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Title: A Love Crime
Author: Bourget, Paul
Language: English
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A LOVE CRIME

BY

PAUL BOURGET



_Author of a "CRUEL ENIGMA._"



LONDON

_W. W. GIBBINGS, 18 BURY STREET W.C._

1892.



[Figure]



CONTENTS
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI



DEDICATION.

TO GASTON CRÉHANGE.


Many days have elapsed, my dear friend, since our childhood, but they
have passed away without effecting any alteration in the affectionate
feelings we then entertained. In memory of an intimacy of heart and mind
which has never known a cloud, it is very pleasant to me to write your
name at the beginning of that one of my books which you preferred to all
the rest. It is further the book in which I have stated with most
sincerity what I think concerning some of the essential problems of the
modern life of our day. May this complete sincerity, by which you, the
truest and most loyal being I know, have doubtless been attracted, plead
in favour of the work with readers who would otherwise be startled by a
certain boldness of depicture and cruelty of analysis!

For the rest, whatever may be the verdict of public opinion respecting
"A Love Crime," as I have called this minute diagnostic of a certain
distemper of the soul, it will always be possessed of one great merit in
my eyes, for it will have pleased you, and have enabled me once more to
subscribe myself, my dear Gaston, your ever faithful friend,


PAUL BOURGET.



A LOVE CRIME



CHAPTER I


The little drawing-room was illuminated by the soft light of three
lamps--tall lamps standing on Japanese vases and bearing globes upon
which rested flexible shades of a pale blue tint. The door was hidden by
a piece of tapestry; two walls were hung with another piece, which was
covered with large figures. Both windows were draped with
curtains--drawn just now--of deep red colour and heavy of fold.

The apartment thus closed in had a homelike air, which was heightened by
the profusion of small articles scattered over the furniture:
photographs set in frames, lacquered boxes, old-fashioned cases, a few
Saxon statuettes, books stitched in covers of antique stuff, such as
were coming into fashion in the year 1883. The wreathing foliage of an
evergreen plant showed in one corner. Close beside it, an open piano
displayed its white keys. An English screen with coloured glass and a
shelf on which tea-cups, books, or work might be laid, stood in folds on
one side of the fire-place. The fire burned with a peaceful crackling
noise which formed an accompaniment to the sound proceeding from the
tea-pot as the latter received the caresses from the flame of its lamp
on the low table designed for such service.

The furniture of the somewhat crowded drawing-room presented that
composite appearance which is characteristic of our time, together with
the peculiarity that everything in it seemed to be almost too new. At a
first glance, certain slight indications would have seemed to show that
its Parisian aspect had been voluntarily aimed at. Objects were
contrasted here and there; there were, for instance, little
old-fashioned silver spoons; on the walls were two excellent copies of
small religious pictures, to which memories of childhood were certainly
linked, and which could have come only from an old country house. The
photographs, also, witnessed, by the dress and demeanour of the
relatives or friends represented, to altogether provincial
relationships. The feeling of contrast would have become still more
perceptible to one visiting the other rooms and finding everywhere
evident tokens that the persons dwelling in them had lived but a very
short time at Paris.

This small-sized drawing-room belonged to a small-sized house situated
at No. 3½, Rue de La Rochefoucauld. The lower part of this street,
which descends in a very steep slope to the Rue Saint-Lazare, comprises
several private houses of very varied build, and a few retired dwellings
surrounded by gardens. The house containing the little drawing-room was
built for an actress by a celebrated financier under the Empire, at a
period when the Rue de la Tour des Dames harboured many princes and
princesses of the footlights. Too small to suit a wealthy family, too
inconvenient, owing to certain deficiencies in accommodation, for
tenants accustomed to the completeness of English comfort, it must have
proved quite seductive to persons accustomed to a semi-country life by
its attraction as a "home," as well as by the quiet pervading the end of
the street, which is rarely affronted by vehicles on account of the
difficulty of the ascent.

During this November evening, although the windows of the little
drawing-room looked upon the courtyard, and the latter opened upon the
street, only a dim and distant murmuring penetrated from without, broken
by occasional gusts of the north wind. Judging by the whistling of this
north wind the night must have been a cold one. So, at least, opined a
fairly young man, one of the three persons assembled in the
drawing-room, as he rose from his chair, set down his empty cup on the
tea-tray with a sigh, and looked at the time-piece.

"Ten o'clock. Must I really go to see the Malhoures this evening? What a
disaster it is to have a sensible wife who thinks about your future!
Never get married, Armand. Listen to that wind! I was so comfortable
here with you. Look here, Helen," he went on, leaning on the back of the
easy-chair in which his wife was seated, "what will happen if I do not
put in an appearance this evening?"

"We shall be discourteous to some very kind people, who have always
behaved perfectly towards us since we came to Paris a year ago," replied
the young woman; she stretched out to the fire her slender feet, in the
pretty patent leather shoes and mauve stockings, the latter being of the
same colour as her dress. "If I had not my neuralgia!" she added,
putting her fingers to her temple. "You will make all my excuses to
them. Come, my poor Alfred, courage!"

She rose and held out her hand to her husband, who drew her to him in
order to give her a kiss. Visible pain was depicted on Helen's handsome
face for a minute, during which she was constrained to submit to this
caress. Standing thus, in her mauve-coloured, lace-trimmed dress, the
contrast between the elegance of her entire person and the clumsiness of
the man whose name she bore was still more striking.

She was tall, slender, and supple. The delicacy with which her hand
joined the arm which the sleeve of her dress left half uncovered, the
fulness of this arm, on which shone the gold of a bracelet, the
roundness of her dainty waist, the grace of her youthful figure,--all
revealed in her the blooming of a bodily beauty in harmony with the
beauty of her head. Her bright chestnut hair, parted simply in the
centre, half concealed a forehead that was almost too high--a probable
sign that with her feeling predominated over judgment. She had brown
eyes, in a fair complexion, such eyes as become hazel or black according
as the pupil contracts or dilates; and everything in the face declared
passion, energy, and pride, from the rather too pronounced line of the
oval, indicating the firm structure of the lower part of the head, to
the mouth, which was strongly outlined, and from the chin, which was
worthy of an ancient medal, to the nose, which was nearly straight, and
was united to the forehead by a noble attachment.

The pure and living quality of her beauty fully justified the fervour
depicted on the face of her husband while he was kissing his wife, just
as the evident aversion of the young woman was explained by the
unpleasing aspect of her lord and master. They were not creatures of the
same breed. Alfred Chazel presented the regular type of a middle-class
Frenchman, who has had to work too diligently, to prepare for too many
examinations, to spend too many hours over papers or before a desk, at
an age when the body is developing.

Although he was scarcely thirty-two, the first tokens of physical wear
and tear were abundant with him. His hair was thin, his complexion
looked impoverished, his shoulders were both broad and bony, and there
was an angularity in his gestures as well as an awkwardness about his
entire person. His tall figure, his big bones, and his large hand
suggested a disparity between the initial constitution, which must have
been robust, and the education, which must have been reducing. Chazel
carried an eye-glass, which he was always letting fall, for he was
clumsy with his long, thin hands, as was attested by the tying of the
white evening cravat, so badly adjusted round his already crumpled
collar. But when the eye-glass fell, the blue colour of his eyes was the
better seen--a blue so open, so fresh, so childlike, that the most
ill-disposed persons would have found it hard to attribute this man's
weariness to any excess save that of thought.

His still very youthful smile, displaying white teeth beneath a fair
beard, which Alfred wore in its entirety, harmonised with this childlike
frankness of look. And, in fact, Chazel's life had been passed in
continuous, absorbing work, and in an absolute inexperience of what was
not "his business," as he used to say. Son of a modest professor of
chemistry, and grandson of a peasant, Alfred, having inherited aptitude
for the sciences from his father, and tenacity of purpose from his
grandfather, had, by dint of energy, and with but moderate abilities,
been one of the first at the entrance to that École Polytechnique
which, in the estimation of many excellent intellects, exercises, by its
overloaded and precocious examinations, a murderous influence upon the
development of the middle-class youth of our country.

At twenty-two, Chazel passed out twelfth, and three years later first
from the School of Roads and Bridges. Sent to Bourges, he fell in love
with Mademoiselle de Vaivre, whose father, having married a second time,
could give her only a very slender dowry. The unexpected death, first of
Monsieur de Vaivre, then of his second wife and of their child, suddenly
enriched the young household. Appointed the preceding year to a
municipal post at Paris, the engineer found that he had realised a
hundredfold the most ambitious hopes of his youth. His wife's fortune
amounted to about nine hundred thousand francs, to the returns from
which were added the ten thousand francs of his own salary and the small
income which had been left by his father. But this competency, instead
of blunting the young man's activity, stimulated it to the ambition of
compensating in honour for the inequality of position between himself
and his wife. He had, accordingly, gone back to mathematical labours
with fresh ardour. Admission to the Institute shone on the horizon of
his dreams, like a sort of final apotheosis to a destiny, the happiness
of which he modestly referred to his father's wise maxim: "To keep to
the high road."

Add to this that a son had been born to him, in whom he already
discerned a reflection of his own disposition, and it cannot fail to be
understood how this man would congratulate himself daily for having
taken life, as he had done, with complete submission to all the average
conditions of the social class in which he had been born.

Did these various reflections pass through the mind of the third
individual--the man whom Alfred Chazel had called Armand, as he
contemplated the conjugal tableau through the smoke from a Russian
cigarette which he had just lighted--a liberty which revealed the extent
of his intimacy with the family? The same contrast which separated
Alfred from Helen separated him also from Armand. The latter looked at
first younger than his age, though he too had passed his thirty-second
year. If Alfred's carelessly-worn coat revealed rather the leanness and
disproportion of his body, the frock of the Baron de Querne--such was
Armand's family-name--fitted close to the shoulders and bust of a man,
small but robust, and evidently devoted to fencing, riding, tennis, and
all the sporting habits which the youths of the richer classes have
contracted in imitation of the English, now that political
careers--diplomacy, the Council of State, and the Audit Office--are
denied them by their real or assumed opinions.

The quiet jewellery with which the young baron was adorned, the delicacy
of his hands and feet, and everything in his appearance, from his cravat
and his collar to the curls in his dark hair, and to the turn of his
moustache, drawn out over a somewhat contemptuous lip, disclosed that
deep attention to the toilet which assumes the lengthened leisure of an
idle life. But what preserved De Querne from the commonplaceness usual
to men who are visibly occupied with the trifles of masculine fashion
was a look, in a generally immovable face, of peculiar keenness and
unrest. This look, which was not at all like that of a young man,
contradicted the remainder of his person to the extent of imparting an
appearance of strangeness to one who looked in this way, although a
desire to evade remark, and to be above all things correct, evidently
influenced his mode of dress.

Just as Chazel seemed to have remained quite young at heart, in spite of
the failure of constitution, so the other, if only in the expression of
his eyes, which were very dark ones, appeared to have undergone a
premature aging of soul and intellect, in spite of the energy maintained
by his physical machine. The face was somewhat long and somewhat
browned, like that of one in whom bile would prevail some day, the
forehead without a wrinkle, the nose very refined; a slight dimple was
impressed upon the square chin. It would have been impossible to assign
any profession or even occupation to this man, and yet there was
something superior in his nature which seemed irreconcilable with the
emptiness of an absolutely idle life, as well, too, as lines of
melancholy about the mouth which banished the idea of a life of nothing
but pleasure.

Meanwhile he continued to smoke with perfect calmness, showing every
time that he rejected the smoke small, close teeth, the lower ones being
set in an irregular fashion, which is, people say, a probable indication
of fierceness. He watched Chazel kiss his wife on the temple, while
_she_ lowered her eyelids without venturing to look at Armand; and yet,
had the dark eyes of the young man been encountered by her own, she
would not have surprised any trace of sorrow, but an indefinable
blending of irony and curiosity.

"Yes," said Alfred, replying thus to the mute reproach which Helen's
countenance seemed to make to him, "it is bad form to love one's wife in
public, but Armand will forgive me. Well, goodbye," he went on, holding
out his hand to his friend, "I shall not be away for more than an hour.
I shall find you here again, shall I not?"

The young Baron and Madame Chazel thus remained alone. They were silent
for a few minutes, both keeping the positions in which Alfred had left
them, she standing, but this time with her eyes raised towards Armand,
and the latter answering her look with a smile while he continued to
wrap himself in a cloud of smoke. She breathed in the slight acridity of
the smoke, half opening her fresh lips. The sound of carriage wheels
became audible beneath the windows. It was the rolling of the cab that
was taking Chazel away.

Helen slowly advanced to the easy chair in which Armand was sitting;
with a pretty gesture she took the cigarette and threw it into the fire,
then knelt before the young man, encircled his head with her arms, and,
seeking his lips, kissed him; it looked as though she wished to destroy
immediately the painful impression which her husband's attitude might
have left on the man she loved, and in a clear tone of voice, the
liveliness of which discovered a free expansiveness after a lengthened
constraint, she said:

"How do you do, Armand. Are you in love with me to-day?"

"And yourself," he questioned, "are you in love with me?"

He was caressing the hand of the young woman who had thrown herself upon
the ground, and with her head resting on her lover's knees, was looking
at him in a fever of ecstasy.

"Ah! you flirt," she returned, "I have no need to tell you so to have
you believe it."

"No," he replied, "I know that you love me--much--though not enough to
go all lengths with the feeling."

The tone in which he uttered this sentence was marked with an irony
which made it palpably an epigram. It was an allusion to oft-stated
complaints. Helen, however, received the derisive utterance with the
smile of a woman who has her answer ready.

"So you will always have the same distrust," she said, and although she
was very happy, as her eyes sufficiently testified, a shadow of
melancholy passed into those soft eyes when she added: "So you cannot
believe in my feelings without this last proof?"

"Proof," said Armand, "you call that a proof! Why the unqualified gift
of the person is not a proof of love, it is love itself. It is true," he
went on with a more gloomy air, "so long as you refuse to be entirely
mine I shall suspect--not your sincerity, for I think that you think you
love me, but the truth of this love. Too often people imagine that they
have feelings which they have not. Ah! if you loved me, as you say, and
as you think, would you deny me yourself as you do? Would you refuse me
the meeting that I have asked of you more than twenty times? Why you
would grant it as much for your own sake as for mine."

"Armand--" she began thus, then stopped, blushing.

She had risen and was walking about the room without looking at her
lover, her arms apart from her body with the backs of her hands laid on
her hips, as was usual with her at moments of intense thought. Since she
had begun to love, and had acknowledged her feelings to Monsieur de
Querne she was quite aware that she must some day give up her beautiful
dream of an attachment which, though forbidden, should remain pure. Yes,
she knew that she must give her entire self after giving her heart, and
become the mistress of the man whom she had suffered to say to her: "I
love you." She knew it, and she had found strength for the prolonging of
her resistance to that day, not in coquetry--no woman was less capable
of speculating with a man's ungratified desire in order to kindle his
passion--but in the persistence of the duty-sense within her.

Where is the married woman who has not fondled this chimera of a
reconciliation between the infidelity of heart and the faith sworn to her
husband? The renunciation of the delights of complete love seems at
first to her a sufficient expiation. She engages in adultery believing
that she will not pass beyond a certain limit, and she does in fact keep
within it a longer or a shorter time according to the disposition of the
man she loves. But the inflexible logic that governs life resumes its
rights. Soul and body do not separate, and love admits of no other law
than itself.

Yes, the fatal hour had struck for Helen, and she felt it. How many
times during the last fortnight had she had this horrible discussion
with Armand, who always ended by requiring from her this last token of
love? She was sensible that after each of these scenes she had been
lessened in the eyes of this man. A few more, and he would lose
completely his faith in the feeling which she entertained towards him, a
feeling that was absolute and unreasoned; for she loved him, as women
alone are capable of loving, with such a love as is almost in the nature
of a bewitchment, and is the outcome of an irresistible longing to
afford happiness to the person who is thus loved. She loved him and she
loved to love him. Pain in those beloved eyes was physically intolerable
to her, and intolerable also mistrust, which betokened the shrinking
back of his soul.

She had taken account of all this, she had looked the necessity for her
guilt in the face, and she had resolved to offer herself to her
"beloved," as in her letters she always called him, because "friend" was
too cold, and the word "lover" purpled her heart with shame,--yes, to
offer him the supreme proof of tenderness that he asked for, and now,
when on the point of consenting, she was impotent. Her will was failing
at the last moment. Was she going again to begin what she used to call,
when she thought about it, a hateful contract? Ah! why was she not
free--free, that is, from duties towards her child, the only being whom
she could not sacrifice to him whom she loved--free to offer this man
not a clandestine interview but a flight together, a complete sacrifice
of her entire life.

All these thoughts came and went in her poor head while she herself was
walking to and fro in the room. She looked again at her lover. She
fancied she could see a change come over the features of the countenance
she idolised.

"Armand," she resumed, "do not be sad. I consent to all that you wish."

These words, which were uttered in the deep voice of a woman probing to
the inmost chamber of her heart, appeared to astonish the young man even
more than they moved him. He wrapped Helen in his strange gaze. If the
poor woman had had strength enough to observe him she would not have
encountered in those keen eyes the divine emotion which atones for the
guilt of the mistress by the happiness of the lover. It was just the
same gaze, at once contemptuous and inquisitive, with which he had
lately contemplated the group formed by Alfred and Helen. But the latter
was too much confused by what she had just said to keep cool enough for
observing anything.

Then, as she had come back and was crouching on Armand's knees, and
pressing against his breast, a fresh expression, that, namely, of almost
intoxicated desire, was depicted on the young man's face. He felt close
to him the beauty of this yielding body, he held in his arms those
charming shoulders of which he had knowledge from having seen them in
the ball-room, he drank in that indefinable aroma which lingers about
every woman, and he pressed his lips upon those eyelids, which he could
feel quivering beneath his kiss.

"You will at least be happy?" she asked him in a sort of anguish between
two caresses.

"What a question! Why, you have never looked at yourself," he said, and
he began to extol to her all the exquisiteness of her face. "You have
never looked at your eyes"--and he again drew his lips across
them--"your pink cheek"--and he stroked it with his hand--"your soft
hair"--and he inhaled it like a flower--"your sweet mouth"--and he laid
his own upon it.

What answer could she have given to this worship of her beauty? She lent
herself to it with a half-frightened smile, surrendering to these
endearments and to these words as to music. They caused something so
deep and withal so vague to vibrate throughout her being that she came
forth half crushed from these embraces, like one dead. It was not for
the first time that she was thus abandoning herself to Armand's kisses.
But no matter how sweet, how intoxicating these kisses, which she found
it impossible to resist, she had on each occasion been strong enough to
escape from bolder caresses.

No, never, never would she have consented, even had there existed no
danger of a surprise, to yield thus in the little drawing-room, where
the portraits of her mother, her husband, and her son reminded her of
what she was nevertheless ready to sacrifice. Ah! not like that! And
again at this moment, when she saw on Armand's face a certain expression
of which she had so deep a dread, she found courage to escape, seated
herself once more in another easy chair, and opening and shutting a fan
which she had taken up in her quivering hands, replied:

"I will be yours to-morrow, if you wish."

Armand seemed to rouse himself from the sweep of passion in which he had
just been tossing. He looked at her, and she again experienced the
sensation which had already caused her so much pain, and which was that
of a veil drawn suddenly between herself and him. Yet, what could she
have said to displease him? She thought that he was wounded by the fact
of her shrinking from him, for was not the uttering of the words that
she had just uttered equivalent to giving herself to him beforehand, and
how could he be vexed with her for desiring that their happiness might
have another setting than that of her every-day life? But he had already
answered her by the following question:

"Where would you like me to meet you? At my own house? I can send away
my servant for the whole of the afternoon."

"Oh, no!" she replied hastily, "not at your own home."

The vision had just come to her that other women had visited Armand,
those other women whom a new mistress always finds between herself and
the man she loves, like the menace of a fatal comparison, like an
anticipated discrediting of her own caresses, since love is always
similar to itself; in its outward forms.

"At least," she thought to herself, "let it not be amid the same
furniture."

"Would you like me to request one of my friends to lend me his rooms?"
Armand asked.

She shook her head as she had done just before. She could hear by
anticipation the conversation of the two men. She was a woman, and
hitherto had been a virtuous one. She was only too well aware that the
manner in which she regarded her own love would have little resemblance
to that of the unknown friend to whom Armand would apply. In her own
eyes passion sanctified everything, even the worst errors; spiritualised
everything, even the most vehement voluptuousness. But he, this
stranger, what would he see in the affair but an intrigue to afford
matter for jesting. A shudder shook her, and she looked again at Armand.
Ah! how her lover's thoughts would have horrified her had she been able
to read them. It was very far from being De Querne's first affair of the
sort, nor did he believe that it was a first act of weakness on her
part. She had, indeed, told him that he was her first lover, and it was
true.

But what proof could be given of the truth of such vows? The young man
had himself deceived and been deceived too often for distrust not to be
the most natural of his feelings. He had provoked this odious discussion
concerning their place of meeting only for the purpose of studying in
Helen's replies the traces left by the amorous experiences through which
she had passed, and mere curiosity led him to dwell upon a subject which
at that moment was stifling the young woman with shame. The scruples
that she displayed about not yielding to him in her own house seemed to
him a calculation due to voluptuousness; those about not yielding to him
at his house, a calculation due to prudence. When she refused to go to
the rooms of a friend: "She is afraid of my confiding in some one," he
said to himself, "but what does she want?"

"Suppose I furnished a little suite of rooms?" he said.

She shook her head, though this had been her secret dream, but she was
afraid that he would see in her acceptance nothing but a desire to gain
time, and then--the necessity, if their meetings occurred always in the
same place, of enduring the notice of the people of the house, the
thought of being the veiled lady whose arrival is watched! Nevertheless,
although such a contrivance also involved a question of outlay which
horrified her, she would have consented to it had she not had another
feeling, the only one which, shaking her head with its rising fever, she
uttered aloud.

"Do not misjudge me, Armand; rather understand me. I should like to be
yours in a place of which nothing would remain afterwards. What would
become of the rooms you furnished for me if ever you ceased to love me?
Why, I cannot endure the thought of it, even now. Do not wrong me, dear;
only understand me."

Thus did she speak, laying bare the profoundly romantic side of her
nature, as also her heart's secret wound. Although she did not account
fully to herself for Armand's character--a character frightful in
aridity beneath loving externals, for in this man there was an absolute
divorce between imagination and heart--she perceived only too clearly
that he was inclined to misinterpret the slightest indications. She saw
that distrust was springing up in him with an almost unhealthy
suddenness. She had been quite aware that he suspected her, but she had
believed that this doubt proceeded solely from her refusals to belong to
him.

It was on this account that she was consenting to give him this last
proof. "He will doubt no longer," she thought to herself, and the mere
idea of this warmed her whole heart. If only he did not give a guilty
construction to her replies? She rose to go to him, and leaning over the
back of his arm-chair, encircled his forehead with her hands.

"Ah!" she said with a sigh, "if I could know what is going on in here.
It is such a little space, and it is in this little space that all my
happiness and my misfortune are contained."

"If you were able to read in it," the young man replied, "you would see
only your own image."

"I shall read in it to-morrow," she said subtly.

"To-morrow," he returned with a smile; "but what about the place of our
meeting? There is nothing left but furnished rooms or a hotel."

Furnished rooms! A hotel! These words made Helen shudder. All the shames
of adultery appeared to her to be comprised in their syllables. There
was the hiring of a cab, with the driver's cunning smile; there was the
entry into one of those houses, whose thresholds have seen the passage
of so many furtive, quivering women; and, as a setting for her divine
passion, there was the furniture that had, perhaps, been utilised for
similar scenes. Yes, but there was also an element of anonymity, of
impersonality, of never-ending strangeness. And since all was pollution,
the former of the two alternatives carried with it the least. She was
too certain of Armand's refinement to think that he might take her to a
place which he had visited with others. She would have to endure
personal loathing, but nothing that would touch the very essence of her
feeling. It was accordingly with courageous resolution that she replied
to her lover.

"Will you have time enough to find them in one morning?"

"Yes," he said, after a moment's reflection. "I have in my mind a very
convenient house, where one of my English friends always used to stay.
See," he went on, "between eleven and twelve o'clock I will send you
some books and a note. I will give you the address of the house and the
number of the room, just as though you had asked me for the address for
one of your country friends. Don't let that prevent you, however, from
burning the note immediately. You will come at whatever hour you can; I
will spend the whole afternoon waiting for you, and, if you do not come,
I shall not be put out; I shall think that you have not been able."

She listened to him with a mingling of pain and enchantment--pain,
because it would cost her so dear to keep her promise; and enchantment,
because all the trouble that he took to point out these details to her,
instead of enlightening her concerning the man's heart, appeared to her
a sign of his love, and their talk proceeded in the quiet drawing-room,
in front of the expiring fire, until the stopping of a carriage at the
door announced Alfred's return.

"Good-bye, my love," said Helen, taking Armand's hand and kissing it, as
she sometimes did with sweet coaxing; and she had already begun a piece
of work when Chazel came in, with a cheery "Well!" He looked at once
towards his wife with his loyal, honest gaze.

How well Armand knew that gaze, one which had not altered from the days
of their childhood, when they were both at the Institution Vanaboste,
whence they followed the courses of study in the Lycée Henri IV.! The
establishment stood yonder behind the Panthéon, at the corner of the
Rue du Puits-qui-Parle, now the Rue Amyot. Yet it was not remorse for
deceiving the man whom he had known from quite a child that suddenly
made De Querne feel uncomfortable. It was the thought that Helen was
deceiving this confiding nature. Masculine egotism has such monstrous
ingenuousness. A seducer engaged in enticing a woman, despises the woman
for yielding to him, and forgets to despise himself for seducing her.
Meanwhile Alfred had taken Helen's hands.

"I have bored myself conscientiously this evening; what will you give me
in reward?" he asked.

How his familiarity hurt her! How willingly would she have cried to this
unsuspecting husband:

"Do you not see that I love another? Let me go away. I do not want to
lie to you any more."

But two rooms farther off stood a little bed, beneath the white curtains
of which slept her son, her little Henry. Why was it that the picture of
this curly head was something too weak to arrest her on the fatal high
road to adultery, and yet strong enough to prevent her from seeing her
passion through to the end. She had a glimpse of the child while her
husband was speaking to her. It did not occur to her to scorn Armand for
having gained her love, although she was the wife of his friend. She
scorned herself for not loving him enough, since she did not love the
sufferings of which he was the cause, and, sustained by the thought that
she was doing it for him, it was with something like an impulse of pride
that she held out her forehead to her husband's kiss, and said
gracefully:

"That's just like men; they must be paid, and immediately too, for doing
their duty."



CHAPTER II


It was half-past eleven o'clock when Armand de Querne left the house in
the Rue de La Rochefoucauld. The wind had swept away all the clouds, and
the sky was filled with stars. "What a beautiful night!" said Armand to
himself; "I shall walk home." It was a long way, for he lived in the Rue
Lincoln, in the upper part of the Champs-Élysées. Here, on the second
floor of a wing projecting upon a garden, he had rooms which he had once
amused himself with furnishing in quaint and exquisite fashion with all
kinds of old-fashioned trifles. But how long had he ceased to spend the
evening in this "home?"

He was following the pavement of the Rue St.-Lazare, which, after quite
a narrow and slender beginning, suddenly, like a river swelled by
tributaries, widens after the Place de la Trinité, when it receives,
one after the other, the flood of passengers and vehicles drifting
through the Rue de Chateaudun, the Rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin, and the
Rue de Londres. Cabs were plying, omnibuses were changing horses, the
crowd was surging. Sometimes a girl came out from the corner of a
doorway, and with obscene speech accosted the young man, who put her
away gently with his hand.

Was it the contrast between the intimacy of the little drawing-room and
the swarming infamy of the pavement? Armand felt deeply melancholy. He
could not help seeing Alfred's face again in thought, with Helen's close
beside it. Yet, was he jealous? No. Pictures of childhood came back to
him as they had done just before, but with increased precision, showing
him Chazel dressed in the uniform of the "Vanabosteans"--a small jacket
similar to that of the Barbistes. They always went side by side in the
ranks. Poor Chazel! he was not rich. The head of the establishment had
taken him as a foundationer, with a view, to making a show-pupil of
him--a machine for winning prizes in competitions. How many times had
Armand paid for him at the little wicket, when the porter sold to the
pupils sweetmeats, fragments of iced chestnuts, cakes, and Parisian
creams--tablets of chocolate having a thick and oversweet liquid inside!

They had gone through all their classes together from the fourth up, and
had together passed through the evil days of the Commune, when, on
returning both of them from the country, after the siege, they found
themselves blockaded in Paris. Alfred had afterwards entered the École
Polytechnique. And when he came on Wednesdays and Sundays to visit his
old schoolfellow, who had already crossed the Seine and begun to lead
the life of a rich and idle young man, how ludicrous he was in his
military dress, embarrassed by his sword, not knowing how to set his hat
upon his head, and invariably scarred with clumsy razor-cuts!

While Alfred was at the School of Bridges, Armand was travelling. He had
gone round the world in the society of an amateur artist. On his return
he found that his friend was no longer at Paris. The letters passing
between them became rare. Could they have told why? Armand perhaps
might. There was only one point left in common between Alfred's life and
his own. Alfred had married Mademoiselle de Vaivre. They had made a trip
to Paris, and Armand well remembered how he had been deliciously
surprised by Helen's distinguished demeanour, when he had expected to
find her awkward, pretentious, and a fright. But at this period he was
taken up with another woman, little Aline, a mistress of his for whom he
had cherished the only genuine passion of which he was capable--painful
jealousy blended with delirium of the senses.

Later on, some one had spoken to him of Helen Chazel, and told him ugly
stories about her. And who was it that had done so? Another
school-fellow--big Lucien Rieume, who had been educated at the Vanaboste
establishment like Alfred and himself--during one of these
_tête-à-tête_ luncheons when an opening of the heart usually
accompanies that of the oysters between two college companions; and
Lucien--cordial, indiscreet, intolerable--had talked a great deal,
pouring out pell-mell whatever he knew concerning former friends. Armand
could again hear him chuckle, leaning forward somewhat with kindled eye
and humid lip:

"Poor Chazel, he hadn't a head worth a fig! It seems that his wife is
tricking him. I heard the gentleman's name: Marades, Tarades--just wait
a moment--yes, De Varades, an artillery officer. It was the talk of
Bourges. He was never out of the house."

It was an unfortunate trait in Armand's character that he was unable to
withstand the tempting of mistrust. When evil was asserted to him, he
preserved an indelible impression of it. He did not altogether believe
in it, and yet he believed in it sufficiently for a suspicion, and a
busy suspicion, to be planted within him. When the Chazels had come to
settle in Paris, ten months previously, and Armand had begun to interest
himself in Helen, the scruples of an old friendship might perhaps have
been stronger than his freak of curiosity if big Rieume's words had not
risen before his recollection.

"Really," he had said to himself, "it would be too foolish,"--a criminal
phrase which serves men for the justification of many a dastardly
action. Helen had not been slow in displaying towards him a kind of
passion which he had attributed to the natural exaltation of a
provincial. "I am the first Parisian who has paid her attentions," he
had said again to himself, and as she possessed charming gracefulness of
gesture, so sweet an expression of countenance and such an air of
complete refinement and nobility about her entire personality, he had
taken a pleasure in completing her education in elegance, thinking to
himself that she would be a delightful mistress.

But for many days she had refused really to become his mistress, and her
resistance had made him obstinate. He had become bent upon overcoming
her, recollecting the officer and telling himself that the officer had
not been the only one. A few skilful conversations with Alfred had
taught him that at one time Varades had really been a constant guest at
the house; was he not the same year's student at the École
Polytechnique as Alfred himself? Armand had lost his doubts, and in
Helen's refusals to be his, he had seen nothing but coquetry. Now, in
this respect like all men who hold the strange ethics of seducers,
Querne considered coquetry in a women a justification for the worst
behaviour. At last the long siege was about to issue in the coveted
result. Madame Chazel had granted him an appointment for the following
day. Twenty-four hours more and he would have a new mistress, as
desirable and as pretty as those whose memory was the most flattering to
the pride of his recollection. Why then did he, instead of being happy,
feel so deeply melancholy. Was it remorse for the treason to his friend?

His friend? Was Alfred really his friend? Yes, that was understood
between themselves, as well as in the eyes of others. But a friend is a
man who knows you and whom you know, to whom you show your heart and who
shows you his. Would he ever bring the tale of one of his hopes, his
joys, his sadnesses, to the calculating machine that bore the name of
Chazel? Had the latter ever confided a secret to him? So much the
better, too, for the ideas of this worthy schoolboy who seemed to look
upon life as the prolongation of a college task, must be silly enough.
It was their college life that continued to link them together, and the
recollections of their childhood. Their childhood? Turning down the Rue
Royale and arriving at the Champs Élysées, Armand suddenly recalled
the ranks of Vanaboste's school, on Thursdays, as they walked three and
three under the superintendence of a poor wretch of an usher who strove
to hide himself among the groups of people, so as to seem a passer-by
like the rest and not a watch-dog charged with the duty of looking after
a flock of schoolboys.

And what a flock it was! The majority had pale complexions, hollow eyes,
an enervated exhaustion of the whole being that spoke of secret
excesses. How much ignominy and baseness was there in that community,
the eldest in which were nineteen years of age and the youngest eight!
Within the walls of their prison, as within the walls of the great
Lycée to which they repaired twice a day, nothing was thought of but
the infamous amours existing between the elder boys and their juniors.
Of these unnatural loves, some were partly sensual, and had for their
theatre all the deserted corners in the house, from the dormitories to
the infirmary. And of the French youth confined within similar colleges,
how many were participators in this lewdness, while the rest defiled
their imaginations, although they repelled it! Among these college boys
there were also elevated and chaste connexions. The perusal of a certain
eclogue of Virgil's, a dialogue of Plato's, and a few of Shakespeare's
sonnets had excited the more literary of them, and Alfred Chazel, being
then in the third class, had one day received a piece of poetry written
by a sixth-form boy, beginning with the following astonishing line,
which had made them laugh like mad creatures:


"Alfred, my pale Alfred, my love, my sweet."


"Ah! what a horrible, horrible, place!" thought the young man, as he
recalled this blending of turpitude and puerility.

Alfred and he had belonged to the small number of those who had remained
untouched by the infection. But to him at least, all the advantage due
to this disgust was that it had led him when quite young to the pursuit
of women, and his initiation into natural pleasure had been effected in
the most degraded prostitution.

"And these are the youthful recollections that I should respect," said
Armand to himself. "What duty do I owe him because we were galley slaves
together?"

No, a hundred times no, it was not on Alfred's account that he felt so
melancholy as he hastened his steps and, this time with semi-brutality,
repulsed the love-beggars who accosted him with their unvarying phrases.
Ah! he knew this unconquerable melancholy only too well. Only too often
had it visited him, gnawing him in the diseased portion of his heart,
from the time that the income of thirty thousand francs coming to him at
his majority had permitted him to live according to his fancy; and this
fancy had immediately taken the direction of sentimental experiences.
Such melancholy, sharp and severe, he had experienced, even when quite a
youth, every time that he had found himself on the eve of a first
love-meeting with a new mistress, even though she had been the most
coveted. It was like an anguish-stricken apprehension--a dull, dim agony
of soul.

At first he had attributed this strange phenomenon alternately to
physical timidity, to remorse at his own unworthiness of the feelings
that he might inspire, and to hankerings after purity. Now he knew the
true explanation of these momentary sorrows, these keener crises of the
great sorrow which formed the gloomy background of his life. It was,
alas! the more present and palpable certainty of his impotence to love.
At this very moment he was asking himself:

"Am I really in love with Helen?"

He gathered and heaped together the whole of his inmost sensibility,
like a physician seeking with his fingers for the painful spot of a
diseased limb. But the spot of love, which it would have given him such
sweet pain to meet with, Armand could not discover.

"No," he answered himself with terrible sadness, yet courageously--for,
with all his failings, he had energy enough to venture upon
self-knowledge--"no, I am not in love with Helen. I desire her because
she is beautiful; I have paid my addresses to her because I feel bored;
I have grown obstinate about it because she denied me. Pride,
sensuality, and romantic twaddle--that's the top and bottom of the whole
affair. Then what is the good of it? What is the good? Why renew such an
intrigue as that with Madame de Rugle?"

And all the amours into which his depraved liking for seduction--the
fatal vice of his youth--had impelled him, came back into his memory,
with the monotony of their pleasures, the bitterness of their ruptures,
the sickening void of their duration. What was the good of this one or
of that? What was the good a year or two ago of amusing himself by
winning the love of Juliet, governess to the children of a house at
which he was received? What was the good of that comedy played to little
Maud, the pretty Englishwoman whom he had met at a watering-place?

"I dreamed of being a man of gallantry--a Don Juan. It looks as though
fate punishes us for the evil dreams of our youth by bringing them to
pass. I have had intrigues that might flatter my foolish vanity--and
what wretchedness!"

Among all the women whose faces and kisses he distinguished in his
thought, there was not one who had made him happy, even for a single
day, and--strange anomaly of a distempered heart--there was not one who
had not in some sort made him suffer. Through what moral disorder did it
come to pass that he was devoted to this continual inward calamity--to
the endurance of all the tortures of love: the jealousy of the present,
the intolerable loathing for the past, the bitter vision of the
treacheries of the future, and never, never, aught but physical
intoxication, without that ecstacy of soul which, notwithstanding,
existed, for he had seen with envy the heavenly expression due to it on
the countenances of a few of his mistresses?

One especially came before him--one whose conquest had not been effected
for the flattering of his fatuity, for she was but a girl was Aline, who
had died of consumption in the autumn of 1880. He could again see her
with her hollow eyes, her delicate cheek, and the blending of native
purity and corruption that was in her. He could see her nursing a little
sister whom she had taken to be with her, a child four years of age.
What affecting kindliness in vice, and what innocence in infamy! Yes,
Aline loved him, although she had three or four other lovers at the same
time as himself. His chief pleasure used to consist in taking this
pretty, ruined creature into the country to enjoy the childish outbreaks
of rusticity that prompted her to pick flowers, to listen to the birds,
to lean upon his arm, as though she had never exercised her hideous
profession.

What a mysterious thing is memory! He was on the eve of his first
assignation with Helen, and here he was growing tender over poor Aline,
evoking her as she was when he had so often sought her in her rooms in
the Rue de Moscow; as she was at certain moments when he had loved or
nearly loved her--on a summer evening, for instance, when she was seated
in the stern of a boat rowed on the Seine by four oarsmen of their
acquaintance. Yes, she was seated in a bright dress, looking at him over
the heads of the youths as they alternately stooped and rose. A
stillness was falling upon the river. A fine of orange was trailing
along the margin of the sky. What unspeakable emotion had bathed his
soul as he was sensible of the passing hour, the quivering water, the
living creature, and the dying light!

He ascended his staircase with these thoughts. Why this fatal
incompleteness in all his passions? Why was he incapable of attaining to
that absolute of tenderness which he conceived, of which he had
glimpses, towards which he sprang at every new intrigue? And
then--nothing! And yet how many chances had been combined for him; and
while his servant was relieving him of his overcoat, and he was passing
into the drawing-room, in which he often read at night before going to
bed, he mentally enumerated these chances: a fortune which enabled him
to pursue his fancies without much need of calculation; a genuine and
ancient title; ability to maintain a position in society that pleased
him; a robustness of health that could not recall a week of sickness; a
taste for intellectual things just sufficient to occupy his attention
without annoyance, for, absolutely free from personal ambition, he had
never ceased to be interested as an amateur by the attractions of
literature and art.

Added to all this, he had an appointment for the following day with a
charming woman whom he desired, and the fire of sense had not been
slackened within him by the excesses of his life. Why, then, was it
inevitable that the perception of an indefinable insufficiency in his
life should make him so melancholy just at this moment? He put on a
lounging jacket, dismissed his servant, and settled himself beside the
fire in his drawing-room. He again evoked Helen with an exactitude of
recollection which made her present to him from her mauve stockings to
that little mark which she had there at the right corner of her mouth.
Well! he did not love her, and he would never love her. If he had hoped
to experience at last, through her, that supreme surprise of the heart
which continually eluded him, he might tell himself that this hope was
abortive like the rest.

Like the rest! He felt a desire to convince himself that it had always
been so with him. He went and opened a box, in which were piled six or
seven note-books of different sizes. Some were made of sheets of school
paper. There were two of Japanese paper. These note-books were journals
of his life taken up repeatedly at unequal periods. In them he came upon
pages scrawled on the desk of the study-room at school, pages blackened
on the sides of boats, in hotel rooms, in this very drawing-room. He
took up these note-books, and began to turn over the leaves, finding in
them a former ego perfectly similar to the present ego in premature
misanthropy, sudden and fleeting ardours of sensuality, murderous
analysis, impotent hankering after unattainable delight, indolent
languor and incapacity ever fully to feel anything, whether real or
ideal.

The whole had combined to make of him a sort of child of the century, of
the year 1883, but without elegy, a Nihilist of gallantry and without
declamation.

The following is one of the pieces which his eyes, now gloomy and dull,
dwelt upon, and which would have broken Helen's heart if, gifted with
the magic faculty of second sight, she had discovered the melancholy
torpor which even the gift of her person, following upon the gift of her
entire soul, was inadequate to disturb.


"PARIS, _May_ 1871.

"Terrible days. Vanaboste comes and tells us yesterday, at one o'clock,
that we must get ready to leave, and that the pupils at Sainte Barbe
have gone already with their head. The Panthéon is full of powder, and
will soon blow up. Since morning the firing had been slowly, slowly
drawing nearer--a strange noise! It was as though some one had shaken
millions of nuts over the town in a gigantic cloth. Alfred and I spent
the morning in the attic watching the flames of the conflagrations
writhing against the sky. He was quite depressed, and I fiercely gay,
with a nervous gaiety that forced me to the utterance of outrageous
paradoxes--but were they paradoxes?--concerning the fine theories of our
professor of philosophy last week. O vision of fate! His last lesson
turned upon progress!

"We are packing up hastily in order to leave, when one of the masters
comes in a state of terror through the little door opening upon the
Rue Tournefort, which he bolts behind him. He tells us that the
federates would not allow anyone to pass their barricades. It was with
great difficulty that he himself has been able to return. We were a long
way from the good-natured National Guardsman who said to us on Monday,
at the doors of the Lycée: Shout "Long live the Commune!" boys, and you
are free." Vanaboste was as white as my paper when he heard this news.
The usher hit on the plan of having mattresses spread over the middle of
the courtyard, so that if the Panthéon blew up we should fall with less
violence. We remained for about two hours in this distress, we pupils
fourteen in number, the two assistant masters, and the head master.
Alfred and I, who, by an odd contradiction, were almost calm, talking
together in a corner.

"In spite of the firing, which was constantly drawing nearer, and the
bullets cracking against the walls, perhaps a hundred paces off, we had
neither of us a perception of reality; the danger appeared to us to be
something distant, dim, almost abstract. And we were talking--of what?
Of our childhood. 'It has been a happy one,' he said to me, 'even here.'
For once I emptied my heart to him, and let him see what I thought of
the scholastic lupanar in which, owing to my guardian's selfishness, I
have been obliged to grow up. After all, I prefer even this bagnio to
his house.

"Through this useless talking the firing can be heard coming nearer. The
Panthéon does not blow up. Suddenly a loud shout comes down from one of
ourselves in the upper story, where, at the risk of receiving a bullet,
he had stationed himself at the window. 'The Chasseurs are at the end of
the street.' That was the most trying moment. My heart beat as though it
would burst, my throat was choking in the expectation of what was going
to happen. Undefined danger had left me calm. Exact, brutal, and present
fact affected me unpleasantly. Some shots are fired quite close, then
furious summonses with the butt-ends of guns shake the gate. The same
usher who had shown his coolness in conceiving the precautionary measure
of the mattresses, rushes forward in time to strike up the levelled guns
of two chasseurs, who, blackened with powder, and with eyes gleaming in
frenzy, would have fired at random into the crowd of us if the other had
not been there. A lieutenant comes up, a little man in yellow boots,
with strap on chin and pistol in fist. Vanaboste speaks to him, and we
are saved.

"All this was yesterday. To-day we are again at our studies, a symbol of
our childish life in the midst of this tumult of action. I turn over the
leaves of an old book of spiritual philosophy with the pleasure of
contempt, and after reading official phrases about God, the immortal
soul, refinement of manners, moral liberty and innate reason, I close my
eyes and see the Square of the Panthéon as it was last night: the dead
lying with naked feet, because their shoes have been stolen; and with
battered skulls, because their deaths have just been made sure, of by
blows from butt-ends of guns; the splashes of blood, that feel sticky
beneath the soles of our boots; the flames of the conflagrations in the
distant sky; and on the footpath, lying on the same straw, and sleeping
like wearied brutes, the little chasseurs who have taken the quarter.
_Homo homini lupior lupis._"


"DIEPPE, _July_ 1874.

"The daughter resembles the mother. She is only twelve years old, and
already I can catch the coquetry, the glances, the premonition of the
woman in the presence of the man; and it will end as it did with her
mother, in a marriage of convenience, first acts of thoughtlessness, a
first lover, then a series of lovers down to some young Baron de Querne,
whom there will be an attempt to persuade that none was ever loved but
he; and, more foolish or more intelligent than myself, he will perhaps
believe it.

"Yes, more intelligent; for in love the great thing is to have as much
emotion as possible; and the real deception is to paralyse one's heart
by clear-sightedness. Whether was it Valmont in the 'Liaisons'--dear
Valmont--or the President's wife that was deceived? She who felt or he
who calculated? Whether was it Elvire or Don Juan, who does not
understand that Elvire, seeing that she has been able to intoxicate
herself with love, is alone to be envied, while he himself is not? I
know all this, but the inward demon is the stronger, and as soon as I
begin to pay my addresses to a woman I am at pains to procure all such
information concerning her as can render me incapable of loving her.

"At my age, ought I not to write in this book: 'O divine fate! that has
caused me so speedily to light upon the unique, the ideal woman, the
sister-soul,' &c. (It would call for some of Gounod's music). Not
exactly, Monsieur de Querne, but rather a lady of experience, who has
had five or six lovers, who has retained sufficient taste to give the
title of 'sentiment' to what belongs to fair and fitting and the most
brutal sensation; a lady of tact, who has given herself a good deal of
trouble to persuade you that you have seduced her. And the deuce take me
if I am angry with her for such charming hypocrisy! Besides, what is the
good of being angry with anyone for anything? Every human being is a
pretentious little watch, which, seeing its hands go round, fancies that
it is itself the cause of the motion. Foolishness and vanity! There is a
delicate mechanism inside, and this mechanism has it that Madame ----
shall be a sentimental prostitute, her daughter a future quean, and I a
mirthless debauchee, who parch my soul by setting forth all this instead
of enjoying what is granted to me."



"PARIS, _22nd May_ 1877.

"An evening of folly yesterday and debauchery, but debauchery that was
gay and healthy which is undoubtedly the truth. Nothing but this remains
to me that does not leave disgust behind.

"I went to see Duret, the painter, with that sad dog René W----, who
first stopped in the Rue de la Tour-Auvergne to ask for Marie, a tall
brunette.

"I have a Marie here," said the doorkeeper, "but she is a tall blonde,
red even," and in fact at a window in the first floor I saw a head of
warm, golden hair, a dress of clear, bright blue, and a made complexion
as extravagantly pink as a doll's. In my dark hours I have had
sufficient knowledge of the degrading and consolatory fascination of
these painted charms, of these slain bodies, of these ringed eyes, of
all this lying!

"At Duret's found Léonie, the model who stood to him for his _Delilah_
in the last Salon: a somewhat wearied face, with a refined and arched
nose, eyes of gleaming blackness, a strongly marked chin, with a
slightly masculine appearance in the profile--the masculine appearance
of theatrical women who act in burlesque--and a long countenance. But
that is but the skeleton of the face. The slight moustache was tinged
with black, the patch on the cheek underlined with black, the eyes made
still larger with black, the complexion covered with powder, and the
powder blending with the pale pink of the blood gave the woman an
extravagant and sophisticated look which was completed by the
brilliantly nacreous teeth that twinkled with the splendour of moist
imitation pearls.

"The toilet completed the woman. She had some black, gauzy material
round her neck, a hat trimmed with gauze and flowers, a dress of
variegated and friezed material, with a huge, red rose blooming on her
left breast.

"'She's a luxurious woman,' said René ironically, and, indeed, with the
material of her dress, her gauze and her flower, she looked like a
creature that lived on nothing but superfluity. I paid my addresses to
her, pleased her, and did not leave her house until this morning.

"O enchantment of the senses when the surcharge of thought comes not to
mar physical intoxication! O enchantment of prostitutes, seen thus as
dispensers of pleasure free from disquiet of heart! No asking whether or
how one loves or is loved, no measuring of sensation with an ideal type
of feeling that is perceived, and striven after, and that never can be
felt! I write these lines, and see! already my enjoyment has evaporated.
I write these lines and yet would that on a solitary terrace fronting a
landscape of trees and waters a woman might appear having the eyes of
which I long have dreamed--eyes which I know without having ever met
them--and might swear to me that this life has been nothing but an evil
dream! And she should tell me _all_, and by that all be made the dearer
to me;--and then I should love!"


"PARIS, _June_ 1879.

"Luncheons and dinners; dinners and luncheons. Assignations and evening
parties. Ah! how empty my life is! I do nothing that I like; nothing;
for I like nothing.

"In presence of the living creature, nothing at heart but pity for him
who suffers, if he does suffer--who will suffer since he endures the
evil of existence.

"If death, inevitable death, were neither physically painful in the
passage thither from life, nor terrible in its sequel to our imagining,
ah! how I would seek that which has prompted thoughts to mar my life!

"We live on--and why? We think--and why? Why between two glasses of
delicate wine and amid naked shoulders does there come to me ceaselessly
at table the image of the grave, and the insoluble question concerning
the meaning of this deadly farce of nature, and the world, and life?

"I muse on the sweets of mutual love, an absurd dream that civilisation
grafts upon the simple need of coupling. Ah! for a simple passion that
might apply my entire sensibility to another being, like wet paper
against a window-pane.

"And all this declamatory philosophy due to the fact that yesterday I
saw Madame de Rugle again at the Théâtre Français, and that the sight
did not move me one whit. What does logic say? That a man should not
force himself to tenderness when his lack of feeling is self-admitted,
but turn on his heel, whistling that polonaise of Chopin's which she
used to play to me sometimes in the evening with so much intention and
sentimentality. And of that passion this is all that is left."


"PARIS, _January_ 1881.

"I am aware that I have become horribly, fiercely egoistic, and the
external manifestations of this egoism are now offensive to me, whereas
formerly I used to surrender myself to it without scruple, at a time,
however, when I was of more worth than I am now by reason of the dream
that I cherished concerning myself.

"Philosophising truthfully about oneself is as great a relief as the
vomiting of bile. I look for the history of my temperament from the days
of my childhood. I see that my imagination has been excessive,
destroying my sensibility by raising a fore-fashioned idea between
myself and reality. I expected to feel in a certain way--and then, I
never did so. This same imagination, darkened by my uncle's harsh
treatment, has turned also to mistrust. I have always dreaded every
creature. The loss of my father and mother prevented the correction of
this early fault. College life and modern literature stained my thought
before I had lived. The same literature separated me from religion at
fifteen. Impiety, to my shame, acted like refinement to seduce me! The
massacres of the Commune showed me the true nature of man, and the
intrigues of the ensuing years the true nature of politics. I longed to
link myself to some great idea--but to which? When quite young I had
measured the wretchedness of an artist's existence. There must be genius
or far better leave it alone. To rank as fiftieth among writers or
musicians--thank you, no. My fortune exempted me from the necessity of a
profession. Enter a Council of State for foreign affairs, or a public
office--and why? There are only too many officials already. Get married?
The thought of chaining down my life never tempted me. I should have
done the same as B---- who, on the day of his wedding, took train to
return no more.

"Then what? Nothing. I have not even grown old of heart; I am abortive.
My sentimental adventures, which have been pursued in spite of
everything, for women are even yet what is least indifferent to me,
have, alas, convinced me that there are no kisses that do not resemble
those already given and received. It is all so short, and superficial,
and vain. How desperate I should be rendered by the thoughts of
myself--of that self which I shall never be able completely to
renounce--did I often indulge in them! What else but the damnation of
the mystics is _non-love_?"


Such were a few of the pages among many others, and the abominable
monograph of a secret disease of soul was continued in hundreds of
similar confidences. Often simply the date was written, together with
two or three facts: Rode, paid visits, went to the club, the theatre in
the evening, or a party, or ball, and then came a single word like a
refrain--_Spleen._ At the beginning of the last of these note-books,
Armand, when he had closed it, could read a list of all the years of his
life since 1860, and after each date he had scrawled--_Torture_, and at
the end, these words:

"I did not ask for life. If I have committed faults, frightful ones, too,
I have also known sufferings such as, set over against the others, might
say to the inconceivable Power that has created and that sustains me, if
such a Power possess a heart: 'Have pity upon me!'"

The young man thrust away with his hand the heap of papers wherein he
encountered so faithful an image of his present moral aridity. Slowly he
began to walk about the room. Everywhere in it he recognised the same
tokens of his inward nihilism. The low bookcase contained but those few
books which he still liked: novels of withering analysis--"Dangerous
Liaisons," "Adolphus," "Affinities"--moralists of keen and self-centred
misanthropy, and memoirs. The photographs scattered over the walls
reminded him of his travels--those useless travels during which he had
failed to beguile his weariness. On the chimney-piece, between the
likenesses of two dead friends, he kept an enigmatic portrait,
representing two women, with the head of the one resting upon the
shoulder of the other. It was the present, life-like remembrance of a
terrible story--the story of the bitterest faithlessness he had ever
endured. He had been cynical or artificial enough to laugh over it
formerly with the two heroines, but he had laughed with death in his
heart.

At the sight of all these objects witnessing to the manner of his life,
he was so completely sensible of his emotional wretchedness that he
wrung his hands, saying quite aloud: "What a life! Good God! what a
life!" It was owing to experiences such as these that his lips and eyes
preserved that expression of silent melancholy to which he had perhaps
owed Helen's love. It is their pity that leads to the capture of the
noblest women. But these crises did not last long with Armand. In his
case muscles were stronger than nerves. He took up his journals, and
threw them, rather than put them, away in the box.

"That's a rational sort of occupation," he thought to himself, "for the
night before an assignation."

Immediately, his thoughts turned again to Helen. The charming air of
distinction that she possessed returned to his recollection, and
suddenly softened him to an extraordinary degree.

"Why have I entered into her life," he said, "since I do not love her?
For eleven little months she did not know me, and she was at peace.
There would still be time enough to act the part of an honest man."

He was seized by the temptation to do what he had done once already--to
renounce, before any irrevocable step had been taken, an intrigue in
which he ran the risk of taking another's heart without giving his own
in return.

"Perhaps she loves me," he said to himself; and he sat down at his
table, and even got ready a sheet of paper in order to write to her.
Then, leaning back in his easy chair, he reflected. The recollection of
Varades suddenly beset him, as also of the serenity with which Helen had
deceived her husband that evening. "Innocent child," he said aloud,
speaking to himself, "if it were not I, it would be someone else. When a
fast woman meets with a libertine, they form a pair."

He began to laugh in a nervous fashion, and recalled the boundless
contempt with which he had formerly been covered by the lady whom his
scruples had led him to give up. She was the only enemy that he had kept
among all the women with whom he had had to do. The clock struck.

"Two o'clock," he said, "and I have to get up early in order to visit
worthy Madame Palmyre, and reserve one of her little suites, as in
Madame de Rugle's days. I shall be tired. Monsieur de Varades will be
missed."

Half-an-hour later he was in bed, and, head on arm, sleeping that
infantine sleep which, in spite of his life, had still been left to him.
So he was represented in a drawing by his father, which hung on one of
the walls of his bed-room. Ah! if the dead ones, whose son he was, had
been able to see him, would they have condemned him? Would they have
pitied him?



CHAPTER III


It was about half-past ten in the morning when Madame Chazel received a
small packet from the Baron de Querne. It contained two books--two new
novels--and a letter, the last being similar to all those that a man of
the world may write to a woman with whom he is on friendly terms. But
the postscript pressed as with a hand upon her heart. It ran as follows:

"If your country friend decides to come to Paris, the best furnished
apartments that I have seen are at 16, Rue de Stockholm. They are on the
second floor, to the right."

Yes, Helen was seized with inward trepidation on reading these simple
lines. In proportion as her action drew closer to her--the action that
would for ever separate her future and her past--the fever which had
been preying upon her since the previous evening had increased still
more. She had just left her bath, and, wrapped in a dressing-gown of
pure white, was crouched on a low chair beside the fire, her naked feet
in slippers, her form unconstrained by the flexible material, and her
hair rolled in a great twist about her neck. She shivered in her
wool-lined robe, and, with Armand's letter in her fingers, gazed now at
the paper, the mere touch of which overwhelmed her, and now around the
room--a refuge which she preferred even to the little drawing-room, as
enabling her to retire into a domain that was all her own.

She had been so pleased at the time of their settling in Paris to obtain
this room all to herself! She had during so many nights known the
torture of sleeping beside a man whom she did not love, and if sleeping
side by side, almost breath to breath, forms the delight of blissful
passion, physical aversion, on the other hand, is augmented by such
intimacy, until it becomes a species of animal hatred. Alfred's
movements, the sound of his breathing, the mere existence of his person,
angered her and hurt her, in the hours that she spent thus beside him,
when silence hung heavy upon their rest, and she lay awake quivering and
in revolt. When requesting this separation of rooms she certainly had
not foreseen that the solitude of her couch would one day avail her as a
weapon against material partition, that terrible ransom for adultery
which prudent women accept as a security. It is a rare thing for those
who deceive their husbands to sleep apart from them. They would rather
not have to carry with them to their lover the anxiety due to a
watchfulness but little reconcilable with complete pleasure.

But Helen was not capable of such calculations. The most charming trait
in her character was a spontaneity that might draw her into very great
perils, but that at least always preserved her from a foulness which is
more degrading than anything else--reflection in the midst of error. At
this very moment, as she sat crouching upon her low chair, she did not
think about the consequences of her approaching action, nor did she
reason--she felt. The presence of Armand's letter caused her to be
visited with excessive emotion. She scarcely so much as listened to the
noise that her little boy made in playing beside her bed. The child was
shaking his flaxen ringlets, and shouting and running about. He had set
two chairs beside each other, and was creeping between them, pretending
that he was a railway train passing through a tunnel.

Since she had been in love with Armand, Helen had experienced strange
feelings of sadness in the presence of her little Henry, and she had
reproached herself for them as for a lack of tenderness, attributing
them to remorse. In reality, her sorrow was due to the discovery in her
son of an astonishing likeness to her husband. Even in his games the
child recalled the conversation of the father, who from principle gave
him for books nothing but scientific works, and then he had Alfred
Chazel's eyes and his awkwardness in using his hands, and had only his
mother's mouth and forehead. She spoiled him all the more for her
consciousness of what she had taken from him to give to another! The
child continued to play, looking sometimes towards his mother. The
latter, at one moment, heaving a deep sigh, crumpled up the paper that
she held in her hand, and flung it into the fire.

The note had grown intolerable to her. She told herself, indeed, that it
was more prudent on her lover's part to write to her in this tone of
formal politeness, but it was such prudence as freezes, and in Helen's
then unnerved condition she had need of a letter whose every phrase acts
upon the reader's heart like invisible and caressing lips. The crumpled
paper, letter and envelope together, rolled into the fire, and the child
left the two chairs with which he was playing to come to his mother's
side and watch it burn.

"What are you looking at there, darling?" Helen said to him.

"At the nuns, mamma," he replied. So he called the luminous dots that
run across the black surface of paper consumed by fire. These dots were
in his eyes nuns distractedly traversing their burnt cloister. "How they
hurry," he said; "how frightened they are! Oh! that one, mamma, look at
that one! The convent is falling down. They are all dead."

Madame Chazel felt herself incapable of enduring this merriment. The
whole odious nature of her moral situation had just been rendered
palpable to her by a petty, insignificant fact, that of her son making a
plaything of the letter in which her lover made an appointment with her
for their first secret meeting. She would have been so glad to have held
her home life, the maternal obligations of which she would fulfil to the
utmost, distinct from the other, from that life of passion upon which
she was entering, carried away by something stronger than her reason,
something so obscure to herself and yet so real. Was this distinction,
then, altogether impossible, seeing that on the very first day all that
she would have wished apart were being blended together?

"Go and play with Miette," she said to her son, "I have a slight
headache."

Miette was the little boy's nurse. A lady's maid, a cook, and a
man-servant completed the _personnel_ of the household. Miette, who had
come from the country with her employers, had taken care of Henry from
his earliest infancy. At night, to send him to sleep, she used to sing
canticles to him, one especially of which delighted and terrified him:


"Come, divine Messiah."


"What is Messiah?" he would ask his nurse.

"He is Antichrist," she used to reply.

"When will He come?" asked the child.

"At the end of the world."

"In how many years?"

"Seven," said the nurse.

"Then I shall be twelve years old," Henry would calculate.

This astonishing prediction had so struck him the night before, that at
the mere mention of his nurse's name, he began to tell it to his mother.
At any other time this confidence would have amused her, but while
speaking he had in his bright grey eyes a look that the young woman knew
only too well.

"Don't be frightened," she said, "for you are good, and go and play."

The little boy cast a glance at the fire where the black residue alone
marked the site of the burnt convent; at the chairs whose backs were no
longer the walls of a deep tunnel; at his mother, to know whether he
might not remain. Unconsciously he was affected by the sadness
overspreading her face. By one of those almost animal intuitions
peculiar to extremely sensitive children, he discerned that his presence
was vexing to his mother. He kissed her hand, and then suddenly burst
into tears.

"What is the matter, my angel, what is the matter?" said Helen, pressing
him in her arms and covering him with kisses.

"I thought you were angry with me," he said. Then, warmed by her
caresses, he said: "I am going, mamma; I will be good."

"Have children presentiments?" Helen asked of herself when she was left
alone. "One would think he were conscious that something unusual is
taking place." And with her elbows on her knees and her chin resting
upon her closed hands, she relapsed into the state of fever that had
kept her awake the whole night. The nacreous bruise that encircled her
eyes too clearly revealed this sleeplessness. On rising, she had looked
at herself in the glass, and said to herself:

"I am not pretty--I shall not please him."

What had been preying upon her had been neither prudish reasoning nor
moral reflection. It was a sort of ardent languor. She could see Armand
in her thought, and as it were a wave of blood, but having greater heat,
surged to her heart, her throat choked a little, and her will tottered.
It was not only her first intrigue, in the sense in which the world
understands the term, but it was her first love. Helen Chazel, while
still Mademoiselle de Vaivre, had endured one of the most painful trials
that can weigh upon youth. She had been persecuted by a step-mother who
hated her, while believing that she was only bringing her up well and
correcting her. The De Vaivres lived in a kind of château, four miles
from Bourges, and this had been a prison to the young girl. The father,
a weak man, who cherished an innocent mania for an archaeological
collection, patiently and complacently gathered together, had never
suspected the mute drama played between step-mother and step-daughter
for twelve years.

Madame de Vaivre loved her husband, and, without herself comprehending
as much, was jealous of the dead wife, that first wife whose grace she
saw renewed in the features of the child, in her smiles and in her
gestures. Nothing is so dangerous as an evil feeling of the existence of
which we are not quite aware. To gratify it we discover all kinds of
excuses which enable us to feed our hatred without losing our
self-esteem. It was thus that Madame de Vaivre, having taken Helen's
education in hand, made every lesson and every admonition a means for
torture.

This woman, pretty and refined, but unfeeling, very solicitous about
propriety in consequence of the lengthened sojournings at Paris with her
father, who had been an official deputy under the July monarchy, was
withal minutely devout, and instinctively unkind, like all persons who
are accustomed never to admit the just sensibilities of others. When
Alfred Chazel had come to be intimate with Monsieur de Vaivre, owing to
their common taste for excavations and antiquities, she had with joy
perceived that he was falling in love with Helen. It afforded her a
secret pleasure to marry her step-daughter to a man who had no fortune,
and, the dowry being very small, to condemn her for years to a middling
existence. Death, which takes as little account of our evil calculations
as of our great intentions, had taken in hand to render abortive this
woman's hateful anticipation, through which poor Helen had seen no more
clearly than Monsieur de Vaivre himself.

All that the young girl understood on the day that Chazel asked her in
marriage was that she would be free from her step-mother's tyranny. She
had a plain perception of that from which she was escaping. As to
marriage and its physical realities, what could she have known of them?
Thus, on leaving the church, she found herself in a moral situation that
was full of peril. Her childhood, spent, as it had been, beneath
continual oppression, had to an excessive degree developed within her a
taste for the romantic--a power, that is, of fashioning beforehand an
image of life with which the reality is subsequently compared. Through
her joy at deliverance, her future marriage showed to her like a
paradise of delight.

Misfortune had it that Alfred Chazel should be one of those men who,
with all kindness, all delicacy even, at the bottom of their hearts, are
for ever ignorant of a woman's nature. The consummation of the marriage
was to Helen something as hateful as it had been unexpected--like a
tribute paid to clumsy brutality. The result was that she received her
husband's endearments with a repugnance that was imperfectly dissembled,
and that added to the timidity of a man already timid by nature and
awkwardly impassioned, as those who have not slackened the initial
ardour of their youth in facile intrigues often are. Alfred was secretly
afraid of showing his tenderness to his wife, and he concealed from her
the intensity of a love that would perhaps have touched her had she been
able to perceive it.

Moral divorce between husband and wife has nearly always physiological
divorce for its first and hidden cause. If community in voluptuousness
is the most powerful agent for the fusion of temperaments, the torturing
possession of a woman by a man remains the certain origin of
unconquerable antipathy. It came to pass in the Chazel household, as in
all similar households, that this first antipathy was heightened from
week to week by reason of the fact that two beings, condemned to live
side by side, unceasingly afford each other grounds for more love or
greater hatred. Do not all the petty events of life render them every
minute more present to each other? The divergence in tastes, ideas, and
habits that parted Alfred from Helen, would have provided the latter,
had she loved her husband, with pretexts for a loving education. Not
loving him, she found in them only reasons for separating from him still
more.

Alfred Chazel was in fact a son of the people, and in spite of the
intellectual refinement of two generations, his peasant origin showed
itself again in him in clumsiness of gesture and attitude. He was not
vulgar, and at the same time he was lacking in manner. Helen, on the
contrary, came of a noble family, and her step-mother's continual
superintendence had developed to an extreme in her a sense of detailed
particularity concerning her person and everything about her. Her
husband's manner of eating shocked her; his manner of going and coming
and sitting down--a certain slowness in grasping all that constituted
the material side of life. When it was needful to accomplish a rapid and
precise movement, during a walk, or at table, or in a shop, he would
pause for a moment, with lips slightly gaping, and with a startled
demeanour, like a peasant passing through a terminus in a large town.

Alfred, moreover, was fond of saying that he was an absent man, and that
the external world had no existence for him; and it was true, for two
influences had contributed to uproot him from the said external
world--the sudden transition of his family from one social class into
another, and the nature of his mathematical studies. His wife had never
been able to ensure that the cord of his eyeglass should not be broken,
and then knotted in several places, that the collar of his overcoat
should be kept down, his silk hat brushed, and his cravat properly tied.
The carelessness characteristic of men of thought was visible in his
entire person.

Helen would have blushed with indignation and shame had she been told of
the part played by these trifles in her conjugal aversion. But is not
the life of the heart, like physical life, a summing of the infinitely
little? Moreover, these minute facts, which formed a mass in their
totality, symbolised an essential ground for dissociation between the
husband and wife, namely, the absolute distinction between the minds of
both. Helen's instruction had not been of a very solid kind; she had not
been fortified by that sum of positive learning which alone is able to
balance intense development of thought. Thus, all her reading as a girl
and as a young woman had been directed towards those works of
imagination for which Alfred professed the innocent contempt of a
scientist whose literary culture is almost non-existent. It appeared
extraordinary to him, and he used ingenuously to say so, that in an age
of chemistry, steam, and electricity, intelligent beings should occupy
themselves with the composition of such trash. Hence, in conversation,
husband and wife had not a single opinion in common. Alfred was quite
sensible that an abyss, growing constantly more impassable, was yawning
between Helen and himself, and he was pained by it, but in the way that
he would have been pained by an incomprehensible misfortune.

"What does she want to make her happy?" he would ask himself, and then
he would in thought draw up a list of the conditions for happiness that
were realised about his wife: "We have money, and a dear child; she
wished to live in Paris, and here we are; I give her every freedom; I
have the most absolute confidence in her; I do her honour by my
position; everything smiles upon us and flatters us--and she is not
happy!"

No, Helen had not been happy, and on the morning of this winter day,
which was to prove to her a date that could never be forgotten, she felt
her whole melancholy past surging back upon her. A thousand scenes
showed themselves, and she discerned that through them all she had been
advancing towards the hour at which, as she believed, her true life
would begin. Often at Bourges, while walking with her husband along the
Seraucourt promenade, she had asked herself whether she should ever,
ever be acquainted with happiness, with the warm radiancy within her of
a light that might illumine the cold darkness in which she languished.
Her husband conversed with her about his plans, his college life, and
his companions, with the calmness which he displayed in all matters,
holding it a principle that a man should look at life on its good side,
should be submissive, and accept.

These talks prostrated her with sadness. She sighed vaguely after an
infinitude of emotion which she conceived to be possible, and the
tokens, the reflection of which she discovered in a few phrases in the
novels of her reading when they treated of love. Of all the emotions of
life this was the only one with which she was unacquainted. She had been
a daughter, and had loved her father, but her affection had been cruelly
deceived. She had been a sister, but little Adèle, Monsieur de Vaivre's
daughter by his second marriage, resembled her mother, and Helen had
never been able to become unreservedly attached to her. She had had
friends, but it had always seemed to her that these friends did not feel
as she did, and she had never ventured to speak to them of what touched
her most closely, of what was dearest to her heart. She would have been
pious had not the sight of her step-mother's piety given her an aversion
to religious practices which, as she saw only too clearly, might be made
a justification for the worst egotism. She was a mother, and she loved
her son; but, as formerly, in the case of her little sister, a
resemblance checked her in her feeling. Little Henry recalled Alfred too
much at certain moments.

Then it was, when she had fathomed the bankruptcy of her first youth,
that her imagination pictured to her the dawn of a reparative feeling;
and what could this mysterious feeling be if it were not that one with
which she was unacquainted, and the sweetness, power and happiness of
which were celebrated by all?

"But no," she said to herself, "it is a crime to love when one is not
free."

Then she recalled conversations heard on her friends' "days" at Bourges,
and the manner in which people spoke of a doctor's wife who had eloped
with a young Conseiller de Préfecture. And then she met with men who
had so little resemblance to the image that she had formed of him whom
she might have loved! She remembered the painful surprise which had been
caused her by that very Monsieur de Varades, of whom De Querne had
heard. She had believed in the genuineness of his sympathy. He came to
see her. They used to have a little music together. Then, had he not
offered violence to her one evening when they were alone in the house?
She had said nothing to her husband from dread of a scandal and a duel;
but she had never received the young officer again when alone. She did
not suspect that he had revenged himself upon her by saying that she had
been his mistress.

By what familiarities had she challenged the audacity of this garrison
Don Juan? Yet she was not a coquette. The feeling that sprang up within
her in the presence of a stranger was rather an apprehension of offence
than a desire to please. She had been as little of a coquette with
Armand de Querne. If there was a man whom she would have refrained from
approaching with a desire to seduce, it was assuredly he. Her husband
had so often extolled him to her.

"When we were at college, Armand and I," or, "Armand used to say to me,"
or, "Armand wrote to me." And so on.

Helen had anticipated another and a more pretentious Alfred. She had
told herself that some day, if ever she left the country, she would be
obliged to endure in her home the presence of this friend, who would be
a hostile judge, and would raise fresh difficulties between her husband
and herself. If they were separated for so many reasons the one from the
other, her own reserve and Alfred's good nature at least prevented the
separation from breaking out in scenes and disputes. What would be the
outcome of the intrusion of Alfred's old chum into their home, she
almost anxiously asked herself on the occasion of her first visit to
Paris.

Her rapid interview with Monsieur de Querne had modified the colouring
of these fears. He had come to take the Chazels to their hotel, and all
three had dined together in a restaurant on the Boulevards. Helen had
been surprised by Armand's outward appearance, and by the contrast that
he presented to the carelessness of Alfred; but further, the young man's
questions, his keen way of looking, the irony that tinted his slightest
expressions, together with an indefinable shade of contempt for Alfred,
which a woman's acuteness could not but remark, had disconcerted her,
causing her a slight shiver of mistrust. She would have wished never to
see the man again. She had been unable to refrain from mentioning this
antipathy to her husband, and he had replied: "He looks like that, but
he is such a good fellow, and then he has been so unfortunate." And he
told his wife about Armand's childhood, his guardian's selfishness, his
youthful melancholy, and he commiserated him for other mysterious
sufferings.

"He has not understood life well. He was rich. He has not employed his
fine powers. He has said nothing to me, but I always believed that he
had experienced a deep passion."

Helen would have been much astonished if any one had revealed to her
that the species of agony with which her thought rested upon the
probable secret nature of this disquieting personage, comprised that
form of anxiety which often precedes love. The settlement at Paris had
taken place, and Armand had begun to visit them, at first in their
furnished rooms, and then in the little house in the Rue de La
Rochefoucauld. It was he who had found it for them, he who courteously
offered his assistance in the countless goings and comings necessitated
by the furnishing of the new home. In the constant interviews thus
brought about, whether in a shop, or while walking together from one
tradesman's to another, or when driving in a carriage, as often
happened, Helen learnt to know all the delightful outward qualities
possessed by Armand. Unlike the men, all of them occupied with science
or self-advancement, who met at her husband's house, he appeared to
attach only a secondary importance to acquired merits or positive
learning. Questions of feeling alone interested him.

In all the men that she had seen, Helen had encountered the same idea
about love, namely, that it pertained to youth, was to be relegated to
the background, and that rational people should never weigh it against
family or professional interests. Her discussions with Armand revealed
to her a man who had reflected a great deal about the mutual relations
of the sexes. He possessed that imagination of heart which women so
readily confuse with genuine sensibility, together with that experience
of amorous life which lends to libertines their prestige even with the
most virtuous. The expression of melancholy which was familiar to him
seemed to say that this experience had been purchased at the cost of
cruel deceptions. It was these unknown griefs that completed the work of
seduction which had begun in timorous astonishment, and been continued
in the admiration of the provincial for the Parisian; for the
superiority of judgment concerning life which distinguished the young
man, corresponded to too many stifled aspirations on Helen's part, to
leave her indifferent to it. It was he whose taste she perceived
scattered over the walls of her little drawing-room; he who had chosen
that old tapestry and hung it in its corner; he who had chosen this
piece of furniture or that piece of material from among several others.
This softened admiration, which led her to say to herself: "What a
happiness it would be to comfort him for all that he has suffered," had
soon ended in the hope that her presence was really sweet to him, for he
was occupied about her with visible sympathy.

At different times she had heard him tell her:

"I had an invitation to Madame So-and-so's this evening, but I broke my
engagement in order to spend the evening with you."

One day, on the occasion of one of those insignificant events which in
the heart's darkness are as tiny lights revealing an immense gulf, she
had confessed to herself that she loved him. Armand, who was to have
come to dinner in the Rue de La Rochefoucauld, had sent a note of excuse
to the effect that he was unwell. She had sent Alfred to see him, and
Alfred had found nobody in the Rue Lincoln. By the sorrow that the young
woman experienced, she recognised the extent of the interest that she
took in Monsieur de Querne, and, to her misfortune, she recognised it at
a moment when, upon one of those petty troubles, which are great
disasters in love, she must inevitably doubt whether her feeling was
returned. Instead of striving against this love, as she would have done
had she believed herself loved, she said to herself:

"Why has he not kept his promise? With whom has he spent the evening?"

When she saw him again, he spoke somewhat hardly to her, and she
suffered a disconcerted countenance to be seen. He gently took her hand,
and she burst into tears. From that hour she ceased to be capable of
concealing the disquiet with which the mere sight of Armand inspired
her. She began to enter upon that stage wherein the soul finds itself
ceaselessly divided between the sight of the direst misfortune and of
the highest felicity. How is it possible to reason then? Armand, who
knew love's halting-places too well not to perceive the progress that he
was making in Helen's heart, was adroit enough to show her that he
doubted her feelings towards himself, and that he was unhappy on account
of this doubt.

He thus led her in succession to tell him that she loved him, to let him
take her hands, her arms, her waist, and to lend her cheek, her eyes,
her lips to kisses. Nothing could be more opposed than these progressive
familiarities to the ideas that Helen entertained respecting the manner
in which a woman ought to behave towards a man when she loves. She
considered, as do all truly loyal natures, that a slight deception is
morally equivalent to one that is complete. But she yielded to the
faintest expression of pain in the young man's eyes with a weakness for
which she reproached herself on each occasion, only to relapse once
more.

"Ah! do not be pained; what does it matter if I ruin myself?" such was
the translation of the poor woman's looks, the words that she uttered in
a whisper.

She had not spoken falsely when putting to him the sorrowful question:

"You will at least be happy?"

And now, within a few hours of the moment when she would be entirely
his, it was this hope and this uncertainty that floated above all else.

"Ah!" she thought, "if only I may see that light in his eyes! Afterwards
I shall become what I may. What matter if I have given him that?"

She had reached this point in her reflections when a kiss made her
start. Alfred had just come in to bid her good morning. Having gone out
before eight o'clock he had not yet seen her, and finding her so pretty
in the robe of soft material that showed the outline of her graceful
shoulders, and bust, and the lines of her legs terminating in the white,
blue-veined, naked feet in their black slippers, he could not refrain
from approaching her and stealing a kiss from the sweet place on her
neck, between the ear and nape. This was such a surprise to her on
emerging from the universe of ideas in which she had just been absorbed,
that she gave a slight scream.

"Lazy, chilly, timorous creature," said Chazel, who strove to jest in
order to banish the angry expression which his caresses had just called
up upon that charming face. "Do you know what o'clock it is? A quarter
to twelve. You will never be ready for breakfast. What are you reading?"
he continued, taking up the two volumes sent by Monsieur de Querne which
were lying on the table; "more novels--but they are not cut. What have
you been doing all the morning?"

"I have been settling papers and making up accounts."

How many of these little falsehoods her lips had uttered, and not one,
even the slightest and most innocent of them, that did not cost her a
cruel effort.

"Will you ring for Julia?" she resumed. "I am going to have my hair
dressed, and I shall be ready in ten minutes."

"I am not in your way if I remain here?" he said.

"Not particularly--for the present," she replied, and already she had
passed into her dressing-room. She had put on a light cambric wrapper,
and was unfastening her beautiful chestnut hair, combing it herself.
Alfred remained on his feet, leaning against one of the leaves of the
door and reading a newspaper which he had taken out of his pocket. The
mere rustling of the paper irritated Helen's nerves, because it recalled
this man's presence to her, and his presence appeared at this moment a
profanation. Ah! if Armand had been there instead of the other, how
charming she would have found it to associate him thus with the
coquettish portion of the mysterious attentions to her beauty. But such
familiarity in one whom they do not love is so displeasing to women,
that even prostitutes are pained by it. In all, whether virtuous or not,
modesty is the beginning and the ending of love. Alfred had never
understood this. He was still in love with Helen; and these sudden
intrusions upon her privacy procured him a dumb happiness that was
composed of timid desires and furtive contemplations. Over the top of
his open newspaper he watched the white hands passing backwards and
forwards among the yielding hair, and the graceful shape of the arms
which the wide sleeves, when thrown back by certain movements, allowed
to be seen.

How he would have liked to handle that hair which she always denied to
him! And she too looked at her hair with happiness, in spite of the pain
which her husband caused her by remaining there, for she perceived that
it was as long and as wave-like as when she had been a young girl. Every
time that she paid attention to her beauty now, she studied herself with
childish anxiety, spying out the slightest wrinkle on her temples, about
her lips, around her neck, asking herself whether she was still pretty
enough to intoxicate the man she loved, and she smiled at herself in the
glass as she twined her hair, and leaning forward a little she saw in a
corner of the same glass the reflection of her husband's face with a
blaze in his eyes--that swift gleam of desire which she knew and hated
well. She shivered as though she had awoke to find herself exposed naked
in a public square, blushed violently, and said:

"I do not know why Julia is not here. Ring again, please, and leave me."

She got up, pushed Alfred away, shut the door, and when alone, felt the
tears come.

"Ah!" she said to herself; "I do not truly love him. Ought not these
trifles to be sweet to me since I endure them for his sake?"

Such were her thoughts as she sat at the breakfast table, dressed now in
a dark-coloured dress, and wearing boots--the boots in which she was
presently, and in a very short time, for the time-piece hanging on the
wall was pointing to thirty-five minutes past twelve--to walk to that
Rue de Stockholm which she had not known even by name before receiving
her lover's note. Where was it? What would the house look like? At the
mere thought of it, an intoxicating, burning fluid seem to course
through her veins. To remain quiet was a torture to her, and as for
eating, she was unequal to it. It seemed to her that her throat was so
choked that not even a piece of bread would pass through it. Little
Henry was talking to his father, and the latter, on failing to receive
even a reply from her to two or three questions, said:

"How strange you are to-day. Are you not well?"

"I?" she said. "Why I am as cheerful and merry as possible," and she
began to laugh and to talk in a loud tone. "Can he suspect anything?"
she asked herself; "but what matter if he does?"

"What are you going to do this afternoon?" asked Alfred again
mechanically.

"Will you take me with you, mamma?" said Henry.

"No, darling," she replied, evading a reply to her husband, "you will go
to the Champs-Élysées, and I will wish you good morning as I pass,
perhaps. Is it fine to-day?" she went on, although she had watched both
sky and pavement with impatient anxiety since early morning. And on his
replying in the affirmative she said: "You can take the carriage; I will
go on foot, it will do me good."

They had a brougham that was hired by the month, and that they used in
turns, he for business expeditions, and she for paying visits.

"At last!" she sighed, when she found herself alone in the little
drawing-room, Alfred having left for his office, and Henry for his walk;
and the distresses of the morning were succeeded by a delicious feeling
of relief.

Already even, in her drawing-room, which was filled with recollections
of Armand, she was surrendered unreservedly to her love. The recovery of
her freedom overwhelmed her with joy such as the vision of the future
could no longer take from before her mind. She evoked in thought her
lover's gaze, she kindled in it that gleam of felicity which was as the
stars towards which her being was uplifted.

"I am sacrificing everything for him," she thought to herself, returning
for a moment to the impressions of that painful morning; "but the more I
sacrifice for him the more will he feel how much I love him. And how I
love him! how I love him!" she repeated aloud in exultation. She looked
at her watch. "It is past one o'clock. He is to wait for me from twelve.
What a surprise for him if I arrive so soon. For he does not expect me
immediately."

And she hastened to put on her hat, taking a thick veil with her at the
bottom of her pocket to put over her face in the cab. He had the day
before recommended her to do so. And now she was already passing down
the Rue Saint-Lazare, like one walking in her sleep, not daring to look
at anything around her. It seemed to her that everyone could see by her
figure and gait where she was going, and her elation had given place to
a sort of terror--but a resolute terror, like that of a man of courage
when on the way to fight his first duel--when she ventured to hail a cab
in the Place de la Trinité.

"The Rue de Stockholm," she said.

"What number?" asked the man.

"I will tell you when to stop," she replied.

To get out of the cab in front of the house had just appeared to her
suddenly as an impossibility. Her hands shook when she fastened on her
double veil in the vehicle, which began to move forward, heavy and slow;
at least it seemed to her that every revolution of the wheels lasted a
minute. She looked at the shops in the Rue Saint-Lazare, as they filed
past, then at the courtyard in front of the terminus, and the sight of a
traveller paying his cabman set her searching in her muff in agony. What
if she had forgotten her purse? No, she had forty francs, in small
ten-franc pieces. So much the worse; she would give one to the man, for
to wait for the change on the footpath would be too much for her.

All these emotions were painful to her feelings. She would willingly
have fixed her imagination upon her lover--her lover, for she was going
to be his mistress. How contemptuous the tones of her friends at Bourges
used formerly to become when uttering these words in reference to some
compromised woman! Then her nervous emotion proved the stronger.

"If only he does not guess what it has cost me! Ah, may my cowardly
fears not spoil his happiness!"

The cab having meanwhile climbed the beginning of the ascent of the Rue
de Rome, was turning down past the wall of a private garden which forms
the corner of the Rue de Stockholm, and the driver leaned down from his
seat to ask Helen where he was to stop.

"Here," she said.

She got out, and placed the small gold piece in the man's hand, saying
to him:

"Keep it, keep it."

Then she was immediately afraid that he would guess why she did not wait
for the change, and she stopped and busied herself with gazing, without
reading it, at a placard affixed to the wall, until she heard the cab
wheels rolling away. She followed the footpath, lifting her head with a
throbbing of the heart which seemed to be driving her mad. Eight,
ten--two numbers more, and she had reached the house mentioned in the
note. She entered the gateway, seeing nothing. She passed in front of
the porter thinking that her limbs would not support her. Her feet were
giving way on the stair-carpet. One more effort, and she was at the door
of the apartments on the second floor.

She leaned against this closed door. Not a sound was to be heard on the
staircase; not a sound came up from the street. She could hear the
beatings of her heart, and instead of ringing she remained where she
was. She wanted to recover a little calmness before appearing in
Armand's presence. Why had she come here? To make him happy! What, then,
would be the good of letting him see how much she had suffered? Her
heart beat less rapidly; she forced herself to smile; and the thought of
the happiness she was about to give was already a happiness to her
greater than her anguish had just been.

She at last made up her mind to ring. The tinkling was succeeded by the
sound of footsteps, the key turned in the lock, and she sank upon
Armand's bosom, and was immediately drawn into a little drawing-room
furnished in blue. Flames were burning in the fire-place. At the first
glance Helen saw that there was no bed in the apartment. She had so
dreaded the sight of this on first entering that she felt an infinite
gratitude to Armand for having selected their place of meeting in such
a way as to spare her this initial shock. He, meanwhile, had unfastened
both her veils, taken off her bonnet, compelled her to sit down in an
arm-chair beside the fire, and, kneeling in front of her, was clasping
her almost madly, repeating again and again:

"Ah, my love! how sweet of you to come!"

And he gazed at her with eyes made very loving with the joy of desire
that is certain of its satisfaction--the joy of desire only, for on
seeing her smile at him with that easy smile to which she had compelled
her countenance, in order not to displease him, he had just told himself
that it was not the first time that she had come to a like meeting, and
a terrible duality had been set up within him between his sensations and
his thoughts.

"She has a fancy for me," he reflected; "let us take advantage of it.
But why have all women a mania for telling you that you are their first
lover?"

His kisses were loosening the locks of her hair, which she tried to
readjust above her forehead with her hand.

"Do not be afraid," he said to her; "I have thought of everything." And
he led her through the bedroom to the door of a little dressing-room, on
the table in which were arranged all the articles belonging to his
travelling dressing-case.

"You will be able to comb your hair again," he said.

"Oh!" she said, blushing, "you make me ashamed."

Just then he had led her into the bedroom, and as he was taking off the
jacket which she wore over her dress, a small object rolled out of her
pocket. It was a pocket-comb of light tortoise-shell, which Helen had
taken up unreflectingly before going out, as she often did.

"She remembered that, too," he thought.

Then with loving entreaty:

"Be mine," he asked of her.

"Nay, I am yours," she replied.

A twilight prevailed in the bedroom, for he had loosed the
window-curtains, as also those of the bed--of that bed which she found
strength to look at for the first time. How fain would she have bidden
him leave her to herself! And she turned her eyes towards him. He had
begun to unfasten the buttons of her dress, and she was about to say to
him, "Go away!" when she saw in his eyes that expression of felicity of
which she had so often dreamed, and she suffered him, with that divine
weakness whose sublime flattery so few men understand.

If a woman who loves wishes to be loved in the same degree, is it then
needful that she borrow something from the methods of those creatures
devoid of true sensibility, to whom their persons are but instruments of
supremacy, and who surrender themselves that they may the better
possess? Helen did not suspect, while Armand, intoxicated with her
beauty, was sweeping her away in his arms, after warming her feet with
kisses and taking from her all her attire, from her bracelets to her
hair-pins--no, Helen did not suspect that, at that very moment, this man
had just found in the absolute submission to his desires that had cost
the poor woman so dear, a reason for not believing in her.

"Are you happy?" she asked of him an hour later, lying on his heart, and
giving herself up to the languid voluptuousness that succeeds caresses;
"tell me, are you happy? You see, _I_ am."

And it was true, for she had just for the first time felt an unfamiliar
emotion waking in her beneath the caresses of the man she loved so
dearly.

"Oh! very happy," replied Armand, and he spoke falsely, for reviewing in
thought all the slight incidents of this first meeting--the smiling
entry, the presence of the comb, the compliant disrobing, the burning
susceptibility of his mistress--he said again to himself that he was
certainly not Helen's first lover.

And then, he secretly despised her for not having denied herself in
detail. The evident absence of remorse in the woman seemed to him a
proof that she had no kind of moral sense. He did not tell himself that,
if she had manifested remorse, he would have treated her as a hypocrite,
and meanwhile she was speaking to him.

"See," she sighed, "as soon as I saw you, I loved you. I felt that you
had not had your share of happiness here below, and it was my dream to
impart it to you, and to do away with all your troubles. There is a
wrinkle in your forehead which I cannot endure. When you asked me to be
yours and I said no, I saw that wrinkle between your eyebrows, there,"
she said, kissing the spot, "and then, when I said yes, the wrinkle was
gone. That is why I am here, and proud of being here, for I am so proud
of loving you."

"How strange it is," thought Armand, "that no woman has conscience
enough to say to herself: 'I am acting disgracefully, lying, betraying;
it amuses me, but it is disgraceful.' The cloth on the communion-table
and the sheet on the bed of a furnished room are all one to them. There,
my angel, go on with your romances," and he closed her lips with kisses.
"Ah!" he thought again, "she is very pretty. If only she had wit enough
to hold her tongue!"



CHAPTER IV


The evening which succeeded to this day of fever, agony, and bliss, was
spent by Helen in torturing and delicious yearning. Is not the
regretting of one's happiness the thinking of it again? Why had she
asked her lover not to come to the Rue de la Rochefoucauld that evening?
When yonder, beside him, she had thought that to meet him again in her
own home after an interval of so few hours, would be distressing to her.
Now she said to herself, while working after dinner at her crochet in
the little drawing-room, and seated in the arm-chair which Armand
usually occupied--yes, she said to herself with melancholy that it would
be very sweet if she had him there, close beside her.

She would touch her lover's hand sometimes with her own. She would
breathe the faint aroma of the scent which she had asked him to use and
which was the same as hers. In imagination she grasped that enjoyment at
once severe and soothing to a woman's soul--the enjoyment of hearing the
lips that have told you "I love you" between two kisses in the
afternoon, employ "Madame" and similar formalities to you, so that the
most insignificant phrase brings home the charm of the mystery that
links you together. And Helen's delicate fingers continued their agile
handling of the tortoise-shell crochet hook, while Alfred turned over
the leaves of a book without speaking.

On her return, she had experienced a bitter moment when, meeting her son
again, she had been forced to allow little Henry to give her
kisses--which she had not returned. She had contented herself with
embracing him, with resting the child's cheek against her own, and then
she had felt that she loved him even more than before. All these
different kinds of emotion had left their traces in her face, which,
usually rosy, was on this evening strangely pale, but of that toned and
shrouded paleness that succeeds to complete voluptuousness.

A halo of lassitude hovered about her eyes, a softness about her smile,
an air of suppleness and languor about her entire person, and this
lover-like appearance lent her such seductiveness as would have
frightened her had she taken the trouble to watch Alfred. The latter
never turned his eyes from her as she bent her tenderly wearied head
over her work. Dressed in white, as was her custom, the faint brown tint
of her eyelids was the better seen since she kept them downcast,
apparently upon her wool, in reality upon the visions which were
rekindling her soul. Alfred reflected with rapture that she was his
wife--his wife.

He was more in love with her than ever. Only, ever since their
settlement at Paris had brought with it a separation of rooms, he had
felt himself seized, whenever he longed for her caresses, by an emotion
which he could with difficulty subdue. He must ask his Helen to allow
him to remain with her, or else enter her room when she was in bed. This
need of acting, united to the torment of physical desire, is so painful
to certain men, that timid youths experience an almost unbearable
throbbing of the heart on merely crossing the threshold of those houses
in which pleasure is sold ready-made. During the whole of this evening,
Alfred, although he was satisfied of Helen's submission, endured that
emotion which is not without sweetness, since it renders still more
perceptible the keenness of desire. He looked at her, and the words
which he was preparing beforehand to say to her, caused him a sinking of
the heart. He kept silence with such persistency that the poor woman had
almost forgotten his existence when she rose to go to her room and held
out her forehead to him, with the words:

"Till to-morrow."

"Eh! what! till to-morrow?" he replied, trying to bring his kiss down to
her eyes, and lower still. She shuddered, repulsed him abruptly, and
looked at him. In the depths of her husband's eyes there was the same
gleam of desire the reflection of which she had that morning surprised
in her looking-glass, while combing her hair to surrender it to the
hands of the other.

It was an abrupt awakening from the dreams of that whole evening. The
palpable sensation of physical partition was present in all its
hideousness, and as Alfred approached her with a smile, and the words,
"My little Helen," she passed quickly to the other side of an
easy-chair, and, separated from him, replied:

"Do you not see that I am quite ill this evening?"

She was so pale, and had such a ring of weariness about her eyes, that
Alfred was moved by the sight.

"It is the last of my headache," she continued, touching her temple; "a
good night's rest, and it will disappear. So, till to-morrow."

She smiled, made a graceful gesture with her hand, and left the
drawing-room. Alfred, when alone, could hear her going and coming in the
adjoining apartment, which was her own room. He himself occupied a room
on the floor above, opening into his study.

"How delicate her health is," he thought tenderly to himself.

"No; never, never!" said Helen, speaking aloud to herself, when her maid
had left her; and, leaping out of bed, she turned the key in both doors.
Alfred, who was still in the drawing-room, seated before the fire, heard
the sound of the key turning in the lock.

"She is afraid of me, then?" he asked himself with singular sadness; and
meanwhile Helen, stretched in bed, was repeating half aloud:

"Never, never again will I give myself to that man."

The reality of the situation had just been impressed upon her with
frightful clearness. She could foresee the daily strife, the dispute for
her person night by night and hour by hour. If high life, as it is
called, with its nightly engagements, its facilities for isolation in an
immense house, and its social pleasures and duties, enables a husband
and wife, not on good terms with each other, to live both side by side
and yet apart, it is not so with those of the comfortable middle class.
Conjugal interviews in private are there the rule, social engagements
the exception, and husband and wife meet every moment, and in every
detail of existence.

"Heavens, what can I do?" said Helen to herself. Then courageously: "I
will find means. It will be so sweet to struggle for him."

Her soul became exalted by the impress of this thought, and suddenly she
could again taste Armand's kisses upon her lips. All the circumstances
of their interview showed themselves, from the anguish of arrival to
that of departure. Ah, what a farewell! What a caress was that given on
the threshold of the door before entering again upon life! Then, what a
walk through the streets with its brutal tumult of passengers, vehicles,
trains! Armand had remained alone in the little home. What had been his
thoughts in presence of the bed which, with strange modesty, she had
wished to remake herself?

"I am going to be grateful to my step-mother for making me wait on
myself when I was small," she said, with her tender gracefulness.

She knew by hearsay that men usually despise women when they have
nothing more to obtain from them. But her Armand was not like the rest,
since he had lavished upon her his most caressing kisses after their
common ecstacy. "I was there," she reflected; "it was when I had left
that he judged me. Judged?--and how? I deceived for his sake, but still
I deceived." Then once more she saw him, full of such tender passion,
that she fell asleep with a smile at his image, and at the thought:

"I shall see him to-morrow."

It was at the Théâtre des Variétés that they were to spend together
that second evening whose hours were to Helen sweet of the sweet--the
only truly rapturous ones of those sad loves. As soon as she awoke, she
had written her lover an interminable letter, and just as she was about
to send it, she had received from the young man, who for once was
faithless to his principles, an almost coaxing note. The nervous emotion
of the night before had lost its keenness in her, leaving behind it an
acuter susceptibility of heart with which to enjoy desired things with
more of inward thrilling. Chance willed it that Alfred should breakfast
away from home, and thanks to his absence the cruel impressions of the
previous evening were not renewed. Thus, when she arrived at the door of
the little stage-box in the theatre, she was in that delicious state of
soul in which there is, as it were, an inward voice that sings. At such
moments everything soothes, just as at others everything wounds.

It was nine o'clock. Helen was standing then in the passage, and while
the attendant was relieving her of her cloak she did not venture to ask
whether there was anyone already in the box. The door was opened, her
heart throbbed, and she perceived Armand rising to greet her. How she
loved him for having got there before herself and her husband. Once
seated, she at last ventured, after a few minutes, to look at him. He
appeared to her to be rather pale, and she felt some anxiety about it;
but he had such eyes as on his good days, those which rekindled all her
soul, and not those others whose mystery terrified her. What piece were
they playing on the stage? She could hear the music of the orchestra,
the voices of the actors, the applause; but the interest of the play
turned with her upon knowing whether Alfred would leave the box at the
next interval. The curtain fell. Her happy destiny willed it
that there should be a family of their acquaintance in the house.
Her husband went off to speak to these ladies. She was alone with her
beloved--alone!--and turning towards him she asked:

"Are you in love with me to-day?"

Armand did not reply, but under pretence of picking up his opera-glass,
which had fallen to the ground, he bent down and took her foot in his
hand. Through the silk she could feel a clasp which caused her to blush
and cast down her eyelids, as though she were incapable of supporting
the emotion that took possession of her. With a rapid gesture she seized
a bouquet composed of a spray of fern and a little lily-of-the-valley,
which the young baron wore in his button-hole, and slipped her larceny
into her bosom.

Alfred returned, the curtain rose again, scene succeeded to scene, and
act to act, but she was aware of nothing save of the fact that she was
almost too happy; and when, on the conclusion of the play, Armand gave
her his arm to lead her back to a carriage, she leaned upon this arm
with that absolute blending of motion, which is a surer token of love
than any other. How gladly she would have had him to take his place
beside her! But already he was departing, and she followed him with a
prolonged gaze through the crowd. Then the carriage extricated itself
from the confusion in the neighbourhood of the theatre. "Good-bye, my
love," she said in thought, while her husband took her hand, and said
aloud to her:

"You are better this evening?"

"Yes," she said, freeing her fingers, "but it is the excitement of the
play. I need rest so much. I have not slept for the last five nights."

Chazel understood only too well what this reply meant. He remained
silent in a corner of the carriage. Helen also refrained from speaking.
But a plan had already ripened in her head. The very next day, brought
by Alfred himself, she would visit their physician, whose consulting day
it was. She would enter the doctor's room alone, and relate to him some
symptoms or other; then she would say that the physician forbade all
intimate relations with her husband until further notice. She was too
well acquainted with the species of timid modesty which ruled Alfred not
to know that he would pity her without seeking to divine the mystery of
suffering with which she would shroud herself. Supported by this
plan--which would have been very repugnant to her had it not been
calculated to assure the security of her happiness--with what delight
did she suffer herself to be overpowered by sleep, by such a sleep as
that wherein we appear to sleep with clearness in our dreams! We sleep,
and something wakes within us--a happy portion of our spirit--which
ceases not to be sensible of the happiness that we shall find again
to-morrow on our pillow. Do we not know that we shall learn this
happiness anew by merely opening our eyes?

But neither on that following morning, nor on the mornings which came
after it during those few weeks of first intoxication through which she
passed, did Helen open her eyes immediately upon awaking. For several
minutes she kept her eyelids closed, that Armand's image might return to
her perfectly clear and complete before any other impression. If the day
about to be spent was an ordinary one, that is to say, without an
appointed visit to the Rue de Stockholm, she rose indolently. The
thought of her appointment was not present to make her feverish, and she
could think about her lover without anxiety.

On the previous evening, before going to bed, she had begun a letter to
him, which she concluded as soon as she had risen, so that "good-night"
and "good morning" might meet upon the same scrap of paper--a visible
symbol of the continuity of her love. Sometimes she found means to send
this letter, sometimes she kept it about her, folded in two in her
bosom, in order to deliver it herself. From Armand she expected no
reply. He had explained to her the prudential reasons on account of
which he did not write, and in this prudence she had not perceived the
lack of impulse and politic calculation of a man of gallantry, who
foresees approaching ruptures, and does not wish to leave any weapon in
the hands of his future enemy.

She used to close her letter with a seal, on which she had had engraved
a serpent in the shape of the letter S, because with an S began the name
of the street which had been the asylum of her happiest moments. The
laughter with which Armand had greeted this childishness, had indeed
pained her somewhat, but she had said to herself: "Men have not the same
way of loving as we have." Then, her dear task concluded, she addressed
herself to all the cares of her household, cheerful, and finding no duty
irksome. She was accompanied throughout her work by a phrase which she
used to repeat in a whisper: "He loves me, he loves me." Especially did
she occupy herself with her son, whom she now could kiss without
remorse. "No, dear child, I have taken nothing from you," she said to
him in her heart, and thanks to that power of sophistry characteristic
of happy love, she came to think in like manner respecting her husband.

She had never done anything but esteem him, and she continued to esteem
him as before. Since the pretence of the doctor's order had freed her
from all hateful advances on Alfred's part, she ingenuously extended to
him the joy with which her heart was filled. She no longer made him any
of those bitter replies which, in connection with the pettiest details,
betray the unconscious animosity of a woman against the man to whom she
belongs, and who has not been able to win her love. Did he at table
utter, as he used to do, an idea that was not her own; did he allow an
awkward gesture or a clumsy question to escape him, she had no capacity
within her for becoming angry, all her faculties being employed in
calculating the hour at which Armand would be with her, and in depicting
to herself the happiness that his presence would bring her. The hour
struck, and Armand was there. She felt so fully satisfied that she no
longer thought of watching him. He told her that he loved her; he proved
it to her by sacrificing his life in society, the theatres, his club,
and spending as many as two or three evenings in the week with her. What
interest would he have in deceiving her, and how could she do otherwise
than surrender herself to this divine felicity?

When the morning of a day selected for one of their secret meetings
arrived, she had not the strength to superintend her household. The
expectation of happiness was so keen that it bordered upon pain. On
these mornings, as on the first of them, she was absorbed, feverish and
prostrate by the fireside, in prolonged reflection, and in her excess of
feeling experienced an anguish that relaxed to delight when she had
reached the little suite of rooms in the Rue de Stockholm. These were
still the same; for having been obliged at their third meeting to take
other rooms in the same house, she had entreated Armand to return to the
former ones, to those which had witnessed her first intoxication.

To do this it had been necessary to take the lodgings no longer by the
day, but by the month. Armand had at first declined to do this,
affirming that he had good reasons, but in reality because he knew by
experience how greatly a movable place of meeting that is changed on
each occasion facilitates ruptures, and then--although he was generous
and rich he felt, without fully acknowledging it to himself, that there
was rather too great a difference between the twenty-five francs that
Madame Palmyre demanded for an afternoon, and the four hundred
represented by a monthly hiring. He had yielded nevertheless, just
because a small money question was involved, and because he thought
himself shabby for having so much as thought about it.

"It will only last six months after all," he had said to himself.

But how delighted the confiding Helen had been by this concession! What
quick work it had been with her to transform the commonplace rooms into
a personal domain to which she brought all kinds of dainty feminine
objects, slippers into which to slip her naked feet, a lace shawl to
throw over her quivering shoulders, a few pieces of material for draping
the table and the backs of the easy chairs, a frame in which to place a
photograph of Armand. She had not suspected that each of these little
attentions had had the double effect of disquieting De Querne with
respect to the difficulty of future separations, and of proving to him
that he had to deal with a lady of experience. Like all romantic women,
Helen was occupied with the subtleties of the voluptuousness common to
herself and to her lover, as though with an anxiety suggested by
sentiment. What renders a woman of this kind perfectly unintelligible to
a libertine is that he, on his part, has accustomed himself to separate
the things of pleasure from the things of the heart, and to taste this
pleasure amid degrading conditions; whereas a woman who is romantic and
in love, having known pleasure only as associated with the noblest
exaltation, transfers to her enjoyments the reverence which she has for
her moral emotions.

Helen approached with amorous piety, almost with mystic idolatry, the
world of mad caresses and embracings. This piety was centred upon the
man who had taught her to love, as upon a being above the range of all
discussion. It went for nothing that Armand, after the first days of a
self-abandonment produced by the novelty of physical possession,
multiplied the tokens of his egotism; his mistress found the means of
loving him the more for them. If he came late to their interview in the
Rue de Stockholm, she was so proud of having worsted him in the intimate
joust of love that she was almost grateful to him for doing so. If at
the last moment, and merely to suit his own convenience, he altered the
hour of their meeting, the gentle woman experienced a further pleasure
in feeling herself treated by her worshipped master as a slave, as a
thing which belonged to him, and which he disposed of according to his
fancy.

Was this paying too dear for the ecstasy which she felt in ascending the
staircase of the house (ah, how little she cared whether she were looked
at now!) in hearing the creaking of the key (her own key, for she had
now one of her own) in the lock, in walking through the three rooms
wherein abode the whole of her passionate life, and above all in holding
Armand beside her, close beside her? Evening was falling, the objects
about them were growing dim in outline, and she lay in his arms,
listening to the distant roar of the town, the noise of the neighbouring
railway, and, beneath their windows, the circles of little girls
singing: "Il était une bergère." Then she would give her lover kisses
so tender that he would ask her almost with anxiety:

"What have you got to trouble you?"

"Why, I have got you," she would reply.

Ah! why, why is passion not contagious? And what a monstrous thing it is
that of two lovers one should be able to feel so much and the other so
little!

So little! And yet the young man in these crafty interviews allowed
himself to speak to his mistress as though he were madly in love with
her. Was it in order to beguile with talk the real dryness of his heart?
Was it that the vibration of his troubled nerves was completed in
phrases as full of tenderness as he was lacking in it himself? If he had
had less power of analysis, he would have believed himself in love with
Helen, for when beside her he was seized with fits of the most violent
desire. But he knew that once out of her presence he would experience
nothing but a moral aching, an infinite weariness, a sense of the
uselessness of things, and, to sum up, a renewal of that torpor of soul
which the fever of the senses galvanised without dissipating. As for
Helen, she drank in every word coming at such moments from Armand's
lips, like a liquid that would enable her to traverse with intoxication
the space separating her from the next meeting.

It was, nevertheless, in the course of one of these talkings on the
pillow, he leaning on his elbow, and she lying against his breast and
watching him, that the first words of disenchantment were
pronounced--words after which she began to see her Armand no longer
through the mirage of her dreams, but such as he was, with the
frightful, deathly aridity of his soul.

"Ah, how I should like to have a child by you!" she had murmured to him
in the middle of one of these contemplations--"a child who had these
eyes," and she raised her hand to touch her lover's eyelids; "who had
these lips," and she brushed them with her fingers. "How I should love
him!"

"I do not wish for it," replied Armand. "I should feel too sad to see
him kissing as his father another than myself."

"But that would not be!" she exclaimed.

"It could not be avoided," he replied.

"I would go away with you," she said, "and I should be forced to do so.
How could Alfred keep me, now that I never give myself to him?"

While she was uttering these words, he looked at her, thinking to
himself:

"She, too! What strange desire is it that impels them all to give out
that they have ceased to belong to their husbands?"

And, in spite of himself, he smiled his evil smile, the smile with which
he had greeted other analogous confidences made by other lips, and this
smile had always been sufficient to prevent the women who had drawn it
upon themselves from returning to the subject. They have such facility
in changing a falsehood! But Helen, who did not speak falsely, could
endure neither the smile nor the look which accompanied it. Was it not
in order that she might never see them again that she had given herself
to her lover? It was the first time since then that she had encountered
the distrust which caused her so much pain at the beginning of her
connection with Armand, and loyal as she was, brave and straightforward,
she persisted:

"You do not believe me capable of belonging to two men at the same time?
Say no, my dear love; say that you have not such an opinion of me. From
the day on which I became your mistress, I ceased to be Alfred's wife."

"I am not jealous," said the young man; "I know that you love me."

"Say that you are not jealous, because you are sure that I am only
yours."

"If you wish it, I will say so," he replied, rendered somewhat impatient
by her persistence, and being especially but little anxious about the
prospects of paternity, flight, and drama which Helen's sudden words had
just opened up before him; and such irony was impressed upon his words
that the unhappy woman became silent.

"He does not believe me," she thought; "he does not believe me!"

On returning home that evening, Helen felt sad, even to death. She
withdrew to her own room, and, under pretence of a headache, went to bed
instead of coming down to dinner. She wept much. She could see dimly
through her grief what a difference there existed between Armand's love
and her own. "Ah!" she said to herself, "of what has he judged me
capable? He does not love me." And, seized again by the terrible dread
from which she had suffered on the very evening of the day when she had
given herself to him, she said again to herself:

"He is right. What I am doing is so wicked. But he ought to understand
that it is for his sake, and so excuse me." And she pressed her forehead
upon her pillows, falling suddenly, as very impassioned souls do, from
extreme felicity into extreme anguish.

This first perception was a very keen one, but it did not last. Upon
reflection, Helen compared her grief with the reason which had provoked
it. The sight of the disproportion between cause and effect sufficed to
calm her, the more so that Armand's eyes, when they met again, expressed
that ardour of desire in the fire of which her heart ever expanded. The
young man had quite understood the pain caused to his mistress by his
doubt, and had said to himself:

"Why torment her? She lies to me in order to please me the more, and I
am angry with her for the lie. 'Tis too unjust!"

This reasoning, which was a secret flattery to his pride, had the result
of making him more tender towards Helen. But when the period of lucidity
has begun in the case of a heart that loves, it does not close so
rapidly, and a few days after this first shock Helen was to endure a
second.

This time her lover and she had met, as they sometimes did, to walk
together in one of the avenues in the Jardin des Plantes. Helen was very
fond of the peaceful, country-like park, with its fine trees reminding
her of those in the grounds of the Archbishop at Bourges. She was
especially fond of the place where she had been waiting for Armand, the
long slender terrace the parapet of which runs along the side of the Rue
Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire. She sat down on a bench, from which she could
follow the hands of a large clock placed against one of the inner
buildings of the Hôpital de la Pitié. The melancholy courtyard of this
house of griefs, with its pruned and leafless trees, the gloomy bars on
the windows, and the old and dilapidated colouring of the walls, pleased
her as a contrast to the young and happy intimacy of the dear romance of
her love. She was sensible of a delightful lethargy in bringing back her
thoughts to herself, while the great omnibuses went heavily down the low
street almost beneath her feet. Some children were playing in the grove
of the labyrinth, and their shouts reached her, causing her to renew
far-off impressions obliterated by the years.

At last she perceived Armand at the end of the terrace, and she rose to
meet him, prettier than usual, as she knew from her lover's glance,
thanks to the contrast between her toilet and the humble
landscape--between her pink complexion and the dark leafage of the
cedars. Then they walked in the quiet portion of the gardens, that
portion which is set aside for plants--near trees two hundred years old,
whose aged trunks, plastered like walls, rested on supports of iron.
Whether the winter sky were bluish or veiled with mist, there was always
sunshine so far as she was concerned, when Armand was there.

They were wandering, then, side by side, in one of the avenues of this
vast garden on a dull afternoon early in February, and Helen was telling
her lover the story of the wife of one of Alfred's colleagues who had
just been cast off by her husband, on his discovering that she had two
lovers at once.

"The rest," said the young man, with his evil smile, "have them in
succession. The difference is a slight one."

"The rest?" said Helen, who suddenly felt again the melancholy emotion
of the previous week; "you do not believe that of all women?"

"Nay, I have no bad opinion of them," he replied. "I believe that they
are weak, and that men are deceivers. They find many men to swear that
they love them, and they believe one out of every ten. That makes a
pretty fair reckoning in the end."

"Then you think that there is no woman in existence who has had only one
love?"

"Few," said Armand. "But what does it matter?" he added gaily; "at each
fresh intrigue they fancy that they have never loved before, and it is
half true, like all truths--they have not loved altogether in the same
manner."

A question rose to Helen's lips. She wished to ask: "And I? What do you
think me? Do you believe that I have loved before you? Do you believe
that I shall love after you?" She dared not. Once more she was cruelly
impressed by the unknown element in her lover's character. No, it was
not she whom he doubted--not she, more than another. The man did not
believe in any woman. But how is love possible without belief? Is there
any sort of tenderness possible without trust? She did not answer
herself on these too painful topics, but she prolonged an involuntary
analysis of her relations with Armand, and suddenly light was thrown
within her upon many of the details which she had not interpreted.

Reflecting upon the distrustful characteristics which alarmed her in
this man, she in a retrospective fashion understood the silence with
which on certain occasions he had greeted her outpourings. She
remembered him listening to her while she spoke of her country life, and
of her moral solitude. "I was keeping myself for you beforehand, without
knowing you," she had said. He had made no reply. He had not believed
her. Another time she had talked to him of the future, and of the joy
that she felt in thinking that they were both young and so had many
years in which to love each other. He had made no reply. He had not
believed her. When she told him that, but for her son, she would have
gone far, very far away, that she might consecrate her entire life to
him alone, he kept silence; he had not believed her. Ah! his
incredulity, his horrible incredulity! She encountered it now even in a
quite recent past, but where she had not suspected it! Or no, was she
deceiving herself? Was it that Armand had believed in her so long as he
loved her, and was beginning to believe in her no longer now that he
loved her less?

Did he love her less? She did not admit for a moment that he had not
loved her at the beginning of their connection. He was an honourable
man, not a love criminal. He would not have asked her to be his had he
not been drawn to do so by all the forces of passion. Then, to explain
Armand's incredulity, she reverted to the young man's past, to the
mysterious deceptions of which her husband had formerly spoken to her.

"A woman has spoiled his heart," she said to herself.

At the thought of this she was pained by a different pain. She pitied
Armand more, and she was jealous with a dim, vague jealousy. Then she
asked herself:

"Will my love ever have power to restore to him the faith that he has
lost?"

Absorbed as she was in these thoughts, nothing of which she expressed to
the man who was their object, she no longer studied the impression which
she herself produced upon her lover. When Armand came to dine in the Rue
de La Rochefoucauld, and all three of them--he, Alfred, and
herself--remained to spend the evening in the little drawing-room, she
lapsed into abysmal silence. Alfred delighted, as a mathematician, in
abstract discussions, and set forth social, political, and economic
theories to the young baron, who listened to him with visible weariness
depicted upon his features. Then a moment would come when Helen,
emerging from her reflections, looked at him. She saw this expression of
weariness, and failed to comprehend its immediate and trifling cause.
"He is not happy with me," she would say to herself, and immediately
afterwards, with even greater simplicity, "He is not happy." So she
reflected, she who had given herself to him to obliterate a wrinkle of
melancholy upon his brow, she whose thoughts and feelings had but a
single aim: his happiness!

At other times, Armand would come, and at the first glance she discerned
that while away from herself he had passed through periods of sadness.
Then she felt quite paralysed. She trembled to speak to him, to utter a
word that, coming from her lips, would displease him. An indefinable
uneasiness took possession of her, a fear of showing her soul to the man
she loved, that was all the more painful, for the fact that she had at
first surrendered herself with such deep delight to the charm of feeling
aloud in his presence, and this uneasiness with her now went even to
their interviews in the Rue de Stockholm.

It was not that in the little home she would find her lover less
distracted with her beauty, less passionate than in the days which had
followed upon the complete surrender. But his kisses, and the sort of
frenzy with which he embraced her now, made her afraid. She dreaded to
feel the contrast between the ecstasy caused to her lover by physical
possession, and the evident weariness of soul which he displayed in
their almost daily interviews. It seemed as though the young man were
striving to electrify his heart with the desire for her person. When
Helen perceived this cruel truth, the enchantment of the hours of
meeting suddenly ceased. Sometimes she longed for these meetings with
the gloomiest ardour, that she might at least hear her lover's voice
lavishing upon her those phrases of intoxication which, at the beginning
of their intercourse, had been the adorable music that had exalted her.
Then she dreaded these same interviews, and their caresses into which
the senses perhaps entered more than the heart.

"Ah! my Armand," she had ventured to say to him, "you love my person
more than you love myself."

"Nay, do you not give yourself to me in giving me your person?" he had
replied.

Heavens! how gladly would she have asked him: "And you, do you give
yourself entirely to me?"

She had paused upon this question. Why interrogate him? Did she not know
that he would coax her with these soft blandishments of speech which do
not reveal the depths of the heart? Would she succeed in deciphering the
meaning this living enigma of a man's character, set thus before her for
weal or woe? Cruel heart! would it never yield her its secret? Kisses,
however, may be more tender than he who gives them, soft looks may
conceal a soul like a veil--and she was so thirsty for truth!

But whence came all this moral anxiety that preyed upon her? Nothing had
to all appearance occurred between them, and already she was alternately
asking herself:

"Does he love me as much as at first? Does he love me? Has he ever loved
me? Can he love me?"

And every minute she struck upon some trifling fact that heightened her
doubt. She ceaselessly encountered that mistrust which degraded her,
that irony which bruised her, that dryness of heart which reduced her to
despair. Some of their friends from Bourges would arrive in Paris, and
Alfred would say to De Querne:

"Do not come to-morrow evening; you would be too much bored. We are
having some acquaintances from the country."

"When I am going to be in your way," the young man would say to Helen
next day, "why do you not give me notice yourself, instead of doing it
through your husband?"

"To be in my way?" she would ask.

"Oh! why deceive me? You have had some flirtations over there for which
you blush here. You do not want me to verify your familiarity with this
man or the other. But what can that signify to me since you did not know
me? What does signify is to see you deceiving me."

Deceiving! always deceiving! This word recurred in Armand's
conversations--indefatigably; she read it in his eyes, his gestures, his
thoughts. Did she find herself obliged at the last moment to fail at one
of their meetings in the Rue de Stockholm, she knew that he would not
believe in her excuse. But a man of that kind--no, such a man cannot
love.

"Ah, love me, love me!" she would murmur feverishly as she drew closer
to him after passing through one of those crisis of anguish in which she
had felt how little her lover's heart belonged to her.

"Why, I do love you," he would reply, without understanding the agony of
which this agony was a last sigh. _She_ understood that the word had not
the same signification to him as to her, and the whole of the inward
tragedy whereof she was the silent, grief-stricken heroine, burst forth
one frightful day. Like a captive who, during his sleep, has been bound
by his conquerors to a corpse, and awakes to discover himself chained to
this horrible companion, she found herself, a living heart, a heart
susceptible to love, and happiness, and life, fastened to a corpse-like
heart, icy, moveless--slain!

When the reality of this came before her, she quickly flung herself
back. All that she had believed genuine was deceptive, all that she had
believed full was empty; but she would not acknowledge this to herself.
She treated as chimeras those almost indefinable tokens which enable a
tormented soul to penetrate another to its remotest depths. She loved
Armand, and she wished to love him. Was not her entire life staked now
on this card? It was only four months since she had become his mistress.
What! four such short months! It is a horrible thing that in so short a
time one can pass, without any visible shame, from the sublimest
hope--that of making amends for all the injustice in a man's destiny--to
the bitterest conviction of impotence. Scarcely four months, and he was
not happy, nor was she. Would she never again ascend the incline down
which she felt herself falling?

She caught glimpses of the future with unconquerable anguish. Ah, if it
were true that he could not love, what would become of her. She now
existed only through him; she could not exist otherwise. And he seemed
to have no suspicion of the crisis of sorrow through which she was
passing. It was her own fault; why did she not show him all her soul?
That again she was unable to do. Would she ever be able? And when her
grief caused her excessive suffering she murmured: "Strange being, why
have I loved you? And nevertheless I cannot regret that I have done so."



CHAPTER V


Alfred Chazel had been quite aware that a mysterious drama was being
played in his household. He had been sensible of it, dimly at first. It
has not been sufficiently remarked how much the peculiar nature of
imagination, when developed by the habits of the mind, prevails over
sensibility itself, and modifies it. Alfred had an altogether
mathematical intellect, very skilful in abstract reasonings, very
unskilful in the perception of the real. He was as little acquainted
with his wife's character after several years of married life as he had
been on the day when he fell in love with her during a visit to Monsieur
de Vaivre. But it was not only Helen's soul, with its depths, and
complexities, and singularities, that was unknown to him; it was her
whole life. Just as he had accepted the principles of conduct of the
middle class to which he belonged, so had he accepted its ideas; and to
the credit of the French provincial middle class it must be said that
their morals are, relatively speaking, very pure. The men have, perhaps,
in their youth low pleasures. But the married women who cause themselves
to be talked about are immediately pointed at in such a way that the
number of them is very small.

Alfred had on this point preserved the impressions received in his own
family, impressions which no experience had corrected; for very chaste
men are like very virtuous women, and no one reposes in them those
confidences which illuminate the unclean depths of life, the grossness
hidden beneath sentimental phraseology, the sensual egotism dissembled
beneath the hypocrisy of pretences. The notion of suspecting Helen of
having a lover could no more occur to him than the notion of suspecting
her of theft or forgery, and much less the notion that she had for lover
De Querne, his own companion in childhood.

Towards the latter he entertained a feeling of friendship all the more
intense that there was blended with it an element of admiration. When
they were studying on the same form at school, he used to look at him,
and the refinement of Armand's manners, his beauty, his intellect, his
halo of social superiority, inspired him with a sort of fetichism.
Himself so modest, so hard-working, so akin to the people, he had
vaguely considered his friend as a being of a somewhat different
species; and when a very clear vision of a difference of this kind
produces neither hatred nor envy, it gives birth to an almost blind
enthusiasm. Never had Chazel judged De Querne. He had become so
habituated to taking him as he was, that he did not even ask himself
what manner of friendship Armand was giving him in return for his own.
When they had separated, and the young baron used to send about two
hastily scribbled pages in reply to the interminable letters from his
old companion, the latter would say to himself:

"Armand is very fond of me, but it is wearisome to him to write. It is
only natural. He is such an agreeable fellow, and so much sought after;"
and this was all the complaint of an excellent heart that was ever
deceived by a trifling exhibition of sympathy.

At every visit that he paid to Paris he met with the same reception from
Armand--a clasp of the hand, an invitation to luncheon, to dinner, to
the theatre. These tokens of comradeship, at once indifferent and
cordial, appeared to him proofs of loyal affection. Not having observed
Armand any more than, once married, he was to observe his wife, he could
not measure the depth of the abyss which from year to year yawned still
wider between his old classmate and himself. He knew not how to
recognise the visible signs of radical indifference: the absolute
dumbness of the young baron respecting himself, his looks of inattention
during their conversations.

While Alfred, for example, was detailing to him the beginnings of his
love for Mademoiselle de Vaivre, the innocent privacies of his furtive
wooing and his hopes, Armand would smoke a cigar, and think of the loves
which had crossed his own life, amid all the studied elegance and
corruption which at Paris make a woman of pleasure so complex a thing,
an extreme attained in the art of refining upon voluptuousness. He could
by anticipation see in the young girl loved by his friend an awkward and
undesirable creature, with red hands, badly-made dresses, and white
stockings.

Like all men in whom the source of sensibility is not flowing and rich,
he discovered pretexts for disgust in the trifles of petty external
fact, and he involuntarily despised Chazel for not being disgusted like
himself. This contempt was even so continuous, that it prevented him
from looking seriously on the life of this worthy student, this prize of
social excellence, as he used to call him in his absence. The
astonishment caused him by Helen's distinguished appearance, had merely
prompted him to say to himself below his breath:

"It's only ninnies like him that ever get hold of such a woman as that."

Alfred had trembled to know the judgment passed by his friend upon his
wife, and had been enraptured to find that she pleased him. Armand's
constant presence in their home, after they had settled at Paris, caused
him intense joy. He became still more attached to his friend, because he
appreciated the woman he himself loved so dearly, and to the latter
because she appreciated his friend.

"I knew he would please you," he used to say ingenuously to his wife.
"He is such an affectionate fellow, for all his sceptical ways."

And he would tell her how, in the days of their early youth, the elder
Chazel had been in want of ten thousand francs to pay a brother's debts,
and how Armand had immediately lent them.

For the first few months Helen listened to these praises with brilliant
eyes, and a happy soul; she found in them reason for loving still more
the man she loved. Since she had been the young man's mistress, these
same praises darkened her countenance as they wounded her love. Did not
the husband's trust degrade the lover? If Alfred's ingenuous sensibility
discovered in this sign, as well as in many others, a metamorphosis in
his wife's character, he was incapable of discerning its secret cause.
It was just this too delicate sensibility which rendered it intolerable
to him to think continuously of evil instincts, disgraceful actions,
treacheries. There is hardness of heart in all distrust. The admission
of evil tortured Chazel, and he forced himself not to think about it.

What, however, was the matter with Helen, for she was not the same? He
had begun by believing her seriously ill, after the visit to the doctor,
which had passed off as Helen had foreseen. He had accompanied her, had
waited in the drawing-room of the celebrated practitioner, who was a
friend of Armand's, and had afterwards been too modest to ask her for
any details. He was one of those men who shroud the feminine nature in a
deep veneration, to whom the matters relating to the sex are confined
within inaccessible mystery, who have never looked upon complete
nakedness. Let him who will reconcile women's pretensions to refinement
with the profound contempt which most of them feel for such men, while
the purest have in them a slight weakness towards the wicked fellow who
has seen and done everything. Everything? They do not know what this is,
and they dream about it.

Although deeply in love with Helen in the physical meaning of the term,
Alfred had found a species of pleasure in sacrificing to the
requirements of a health so dear, pleasures which she had never shared;
but having scarcely any points of comparison, he had come to dream no
more. Yes, this renunciation was sweet to him--sweet and yet useless,
since Helen's countenance was shadowed every day, and she was evidently
suffering. When Alfred saw her absorbed in indefinite silence, when he
was aware of the thinness and paleness of the cheeks that he had known
so full and rosy, he gave way to unexpressed pity.

"What is the matter with her?" he would then ask himself. "What if she
is in serious danger, and dares not tell me, that she may not make me
anxious?"

The result of these reflections was that his ingenuousness and
trustfulness prompted him to venture upon exactly the same procedure
that would have been dictated to him by suspicion. Helen had thought it
necessary to speak to him on several occasions of fresh visits to the
doctor, in order to avoid further attempts at intimacy.

"Well," said Chazel to himself, "I will go to the doctor;" and one
afternoon towards the end of that winter he again found himself, this
time alone, in the waiting-room, an apartment furnished like a museum
with that wealth of knick-knacks which is characteristic of modern
interiors.

The French windows opened upon the garden of the old house, the
ground-floor of which was occupied by Dr. Louvet. The latter belonged to
that generation of society scientists who visit the hospital in the
morning, receive their clients in the afternoon, and find means to be as
witty as idlers in a drawing-room at ten o'clock in the evening.
Further, they are intelligent enough to prepare for the prolonged
waitings of their fair patients an adornment wherein the latter may find
something of what they have left at home, and an aspect of things
similar to that to which they have been accustomed. Alfred involuntarily
felt uncomfortable in this vast room which, with its tapestries and
wainscotings and pictures, appeared to be intended rather for lordly
receptions than for the use of suffering humanity.

He experienced a feeling of relief on entering the doctor's room, in
which there was nothing but books--a contrast skilfully contrived by
Louvet, who was as able in stage management as he was excellent in
diagnosis. He was a man still young and very fair, with a face that
suggested somewhat the traditional type of the Valois, and dark eyes of
singular penetration. He was slight and pale, and when he placed his
finger against his temple--a familiar gesture of his which was
reproduced in a fine portrait, by Nittis, that hung in the room--he
presented a strange blending of extreme delicacy and studied posture,
which women especially found imposing.

"How is Madame Chazel?" he asked in the polished and detached tone which
he always affected.

"Well, doctor," said Alfred, "it is precisely about her health that I
have come to consult you."

"And why has she not come herself?" asked the physician.

"She does not even know of the step I have taken," replied the husband.
"She causes me much anxiety. You know how she is wasting away; you have
seen her several times lately."

Doctor Louvet listened in the attitude of his portrait, with his eyelids
half closed. Although he was completely master of himself, as became a
man accustomed daily to receive the confidences of many persons deprived
of hypocrisy by the presence of danger, he was unable, on hearing these
words of Chazel's, to restrain a movement of his eyelids. Rapid as was
this movement and the glance which accompanied it, it could not escape
poor Alfred, whose whole powers of attention were at that moment
concentrated upon the doctor's face. Why did that glance cause him a
little shiver, and tempt him to ask:

"When have you seen my wife?"

But it was a question impossible to put. Moreover, the physician was
already making his reply.

"When Madame Chazel did me the honour to consult me last"--and this word
expressed both everything and nothing--"she appeared to me to be
suffering more particularly in the nervous system."

And he entered into lengthened details respecting the delicacy of the
feminine organisation, dwelling upon the contrast between the life to
which his patient had been accustomed in the country and the life of
Paris. Lacking in observation as Alfred might be, his habit of reasoning
with precision forced him to recognise the vagueness of this talk, and
he asked somewhat heedlessly:

"And you have no observation to make to the husband?"

"None," replied Louvet with a half smile, "unless it be to spoil our
dear patient a good deal and to contradict her as little as possible."

Alfred's heart sank within his breast, and while the liveried servant,
who waited fashionably in the physician's ante-chamber, was assisting
him to put on his overcoat, he was already being gnawed by this thought:

"Helen has deceived me. It was not the doctor who ordered her to live
apart from me. She has come to have a horror of me; but, what have I
done to her?"

What had he done to her? A deep melancholy took possession of him from
the time of this visit to Louvet, of which he was very careful not to
speak. What was the use of adding another pain to those which Helen
already felt? For she suffered, as he could see--but why? Ingenuously he
made it his study to find out the wrongs that he had done her. What
frightened him most was that he could almost palpably feel the whole
mystery in his wife's character. This is one of the most cruel trials
that can come to a loving husband. When she was beside him, and alone
with him, drawing out the stitches in her tapestry, he used to look at
her and ask himself of what she was thinking.

Of what? All his superiority of education availed him nothing in the
presence of this silent creature whose mere presence troubled him in so
obscure a fashion. The desire of her person, a desire the satisfaction
of which he was incapable of demanding as a right, paralysed him with a
sort of nervous suffering which, united to natural timidity and to the
anxiety respecting this increasing paleness, was growing into a
veritable torture. And then, when Armand arrived in the middle of such a
silence, a comparison was inevitably instituted on Alfred's part between
his friend's easy manners and his own constraint, and especially between
the difficulty which he found in talking to Helen and the abundance of
words that came to the Baron de Querne. Helen, too, appeared to make the
same comparison, for in Armand's presence she took an interest at once
in what was being said.

These visits gave Chazel an uncomfortable feeling; he experienced a
vague impression that he was in the way in his own house. He had several
times remarked when it was he himself who interrupted a _tête-à-tête_
between Armand and his wife, that the conversation suddenly ceased on
his arrival; he recognised this by the brightness in Helen's eyes. On
such occasions, that he might not give way to the vexation which he
felt, he used to engage in those already mentioned abstract
disquisitions. He saw that his old comrade had become more of a friend
to his wife than to himself, he was hurt by it, he reproached himself
for feeling hurt, and by the mere fact that he reproached himself,
reflected about it.

He thus grew accustomed continually to unite the thoughts of his friend
with that of his wife. But when we depict to ourselves simultaneously
the images of two living persons, it is not long before we depict them
acting upon each other, and in spite of himself Alfred came to consider
the relations which united Armand to Helen. To ascertain the cause of
his wife's suffering he had proceeded by elimination, instinctively
studying as a problem the data that he possessed concerning her, and
every time that he dwelt upon the mystery, he always struck upon a
thought which he used to drive away, and which came back again. At other
times he asked himself whether she had not confided the reason of her
grief to De Querne, was on the point of questioning his friend, and then
abstained from doing so.

"It would not be delicate," he thought to himself; "if she says nothing
to me, she has her reasons for it."

One day, however, he saw her so pale, so downcast, that he took courage.

"You are suffering, Helen," he said; "will you find a better friend than
I am to whom to confide your troubles, whatever they may be?"

"Nay, I have no troubles," she had replied, and she spoke falsely once
more.

Why were her eyes then filled with that moisture which speaks of
suppressed tears? Ah! it was because the loving kindness of her husband
was a torture to her in her torture, were it only by its contrast to the
frigidity of another man, the memory of whom was then passing through
her heart. Why did the same memory pass at the same moment through
Alfred's imagination? She, however, kept this memory before her mind,
while he repelled it.

"Helen," he said to himself, "is an honourable woman. Armand is an
honourable man. What right should I have to insult them with suspicion?
He takes an interest in her; did I not desire that it should be so? She
is attached to him--and why not? Can there not be honourable friendship
between a man and a woman?"

Such were the habitual reasonings by which Alfred sought to stifle the
growing viper of suspicion. But the more he reasoned in this way, the
more his suspicion augmented, since by reasoning about his distrust he
thought about it, and in consequence rendered it more present to his
mind. He was striving against these inward thoughts one afternoon of
that same month of February, when returning on foot from the Orleans
terminus, whither a piece of duty had led him. The weather was fine, the
pale, fresh azure of the cool winter days was floating over Paris, and
although it took him out of his way, Alfred entered the Jardin des
Plantes, in order to enjoy his walk a little. At a turning in one of the
main avenues of the garden, his heart beat more quickly, for walking
slowly under the bare trees, and talking together in an absorbed
fashion, he had just perceived a woman who had Helen's figure and a man
with the figure of Armand.

Yes, it was indeed they. He knew so well his wife's easy gait, and that
other somewhat lagging step which reminded him of so many strolls in a
college quadrangle, not very far from this spot. But why was he seized
with acute pain at this meeting? What could be more natural than that
Helen should walk thus with Armand, what more natural or more innocent?
Do people who wish to do wrong come in this way into a public garden?
They were not even arm-in-arm. Yes, but why had not Helen mentioned at
luncheon that she was going to walk with Armand? Did she not know that
he would think nothing of it? Hiding from him? Why?

"I will go up to them," he thought. "I will speak to them, and soon see
whether she is confused. But no; it would look as though I had followed
them. Perhaps they have met by chance? What if I were now to follow
them?"

The thought of such espionage sickened him.

They were still walking in front of him in that vast avenue which runs
beside the bison enclosure and the bear-pits. Overhead, the gigantic
trees curved their naked boughs, the blackness of which stood out sadly
against the blue sky. Chazel felt his limbs shaking beneath him, and
sank upon a bench. He told himself that he must either look upon this
meeting as a most natural thing, and in that case it was childish not to
speak to his wife and her friend, or else--and it was just this second
hypothesis whose sudden thrusting into his mind paralysed him.

"All," he said to himself, "will be explained on her return."

Some minutes passed away in this anguish and irresolution. The couple
disappeared in the direction of the little hill that leads to the
labyrinth. Chazel was almost happy at their disappearance. It provided
him with a pretext for not acting immediately. And, in fact, he went out
of the garden by the opposite gate, saying to himself, in vindication of
the impotence of will to which he had just fallen a victim, that it was,
moreover, the surest way of arriving at a certainty. If Helen spoke to
him in the evening about this walk, the walk was, as he believed it to
be, innocence itself. If not--but what sort of ideas was he again taking
into his head?

The shock had been so great that, instead of returning home, he walked
about for part of the afternoon. The advent of the moment when he would
see his wife again was now what he desired, and at the same time what he
most dreaded. He was on the point of turning back and entering the
garden again, but it was too late.

He stepped upon the deck of one of the boats that ply on the Seine, and
there, mingling with the crowd of lower middle-class folk, he watched
the water breaking against the arches, and shattering against the quays,
the construction of which he mechanically examined; and he followed with
his gaze the huge lighters, with the clean little painted houses
standing in the centre. The air became keen, but he did not notice it
until he had reached Auteuil. He landed under the viaduct, amid the din
of the fair which every afternoon attracts such a strange tribe of
prostitutes and their followers. He returned on foot along the
interminable parapet. His anguish was so great that he could not
remember having ever experienced anything analogous to it. His heart was
paining him in his left breast, so that it seemed as though breath would
fail him. Night was falling fast, the winter night, whose oncoming is so
melancholy. The death struggle of the light is so cruelly like the agony
of thought!

Here he was at last at his own street, in his own courtyard, in front of
his own door. He did not ask whether his wife had returned, but he went
straight to her room, and knocked modestly. Helen's clear voice said,
"Come in." He was in her presence, and involuntarily he looked at her
feet. She still wore her walking boots, with that trifle of dust on them
which shows that a woman has gone on foot. Ah! how he would have liked
to question her! But instinctively he grasped that which constitutes the
powerlessness of all jealousy; what is the use of entering, with a woman
who is mistrusted, upon a discussion turning upon this very mistrust?
She will not destroy it by saying "No," seeing that there is no belief
in her.

"Where do you come from so late?" Helen asked tranquilly. No, never had
a being capable of falsehood such beautiful eyes, and such a beautiful
smile.

"Guess," he said, with more calmness. She was, no doubt, going herself
to tell him of her walk, and as she was silent he went on:

"From Auteuil. I walked because I did not feel well. And you?" he
questioned, with an anxiety grown terrible once more.

"I have been shopping," she replied.

Ah! why had he not the courage to tell her that she had just uttered a
falsehood? He sat down with the sharp point buried still deeper in his
heart. She let the conversation drop, and resumed her book.

"A frightful novel that Monsieur De Querne lent me," she said. "It is
the story of a woman who deceives her lover, and does so while loving
him. Authors don't know what to invent nowadays."

Her eyes shone as she uttered these words. She had pronounced the word
"lover" with an intonation which distressed Alfred. She seemed to impart
a mysterious depth to those two syllables. Ah! he would have given his
blood at that moment to have her speak to him of her walk! After all,
she had perhaps attached no importance to her reply. But neither then,
nor at dinner, nor during the evening that followed, did she breathe a
word about it. About ten o'clock, Armand arrived in his dress coat; he
was going out afterwards. She received him with the words:

"You have been quite well since yesterday?"

Ah, the deceiver! the deceiver!

Alfred had seated himself at the corner of a table under the pretence of
having some papers to examine, and from time to time he watched them
conversing, those two beings whom he loved best of all the world. Was it
possible that a criminal mystery united them, and at the expense of
himself, whom they had betrayed? This Armand, whom he had seen playing
in his schoolboy dress--had he been his brother he could not have loved
him more. What nobility of brow! what grace of gesture! And this was the
man who was a villain, for to deceive such a friend as himself was
villainy.

And she, with her medallion-like profile, with her modesty and proud
reserve! No; it was he, Alfred, who was losing his senses. A walk in a
garden--what could be more innocent? Perhaps--for he knew that she was
charitable, and so did Armand--yes, perhaps, they were both going to
visit the poor. But, then, why this reticence? why this deception? And
why did he himself keep silence? To this he could have given no reply,
except that speaking was beyond his strength, just as acting had lately
been.

And Armand and Helen conversed with tranquillity. He listened to their
voices uttering words of unconcern, and all his dim suspicions, all his
repressed doubts, came back simultaneously to his soul.



CHAPTER VI


When Alfred Chazel had said good-night to Helen as usual and was left
alone, he began to suffer with an intensity of which he himself could
not have believed himself capable. He had now no longer any need to
discuss the fact. His wife had lied to him. The clearness of this simple
fact prostrated him. He could hear her say in that voice whose slightest
inflections he knew so well:

"How have you been since yesterday?"

The last four syllables rang pitilessly in his ear and to the depth of
his heart. He had just lost, never, never again to recover it, complete
trust in that gentle voice, in these beloved eyes. There are no such
things as petty insincerities; a person who has once deceived may always
deceive. The perception of this natural law, the same perception which
had prevented Armand from believing in Helen, was torturing Alfred at
this moment. Liar! Liar! When he came to the utterance of this word, he
gave forth an outbreaking of grief as he paced to and fro about his
study, to which, as often of an evening, he had withdrawn.

On one of the walls was displayed a long blackboard, covered with a
medley of algebraical formulæ. Between the two windows stood a white
wooden table constructed so as to facilitate writing in a standing
position. Another low table, intended for correspondence; a bookcase
filled with tall mathematical volumes; engraved likenesses of Lagrange,
Fresnel, Cauchy, and Laplace; a leathern divan, and a carpet, completed
the furniture of a room, the abstract, peaceful aspect of which
presented a strange contrast to the disturbed countenance of the man who
was walking about in it at that moment; and the contrast symbolised only
too well the drama that was being enacted in the existence of a man born
for study, for prolonged and painful thought, for happy labour, and
constrained to action by the sudden revelation with which he had just
been visited.

Yes, the necessity for action was present and inevitable. To rest at the
suspicion which was tormenting him at that moment was what he could not
do--neither morally, without losing self-respect, nor physically, for
the pain of it was too great. As he raised his head with a gesture of
despair, his eyes encountered the board; he perceived the signs of his
calculations traced in chalk with that absolute equality of lettering,
that absence of thick and thin strokes, which imparted an appearance of
incomparable lucidity to his writing. The sudden sight of this changed
the current of his grief.

"Let us reason out the thing," he said aloud, and involuntarily he
recovered for subservience to his passion all the methodical habits
contracted by his intellect. "Yes," he went on, "let us reason it out."

He sat down beside his fire in an easy-chair, and, with his forehead
resting upon his hands, gathered together all his thoughts, which were
not long in shaping themselves to the following dilemma:

"There are two alternatives. Either the walk and the falsehood are to be
explained by some petty, innocent motive, a visit of charity or a chance
meeting, and they have not spoken to me about it owing to a false dread
of displeasing me; or else, the walk and the falsehood indicate that
there is a mystery between Helen and Armand. Let us speak out and say
that they love each other. There is no means of avoiding the
alternative. In the first case, I should have to scold Helen for
believing me to be so childishly jealous; in the second--"

Here his imagination paused, being taken unawares. There was within him
no anticipatory prevision of a misfortune of the kind. The practical
rules, received and accepted in his youth, upon which his whole life was
based, did not afford an answer to this cruel hypothesis. On the other
hand, he had for the determining of his will neither that dread of
public opinion which serves to guide nearly all husbands in similar
crises, nor the startling physical vision, that besetting, unendurable
vision which maddens a jealous man by showing him sexual union, fleshly
abandonment, irredeemable pollution.

The fact that Helen and Armand loved each other did not for a moment
signify to Chazel that she was the young man's mistress. It signified
that she had given him her heart. But then what was his duty as her
husband? For lack of previously adopted principles, he suffered himself
to be led away by the mania for absolute, ideal theories that is
characteristic of mathematicians.

"My duty, if I am becoming an obstacle to her happiness, is to sacrifice
myself. She must be left free; all must be given up."

He thought immediately of his son; he could see the little gestures, the
pretty face, the bright eyes of the child whom he had already moulded in
his own likeness.

"Ah!" he said to himself, "I have no right to forsake him. But to take
him with me--to deprive his mother of him?"

The tragic nature of this possibility disconcerted his intellect afresh,
and like a timorous swimmer who has ventured a few fathoms too far, he
speedily returned to the place where he could keep his footing, where
his reasoning stood firm close to the facts.

"I am losing my head," he groaned. "The question is, does she love him?
Does she not love him?"

He had risen once more, and was walking with a more hurried step than
before.

"How can I find out? How? how?" he asked himself, and the emotion of
uncertainty became so insupportable to him that he said to himself: "Let
there be an end of it. I will come to an understanding with Helen--and
at once."

He looked at the clock which was pointing to midnight. He had been in
these throes for an hour. He left his study with the lamp in his hand.
The narrow wooden staircase, which was covered with a red carpet, was
devoid of sound and light. All the servants were in bed. He went down
the steps of the staircase leaning on the bannisters, his legs
trembling, his lips parched, his throat choking. He was in front of the
door of his wife's bedroom. He gave two slight knocks with the back of
his hand. There was no reply. He turned the brass handle and leaned
against it. The door was double-locked, and the key was inside.

"She is asleep," he said to himself.

The action of descending the stairs, and then of pressing against the
door, had used up the feverish impulse produced by excess of
uncertainty. Instead of knocking again, he paused, motionless.

"She is asleep," he repeated to himself; "if I awake her, what shall I
say to her?"

He remained standing against the wall, with the lamp at his feet,
listening. Only the murmur of nocturnal Paris reached him, and he
reflected. He could see by anticipation the manner in which Helen would
receive him. She would be lying in her bed, her plaited hair rolled
about her head, while the lace of her fine night-dress quivered at neck
and wrist.

At the thought of this, Alfred experienced a thrill of amorous emotion
that restored to him the timidity with which the desire of his wife's
person always overwhelmed him, and he continued to picture the scene.

"What shall I say to her?--'You have lied to me.' And what will she
reply?"

He foresaw the countless pretexts that Helen could advance to explain
her walk.

"I shall ask her: 'Are you in love with Armand?'"

He felt himself incapable of being the first to articulate the words in
that way. Moreover, what might not the result of the question be? If it
were not true that she was in love with Armand, he would inflict useless
pain upon her, which would aggravate still further their divorce of
intimacy. What if it were true? She would not acknowledge it. She had
lied just now. What would another lie cost her?

Irresolution proved the stronger. He went up to his study again without
having made a fresh attempt. There was a lull for a few minutes, such as
succeeds to acute crises. It was one o'clock in the morning.

"I will go to sleep," he said to himself. "When I awake it will be time
enough to make up my mind."

As was usual with him, he arranged a few papers, carefully covered up
the fire to avoid accidents, and was almost tranquil as he got into bed.
But scarcely was he there before his anguish began again, more torturing
than before. The avenue in the Jardin des Plantes again extended its
vault of naked branches beneath which Helen and Armand passed along.
What were they saying to each other? The well-known voice uttered again
the fatal syllables, "Since yesterday!" Ah! Liar! liar! the deceiver!

Once more the necessity for action pressed in its inevitableness upon
this purely speculative nature. His thoughts distributed themselves
again into two groups.

"Either they love each other or they do not love each other. If they
do?--If they do not?--How can I find out? From her? From him?"

The thought of coming to an explanation with De Querne presented itself
abruptly, and as this thought, while satisfying the need for acting,
deferred the action for several hours, Alfred began mentally to muster
all the arguments that told in its favour.

Such an explanation would not involve any of the drawbacks which must
follow a conversation with Helen. If Armand and she did not love each
other, everything would remain as it was, since she was in ignorance of
her husband's suspicion and of the step that he had taken. If they were
in love with each other, he would extort the acknowledgment of the fact
more readily from the loyalty of his friend. The latter at least had not
lied to him. Could he have replied otherwise than as he did to Helen's
phrase, that simple phrase that was so terrible to himself, Alfred: "How
have you been since yesterday?" To receive the young man with these
words was tantamount to a prohibition to speak.

Again, there are suspicions respecting which one friend has no right to
keep silence towards another. If he, Alfred, were to learn that Armand
had harboured an insulting distrust of him in his heart without speaking
of it, would he not feel deeply wounded? Would he not consider such
silence an unwarrantable affront? Well, then, he would not offer this
affront to De Querne. He would go to him with open hand and heart, and
show him all his trouble. Such a step had further in its favour the fact
that it would involve practical results. He might ask his friend to come
to the Rue de La Rochefoucauld less frequently. If he were mistaken in
his distrust, and if the real cause of Helen's grief had been confided
to Armand, he might speak of it without indelicacy on that occasion, in
the course of the conversation.

During the whole of that long night he turned this plan over and over,
and in the end it impressed itself upon his will. Towards morning, he
fell into that dark overwhelming sleep which follows upon excessive
deperditions of nervous energy. Upon awaking, he again found himself
face to face with his resolution of the night before; he foresaw, unless
he acted, a day worse than that horrible night, and at nine o'clock he
was ringing at Armand's door, not without a thrilling of his whole
heart, yet with decision. These abstract souls, to whom action is so
repellent, are capable of energy, provided this energy be sustained by
reasoning, just as impassioned souls derive their force from blind
impulse, and arid souls from a clear perception of self-interest.

Many days had gone by since Chazel had entered the rooms in the Rue
Lincoln. The valet who answered his ring, an old servant of the De
Querne family, was the same who formerly used to come to the school to
take Armand away for his holidays. The few words that this man uttered
when asking about his master's old companion with the familiarity of
former days, brought real comfort to Alfred. He experienced an awakening
of memories that to him was equivalent to an impression of friendship.

"The baron is in his bath," the servant went on, "but if Monsieur Alfred
will walk into the drawing-room," and he opened the door with attentive
assiduity, "and read the papers," and he handed them. Then kneeling in
front of the fire to put on a fresh log, he asked:

"Will Monsieur Alfred take tea with the baron?"

These trifling attentions softened Alfred; in them he found as it were a
palpable renewal of the intimacy in which he had lived with Armand. The
aspect of the room heightened this first impression still more. He knew
the room well; he had seen it forming year by year, and furniture being
added to furniture. At every visit he was aware of some slight
alterations.

"Stay, that's new, is it not?" he would say to his friend, who used then
to explain to him the convenience or rarity of his recent acquisition.

He went up to the low bookcase, and by the look of the binding
recognised some books which must have been college prizes. He took one
out and saw the stamp of the Vanaboste School printed on the green
shagreen. He replaced the volume, and the courtyard of the school was
revived before his mind. What delightful hours had been spent in walking
round that yard with Armand--an Armand who, despite the years, resembled
the Armand of to-day; and to convince himself of the fact, he proceeded
to look at a profile of his friend done by Bastien-Lepage, in the
refined and exact manner of this master's portraits. From the portrait
Alfred passed on to the photographs scattered over the mantelpiece; the
comrades, living or dead, that they represented, had been known by him,
ay, by him also.

Ah! from the most insignificant objects in the apartment there issued a
voice to protest on behalf of the friendship that united De Querne and
himself. After the anguish of the night before, this atmosphere of
settled affection operated powerfully on Alfred's heart and brought him
relief.

"How well it was I came," he reflected, throwing himself into an
easy-chair, and looking at the fire, the flames of which were assuming a
joyous brightness: "I will tell him everything in a straightforward way:
what is the good of artifice! And I have full confidence that everything
will be explained."

He had reached this stage in his meditations, when he felt a hand laid
on his shoulder. It was the hand of Armand, who had just come in. But
Alfred's absorption had been too great to admit of his being disturbed
by the noise of the door. The young baron was wearing a handsome morning
jacket of black quilted silk, light trousers, and thin patent leather
shoes, while all about him there floated the fresh odour of a scent
which Alfred suddenly recognised. This same delicate aroma was diffused
around her by his wife in the morning hours when she went about in those
loose dresses which best indicated the suppleness of the lines of her
person. The fact that Helen and Armand made use of the same perfume was
sufficient, in Alfred's present condition of soul, to make the soothing
influence of youthful memories give way once more to the indefinable,
the vague and torturing suspicion of the night before. He looked at his
friend, but the latter seemed to be occupied solely with the
preparations for his breakfast. The valet had wheeled a little movable
table up to the fire, and arranged upon it a silver urn, a cup, slices
of toast, butter and honey.

"Another cup for Monsieur Chazel," said Armand.

"Monsieur Alfred has refused already," said the servant.

"Then you will allow me," Armand resumed in a cheerful tone.

Sitting down, he poured the black tea into the cup, and then the hot
water, calculating the proportion between them just as though his friend
had not been present. Was this the attitude of a man who had a secret to
conceal?

"No," said Alfred to himself, "if there were any mystery between Helen
and him, my visit would put him out, he would want to know the reason of
it. Are you not astonished," he went on aloud, "to see me so early in
the morning?" putting his question with that incapacity for
dissimulation which is characteristic of very sincere people, and which
causes them almost involuntarily to continue outwardly and verbally
their inmost thoughts.

"I suppose you have some little service to ask of me," replied the
other, "and I am quite ready to perform it."

Then to himself: "Poor Alfred is too ingenuous. He wants to know why I
am not astonished. Well, I certainly ought to be so, and should be
expecting a question from him about Helen--what else could it be about?
She would not believe me when I told her that he was growing jealous.
Well, we'll lie as well as we can, since so much is due to her and he
buttered a slice of toast, not without a certain melancholy at this
necessity for lying, for he had preserved the haughtiness of personal
pride which so often outlives true loftiness of feeling.

"Yes," Alfred resumed, in a tone of voice the seriousness of which
revealed how deeply he felt the present interview, "you are my
friend--my friend. Yes, I believe it, I know it."

It might have been thought that he was questioning himself the better to
assure himself of his own sincerity. He again repeated, "I believe it,"
looking at Armand as he had never ventured to look at him in his life
before. His eyes no longer expressed anything of that awkward timidity
which in all arguments caused Alfred to feel beaten beforehand, even
when he was right a hundred times over.

"And it is because you are my friend," he went on, "that I came to you
to-day. Armand, you see in me the most unhappy of men."

The other raised his head, which, as though to pour some more tea into a
cup that was already half full, he had bent down beneath his friend's
gaze. He looked straight at the loyal man whom, in that very room on the
eve of the first assignation, he had in thought held so cheap. Chazel
had allowed his eyeglass to fall. His clear eyes showed the very depths
of his soul. In them there was legible pain, so terrible and so genuine
that it rendered touching and tragic a situation which, at any other
moment, Armand would have considered very ridiculous--that, namely, of a
deceived husband suffering from suspicion of the deception in the
presence of the very man who has deceived him. No, it was simple, naked
human suffering--that real suffering which grips your vitals like the
shriek of a passer-by when crushed by a carriage at a street-corner.
Armand suddenly felt this sympathy of humanity, then immediately
afterwards a secret feeling of uncomfortableness at the thought that he
was himself the cause of this visible suffering; and he listened to
Alfred, who continued speaking.

"I have come to tell you things that people do not talk about, but you
must listen to me. I am very unhappy, my friend, and for very vulgar
reasons. Ah! there is nothing romantic in my story. It is comprised in a
single line: I love my wife and my wife does not love me. How and how
greatly I love her you cannot understand--no, not even you. I am a
timid, awkward fellow, I know, and have always known. When quite a young
man, I pictured in my dreams the ideal face of a woman. I called her my
madonna--but I am talking nonsense to you. Let me go on. It was she who
comforted me for the rest--those who all treated me with scorn--and it
was she that I loved. When I saw Helen, I found in her a likeness to
this chimera such as I had never met with. Do not smile. Just understand
me. I married her. At first I was quite sensible of the fact that she
was not very happy. I said to myself: Time will bring everything right.
Time has brought nothing right. The martyrdom that it has been to me to
see her dull, wearied, and sad, and to be able to do nothing for
her--ah! no one shall ever know. Especially since we have been living in
Paris, I can see that she is sinking into still greater melancholy, that
her poor face is growing thin and her eyes hollow. She is suffering and
wasting away before my eyes, every day a little more, and I am unable to
do anything and am ignorant of the cause. Can you understand what a
torture it is to see a woman loved as I love her passing away hour by
hour by my very side, and not even to know the reason?"

He had risen as he uttered these words. In proportion as the phrases
came to him, they swept away the plan of discourse which he had prepared
on his way from the Rue de La Rochefoucauld to the Rue Lincoln. He had
allowed himself to feel aloud. He passed his hand across his eyes and
went on:

"I am wandering. Why do I tell you all these things? I have come to ask
you whether you know what is the matter with her."

And he stopped in front of Armand, who also rose. The latter was trying
to guess the object of his old companion's tirade. He was aware that in
a conversation of this kind the chief point is to abstain from informing
one's interlocutor of what he may not know. To Alfred's abrupt question
he replied in the vaguest of formulas:

"Why, how could I know any more than yourself?"

"Armand," said the other, going up to him and laying his hands upon his
shoulders, "do not deceive me. I am able to hear anything; I am ready
for anything. Yes, if Helen loved some one, I should efface myself, I
should go away. I should take my son with me, and allow her to begin her
life anew. A revengeful husband--how I despise such a man as that!
Either he does not love--and then for what does he take revenge? For a
wound dealt to his pride? What pitifulness! Or else he does love, and
has only to bring about the happiness of the woman he loves at the cost
of his own. Ah, I have not the ideas of the world! Answer me, Armand, is
Helen in love with any one?"

"I tell you again. How should I know?"

"Ah!" exclaimed Chazel, taking his friend's arm and grasping it with all
his strength, "who can know if not you? Did you consider me blind to
such a degree as not to see that you were becoming her most intimate
confidant? If she does not talk to you about herself, her life, her
feelings, what do you say to each other in your endless conversations?
Why do you become silent when I appear, if you are not speaking of
things that you do not want me to hear? Why do you hide from me?" he
continued violently.

"We hide from you?" said Armand.

"Be silent," returned Alfred, laying his hand upon his friend's mouth,
"do not say what is false. I can endure falsehood no longer. I must have
the truth, whatever it may be. I saw you yesterday in the Jardin des
Plantes, in the main avenue. I was there--I saw you. You were walking
together, and in the evening she said to you: 'How have you been since
yesterday?' You do not hide from me? Repeat that now. Ah, why have you
both lied to me?"

"You are right," replied Armand, "we ought to have spoken to you about
it immediately. That is the way in which the most innocent things assume
an appearance of mystery."

While affecting the most absolute calmness, he said to himself: "Helen
is saved." Logical on this point with his everlasting distrust, he used
at every meeting to agree with his mistress upon a common explanation to
be given in case of surprise, and he went on aloud:

"Madame de Chazel was returning from a visit of charity; I met her in
the garden, and we walked together for a little because the weather was
fine. She asked me to say nothing about it to you, because you would
scold her for going in that way into the low quarters of the town."

And it was true that Alfred, still a provincial in this respect, used
often to speak of the dangers that a woman might incur alone in out of
the way corners in Paris.

"You have the means of ascertaining whether I am telling you the truth,"
added De Querne. "Take a cab, go home, and ask Madame Chazel. I shall
not have time to forewarn her, shall I? You will see whether she makes
you the same reply."

"For what do you take me?" said Alfred, "I have a horror of such spying
ways. I am already too much ashamed of having spoken to you in this
way.--Armand," he said, advancing towards his friend, "give me your word
of honour that Helen and you are not in love with each other."

"Madame Chazel and I!" exclaimed De Querne, "nay, I give you my word of
honour that not a word has passed between us that was not one of simple,
honourable friendship. In my turn I will ask you: 'For what do you take
me?'" And with the secret loathing of all his pride he added inwardly;
"What mean actions a woman can make a man commit!"

"Then I ask your forgiveness," returned Alfred, "for I suspected you.
Ah! I am not wronging you; I did not believe that there was anything
between you. No, I think too highly of you both. But I thought that she
might have formed an affection for you and you for her. She is charming,
and you, Armand--why you have all that I have not! You are handsome,
refined, witty. And I, I have only this," he said with a heart-broken
gesture, striking his breast above his heart.

"Heavens! what I should have suffered had it been true! Just think, to
have lost both her who is my entire life, and you whom I liked so much!
You do not know, Armand, how sincerely I am your friend--just let me
tell it you for once. At our age these protestations are ridiculous--but
what is ridicule to me? With my father, and before I knew Helen, you are
the person I loved most. I am of the Newfoundland breed; I must have
some one to be attached to. Throughout my youth you were that some one
to me. When we were children, I should have liked you to have a
sacrifice to ask of me, something very difficult, almost impossible of
execution. You were in my eyes like a more fortunate brother. I was not
jealous of all your superior qualities; I was proud of them. When I got
married you were not able to come to Bourges. Well! will you believe it,
my heart throbbed when I introduced you to my wife in Paris? If you had
not been pleased with her I should have been so unhappy. Think of that
my friend, my dear friend," and he clasped his hands, "and you will
excuse me for having said anything painful, or wounding to you. You and
she, to lose you both! Ah! I should have gone away. I should have
sacrificed everything to your happiness. But it would have killed me!"

He sank into the easy chair as though exhausted by the emotions that he
had just experienced. His agitated face revealed too clearly the
excessiveness of his grief, and Armand felt unspeakably moved by looking
upon such a spectacle of sorrow and weakness. By truthfulness of soul,
Alfred had just re-established between them the true nature of the
situation. Husbands are not so often ridiculous, as the proverb says,
but by reason of the deceived vanity which is at the bottom of nearly
all their bitterness, or of the triumphant vanity which is at the bottom
of their fancied security. But Alfred, face to face with Armand, was
trust face to face with treachery, serious love, ready for the most
tragic sacrifices, face to face with the depraved fancy of pride and
sense that scruple had restrained.

And Armand was silent. Alfred's affection and esteem smote him as with a
hand. Ah! how he would have liked to have said to this man:

"Yes, I have lied to you. I have robbed you of your wife. I had the
excuse that I did not know how much you loved her and how much you loved
me. Choose now the reparation that it may please you to require, and I
will grant it you. Let us put an end to it."

Yes, but what of Helen? The secret of adultery does not belong to a
single individual. To his duty towards Alfred was opposed another
duty--a duty of honour also, and one freely contracted--and he was
silent, feeling a very child in the presence of this honesty which
suffered and wept before him, honesty possibly deceived and certainly
simple. But a man who entrusts you with his pocket-book, and whom you
rob of the bank-notes in one of the pockets of it, is also deceived and
simple; only, on the other hand, you are a thief. Whatever Armand's
superiority to Alfred might be, he found himself, by the mere fact of
his own treachery and his friend's good faith, in that condition of
humiliation which is intolerable to all higher natures. It was an
experience that lasted for only a few minutes, but it was a very bitter
one.

"Do not pay any attention to this complaining of mine," Alfred resumed;
"my nerves are unstrung. I really do not know why I am like this, seeing
that I have found with you the certainty that I needed. Ah! thank
you!"--and he sprang forward to kiss his friend as brother kisses
brother. Under this kiss Armand could feel the blood rising to his face.

"Come," he said in confusion, "calm yourself."

"Nay, I am calm," said Alfred; "you have been so good, you have listened
to me with so much heart. Alas!" he added mournfully, "how is it that I
cannot have an explanation with Helen like that which I have had with
you? In her presence I feel so embarrassed, so constrained."

"And," replied Armand, who perceived the possibility of sparing his
mistress a cruel scene, "you also take an exaggerated view of trifles.
Shall I tell you my opinion about Madame Chazel? And this opinion has
been confirmed by all the conversations that I have had with her. What
she is suffering from is the change in her mode of life. The atmosphere
of Paris, the habits of Paris, the people of Paris, are all enervating
to her. She needs great consideration. Take my advice and spare her all
discussion. Be gentle with her."

"You are right," said Alfred, who remembered having heard almost the
same words in the mouth of the doctor, and this coincidence succeeded in
momentarily tranquillising him. He shook his head, and uttered the
following words, at which Armand felt no inclination to smile:

"I am an egotist; I see nothing but my own grief. But Helen has
confidence in me. You see that I am jealous no longer. Speak to her of
me; tell her how much I love her, how I desire only her happiness.
Explain it all to her; she will believe you. God! I would give my whole
life for a glance of tenderness in her eyes when she looks at me."



CHAPTER VII


When Alfred Chazel had left the drawing-room in the Rue Lincoln, Armand,
being left alone, felt the need of seeing clear within himself. The
visit from the friend of his childhood had brought him a strangely
uncomfortable feeling which he was unable to shake off either during the
close of that morning, or during the afternoon, which was entirely taken
up with going about from one place to another. By a line alleging an
imaginary excuse he had released himself from the appointment made with
Helen the evening before, and in his room as well as in the cab which
drove him from one neighbourhood to another, he had the courage to
question himself frankly.

He strove to beguile with physical motion the indefinable and unbearable
sadness with which the scene that he had gone through continuously
overwhelmed him. He went from tradesman to tradesman, paying bills that
were in arrears, leaving cards at houses in which he had not set foot
for months, and unceasingly he reverted to this questioning of the
recesses of his conscience: Why was he so greatly shaken by a natural
event which it was so easy to foresee, and which, when all was said, did
not result in any disastrous consequence?

But no; he could not think of Chazel without feeling an inward wound,
bleeding and keen. His pride had been stricken to its deepest depths.
He, who since their common adolescence had in thought treated Alfred as
an inferior creature, he, who had robbed the poor wretch of his wife
without the slightest remorse, he now had suddenly been crushed with
generosity by this man, had been almost outrageously contemned. There
was no means of rebelling against it, of standing out against it. Of the
two it was he, Armand, who was playing the unworthy part, and he was
pained by it in the baser portions of his being, in that pride in taking
the first place, which, from their childhood, had been manifested in the
pettiest details. Did they enter a restaurant, or take part in a country
excursion? It was Armand who sought to pay, just as he sought to surpass
at every game, and to win prizes at the distributions. Vanity had
prevented him from choosing a career. Vanity again had inclined him to
intrigues with women. Thus he was humiliated to the very soul.

But his painful sensations proceeded at the same time from a more noble
cause. The cord of pity had thrilled within him at the sighing forth of
the terrible lament to which he had listened for an hour. Aridity of
soul was not an essential part of Armand de Querne's nature. It was
caused by the fact that with him emotion passed through the brain before
it reached the heart. By a rooted deformity to be found in all
intellectual lives, he must needs give himself reasons for feeling in
such or such a manner. The powerlessness to love of which he was a
victim proceeded from this peculiar disposition. He had never been able
to believe in the truth of any woman's heart, and as a consequence he
had always given himself reasons for not loving any of them
unreservedly.

Such a nature is the most miserable of all, for it prompts those who
possess it to the worst acts of egotism without securing to them the icy
and unconscious serenity of true egotists. Thus it was that the young
man was able to become Helen's lover without a scruple, and to tread
upon friendship as tranquilly as upon the carpet in the room where they
met; and yet Alfred's suffering had just moved him to the inmost fibre.
Ah! the reason was that he did not dispute the sincerity of this
suffering; he had touched it as though it were an object, and as he
believed in it, he felt it.

At the same moment, and for the first time, he perceived the real scope
of his conduct. If he had only suspected the depth of Chazel's love for
Helen! If he had known with what ardent friendship this man had been
attached to himself, Armand! But, people form ideas concerning a person,
and proceed to no further verification. They say to themselves: "This
man is nothing." They make no more account of his existence than that of
a beast or a plant. And then they find themselves face to face with a
heart that beats and that has been stricken, with a happiness
that was living and that has been slain. What misconceptions lie
at the root of our errors! And how many of the latter are merely the
misunderstandings--but the irreparable misunderstandings--of others!

Armand de Querne pursued these thoughts the whole day, and at the end of
them all, encountering him in a continuous fashion above all the rest,
was the image of Helen, and again of Helen. For whom had he betrayed
Alfred's confidence? For Helen. To whom had he so lightly sacrificed the
memories of his childhood and his youth? To Helen. In whose interest had
he just pledged that shameful word of honour? In Helen's. Now the young
man had in his feelings towards his mistress reached that moment when
the slightest contrariety is so exaggerated as to become almost
unbearable; what, then, was to be said of such a humiliation? He had not
deceived himself when, on the very eve of the first assignation, he had
recognised that he could never love her.

He had at first passed through a sufficiently sweet period of
intoxicated pleasure, during which he had abandoned himself to the charm
of having a delightful mistress, as endearing as she was pretty, as
submissive as she was impassioned. But even at that period he
entertained no illusions regarding the nature of the feelings with which
she inspired him or regarding their duration. As to the demonstrations
of affection to which Helen surrendered herself, he looked upon them as
a display of romanticism to be accounted for by long residence in the
country among bad books and absurd dreams.

"She is a Madame Bovary," he said to himself, and with this simple
phrase he had answered everything.

When once the malady of disbelief has assailed a tormented heart, every
fresh detail serves as food for it. Helen's transports and fits of
melancholy, her utterances, and her silences, had served for weapons
against her. Did she abandon herself to her feelings with the ardour of
a deeply affected soul? He thought badly of her; she was a libertine and
nothing more. Did she shroud herself in melancholy reserve? He thought
badly of her; she wanted to produce an effect, to assume an attitude.
Did she question him respecting himself and his wife? What tyranny! Was
she silent? What hypocrisy!

For all this, and by a seeming inconsistency such as characterises the
facile kindliness of the indifferent when anxious to save themselves
useless shocks, Armand had lent himself to the requisitions of Helen's
passion. To evade petty contradictions, he had laid aside many of his
habits. He declined dinner after dinner, deferred visit after visit,
distanced his appearances at the club, in the Rue Royale, where formerly
he used to show himself nearly every day. "You are never to be seen
now." "I thought you were abroad." "You rascal, what good fortune are
you hiding from us?" Such were the phrases with which he was greeted by
nearly every one he met at the corner of a footpath, on the threshold of
a restaurant, in the lobby of a theatre.

These phrases had at first made him smile. They now caused him a vague
regret for his former mode of life. In proportion as habituation
deadened his pleasure in the possession of Helen, did he surprise
himself remembering with longing the insipid diversions of his freedom,
which, as soon as they were renewed, he was again to look upon as
hateful drudgery. All these different shades of feeling were beginning
to have the effect of rendering his connection with Helen burdensome to
him, and that long before the scene, the cruel recollection of which was
persecuting him now. But the scene once passed through, how could he
maintain his actual relations with his mistress?

No, a thousand times no. He could not do it. And first with respect to
himself.

"Upon my word," he said to himself, "I will despise myself up to a
certain point, but not beyond. So long as he had not spoken to me--"

He paused upon this thought, then went on aloud with an evil laugh:

"Ha! ha! so long as he had not spoken to me, it was exactly the same
thing. Yes, but I did not feel it as I do now. I have had enough of all
this lying. Pah! Pah!" and there was a physical bitterness in his mouth,
almost a real nausea at the thought of deceiving Alfred again, after the
step that the other had taken so loyally and so affectionately.

"And then," he reflected, "I cannot do it on her account. When jealousy
has been roused, it is never completely lulled again. Alfred would
understand it all in the end. He would follow his wife or have her
followed. Then, behold a surprise, a scandal, and the unhappy Helen
loses at a blow her position, her child, a part, doubtless, of her
fortune, and all to be constrained to live with me who do not love her,
and whom she does not love."

In order to give force to the plan of a final rupture which was already
being sketched in his brain, he took pleasure in considering this last
thought. No, Helen did not love him. She thought that she loved him, as
she had probably thought she loved Varades and the rest; for there must
have been others, in conformity with the axiom that a man is never a
woman's first or second lover.

"If we break, there will be a tearful scene to be gone through, she will
spend a few melancholy weeks, enabling her to say to her next lover,
with eyes raised heavenwards, 'How I have suffered, love!' or else to
her most intimate confidante, 'Oh! men! men!'"

There was a moment of base merriment; then his reflections began again.

"What strange animals women are! Here is a fellow who has a heart,
frankness, and fidelity, as they call it; he can love--which is another
of their expressions--and his wife must deceive him--for whom? For a
cynic like me who am just the opposite. And if it had not been I, it
would have been some one worse. It is humiliating to one's vanity, but
refreshing to one's conscience--yes, it would have been some one else."

And a few minutes later:

"What fine reasoning, too, in order to justify myself! Suppose one
applied it to assassination! If I do not kill you to-day you will die
sooner or later in some other fashion. The truth is that adultery is a
great pollution. Pah! Pah!"

He returned home, turning these melancholy conclusions over and over.
When he was again in his drawing-room and in front of the easy-chair in
which Alfred had sat that morning, he felt still more incapable of
continuing to be Helen's lover--no, not two days, not a single day
longer.

"We must put an end to it and break with each other, and that
immediately," he said aloud.

He sat down at his table to write to Helen, but a note asking merely for
an appointment, for to break with her by letter and leave such a weapon
in her hands would be madness. Why not withdraw without seeing her again
as he had done in the case of more than one mistress? It was impossible
under the circumstances; it would be necessary also to renounce ever
seeing Alfred again. He must therefore resign himself to a rupture by
means of a scene.

The most important point was the choice of a locality. At her own house?
And what if she had hysterics and some one came in? In the Rue de
Stockholm? But what if she threw herself into his arms and the fever of
the senses led him to take her once more, only to leave her afterwards
like a clown, after possessing her? Once more, no.

"This is the best place after all," he said to himself. "The fact that
the servant is at the door will be enough to restrain me from yielding
to her. And if she has an hysterical attack, I have my little travelling
medicine chest." And he scribbled a note absolutely correct in form. Had
Alfred intercepted the missive he would have found in it nothing but an
offer very natural, considering their somewhat exceptional degree of
intimacy, to show Helen some albums for the choice of a costume for a
fancy dress ball. In order to justify the meeting at his own house, he
alleged the size of the albums and the difficulty of transporting them.

When he had sent this letter, melancholy took possession of him. A
sudden vision showed him in anticipation the gladness that Helen would
feel on the receipt of this note. The two occasions on which she had
visited the rooms in the Rue Lincoln had been holidays of the heart to
her. What a deception was there awaiting her on the morrow!

"Come, come," said Armand with energy. "In one short month I shall be in
London for the season. On my return they will be spending their holidays
away from Paris. This ugly story will have a better ending than many
others. Poor Alfred! There is still time to act as an honourable man."

He said this to himself, and our miserable hearts are so ingenious in
duping themselves, that while he said it he believed it.

It was a little after two o'clock in the afternoon of the following day,
when Helen Chazel entered this same drawing-room in the Rue Lincoln
where the day before her husband had spoken, and her lover reflected, in
a manner that would have prostrated her soul with despair had she been
able to know their words and thoughts; but she was aware of but one
thing--her deep joy at seeing her lover again after so long a time. The
past forty-eight hours had seemed endless to her. When passing in front
of the servant she had experienced a slight impulse of nervous emotion,
although she had her veil over her face, and the man would probably
never know her name. Joy at this meeting prevailed--joy and also
anxiety. Since she had lost the intoxicated certainty of the early days
of their love, she never parted from Armand without asking herself:

"How shall I find him next time?"

And now again, while he was relieving her of her muff and cloak, she was
at once enraptured and uneasy. She took off her veil and then merely
said to him: "How do you do!" laying her head upon the young man's
shoulder and looking at him. This look was sufficient to enable her to
discern on his countenance the premonitory tokens of the impending
conversation. He had said nothing to her, and already she knew that he
had not brought her to show her albums, that the excuse of the preceding
day for not seeing her was a false one, that an important event had come
to pass.

But what event? On the occasion of their walk in the Jardin des Plantes,
just two days before, he had been more coaxing, more loving, less
reserved than was his wont. She had almost ventured to feel aloud in his
presence. A sudden transition had again ruffled the intimacy between
them. What was he going to say? He had forced her to sit down without
giving her any other caress than the stroking of her hair with his hand,
and he began to speak to her, relating Alfred's visit of the previous
day, the result of their explanations, and the meeting in the Jardin des
Plantes.

"You reproached me for being over-prudent. You see now whether I was
wrong in telling you that he was growing jealous. What did he say to you
in the evening?"

"Nothing," she replied.

Although this birth of jealousy on Alfred's part, and the evidence of
his deception towards herself were facts of weighty importance to her
security, what chiefly concerned her at that moment was to ascertain how
her lover had defended his love--their love--and she asked him:

"What did you say to him yourself?"

"If I alone had been involved," returned Armand, "you can understand
that I should not have resorted to subterfuge in the presence of such
loyalty. In short, I have wronged him, he has a right to every
reparation, and I should have felt it a great relief to offer him such;
but you were implicated, and I gave him my word that there had never
been anything but the relations of friendship between us."

He paused for a moment, and then went on with visible irritation.

"As it has never been our custom, neither his nor mine, to have two such
words, one true and the other false, he believed me, and for the moment
he is quieted."

She listened to him and looked at him, while he himself looked at the
fire, his elbows upon his knees, and his chin on his hands. She was
asking herself:

"If we were driven to such an extremity would he love me sufficiently to
go away with me, to give me all his life and to accept mine?"

She was silent, absorbed in the expectation of that which was to follow,
and which she could not yet foresee. On his part, he employed his last
phrase in continuation.

"He is quieted--for the moment," he repeated, and he emphasized the last
three words. "But our relations will be rendered very difficult ones.
You see, when a man is not suspicious, everything that should serve as a
proof against, serves as a proof for. When a man is suspicious, the
contrary happens. Am I right?"

He was embarrassed by the silence in which she continued to look at him.
Leaning back in her easy-chair, her hands extended on the two arms of
it, her lips parted, she watched, panting as it were, for a gleam of
tender emotion on her lover's face. She read on it nothing but the dry
reflectiveness with which men set forth the data of a piece of business.
His voice especially--that voice whose slightest tones she knew, the
voice which always made its way into the remotest chambers of her
heart--ah! that voice had a cruel, almost metallic harshness. Well!
'twas another episode to join to the tale of her prolonged martyrdom,
the torture of a living creature chained to a dead soul wherein that
which caused her to writhe in anguish did not awake so much as a
vibration. Nevertheless, to this question, "Am I right," she replied in
a voice choking with anxiety:

"It is possible; you are a better judge of such matters than I am." Then
with an effort: "And what conclusion do you draw?"

"First promise me," replied Armand, "that you will not take ill what I
am going to say to you. Be persuaded that I shall never have any object
in view but your own interest. You do not doubt this?"

Why did Helen bow her head at these simple words as though she had
plainly read the fatal words of rupture on his lips? Why was she on the
point of crying out like the woman condemned during the Terror:

"Sir executioner, a moment longer."

Ah! why does the heart that loves possess this second sight which
increases misfortune by the anticipation of them?

"We must endure a separation for a short time," the young man resumed,
"until Alfred's suspicions have been set at rest--four or five months,
perhaps six, but not more. I will make all easy for you by leaving Paris
myself, although it is very inconvenient for me to do so just now. But
your peace is the first thing to be considered, is it not?"

He continued speaking, but she had ceased to listen to him. It was not
danger that she perceived before her. What was danger to her? Only one
misfortune existed for her, that of seeing Armand no more. He spoke of
separation for four or five months, perhaps six, just as he would have
spoken of the beauty of the day, of a new play, of the paying of a
visit. To him it appeared a very simple matter to be absent from the
town in which she lived, to lay aside the sweet custom of their daily
interviews! No, no, the man did not love her.

"And you announce this news to me calmly like that," she said; "and if
you were to love me no longer after this absence, what would become of
me? What would be left to me."

"I entreat you," replied Armand impatiently, for he felt that the lead
in the conversation was slipping from him, "not to let us confuse the
questions at issue. Just now we have to deal with your husband's
jealousy and your own safety. Is an absence necessary? Yes or no?
Everything turns on that."

"But what if I suggest another plan to you," she asked. "My husband is
jealous--be it so. My safety is compromised--be it so. Then, take me
away with you. I would rather lose everything and keep you."

And she devoured him with her eyes as she uttered these words. He was
obliged to show the bottom of his heart this time. She was in one of
these crises in which one stakes all to win all, to learn--yes to learn
the truth, to hold it, clasp it, feel it as though it were a body,
should death be the consequence!

"You know better than I," he replied, "that I cannot do that, and the
reason why I cannot. You were forgetting your child. A wife may be taken
from a husband, but never a mother from a son!"

"Ah!" she exclaimed, "why do you not tell me that you have ceased to
love me? Why these phrases and this circumspection? Do you think that I
am not brave enough to look reality in the face, whatever it may be? I
swear to you, Armand, that it would be less cruel on your part to tell
me everything at once. Armand, say that you have ceased to love me; I
will not be angry with you, and will go away quite alone with my grief.
A grief that you have caused will still be something of yourself; but do
not leave me in this horrible uncertainty, do not speak so coldly of
going far away from me if you love me. Heavens! what I am enduring!"

Her mouth was distorted with emotion, her breath came short, and tears
started from her eyes, big, heavy tears that flowed down her cheek one
after another, leaving what looked like furrows behind them.

"It is just as I expected," said Armand to himself, and these tears,
instead of softening him, enervated him even to anger. He did not
sympathise with this grief as he had sympathised with Alfred's, perhaps
owing to that difference between the sexes which brings it to pass that
a woman's grief is not always as intelligible to us as that of a
fellow-man; at times, also, the feeling of cowardice that we feel when
giving pain to a mistress so provokes us, by lowering us in our own
eyes, as to exclude tenderness. He had risen, and was walking about the
room, thinking to himself:

"Why not put an end to the whole thing at once?"

Then he added aloud:

"I really do not know what it is that makes you cry. In what I have said
to you there was nothing that did not breathe the deepest affection for
you."

How could she have failed to notice that already he no longer made use
of the word "love."

"But since you require me to speak frankly to you, I will obey you. No;
it is not only on your own account that I request this separation, but
also on my own. There is now a barrier between us, Helen, that a man of
honour cannot cross."

"What is it?" replied Helen, finding strength enough to raise her pale,
tear-stained face.

"The unqualified trust of another man," he answered brusquely. "When
Alfred came here, to this very spot, he did not speak to me of his
jealousy only, he displayed such esteem and friendship towards me as I
forbear from describing to you. He suspected me, and he came to me with
open heart. There is no bitterness, no bitter sentiment in that heart,
but beauty of feeling, straightforwardness and sincerity of friendship.
No, Helen, I can deceive that man no longer. I should despise myself too
much if I did."

"Well! and what of me?" she cried, rising in her turn. This praise of
her husband by her lover completed her distraction, and anger was
overtaking her. "Did I not trample upon all that, in order to come to
you? Do you think that I was born for treachery and falsehood? Did you
hesitate for one moment about asking me to deceive this honest man, this
confiding friend, when you wished to have me? Ah! you are not ashamed of
it on my account and you are on your own! I forbid you to speak of
honour, and perjured faith, and betrayed friendship. You have no right
to do so, seeing that it is upon yourself, upon yourself, understand,
that it all recoils. Did you entreat me to be yours? Answer in your
turn, yes or no?"

"Pardon me," returned Armand. "Let us go back to the facts. We loved
each other. You were not a young girl so far as I know. I was not a
youth. We were not making our first entry upon life--we were both
persons of experience. Is that not so? We knew where we were going. I
owed it to you not to compromise you. Did I speak of you to any living
soul? I owed it to you not to disturb your peace? I am disturbing it and
I withdraw. As to my conscience, permit me to be the sole judge of what
it enjoins and what it forbids."

"And in six months," replied Helen, "will your conscience be more
accommodating? Come, be logical and frank. It is not a momentary
separation that you want but a rupture. Let me at least hear you say as
much since you desire people to esteem you."

"Yes," replied the young man brutally, exasperated by the revolt of a
woman usually so gentle and submissive.

"So you thought that you were free from all duty towards me?" she
continued. "You were leaving me all alone in that way. You were going
away. You would have written me five or six letters, and then that would
have been the end. You would have uttered these fine phrases to
yourself: 'We knew where we were going.' 'She was not a young girl.' 'We
were both persons of experience.' I should be curious to know," she
added with that mournful irony which is imparted by rising frenzy, "just
what you understand by that."

"What would be the use?" he said.

"I want to know," she returned vehemently. "I have a good right to know
at least what you think of me."

"Do you believe that I am not acquainted with your life?"

"With my life," Helen questioned, crushed by a kind of stupor, which the
young man took for terror at this sudden revelation.

"Do you wish for facts?" he returned harshly. "Well, you shall have
them. Have you forgotten your intrigue with Monsieur de Varades!"

"Ah!" she cried, "nay, that is infamous. Monsieur de Varades!" And she
passed her hands wildly across her forehead. "Tell me that you did not
believe that, I entreat you. My love, tell me that you did not think
that of me. Oh! tell me, tell me, tell me!"

"I did believe it," he replied, his heart closed to the wail of his
mistress by that keen, insidious jealousy of the past which, by a
strange anomaly of his nature, had always caused him some pain when by
her side, although he did not love her.

"Then," said Helen, frozen now by this reply, "if you believed it, why
did you never speak of it to me? If the thought of it governed you when
you asked me to be yours, if you considered that you had less
responsibility towards me by reason of it, why did you entertain no
doubt about it? Were you sure of it? Had you seen it? Was there not a
chance against it being true--a chance, a single chance? Why, are you
not aware that it is a crime to take all a woman's heart, and to keep
thoughts of that kind in one's own?"

"Tut!" he replied, shrugging his shoulders; "you would have thought me
perfectly ridiculous if I had not been your lover. Your past belonged to
you alone, and I had no right to call you to account for it any more
than for your future. As to the present, I know you well enough to be
sure that you are not a woman who would take two lovers at the same
time."

"'Tis a great honour," she replied in an almost stifled voice. She was
pale as death. The egotism and insensibility of the man she loved
paralysed her with such horror that her tears would no longer come. She
felt but one desire: to leave this man, to see no longer those eyes and
those lips--those lips that she had loved so well, and which had always
lied so to her, since from the very first day he had believed this
without proof! Mechanically she resumed her cloak and muff, and fastened
her veil.

"Good-bye," she said. It would have been impossible for her to continue
the conversation just then, so choked was she with indignation.

He did not try to detain her, and also said:

"Good-bye."

She left the room, and he accompanied her, without a word being spoken
on either side, to the outer door. The latter once closed, he returned
to the drawing-room, where no trace of the tragic scene enacted in it
remained but the disarrangement of the easy chair that had been pushed
aside by Helen as she rose.

"All has passed off better than I expected," he said to himself. "How
easy it is to pin them to the wall with a little fact! Well! it is
over."

"It is over," he repeated aloud with that strange feeling both of relief
and of distress which accompanies the interruption of love. "She was
very pretty," he reflected to himself. "Now we must be on the look out
for revenge. But what revenge? She has not a note in which I speak
familiarly to her. I shall have the trouble of taking away all those
trifles of hers at Madame Palmyre's. I will have them returned to her
later on, when we have reached the stage at which she can say to me 'You
gave me great pain,' with the letter of my successor in her bosom,
between the chemisette and her skin."

He sat down again in front of the fire, from which he drew a few sparks.

"Ah!" he continued, "the after-taste of life is too bitter!"



CHAPTER VIII


REVENGE! Such was scarcely the subject of Helen's reflections while
returning from the Rue Lincoln. The sudden blow which she had just
received had been too heavy a one to leave room within her for any other
feeling but that of the most continuous and crushing grief. At the
dinner table, during the evening, then during the night when alone in
her own room with every light extinguished, and sleepless, then during
the day that succeeded to that night, and during the other nights and
days that ensued for a fortnight afterwards, what she perceived
unremittingly and with the same cruel, uninterrupted clearness was the
brutal fact that had at last been grasped in its indisputable reality,
the fact that her lover had never loved her!

Not for a moment? No, not for a moment, seeing that when he had
possessed her for the first time, he had believed himself in the
possession of the former mistress of Monsieur de Varades, and perhaps of
others. The smiles and reticences and unresponsiveness and mistrust on
the part of Armand were now clearly accounted for, and her whole being
rebelled against the murderous injustice, as she compared what she had
given with what she had received. What! the tender refinements of her
dreams, the noble madness of her dear love, the idolatry of her
ecstasies, the sincerity of the sacrifices made without regret or
remorse to give happiness to the man she loved, all this wasted upon a
lie, upon a void, as vainly as the leaves driven by the wind along the
walks of the old garden in which they had walked together, as uselessly
as the motes dancing in a sunbeam on the edge of the window in the
little room during those afternoons devoted to their loves.

Devoted to their loves? Yes, she had loved deeply, madly, and alas! for
nothing--to find herself looked upon as a woman that passed from one
intrigue to another, as one that had loosed her robe for this man and
for that, as one that collected sensations, just as others collect fans
or trinkets. Ah! she could not endure the injustice of it. To be
deprived of the sight of Armand--for on the day following the
explanation that had proved so tragical to her, Alfred had received a
line from his friend announcing a temporary absence necessitated by
business of importance--yes, to be deprived of the sight of Armand was
an anguish to her, but she possessed a weapon against this anguish: the
contempt with which she had been inspired by her lover's poverty of
heart, by the implacable egotism of the man that the last conversation
had revealed.

How should she ever accustom her heart to the iniquity of this same
being whom she had so greatly loved. He had parted from her abruptly,
and unworthily, but the recognition of the extent of her love for him
would not have caused her so much suffering as she had endured. The
martyrdom, the intolerable martyrdom consisted in the impotence of her
love, not to command a return, but to make itself merely understood. She
was like one under sentence of death who is willing indeed to die, but
whose worst agony is the powerlessness to exclaim before death: "I am
innocent."

How keenly he had made her feel the arrogant outrage inflicted by his
honour as a man, for it was in the name of this honour that he had
sacrificed her. Ah! had he loved her, how lightly he would have held
this honour, just as she had lightly held her own; but how could he have
loved her since from the very first he had believed her guilty of
deception? She used to come and say to him: "I have kept myself for
you," and he used to say to himself: "After Monsieur de Varades!" All
the proofs of her affection--and how she had lavished them upon
him!--had been shattered against this invincible conviction, and yet,
heavens! her affection was real, as real as the life which had begun
only on the day when she had come to know him. And she could hear his
voice saying:

"We were both persons of experience. Do you believe that I was not
acquainted with your life?"

Oh! what injustice, what hideous injustice! She sobbed her heart out at
the thought of it. She came and went, a prey to continual fever, finding
no more rest for her poor burning head than for her poor bleeding heart,
and inwardly given over to a medley of emotions--despair for happiness
that was lost for ever, keen regret for her absent lover, frenzy at
having been misunderstood in the noblest and most genuine of her
feelings. To repent of having belonged to this cruel Armand before the
hour of her supreme deception, was what she could not do. Love, sublime
love had impelled her to the act, as sublime as itself. Sublime love!
"No," she now exclaimed, "blind, insensate love!"

And she walked to and fro, at random, in her room like a caged animal,
and ever, as against an irrefragable wall, she struck against this
thought:

"What was the use of having loved like that? What was the use? Ah! the
lying, lying, lying!--"

What served to complete her provocation in the mortal crisis through
which she was passing was the tender and untimely solicitude of her
husband. As he had no suspicion of the drama that was being enacted in
this distempered soul, he would chance to say to her, in the belief that
he was holding out an agreeable prospect: "We will make a trip as soon
as I am free. Perhaps Armand will come with us." Or perhaps: "I am
surprised at not having heard from Armand. Has he not written to you?"

"No," she would reply.

Alfred now reproached himself for the explanation that he had had with
his friend, feeling persuaded that the latter had gone to travel only in
order to spare his jealousy. He thought about his wife's melancholy, he
found it ever more inexplicable, and he told himself that he had
deprived her of one of her few relaxations. She, on the other hand, was
profoundly sensible of angered pride on thus encountering her husband's
trust, which contrasted too sharply with the distrust of her lover. And
then these plans of travelling together, which Alfred called up, were
they not the very ones that she had herself formerly cherished? They
showed her with only too great precision what might have been--those
summer months whose intimate holiday-making she had imagined beforehand.
They would have lived together by the seashore in one of the villages of
Normandy, where the trees grow green to the very margin of the blue
waves. Perhaps they would have seen together one of those Italian towns
whose mere names seem to shroud a promise of happiness with light. And
then there came nothing but freezing solitude, nothing but desertion! He
had not written her a note since their rupture, not a line of pity. But
why should he have pitied her? Doubtless he believed her already
comforted, perhaps in the arms of another. Why not? He had deemed her
capable of having Varades before himself. Two lovers, three, ten, what
matters the total if there be more than one?

From day to day the keen pain of this injustice became more keen within
her, and the pain resulted in a mad and morbid thought, yet the only one
that could satisfy somewhat the despair that raged in her heart. Yes, in
those hours of anguish she conceived the criminal thought of indeed
committing frightful actions, since she had been deemed capable of them,
of being like the image that Armand had formed of her, like that fast
and facile woman whom he had believed himself to possess.

Moral life, like physical life, has its suicidal fevers, its damning
frenzies. There are moments when we are driven at all costs to renounce
our inner personality, to assassinate it, to become another being. It is
especially injustice that produces these crises, mysterious yet so
necessary, and so natural that even children, like animals, are subject
to them. Are not the best rendered the worst by being beaten without
having deserved it? The more Helen was sensible of having been
irredeemably misunderstood, the more a frightful attraction impelled her
to become just the opposite of what she had formerly been. A vertigo
seized her, and, as it were, a delirious longing for degradation. "'Tis
too foolish," she said to herself, "to have any heart."

This appetite for destruction which works in all creatures
simultaneously with the sense of love, recoiled upon herself. She set
herself to attack her own inner nature systematically, as some men
intoxicate themselves, in analogous circumstances, glass by glass, in
spite of disgust and, so to speak, from a sense of duty. She began to
exhibit strange phenomena of nervous gaiety in the ordinary affairs of
life. She, who hitherto had detested light conversation, affected to
fill her talk with the most direct allusions to the things of love. She
sent for those works which, during the last few years, she had heard
spoken of as being the most audacious, in order to have them upon her
table. She was seized with a sort of frenzy for pleasure, and every
evening there would be a party at the theatre to which she brought
Alfred, and she would speak of her intentions of going again into
society, and interest herself with surprising activity in the disguise
that she was to wear at a fancy ball given by the Malhoures, a ball for
which Armand was to have chosen her costume. Her voice seemed to be of a
higher pitch. She laughed a more sonorous laugh, and at all the
demonstrations of this painful merriment Alfred, in spite of himself,
felt affected by an indefinable anxiety, so completely were her eyes
characterised by that extraordinary brightness, her gestures by those
nervous jerkings, and her words by that abruptness which occasion a
dread lest a woman capable of looking, gesticulating, and talking in
this way should suddenly be seized by a fit of insanity, and should
commit some extravagant and irretrievable action.

She was stranger still on the morning of the day on which she was to go
to the Malhoures' ball. It was the first time since her quarrel with
Armand that she was going out for the evening. She did not come down to
breakfast. Alfred, seated at the square table with his wife's cover laid
opposite to him, and with his son on his right, ate without speaking, a
prey to the increasing distress inflicted upon him by the mournful
oddness of Helen's behaviour. She no longer seemed to be aware of the
little boy's existence. "Good morning, dear," "Good night, dear," and
that was nearly all. She, a mother usually so loving, seemed to have the
maternal instinct paralysed within her, and for the moment such was
indeed the case.

A settled idea produces upon the heart the same effect as is produced by
a bright and motionless point upon our eyes; it hypnotises the being
which it sways, and limits its susceptibility to a tiny circle of
sensations. It was impossible for the unhappy woman to have any feeling
whatever in respect of her son, because in her condition of lucid
aberration it was impossible for her to be sensible of his existence.

The little boy was raised on a high chair, and had that morning on his
face the sad, and at the same time perplexed expression of a child that
grieves without knowing why. A depth of undefined sorrow was in his
eyes; his father was aware, merely by observing the way in which he ate
with the tips of his teeth, that a hidden trouble was tormenting this
curly head.

"Have you not been good this morning," he said to him, "that you are so
sad?"

"Yes, I have been good," Henry replied, and was again silent; then
suddenly he said: "Papa, what does 'to prejudice' mean?"

"It is a wrong done to a person unjustly. But why do you ask me that?"

"Because Miette said the other day that someone had prejudiced her uncle
against her cousin." This expression, heard for the first time, and only
half understood, had struck his childish imagination, and he went on:
"Could anyone prejudice you or mamma against me?"

"What notions are you taking into your head?" replied the father.

He had just become sensible that his son was himself perceiving the
change in his mother's disposition. He looked at him, and felt that
inclination to weep which comes upon a widower at the sight of his
orphan child--a poor little thing who has lost the greatest of earthly
blessings, who does not suspect this, but who nevertheless forebodes and
guesses irretrievable misfortune. Father and son preserved silence, when
through the dining-room door, which had been left open, was heard a
voice, Helen's voice, completing an order to a workwoman. "For nine
o'clock then, punctually." She was engaged about her ball-dress. She was
not there where her glance, her smile, would have cast such a ray of
joy, and Alfred reflected upon the incomprehensible, and at the same
time unconquerable disaster which had brought them all there, himself,
his son, and his wife--especially his wife. Heavens! what was the matter
with her?

He was still thinking of this many hours later, in the brougham that was
taking them both in the direction of the Rue du Bac, where the Malhoures
lived. She was in the corner of the carriage, with powdered hair and two
patches at the corner of her thin, pale cheek. The powder, and the
patches, and the dark touches that she had put round her eyes, in which
the flame of fever was burning, imparted to her beauty something
dangerous, and disquieting, and more inaccessible than ever to the man
who was sitting by her side, and looking at her without venturing to
speak.

Her neck, mobile and graceful, issued from the furs which hid her
disguise as a flower-girl of the time of Louis XV. She wore pink silk
stockings, pink satin shoes, a flowered skirt, and in her soul was the
mortal blending of frenzy and despair of a woman who would ruin herself
with delight, for nothing--for the sake of being ruined and ruined for
ever! Through the brougham windows, the glass of which she had let down
in order to inhale something of the keen night air, she watched the
houses filing past, and the picture presented by Paris after the toils
of the day. The shops were flaming on the ground floor; the cafés were
opening their doors to customers; the wind was sending a quiver through
the gas flames that outlined the notices of the theatres. Along the
Boulevards, as in the Avenue de l'Opéra and in the Rue des Tuileries,
there was a moving crowd.

Of what was this crowd in quest? Of pleasure, and of nothing but
pleasure. _She_ had pursued an ideal which had proved most false! It was
time to live like the rest. A woman's amusement consists of coquetry, of
intrigue. She would be a coquette. She would have lovers--yes, lovers.
She repeated these words, in thought, with strange passion, for the face
of the man she had loved had just appeared again before her
recollection, and with it the unbearable palpitation of the heart had
begun again. Ah! between that face and herself, between that memory and
her heart, she would put other faces, other memories!

Yet, how he had mocked her! She now at certain moments felt a genuine
hatred towards him. By a sort of backward crystallisation, she
multiplied reasons for animosity round the thought of Armand that she
bore in her mind, and she calumniated him fiercely on her own behalf.
Did not his whole behaviour towards her bear the stamp of abominable and
daily calculation? When he had entreated her to be his under the
pretence that he would not believe in her love without this proof, was
it not that he would not fail where another had succeeded? Was it true
even that Alfred was jealous? This was doubtless a pretext devised for
the purpose of bringing about a rupture. And how carefully he had kept
the name of Varades to himself, to throw it into his mistress's teeth
only at the last moment, without giving her time to justify herself! She
ought to have spoken, to have looked for old letters, to have found some
testimony. But why? Would he have believed her for an instant? And
bruising herself afresh against the poisoned point of injustice, she
detested all men in this man, she envied those who mock the hateful
race, the jades who take the initiative in this duel of distrust and are
the first to betray. How glad she would be to have been one of them, to
have really had a dozen intrigues before that one with Armand, and to be
able to tell him so, and to degrade herself and him, and to pollute
everything within her and about her, her soul and her body, with a
pollution such as no water could wash away.

She was enduring, while in this carriage, one of those tempests of
passion which she had to pass through several times in the day, and
especially at night, for she had not slept two hours out of the
twenty-four during the past three weeks. It was as though a tide of
bitterness were rising within her, and the whirling of her thoughts
became so rapid that all idea of ambient things was blotted out from her
consciousness; and she did not emerge from her dream until some
inevitable detail compelled her to action, such as Alfred's hand shaking
her arm as the brougham stopped, and his voice saying to her: "We have
arrived." The stupor of an awakening from sleep showed in her eyes, and
she recognised the Malhoures' gate.

The house stood at the back of a courtyard and was one of those old
mansions such as are still found in that part of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, with views behind over vast stretches of garden, while in
front there is the narrow, populous, noisy street. The house was let in
floors, and the Malhoures occupied the second. The lofty windows were
gleaming, and the shadows of the various couples were thrown in black,
moving silhouettes upon the luminous glass. Old Malhoure, as he was
familiarly called, was a professor in the École Polytechnique, a member
of the Institute, and tolerably rich by inheritance from his father, the
celebrated inventor. He had three marriageable daughters, and received
every Wednesday. Twice a year he gave a fancy dress dance. On these
evenings a general clearance was made. All the rooms, even the
_savant's_ study, were in requisition for the entertainment, and
although they were large and lofty apartments, they scarcely sufficed
for the number of the guests.

People used to visit the Malhoures a great deal. Their house was in the
first place a centre of reunion for the great professor's former pupils
who were separated by their modes of life; intrigue also went on behind
the doors with important personages of the Academy of Sciences; finally
people were amused by the youthfulness of the three young ladies and the
good nature of their father, whose appearance--a legendary one in the
École--was in itself an element of mirth. He was huge and short, with
eyes hidden behind blue spectacles, a beard collar of greenish-white,
clothes of extraordinary cut, and a continual nodding of the head.
Though he presented this figure, it was pretended that the old man had
once been a lady's man, a gay dog, as the students used to say
facetiously to one another. At twenty-two, he had discovered a theorem,
which bore his name, and since then he had multiplied treatises after
treatises. When, wearied by fourteen hours of work, he went out in the
evening, he used to follow the young workwomen in the Quartier de
l'Observatoire, where he then lived. He used to heap up engaging offers
to entice them, but he was so ugly--so ugly--that they laughed
impudently in his face. The savant used to look round him to make sure
he was not heard, and then murmur as a supreme argument:

"I am Malhoure, the inventor of the theorem!"

After his marriage he had grown somewhat religious, but he had remained
very cheerful, especially when he had discovered some particularly
elegant formula during the day. Such was doubtless the case that
evening, for he was standing on the threshold receiving the guests with
his most cordial smile, although he did not recognise one person out of
ten; he had no memory for faces. By his side, and grumbling, was his
intimate friend, Professor Moreau, a calculator long and lean, and as
great a pessimist as Malhoure was an optimist. Just as Madame Chazel
reached the landing, and while she was leaving her furs in the care of
the servant, the two professors were speaking of a lady who had just
passed, wearing a dress as outrageously low as she herself was faded,
and old Malhoure was saying to his friend:

"Well, geometry does not grow old. The square of the hypotenuse is
always young."

"For my own part," replied Moreau, "I can see whether a woman is
hump-backed or blind of an eye, whether she walks straight or is lame.
But what difference there is between ugliness and beauty I have never
been able to conceive."

The piano was playing a quadrille, the din of the dance filled the
rooms, and Malhoure clasped both of Chazel's hands, taking him for some
one else, and calling him "My dear, my very dear Arthur." Helen was
looking, with strange feeling of envy, at the professors, whose
conversation she had just overheard. They at least would never know that
continuous, settled torture which brings with it incapacity for a
thought foreign to itself, for study, for reading, for conversation!

But she was already in the hands of Madame Malhoure and her three
daughters, all four being equally unreasonable, and having no object
save that of amusing themselves. The mother was dressed as Catherine de
Médicis, and the three daughters as a gipsy, a milk-woman, and a
Cauchois peasant. Their costumes savoured of work done at home, and
fashioned with chance materials after the engravings of the illustrated
papers, and the same held good of the toilets worn by these ladies'
friends. The men, on their side, seemed uncomfortable in their black
coats; several looked like people who had to get up early in the
morning, and were computing that every call from the piano robbed them
of a little of their sleep.

The talk that was flying about in the warm atmosphere was astonishing by
contrast. Fragments of frivolous phrases alternated with thoughtful
conversation.

"Don't talk to me of these new theories about space that has more than
three dimensions--"

"Have you danced much this winter, mademoiselle?--"

"Ah! what a genius Cauchy had, what power of analysis!--"

"Mamma, will you allow me to stay for the cotillon?--"

Alfred Chazel had lighted upon one of his old companions, and was
communicating to him a long-cherished project of a new algebra--that,
namely, of order--and Helen, assailed by the effusiveness of the
Malhoure ladies, was telling herself that it had been scarcely worth
while to take trouble about her dress. Thanks to the education received
from her step-mother, and also to her talks with Monsieur de Querne, she
had acquired tolerably accurate ideas concerning society. She
comprehended the distinction that separates true assemblies of the world
from middle-class carnivals such as she was now present at.
Nevertheless, as she was charming in her pale blue and bright pink
costume, and could read the triumph of her beauty in the envious glances
of many women, and the admiring gaze of the men, she gave herself up of
set purpose to that sensation of success so intoxicating to feminine
pride, even when it is a success that is despised; and she proceeded to
dance every dance that she might exhaust the inward torture by physical
activity, and she desisted only to visit the refreshment room and drink
a little champagne. The wine sent a trifle of light and sparkling froth
to her head that was so wearied by excessive thought.

She was standing thus beside the table in the refreshment room, fanning
herself with one hand, and holding in the other the cup containing the
last golden drops of the drink whose vague enervation was pleasant to
her; her partner, an insignificant and sufficiently correct young man,
who was quite proud of having promenaded with her on his arm, was trying
to talk; he was speaking of the new play, a middle-class comedy which
Monsieur de Querne had cruelly ridiculed one evening, and Helen was
replying with praise of a work which hitherto on her lover's authority
she had considered detestable. At the mere mention of the actors' names
and the title of the play, she could see herself in a box beside him,
and a flame coursed through her blood as she suddenly heard close to her
a voice that completed her emotion--that voice?--no, but the voice of
Monsieur de Varades, of the man who had exercised so fatal an influence
upon the destiny of her love, the voice of him whose name Armand had
flung in insult into her teeth during the scene of their rupture. By
what cruel mystery of fate was the officer here, almost within two steps
of her, and talking without appearing to see her?

Had she been able to reflect for a moment she would have deemed the
presence of old Malhoure's former pupil as natural as her own. Was she
not at this ball as the wife of an old fellow-student of De Varades? She
would also have reflected that living for months and months, as she had
done, apart from the society frequented by her husband, she was ignorant
of the movements of Alfred's companions. But in her present state of
morbid over-excitement, this sudden meeting struck her with a sort of
almost terror-stricken stupor, which was immediately replaced by a fresh
sweep of her secret grief, of that maddening grief which made her long
to cry _Fire!_ and _Murder!_

Without paying any further attention to what her partner was saying, she
looked with devouring curiosity at De Varades as though she had not met
him for years. He was a handsome fellow, slenderly built, and muscular
all over. The contrast in colour between his hair, which had become
nearly white, and his moustache, which had remained very dark, gave a
singular aspect to his refined head. A low forehead, a hooked nose, eyes
that were somewhat too small and close together, and a flashing glance,
in which bravery and temerity could alike be read, caused his
countenance to be vaguely suggestive of the profile of a bird of prey.
The stiffness, as of a uniform, assumed by the officer's evening coat,
which he wore in a military style, was all that was further required to
single him out and render him remarkable in an assembly wherein the
wearied race of the men of desk and study was predominant. Since the
audacious attempt at Bourges, Helen had never seen this disquieting
individual coming towards her without feeling dimly uncomfortable, so
sensible was she that in him she had an enemy capable of anything. And
now, a prey to a maddening ulceration, she would on the contrary have
liked him to approach her, to pay her attentions as he did formerly.

Yes, to pay her attentions, and she would not be childish and silly as
she had been before. In her misery and madness, she went so far as to
regret her former behaviour! She had been a loyal wife, and what had
this done for her? Only brought her to an hour when nothing in the world
remained to her save an incurable wound in the most sensitive portion of
her heart. She drank a few more drops of champagne in order to relieve
her thoughts, and De Varades, off whom she never took her eyes, turned
in her direction. Did he see her for the first time, or had he perhaps
affected not to notice her? He bowed and came to greet her, with the
expression at once ironical, respectful, and freezing, with which he
used to accost her at Bourges; and instead of replying to it, as she did
then, with equal coldness, she had a light in her eyes and a smile on
her lips. She held out her hand to him, and after the first polite
formulas, immediately asked:

"Are you passing through Paris?"

"No, madame, I am living here," he replied; "I was appointed professor
at the School of War four months ago."

"Four months, and you have not come to see us?" she said in a
coquettishly reproachful tone of voice.

"No, but I heard about you," replied the young man, and to himself: "How
Paris has changed her!" He detested her deeply, first because she had
wounded his pride, and then by reason of the infamous conduct of which
he had been guilty towards her. He had boasted of having been her lover,
giving details in proof; it was not true, and he could not forgive her
for the irreparable wrong that he had done her. Ah! if the calumny had
only been like those others that are stated aloud and that it is
possible to grasp! But no, it passes from ear to ear and from lip to lip
until it reaches a man who might have loved this woman, and whose heart
is stayed, suddenly paralysed by the terrible uncertainty concerning the
answer to the question: "Has she that in her past?"

To the young officer's credit it must be said that he had not seen so
far. He had yielded to the hideous spite of masculine vanity, and it was
again this vanity which, on Helen's unexpected reception of him,
prompted him to murmur an interrogative "Eh?" and immediately to begin
again the love-comedy that had formerly been played. A waltz was
sounding--the waltz of _Faust_, for the second of the young Malhoure
ladies was at the piano, and she, the artist of the family, liked people
to dance to classical subjects, whereas the eldest and the youngest, who
prided themselves upon being regular Parisians, doted on popular music,
and airs from the operettas and musical cafés.

"May I have the honour of this waltz, madame?" asked De Varades of
Helen.

"Was I engaged or was I not?" said the latter. "So much the worse! I
restore you your liberty," she added, addressing the young man who had
accompanied her to the refreshment room, but who through timidity did
not venture to remind her of the promise she had given of dancing with
himself; and immediately she was whirling round in the ball-room in the
arms of De Varades.

She was whirling round, prettier than ever with the feverish pink that
coloured her cheeks and imparted to them a tint similar to that of her
stockings, her skirt, and her corsage. The two patches at the corner of
her cheek, her black eyes, and her powdered hair, clothed her with a
sovereign grace that, apart from feelings of pride, stirred old longings
in the young man's heart. He was speaking to her while they danced. She
listened to him with--strange contrast!--Armand's image before her
thoughts. "If he could see me," she said to herself, "he would have
doubts no longer, he would triumph. Well! what does that matter to me?"

This strange inclination to act exactly contrary to her inmost nature,
which, when light and artificial is called spite, was exalted in this
distempered soul to the pitch of aberration, and she listened with a
pleased smile to what De Varades said to her. The latter, clever enough
to discern that something extraordinary was going on in Madame Chazel's
mind, and too desirous of requital not to take advantage of the
opportunity, had again begun to speak to her of his feelings. In
passionate terms he depicted to her his despair at Bourges when he had
displeased her, his vain attempts at self-consolation, his resolve never
to marry for her sake; he gave her to understand that she was the only
woman he had ever loved, and that he had sought an appointment at Paris
solely that he might meet her again. Never had he dared to tell her so
much at the period of their early relationships, and before his brutal
assault. But to all these falsehoods, repeated over and over again
during this first waltz, then in the square dances which followed, and
then in the quietude of the cotillon which they danced together, she
responded by such slight interjections of doubt as encourage avowals.
She seemed to be delirious for coquetry; she spent upon this flirtation
of an evening the fever that was preying upon her. Thus, a few hours
later, the officer, on his return to his small abode in the Rue
Saint-Dominique--a suite of apartments of which only two were furnished,
the others being filled with uniforms, weapons, and big boots--swore
inwardly as he undressed that he would carry this affair through with a
high hand. From his grandfather, who had served under the Emperor, De
Varades inherited the maxim that everything, in all circumstances,
should be ventured with women. And so, when he laid his head upon his
pillow before going to sleep, he had resolved to essay the possession of
Madame Chazel, no matter where, even were it on the couch in her
drawing-room, at the risk of a servant's entrance. "And this time she
shall not escape. She told me she was always at home between two and
four. Till to-morrow," he added, and closed his eyes on the sweet hope
of repairing his former wrong.

Poor Helen! While this man, anticipating the temerity with which frenzy
for injustice endured had inspired her, was falling asleep over his
dangerous plan, she herself was watching, a prey to those memories each
one of which was hurrying her to some act of madness. Her husband had
been unlucky enough to say to her on their return to the Rue de la
Rochefoucauld after the party at the Malhoures':

"I thought you had quite an antipathy to Varades, and you danced with
scarcely anybody else."

"Does that make you jealous?" she had asked him abruptly.

"No," he had replied, "but how is it possible to change one's
disposition towards people in this way?"

"I am what it pleases me to be," she had replied.

She might at that moment have been forbidden to throw herself into the
water, and in her rage for contradiction, and to relieve her nerves, she
would have hastened to the Seine. On entering her room again, she felt
so unhappy that she did not even undress. She walked about in her ball
costume until morning, and the champagne she had drunk, the bewilderment
of the party, the fund of despair upon which her soul had been living
for so many hours, all united to confuse her understanding.

"Yes," she said to herself at certain moments, "'tis he that I must have
and no other--for the time being," she added with such implacability in
the imagining of ill as at dark moments relieves the heart somewhat,
"and when I have done it, when I am low and in the mire, then perhaps I
shall forget, and then all this will be over, over, over."

And when her soul recoiled at the wildness of this monstrous plan, then,
that she might resume her inclination for the shame to which she was
being dizzily impelled, she pictured Armand to herself, she saw him with
his eyes and his smile, she heard his voice:

"Do you believe that I was not acquainted with your life?"

"Ah!" she would then exclaim like a wounded creature uttering a cry, and
she would stretch herself upon her bed with that whirl in her sick brow
which was intolerable to her.

In the morning she had an hour's heavy sleep, visited with nightmare. At
about nine o'clock she rose to attend to household affairs, as was her
habit, indolently and with soul roaming elsewhere. Extreme fatigue and,
as it were, a dying languor had taken possession of her. After breakfast
she went up to her room again, and, in spite of herself, her hands
opened the box containing Armand's letters. There were not fifteen--she
counted them--and the longest of them had but two pages. She read them
again, as she did nearly every day, and their aridity showed to her even
worse than on former occasions. Every phrase in these notes might have
been quoted without compromising her to whom the notes were addressed;
and so there was not one that might have been traced in a moment of
self-surrender, or to give passage to the overflowing of a heart. She
had believed formerly that he used to write to her in this way out of
regard for her peace, and she had been grateful to him for it.

Fool! Fool! He wrote to her thus because he did not love her, because he
had never loved her, and why should he have loved her, judging of her as
he did? In his eyes, what was she? A woman like all the rest! Of what
did he not believe her capable? Of making use, perhaps, of his letters
against him? Her soul was bleeding again at every pore. Ah! what remedy
was there, what remedy?--and as she was asking herself this question for
the hundredth time the servant entered and inquired whether she would
see Monsieur de Varades. The officer had kept his word, and had not lost
a day in taking advantage of the permission to come and see her which
she had granted him.

"Show him into the drawing-room," she said; suddenly the memory of
Armand's injustice awoke keener than before, and the crisis of sorrow
through which she had just been passing resulted in one of those rushes
of frenzy in which she really no longer knew what she was doing. She
went into her dressing-room. With a little water she removed the traces
of her tears, for at the times when she renewed, one by one, the details
of her wretchedness, she used to weep, almost without perceiving it, and
mad, as it were, through grief, she went down to the little
drawing-room.

"How kind of you to come to keep me company!" she said, holding out her
hand to the young man. Voluntarily she made him sit down in the
arm-chair in front of her, the one in which Monsieur de Querne used
generally to sit. How he had lied to her in that place! How he had
misunderstood her! It seemed to her that she was taking vengeance upon
him at that moment by this profanation of their common memories. She
herself took a seat on the couch which stood obliquely against the
fireplace, in which the remnant of a fire was burning. She looked at De
Varades with eyes that did not see him, but he, as he began to talk,
watched her with much attention. The obvious wildness that she
displayed, the almost incoherent rapidity of her speech, the element of
nervelessness that was manifested in her laughter, in her gestures, in
the movements of her head, all evidenced a woman that was half beside
herself.

The evening before De Varades had inwardly said in explanation of her
coquetry at the Malhoures' ball: "She wants to make some one jealous."
Then he had not discovered any one wearing towards her the countenance
of a wounded lover. In the twilight in the little drawing-room he said
to himself: "'Tis she who is jealous, and wishes to be revenged."
Insensibly he caused the conversation to glide upon the same slope as on
the previous evening; he spoke to her again of his despairing and
melancholy feelings. She listened to him almost without reply, with the
thought of the indignation that Armand would feel after all, if he could
see her at that moment. De Varades meanwhile was reasoning thus to
himself:

"What do I risk? Being shown the door once again as at Bourges?"

He made up his mind to take advantage of the disquiet which, as he could
see, possessed her, and he rose and seated himself on the couch by her
side, saying to her:

"Ah! I loved you dearly!"

She turned towards him with a delirious expression which he took for the
frenzy of spite, and he seized her in his arms. Was it that kind of
momentary aberration which at certain moments prompts us to the
performance of actions in which later on we fail to recognise ourselves?
Was it the domination of a distempered will by a will that was cold and
steady? To what extent did that frenzy for degradation, that madness for
her own ruin which had haunted this hapless soul the evening before,
enter into her weakness? The fact remains that she did not defend
herself against the young man's embrace. He grew more bold, and she was
completely his. Yes, in that very drawing-room where formerly she had
shrunk in horror from giving herself to the man she loved, she suffered
herself, alas! to be taken by a man whom she did not love, and the
latter was stupefied both by the ease of his victory and by the
corpse-like insensibility encountered in this unlooked-for mistress, of
whom he had not even been thinking twenty-four hours before.


De Varades had been gone for a long time, and evening was falling. Helen
had remained in the same place, seated in the same corner of the couch,
as though dead. The enormity of the event that had just come to pass had
suddenly dispersed the hallucination in which grief had been causing her
to live during the past few weeks. What! she was the mistress of
Monsieur de Varades--she, Helen Chazel! No, it was not true, seeing that
she loved Armand. Where was she? What had she done? Impelled by what
madness?

And through the supreme horror by which she was possessed on finding
that she was alive, and that all was true, a sudden idea rose in her
mind, the idea of seeing Armand. Why? She could not have told exactly,
but the desire had swooped upon her, irresistible; she felt that it must
be done, and not on the morrow, not that evening, but immediately. She
must speak to him, were she to fly from her home in order to find him
wherever he might be. At all costs she would see him. Had he returned to
Paris? She would ascertain. In ten minutes she had put on a fashionable
dress and a bonnet, had called a cab, and shivering with fever in a
corner of it--how great a change from the day on which a similar vehicle
was conveying her to the meeting with her lover!--was proceeding to the
Rue Lincoln.



CHAPTER IX


The cab went slowly along the streets, and every moment Helen said to
herself: "Shall I see him again?" She was now facing the irresistible
thought, the mere appearance of which had hurried her to the immediate
quest of Armand when she had barely emerged from her horrible delirium.
She must be able to cry to this man that he had ruined her. Yes, she
must do this, and he must at last believe her and understand the infamy
of his behaviour. She would say to her former lover:

"I am Monsieur de Varades's mistress, and you are the cause of it--you,
your injustice, and your desertion." And how could the man help
believing her when she went on to say to him: "Before knowing you I was
pure."

This indisputable proof of the genuineness of her love, this proof which
she had so greatly desired, she now held fast, and she would not let it
go. Would not her present sincerity be a guarantee of her past
sincerity? If she acknowledged the guilt of to-day, what motive of
modesty, hypocrisy or interest could prompt her to deny that of
yesterday? This strange reasoning appeared to her to carry with it a
sort of obviousness from which Armand could not escape. He would believe
her, and this should be her revenge. "But how will he receive me? Yet,
what does it matter? I will spit my misery and my shame, and his
responsibility for them, into his face."

Her distempered soul found relief in the audacity of this plan. She
hated Armand now, she trembled lest he should be absent, lest he should
escape her. "Faster," she said several times to the driver. Would she
ever arrive soon enough? She recognised the smallest details of the
road--the road traversed with such lightness of heart the last time that
she had visited him! And the scene which she had been obliged to go
through showed in her mind still more terrible and clear. During that
scene she had been choked with indignation. She had been unable to make
any reply. He could not have believed her then, but he should believe
her now. She would show him what had been the drama of her existence for
months past. She would at last lay bare all her heart's hidden wounds.
She would make him touch with his finger the work of death that he had
wrought, and she would depart, leaving him, if he had any honour left,
at least this hideous remorse, this poisoned arrow in his conscience.
Then she thought: "In what condition shall I find him. What has he been
doing since our rupture?"

At last the vehicle stopped at the corner of the Rue Lincoln and the
Champs-Élysées. In two minutes Helen had gained the door of Armand's
house. How her voice shook as she asked the porter: "Is Monsieur de
Querne at home?" How completely the affirmative reply upset her. She
hesitated for a second in spite of the resolve she had taken; then she
climbed the staircase with deliberate foot. Her hand pressed the bell
without hesitation. A servant's footstep became audible. The door
opened. It was no longer possible to draw back.

What had Armand been doing during that period in which she had been in
the throes of despair? Had she known, even when in front of the open
door, disgust would perhaps have restrained her and drawn her back. She
would have fled in horror from the threshold of the abode to which she
had come in order to defend, not her person, not her happiness, but the
truth of her former love, as we defend the memory of the dead.

The young man had spoken the truth in his note to Chazel. A ten days'
journey had brought him to an estate which he possessed close to
Nantes--the De Querne family came from this town--and he had stayed
there to arrange some business respecting farm rents. Then he had
returned to Paris, persuaded that the rupture was a final one, seeing
that during those ten days Helen had not hazarded any attempt at
reconciliation.

By a contradiction in his nature, too usual with him to cause him
astonishment, these early moments had been melancholy ones. He was one
of those men who are moved by memories after having remained nearly
indifferent to the reality, who become enamoured of the women whom they
cast off, just as they regret the places of which they tired when living
in them--a restless race, who know nothing of the present but its
weariness, and for whom the past assumes a unique and affecting charm
from the mere fact that it is the past.

Armand had never loved poor Helen; he applauded himself for breaking
with her as for an action that was most reasonable, regard being had to
his own interests, and withal exceedingly meritorious, seeing that he
had responded to Alfred's generosity with similar generosity; but
neither the grounds of interest nor those of merit could prevent him
from thinking with painful emotions of the sweet and dainty mistress who
after all had never deceived him except for the purpose of pleasing him
the more. To be sure he doubted less than ever that she had had that
first intrigue with De Varades at Bourges, of which Lucien Rieume had
spoken to him. What more evident token could there have been of this
than the manner in which she had received the accusation? Immediately
she had bowed her head, and had, as it were, collapsed beneath the
insult.

But even though he had had two, three, four predecessors, by what right
had he been indignant against her? Had she not displayed during their
connexion all the loyalty of which such amours are capable? Had she ever
manifested so much as a trace of coquetry towards any one? Had she made
him jealous for but a single hour, with jealousy such as women of the
world, more abandoned in this than abandoned women themselves, do not
hesitate to inflict upon a lover, in order to gratify the pettiest
impulse of vanity, to please a man who has some claim or other to
celebrity or who has merely been noticed by another woman. No, Helen had
been perfect towards him. The consciousness of this pleased and at the
same time tormented him, for, if she flattered his pride, she also
rendered more present to him the faded charm of a love which he had not
been able to enjoy at the time when he dreaded its obligations.

But what he regretted in Helen, even more than her gracious tenderness,
was her physical person. From the time that he had become her lover he
had, contrary to all his principles, remained entirely faithful to her,
and this fidelity increased in him the exactitude of the memory of the
senses. He could again see in thought the room in the Rue de Stockholm,
and on the pillow that refined head, its eyes laden with mysterious
voluptuousness. Slight and scarcely observed details recurred to him: a
certain fashion that she had of leaning her pretty face over him, the
aroma which hung about her kisses and their special flavour.

A yearning then seized him, against which he employed the infallible
remedy to which he was accustomed. He felt that he must place between
Helen and himself bodily shapes that might afford his senses a pasture
of beauty, bosoms fit to serve for the modelling of cups, sinking
shoulders worthy of statues, supple hips, slender legs, and skilful
caresses. Such instruments of forgetfulness abound in first-class houses
of pleasure. The young man used them on this occasion, as on others,
even to excess, so that when Helen rang at the door in the Rue Lincoln,
she had come to be almost as great a stranger to him as though he had
never known her.

He was turning over the leaves of a book, lying rather than sitting in
an easy-chair, and waiting until it should be time to dress in order to
rejoin some dinner companions at the club. He was in that condition of
pleasing weariness which heartless pleasure always brings to men who are
wise enough to ask nothing of women but the enjoyment of palpable
beauty. Helen and the intrigue of the previous months were, so far as he
was concerned, shrinking into a background that each day made more
inaccessible than before. It was another chapter to be added to the
others in the mournful romance of gallantry in the course of which his
feelings had been exhausted without being expended.

Already, as he thought about it, he had ceased to feel anything more
than a sick spot in his heart. He was sorry for having so greatly
misunderstood Chazel, but a satisfied conscience softened this sorrow.
Had he not unhesitatingly sacrified to his friend's confidence all the
pleasure that his intrigue might still have brought him? Accordingly, he
experienced the most disagreeable of surprises when, after being
informed by his servant that a lady wished to speak to him, he saw
Helen. She had not taken the trouble to put on a veil. He perceived at a
glance her wasted countenance, her discoloured eyes, her bright and
steady gaze, her bitter lips. Mechanically, he pushed an arm-chair
towards her, which she declined.

"It is not worth while," she said, "what I have to say to you will not
take long. I shall not take up much of your time."

"Well," he thought to himself, "another scene. It shall be the last."

The complete absence of physical desire resulting from his recent
debauches, made him singularly dry and hard. He reflected that it had
been very stupid on his part not to close his door against her, and he
forthwith determined to enter into no explanations, and to keep her at a
distance by the employment of the most commonplace politeness.

"I feel quite put out," he said to her, just as though there had never
been anything but the most official relations between them; "I ought to
have called on you after my return, and then a dozen wretched trifles
prevented me. You know how it is when one is on the point of going away.
I expect to be in London towards the end of the month."

"Do not trouble yourself to make excuses," Helen interrupted, shrugging
her shoulders; "what is the use? Why should you have come? To avoid
compromising me? I will dispense with such delicacy on your part. To
tell me again that you do not love me, and have never loved me, and to
see me suffer? You are not a monster. All that you had to tell me you
told me. Do not be afraid," she added with a nerveless smile, "it is not
to resume our former conversation that I am here."

She paused as though the words that she was about to utter were already
burning her lips, the lips parched by so many feverish nights. She had
spoken in so bitter and withal so grave a voice that the young man felt
a pang. On seeing her again he had expected a pleading scene, the eager
appeal of a forsaken mistress who entreats for but a day of the old
happiness, and the solemnity of Helen's accents heralded a prayerless,
hopeless revelation, tidings such as to her appeared of tragic
importance. Was she going to tell him that she was pregnant? Or had she
in an hour of wildness confessed everything to her husband? She remained
silent, and it was his turn to be impatient.

"Speak," he said, "I am listening to you."

"In that last conversation, which once more I have no wish to resume,"
she went on, "you told me that you were acquainted with my life. You
even entered into particulars by mentioning a name, the name of Monsieur
de Varades. You asserted that this man had been my lover."

"I told you what had been told to me," he said with emphasis.

"And that you believed it?" she questioned.

"As people do believe such things," he returned; "you misunderstood me,
or else I expressed myself badly, very badly." And he thought: "She is
going to produce some letter or other from her pocket, witnessing to De
Varades's deep respect for her." He recollected having written similar
letters to former mistresses, to be shown to one having special
privileges. "A foolish discussion," he sighed to himself, "but how is it
to be avoided?"

"Well," she retorted with strange energy, "if you are told that now, you
may believe it, and reply that you have it from a sure source." And
looking at him with an air at once of triumph and of despair, she added:
"I am Monsieur de Varades's mistress, do you hear?" And she repeated: "I
am Monsieur de Varades's mistress."

Armand listened to her repetition of these words by which she was
inflicting dishonour upon herself, and his feeling was one rather of
pain than of sorrow. It appeared to him as well piteous as insane that,
impelled by some sickly appetite for drama and emotion, she should thus
come and tell him of the renewal of her amour with her former lover. On
the other hand, he had not, at the period of his first suspicions, been
in possession of an absolute, indisputable assurance respecting the
guilty nature of the relations between Helen and De Varades, and now she
had come to denounce herself to him in so brutal a fashion that he could
not help feeling a spasm of base jealousy; and he replied with
involuntary abruptness:

"You are perfectly free; how do you think that concerns me? Unless," he
added, cruelly, "I can be of use to you?"

"Don't play the wit," she went on more violently still. "You owe it to
me to listen to me; the least a man can do is to listen to the woman he
has ruined. For you have ruined me; yes, you, and I wish you to know it.
Ah! you thought that I was lying, that I was showing off to please you,
when I told you that I had never had a lover before yourself; will you
believe me now when I tell you in the same breath that I am to-day
Monsieur de Varades's mistress, and that I was not so before? I have met
him again, and I have given myself to him. Do not ask me why, but it is
a fact. You see that I am not seeking to play a part, that I am not
afraid of your contempt, that I have not come to renew relations with
you; but it is equally true that I have degraded and polluted all that
is in me. And when I gave myself to you I was so pure! I had nothing,
nothing on my conscience! I had kept myself for you alone, as though I
had known that I was one day to meet you. Ah! that is what I want you to
know. A woman who accuses herself as I am doing now has nothing left to
be careful about, has she? Why should I lie to you now? Tell me, why?
You will be forced to believe me, and you will say to yourself: 'I was
her first love; she did not deny herself because she loved me. She loved
me as man dreams of being loved, with her whole heart, her whole being,
and not in the present merely, but in the past. And see what I have made
of the woman who loved me thus--a creature who has ceased to believe in
anything or respect anything, who has taken a fresh lover in caprice,
who will take a second and a third--a ruined woman.' Yes, once more, it
is you who have ruined me, and I want, I want you to know it, and it
will be my revenge that you will never more be able to doubt it. Ruined!
Ruined! You have ruined me--you! you! you!"

She had hurled forth these words in a panting voice, drawing closer to
Armand as she went on in a convulsion of frenzy, and in the tone of her
voice, in her looks, in the whole of her agitated person, there was that
levelling power of truth against which doubt in vain tries to stand. The
kind of frightful, dishonouring proof of her former purity resting upon
the cynical avowal of her present infamy became irrefutable through the
evident exaltation which possessed her and which did not suffer her to
conceal anything in her thoughts. But what rendered this reasoning still
more decisive to the man listening to the miserable confession with a
blending of astonishment and terror, was the sudden crisis of emotion
wrought in her after she had spoken. Passion, sated by this frantic
utterance, suddenly gave way to despair. All at once she looked at
Armand with eyes in which the flush of indignation was drowned in tears,
and uttering a shriek she sank upon the floor.

There, stretched at length, she began to moan. It was a slow, continuous
sob, the dull, uniform wail of a dying creature. It came up, up to
Armand, and this supreme wail gathered into itself the echoes of all the
wails that she had stifled, of all the sighs that had been checked on
the margin of her heart. It was the throes of many days breathed forth
in a last appeal. If on coming into contact with Alfred's distress,
Armand had experienced an irresistible feeling of sorrowful humanity,
how much the more and with how much greater power was he visited with
this feeling now, on coming into contact with the distress of the woman
lying thus on the ground? The frail and potent tie which had united him
to this vanquished being, the unconquerable tie of mutual
voluptuousness, suddenly bound him to her anew. He believed that he had
forgotten her, and here, beneath the two-fold influence of unconscious
jealousy and physical pity, he was again finding within himself feelings
of which he had deemed himself no longer capable. A passionate impulse
prompted him to fling himself upon his knees, and he strove to raise her
as though she had been his mistress still.

"Helen," he said, "recover yourself. In pity to me do not weep in this
way. Stand up."

She obeyed, and slowly turned towards him her swimming eyes and parted
lips. An expression of unspeakable gratitude passed across her mournful
countenance. He seated her in an arm-chair, placing himself at her feet
to wipe away her tears. Then she was able to speak again.

"Ah!" she said, "all is over--over! Ah! never again--! You do not know,
Armand, how I loved you, how I love you. Ah! why have I done what I did?
You see, I was like a madwoman. I could do nothing, I could do nothing
but love you. You were my whole life, my whole faith, all that to me was
noble and good. And then, suddenly, it all failed me! I have suffered so
greatly! I could always hear you saying those frightful words to me. It
was like a knife turning every moment in my heart. I wanted to forget
you, to forget myself, to destroy everything, unhappy woman! What have I
done? Why did I not come to entreat you to take me back again, to
believe in me? I should have found words to convince you. Now, all is
over. Do not touch me; I loathe myself."

And she freed herself, and repulsed him. He perceived that she had just
seen the other, her new lover. Then she went on passionately:

"No! tormentor! tormentor! 'Tis your fault. Yes, 'tis you who flung me
there. Had you any right to treat me so? Answer. What wrong had I done
you? When had I deceived you? Why did you doubt me? No, my love. 'Tis
you who are so good, so kind, whom I love so much. Forgive me! Forgive
me! Grief is killing me!"

Thus she lamented, revealing by the reciprocation of her alternately
reviling and loving utterances the incoherence of the feelings whose
tempest was shaking her. Then came relief from this frenzy, and she
said:

"Let me weep a little. It eases me. Do not speak to me. Presently."

And he left her side. How powerless he felt in presence of this outbreak
of despair. He began to pace backwards and forwards in the room, which
was being invaded by the melancholy of the twilight; and Helen's sobbing
had grown quite humble now, quite low, almost like that of a little
girl. Instead of the frantic rebellion that there had been at first,
there was a long sigh, ceaselessly broken and ceaselessly resumed, which
completed the young man's perturbation. He no longer tried to comfort
her, and he tried no more to contest the cruel evidence that had become
fixed within him, never more to leave him. Pity for such agony,
shivering horror at such irretrievable pollution, and the sight of the
cruel injustice which he had committed, blended together to torture him.
But what more than all beside overwhelmed him, and laid upon his heart a
weight which he could feel would thenceforward be irremovable, was the
feeling of his own terrible responsibility for the ruin of this woman.
What! it was through knowing him and loving him that the unhappy woman
had sunk so low! Helen's instinct had not deceived her; he could doubt
no longer. He believed her, and in all respects. He believed that she
had really loved him. He believed that before meeting him she had been
pure. He believed that frenzy at an iniquitous desertion had led her so
far astray as to throw her into the arms of another, and that he,
Armand, was the cause, the sole cause of it all. He continued to walk up
and down, and every time that he turned to retrace his steps he could
see between the dismally lighted windows that sunken form, that face
standing out so pale against the background of shadow! What had become
of his indifference before Helen's entrance? And his power of negation,
what had he done with it? People do not dispute with a death-rattle, and
he had been present at the death of a soul. It was too true that she
asked for nothing and wished for nothing, unless that he should see her
heart laid bare; he had seen it, he saw it still and the blood that
flowed from the wound inflicted by himself. How long did they continue
thus without speaking, he still walking, and she still weeping? In the
end he went up to her, took her hand with a shudder at feeling this
soft, damp, cold hand, raised it to his lips, and let fall upon it the
first tears that he had shed for years. In the depths of the abyss of
despair in which she was lying, she could still find pity for her
tormentor's tears. "Do not weep," she said to him, and drawing him to
her, she passionately covered his face with kisses. He could feel
burning lips traverse his eyes, his brow, his mouth. Then she disengaged
herself from him. She rose. Once again had she just seen the other.

"Ah," she exclaimed, in anguish, "I cannot even comfort you now.
Good-bye, good-bye," she repeated, "and this time it is good-bye for
ever."

She passed her hands over the young man's hair, and over his face, as
though to convince herself of the real existence of the countenance she
had loved so dearly, and then she broke away, hastening towards the
door.

"Where are you going?" he asked her.

"I am flying from you," she said wildly, and already she was out of the
room.

The outer door had closed after her and he had not found energy enough
to follow her. He remained standing on the spot where she had left him,
as though he had been smitten with a stroke of paralysis. A terrible
dread suddenly sent an icy shiver through his whole body. What if Helen
in the frenzy of her despair had fled from his house in order to kill
herself? For a moment he had before his eyes a horrible
hallucination--the shadow of a quay, the great, dim, moving sheet of
river, and a woman's body rolled along in the icy water. In his turn he
rushed away. He descended the staircase four steps at a time. On the
footpath there was a woman going in the direction of the Champs
Élysées. He hurried after her. It was not she. He reached the Avenue,
which was filled with a swarm of passengers and vehicles. How could he
find her in such a crowd? How guess in what direction the unhappy woman
had fled. A drizzling rain was falling. He hailed several cabs in vain,
and not until he had reached the crossways could he stop one. He gave
the driver the address in the Rue de La Rochefoucauld, and on the way
he, too, knew an anguish driven to the point of madness. But he was
already at the foot of the street and in front of the little house. It
was with a trembling of his entire heart that he drew the bell at the
door, and asked the servant whether Madame Chazel had come in. On
hearing the man's affirmative reply he nearly fell to the ground in the
excess of his emotion. And forthwith--for the play of the passions
constantly causes us to conflict with these countless trifles of
existence--he felt like a fool in presence of the man, who stood aside
to let him pass. How could he endure Helen's presence at that moment,
or, more than all, Alfred's? He stammered out a sentence alleging that
he had forgotten a piece of business, and saying that he would return in
the evening. He threw himself again into his cab.

"The thought of her son has saved her!" he said to himself. "I am at
least not a murderer!"



CHAPTER X


A few days after this scene, Armand sent Chazel a letter dated from
London in which he made his excuses for not shaking hands with his
friends before his final departure. To set foot again in the little
house in the Rue de La Rochefoucauld, to see again the two beings whose
lives he had broken, but who both had nevertheless only words of trust
or forgiveness for him, to be present once more at those moral throes
whose every sigh echoed in intolerable fashion to the very depths of his
soul--this effort had been beyond his actual energy. He had said to
himself when thinking on the one hand of Alfred's probable melancholy,
and on the other, of Helen and of the life that she would lead amid such
a bankruptcy of all modesty and feeling:

"It is horrible, but I cannot help it. I must forget it."

And to put petty facts, in accordance with one of his favourite maxims,
between himself and his grief, he had hastened his journey to England.
During the years of his cruelly idle and empty life, he had done his
best to beguile weariness by cosmopolitan wanderings. He had thus formed
three or four social centres for himself through Europe. In London,
especially, he had a life ready made, rooms in Bolton Street, off
Piccadilly, two clubs in which to find hospitality, and twenty houses in
which to be received as a friend. But this year, when settled as usual
in the three furnished apartments reserved for him, he felt incapable of
entering immediately upon the whirl of society. "I will leave my cards
in a few days," he said to himself.

The few days passed by, and he had the same repugnance to seeing his
acquaintances again. He allowed a week to glide away in this manner, two
weeks, three, and he continued to experience an unconquerable aversion
to all conversation and all friendly meeting, to all things and all
persons. He went so far as to walk only in the evening, the more surely
to evade the human face. If he went out in daylight, it was to take one
of those two-wheeled cabs, the driver of which is perched high up
behind, and the horse in which trots so quickly.

Without an object, he had himself driven at random through the
interminable streets of the huge city. Small, dark houses succeeded to
small, dark houses, squares with railings and miserable trees, open
spaces with discoloured statues, and boundless parks with herbage
browsed by flocks, opened up at distant intervals. Over the monstrous
ant-hill extended the vault of a sooty sky. Sometimes the said sky was
wholly drowned in a yellow fog; at other times the mist broke in pelting
rain, or else there was a dim, cold azure in which coal-dust seemed to
be floating. A population was hurrying along these streets, but Armand
did not recognise a single face, and he would go on thus for whole
hours, alone with his thought as when he awoke, and dressed, and
ate--with that thought which was always present and was always similar
to itself.

And what was it that was shown him by this fixed and torturing thought?
Unceasingly, unceasingly Helen, and the terrible confession during their
last interview showed itself in all its details, and he could see the
act which she had avowed in terms so pitilessly precise and clear. She
was evoked before him in the arms of De Varades; for he told himself
that after the first crisis of despair she must have relapsed again, and
the vision inflicted upon him a feeling which he again compared to a
weight upon his heart, crushing it with sadness.

This dull weight had descended upon it on the day when she had lamented
so tragically in the drawing-room in the Rue Lincoln. And, as on that
occasion, he endured an unbearable oppression in knowing himself to be
the cause of this woman's misery. After the present intrigue with De
Varades, doubtless she would have others. Is there ever a check on that
slippery incline which leads from the second lover to the tenth? When
the habit and power of self-respect, that unique principle of all
dignity, has been lost, what dike can be opposed to the invading flood
of temptation and curiosity? Helen was beautiful and would be courted.
Her successive falls occurred by anticipation now beneath his eyes, he
could do nothing to prevent them, and it was he, as she had exclaimed
through her tears, it was he who had ruined her.

In presence of the image of this woman's life, he felt as though set
over against a being for whom he had poured out poison with his own
hands. The mortal discomposure of the face, the cold sweat, the terrible
convulsions, how could these be prevented when the fatal drug was
flowing in her blood? The venom of adultery with which he had infected
this creature would accomplish its work of destruction. What excuse had
he for having done this? None, seeing that he had taken her without
loving her. Yes, if only he had loved her, if he had repaid her a little
happiness in exchange for the gift of her person!

But to the inevitable humiliation of guilt he had united another ground
of humiliation, namely, the most cruel disillusion. Of a child rich in
hopes, and led astray by a generous seeking after the most elevated
feelings, what had he made? One undeceived and in quest of
forgetfulness. What would she be in a year, and then in another year,
and in yet another? He repeated the celebrated phrase: "_All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand._" And he bent
beneath the weight of remorse, a weight so heavy, ah! so cruelly heavy,
that he was rendered incapable of any experience save that overwhelming,
continuous crushing beneath the thought of the act committed.

"What an absurd machine man is," he thought, "and what contemptible
weakness this distress! To justify such remorse I should of necessity be
guilty, that is so say, responsible and free. Is not freedom an empty
word, as also in consequence good and evil, virtue and vice?"

He had thought much on these questions in his youth, and had allowed as
accurate the chief modern arguments against the freedom of the will. He
studied himself that, by applying them to his own case, he might destroy
the moral misery that affected him.

"What am I?" he went on; "the product of a certain heredity placed in a
certain environment. The circumstances once given, I could not but feel
as I felt, think as I thought, desire as I desired."

And he decomposed his own personality into its elements, as he had done
only too often in his periods of "Hamletism," as he called his analytic
crises of inward paralysis. He recognised the first beginning of his
egotism in the absence of family life; he took cognisance of the fact
that college life had too early polluted his imagination, and the sight
of the slaughter in the civil war too early awaked his misanthropy. He
could see himself losing his religious faith by precocious reading,
becoming uninterested in all ambition for lack of a cause in which he
could believe, and because he was rich enough to live without a
profession. Then he watched the long, useless, and fatal series of his
love experiences unfold itself down to the hour when he had met Madame
Chazel.

"How could I have judged of her otherwise than I did?" he went on. "She
in a measure threw herself at my head. Could I understand that this was
the madness of a romantic, irrational, but sincere nature? I thought she
was a woman like the rest. I thought so, and it was inevitable that I
should think so."

He thrust the words expressive of necessity--"it was inevitable"--into
his heart, like a lever wherewith he might raise the weight of his
remorse, but the weight continued there still. His striving was in vain;
something within him that was stronger than himself constrained him to
consider himself the author of this woman's ruin.

Then he exerted himself to devise some other process of alleviation. He
reverted in imagination to all the halting-places in their mutual
intrigue, and he passed along this road of perdition seeking for the
crossways, the moments when he might have entered and caused her to
enter upon a different route. Why during the first few weeks of the
Chazels' stay in Paris had he, when walking with Helen, taken pains to
assume a sentimental attitude towards her? That he might appeal to her
thoughts and influence them to curiosity. Could he have helped it? "No,"
he replied, angrily; "seduction is a part of my nature, as the chase is
of the nature of a greyhound."

A moment had come when he had perceived that Helen was beginning to love
him. Could he then have withdrawn himself from her life? Yes, if he had
believed himself to be her first love. But does a man command himself to
believe this or that, to think in one way or another? What would he not
now have given to judge of Helen as he formerly did, and this was
impossible just as it had been impossible that he should judge of her
during that period as he did now!

On the night before their first secret interview, he could again see
himself hesitating and on the point of writing her a truthful letter in
order to break with her before the irreparable hour had come. But could
he have prevented such or such an image from beleaguering his thought
and restraining his pen?

During the few months of their union he had not loved her, and his lack
of feeling had martyred her! But is emotion to be commanded, and
tenderness? If he had broken brutally with her, this was a further
effect of the potency of ideas over the human will. The perception
within him of his friend's sorrow had been stronger than that of his
mistress's. He grasped as through a magnifying glass the internal
mechanism of which his actions had been the visible sign, the final
result; he buried himself in this minute examination of his past.

It was all in vain. The weight of his remorse was still there. He
succeeded in convincing his intellect, and the conviction did not
relieve his heart. His conscience, as the vulgar phrase has it, was
tormenting him. But what is conscience other than an illusion? A stone
that has been thrown, and that feels itself rolling without even knowing
that a hand has thrown it, might also believe itself to be the cause of
its own motion. Its conscience might reproach it for the crushing of the
grass-blades in its path. Remorse might start up in it.

"If I had a spectre before my eyes in consequence of an hallucination,"
Armand concluded, "should I place credence in apparitions? I should tell
myself that I saw a spectre, an empty form, that the condition of my
bodily organs inflicted the obsession upon me, and that would be all.
Let me suffer from my spectre if it must be so, but let me not believe
in it."

Granted! Good, evil, remorse, conscience, freedom--all so many unreal
apparitions, so many bodiless shadows! But there was indisputable
reality in the ruin of a soul, and in the fact that a dreadful destiny
had made him the instrument of its ruin. A ruined soul? There are then a
life and a death of souls, something that fosters them and something
that destroys them, after the manner of spiritual damnation and
salvation. Then he thought of Helen's soul before the final disaster,
all the episodes of their common past recurred simultaneously to him,
and he interpreted and understood them.

Now that he knew the truth concerning her, and the extent to which he
had misjudged her, the pettiest facts in that past were possessed of
unlooked-for significance. The mute moments of his sad sweetheart, her
melancholy, her effusiveness, showed to him in turn, and each memory
revealed to him at once his own ingratitude and the strength of the
feeling that he had inspired. How living was then that woman's soul! How
noble even in guilt! What richness in its sensibility! What fulness in
its emotions! What depth in its sorrow, and what magnificence in its
striving after an inaccessible happiness! And now, in the same soul,
what ineffaceable pollution!

His reflections turned upon Alfred, and he recalled his last
conversation with the man he had so unworthily deceived. He too
possessed a living soul whence gushed, as from kindly springs,
tenderness and loyalty, all the forces of belief and love. Then Armand
directed his thought to himself: "Ah! It is I," he said, "I who have the
dead soul!"

He retraced the course of his youth. He saw himself young and incapable
of devoting his activity to an ideal faith, a libertine incapable of
steadying his heart upon a passion--powerless for self-surrender,
belief, love! He went over the fatal list which had been drawn up
certainly no less by his vanity as a seducer than by his curiosity as a
debauchee. He sought again the names and countenances of the women who
had given themselves to him, from those who had been his in rooms of
infamy, where the mirrors of alcove and ceiling multiply the whiteness
of naked charms, to those whom he had possessed in modesty and who
required that endearments should be shrouded in the shadow of lowered
curtains. What had he made of the first and of the second, of the
impassioned and of the venal, of the romantic and of the depraved, of
little Aline and of Juliette, of Madame de Rugle and of Helen?
Instruments of sensation and nothing more. Could he remember a single
one to whom he had been good and helpful, and who was the better for
having known him? The prostitutes he had caused to commit an act of
prostitution among a thousand others. The adulteresses had lied once
more for him. His soul had not only been dead; it had spread around it
the infection of its own essential death. With his keen intellect, his
rare imagination, and all the implements of superiority that fortune had
placed in his hands, what work had he been accomplishing since his
youth? And all was to end in the moral assassination of a woman who had
believed in him!

Then the weight increased in heaviness and he strove anew.

"Life and death of the soul! Words! Words! A trifling cerebral
alteration and the soul is changed. The microscope would reveal the
slight disposition of cells which has it that I have never loved. But
why," he added "does this soul live by means of certain ideas and die
through others? Why? I do not know, and there are many other things that
I do not know. I talk of the brain. What is the brain? It is matter. And
what is matter? No one knows, no one understands. What is the use of
asking: Why this or why that? There is but one question: Why anything?
And the only thing we really know is that we shall never be able to
answer that question."

He perceived the gulf of mystery, the abyss of the unknowable which
science shows to be at the basis of all thought and of all existence.
Beneath the problem of his own particular destiny, he touched upon the
problem of all destiny, and his moral pain was so intense that he felt a
temptation to interpret, in a consolatory sense, the mystery wherein he
felt drowned. Why should not the key to this enigma of life,
undecipherable by reason according to reason's own avowal, be one of
salvation, a key that should redeem the universal distress here below,
that should restore life to dead souls such as his own soul, and deep
peace to tortured consciences such as his own conscience? Why should
there not be a heart like to our own hearts and capable of pitying us at
the centre of that nature which has nevertheless produced us, us with
our bitter or tender manner of feeling, with our appetite for the ideal
and our infirmities, with our greatness and our depravity?

"But then," he reflected, "God would exist. I might throw myself upon my
knees now in this hour of suffering, and say, 'Our Father, which art in
heaven.' Our Father!"

When the young man had reached this stage in his reasonings, tears rose
to his eyes. He who had known neither father nor mother was caused
unspeakable emotion by this single phrase of the sublime prayer.

Then he immediately grew steady again. Thoughts came to him that were
stronger than such mystic effusion. He was disputing with his intellect
against his heart, and his intellect was always victorious. The
objections to a belief in God, drawn from the existence of evil, took
shape before him. How reconcile a Father's goodness with that law of
reversion which wills it that the sins of some shall fall ceaselessly
upon others? Of Helen and himself, which was guilty? Himself. Which of
the two had committed a crime in love? Himself, by seducing this woman
without loving her, solely to satisfy a whim of pride, weariness, and
sensuality. Who was punished? Helen. Of the latter and Alfred, who was
guilty? Helen. Who suffered? Alfred. Thus the sin of each, if there be
sin, bears its poisonous fruit in the soul of another, and the same
solidarity governs all the relations of men among themselves. The sons
atone for the fathers, the just for the wicked, the innocent for the
guilty! Ah! how is it possible, in presence of this uninterrupted
transmission of misery, to believe in the existence of a principle of
justice and goodness in that obscurity beyond the day?

"No," said Armand to himself, "just as errors are produced by the
combined necessities of circumstances and temperaments, so are the
consequences of these acts distributed at random--at least on earth."

The mystic effusion then returned: "On earth? Can there be then another
world whereof this is but the symbol or the preparation? But how can any
link subsist between this and that? How can any help come in hours of
distress? Ah! if He were a heavenly Father, would not all suffering be
in his sight a prayer?"

Through the tumult of all these contradictory thoughts, the unhappy man
perceived that grand, unique problem of human life which religion alone
can solve, that of knowing whether beyond our limited days, our brief
sensations, our fleeting actions, there be something which does not pass
away, and which can satisfy our hunger and thirst for the infinite.
Armand was perhaps to become religious again some day; at the present
moment he was not so, and he answered himself:

"If there be nothing, why this terrible remorse? If there be something,
why am I unable either to conceive it with my intellect or to feel it
with my heart? How can I put an end to this unbearable anguish? How
raise the weight that is stifling me?"

The principal incidents during these gloomy days were some letters from
Alfred, filled with affection and with complaints about his wife's
health, the sadness of his home, his anxieties for the future. Helen
therefore continued to be unhappy.

"Ah!" thought Armand, "it is possible that the words 'good' and 'evil,'
'soul' and 'God,' have no kind of meaning. For thousands of years
philosophers have been disputing inconclusively about them, and
religions have been succeeding to one another and crumbling away. I have
measured the impotence of reason and I have not faith. But there is need
neither of reason nor of faith to know whether human misery exists, and
to know that we ought to do everything to avoid being the cause of this
misery."

We ought! As though we were free! But free or not, let us be sensible of
this misery and pity it! When the young man entered upon the new path of
pity, he experienced, not absolute relief from his remorse, but a sort
of despairing tenderness which at last moistened his heart. He pictured
Helen to himself when quite a little girl in a past such as her
confidences had revealed to him, and he pitied her for her sad childhood
and her oppressed youth. He pitied her for her marriage and for the
moral divorce which had separated her from Alfred. He pitied her for
having known himself, Armand, for the words that he had uttered to her
and which she had believed, for the kisses which he had asked of her and
which she had given him. But especially for that second fall, for that
frenzy which had thrown her into the arms of Varades did he passionately
pity her, and for all the errors into which this first error would draw
her. He pitied her for her birth, for her existence, for her subjection
to an unconquerable fate!

He was now more sensible of her life than he had been in the days when
she had been his, lost in emotion on his breast. By a strange kind of
soul-transposition he suffered from the sorrows of a mistress whose joys
he had been unable to share. He abode in thought within that sick heart,
and the feeling of pity became so strong and full that it overflowed
from him upon all life.

When in the evening he walked along the streets and reached the sinister
corners of the Haymarket and Regent Street, the sight of the girls of
different nationalities wandering there in all weathers moved him to the
bottom of his soul. They walked in their dark toilets and accosted the
passers-by in every idiom. There were tall, heavy Germans, delicate
Frenchwomen, and Englishwomen recognisable by faces that had often
retained an expression of purity. The majority were old, with fierce
gleaming in their gaze. What lamentable adventures--criminal ones,
perhaps--had cast these foreigners, far from their native lands and
beneath an ever-gloomy sky, upon the pavement of these streets,
pitilessly traversed by the busy work of commerce? And the young, with
profiles as of angels--for there were some such--how melancholy to see
them pushing open the bar-doors, and drinking large glasses of brandy at
a draught! They came out with a little colour on their cheeks and
resumed their pilgrimage of infamy, warmed by the draught of alcohol
against the rude climate, the sudden showers, the penetrating fog.

Armand watched them going and coming, accosting this man, abusing that,
and talking among themselves. There was a whole populace of these lost
ones passing through the streets. Yes, lost ones, for nothing can save
them any more than the prostitutes of luxury who go in pursuit of men
with diamonds and horses, or the adulteresses, those victims of the
search for new sensations. Nothing can save them, for there is nothing
that can save! Sometimes, however, the young man chanced to pass in
front of temples and to remember that thousands of beings believe in a
Saviour.

"But if I do not believe in Him," he asked himself, "is it my fault? A
true Saviour would be one who saved even the incredulous, even the
renegades, even the rebellious, even those who do not repent, seeing
that they are most to be pitied! No, there is no redemption, and Christ
has died in vain!"

Then he perceived life as the work of blind and destructive necessity,
of an evil force impelling creatures to ruin one another. Prostitution
below, adultery above, such are the products of the noblest of human
feelings--love. Civilisation appeared to him as a huge orgie where the
dishes are more numerous, the wines more heating, the guests a larger
crowd; but on what mystic plate will the bread of ransom be found by
those hungering for forgiveness? Meanwhile the orgie hums and roars, the
women offer the fruit of their red lips, a colossal hymn of mirth
encompasses the intoxication, every moment one of those present rolls
beneath the table, thunder-smitten by death who takes his victims at
random; he is so quickly replaced by another that his disappearance is
not even noticed, and joy plays on every brow and laughs in every eye.
Joy? Yes, provided that no thought be given to one's own distress, and
further that one's own misery be endured with courage; but the misery of
another--when can we find courage to endure that when we are ourselves
its cause? And suddenly his visions would fade away, and his theories
and dreamings, to give place to the sole image of Helen in agony, or
else of Helen depraved, and of these two images Armand could not have
told which tortured his thought the most.

"Can I be in love with her?" he asked himself one morning as he was
rising, "and is what I am taking for remorse simply love?"

He found it impossible to answer this question. When a man loves, he
conceives happiness as coming from the woman he loves, and how could he
imagine a single minute of happiness as coming from Helen now? He might
return to Paris, try to renew relations with her, carry her off, take
her to a land where everything should be strange to them, and where they
might forget! He felt that the worst follies committed for her would
remove nothing of his present anguish. Therefore he did not love her.

But then, why this cruel throbbing of the heart at the mere thought of
the act to which despair had led her? Why this continual anxiety which
caused him at the sight of Chazel's letters to pause with trembling hand
before opening them, as though he were about to read some fresh intrigue
that had been at last discovered by the unhappy man? Why was he unable
to take a book, or sit down to table, or go out, or come in, without
having the spectre of this woman beside him. Yet he had not killed her,
he had not shed her blood with his hands. Why this unwearied recurrence
to their mutual relations with the everlasting reflection as a
despairing background: "If I had known?" If he had known the worth of
what she gave him when she was giving it to him, if he had felt as he
was feeling now when she used to come and rest so tenderly, so
sincerely, upon his heart, if he had had that in his heart towards her
which was in it now, then--then he would have loved her--he would have
loved her!

That impotence to arrive at complete emotion, the martyrdom of egotism
to which he had been a victim, his lack of feeling, his barren rancour,
his vexation of spirit in solitude and distress, all his moral miseries
would have been brought to an end if he had had a simpler heart, if he
had understood, if he had believed! He believed in her now, and it was
too late. He understood her when she had ceased to be pure. He loved her
when she had endured pollution from the endearments of another. He was
discovering that he had passed by the side of happiness, now that the
enchanted palace which he had traversed without seeing it was closed to
him for ever. He was beginning to cherish her, like one dead to whom he
could never speak more. But one that is dead remains sheltered from
pollutions, and Helen? "All the perfumes of Arabia," he repeated,
rubbing his hand like the blood-stained queen. The weight was again on
his heart. How could he ever remove it?

But what if this remorse were merely a mirage fostered by absence? When
children are afraid of a dim form at night, what remedy does their
father adopt? He leads them to the object of their terror, and by
touching it cures their panic. What if he, too, tried this remedy? What
if he saw Helen again, and with his own eyes measured the evil that he
had wrought her? "It is the only step that is left to try," he said to
himself one day, and he abruptly resolved to return to Paris. He had
spent more than six weeks in preying thus upon his heart.



CHAPTER XI


What a charming and coquettish summer-like Paris Armand passed through
in going from the Rue Lincoln to the Rue de La Rochefoucauld on the day
after his return! It was two o'clock; a slight breeze was quivering
among the green leaves of the trees in the Champs Élysées, and the
carriages were driving gaily along. There was a light such as makes all
women pretty, but he had darkness within.

His memories rose from the pavement to form his melancholy escort, and
especially those of that cold winter night when he had passed on foot
through the same avenue on the eve of their first secret meeting. An
entire year had not passed away since then. How swift is time, and how
it carries away chances of happiness with it! Certainly, he had been
mournful even to death on that night, but not with the same sadness as
to-day, and yet he recognised that to-day's sadness was of higher worth
than the other. He would no longer act as he had done. Had, then, his
remorse purified while torturing him? Is there, then, a source of
ennoblement in sorrow? But of what use is this nobleness if it only
serves to show what a criminal use we have made of our powers?

He passed in front of the Marché de la Madeleine, and inhaled on the
warm wind the aroma of the bouquets and plants. He recollected that the
previous winter he used to bring violets to his mistress. On each
occasion she used to place one of these violets between the leaves of
some favourite book. There was one that was quite filled with these love
relics, one that she had lent one day with these words written in her
own handwriting on the first page: "Take care of my little flowers." It
was a childlike and charming token of the tender carefulness which she
bestowed upon the smallest detail of their mutual romance! And what had
he made of this passionate tenderness with which he had inspired her but
a means of perdition?

At last he was in front of the door of the little house. He rang, and
had scarcely entered the narrow courtyard when a joyful voice cried:
"Monsieur de Querne! Monsieur de Querne!" and little Henry Chazel, who
was making ready to go out with his nurse, ran up to him to welcome him.
The child's reception increased still more the melancholy of his return.
Armand was pained by encountering the brightness of affection in the
eyes of the son of the woman whom he had tortured and the man whom he
had betrayed.

"Is your father at home?" he asked.

"He's gone out," replied Henry; "but mamma's at home. She has been very
ill while you were away."

"And now?"

"She is better," said the little boy.

His nurse was already leading him away, and De Querne passed into the
narrow entrance-hall, and climbed the red-carpeted wooden staircase that
led to Helen's drawing-room. The aspect of things had not altered--those
things which had seen him so cheerfully plan and commit the crime in
love for which he had during the past two months been going through a
terrible expiation! How light had been his foot in clearing the low
steps of this staircase in the house of a friend of his childhood, when
on his way to outrage that friend! Whither without our knowledge do our
footsteps lead us?

He was shown into the drawing-room where, like a robber, he had given
his mistress so many kisses as soon as the master of the house was gone.
Why had these actions left him indifferent at the time, and why did the
sick place of his sensibility bleed so cruelly for them to-day? The
servant had uttered his name when opening the door. Helen, who was
seated near the window, and working, raised her head, laying her work
upon her knees. He saw her face, which was still more worn than on the
day of their last interview, and her features became discomposed as
though she were going to be ill. Suddenly he perceived the ravages that
grief had wrought: the eyes were hollow, the lips drawn, the chin
wasted, and--a detail which touched him more than anything else--her
gray dress, a dress which he had known the previous summer, lay on the
shoulders in folds that witnessed to the decline of the whole of her
poor body.

She did not say a word to him, and he, too, remained for a moment
without speaking. Mechanically he sought with his eyes for the low
arm-chair which he used formerly to wheel beside her, in order to talk
the better with her. This arm-chair had disappeared, as well as the
couch which formerly had stood crosswise at the corner of the fireplace.
They had spent so many intimate evenings together, seated, she on the
couch and he in the easy-chair! It was no doubt for the purpose of
forgetting those scenes of tenderness that the deserted woman had
banished these pieces of furniture from her home in this room. If he had
known the true reason of the change!

He seated himself on a chair beside her, and taking her hand said to
her:

"I have come to ask you to forgive me."

She withdrew that little hand whose almost convulsive trembling he had
felt. She looked at him with eyes of singular depth. The dark point of
the pupil dilated strangely. Then in a low, almost stifled voice she
replied:

"It is not for me to forgive you. If you have made me unhappy, it was
never your fault. Ah!" she went on, "I am greatly changed. I have been
ill, very ill, but I wished for my son's sake, and for yours also, that
you might not have that upon your conscience. I have thought so much of
you, during so many feverish nights! No, it was not your fault if you
were unable to believe me. Heavens! I have greatly pitied you!"

He listened with infinite gratitude to these words of charity coming
from lips from which his injustice had wrung so many sobs. For a moment
this forgiveness coming to him from his victim melted to tenderness the
weight of remorse, the alleviation of which he had so long sought in
vain, and he said to her in tones of deep emotion:

"What suffering I have caused you!"

"Do not reproach yourself for it," she said, with that angelic mildness
which caused in him so strange a feeling at once of sadness and of
consolation--of sadness, for this mildness betokened so great a
shattering, of consolation, for the balm of this pity penetrated to the
most secret recesses of his wounded heart--"Yes," she went on, shaking
her head, "it is this suffering that has saved me, and it is through it
that I have judged my life. When we parted in the way you know, I
returned here nearly mad, I had to take to my bed for many days, and
unceasingly I found the eyes of the man I had deceived fixed upon me
with devotion and sadness! By what I suffered, I understood the
suffering that I had caused and the evil that I had spread around one.
The shame into which I had fallen appeared to me, and in the presence of
death I inwardly vowed to make every endeavour to become once more a
virtuous woman."

She paused; he saw clearly that she wished to speak to him of the other,
to tell him that man had not been received at her house again; but
was not her silence after the last sentence sufficiently eloquent?

"And then," she resumed, "that was again for your sake. To cause you
that remorse for having ruined me--ah! the distraction caused by
injustice could alone have impelled me to such unworthy revenge. But I
had seen you weep. I thought to myself: He will return to me some day if
he is suffering, and if he be not suffering, why cause him to suffer?
But no, he will return to me, and I will tell him to live in peace.
There is now nothing in my life but my duty towards my son and his
father, and you must know that I found strength for this resolve only in
the remnant of my affection for you. But I have perhaps the right to ask
you for a promise in exchange for what I have given you."

She added in a deep tone:

"In memory of me, for we must see each other no more, say that you will
never trample upon a heart, that you will respect feeling wherever you
may find it."

He was silent. These last words, in revealing to him the transformation
wrought in this soul by its martyrdom, reassured him concerning the
terrible anxiety of those cruel weeks in London. After perceiving all
the ruin that may be multiplied by egotistical and mistrustful
injustice, he felt the supreme beneficence of pity. It was through
having pity for her lover's remorse, pity for her husband's love, pity
for her son's future, that Helen had been arrested in the fatal path. It
was from pity that she was blotting out all their sad and gloomy past.
It was further from pity for her husband and for her son that she might
perhaps find means to live a life of reparation if only he, Armand,
pitied and assisted her.

Thus, the principle of salvation which he had failed to obtain from
impotent reason, and which the dogmas of faith had not given him, he now
met with in that virtue of charity which foregoes all demonstrations and
all revelations--though is it not itself the abiding and supreme
revelation? And he felt that something had sprung up within him through
which he might always find reasons for living and acting--the religion
of human suffering.



THE END.



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