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Title: A Cruel Enigma
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A CRUEL ENIGMA


BY PAUL BOURGET


AUTHOR OF "A LOVE CRIME"



TRANSLATED WITHOUT ABRIDGMENT FROM THE 18TH FRENCH EDITION

BY JULIAN CRAY



LONDON:
_VIZETELLY & CO., 42, CATHERINE ST., STRAND_
BRENTANOS: NEW YORK, WASHINGTON AND CHICAGO

1887



PAUL BOURGET.


A poet of merit, an acute, clear-sighted critic, and an accomplished and
successful novelist, M. Paul Bourget occupies an important position
among the brilliant crowd of modern French _littérateurs_, upon the
younger generation especially of whom he exercises an acknowledged and a
constantly widening influence. Nor will this influence appear other than
natural if it be borne in mind that, gifted with no mean qualifications
for the task, M. Bourget has made a deep and particular study of just
those problems which, to this self-conscious, introspective age of ours,
are possessed of an all-absorbing interest. Complex as his nature
undoubtedly is, and many-sided as its accomplishment might, to a first
and superficial view, appear, he is in all his writings primarily a
critic, while his criticism has, moreover, uniformly occupied itself
with the same objects, with the hidden movements of the mind, that is to
say, considered in their bearings upon external manifestation, with all
the varied promptings which underlie the surface of conduct.

For the prosecution of such psychological studies, M. Bourget is in
every needful particular well fitted. He possesses keen insight, and a
remarkable power of sympathetically appreciating the play and
counter-play of motives, passions, and delicate shades of feeling; while
he is also endowed with that tact, subtlety, refinement, and, above all,
exact lucidity of expression, by which a writer is enabled to convey his
divinings unimpaired to the reader. This flexibility of sympathy, with
its answering flexibility of language, enabling to the expression alike
of widely sundered and of delicately blending diversities of thought and
emotion, correspond to, and are, perhaps, partly the outcome of, a
richly varied life-experience. Just as M. Bourget has made himself
equally at home in London and in Florence, in Paris and in Morocco, so
is he equally at ease and equally successful whether he be engaged in
indicating some of the consequences wrought by cosmopolitan existence in
the characters of Stendhal, Tourgéniev, and Amiel; in analysing the
conceptions of modern love presented in the writings of Baudelaire and
in the imaginations and diverse sensibilities of Flaubert, M. Leconte de
Lisle, and M. Taine; or, finally, in living the life of his own
fictitious characters, and portraying for us a Hubert or a Theresa de
Sauve.

It is evident that the wielder of such exceptional powers must be
obvious to peculiar dangers with which the mere dead-level narrator of
outer phenomena has little or no acquaintance. To the very fulness of
these powers, and to their supremely overmastering presence are due
faults from which less gifted writers are shielded by their mediocrity
as by a wall. It would be possible, did space and inclination serve, to
point out instances of affectation both of idea and of expression in M.
Bourget's writings. As in the case of some of our own premier
authors--George Eliot, for instance, and Mr. George Meredith--his
thought is not invariably worthy of the richness of its setting, while
his analysis is occasionally pushed so far as to be superfluous, not to
say absurd. The charge of "literary dandyism" brought against him by M.
Jules Lemaitre is not destitute of foundation. It must be acknowledged
that his subtlety borders at times on pedantry, and his refinement on
conceit. Having said this, it is only fair to add that these flaws do
not enter excessively into the texture of his work; indeed, they rather
serve, by force of sufficiently rare and sharply defined contrast, to
throw into relief its general sterling excellence. And such
imperfections should not be allowed to weigh overmuch with us in
attempting to estimate the worth of our author's achievement. It is
notorious that--_si parva licet componere magnis_--there are spots on
the sun.

Conversant as he is with the entire gamut of human feeling, M. Bourget
has in all his novels--with the single exception of the last of them,
"André Cornélis"--elected to direct exclusive attention to the passion
of love. His treatment of this theme is as characteristic as it is
fresh. It is, further, in complete harmony with what appears to be his
doctrine of life. Accuracy of vision, assisted, doubtless, by the
breadth of cosmopolitan experience, has produced in him a result not
uncommon with men of his calibre. In spite of his own protestation to
the contrary, it has, in fact, made him a pessimist. Like Flaubert, with
whom he has some affinity, and one of the most striking of whose phrases
he, in the course of the following pages, unconsciously adopts, he
discerns too clearly to be greatly pleased with what he sees. The
pessimism of the two men was, however, arrived at by somewhat different
routes. Setting aside any origins of a purely physical nature, it arose
with Flaubert mainly from the inconsistency of his external surroundings
with his inward ideals, and denoted simply that his objective world and
his subjective world were at strife. M. Bourget's dissatisfaction flows
from the unpleasing result of his analyses of the inward feelings
themselves. He probes them and penetrates them throughout their complex
ramifications and windings until he reaches some ultimate fact or some
irreducible instinct, from which he draws the moral of an unbending
necessity. And here he finds the aspirings of his imagination and the
decrees of destiny at daggers drawn.

In these considerations we have a key to the proper interpretation of
the present volume. "Love," its author has said elsewhere, "has, like
death, remained irreducible to human conventions. It is wild and free in
spite of codes and modes. The woman who disrobes to give herself to a
man, lays aside her entire social personality with her garments. For him
she again becomes what he, too, becomes again for her--the natural,
solitary creature to whom no protection can guarantee happiness, and
from whom no decree can avert woe." These lines sum in brief the
teaching of the book. Its author has, after his own fashion, made an
uncompromising analysis of the passion that he undertakes to describe,
and, stripping from it all the adventitious grace and mysticism and
sentiment with which society is wont to shroud it, has found it to
consist, in the last resort, of a single and simple fact: the physical,
fleshly desire of man for woman and woman for man. Hence it is that
Theresa, while receiving, and rejoicing exceedingly in, Hubert's loftier
and more ideal affection, betrays it at the first opportunity for the
sensual brutishness of a hard-living _roué_, and hence, too, it is that
the pure-souled Hubert, even while he scorns his mistress for her
treachery and loathes himself for his weakness, returns loveless and
despairing to her arms.

The book is a pitiless study of the inevitable. We are made to feel
that, given the particular primary conditions, the results specified
could not but follow. It would almost seem that in the modern scientific
conception of the universal reign of Law, and the comparatively remote
possibilities of modifying its operation, we are approximating to a
renewed, but far more vividly realised, enthronement of the old Greek
idea of that Necessity against which the gods themselves were believed
to strive in vain, and M. Bourget is too completely a man of his century
not to reflect faithfully one of the most striking phases of latter-day
thought. The contemplation of a fatalistic ordering of the moral world
cannot be otherwise than exceptionally painful to one who, like M.
Bourget, is as sensitive to moral and spiritual, as he is to physical
and natural beauty. His nobler nature is wounded by the hard sequence of
inevitable law, and would fain have a deeply different moulding of
circumstance, but for all that the true novelist can tell us only what
he sees, and what he believes to be true, and so it comes to pass that
in M. Bourget's novels, with, perhaps, a single exception, we find the
eternal contrast between the "might be" and the "must be" consistently
indicated. In his "L'Irréparable" and its companion tale, "Deuxième
Amour," in "Crime d'Amour" and in "Cruelle Enigme," the topic which
engrosses him is still the same. In all alike we are sensible of the
antagonism between the cherished aspirations of the moralist and the
conclusions which the psychologist finds himself unwillingly compelled
to draw. And not in them only, but throughout his other writings also,
we can trace the spirit-workings of the man to whom life in its
entirety, no less than certain sorrowful phases of it is "a cruel
enigma."


JULIAN CRAY.



DEDICATION.


TO Mr. HENRY JAMES.


Allow me, my dear Henry James, to place your name on the first page of
this book in memory of the time at which I was beginning to write it,
and which was also the time when we became acquainted. In our
conversations in England last summer, protracted sometimes at one of the
tables in the hospitable Athenæum Club, sometimes beneath the shade of
the trees in some vast park, sometimes on the Dover esplanade while it
echoed to the tumult of the waves, we often discussed the art of
novel-writing, an art which is the most modern of all because it is the
most flexible, and the most capable of adaptation to the varied
requirements of every temperament. We were agreed that the laws imposed
upon novelists by the various æsthetics resolve themselves ultimately
into this: to give a personal impression of life. Will you find this
impression in "A Cruel Enigma"? I trust so, that this work may be truly
worthy of being offered to one whose rare and subtle talent, intelligent
sympathy, and noble character, I have been able to appreciate as reader,
fellow-worker, and friend.


P.B.

_Paris, 9th February_, 1885.



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



A CRUEL ENIGMA.



CHAPTER I


All men accustomed to feel through their imaginations are well
acquainted with that unique description of melancholy which is inflicted
by too complete a likeness between a mother and her daughter, when the
mother is fifty years old and the daughter twenty-five, and the one
happens thus to exhibit the looked-for spectre of the old age of the
other. How fruitful in bitterness for a lover is such a vision of the
inevitable withering reserved for the beauty that he loves! To the eye
of a disinterested observer such likenesses abound in singularly
suggestive reflections. Rarely, indeed, does the analogy between the
features of the two faces extend to identity, and still more rarely are
the expressions completely alike. There has usually been a sort of
onward march in the common temperament from one generation to the next.
The predominant quality in the physiognomy has become more predominant
still--a visible symbol of a development of character produced by
heredity. Already too refined, the face has become still more so;
sensual, it has been materialised; wilful, it has grown hard and dry.

But it is especially at the period when life has done its work, when the
mother has passed her sixtieth year and the daughter her fortieth, that
this gradation in likenesses becomes palpable to the student, and with
it the history of the moral circumstances wherein the soul of the race
of which the two beings mark two halting-places has striven. The
perception of fatalities of blood is then so clear that it sometimes
turns to pain. It is in such cases that the implacable, tragical action
of the laws of Nature is revealed even to minds which are the most
destitute of general ideas, and if this action be at all exercised
against creatures who--apart even from love--are dear to us, how it
hurts us to admit it!

Although a man who had started formerly as a private soldier and has
been retired as General of division, who is seventy-two years old, who
has a liver complaint contracted in Africa, five wounds and the
experience of fifteen campaigns, is not very prone to philosophical
dreamings, it was nevertheless to impressions of this kind that General
Count Alexander Scilly resigned himself one evening, on leaving the
drawing-room of a small house in the Rue Vaneau, where he had left his
old friend Madame Castel, and this friend's daughter, Madame Liauran,
alone together. Eleven had just struck from a clock of the purest style
of the Empire--a gift from Napoleon I. to Madame Castel's father--which
stood on the mantelpiece in this drawing-room, and, as was his custom,
the General had risen at precisely the first stroke, to go to his
carriage, which had been announced.

Truth to tell, the Count had the strongest reasons in the world to be
dimly and profoundly disquieted. After the campaign of 1870, which had
won him his last epaulets, but in which the ruin of his health had been
completed, this man had found himself at Paris with no relations but
distant cousins whom he did not like, having had grounds of complaint
against them on the occasion of the succession to a common cousin. Had
they not impugned the old lady's will, and made a charge of undue
influence against--whom? Against him, Count Scilly, own son to the
Leipsic hero! Feeling that desire, which distinguishes bachelors of all
ages, to replace, by settled habits, the tranquility of the family that
he lacked, the General had been led to create a home external to the
rooms of the resting soldier.

Circumstances had thus made him the almost daily guest of the house in
the Rue Vaneau, where the two ladies to whom he had long been attached
resided. The eldest, Madame Marie Alice Castel, was the widow of his
first protector, Captain Hubert Castel, who had been killed at his side
in Algeria, when he, Scilly, was as yet only a plain sergeant. The
second, Madame Marie Alice Liauran, was the widow of his dearest
protégé, Captain Alfred Liauran, who had been killed in Italy.

All those who have given any study to the character of an old bachelor
and old soldier--a combination of two celibacies in one--will, from the
mere announcement of these facts, understand the place occupied by the
mother and daughter in the General's existence. Whenever he left their
house, and during the whole of the time which it took his carriage to
bring him home again, his one mental occupation was to recur to all the
incidents in his visit. This interval was a long one, for the General
lived on the Quai d'Orléans on the ground floor of an old house which
had been formally bequeathed to him by his cousin. The carriage went but
slowly; it was drawn by an old army horse, very aged and very quiet,
gently driven by an old orderly soldier, faithful Bertrand, who would
not have whipped the animal for a cask of grape-skin brandy, his
favourite drink.

The carriage itself did not run easily, low and heavy as it was--a
regular dowager's chariot which the General had preserved unaltered,
with the pale green leather of its lining and the dark green shade of
its panels. Is there any need to add that Scilly had inherited this
carriage at the same time as the house? In the ignorance of an old
soldier accustomed to the roughness of a profession to which he had
taken very seriously, he ingenuously considered this lumbering vehicle
as the height of comfort, and seated with his hand in one of the slings,
on the edge of those cushions on which his cousin used once to stretch
herself voluptuously, he unceasingly saw again before him the
drawing-room in the Rue Vaneau, and the two inmates of that calm
retreat--oh! so calm; with its lofty closed windows, beyond which
extended the princely garden reaching from the Rue Vaneau to the Rue de
Babylon; yes, so calm and so well known to him, Scilly, in its slightest
details!

On the walls hung three large portraits, witnessing that, since the
Revolution, all the men of the family had been soldiers. There was first
the grandfather, Colonel Hubert Castel, represented by the painter Gros
in the dark uniform of the cuirassiers of the Empire, his head bare, his
sturdy neck confined in its blue-black collar, his torso clad in its
cuirass, his arms enclosed in the dark cloth of their sleeves, and his
hands covered with their white rounded gauntlets. Napoleon had fallen
from his throne too soon to reward, as he wished, the officer who had
saved his life in the Russian campaign. Next, there was the son of this
stern cavalier, a captain in the African army, painted by Delacroix in
the blue tunic with its plaited folds, and the wide red trousers, tight
fitting at the feet; then the portrait, painted by Flandrin, of Alfred
Liauran, in the uniform of an officer of the line, such as Scilly
himself had worn. On both sides were miniatures representing Colonel
Castel again, but before he had attained to that rank, and also some men
and women of the old régime; for Madame Castel was a Mademoiselle de
Trans, of the De Transes of Provence, a very numerous and noble family
belonging to the district of Aix. Colonel Castel's father, who had been
merely the steward of Marie Alice's father, had saved the, in truth,
somewhat inconsiderable property of the family during the storm of 1792,
and when in 1829 Mademoiselle de Trans had wished to marry this wealthy
man's grandson, who happened to be the son of a celebrated soldier, she
had met with no opposition.

All Madame Castel's past, and that of her daughter, was, therefore,
spread over the walls of this drawing-room, which was at once austere
and homely, like all apartments which are much occupied, and occupied by
persons who have cherished recollections. The furniture, which was
composed of a curious mixture of objects of the First Empire, the
Restoration, and the July Monarchy, certainly had no correspondence with
the fortune of the two ladies, which had become very large owing to the
modesty of their mode of life; but of this furniture there was not a
single piece that did not speak of someone dear both to them and to
Scilly, who from childhood had found interest in everything belonging to
this family. Had not his father been made a Count on the same day that
his companion-in-arms, Castel, had been made a Colonel?

And it was just this intimate acquaintance with the life of these two
women which rendered the old man so strangely sensitive in respect of
them. He had identified himself with them to the extent of being unable
to sleep at night when he had left them visibly pre-occupied. This spare
man, sunk as it were into himself, in whom everything revealed strict
discipline from the stolidity of his look to the regularity of his gait,
and the punctilious rigour of his dress, disclosed, when his two friends
were in question, all those treasures of feeling which his mode of life
had given him little opportunity to expend; and on this evening, in the
month of February, 1880, he was in a state of agitation, like that of a
lover who has seen his mistress's eyes bathed in tears the cause of
which is unknown to him.

"What subject of grief can they have which they would not tell me?" This
question passed again and again through the General's head while his
carriage drove along, beaten by the wind and lashed by the rain. It was
"regular Prussian weather," as the Count's coachman expressed it; but
his master never thought of pulling up the open window through which
squalls were coming in every five minutes, and he constantly reverted to
his question, for his poor friends had been dreadfully dull the whole
evening, and the General could see them mentally just as his last glance
had caught them. The mother was seated in an easy-chair at the corner of
the fireplace, with her white hair, her profile which had not yet lost
its pride, and her strangely-black eyes set in a face wrinkled with
those long vertical wrinkles which tell of nobleness of life. The
extraordinary paleness of her colourless and, as it were, bloodless
complexion betrayed at all times the great sorrows of a widowhood which
had found nothing to divert or console it. But that evening this
paleness had appeared to the Count even more startling, as, too, had the
restlessness in the physiognomy of the daughter.

Although Madame Liauran was past forty, not one thread of silver mingled
as yet with the bands of black hair crowning the faded yet not withered
face, in which all her mother's features were reproduced, but with more
emaciation and pain. A nervous complaint kept her always lying on her
couch, which, that evening, was exactly opposite to Madame Castel's easy
chair, so that the General, on leaving the drawing-room had been able to
see both women at once, and to feel confusedly that on the second there
was weighing a double widowhood. No, there was nothing left in this
creature to enable her to support life without suffering. To Scilly, who
knew in what an atmosphere of tenderness and sorrow the second Marie
Alice had grown up, before herself entering an atmosphere of new
troubles, this sort of intensified widowhood afforded an easy
explanation of the existence in the daughter of a sensitiveness that was
already keen in the mother.

But then, were there not years in which the melancholy of the two widows
was enlivened or rather warded off by the presence of a child, Alexander
Hubert Liauran, who had been born a few months before the Italian war--a
charming creature, somewhat too frail to suit the taste of his
godfather, the General, who was fond of calling him "Mademoiselle
Hubert," and as graceful as all young people are who have been brought
up only by women? In the circumstances in which his mother and
grandmother found themselves, how could this boy have been anything but
the whole world to them?

"If they are so downcast, it can only be on his account," said the Count
to himself; "yet there is no question of war--" for the old soldier
recollected the promise which the young man had made to him to enlist at
once if ever a new strife should bring Germany and France into conflict.
This one condition had induced him not to dispute the frightened wish of
the two women who had been desirous of keeping the son by their side.
The young man, in fact, had at first been attracted by the military
profession; but the mere idea of seeing their child dressed in uniform
had been too stern a martyrdom for Madame Castel and Madame Liauran, and
the child had remained with them, unprovided with any career but that of
loving and of being loved.

The remembrance of his godson, Hubert, awakened a fresh train of musing
in the Count. His brougham had gone down the Rue du Bac, and was now
advancing along the quays. A rain-splash fell on the old soldier's cheek
and he closed the pane which had remained open. The sudden sensation of
cold made him shrink further into the corner of his carriage and into
his thoughts. That kind of backset which is produced by physical
annoyance often has the strange effect of heightening the power of
remembrance within us. Such was the case with the General, who suddenly
began to reflect that for several weeks his godson had rarely spent the
evening at the Rue Vaneau. He had not been disturbed by this, knowing
that Madame Liauran was very anxious that her son should go into
society. They were so much afraid lest he should weary of their narrow
life.

Scilly was now compelled by a secret instinct to connect this absence
with the inexplicable sadness overspreading the faces of the two women.
He understood so well that all the keen forces of the grandmother's and
of the mother's heart, had their supreme centre in the existence of
their child! And he pictured to himself pell-mell the thousand scenes of
passionate affection which he had witnessed since the time of Hubert's
birth. He remembered Madame Castel's recrudescent paleness, and Madame
Liauran's deadly headaches at the slightest uneasiness in the child. He
could see again the days of his education, the course of which was
followed by the mother herself. How many times had he admired the young
woman as, with her elbow resting on a little table, she employed her
evening hours in studying the page of a Latin or Greek book, which the
boy was to repeat next day?

With a touching, infatuated tenderness such as is peculiar to certain
mothers who would be pained by the slightest divorce between their own
mind and their son's, Madame Liauran had sought to associate herself
hour by hour with the development of her child's intelligence. Hubert
had not taken a lesson in the upper room in the little house at which
his mother was not present, engaged with some piece of charitable work,
such as knitting a coverlet or hemming handkerchiefs for the poor, but
listening with all her attention to what the master was saying. She had
pushed the divine susceptibility of her soul's jealousy so far as to be
unwilling to have a private tutor. Hubert had, therefore, received
instruction from different masters whom Madame Liauran had engaged on
the recommendations of her confessor, the Vicar of Sainte-Clotilde, and
none of them had been able to dispute with her an influence which she
would share only with the grandmother.

When it was necessary that the youth should learn how to ride and fence,
the poor woman, to whom an hour spent away from her son was a period of
ill-dissembled anguish, had taken months and months to make up her mind.
At last she had consented to fit up a room on the ground floor as a
fencing school. An old regimental instructor, who was settled in Paris,
and whom General Scilly had had under him in the service, used to come
three times a week. The mother did not venture to acknowledge that the
mere noise of the clashing of the swords awakened within her a dread of
some accident, and caused her almost insurmountable emotion. The Count
had likewise induced Madame Liauran to entrust her son to him to be
taken to the riding-school; but she had done so on condition that he
would not leave him for a minute, and every departure for this
horse-exercise had continued to be an occasion of secret agony.

Foreign as they might be to his own character, all these shades of
feeling, which had made the education of the young man a mysterious poem
of foolish terror, painful felicity, and continual effusiveness, had
been understood by Count Scilly, thanks to the intelligence of the most
devoted affection, and he knew that Madame Castel, though outwardly more
mistress of herself, was little better than her daughter. How many
glances from the pale woman had he not caught, wrapping Marie Alice
Liauran and Hubert in too ardent and absolute idolatry?

The days had passed away; their child was reaching his twenty-second
year, and the two widows continued to entwine and bind him with the
thousand attentions by which impassioned women, whether mothers, wives,
or lovers, know how to keep the object of their passion beside them.
With a careful minuteness that was fruitful in intimate delight, they
had taken pleasure in furnishing for Hubert the most charming bachelor's
rooms that could be imagined. They had enlarged a pavilion running out
from behind the house into a little garden which was itself contiguous
to the immense garden in the Rue de Varenne. From her own bedroom
windows Madame Liauran could see those of her son, who had thus a little
independent universe to himself. The two women had had the sense to
understand that they could keep Hubert altogether with themselves only
by anticipating the wish for a personal existence inevitable in a man of
twenty.

On the ground floor of this pavilion were two spacious rooms on a level
with the garden--one containing a billiard table, and the other every
requisite for fencing. It was here that Hubert received his friends,
consisting of some people from the Faubourg Saint-Germain; for, although
Madame Castel and Madame Liauran did not visit, they had maintained
continuous relations with all those in the Faubourg who occupied
themselves with works of charity. These formed a distinct society, very
different from the worldly clan, and united in a mode all the closer,
because its relations were very frequent, serious and personal. But
certainly none of Hubert's young friends moved in an establishment
comparable to that which the two women had organised on the first story
of the pavilion. They who lived in the simplicity of unexpectant widows,
and who would not for the world have modified anything in the antique
furniture of their house, had had modern luxury and comfort suddenly
revealed to them by their feelings towards Hubert.

The young man's bedroom was hung with prettily and coquettishly
fantastical Japanese stuffs, and all the furniture had come from
England. Madame Castel and Madame Liauran had been charmed with some
specimens which they had seen at the house of a furious Anglomaniac and
distant relation of their own, and with the caprice of love they had
proposed to give themselves the pleasure of affording this original
elegance to their child. Accordingly, the room, which looked towards the
south and always had the sun upon it, contained a charming,
triple-panelled wardrobe, a wooden wainscot and a what-not mirror over
the mantlepiece, two graceful brackets, a low square bed, and arm-chairs
that one could lounge in for ever--in short, it was really such a _home_
of refined convenience as every rich Englishman likes to obtain. A
bath-room and a smoking-room adjoined this apartment.

Although Hubert was not as yet addicted to tobacco, the two women had
anticipated even this habit, and it had afforded them a pretext for
fitting up a little room in quite an Oriental fashion, with a profusion
of Persian carpets and a broad divan draped with Algerian stuffs brought
back by the General from his campaigns, while similar stuffs adorned
ceilings and walls, upon which might be seen all the weapons which three
generations of officers had left behind them. Some Egyptian sabres
recalled the first campaign in which Hubert Castel had served in
Buonaparte's retinue. The Captain in the African Army had been the owner
of these Arab weapons, and those memorials of the Crimea bore witness to
the presence of Sub-Lieutenant Liauran beneath the walls of Sebastopol.

On leaving the smoking-room you entered the study, the windows of which
were double, those inside being of coloured glass, so that on dull days
it was possible not to notice the aspect of the hour. The two women had
endured such frightful recurrences of melancholy on gloomy afternoons,
and beneath cruel skies! A large writing-table standing in the middle of
the room had in front of it one of those revolving arm-chairs which
allows the worker to turn round towards the fireplace without so much as
rising. A little Tronchin table presented its raised desk, if the young
man took a fancy to stand as he wrote, while a couch awaited his
idleness. A cottage piano stood in the corner, and a long, low bookshelf
ran along the back part of the room.

Perhaps the books with which the shelves of the last-named piece of
furniture were provided interpreted even better than all the other
details the anxious solicitude with which Madame Castel and Madame
Liauran had made every arrangement in order to remain mistresses of the
son during those difficult years which intervene between the twentieth
and the thirtieth. Having both, as soldiers' widows, preserved a
reverence for a life of action while, at the same time, their extreme
tenderness for Hubert rendered them incapable of enduring that he should
face it, they had found a compromise for their consciences in the dream
of a studious life for him. They ingenuously cherished a wish that he
should undertake a large and long work of military history, such as one
of the De Trans family had left behind him in the eighteenth century.
Was not this the best means for ensuring that he would remain a great
deal at home--that is to say, with them? Accordingly, thanks to Scilly's
advice, they had formed a tolerable collection of books suitable for
this project. Some religious works, a small number of novels, and, alone
among modern writers, the works of Lamartine completed the equipment of
the shelves.

It is right to say that in that corner of the world where no journal was
taken in, contemporary literature was completely unknown. The ideas of
the General and of the two women were identical on this point. And the
case was nearly the same in respect of the whole contemporary world as
it was in respect of literature. Astonishing conversations might have
been heard in that drawing-room in the Rue Vaneau, in the course of
which the Count would explain to his friends that France was governed by
the delegates of the secret societies, with other political theories of
similar scope. The same causes always produce the same effects.
Precisely as happens in very small country towns, monotony of habit had
resulted, with the two widows, in monotony of thought. Feelings were
very deep and ideas very narrow in that old house the entrance gate of
which was opened but rarely. On such occasions the passer-by could see,
at the end of a court, a building on the pediment of which might be read
a Latin motto, engraved in former times in honour of Marshal de Créquy,
the first owner of the house: _Marti invicto atque indefesso_--to
unconquered and indefatigable Mars. The lofty windows of the first
storey and of the ground floor, the old colour of the stone, the
appropriate silence of the court, all harmonised with the characters of
the two residents, whose prejudices were infinite.

Madame Castel and her daughter believed in presentiments, double sight,
and somnambulists. They were persuaded that the Emperor Napoleon III.
had undertaken the Italian war in fulfilment of a carbonaro oath. Never
would these divinely good women have bestowed their friendship upon a
Protestant or an Israelite. The mere idea that there might be a
conscientious Freethinker would have disconcerted them as though they
had been told of the sanctity of a criminal. In short, even the General
thought them ingenuous. But, as it sometimes happens with officers
condemned to fleeting loves by their roving life and the timid feelings
hidden beneath their martial appearance Scilly was not well enough
acquainted with women to appreciate the reality of this ingenuousness or
the depth of the ignorance of evil in which the two Marie Alices lived.
He supposed that all virtuous women were similar, and he confounded all
others under the term of "queans." When his liver troubled him
excessively he would pronounce this word in a tone which gave grounds
for suspecting some bitter deception in his past life. But who among the
few people that he met at the house of "his two saints," as he called
Madame Castel and her daughter, dreamed of troubling themselves about
whether he had been deceived by some garrison adventuress or not?

Still lulled by the rolling of his carriage, the General continued to
resign himself to the memory-crisis through which he had been passing
since his departure from the Rue Vaneau, and which had caused him to
review, in a quarter of an hour, the entire existence of his friends.
Other faces also were evoked around these two forms, those, for
instance, of Madame de Trans, Madame Castel's first cousin, who lived in
the country for part of the year, and who used to come with her three
daughters, Yolande, Yseult and Ysabeau, to spend the winter at Paris.
These four ladies used to take up their abode in apartments in the Rue
de Monsieur, and their Parisian life consisted in hearing low mass at
seven o'clock in the morning in the private chapel of a convent situated
in the Rue de La Barouillère, in visiting other convents, or in busying
themselves in workrooms during the afternoon. They went to bed at about
half-past eight, after dining at noon and supping at six.

Twice a week "those De Trans ladies," as the General called them, spent
the evening with their cousins. On these occasions they returned to the
Rue de Monsieur at ten o'clock, and their servant used to come for them
with a parcel containing their pattens and with a lantern that they
might cross the courtyard of Madame Castel's house without danger. The
Countess de Trans and her three daughters had the sunburnt and freckled
faces of peasant women, dresses home-made by seamstresses chosen for
them by the nuns, parsimonious tastes written in the meanness
of their whole existence, and--a detail revealing their native
aristocracy--charming hands and delicious feet which could not be
disgraced by the ready-made boots purchased in a pious establishment in
the Rue de Sèvres.

The most singular contrast existed between these four women and George
Liauran, another cousin on the side of the second Marie Alice. He
represented all the fashions in the drawing-room in the Rue Vaneau. He
was a man of forty-five who had been launched into wealthy society with
a fortune that had at first been a moderate one but had increased by
clever speculations on the Bourse. He had his rooms in his club, where
he used to breakfast, and every evening a cover was laid for him in one
of the houses in which he was a familiar guest. He was small, thin, and
very brown. Whether or not he maintained the youth of his pointed beard
and very short hair by the artifice of a dye, was a question that had
long been debated among the three Demoiselles de Trans, who were
stupefied at the sight of George's superior appearance, the varnished
soles of his dress-shoes, the embroidered clocks of his silk socks, the
chased gold studs in his cuffs, the single pearl in his shirt front, by
the slightest knick-knacks, in fact, belonging to this man with the
shrewd lively eyes, whose toilet represented to them a life of thrilling
prodigality. It was agreed among them that he exercised a fatal
influence over Hubert.

Such was doubtless not Madame Liauran's opinion, for she had desired
George to act as a chaperon to the young man in the life of the world,
when she wished her son to cultivate their family relations. The noble
woman rewarded her cousin's lengthened attention by this mark of
confidence. He had come to the quiet house very regularly for years,
whether it was that the security of this affection was pleasing to him
amid the falsities of Parisian society, or that he had long conceived a
secret adoration for Marie Alice Liauran, such as the purest women
sometimes unconsciously inspire in misanthropes--for George had that
shade of pessimism which is to be met with in nearly all club-livers.
The nature of the character of this man, who was always inclined to
believe the worst of everything, was the object of an astonishment on
the part of the General that custom had failed to allay; but on this
evening he omitted to reflect upon it. The recollection of George only
served to heighten that of Hubert still more.

Irresistibly the worthy man came to recognise the obviousness of the
fact that his two friends could not be so cruelly downcast except on
account of their child. Yes; but why? This point of interrogation, which
summed up the whole of his reverie, was more present than ever to the
Count's mind as his dowager equipage stopped before his house. Another
carriage was standing on the other side of the gateway, and Scilly
thought that in it he could recognise the little brougham which Madame
Liauran had given to her son.

"Is that you, John?" he cried to the coachman through the rain.

"The Count, sir? . . . ." replied a voice which Scilly was startled to
recognise.

"Hubert is waiting for me within," he said to himself; and he crossed
the threshold of the door a prey to curiosity such as he had not
experienced for years.



CHAPTER II


Nevertheless, in spite of his curiosity, the General did not make a
gesture the quicker. The habit of military minuteness was too strong
with him to be vanquished by any emotion. He himself put his stick into
the stand, drew off his furred gloves one after the other and laid them
on the table in the antechamber beside his hat, which was carefully
placed on its side. His servant took off his overcoat with the same
slowness. Not until then did he enter the apartment where, as his
servant had just told him, the young man had been awaiting him for
half-an-hour.

It was a cheerless looking room, and one which revealed the simplicity
of a life reduced to its strictest wants. Oak shelves overladen with
books, the mere appearance of which indicated official publications, ran
along two sides. Some maps and a few weapon-trophies adorned the rest. A
writing-table placed in the centre of the apartment displayed papers
classified in groups--notes for the great work which the Count had been
preparing for an indefinite time on the reorganisation of the army. Two
lustring sleeves, methodically folded, lay among the squares and rulers;
a bust of Marshal Bugeaud adorned the fireplace, which was furnished
with a grate, in which a coke fire was dying out.

The tile-paved floor was tinted red, and the carpet scarcely extended
beyond the legs of the table which rested upon them. On the table stood
a bright copper lamp, which was lighted at the present moment, and the
green cardboard shade threw the light upon the face of young Liauran,
who was seated beside it in the straw arm-chair, and was looking at the
fire, with his chin resting on his hand. He was so absorbed in his
reverie that he appeared to have heard neither the rolling of the
carriage-wheels nor the General's entrance into the apartment. Never,
moreover, had the latter been so struck as he was just then with the
astonishing likeness presented by the physiognomy of the child with that
of the two women by whom he had been brought up.

If Madame Liauran appeared more frail than her mother, and less capable
of coping with the bitterness of life, this fragility was still more
exaggerated in Hubert. The thin cloth of his dress-coat--for he was in
evening dress, with a white nosegay in his button-hole--allowed the
outlines of his slender shoulders to be seen. The fingers extended
across his temple were as delicate as a woman's. The paleness of his
complexion, which, owing to the extreme regularity of his life, was
usually tinged with pink, betrayed, in this hour of sadness, the depth
of vibration awakened by all emotion in this too delicate organism.
There were deep, nacreous circles round his handsome black eyes; but, at
the same time, a touch of pride in the line of the nobly-cut forehead
and almost perfectly straight nose, the curve of the lips with its
slender dark moustache, the set of the chin marked with a manly dimple,
and other tokens still, such as the bar of the knitted eyebrows,
betrayed the heredity of a race of action in the over-petted child of
two lovely women.

If the General had been as good a connoisseur in painting as he was
skilled in arms, this face would certainly have reminded him of those
portraits of young princes painted by Van Dyck, in which the almost
morbid delicacy of an ancient race is blended with the obstinate pride
of heroic blood. After pausing for a few seconds in contemplation, the
General walked towards the table. Hubert raised the charming head which
his brown ringlets, disordered as they were at that moment, rendered
completely similar to the portraits executed by the painter of Charles
I.; he saw his godfather and rose to greet him. He had a slight and
well-made figure, and merely in the graceful fashion in which he held
out his hand could be traced the lengthened watchfulness of maternal
eyes. Are not our manners the indestructible work of the looks which
have followed us and judged us during our childhood?

"And so you have come to speak to me on very serious business," said the
General, going straight to the point. "I suspected as much," he added.
"I left your mother and your grandmother more melancholy than I had ever
seen them since the Italian war. Why were you not with them this
evening? If you do not make those two women happy, Hubert, you are
cruelly ungrateful, for they would give their lives for your happiness.
And now, what is going on?"

The General, in uttering these words, had pursued aloud the thoughts
which had been tormenting him during the drive home from the Rue Vaneau.
He could see the young man's features changing visibly as he spoke. It
was one of the hereditary fatalities in the temperament of this too
dearly loved child that the sound of a harsh voice always gave him a
painful little spasm of the heart; but, no doubt, to the harshness of
Count Scilly's accents there was added the harshness of the meaning of
his words. They brutally laid bare a too sensitive wound. Hubert sat
down as though crushed; then he replied in a voice which, naturally
somewhat clouded, was at this moment more muffled than usual. He did not
even attempt to deny that he was the cause of the sorrow on the part of
the two women.

"Do not question me, godfather. I give you my word of honour that I am
not guilty, only I cannot explain to you the misunderstanding which
makes me a subject of grief to them. I cannot help it. I have gone out
oftener than usual, and that is my only crime."

"You are not telling me the whole truth," replied Scilly, softened, in
spite of his anger, by the young man's evident grief. "Your mother and
your grandmother are too fond of keeping you tied to their apron
strings, and I have always thought so. You would have been brought up
more hardily if I had been your father. Women do not understand how to
train a man. But have they not been urging you for the last two years to
go into society? It is not your going out, therefore, that grieves them,
but your motive for doing so."

As he uttered these words, which he considered very clever, the Count
looked at his godson through the smoke from a little brier pipe which he
had just lighted, a mechanical custom sufficiently explaining the acrid
atmosphere with which the room was saturated. He saw Hubert's cheeks
colour with a sudden inflow of blood, which to a more perspicacious
observer would have been an undeniable confession. Only an allusion or
the dread of an allusion to a woman whom he loves, has the power to
disturb a young man of such evident purity as Hubert was. After a few
moments of this sudden emotion, he replied:

"I declare to you, godfather, that there is nothing in my conduct of
which I should be ashamed. It is the first time that neither my mother
nor my grandmother has understood me--but I shall not yield to them on
the point in dispute. They are unjust about it, frightfully unjust," he
continued, rising and taking a few steps.

This time his face was no longer expressive of submission, but of the
indomitable pride which military heredity had infused into his blood. He
did not give the General time to notice his words, which in the mouth of
a son, usually only too submissive, disclosed an extraordinary intensity
of passion. He contracted his eyebrows, shook his head as though to
drive away some tormenting thought, and, once more master of himself,
went on:

"I have not come here to complain to you, godfather; you would give me a
bad reception, and you would not be wrong. I have to ask a service of
you, a great service. But I would wish all that I am going to confide to
you to remain between ourselves."

"I never enter into such engagements," said the Count. "A man has not
always the right to be silent," he added. "All that I can promise you is
to keep your secret if my affection for you know whom, does not make it
a duty that I should speak. Come, now, decide for yourself."

"Be it so," rejoined the young man, after a silence, during which he
had, no doubt, judged of the situation in which he found himself; "you
will do as you please. What I have to say to you is comprised in a short
sentence. Godfather, can you lend me three thousand francs?"

This question was so unexpected by the Count that it forthwith changed
the current of his thoughts. Since the beginning of the conversation he
had been trying to guess the young man's secret, which was also the
secret of his two friends, and he had necessarily thought that some
intrigue was in question. To tell the truth, he did not consider this
very shocking. Though very devout, Scilly had remained too essentially
a soldier not to have most indulgent theories respecting love. Military
life leads those who follow it to a simplification of thought which
causes them to admit all facts, whatever they may be, in their verity. A
"quean" in Scilly's eyes was a necessary malady with a young man. It was
enough if the malady did not last too long, and if the young man came
out of it with tolerable impunity. Now he had suddenly a misgiving that
was more alarming to him, for, owing to his regimental experience, he
considered cards much more dangerous than women.

"You have been gambling?" he said abruptly.

"No, godfather," replied the young man. "I have merely spent more than
my allowance for the last few months; I have debts to settle, and," he
added, "I am leaving for England the day after to-morrow."

"And your mother knows of this journey?"

"Undoubtedly; I am going to spend a fortnight in London with my friend,
Emmanuel Deroy, of the Embassy, whom you know."

"If your mother lets you go," returned the old man, continuing the
logical pursuit of his inquiry, "it is because your conduct in Paris is
grieving her cruelly. Answer me frankly--You have a mistress?"

"No," replied Hubert, with a fresh rush of purple across his cheeks. "I
have no mistress."

"If it is neither the Queen of Spades nor the Queen of Hearts," said the
General, who did not doubt his godson's veracity for a moment--he knew
him to be incapable of a falsehood--"will you do me the honour of
telling me what has become of the five hundred francs a month, a
colonel's pay, which your mother gives you for pocket-money?"

"Ah! godfather," returned the young man, visibly relieved; "you do not
know the requirements of a life in society. Why, to-day I gave a dinner
to three friends at the Café Anglais; that came to very nearly a
hundred and fifty francs. I have sent several bouquets, hired carriages
to go into the country, and given a few keepsakes. The five bank-notes
are so soon at an end! In short, I repeat, I have debts that I want to
pay, I have to meet the expenses of my journey, and I do not want to
apply to my mother or my grandmother just now. They do not know what a
young man's life in Paris is like; I do not want to add a second
misunderstanding to the first. With our present relations what they are
they would see faults where there have been only inevitable necessities.
And, then, I am physically unable to endure a scene with my mother."

"And if I refuse?" Scilly asked.

"I shall apply elsewhere," said Alexander Hubert; "it will be terribly
painful to me, but I shall do so."

There was silence between the two men. The whole story was darkening
again in the General's eyes, like the smoke which he was sending from
his pipe in methodical puffs. But what he did see clearly was the
definitive nature of Hubert's resolve, whatever its secret cause might
be. To refuse him would be perhaps to send him to a money-lender, or at
all events to force him to take some step wounding to his pride. On the
other hand, to advance this sum to his godson was to acquire a right to
follow out more closely the mystery which lay at the bottom of his
excitement, as well as behind the melancholy of the two women. And then,
when all is told, the Count loved Hubert with an affection that bordered
closely on weakness. If he had been deeply moved by Madame Liauran's and
Madame Castel's dull despair, he was now completely upset by the visible
anguish written on the face of this child, who was, in his thoughts, an
adopted son as dear as any real son could have been.

"My dear fellow," he said at last, taking Hubert's hand, and in a tone
of voice giving no further token of the harshness which had marked the
beginning of their conversation, "I think too highly of you to believe
that you would associate me in any action that could displease your
mother. I will do what you wish, but on one condition----"

Hubert's eyes betrayed fresh anxiety.

"It is merely to fix the date on which you expect to repay me the money.
I want to oblige you," continued the old soldier, "but it would not be
worthy of you to borrow a sum that you believed yourself unable to pay
back again, nor of me to lend myself to a calculation of the kind. Will
you come back here to-morrow afternoon? You will bring me an account of
what you can spare from your allowance every month. Ah! it will not do
to offer any more bouquets, or dinners at the Café Anglais, or
keepsakes. But, then, have you not lived for a long time past without
these foolish expenses?"

This little speech, in which the spirit of order that was essential to
the General, his goodness of heart, and his taste for regularity of life
were blended in equal proportion, moved Hubert so deeply that he pressed
his godfather's fingers without replying, as though crushed by emotions
which he had left unexpressed. He suspected that while this interview
was taking place at the Quai d'Orléans, the evening was being
lengthened out at the house in the Rue Vaneau, and that the two beings
whom he loved so deeply were commenting on his absence. He himself
suffered from the pain that he was causing, as though a mysterious
thread linked him to those two women seated beside their lonely hearth.

And, indeed, the General once gone, the "two saints" had remained silent
for a long time in the quiet little drawing-room. Nothing of all the
tumult of Parisian life reached them but a vast, confused murmuring
analogous to that of the sea when heard a long way off. The seclusion of
this retired abode, with the hum of life outside, was a symbol of what
had so long been the destiny of Madame Castel and her daughter. Marie
Alice Liauran, lying on her couch, and looking very slight in her black
attire, seemed to be listening to this hum, or to her thoughts, for she
had relinquished the work with which she had been engaged; while her
mother, seated in her easy-chair, and also in black, continued to ply
her tortoiseshell crochet-hook, sometimes raising her eyes towards her
daughter with a look wherein a twofold anxiety might be read. She also
experienced the sensation felt by her daughter, on account both of
Hubert and of this daughter, whose almost morbid sensitiveness she knew.
It was not she, however, who first broke the silence, but Madame
Liauran, who suddenly, and as though pursuing her reverie aloud, began
to lament:

"What renders my pain still more intolerable is that he sees the wound
which he has dealt my heart, and that he is not to be stopped by it--he
who, from childhood until within the last six months, could never
encounter a shadow in my look or a wrinkle on my forehead without a
change of countenance. That is what convinces me of the depth of his
passion for this woman. What a passion and what a woman!"

"Do not become excited," said Madame Castel, rising and kneeling in
front of her daughter's couch. "You are in a fever," she said, taking
her hand. Then, in a low voice, and as though probing her consciousness
to the bottom, she went on: "Alas! my child, you are jealous of your
son, as I have been jealous of you. I have spent so many days--I can
tell you this now--in loving your husband----"

"Ah! mother," replied Madame Liauran, "that is not the same kind of
grief. I did not degrade myself in giving part of my heart to the man
whom you had chosen, while you know that cousin George has told us of
this Madame de Sauve, and of her education by that unworthy mother, and
of her reputation since she has been married, and of the husband who can
suffer his wife to have a drawing-room in which the conversation is more
than free, and of the father, the old prefect, who, on being left a
widower, brought up his daughter helter-skelter with his mistresses. I
confess, mamma, that if there is egotism in maternal love, I have had
that egotism; I have been grieved by anticipation at the thought that
Hubert would marry, and that he would continue his life apart from mine.
But I blamed myself greatly for feeling in that way,--whereas now he has
been taken from me, and taken from me only to be disgraced!"

For some minutes longer she prolonged this violent lamentation, wherein
was revealed that kind of passionate frenzy which had caused all the
keen forces of her heart to be concentrated about her son. It was not
only the mother that suffered in her, it was the pious mother to whom
human faults were abominable crimes; it was the sad and isolated mother
upon whom the rivalry of a young, rich, and elegant woman inflicted
secret humiliation; in fine, her heart was bleeding at every pore. The
sight of this suffering, however, wounded Madame Castel so cruelly, and
her eyes expressed such sorrowful pity, that Marie Alice broke off her
complaint. She leaned over on her couch, laid a kiss upon those poor
eyes, so like her own, and said:

"Forgive me, mamma; but to whom should I tell my trouble if not to you?
And then--would you not see it? Hubert is not coming in," she added,
looking at the clock, the pendulum of which continued to move quietly to
and fro. "Do you not think that I ought to have opposed this journey to
England?"

"No, my child; if he is going to pay a visit to his friend, why should
you exercise your authority in vain? And if he were going from any other
motive, he would not obey you. Remember that he is twenty-two years old,
and that he is a man."

"I am growing foolish, mother; this journey was settled a long time
ago--I have seen Emmanuel's letters; but, when I am grieved, I can no
longer reason, I can see nothing but my sorrow, and it obstructs all my
thoughts---- Ah! how unhappy I am!"



CHAPTER III


If any proof of the thorough many-sidedness of our nature were required,
it might be found in that law which is a customary object of indignation
with moralists, and which ordains that the sight of the sorrow of our
most loved ones cannot, at certain times, prevent us from being happy.
Our feelings seem to maintain a sort of life and death struggle against
one another in our hearts. Intensity of existence in anyone among them,
though it be but momentary, is only to be obtained at the cost of
weakening all the rest. It is certain that Hubert loved his two
mothers--as he always called the two women who had brought him up--to
distraction. It is certain that he had guessed that for many days they
had been holding conversations together analogous to that of the evening
on which he had borrowed from his godfather the three thousand francs
which he required for settling his debts and meeting the cost of his
journey.

And yet, on the second day after that evening, when he found himself in
the train which was taking him to Boulogne, it was impossible for him
not to feel his soul steeped, as it were, in divine bliss. He did not
ask himself whether Count Scilly would or would not speak of the step
that he had taken. He put aside the apprehension of this just as he
drove away the recollection of Madame Liauran's eyes at the moment of
his departure, and just as he stifled all the scruples that might be
suggested by his uncompromising piety.

If he had not absolutely lied to his mother in telling her that he was
going to join his friend Emmanuel Deroy in London, he had nevertheless
deceived this jealous mother by concealing from her that he would meet
Madame de Sauve at Folkestone. Now, Madame de Sauve was not free. Madame
de Sauve was married, and in the eyes of a young man brought up as the
pious Hubert had been, to love a married woman constituted an inexpiable
fault. Hubert must and did believe himself in a condition of mortal sin.
His Catholicism, which was not merely a religion of fashion and posture,
left him in no doubt on this point. But religion, family obligations of
truthfulness, fears for the future, all these phantoms of conscience
appeared to him--conditioned only as phantoms, vain, powerless images,
vanishing before the living evocation of the beauty of the woman who,
five months before had entered into his heart to renew all within it,
the woman whom he loved and by whom he knew himself to be loved.

Hubert had told the truth, in that he was not Madame de Sauve's lover in
that sense of entire and physical possession in which the term is
understood in our language. She had never belonged to him, and it was
the first time that he was going to be really alone with her, in that
solitude of a foreign land which is the secret dream of everyone who
loves.

While the train was steaming at full speed through plains alternately
ribbed with hills, intersected with watercourses, and bristling with
bare trees, the young man was absorbed in telling the rosary of his
recollections. The charm of the hours that were gone was rendered still
dearer to him by the expectation of some immense and undefined
happiness.

Although Madame Liauran's son was twenty-two years of age, the manner of
his education had kept him in that state of purity so rare among the
young men of Paris, who, for the most part, have exhausted pleasure
before they have had so much as a suspicion of love. But a fact of which
the young fellow was not aware was that it had been this very purity
which had acted more powerfully than the most accomplished libertinism
could have done upon the romantic imagination of the woman whose profile
was passing to and fro before his gaze with the motion of the carriage,
and showing itself alternately against woods, hills and dunes. How many
images does a passing train thus bear along, and with them how many
destinies rushing towards weal or woe in the distant and the unknown!

It was at the beginning of the month of October, in the preceding year,
that Hubert had seen Madame de Sauve for the first time. On account of
Madame Liauran's health, which rendered the shortest journey dangerous
to her, the two women never left Paris; but the young man sometimes went
during the summer or autumn to spend three or four days in some country
house. He was coming back from one of these visits in company with his
cousin George, when, getting into a carriage at a station on the same
northern line along which he was now travelling, he had met the young
lady with her husband. The De Sauves were acquainted with George, and
thus it was that Alexander Hubert had been introduced.

Monsieur de Sauve was a man of about forty-five years of age, very tall
and strong, with a face that was already too red, and with traces of
wear and tear which were discernible through his vigour, and the
explanation of which might be found, merely by listening to his
conversation, in his mode of regarding life. Existence to him was
self-lavishment, and he carried out this programme in all directions.
Head of a ministerial cabinet in 1869, thrown after the war into the
campaign of Bonapartist propaganda, a deputy since then, and always
re-elected, but an active deputy, and one who bribed his electors, he
had at the same time launched forth more and more freely into society.
He had a _salon_, gave dinners, occupied himself with sport, and still
found sufficient leisure to interest himself competently and
successfully in financial enterprises. Add to this that before his
marriage he had had much experience of ballet dancers, green-rooms of
small theatres, and private supper-rooms.

There are temperaments of this kind which nature makes into machines at
a great outlay, and consequently with great returns. Everything in
André de Sauve revealed a taste for what is ample and powerful, from
the construction of his great body to his style of dress, or to the
gesture with which he would take a long black cigar from his case to
smoke it. Hubert well remembered how this man, with his hairy hands and
ears, his large feet and his dragon's mien, had inspired him with that
description of physical repulsion which we all endure on meeting with a
physiology precisely contrary to our own.

Are there not respirations, circulations of blood, plays of muscle which
are hostile to us, thanks, probably, to that indefinable instinct of
life which impels two animals of different species to rend each other as
soon as they come face to face? Truth to tell, the antipathy of the
delicate Hubert was capable of being more simply explained on the ground
of an unconscious and sudden jealousy of Madame de Sauve's husband; for
Theresa, as her husband familiarly called her, had immediately exercised
a sort of irresistible attraction upon the young man. In his childhood
he had often turned over a portfolio of engravings brought back from
Italy by his illustrious grandfather, who had served under Bonaparte,
and at the first glance that fell upon this woman, he could not help
recalling the heads drawn by the masters of the Lombardic school, so
striking was the resemblance between her face and those of the familiar
Herodiases and Madonnas of Luini and his pupils.

There was the same full, broad forehead, the same large eyes charged
with somewhat heavy eyelids, the same delicious oval at the lower part
of the cheek terminating in an almost square chin, the same sinuosity of
lips, the same delightful union of eyebrow to the rising of the nose,
and over all these charming features, a suffusion, as it were, of
gentleness, grace, and mystery. Madame de Sauve had further, the
vigorous neck and broad shoulders of the women of the Lombardic school,
as well as all the other tokens of a race at once refined and strong,
with a slender waist and the hands and feet of a child. What marked her
out from this traditional type was the colour of her hair, which was not
red and gold but very black, and of her eyes, the mingled grey of which
bordered upon green. The amber paleness of her complexion, as well as
the languishing listlessness of all her movements, completed the
singular character of her beauty.

In the presence of this creature, it was impossible not to think of some
portrait of past times, although she breathed youth with the purple of
her mouth and the living fluid of her eyes, and although she was dressed
in the fashion of the day, and wore a jacket fitting close to her
figure. The skirt of her dress, made of an English material of a grey
shade, her feet cased in laced boots, her little man's collar, her
straight cravat, fastened with a diamond horseshoe pin, her Swede
gloves, and her round hat, scarcely suggested the toilet of princesses
of the sixteenth century; and yet she presented to the eye a finished
model of Milanese beauty, even in this costume of Parisian elegance. By
what mystery?

She was the daughter of Madame Lussac, _née_ Bressuire, whose relations
had not left the Rue Saint-Honoré for three generations, and of
Adolphus Lussac, Prefect under the Empire, who had come from Auvergne in
Monsieur Rouher's train. The chronicle of the drawing-rooms would have
answered the question by recalling the Parisian career of the handsome
Count Branciforte, somewhere about the year 1858, his greenish-grey
eyes, his dead-white complexion, his attentions to Madame Lussac, and
his sudden disappearance from surroundings in which for months and
months he had always lived. But Hubert was never to have these
particulars. By education and by nature he belonged to the race of those
who accept life's official gifts and ignore their deep-lying causes,
their thorough animality, and their tragic lining--a happy race, for to
them belongs the enjoyment of the flower of things, but a race devoted
beforehand to catastrophes, for only a clear view of the real will admit
of any manipulation of it.

No; what Hubert Liauran remembered of this first interview did not
consist of questions concerning the singularity of Madame de Sauve's
charm. Neither had he examined himself as to the shade of character that
might be indicated by the movements of the woman. Instead of studying
her face he had enjoyed it as a child will relish the freshness of the
atmosphere, with a sort of unconscious delight. The complete absence of
irony which distinguished Theresa, and which might be noted in her
gentle smile, her calm gaze, her smooth voice, and her tranquil
gestures, had instantly been sweet to him. He had not felt in her
presence those pangs of painful timidity which the incisive glance of
most Parisian ladies inflicts upon all young men.

During the journey which they had made together, while De Sauve and
George Liauran were speaking of a law concerning religious
congregations, the tenour of which was at that time exciting every
party, he had sat opposite to her, and had been able to talk to her
softly and, without knowing why, with intimacy. He who was usually
silent about himself, with a vague idea that the almost insane
excitability of his being made him a unique exception, had opened his
mind to this woman of twenty-five, whom he had not known for
half-an-hour, more than he had ever done to people with whom he dined
every fortnight.

In answer to a question from Theresa about his travels in the summer, he
had naturally, as it were, spoken of his mother and her complaint, then
of his grandmother, and then of their common life. He had given this
stranger a glimpse of the secret retreat in the house in the Rue Vaneau,
not indeed without remorse; but the remorse had been later, when he was
no longer within the range of her glances, and had come less from a
feeling of outraged modesty than from a fear of having been displeasing
to her. How captivating, in truth, were those gentle glances. There
emanated from them an inexpressible caress, and when they settled upon
your eyes, full in your face, the resultant sensation was like that of a
tender touch, and bordered upon physical voluptuousness.

Days afterwards Hubert still remembered the species of intoxicating
comfort which he had experienced in this first chat merely through
feeling himself looked at in this way, and this comfort had only
increased in succeeding interviews, until it had almost immediately
become a real necessity for him, like breathing or sleeping. When
leaving the carriage she had told him that she was at home every
Thursday, and he had soon learnt the way to the house in the Boulevard
Haussmann, where she lived. In what recess of his heart had he found the
energy for paying this visit, which fell on the next day but one after
their meeting? Almost immediately, she had asked him to dinner. He
remembered so vividly the childish pleasure which he took in reading and
re-reading the insignificant note of invitation, in inhaling its slight
perfume, and in following the details of the letters of his name,
written by the hand of Theresa. It was a handwriting which, from the
abundance of little, useless flourishes, presented a peculiarly light
and fantastic appearance, in which a graphologist would have been
prepared to read the sign of a romantic nature; but, at the same time,
the bold fashion in which the lines were struck and the firmness of the
down-strokes, where the pen pressed somewhat liberally, denoted a
willingly practical and almost material mode of life.

Hubert did not reason so much as this; but, from the first note, every
letter that he received in the same handwriting became to him a person
whom he would have recognised among thousands, of others. With what
happiness had he dressed to go to that dinner, telling himself that he
was about to see Madame de Sauve during long hours, hours which,
reckoned in advance, appeared infinite to him! He had felt a somewhat
angry astonishment when his mother, at the moment that he was taking
leave of her, had uttered a critical observation on the familiarity that
was customary in society now-a-days. Then, separated though he was by
months from those events, he was able, thanks to the special imagination
with which, like all very sensitive creatures, he was endowed, to recall
the exact shade of emotion which had been caused him by the dinner and
the evening, the demeanour of the guests and that of Theresa. It is
according as we possess a greater or smaller power of imagining past
pains and pleasures anew that we are beings capable of cold calculation,
or slaves to our sentimental life. Alas! all Hubert's faculties
conspired to rivet round his heart the bruising chain of memories that
were too dear.

Theresa wore, that first evening, a dress of black lace with pink knots,
and, for her only ornament, a heavy bracelet of massive gold on one
wrist. Her dress was not low enough to shock the young man, whose
modesty was of virginal susceptibility on this point. There were some
persons in the drawing-room, not one of whom, with the exception of
George Liauran, was known to him. They were, for the most part, men
celebrated by different titles in the society more particularly
denominated Parisian by those journals which pique themselves on
following the fashion. Hubert's first sensation had been a slight shock,
owing merely to the fact that some of these men presented to the
malevolent observer several of the little toilet heresies familiar to
the more fastidious if they have gone too late into society. Such is a
coat of antiquated cut, a shirt-collar badly made and worse bleached, or
a neck-tie of a white that borders upon blue, and tied by an unskilful
hand.

These trifles inevitably appeared signs of a touch of Bohemianism--the
word in which correct people confound all social irregularities--in the
eyes of a young man accustomed to live under the continuous
superintendence of two women of rare education, who had sought to make
him something irreproachable. But these small signs of unsatisfactory
dress had rendered Theresa's finished distinction still more graceful in
his eyes, just as, to him, the sometimes cynical freedom of the talk
uttered at table had imparted a charming significance to the silence of
the mistress of the house. Madame Liauran had not been mistaken when she
affirmed that there was very daring conversation at the house of the De
Sauves.

The evening that Hubert dined there for the first time a divorce suit
was discussed during the first half-hour, and a great lawyer gave some
unpublished details of the case--the abominable character of a
politician who had been arrested in the Champs Elysées, the two
mistresses of another politician and their rivalry--but all related, as
things are related only at Paris, with those hints which admit the
telling of everything. Many allusions escaped Hubert, and he was
accordingly less shocked by such narrations than by other speeches
bearing upon ideas, such as the following paradox, started by one of the
most famous novelists of the day.

"Ah! divorce! divorce!" said this man, whose renown as a daring realist
had crossed the threshold even of the house in the Rue Vaneau, "it has
some good in it; but it is too simple a solution for a very complicated
problem. Here, as elsewhere, Catholicism has perverted all our ideas.
The characteristic of advanced societies is the production of many men
of very different kinds, and the problem consists in constructing an
equally large number of moralists. For my part, I would have the law
recognise marriages in five, ten, twenty categories, according to the
sensitiveness of the parties concerned. Thus we should have life-unions
intended for persons of aristocratic scrupulosity; for persons of less
refined consciences, we should establish contracts with facilities for
one, two or three divorces; for persons inferior still, we should have
temporary connections for five years, three years, one year."

"People would marry just as they grant a lease," it was jestingly
observed.

"Why not?" continued the other; "the age boasts of being a revolutionary
one, and it has never ventured upon what the pettiest legislator of
antiquity undertook without hesitation--interference with morals."

"I see what you mean," replied André de Sauve; "you would assimilate
marriages with funerals--first, second, or third class----."

None of the guests who were amused by this tirade and the reply, amid
the brightness of the crystal, the dresses of the women, the pyramids of
fruit and the clusters of flowers, suspected the indignation which such
talk aroused in Hubert. Who would notice the silent and modest youth at
one end of the table? He himself, however, felt wounded to the very soul
in the inmost convictions of his childhood and his youth, and he glanced
by stealth at Theresa. She did not utter fifty words during this dinner.
She seemed to have wandered in thought far away from the conversation
which she was supposed to control, and, as though accustomed to this
absence of mind, no one sought to interrupt her reverie. She used to
pass whole hours in this way, absorbed in herself. Her pale complexion
became warmer; the brilliancy of her eyes was, so to speak, turned
within; and her teeth appeared small and close through her half-opened
lips. What was she thinking of at minutes such as these, and by what
secret magic were these same minutes those which acted most strongly
upon the imagination of those who were sensible of her charm?

A physiologist would doubtless have attributed these sudden torpors to
passages of nervous emotion, were they not the token of a sensual
aberration against which the poor creature struggled with all her
strength. Hubert had seen in the silence of that evening only a delicate
woman's disapprobation of the talk of her friends and her husband, and
he had found it a supreme pleasure to go up to her and talk to her on
leaving the dinner-table, at which his dearest beliefs had been wounded.
He had seated himself beneath the gaze of her eyes, now limpid once
more, in one of the corners of the drawing-room--an apartment furnished
completely in the modern style, and which, with its opulence that made
it like a little museum, its plushes, its ancient stuffs, and its
Japanese trinkets, contrasted with the severe apartments in the Rue
Vaneau as absolutely as the lives of Madame Castel and Madame Liauran
could contrast with the life of Madame de Sauve.

Instead of recognising this evident difference and making it a
starting-point for studying the newness of the world in which he found
himself, Hubert gave himself up to a feeling very natural in those whose
childhood has been passed in an atmosphere of feminine solicitude.
Accustomed by the two noble creatures who had watched over his childhood
always to associate the idea of a woman with something inexpressibly
delicate and pure, it was inevitable that the awakening of love should
in his case be accomplished in a sort of religious and reverential
emotion. He must extend to the person he loved, whoever she might be,
all the devotion that he had conceived for the saints whose son he was.

A prey to this strange confusion of ideas, he had, on that very first
evening on his return home, spoken of Theresa to his mother and his
grandmother, who were waiting for him, in terms which had necessarily
aroused the mistrust of the two women. He understood that now. But what
young man has ever begun to love without being hurried by the sweet
intoxication of the beginnings of a passion into confidences that were
irreparable, and too often deathful, to the future of his feelings?

In what manner and by what stage had this feeling entered into him? He
could not have told that. When once a man loves, does it not seem as
though he has always loved? Scenes were evoked, nevertheless, which
reminded Hubert of the insensible habituation which had led him to visit
Theresa several times a week. But had he not been gradually introduced
at her house to all her friends, and, as soon as he had left his card,
had he not found himself invited in all directions into that world which
he scarcely knew, and which was composed partly of high functionaries of
the fallen administration, partly of great manufacturers and political
financiers, and partly, again, of celebrated artists and wealthy
foreigners.

It formed a society free from constraint and full of luxury, pleasure
and life, but one the tone of which ought to have displeased the young
man, for he could not comprehend its qualities of elegance and
refinement, and he was very sensible of its terrible fault--the want of
silence, of moral life, and of long custom. Ah! he was not much
concerned with observations of this kind, occupied solely as he was to
know where he should perceive Madame de Sauve and her eyes. He called to
mind countless times at which he had met her--sometimes at her own
house, seated at the corner of her fireplace, towards the close of the
afternoon, and lost in one of her silent reveries; sometimes visiting in
full costume and smiling with her Herodias lips at conversations about
dresses or bonnets; sometimes in the front of a box at a theatre and
talking in undertones during an interval; sometimes in the tumult of the
street, dashing along behind her bright bay horse and bowing her head at
the window with a graceful movement.

The recollection of this carriage produced a new association of ideas in
Hubert, and he could see again the moment at which he had confessed the
secret of his feelings for the first time. Madame de Sauve and he had
met that day about five o'clock in a drawing-room in the Avenue du Bois
de Boulogne, and as it was beginning to rain in torrents the young woman
had proposed to Hubert, who had come on foot, to take him in her
carriage, having, she said, a visit to pay near the Rue Vaneau, which
would enable her to leave him at his door on the way. He had, in fact,
taken his seat beside her in the narrow double brougham lined with green
leather, in which there lingered something of that subtle atmosphere
which makes the carriage of an elegant woman a sort of little boudoir on
wheels, with all the trifling objects belonging to a pretty interior.
The hot-water jar was growing lukewarm beneath their feet; the glass,
set in its sheath in front, awaited a glance; the memorandum book placed
in the nook, with its pencil and visiting cards, spoke of worldly tasks;
the clock hanging on the right marked the rapid flight of those sweet
minutes. A half-opened book, slipped into the place where portable
purchases are usually put, showed that Theresa had obtained the
fashionable novel at the bookseller's.

Outside in the streets, where the lamps were beginning to light up,
there was the wildness of a glacial winter storm. Theresa, wrapped in a
long cloak which showed the outlines of her figure, was silent. In the
triple reflection from the carriage lamps, the gas in the street and the
expiring day, she was so divinely pale and beautiful that Hubert,
overpowered by emotion, took her hand. She did not withdraw it; she
looked at him with motionless eyes, that were drowned, as it were, in
tears which she would not have dared to shed. Without even hearing the
sound of his own words, so intoxicated was he by this look, he said to
her:

"Ah! how I love you!"

She grew still more pale, and laid her gloved hand upon his mouth to
make him be silent. He began to kiss this hand madly, seeking for the
place where the opening of the glove allowed him to feel the living
warmth of the wrist. She replied to this caress by that word which all
women utter at like moments--a word so simple, but one into which creep
so many inflexions, from the most mortal indifference to the most
emotional tenderness--

"You are a child."

"Do you love me a little?" he asked her.

And then, as she looked at him with those same eyes which sent forth a
ray of happiness, he could hear her murmur in a stifled voice:

"A great deal."

For most Parisian young men, such a scene would have been the prelude to
an effort towards the complete possession of a woman so evidently
smitten--an effort which might, perhaps, have miscarried; for a woman of
the world who wishes to protect herself finds many means, if she be
anything of a coquette, of avoiding a surrender, even after avowals of
the kind, or still more compromising marks of attachment. But there was
as little coquetry in the case of Madame de Sauve as there was physical
daring in that of the child of twenty-two who loved her. Did not these
two beings find themselves placed by chance in a situation of the
strangest delicacy? He was incapable of any further enterprise by reason
of his entire purity. As for her, how could she fail to understand that
to offer herself to him was to risk a diminution of his love? Such
difficulties are less rare under the conditions imposed upon the
feelings by modern manners than the fatuity of men will allow.

As manners are at present, all action between two persons who love each
other simultaneously becomes a sign, and how could a woman who knows
this fail to hesitate about compromising her happiness for ever by
seeking to embrace it too soon? Did Theresa obey this prudential motive,
or did she, perchance, find a heart's delight of delicious novelty in
the burning respect of her friend? With all men whom she had met before
this one, love had been only a disguised form of desire, and desire
itself an intoxicated form of self-pride. But whatever the reason might
be, she granted the young man all the meetings that he asked for during
the months following this first avowal, and all these meetings remained
as essentially innocent as they were clandestine.

While the Boulogne train was carrying Hubert towards the most longed-for
of these meetings he remembered the former ones--those passionate and
dangerous walks, nearly all hazarded across early Paris. They had in
this way adventured their ingenuous and guilty idyll in all the places
in which it seemed unlikely that anyone belonging to their set would
meet them. How many times, for instance, had they visited the towers of
Notre Dame, where Theresa loved to walk in her youthful grace amid the
old stone monsters carved on the balustrades? Through the slender ogive
windows of the ascent they looked alternately at the horizon of the
river confined between the quays, and that of the street confined
between the houses. In one of the buildings crouching in the shadow of
the cathedral, on the side of the Rue de Chanoinesse, there was a small
apartment on the fifth storey running out into a terrace, behind the
panes of which they used to imagine the existence of a romance similar
to their own, because they had twice seen a young woman and a young man
breakfasting there, seated at the same round table, with the window half
open.

Sometimes the squalls of the December wind would roar round the pile,
and storms of melted snow would heat upon the walls. Theresa was none
the less punctual to the appointment, leaving her cab before the great
doorway and crossing the church to go out of it at the side, and there
join Hubert in the dark peristyle which comes before the towers. Her
delicate teeth shone in her pretty smile, and her slender figure
appeared still more elegant in this ornament of the ancient city. Her
happy grace seemed to work even upon the old caretaker who, surrounded
by her cats, gives out the tickets from the depths of her lodge, for she
used to give her a grateful smile.

It was on the staircase of one of these ancient towers that Hubert had
ventured, for the first time, to print a kiss upon the pale face that to
him was divine. Theresa was climbing in front of him that morning up the
hollowed steps which turn about the stone pillar. She stopped for a
minute to take breath; he supported her in his arms, and, as she leaned
back gently and rested her head upon his shoulder, their lips met. The
emotion was so strong that he was like to die. This first kiss had been
followed by another, then by ten, then by such numbers of others that
they lost count of them. Oh, those long, thrilling, deep kisses, of
which she used to say tenderly, as though to justify herself in the
thought of her sweet accomplice:

"I am as fond of kisses as a little girl!"

They had thus madly peopled all the retreats wherein their imprudent
love had taken shelter with these adorable kisses. Hubert could remember
having embraced Theresa when they both were seated on a tomb-stone in a
deserted walk of one of the Paris cemeteries one bright, warm morning,
while around them stretched the garden of the dead, with its funereal
landscape of evergreens and tombs. He had embraced her again on one of
the benches in the distant park of Montsouris, one of the least known in
the town--a park quite recently planted, crossed by a railway,
overlooked by a pavilion of Chinese architecture, and having a horizon
formed by the factories in the mournful Glacière quarter stretching
around it.

At other times they had driven in an indeterminate fashion along the
dull slopes of the fortifications, and when it was time to return home
Theresa was always the first to depart. Himself hidden in the cab, which
remained stationary, he could see her crossing the kennels with her
dainty feet. She would walk along the footpath, not a spot of mud
dishonouring her dress, and would turn as though involuntarily to enwrap
him in a last look. It was on such occasions that he was only too
sensible of the dangers which he was causing this woman to incur, but
when he spoke to her of his fears she would reply, shaking her head with
so easily tragic an expression:

"I have no children. What harm can be done to me unless you are taken
from me?"

Although they did not belong entirely to each other they had come to
employ those familiarities in language which accompany a mutual passion.
Nearly every morning they wrote notes to each other, a single one of
which, would have been sufficient to prove Theresa to be Hubert's
mistress, and yet she was nothing of the kind. But whatever the detail
over which the young man's memory lingered, he always found that she had
not opposed any of the marks of tenderness which he had asked of her.
However, he had never ventured to imagine anything beyond clasping her
hands, her waist, her face, or resting, like a child, upon her heart.
She had with him that entire, confiding, indulgent abandonment of soul
which is the only token of true love that the most skilful coquetry
cannot imitate.

And in contrast with this tenderness, and serving to heighten its
sweetness still more, each scene in this idyll had corresponded to some
painful explanation between the young man and his mother, or some cruel
anguish on finding Madame de Sauve in the evening with her husband. The
latter, in reality, paid no attention to Hubert, but Madame Liauran's
son was not yet accustomed to the dishonouring falsehood of the cordial
hand-shake offered to the man who is being deceived. What mattered these
trifles, however, since they were going--he to join her, and she to wait
for him in the little English town at which they were to spend two days
together? Was it to Hubert or to Theresa that this idea had occurred?
The young man could not have told. André de Sauve was in Algeria for
the purpose of a Parliamentary inquiry.

Theresa had a convent friend who lived in the country, and was
sufficiently trustworthy to allow her to give out that she had gone to
see her. On the other hand she affirmed that the position of Folkestone,
on the way from Paris to London, made it the safest shelter in winter,
because French travellers pass through the town without ever stopping
there. At the mere thought of seeing her again, Hubert's heart melted in
his breast, and, with a quivering impossible of definition, he felt
himself on the point of rolling into a gulf of mystery, of intoxicating
forgetfulness and felicity.



CHAPTER IV


The packet was approaching the Folkestone pier. The slender hull heaved
on the sea, which was perfectly green, and was scantily striated with
silver foam. The two white funnels gave forth smoke which curved behind
under the pressure of the air rent by the course of the vessel. The two
huge red wheels beat the waves, and behind the boat stretched a hollow
moving track--a sort of glaucous path, fringed with foam. It was a day
with a pale, hazy blue sky, such as frequently occurs on the English
coast towards the end of winter--a day of tenderness, and one which
harmonised divinely with the young man's thoughts. He had rested his
elbows on the netting in the fore part of the vessel, and had not
stirred since the beginning of the passage, which had been one of rare
smoothness. He could now see the smallest details of the approach to the
harbour: the chalky line of coast to the right, with its covering of
meagre turf; to the left the pier resting on its piles; and beyond the
pier, and still more to the left, the little town, with its houses
rising one above another from the base of the cliff to the crest. One by
one he scanned these houses, which stood out with a clearness that grew
constantly more distinct. Which among them all was the refuge where his
happiness was awaiting him in the loved features of Theresa de Sauve?
Which of them was the Star Hotel, chosen by his friend from the
guide-book on account of its name?

"I am superstitious," she had said childishly; "and then, are you not my
dear star?"

She would employ these sudden caresses in language which afterwards
occupied Hubert's thoughts for an indefinite time. He was quite aware
that she would not be waiting for him on the quay, and his eyes sought
for her in spite of himself. But she had multiplied precautions even to
arriving herself the evening before by Calais and Dover. The packet is
still approaching. It is possible to distinguish the faces of some
inhabitants of the town, whose only diversion consists in coming to the
end of the pier in order to witness the arrival of the tidal boat. A few
minutes more and Hubert will be beside Theresa. Ah, if she were to fail
him at the rendezvous! What if she had been sick or overtaken, or if she
had died on the way! The whole legion of foolish suppositions file
before the thoughts of the restless lover.

The boat is in the harbour; the passengers land and hurry to the train.
Hubert was almost the only one to halt in the little town. He allowed
his trunk to go on to London, and took his seat with his portmanteau in
one of the flies standing in front of the terminus. He had felt
something like a touch of melancholy when speaking to the driver and
thus ascertaining how correct and intelligible his English was,
notwithstanding that it was his first journey to England. He recalled
his childhood, his Yorkshire governess, his mother's care to make him
speak every day. If this poor mother were to see him now! Then these
memories were gradually effaced as the light vehicle, drawn by a pony at
a trot, briskly climbed the rude ascent by which the upper part of the
town is reached.

To the left of the young man stretched the wonderful landscape of the
sea, an immense gulf of pale green, blending in its extreme line with a
gulf of blue, and dotted all over with barques, schooners, and steamers.
On the summit the road turned.

The carriage left the cliff, entered a street, then a second, and then a
third, all lined with low houses, whose projecting windows showed rows
of red geraniums and ferns behind their panes. At a turning Hubert
perceived the door of a vast Gothic building and a black plate, the mere
inscription on which, in its gilt letters, made his heart leap. He found
himself in front of the Star Hotel. There was an interval for inquiring
at the office whether Madame Sylvie had arrived--this was the name that
Theresa had chosen to assume on account of the initials engraven on all
her toilet articles, and she was to have been entered in the books as a
dramatic artist; for ascending two storeys and passing down a long
corridor; then the servant opened the door of a small apartment, and
there, seated at a table in a drawing-room, the paleness of her face
increased by deep emotion, and her form clad in a garment of a red silky
material whose graceful folds outlined without accentuating her
figure,--there was Theresa. The coal fire glowed in the fireplace, the
inner sides of which were covered with coloured ware. A rotunda-like
window, of the kind that the English call "bow windows," was at the end
of the apartment, to which the furniture usual in such rooms in Great
Britain gave an aspect of quiet homeliness.

"Ah! it is really you," said the young man, going up to Theresa, who was
smiling at him, and he laid his hand upon his mistress's bosom as though
to convince himself of her existence. This gentle pressure enabled him
to feel beneath the slight material the passionate beatings of the happy
woman's heart.

"Yes, it is really I," she replied, with more languor than usual.

He sat down beside her and their lips met. It was one of those kisses of
supreme delight in which two lovers meeting after absence strive to
impart, together with the tenderness of the present hour, all the
unexpressed tendernesses of the hours that have been lost. A tap at the
door separated them.

"It is for your luggage," said Theresa, pushing her lover away with a
gesture of regret; then, with a subtle smile: "Would you like to see
your room? I have been here since yesterday evening; I hope that you
will be pleased with everything. I thought so much of you in getting the
little room ready."

She drew him by the hand into an apartment which adjoined the
drawing-room, and the window of which looked upon the garden of the
hotel. The fire was lighted in the fireplace. Vases, gay with flowers,
stood on the bracket and also on the table, over which Theresa, to give
it a more homelike appearance, had spread a Japanese cloth which she had
brought. On it she had placed three frames with those portraits of
herself which the young man preferred. He turned to thank her, and he
encountered one of those looks which make the heart quite faint, and
with which an affectionate woman seems to thank him whom she loves for
the pleasure which he has been pleased to receive from her. But the
presence of the servant engaged in setting down and opening the
portmanteau prevented him from replying to this look with a kiss.

"You must be tired," she said; "while you are settling down I will go
and tell them to get tea ready in the drawing-room. If you knew how
sweet it is to me to wait on you----."

"Go," he said, unable to find a phrase in reply, so completely was his
soul possessed with happy emotion. "How I love her!" he added in a
whisper, and to himself, as he watched her disappearing through the door
with that figure and walk of a young girl which were still left her by
her childless marriage; and he was obliged to sit down that he might not
swoon before the evidence of his felicity. The human creature is
naturally so organised for misfortune that there is something ravishing
in the complete realisation of desire, like a sudden entry upon a
miracle or a dream, and, at a certain degree of intensity, it seems as
if the joy were not true. And then, was not the novelty of the situation
bound to act like a sort of opium upon the brain of this child, who
could not comprehend that his mistress had seized upon the circumstance
to evade by this very strangeness the difficulties preliminary to a more
complete surrender of her person?

Yes, was this joy true? Hubert asked himself the question a quarter of
an hour later, seated beside Madame de Sauve in the little drawing-room
at the square table, on which were placed all the apparatus necessary to
lend it enjoyment: the silver teapot, the ewer of hot water, the
delicate cups. Had she not brought those two cups from Paris with her in
order, doubtless, always to have them? She waited on him, as she had
said, with her pretty hands, from which she had taken her wedding ring,
in order to remove from the young man's thoughts all occasion for
remembering that she was not free. During those afternoon hours, the
silence of the little town was almost palpable around them, and the
sense of a common solitude deepening in their hearts was so intense that
they did not speak, as though they feared that their words might awake
them from the intoxicating kind of sleep which was creeping over their
souls. Hubert had his head resting upon his hand, and was looking at
Theresa. He felt her at this moment so completely his own, so near to
his most secret being, that he had even ceased to experience the need of
her caresses.

She was the first to break the silence, of which she suddenly became
afraid. She rose from her chair and came and sat down upon the ground at
the young man's feet, with her head on his knees, and, as he still
continued motionless, there was disquiet in her eyes; then submissively,
and in that subdued tone of voice which no lover has ever resisted, she
said:

"If you knew how I tremble lest I should displease you! I cried
yesterday evening beside the fire in this room, where I was waiting for
you, thinking that you would be sure to love me less after my coming
here. Ah! you will be angry with me for loving you too much, and for
venturing to do what I have done for you!"

The anguish preying upon this charming woman was so great that Hubert
saw her features change somewhat as she uttered these words. The whole
drama which had been enacted within her from the beginning of this
attachment took form for the first time. At this moment especially,
seeing him so young, so pure, so free from brutality, so completely in
accordance with her dream, she felt a mad longing to lavish marks of her
tenderness upon him, and she trembled more than ever lest she should
offend him, or perhaps--for there are such strange recesses in feminine
consciences--corrupt him. Giving herself up to the pleasure of thinking
aloud upon these things for the first time, she went on:

"We women, when we love, can do nothing else but love. From the day when
I met you coming back from the country I have belonged to you. I would
have followed you wherever you had asked me to follow you. Nothing has
had any further existence for me--nothing but yourself; no," she added
with a fixed look, "neither good nor evil, nor duty, nor remembrance.
But can you understand that--you who think, as all men do, that it is a
crime to love when one is not free?"

"I have ceased to know," replied Hubert, bending towards her to raise
her, "except that you are to me the noblest and dearest of women."

"No, let me remain at your feet, like your little slave," she rejoined,
with an expression of ecstacy; "but is it truly true? Ah! swear to me
that you will never speak ill to yourself of this hour."

"I swear it," said the young man, who was overcome by his mistress's
emotion without well knowing why.

At this simple speech she raised her head; she stood up as lightly as a
young girl, and leaning over Hubert began to cover his face with
passionate kisses, then, knitting her brows and making an effort, as it
were, over herself, she left him, drew her hands over her eyes, and said
in a calmer, though still uncertain voice:

"I am foolish; we must go out. I will go and put on my bonnet and we
will take a drive. Will you be so kind as to ask for a carriage?" she
added in English.

When she spoke this language her pronunciation became something
perfectly graceful and almost child-like; and giving him a coquettish
little salute with her hand she left the drawing-room by a door opposite
to that of Hubert's apartment.

This same mixture of fond anxiety, sudden exaltation, and tender
childishness continued on her part through the whole drive, which, to
both of them, was made up of a sequence of supreme emotions. By a chance
such as does not occur twice in the course of a human life, they found
themselves placed precisely in such circumstances as must lift their
souls to the highest possible degree of love. The social world, with its
murderous duties, was far away. It had as little existence for their
minds as the driver, who, perched up behind them and invisible, drove
the light cab in which they found themselves alone together, along the
route from Folkestone to Sandgate and Hythe. The world of hope, on the
other hand, opened up before them like a garden arrayed in the most
beautiful flowers. They saw themselves rewarded--he for his innocence,
and she for the reserve imposed by her upon her reason, with an
experience as delicious as it is rare: they enjoyed the intimacy of
heart which usually comes only after long possession, and they enjoyed
it in all the freshness of timid desire. But this timid desire had in
both cases a background of intoxicating certainty, lucid to Theresa
though still obscure to Hubert; and it was in a vast and noble landscape
that they were filled with these rare sensations.

They were now following the road from Folkestone to Hythe, a slender
ribbon running along by the sea. The green cliff is devoid of rocks, but
its height is sufficient to give the road over which it hangs that look
of a sheltered retreat which imparts a restful charm to valleys lying at
mountain bases. The shingle beach was covered by the high tide. Not a
bird was flying over the wide, moving sea. Its greenish immensity shaded
to violet as the closing day shadowed the cold azure of the sky. The
vehicle went quickly on its two wheels, drawn by a strong-backed horse,
whose over-large bit forced him at times to throw up his head with a
wrench of his mouth. Theresa and Hubert, close to each other in their
sort of sentry-box on wheels, held each other's hands beneath the
travelling plaid that was wrapped about them. They suffered their
passion to dilate like the ocean, to tremble within them with the
plentitude of the billows, to grow wild like that barren coast.

Since the young woman had asked that singular oath of her lover, she
seemed somewhat calmer, in spite of flashes of sudden reverie which
dissolved into mute effusions. On his side, he had never loved her so
completely. He could not refrain from taking her ceaselessly to him and
pressing her in his arms. An infinite longing to draw still more closely
to her mounted to his brain and intoxicated him, and yet he dreaded the
coming of the evening with the mortal anguish of those to whom the
feminine universe is a mystery. In spite of the proofs of passion that
Theresa showed him, he felt himself in her presence a prey to an
insurmountable impotence of will, which would have grown to pain had he
not at the same time had an immense confidence in the soul of this
woman. The feeling of an unknown abyss into which their love was about
to plunge, and which might have terrified him with an almost animal
fear, became more tranquil because he was descending into the abyss with
her. In truth she had a charming understanding of the troubles which
must agitate him whom she loved; was it not in order to spare his
overstrung nerves that she had brought him for this drive, during which
the grandeur of the prospect, the breeze from the offing, and the
walking at intervals, kept both herself and him above the disquietude
inevitable to a too ardent desire.

They went on in this manner until the tragic hour when the stars shine
in the nocturnal sky, now walking over the shingle, now getting into the
little carriage again, ceaselessly following the same paths again and
again, without being able to make up their minds to return, as though
understanding that they might again experience other moments of
happiness, but of happiness such as this, never! The dim intuition of
the universal soul, of which visible forms and invisible feelings are
alike the effect, revealed to them, unknown to themselves, a mysterious
analogy, and, as it were, a divine correspondence between the particular
face of this corner of nature and the undefined essence of their
tenderness. She said to him:

"To be with you here is a happiness too great to admit of a return to
life," and he did not smile with incredulity at these words, as she felt
assured when he said to her:

"It seems to me that I have never opened my eyes upon a landscape until
this moment."

And when they walked it was he who took Theresa's arm and leaned
coaxingly upon it. Without knowing it he thus symbolised the strange
reversal of parts in this attachment in accordance with which he, with
his frail person, his entire innocence, and the purity of his timorous
emotions, had always represented the feminine element. Certainly she, on
her part, was quite a woman, with the suppleness of her gait, the feline
refinement of her manners, and those liquid eyes which threw themselves
into every look. Nevertheless she appeared a stronger creature and one
better armed for life than the delicate child, the fragile handiwork of
the tenderness of two pure women, whom she had enmeshed in so slight a
tissue of seduction, and who, scarcely taller than herself by a quarter
of an inch of forehead, surrendered himself with fraternal confidence;
while the mere movement of their gait spoke clearly enough in its
perfect, rhythmical harmony, of the complete union of their hearts,
causing them to beat at that moment closely together.

They went in again. The dinner following this afternoon of dreams was a
silent and almost sombre one. It seemed as though they were both afraid
the one of the other. Or was it merely with her a recrudescence of that
dread of displeasing him which had made her defer the surrender of her
person until this hour, and with him that sort of intractable melancholy
which is the last sign of primitive animality, and which precedes in man
every entry into complete love? As happens at such times, their speech
was calmer and more indifferent in proportion as the disquietude of
their hearts was increased. These two lovers, who had spent the day in
the most romantic exaltation, and who were met in the solitude of this
foreign retreat, seemed to have nothing to say to each other but
sentences concerning the world that they had left.

They separated early, and just as if they had said good-bye until the
following day, although they both knew perfectly well that to sleep
apart from each other was impossible to them. Thus Hubert was not
astonished, although his heart beat as if it would break when, at the
very moment that he was about to seek her, he heard the key turn in the
door, and Theresa entered, clad in a long, pliant wrapper of white lace,
and with an impassioned sweetness in her eyes.

"Ah!" she said, closing Hubert's eyelids with her perfumed fingers, "I
want so much to rest upon your heart."

Towards midnight the young man awoke, and seeking the face of his
mistress with his lips, found that her cheeks, which he could not see,
were bathed in tears.

"You are grieved," he said to her.

"No," she replied, "they are tears of gratitude. Ah!" she went on, "how
could they fail to take you from me beforehand, my angel, and how
unworthy I am of you!"

Enigmatic words which Hubert was often to remember later on, and which,
even at this moment, and in spite of the kisses, raised suddenly within
him that vapour of sadness which is the customary accompaniment of
pleasure. Through it he could see, as by a lightning flash, a house that
was familiar to him, and, bending down beneath the lamp, among the
family portraits, the faces of the two women who had reared him. It was
only for a second, and he laid his head upon Theresa's breast, there to
forget all thought, while the vague complaining of the sea reached him,
softened by the distance--a mysterious and distant murmur like the
approach of fate.



CHAPTER V


A fortnight later Hubert Liauran stepped upon the platform of the
Northern Terminus about five o'clock in the evening, on his return from
London by the day train. Count Scilly and Madame Castel were waiting for
him. But what were his feelings when, among the faces pressing around
the doors, he recognised that of Theresa? They had made an appointment
by letter to meet on the evening of that day, which was a Tuesday, in
her box at the Théâtre Français. Nevertheless, she had not withstood
the desire of seeing him again some hours earlier, and in her eyes there
shone supreme emotion, formed of happiness at beholding him and sorrow
at being separated from him; for they could only exchange a bow, which,
fortunately, escaped the grandmother.

Theresa disappeared, and while the young man was standing in the
luggage-room an involuntary impulse of ill-humour arose within him and
caused him to tell himself that the two old people, who, nevertheless,
loved him so much, really ought not to have been there. This little
painful impression, which, at the very moment of his return, showed him
the weight of the chain of family tenderness, was renewed as soon as he
found himself again face to face with his mother. From the first glance
he felt that he was being studied, and, as he was but little accustomed
to dissimulation, he believed that he was seen through. The fact was
that his own eyes had been changed, as those of a young girl who has
become a woman are changed, with one of those imperceptible alterations
which reside in a shade of expression.

But how could the mother be deceived by them--she who for so many years
had watched all the reflections of those dark pupils, and who now
grasped within them a depth of intoxicated and fathomless felicity? But
to the putting of a question on the subject the poor woman was not
equal. Shades of feeling, the principal events in the life of the heart,
elude the formulas of phrases, and thence arise the worst
misunderstandings. Hubert was very gay during dinner, with a gaiety that
was rendered somewhat nervous by the prevision of an approaching
difficulty. How would his mother take his going out in the evening?
Half-an-hour had not elapsed since leaving table when he rose like one
who is about to say good-bye.

"You are leaving us?" said Madame Liauran.

"Yes, mamma," he replied, with a slight blush on his cheeks; "Emmanuel
Deroy has entrusted me with a commission, which is extremely pressing,
and which I must execute to-night."

"You cannot put it off until to-morrow, and give us your first evening?"
asked Madame Castel, who wished to spare her daughter the humiliation of
a refusal which she could foresee.

"Indeed no, grandmother," he replied, in a tone of childish playfulness;
"that would not be courteous to my friend, who has been so kind to me in
London."

"He is deceiving us," said Madame Liauran to herself, and, as silence
had fallen upon those in the drawing-room after Hubert's departure, she
listened to hear whether the hall-door would be opened immediately.
Half-an-hour passed without her hearing it. She could not stand it, and
she begged the General to go to the young man's room, under pretence of
fetching a book, in order to learn whether he had dressed that evening.
He had, in fact, done so. He was going, then, to Madame de Sauve's
house, or else somewhere in order to meet her again. Such was the
conclusion drawn from this indication by the jealous mother, who, for
the first time, confessed her lengthened anxieties to the Count. The
tone in which she spoke prevented the latter from confessing, in his
turn, the loan of one hundred and twenty pounds which Hubert had
received from him, and which, so he thought to himself, had doubtless
been spent in following this woman.

"He has deceived me once more," exclaimed Madame Liauran; "he who had
such a horror of deceit. Ah! how she has changed him!"

Thus the evidence of a metamorphosis of character undergone by her son
tortured her on that first day. It became even worse during those which
followed. She would not, however, admit all at once that her dear,
innocent Hubert was Madame de Sauve's lover. She would not resign
herself to the idea that he could be guilty of an error of the kind
without terrible remorse. She had brought him up in such strict
principles of religion! She did not know that Theresa's first care was
just to lull all the young man's scruples of conscience by leading him
insensibly from timid tenderness to burning passion. Caught in the mesh
of this sweet snare, Hubert had literally never judged his life for the
past five months, and nature had become his lover's accomplice. We
easily repent of our pleasures, but it is difficult to have remorse for
happiness, and the youth was happy with such an absolute felicity as
cannot even see the sufferings that it causes.

Nevertheless, it was upon the influence of her suffering that Madame
Liauran almost solely relied in the campaign which she had
undertaken--she, a simple woman, who knew nothing of life but its
duties--against a creature whom she imagined as being at once
fascinating and fatal, bewitching and deadly. She had adopted the
ingenuous system which is common to all tender jealousies, and which
consisted in showing her distress. She said to herself, "He will see
that I am in an agony; will not that suffice?" The misfortune was that
Hubert, in the intoxication of his passion, saw in his mother's distress
only tyrannical injustice to a woman whom he looked upon as divine, and
to a love which he considered sublime. When he returned from the Bois de
Boulogne in the morning, after taking a ride on horseback and seeing
Madame de Sauve pass in the carriage drawn by two grey ponies which she
drove herself, he would at breakfast encounter the saddened profile of
his mother, and would say to himself:

"She has no right to be sad. I have not taken any of my affection from
her."

He reasoned instead of feeling. His mother laid her bleeding heart in
the way before him and he passed it by. When he was to dine out, and his
mother's good-bye at the moment of his departure forewarned him that
Madame Liauran would spend an evening of melancholy in regretting him,
he would think:

"Yet what if she knew that Theresa reproaches me for devoting too much
of my time to her love!"

And it was true. His mistress had the ready generosity of women who know
that they are vastly preferred, and who are very careful not to ask the
man who loves them to act as they wish. There is such a delicate
pleasure in leaving one's lover free, in encouraging him, even, to
sacrifice you, when it is certain what his decision will be! It thus
happened that Hubert would return to the house in the Rue Vaneau after
having a secret meeting with Theresa during the day,--for Emmanuel Deroy
had put his small bachelor abode in the Avenue Friedland at his friend's
disposal. But then, whether it was that the nervous sadness which
accompanies over-keen pleasures made him cruel, or that secret remorse
of conscience came to torment him, or that there was too strong a
contrast between the charming forms assumed by Theresa's tenderness and
the sad ones in which that of Madame Liauran was arrayed, the young man
became really ungrateful.

Irritation, not pity, increased within him before the sorrow of her
whose idolised son he nevertheless was. Marie Alice apprehended this
shade of feeling, and she suffered more from it than from all the rest,
not divining that the excess of her grief was an irreparable error of
management, and that a demoralising comparison was being set up in
Alexander Hubert's mind between the severities of his relatives and the
fond delights of his chosen affection.

Spent by continual anxiety, the mother had exhausted her strength when
an event, unexpected though easy to be foreseen, gave still greater
prominence to the antagonism which brought her into ceaseless collision
with her son. It was Holy Week. She had counted upon Hubert's confession
and communion for making a supreme attempt, and inducing him to sever
relations which she considered as yet incompletely guilty, but full of
danger. It could not enter into her head as a fervent Christian that her
son would fail in his paschal duty. Thus she felt no doubt with respect
to his reply as she asked him at a time when they were alone together:

"On what day will you receive the sacrament this year?"

"Mamma," replied Hubert, with evident embarrassment, "I ask your
forgiveness for the sorrow that I am going to cause you. I must,
however, confess to you that doubts have come upon me, and that
conscientiously I do not think that I can approach the holy table."

This reply was the lightning-flash which suddenly showed Marie Alice the
abyss wherein her son had sunk, while she believed him to be merely on
the brink. She was not for a moment deceived by Hubert's imaginary
pretext. And whence could religious doubts come to him who for months
had not read a book? She knew, further, her child's simplicity of soul
towards the instruction over which she had herself presided. No; if he
would not communicate it was because he would not confess. He had a
horror of acknowledging some unacknowledgable fault. And what was this
if not that one which had been the evil work of the past six
months? . . .

An adulterer! Her son was an adulterer! A terrible word, which to her,
so loyal and pure and pious, described the most repellant baseness, the
ignominy of falsehood mingled with the turpitude of the flesh. In her
indignation she found energy to at last open up her whole heart to
Hubert. Agitated as she was by religious fears for the salvation of her
beloved child, she uttered sentences which she would never have believed
herself capable of pronouncing, mentioning Madame de Sauve by name,
heaping the harshest reproaches upon her, withering her with all the
scorn which a woman who is virtuous can harbour for one who is not,
invoking the memory of their common past, threatening and beseeching in
turns--in short, throwing aside all calculation.

"You are mistaken, mamma," replied Hubert, who had endured this first
assault without speaking. "Madame de Sauve is not at all what you say;
but as I cannot allow my friends to be insulted in my presence, I warn
you that, on the next conversation of the kind that we have together, I
shall leave the house."

And with this rejoinder, uttered with all the coolness that the feeling
of his mother's injustice had left him, he quitted the room without
another word.

"She has perverted his heart, she has made a monster of him," said
Madame Liauran to Madame Castel when telling her of this scene, which
was followed by three weeks of silence between mother and son. The
latter appeared at breakfast, kissed his mother's forehead, asked her
how she was, sat down to table, and did not open his mouth during the
entire meal. Most frequently he was not present at dinner. He had
confided this grief, as he confided all his griefs, to Theresa, who had
entreated him to yield.

"Do this," she said, "if it be only for me. It is cruel to me to think
that I am the prompter of an evil action in your life."

"Noble darling!" the young man had said, covering her hands with kisses,
and drowning himself in the look from those eyes which were so sweet to
him.

But if his love for his mistress had been increased by this generosity,
so, too, had his sensibility to the rancour which the expressions used
in their painful quarrel had stirred up within him against his mother.
The latter, however, had been so shaken by this disagreement as to have
a recurrence of her nervous malady, which she was able to conceal from
him who was its cause. She was almost entirely forbidden to move, which
did not prevent her from dragging herself at night to her window, at the
cost of grievous suffering. She would open the panes and then the
shutters silently, and with the precaution of a criminal, in order to
see the illumination of Hubert's casements on his return, and as she
gazed at this light filtering in a slender stream, and witnessing to the
presence of the son at once so dear and so completely lost, she would
feel her anger relax, and despair take possession of her.

They were reconciled, thanks to the intervention of Madame Castel, who,
between these two hostilities, suffered a double martyrdom. From the
mother she obtained the promise that Madame de Sauve should never again
be spoken of, and from the son apologies for his sulkiness during so
many days. A fresh period began, in which Marie Alice sought to keep
Hubert at home by some modification in her mode of life. Obstinately
hoping even in despair, as happens whenever the heart holds too
passionate a desire, she told herself that this woman's power over her
son must be largely the result of the recreation that he derived from
the society surrounding her. Was not the home in the Rue Vaneau very
monotonous for an idle young man?

She now felt that she had been very imprudent in considering Hubert's
health too delicate, and in being, moreover, too desirous of his
presence to give him a profession. She was ingenious enough to tell
herself that she ought to enliven their solitude, and, for the first
time during her widowhood, she gave some large dinner-parties. The doors
of the house were thrown open. The chandeliers were lighted. The old
silver plate, with the De Trans' arms upon it, adorned the table, around
which crowded some old people, and some charming young girls as elegant
and pretty as the De Trans' cousins were countrified and awkward.

But since Hubert had been in love with Theresa he had, with a sweet
exaggeration of fidelity, forbidden himself ever to look at any woman
but her. And then it was the month of May. The days were warm and
bright. His mistress and he had ventured upon excursions in some of the
woods which surround Paris--at Saint Cloud, at Chaville, and in the
Forest of Marly. Sitting in the dining-room in the Rue Vaneau, Hubert
would recall Theresa's smile on offering him a flower, the alternation
of sunlight and shadow from the foliage upon her forehead, the paleness
of her complexion among the greenness, a gesture that she had made, the
turn of her foot on the grass of a pathway.

If he listened to the conversation it was to compare the talk of Madame
Liauran's guests with the repartees of Madame de Sauve. The first
abounded in prejudice, which is the inevitable ransom of all very
profound moral life. The second were impregnated with that Parisian wit
the sad vacuity of which was no longer apparent to the young man. He
assisted, then, at his mother's dinners with the face of one whose soul
was elsewhere.

"Ah! what can I do--what can I do?" sobbed Madame Liauran; "everything
wearies him of us, and everything amuses him with that woman.

"Wait," replied Madame Castel.

Wait! It is Wisdom's last word; but the impassioned soul devours itself
grievously in the waiting. As for Marie Alice, whose life was wholly
concentrated upon her child, every hour now was turning the knife about
in the wound. She found it impossible not to abandon herself ceaselessly
to that inquisition into petty details to which the noblest jealousies
are victims. She noticed in her son every new trifle such as young men
wear, and asked herself whether some memory of his guilty love was not
attached to it.

Thus he had on his little finger a gold wedding ring which she did not
recognise as one of his own. Ah! what would she have given to know
whether there were words and a date engraved on the inside! Sometimes,
when kissing him, she would inhale a scent the name of which she did not
know, and which was certainly that used by his mistress. Whenever Madame
Liauran encountered the penetrating and voluptuous delicacy of this
perfume, it was as though a hand had physically bruised her heart. At
last her passion had reached such a pitch, that everything was bound to
inflict, and did inflict, a wound. If she ascertained that his eyes
looked worn and his complexion pale, she would say to her mother:

"She will kill me."

It had always been the custom in this simple-mannered family that the
letters should be given into the hands of Madame Liauran herself, who
afterwards distributed them to their several owners. Hubert had not
ventured to ask Firmin, the doorkeeper, to break the rule for him. Would
not this have been to admit the servant into the secret of the
differences which separated his mother and himself? Now, his mistress
and he used to correspond every day, whether they had already met or
not, with the prodigality of heart characteristic of lovers who know not
how to give enough of themselves to each other. Hubert often succeeded
in preventing his mother from seeing these letters by making an
agreement as to the exact time that Theresa should despatch her note,
and hastening down in time to take the post himself from the
doorkeeper's hands.

Often, also, the letter would arrive unpunctually, and had to come to
him through Madame Liauran. The latter was never deceived about it. She
recognised the writing which to her was the most hateful in the world.
Often, again, instead of a letter, Theresa would send one of those
little blue, quick-travelling missives, and the sense that this paper
had been handled by her son's mistress an hour before was intolerable to
the poor woman. To save Hubert dishonourable strategies, and herself
such terrible palpitation of the heart, she resolved upon ordering her
son's letters to be delivered directly to himself. But then she lost the
only tokens she possessed of the reality of the young man's relations
with Madame de Sauve, and this was a source of fresh hopes, and
consequently of fresh disillusions.

In the month of July, Hubert ceased to go out in the evening, and she
imagined that they had quarrelled; then George Liauran, whom she had
made a confidant of her anxieties, because she knew that he was
acquainted with Theresa, informed her that the latter had left for
Trouville, and the deception was a blow the more to her. It is the
privilege and the scourge of those organisms in which nerves
predominate, that griefs, instead of being lulled by habituation, become
incessantly more exaggerated and inflamed. The smallest details
comprehend an infinity of sorrow within them, as a drop of water
comprehends the infinity of heaven.



CHAPTER VI


Of the few persons composing the home circle in the Rue Vaneau, it was
George Liauran himself who was most anxious about the sorrow of Marie
Alice, because it was to him that she most completely betrayed her pain.
She understood that he was the only one who might some day be of service
to her. At every visit he compared the ravages which her one thought had
wrought upon her. Her features were growing thin, her cheeks hollow, and
her complexion livid, while her hair, hitherto so dark, was whitening in
entire tresses. It sometimes happened that George would go out into
society at the conclusion of one of these visits, and meet his cousin
Hubert, nearly always in the same circle as Madame de Sauve, elegant,
handsome, with brilliant eyes and happy mouth.

The contrast roused within him strange feelings, which were a mixture of
good and evil. On the one hand, indeed, George was very fond of Marie
Alice, and with an affection which, during the early days of their
youth, had been a very romantic one with them both. On the other, the,
to him, indubitable connection between this charming Hubert and Theresa
irritated him with a nervous anger without his well knowing why. He felt
towards his cousin that insurmountable ill-will which men of more than
forty and less than fifty years of age profess for the very young men
whom they see making their way in society, and, in fact, taking their
own places.

And then he was one of those who have been hard livers, and who hate
love, whether because they have suffered too much from it, or because
they feel too much regret for it. This hatred of love was complicated
with a complete contempt for women who make slips, and he suspected
Theresa of having already had two intrigues--one with a young deputy,
named Frederick Luzel, and the other with Alfred Fanières, a celebrated
writer. He was one of those who judge a woman by her lovers, wherein he
was wrong, for the reasons which lead a poor creature to surrender
herself are most frequently personal, and foreign to the nature and
character of him who is the cause of the surrender. Now, the great
frankness of Frederick Luzel's manners was a cover to complete
brutality; while Alfred Fanières was a rather handsome fellow of
refined manners, whose cajolery scarcely concealed the fierce egotism of
the skilful artist, with whom everything is simply a means for rising,
from his abilities as a prose writer to his successes of the alcove.

It was upon the germ of corruption deposited by these two characters in
Theresa's heart that George secretly relied when imagining a probable
termination to Hubert's attachment. He told himself that Madame de Sauve
must have acquired habits of pleasure and exigencies of sensation with
these two men, whose cynicism and morals were known to him. He
calculated that Hubert's purity would some day leave her unsatisfied,
and on that day it was almost inevitable that she should deceive him.
"After all," he said to himself, "it will give him pain, but it will
teach him life." George Liauran, in this respect similar to
three-fourths of those of his own age and social standing, was persuaded
that a young man ought, as soon as possible, to frame for himself a
practical philosophy, that is to say, he should, in accordance with the
old misanthropical formulas, have small belief in friendship, look upon
most women as rogues, and explain all human actions by interest, avowed
or disguised. Worldly pessimism has not much more originality than this.
Unfortunately it is nearly always right.

Such was the state of mind of Madame Liauran's cousin respecting the
sentiments of Hubert and Theresa, when, in October of the same year, he
happened to find himself dining with five others in a private room at
the Café Anglais. The repast had been refined and well contrived, and
the wines exquisite, and coffee having been served, and cigars lighted,
they were chatting as men do among themselves. The following is a scrap
of dialogue which George overheard between his left-hand neighbour and
one of the guests, and that at a time when he himself had just been
talking with his right-hand neighbour, so that at first the full import
of the words escaped him.

"We saw them," said the narrator, "through the telescope, from the upper
room in Arthur's, châlet that he uses as a studio, as though they had
been only three yards distant. She entered, in fact, as we had heard
that she did the day before, and she had scarcely done so when he gave
her a kiss--but such a kiss! . . ." and he smacked his lips as he
drained a last drop of liqueur that had remained in his glass.

"Who is 'he'?" asked George Liauran.

"La Croix-Firmin."

"And 'she'?"

"Madame de Sauve."

"By Jove!" said George to himself, "this is a strange business; it was
worth while accepting this fool's invitation."

And with this thought he looked at his host--an exquisite of low
degree--who was exulting with joy at entertaining a few clubmen who were
quite in the fashion.

"We were expecting something better," the other went on to say, "but she
insisted on lowering the curtains. How we chaffed Ludovic about his
jaded look in the morning! Nothing else was spoken of for a week between
Trouville and Deauville. She suspected it, for she left very quickly.
But I will wager a pony that she will be received everywhere this winter
as well as before. The tolerance of Society is becoming----"

"Home-like," said the interlocutor, and the talk continued to go round,
the cigars to be smoked, the kummel cognac to fill the little glasses,
and these moralists to pass judgment upon life. The young man who had
told the scandalous anecdote about Madame de Sauve in the course of the
conversation, was about thirty years old, pale, slight, already used up,
and, for the rest, very amiable and one of those whose name universally
attracts the epithet of "good fellow." In fact he would have blown his
brains out sooner than not have paid a gambling debt within the
appointed time. He had never declined an affair of honour, and his
friends could rely upon him for a service though difficult, or an
advance of money though considerable.

But as to speaking, after drinking, of what one knows about the
intrigues of women of the world, where should we be if we tried to
forbid ourselves this subject of conversation, as well as hypotheses
concerning the secrets of the birth of adulterine children? Perhaps the
very chatterer who had borne eye-witness to the levity of Theresa de
Sauve would have shed genuine tears of sorrow if he had known that his
speech would have been employed as a weapon against the young woman's
happiness. It is an exhaustless source of melancholy for one who mixes
with the world without corrupting his heart, to see how cruelties are
sometimes effected in it with complete security of conscience. But
furthermore, would not George Liauran have learnt from another source
all the details which the indiscretion of his table companion had just
revealed to him so suddenly and with such unassailable precision?

Truth to tell, he was not astonished by it for a moment. Two or three
times, indeed, on his way home, he repeated the words "Poor Hubert!" to
himself, but he secretly felt the mean and irresistible egotistic
titillation which is nine times out of ten produced by the sight of
other people's misfortunes. Were not his prognostications verified? And
this, too, was not devoid of a certain charm. Vulgar misanthropy has
many such satisfactions, which harden the heart that feels them. When a
man despises humanity with an indiscriminating contempt, he ends by
feeling satisfaction at its wretchedness, instead of being distressed by
it.

As for doubt, he did not admit it for a moment, especially when
recalling what he knew of Ludovic de la Croix-Firmin. The latter was a
species of coxcomb, who might, on reflection, appear to be devoid of any
superiority; but he was liked by women, for those mysterious reasons
which we men can no more understand than women can understand the secret
of the influence exercised over us by some of themselves. It is probable
that into these reasons there enters a good deal of that bestiality
which is always present at the bottom of our personal relations. La
Croix-Firmin was twenty-seven years old, the age of the fullest vigour,
with light hair bordering upon red, blue eyes, a clear complexion, and
teeth whose whiteness gleamed between a pair of very fresh lips at every
smile. When he smiled in this way, with his dimpled chin, his square
nose, and his curly locks, he recalled that type, immortal through the
races, of the countenance of Faunus, which the ancients made the
incarnation of happy sensuality.

To complete that quality of physical charm to which many fancies that he
had inspired were due, he had a suppleness of movement peculiar to those
in whom the vital force is very complete. He was of medium height, but
athletic. Although his ignorance was absolute and his intelligence very
moderate, he possessed the gift which renders a man of his make a
dangerous person; he had, in a rare degree, that tact and perception
which reveal the moment when a venture may be made, and when woman, a
creature of rapid moods and fleeting emotions, belongs to the libertine
who can divine it.

This La Croix-Firmin had had many intrigues, and, although his birth and
his future ought to have made him a perfect gentleman, he liked to
relate them; these indiscretions, instead of ruining him, served him, so
to speak, as advertisements. In spite of his light conversation and his
conceit, he had not made a single enemy among the women who had
compromised themselves for him; perhaps because he imaged to their
memories nothing but happy sensation--"'tis the material of the best
recollections," the cynics say, and, in respect of souls devoid of
loftiness, what can be more true?

It was precisely upon La Croix-Firmin's indiscretion that George relied
for mustering some fresh proofs in support of the fact which he had
learned at the dinner at the Café Anglais. Being an old bachelor, he
had a gloomy imagination, and could foresee ill-fortune rather than
good. He had, consequently, long been accustomed to see clearly through
the surface of the social world. He understood the art of going in
pursuit of secret truth, and he excelled in combining into a single
whole the scattered sayings floating in the atmosphere of Parisian
conversation. In this particular case there was no need of so many
efforts. It was simply a matter of finding corroboration for a detail
indisputable in itself.

A few visits to women in society who had spent the season at Trouville,
and a single one to Ella Virieux, a woman belonging to the demi-monde,
and the recognised mistress of La Croix-Firmin's best comrade, were
sufficient for the inquiry. It was quite certain that Ludovic had been
Madame de Sauve's lover, and that the fact was not only one of public
notoriety, but had been established by his own avowal at the seaside. A
hasty departure had alone preserved Theresa from an inevitable affront,
and now that Parisian life was beginning again, ten new scandals were
causing this summer scandal, destined to become dubious like so many
others, to be already forgotten.

George Liauran perceived in it a sure means of at last breaking the
connection between Hubert and Theresa. It was sufficient for this
purpose to warn Marie Alice. He felt, indeed, a moment's hesitation, for
after all he was meddling with a story which did not at all concern him;
but the unacknowledged hatred towards the two lovers which was hidden at
the bottom of his heart carried him over this delicate scrupulousness,
as well as the real desire to free a woman whom he loved from mortal
distress.

On the very evening of the day of his conversation with Ella Virieux,
who, without attaching any further importance to the matter, had
reported to him the secrets which Ludovic had confided to her lover, he
was at the Rue Vaneau and relating to Madame Liauran, who was reclining
beside Madame Castel's easy chair, the unlooked-for news which was at a
stroke to change the aspect of the strife between mother and mistress.

"Ah! the wretch!" cried the poor woman, half-dead from her lengthened
anguish, "she was not even capable of loving him----"

She uttered these words in a deep tone, wherein were condensed all the
ideas which she had formed so long before about her son's mistress. She
had thought so much about what the nature of this guilty creature's
passion could possibly be to render it more potent over Hubert's heart
than her own love, which, for all that, she knew to be infinite! Shaking
her whitened head, so wearied with musing, she went on:

"And it is for such a woman as this that he has tortured us! Ah! mamma,
when he compares what he has sacrificed with what he has preferred, he
will not understand his own behaviour."

Then, holding out her hand to George:

"Thank you, cousin," she said. "You have saved me. If this horrible
intrigue had lasted, I should have died."

"Alas, my poor daughter," said Madame Castel, stroking her hair, "do not
feed upon vain hopes. If Hubert has ever loved you he loves you still.
Nothing is changed. There is only one evil action the more committed by
this woman, and she must be accustomed to it."

"Then you think that he will not know of all this?" said Marie Alice,
raising herself. "But I should be the basest of the base if I were not
to open this unhappy child's eyes. So long as I believed that she loved
him, I was able to keep silence. Guilty as such love might be, it
nevertheless had passion; it was something sincere after all, something
erring, yet exalted--but now, what name can you give such abominations?"

"Be prudent, cousin," said George Liauran, somewhat disquieted by the
anger with which these last words had been uttered; "remember that we
are not in a position to give poor Hubert such palpable and undeniable
proofs as would baffle all discussion."

"But what further proof do you want," she broke in, "than the assertion
of a spectator?"

"Pooh!" said George; "for those who are in love----"

"You do not know my son," returned the mother, proudly. "There is no
such compliance in him. I only want a promise from you before taking
action. You will relate to him what you have told to us, and as you have
told it to us, if he asks you."

"Certainly," said George, after a pause; "I will tell him what I know,
and he will draw what conclusions he pleases."

"And what if he were to pick a quarrel with this Monsieur de la
Croix-Firmin?" asked Madame Castel.

"He could not," rejoined the mother, whose hopeful over-excitement
rendered her at that moment as keen-sighted respecting the laws of
society as George himself could have been; "our Hubert is too honourable
a man to allow a woman's name to be talked about through him, even
though it were hers."

Yes, poor Hubert! Hour by hour there was thus drawing closer to him that
destiny which the sound of the sea, as heard in the night, would have
symbolised to him during his divine waking at Folkestone had he
possessed more knowledge of life. It was drawing closer, this destiny,
taking for its instrument alternately George Liauran's malevolent
indifference and Marie Alice's blind passion. The last-named, at least,
believed that she was working for her son's happiness, not understanding
that, when in love, it is better to be deceived even a great deal than
to suspect the fact a little.

And yet, notwithstanding what she had said in her conversation with her
cousin, she did not feel equal to speaking herself to her son. She was
incapable of enduring the first outbreak of his grief. Assuredly the
proofs given by George appeared to her impossible of refutation, and
again, in her conscience as a pious mother, she considered that it was
her absolute duty to snatch her son from the monster who was corrupting
him. But how could she receive the counter-stroke of rebellion which
would follow the revelation?

Nevertheless, she hoped that he would return to her in his moments of
despair. She would open her arms to him, and all this nightmare of
misunderstandings would vanish in effusiveness--as of old.
Involuntarily, through a mirage familiar to all mothers as to all
fathers, she took no accurate account of the change of soul which
possibly had been wrought in her son. She still saw in him the child
that once she had known, coming to her with his smallest troubles.

Through the false logic of her tenderness it seemed to her that, the
obstacle which had separated them once removed, they would find
themselves again face to face and the same as before. Her first thought
was to send him immediately to see George; then, with her delicate
woman's sense, she reflected that this would involve an inevitable
wounding of his pride. Once more, therefore, she had recourse to General
Scilly's old friendship, requesting him to tell the young man all.

"You are giving me a terribly difficult commission," he replied, when
she had explained everything to him. "I will obey you if you require it.
I have gone through it myself," he added, "and under almost similar
conditions. A quean is a quean, and they are all like one another. But
the first man who had hinted as much to me would have spent a bad
quarter of an hour. Besides, they had not to speak to me about it, for I
learnt it all myself."

"And what did you do?" asked Marie Alice.

"What a man does when he has a leg broken by the bursting of a shell,"
said the old soldier; "I amputated my heart bravely. It was hard, but I
cut clean."

"You can quite see that my son must learn all," replied the mother, in a
tone at once of triumph and of pity.



CHAPTER VII


It was after lunching with one of Madame de Sauve's friends, and tasting
the delicious pleasure of seeing his mistress come in with the coffee,
that Hubert Liauran betook himself to the Quai d'Orléans, where a line
from the General had asked him to be at about three o'clock. The young
man had fancied, on receiving his godfather's note, that it had to do
with the arrears of his debt. He knew that the Count was fastidious, and
he had allowed two months to pass away without clearing off the promised
amount. The conversation accordingly began with some words of excuse,
which he stammered out immediately on entering the apartment on the
ground floor.

He had not revisited it since the eve of his departure for Folkestone,
and he experienced in thought all his former sensations on finding the
aspect of the room exactly such as he had left it. The notes on the
reorganisation of the army still covered the table; the bust of Marshal
Bugeaud adorned the mantel-piece; and the General, attired in a
pelisse-shaped dressing-jacket, was methodically smoking his briarwood
pipe. To the first words uttered by his godson he merely replied:

"That is not the question, my dear fellow," in a voice that was at once
grave and sad.

By the mere intonation Hubert understood too well that a scene was
preparing of capital importance to himself. If it is puerile to believe
in presentiments in the sense in which the crowd take the term, no
creature gifted with refinement can deny that the slightest of details
are sufficient to invoke an accurate perception of approaching danger.
The General was silent, and Hubert could see the name of Madame de Sauve
in his eyes and on his lips, although it had never been uttered between
his godfather and himself. He waited, therefore, for the resumption of
the conversation with that passionate beating of the heart which makes
impatience an almost intolerable torture to highly-strung natures.

Scilly, whose whole sentimental experience since his youth was summed up
in a single deception in love, now felt himself seized with great pity
for the blow that he was about to inflict upon a youth so dear to
himself, and the phrases which he had been putting together during the
whole of that morning appeared to him to be devoid of common sense.
Nevertheless, it was necessary to speak. At times of supreme uncertainty
it is the characteristic impressed upon us by our callings in life which
usually manifests itself and guides our action. Scilly was a soldier,
brave and exact. He was bound to go, and he did go, straight to the
point.

"My boy," he said, with a certain solemnity, "you must first know that I
am acquainted with your life. You are the lover of a married woman, who
is called Madame de Sauve. Do not deny it. Honour forbids you to tell me
the truth. But the essential point is to take immediate precautions."

"Why do you speak to me of this," replied the young man, rising and
taking up his hat, "when you acknowledge that honour commands me not
even to listen to you? Look here, godfather, if you have brought me here
to broach this subject, let us have no more of it. I prefer to bid you
good-bye before quarrelling with you."

"But it was not to question you nor to lecture you that I asked for this
interview," replied the Count, taking the hand which Hubert had stiffly
held out to him. "It was to tell you a very grave fact, and one of which
you must, yes, must be informed. Madame de Sauve has another lover,
Hubert, who is not yourself."

"Godfather," said the young man, disengaging his fingers from those of
the old General, and growing pale with sudden anger, "I do not know why
you wish me to cease to respect you. It is infamous to say of a woman
what you have just said of her."

"If you were not concerned," replied the Count, rising, and the sad
gravity of his countenance contrasted strangely with the wild looks of
his godson, "you know very well that I would not speak to you of Madame
de Sauve or of any other woman. But I love you as I should love a son of
my own, and I tell you what I would tell him. You have misplaced your
love; the woman has another lover!"

"Who? When? Where? What are your proofs?" replied Hubert, exasperated
beyond all bounds by the insistence and coolness of the General; "tell
me, tell me----"

"When?--this summer. Who?--a Monsieur de La Croix-Firmin. Where?--at
Trouville. But it is the talk of all the drawing-rooms," continued
Scilly; and, without naming George, he related the indisputable details
which the latter had confided to Madame Liauran, from the statement of
the eye-witness to the indiscreet utterances of La Croix-Firmin.

The young man listened without interruption, but to one who knew him the
expression of his face was terrible. Anger that was blended of grief and
indignation made him grow pale to the lips.

"And who told you this story?" he asked.

"How does that concern you?" said the General, who understood that to
indicate the real author of the whole statement to Hubert just at first
would be to expose George to a scene which might have a tragical issue.
"Yes, how does that concern you since you are not Madame de Sauve's
lover?"

"I am her friend," rejoined Hubert; "and I have the right to protect
her, as I would protect you, against odious calumnies. Moreover," he
added, looking fixedly at his godfather, "if you refuse to answer my
question, I give you my word of honour that within two days I will find
this Monsieur de La Croix-Firmin who indulges in these knavish
calumnies, and I will have something to say to him without any woman's
name being mentioned."

The General, seeing Hubert's state of overexcitement, and not knowing
what words to use against a frenzy which he had not foreseen,--for it
was based upon the most absolute incredulity,--said to himself that
Madame Liauran alone possessed the power to calm her son.

"I have told you what I had to tell you," he returned, in a melancholy
tone; "if you want to know more, ask your mother."

"My mother?" said the young man violently, "I might have suspected as
much. Well! I will go to her."

And half-an-hour later he entered the little drawing-room in the Rue
Vaneau, where Madame Liauran was at that moment alone. She was waiting,
in fact, for her son, but with mortal anguish. She knew that it was the
time for his explanation with Scilly, and the issue of it now frightened
her. The sight of Hubert's physiognomy increased her fears. He was
livid, with bistre rings beneath his eyes, and Marie Alice immediately
felt the counter-shock of this visible emotion.

"I have come from my godfather's, mother," the young man began, "and he
has said things to me that I shall not forgive him as long as I live.
What pained me still more was that he pretended to have from yourself
the calumnies which he repeated to me concerning one whom you may not
like--but I do not recognise your right to brand her to me, to whom she
has always been perfect--"

"Do not speak to me in that tone, Hubert," said Madame Liauran, "you
hurt me so. It is just as though you were burying a knife in me here."
She pointed to her bosom.

Ah! it was not only Hubert's tone, his short, hard tone, that was
torturing her; it was above all, and once again, the evidence of the
feeling that bound him to Madame de Sauve.

"Of us two," she thought, "he would choose her." The immediate result of
her grief was to revive her hatred for the woman who was its cause, and
in her impulse of aversion she found strength to continue the
conversation.

"You have lost the feelings of our home, my child," she said, in a
calmer voice; "you do not understand what tenderness binds us to
yourself, and what duties it imposes upon us."

"Strange duties, if they consist in echoing degrading reports about one
whose only offence is that she has inspired me with a deep affection."

"No," said Madame Liauran, who was growing excited in her turn; "it is
not a question of resuming a discussion which has already set us face to
face as though for a duel," and the glances of mother and son crossed at
that moment like two sword-blades. "It is a question of this--that you
love a creature who is unworthy of you, and that I, your mother, have
had you told so and tell you so again."

"And I, your son, reply to you--," and he had the word LIE on his lips;
then, as though frightened at what he had been going to say--"that you
are mistaken, mother. I ask your pardon for speaking to you in this
strain," he added, taking her hand and kissing it; "I am not master of
myself."

"Listen, my child," said Marie Alice, from whose eyes the unlooked-for
kindness of this gesture caused the tears to flow; "I cannot go into all
those sad details with you." Here she touched his hair just as in the
days when he was a little child. "Go to your cousin George. He will
repeat to you all that he has told us. For it was he who, in his
anxiety, thought it his duty to warn us. But remember what your mother
tells you now. I believe in the double sight of the heart. I should not
have hated this woman as I have hated her from the very first, if she
had not been bound to prove fatal to you. Now, good-bye, my child. Kiss
me," she added, in broken tones. Did she understand that from that hour
her son's kisses would never be to her what they had formerly been?

Hubert dashed from the room, leaped into a cab, and gave the driver the
address of the club at which he hoped to find George--a small and very
aristocratic one in the Rue du Cirque. But while the man, stimulated by
the promise of a large tip, was whipping his horse, the unhappy youth
was beginning to reflect upon the entirely unexpected blow which had
just fallen upon him. The character of the race of action to which he
belonged manifested itself in the recovery of his self-possession.

From the very first he set aside all notion of calumnious invention on
the part of his mother and godfather. That they both detested Theresa,
he knew. That they were capable of venturing a great deal in order to
detach him from her, had just been proved to him. Yes, Madame Liauran
and the Count might venture upon anything, except falsehood. They
believed, therefore, what they had said, and they believed it on the
word of George Liauran, who had been hawking about one of the thousand
infamous reports of Paris; but with what purpose? Hubert's mind did not,
at this moment, admit that there was an atom of truth in the story of
his mistress's relations with another man.

He did not wait to discuss the fact within himself; he thought only of
the person from whose lips the tale had come. What motive, then, had
prompted his cousin, to whom he was now going in order to demand an
explanation? He saw him in imagination with his thin face, his pointed
beard, his short hair, and his shrewd look. The vision raised within him
a strangely uncomfortable feeling, which, though he did not suspect it,
was the work of Madame de Sauve. George had never up to the present
spoken to Hubert about her in any way that could admit of allusion or
banter.

But women possess a sure instinct of mistrust, and from the first she
had noticed that her love was repugnant to Hubert's cousin. She guessed
that he saw only the whim of a _blasée_ woman where she herself saw a
religion. A woman forgives formal slanders sooner than she forgives the
tone in which she is spoken of, and she understood that the accent of
George's voice as he pronounced her name was in absolute disagreement
with the feelings with which she wished to inspire Hubert. And then, to
keep back nothing, she had a past, and George might be acquainted with
that past. A shudder passed through her at the mere idea of this.

For these diverse reasons she had employed her shrewdest and most secret
diplomacy to part the two cousins from each other. This work was now
bearing its fruit, and was the means of inspiring Hubert with
unconquerable distrust, while the cab was taking him to the club in the
Rue du Cirque.

"In what way," he thought, "can I question George? I cannot say to him:
'I am Madame de Sauve's lover, and you have accused her of having
deceived me; prove it to me.'"

The moral impossibility of such a conversation had become a physical one
at the moment when the cab stopped in front of the club.

"After all," said Hubert to himself, "I am a very child to trouble
myself about what Monsieur George Liauran believes or does not believe."

He dismissed his cab, and instead of entering the club, walked in the
direction of the Champs Elysées.

That which constitutes the marvellous essence and the unique charm of
love, is that it gathers, as into a bundle, and sets vibrating in
unison, the three beings within us, of thought, feeling, and
instinct,--the brain, the heart, and all the flesh. But it is also this
unison which forms its terrible infirmity. It remains defenceless
against the encroachment of physical imagination, and this feebleness
appears especially in the birth of jealousy. In this way is explained
the monstrous facility with which suspicion rises in the soul of a man
that knows himself loved above all others, if any particulars frame,
before his mind's eye, a picture wherein he sees his mistress deceiving
him.

To be sure the lover does not believe in the truth of this picture, yet
he is none the more able to forget it entirely, and it gives him pain
until a proof comes to render the image absurd at every point. But as
there enters a great part of physical life into the formation of the
picture, the more material the proof is the more complete is the cure.
It is exactly what happens to one awaking from a nightmare, when the
assault of surrounding sensations comes to dissipate the torturing image
which has occasioned the hallucination of the sleeper.

Certainly, for a year past, during which he had been in love with
Theresa de Sauve, Hubert had never, even for a minute, doubted a love of
which, through a feeling of delicacy that was a creature of prudence, he
had never spoken to any one; and even now, after the accusations
formulated against her by Count Scilly and Madame Liauran, he did not
believe her capable of treachery. Nevertheless, these accusations
carried a possible reality with them, and while he was going up again
towards the Arc de Triomphe he was pursued by the recollection of the
phrases uttered by his godfather and his mother, evoking within him the
spectacle of Theresa resigning herself to another man.

It was but a flash, and scarcely had this vision of hideousness occurred
to Hubert's mind than it induced a reaction. By a violent effort he
drove away the image, which vanished for a few minutes and then
reappeared, this time accompanied by a whole train of probative ideas.
Hubert suddenly recollected that during the trip to Tourville several of
his mistress' letters had been written from day to day in a somewhat
changed hand. She seemed to have sat down to her table in great haste to
perform her labour of love, as though it were a task to be hurriedly
accomplished. Hubert had been pained by this little momentary change,
and then he had reproached himself for a tender susceptibility of heart
which was like ingratitude.

Yes; but was it not immediately after this short period of negligent
letters that Theresa had left Trouville, under the pretext that the sea
air was doing her no good? Her departure had been decided upon in
twenty-four hours. Hubert could again feel the impulse of wondering joy
which had been caused him by this sudden return. He had not expected to
see his mistress back in Paris before the month of October, and he met
her again in the first week of September The joy of that time was
transformed by retrospection into vague anxiety. Had the evident
perturbation of the letters written before the departure, and had the
departure itself, no connection with the abominable action of which
Theresa was accused? But it was infamous on his part to admit such
ideas, even in imagination. He threw back his head, closed his eyes,
knit his forehead, and, mustering all his energy of soul, was enabled to
drive the suspicion away once more.

He was now in the highest part of the avenue. He felt so tired that he
did what was for him an extraordinary action, he looked for a café at
which he might stop and rest. He noticed a little English tavern, hidden
in this corner of fashionable Paris, for the use of coachmen and
bookmakers. He went in. Two men, with red faces and of sturdy
appearance, who looked as though they must be redolent of the stable,
were standing before the counter. The shadow of a closing autumn
afternoon was gloomily invading this deserted nook.

Facing the bar ran an empty bench, and on a long wooden table lay an
English newspaper in several sheets. Here Hubert sat down and ordered a
glass of port wine, which he drank mechanically and which had the effect
of freshly exciting his strained nerves. The vision came back to him a
third time, accompanied by a still greater number of ideas, which
automatically grouped themselves into a single body of argument. Theresa
had then returned to Paris so speedily, and had repaired to one of their
clandestine meetings. But why had she had such a violent fit of sobbing
in his very arms? She was often melancholy in her voluptuousness. The
intoxications of love usually ended with her in sad emotion. But how far
removed was this frenzy of despair from her habitual, dreamy languor!
Hubert had been almost frightened at it, and then she had answered him:

"It was so long since I had tasted your kisses! They are so sweet to me
that they pain me. But it is a dear pain," she had added, drawing him to
her heart and cradling him in her arms.

Nevertheless her despair had not entirely disappeared on the following
day or during the weeks which ensued, and which she had spent in the
neighbourhood of Paris at a country house belonging to one of her
friends who was acquainted with Hubert. He had gone there to see her and
had found her as silent as ever, and at times almost dull. She had
returned to Paris in the same condition, and with her face somewhat
altered; but he had attributed the change to physical uneasiness. A
sudden and new association of ideas now caused him to say to himself:

"What if this were remorse? Remorse for what? Why, for her infamy!"

He got up, went out of the café, resumed his walk, and shook off this
frightful hypothesis.

"Fool that I am," he thought, "if she had deceived me it would have been
because she did not love me, and what motive would she then have to lie
to me?"

This objection, which appeared irrefutable to him, drove away the
suspicion for a few minutes. Then it came back again as it always does:
"But who is this Count de la Croix-Firmin? Has she ever spoken of him to
me?" he asked himself.

He searched anxiously through all his recollections, but could not find
that this name had ever been uttered by her. Still, if-- Suddenly in a
hidden corner of his memory he perceived the syllables of the already
hateful name. He had seen them printed in a newspaper article on the
festivities at Trouville. It was certainly in a Boulevard paper, and in
a connection in which he had also remarked his mistress's name. By what
chance did this little fact, in itself insignificant, return to torment
him at this moment?

He had a doubt as to his accuracy, and he took a carriage to go to the
office of the only paper that he read habitually. He searched through
the collection, and laid his hand upon the short paragraph, which he
recollected, doubtless, because he had read it several times on
Theresa's account. It was the report of a garden party given by a
Marchioness de Jussat. Did it merely prove that this Monsieur de la
Croix-Firman had been introduced to Madame de Sauve?

"Ah!" exclaimed the poor fellow after these murderous reflections, "am I
going to become jealous?"

This represented an insupportable idea to him, for nothing was more
contrary to the innate loyalty of his whole nature than distrust. Then
he remembered the warm tenderness which she had lavished upon him from
the first, and as he had ever since followed the sweet practice of
opening up his whole heart to her, he said to himself that he had a sure
means of removing this evil vision for ever. He had simply to see
Theresa and tell her everything. In the first place this would warn her
of a calumny which she must immediately put down. Then, he felt that a
single word coming from the lips of this woman would immediately
dissipate every shadow of anxiety in his mind. He entered a post-office
and scrawled on the blue paper of a little pneumatic despatch:

"Tuesday, five o'clock.--The lover is sad, and cannot do without his
mistress. Wicked persons have been maligning her to him. Who should hear
all this, if not the dear confidante of every sorrow and every joy? Can
she come to-morrow, she knows where, at ten o'clock in the morning? Let
her do so, and she shall be loved still more, if that be possible, by
her H.L.,--which denotes this closing afternoon: Horrible lassitude."

It was in this strain of tender childishness that he wrote to her, with
the fondness of language wherein passion often dissembles its native
violence. He slipped the slender despatch into the box, and was
astonished to find himself feeling almost placid again. He had acted,
and the presence of the real had driven the vision away.



CHAPTER VIII


At the moment when Theresa de Sauve received Hubert's despatch she was
preparing to dress for dining out. She immediately countermanded her
carriage, and wrote a hasty line, pleading headache as an excuse for
absence. She had been seized with trembling and an icy sweat on reading
the simple phrases of the blue note. She gave orders that she was not at
home, and cowered down in a low chair before her bedroom fire, with her
head in her hands.

Since her return from Trouville she had been living in continued agony,
and what she had been dreading like death was come. Her darling, whom
she had left so perfectly tranquil and cheerful at two o'clock, could
not have fallen into the state of mind which she could feel through the
graceful childishness of his note, if some catastrophe had not happened.
What catastrophe? Theresa guessed it too well.

George Liauran had been told the truth. During the unhappy woman's stay
at the seaside there had been enacted in her life one of those secret
dreams of infidelity which frequently occur in the lives of women who
have once deviated from the straight path. But our actions, however
guilty they may be, do not always give the measure of our souls. Madame
de Sauve's nature comprised very lofty portions by the side of very low
ones, and was a singular mixture of corruption and nobility. She might,
indeed, commit abominable faults, but to forgive them in herself, after
the happy custom of most women of the same description, that she could
not do, and now less than ever after what her passion for Hubert had
been to her life for several months.

Ah! her life! her life! It was this that Theresa de Sauve saw in the
flickering flames in the fireplace that autumn evening, with her heart
racked with apprehension. The whole weight of her former errors, her
criminal errors, was now falling upon her heart, and she remembered her
state of dull agony when she had met Hubert. Theresa de Sauve had been
endowed by nature with those dispositions which are most fatal to a
woman in modern society, unless she marries under rare conditions, or
unless maternity saves her from herself by breaking the energies of her
physical, and engrossing the fervour of her moral, vitality. She had a
romantic heart, while her temperament made her a creature of passion,
that is to say, she fostered both dreams of feeling and unconquerable
appetites for sensation.

When persons of this kind meet on the threshold of their lives, with a
man who satisfies the twofold needs of their nature, there are between
them and this man such mysterious festivities of love as poets conceive
but never embrace. Where their destiny wills that they shall be
delivered, as Theresa had been to her husband, to a man who treats them
from the very first like courtesans, who initiates them in deed and
thought into the whole science of pleasure, but who has not sufficient
poetry to satisfy the other half of their souls, such women necessarily
become curiosos, capable of falling into the worst experiences, and then
their sterility even becomes a happiness, for they at least do not
transmit that flame of sentimental and sensual life which they have
commonly inherited from a mother's error.

It was, in fact, from her mother, who, cold though she was, had been led
by weariness and abandonment into guilty misconduct, that Theresa
derived her dreamy imagination, while there flowed in her veins the
burning blood of her true father, the handsome Count Branciforte.
Further, this child of license and infatuation had been brought up
without religious principles or bridle of any kind, by Adolphe Lussac, a
most immoral man, who was amused by the little girl's vivacity, and had
early made her a guest at many dinners, where she heard all that she
ought not to have heard, and guessed all that she ought not to have
known. Who can calculate the amount of influence over the falls of a
woman of twenty-five that is attributable to the conversations listened
to or overheard by the young girl in short frocks?

Nevertheless, Theresa, who had married when very young, had had only two
intrigues up to the time of her chance meeting with Hubert, and these
two amours had caused her such disgust that she had sworn that she would
never again fall into the folly of taking a lover. The good resolutions
of a woman who has fallen, and who has suffered for her fault, are like
the firm intentions of a gambler who has lost two thousand pounds, or a
drunkard who has told his secrets during his intoxication. The
deep-lying causes which have produced the first adultery continue to
subsist after the fault has given the guilty one cruelly to taste of
every bitterness.

The woman who takes a lover is not so much attached to this lover as she
is to love, and she continues to be still attached to love when the
chosen lover has deceived her, until disillusion after disillusion
brings her to love pleasure without love, and sometimes pleasure of the
most degrading nature. Theresa de Sauve could never descend so far as
this, because a sentiment of the ideal persisted within her, too feeble
to counterbalance the fever of the senses, but strong enough to illumine
in her own eyes the abyss of her weaknesses. This taciturn woman,
through whom there passed at times the tremors of almost brutal desire,
was no epicurean, no light and cheerful courtesan of the world.

Conceived amid her mother's remorse, Theresa had a tragic soul. She was
capable of depravity, but incapable of that amused forgetfulness which
plucks the fleeting hour, and cannot, without effort, recall the first
lover's name among all the rest. No; this first lover, this Frederick
Suzel, whom George Liauran had justly suspected, could never be thought
of by her without causing her thorough nausea by the recollection of the
sad motives of her surrender to him. He was a man gay even to
buffoonery, and witty even to cynicism, with that sort of wit which is
current between the Opera House, Tortoni, and the Café Anglais.

When paying his addresses to Theresa, he had the good sense not to lose
himself in the tricks of fashionable flirtations as did his numerous
rivals--a troop of beasts of prey on the scent of a victim. With great
skilfulness of language and a certain penetration of vice, he had
frankly offered to arrange with her a kind of partnership for pleasure
which should be secret, sure, and with no future, and the unfortunate
woman had accepted his proposal. Why? Because she was dreadfully dull;
because she was carrying off Suzel from one of her friends; because she
was greedy for new sensations, and this person, with his dishonouring
talk, had about him a sort of strange prestige of libertinism. Of this
connection, in which Frederick had at least been faithful to his promise
in not seeking to prolong it, Theresa had soon been deeply ashamed, and
she had escaped from it as from the galleys.

After a year spent in enduring her remorse, and in feeling herself
sullied by all the knowledge of evil that her intimacy with this man had
revealed to her, she had thought to find satisfaction for the needs of
her heart in the person of Alfred Fanières, one of the most subtle
novelists of the day. Did not all the books of this charming narrator,
from his first and only volume of poetry to his last collection of
tales, reveal the most minute and tender understanding of the gentle
feminine mind? In this second connection, begun with the most
intoxicating hope--that, namely, of consoling all the deceptions of an
admired artist--Theresa had soon struck upon the implacable barrenness
of the inmost nature of the worn-out literary man, in whom there is an
absolute divorce between feeling and written expression.

Though undeceived, she nevertheless persisted in remaining this man's
mistress, from that reason which causes a woman's second love affair to
be the longest of all in coming to a conclusion. She will admit that the
first has been a mistake; but the mistake of her marriage and the
mistake of her first amour make two; at the third error she acknowledges
that the fault in her conduct is due to herself, and not to the
circumstances of her life, and this is a cruel confession for secret
pride. Then the writer's egotism had manifested itself so harshly, when
he had believed himself sure of her, that the revolt had been too
strong, and Theresa had broken with him.

It was during the period of hard distress subsequent to this rupture
that she had met Hubert Liauran. From the corner of her solitary hearth,
beside which she watched persistently, she could see so very clearly
what the discovery of this tender child's heart had been to her. In an
existence which had comprised nothing but wounding or disgrace--had not
her keenest sorrows been dishonoured beforehand by their cause?--with
what delighted emotion had she measured the purity of this young man's
heart? What anxiety had she felt, and what a dread of not pleasing him!
What a dread, too, knowing that she had pleased him, of being ruined in
his thoughts!

How she had trembled lest one of the cruel talkers of society should
reveal her past to Hubert! How had she employed all her woman's art to
make this love an adorable poem, wherein should be lacking nothing that
might enchant a soul innocent and new to life! How had she enjoyed his
reverence, and how had she allowed it to be prolonged! Ah! when she
thought now of those two days at Folkestone she could scarcely believe
that they had been real, and that she had had the courage to survive
them. She remembered that she had gone with Hubert to the terminus in
spite of every consideration of prudence; she had seen him disappear in
the direction of London, leaning out of the carriage window to watch her
the longer; she had re-entered the rooms which they had both occupied,
before herself taking train for Dover, and there she had spent two hours
in the grievous loneliness of a soul overwhelmed with simultaneous
despair and felicity.

Her soul bent beneath its weight of recollections like a flower
overladen with dew. She had there known a complete union between her two
natures--an almost passionate vibration of her entire being. She had
half forgiven herself the past, excusing herself by saying mentally to
Hubert the words which so many women have said aloud to men jealous of
those bygone days which belonged to others: "I did not know you!"

On their subsequent return to Paris, how carefully and piously had she
set herself, during the spring and summer, to live in such a way as not
to lose his affection for a single minute! She had resumed all the
modesty admitted by love that is complete, but is ennobled by the soul.
She trembled constantly lest her caresses should be a cause of
corruption to this being, so young both in heart and in body, whom she
wished to intoxicate without defiling.

Although she was enamoured to distraction, she had desired the meetings
in the little abode in the Avenue Friedland to be far between, lest she
should not long enough preserve in his eyes her charm of divine novelty.
They had not been very numerous--she might have counted them, tasting in
thought the distinct sweetness of each--those afternoons when, with all
the shutters closed, and with no light, she had again found the delights
of the Folkestone time, sunk in her lover's arms, and dead to everything
but the present moment and its intoxication.

She had gone so far in her idolatry of Hubert as to worship Madame
Liauran, although she well knew that she was hated by her. She
worshipped her for having brought up this son in such an atmosphere of
pure and shrinking sensibility. She worshipped her for having kept him
for her during the years of adolescence and youth, so delicate, so
graceful, so tender, so much her own, so absolutely her own in the past,
the present, and the future. For there was loftiness, almost folly, in
her pride. She would say to him:

"Yours is beginning and mine is ending. Yes, child, at twenty-six a
woman is almost at the end of her youth, and you have so many years
before you! But never, never will you be loved as I love you, and never
will you forget me, never, never." And at other times: "You will marry,"
she would say; "she lives, she breathes, and yet she is not known to me,
she who is to take you from me, and who will sleep every night upon your
heart as I did at Folkestone. Ah! must it indeed be that I have met you
so late, and that I cannot bind you to my kisses."

And she would encircle his neck with the loosened tresses of her long,
black hair. Since she had belonged to him she had again acquired the
habit which she had had as a young girl, of dressing her own hair, so
that he might handle her beautiful locks. Then when she had dressed them
again quite alone, and was attired and veiled, she would come back to
him, not wishing to bid him good-bye anywhere but in the room where they
had loved each other, and she would understand from the throbbings of
Hubert's heart that no sensation told so much upon him as this good-bye
kiss which she gave him with nearly cold lips. She would depart a prey
to a nameless sadness, but one at least of which she told her lover. For
she did not tell him of every sadness.

She was married, and although she had at all times had a room of her
own, she was sometimes obliged to receive her husband in it. Alas! it
was all the more necessary because she had a lover. It was a sinister
expiation of her passion, and one which she justified on her part by
telling herself that she owed as much to Hubert. If she ever became a
mother could she fly with him and take from him his whole life? and the
pitiless necessity of baleful lies and degrading partitions would thus
come to torture her at the height of her happiness. She acquitted
herself, nevertheless, since it was for him, her darling, that she lied.

Yes, but what monstrous enigma suddenly reared itself before her? Oh,
the cruel, cruel enigma! With this divine love in her heart, how had she
been able to do what she had done? For it had been, indeed, herself, and
none other--she, with those feet of hers which now were feeling icy
cold, with those hands which now were pressing her feverishly-throbbing
brow--she, in short, with her whole physical being, who had left for
Trouville at the end of the month of July--she, Theresa de Sauve, who
had installed herself for the season in a villa on the hill. Yes, it had
been herself. And yet no! It was not possible that Hubert's mistress had
done this. What--this? Oh, cruel, cruel enigma!

From what depths of the memory of her senses had there issued those
strange impulses, those secret, lustful temptations which had commenced
to assail her? But have the senses really a memory? Can it be that the
guilty fevers will not depart for ever from the blood which they have
fired in evil hours?

Once settled in her villa, she had met again with old friends who had
been greatly neglected since the beginning of her connection with
Hubert. With these women and their admirers--their "fancy men," as a
lady said who mixed in their "set"--she had formed several very cheerful
and innocent country parties, and here she was, day by day, beginning,
not to love Hubert less, but to live somewhat apart from her love, and
to take pleasure anew in habits of masculine familiarities which she had
forbidden to herself for a year past. She was so idle in her villa with
no indoor occupation--not even reading. For she had never liked books
much, and her connection with Alfred Fanières had disgusted her for
ever with the falsity of fine phrases. When she had written lengthily to
Hubert, and then briefly to her husband--who, moreover, came to see her
every week--it was necessary to beguile the tedious hours; and at times
fitful thoughts came to her which she dared not acknowledge to herself.
Hankerings after sensations arose within her, and astonished her.

She knew by hearsay that almost all men, however tender they may be, and
however dearly loved their mistresses, cannot remain long away from the
latter without experiencing irresistible temptations to deceive her with
the first girl that they meet. But this was true of men, and not of
women. Why, then, did she find herself a prey to this inexplicable
agitation, to this thirst for sensual intoxications, of which she had
believed herself for ever cured by the influence of her ennobling, her
ideal love? The depraved creature that she had formerly been awoke by
degrees. At night, in her sleep, she was haunted by visions of her past.
In vain, had she striven, and in vain had she cursed her secret
perversion.

Then she had allowed herself to listen to the addresses of the young
Count de la Croix-Firmim. She remembered with horror the kind of nervous
fascination which this man's presence, his smile, and his eyes had
exerted upon her. Then--she would fain have died at the recollection of
this--one afternoon, when he had come up to see her, and there was a
torrid heat, such as makes the will feel itself drooping, he had been
venturesome, and she had given herself to him, faintly at first, and
then impetuously and madly. For three days she had been his mistress--a
prey to the wildness of physical passion--banishing, ever banishing, the
recollection of Hubert, feeling herself rolling into a gulf of infamy,
and flinging herself still further into it, until the day when she had
awakened from this sensual frenzy as from a dream. She had opened her
eyes, measured her shame, and, like a wounded and dying creature, had
fled from the accursed spot and from her detested accomplice to
return--to what?--and to whom?

A melancholy and heart-breaking return to what had been the restoration
of her entire life, to what she had blasted for ever! She had returned
to the room of those sweet hours, and she had found Hubert, her
Hubert--but could she still call him so?--more tender, more loving, and
more loved than before. Alas! alas! had her inexpiable deceit rendered
her for ever powerless to taste that of which she was no longer worthy?
In the young man's arms, and on his heart, she had remembered the other,
and the ecstacy of former times, the delicious and unspeakable swooning
in the excess of feeling, had fled from her.

It was then that Hubert had seen her sobbing despairingly, and an
immense sadness had come upon her, a death-like torpor, crossed by a
cruel anxiety lest some indiscreet speech should reach her lover and
awake his suspicions. Her own reputation she heeded but little; she was
well aware that after acting as she did with La Croix-Firmin, she could
count on little but contempt and hatred from him. She also knew what the
honour of those men who make it their profession to have women is worth.
What tortured her, however, was not a fear lest he might compromise her
personal security by speaking. After all, what had she, childless, and
rich with an independent fortune, to dread from her husband?

But a look of distrust in Hubert's eyes was what she felt to be beyond
her powers of endurance. Perhaps, nevertheless, it might be better that
he should know the frightful truth? He would drive her from him like an
unfortunate; but at times anything seemed preferable to the torment of
having such remorse at her heart, and of lying ceaselessly to so noble a
fellow. She had again set herself to love him with desperate frenzy,
and, as her revolt against the baser part of her nature hurried her to
an extreme in the other or romantic direction, a mad desire came upon
her to tell him everything, that at least the voluntary humiliation of
her confession might be, as it were, a ransom for her infamy. And yet,
although silence was a very lie, this lie she had still the strength to
sustain; but, as for an actual lie, she suffered too much to have the
shameful energy for it, if ever he questioned her.

And this questioning she was now about to face; she could read it
between the lines of the despatch. Ah! what was she now to do, if she
had guessed aright? She had drunk as much of the gall of shame as she
could bear. Would she have heart enough still to drink this, the
bitterest drop, and once more betray her only love by a fresh deception?
If she were frank Hubert must at least esteem her for her frankness, and
if she were not how could she endure herself? Yes, but to speak was the
death of her happiness.

Alas! had not this been dead ever since her return? Would she ever
recover what she had once felt? What was the use of disputing with fate
for this mutilated, sullied remnant of a divine dream? And all that
night she was bowed beneath the agony of these thoughts, a poor creature
born for all the nobility of a single and faithful love, who had caught
a glimpse of her dream and had possessed it, to be then dispossessed of
it by the fault of a nature hidden within her, but which, nevertheless,
was not her entire self.



CHAPTER IX


In the cab which brought her to the Avenue Friedland on the day
following this night of agony, Theresa de Sauve, took none of the
precautions that were habitual with her, such as changing vehicles on
the way, tying a double veil across her face, or peeping at the street
corners through the little pane of glass behind, to see whether anything
of a suspicious nature was accompanying her clandestine drive. All these
timorous secrecies of forbidden love used formerly to please her
delightfully on Hubert's account. Was not the continuance of their
intrigue secured by securing its mysteriousness? There was little
question of that now. In her ungloved hand she held a little gold key
hanging to the chain of a bracelet--a pretty trinket of tenderness which
her lover had had contrived for her. This key, which never left her
wrist, served to open the door of the ground floor lent by Emmanuel
Deroy, the worshipped refuge of the few days during which she had really
lived her life--a dream-oasis to which the unhappy woman was now going
as to a cemetery.

There was likely to be a storm in the course of the day, for the
atmosphere of the autumn morning was heavy, and completely charged with
a sort of electric torpor, the influence of which irritated still
further her weak, womanish nerves. She did not tell the cabman, as she
always used to do, to drive into the entry,--for the house had two
exits, and the large open gateway allowed her to be brought in the cab
to the very door of the apartments without being seen by the porter,
whose discretion was, moreover, guaranteed by the profits resulting from
the amour of his tenant's friend. She had fastened her eyes the whole
way upon the slightest details in the streets successively passed
through; she knew them well, from the signs of the shops to the look of
the houses, because these images were associated with the happiest
memories of her too short romance. She uttered to them in thought the
same mournful farewell as to her happiness.

A prey, too, to the hallucinations of terror, she could no longer
distinguish the possible from the real, and she no longer doubted that
Hubert knew all. She read again the note which she had received the day
before, and every word of which, to her who knew the young man's
character so well, betrayed profound anguish. Whence had this anguish
come if not from an event relating to their love? And from what event if
not from a revelation of the horrible deception, the infamous act
committed by her, yes, by herself? Ah! if there were somewhere a lustral
water to cleanse the blood, and with it the recollection of all evil
fevers! But, no; it continues to course in our veins, this blood, laden
with the most shameful sins. There is no interruption between the
beating of our pulse in the hour of our remorse and its beating in the
hour of our fault. And Theresa could again feel pressing upon her face
the kisses of the man with whom she had betrayed Hubert. Yet she had
paid back these frightful kisses.

"Ah! if he questions me, how could I find strength to lie to him, and
what would be the use?"

These words had terminated all her meditations since the day before, and
she uttered them to herself again when she found herself in front of the
door within which there was doubtless going to be enacted one of the, to
her, most tragical scenes in the drama of her life. Her fingers trembled
so that she had some trouble in slipping the little gold key into the
lock--the key which had been given to be handled with other feelings!
She knew, beyond doubt, that at the mere sounding of this key turning on
the bolt Hubert would be there behind the door awaiting her.

He was there, in fact, and received her in his arms. He felt her lips to
be perfectly cold. He looked at her, as he did on each occasion, after
pressing her to him. It seemed as though he wished to persuade himself
of the truth of her presence. This first kiss always gave Theresa a
spasm at the heart, and it needed all her dread of displeasing her lover
to make her release herself from his arms. Even at this moment, and in
spite of all the tortures of the night before, she thrilled to the very
depths of her being, and she was seized with something like a mad desire
to intoxicate Hubert with so many endearments that they should both
forget--he, what he had to ask, and she, what she had to reply. It was
but a quiver, nevertheless, and it died away on simply hearing the young
man's voice questioning her with anxiety.

"You are ill?" he said.

Seeing her quite pale, the tender-hearted fellow reproached himself for
having brought her there that morning, and, at the sight of her evident
suffering, he had already forgotten the motive of their meeting.
Moreover, his confidence as to the result of the conversation was such
that he had had no renewal of his suspicions since the day before.

"You are ill?" he repeated, drawing her into the next room and making
her sit down on a divan.

As Emmanuel Deroy had been attached to the embassy at Constantinople
before going to London, his apartments were adorned throughout with
Oriental materials, and this large divan, hung with drapery, and placed
just opposite the door of a little garden, was particularly dear to
Hubert and Theresa. They had chatted so much among these cushions, with
their heads resting unitedly upon them, at those moments of intimacy
which follow upon the intoxications of love, and which, by him at least,
were preferred to them; for, although he loved Theresa to the point of
sacrificing everything for her, he had, nevertheless, at the bottom of
his conscience, remained a Catholic, and a dim remorse mingled its
secret bitterness with the sweetness that was given him by the kisses.
He used to think of his own fault, and especially of the sin which he
caused Theresa to commit; for in the simplicity of his heart he imagined
that he had seduced her.

She sank rather than sat down on the deep divan, and he began to take
off her veil, bonnet, and mantle. She allowed him to do so, smiling at
him the while with infinite tenderness. After her hours of torturing
sleeplessness, there was to her something at once very bitter and very
affecting in the impress of the young man's coaxing. She found him so
affectionate, so delicately intimate, so like himself, that she thought
that she had without doubt been mistaken as to the meaning of the note,
and, to rid herself immediately of uncertainty, she said, in reply to
his question about her health:

"No, I am not ill; but the tone of your note was so strange that it has
made me uneasy."

"My note?" rejoined Hubert, pressing her cold hands, in order to warm
them. "Ah! it was not worth while. Look here, I dare not now acknowledge
to you why I wrote it."

"Acknowledge it all the same," she said, with an already
anguish-stricken insistence, for Hubert's embarrassment had just brought
back to her the anxiety which had caused her so much suffering.

"People are so strange!" replied the young man, shaking his head. "There
are times when, in spite of themselves they doubt what they know best.
But first you must forgive me beforehand."

"Forgive you, my angel!" she said. "Ah! I love you too well! Forgive
you!" she repeated; and these syllables, which she heard her own voice
uttering, echoed in an almost intolerable fashion through her
conscience. How willingly, indeed, would she have had reason to forgive
instead of to be forgiven. "But for what?" she asked, in a lower tone,
which revealed the renewal of her inward emotion.

"For having allowed myself to be disturbed for a moment by an infamous
calumny which persons who hate our love have repeated to me about your
life at Trouville. But what is the matter?"

These words, and still more the tone of voice in which they were
uttered, had entered like a blade into Theresa's heart. If Hubert had
received her on her arrival with those words of suspicion which men know
how to devise, and every word of which implies an absence of faith that
anticipates the proofs, she might, perhaps, have found in her woman's
pride sufficient energy to face the suspicion and to deny it.

But from the outset of this explanation, the young man's whole attitude
had displayed that kind of tender and candid confidence which imposes
sincerity upon every soul that possesses any remnant of nobility; and in
spite of her weaknesses, Theresa had not been born for the compromises
of adultery, nor, above all, for the complications of treachery. She was
one of those creatures who are capable of great impulses of conscience
and sudden returns of generosity, and who, after descending to a certain
depth, say: "This is debasement enough," and prefer to destroy
themselves altogether rather than sink still lower.

Moreover, the remorse of the last few weeks had brought her into that
state of suffering sensibility which impels to the most unreasonable
acts, provided that these acts bring the suffering to an end. And then
the unnerving of the sleepless nights, increased still further by the
uneasiness of the stormy day, rendered it as impossible for her to
dissemble her emotions as it is for a panic-stricken soldier to
dissemble his fear. At that moment her countenance was literally thrown
into confusion by the effect of what she had just been listening to, and
by the expectation of what her unconscious tormentor was going to say.

For a minute there was a silence that was more than painful to them
both. The young man, seated on the divan by the side of his mistress,
was looking at her with drooping eyelids, his mouth half open and his
face death-like. The excessiveness of her emotion was so astonishingly
significant that all the suspicions which had been raised and banished
the day before awoke simultaneously in the mind of the youth. He
suddenly saw abysses before him by the lightning-flash of one of those
instantaneous intuitions which sometimes illumine the whole brain at
times of supreme emotion.

"Theresa!" he cried, terror-stricken by his own vision and by the sudden
horror that was seizing upon him. "No, it is not true; it is not
possible--"

"What?" she said again; "speak, and I will answer you."

The transition from the tender "thou" of their intimacy to this "you,"
rendered so humble by her subdued accents, completed Hubert's
distraction.

"_No!_" he went on, rising and beginning to walk about the room with an
abrupt step, the sound of which trampled upon the poor woman's heart; "I
cannot formulate that--I cannot--well, yes!" he said, stopping in front
of her; "I was told that you were the mistress of Count de la
Croix-Firmin at Trouville, that it was the talk of the place, that some
young men had seen you entering his room and kissing him, that he
himself had boasted of having been your lover. That is what I was told,
and told with such persistence that for a moment I was maddened by the
calumny, and then I felt the morbid longing to see you, to hear you only
declare to me that it is not true. Answer, my love, that you forgive me
for having doubted you, that you love me, that you have loved me, that
all this is nothing but a hateful lie."

He had thrown himself at her feet as he said these words; he took her
hands, her arms, her waist; he hung to her as, when drowning, he would
have caught at the body of one who had leapt into the water to save him.

"It is true that I love you," she replied, in a scarcely audible voice.

"And all the rest is a lie?" he besought her distractedly.

Ah! he would have given his life at that moment for a word from those
lips. But the lips remained mute, and upon the woman's pale cheeks slow,
long tears began to flow, without sob or sigh, as though it had been her
soul that was weeping thus. Did not such a silence and such tears, at
such a moment, form the clearest, the most cruel, of all replies?

"It is true, then?" he asked again.

And as she continued silent: "But answer, answer, answer," he went on,
with a frightful violence, which wrung from those lips--at the corners
of which the slow tears were still flowing--a "Yes" so feeble that he
could scarcely hear it; and yet he was destined to hear it, for ever!

He leaped up, and cast his eyes wildly around him. Some weapons hung on
the walls. A temptation seized upon the soldier's son to mangle this
woman with one of those shining blades; and so strong was it that he
recoiled. He looked again at that face, upon which the same tears were
flowing freely. He uttered that "Ah!" of agony--that cry, as of an
animal wounded unto death, which is drawn forth by a sight of horror;
and as though he were afraid of everything--of the sight before him--of
the walls--of this woman--of himself--he fled from the room and the
house, bare-headed and with soul distraught. He had been strong enough
to feel that in five minutes he would have become a murderer.

He fled, whither? how? by what routes? He never knew with clearness what
he had done that day. On the morrow he recollected, because he had the
palpable proof of it before him, that once he had caught sight of his
haggard face and windblown hair in the glass of a shop window, and that,
with an odd survival of carefulness about his dress, he had entered a
shop to buy a hat. Then he had walked straight before him, passing
through innumerable Paris districts. Houses succeeded houses
indefinitely. At one time he was in the country of the suburbs. The
storm burst, and he had been able to take shelter under a
railway-bridge. How long did he remain thus? The rain fell in torrents.
He was leaning against one of the walls of the bridge. Trains passed at
intervals, shaking all the stones.

The rain ceased. He resumed his walk, splashing through the puddles of
water, without food since the morning, and heedless of his fast. The
automatic movement of his body was necessary to him that he might not
founder in madness, and instinctively he walked on. The monstrous thing
which he had perceived through the shock of a terrible dread was there
before his eyes; he could see it; he knew it to be real, and he did not
understand it. He was like a crushed man. He experienced a sensation so
intolerable that it had even ceased to be pain, with such completeness
did it suppress the powers of his being and overwhelm them. Evening was
coming on. He found himself again on the road towards home, guided to it
by the mechanical impulse which brings back the bleeding animal in the
direction of its den. About ten o'clock he rang at the door of the house
in the Rue Vaneau.

"Nothing has happened to you, sir?" asked the doorkeeper; "the ladies
were so anxious----"

"Let them know that I have come in," said the young man, "but that I am
unwell and wish to be alone, absolutely alone, Firmin; you understand."

The tone in which these words were uttered cut short all questions on
the lips of the old servant. He followed Hubert, apparently dazed by the
furious lightning which he had just perceived in the eyes of his young
master and by the disorder of his dress. He saw him cross the hall and
enter the pavilion, and went up himself to the drawing-room to give his
mistress the strange message with which he was charged. The mother had
expected her son at luncheon. Hubert had not come in. Although he had
never before failed to appear without giving her notice, she had striven
not to be too anxious about it. The afternoon passed without news, and
then the dinner-hour struck. Still no news.

"Mamma," Madame Liauran said to Madame Castel, "some misfortune has
happened. Who can tell whither despair has led him?"

"He has been detained by friends," the old lady replied, concealing her
own in order to control her daughter's anxiety.

When the door opened at ten o'clock, Madame Liauran, with her quickness
of hearing, caught the sound from the furthest end of the drawing-room,
and said to her mother and to Count Scilly, who had been informed since
dinner; "It is Hubert."

When Firmin repeated the young man's words the invalid exclaimed: "I
must speak to him."

And she sat upright, as though forgetting that she was no longer able to
walk.

"The Count will go to him," said Madame Castel, "and bring him back to
us."

At the end of ten minutes Scilly returned, but alone. He had knocked at
the door, and then tried to open it. It was double-locked. He had called
Hubert several times, and the latter at last entreated him to leave him.

"And not a word for us?" asked Madame Liauran.

"Not a word," replied the General.

"What have we done?" rejoined the mother. "What good will it do me to
have separated him from this woman if I have lost his heart?"

"To-morrow," replied Scilly, "you will see him returning to you more
tender than ever. Just at first, it is too much for you. He has been
seeking proofs for what we have told him, and he has found them. This is
the explanation of his absence and his behaviour."

"And he has not come to grieve with me!" said the mother. "Alas! can it
be that I have loved him for myself alone, while believing that I loved
him for his own sake? Will you ring, General, for them to take me to my
room?"

And when the easy chair, which she never left now, had been wheeled into
the next room, and she was in bed:

"Mamma," she said to Madame Castel, "draw back the curtain that I may
look at his windows."

Then, as Hubert had not closed his shutters, and his shadow could be
seen passing to and fro, "Ah! mamma," she said again, "why do children
grow up? Formerly, he never had a trouble that he did not come and cry
over it on my shoulder, as I do on yours, and now----"

"Now he is as unreasonable as his mother," said the old lady, who had
scarcely spoken during the whole evening, and who, printing a kiss upon
her daughter's hair, silenced her by letting fall these words, which
revealed her own martyrdom: "My heart aches for you both."



CHAPTER X


In the morning, when Madame Liauran sent to ask for her son, the latter
replied that he would be down for luncheon. He appeared, in fact, at
noon. His mother and he exchanged merely a look, and she at once
understood the extent of the suffering which he had undergone, simply by
the kind of shiver with which he was affected on seeing her again. She
was associated with this suffering as its occasion, if not its cause,
and he could never forget the fact. His eyes had something so
particularly distant in them, and his mouth so close a curve of lip, his
whole face was so expressive of a determination to permit no explanation
of any kind, that neither Madame Liauran nor Madame Castel ventured to
question him.

For a year past these three persons had had many silent meals in the
antiquely-wainscoted dining-room--an apartment so spacious as to make
the round table placed in the centre appear small. But all three had
never been sensible of an impression, as they were on this day, that,
even when speaking to one another, there would henceforth be a silence
between them impossible to break, something which could not be put into
words, and which, for a very long time, would create a background of
muteness, even behind their most cordial expansions.

After luncheon, when Hubert, who had scarcely touched the various
dishes, took the handle of the door, in order to leave the little
drawing-room in which he had remained for scarcely five minutes, his
mother felt a timid and almost repentant desire to ask his forgiveness
for the pain that she read on his taciturn countenance.

"Hubert?" she said.

"Mamma?" he replied, turning round.

"You feel quite well to-day?" she asked.

"Quite well," he replied in a blank tone, such a tone as immediately
suppresses all possibility of conversation; and he added: "I shall be
punctual at dinner-time this evening."

The young man was now singularly preoccupied. After a night of torture,
so continuously keen that he could not remember having ever undergone
anything like it, he had become master of himself again. He had passed
through the first crisis of his grief, a crisis after which a man ceases
to die from despair, because he has really reached the deepest depth of
sorrow. Then he had recovered that momentary calm which follows upon
prodigious deperditions of nervous energy, and had been able to think.
It was then that he had been seized with anxiety respecting Madame de
Sauve--an anxiety which was devoid of tenderness, for at this moment,
after the assault of grief which he had just sustained, his soul was
dried up, his inward lethargy was absolute, all capacity for feeling was
gone.

But he had suddenly remembered that he had left Theresa in the little
ground floor apartment in Avenue Friedland, and his imagination dared
not form any conjectures upon what had taken place after his departure.
It was just at the end of luncheon that this thought had assailed him,
and, over and above his main sorrow, it had immediately caused him a
shiver of nervous terror--the only emotion of which he was capable.

He went straight from the Rue Vaneau to the Avenue, and when he found
himself in front of the house he dared not enter, although he had the
key in his hand. He called the doorkeeper, an ugly individual to whom he
could never speak without repugnance, so hateful to him was his brazen,
glabrous face, his servile and, at the same time, insolent eye, and the
tone which he assumed as a generously-paid accomplice.

"I beg a thousand pardons, sir," said this man, even before Hubert had
questioned him. "I did not know that the lady was still there. I had
seen you go out, sir, and in the afternoon I went in to give a look
round the place, as I do every day, and found the lady sitting on the
sofa. She seemed to be in great pain. Is she better to-day, sir?" he
added.

"She is very well," replied Hubert, and as he suddenly felt a strong
repugnance to entering the apartments, and on the other hand wished at
all costs to avoid giving this man, for whom he had such an antipathy,
any grounds for suspecting the drama in his life, he replied, "I have
come to settle your bill. I am going on a journey."

"But you have already paid me, sir, at the beginning of the month," said
the other.

"I may be away for a long time," said Hubert drawing a bank-note from
his pocket-book. "You will put this down to the account."

"You are not coming in, sir?" resumed the doorkeeper.

"No," said Hubert, and he went away, saying to himself, "I am a
simpleton. Women of that sort don't kill themselves!"

Women of that sort! The phrase, which had occurred naturally to him, the
youth hitherto so ingenuous, so gentle, and so refined, was a fitting
translation of the kind of feeling which now held the ascendancy over
him, and which lasted for several days. It was a boundless disgust, a
thorough nausea; but so complete and so profound was it, that it left no
room in his heart for anything else. He could not even have told whether
he was suffering, so entirely did contempt absorb all the living
energies of his being.

He perceived the woman whom he had idolised so religiously and with so
noble a fervour, plunged, as it were, and wallowing in such an abyss of
uncleanness, that he felt as though by loving her he had himself been
rolling in the mire. This was the physical sight of which he was now the
victim from one end of the day to the other, and to such a degree that
he was unable to interpret it or form any hypothesis concerning
Theresa's character. The sight of it was inflicted upon him with a
material exactness which bordered on hallucination. Yes, he could see
the act, and the act alone, without having strength enough to shake off
the hideous, besetting fellowship. It paralysed him with horror, and he
could think of nothing else.

A sort of unbroken mirage showed him the abominable pollution of his
mistress's prostitution, and, just as a man attacked by jaundice looks
at all objects through bile-infected eyes, so it was, through his
disgust, that he viewed, the whole of life. His soul was as though
saturated with bitterness, and yet was frightfully dry. There was not an
impression that was not transformed in him into this perception of
foulness and melancholy.

He rose, and spent the morning among his books, opening but not reading
them. He lunched, and the sight of his mother irritated, instead of
softening him. He went back to his room, and resumed the dull idleness
of the morning. He dined, and then, immediately after dinner, left the
drawing-room, so as not to encounter either the General or his cousin,
whose presence was intolerable to him.

At night he lay awake, continuing to see the accursed scene with the
same impossibility of arriving at relaxation of grief. If he fell
asleep, he had every second time to endure the nightmare of this same
vision. As he had no conception of the physiognomy of the man with whom
his mistress had deceived him, there rose up in his morbid sleep
horrible dreams wherein all kinds of different faces were mingled
together. The distress which such imagining caused him would awake him.
His body would be bathed in sweat, he could feel a rending of the bosom
as though his quick-beating heart were about to leave its place, and
with this suffering there was, as before, such complete prostration of
his affectionate powers, that he was not even anxious to know what had
become of Theresa.

"After all," he said to himself one morning as he was getting up, "I
lived well enough before I knew her! I have only to put myself again in
thought into the condition in which I was before that 12th of October."
He had an exact recollection of the date. "It was scarcely more than a
year ago; I was so tranquil then! I have had an evil dream, that is all.
But I must destroy everything that might bring back the memory of it to
me."

He sat down before his writing table after putting fresh wood upon the
fire to increase the blaze, and double-locking the door. Involuntarily,
he recollected that he used so to act formerly, when he wished to see
the precious treasure of his love-relics again. He opened the drawer in
which the treasure was hidden: it consisted of a black morocco box, on
which were entwined two initial letters--a "T." and an "H." Theresa and
he had exchanged two of these boxes, to keep their letters in them. Upon
the one which he had given to his mistress he had caused Theresa's name
to be autographed in full, instead of the two initials.

"What a child I was!" he thought, as he recollected the thousand little
weaknesses of this order in which he had indulged. There is always
puerility, indeed, in extreme weaknesses; but it is on the day when we
are on the road to hardness of heart that we think so.

Beside this box lay two objects which Hubert had thrown there on the
evening of the same day on which he had learnt his mistress's treachery:
one was his ring, and the other a slender gold chain, to which hung a
tiny key. He took the little hoop in his hand, and, in spite of himself,
looked at the inner surface. Theresa had had a star engraved there, with
the date of their stay at Folkestone. This simple token suddenly called
up before Hubert an indefinite perspective of reminiscences; he could
again see the door of the hotel, the staircase with its red carpet, the
drawing-room in which they had dined, and the waiter who had waited on
them, with his face of Britannic respectability, his shaven lip, and his
over-long chin. He could hear him say: "I beg your pardon," and
Theresa's smile appeared before him. What languishment swam then in her
eyes--those eyes, whose green-grey shade was at such moments completely
liquid--completely bathed with an entire abandonment of the inmost
nature!--those eyes, wherein slumbered a sleep which seemed to invite
you to be its dream!

Hubert mechanically slipped the ring upon his finger, and then flung it
almost angrily into the drawer, causing the metal to rebound against the
wood. To open the box it was necessary to handle the chain. It was an
old chain which he had from Theresa. He had given her the bracelet with
the key of the apartments attached to it, and she had given him this
chainlet that he might carry the key of the box at his neck. He had worn
this scapulary of love for months and months, and often had he felt
beneath his shirt for the tiny trinket to hurt himself a little by
pressing it against his breast, and thus remind himself of the tender
mystery of his dear happiness.

How far away to-day was all this intoxication, ah! how far and how lost
in the abyss of the past, whence there issues so frightful an odour of
death! When he had raised the lid of the box he leaned upon his elbow,
and, with his forehead in his hand, gazed upon what was left of his
happiness, the few nothings so perfectly insignificant to anyone else,
but so full of soul to him; an embroidered handkerchief, a glove, a
veil, a bundle of letters, a bundle of little blue notes, placed within
one another, and forming as it were a tiny book of tenderness. And the
envelopes of the letters had been opened so carefully, and the paper of
the blue notes torn with such precision. The slightest details reminded
Hubert of the scruples of loving piety which he had felt for everything
that came from his mistress.

Beneath the letters and blue notes there was still a likeness of her,
representing her in the costume which she had worn at Folkestone: a
plain, close-fitting cloth jacket, and a projecting hat which cast a
slight shadow upon the upper part of the face. She had had this portrait
taken for Hubert alone, and, when giving it, she had said to him:

"I thought so much of ourselves while I was sitting. If you knew how
much this likeness, loves you!"

And Hubert felt himself really loved by it. It seemed to him that from
the oval face, the slender lips, and the dream-bathed eyes, there
proceeded a tender effluence which encompassed him, and it was there
that, by the side of the vision of perfidy, there began to rise afresh
the vision of Theresa's love. He knew as clearly from the memories of
this woman that she had loved, and still loved him, as he knew from her
own confession that she had betrayed him. He saw her again as he had
left her on the sofa in their retreat, with her face convulsed, and,
above all, her tears--ah, what tears! For the first time since the fatal
hour he perceived the nobility with which she had acknowledged her
fault, when it was so easy for her to speak falsely, and he suddenly
uttered a cry which hitherto had not come to him through his days of
parched and passionate pain:

"But why? why?"

Yes, why? why? This anguish of a completely moral order henceforward
accompanied the anguish of physical sight. Hubert began to think, not
only about his trouble, but about the cause of his trouble. To burn
these letters, to tear this likeness, to break and throw away the chain
and ring, to destroy this last remnant of his love, would have been as
impossible to him as to rend with steel his mistress's quivering body.
These objects were living persons with looks, caresses, pantings,
voices. He closed the drawer, unable any longer to endure the presence
of these things which to him seemed made of the very substance of his
heart.

He threw himself upon the couch and lost himself in the gulf of his
reflection. Yes, Theresa had loved him, and Theresa loved him still.
There are tears, embraces, and a warmth of soul which do not lie. She
loved him and she had betrayed him! With his own name in her heart she
had given herself to another, less than six weeks after leaving him! But
why? why? Driven by what force? Led away by what dizziness? Overwhelmed
by what intoxication? What was the nature--not of women of that sort
now, for he had no longer any such fierceness of thought--but of woman,
that so monstrous an action should be barely possible to her? Of what
flesh was she formed, this deceiving creature, that with all the
appearances and all the realities of love, it was not possible to place
more reliance upon her than upon water.

How soft they were, those woman's hands, and how loyal they seemed! but
to entrust one's heart to them, believing in a mutual affection, was the
most foolish of follies! She smiles upon you, and weeps for you, and
already she has noticed a passer-by, to whom, if he amuse her for an
hour, she will sacrifice all your tenderness, with flame in her eyes and
grace on her lips! Ah! why? why? Yet what truth can there be in the
world if even love is not true? And what love? Hubert was now thoroughly
investigating his past; he conscientiously examined his attachment to
Theresa, and he did himself the justice to acknowledge that for months
past he had not had a thought that was not for her. He had certainly
made mistakes, but they had always been for her, and even at this hour
he could not repent them.

He would have found relief for all his pain in kneeling before the
priest who had trained him, and saying: "Father, I have sinned." But no;
it was beyond his power to regret the actions in which Theresa, his
Theresa, had been involved. Yes, he had idolised her with unswerving
fervour, and it was his first love, and it would be the last, or at
least he thought so, and he had shown her his confidence in the
continuance of their feelings with incalculable ingenuousness. Nothing
of all this had had sufficient influence over her to arrest her at the
moment when she committed her infamy,--with the same body.

He could suddenly breathe its aroma, and again feel its impression over
his whole being; then there was a resurrection of jealousy, painful even
to torture, and continually he harped on the "why? why?"--in despair,
and pitiful, like so many before him, from clashing against the
unanswerable riddle of a woman's soul, guilty once, guilty again, guilty
even to her grey hairs and to her death itself.

This new form of grief lasted for days and days afterwards. The young
man was giving free rein within himself to a new feeling of which he had
never had a suspicion hitherto, and which he was henceforward to endure
continually--mistrust. From his earliest years he had lived with a
complete faith in the appearances which surrounded him. He had believed
in his mother. He had believed in God. He had believed in the sincerity
of every word and caress. Above all, he had believed in Theresa de
Sauve. He had assimilated her in thought with the rest of his life. All
was truth around him; thus Theresa's love had appealed to him as a
supreme truth, and now, by a mental revolution which betrayed the
primitive flaw in his education, he was assimilating all the rest of his
life with this woman of falsehood.

His mother had accustomed him to have nothing to say to scepticism. This
is probably the surest method of causing the first deception to
transform the too implicit believer into an absolute negator. It is
never well to expect much from men or from nature, for the former are
wild animals scantily masked with decorum; while, as for the latter, her
apparent harmony is the result of an injustice which knows no remission.
To preserve the ideal within us until death at last releases us from the
dangerous slavery to others and to ourselves, we must early habituate
ourselves to regard the universe of moral beauty as the opium-smoker
regards the dreams of his intoxication. Their charm consists in the fact
that they are dreams, and consequently correspond to nothing that is
real.

Hubert, quite on the contrary, was so accustomed to move his intellect
in one piece that he was unable to doubt or to believe by halves. If
Theresa had lied to him why should not everyone do the same? This idea
did not frame itself in an abstract form, nor did he arrive at it by the
aid of reasoning: it was the substitution of one mode of feeling for
another. During this cruel period he found himself suspecting Theresa in
their common past.

He asked himself whether her betrayal at Trouville had been the first,
whether she had not had another lover than himself at the time of their
most infatuated passion. This woman's perfidy was corrupting his very
recollections. It was doing worse. Under this misanthropical influence
he committed the greatest of moral crimes: he doubted his mother's
tenderness. Yes, in Madame Liauran's passionate affection the unhappy
fellow could see nothing but jealous egotism.

"If she really loved me," he said to himself, "she would not have told
me what she did."

Thus, he found himself in that state of feeling to which popular
language has given the expressive name of disenchantment. He had seen
the last of the beauty of the human soul, and he was beginning to prove
its misery, and always he fell back upon this question as upon the point
of a sword:

"But why? why?"

And he sifted Theresa's character without meeting with any reply. He
might as well have asked why Theresa had senses as well as a heart, and
why at certain times there was set up, as with men, a divorce between
the longings of her heart and the tyranny of her senses. Those
debauchees in whom libertinism has not killed sentimentality know the
secret of these divorces; but Hubert was not a debauchee. He must remain
pure even in his despair, and it never occurred to him to seek
forgetfulness of his trouble in the intoxication of loveless kisses. He
was still ignorant of venal and consoling alcoves--where men lose indeed
their regrets, but at the cost of losing their dreams.

And yet, since he was young, and since, in his intimacy with Theresa, he
had made a habit of the most ardent pleasure--pleasure which exalts both
mind and body in divine communion--he began, after some weeks of these
sorrows and reflections, to feel a dim desire, an unacknowledged
appetite for this woman of whom he wished to know nothing more, whom he
must regard as dead, and whom he so utterly despised.

This strange and unconscious return towards the delights of his love,
but a return no longer ennobled by any ideal, manifested itself in a
curiosity such as those are which issue from the unfathomable depths of
our being. He felt a sickly longing to see with his own eyes this man
who had been Theresa's lover, this La Croix-Firmin, to whom his mistress
had given herself, and, in whose arms she had quivered with
voluptuousness as in his own. To a spiritual director who had traced,
period by period, the ravage wrought in this soul by the corrupt leaven
inoculated by Theresa's betrayal, such curiosity would doubtless have
appeared the most decisive symptom of a metamorphosis in this youth who
had grown up amid all modesty. Was it not the transition from that
absolute horror of evil which is the torment and glory of virgin
natures, to that kind of still more frightful attraction which borders
so closely upon depravity?

But it was especially that frightful facility of imagination about the
impurity of a desired woman, which, by one of the saddest laws of our
nature, brings it to pass that proof of infidelity, while degrading the
lover, and dishonouring the mistress, so frequently kindles love. It is
probable that, in such cases, the conception of the perfidy acts like an
infamous picture, and that this is the explanation of those fits of
sensuality which occur amid the hatred felt, and which astonish the
moralist in certain law-suits founded upon the dramas of jealousy.

Poor Hubert was certainly not one to harbour such base instincts; and
yet his curiosity to become acquainted with his Trouville rival was
already a very unhealthy one. Its nature was the same as that of
Theresa's fault. It is the obscure, indestructible recollection of the
flesh which operates without the knowledge of the being who is under its
influence. The memory of all the caresses given and received since the
night at Folkestone counted for something in this desire to feast his
eyes on the real existence of the hated man. It became something so
sharp And severe that after struggling for a long time, And with the
feeling that he was lowering himself strangely, Hubert could resist no
longer, and he employed the following almost childish procedure, for the
realisation of his singular desire.

He calculated that La Croix-Firmin must belong to a fashionable club,
and it was not long before he had discovered his name and address in the
year-book of such a one. It was to this club that he had recourse in
order to ascertain whether the individual in question was in Paris. The
reply was in the affirmative. Hubert reconnoitred the Rue La Peyrouse,
in which his rival lived, and he immediately satisfied himself that by
standing on the footpath of one of the Places intersected by this
street, he could watch the house, which was one of two stories in
height, and which certainly contained but a very small number of
tenants.

He had said to himself that he would take up a position there one
morning, and wait until he saw some man come out who appeared to be he
whom he sought. He would then question the porter, under some pretext or
other, and would, doubtless, thus receive information. It was a method
of primitive simplicity, and one in which all those who in their youth
have had a passionate adoration for some celebrated writer will
recognise the ingenuousness of the stratagems which they employed to see
their hero. If this plan failed, Hubert could fall back upon an
application to one of those whom he knew among the members of the club;
but he felt a great repugnance to taking such a step.

Accordingly he found himself on the spot at nine o'clock one cold
December morning. The weather was dry and clear, the sky of a pale blue,
and the half-fashionable, half-exotic quarter given over to the traffic
of its crowd of tradesmen and grooms. Hubert saw emerge successively
from the house which he was examining, some servants, an old lady, a
little boy followed by an abbé, and finally, at about half-past eleven,
a man who was still young, of medium height, fashionably dressed,
slender and strong in his otter-lined overcoat.

This man was just buttoning up his collar as he proceeded straight in
Hubert's direction. The latter also advanced, and brushed past the
stranger. He saw a somewhat heavy profile, a moustache of the colour of
burnished gold, a complexion already coloured by the cold, and the dull
eye of a hard liver who has gone late to bed, after a night spent at the
gaming table or elsewhere. An inexpressible pain at his heart caused the
jealous lover to hasten to the house.

"Monsieur de la Croix-Firmin?" he asked.

"The Count is not at home," replied the doorkeeper.

"But he made an appointment with me for half-past eleven, and I am
punctual," said Hubert, drawing out his watch; "has he long gone out?"

"No, sir; you ought to have met him. The Count was here five minutes
ago; he cannot have turned the corner."

Hubert had learnt what he wanted. He hurried in the direction of the
place where he had passed La Croix-Firmin, and, after a few paces he saw
him again, about to follow the footpath of the Avenue towards the Arc de
Triomphe. It was he, then! Hubert followed him slowly at a little
distance, and watched him with a sort of devouring anguish. He saw him
walking daintily along, with a litheness that was at once refined and
strong. He remembered what had taken place at Trouville, and every one
of La Croix-Firmin's movements revived the physical vision.

Hubert compared himself mentally, frail and slight as he was, with the
sturdy, haughty fellow, who, half a head taller than himself, was thus
passing along beneath the beautiful sky of this winter's morning, with a
step which spoke the certainty of strength, and holding his stick by the
middle, in the English fashion, at some distance from his body. The
comparison sufficiently explained the determining cause of Theresa's
fault, and for the first time the young man perceived those deadly
causes in their genuine brutishness. "Ah! the why! The why! There it
is!" he thought, as, with painful envy, he observed this man's animal
energy. His first emotion was too bitter for him, and the unhappy fellow
was about to give up his pursuit when he saw La Croix-Firmin get into a
cab. He hailed one himself.

"Follow that vehicle," he said to the driver.

The thought that his enemy was going to see Theresa had just restored
all Hubert's frenzy. From time to time he leaned out of the window of
his four-wheeler, and could see the one which conveyed his rival driving
along. This cab, which was of a yellow colour, went down the Champs
Elysées, passed along the Rue Royale, entered the Rue Saint Honoré,
and then stopped in front of the Café-Voisin. La Croix-Firmin was
merely going out to breakfast. Hubert could not repress a smile at the
pitiful result of his curiosity. Mechanically he also entered the café.
The young Count was already seated at a table with two friends, who had
been waiting for him.

At the other extremity of the hall there was a single table unoccupied,
at which Hubert placed himself. From here he was able, not, indeed, to
hear the conversation of the three guests--the noise in the restaurant
was too loud for that--but to study the physiognomy of the man whom he
detested. He ordered his own meal at random, and sank into a kind of
analysis known to those observers from taste or by profession, who will
enter a theatre, a smoking-room, or a railway carriage with the sole
desire of observing the workings of human physiology, and of tracing the
instinctive manifestations of temperament in gesture, look, sound of
breathing, or posture. It sometimes happened, indeed, that a raising of
the voice would cause a fragmentary sentence to reach Hubert; but he
paid no heed to it, sunk as he was in the contemplation of the man
himself, whom he saw almost in front of him, with his bold eyes, his
rather short neck, and his strong jaws.

When La Croix-Firmin had entered, his complexion had looked worn and
pimply; but when breakfast was half over the work of digestion began to
send an influx of blood into his face. He ate much and steadily, with
potent slowness. He laughed loudly. His hands, holding his knife and
fork, were strong, and displayed two rings. His forehead, which was
shown in all its narrowness by his short curls, could never have been
lit up by a flame of thought. All this formed a whole which, even in
Hubert's hostile eyes, was not devoid of a manly, healthy beauty; but it
was the brutish beauty of a being of flesh and blood, as to whom it was
impossible for a person of refinement to entertain an illusion for an
hour. To say of a woman that she had given herself to this man was to
say that she had yielded to an instinct of a wholly physical order.

The more Hubert identified himself by observation with this temperament,
the clearer did this become to him. He was interpreting Theresa's nature
better at this moment than he had ever done before. He grasped its
ambiguousness with frightful certainty, and it was then that there rose
up within him the saddest, but at the same time the noblest, feeling
that he had entertained since his accident, the only one truly worthy of
what his soul had formerly been, that one which, in the presence of
woman's perfidy, is man's preservation from complete ruin of
heart:--pity.

An emotion of infinite bitterness and melancholy combined came upon him
at the thought that the charming creature whom he had known, his dear
silent one, as he used to call her, she who had shown herself possessed
of such delicate refinement in the art of pleasing him, should have
surrendered herself to the caresses of this man.

He suddenly recollected the tears of the night at Folkestone, and the
tears, also, at their last interview; and, as though he had at last
understood their meaning, he could find within him but a single
utterance, which he whispered there in the restaurant filled with the
smoke of cigars, then beneath the leafless trees of the Tuileries, then
in the solitude of his own room in the Rue Vaneau--a single utterance,
but one filled with the perception of the degrading fatalities of his
life:

"What misery! My God, what misery!"



CHAPTER XI


What was Theresa doing while he was suffering thus, and why did she
afford him no sign of her existence? Although the young man had
forbidden himself to think about her, he thought of her nevertheless,
and this question came to add anxiety to his other anguish.
Contradictory hypotheses passed in turns through his mind. Had Theresa
died of remorse? Had she ceased to love him? Had she kept La
Croix-Firmin for her lover? Was she pursuing a fresh intrigue.
Everything seemed possible to Hubert, the worst as well as the best, on
the part of this woman whom he had learned to be so strangely compounded
of refinement and libertinism, of treachery and nobility. He then
ascertained by the heart-burning caused him by some of his hypotheses,
by what living fibres he still clung to this being from whom he wished
himself released.

He was on the point of taking some steps in order at least to learn what
the inclinations of her own soul were at that moment; then he despised
himself for the weakness, and, to strengthen himself, he repeated some
verses which were in correspondence with his condition of mind. He found
them, by a strange irony of destiny which he did not suspect, in the
single collection of poetry by Alfred Fanières. This volume, which had
been reprinted after the poet's novels had made him celebrated, bore a
title which was in itself a revelation of youthfulness: "Early Pride."
Hubert had dined, in company with the writer, at Madame de Sauve's house
without suspecting what the poor woman felt at being obliged by her
husband to receive at her table the lover whom she idolised and the man
with whom she had broken. Fanières had talked cleverly that evening,
and it was after that dinner that the young man, with very natural
curiosity, had obtained the book of verse at a bookseller's. The poem
which pleased him just now was a sonnet, somewhat pretentiously called
"Tender Cruelty":--


"Be still, my heart, but speak thou forth fierce pride,
And tell me that my sway no share must know,
Nor can I pardon her the grievous blow
Who knew another's couch although my bride.
At least, I've seen her as she vainly tried,
Her soul in tears dissolved, and crouching low,
To find the look my eyes could yet forego;
And, kingly silent, I have turned aside.
She knew not that, when grief distraught, were heard
Her plaintive tones entreat a single word,
I suffered even as she, and loved her still.
In silence only, outraged man is strong;
For vengeance tells a tale of secret ill,
And I would be believed above all wrong."


"Yes," said Hubert to himself, "he is right: silence--"

The verses moved him childishly, as happens with ordinary readers of
poetry, who require a literary work merely to excite or to soothe the
inward wound.

"Silence . . ." he resumed. "Do we speak to one that is dead? Well,
Theresa is dead to me."

Thus expressing himself in the solitude of his study, where he now spent
nearly all his days, Hubert had no ill-will remaining against his
mistress. As no new fact came to rouse fresh feelings within him, the
old ones, which had existed before the betrayal, reappeared. The images
of his remembrances abounded within him, nor did he drive them away, and
under their influence his anger little by little became something
abstract, rational, and, so to speak, expedient in his eyes; but in
reality he had never loved this woman so much as he did now when he
believed himself sure of never seeing her again.

He loved her, in fact, as though she were dead; but who does not know
that is the most indestructible and frantic tenderness? When irrevocable
separation has not primarily resulted in the killing of love, it exalts
it on the contrary in a strange fashion. Impossible to embrace, so
present and so far away, the dim shape of the wished-for phantom hovers
before our gaze with the beauty that life will never wither more, and
our whole soul goes out sadly and passionately to meet it. The duration
of days is annihilated. The sweetness of the past flows back in its
fulness within us, and then begins a singular and retrospective kind of
enchantment which is like hallucination in the heart.

Theresa de Sauve might have been a woman buried, sewn up in a shroud,
laid in the coldness of the funeral vault for ever, and Hubert would not
have abandoned himself more to the gnawings of his memory, to the mad
ardour of love which lacks both hope and desire, and is wholly made up
of ecstacy of what once has been,--and can never be again. By means of
her notes, which he had kept, and which he re-read until he knew every
word by heart, he reconstructed, hour by hour, the delicious months of
his past intoxication. Theresa was in the habit of never dating her
letters, but of simply writing the name of the day at the head of them,
"Thursday," "Wednesday," "Saturday." Hubert found the day of the month
from the post-mark, thanks to the pious care with which he had preserved
all the envelopes, for the childish reason that he could not have
destroyed a line of that handwriting without pain.

Even after so many weeks, he had failed to become insensible to the
emotion caused him by the sight of the letters of his name traced by
Theresa's hand. Yes; hour by hour he revived the life already lived. The
charm of the bygone moments reappeared so complete, so rapturous, so
heart-breaking! It had passed away as everything does, and the young man
had come to rebel no longer against the enigma of which he was the
victim. The Christian notion of responsibility was succeeded within him
by an obscure fatalism. The termination of his happiness was now
explained in his eyes by the inevitable misery of mankind. He almost
acquitted his phantom of a fault which seemed to him to be bound up with
natural fatalities; and then he began to think that this phantom was not
that of a dead woman with closed eyes, motionless bosom, and shut lips,
but of a living creature with beating eyelids, throbbing heart, and
parted lips that were fresh and warm; and, tormented in spite of himself
by some vague, dim desire, he again began to murmur:

"What is she doing?"

What then was Theresa doing, and how was it that she had essayed no
effort to see again the man she loved? What thoughts and what feelings
had she experienced since the terrible scene which had separated her
from Hubert? With her, too, days had succeeded to days, but while the
young man, a prey to a metamorphosis of soul provoked by the most
unlooked-for and tragic of deceptions, suffered these rapid burning days
to slip away as he passed from one extremity of the universe of feeling
to the other, she, the guilty one, the vanquished one, was absorbed in a
single thought. Herein like all women who love, she would have given her
blood-drops, one after another, to cure the sorrow that she had caused
to her lover. It was not that the visible details of her life were
modified. Except for the first week, during which she had been
overthrown, so to speak, by a continuous and shooting headache, she had,
as the result of a reaction from the experience of so many emotions,
resumed her vocation as a woman of fashion, her accustomed course of
drives and visits, great dinners and receptions, theatre-goings or
evening parties.

But this completely external movement has never been able to hinder
dreams any more than the employment of the needle does in fancy work.
Though a strange fact at first sight, the explanation in the Avenue
Friedland had been followed by a half-soothed relaxation in her soul,
simply because voluntary confession had lessened remorse, as it always
does. It is, too, on this unexplained law of our consciousness that the
subtle psychology of the Catholic Church has based the principle of
confession. If Theresa did not altogether forgive herself for her fault,
she was, at least, no longer compelled by her thoughts of it to endure
the contemplation of absolute baseness. The notion of a certain moral
loftiness was now associated with it, ennobling it in her own eyes. This
sleep of remorse left her free to absorb herself in the remembrance of
Hubert.

She now lived in a condition of deadly anxiety concerning him, and was
dominated by a steady longing to see him again, not that she hoped to
obtain her forgiveness from him, but she knew that he was unhappy, and
she felt within her such a love for the youth whom she had wounded, that
she would willingly have found means to dress and close the sore. How?
She could not have told that; but it was not possible that such great,
deeply-repentant tenderness could be inefficacious. In any case she
must, at least, show Hubert the scope of the passion which she felt for
him. Could this fail to touch him, to move him, to rescue him from
despair? Now that she was no longer beneath the immediate burden of her
infidelity, she did not judge of it from the essentially masculine
standpoint, that is, as being something absolute and irreparable.

In woman, who is a creature much more instinctive than we men, and much
closer to nature, the energies of renewing spring-time are much more
unimpaired. A woman who is deceived forgives, provided that she knows
herself to be loved, and a woman who has deceived can scarcely
understand non-forgiveness provided that she loves. The fault committed
is an idea, a shadow, a chimera. The love felt is a fact, a reality.
Thus Theresa had entirely emerged from the period of moral depression,
the extreme limit of which had been marked by her confession. Certainly,
she did not regret the latter, as so many other women would have done in
like circumstances; but it was her longing, her hope, her wish that it
should not have marked the end of her happiness, for, after all, she
loved and was loved.

Nevertheless, her longing did not blind her to such a degree as to make
her forget what she knew of her lover's character. Proud and pure as she
knew him to be, how difficult it was to effect a reconciliation with
him! And, moreover, what means could she employ to be alone with him
even for an hour? Write? She did so, not once, but ten times. Having
sealed the letter she threw it into a drawer, and did not send it at
all. At first no expression seemed to her sufficiently coaxing and
humble, endearing and tender. Then she was terrified with the
apprehension lest Hubert should not even open the envelope, and should
return it to her without a reply. Meet him again in society? She had a
frightful dread of such an accident. With what courage could she endure
his glance, which would be a cruel one, and one which she could not even
attempt to disarm? Go to the Rue Vaneau and obtain an interview from
him? She knew only too well that this was not possible. Send him a
message? By whom? The only person to whom she had confided her love was
her country friend whom she had employed to post her letters to her
husband, while she herself was at Folkestone. Among all the men whom she
met in society, that one who was sufficiently intimate with Hubert to
act as a messenger in such an embassy was also he in whom her woman's
instinct showed her the probable author of the indiscreet remarks which
had ruined her--George Liauran. She was bound by the thousand tiny
threads which society fastens to the limbs of its slaves.

At last, without any calculation, and by obeying the impulses of her own
heart, she succeeded in finding a means which appeared almost infallible
to her for coming to an explanation. She experienced an irresistible
longing to visit the little abode in the Avenue Friedland, and she told
herself that Hubert would, sooner or later, feel this longing like
herself. Of inevitable necessity she must meet him face to face on one
of these visits. Under the influence of this idea she began to pay long
solitary visits to those ground floor rooms, whose every nook spoke to
her of her lost happiness. The first time that she came there in this
way, the hour which she spent among the furniture, was the occasion of
such intolerable emotion that she was nearly relapsing into the
extravagance of her first despair. She returned, nevertheless, and by
degrees it became strangely sweet to her to accomplish this pilgrimage
of love nearly every day. The doorkeeper lit the fire; she allowed the
flame to illuminate the little drawing-room with a flickering light
which struggled against the invasion of the twilight; she lay down upon
the divan, to experience a sensation at once torturing and delicious, a
blending of expectation, melancholy, and remembrance. Each time she was
careful to first ask:

"Has the gentleman been here?" and the negative reply would give her the
hope that chance might cause the young man's visit to coincide with her
own.

She noticed, with beating heart, the slightest noise. All the objects
around her which were not coloured by the blaze from the fireplace, were
drowned in the shadow. The apartment was scented with the exhalations
from the flowers, the cups and vases of which she used herself to trim,
and she alternately dreaded and desired the entry of Hubert. Would he
forgive her? Would he repel her? And finally she had to leave this
refuge of her last hope, and she departed, her veil drawn down, her soul
flooded by the same sadness that she used formerly to feel when Hubert's
kisses were still fresh on her lips, at once comforted and terrified by
this thought:

"When shall I see him again? Will it be to-morrow?"

One afternoon when stretched thus upon the divan and absorbed in her
dreams, she seemed to hear the turning of a key in the lock of the outer
door. She sat up suddenly with a wild throbbing of heart. Yes, the door
was opening and closing. A step sounded in the ante-room. A hand was
opening the second door. She fell back again upon the cushions of the
divan, unable to endure the approach of what she had so greatly hoped
for, and thus finding, through her very sincerity, the vanquished
attitude which the most refined coquetry would have chosen and which was
calculated to work most powerfully upon her lover,--if it were he. But
what other could come, and did she not immediately recognise his step?
Yes, it was indeed Hubert who was just coming in.

Since their rupture, he, too, had often wished to come back to the
little ground floor rooms, where the clock had struck for him so many
sweet hours,--the clock over which Theresa used gracefully to throw the
black lace of her second veil "in order to veil the time better," she
said. Then he had not ventured. Fond memories made him timid. People are
afraid, in renewing such, both of feeling too much and of feeling too
little. This afternoon, however, was it the influence of the gloomy
winter sky and his own bewitching melancholy? Was it the reading
yesterday of one of Theresa's most charming notes, dated a year back on
the very same day?

Without thinking about it, Hubert had found himself on the way to the
Avenue Friedland. To reach the latter he had mechanically pursued a
network of winding streets, as he used of old in order to avoid spies.
What need was there of such stratagems to-day? And the contrast had made
his heart heavy. On his way he had to pass a telegraph office which
formerly he used to enter after their meetings to prolong the
voluptuousness of them by writing Theresa a note to surprise her just
after she had reached home--a stifled echo, distant and so tender of the
intoxicated sighs of that day! He saw the door of the office, its dark
colour, its inscription, the opening of the box reserved for telegraph
cards, and he nearly fainted.

But he was already pursuing the pathway of the fatal Avenue, and he
could see the house, the closed venetian blinds of the front rooms on
the ground floor, and the entrance commanded by the gateway. How did he
feel when the doorkeeper, after asking whether "the gentleman had had a
good journey," added, in his hatefully obsequious tones: "The lady is
there----?"

He had not yet taken the key from his pocket when this news, less
unexpected, perhaps, than he would acknowledge to himself, struck him
like a full blow upon the breast. What was to be done? Dignity commanded
him to depart immediately. But the lurking, deep desire which he had to
see Theresa again suggested to him one of those sophisms, thanks to
which we always find means to prefer with our reason what we most desire
with our instinct.

"If I do not go in," he said to himself, looking towards the lodge,
"this odious individual will understand that we have quarrelled. He is
capable of carrying his effrontery so far as to speak to Theresa of my
interrupted visit. I owe it to her to spare her this humiliation, and
besides, the matter of the rooms must be settled once for all. Shall I
never be a man?"

It was at this moment, after the lightning flash of this sudden
reasoning, that he opened the door, being aware the while that there was
one in the adjoining room who was being thrown into agitation from feet
to hair by this simple noise. He had often warmed those slender feet
with many kisses, and so often handled that long black hair!

"If she has come, it is because she loves me still."

This thought moved him in spite of himself, and he was trembling as he
passed into the drawing-room, where the dying of the twilight was
striving with the flames on the hearth. He was surprised by the
caressing aroma of the flowers standing in the vases on the
mantel-shelf, with which was blended the odour of a perfume that he knew
too well. On the divan at the back of the room he saw the prostrate form
of a body, then the movement of a bust, the paleness of a face, and he
found himself face to face with Theresa, now sitting up and looking at
him.

The silence of both was such that he could hear the sharp beats of his
own heart and the breathing of the woman, who was evidently wild with
emotion. The presence of his mistress had suddenly restored to him all
his nervous anger. What he felt at this moment was that frightful
longing to brutally ill-treat the woman, the being of stratagem and
falsehood, which takes hold of the man, the being of strength and
fierceness, whenever physical jealousy awakes the primitive male within
him, placed opposite the female in the truth of nature. At a certain
depth, all the differences of education and character are annihilated
before the inevitable necessities of the laws of sex.

It was Theresa who first broke the silence. She understood too well the
gravity of the explanation which was about to ensue not to bring all her
powers of feminine artifice into play. She loved Hubert at this moment
as passionately as on the day when she confessed her inexplicable fault
to him; but she was mistress of herself now, and could measure the scope
of her words. Moreover, she had no play to act. It was enough for her to
show herself just as she was, in the infinite humility of the most
repentant tenderness, and it was in a nearly hoarse voice that she began
to speak from the corner of the shadow in which she remained seated.

"I ask your forgiveness for being here," she said; "I am just going.
When I allowed myself to come into this room sometimes, quite alone, I
did not think that I was doing anything to displease you. It was the
pilgrimage to that which has been the only happiness in my life; but I
promise you that I will never do so again."

"It is for me to withdraw, madame," replied Hubert, who, at the sound of
her voice, found himself disquieted by an emotion impossible of
definition. "She has come several times," he thought, and the notion
irritated him, as happens when one is unwilling to give way to a tender
feeling. "I acknowledge," he continued, in quite a loud voice, "that I
did not expect to see you here again after what has taken place. It
seemed to me that you would fly from certain memories rather than seek
for them again."

"Do not speak harshly to me," she replied, still more softly. "But why
should you speak to me otherwise?" she added, in a melancholy tone; "I
cannot justify myself in your eyes. Yet reflect that had I not clung, as
I did, to the beauty of the feeling which united us, I should not have
been sincere with you as I was. Alas! it was because I loved you as I
love you still, as I shall always love you."

"Do not employ the word 'love,'" returned Hubert; "you have no longer
the right to do so."

"Ah!" she replied, with growing excitement; "you cannot prevent me from
feeling. Yes, Hubert, I love you; and if I can no longer hope that my
love is shared, it is none the less living here;" and she struck her
bosom. "And you must know it," she continued. "My only comfort in the
most utter unhappiness will be the thought that I have been able to tell
you one last time what I have so often told you in happy days: I love
you. Do not see in this a dream of forgiveness; I shall not seek to move
you, and you will never condemn me as much as I condemn myself. But it
is none the less true that I love you more than ever."

"Well!" replied Hubert, "this love will be the only vengeance that I
wish to exact from you. Know then that you have caused this man whom you
love to endure a martyrdom such as may scarcely be survived; you have
rent his heart, you have been his tormentor, the tormentor of every hour
and every minute. There is nothing more within me but a wound, and it is
you, you who have opened it. I have ceased to believe anything, hope for
anything, love anything, and _you_ are the cause. And this will last for
a long time, a long time, and every morning and every evening you will
have to say to yourself: 'He whom I love is in his throes, and I am
killing him.'"

And so he went on relieving his soul of the sorrow of so many days with
all the cruel words with which his anger supplied him for the woman who
was listening to him with downcast eyelids, disconcerted face, and
frightful paleness, in the shadow wherein resounded the voice that was
terrible in her ears. Was he not, merely by obeying his passion,
inflicting upon her the most torturing of punishments, that of bleeding
in her presence from a wound which she had dealt him and which she was
unable to cure.

"Strike me," she replied simply, "I have deserved all."

"These are useless words," said Hubert, after a fresh silence, during
which time he had been walking from one end of the room to the other to
exhaust his passion, "Let us come to deeds. This interview must at least
have a practical conclusion. We shall see each other again in society
and at your house. Need I tell you that I shall act as an honourable
man, and that no one shall suspect anything of what has passed between
us? There remains the matter of these rooms. I shall write to Emmanuel
Deroy to let him know that I shall come here no more. It is useless for
us to meet here again, is it not? We have nothing more to say to each
other."

"You are right," said Theresa, in a crushed voice; then, as though
forming a supreme resolution, she rose.

She passed both her hands across her eyes, and loosing from her wrist
the bracelet to which the little key was suspended, she offered the
trinket to Hubert without uttering a word. He took the gold chainlet,
and his fingers met those of the young woman. They looked at each other,
and for the first time since his entry into the room he saw her fully
face to face. Her beauty at that moment was sublime. Her mouth was half
open, as though respiration had failed her, her eyes were laden with
languor, her fingers pressed those of the young man with a lingering
caress, and a quick flame swept suddenly through him.

As though seized with intoxication he went up to her, took her in his
arms, and gave her a kiss. She gave way, and both fell upon the shadowed
divan together, clasping each other in one of those wild and silent
embraces wherein dissolves all animosity, just or unjust, but all
dignity as well. These are moments when neither man nor woman utters the
words, "I love you," as though feeling that such frenzies have, in fact,
nothing in common with love.

When they recovered their senses, she looked at him. She trembled lest
she should see him yield to the horrible impulse which is familiar to
men after similar lapses, and which prompts them to punish their
accomplice for their own weakness by loading her with contempt. If
Hubert was seized with a shudder of revolt, he, at least, had the
generosity to spare Theresa the sight of it, and then, in a voice
rendered so captivating by fear:

"Oh, Hubert!" she said, "I have you again for my own. Could you but know
it, I should not have survived our separation. I should have died of it,
for I love you too much. I will be so kind, so kind to you, I will make
you so happy. But do not leave me. If you love me no longer, let me love
you. Take me, or send me away as your fancy wills. I am your slave, your
thing, your property. Ah, if I could die now!"

And she covered her lover's wasted face with passionate tears. He
nevertheless remained motionless, with lips and eyes closed, and thought
of his downfall. Now that the intoxication was dispelled, he could
compare what he had felt just then with what he had felt formerly. The
symbol of the change that had been wrought was in the contrast between
the brutality of the pleasure taken thus upon this divan, and the divine
modesty of other days. He had not forgiven Theresa, and he had not been
able to resist her, but for this very reason he had for ever lost the
right of reproaching her with her betrayal.

And then, though he had had this right anew, how could he have used it?
There was too strong a witchery in this woman's caresses. He foresaw
that he would be subject to it from that day forth, and that his dream
was over. He had loved this woman with the sublimest love, and she now
held him by what was darkest and least noble within him. Something was
dead in his moral life which he would never find again. It was one of
those wrecks of soul which are felt by those suffering them to be
irremediable. He had ceased to value himself after ceasing to value his
mistress. The eternal Delilah had once more accomplished her work, and,
as the lips of the woman were quivering and caressing, he paid her back
her kisses.



CHAPTER XII


About a fortnight after this scene, Hubert had again begun to dine from
home and to go out nearly every evening, to the great stupefaction of
his mother, who, after being silent in the presence of a grief that she
was powerless to control, now perceived in her son an air of intoxicated
feverishness which frightened her. She could not forbear opening up her
astonishment to George Liauran when the latter had come one evening, as
was his wont, to take his place in that little drawing-room which had
been the witness of so many of the poor woman's agonies.

The wind was blowing outside as on the night when General Scilly had
commenced to think of his friends' unhappiness; and the old soldier, who
was also present in his customary easy-chair, could not help observing
the ravages which some ten months past had wrought upon the two widows.

"I do not understand it at all," replied George to the questioning of
his cousin; "Hubert and I have had no interview. It is certain that his
despair is inexplicable if he did not believe in Madame de Sauve's
guilt, and it is certain that he is again on the best of terms with
her."

"Knowing what he does," said the Count, "he is not proud."

"What would you?" returned George, "he is like the rest."

Madame Liauran, lying on her couch, was holding Madame Castel's hand
while her cousin uttered these words, the scope of which he did not
realise. The fingers of mother and grandmother exchanged a pressure by
which the two women told each other of the suffering of which neither
could ever be cured. They had not brought up their child that he might
become like the rest. They caught a glimpse of the inevitable
metamorphosis which was on the eve of its accomplishment in Hubert just
now.

Alas! it is a profound truth that "man is like his love;" but this love,
why and whence does it come to us? A question without reply, and, like
woman's treachery, like man's weakness, like life itself, A CRUEL, CRUEL
ENIGMA!



THE END.



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