, was growing more
and more excited, "what can you have in common with Madame la
"Because she is a lady and I am a workman, you mean? All the same,
if I could only whisper two or three words in her ear, she would give
me more gold than I have earned since I worked at the chateau, I am
sure of it."
"By the powers! if I were in your place, I would say those words
to her this very day."
"So as to be thrown out by that band of idle fellows in their red
coats. None of that for me. I have my own scheme; let them laugh that
As he repeated this proverb, the workman uttered his usual sardonic
"Lambernier," said the artist, in a serious tone, "I have heard of
certain very strange speeches that you have made within the last few
days. Do you know that there is a punishment by law for those who
"Is it a calumny, when one can prove what he says?" replied the
carpenter, with assurance.
"What is it that you undertake to prove?" exclaimed Marillac,
"Eh! you know very well that if Monsieur le Baron—" he did not
continue, but with a coarse gesture he finished explaining his
"You can prove this?"
"Before the courts, if necessary."
"Before the courts would not amount to very much for you; but if
you will cease this talk and never open your mouth about all this,
whatever it may be, and will give to me, and me only, this proof of
which you speak, I will give you ten napoleons."
For a moment Lambernier gazed at the artist with a singularly
"So you have two sweethearts, then—one from the city and one from
the country, a married woman and this poor girl," said he, in a
jeering tone; "does little Reine know that she is playing second
"What do you mean to insinuate?"
"Oh! you are more clever than!"
The two men looked at each other in silence, trying to read each
"This is a lover of Madame de Bergenheim," thought Lambernier, with
the barefaced impudence of his kind; "if I were to tell him what I
know, my vengeance would be in good hands, without my taking the
trouble to commit myself."
"Here is a sneaking fellow who pretends to be deucedly strong in
diplomacy," said Marillac to himself; "but he is revengeful and I must
make him explain himself."
"Ten napoleons are not to be found every day," continued the
carpenter, after a moment's silence; "you may give them to me, if you
like, in a week."
"You will be able to prove to me, then, what you have said,"
replied Marillac, with hesitation, blushing in spite of himself at the
part he was playing at that moment, upon the odious side of which he
had not looked until now. "Bah!" said he to himself, in order to
quiet his conscience, "if this rascal really knows anything it is much
better that I should buy the secret than anybody else. I never should
take advantage of it, and I might be able to render the lady a
service. Is it not a gentleman's sworn duty to devote himself to the
defence of an imprudent beauty who is in danger?"
"I will bring you the proof you want," said the carpenter.
"Meet me Monday at four o'clock in the afternoon at the cross-roads
near the corner of the Come woods."
"At the end of the park?"
"Yes, a little above the rocks."
"I will be there. Until then, you will not say a word to anybody?"
"That is a bargain, since you buy the goods I have for sale—"
"Here is some money to bind the trade," replied the artist. And he
handed him the silver pieces he still held in his hand; Lambernier
took them this time without any objections, and put them in his
"Monday, at four o'clock!"
"Monday, at four o'clock!" repeated Marillac, as he mounted his
horse and rode away in great haste as if eager to take leave of his
companion. He turned when he reached the road, and, looking behind
him, saw the workman standing motionless at the foot of the tree.
"There is a scamp," thought he, "whose ball and chain are waiting
for him at Toulon or Brest, and I have just concluded a devilish
treaty with him. Bah! I have nothing to reproach myself with. Of two
evils choose the least; it remains to be seen whether Gerfaut is the
dupe of a coquette or whether his love is threatened with some
catastrophe; at all events, I am his friend, and I ought to clear up
this mystery and put him on his guard."
"Ten francs to-day, and ten napoleons Monday," said Lambernier as,
with an eye in which there was a mixture of scorn and hatred, he
watched the traveller disappear. "I should be a double idiot to
refuse. But this does not pay for the blows from your whip, you
puppy; when we have settled this affair of the fine lady, I shall
attend to you."
CHAPTER XII. AN INHARMONIOUS MUSICALE
The visitors referred to in the conversation between the two
friends arrived at the castle at an early hour, according to the
custom in the country, where they dine in the middle of the day.
Gerfaut saw from his chamber, where he had remained like Achilles
under his tent, half a dozen carriages drive one after another up the
avenue, bringing the guests announced by Marillac. Little by little
the company scattered through the gardens in groups; four or five
young girls under Aline's escort hurried to a swing, to which several
good-natured young men attached themselves, and among them Gerfaut
recognized his Pylades. During this time Madame de Bergenheim was
doing the honors of the house to the matrons, who thought this
amusement too youthful for their age and preferred a quiet walk
through the park. Christian, on his side, was explaining methods of
improvements to gentlemen of agricultural and industrial appearance,
who seemed to listen to him with great interest. Three or four others
had taken possession of the billiard-table; while the more venerable
among the guests had remained in the parlor with Mademoiselle de
"Have you a pair of clean trousers?" asked Marillac, hastily
entering his friend's room as the first bell rang for dinner. An
enormous green stain upon one of his knees was all the explanation
necessary on this subject.
"You, lose no time," said Gerfaut, as he opened a drawer in his
closet. "Which of these rustic beauties has had the honor of seeing
you on your knees at her feet?"
"It was that confounded swing! Silly invention! To sacrifice
one's self to please little girls! If I am ever caught at it again
I'll let you know! Your selfish method is a better, one. By the way,
Madame de Bergenheim asked me, with a rather sly look, whether you
were ill and whether you would not come down to dinner?"
"It: seemed like it. The lady smiled in a decidedly disagreeable
manner. I am not timid, but I would rather write a vaudeville in three
acts than to be obliged to make a declaration to her if she had that
impish smile on her lips. She has a way of protruding her under
lip-ugh! do you know you are terribly slender? Will you let me cut
the band of your trousers? I never could dance with my stomach
compressed in this manner."
"What about this secret you were to reveal to me?" Gerfaut
interrupted, with a smile which seemed to denote perfect security.
Marillac looked at his friend with a grave countenance, then began
to laugh in an embarrassed manner.
"We will leave serious matters until to-morrow," he replied. "The
essential thing to-day is to make ourselves agreeable. Madame de
Bergenheim asked me a little while ago whether we would be kind enough
to sing a few duets? I accepted for us both. I do not suppose that
the inhabitants of this valley have often heard the duet from Mose
with the embellishments a la Tamburini:
Palpito a quello aspetto,
'Gemo nel suo dolor.'
Would you prefer that or the one from 'Il Barbiere'? although that
is out of date, now."
"Whatever pleases you, but do not split my head about it in
advance. I wish that music and dancing were at the bottom of the
"With all my heart, but not the dinner. I gave a glance into the
dining- room; it promises to be very fine. Now, then, everybody has
returned to the house; to the table!"
The time has long since passed when Paris and the province formed
two regions almost foreign to each other. To-day, thanks to the
rapidity of communication, and the importations of all kinds which
reach the centre from the circumference without having time to spoil
on the way, Paris and the rest of France are only one immense body
excited by the same opinions, dressed in the same fashions, laughing
at the same bon mot, revolutionized by the same opinions.
Provincial customs have almost entirely lost their peculiarities; a
drawing-room filled with guests is the same everywhere. There are
sometimes exceptions, however. The company gathered at the Bergenheim
chateau was an example of one of those heterogeneous assemblies which
the most exclusive mistress of a mansion can not avoid if she wishes
to be neighborly, and in which a duchess may have on her right at the
table the village mayor, and the most elegant of ladies a corpulent
justice of the peace who believes he is making himself agreeable when
he urges his fair neighbor to frequent potations.
Madame de Bergenheim had discovered symptoms of haughty jealousy
among her country neighbors, always ready to feel themselves insulted
and very little qualified to make themselves agreeable in society. So
she resolved to extend a general invitation to all those whom she felt
obliged to receive, in order to relieve herself at once of a nuisance
for which no pleasure could prove an equivalent. This day was one of
her duty days.
Among these ladies, much more gorgeously than elegantly attired,
these healthy young girls with large arms, and feet shaped like
flat-irons, ponderous gentlemen strangled by their white cravats and
puffed up in their frock-coats, Gerfaut, whose nervous system had been
singularly irritated by his disappointment of the night before, felt
ready to burst with rage. He was seated at the table between two
ladies, who seemed to have exhausted, in their toilettes, every color
in the solar spectrum, and whose coquettish instincts were aroused by
the proximity of a celebrated writer. But their simperings were all
lost; the one for whom they were intended bore himself in a sulky way,
which fortunately passed for romantic melancholy; this rendered him
still more interesting in the eyes of his neighbor on the left, a
plump blonde about twenty-five years old, fresh and dimpled, who doted
upon Lord Byron, a common pretension among pretty, buxom women who
adore false sentimentality.
With the exception of a bow when he entered the drawing-room,
Octave had not shown Madame de Bergenheim any attention. The cold,
disdainful, bored manner in which he patiently endured the pleasures
of the day exceeded even the privilege for boorish bearing willingly
granted to gentlemen of unquestionable talent. Clemence, on the
contrary, seemed to increase in amiability and liveliness. There was
not one of her tiresome guests to whom she did not address some
pleasant remark, not one of those vulgar, pretentious women to whom
she was not gracious and attentive; one would have said that she had a
particular desire to be more attractive than usual, and that her
lover's sombre air added materially to her good humor.
After dinner they retired to the drawing-room where coffee was
served. A sudden shower, whose drops pattered loudly against the
windows, rendered impossible all plans for amusement out of doors.
Gerfaut soon noticed a rather animated conversation taking place
between Madame de Bergenheim, who was somewhat embarrassed as to how
to amuse her guests for the remainder of the afternoon, and Marillac,
who, with his accustomed enthusiasm, had constituted himself master of
ceremonies. A moment later, the drawing-room door opened, and
servants appeared bending under the burden of an enormous grand piano
which was placed between the windows. At this sight, a tremor of
delight ran through the group of young girls, while Octave, who was
standing in one corner near the mantel, finished his Mocha with a
still more melancholy air.
"Now, then!" said Marillac, who had been extremely busy during
these preparations, and had spread a dozen musical scores upon the top
of the piano, "it is agreed that we shall sing the duet from Mose.
There are two or three little boarding-school misses here whose
mothers are dying for them to show off. You understand that we must
sacrifice ourselves to encourage them. Besides, a duet for male
voices is the thing to open a concert with."
"A concert! has Madame de Bergenheim arranged to pasture us in
this sheepfold in order to make use of us this evening?" replied
Gerfaut, whose ill-humor increased every moment.
"Five or six pieces only, afterward they will have a dance. I have
an engagement with your diva; if you wish for a quadrille and have not
yet secured your number, I should advise you to ask her for it now,
for there are five or six dandies who seem to be terribly attentive to
her. After our duet I shall sing the trio from La Date Blanche, with
those young ladies who have eyes as round as a fish's, and
apricot-colored gowns on— those two over there in the corner, near
that pretty blonde who sat beside you at table and ogled you all the
time. She had already bored me to death! I do not know whether I
shall be able to hit my low 'G' right or not. I have a cataclysm of
charlotte-russe in my stomach. Just listen:
'A cette complaisance!—'"
Marillac leaned toward his friend and roared in his ear the note
supposed to be the "G" in question.
"Like an ophicleide," said Gerfaut, who could not help laughing at
the importance the artist attached to his display of talent.
"In that case I shall risk my great run at the end of the first
solo. Two octaves from 'E' to 'E'! Zuchelli was good enough to give
me a few points as to the time, and I do it rather nicely."
"Madame would like to speak to Monsieur," said a servant, who
interrupted him in the midst of his sentence.
"Dolce, soave amor," warbled the artist, softly, as he responded to
the call from the lady of the house, trying to fix in his mind that
run, which he regarded as one of the most beautiful flowers in his
Everybody was seated, Madame de Bergenheim sat at the piano and
Marillac stood behind her. The artist selected one of the scores,
spread it out on the rack, turned down the corners so that during the
execution he might not be stopped by some refractory leaf, coughed in
his deep bass voice, placed himself in such a manner as to show the
side of his head which he thought would produce the best effect upon
the audience, then gave a knowing nod to Gerfaut, who still stood
gloomy and isolated in a far corner.
"We trespass upon your kindness too much, Monsieur," said Madame de
Bergenheim to him, when he had responded to this mute invitation; and
as she struck a few chords, she raised her dark, brown eyes to his.
It was the first glance she had given him that day; from coquetry,
perhaps, or because sorrow for her lover had softened her heart, or
because she felt remorse for the extreme harshness of her note the
night before, we must admit that this glance had nothing very
discouraging in it. Octave bowed, and spoke a few words as coldly
polite as he would have spoken to a woman sixty years of age.
Madame de Bergenheim lowered her eyes and endeavored to smile
disdainfully, as she struck the first bars of the duet.
The concert began. Gerfaut had a sweet, clear, tenor voice which
he used skilfully, gliding over dangerous passages, skipping too
difficult ones which he thought beyond his execution, singing, in
fact, with the prudence of an amateur who can not spend his time
studying runs and chromatic passages four hours daily. He sang his
solo with a simplicity bordering upon negligence, and even substituted
for the rather complicated passage at the end a more than modest
Clemence, for whom he had often sung, putting his whole soul into
the performance, was vexed with this affectation of indifference. It
seemed to her as if he ought, for her sake, to make more of an effort
in her drawing-room, whatever might be their private quarrel; she felt
it was a consideration due to her and to which his numerous homages
had accustomed her. She entered this new grievance in a double-entry
book, which a woman always devotes to the slightest actions of the man
who pays court to her.
Marillac, on the contrary, was grateful to his friend for this
indifference of execution, for he saw in it an occasion to shine at
his expense. He began his solo 'E il ciel per noi sereno,' with an
unusual tension of the larynx, roaring out his low notes. Except for
the extension being a little irregular and unconnected, he did not
acquit himself very badly in the first part. When he reached his
final run, he took a long breath, as if it devolved upon him to set in
motion all the windmills in Montmartre, and started with a majestic
fury; the first forty notes, while they did not resemble Mademoiselle
Grisi's pearly tones, ascended and descended without any notable
accident; but at the last stages of the descent, the singer's breath
and voice failed him at the same moment, the "A" came out weak, the
"G" was stifled, the "F" resembled the buzzing of a bee, and the "E"
Zuchelli's run was like one of those Gothic staircases which show
an almost complete state of preservation upon the upper floor, but
whose base, worn by time, leaves a solution of continuity between the
ground and the last step.
Madame de Bergenheim waited the conclusion of this dangerous run,
not thinking to strike the final chord; the only sound heard was the
rustling of the dilettante's beard, as his chin sought his voice in
vain in the depths of his satin cravat, accompanied by applause from a
benevolent old lady who had judged of the merit of the execution by
the desperate contortions of the singer.
"D—n that charlotte-russe!" growled the artist, whose face was as
red as a lobster.
The rest of the duet was sung without any new incident, and gave
"Madame, your piano is half a tone too low," said the basso, with a
"That is true," replied Clemence, who could not restrain a smile;
"I have so little voice that I am obliged to have my piano tuned to
suit it. You can well afford to pardon me for my selfishness, for you
sang like an angel."
Marillac bowed, partly consoled by this compliment, but thinking to
himself that a hostess's first duty was to have her piano in tune, and
not to expose a bass singer to the danger of imperilling his low "E"
before an audience of forty.
"Madame, can I be of any more service to you?" asked Gerfaut, as
he leaned toward Madame de Bergenheim, with one of his coldest smiles.
"I do not wish to impose further upon your kindness, Monsieur,"
said she, in a voice which showed her secret displeasure.
The poet bowed and walked away.
Then Clemence, upon general request, sang a romance with more taste
than brilliancy, and more method than expression. It seemed as if
Octave's icy manner had reacted upon her, in spite of the efforts she
had made at first to maintain a cheerful air. A singular oppression
overcame her; once or twice she feared her voice would fail her
entirely. When she finished, the compliments and applause with which
she was overwhlemed seemed so insupportable to her that it was with
difficulty she could restrain herself from leaving the room. While
exasperated by her weakness, she could not help casting a glance in
Octave's direction. She could not catch his eye, however, as he was
busy talking with Aline. She felt so lonely and deserted at this
moment, and longed so for this glance which she could not obtain, that
tears of vexation filled her eyes.
"I was wrong to write him as I did," thought she; "but if he really
loved me, he would not so quickly resign himself to obeying me!"
A woman in a drawing-room resembles a soldier on a breastwork;
self- abnegation is the first of her duties; however much she may
suffer, she must present as calm and serene a countenance as a warrior
in the hour of danger, and fall, if necessary, upon the spot, with
death in her heart and a smile upon her lips. In order to obey this
unwritten law, Madame de Bergenheim, after a slight interruption,
seated herself at the piano to accompany three or four young girls who
were each to sing in turn the songs that they had been drilled on for
Marillac, who had gone to strengthen his stomach with a glass of
rum, atoned for his little mishap, in the trio from La Dame Blanche,
and everything went smoothly. Finally, to close this concert (may
heaven preserve us from all exhibitions of this kind!), Aline was led
to the piano by her brother, who, like all people who are not musical,
could not understand why one should study music for years if not from
love for the art. Christian was fond of his little sister and very
proud of her talents. The poor child, whose courage had all
disappeared, sang in a fresh, trembling little voice, a romance
revised and corrected at her boarding-school. The word love had been
replaced by that of friendship, and to repair this slight fault of
prosody, the extra syllable disappeared in a hiatus which would have
made Boileau's blond wig stand on end. But the Sacred Heart has a
system of versification of its own which, rather than allow the
dangerous expression to be used, let ultra- modesty destroy poetry!
This sample of sacred music was the final number of the concert;
after that, they began dancing, and Gerfaut invited Aline. Whether
because he wished to struggle against his ill-humor, or from kindness
of heart because he understood her emotion, he began to talk with the
young girl, who was still blushing at her success. Among his talents,
Octave possessed in a peculiar degree that of adapting his
conversation to the age, position, and character of his companions.
Aline listened with unconcealed pleasure to her partner's words; the
elasticity of her step and a sort of general trembling made her seem
like a flower swaying to the breeze, and revealed the pleasure which
his conversation gave her. Every time her eyes met Octave's
penetrating glance they fell, out of instinctive modesty. Each word,
however indifferent it might be, rang in her ears sweet and melodious;
each contact with his hand seemed to her like a tender pressure.
Gerfaut experienced a feeling of melancholy as he noticed how this
fresh, innocent rose brightened up at each word he uttered, and he
"She would love me as I want to be loved, with all her heart, mind,
and soul. She would kneel before my love as before an altar, while
He glanced in the direction where Madame de Bergenheim was dancing
with Marillac, and met her gaze fixed full upon him. The glance which
he received was rapid, displeased, and imperious. It signified
clearly: "I forbid you to speak thus to your partner."
Octave, at that moment; was not disposed to obedience. After
glancing over the quadrille, as if it were by mere chance that his
eyes had met Clemence's, he turned toward Aline and redoubled his
A moment later, he received, not directly, but through the medium
of the mirror—that so often indiscreet confidant—a second glance
more sombre and threatening than before.
"Very good," said he, to himself, as he led the young girl to her
seat; "we are jealous. That alters the situation. I know now where
the ramparts are the weakest and where to begin my attack."
No other incident marked the day. The guests left at nightfall,
and the society was reduced to the usual members of the household.
Octave entered his room after supper, humming an Italian air,
evidently in such good spirits that his friend was quite surprised.
"I give it up, I can not understand your conduct," said the latter;
"you have been as solemn as an owl all day, and now here you are as
gay as a lark; have you had an understanding?"
"I am more vexed than ever."
"And you enjoy being so?"
"Ah! you are playing 'who loses wins!'"
"Not exactly; but as my good sentiments lead to nothing, I hope to
conduct myself in such a disagreeable way as to force this capricious
creature to adore me."
"The devil! that is clever. Besides, it is a system as good as any
other. Women are such extraordinary creatures!"
"Woman," said Octave, "resembles a pendulum, whose movement is a
continual reaction; when it moves to the right, it has to go to the
left in order to return to the right again, and so on. Suppose virtue
is on one side and love on the other, and the feminine balance between
them, the odds are that, having moved to the right in a violent
manner, it will return none the less energetically to the left; for
the longer a vibration has been, the greater play the contrary
vibration has. In order to hasten the action of this pendulum I am
about to attach to it— to act as extra balance-weight—a little
anguish which I ought to have employed sooner."
"Why make her suffer, since you believe that she loves you?"
"Why? Because she drives me to it. Do you fancy that I torture
her willingly; that I take pleasure in seeing her cheeks grow pale
from insomnia and her eyes show traces of tears? I love her, I tell
you; I suffer and weep with her. But I love her, and I must make sure
of her love. If she will leave but a road full of brambles and sharp
stones for me to reach her, must I give up the struggle just because I
run the risk by taking her with me, of wounding her charming feet? I
will cure them with my kisses!"
"Listen to me! I am not in love; I am an artist. If I have some
peculiar ideas, it is not my fault. And you, in your character of
docile lover, have you decided to yield?"
"Very well! after all, you are right. The science of love
resembles those old signs upon which one reads: 'Here, hair is dressed
according to one's fancy.' If this angel wishes her hair pulled, do
it for her."
CHAPTER XIII. MONSIEUR DE BERGENHEIM
Some men in society marry too soon, a great number too late, a
small and fortunate proportion at an opportune time. Young men in the
country, of good family, are usually established in marriage by their
parents as early as possible. When the family council finds an
heiress who answers all the conditions of the programme laid out, they
begin by giving the victim his cue. Provided the young lady has not a
positively crooked nose, arms too red, and too uncouth a
waist—sometimes even notwithstanding these little misfortunes—the
transaction is concluded without any difficulty.
Clemence and Christian should be placed in the first rank of
privileged couples of this kind. The most fastidious old uncle or
precise old dowager could not discover the slightest pretense for
criticism. Age, social position, wealth, physical endowments, all
seemed united by a chance as rare as fortunate. So Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil, who had very high pretensions for her niece, made no
objection upon receiving the first overtures. She had not, at this
time, the antipathy for her future nephew's family which developed
later. The Bergenheims were in her eyes very well-born gentleman.
A meeting took place at the Russian Embassy. Bergenheim came in
uniform; it was etiquette to do so, as the minister of war was
present; but at the same time, of course, there was a little vanity on
his part, for his uniform showed off his tall, athletic figure to the
best advantage. Christian was certainly a very handsome soldier; his
moustache and eyebrows were of a lighter tint than his complexion, and
gave him that martial air which pleases women. Clemence could find no
reason for a refusal. The way in which she had been brought up by her
aunt had not rendered her so happy but that she often desired to
change her situation. Like the greater number of young girls, she
consented to become a wife so as not to remain a maiden; she said yes,
so as not to say no.
As to Christian, he was in love with his wife as nine out of ten
cavalry officers know how to love, and he seemed perfectly satisfied
with the sentiment that he received in return for this sudden
affection. A few successes with young belles, for whom an epaulette
has an irresistible attraction, had inspired Baron de Bergenheim with
a confidence in himself the simplicity of which excused the conceit.
He persuaded himself that he pleased Clemence because she suited him
There are singers who pretend to read music at sight; give them a
score by Gluck—"I beg your pardon," they will say, "my part is
written here in the key of 'C' and I sing only in the key of 'G'!"
How many men do not know even the key of 'G' in matters of love!
Unfortunately for him, Bergenheim was one of that number. After
three years of married life, he had not divined the first note in
Clemence's character. He decided in his own mind, at the end of a few
months, that she was cold, if not heartless. This discovery, which
ought to have wounded his vanity, inspired him, on the contrary, with
a deeper respect for her; insensibly this reserve reacted upon
himself, for love is a fire whose heat dies out for want of fuel, and
its cooling off is more sudden when the flame is more on the surface
than in the depths.
The revolution of 1830 stopped Christian's career, and gave further
pretexts for temporary absences which only added to the coolness which
already existed between husband and wife. After handing in his
resignation, the Baron fixed his residence at his chateau in the
Vosges mountains, for which he shared the hereditary predilection of
his family. His tastes were in perfect harmony with this dwelling, for
he had quickly become the perfect type of a country gentleman,
scorning the court and rarely leaving his ancestral acres. He was too
kind-hearted to exact that his wife should share his country tastes
and retired life. The unlimited confidence which he had in her, a
loyalty which never allowed him to suppose evil or suspect her, a
nature very little inclined to jealousy, made him allow Clemence the
greatest liberty. The young woman lived at will in Paris with her
aunt, or at Bergenheim with her husband, without a suspicious thought
ever entering his head. Really,—what had he to fear? What wrong
could she reproach him with? Was he not full of kindness and
attention toward her? Did he not leave her mistress of her own
fortune, free to do as she liked, to gratify every caprice? He thus
lived upon his faith in the marriage contract, with unbounded
confidence and old-fashioned loyalty.
According to general opinion, Madame de Bergenheim was a very
fortunate woman, to whom virtue must be so easy that it could hardly
be called a merit. Happiness, according to society, consists in a box
at the Opera, a fine carriage, and a husband who pays the bills
without frowning. Add to the above privileges, a hundred thousand
francs' worth of diamonds, and a woman has really no right to dream or
to suffer. There are, however, poor, loving creatures who stifle
under this happiness as if under one of those leaden covers that Dante
speaks of; they breathe, in imagination, the pure, vital air that a
fatal instinct has revealed to them; they struggle between duty and
desire; they gaze, like captive doves and with a sorrowful eye, upon
the forbidden region where it would be so blissful to soar; for, in
fastening a chain to their feet, the law did not bandage their eyes,
and nature gave them wings; if the wings tear the chain asunder, shame
and misfortune await them! Society will never forgive the heart that
catches a glimpse of the joys it is unacquainted with; even a brief
hour in that paradise has to be expiated by implacable social
damnation and its everlasting flames.
CHAPTER XIV. GERFAUT'S ALLEGORY
There almost always comes a moment when a woman, in her combat
against love, is obliged to call falsehood to the help of duty.
Madame de Bergenheim had entered this terrible period, in which
virtue, doubting its own strength, does not blush to resort to other
resources. At the moment when Octave, a man of experience, was
seeking assistance in exciting her jealousy, she was meditating a plan
of defence founded upon deceit. In order to take away all hope from
her lover, she pretended a sudden affection for her husband, and in
spite of her secret remorse she persisted in this role for two days;
but during the night her tears expiated her treachery. Christian
greeted his wife's virtuous coquetry with the gratitude and eagerness
of a husband who has been deprived of love more than he likes.
Gerfaut was very indignant at the sight of this perfidious manoeuvre,
the intention of which he immediately divined; and his rage wanted
only provocation to break out in full force.
One evening they were all gathered in the drawing-room with the
exception of Aline, whom a reprimand from Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
had exiled to her room. The old lady, stretched out in her chair, had
decided to be unfaithful to her whist in favor of conversation.
Marillac, leaning his elbows upon a round table, was negligently
sketching some political caricatures, at that time very much the
fashion, and particularly agreeable to the Legitimist party.
Christian, who was seated near his wife, whose hand he was pressing
with caressing familiarity, passed from one subject to another, and
showed in his conversation the overwhelming conceit of a happy man who
regards his happiness as a proof of superiority.
Gerfaut, standing, gazed gloomily at Clemence, who leaned toward
her husband and seemed to listen eagerly to his slightest word.
Bergenheim was a faithful admirer of the classics, as are all country
gentlemen, who introduce a sentiment of propriety into their literary
opinions and prefer the ancient writers to the modern, for the reason
that their libraries are much richer in old works than in modern
books. The Baron unmercifully sacrificed Victor Hugo and Alexandre
Dumas, whom he had never read, upon the altar of Racine and Corneille,
of which he possessed two or three editions, and yet it would have
embarrassed him to recite half a dozen verses from them. Marillac
boldly defended the cause of contemporary literature, which he
considered as a personal matter, and poured out a profusion of
sarcastic remarks in which there was more wit than good taste.
"The gods fell from Olympus, why should they not also fall from
Parnassus?" said the artist, finally, with a triumphant air. "Say
what you will, Bergenheim, your feeble opposition will not prevail
against the instincts of the age. The future is ours, let me tell
you, and we are the high priests of the new religion; is it not so,
At these words, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil shook her head, gravely.
"A new religion!" said she; "if this pretension should be verified
you would only be guilty of heresy, and, without allowing myself to be
taken in, I can understand how elevated minds and enthusiastic hearts
might be attracted by the promises of a deceptive Utopia; but you,
gentlemen, whom I believe to be sincere, do you not see to what an
extent you delude yourselves? What you call religion is the most
absolute negation of religious principles; it is the most distressing
impiety ornamented with a certain sentimental hypocrisy which has not
even the courage frankly to proclaim its principles."
"I swear to you, Mademoiselle, that I am religious three days out
of four," replied Marillac; "that is something; there are some
Christians who are pious only on Sunday."
"Materialism is the source from which modern literature takes its
inspiration," continued the old lady; "and this poisonous stream not
only dries up the thoughts which would expand toward heaven, but also
withers all that is noble in human sentiment. To-day, people are not
content to deny God, because they are not pure enough to comprehend
Him; they disown even the weakness of the heart, provided they have an
exalted and dignified character. They believe no longer in love. All
the women that your fashionable writers tell us about are vulgar and
sometimes unchaste creatures, to whom formerly a gentleman would have
blushed to give one glance or to offer a supper. I say this for your
benefit, Monsieur de Gerfaut, for in this respect you are far from
being irreproachable; and I could bring forth your books to support my
theory. If I accuse you of atheism, in love, what have you to say in
Carried away by one of those impulsive emotions which men of
imagination can not resist, Octave arose and said:
"I should not deny such an accusation. Yes, it is a sad thing, but
true, and only weak minds recoil from the truth: reality exists only
in material objects; all the rest is merely deception and fancy. All
poetry is a dream, all spiritualism a fraud! Why not apply to love
the accommodating philosophy which takes the world as it is, and does
not throw a savory fruit into the press under the pretext of
extracting I know not what imaginary essence? Two beautiful eyes, a
satin skin, white teeth, and a shapely foot and hand are of such
positive and inestimable value! Is it not unreasonable, then, to
place elsewhere than in them all the wealth of love? Intellect
sustains its owner, they say; no, intelligence kills. It is thought
that corrupts sensation and causes suffering where, but for that, joy
would reign supreme.
"Thought! accursed gift! Do we give or ask a thought of the rose
whose perfume we breathe? Why not love as we breathe? Would not
woman, considered simply as a perfectly organized vegetation, be the
queen of creation? Why not enjoy her perfume as we bend before her,
leaving her clinging to the ground where she was born and lives? Why
tear her from the earth, this flower so fresh, and have her wither in
our hands as we raise her up like an offering? Why make of so weak
and fragile a creature a being above all others, for whom our
enthusiasm can find no name, and then discover her to be but an
"Angel! yes, of course, but an angel of the Earth, not of Heaven;
an angel of flesh, not of light! By dint of loving, we love wrongly.
We place our mistress too high and ourselves too low; there is never a
pedestal lofty enough for her, according to our ideas. Fools! Oh!
reflection is always wise, but desire is foolish, and our conduct is
regulated by our desire. We, above all, with our active, restless
minds, blase in many respects, unbelieving in others and disrespectful
in the remainder, soar over life as over an impure lake, and look at
everything with contempt, seeking in love an altar before which we can
humble our pride and soften our disdain.
"For there is in every man an insurmountable need to fall on his
knees before no matter what idol, if it remains standing and allows
itself to be adored. At certain hours, a prayerbell rings in the
depth of the heart, the sound of which throws him upon his knees as it
cries: 'Kneel!' And then the very being who ignores God in His
churches and scorns kings upon their thrones, the being who has
already exhausted the hollow idols of glory and fame, not having a
temple to pray in, makes a fetich for himself in order to have a
divinity to adore, so as not to be alone in his impiety, and to see,
above his head when he arises, something that shall not be empty and
vacant space. This man seeks a woman, takes all that he has, talent
passion, youth, enthusiasm, all the wealth of his heart, and throws
them at her feet like the mantle that Raleigh spread out before
Elizabeth, and he says to this woman: 'Walk, O my queen; trample under
your blessed feet the heart of your adoring slave!' This man is a
fool, is he not? For when the queen has passed, what remains upon the
Gerfaut accompanied these words with such a withering glance that
the one for whom they were intended felt her blood freeze in her
veins, and withdrew the hand her husband had kept till then in his;
she soon arose and seated herself at the other side of the table,
under the pretext of getting nearer the lamp to work, but in reality
in order to withdraw from Christian's vicinity. Clemence had expected
her lover's anger, but not his scorn; she had not strength to endure
this torture, and the conjugal love which had, not without difficulty,
inflamed her heart for the last few days, fell to ashes at the first
breath of Octave's indignation.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil greeted the Vicomte's words indulgently;
for, from consummate pride, she separated herself from other women.
"So then," said she, "you pretend that if to-day love is painted
under false and vulgar colors, the fault is the model's, not the
"You express my thought much better than I could have done it
myself," said Gerfaut, in an ironical tone; "where are the angels
whose portraits are called for?"
"They are in our poetical dreams," said Marillac, raising his eyes
to the ceiling with an inspired air.
"Very well! tell us your dreams then, instead of copying a reality
which it is impossible for you to render poetic, since you yourselves
see it without illusions."
Gerfaut smiled bitterly at this suggestion, artlessly uttered by
"My dreams," he replied, "I should tell them to you poorly indeed,
for the first blessing of the awakening is forgetfulness, and to-day I
am awake. However, I remember how I allowed myself to be once
overcome by a dream that has now vanished, but still emits its
luminous trail in my eyes. I thought I had discovered, under a
beautiful and attractive appearance, the richest treasure that the
earth can bestow upon the heart of man; I thought I had discovered a
soul, that divine mystery, deep as the ocean, ardent as a flame, pure
as air, glorious as heaven itself, infinite as space, immortal as
eternity! It was another universe, where I should be king. With what
ardent and holy love I attempted the conquest of this new world, but,
less fortunate than Columbus, I met with shipwreck instead of
Clemence, at this avowal of her lover's defeat, threw him a glance
of intense contradiction, then lowered her eyes, for she felt her face
suffused with burning blushes.
When he entered his room that night, Gerfaut went straight to the
window. He could see in the darkness the light which gleamed in
"She is alone," said he to himself; "certainly heaven protects us,
for in the state of exasperation I am in, I should have killed them
CHAPTER XV. DECLARATION OF WAR
Far from rejoicing at this moment in the triumph he had just
obtained, Gerfaut fell into one of those attacks of disenchantment,
during which, urged on by some unknown demon, he unmercifully
administered to himself his own dreaded sarcasm. Being unable to
sleep, he arose and opened his window again, and remained with his
elbows resting upon the sill for some time. The night was calm,
numberless stars twinkled in the heavens, the moon bathed with its
silvery light the tops of the trees, through which a monotonous breeze
softly rustled. After gazing at this melancholy picture of sleeping
nature, the poet smiled disdainfully, and said to himself "This comedy
must end. I can not waste my life thus. Doubtless, glory is a dream
as well as love; to pass the night idiotically gazing at the moon and
stars is, after all, as reasonable as to grow pale over a work
destined to live a day, a year, or a century! for what renown lasts
longer than that? If I were really loved, I should not regret those
wasted hours; but is it true that I am loved? There are moments when
I recover my coolness and clearness of mind, a degree of self
possession incompatible with the enthusiasm of genuine passion; at
other times, it is true, a sudden agitation renders me powerless and
leaves me as weak as a child. Oh, yes, I love her in a strange
manner; the sentiment that I feel for her has become a study of the
mind as well as an emotion of the heart, and that is what gives it its
despotic tenacity; for a material impression weakens and gradually
dies out, but when an energetic intelligence is brought to bear upon
it, it becomes desperate. I should be wrong to complain. Passion, a
passive sentiment! This word has a contradictory meaning for me. I
am a lover as Napoleon was an emperor: nobody forced the crown upon
him, he took it and crowned himself with his own hand. If my crown
happens to be a thorny one, whom can I accuse? Did not my brow crave
"I have loved this woman of my own choosing, above all others; the
choice made, I have worked at my love as I would at a cherished poem;
it has been the subject of all my meditations, the fairy of all my
dreams, for more than a year. I have not had a thought in which I
have not paid her homage. I have devoted my talents to her; it seemed
to me that by loving and perpetually contemplating her image, I might
at last become worthy of painting it. I was conscious of a grand
future, if only she had understood me; I often thought of Raphael and
his own Fornarina. There is a throne vacant in poetry; I had dreamed
of this throne in order to lay it at Clemence's feet. Oh! although
this may never be more than a dream, this dream has given me hours of
incomparable happiness! I should be ungrateful to deny it.
"And yet this love is only a fictitious sentiment; I realize it
today. It is not with her that I am in love, it is with a woman
created by my imagination, and whom I see clearly within this
unfeeling marble shape. When we have meditated for a long time, our
thoughts end by taking life and walking by our side. I can now
understand the allegory of Adam taking Eve from his own substance; but
flesh forms a palpitating flesh akin to itself; the mind creates only
a shadow, and a shadow can not animate a dead body. Two dead bodies
can not make a living one; a body without a soul is only a
cadaver—and she has no soul."
Gerfaut sat motionless for some time with his face buried in his
hands; suddenly he raised his head and burst into harsh laughter.
"Enough of this soaring in the clouds!" he exclaimed; "let us come
down to earth again. It is permissible to think in verse, but one
must act in prose, and that is what I shall do tomorrow. This woman's
caprices, which she takes for efforts of virtue, have made of me a
cruel and inexorable man; I have begged in vain for peace; if she
wishes war, very well, so be it, she shall have war."
CHAPTER XVI. GERFAUT WINS A POINT
For several days, Gerfaut followed, with unrelenting perseverance,
the plan which he had mapped out in that eventful night. The most
exacting woman could but appear satisfied with the politeness he
displayed toward Madame de Bergenheim, but nothing in his conduct
showed the slightest desire for an explanation. He was so careful of
every look, gesture, and word of his, that it would have been
impossible to discover the slightest difference in his actions toward
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, and the manner in which he treated
Clemence. His choicest attentions and most particular efforts at
amiability were bestowed upon Aline. He used as much caution as
cunning, in his little game, for he knew that in spite of her
inclination to be jealous, Madame de Bergenheim would never believe in
a sudden desertion, and that she would surely discover the object of
his ruse, if he made the mistake of exaggerating it in the least.
While renouncing the idea of a direct attack, he did not work with
any less care to fortify his position. He redoubled his activity in
widening the breach between the old aunt and the husband, following
the principles of military art, that one should become master of the
exterior works of a stronghold before seriously attacking its
It was, in a way, by reflection that Octave's passion reached
Clemence. Every few moments she learned some detail of this indirect
attack, to which it was impossible for her to raise any objections.
"Monsieur de Gerfaut has promised to spend a fortnight longer with
us," said her aunt to her, in a jeering tone.
"Really, Gerfaut is very obliging," said her husband, in his turn;
"he thinks it very strange that we have not had a genealogical tree
made to put in the drawing-room. He pretends that it is an
indispensable complement to my collection of family portraits, and he
offers to do me the favor of assuming charge of it. It seems, from
what your aunt tells me, that he is very learned in heraldry. Would
you believe it, he spent the whole morning in the library looking over
files of old manuscripts? I am delighted, for this will prolong his
stay here. He is a very charming fellow; a Liberal in politics, but a
gentleman at heart. Marillac, who is a superb penman, undertakes to
make a fair copy of the genealogy and to illuminate the crests. Do
you know, we can not find my great-grandmother Cantelescar's
coat-of-arms? But, my darling, it seems to me that you are not very
kindly disposed toward your cousin Gerfaut."
Madame de Bergenheim, when these remarks and various others of a
similar nature came up, tried to change the conversation, but she felt
an antipathy for her husband bordering upon aversion. For lack of
intelligence is one of the faults women can pardon the least; they
look upon a confidence which is lulled into security by faith in their
honor, and a blindness which does not suspect the possibility of a
fall, as positive crimes.
"Look at these pretty verses Monsieur de Gerfaut has written in my
album, Clemence," said Aline, in her turn. During vacation, among her
other pleasures forbidden her at the Sacred Heart, the young girl had
purchased a superbly bound album, containing so far but two ugly
sketches in sepia, one very bad attempt in water-colors, and the
verses in question. She called this "my album!" as she called a
certain little blank book, "my diary!" To the latter she confided
every night the important events of the day. This book had assumed
such proportions, during the last few days, that it threatened to
reach the dimensions of the Duchesse d'Abrantes' memoires, but if the
album was free to public admiration, nobody ever saw the diary, and
Justine herself never had been able to discover the sanctuary that
concealed this mysterious manuscript.
Aline was not so pleasantly received as the others, and Madame de
Bergenheim hardly concealed the ill-humor her pretty sister-in-law's
beaming face caused her every time Octave's name was mentioned.
The latter's diplomatic conduct was bearing fruit, and his
expectations were being fulfilled with a precision which proved the
correctness of his calculations.
In the midst of all the contradictory sentiments of fear, remorse,
vexation, love, and jealousy, Clemence's head was so turned, at times,
that she did not know what she did want. She found herself in one of
those situations when a woman of a complex and mobile character whom
all sensations impress, passes, with surprising facility, from one
resolve to another entirely opposed to it. After being frightened
beyond measure by her lover's presence in her husband's house, she
ended by becoming accustomed to it, and then by ridiculing her first
"Truly," she thought, at times, "I was too silly thus to torment
myself and make myself ill; I was wanting in self-respect to mistrust
myself to such an extent, and to see danger where there was none. He
can not expect to make himself so very formidable while scrawling this
genealogical tree. If he came one hundred leagues from Paris for
that, he really does not merit such severe treatment."
Then, having thus reassured herself against the perils of her
position, without realizing that to fear danger less was to embolden
love, she proceeded to examine her lover's conduct.
"He seems perfectly resigned," she said, to herself; "not one word
or glance for two days! Since he resigns himself so easily, he might,
it seems to me, obey me entirely and go away; or, if he wishes to
disobey me, he might do it in a less disagreeable manner. For really,
his manner is almost rude; he might at least remember that I am his
hostess, and that he is in my house. I do not see what pleasure he
can take in talking to this little girl. I wager that his only object
is to annoy me! He deceives himself most assuredly; it is all the
same to me! But Aline takes all this seriously! She has become very
coquettish, the last few days! It certainly is very wrong for him to
try to turn this child's head. I should like to know what he would
say to justify himself."
Thus, little by little, she mentally reached the point to which
Octave wished to bring her. The desire for an explanation with him,
which she dared not admit to herself at first from a feeling of pride,
became greater from day to day, and at last Octave himself could not
have longed more ardently for an interview. Now that Octave seemed to
forget her, she realized that she loved him almost to adoration. She
reproached herself for her harshness toward him more than she had ever
reproached herself for her weakness. Her antipathy for all that did
not concern him increased to such a degree that the most simple of
household duties became odious to her. It seemed to her that all the
people about her were enemies bent upon separating her from happiness,
for happiness was Octave; and this happiness, made up of words,
letters, glances from him, was lost!
The evening of the fourth day, she found this torture beyond her
"I shall become insane," she thought; "to-morrow I will speak to
Gerfaut was saying to himself, at nearly the same moment:
"To-morrow I will have a talk with her." Thus, by a strange sympathy,
their hearts seemed to understand each other in spite of their
separation. But what was an irresistible attraction in Clemence was
only a determination resulting from almost a mathematical calculation
on her lover's part. By the aid of this gift of second sight which
intelligent men who are in love sometimes possess, he had followed,
degree by degree, the variations of her heart, without her saying one
word; and in spite of the veil of scorn and indifference with which
she still had the courage to shield herself, he had not lost a single
one of the tortures she had endured for the last four days. Now he
thought that he had discovered enough to allow him to risk a step
that, until then, he would have deemed dangerous; and with the egotism
common to all men, even the best of lovers, he trusted in the weakness
born of sorrow.
The next day a hunting party was arranged with some of the
neighbors. Early in the morning, Bergenheim and Marillac started for
the rendezvous, which was at the foot of the large oak-tree where the
artist's tete-a- tete had been so cruelly interrupted. Gerfaut
refused to join them, under the pretence of finishing an article for
the 'Revue de Paris', and remained at home with the three ladies. As
soon as dinner was ended, he went to his room in order to give a
semblance of truth to his excuse.
He had been busying himself for some time trimming a quill pen at
the window, which looked out upon the park, when he saw in the garden,
directly beneath him, Constance's forefeet and nose; soon the dog
jumped upon the sill in order to warm herself in the sun.
"The old lady has entered her sanctuary," thought Gerfaut, who knew
that it was as impossible to see Constance without her mistress as
St.-Roch without his dog.
A moment later he saw Justine and Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's maid
starting off, arm in arm, as if they were going for a promenade.
Finally, he had hardly written half a page, when he noticed Aline
opposite his window, with a straw hat upon her head and a watering-pot
in her hand. A servant carried a bucket of water and placed it near a
mass of dahlias, which the young girl had taken under her protection,
and she at once set about her work with great zeal.
"Now," said Gerfaut, "let us see whether the place is
approachable." And closing his desk, he stealthily descended the
After crossing the vestibule on the first floor, and a small
gallery decorated with commonplace pictures, he found himself at the
library door. Thanks to the genealogical tree which he had promised
to compile, he possessed a key to this room, which was not usually
open. By dint of preaching about the danger in certain reading for
young girls, Mademoiselle de Corandeuil had caused this system of
locking-up, especially designed to preserve Aline from the temptation
of opening certain novels which the old lady rejected en masse.
"Young girls did not read novels in 1780," she would say. This put
an end to all discussion and cut short the protestations of the young
girl, who was brought up exclusively upon a diet of Le Ragois and
Mentelle's geography, and such solid mental food.
Several large books and numerous manuscripts were spread out upon
the table in the library, together with a wide sheet of Holland paper,
upon which was sketched the family tree of the Bergenheims. Instead
of going to work, however, Gerfaut locked the door, and then went
across the room and pressed a little knob which opened a small door no
one would have noticed at first.
Leather bands representing the binding of books, like those which
covered the rest of the walls, made it necessary for one to be
informed of the existence of this secret exit in order to distinguish
it from the rest of the room. This door had had a singular attraction
for Gerfaut ever since the day he first discovered it. After silently
opening it, he found himself in a small passage at the end of which
was a small spiral staircase leading to the floor above. A cat
creeping to surprise a bird asleep could not have walked more
stealthily than he, as he mounted the stairs.
When he crossed the last step, he found himself in a small room,
filled with wardrobes, lighted by a small glass door covered with a
muslin curtain. This door opened into a little parlor which separated
Madame de Bergenheim's private sitting-room from her
sleeping-apartment. The only window was opposite the closet and
occupied almost the whole of the woodwork, the rest of which was hung
with pearl-gray stuff with lilac figures upon it. A broad, low divan,
covered with the same material as the hanging, occupied the space in
front of the window. It was the only piece of furniture, and it
seemed almost impossible to introduce even one chair more.
The blinds were carefully closed, as well as the double curtains,
and they let in so little light that Octave had to accustom himself to
the obscurity before he could distinguish Madame de Bergenheim through
the muslin, curtains and the glass door. She was lying upon the
divan, with her head turned in his direction and a book in her hand.
He first thought her asleep, but soon noticed her gleaming eyes
fastened upon the ceiling.
"She is not asleep, she does not read, then she is thinking of me!"
said he to himself, by a logical deduction he believed incontestable.
After a moment's hesitation, seeing that the young woman remained
motionless, Gerfaut tried to turn the handle of the door as softly as
possible so as to make his entrance quietly. The bolt had just
noiselessly slipped in the lock when the drawing-room door suddenly
opened, a flood of light inundated the floor, and Aline appeared upon
the threshold, watering-pot in hand.
The young girl stopped an instant, for she thought her
sister-in-law was asleep; but, meeting in the shade Clemence's
sparkling eyes, she entered, saying in a fresh, silvery voice:
"All my flowers are doing well; I have come to water yours."
Madame de Bergenheim made no reply, but her eyebrows contracted
slightly as she watched the young girl kneel before a superb datura.
This almost imperceptible symptom, and the rather ill-humored look,
foretold a storm. A few drops of water falling upon the floor gave her
the needed pretext, and Gerfaut, as much in love as he was, could not
help thinking of the fable of the wolf and the lamb, when he heard the
lady of his thoughts exclaim, in an impatient tone:
"Let those flowers alone; they do not need to be watered. Do you
not see that you are wetting the floor?"
Aline turned around and looked at the scolder for a moment; then,
placing her watering-pot upon the floor, she darted toward the divan
like a kitten that has just received a blow from its mother's paw and
feels authorized to play with her. Madame de Bergenheim tried to rise
at this unexpected attack; but before she could sit up, she was thrown
back upon the cushions by the young girl, who seized both her hands
and kissed her on each cheek.
"Good gracious! how cross you have been for the last few days!"
cried Aline, pressing her sister's hands. "Are you going to be like
your aunt? You do nothing but scold now. What have I done? Are you
vexed with me? Do you not love me any longer?"
Clemence felt a sort of remorse at this question, asked with such a
loving accent; but her jealousy she could not overcome. To make up
for it, she kissed her sister-in-law with a show of affection which
seemed to satisfy the latter.
"What are you reading?" asked the young girl, picking up the book
which had fallen to the floor in their struggle—"Notre Dame de Paris.
That must be interesting! Will you let me read it? Oh! do! will
"You know very well that my aunt has forbidden you to read novels."
"Oh! she does that just to annoy me and for no other reason. Do
you think that is right? Must I remain an idiot, and never read
anything but history and geography the rest of my life? As if I did
not know that Louis Thirteenth was the son of Henri Fourth, and that
there are eighty- six departments in France. You read novels. Does
it do you any harm?"
Clemence replied in a rather imperative tone, which should have put
an end to the discussion
"When you are married you can do as you like. Until then you must
leave your education in the hands of those who are interested in you."
"All my friends," replied Aline with a pout, "have relatives who
are interested in them, at least as much as your aunt is in me, and
they do not prevent their reading the books they like. There is
Claire de Saponay, who has read all of Walter Scott's novels,
Maleck-Adel, Eugenie and Mathilde—and I do not know how many more;
Gessner, Mademoiselle de Lafayette—she has read everything; and
I—they have let me read Numa Ponzpilius and Paul and Virginia. Isn't
that ridiculous at sixteen years of age?"
"Do not get excited, but go into the library and get one of Walter
Scott's novels; but do not let my aunt know anything about it."
At this act of capitulation, by which Madame de Bergenheim
doubtless wished to atone for her disagreeableness, Aline made one
joyous bound for the glass door. Gerfaut had barely time to leave his
post of observation and to conceal himself between two wardrobes,
under a cloak which was hanging there, when the young girl made her
appearance, but she paid no attention to the pair of legs which were
but imperfectly concealed. She bounded down the stairs and returned a
moment later with the precious volumes in her hand.
"Waverley, or, Scotland Sixty Years Ago," said she, as she read the
title. "I took the first one on the shelf, because you are going to
lend them all to me, one by one, are you not? Claire says that a
young girl can read Walter Scott, and that his books are very nice."
"We shall see whether you are sensible," replied Clemence, smiling;
"but, above all things, do not let my aunt see these books, for I am
the one who would get the scolding."
"Do not worry;—I will go and hide them in my room."
She went as far as the door, then stopped and came back a few
"It seems," said she, "that Monsieur de Gerfaut worked in the
library yesterday, for there are piles of books on the table. It is
very kind of him to be willing to make this tree, is it not? Shall we
both be in it? Do they put women in such things? I hope your aunt
will not be there; she is not one of our family."
Clemence's face clouded again at the name of Gerfaut.
"I know no more about it than you," she replied, a little harshly.
"The reason I asked is because there are only pictures of men in
the drawing-room; it is not very polite on their part. I should much
prefer that there should be portraits of our grandmothers; it would be
so amusing to see the beautiful dresses that they wore in those days
rather than those old beards which frighten me. But perhaps they do
not put young girls in genealogical trees," she continued, in a musing
"You might ask Monsieur de Gerfaut; he wishes to please you too
much to refuse to tell you," said Clemence, with an almost ironical
"Do you think so?" asked Aline, innocently. "I should never dare
to ask him."
"You are still afraid of him, then?"
"A little," replied the young girl, lowering her eyes, for she felt
her face flush.
This symptom made Madame de Bergenheim more vexed than ever, and
she continued, in a cutting, sarcastic tone:
"Has your cousin d'Artigues written you lately?"
Mademoiselle de Bergenheim raised her eyes and looked at her for a
moment with an indifferent air:
"I don't know," she said, at last.
"What! you do not know whether you have received a letter from
your cousin?" continued Clemence, laughing affectedly.
"Ah! Alphonse—no, that is, yes; but it was a long time ago."
"How cold and indifferent you are all of a sudden to this dear
Alphonse! You do not remember, then, how you wept at his departure, a
year ago, and how vexed you were with your brother who tried to tease
you about this beautiful affection, and how you swore that you would
never have any other husband than your cousin?"
"I was a simpleton, and Christian was right. Alphonse is only one
year older than I! Think of it, what a fine couple we should make! I
know that I am not very sensible, and so it is necessary that my
husband should be wise enough for both. Christian is nine years older
than you, is he not?"
"Do you think that is too much?" asked Madame de Bergenheim.
"Quite the contrary."
"What age should you like your husband to be?"
"Oh!—thirty," replied the young girl, after a slight hesitation.
"Monsieur de Gerfaut's age?"
They gazed at each other in silence. Octave, who, from his place
of concealment heard the whole of this conversation, noticed the sad
expression which passed over Clemence's face, and seemed to provoke
entire confidence. The young girl allowed herself to be caught by
this appearance of interest and affection.
"I will tell you something," said she, "if you will promise never
to tell a soul."
"To whom should I repeat it? You know that I am very discreet as
to your little secrets."
"It is because this might be perhaps a great secret," continued
Clemence took her sister-in-law's hand, and drew her down beside
"You know," said Aline, "that Christian has promised to give me a
watch like yours, because I do not like mine. Yesterday, when we were
out walking, I told him I thought it was very unkind of him not to
have given it to me yet. Do you know what he replied?—It is true
that he laughed a little—It is hardly worth while buying you one now;
when you are the Vicomtesse de Gerfaut, your husband will give you
"Your brother was joking at your expense; how could you be such a
child as not to perceive it?"
"I am not such a child!" exclaimed Aline, rising with a vexed air;
"I know what I have seen. They were talking a long time together in
the drawing-room last evening, and I am sure they were speaking of
Madame de Bergenheim burst into laughter, which increased her
sister-in- law's vexation, for she was less and less disposed to be
treated like a young girl.
"Poor Aline!" said the Baroness, at last; "they were talking about
the fifth portrait; Monsieur de Gerfaut can not find the name of the
original among the old papers, and he thinks he did not belong to the
family. You know, that old face with the gray beard, near the door."
The young girl bent her head, like a child who sees her naughty
sister throw down her castle of cards.
"And how do you know?" said she, after a moment's reflection.
"You were at the piano. How could you hear at the other end of the
room what Monsieur de Gerfaut was saying?"
It was Clemence's turn to hang her head, for it seemed to her that
the girl had suspected the constant attention which, under an
affectation of indifference, never allowed her to lose one of Octave's
words. As usual, she concealed her embarrassment by redoubling her
"Very likely," said she, "I was mistaken, and you may be right
after all. What day shall we have the honor of saluting Madame la
Vicomtesse de Gerfaut?"
"I foolishly told you what I imagined, and you at once make fun of
me," said Aline, whose round face lengthened at each word, and passed
from rose-color to scarlet; "is it my fault that my brother said
"I do not think it was necessary for him to speak of it, for you to
think a great deal about the matter."
"Very well; must one not think of something?"
"But one should be careful of one's thoughts; it is not proper for
a young girl to think of any man," replied Clemence, with an accent of
severity which would have made her aunt recognize with pride the pure
blood of the Corandeuils.
"I think it is more proper for a young girl to do so than for a
At this unexpected retort, Madame de Bergenheim lost countenance
and sat speechless before the young maiden, like a pupil who has just
been punished by his teacher.
"Where the devil did the little serpent get that idea?" thought
Gerfaut, who was very ill at ease between the two wardrobes where he
Seeing that her sister-in-law did not reply to her, Aline took this
silence from confusion for an expression of bad temper, and at once
became angry in her turn.
"You are very cross to-day," said she; "good-by, I do not want your
She threw the volumes of Waverley upon the sofa, picked up her
watering- pot and went out, closing the door with a loud bang. Madame
de Bergenheim sat motionless with a pensive, gloomy air, as if the
young girl's remark had changed her into a statue.
"Shall I enter?" said Octave to himself, leaving his niche and
putting his hand upon the door-knob. "This little simpleton has done
me an infinite wrong with her silly speeches. I am sure that she is
cruising with full sails set upon the stormy sea of remorse, and that
those two rosebuds she is gazing at now seem to her like her husband's
Before the poet could make up his mind what to do, the Baroness
arose and left the room, closing the door almost as noisily as her
sister-in-law had done.
Gerfaut went downstairs, cursing, from the very depths of his
heart, boarding-school misses and sixteen-year-old hearts. After
walking up and down the library for a few moments, he left it and
started to return to his room. As he passed the drawing-room, loud
music reached his ear; chromatic fireworks, scales running with the
rapidity of the cataract of Niagara, extraordinary arpeggios,
hammering in the bass with a petulance and frenzy which proved that
the 'furie francaise' is not the exclusive right of the stronger sex.
In this jumble of grave, wild, and sad notes, Gerfaut recognized, by
the clearness of touch and brilliancy of some of the passages, that
this improvisation could not come from Aline's unpractised fingers.
He understood that the piano must be at this moment Madame de
Bergenheim's confidant, and that she was pouring out the contradictory
emotions in which she had indulged for several days; for, to a heart
deprived of another heart in which to confide its joys and woes, music
is a friend that listens and replies.
Gerfaut listened for some time in silence, with his head leaning
against the drawing-room door. Clemence wandered through vague
melodies without fixing upon any one in particular. At last a thought
seemed to captivate her. After playing the first measures of the
romance from Saul, she resumed the motive with more precision, and
when she had finished the ritornello she began to sing, in a soft,
"Assisa al pie d'un salice—"
Gerfaut had heard her sing this several times, in society, but
never with this depth of expression. She sang before strangers with
her lips; now it all came from her heart. At the third verse, when he
believed her to be exalted by her singing and the passion exhaled in
this exquisite song, the poet softly entered, judging it to be a
favorable moment, and enough agitated himself to believe in the
contagion of his agitation.
The first sight which met his eyes was Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
stretched out in her armchair, head thrown back, arms drooping and
letting escape by way of accompaniment a whistling, crackling, nasal
melody. The old maid's spectacles hanging on the end of her nose had
singularly compromised the harmony of her false front. The 'Gazette
de France' had fallen from her hands and decorated the back of
Constance, who, as usual, was lying at her mistress's feet.
"Horrible old witch!" said Gerfaut to himself. "Decidedly, the
Fates are against me to-day." However, as both mistress and dog were
sleeping soundly, he closed the door and tiptoed across the floor.
Madame de Bergenheim had ceased to sing, but her fingers still
continued softly to play the motive of the song. As she saw Octave
approaching her, she leaned over to look at her aunt, whom she had not
noticed to be asleep, as the high back of her chair was turned toward
her. Nobody sleeps in a very imposing manner, but the old lady's
profile, with her false front awry, was so comical that it was too
much for her niece's gravity. The desire to laugh was, for the
moment, stronger than respect for melancholy; and Clemence, through
that necessity for sympathy peculiar to acute merriment, glanced
involuntarily at Octave, who was also smiling. Although there was
nothing sentimental in this exchange of thoughts, the latter hastened
to profit by it; a moment more, and he was seated upon a stool in
front of the piano, at her left and only a few inches from her.
"How can a person sleep when you are singing?"
The most embarrassed freshman could have turned out as bright a
speech as this; but the eloquence of it lay less in the words than in
the expression. The ease and grace with which Octave seated himself,
the elegant precision of his manner, the gracious way in which he bent
his head toward Clemence, while speaking, showed a great aptitude in
this kind of conversation. If the words were those of a freshman, the
accent and pose were those of a graduate.
The Baroness's first thought was to rise and leave the room, but an
invincible charm held her back. She was not mistress enough of her
eyes to dare to let them meet Octave's; so she turned them away and
pretended to look at the old lady.
"I have a particular talent for putting my aunt to sleep," said
she, in a gay tone; "she will sleep until evening, if I like; when I
stop playing, the silence awakens her."
"I beg of you, continue to play; never awaken her," said Gerfaut;
and, as if he were afraid his wish would not be granted, he began to
pound in the bass without being disturbed by the unmusical sounds.
"Do not play discords," said Clemence, laughing; "let us at least
put her to sleep in tune."
She was wrong to say us; for her lover took this as complicity for
whatever might happen. Us, in a tete-a-tete, is the most traitorous
word in the whole language.
It may be that Clemence had no great desire that her aunt should
awaken; perhaps she wished to avoid a conversation; perhaps she wished
to enjoy in silence the happiness of feeling that she was still loved,
for since he had seated himself beside her Octave's slightest action
had become a renewed avowal. Madame de Bergenheim began to play the
Duke of Reichstadt's Waltz, striking only the first measure of the
accompaniment, in order to show her lover where to put his fingers.
The waltz went on. Clemence played the air and Octave the bass,
two of their hands remaining unoccupied—those that were close to each
other. Now, what could two idle hands do, when one belonged to a man
deeply in love, the other to a young woman who for some time had
ill-treated her lover and exhausted her severity? Before the end of
the first part, the long unoccupied, tapering fingers of the treble
were imprisoned by those of the bass, without the least disturbance in
the musical effect—and the old aunt slept on!
A moment later, Octave's lips were fastened upon this rather
trembling hand, as if he wished to imbibe, to the very depths of his
soul, the soft, perfumed tissue. Twice the Baroness tried to
disengage herself, twice her strength failed her. It was beginning to
be time for the aunt to awaken, but she slept more soundly than ever;
and if a slight indecision was to be noticed in the upper hand, the
lower notes were struck with an energy capable of metamorphosing
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil into a second Sleeping Beauty.
When Octave had softly caressed this hand for a long time, he
raised his head in order to obtain a new favor. This time Madame de
Bergenheim did not turn away her eyes, but, after looking at Octave
for an instant, she said to him in a coquettish, seductive way:
The mute glance which replied to this question was such an eloquent
denial that all words were superfluous. His sweet, knowing smile
betrayed the secret of his duplicity; he was understood and forgiven.
There was at this moment no longer any doubt, fear, or struggle
between them. They did not feel the necessity of any explanation as
to the mutual suffering they had undergone; the suffering no longer
existed. They were silent for some time, happy to look at each other,
to be together and alone-for the old aunt still slept. Not a sound
was to be heard; one would have said that sleep had overcome the two
lovers also. Suddenly the charm was broken by a terrible noise, like a
trumpet calling the guilty ones to repentance.
CHAPTER XVII. A RUDE INTERRUPTION
Had a cannon-ball struck the two lovers in the midst of their
ecstasy it would have been less cruel than the sensation caused by
this horrible noise. Clemence trembled and fell back in her chair,
frozen with horror. Gerfaut rose, almost as frightened as she;
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, aroused from her sleep, sat up in her
chair as suddenly as a Jack-in-a- box that jumps in one's face when a
spring is touched. As to Constance, she darted under her mistress's
chair, uttering the most piteous howls.
One of the folding-doors opposite the window opened; the bell of a
hunting-horn appeared in the opening, blown at full blast and waking
the echoes in the drawing-room. The curtain of the drama had risen
upon a parody, a second incident had changed the pantomime and
sentiments of the performers. The old lady fell back in her chair and
stopped up her ears with her fingers, as she stamped upon the floor;
but it was in vain for her to try to speak, her words were drowned by
the racket made by this terrible instrument. Clemence also stopped
her ears. After running in her terror, under every chair in the room,
Constance, half wild, darted, in a fit of despair, through the partly
opened door. Gerfaut finally began to laugh heartily as if he thought
it all great fun, for M. de Bergenheim's purple face took the place of
the trumpet and his hearty laugh rang out almost as noisily.
"Ah! ha! you did not expect that kind of accompaniment," said the
Baron, when his gayety had calmed a little; "this is the article that
you were obliged to write for the Revue de Paris, is it? Do you think
that I am going to leave you to sing Italian duets with Madame while I
am scouring the woods? You must take me for a very careless husband,
Vicomte. Now, then, right about face! March! Do me the kindness to
take a gun. We are going to shoot a few hares in the Corne woods
"Monsieur de Bergenheim," exclaimed the old lady, when her emotion
would allow her to speak, "this is indecorous—vulgar—the conduct of
a common soldier—of a cannibal! My head is split open; I am sure to
have an awful neuralgia in a quarter of an hour. It is the conduct of
"Do not think of your neuralgia, my dear aunt," replied Christian,
whose good-humor seemed aroused by the day's sport; "you are as fresh
as a rosebud—and Constance shall have some hares' heads roasted for
At this moment a second uproar was heard in the courtyard; a horn
was evidently being played by an amateur, accompanied by the confused
yelps and barks of a numerous pack of hounds; the whole was mingled
with shouts of laughter, the cracking of whips, and clamors of all
kinds. In the midst of this racket, a cry, more piercing than the
others, rang out, a cry of agony and despair.
"Constance!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, in a falsetto
voice full of terror; she rushed to one of the windows and all
The spectacle in the courtyard was as noisy as it was picturesque.
Marillac, seated upon a bench, was blowing upon a trumpet, trying to
play the waltz from Robert-le-Diable in a true infernal manner. At
his feet were seven or eight hunters and as many servants encouraging
him by their shouts. The Baron's pack of hounds, of great renown in
the country, was composed of about forty dogs, all branded upon their
right thighs with the Bergenheim coat-of-arms. From time immemorial,
the chateau's dogs had been branded thus with their master's crest,
and Christian, who was a great stickler for old customs, had taken
care not to drop this one. This feudal sign had probably acted upon
the morals of the pack, for it was impossible to find, within twenty
leagues, a collection of more snarly terriers, dissolute hounds, ugly
bloodhounds, or more quarrelsome greyhounds. They were perfect
hunters, but it seemed as if, on account of their being dogs of
quality, all vices were permitted them.
In the midst of this horde, without respect for law or order, the
unfortunate Constance had found herself after crossing the
ante-chamber, vestibule, and outside steps, still pursued by the
sounds from Christian's huge horn. An honest merchant surprised at
the turn of the road by a band of robbers would not have been greeted
any better than the poodle was at the moment she darted into the yard.
It may have been that the quarrel between the Bergenheims and
Corandeuils had reached the canine species; it may have been at the
instigation of the footmen, who all cordially detested the beast—the
sad fact remains that she was pounced upon in a moment as if she were
a deer, snatched, turned topsy- turvy, rolled, kicked about, and
bitten by the forty four-legged brigands, who each seemed determined
to carry away as a trophy some portion of her cafe-au-lait colored
The person who took the most delight in this deplorable spectacle
was Pere Rousselet. He actually clapped his hands together behind his
back, spread his legs apart in the attitude of the Colossus of Rhodes,
while his coat-skirts almost touched the ground, giving him the look
of a kangaroo resting his paws under his tail. From his large
cockatoo mouth escaped provoking hisses, which encouraged the
assassins in their crime as much as did Marillac's racket.
"Constance!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil a second time,
frozen with horror at the sight of her poodle lying upon its back
among its enemies.
This call produced no effect upon the animal section of the actors
in this scene, but it caused a sudden change among the servants and a
few of the hunters; the shouts of encouragement ceased at once;
several of the participants prudently tried to efface themselves; as
to Rousselet, more politic than the others, he boldly darted into the
melee and picked up the fainting puppy in his arms, carrying her as
tenderly as a mother would an infant, without troubling himself
whether or not he was leaving part of his coat-tails with the savage
When the old lady saw the object of her love placed at her feet
covered with mud, sprinkled with blood, and uttering stifled groans,
which she took for the death-rattle, she fell back in her chair
"Let us go," said Bergenheim in a low voice, taking his guest by
the arm. Gerfaut threw a glance around him and sought Clemence's eyes,
but he did not find them. Without troubling herself as to her aunt's
despair, Clemence had hurried to her room; for she felt the necessity
of solitude in order to calm her emotions, or perhaps to live them
over a second time. Octave resigned himself to following his
companion. At the end of a few moments, the barking of the dogs, the
joking of the hunters, even the wind in the trees and the rustling
leaves, had bored Octave to such an extent that, in spite of himself,
his face betrayed him.
"What a doleful face you have!" exclaimed his host, laughingly.
"I am sorry that I took you away from Madame de Bergenheim; it seems
that you decidedly prefer her society to ours."
"Would you be very jealous if I were to admit the fact?" replied
Octave, making an effort to assume the same laughing tone as the
"Jealous! No, upon my honor! However, you are well constituted to
give umbrage to a poor husband.
But jealousy is not one of my traits of character, nor among my
"You are philosophical!" said the lover, with a forced smile.
"My philosophy is very simple. I respect my wife too much to
suspect her, and I love her too much to annoy her in advance with an
imaginary trouble. If this trouble should come, and I were sure of
it, it would be time enough to worry myself about it. Besides, it
would be an affair soon settled."
"What affair?" asked Marillac, slackening his pace in order to
join in the conversation.
"A foolish affair, my friend, which does not concern you, Monsieur
de Gerfaut, nor myself any longer, I hope; although I belong to the
class exposed to danger. We were speaking of conjugal troubles."
The artist threw a glance at his friend which signified: "What the
deuce made you take it into your head to start up this hare?"
"There are many things to be said on this subject," said he, in a
sententious tone, thinking that his intervention might be useful in
getting his friend out of the awkward position in which he found
himself, "an infinite number of things may be said; books without
number have been written upon this subject. Every one has his own
system and plan of conduct as to the way of looking at and acting upon
"And what would be yours, you consummate villain?" asked
Christian; "would you be as cruel a husband as you are an immoral
bachelor? That usually happens; the bolder a poacher one has been,
the more intractable a gamekeeper one becomes. What would be your
"Hum! hum! you are mistaken, Bergenheim; my boyish love adventures
have disposed me to indulgence. 'Debilis caro', you know!
Shakespeare has translated it, 'Frailty, thy name is woman!'"
"I am a little rusty in my; Latin and I never knew a word of
English. What does that mean?"
"Upon my word, it means, if I were married and my wife deceived me,
I should resign myself to it like a gentleman, considering the
fragility of this enchanting sex."
"Mere boy's talk, my friend! And you, Gerfaut?"
"I must admit," replied the latter, a little embarrassed, "that I
have never given the subject very much thought. However, I believe in
the virtue of women."
"That is all very well, but in case of misfortune what would you
"I think I should say with Lanoue: 'Sensation is for the fop,
complaints for the fool, an honest man who is deceived goes away and
"I partly agree with Lanoue; only I should make a little
variation— instead of goes away should say avenges himself."
Marillac threw at his friend a second glance full of meaning.
"Per Bacco!" said he, "are you a Venetian or a Castilian husband?"
"Eh!" replied Bergenheim, "I suppose that without being either, I
should kill my wife, the other man, and then myself, without even
crying, 'Beware!' Here! Brichou! pay attention; Tambeau is separated
from the rest."
As he said these words the Baron leaped over a broad ditch, which
divided the road from the clearing which the hunters had already
"What do you say to that?" murmured the artist, in a rather
dramatic tone, in his friend's ear.
Instead of replying, the lover made a gesture which signified,
according to all appearance: "I do not care."
The clearing they must cross in order to reach the woods formed a
large, square field upon an inclined plane which sloped to the river
side. Just as Marillac in his turn was jumping the ditch, his friend
saw, at the extremity of the clearing, Madame de Bergenheim walking
slowly in the avenue of sycamores. A moment later, she had
disappeared behind a mass of trees without the other men noticing her.
"Take care that you do not slip," said the artist, "the ground is
This warning brought misfortune to Gerfaut, who in jumping caught
his foot in the root of a tree and fell.
"Are you hurt?" asked Bergenheim.
Octave arose and tried to walk, but was obliged to lean upon his
"I think I have twisted my foot," said he, and he carried his hand
to it as if he felt a sharp pain there.
"The devil! it may be a sprain," observed the Baron, coming toward
them; "sit down. Do you think you will be able to walk?"
"Yes, but I fear hunting would be too much for me; I will return to
"Do you wish us to make a litter and carry you?"
"You are laughing at me; it's not so bad as that. I will walk back
slowly, and will take a foot-bath in my room."
"Lean upon me, then, and I will help you," said the artist,
offering his arm.
"Thanks; I do not need you," Octave replied; "go to the devil!" he
continued, in an expressive aside.
"Capisco!" Marillac replied, in the same tone, giving his arm an
expressive pressure. "Excuse me," said he aloud, "I am not willing
that you should go alone. I will be your Antigone—
Antigone me reste, Antigone est and fille.
"Bergenheim, I will take charge of him. Go on with your hunting,
the gentlemen are waiting for you. We will meet again at supper;
around the table; legs are articles of luxury and sprains a delusion,
provided that the throat and stomach are properly treated."
The Baron looked first at his guests, then at the group that had
just reached the top of the clearing. For an instant Christian
charity struggled against love of hunting, then the latter triumphed.
As he saw that Octave, although limping slightly, was already in a
condition to walk, especially with the aid of his friend's arm, he
"Do not forget to put your foot in water, and send for Rousselet;
he understands all about sprains."
This advice having eased his conscience, he joined his companions,
while the two friends slowly took the road back to the chateau, Octave
resting one hand upon the artist's arm and the other upon his gun.
"The bourgeois is outwitted!" said Marillac with a stifled laugh,
as soon as he was sure that Bergenheim could not hear him. "Upon my
word, these soldiers have a primitive, baptismal candor! It is not so
with us artists; they could not bamboozle us in this way. Your strain
is an old story; it is taken from the 'Mariage de raison', first act,
"You will do me the favor to leave me as soon as we reach the
woods," said Gerfaut, as he continued to limp with a grace which would
have made Lord Byron envious; "you may go straight ahead, or you may
turn to the left, as you choose; the right is forbidden you."
"Very well. Hearts are trumps, it seems, and, for the time being,
you agree with Sganarelle, who places the heart on the right side."
"Do not return to the chateau, as it is understood that we are
together. If you rejoin the hunting-party, say to Bergenheim that you
left me seated at the foot of a tree and that the pain in my foot had
almost entirely gone. You would have done better not to accompany me,
as I tried to make you understand."
"I had reasons of my own for wishing to get out of Christian's
crowd. To-day is Monday, and I have an appointment at four o'clock
which interests you more than me. Now, will you listen to a little
"Listen, yes; follow it, not so sure."
"O race of lovers!" exclaimed the artist, in a sort of transport,
"foolish, absurd, wicked, impious, and sacrilegious kind!"
"What of it?"
"What of it? I tell you this will all end with swords for two."
"Do you know that this rabid Bergenheim, with his round face and
good- natured smile, killed three or four men while he was in the
service, on account of a game of billiards or some such trivial
"Requiescat in pace."
"Take care that he does not cause the 'De Profundis' to be sung for
you. He was called the best swords man at Saint-Cyr: he has the devil
of a lunge. As to pistol-shooting, I have seen him break nine plaster
images at Lepage's one after another."
"Very well, if I have an engagement with him, we will fight it out
"By Jove, joking is out of place. I tell you that he is sure to
discover something, and then your business will soon be settled; he
will kill you as if you were one of the hares he is hunting this
"You might find a less humiliating comparison for me," replied
Gerfaut, with an indifferent smile; "however, you exaggerate. I have
always noticed that these bullies with mysterious threats of their own
and these slaughterers of plaster images were not such very dangerous
fellows to meet. This is not disputing Bergenheim's bravery, for I
believe it to be solid and genuine."
"I tell you, he is a regular lion! After all, you will admit that
it is sheer folly to come and attack him in his cage and pull his
whiskers through the bars. And that is what you are doing. To be in
love with his wife and pay court to her in Paris, when he is a hundred
leagues from you, is all very well, but to install yourself in his
house, within reach of his clutches! that is not love, it is sheer
madness. This is nothing to laugh at. I am sure that this will end
in some horrible tragedy. You heard him speak of killing his wife and
her lover just now, as if it were a very slight matter. Very. well;
I know him; he will do as he says without flinching. These
ruddy-faced people are very devils, if you meddle with their family
affairs! He is capable of murdering you in some corner of his park,
and of burying you at the foot of some tree and then of forcing Madame
de Bergenheim to eat your heart fricasseed in champagne, as they say
Raoul de Coucy did."
"You will admit, at least, that it would be a very charming repast,
and that there would be nothing bourgeois about it."
"Certainly, I boast of detesting the bourgeois; I am celebrated for
that; but I should much prefer to die in a worsted nightcap, flannel
underwear, and cotton night-shirt, than to have Bergenheim assist me,
too brusquely, in this little operation. He is such an out-and-out
Goliath! Just look at him!"
And the artist forced his friend to turn about, and pointed at
Christian, who stood with the other hunters upon the brow of the hill,
a few steps from the spot where they had left him. The Baron was
indeed a worthy representative of the feudal ages, when physical
strength was the only incontestable superiority. In spite of the
distance, they could hear his clear, ringing voice although they could
not distinguish his words.
"He really has a look of the times of the Round Table," said
Gerfaut; "five or six hundred years ago it would not have been very
agreeable to find one's self face to face with him in a tournament;
and if to-day, as in those times, feminine hearts were won by feats
with double-edged swords, I admit that my chances would not be very
good. Fortunately, we are emancipated from animal vigor; it is out,
"Out of fashion, if you like; meanwhile, he will kill you."
"You do not understand the charms of danger nor the attractions
that difficulties give to pleasure. I have studied Christian
thoroughly since I have been here, and I know him as well as if I had
passed my life with him. I am also sure that, at the very first
revelation, he will kill me if he can, and I take a strange interest
in knowing that I risk my life thus. Here we are in the woods," said
Gerfaut, as he dropped the artist's arm and ceased limping; "they can
no longer see us; the farce is played out. You know what I told you
to say if you join them: you left me at the foot of a tree. You are
forbidden to approach the sycamores, under penalty of receiving the
shot from my gun in your moustache."
At these words he threw the gun which had served him as crutch over
his shoulder, and darted off in the direction of the river.
CHAPTER XVIII. ESPIONAGE
At the extremity of the sycamore walk, the shore formed a bluff
like the one upon which the chateau was built, but much more abrupt,
and partly wooded. In order to avoid this stretch, which was not
passable for carriages, the road leading into the principal part of
the valley turned to the right, and reached by an easier ascent a more
level plateau. There was only one narrow path by the river, which was
shaded by branches of beeches and willows that hung over this bank
into the river. After walking a short distance through this shady
path, one found himself before a huge triangular rock covered with
moss, which nature had rolled from the top of the mountain as if to
close up the passage.
This obstacle was not insurmountable; but in order to cross it, one
must have a sure foot and steady head, for the least false step would
precipitate the unlucky one into the river, which was rapid as well as
deep. From the rock, one could reach the top of the cliff by means of
some natural stone steps, and then, descending on the other side,
could resume the path by the river, which had been momentarily
interrupted. In this case, one would reach, in about sixty steps, a
place where the river grew broader and the banks projected, forming
here and there little islands of sand covered with bushes. Here was a
ford well known to shepherds and to all persons who wished to avoid
going as far as the castle bridge.
Near the mossy rock of which we have spoken as being close to the
sycamore walk, at the foot of a wall against which it flowed, forming
a rather deep excavation, the current had found a vein of soft,
brittle stone which, by its incessant force, it had ended in wearing
away. It was a natural grotto formed by water, but which earth, in
its turn, had undertaken to embellish. An enormous willow had taken
root in a few inches of soil in a fissure of the rock, and its
drooping branches fell into the stream, which drifted them along
without being able to detach them.
Madame de Bergenheim was seated at the front of this grotto, upon a
seat formed by the base of the rock. She was tracing in the sand,
with a stick which she had picked up on the way, strange figures which
she carefully erased with her foot. Doubtless these hieroglyphics had
some meaning to her, and perhaps she feared lest the slightest marks
might be carelessly forgotten, as they would betray the secret they
concealed. Clemence was plunged into one of those ecstatic reveries
which abolish time and distance. The fibres of her heart, whose
exquisite vibrating had been so suddenly paralyzed by Christian's
arrival, had resumed their passionate thrills. She lived over again
in her mind the tete-a-tete in the drawing-room; she could hear the
entrancing waltz again; she felt her lover's breath in her hair; her
hand trembled again under the pressure of his kiss. When she awoke
from this dream it was a reality; for Octave was seated by her side
without her having seen him arrive, and he had taken up the scene at
the piano just where it had been interrupted.
She was not afraid. Her mind had reached that state of exaltation
which renders imperceptible the transition from dreaming to reality.
It seemed to her that Octave had always been there, that it was his
place, and for a moment she no longer thought, but remained motionless
in the arms which embraced her. But soon her reason came back to her.
She arose trembling, and drew away a few steps, standing before her
lover with lowered head and face suffused with blushes.
"Why are you afraid of me? Do you not think me worthy of your
love?" he asked, in an altered voice, and, without trying to retain or
approach her, he fell upon his knees with a movement of sweet, sad
He had analyzed Madame de Bergenheim's character well enough to
perceive the least variation in her capricious nature. By the young
woman's frightened attitude, her burning cheeks and the flashes which
he saw from her eyes through her long, drooping lashes, he saw that a
reaction had taken place, and he feared the next outburst; for he knew
that women, when overcome with remorse, always smite their lover by
way of expiation for themselves.
"If I let this recovered virtue have the mastery, I am a lost man
for a fortnight at least," he thought.
He quickly abandoned the dangerous ground upon which he had taken
position, and passed, by an adroit transition, from the most
passionate frenzy to the most submissive bearing. When Clemence
raised her large eyes, in which was a threatening gleam, she saw,
instead of an audacious man to be punished, an imploring slave.
There was something so flattering in this attitude of humility that
she was completely disarmed. She approached Octave, and took him by
the hand to raise him, seated herself again and allowed him to resume
his position beside her. She softly pressed his hand, of which she
had not let go, and, looking her lover in the eyes, said in that deep,
penetrating voice that women sometimes have:
"Friend!" he thought; "yes, certainly. I will raise no dispute as
to the word, provided the fact is recognized. What matters the color
of the flag? Only fools trouble themselves about that. 'Friend' is
not the throne I aspire to, but it is the road that leads to it. So
then, let it be 'friend,' while waiting for better. This word is very
pleasant to hear when spoken in these siren's accents, and when at the
same time the eyes say 'lover!'"
"Will you always love me thus?" Octave asked, whose face beamed
with virtuous pledges.
"Always!" sighed Clemence, without lowering eyes under the burning
glance which met hers.
"You will be the soul of my soul; the angel of my heaven?"
"Your sister," she said, with a sweet smile, as she caressed her
lover's cheek with her hand.
He felt the blood mount to his face at this caress, and turned his
eyes away with a dreamy air.
"I probably am one of the greatest fools that has ever existed
since the days of Joseph and Hippolytus," thought he.
He remained silent and apparently indifferent for several moments.
"Of what are you thinking?" asked Madame de Bergenheim, surprised
by Octave's silence and rather listless air.
He gave a start of surprise at this question.
"May I die if I tell her!" he thought; "she must think me
ridiculous enough as it is."
"Tell me, I wish you to speak out," she continued, in that despotic
tone which a woman assumes when sure of her empire.
Instead of replying, as she demanded, he gave her a long,
questioning glance, and it would have been impossible at that moment
for her to keep a single secret from her lover. Madame de Bergenheim
felt the magnetic influence of his penetrating glance so deeply that
it seemed to her these sharp eyes were fathoming her very heart. She
felt intensely disturbed to be gazed at in that way, and, in order to
free herself from this mute questioning, she leaned her head upon
Octave's shoulder, as she said softly:
"Do not look at me like that or I shall not love your eyes any
Her straw hat, whose ribbons were not tied, slipped and fell,
dragging with it the comb which confined her beautiful hair, and it
fell in disorder over her shoulders. Gerfaut passed his hand behind
the charming head which rested upon his breast, in order to carry this
silky, perfumed fleece to his lips. At the same time, he gently
pressed the supple form which, as it bent toward him, seemed to ask
for this caress.
Clemence made a sudden effort and arose, fastening her hair at the
back of her head with an almost shamed haste.
"Will you refuse me one lock of your hair as a souvenir of this
hour?" said Octave, stopping her gently as she was about to replace
"Do you need any souvenir?" she replied, giving him a glance which
was neither a reproach nor a refusal.
"The souvenir is in my heart, the hair will never leave my bosom!
We live in an unworthy age. I can not boast of wearing your colors
in everybody's eyes, and yet I should like to wear a sign of my
She let her hair fall down her back again, but seemed embarrassed
as to how to execute his wish.
"I can not cut my hair with my teeth," she said, with a smile which
betrayed a double row of pearls.
Octave took a stiletto from his pocket.
"Why do you always carry this stiletto?" asked the young woman, in
a changed voice; "it frightens me to see you armed thus."
"Fear nothing," said Gerfaut, who did not reply to her question, "I
will respect the hair which serves you as a crown. I know where I
must cut it, and, if my ambition is great, my hand shall be discreet."
Madame de Bergenheim had no confidence in his moderation, and,
fearing to leave her beautiful hair to her lover's mercy, she took the
stiletto and cut off a little lock which she drew through her fingers
and then offered to him, with a loving gesture that doubled the value
of the gift. At this moment, hunting-horns resounded in the distance.
"I must leave you now!" exclaimed Clemence, "I must. My dear
love, let me go now; say good-by to me."
She leaned toward him and presented her forehead to receive this
adieu. It was her lips which met Octave's, but this kiss was rapid and
fleeting as a flash of light. Withdrawing from the arms which would
yet retain her, she darted out of the grotto, and in a moment had
disappeared in one of the shady paths.
For some time, plunged in deep reflection, Gerfaut stood on the
same spot; but at last arousing himself from this dreamy languor, he
climbed the rock so as to reach the top of the cliff. After taking a
few steps he stopped with a frightened look, as if he had espied some
venomous reptile in his path. He could see, through the bushes which
bordered the crest of the plateau at the top of the ladder cut in the
rock, Bergenheim, motionless, and in the attitude of a man who is
trying to conceal himself in order that he may watch somebody. The
Baron's eyes not being turned in Gerfaut's direction, he could not
tell whether he was the object of this espionage, or whether the lay
of the land allowed him to see Madame de Bergenheim, who must be under
the sycamores by this time. Uncertain as to what he should do, he
remained motionless, half crouched down upon the rock, behind the
ledge of which, thanks to his position, he could hide from the Baron.
CHAPTER XIX. THE REVELATION
A few moments before the castle clock struck four, a man leaped
across the ditch which served as enclosure to the park. Lambernier,
for it was he who showed himself so prompt at keeping his promise,
directed his steps through the thickets toward the corner of the Corne
woods which he had designated to Marillac; but, after walking for some
time, he was forced to slacken his steps. The hunting-party were
coming in his direction, and Lambernier knew that to continue in the
path he had first chosen would take him directly among the hunters;
and, in spite of his insolence, he feared the Baron too much to wish
to expose himself to the danger of another chastisement. He therefore
retraced his steps and took a roundabout way through the thickets,
whose paths were all familiar to him; he descended to the banks of the
river ready to ascend to the place appointed for the rendezvous as
soon as the hunting party had passed.
He had hardly reached the plateau covered with trees, which
extended above the rocks, when, as he entered a clearing which had
been recently made, he saw two men coming toward him who were walking
very fast, and whom to meet in this place caused him a very
disagreeable sensation. The first man was Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil's coachman, as large a fellow as ever crushed the seats of
landau or brougham with his rotundity. He was advancing with hands in
the pockets of his green jacket and his broad shoulders thrown back,
as if he had taken it upon himself to replace Atlas. His cap, placed
in military fashion upon his head, his scowling brows, and his
bombastic air, announced that he was upon the point of accomplishing
some important deed which greatly interested him. Leonard Rousselet,
walking by his side, moved his spider legs with equal activity,
carefully holding up the skirts of his long coat as if they were
Lambernier, at sight of them, turned to enter the woods again, but
he was stopped in his retreat by a threatening shout.
"Stop, you vagabond!" exclaimed the coachman; "halt! If you take
a trot, I shall take a gallop."
"What do you want? I have no business with you," replied the
workman, in a surly tone.
"But I have business with you," replied the big domestic, placing
himself in front of him and balancing himself first on his toes then
on his heels, with a motion like the wooden rocking-horses children
play with. "Come here, Rousselet; are you wheezy or foundered?"
"I have not as good legs as your horses," replied the old man, who
reached them at last, breathless, and took off his hat to wipe his
"What does this mean, jumping out upon one from a corner in the
woods like two assassins?" asked Lambernier, foreseeing that this
beginning might lead to some scene in which he was threatened to be
forced to play a not very agreeable role.
"It means," said the coachman: "first, that Rousselet has nothing
to do with it; I do not need anybody's help to punish an insignificant
fellow like you; second, that you are going to receive your quietus in
At these words he pushed his cap down over his ears and rolled up
his sleeves, in order to give freer action to his large, broad hands.
The three men were standing upon a plot of ground where charcoal
had been burned the year before. The ground was black and slippery,
but being rather level, it was a very favorable place for a duel with
fists or any other weapons. When Lambernier saw the lackey's warlike
preparations, he placed his cap and coat upon an old stump and
stationed himself in front of his adversary. But, before the
hostilities had begun, Rousselet advanced, stretching his long arms
out between them, and said, in a voice whose solemnity seemed to be
increased by the gravity of the occasion:
"I do not suppose that you both wish to kill each other; only
uneducated people conduct themselves in this vulgar manner; you ought
to have a friendly explanation, and see if the matter is not
susceptible of arrangement. That was the way such things were done
when I was in the twenty-fifth demi-brigade."
"The explanation is," said the coachman, in his gruff voice, "that
here is a low fellow who takes every opportunity to undervalue me and
my horses, and I have sworn to give him a good drubbing the first time
I could lay my hands upon him. So, Pere Rousselet, step aside. He
will see if I am a pickle; he will find out that the pickle is
"If you made use of such a vulgar expression as that," observed
Rousselet, turning to Lambernier, "you were at fault, and should beg
his pardon as is the custom among educated people."
"It is false!" exclaimed Lambernier; "and besides, everybody calls
the Corandeuils that, on account of the color of their livery."
"Did you not say Sunday, at the 'Femme-sans-Tete', and in the
presence of Thiedot, that all the servants of the chateau were idlers
and good-for- nothings, and that if you met one of them who tried to
annoy you, you would level him with your plane?"
"If you used the word 'level,' it was very uncivil," observed
"Thiedot had better keep in his own house," growled the carpenter,
clenching his fists.
"It looks well for a tramp like you to insult gentlemen like us,"
continued the lackey, in an imposing tone. "And did you not say that
when I took Mademoiselle to mass I looked like a green toad upon the
box, ..thus trying to dishonor my physique and my clothes? Did you
not say that?"
"Only a joke about the color of your livery. They call the others
measles and lobsters."
"Lobsters are lobsters," replied the coachman, in an imperative
tone; "if that vexes them, they can take care of themselves. But I
will not allow any one to attack my honor or that of my beasts by
calling them screws— and that is what you did, you vagabond! And did
you not say that I sent bags of oats to Remiremont to be sold, and
that, for a month, my team had steadily been getting thin? Did you
ever hear anything so scandalous, Pere Rousselet? to dare to say that
I endanger the lives of my horses? Did you not say that, you rascal?
And did you not say that Mademoiselle Marianne and I had little
private feasts in her room, and that was why I could not eat more at
the table? Here is Rousselet, who has been a doctor and knows that I
am on a diet on account of my weak stomach." At these words, the
servant, carried away by his anger, gave his stomach a blow with his
"Lambernier," said Rousselet, turning up his lips with a look of
contempt, "I must admit that, for a man well brought up, you have made
most disgusting remarks."
"To say that I eat the horses' oats!" roared the coachman.
"I ought to have said that you drank them," replied Lambernier,
with his usual sneer.
"Rousselet, out of the way!" exclaimed the burly lackey at this
new insult; the old peasant not moving as quickly as he desired, he
seized him by the arm and sent him whirling ten steps away.
At this moment, a new person completed the scene, joining in it, if
not as actor at least as interested spectator. If the two champions
had suspected his presence they would have probably postponed their
fight until a more opportune moment, for this spectator was no other
than the Baron himself. As he saw from a distance the trio
gesticulating in a very animated manner, he judged that a disorderly
scene was in preparation, and as he had wished for a long time to put
an end to the quarrelsome ways of the chateau servants, he was not
sorry to catch them in the very act, so as to make an example of them.
At first, he stooped and concealed himself in the thickets, ready to
appear for the denouement.
As Lambernier saw the giant's fist coming down upon him, be darted
to one side and the blow only struck the air, making the coachman
stumble from the force of his impetuosity. Lambernier profited by
this position to gather all his strength, and threw himself upon his
adversary, whom he seized by the flank and gave such a severe blow as
to bring him down upon his knees. He then gave him a dozen more blows
upon the head, and succeeded in overthrowing him completely.
If the coachman had not had a cranium as hard as iron, he probably
could not have received such a storm of fisticuffs without giving up
the ghost. Fortunately for him, he had one of those excellent Breton
heads that break the sticks which beat them. Save for a certain
giddiness, he came out of the scramble safe and sound. Far from
losing his presence of mind by the disadvantageous position in which
he found himself, he supported himself upon the ground with his left
hand, and, passing his other arm behind him, he wound it around the
workman's legs, who thus found himself reaped down, so to speak, and a
moment later was lying on his back in front of his adversary. The
latter, holding him fast with his strong hands, placed a knee, as
large as a plate, upon his chest and then pulled off the cap that his
enemy had pushed down over his eyes, and proceeded to administer full
justice to him.
"Ah! you thought you'd attack me treacherously, did you?" said he,
with a derisive chuckle as if to slacken the speed of his horses.
"You know short reckonings make good friends. Oh! what a fine
thrashing you are going to receive, my friend! Take care! if you try
to bite my hand, I'll choke you with my two fingers, do you hear!
Now, then, take this for the green toad; this, for my horses' sake;
this, for Mademoiselle Marianne!"
He followed each "this" with a heavy blow from his fist. At the
third blow the blood poured out of the mouth of the carpenter, who
writhed under the pressure of his adversary's knee like a buffalo
stifled by a boa-constrictor; he succeeded at last in freeing one
hand, which he thrust into his trousers' pocket.
"Ah! you rascal! I am killed!" howled the coachman, giving a
bound backward. Lambernier, profiting by his freedom, jumped upon his
feet, and, without troubling himself as to his adversary, who had
fallen on his knees and was pressing his hand to his left thigh; he
picked up his cap and vest and started off through the clearing.
Rousselet, who until then had prudently kept aside, tried to stop the
workman, at a cry from his companion, but the scoundrel brandished his
iron compass before his eyes with such an ugly look that the peasant
promptly left the way open for him.
At this tragic and unexpected denouement, Bergenheim, who was
getting ready to make his appearance from behind the trees and to
interpose his authority, started in full pursuit of the would-be
murderer. From the direction he took, he judged that he would try to
reach the river by passing over the rock. He walked in this
direction, with his gun over his shoulder, until he reached the foot
of the steps which descended into the grotto. Christian crouched
behind some bushes to wait for Lambernier, who must pass this way, and
it was at this moment that Gerfaut, who was forty feet below him, saw
him without suspecting the reason for his attitude.
Bergenheim soon found out that he had calculated correctly when he
heard a sound like that made by a wild boar when he rushes through the
thickets and breaks the small branches in his path, as if they were no
more than blades of grass. Soon Lambernier appeared with a haggard,
wild look and a face bleeding from the blows he had received. He
stopped for a moment to catch his breath and to wipe off his compass
with a handful of grass; he then staunched the blood streaming from
his nose and mouth, and after putting on his coat started rapidly in
the direction of the river.
"Halt!" exclaimed the Baron, suddenly, rising before him and
barring his passage.
The workman jumped back in terror; then he drew out his compass a
second time and made a movement as if to throw himself upon this new
adversary, out of sheer desperation. Christian, at this threatening
pantomime, raised his gun to his cheek with as much coolness and
precision as he would have shown at firing into a body of soldiers.
"Down with your weapon!" he exclaimed, in his commanding voice,
"or I will shoot you down like a rabbit."
The carpenter uttered a hoarse cry as he saw the muzzle of the gun
within an inch of his head, ready to blow his brains out. Feeling
assured that there was no escape for him, he closed his compass and
threw it with an angry gesture at the Baron's feet.
"Now," said the latter, "you will walk straight ahead of me as far
as the chateau, and if you turn one step to the right or left, I will
send the contents of my gun into you. So right about march!"
As he said these words, he stooped, without losing sight of the
workman, and picked up the compass, which he put in his pocket.
"Monsieur le Baron, it was the coachman who attacked me first; I
had to defend myself," stammered Lambernier.
"All right, we will see about that later. March on!"
"You will deliver me up to the police—I am a ruined man!"
"That will make one rascal the less," exclaimed Christian,
repelling with disgust the workman, who had thrown himself on his
knees before him.
"I have three children, Monsieur, three children," he repeated, in
a supplicating tone.
"Will you march!" replied Bergenheim imperiously, as he made a
gesture with his gun as if to shoot him.
Lambernier arose suddenly, and the expression of terror upon his
countenance gave place to one of resolution mingled with hatred and
"Very well," he exclaimed, "let us go on! but remember what I tell
you; if you have me arrested, you will be the first to repent of it,
Baron though you are. If I appear before a judge, I will tell
something that you would pay a good price for."
Bergenheim looked fixedly at Lambernier.
"What do you mean by such insolence?" said he.
"I will tell you what I mean, if you will promise to let me go; if
you give me into the hands of the police, I repeat it, you will repent
not having listened to me to-day."
"This is some idle yarn, made to gain time; no matter, speak; I
The workman darted a defiant glance at Christian.
"Give me your word of honor to let me go afterward."
"If I do not do so, are you not at liberty to repeat your story?"
replied the Baron, who, in spite of his curiosity, would not give his
word to a scoundrel whose only aim probably was to escape justice.
This observation impressed Lambernier, who, after a moment's
reflection, assumed a strange attitude of cool assurance, considering
the position in which he found himself. Not a sound was to be heard;
even the barking of the dogs in the distance had ceased. The deepest
silence surrounded them; even Gerfaut, in the place where he was
concealed, could no longer see them, now that Bergenheim had left the
edge of the cliff; from time to time their voices reached him, but he
could not distinguish the meaning of their words.
Leaning with one hand upon his gun, Christian waited for the
carpenter to begin his story, gazing at him with his clear, piercing
eyes. Lambernier bore this glance without flinching, returning it in
his insolent way.
"You know, Monsieur, that when the alterations were made in
Madame's apartment, I had charge of the carving for her chamber. When
I took away the old woodwork, I saw that the wall between the windows
was constructed out of square, and I asked Madame if she wished that
the panel should be fastened like the other or if she preferred it to
open so that it would make a closet. She said to have it open by
means of a secret spring. So I made the panel with concealed hinges
and a little button hidden in the lower part of the woodwork; it only
needs to be pressed, after turning it to the right, and the woodwork
will open like a door."
Christian had now become extremely attentive.
"Monsieur will remember that he was in Nancy at the time, and that
Madame's chamber was completed during his absence. As I was the only
one who worked in this room, the other workmen not being capable of
carving the wood as Madame wished, I was the only person who knew that
the panel was not nailed down the length of the wall."
"Well?" asked the Baron, impatiently.
"Well," Lambernier replied, in a careless tone, "if, on account of
the blow which I gave the coachman, it is necessary for me to appear
in court, I shall be obliged to tell, in order to revenge myself, what
I saw in that closet not more than a month ago."
"Finish your story," exclaimed Bergenheim, as he clenched the
handle of his gun.
"Mademoiselle Justine took me into this room in order to hang some
curtains; as I needed some nails, she went out to get them. While I
was examining the woodwork, which I had not seen since it had been put
in place, I saw that the oak had warped in one place because it was
not dry enough when it was used. I wished to see if the same thing
had happened between the windows, and if the panel could open. I
pressed the spring, and when the door opened I saw a small package of
letters upon the little shelf; it seemed very singular to me that
Madame should choose this place to keep her letters, and the thought
came to me that she wished to conceal them from Monsieur."
Bergenheim gave the workman a withering glance, and made a sign for
him to continue.
"They were already talking about discharging me from the chateau's
employ; I do not know how it happened, but the thought entered my head
that perhaps one of these letters would be of use to me, and I took
the first one in the package; I had only time to close the panel when
Mademoiselle Justine returned."
"Very well! what is there in common between these letters and the
criminal court that awaits you?" asked Christian, in an altered
voice, although he tried to appear indifferent.
"Oh! nothing at all," replied the carpenter, with an air of
indifference; "but I thought that you would not like people to know
that Madame had a lover."
Bergenheim shivered as if he were taken with a chill, and his gun
dropped from his hand to the ground.
As quick as thought Lambernier stooped over to seize the gun, but
he did not have time to carry out his intention, for he was seized by
the throat and half choked by an iron hand.
"That letter! that letter!" said Christian to him, in a low,
trembling voice, and he put his face down close to the carpenter's, as
if he feared that a breath of wind might carry away his words and
"Let me alone first, I can not breathe—" stammered the workman,
whose face, was becoming purple and his eyes starting out of his head,
as if his adversary's fingers had been a rope.
The latter granted the prayer by loosening his hold of the
carpenter's neck and seizing him by his vest in such a way as to take
away all chance of escape while leaving him free to speak.
"This letter!" he repeated.
Frightened by the shaking he had just received, and not in a
condition to reflect with his usual prudence, Lambernier mechanically
obeyed this order; he hunted in his pockets for some time, and at last
took a carefully folded paper from his vest-pocket, saying with a
"Here it is. It is worth ten louis."
Christian seized the paper and opened it with his teeth, for he
could not use his hands without releasing his prisoner. It was, like
all notes of this kind, without address, seal, or signature. It did
not differ from most of its kind save in the natural beauty of its
style and its simple eloquence. Ardent protestations, sweet and
loving complaints, those precious words that one bestows only upon the
woman he loves and which betray a love that has yet much to desire but
as much to hope. The handwriting was entirely unknown to Bergenheim,
but Clemence's name, which was repeated several times, did not permit
him to doubt for a moment that this note was written to his wife.
When he had finished reading, he put it in his pocket with apparent
serenity, and then looked at Lambernier, who, during this time, had
remained motionless under the hand that detained him.
"You are mistaken, Lambernier," said he to him; "it is one of my
letters before my marriage." And he tried to force himself to smile;
but the muscles of his lips refused to act this falsehood, and drops
of cold perspiration stood upon his forehead and at the roots of his
The carpenter had watched the change in the Baron's countenance as
he read the letter. He was persuaded that he could turn the capital
importance of his revelations into profit for himself; he believed
that the time had come when he might gain advantage by showing that he
understood perfectly well the value of the secret he had just
imparted. So he replied with a glance of intelligence:
"Monsieur's handwriting must have changed greatly, then; I have
some of his orders which do not resemble this any more than a glass of
water does a glass of wine."
Christian tried to find a response but failed. His eyebrows
contracted in a manner that betokened a coming storm, but Lambernier
was not disturbed by this symptom; he continued in a more and more
"When I said that this letter was worth ten louis, I meant that it
was worth that much to a mere stranger, and I am very sure I should
not have to go very far to find one; but Monsieur le Baron is too
sensible not to know the value of this secret. I do not wish to set a
price upon it, but since I am obliged to go away on account of this
coachman, and have no money—"
He did not have time to finish; Bergenheim seized him in the middle
of the body and made him describe a horizontal half-circle without
touching the ground, then threw him upon his knees on the edge of the
path which descended almost perpendicularly alongside the rocks.
Lambernier suddenly saw his haggard face reflected in the river fifty
feet below. At this sight, and feeling a powerful knee between his
shoulders which bent him over the abyss, as if to make him appreciate
its dangers, the workman uttered a terrified cry; his hands clutched
wildly at the tufts of grass and roots of plants which grew here and
there on the sides of the rocks, and he struggled with all his might
to throw himself back upon the ground. But it was in vain for him to
struggle against the superior strength of his adversary, and his
attempts only aggravated the danger of his position. After two or
three powerless attempts, he found himself lying upon his stomach with
half his body hanging over the precipice, having nothing to prevent
him from falling over but Bergenheim's hand, which held him by the
collar and at the same time hindered him from rising.
"Have you ever said one word about this?" asked the Baron, as he
took hold of the trunk of a tree to steady himself upon this dangerous
ground that he had chosen as the field of discussion.
"To nobody!—ah!—how my head swims!" replied the carpenter,
closing his eyes in terror, for the blood rushing to his brain made
him dizzy, and it seemed to him that the river was slowly reaching
"You see that if I make one gesture, you are a dead man," replied
the Baron, leaning upon him harder yet.
"Give me up to the police; I will say nothing about the letters; as
sure as there is a God, I will say nothing. But do not let me
fall—hold me tight—do not let go of me—I am slipping—oh! holy
mother of God!"
Christian taking hold of the tree near him, leaned over and raised
Lambernier up, for he really was incapable of doing so himself; fright
and the sight of the water had given him vertigo. When he was upon
his legs again, he reeled like a drunken man and his feet nearly gave
way beneath him. The Baron looked at him a moment in silence, but at
last he said:
"Go away, leave the country at once; you have time to fly before
there will be any pursuit. But remember that if I ever hear one word
of what has passed between us from your lips, I shall know how to find
you and you will die by my hand."
"I swear by the Holy Virgin and by all the saints—" stammered
Lambernier, who had suddenly become a very fervent Catholic.
Christian pointed with his finger to the stone steps beneath them.
"There is your road; pass over the rock, through the woods, and
reach Alsace. If you conduct yourself well, I will assure your
living. But remember; one single indiscreet word, and you are a dead
At these words he pushed him into the path with one of those quick
movements which very powerful men can not always calculate the effect
of. Lambernier, whose strength was almost exhausted by the struggles
he had undergone, had not vigor enough left to stand, and he lost his
balance at this violent as well as unexpected push. He stumbled over
the first step, reeled as he tried to regain his footing, and fell
head first down the almost vertical declivity. A ledge of the cliff,
against which he first struck, threw him upon the loose rocks. He
slowly glided downward, uttering lamentable cries; he clutched, for a
moment, a little bush which had grown in a crevice of the rocks but he
did not have strength enough to hold on to it, his arm having been
broken in three places by his fall. He let go of it suddenly, and
dropped farther and farther down uttering a last terrible shriek of
despair; he rolled over twice again-and then fell into the torrent
below, that swallowed him up like a mass already deprived of life.
CHAPTER XX. MARILLAC TELLS A STORY
Guests were seated that evening around the oval table in the
dining-room of the castle of Bergenheim. According to custom, the
ladies were not present at this repast. This was a custom which had
been adopted by the Baroness for the suppers which were given by her
husband at the close of his hunting parties; she dispensed with
appearing at table on those days; perhaps she was too fastidious to
preside at these lengthy seances of which the ruses of the hare, the
death of the stag, and the feats of the hounds, formed the principal
topics of conversation. It is probable that this conduct was duly
appreciated by those who participated in those rather boisterous
repasts, and that they felt a certain gratitude, in spite of the
regrets they manifested on account of Madame's absence.
Among the guests was Marillac, whose sparkling eye, and cheeks even
more rosy than usual, made him conspicuous. Seated between a fat
notary and another boon companion, who were almost as drunk as he
Marillac emptied glass after glass, red wine after the white, the
white after the red, with noisy laughter, and jests of all kinds by
way of accompaniment. His head became every moment more and more
excited by the libations destined to refresh his throat, and his
neighbors, without his perceiving the conspiracy, thought it would be
good fun to put a Parisian dandy under the table. However, he was not
the only one who was gliding over the slippery precipice that leads to
the attractive abyss of drunkenness. The majority of the guests shared
his imprudent abandon and progressive exaltation. A bacchic emulation
reigned, which threatened to end in scenes bordering upon a debauch.
Among these highly colored cheeks, under which the wine seemed to
circulate with the blood, these eyes shining with a dull, fictitious
light, all this disorderly pantomime so contrary to the quiet habit of
the gesticulators, two faces contrasted strangely with the careless
mirth of the others. The Baron fulfilled his duties as master of the
house with a sort of nervous excitement which might pass for genuine
merriment in the eyes of those of his guests who were in no condition
to study his countenance; but a quiet observer would soon have
discerned that these violent efforts at good-humor and bantering
concealed some terrible suffering. From time to time, in the midst of
a sentence or a laugh, he would suddenly stop, the muscles of his face
would twitch as if the spring which set them in motion had broken; his
expression became sombre and savage; he sank back in his chair
motionless, a stranger to all that surrounded him, and gave himself up
to some mysterious thought against which resistance seemed powerless.
Suddenly he appeared to wake from some perplexing dream, and by
another powerful effort aroused himself and joined in the conversation
with sharp, cutting speeches; he encouraged the noisy humor of his
guests, inciting them to drunkenness by setting the example himself;
then the same mysterious thought would cross his face anew, and he
would fall back into the tortures of a revery which must have been
horrible, to judge by the expression of his face.
Among his guests, one only, who was seated almost opposite
Bergenheim, seemed to be in the secret of his thoughts and to study
the symptoms with deep attention. Gerfaut, for it was he, showed an
interest in this examination which reacted on his own countenance, for
he was paler than ever.
"When I saw that the hare was reaching the upper road," said one of
the guests, a handsome old man about sixty years of age, with gray
hair and rosy cheeks, "I ran toward the new clearing to wait for its
return. I felt perfectly sure, notary, that he would pass through
your hands safe and sound."
"Now, notary," said Marillac, from the other end of the table,
"defend yourself; one, two, three, ready!"
"Monsieur de Camier," replied the hunter whose skill had been
questioned, "I do not pretend to have your skill. I never have shot
as large game as you did at your last hunt."
This reply was an allusion to a little misadventure which had
happened to the first speaker, who, on account of nearsightedness, had
shot a cow, taking it for a buck. The laugh, which had been at the
notary's expense first, now turned against his adversary.
"How many pairs of boots did you get out of your game?" asked one.
"Gentlemen, let us return to our conversation," said a young man,
whose precise face aspired to an austere and imposing air. "Up to
this time, we can form only very vague conjectures as to the road that
Lambernier took to escape. This, allow me to say, is more important
than the notary's hare or Monsieur de Carrier's cow."
At these words, Bergenheim, who had taken no part in the
conversation, straightened up in his chair.
"A glass of Sauterne," said he, suddenly, to one of his neighbors.
Gerfaut looked at him stealthily for a moment, and then lowered his
eyes, as if he feared his glance might be noticed.
"The public prosecutor scents a culprit, and there is no fear he
will drop the trail," said the notary.
"The case will doubtless come up at the next session of the
M. de Carrier put his glass, which was half filled, upon the table,
"The devil take the jury! I am called to the next session, and I
will wager my head that I shall be drawn. How agreeable that will be!
To leave my home and business in the middle of winter and spend a
fortnight with a lot of fellows whom I do not know from Adam! That is
one of the agreeable things supplied by constitutional government.
The French have to be judged by their peers! Of what use is it to
pay for judges if we, land-owners, are obliged to do their work. The
old parliaments, against which so much has been said, were a thousand
times better than all this bedlam let loose in a court of assizes."
Marillac, who during this speech was amusing himself with singing
his low "G" while peeling an apple, interrupted his song, to the great
relief of a hound who lay at his feet, and whose nerves seemed to be
singularly affected by the strain.
"Monsieur de Carrier," said he, "you are a large landowner, an
eligible citizen and a Carlist; you fast on Fridays, go to mass in
your parish, and occasionally kill cows for bucks; I esteem and
respect you; but allow me to say that you have just uttered an old,
"Gentlemen," said the public prosecutor, punctuating each word with
his first finger, "I have the greatest respect for the old
parliaments, those worthy models of our modern magistracy, those
incorruptible defenders of national freedom, but my veneration is none
the less great for the institutions emanating from our wise
constitution, and it prevents me from adopting an exclusive opinion.
However, without pretending to proclaim in too absolute a manner the
superiority of the old system over the new, I am in a certain sense of
Monsieur de Carrier's opinion. In my position, I am better able than
any other person to study the advantages and disadvantages of a jury,
and I am forced to admit that if the advantages are real, the
disadvantages are none the less indisputable. One of the great vices
of juries consists in the habit that a great number of its members
have of calling for material proofs in order to form their opinions.
They must almost see the wounds of the victim before agreeing on a
verdict. As to Lambernier, I hope that they will not contest the
existence of the main evidence: the victim's still bleeding thigh."
"Tra-de-ri-di-ra," exclaimed the artist, striking alternately with
his knife a glass and a bottle, as if he were playing a triangle. "I
must say that you choose madly gay subjects for conversation. We are
truly a joyous crowd; look at Bergenheim opposite us; he looks like
Macbeth in the presence of Banquo's ghost; here is my friend Gerfaut
drinking water with a profoundly solemn air. Good gracious,
gentlemen! enough of this foolish talk! Let them cut this
Lambernier's throat and put an end to the subject! The theatre for
dramatic music, the church for sacred!
Le vin, le jeu; les belles,
Voila mes seuls amours."
A general protestation rose from the whole table at this verse,
which was roared out in a lugubrious voice. Noisy shouts, rapping of
knives upon tumblers and bottles, and exclamations of all kinds called
the orator to order.
"Monsieur Marillac," exclaimed the public prosecutor, in a joking
tone, "it seems to me that you have wandered from the subject."
The artist looked at him with an astonished air.
"Had I anything in particular to say to you?" he asked; "if so, I
will sustain my point. Only do me the kindness to tell me what it was
"It was on the subject of this man Lambernier," whispered the
notary to him, as he poured out a glass of wine. "Courage! you
improvise better than Berryer! If you exert yourself, the public
prosecutor will be beaten in no time."
Marillac thanked his neighbor with a smile and a nod of the head,
which signified: "Trust me." He then emptied his glass with the
recklessness that had characterized his drinking for some time, but,
strangely enough, the libation, instead of putting the finishing
stroke to his drunkenness, gave his mind, for the time being, a sort
"The accusation," he continued, with the coolness of an old lawyer,
"rests upon two grounds: first, the presence without cause of the
accused upon the spot where the crime was committed; second, the
nature of the weapon used.—Two simple but peremptory replies will
make the scaffold which has been erected upon this double supposition
fall to the ground. First, Lambernier had a rendezvous at this place,
and at the exact hour when this crime with which he is accused took
place; this will be proved by a witness, and will be established by
evidence in a most indisputable manner. His presence will thus be
explained without its being interpreted in any way against him.
Second, the public prosecutor has admitted that the carrying of a
weapon which Lambernier may have been in the habit of using in his
regular trade could not be used as an argument against him, and for
that same reason could not be used as an argument in favor of
premeditation; now, this is precisely the case in question. This
weapon was neither a sword, bayonet, nor stiletto, nothing that the
fertile imagination of the public prosecutor could imagine; it was a
simple tool used by the accused in his profession, the presence of
which in his pocket is as easily understood as that of a snuff-box in
the pocket of my neighbor, the notary, who takes twenty pinches of
snuff a minute. Gentlemen, this weapon was a pair of carpenter's
"A compass!" exclaimed several voices at once.
"A compass!" exclaimed the Baron, gazing fixedly at the artist.
Then he carried his hand to his pocket, and suddenly withdrew it, as
he felt the workman's compass there, where it had been ever since the
scene upon the rocks.
"An iron compass," repeated the artist, "about ten inches long,
more or less, the legs of it being closed."
"Will you explain yourself, Monsieur?" excitedly exclaimed the
public prosecutor, "for it really seems as if you had witnessed the
crime. In that case you will be called out as a witness for the
defence. Justice is impartial, gentlemen. Justice has not two pairs
"To the devil with justice! You must have come from Timbuctoo to
use such old-fashioned metaphors."
"Make your deposition, witness; I require you to make your
deposition," said the magistrate, whose increasing drunkenness
appeared as dignified and solemn as the artist was noisy.
"I have nothing to state; I saw nothing."
Here the Baron drew a long breath, as if these words were a relief.
"But I saw something!" said Gerfaut to himself, as he gazed at the
Baron's face, upon which anxiety was depicted.
"I reason by hypothesis and supposition," continued the artist. "I
had a little altercation with Lambernier a few days ago, and, but for
my good poniard, he would have put an end to me as he did to this
He then related his meeting with Lambernier, but the consideration
due Mademoiselle Gobillot's honor imposed numberless circumlocutions
and concealments which ended by making his story rather unintelligible
to his auditors, and in the midst of it his head became so muddled
that he was completely put out.
"Basta!" he exclaimed, in conclusion, as he dropped heavily into
his chair. "Not another word for the 'whole empire. Give me
something to drink! Notary, you are the only man here who has any
regard for me. One thing is certain about this matter—I am in ten
louis by this rascal's adventure."
These words struck the Baron forcibly, as they brought to his mind
what the carpenter had said to him when he gave him the letter.
"Ten louis!" said he, suddenly, looking at Marillac as if he
wished to look into his very heart.
"Two hundred francs, if you like it better. A genuine bargain.
But we have talked enough, 'mio caro'; you deceive yourselves if you
think you are going to make me blab. No, indeed! I am not the one to
allow myself to become entangled. I am now as mute and silent as the
Bergenheim insisted no longer, but, leaning against the back of his
chair, he let his head fall upon his breast. He remained for some
time buried in thought and vainly trying to connect the obscure words
he had just heard with Lambernier's incomplete revelations. With the
exception of Gerfaut, who did not lose one of his host's movements,
the guests, more or less absorbed by their own sensations, paid no
attention to the strange attitude of the master of the house, or,
like Monsieur de Camier, attributed it to the influence of wine. The
conversation continued its noisy course, interrupted every few moments
by the startling vagaries of some guest more animatedly excited than
the rest, for, at the end of a repast where sobriety has not reigned,
each one is disposed to impose upon others the despotism of his own
intoxication, and the idle talk of his peculiar hallucinations.
Marillac bore away the prize among the talking contingent, thanks to
the vigor of his lungs and the originality of his words, which
sometimes forced the attention of his adversaries. Finally he
remained master of the field, and flashed volleys of his drunken
eloquence to the right and left.
"It is a pity," he exclaimed, in the midst of his triumph, as he
glanced disdainfully up and down the table, "it really is a pity,
gentlemen, to listen to your conversation. One could imagine nothing
more commonplace- prosaic or bourgeois. Would it not please you to
indulge in a discussion of a little higher order?
Let us join hands, and talk of poetry and art. I am thirsting for
an artistic conversation; I am thirsting for wit and intelligence."
"You must drink if you are thirsty," said the notary, filling his
glass to the brim.
The artist emptied it at one draught, and continued in a
languishing voice as he gazed with a loving look at his fat neighbor.
"I will begin our artistic conversation: 'Knowest thou the land
where the orange-flower blooms?'"
"It is warmer than ours," replied the notary, who was not familiar
with Mignon's song; and, beginning to laugh maliciously, he gave a
wink at his neighbors as if to say:
"I have settled him now."
Marillac leaned toward him with the meekness of a lamb that
presents his head to the butcher, and sympathetically pressed his
"O poet!" he continued, "do you not feel, as I do at the twilight
hour and in the eventide, a vague desire for a sunny, perfumed,
southern life? Will you not bid adieu to this sterile country and sail
away to a land where the blue sky is reflected in the blue sea?
Venice! the Rialto, the Bridge of Sighs, Saint Mark! Rome! the
Coliseum and Saint Peter— But I know Italy by heart; let us go
instead to Constantinople. I am thirsting for sultanas and houris; I
"Good gracious! why do you not drink if you are thirsty?"
"Gladly. I never say no to that. I scorn love in a nightcap; I
adore danger. Danger is life to me.
I dote on silken ladders as long as Jacob's, on citadels worth
scaling; on moonlight evenings, bearded husbands, and all that sort of
thing—I would love a bed composed of five hundred poniards; you
understand me, poet—"
"I beg of you, do not make him drink any more," said Gerfaut to the
"You are right not to wish to drink any more, Octave, I was about
to advise you not to. You have already drunk to excess to-day, and I
am afraid that it will make you ill; your health is so weak—you are
not a strong man like me. Fancy, gentlemen, Monsieur le Vicomte de
Gerfaut, a native of Gascony, a roue by profession, a star of the
first magnitude in literature, is afflicted by nature with a stomach
which has nothing in common with that of an ostrich; he has need to
use the greatest care. So we have him drink seltzer-water principally,
and feed him on the white meat of the chicken. Besides, we keep this
precious phenomenon rolled up between two wool blankets and over a
kettle of boiling water. He is a great poet; I myself am a very great
"And I also, I hope," said the notary.
"Gentlemen, formerly there were poets who wrote only in verse;
nowadays they revel in prose. There are some even who are neither
prose nor verse writers, who have never confided their secret to
anybody, and who selfishly keep their poetry to themselves. It is a
very simple thing to be a poet, provided you feel the indescribable
intoxication of the soul, and understand the inexpressible afflatus
that bubbles over in your large brain, and your noble heart throbs
under your left breast—"
"He is as drunk as a fool," said M. de Camier, loud enough for him
"Old man," said he, "you are the one who is drunk. Besides the
word drunk is not civil; if you had said intoxicated I should not have
Loud shouts of laughter burst forth from the party. He threw a
threatening glance around him, as if he were seeking some one upon
whom to vent his anger, and, placing his hand upon his hip, assumed
the pose of a bully.
"Softly, my good fellows!" said he, "if any of you pretend that I
am drunk, I declare to him that he lies, and I call him a misantrophe,
a vagabond, an academician!" he concluded, with a loud burst of
laughter; for he thought that the jesters would be crushed by this
last heavy weapon.
"By Jove! your friend is hilariously drunk," said the notary to
Gerfaut; "while here is Bergenheim, who has not taken very much wine,
and yet looks as if he were assisting at a funeral. I thought he was
more substantial than this."
Marillac's voice burst out more loudly than ever, and Octave's
reply was not heard.
"It is simply astounding. They are all as drunk as fools, and yet
they pretend that it is I who am drunk. Very well! I defy you all;
who among you wishes to argue with me? Will you discuss art,
literature, politics, medicine, music, philosophy, archiology,
"Jurisprudence!" exclaimed the thick voice of the public
prosecutor, who was aroused from his stupor by this magic word; "let
us talk jurisprudence."
"Would you like," said Marillac, without stopping at this
interruption, "that I should improvise a discourse upon the death
penalty or upon temperance? Would you like me to tell you a story?"
"A story, yes, a story!" they all exclaimed in unison.
"Speak out, then; order what story you like; it will cost you
nothing," replied the artist, rubbing his hands with a radiant air.
"Would you like a tale from the Middle Ages? a fairy, an eastern, a
comical, or a private story? I warn you that the latter style is less
old-fashioned than the others."
"Let us have it, then, by all means," said all the drunken voices.
"Very well. Now would you like it to be laid in Spain, Arabia, or
"France!" exclaimed the prosecutor.
"I am French, you are French, he is French. You shall have a
Marillac leaned his forehead upon his hands, and his elbows upon
the table, as if to gather his scattered ideas. After a few moments'
reflection, he raised his head and looked first at Gerfaut, then at
Bergenheim, with a peculiar smile.
"It would be very original," said he, in a low voice as if replying
to his own thoughts.
"The story!" exclaimed one of the party, more impatient than the
"Here it is," replied the artist. "You all know, gentlemen, how
difficult it always is to choose a title. In order not to make you
wait, I have chosen one which is already well known. My story is to
be called 'The husband, the wife, and the lover.' We are not all
single men here, and a wise proverb says that one must never speak—"
In spite of his muddled brain, the artist did not finish his
quotation. A remnant of common-sense made him realize that he was
treading upon dangerous ground and was upon the point of committing an
unpardonable indiscretion. Fortunately, the Baron had paid no
attention to his words; but Gerfaut was frightened at his friend's
jabbering, and threw him a glance of the most threatening advice to be
prudent. Marillac vaguely understood his mistake, and was half
intimidated by this glance; he leaned before the notary and said to
him, in a voice which he tried to make confidential, but which could
be heard from one end of the table to the other:
"Be calm, Octave, I will tell it in obscure words and in such a way
that he will not see anything in it. It is a scene for a drama that I
have in my mind."
"You will make some grotesque blunder, if you go on drinking and
talking," replied Gerfaut, in an anxious voice. "Hold your tongue, or
else come away from the table with me."
"When I tell you that I will use obscure words," replied the
artist; "what do you take me for? I swear to you that I will gloss it
over in such a way that nobody will suspect anything."
"The story! the story!" exclaimed several, who were amused by the
incoherent chattering of the artist.
"Here it is," said the latter, sitting upright in his char,; and
paying no heed to his friend's warnings. "The scene takes place in a
little court in Germany—Eh!" said he, looking at Gerfaut and
maliciously winking his eye—"do you not think that is glossed over?"
"Not in a German court, you said it was to be a French story," said
the public prosecutor, disposed to play the critic toward the orator
who had reduced him to silence.
"Well, it is a French story, but the scene is laid in Germany," he
replied, coolly." Do you desire to teach me my profession?
Understand that nothing is more elastic than a German court; the
story-teller can introduce there whoever he likes; I may bring in the
Shah of Persia and the Emperor of China if I care to. However, if you
prefer the court of Italy, it is the same thing to me."
This conciliating proposal remained without response. Marillac
continued raising his eyes in such a way that nothing but the whites
could be seen, and as if he were searching for his words in the
"The Princess Borinski was walking slowly in the mysterious alley
on the borders of the foaming torrent "
"Borinski! she is a Pole, then?" interrupted M. de Camier.
"Oh! go to the devil, old man! Do not interrupt me," exclaimed
the artist, impatiently.
"That is right. Silence now."
"You have the floor," said several voices at once.
"—She was pale, and she heaved convulsive sighs and wrung her
soft, warm hands, and a white pearl rolled from her dark lashes,
"Why do you begin all your phrases with 'and?'" asked the public
prosecutor, with the captiousness of an inexorable critic.
"Because it is biblical and unaffected. Now let me alone," replied
Marillac, with superb disdain. "You are a police-officer; I am an
artist; what is there in common between you and me? I will continue:
And he saw this pensive, weeping woman pass in the distance, and he
said to the Prince: 'Borinski, a bit of root in which my foot caught
has hurt my limb, will you suffer me to return to the palace? And the
Prince Borinski said to him, 'Shall my men carry you in a palanquin?'
and the cunning Octave replied—"
"Your story has not even common-sense and you are a terrible bore,"
interrupted Gerfaut brusquely. "Gentlemen, are we going to sit at the
table all night?"
He arose, but nobody followed his example. Bergenheim, who for the
last few minutes had lent an attentive ear to the artist's story,
gazed alternately at the two friends with an observing eye.
"Let him talk," said the young magistrate, with an ironical smile.
"I like the palanquin in the court of Germany. That is probably what
novelists call local color. O Racine, poor, deserted Racine!"
Marillac was not intimidated this time by Gerfaut's withering
glance, but, with the obstinacy of drunkenness, continued in a more or
less stammering voice:
"I swore that I would gloss it over; you annoy me. I committed an
error, gentlemen, in calling the lover in this story Octave. It is as
clear as day that his name is Boleslas, Boleslas Matalowski. There is
no more connection between him and my friend Octave than there is
between my other friend Bergenheim and the prince
Kolinski—Woginski—what the devil has become of my Prince's name? A
good reward to whoever will tell me his name!"
"It is wrong to take advantage of his condition and make him talk
any more," said Gerfaut. "I beg of you, Marillac, hold your tongue
and come with me," said he, lowering his voice as he leaned toward the
headstrong story-teller and took him by the arm, trying to make him
rise. This attempt only irritated Marillac; he seized hold of the
edge of the table and clung to it with all his might, screaming:
"No! a thousand times no! I will finish my story. President,
allow me to speak. Ah! ha! you wish to prevent me from speaking
because you know that I tell a story better than you, and that I make
an impression upon my audience. You never have been able to catch my
chic. Jealous! Envious! I know you, serpent!"
"I beg of you, if you ever cared for me, listen!" replied Octave,
who, as he bent over his friend, noticed the Baron's attentive look.
"No, I say no!" shouted the artist again, and he added to this
word one of the ugliest-sounding oaths in the French language. He
arose, and pushing Octave aside, leaned upon the table, bursting into
a loud laugh. "Poets all," said he, "be reassured and rejoice. You
shall have your story, in spite of those envious serpents. But first
give me something to drink, for my throat is like a box of matches.
No wine," he added, as he saw the notary armed with a bottle. "This
devilish wine has made me thirsty instead of refreshing me; besides, I
am going to be as sober as a judge."
Gerfaut, with the desperation of a man who sees that he is about to
be ruined, seized him again by the arm and tried to fascinate him by
his steady gaze. But he obtained no response to this mute and
threatening supplication except a stupid smile and these stammering
"Give me something to drink, Boleslas—Marinski-Graboski—I believe
that Satan has lighted his heating apparatus within my stomach."
The persons seated near the two friends heard an angry hiss from
Gerfaut's lips. He suddenly leaned over, and taking, from among
several bottles, a little carafe he filled Marillac's glass to the
"Thanks," said the latter, trying to stand erect upon his legs;
"you are an angel. Rest easy, your love affairs will run no risk. I
will gloss it all over—To your health, gentlemen!"
He emptied the glass and put it upon the table; he then smiled and
waved his hand at his auditors with true royal courtesy; but his mouth
remained half open as if his lips were petrified, his eyes grew large
and assumed a haggard expression; the hand he had stretched out fell
to his side; a second more, and he reeled and fell from his chair as
if he had had a stroke of apoplexy.
Gerfaut, whose eyes had not left him, watched these different
symptoms with unutterable anxiety; but in spite of his fright, he drew
a sigh of relief when he saw Marillac mute and speechless.
"It is singular," observed the notary, as he aided in removing his
neighbor from the table, "that glass of water had more effect upon him
than four or five bottles of wine."
"Georges," said Gerfaut to one of the servants, in an agitated
voice, " open his bed and help me carry him to it; Monsieur de
Bergenheim, I suppose there is a chemist near here, if I should need
The greater part of the guests arose at this unexpected incident,
and some of them hastened to Marillac's side, as he remained
motionless in his chair. The repeated bathing of his temples with
cold water and the holding of salts to his nose were not able to bring
him to consciousness.
Instead of going to his aid with the others, Bergenheim profited by
the general confusion to lean over the table. He plunged his finger
into the artist's glass, in which a part of the water remained, and
then touched his tongue. Only the notary noticed this movement.
Thinking this rather strange, he seized the glass in his turn and
swallowed the few drops that it contained.
"Heavens!" he exclaimed, in a low voice, to Bergenheim, "I am not
surprised that the bumper asphyxiated him on the spot. Do you know,
Baron, if this Monsieur de Gerfaut had taken anything but water during
the evening, I should say that he was the drunker of the two; or that,
if they were not such good friends, he wished to poison him in order
to stop his talk. Did you notice that he did not seem pleased to hear
"Ah! you, too!" exclaimed the Baron angrily, "everybody will know
"To take a carafe of kirsch for clear water," continued the notary,
without paying any attention to the Baron's agitation. "The devil!
the safe thing to do is to give him an emetic at once; this poor
fellow has enough prussic acid in his stomach to poison a cow."
"Who is talking of prussic acid and poisoning?" exclaimed the
public prosecutor, running with an unsteady step from one extremity of
the table to the other, "who has been poisoned? I am the public
prosecutor, I am the only one here who has any power to start an
investigation. Have they had an autopsy? Where did they find it?
Buried in the fields or the woods, or floating on the river?"
"You lie! there is no dead body in the river!" exclaimed
Bergenheim, in a thundering voice, as he seized the magistrate by the
collar in a bewildered way.
The magistrate was incapable of making the least resistance when
held by such a vigorous hand and he received two or three shakings.
Suddenly the Baron stopped, and struck his forehead with a gesture
common to persons who feel that their reason has given way under a
paroxysm of rage.
"I am crazy," said he, with much emotion. "Monsieur," he added, "I
am very sorry. We really have all taken too much wine. I beg your
pardon, gentlemen. I will leave you a moment—I need some fresh air."
He hurriedly left the room, almost running against the persons who
were carrying Marillac to his room. The public prosecutor, whose
ideas had been somewhat mixed before, was now completely muddled by
this unheard-of attack upon his dignity, and fell back exhausted in
"All poor drinkers!" said the notary to Monsieur de Carrier who
was left alone with him, for the prosecutor, half suffocated with
indignation and intoxication, could no longer be counted as one of
them. "Here they are, all drunk, from just a few glasses of wine."
The notary shook his head with a mysterious air.
"These things, though, are plain enough to me," said he at last;
"first, this Monsieur Marillac has not a very strong head and tells
pretty tedious stories when drunk; then his friend has a way of taking
kirsch for water which I can understand only in extreme cases; but the
Baron is the one who astonished me most. Did you notice how he shook
our friend who has just fallen on the floor? As to the Baron
pretending that he was drunk and thus excusing himself, I do not
believe one word of it; he drank nothing but water. There were times
this evening when he appeared very strange indeed! There is some
deviltry underneath all this; Monsieur de Carrier, rest assured there
is some deviltry underneath it all."
"I am the public prosecutor—they can not remove the body without
me," stammered the weak voice of the magistrate, who, after trying in
vain to recover his equilibrium, lay flat upon the floor.
CHAPTER XXI. A STRATAGEM
Instead of joining the persons who were carrying Marillac away,
Christian went into the garden after leaving the dining-room, in quest
of the fresh air which he gave as an excuse for leaving his guests.
In fact, he felt oppressed almost to suffocation by the emotions he
had undergone during the last few hours. The dissimulation which
prudence made a necessity and honor a duty had aggravated the
suffering by protracted concealment.
For some time Christian walked rapidly among the paths and trees in
the park. Bathing his burning brow in the cool night air, he sought
to calm the secret agitation and the boiling blood that were raging
within him, in the midst of which his reason struggled and fought like
a ship about to be wrecked. He used all his strength to recover his
self-possession, so as to be able to master the perils and troubles
which surrounded him with a calm if not indifferent eye; in one word,
to regain that control over himself that he had lost several times
during the supper. His efforts were not in vain. He contemplated his
situation without weakness, exaggeration, or anger, as if it concerned
another. Two facts rose foremost before him, one accomplished, the
other uncertain. On one side, murder, on the other, adultery. No
human power could remedy the first or prevent its consequences; he
accepted it, then, but turn his mind away from it he must, in the
presence of this greater disaster. So far, only presumptions existed
against Clemence—grave ones, to be sure, if one added Lambernier's
revelations to Marillac's strangely indiscreet remarks. It was his
first duty to himself, as well as to her, to know the whole truth; if
innocent, he would beg her forgiveness; if guilty, he had a
chastisement to inflict.
"It is an abyss," thought he, "and I may find as much blood as mud
at the bottom of it. No matter, I will descend to its very depths."
When he returned to the chateau, his face had resumed its usual
calm expression. The most observing person would hardly have noticed
any change in his looks. The dining-room had been abandoned at last.
The victorious and the vanquished had retired to their rooms. First
of all, he went up to the artist's apartment, so that no singularity
in his conduct should attract attention, for, as master of the house,
a visit to one of his guests who had fallen dead, or nearly so, at his
own table was a positive duty. The attentions lavished upon Marillac
by his friend had removed the danger which might have resulted from
his imprudent excesses in drinking, and the sort of poisoning with
which he had crowned the whole. He lay upon his bed in the same
position in which he had first been placed, and was sleeping that
heavy, painful sleep which serves as an expiation for bacchic
excesses. Gerfaut was seated a few steps from him, at a table,
writing; he seemed prepared to sit up all night, and to fulfill, with
the devotion of a friend, the duties of a nurse.
Octave arose at sight of the Baron, his face having resumed its
habitual reserved expression. The two men greeted each other with
"Is he sleeping?" asked Christian.
"But a few minutes only," replied the latter; "he is all right now,
and I hope," Octave added, smilingly, "that this will serve as a
lesson to you, and that hereafter you will put some limits to your
princely hospitality. Your table is a regular ambush."
"Do not throw stones at me, I pray," replied the Baron, with an
appearance of equal good-humor. "If your friend wants to ask an
explanation of anybody it is of you, for you took some kirsch of 1765
"I really believe that I was the drunker of the two," interrupted
Octave, with a vivacity which concealed a certain embarrassment; "we
must have terribly scandalized Monsieur de Camier, who has but a poor
opinion of Parisian heads and stomachs."
After looking for a moment at the sleeping artist, Christian
approached the table where Gerfaut was seated, and threw a glance over
the latter's writing.
"You are still at work, I see?" said he, as his eyes rested upon
"Just now I am following the modest trade of copyist. These are
some verses which Mademoiselle de Corandeuil asked me for—"
"Will you do me a favor? I am going to her room now; give me these
verses to hand to her. Since the misfortune that befell Constance,
she has been terribly angry with me, and I shall not be sorry to have
some reason for going to her room."
Octave finished the two or three lines which remained to be copied,
and handed the sheet to Bergenheim. The latter looked at it
attentively, then carefully folded it and put it in his pocket.
"I thank you, Monsieur," said he, "I will leave you to your
There was something so solemn in the calm accent of these words,
and the polite bow which accompanied them, that Gerfaut felt chilled,
though not alarmed, for he did not understand.
When he reached his room, Bergenheim opened the paper which Gerfaut
had just given him and compared it with the letter he had received
from Lambernier. The suspicions which a separate examination had
aroused were confirmed upon comparing the two letters; no doubt was
possible; the letter and the poetry were written by the same hand!
After a few moments' reflection, Christian went to his wife's room.
Clemence was seated in an armchair, near the fireplace, indulging
in a revery. Although her lover was not there, she was still under
the charm of this consuming as well as intellectual passion, which
responded to the yearnings of her heart, the delicacy of her tastes,
and the activity of her imagination. At this moment, she was happy to
live; there was not a sad thought that these words, "He loves me!"
could not efface.
The noise of the opening door aroused her from her meditation.
Madame de Bergenheim turned her head with a look of vexation, but
instead of the servant whom she was ready to reprimand, she saw her
husband. The expression of impatience imprinted upon her face gave
way to one of fright. She arose with a movement she could not
repress, as if she had seen a stranger, and stood leaning against the
mantel in a constrained attitude. Nothing in Christian's manner
justified, however, the fear the sight of him seemed to cause his
wife. He advanced with a tranquil air, and a smile that he had forced
upon his lips.
With the presence of mind with which all women seem to be gifted,
Clemence fell back into her chair, and, assuming a languid, suffering
tone, mixed with an appearance of reproach, she said:
"I am glad to see you for a moment in order to scold you; you have
not shown your usual consideration to-night. Did you not think that
the noise from the dining-room might reach as far as here?"
"Has it troubled you?" asked Christian, looking at her
"Unless one had a head of cast-iron—It seems that these gentlemen
have abused the liberty permitted in the country. From what Justine
tells me, things have taken place which would have been more
appropriate at the Femme-sans-Tete."
"Are you suffering very much?"
"A frightful neuralgia—I only wish I could sleep."
"I was wrong not to have thought of this. You will forgive me,
will you not?"
Bergenheim leaned over the chair, passed his arm around the young
woman's shoulders, and pressed his lips to her forehead. For the
first time in his life, he was playing a part upon the marital stage,
and he watched with the closest attention the slightest expression of
his wife's face. He noticed that she shivered, and that her forehead
which he had lightly touched was as cold as marble.
He arose and took several turns about the room, avoiding even a
glance at her, for the aversion which she had just shown toward her
husband seemed to him positive proof of the very thing he dreaded, and
he feared he should not be able to contain himself.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked, as she noticed his
These words brought the Baron to his senses, and he returned to her
side, replying in a careless tone:
"I am annoyed for a very simple cause; it concerns your aunt."
"I know. She is furious against you on account of the double
misfortune to her dog and coachman. You will admit that, as far as
Constance is concerned, you are guilty."
"She is not content with being furious; she threatens a complete
rupture. Here, read this."
He handed her a large letter, folded lengthwise and sealed with the
Madame de Bergenheim took the letter and read its contents aloud:
"After the unheard-of and unqualifiable events of this day, the
resolution which I have formed will doubtless not surprise you in
the least, Monsieur. You will understand that I can not and will
not remain longer in a house where the lives of my servants and
other creatures which are dear to me may be exposed to the most
deplorable, wilful injury. I have seen for some time, although I
have tried to close my eyes to the light of truth, the plots that
were hatched daily against all who wore the Corandeuil livery. I
supposed that I should not be obliged to put an end to this highly
unpleasant matter myself, but that you would undertake this charge.
It seems, however, that respect and regard for women do not form
part of a gentleman's duties nowadays. I shall therefore be obliged
to make up myself for the absence of such attentions, and watch over
the safety of the persons and other creatures that belong to me. I
shall leave for Paris tomorrow. I hope that Constance's condition
will permit her to endure the journey, but Baptiste's wound is too
serious for me to dare to expose him. I am compelled, although with
deep regret, to leave him here until he is able to travel, trusting
him to the kind mercies of my niece.
"Receive, Monsieur, with my adieux, my thanks for your courteous
"YOLANDE DE CORANDEUIL."
"Your aunt abuses the privileges of being foolish," said the Baron,
when his wife had finished reading the letter; "she deserts the
battlefield and leaves behind her wounded."
"But I saw her, not two hours ago, and, although she was very
angry, she did not say one word of this departure."
"Jean handed me this letter but a moment ago, clad in full livery,
and with the importance of an ambassador who demands his passports.
You must go and talk with her, dear, and use all your eloquence to
make her change her mind."
"I will go at once," said Clemence, rising.
"You know that your aunt is rather obstinate when she takes a
notion into her head. If she persists in this, tell her, in order to
decide her to remain, that I am obliged to go to Epinal with Monsieur
de Carrier tomorrow morning, on account of the sale of some wood-land,
and that I shall be absent three days at least. You understand that
it will be difficult for your aunt to leave you alone during my
absence, on account of these gentlemen."
"Certainly, that could not be," said she, quickly.
"I do not see, as far as I am concerned, anything improper about
it," said the Baron, trying to smile; "but we must obey the
proprieties. You are too young and too pretty a mistress of the house
to pass for a chaperon, and Aline, instead of being a help, would be
one inconvenience the more. So your aunt must stay here until my
"And by that time Constance and Baptiste will be both cured and her
anger will have passed away. You did not tell me about this trip to
Epinal nor the selling of the woodland."
"Go to your aunt's room before she retires to bed," replied
Bergenheim, without paying any attention to this remark, and seating
himself in the armchair; "I will wait for you here. We leave
to-morrow morning early, and I wish to know tonight what to depend
As soon as Madame de Bergenheim had left the room, Christian arose
and ran, rather than walked, to the space between the two windows, and
sought the button in the woodwork of which Lambernier had told him.
He soon found it, and upon his first pressure the spring worked and
the panel flew open. The casket was upon the shelf; he took it and
carefully examined the letters which it contained. The greater part
of them resembled in form the one that he possessed; some of them were
in envelopes directed to Madame de Bergenheim and bore Gerfaut's
crest. There was no doubt about the identity of the handwriting; if
the Baron had had any, these proofs were enough. After glancing
rapidly over a few of the notes, he replaced them in the casket and
returned the latter to the shelf where he had found it. He then
carefully closed the little door and reseated himself beside the
When Clemence returned, her husband seemed absorbed in reading one
of the books which he had found upon her table, while he mechanically
played with a little bronze cup that his wife used to drop her rings
in when she removed them.
"I have won my case," said the Baroness, in a gay tone; "my aunt
saw clearly the logic of the reasons which I gave her, and she defers
her departure until your return."
Christian made no reply.
"That means that she will not go at all, for her anger will have
time to cool off in three days; at heart she is really kind!—How long
is it since you have known English?" she asked, as she noticed that
her husband's attention seemed to be fixed upon a volume of Lord
Bergenheim threw the book on the table, raised his head and gazed
calmly at his wife. In spite of all his efforts, his face had assumed
an expression which would have frightened her if she had noticed it,
but her eyes were fastened upon the cup which he was twisting in his
hand as if it were made of clay.
"Mon Dieu! Christian, what is the matter with you? What are you
doing to my poor cup?" she asked, with surprise mingled with a little
of that fright which is so prompt to be aroused if one feels not above
He arose and put the misshapen bronze upon the table.
"I do not know what ails me to-night," said he, "my nerves are
unstrung. I will leave you, for I need rest myself. I shall start
to-morrow morning before you are up, and I shall return Wednesday."
"Not any later, I hope," she said, with that soft, sweet voice,
from which, in such circumstances, very few women have the loyalty to
He went out without replying, for he feared he might be no longer
master of himself; he felt, when offered this hypocritical, almost
criminal, caress, as if he would like to end it all by killing her on
CHAPTER XXII. THE CRISIS
Twenty-four hours had passed. The Baron had departed early in the
morning, and so had all his guests, with the exception of Gerfaut and
the artist. The day passed slowly and tediously. Aline had been
vexed, somewhat estranged from her sister-in-law since their
conversation in the little parlor. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was
entirely occupied in restoring her poodle to health.
Marillac, who had been drinking tea ever since rising, dared not
present his face, which showed the effects of his debauch of the night
before, to the mistress of the house, whose exacting and aristocratic
austerity he very much feared. He pretended to be ill, in order to
delay the moment when he should be forced to make his appearance.
Madame de Bergenheim did not leave her aunt, and thus avoided being
alone with Octave—who, on account of these different complications,
might have spent a continual tete-a-tete with her had she been so
inclined. Christian's absence, instead of being a signal of
deliverance for the lovers, seemed to have created a new
misunderstanding, for Clemence felt that it would be a mean action to
abuse the liberty her husband's departure gave her. She was thus very
reserved during the day, when she felt that there were more facilities
for yielding, but, in the evening, when alone in her apartment, this
fictitious prudery disappeared. She spent the entire evening lying
upon the divan in the little boudoir, dreaming of Octave, talking to
him as if he could reply, putting into practice again that
capitulation of conscience which permits our mind to wander on the
brink of guilt, provided actions are strictly correct.
After a while this exaltation fell by degrees. When struggling
earnestly, she had regarded Octave as an enemy; but, since she had
gone to him as one passes over to the enemy, and, in her heart, had
taken part with the lover against the husband, her courage failed her
as she thought of this, and she fell, weak, guilty, and vanquished
before the combat.
When she had played with her passion, she had given Christian
little thought; she had felt it childish to bring her husband into an
amusement that she believed perfectly harmless; then, when she wished
to break her plaything, and found it made of iron and turning more and
more into a tyrannical yoke, she called to her aid the conjugal
divinities, but in too faint a voice to be heard. Now the situation
had changed again. Christian was no longer the insignificant ally that
the virtuous wife had condemned, through self-conceit, to ignorant
neutrality; he was the husband, in the hostile and fearful acceptation
of the word. This man whom she had wronged would always have law on
Religion sometimes takes pity on a wayward wife, but society is
always ready to condemn her. She was his own, fastened to him by
indissoluble bonds. He had marked her with his name like a thing of
his own; he held the threads of her life in his hands; he was the
dispenser of her fortune, the judge of her actions, and the master of
their fireside. She had no dignity except through him. If he should
withdraw his support for a single day, she would fall from her
position without any human power being able to rescue her. Society
closes its doors to the outcast wife, and adds to the husband's
sentence another penalty still more scathing.
Having now fallen from the sphere of illusion to that of reality,
Madame de Bergenheim was wounded at every step. A bitter feeling of
discouragement overwhelmed her, as she thought of the impossibility of
happiness to which a deplorable fatality condemned her. Marriage and
love struggled for existence, both powerless to conquer, and qualified
only to cause each other's death. Marriage made love a crime; love
made marriage a torture. She could only choose between two abysses:
shame in her love, despair in her virtue.
The hours passed rapidly in these sad and gloomy meditations; the
clock marked the hour of midnight. Madame de Bergenheim thought it
time to try to sleep; but, instead of ringing for her maid, she
decided to go to the library herself and get a book, thinking that
perhaps it might aid her in going to sleep. As she opened the door
leading into the closet adjoining her parlor, she saw by the light of
the candle which she held in her hand something which shone like a
precious stone lying upon the floor. At first she thought it might be
one of her rings, but as she stooped to pick it up she saw her error.
It was a ruby pin mounted in enamelled gold. She recognized it, at
the very first glance, as belonging to M. de Gerfaut.
She picked up the pin and returned to the parlor. She exhausted in
imagination a thousand conjectures in order to explain the presence of
this object in such a place. Octave must have entered it or he could
not have left this sign of his presence; it meant that he could enter
her room at his will; what he had done once, he could certainly do
again! The terror which this thought gave her dissipated like a dash
of cold water all her former intoxicating thoughts; for, like the
majority of women, she had more courage in theory than in action. A
moment before, she had invoked Octave's image and seated it lovingly
by her side.
When she believed this realization possible, all she thought of was
to prevent it. She was sure that her lover never had entered the
closet through the parlor, as he never had been in this part of the
house farther than the little drawing-room. Suddenly a thought of the
little corridor door struck her; she remembered that this door was not
usually locked because the one from the library was always closed; she
knew that Octave had a key to the latter, and she readily understood
how he had reached her apartment. Mustering up all her courage
through excessive fear, she returned to the closet, hurried down the
stairs, and pushed the bolt. She then returned to the parlor and fell
upon the divan, completely exhausted by her expedition.
Little by little her emotion passed away. Her fright appeared
childish to her, as soon as she believed herself sheltered from
danger; she promised herself to give Octave a good scolding the next
morning; then she renounced this little pleasure, when she remembered
that it would force her to admit the discovery of the pin, and of
course to return it to him, for she had resolved to keep it. She had
always had a particular fancy for this pin, but she would never have
dared to ask him for it, and besides, it was the fact that Octave
usually wore it that made it of infinite value to her. The desire to
appropriate it was irresistible, since chance had thrown it into her
hands. She tied a black satin ribbon about her white neck, and pinned
it with the precious ruby. After kissing it as devotedly as if it
were a relic, she ran to her mirror to judge of the effect of the
"How pretty, and how I love it!" said she; "but how can I wear it
so that he will not see it?"
Before she could solve this problem, she heard a slight noise,
which petrified her as she stood before her glass.
"It is he!" she thought; after standing for a moment half stunned,
she dragged herself as far as the stairs, and leaning over, listened
with fear and trembling. At first she could hear nothing but the
beating of her heart; then she heard the other noise again, and more
distinctly. Somebody was turning the handle of the door, trying to
open it. The unexpected obstacle of the bolt doubtless exasperated
the would-be visitor, for the door was shaken and pushed with a
violence which threatened to break the lock or push down the door.
Madame de Bergenheim's first thought was to run into her chamber
and lock the door behind her;—the second showed her the danger that
might result if the slightest noise should reach other ears. Not a
moment was to be lost in hesitation. The young woman quickly
descended the stairs and drew the bolt. The door opened softly and
closed with the same precaution. The lamp from the parlor threw a
feeble light upon the upper steps of the staircase, but the lower ones
were in complete darkness. It was with her heart rather than her eyes
that she recognized Octave; he could distinguish Madame de Bergenheim
only in an indistinct way by her white dress, which was faintly
outlined in the darkness; she stood before him silent and trembling
with emotion, for she had not yet thought of a speech that would send
He also felt the embarrassment usual in any one guilty of so
foolhardy an action. He had expected to surprise Clemence, and he
found her upon her guard; the thought of the disloyal part he was
playing at this moment made the blood mount to his cheeks and took
away, for the time being, his ordinary assurance. He sought in vain
for a speech which might first justify him and then conquer her. He
had recourse to a method often employed in the absence of eloquence.
He fell on his knees before the young woman and seized her hands; it
seemed as if the violence of his emotions rendered him incapable of
expressing himself except by silent adoration. As she felt his hands
touch hers, Clemence drew back and said in a low voice:
"You disgust me!"
"Disgust!" he repeated, drawing himself up to his full height.
"Yes, and that is not enough," she continued, indignantly, "I ought
to say scorn instead of disgust. You deceived me when you said you
loved me—you infamously deceived me!"
"But I adore you!" he exclaimed, with vehemence; "what proof do
you wish of my love?"
"Go! go away at once! A proof, did you say? I will accept only
one: go, I order it, do you understand?"
Instead of obeying her, he seized her in his arms in spite of her
"Anything but that," he said; "order me to kill myself at your
feet, I will do it, but I will not go."
She tried for a moment to disengage herself, but although she used
all her strength, she was unable to do so.
"Oh, you are without pity," she said, feebly, "but I abhor you;
rather, a thousand times rather, kill me!"
Gerfaut was almost frightened by the agonized accent in which she
spoke these words; he released her, but as he removed his arms, she
reeled and he was obliged to support her.
"Why do you persecute me, then?" she murmured, as she fell in a
faint upon her lover's breast.
He picked her up in his arms and mounted the narrow stairs with
difficulty. Carrying her into the parlor, he placed her upon the
divan. She had completely lost consciousness; one would have believed
her dead from the pallor of her face, were, it not for a slight
trembling which agitated her form every few seconds and announced a
nervous attack. The most expert of lady's maids could not have
removed the little ribbon from her neck, which seemed to trouble her
respiration, more adroitly than did Octave. In spite of his anxiety,
he could not repress a smile as he recognized the pin which he hardly
expected to find upon Clemence's neck, considering the hostile way in
which she had greeted him. He knelt before her and bathed her temples
with cold water, making her also inhale some salts which he found upon
the toilet table in the next room. Little by little, these attentions
produced an effect; the nervous convulsion became less frequent and a
slight flush suffused her pale cheeks. She opened her eyes and then
closed them, as if the light troubled them; then, extending her arms,
she passed them about Octave's neck as he leaned over her; she
remained thus for some time, breathing quietly and to all appearances
sleeping. Suddenly she said:
"You will give me your pin, will you not?"
"Is not all that I have yours?" he replied, in a low tone.
"Mine!" she continued, in a feebly loving voice; "tell me again
that you belong to me, to me alone, Octave!"
"You do not send me away any longer, then? you like me to be near
you?" he said, with a happy smile, as he kissed the young woman's
"Oh! stay, I beg of you! stay with me forever!"
She folded her arms more tightly around him, as if she feared he
might leave her. Suddenly she sat up, opened her eyes, and gazed
about her in silent astonishment.
"What has happened?" said she, "and how is it that you are here?
Ah! this is dreadful indeed; you have cruelly punished me for my
This sudden severity after her delicious abandon, changed Octave's
pleasure into angry vexation.
"You are the one," he replied, "who are cruel! Why allow me so
much bliss, if you intended to take it away from me so soon? Since
you love me only in your dreams, I beg of you to go to sleep again and
never awaken. I will stay near you. Your words were so sweet, but a
moment ago, and now you deny them!"
"What did I say?" she asked, with hesitation, a deep blush
suffusing. her face and neck.
These symptoms, which he considered a bad augury, increased
Octave's irritation. He arose and said in a bitter tone:
"Fear nothing! I will not abuse the words which have escaped you,
however flattering or charming they may have been; they told me that
you loved me. I do not believe it any longer; you are agitated, I can
see; but it is from fear and not love."
Clemence drew herself up upon the divan, crossed her arms over her
breast and gazed at him for a few moments in silence.
"Do you believe these two sentiments incompatible?" she asked at
last; "you are the only one whom I fear. Others would not complain."
There was such irresistible charm in her voice and glance that
Gerfaut's ill-humor melted away like ice in the sun's rays. He fell
upon his knees before the divan, and tried to pass her arms about his
neck as before; but instead of lending herself to this project, she
attempted to rise.
"I am so happy at your feet," he said, gently preventing her.
"Everybody else can sit beside you; I only have the right to kneel.
Do not take this right away from me."
Madame de Bergenheim extricated one of her hands, and, raising her
finger with a threatening gesture, she said:
"Think a little less of your rights, and more of your duties. I
advise you to obey me and to profit by my kindness, which allows you
to sit by my side for a moment. Think that I might be more severe,
and that if I treated you as you merited—if I told you to go away,
would you obey me?"
Gerfaut hesitated a moment and looked at her supplicatingly.
"I would obey," said he; "but would you have the courage to order
"I allow you to remain until just half past twelve," said she, as
she glanced at the clock, which she could see through the half-open
door. Gerfaut followed her glance, and saw that she accorded him only
a quarter of an hour: but he was too clever to make any observation.
He knew that the second quarter of an hour is always less difficult
to obtain than the first.
"I am sure," said she, "that you have thought me capricious to-day;
you must pardon me, it is a family fault. You know the saying:
'Caprice de Corandeuil?"
"I wish it to be said: Amour de Gerfaut," said he, tenderly.
"You are right to be amiable and say pleasant things to me, for I
need them badly to-night. I am sad and weary; the darkest visions
come before my mind. I think it is the storm which makes me feel so.
How doleful this thunder is! It seems to me like an omen of
"It is only the fancy of your vivid imagination. If you exerted
the same will to be happy that you do to imagine troubles, our life
would be perfect. What matters the storm? and even if you do see an
omen in it, what is there so very terrible? Clouds are vapor, thunder
is a sound, both are equally ephemeral; only the blue sky, which they
can obscure but for a moment, is eternal."
"Did you not hear something just now?" asked Madame de Bergenheim,
as she gave a sudden start and listened eagerly.
"Nothing. What did you think it was?"
"I feared it might be Justine who had taken it into her head to
come down stairs; she is so tiresome in her attentions—"
She arose and went to look in her chamber, which she carefully
locked; a moment later, she returned and seated herself again upon the
"Justine is sleeping by this time," said Octave; "I should not have
ventured if I had not seen that her light was out."
Clemence took his hand and placed it over her heart.
"Now," said she, "when I tell you that I am frightened, will you
"Poor dear!" he exclaimed, as he felt her heart throbbing
"You are the one who causes me these palpitations for the slightest
thing. I know that we do not run any danger, that everybody is in his
own room by this time, and yet, somehow, I feel terribly frightened.
There are women, so they say, who get used to this torture, and end by
being guilty and tranquil at the same time. It is an unworthy
thought, but I'll confess that, sometimes, when I suffer so, I wish I
were like them. But it is impossible; I was not made for wrong-doing.
You can not understand this, you are a man; you love boldly, you
indulge in every thought that seems sweet to you without being
troubled by remorse. And then, when you suffer, your anguish at least
belongs to you, nobody has any right to ask you what is the matter.
But I, my tears even are not my own; I have often shed them on your
account—I must hide them, for he has a right to ask: 'Why do you
weep?' And what can I reply?"
She turned away her head to conceal the tears which she could not
restrain; he saw them, and, leaning over her, he kissed them away.
"Your tears are mine!" he exclaimed, passionately; "but do not
distress me by telling me that our love makes you unhappy."
"Unhappy! oh, yes! very unhappy! and yet I would not change this
sorrow for the richest joys of others. This unhappiness is my
treasure! To be loved by you! To think that there was a time when our
love might have been legitimate! What fatality weighs upon us,
Octave? Why did we know each other too late? I often dream a
beautiful dream—a dream of freedom."
"You are free if you love me—It is the rain against the windows,"
said he, seeing Madame de Bergenheim anxiously listening again. They
kept silent for a moment, but could hear nothing except the monotonous
whistling of the storm.
"To be loved by you and not to blush!" said she, as she gazed at
him lovingly. "To be together always, without fearing that a stroke
of lightning might separate us! to give you my heart and still be
worthy to pray! it would be one of those heavenly delights that one
grasps only in dreams—"
"Oh! dream when I shall be far from you; but, when I am at your
feet, when our hearts beat only for each other, do not evoke, lest you
destroy our present happiness, that which is beyond our power. Do you
think there are bonds which can more strongly unite us? Am I not
yours? And you, yourself, who speak of the gift of your heart, have
you not given it to me entirely?"
"Oh! yes, entirely! And it is but right, since I owe it to you.
I did not understand life until the day I received it from your eyes;
since that minute I have lived, and I can die. I love you! I fail to
find words to tell you one-tenth of what my heart contains, but I love
He received her in his arms, where she took refuge so as to conceal
her face after these words. She remained thus for an instant, then
arose with a start, seized Octave's hands and pressed them in a
convulsive manner, saying in a voice as weak as a dying woman's:
"I am lost!"
He instinctively followed Clemence's gaze, which was fastened upon
the glass door. An almost imperceptible movement of the muslin
curtain was evident. At the same moment, there was a slight noise, a
step upon the carpet, the turning of the handle of the door, and it
was silently opened as if by a ghost.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE AGREEMENT
Madame de Bergenheim tried to rise, but her strength failed her,
she fell on her knees, and then dropped at her lover's feet. The
latter leaped from the divan with out trying to assist her, stepped
over the body stretched before him, and drew his poniard out of his
Christian stood upon the threshold of the door silent and
There was a moment of terrible silence. Only the eyes of the two
men spoke; those of the husband were fixed, dull, and implacable;
those of the lover sparkled with the audacity of despair. After a
moment of mutual fascination, the Baron made a movement as if to
"One step more and you are a dead man!" exclaimed Gerfaut, in a
low voice, as he clutched the handle of his poniard.
Christian extended his hand, replying to this threat only by a
look; but such an imperative one that the thrust of a lance would not
have been as fearful to the lover. Octave put his poniard in its
sheath, ashamed of his emotion in the presence of such calm, and
imitated his enemy's scornful attitude.
"Come, Monsieur," said the latter, in a low voice, as he took a
Instead of following his example, Gerfaut cast a glance upon
Clemence. She had fallen in such a dead faint that he sought in vain
for her breath. He leaned over her, with an irresistible feeling of
pity and love; but just as he was about to take her in his arms and
place her upon the divan, Bergenheim's hand stopped him. If there is
a being on earth to whom one owes regard and respect, it is the one
whom our own wrong has rendered our enemy. Octave arose, and said, in
a grave, resigned voice:
"I am at your orders, Monsieur."
Christian pointed to the door, as if to invite him to pass out
first, thus preserving, with his extraordinary composure, the
politeness which a good education makes an indelible habit, but which
at this moment was more frightful to behold than the most furious
outburst of temper. Gerfaut glanced at Clemence again, and said, as he
pointed to her:
"Shall you leave her without any aid in this condition? It is
"It is not from cruelty, but out of pity," replied the Baron,
coldly; "she will awake only too soon."
Octave's heart was intensely oppressed, but he managed to conceal
his emotion. He hesitated no longer and stepped out. The husband
followed, without giving a glance at the poor woman whose own words
had condemned her so inexorably. And so she was left alone in this
pretty boudoir as if in a tomb.
The two men descended the stairs leading from the little closet.
At the library door they found themselves in absolute obscurity;
Christian opened a dark-lantern and its faint light guided their
steps. They traversed, in silence, the picture-gallery, the
vestibule, and then mounted the main staircase. They reached the
Baron's apartment without meeting anybody or betraying themselves by
the slightest sound. With the same outward self-possession which had
characterized his whole conduct, Christian, after carefully closing
the doors, lighted a candelabra filled with candles which was upon the
mantel, and then turned to his companion, who was far less composed
Gerfaut had suffered tortures since leaving the little parlor. A
feeling of regret and deepest pity, at the thought of the inevitable
catastrophe which must follow, had softened his heart. He saw in the
most odious of colors the selfishness of his love. Clemence's last
glance as she fell fainting at his feet—a forgiving and a loving
glance—was like a dagger in his heart. He had ruined her! the woman
he loved! the queen of his life! the angel he adored! This idea was
like hell to him. He was almost unable to control his emotion, dizzy
as he was on the brink of the abyss opened by his hand, into which he
had precipitated what he counted as the dearest part of his own self.
Bergenheim stood, cold and sombre, like a northern sky, opposite
this pale-faced man, upon whose countenance a thousand passionate
emotions were depicted like clouds on a stormy day.
When Bergenheim's eyes met Octave's, they were so full of vengeance
and hatred that the latter trembled as if he had come in contact with
a wild beast. The lover actually realized the inferiority of his
attitude in the presence of this enraged husband. A feeling of
self-pride and indignation came to his aid. He put aside remorse and
regrets until later; these sad expiations were forbidden him now;
another duty lay before him. There is only one reparation possible
for certain offences. The course once open, one must go to its very
end; pardon is to be found only upon the tomb of the offended.
Octave knew he had to submit to this necessity. He stifled all
scruples which might have weakened his firmness, and resumed his
habitual disdainful look. His eyes returned his enemy's glance of
deadly hatred, and he began the conversation like a man who is
accustomed to master the events of his life and forbids any one to
shape them for him.
"Before any explanations take place between us," he said, "I have
to declare to you, upon my honor, that there is only one guilty person
in this affair, and that I am the one. The slightest reproach
addressed to Madame de Bergenheim would be a most unjust outrage and a
most deplorable error on your part. I introduced myself into her
apartment without her knowledge and without having been authorized in
any way to do so. I had just entered it when you arrived. Necessity
obliges me to admit a love that is an outrage to you; I am ready to
repair this outrage by any satisfaction you may demand; but in putting
myself at your discretion, I earnestly insist upon exculpating Madame
de Bergenheim from all that can in any way affect her virtue or her
"As to her reputation," said Christian, "I will watch over that; as
to her virtue—"
He did not finish, but his face assumed an expression of
"I swear to you, Monsieur," said Octave, with increasing emotion,
"that she is above all seduction and should be sheltered from all
insult; I swear to you—What oath can I take that you will believe? I
swear that Madame de Bergenheim never has betrayed any of her duties
toward you; that I never have received the slightest encouragement
from her; that she is as innocent of my folly as the angels in
Christian shook his head with a scornful smile.
"This day will be the undying remorse of my life if you will not
believe me," said Gerfaut, with almost uncontrolled vehemence; "I tell
you, Monsieur, she is innocent; innocent! do you understand me? I was
led astray by my passion. I wished to profit by your absence. You
know that I have a key to the library; I used it without her
suspecting it. Would to God that you could have been a witness to our
tete-a-tete! you could then have not one doubt left. Can one prevent
a man from entering a lady's room, when he has succeeded in finding
the way to it in spite of her wishes? I repeat it, she—"
"Enough, Monsieur," replied the Baron coldly. "You are doing as I
should do in your place; but this discussion is out of place; let this
woman exculpate herself. There should be no mention of her between us
"When I protest that upon my honor—"
"Monsieur, under such conditions, a false oath is not dishonorable.
I have been a bachelor myself, and I know that anything is allowable
against a husband. Let us drop this, I beg of you, and return to
facts. I consider that I have been insulted by you, and you must give
me satisfaction for this insult."
Octave made a sign of acquiescence.
"One of us must die," replied Bergenheim, leaning his elbow
negligently upon the mantel. The lover bowed his head a second time.
"I have offended you," said he; "you have the right to choose the
reparation due you."
"There is only one possible, Monsieur. Blood alone can wipe away
the disgrace; you know it as well as I. You have dishonored my home,
you owe me your life for that. If Fate favors you, you will be rid of
me, and I shall be wronged in every way. There are arrangements to be
made, and we shall settle them at once, if you are willing."
He pushed an armchair toward Gerfaut, and took another himself.
They seated themselves beside a desk which stood in the middle of
the room, and, with an equal appearance of sang-froid and polite
haughtiness, they discussed this murderous combat.
"It is not necessary for me to say to you," said Octave, "that I
accept in advance whatever you may decide upon; the weapons, place,
"Listen to me, then," interrupted Bergenheim; "you just now spoke
in favor of this woman in a way that made me think you did not wish
her ruined in the eyes of the world; so I trust you will accept the
proposition I am about to make to you. An ordinary duel would arouse
suspicion and inevitably lead to a discovery of the truth; people
would seek for some plausible motive for the encounter, whatever story
we might tell our seconds. You know that there is but one motive
which will be found acceptable by society for a duel between a young
man who had been received as a guest of this house and the husband.
In whatever way this duel may terminate, this woman's honor would
remain on the ground with the dead, and that is what I wish to avoid,
since she bears my name."
"Will you explain to me what your plan is?" asked Octave, who
could not understand what his adversary had in mind.
"You know, Monsieur," Bergenheim continued, in his calm voice,
"that I had a perfect right to kill you a moment ago; I did not do so
for two reasons: first, a gentleman should use his sword and not a
poniard, and then your dead body would have embarrassed me."
"The river is close by!" interrupted Gerfaut, with a strange
Christian looked at him fixedly for a moment, and then replied in a
slightly changed tone:
"Instead of availing myself of my right, I intend to risk my life
against yours. The danger is the same for myself, who never have
insulted you, as for you, who have offered me the deadliest insult
that one man can offer another. I am willing to spill my blood, but
not to soil my honor."
"If it is a duel without seconds that you desire, you have my
consent; I have perfect confidence in your loyalty, and I hope you can
say the same for mine."
Christian bowed his head slightly and continued:
"It is more than a duel without seconds, for the whole affair must
be so contrived as to be looked upon as an accident; it is the only
way to prevent the outbreak and scandal I dread so much. Now here is
my proposition: You know that a wild-boar hunt is to take place
to-morrow in the Mares woods. When we station ourselves we shall be
placed together at a spot I know of, where we shall be out of the
sight of the other hunters. When the boar crosses the enclosure we
will fire at a signal agreed upon. In this way, the denouement,
whatever it may be, will be looked upon as one of those accidents
which so frequently happen in shooting-parties."
"I am a dead man," thought Gerfaut, as he saw that the gun would be
the weapon chosen by his adversary, and recalled his wonderful skill,
of which he had had many and various proofs. But instead of showing
the slightest hesitation, his countenance grew still more arrogant.
"This kind of combat seems to me very wisely planned," said he; "I
accept, for I desire as much as you that this affair should remain an
"Since we are to have no seconds," continued Bergenheim, "let us
arrange everything so that nothing can betray us; it is inconceivable
how the most trifling circumstances often turn out crushing evidence.
I think that I have foreseen everything. If you find that I have
forgotten any detail, please remind me of it. The place I speak of is
a narrow, well- shaded path. The ground is perfectly level; it lies
from north to south, so that at eight o'clock in the morning the sun
will be on that side; there will be no advantage in position. There
is an old elm on the borders of the wood; at fifty steps' distance in
the pathway, lies the trunk of an oak which has been felled this year.
These are the two places where we will station ourselves, if you
consent to it. Is it the proper distance?"
"Near or farther, it matters little. Breast to breast, if you
"Nearer would be imprudent. However, fifty steps with the gun is
less than fifteen with a pistol. This point is settled. We will
remain with heads covered, although this is not the custom. A ball
might strike the head where the cap would be, and if this should
happen it would arouse suspicion, as people do not hunt bareheaded.
It only remains to decide who shall fire first," continued Christian.
"You, of course; you are the offended one."
"You do not admit the full offence to have been committed, and,
since this is in doubt, and I can not be judge and jury together, we
shall consult chance."
"I declare to you that I will not fire first," interrupted Gerfaut.
"Remember that it is a mortal duel, and such scruples are foolish.
Let us agree that whoever has the first shot, shall place himself
upon the border of the woods and await the signal, which the other
will give when the boar crosses the enclosure."
He took a gold piece from his purse and threw it in the air.
"Heads!" said the lover, ready to acquiesce to the least of his
"Fate is for you," said Christian, looking at the coin with marked
indifference; "but, remember, if at the signal given by me you do not
fire, or only fire in the air, I shall use my right to shoot—You know
that I rarely miss my aim."
These preliminaries ended, the Baron took two guns from his closet,
loaded them, taking particular care to show that they were of equal
length and the same calibre. He then locked them up in the closet and
offered Gerfaut the key.
"I would not do you this injustice," said the latter.
"This precaution is hardly necessary, since, tomorrow, you will
take your choice of those weapons. Now that everything is arranged,"
continued the Baron, in a graver tone, "I have one request to make of
you, and I think you are too loyal to refuse it. Swear to me that
whatever may be the result, you will keep all this a profound secret.
My honor is now in your hands; speaking as a gentleman to a
gentleman, I ask you to respect it."
"If I have the sad privilege of surviving you," replied Gerfaut, no
less solemnly, "I swear to you to keep the secret inviolate. But,
supposing a contrary event, I also have a request to make to you.
What are your intentions regarding Madame de Bergenheim?"
Christian gazed at his adversary a moment, with a searching glance
which seemed to read his innermost thoughts.
"My intentions?" said he at last, in a displeased, surprised tone;
"this is a very strange question; I do not recognize your right to ask
"My right is certainly strange," said the lover, with a bitter
smile; "but whatever it may be, I shall make use of it. I have
destroyed this woman's happiness forever; if I can not repair this
fault, at least I ought to mitigate the effect as much as lies in my
power. Will you reply to me—if I die tomorrow, what will be her
Bergenheim kept silent, his sombre eyes lowered to the floor.
"Listen to me, Monsieur," continued Gerfaut, with great emotion;
"when I said to you, 'She is not guilty,' you did not believe me, and
I despair of ever persuading you, for I know well what your suspicions
must be. However, these are the last words addressed to you that will
leave my mouth, and you know that one has to believe a dying man's
statement. If tomorrow you avenge yourself, I earnestly beg of you,
let this reparation suffice. All my pride is gone, you see, since I
beg this of you upon my bended knees. Be humane toward her; spare
her, Monsieur. It is not pardon which I ask you to grant her—it is
pity for her unsullied innocence. Treat her kindly—honorably. Do
not make her too wretched."
He stopped, for his voice failed him, and his eyes filled with
"I know what I ought to do," replied the Baron, in as harsh a tone
as Gerfaut's had been tender; "I am her husband, and I do not
recognize anybody's right, yours least of all, to interpose between
"I can foresee the fate which you have in reserve for her," replied
the lover, indignantly; "you will not murder her, for that would be
too imprudent; what would become of your vaunted honor then? But you
will slowly kill her; you will make her die a new death every day, in
order to satisfy a blind vengeance. You are a man to meditate over
each new torture as calmly as you have regulated every detail of our
Bergenheim, instead of replying, lighted a candle as if to put an
end to this discussion.
"Until to-morrow, Monsieur," said he, with a cold air.
"One moment!" exclaimed Gerfaut, as he arose; "you refuse to give
me one word which will assure me of the fate of the woman whose life I
"I have nothing to say."
"Very well, then; I will protect her, and I will do it in spite of
you and against you."
"Not another word," interrupted the Baron, sternly.
Octave leaned over the table between them and looked at him for a
moment, then said in a terrible voice:
"You killed Lambernier!"
Christian bounded backward as if he had been struck.
"I was a witness of that murder," continued Gerfaut, slowly, as he
emphasized each word; "I will write my deposition and give it to a man
of whom I am as sure as of myself. If I die to-morrow, I will leave
him a mission which no effort on your part will prevent him from
fulfilling. He shall watch over your slightest actions with inexorable
vigilance; he will be Madame de Bergenheim's protector, if you forget
that your first duty is to protect her. The day upon which you abuse
your position with her, the day when she shall call out despairingly,
'Help me!' that day shall my deposition be placed in the hands of the
public prosecutor at Nancy. He will believe its contents; of that you
may be certain. Besides, the river is an indiscreet tomb; before long
it will give up the body you have confided to it. You will be tried
and condemned. You know the punishment for murder! It is hard labor
Bergenheim darted toward the mantel at these words and seized a
hunting- knife which hung there. Octave, as he saw him ready to
strike, crossed his arms upon his breast, and said, coldly:
"Remember that my body might embarrass you; one corpse is enough."
The Baron threw the weapon on the floor with such force that he
broke it in two.
"But it was you," he said, in a trembling voice, "you were
Lambernier's assassin. I—He knew this infamous secret, and his death
was involuntary on my part."
"The intention is of little account. The deed is the question.
There is not a jury that would not condemn you, and that is what I
wish, for such a sentence would bring a legal separation between you
and your wife and give her her liberty."
"You are not speaking seriously," said Christian, turning pale;
"you, a gentleman, would not denounce me! And, besides, would not my
being sentenced injure the woman in whom you take so much interest?"
"I know all that," Gerfaut replied; "I too cling to the honor of my
name, and yet I expose it. I have plenty of enemies who will be glad
enough to outrage my memory. Public opinion will condemn me, for they
will see only the action, and that is odious. There is one thing,
however, more precious and necessary to me than the world's opinion,
and that is peace for every day, the right to live; and that is the
reason why, happiness having forsaken me, I am going to bequeath it to
the one whom fate has put in your power, but whom I shall not leave to
"I am her husband," Bergenheim replied, angrily.
"Yes, you are her husband; so the law is on your side. You have
only to call upon society for its aid; it will come but too gladly at
your call and help you crush a defenceless woman. And I, who love her
as you have never known how to love her, I can do nothing for her!
Living, I must keep silent and bow before your will; but dead, your
absurd laws no longer exist for me; dead, I can place myself between
you and her, and I will do it. Since, in order to aid her, I have no
choice of arms, I will not recoil from the one weapon which presents
itself. Yes, if in order to save her from your vengeance, I am
obliged to resort to the shame of a denunciation, I swear to you here,
I will turn informer. I will sully my name with this stain; I will
pick up this stone from the mud, and I will crush your head with it."
"These are a coward's words!" exclaimed Christian, as he fell back
in his chair.
Gerfaut looked at him with a calm, stony glance, while replying:
"No insults, please! One of us will not be living to-morrow.
Remember what I tell you: if I fall in this duel, it will be to your
interest to have this matter stop then and there. I submit to death
myself; but I exact liberty for her—liberty, with peace and respect.
Think it over, Monsieur; at the first outrage, I shall arise from my
tomb to prevent a second, and dig a trench between you and her which
never can be crossed\ —the penitentiary!"
CHAPTER XXIV. A FRIEND'S ADVICE
After she came out of her faint, Madame de Bergenheim remained for
a long time in a dazed condition, and did not realize, save in a
confused manner, her real position. She saw vaguely, at her first
glance, the curtains of the bed upon which she lay, and thought that
she had awakened from an ordinary sleep. Little by little, her
thoughts became clearer, and she saw that she was fully dressed, also
that her room seemed brighter than it usually was with only her
night-lamp lighted. She noticed between the half-open curtains a
gigantic form reflected almost to the ceiling opposite her bed. She
sat up and distinctly saw a man sitting in the corner by the
fireplace. Frozen with terror, she fell back upon her pillow as she
recognized her husband. Then she remembered everything, even the
slightest details of the scene in the small parlor. She felt ready to
faint again when she heard Christian's steps upon the carpet, although
he walked with great precaution.
The Baron looked at her a moment, and then, opening the
bed-curtains, he said:
"You can not pass the night thus, it is nearly three o'clock. You
must go to bed as usual."
Clemence shivered at these words, whose accent, however, was not
hard. She obeyed mechanically; but she had hardly risen when she was
obliged to recline upon the bed, for her trembling limbs would not
"Do not be afraid of me," said Bergenheim, drawing back a few
steps; "my presence should not frighten you. I only wish that people
should know that I have passed the night in your chamber, for it is
possible that my return may arouse suspicion. You know that our love
is only a comedy played for the benefit of our servants."
There was such affected lightness in these remarks that the young
woman was cut to the very quick. She had expected an explosion of
anger, but not this calm contempt. Her revolted pride gave her
"I do not deserve to be treated thus," said she; "do not condemn me
without a hearing."
"I ask nothing of you," replied Christian, who seated himself again
beside the mantel; "undress yourself, and go to sleep if it is
possible for you to do so. It is not necessary for Justine to make
any comments tomorrow about your day clothes not having been removed."
Instead of obeying him, she went toward him and tried to remain
standing in order to speak to him, but her emotion was so intense that
it took away her strength and she was obliged to sit down.
"You treat me too cruelly, Christian," said she, when she had
succeeded to recover her voice. "I am not guilty; at least, not so
much as you think I am—" said she, drooping her head.
He looked at her attentively for a moment, and then replied, in a
voice which did not betray the slightest emotion:
"You must know that my greatest desire is to be persuaded of this
by you. I know that too often appearances are deceitful; perhaps you
will be able to explain to me what took place last evening; I am still
inclined to believe your word. Swear to me that you do not love
Monsieur de Gerfaut."
"I swear it!" said she, in a weak voice, and without raising her
He went to the bed and took down a little silver crucifix which was
hanging above it.
"Swear it to me upon this crucifix," said he, presenting it to his
She tried in vain to raise her hand, which seemed fastened to the
arm of her chair.
"I swear it!" she stammered a second time, while her face became
as pale as death.
A savage laugh escaped Christian's lips. He put the crucifix in
its place again without saying a word, then he opened the secret panel
and, taking out the casket, placed it upon the table before his wife.
She made a movement as if to seize it, but her courage failed her.
"You have perjured yourself to your husband and to God!" said
Bergenheim slowly. "Do you know what kind of woman you are?"
Clemence remained for some time powerless to reply; her respiration
was so painful that each breath seemed like suffocation; her head,
after rolling about on the back of the chair, fell upon her breast,
like a blade of grass broken and bruised by the rain.
"If you have read those letters," she murmured, when she had
strength enough to speak, "you must know that I am not as unworthy as
you think. I am very guilty—but I still have a right to be forgiven."
Christian, at this moment, had he been gifted with the intelligence
which fathoms the mysteries of the heart, might have renewed the bonds
which were so near being broken; he could at least have stopped
Clemence upon a dangerous path and saved her from a most irreparable
fall. But his nature was too unrefined for him to see the degrees
which separate weakness from vice, and the intoxication of a loving
heart from the depravity of a corrupt character. With the obstinacy
of narrow-minded people, he had been looking at the whole thing in its
worst light, and for several hours already he had decided upon his
wife's guilt in his own mind; this served now as a foundation for his
stern conduct. His features remained perfectly impassive as he
listened to Clemence's words of justification, which she uttered in a
weak, broken voice.
"I know that I merit your hatred-but if you could know how much I
suffer, you would surely forgive me—You left me in Paris very young,
inexperienced; I ought to have fought against this feeling better than
I did, but I used up in this struggle all the strength that I had—You
can see how pale and changed I have become within the past year. I
have aged several years in those few months; I am not yet what you
call a—a lost woman. He ought to have told you that—"
"Oh, he has! of course he has," replied Christian with bitter
irony. "Oh, you have in him a loyal cavalier!"
"You do not believe me, then! you do not believe me!" she
continued, wringing her hands in despair; "but read these letters, the
last ones. See whether one writes like this to a woman who is entirely
She tried to take the package which her husband held; instead of
giving the letters to her, he lighted them at the candle and then
threw them into the fireplace. Clemence uttered a cry and darted
forward to save them, but Christian's iron hand seized her and pushed
her back into her chair.
"I understand how much you care for this correspondence," said he,
in a more excited tone, "but you are more loving than prudent. Let me
destroy one witness which accuses you. Do you know that I have
already killed a man on account of these letters?"
"Killed!" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, whom this word drove
almost to madness, for she could not understand its real meaning and
applied it to her lover. "Well, then, kill me too, for I lied when I
said that I repented. I do not repent! I am guilty! I deceived you!
I love him and I abhor you; I love him! kill me!"
She fell upon her knees before him and dragged herself along the
floor, striking her head upon it as if she wished to break it.
Christian raised her and seated her in the chair, in spite of her
resistance. She struggled in her husband's arms, and the only words
which she uttered were: "I love him! kill me! I love him! kill me!"
Her grief was so intense that Bergenheim really pitied her.
"You did not understand me," he said, "he is not the man I killed."
She became motionless, dumb. He left her then, from a feeling of
compassion, and returned to his seat. They remained for some time
seated in this way, one on each side of the fireplace; he, with his
head leaning against the mantel; she, crouched in her chair with her
face concealed behind her hands; only the striking of the clock
interrupted this silence and lulled their gloomy thoughts with its
A sharp, quick sound against one of the windows interrupted this
sad scene. Clemence arose suddenly as if she had received a galvanic
shock; her frightened eyes met her husband's. He made an imperious
gesture with his hand as if to order silence, and both listened
attentively and anxiously.
The same noise was heard a second time. A rattling against the
blinds was followed by a dry, metallic sound, evidently caused by the
contact of some body against the window.
"It is some signal," said Christian in a low voice, as he looked at
his wife. "You probably know what it means."
"I do not, I swear to you," replied Clemence, her heart throbbing
with a new emotion.
"I will tell you, then; he is there and he has something to say to
you. Rise and open the window."
"Open the window?" said she, with a frightened look.
"Do what I tell you. Do you wish him to pass the night under your
window, so that the servants may see him?"
At this command, spoken in a severe tone, she arose. Noticing that
their shadows might be seen from the outside when the curtains were
drawn, Bergenheim changed the candles to another place. Clemence
walked slowly toward the window; she had hardly opened it, when a
purse fell upon the floor.
"Close it now," said the Baron. While his wife was quietly
obeying, he picked up the purse, and opening it, took the following
note from it:
"I have ruined you—you for whom I would gladly have died! But of
what use are regrets and despair now? And my blood will not wipe
away your tears. Our position is so frightful that I tremble so
speak of it. I ought to tell you the truth, however, horrible as it
may be. Do not curse me, Clemence; do not impute to me this
fatality, which obliges me thus to torture you. In a few hours I
shall have expiated the wrongs of my love, or you yourself may be
free. Free! pardon me for using this word; I know it is an odious
one to you, but I am too troubled to find another. Whatever
happens, I am about to put within your reach the only aid which it
is possible for me to offer you; it will at least give you a choice
of unhappiness. If you never see me again, to live with him will be
a torture beyond your strength, perhaps, for you love me. I do not
know how to express my thoughts, and I dare not offer you advice or
entreat you. All that I feel is the necessity of telling you that
my whole life belongs to you, that I am yours until death; but I
hardly dare have the courage to lay at your feet the offering of a
destiny already so sad, and which may soon be stained with blood.
A fatal necessity sometimes imposes actions which public opinion
condemns, but the heart excuses, for it alone understands them.
Do not be angry at what you are about to read; never did words like
these come out of a more desolate heart. During the whole day a
post-chaise will wait for you at the rear of the Montigny plateau;
a fire lighted upon the rock which you can see from your room will
notify you of its presence. In a short time it can reach the Rhine.
A person devoted to you will accompany you to Munich, to the house
of one of my relatives, whose character and position will assure you
sufficient protection from all tyranny. There, at least, you will
be permitted to weep. That is all that I can do for you. My heart
is broken when I think of the powerlessness of my love. They say
that when one crushes the scorpion which has wounded him, he is
cured; even my death will not repair the wrong that I have done you;
it will only be one grief the more. Can you understand how
desperate is the feeling which I experience now? For months past,
to be loved by you has been the sole desire of my heart, and now I
must repent ever having attained it. Out of pity for you, I ought
to wish that you did love me with a love as perishable as my life,
so that a remembrance of me would leave you in peace. All this is
so sad that I have not the courage to continue. Adieu, Clemence!
Once more, one last time, I must say: I love you! and yet, I dare
not. I feel unworthy to speak to you thus, for my love has become a
disastrous gift. Did I not ruin you? The only word that seems to
be permissible is the one that even a murderer dares to address to
his God: pardon me!"
After reading this, the Baron passed the letter to his wife without
saying a word, and resumed his sombre attitude.
"You see what he asks of you?" he said, after a rather long pause,
as he observed the dazed way in which Madame de Bergenheim's eyes
wandered over this letter.
"My head is bewildered," she replied, "I do not understand what he
says— Why does he speak of death?"
Christian's lips curled disdainfully as he answered:
"It does not concern you; one does not kill women."
"They need it not to die," replied Clemence, who gazed at her
husband with wild, haggard eyes.
"Then you are going to fight?" she added, after a moment's pause.
"Really, have you divined as much?" he replied, with an ironical
smile; "it is a wonderful thing how quick is your intelligence! You
have spoken the truth. You see, each of us has his part to play. The
wife deceives her husband; the husband fights with the lover, and the
lover in order to close the comedy in a suitable manner—proposes to
run away with the wife, for that is the meaning of his letter,
notwithstanding all his oratorical precautions."
"You are going to fight!" she exclaimed, with the energy of
despair. "You are going to fight! And for me—unworthy and miserable
creature that I am! What have you done? And is he not free to love?
I alone am the guilty one, I alone have offended you, and I alone
deserve punishment. Do with me what you will; shut me up in a convent
or a cell; bring me poison, I will drink it."
The Baron burst into sardonic laughter.
"So you are afraid that I shall kill, him?" said he, gazing at her
intently, with his arms crossed upon his breast.
"I fear for you, for us all. Do you think that I can live after
causing blood to be shed? If there must be a victim, take me—or, at
least, begin with me. Have pity! tell me that you will not fight."
"But think—there is an even chance that you may be set free!"
"Spare me!" she murmured, shivering with horror.
"It is a pity that blood must be shed, is it not?" said
Bergenheim, in a mocking tone; "adultery would be pleasant but for
that. I am sure that you think me coarse and brutal to look upon your
honor as a serious thing, when you do not do so yourself."
"I entreat you!"
"I am the one who has to entreat you. This astonishes you, does it
not? —While I live, I shall protect your reputation in spite of
yourself; but if I die, try to guard it yourself. Content yourself
with having betrayed me; do not outrage my memory. I am glad now that
we have no children, for I should fear for them, and should feel
obliged to deprive you of their care as much as lay in my power. That
is one trouble the less. But as you bear my name, and I can not take
it away from you, I beg of you do not drag it in the mire when I shall
not be here to wash it for you."
The young woman fell back upon her seat as if every fibre in her
body had been successively torn to pieces.
"You crush me to the earth!" she said, feebly.
"This revolts you," continued the husband, who seemed to choose the
most cutting thrust; "you are young; this is your first error, you are
not made for such adventures. But rest assured, one becomes
accustomed to everything. A lover always knows how to find the most
beautiful phrases with which to console a widow and vanquish her
"You are killing me," she murmured, falling back almost unconscious
in her chair.
Christian leaned over her, and, taking her by the arm, said in a
"Remember, if I die and he asks you to follow him, you will be an
infamous creature if you obey him. He is a man to glory in you; that
is easy enough to see. He is a man who would drag you after him—"
"Oh! have pity—I shall die—"
Clemence closed her eyes and her lips twitched convulsively.
The first rays of the morning sun fell upon another scene in the
opposite wing of the chateau. Marillac was quietly sleeping the sleep
of the just when he was suddenly awakened by a shaking that nearly
threw him out of his bed.
"Go to the devil!" he said, angrily, when he succeeded in half
opening his heavy eyes, and recognized Gerfaut standing beside his
"Get up!" said the latter, taking him by the arm to give more
force to his command.
The artist covered himself with the clothes up to his chin.
"Are you walking in your sleep or insane?" asked Marillac, "or do
you want me to go to work?" he added, as he saw that his friend had
some papers in his hand. "You know very well I never have any ideas
when fasting, and that I am stupid until noon."
"Get up at once!" said Gerfaut, "I must have a talk with you."
There was something so serious and urgent in Gerfaut's accent as he
said these words, that the artist got up at once and hurriedly dressed
"What is the matter?" he asked, as he put on his dressing-gown,
"you look as if the affairs of the nation rested upon you."
"Put on your coat and boots," said Octave, "you must go to La
Fauconnerie. They are used to seeing you go out early in the morning
for your appointments with Reine, and therefore—"
"It is to this shepherdess you would send me!" interrupted the
artist, as he began to undress himself; "in that case I will go to bed
again. Enough of that!"
"I am to fight with Bergenheim at nine o'clock!" said Gerfaut, in
a low voice.
"Stupendous!" exclaimed Marillac, as he jumped back a few steps,
and then stood as motionless as a statue. Without wasting any time in
unnecessary explanations, his friend gave him a brief account of the
"Now," said he, "I need you; can I count upon your friendship?"
"In life and in death!" exclaimed Marillac, and he pressed his
hand with the emotion that the bravest of men feel at the approach of
a danger which threatens one who is dear to them.
"Here," said Gerfaut, as he handed him the papers in his hand, "is
a letter for you in which you will find my instructions in full; they
will serve you as a guide, according to circumstances. This sealed
paper will be deposited by you in the office of the public prosecutor
at Nancy, under certain circumstances which my note explains.
Finally, this is my will. I have no very near relative; I have made
you my heir.
"Listen to me! I do not know a more honest man than you, that is
the reason why I select you. First, this legacy is a trust. I speak
to you now in case of events which probably will never happen, but
which I ought to prepare for. I do not know what effect this may have
upon Clemence's fate; her aunt, who is very austere, may quarrel with
her and deprive her of her rights; her personal fortune is not very
large, I believe, and I know nothing about her marriage settlement.
She may thus be entirely at her husband's mercy, and that is what I
will not allow. My fortune is therefore a trust that you will hold to
be placed at her disposal at any time. I hope that she loves me
enough not to refuse this service of me."
"Well and good!" said Marillac; "I will admit that the thought of
inheriting from you choked me like a noose around my neck."
"I beg of you to accept for yourself my copyrights as author. You
can not refuse that," said Gerfaut, with a half smile; "this legacy
belongs to the domain of art. To whom should I leave it if not to
you, my Patroclus, my faithful collaborator?"
The artist took several agitated turns about his room.
"To think," he exclaimed, "that I was the one who saved this
Bergenheim's life! If he kills you, I shall never forgive myself.
And yet, I told you this would end in some tragic manner."
"What business had he there? Is it not so? What can I say? We
were seeking for a drama; here it is. I am not anxious on my own
account, but on hers. Unhappy woman! A duel is a stone that might
fall upon a man's head twenty times a day; it is sufficient for a
simpleton if you stare at him, or for an awkward fellow if you tread
upon his toes; but on her account—poor angel!—I can not think of it.
I need the fullest command of my head and my heart. But it is
growing lighter; there is not a moment to lose. Go to the stable;
saddle a horse yourself, if there is no servant up; go, as I said, to
La Fauconnerie; I have often seen a post-chaise in the tavern
courtyard; order it to wait all day at the back of the Montigny
plateau. You will find everything explained in detail in the note
which I have given you. Here is my purse; I need no money."
Marillac put the purse in his pocket and the papers in his
memorandum- book; he then buttoned up his redingote and put on his
travelling cap. His countenance showed a state of exaltation which
belied, for the time being, the pacific theories he had expounded a
few days before.
"You can depend upon me as upon yourself," said he with energy.
"If this poor woman calls for my aid, I promise you that I will serve
her faithfully. I will take her wherever she wishes; to China, if she
asks it, and in spite of the whole police force. If Bergenheim kills
you and then follows her up, there will be another duel."
As he said these words, he took his stiletto and a pair of pistols
from the mantel and put them in his pocket, after examining the edge
of the one and the caps of the others.
"Adieu!" said Gerfaut.
"Adieu!" said the artist, whose extreme agitation contrasted
strongly with his friend's calm. "Rest easy! I will look after
her—and I will publish a complete edition—But what an idea—to
accept a duel as irregular as this! Have you ever seen him use a gun?
He had no right to exact this."
"Hurry! you must leave before the servants are up."
"Kiss me, my poor fellow!" said Marillac, with tears in his eyes;
"it is not very manly I know, but I can not help it—Oh! these women!
I adore them, of course; but just now I am like Nero, I wish that
they all had but one head. It is for these little, worthless dolls
that we kill each other!"
"You can curse them on your way," said Gerfaut, who was impatient
to see him leave.
"Oh, good gracious, yes! They can flatter themselves this moment
that they all inspire me with a deadly hatred."
"Do not make any noise," said his friend, as he carefully opened
Marillac pressed his hand for the last time, and went out. When he
reached the end of the corridor, he stopped a moment, then went back.
"Above all things," said he, as he passed his head through the
half-open door, "no foolish proceedings. Remember that it is
necessary that one of you should fall, and that if you fail; he will
not. Take your time—aim —and fire at him as you would at a rabbit."
After this last piece of advice, he went away; ten minutes after he
had left, Gerfaut saw him riding out of the courtyard as fast as
Beverley's four legs would carry him.
CHAPTER XXV. THE WILD BOAR
The most radiant sun that ever gilded a beautiful September day had
arisen upon the castle. The whole valley was as fresh and laughing as
a young girl who had just left her bath. The rocks seemed to have a
band of silver surrounding them; the woods a mantle of green draped
over their shoulders.
There was an unusual excitement in the courtyard of the chateau.
The servants were coming and going, the dogs were starting a concert
of irregular barks, and the horses were jumping about, sharing their
instinctive presentiment and trying to break away from the bridles
which held them.
The Baron, seated in his saddle with his usual military attitude,
and a cigar in his mouth, went from one to another, speaking in a
joking tone which prevented anybody from suspecting his secret
thoughts. Gerfaut had imposed upon his countenance that impassible
serenity which guards the heart's inner secrets, but had not succeeded
so well. His affectation of gayety betrayed continual restraint; the
smile which he forced upon his lips left the rest of his face cold,
and never removed the wrinkle between his brows. An incident, perhaps
sadly longed for, but unhoped for, increased this gloomy, melancholy
expression. Just as the cavalcade passed before the English garden,
which separated the sycamore walk from the wing of the chateau
occupied by Madame de Bergenheim, Octave slackened the pace of his
horse and lingered behind the rest of his companions; his eyes closely
examined each of the windows; the blinds of her sleeping-room were
only half closed; behind the panes he saw the curtains move and then
separate. A pale face appeared for a moment between the blue folds,
like an angel who peeps through the sky to gaze upon the earth.
Gerfaut raised himself on his stirrups so as to drink in this
apparition as long as possible, but he dared not make one gesture of
adieu. As he was still endeavoring to obtain one more glance, he saw
that the Baron was at his side.
"Play your role better," said he to him; "we are surrounded by
spies. De Camier has already made an observation about your
"You are right," said Octave; "and you join example to advice. I
admire your coolness, but I despair of equalling it."
"You must mingle with my guests and talk with them," Christian
He started off at a trot; Gerfaut followed his example, stifling a
sigh as he darted a last glance toward the chateau. They soon
rejoined the cart which carried several of the hunters, and which
Monsieur de Camier drove with the assurance of a professional
There was a moment's silence, broken only by the trot of the horses
and the sound of the wheels upon the level ground.
"What the devil ails your dogs?" exclaimed Monsieur de Camier
suddenly, as he turned to the Baron, who was riding behind him.
"There they are all making for the river." Just at this moment the
dogs, who could be seen in the distance, hurried to the water-side, in
spite of all that their leader could do to prevent them. They almost
disappeared behind the willows that bordered the river, and one could
hear them barking furiously; their barks sounded like rage mingled
"It is some duck that they have scented," observed the prosecutor.
"They wouldn't bark like that," said Monsieur de Camier, with the
sagacity of a professional hunter; "if it were a wolf, they could not
make a greater uproar. Is it by chance some wild boar who is taking a
bath, in order to receive us more ceremoniously?"
He gave the horses a vigorous blow from the whip, and they all
rapidly approached the spot where a scene was taking place which
excited to the highest pitch everybody's curiosity. Before they
reached the spot, the keeper, who had run after the dogs to call them
together, came out of a thicket, waving his hat to stop the hunters,
"A body! a body!"
"A body! a drowned man!" he exclaimed, when the vehicle stopped.
This time it was the public prosecutor who arose and jumped from
the cart with the agility of a deer.
"A drowned man!" said he. "In the name of the law, let nobody
touch the body. Call back the dogs."
As he said these words he hastened to the spot which the servant
pointed out to him. Everybody dismounted and followed him. Octave
and Bergenheim had exchanged strange glances when they heard the
It was, as the servant had announced, the battered body of a man,
thrown by the current against the trunk of the tree, and there caught
between two branches of the willow as if in a vise.
"It is the carpenter!" exclaimed Monsieur de Camier as he parted
the foliage, which had prevented the head from being seen until then,
for he recognized the workman's livid, swollen features. "It is that
poor devil of a Lambernier, is it not, Bergenheim?"
"It is true!" stammered Christian, who, in spite of his boldness,
could not help turning away his eyes.
"The carpenter!—drowned!—this is frightful!—I never should have
recognized him—how disfigured he is!" exclaimed the others, as they
pressed forward to gaze at this horrible spectacle.
"This is a sad way to escape justice," observed the notary, in a
The Baron seized this opening with avidity.
"He must have crossed the river to escape," said he, "and in his
haste he made a misstep and fell."
The public prosecutor shook his head with an air of doubt.
"That is not probable," said he; "I know the place. If he tried to
cross the river a little above or a little below the rock—it doesn't
matter which—the current would have carried him into the little bay
above the rock and not here. It is evident that he must have drowned
himself or been drowned farther down. I say, been drowned, for you
can see that he has a wound upon the left side of his forehead, as if
he had received a violent blow, or his head had, hit against a hard
substance. Now, if he had been drowned accidentally while crossing
the river, he would not have been wounded in this manner."
This remark silenced the Baron; and while the others exhausted
conjectures to explain the way in which this tragic event had taken
place, he stood motionless, with his eyes fastened upon the river and
avoiding a glance at the dead body. During this time the public
prosecutor had taken from his pocket some paper and a pen, which he
usually carried with him.
"Gentlemen," said he, seating himself upon the trunk of a tree
opposite the drowned man, "two of you will do me the favor to act as
witnesses while I draw up my official report. If any of you have a
statement to make in regard to this affair, I beg of him to remain
here, so that I may receive his deposition."
Nobody stirred, but Gerfaut threw such a penetrating glance at the
Baron that the latter turned away his eyes.
"Gentlemen," continued the magistrate, "I do not wish any of you to
renounce the sport on account of this untoward incident. There is
nothing attractive about this spectacle, and I assure you that if my
duty did not keep me here, I should be the first to withdraw. Baron,
I beg of you to send me two men and a stretcher in order to have the
body carried away; I will have it taken to one of your farms, so as
not to frighten the ladies."
"The prosecutor is right," said Christian, whom these words
delivered from a terrible anxiety.
After a deliberation, presided over by Monsieur de Camier, the
'tragueurs' and the dogs left in silence to surround the thickets
where the animal had been found to be hidden. At the same time the
hunters turned their steps in the opposite direction in order to take
their positions. They soon reached the ditch alongside of which they
were to place themselves. From time to time, as they advanced, one of
them left the party and remained mute and motionless like a sentinel
at his post. This manoeuvre gradually reduced their numbers, and at
last there were only three remaining.
"You remain here, Camier," said the Baron, when they were about
sixty steps from the last position.
That gentleman, who knew the ground, was hardly flattered by this
"By Jove!" said he, "you are on your own grounds; you ought at
least to do the honors of your woods and let us choose our own
positions. I think you wish to place yourself upon the outskirts,
because it is always about that region that the animal first appears;
but there will be two of us, for I shall go also."
This determination annoyed Christian considerably, since it
threatened to ruin the plan so prudently laid out.
"I am going to put our friend Gerfaut at this post," said he,
whispering to the refractory hunter; "I shall be very much pleased if
he has an opportunity to fire. What difference does one boar more or
less make to an old hunter like you?"
"Well and good; just as you like," retorted Monsieur de Carrier,
striking the ground with the butt-end of his gun, and beginning to
whistle in order to cool off his anger.
When the adversaries found themselves side by side and alone,
Bergenheim's countenance changed suddenly; the smiling look he had
assumed, in order to convince the old hunter of his cheerful
disposition, gave place to deep gravity.
"You remember our agreement," he said, as they walked along; "I
feel sure that the boar will come in our direction. At the moment
when I call out, 'Take care!' I shall expect you to fire; if, at the
end of twenty seconds, you have not done so, I warn you that I shall
"Very well, Monsieur," said Gerfaut, looking at him fixedly; "you
also doubtless remember my words; the discovery of this body will give
them still more weight. The public prosecutor has already begun his
preliminary proceedings; remember that it depends on me how they shall
be completed. The deposition which I spoke to you about is in the
hands of a safe person, who is fully instructed to make use of it if
"Marillac, I suppose," said Christian, in an evil tone; "he is your
confidant. It is a fatal secret that you have confided to him,
Monsieur. If I survive today, I shall have to secure his silence. May
all this blood, past, present, and future, be on your head!"
Deeply affected by this reproach, the Vicomte bowed his head in
"Here is my place," said the Baron, stopping before the trunk of an
old oak, "and there is the elm where you are to station yourself."
Gerfaut stopped, and said, in a trembling voice:
"Monsieur, one of us will not leave these woods alive. In the
presence of death, one tells the truth. I hope for your peace of
mind, and my own, that you will believe my last words. I swear to
you, upon my honor and by all that is sacred, that Madame de
Bergenheim is innocent."
He bowed, and withdrew from Christian without waiting for a
Bergenheim and Gerfaut were out of sight of the others, and stood
at their posts with eyes fastened upon each other. The ditch was wide
enough to prevent the branches of the trees from troubling them; at
the distance of sixty feet, which separated them, each could see his
adversary standing motionless, framed by the green foliage. Suddenly,
barking was heard in the distance, partially drowned by the firing of
a gun. A few seconds later, two feeble reports were heard, followed
by an imprecation from Monsieur de Camier, whose caps flashed in the
pan. The Baron, who had just leaned forward that he might see better
through the thicket, raised his hand to warn Octave to hold himself in
readiness. He then placed himself in position. An extreme indecision
marked Gerfaut's attitude. After raising his gun, he dropped it to
the ground with a despondent gesture, as if his resolution to fire had
suddenly abandoned him; the pallor of death could not be more terrible
than that which overspread his features. The howling of the dogs and
shouts of the hunters increased. Suddenly another sound was heard.
Low, deep growls, followed by the crackling of branches, came from
the woods opposite our adversaries. The whole thicket seemed to
tremble as if agitated by a storm.
"Take care!" exclaimed Bergenheim, in a firm voice.
At the same moment an enormous head appeared, and the report of a
gun was heard. When Gerfaut looked through the smoke caused by his
gun, at the farther end of the ditch, nothing was to be seen but the
The boar, after crossing the clearing, vanished like a flash,
leaving behind him a trail of broken branches—and Bergenheim lay
behind the trunk of the old oak, upon which large drops of blood had
CHAPTER XXVI. BERGENHEIM'S REVENGE
On the same morning the drawing-room of the Bergenheim castle was
the theatre of a quiet home scene very much like the one we described
at the beginning of this story. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was seated
in her armchair reading the periodicals which had just arrived; Aline
was practising upon the piano, and her sister-in-law was seated before
one of the windows embroidering. By the calm attitude of these three
ladies, and the interest they seemed to show in their several
occupations, one would have supposed that they were all equally
peaceful at heart. Madame de Bergenheim, upon rising, had resumed her
usual habits; she managed to find the proper words to reply when
spoken to, her dejection did not differ from her usual melancholy
enough for it to become the subject of remark. A rather bright color
in her cheeks heightened her beauty; her eyes never had sparkled with
more brilliancy; but if a hand had been placed upon her forehead, one
would have soon discovered by its burning the secret of all this
unwonted color. In fact, in the midst of this sumptuous room,
surrounded by her friends, and bending over her embroidery with most
exquisite grace, Madame de Bergenheim was slowly dying. A wasting
fever was circulating like poison through her veins. She felt that an
unheard-of sorrow was hanging over her head, and that no effort of
hers could prevent it.
At this very moment, either the man she belonged to or the one she
loved was about to die; whatever her widowhood might be, she felt that
her mourning would be brief; young, beautiful, surrounded by all the
privileges of rank and fortune, life was closing around her, and left
but one pathway open, which was full of blood; she would have to bathe
her feet in it in order to pass through.
"What is that smoke above the Montigny rock?" Aline exclaimed with
surprise; "it looks as if there were a fire in the woods."
Madame de Bergenheim raised her eyes, shivered from head to foot as
she saw the stream of smoke which stood out against the horizon, and
then let her head droop upon her breast. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil
stopped her reading as she heard Aline's remark, and turned slowly to
look out of the window.
"That's some of the shepherds' work," said she; "they have built a
fire in the bushes at the risk of setting fire to the whole woods.
Really, I do not know what to think of your husband, Clemence; he
takes everybody away to the hunt with him, and does not leave a soul
here to prevent his dwelling from being devastated."
Clemence made no reply, and her sister-in-law, who expected she
would say something to keep the conversation alive, returned and
seated herself at the piano with a pouting air.
"Thanks, that will do for to-day!" exclaimed the old lady at the
first notes; "you have split our heads long enough. You would do
better to study your history of France."
Aline closed the piano angrily; but instead of obeying this last
piece of advice, she remained seated upon the stool with the sulky air
of a pupil in disgrace. A deep silence reigned. Madame de Bergenheim
had dropped her embroidery without noticing it. From time to time she
trembled as if a chill passed over her, her eyes were raised to watch
the smoke ascending above the rock, or else she seemed to listen to
some imaginary sound.
"Truly," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, as she laid her journal
down in her lap, "good morals have made great progress since the July
revolution. Yesterday a woman twenty years of age ran away to
Montpelier with her lover; to-day, here is another, in Lyons, who
poisons her husband and kills herself afterward. If I were
superstitious, I should say that the world was coming to an end. What
do you think of such atrocious doings, my dear?"
Clemence raised her head with an effort, and answered, in a gloomy
"You must pardon her, since she is dead."
"You are very indulgent," replied the old aunt; "such creatures
ought to be burned alive, like the Brinvilliers."
"They often speak in the papers of husbands who kill their wives,
but not so often of wives killing their husbands," said Aline, with
the partisan feeling natural to the fair sex.
"It is not proper that you should talk of such horrid things," said
the old lady, in a severe tone; "behold the fruits of all the morals
of the age! It is the effect of all the disgusting stuff that is
acted nowadays upon the stage and written in novels. When one thinks
of the fine education that is given youth at the present time, it is
enough to make one tremble for the future!"
"Mon Dieu! Mademoiselle, you may be sure that I shall never kill
my husband," replied the young girl, to whom this remark seemed
A stifled groan, which Madame de Bergenheim could not suppress,
attracted the attention of the two ladies.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Mademoiselle de Corandeuil,
noticing for the first time her niece's dejected air and the
frightened expression in her eyes.
"Nothing," murmured the latter; "I think it is the heat of the
Aline hastily opened a window, then went and took her
sister-in-law's hands in her own.
"You have a fever," said she; "your hands burn and your forehead
also; I did not dare tell you, but your beautiful color—"
A frightful cry which Madame de Bergenheim uttered made the young
girl draw back in fright.
"Clemence! Clemence!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who
thought that her niece had gone insane.
"Did you not hear?" she cried, with an accent of terror impossible
to describe. She darted suddenly toward the drawing-room door; but,
instead of opening it, she leaned against it with arms crossed. Then
she ran two or three times around the room in a sort of frenzy, and
ended by falling upon her knees before the sofa and burying her head
in its cushions.
This scene bewildered the two women. While Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil tried to raise Clemence, Aline, still more frightened, ran
out of the room to call for aid. A rumor which had just begun to
arise in the courtyard was distinctly heard when the door was thrown
open. A moment more, and a piercing shriek was heard, and the young
girl rushed into the parlor; throwing herself on her knees beside her
sister-in-law she pressed her to her breast with convulsive energy.
As she felt herself seized in this fashion, Clemence raised her
head and, placing her hands upon Aline's shoulders, she pushed her
backward and gazed at her with eyes that seemed to devour her.
"Which? which?" she asked, in a harsh voice.
"My brother—covered with blood!" stammered Aline.
Madame de Bergenheim pushed her aside and threw herself upon the
sofa. Her first feeling was a horrible joy at not hearing the name of
Octave; but she tried to smother her hysterical utterances by pressing
her mouth against the cushion upon which her face was leaning.
A noise of voices was heard in the vestibule; the greatest
confusion seemed to reign among the people outside. At last, several
men entered the drawing room; at their head was Monsieur de Camier,
whose ruddy face had lost all its color.
"Do not be frightened, ladies," said he, in a trembling voice; "do
not be frightened. It is only a slight accident, without any danger.
Monsieur de Bergenheim was wounded in the hunt," he continued,
addressing Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.
At last, the folding-doors were thrown open, and two servants
appeared, bearing the Baron upon a mattress.
When the servants had deposited their burden in front of one of the
windows, Aline threw herself upon her brother's body, uttering
heartrending cries. Madame de Bergenheim did not stir; she lay upon
the sofa with eyes and ears buried in the cushions, and seemed deaf
and blind to all that surrounded her. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was
the only one who preserved her presence of mind. Controlling her
emotion, she leaned over the Baron and sought for some sign of life.
"Is he dead?" she asked, in a low voice, of Monsieur de Camier.
"No, Mademoiselle," replied the latter, in a tone which announced
that he had little hope.
"Has a physician been sent for?"
"To Remiremont, Epinal, everywhere."
At this moment Aline uttered a cry of joy. Bergenheim had just
stirred, brought to life, perhaps, by the pressure of his sister's
arms. He opened his eyes and, closed them several times; at last his
energy triumphed over his sufferings; he sat up on his improvised cot
and, leaning upon his left elbow, he glanced around the room.
"My wife!" said he, in a weak voice.
Madame de Bergenheim arose and forced her way through the group
that surrounded the mattress, and silently took her place beside her
husband. Her features had changed so terribly within a few moments
that a murmur of pity ran through the group of men that filled the
"Take my sister away," said Christian, disengaging his hand from
the young girl, who was covering it with kisses and tears.
"My brother! I can not leave my brother!" exclaimed Aline, as she
was dragged away rather than led to her room.
"Leave me for a moment," continued the Baron; "I wish to speak to
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil gave Monsieur de Gamier a questioning
glance, as if to ask if it were best to grant this request.
"We can do nothing before the doctors arrive," said the latter, in
a low voice, "and perhaps it would be imprudent to oppose him."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil recognized the correctness of this
observation, and left the room, asking the others to follow her.
During this time, Madame de Bergenheim remained motionless in her
place, apparently insensible to all that surrounded her. The noise of
the closing door aroused her from her stupor. She looked around the
room as if she were seeking the others; her eyes, which were opened
with the fixed look of a somnambulist, did not change their expression
when they fell upon her husband.
"Come nearer," said he, "I have not strength enough to speak loud."
She obeyed mechanically. When she saw the large red stain which
had soaked Christian's right sleeve, she closed her eyes, threw back
her head, and her features contracted with a horrified expression.
"You women are wonderfully fastidious," said the Baron, as he
noticed this movement; "you delight in causing a murder, but the
slightest scratch frightens you. Pass over to the left side; you will
not see so much blood-besides, it is the side where the heart is."
There was something terrible in the irony of the voice in which he
spoke at this moment. Clemence fell upon her knees beside him and
took his hand, crying
The dying man took away his hand, raised his wife's head, and,
looking at her a few moments attentively, he said at last:
"Your eyes are very dry. No tears! What! not one tear when you
see me thus!"
"I can not weep," replied she; "I shall die!"
"It is very humiliating for me to be so poorly regretted, and it
does you little honor—try to shed a few tears, Madame—it will be
remarked—a widow who does not weep!"
"A widow—never!" she said, with energy.
"It would be convenient if they sold tears as they sell crape,
would it not? Ah! only you women have a real talent for that—all
women know how to weep."
"You will not die, Christian—oh! tell me that you will not
die—and that you will forgive me."
"Your lover has killed me," said Bergenheim, slowly; "I have a
bullet in my chest—I feel it—I am the one who is to die—in less
than an hour I shall be a corpse—don't you see how hard it is already
for me to talk?"
In reality his voice was becoming weaker and weaker. His breath
grew shorter with each word; a wheezing sound within his chest
indicated the extent of the lesion and the continued extravasation of
"Mercy! pardon!" exclaimed the unhappy woman, prostrating herself
upon the floor.
"More air—open the windows—" said the Baron, as he fell back upon
the mattress, exhausted by the efforts he had just made to talk.
Madame de Bergenheim obeyed his order with the precision of an
automaton. A fresh, pure breeze entered the room; when the curtains
were raised, floods of light illuminated the floor, and the old
portraits, suddenly lighted up, looked like ghosts who had left their
graves to witness the death agonies of the last of their descendants.
Christian, refreshed by the air which swept over his face, sat up
again. He gazed with a melancholy eye at the radiant sun and the
green woods which lay stretched out in front of the chateau.
"I lost my father on such a day as this," said he, as if talking to
himself—"all our family die during the beautiful weather—ah! do you
see that smoke over the Montigny rock?" he exclaimed, suddenly.
After opening the windows, Clemence stepped out upon the balcony.
Leaning upon the balustrade, she gazed at the deep, rapid river which
flowed at her feet. Her husband's voice calling her aroused her from
this gloomy contemplation. When she returned to Christian, his eyes
were flaming, a flush like that of fever had overspread his cheeks,
and a writhing, furious indignation was depicted upon his face. "Were
you looking at that smoke?" said he, angrily; "it is your lover's
signal; he is there—he is waiting to take you away—and I, your
husband, forbid you to go—you must not leave me—your place is
here—close by me."
"Close by you," she repeated, not understanding what he said.
"Wait at least until I am dead," he continued, while his eyes
flashed more and more—"let my body get cold—when you are a widow you
can do as you like—you will be free—and even then—I forbid it—I
order you to wear mourning for me—above all, try to weep—"
"Strike me with a knife! At least I should bleed," said she,
bending toward him and tearing open her dress to lay bare her bosom.
He seized her by the arm, and, exerting all his wasting strength to
reach her, he said, in a voice whose harshness was changed almost into
"Clemence, do not dishonor me by giving yourself to him when I am
dead— I would curse you if I thought that you would do that."
"Oh! do not curse me!" she exclaimed; "do not drive me mad. Do
you not know that I am about to die?"
"There are women who do not see their husband's blood upon their
lover's hands—but I would curse you—"
He dropped Clemence's arm and fell back upon the mattress with a
sob. His eyes closed, and some unintelligible words died on his lips,
which were covered with a bloody froth. He was dying.
Madame de Bergenheim, crouched down upon the floor, heard him
repeating in his expiring voice:
"I would curse you—I would curse you!"
She remained motionless for some time, her eyes fastened upon the
dying man before her with a look of stupefied curiosity. Then she
arose and went to the mirror; she gazed at herself for a moment as if
obeying the whim of an insane woman, pushing aside, in order to see
herself better, the hair which covered her forehead. Suddenly a flash
of reason came to her; she uttered a horrible cry as she saw some
blood upon her face; she looked at herself from head to foot; her
dress was stained with it; she wrung her hands in horror, and felt
that they were wet. Her husband's blood was everywhere. Then, her
brain filled with the fire of raving madness, she rushed out upon the
balcony, and Bergenheim, before his last breath escaped him, heard the
noise of her body as it fell into the river.
Several days later, the Sentinelle des Vosges contained the
following paragraph, written with the official sorrow found in all
death-notices at thirty sous per line
"A frightful event, which has just thrown two of our best families
into mourning, has caused the greatest consternation throughout the
Remiremont district. Monsieur le Baron de Bergenheim, one of the
richest land- owners in our province, was killed by accident at a
wild-boar hunt on his own domains. It was by the hand of one of his
best friends, Monsieur de Gerfaut, well known by, his important
literary work, which has given its author a worldwide reputation, that
he received his death-blow. Nothing could equal the grief of the
involuntary cause of this catastrophe. Madame de Bergenheim, upon
learning of this tragic accident, was unable to survive the death of
her adored husband, and drowned herself in her despair. Thus the same
grave received this couple, still in the bloom of life, to whom their
great mutual affection seemed to promise a most happy future."
Twenty-eight months later the Parisian journals, in their turn,
inserted, with but slight variations, the following article:
"Nothing could give any idea of the enthusiasm manifested at the
Theatre- Francais last evening, at the first representation of
Monsieur de Gerfaut's new drama. Never has this writer, whose silence
literature has deplored for too long a time, distinguished himself so
highly. His early departure for the East is announced. Let us hope
that this voyage will turn to the advantage of art, and that the
beautiful and sunny countries of Asia will be a mine for new
inspirations for this celebrated poet, who has taken, in such a
glorious manner, his place at the heal of our literature."
Bergenheim's last wish had been realized; his honor was secure;
nobody outraged by even an incredulous smile the purity of Clemence's
winding- sheet; and the world did not refuse to their double grave the
commonplace consideration that had surrounded their lives.
Clemence's death did not destroy the future of the man who loved
her so passionately, but the mourning he wears for her, to this day,
is of the kind that is never put aside. And, as the poet's heart was
always reflected in his works, the world took part in this mourning
without being initiated into its mystery. When the bitter cup of
memory overflowed in them, they believed it to be a new vein which had
opened in the writer's brain. Octave received, every day,
congratulations upon this sadly exquisite tone of his lyre, whose
vibrations surpassed in supreme intensity the sighs of Rene or
Obermann's Reveries. Nobody knew that those sad pages were written
under the inspiration of the most mournful of visions, and that this
dark and melancholy tinge, which was taken for a caprice of the
imagination, had its source in blood and in the spasms of a broken