Part 2 out of 5
believe in that honor and that discretion! And yet it was the surest
means of entering Steno's, and approaching Alba.... I believe I am about
to pay for my Roman flirtation. If Gorka is a Pole, I am from Lorraine,
and the heir of the Castellans will only make me do what I agree to,
In such an ill-humor and with such a resolution, Julien reached the door
of his house. If that dwelling was not the palace alluded to by
Signorina Sabatina, it was neither the usually common house as common
today in new Rome as in contemporary Paris, modern Berlin, and in certain
streets of London opened of late in the neighborhood of Hyde Park. It
was an old building on the Place de la Trinite-des-Monts, at an angle of
the two streets Sistina and Gregoriana. Although reduced to the state of
a simple pension, more or less bourgeoise, that house had its name marked
in certain guide-books, and like all the corners of ancient Rome it
preserved the traces of a glorious, artistic history. The small columns
of the porch gave it the name of the tempietto, or little temple, while
several personages dear to litterateurs had lived there, from the
landscape painter Claude Lorrain to the poet Francois Coppee. A few
paces distant, almost opposite, lived Poussin, and one of the greatest
among modern English poets, Keats, died quite near by, the John Keats
whose tomb is to be seen in Rome, with that melancholy epitaph upon it,
written by himself:
Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
It was seldom that Dorsenne returned home without repeating to himself
the translation he had attempted of that beautiful 'Ci-git un don't le
nom, jut ecrit sur de l'eau'.
Sometimes he repeated, at evening, this delicious fragment:
The sky was tinged with tender green and pink.
This time he entered in a more prosaic manner; for he addressed the
concierge in the tone of a jealous husband or a debtor hunted by
"Have you given the key to any one, Tonino?" he asked.
"Count Gorka said that your Excellency asked him to await you here,"
replied the man, with a timidity rendered all the more comical by the
formidable cut of his gray moustache and his imperial, which made him a
caricature of the late King Victor Emmanuel.
He had served in '59 under the Galantuomo, and he paid the homage of a
veteran of Solferino to that glorious memory. His large eyes rolled with
fear at the least confusion, and he repeated:
"Yes, he said that your Excellency asked him to wait," while Dorsenne
ascended the staircase, saying aloud: "More and more perfect. But this
time the familiarity passes all bounds; and it is better so. I have been
so surprised and annoyed from the first that I shall be easily able to
refuse the imprudent fellow what he will ask of me." In his anger the
novelist sought to arm himself against his weakness, of which he was
aware--not the weakness of insufficient will, but of a too vivid
perception of the motives which the person with whom he was in conflict
obeyed. He, however, was to learn that there is no greater dissolvent of
rancor than intelligent curiosity. His was, indeed, aroused by a simple
detail, which consisted in ascertaining under what conditions the Pole
had travelled; his dressing-case, his overcoat and his hat, still white
with the dust of travel, were lying upon the table in the antechamber.
Evidently he had come direct from Warsaw to the Place de la Trinite-des-
Monts. A prey to what delirium of passion? Dorsenne had not time to ask
the question any more than he had presence of mind to compose his manner
to such severity that it would cut short all familiarity on the part of
his strange visitor. At the noise made by the opening of the antechamber
door, Boleslas started up. He seized both hands of the man into whose
apartments he had obtruded himself. He pressed them. He gazed at him
with feverish eyes, with eyes which had not closed for hours, and he
murmured, drawing the novelist into the tiny salon:
"You have come, Julien, you are here! Ah, I thank you for having
answered my call at once! Let me look at you, for I am sure I have a
friend beside me, one in whom I can trust, with whom I can speak frankly,
upon whom I can depend. If this solitude had lasted much longer I should
have become mad."
Although Madame Steno's lover belonged to the class of excitable, nervous
people who exaggerate their feelings by an unconscious wildness of tone
and of manner, his face bore the traces of a trouble too deep not to be
Julien, who had seen him set out, three months before, so radiantly
handsome, was struck by the change which had taken place during such a
brief absence. He was the same Boleslas Gorka, that handsome man, that
admirable human animal, so refined and so strong, in which was embodied
centuries of aristocracy--the Counts de Gorka belong to the ancient house
of Lodzia, with which are connected so many illustrious Polish families,
the Opalenice-Opalenskis, the Bnin-Bninskis, the Ponin-Poniniskis and
many others--but his cheeks were sunken beneath his long, brown beard,
in which were glints of gold; his eyes were heavy as if from wakeful
nights, his nostrils were pinched and his face was pale. The travel-
stains upon his face accentuated the alteration.
Yet the native elegance of that face and form gave grace to his
lassitude. Boleslas, in the vigorous and supple maturity of his thirty-
four years, realized one of those types of manly beauty so perfect that
they resist the strongest tests. The excesses of emotion, as those of
libertinism, seem only to invest the man with a new prestige; the fact is
that the novelist's room, with its collection of books, photographs,
engravings, paintings and moldings, invested that form, tortured by the
bitter sufferings of passion, with a poesy to which Dorsenne could not
remain altogether insensible. The atmosphere, impregnated with Russian
tobacco and the bluish vapor which filled the room, revealed in what
manner the betrayed lover had diverted his impatience, and in the centre
of the writing-table a cup with a bacchanal painted in red on a black
ground, of which Julien was very proud, contained the remains of about
thirty cigarettes, thrown aside almost as soon as lighted. Their paper
ends had been gnawed with a nervousness which betrayed the young man's
condition, while he repeated, in a tone so sad that it almost called
forth a shudder:
"Yes, I should have gone mad."
"Calm yourself, my dear Boleslas, I implore you," replied Dorsenne. What
had become of his ill-humor? How could he preserve it in the presence of
a person so evidently beside himself? Julien continued, speaking to his
companion as one speaks to a sick child: "Come, be seated. Be a little
more tranquil, since I am here, and you have reason to count on my
friendship. Speak to me. Explain to me what has happened. If there is
any advice to give you, I am ready. I am prepared to render you a
service. My God! In what a state you are!"
"Is it not so?" said the other, with a sort of ironical pride. It was
sufficient that he had a witness of his grief for him to display it with
secret vanity. "Is it not so?" he continued. "Could you only know how
I have suffered. This is nothing," said he, alluding to his haggard
appearance. "It is here that you should read," he struck his breast,
then passing his hands over his brow and his eyes, as if to exorcise a
nightmare. "You are right. I must be calm, or I am lost."
After a prolonged silence, during which he seemed to have gathered
together his thoughts and to collect his will, for his voice had become
decided and sharp, he began: "You know that I am here unknown to any
one, even to my wife."
"I know it," replied Dorsenne. "I have just left the Countess. This
morning I visited the Palais Castagna with her, Hafner, Madame Maitland,
Florent Chapron." He paused and added, thinking it better not to lie on
minor points, "Madame Steno and Alba were there, too."
"Any one else?" asked Boleslas, with so keen a glance that the author
had to employ all his strength to reply:
"No one else."
There was a silence between the two men.
Dorsenne anticipated from his question toward what subject the
conversation was drifting. Gorka, now lying rather than sitting upon the
divan in the small room, appeared like a beast that, at any moment, might
bound. Evidently he had come to Julien's a prey to the mad desire to
find out something, which is to jealousy what thirst is to certain
punishments. When one has tasted the bitter draught of certainty, one
does not suffer less. Yet one walks toward it, barefooted, on the heated
pavement, heedless of the heat. The motives which led Boleslas to choose
the French novelist as the one from whom to obtain his information,
demonstrated that the feline character of his physiognomy was not
deceptive. He understood Dorsenne much better than Dorsenne understood
him. He knew him to be nervous, on the one hand, and perspicacious on
the other. If there was an intrigue between Maitland and Madame Steno,
Julien had surely observed it, and, approached in a certain manner,
he would surely betray it. Moreover--for that violent and crafty nature
abounded in perplexities--Boleslas, who passionately admired the author's
talent, experienced a sort of indefinable attraction in exhibiting
himself before him in the role of a frantic lover. He was one of the
persons who would have his photograph taken on his deathbed, so much
importance did he attach to his person. He would, no doubt, have been
insulted, if the author of 'Une Eglogue Mondaine' had portrayed in a book
himself and his love for Countess Steno, and yet he had only approached
the author, had only chosen him as a confidant with the vague hope of
impressing him. He had even thought of suggesting to him some creation
resembling himself. Yes, Gorka was very complex, for he was not
contented with deceiving his wife, he allowed the confiding creature to
form a friendship with the daughter of her husband's mistress. Still,
he deceived her with remorse, and had never ceased bearing her an
affection as sorrowful as it was respectful. But it required Dorsenne to
admit the like anomalies, and the rare sensation of being observed in his
passionate frenzy attracted the young man to some one who was at once a
sure confidant, a possible portrayer, a moral accomplice. It was
necessary now, but it would not be an easy matter, to make of him his
"You see," resumed he suddenly, "to what miserable, detailed inquiries
I have descended, I who always had a horror of espionage, as of some
terrible degradation. I shall question you frankly, for you are my
friend. And what a friend! I intended to use artifice with you at
first, but I was ashamed. Passion takes possession of me and distorts
me. No matter what infamy presents itself, I rush into it, and then I am
afraid. Yes, I am afraid of myself! But I have suffered so much! You
do not understand? Well! Listen," continued he, covering Dorsenne with
one of those glances so scrutinizing that not a gesture, not a quiver of
his eyelids, escaped him, "and tell me if you have ever imagined for one
of your romances a situation similar to mine. You remember the mortal
fear in which I lived last winter, with the presence of my brother-in-
law, and the danger of his denouncing me to my poor Maud, from stupidity,
from a British sense of virtue, from hatred. You remember, also, what
that voyage to Poland cost me, after those long months of anxiety? The
press of affairs and the illness of my aunt coming just at the moment
when I was freed from Ardrahan, inspired me with miserable forebodings.
I have always believed in presentiments. I had one. I was not mistaken.
From the first letter I received--from whom you can guess--I saw that
there was taking place in Rome something which threatened me in what I
held dearest on earth, in that love for which I sacrificed all, toward
which I walked by trampling on the noblest of hearts. Was Catherine
ceasing to love me? When one has spent two years of one's life in a
passion--and what years!--one clings to it with every fibre! I will
spare you the recital of those first weeks spent in going here and there,
in paying visits to relatives, in consulting lawyers, in caring for my
sick aunt, in fulfilling my duty toward my son, since the greater part of
the fortune will go to him. And always with this firm conviction: She no
longer writes to me as formerly, she no longer loves me. Ah! if I could
show you the letter she wrote when I was absent once before. You have a
great deal of talent, Julien, but you have never composed anything more
He paused, as if the part of the confession he was approaching cost him a
great effort, while Dorsenne interpolated:
"A change of tone in correspondence is not, however, sufficient to
explain the fever in which I see you."
"No," resumed Gorka, "but it was not merely a change of tone. I
complained. For the first time my complaint found no echo. I threatened
to cease writing. No reply. I wrote to ask forgiveness. I received a
letter so cold that in my turn I wrote an angry one. Another silence!
Ah! You can imagine the terrible effect produced upon me by an unsigned
letter which I received fifteen days since. It arrived one morning. It
bore the Roman postmark. I did not recognize the handwriting. I opened
it. I saw two sheets of paper on which were pasted cuttings from a
French journal. I repeat it was unsigned; it was an anonymous letter."
"And you read it?" interrupted Dorsenne. "What folly!"
"I read it," replied the Count. "It began with words of startling truth
relative to my own situation. That our affairs are known to others we
may be sure, since we know theirs. We should, consequently, remember
that we are at the mercy of their indiscretion, as they are at ours.
The beginning of the note served as a guarantee of the truth of the end,
which was a detailed, minute recital of an intrigue which Madame Steno
had been carrying on during my absence, and with whom? With the man whom
I always mistrusted, that dauber who wanted to paint Alba's portrait--but
whose desires I nipped in the bud--with the fellow who degraded himself
by a shameful marriage for money, and who calls himself an artist--with
that American--with Lincoln Maitland!"
Although the childish and unjust hatred of the jealous--the hatred which
degrades us in lowering the one we love-had poisoned his discourse with
its bitterness, he did not cease watching Dorsenne. He partly raised
himself on the couch and thrust his head forward as he uttered the name
of his rival, glancing keenly at the novelist meanwhile. The latter
fortunately had been rendered indignant at the news of the anonymous
letter, and he repeated, with an astonishment which in no way aided his
"Wait," resumed Boleslas; "that was merely a beginning. The next day I
received another letter, written and sent under the same conditions; the
day after, a third. I have twelve of them--do you hear? twelve--in my
portfolio, and all composed with the same atrocious knowledge of the
circle in which we move, as was the first. At the same time I was
receiving letters from my poor wife, and all coincided, in the terrible
series, in a frightful concordance. The anonymous letter told me: 'To-
day they were together two hours and a quarter,' while Maud wrote: 'I
could not go out to-day, as agreed upon, with Madame Steno, for she had a
headache.' Then the portrait of Alba, of which they told me incidentally.
The anonymous letters detailed to me the events, the prolongation of
sitting, while my wife wrote: 'We again went to see Alba's portrait
yesterday. The painter erased what he had done.' Finally it became
impossible for me to endure it. With their abominable minuteness of
detail, the anonymous letters gave me even the address of their
rendezvous! I set out. I said to myself, 'If I announce my arrival to
my wife they will find it out, they will escape me.' I intended to
surprise them. I wanted--Do I know what I wanted? I wanted to suffer no
longer the agony of uncertainty. I took the train. I stopped neither
day nor night. I left my valet yesterday in Florence, and this morning
I was in Rome.
"My plan was made on the way. I would hire apartments near theirs,
in the same street, perhaps in the same house. I would watch them, one,
two days, a week. And then--would you believe it? It was in the cab
which was bearing me directly toward that street that I saw suddenly,
clearly within me, and that I was startled. I had my hand upon this
revolver." He drew the weapon from his pocket and laid it upon the
divan, as if he wished to repulse any new temptation. "I saw myself as
plainly as I see you, killing those two beings like two animals, should
I surprise them. At the same time I saw my son and my wife. Between
murder and me there was, perhaps, just the distance which separated me
from the street, and I felt that it was necessary to fly at once--to fly
that street, to fly from the guilty ones, if they were really guilty; to
fly from myself! I thought of you, and I have come to say to you, 'My
friend, this is how things are; I am drowning, I am lost; save me.'"
"You have yourself found the salvation," replied Dorsenne. "It is in
your son and your wife. See them first, and if I can not promise you
that you will not suffer any more, you will no longer be tempted by that
horrible idea." And he pointed to the pistol, which gleamed in the
sunlight that entered through the casement. Then he added: "And you will
have the idea still less when you will have been able to prove 'de visu'
what those anonymous letters were worth. Twelve letters in fifteen days,
and cuttings from how many papers? And they claim that we invent
heinousness in our books! If you like, we will search together for the
person who can have elaborated that little piece of villany. It must be
a Judas, a Rodin, an Iago--or Iaga. But this is not the moment to waste
"Are you sure of your valet? You must send him a despatch, and in that
despatch the copy of another addressed to Madame Gorka, which your man
will send this very evening. You will announce your arrival for
tomorrow, making allusion to a letter written, so to speak, from Poland,
and which was lost. This evening from here you will take the train for
Florence, from which place you will set out again this very night. You
will be in Rome again to-morrow morning. You will have avoided, not only
the misfortune of having become a murderer, though you would not have
surprised any one, I am sure, but the much more grave misfortune of
awakening Madame Gorka's suspicions. Is it a promise?"
Dorsenne rose to prepare a pen and paper: "Come, write the despatch
immediately, and render thanks to your good genius which led you to a
friend whose business consists in imagining the means of solving
"You are quite right," Boleslas replied, after taking in his hand the pen
which he offered to the other, "it is fortunate." Then, casting aside
the pen as he had the revolver, "I can not. No, I can not, as long as I
have this doubt within me. Ah, it is too horrible! I can see them
plainly. You speak to me of my wife; but you forget that she loves me,
and at the first glance she would read me, as you did. You can not
imagine what an effort it has cost me for two years never to arouse
suspicion. I was happy, and it is easy to deceive when one has nothing
to hide but happiness. To-day we should not be together five minutes
before she would seek, and she would find. No, no; I can not. I need
"Unfortunately," replied Julien, "I cannot give it to you. There is no
opium to lull asleep doubts such as those horrible anonymous letters have
awakened. What I know is this, that if you do not follow my advice
Madame Gorka will not have a suspicion, but certainty. It is now perhaps
too late. Do you wish me to tell you what I concealed from you on seeing
you so troubled? You did not lose much time in coming from the station
hither, and probably you did not look out of your cab twice. But you
were seen. By whom? By Montfanon. He told me so this morning almost
on the threshold of the Palais Castagna. If I had not gathered from some
words uttered by your wife that she was ignorant of your presence in
Rome, I--do you hear?--I should have told her of it. Judge now of your
He spoke with an agitation which was not assumed, so much was he troubled
by the evidence of danger which Gorka's obstinacy presented. The latter,
who had begun to collect himself, had a strange light in his eyes.
Without doubt his companion's nervousness marked the moment he was
awaiting to strike a decisive blow. He rose with so sudden a start that
Dorsenne drew back. He seized both of his hands, but with such force
that not a quiver of the muscles escaped him:
"Yes, Julien, you have the means of consoling me, you have it," said he
in a voice again hoarse with emotion.
"What is it?" asked the novelist.
"What is it? You are an honest man, Dorsenne; you are a great artist;
you are my friend, and a friend allied to me by a sacred bond, almost a
brother-in-arms; you, the grandnephew of a hero who shed his blood by the
side of my grandfather at Somo-Sierra. Give me your word of honor that
you are absolutely certain Madame Steno is not Maitland's mistress, that
you never thought it, have never heard it said, and I will believe you,
I will obey you! Come," continued he, pressing the writer's hand with
more fervor, "I see you hesitate!"
"No," said Julien, disengaging himself from the wild grasp, "I do not
hesitate. I am sorry for you. Were I to give you that word, would it
have any weight with you for five minutes? Would you not be persuaded
immediately that I was perjuring myself to avoid a misfortune?"
"You hesitate," interrupted Boleslas. Then, with a burst of wild
laughter, he said, "It is then true! I like that better! It is
frightful to know it, but one suffers less-- To know it' As if I did not
know she had lovers before me, as if it were not written on Alba's every
feature that she is Werekiew's child, as if I had not heard it said
seventy times before knowing her that she had loved Branciforte, San
Giobbe, Strabane, ten others. Before, during, or after, what difference
does it make? Ah, I was sure on knocking at your door--at this door of
honor--I should hear the truth, that I would touch it as I touch this
object," and he laid his hand upon a marble bust on the table.
"You see I hear it like a man. You can speak to me now. Who knows?
Disgust is a great cure for passion. I will listen to you. Do not spare
"You are mistaken, Gorka," replied Dorsenne. "What I have to say to you,
I can say very simply. I was, and I am, convinced that in a quarter of
an hour, in an hour, tomorrow, the day after, you will consider me a liar
or an imbecile. But, since you misinterpreted my silence, it is my duty
to speak, and I do so. I give you my word of honor I have never had the
least suspicion of a connection between Madame Steno and Maitland,
nor have their relations seemed changed to me for a second since your
absence. I give you my word of honor that no one, do you hear, no one
has spoken of it to me. And, now, act as you please, think as you
please. I have said all I can say."
The novelist uttered those words with a feverish energy which was caused
by the terrible strain he was making upon his conscience. But Gorka's
laugh had terrified him so much the more as at the same instant the
jealous lover's disengaged hand was voluntarily or involuntarily extended
toward the weapon which gleamed upon the couch. The vision of an
immediate catastrophe, this time inevitable, rose before Julien. His
lips had spoken, as his arm would have been out stretched, by an
irresistible instinct, to save several lives, and he had made the false
statement, the first and no doubt the last in his life, without
reflecting. He had no sooner uttered it than he experienced such an
excess of anger that he would at that moment almost have preferred not to
be believed. It would indeed have been a comfort to him if his visitor
had replied by one of those insulting negations which permit one man to
strike another, so great was his irritation. On the contrary, he saw the
face of Madame Steno's lover turned toward him with an expression of
gratitude upon it. Boleslas's lips quivered, his hands were clasped, two
large tears gushed from his burning eyes and rolled down his cheeks.
When he was able to speak, he moaned:
"Ah, my friend, how much good you have done me! From what a nightmare
you have relieved me. Ah! Now I am saved! I believe you, I believe
you. You are intimate with them. You see them every day. If there had
been anything between them you would know it. You would have heard it
talked of. Ah! Thanks! Give me your hand that I may press it. Forget
all I said to you just now, the slander I uttered in a moment of
delirium. I know very well it was untrue. And now, let me embrace you
as I would if you had really saved me from drowning. Ah, my friend, my
And he rushed up to clasp to his bosom the novelist, who replied with the
words uttered at the beginning of this conversation: "Calm yourself, I
beseech you, calm yourself!" and repeating to himself, brave and loyal
man that he was: "I could not act differently, but it is hard!"
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Follow their thoughts instead of heeding objects
Has as much sense as the handle of a basket
No flies enter a closed mouth
Pitiful checker-board of life
Scarcely a shade of gentle condescension
That you can aid them in leading better lives?
The forests have taught man liberty
There is an intelligent man, who never questions his ideas
Thinking it better not to lie on minor points
Too prudent to risk or gain much
Walked at the rapid pace characteristic of monomaniacs
By PAUL BOURGET
"I could not act differently," repeated Dorsenne on the evening of that
eventful day. He had given his entire afternoon to caring for Gorka. He
made him lunch. He made him lie down. He watched him. He took him in a
closed carriage to Portonaccio, the first stopping-place on the Florence
line. Indeed, he made every effort not to leave alone for a moment the
man whose frenzy he had rather suspended than appeased, at the price,
alas, of his own peace of mind! For, once left alone, in solitude and in
the apartments on the Place de la Trinite, where twenty details testified
to the visit of Gorka, the weight of the perjured word of honor became a
heavy load to the novelist, so much the more heavy when he discovered the
calculating plan followed by Boleslas. His tardy penetration permitted
him to review the general outline of their conversation. He perceived
that not one of his interlocutor's sentences, not even the most agitated,
had been uttered at random. From reply to reply, from confidence to
confidence, he, Dorsenne, had become involved in the dilemma without
being able to foresee or to avoid it; he would either have had to accuse
a woman or to lie with one of those lies which a manly conscience does
not easily pardon. He did not forgive himself for it.
"It is so much worse," said he to himself, "as it will prevent nothing.
A person vile enough to pen anonymous letters will not stop there. She
will find the means of again unchaining the madman.... But who wrote
those letters? Gorka may have forged them in order to have an
opportunity to ask me the question he did.... And yet, no.... There are
two indisputable facts--his state of jealousy and his extraordinary
return. Both would lead one to suppose a third, a warning. But given by
whom?.... He told me of twelve anonymous letters.... Let us assume that
he received one or two.... But who is the author of those?"
The immediate development of the drama in which Julien found himself
involved was embodied in the answer to the question. It was not easy to
formulate. The Italians have a proverb of singular depth which the
novelist recalled at that moment. He had laughed a great deal when he
heard sententious Egiste Brancadori repeat it. He repeated it to
himself, and he understood its meaning. 'Chi non sa fingersi amico, non
sa essere nemico. "He who does not know how to disguise himself as a
friend, does not know how to be an enemy." In the little corner of
society in which Countess Steno, the Gorkas and Lincoln Maitland moved,
who was hypocritical and spiteful enough to practise that counsel?
"It is not Madame Steno," thought Julien; "she has related all herself to
her lover. I knew a similar case. But it involved degraded Parisians,
not a Dogesse of the sixteenth century found intact in the Venice of
today, like a flower of that period preserved. Let us strike her off.
Let us strike off, too, Madame Gorka, the truthful creature who could not
even condescend to the smallest lie for a trinket which she desires. It
is that which renders her so easily deceived. What irony!.... Let us
strike off Florent. He would allow himself to be killed, if necessary,
like a Mameluke at the door of the room where his genial brother-in-law
was dallying with the Countess.... Let us strike off the American
himself. I have met such a case, a lover weary of a mistress, denouncing
himself to her in order to be freed from his love-affair. But he was a
roue, and had nothing in common with this booby, who has a talent for
painting as an elephant has a trunk--what irony! He married this
octoroon to have money. But it was a base act which freed him from
commerce, and permitted him to paint all he wanted, as he wanted.
He allows Steno to love him because she is diabolically pretty,
notwithstanding her forty years, and then she is, in spite of all, a real
noblewoman, which flattered him. He has not one dollar's-worth of moral
delicacy in his heart. But he has an abundance of knavery.... Let us,
too, strike out his wife. She is such a veritable slave whom the mere
presence of a white person annihilates to such a degree that she dares
not look her husband in the face.... It is not Hafner. The sly fox is
capable of doing anything by cunning, but is he capable of undertaking a
useless and dangerous piece of rascality? Never.... Fanny is a saint
escaped from the Golden Legend, no matter what Montfanon thinks! I have
now reviewed the entire coterie.... I was about to forget Alba.... It
is too absurd even to think of her.... Too absurd? Why?"
Dorsenne was, on formulating that fantastic thought, upon the point of
retiring. He took up, as was his habit, one of the books on his table,
in order to read a few pages, when once in bed. He had thus within his
reach the works by which he strengthened his doctrine of intransitive
intellectuality; they were Goethe's Memoirs; a volume of George Sand's
correspondence, in which were the letters to Flaubert; the 'Discours de
la Methode' by Descartes, and the essay by Burckhart on the Renaissance.
But, after turning over the leaves of one of those volumes, he closed it
without having read twenty lines. He extinguished his lamp, but he could
not sleep. The strange suspicion which crossed his mind had something
monstrous about it, applied thus to a young girl. What a suspicion and
what a young girl! The preferred friend of his entire winter, she on
whose account he had prolonged his stay in Rome, for she was the most
graceful vision of delicacy and of melancholy in the framework of a
tragical and solemn past. Any other than Dorsenne would not have
admitted such an idea without being inspired with horror. But Dorsenne,
on the contrary, suddenly began to dive into that sinister hypothesis, to
help it forward, to justify it. No one more than he suffered from a
moral deformity which the abuse of a certain literary work inflicts on
some writers. They are so much accustomed to combining artificial
characters with creations of their imaginations that they constantly
fulfil an analogous need with regard to the individuals they know best.
They have some friend who is dear to them, whom they see almost daily,
who hides nothing from them and from whom they hide nothing. But if they
speak to you of him you are surprised to find that, while continuing to
love that friend, they trace to you in him two contradictory portraits
with the same sincerity and the same probability.
They have a mistress, and that woman, even in the space sometimes of one
day, sees them, with fear, change toward her, who has remained the same.
It is that they have developed in them to a very intense degree the
imagination of the human soul, and that to observe is to them only a
pretext to construe. That infirmity had governed Julien from early
maturity. It was rarely manifested in a manner more unexpected than in
the case of charming Alba Steno, who was possibly dreaming of him at the
very moment when, in the silence of the night, he was forcing himself to
prove that she was capable of that species of epistolary parricide.
"After all," he said to himself, for there is iconoclasm in the
excessively intellectual, and they delight in destroying their dearest
moral or sentimental idols, the better to prove their strength, "after
all, have I really understood her relations toward her mother? When I
came to Rome in November, when I was to be presented to the Countess,
what did not only one, but nine or ten persons tell me? That Madame
Steno had a liaison with the husband of her daughter's best friend, and
that the little one was grieving about it. I went to the house. I saw
the child. She was sad that evening. I had the curiosity to wish to
read her heart.... It is six months since then. We have met almost
daily, often twice a day. She is so hermetically sealed that I am no
farther advanced than I was on the first day. I have seen her glance at
her mother as she did this morning, with loving, admiring eyes. I have
seen her turn pale at a word, a gesture, on her part. I have seen her
embrace Maud Gorka, and play tennis with that same friend so gayly, so
innocently. I have seen that she could not bear the presence of Maitland
in a room, and yet she asked the American to take her portrait....
Is she guileless?.... Is she a hypocrite? Or is she tormented by doubt-
divining, not divining-believing, not believing in-her mother? Is she
underhand in any case, with her eyes the color of the sea? Has she the
ambiguous mind at once of a Russian and an Italian?.... This would be a
solution of the problem, that she was a girl of extraordinary inward
energy, who, both aware of her mother's intrigues and detesting them with
an equal hatred, had planned to precipitate the two men upon each other.
For a young girl the undertaking is great. I will go to the Countess's
to-morrow night, and I will amuse myself by watching Alba, to see. . .
If she is innocent, my deed will be inoffensive. If perchance she is
It is vain to profess to one's own heart a complaisant dandyism of
misanthropy. Such reflections leave behind them a tinge of a remorse,
above all when they are, as these, absolutely whimsical and founded on a
simple paradox of dilettantism. Dorsenne experienced a feeling of shame
when he awoke the following morning, and, thinking of the mystery of the
letters received by Gorka, he recalled the criminal romance he had
constructed around the charming and tender form of his little friend;
happily for his nerves, which were strained by the consideration of the
formidable problem. If it is not some one in the Countess's circle, who
has written those letters? He received, on rising, a voluminous package
of proofs with the inscription: "Urgent." He was preparing to give to
the public a collection of his first articles, under the title of
Dorsenne was a faithful literary worker. Usually, involved titles serve
to hide in a book-stall shop--made goods, and romance writers or dramatic
authors who pride themselves on living to write, and who seek inspiration
elsewhere than in regularity of habits and the work-table, have their
efforts marked from the first by sterility. Obscure or famous, rich or
poor, an artist must be an artisan and practise these fruitful virtues--
patient application, conscientious technicality, absorption in work.
When he seated himself at his table Dorsenne was heart and soul in his
business. He closed his door, he opened no letters nor telegrams, and he
spent ten hours without taking anything but two eggs and some black
coffee, as he did on this particular day, when looking over the essays of
his twenty-fifth year with the talent of his thirty-fifth, retouching
here a word, rewriting an entire page, dissatisfied here, smiling there
at his thought. The pen flew, carrying with it all the sensibility of
the intellectual man who had completely forgotten Madame Steno, Gorka,
Maitland, and the calumniated Contessina, until he should awake from his
lucid intoxication at nightfall. As he counted, in arranging the slips,
the number of articles prepared, he found there were twelve.
"Like Gorka's letters," said he aloud, with a laugh. He now felt
coursing through his veins the lightness which all writers of his kind
feel when they have labored on a work they believe good. "I have earned
my evening," he added, still in a loud voice. "I must now dress and go
to Madame Steno's. A good dinner at the doctor's. A half-hour's walk.
The night promises to be divine. I shall find out if they have news of
the Palatine,"--the name he gave Gorka in his moments of gayety.
"I shall talk in a loud voice of anonymous letters. If the author of
those received by Boleslas is there, I shall be in the best position to
discover him; provided that it is not Alba.... Decidedly--that would be
It was ten o'clock in the evening, when the young man, faithful to his
programme, arrived at the door of the large house on the Rue du Vingt
Septembre occupied by Madame Steno. It was an immense modern structure,
divided into two distinct parts; to the left a revenue building and to
the right a house on the order of those which are to be seen on the
borders of Park Monceau. The Villa Steno, as the inscription in gold
upon the black marble door indicated, told the entire story of the
Countess's fortune--that fortune appraised by rumor, with its habitual
exaggeration, now at twenty, now at thirty, millions. She had in reality
two hundred and fifty thousand francs' income. But as, in 1873, Count
Michel Steno, her husband, died, leaving only debts, a partly ruined
palace at Venice and much property heavily mortgaged, the amount of that
income proved the truth of the title, "superior woman," applied by her
friends to Alba's mother. Her friends likewise added: "She has been the
mistress of Hafner, who has aided her with his financial advice," an
atrocious slander which was so much the more false as it was before ever
knowing the Baron that she had begun to amass her wealth. This is how
she managed it:
At the close of 1873, when, as a young widow, living in retirement in the
sumptuous and ruined dwelling on the Grand Canal, she was struggling with
her creditors, one of the largest bankers in Rome came to propose to her
a very advantageous scheme. It dealt with a large piece of land which
belonged to the Steno estate, a piece of land in Rome, in one of the
suburbs, between the Porta Salara and the Porta Pia, a sort of village
which the deceased Cardinal Steno, Count Michel's uncle, had begun to lay
out. After his demise, the land had been rented in lots to kitchen-
gardeners, and it was estimated that it was worth about forty centimes a
square metre. The financier offered four francs for it, under the
pretext of establishing a factory on the site. It was a large sum of
money. The Countess required twenty-four hours in which to consider,
and, at the end of that time, she refused the offer, which won for her
the admiration of the men of business who knew of the refusal. In 1882,
less than ten years later, she sold the same land for ninety francs a
metre. She saw, on glancing at a plan of Rome, and in recalling the
history of modern Italy, first, that the new masters of the Eternal City
would centre all their ambition in rebuilding it, then that the portion
comprised between the Quirinal and the two gates of Salara and Pia would
be one of the principal points of development; finally, that if she
waited she would obtain a much greater sum than the first offer. And she
had waited, applying herself to watching the administration of her
possessions like the severest of intendants, depriving herself, stopping
up gaps with unhoped-for profits. In 1875, she sold to the National
Gallery a suite of four panels by Carpaccio, found in one of her country
houses, for one hundred and twenty thousand francs. She had been as
active and practical in her material life as she had been light and
audacious in her sentimental experiences. The story circulated of her
infidelity to Steno with Werekiew at St. Petersburg, where the
diplomatist was stationed, after one year of marriage, was confirmed by
the wantonness of her conduct, of which she gave evidence as soon as
At Rome, where she lived a portion of the year after the sale of her
land, out of which she retained enough to build the double house, she
continued to increase her fortune with the same intelligence. A very
advantageous investment in Acqua Marcia enabled her to double in five
years the enormous profits of her first operation. And what proved still
more the exceptional good sense with which the woman was endowed, when
love was not in the balance, she stopped on those two gains, just at the
time when the Roman aristocracy, possessed by the delirium of
speculation, had begun to buy stocks which had reached their highest
To spend the evening at the Villa Steno, after spending all the morning
of the day before at the Palais Castagna, was to realize one of those
paradoxes of contradictory sensations such as Dorsenne loved, for poor
Ardea had been ruined in having attempted to do a few years later that
which Countess Catherine had done at the proper moment. He, too, had
hoped for an increase in the value of property. Only he had bought the
land at seventy francs a metre, and in '90 it was not worth more than
twenty-five. He, too, had calculated that Rome would improve, and on the
high-priced land he had begun to build entire streets, imagining he could
become like the Dukes of Bedford and of Westminster in London, the owner
of whole districts. His houses finished, they did not rent, however.
To complete the rest he had to borrow. He speculated in order to pay his
debts, lost, and contracted more debts in order to pay the difference.
His signature, as the proprietor of the Marzocco had said, was put to
innumerable bills of exchange. The result was that on all the walls of
Rome, including that of the Rue Vingt Septembre on which was the Villa
Steno, were posted multi-colored placards announcing the sale, under the
management of Cavalier Fossati, of the collection of art and of furniture
of the Palais Castagna.
"To foresee is to possess power," said Dorsenne to himself, ringing at
Madame Steno's door and summing up thus the invincible association of
ideas which recalled to him the palace of the ruined Roman Prince at the
door of the villa of the triumphant Venetian: "It is the real Alpha and
The comparison between the lot of Madame Steno and that of the heir of
the Castagnas had almost caused the writer to forget his plan of inquiry
as to the author of the anonymous letters. It was to be impressed upon
him, however, when he entered the hall where the Countess received every
evening. Ardea himself was there, the centre of a group composed of Alba
Steno, Madame Maitland, Fanny Hafner and the wealthy Baron, who, standing
aloof and erect, leaning against a console, seemed like a beneficent and
venerable man in the act of blessing youth. Julien was not surprised on
finding so few persons in the vast salon, any more than he was surprised
at the aspect of the room filled with old tapestry, bric-a-brac,
furniture, flowers, and divans with innumerable cushions.
He had had the entire winter in which to observe the interior of that
house, similar to hundreds of others in Vienna, Madrid, Florence, Berlin,
anywhere, indeed, where the mistress of the house applies herself to
realizing an ideal of Parisian luxury. He had amused himself many an
evening in separating from the almost international framework local
features, those which distinguished the room from others of the same
kind. No human being succeeds in being absolutely factitious in his home
or in his writings. The author had thus noted that the salon bore a
date, that of the Countess's last journey to Paris in 1880. It was to be
seen in the plush and silk of the curtains. The general coloring, in
which green predominated, a liberty egotistical in so brilliant a blonde,
had too warm a tone and betrayed the Italian. Italy was also to be found
in the painted ceiling and in the frieze which ran all around, as well as
in several paintings scattered about. There were two panels by Moretti
de Brescia in the second style of the master, called his silvery manner,
on account of the delicate and transparent fluidity of the coloring;
a 'Souper chez le Pharisien' and a 'Jesus ressuscite sur le rivage',
which could only have come from one of the very old palaces of a very
ancient family. Dorsenne knew all that, and he knew, too, for what
reasons he found almost empty at that time of the year the hall so
animated during the entire winter, the hall through which he had seen
pass a veritable carnival of visitors: great lords, artists, political
men, Russians and Austrians, English and French--pellmell. The Countess
was far from occupying in Rome the social position which her
intelligence, her fortune and her name should have assured her. For,
having been born a Navagero, she combined on her escutcheon the cross of
gold of the Sebastien Navagero who was the first to mount the walls of
Lepante, with the star of the grand Doge Michel.
But one particular trait of character had always prevented her from
succeeding on that point. She could not bear ennui nor constraint, nor
had she any vanity. She was positive and impassioned, in the manner of
the men of wealth to whom their meditated--upon combinations serve to
assure the conditions of their pleasures. Never had Madame Steno
displayed diplomacy in the changes of her passions, and they had been
numerous before the arrival of Gorka, to whom she had remained faithful
two years, an almost incomprehensible thing! Never had she, save in her
own home, observed the slightest bounds when there was a question of
reaching the object of her desire. Moreover, she had not in Rome to
support her any member of the family to which she belonged, and she had
not joined either of the two sets into which, since 1870, the society of
the city was divided. Of too modern a mind and of a manner too bold, she
had not been received by the admirable woman who reigns at the Quirinal,
and who had managed to gather around her an atmosphere of such noble
These causes would have brought about a sort of semi-ostracism, had the
Countess not applied herself to forming a salon of her own, the recruits
for which were almost altogether foreigners. The sight of new faces, the
variety of conversation, the freedom of manner, all in that moving world,
pleased the thirst for diversion which, in that puissant, spontaneous,
and almost manly immoral nature, was joined with very just clear-
sightedness. If Julien paused for a moment surprised at the door of the
hall, it was not, therefore, on finding it empty at the end of the
season; it was on beholding there, among the inmates, Peppino Ardea, whom
he had not met all winter. Truly, it was a strange time to appear in new
scenes when the hammer of the appraiser was already raised above all
which had been the pride and the splendor of his name. But the grand-
nephew of Urban VII, seated between sublime Fanny Hafner, in pale blue,
and pretty Alba Steno, in bright red, opposite Madame Maitland, so
graceful in her mauve toilette, had in no manner the air of a man crushed
The subdued light revealed his proud manly face, which had lost none of
its gay hauteur. His eyes, very black, very brilliant, and very
unsteady, seemed almost in the same glance to scorn and to smile, while
his mouth, beneath its brown moustache, wore an expression of disdain,
disgust, and sensuality. The shaven chin displayed a bluish shade, which
gave to the whole face a look of strength, belied by the slender and
nervous form. The heir of the Castagnas was dressed with an affectation
of the English style, peculiar to certain Italians. He wore too many
rings on his fingers, too large a bouquet in his buttonhole, and above
all he made too many gestures to allow for a moment, with his dark
complexion, of any doubt as to his nationality. It was he who, of all
the group, first perceived Julien, and he said to him, or rather called
"Ah, Dorsenne! I thought you had gone away. We have not seen you at the
club for fifteen days."
"He has been working," replied Hafner, "at some new masterpiece, at a
romance which is laid in Roman society, I am sure. Mistrust him, Prince,
and you, ladies, disarm the portrayer."
"I," resumed Ardea, laughing pleasantly, "will give him notes upon
myself, if he wants them, as long as this, and I will illustrate his
romance into the bargain with photographs which I once had a rage for
taking.... See, Mademoiselle," he added, turning to Fanny, "that is how
one ruins one's self. I had a mania for the instantaneous ones. It was
very innocent, was it not? It cost me thirty thousand francs a year, for
Dorsenne had heard that it was a watchword between Peppino Ardea and his
friends to take lightly the disaster which came upon the Castagna family
in its last and only scion. He was not expecting such a greeting. He
was so disconcerted by it that he neglected to reply to the Baron's
remark, as he would have done at any other time. Never did the founder
of the 'Credit Austyr-Dalmate' fail to manifest in some such way his
profound aversion for the novelist. Men of his species, profoundly
cynical and calculating, fear and scorn at the same time a certain
literature. Moreover, he had too much tact not to be aware of the
instinctive repulsion with which he inspired Julien. But to Hafner, all
social strength was tariffed, and literary success as much as any other.
As he was afraid, as on the staircase of the Palais Castagna, that he had
gone too far, he added, laying his hand with its long, supple fingers
familiarly upon the author's shoulder:
"This is what I admire in him: It is that he allows profane persons,
such as we are, to plague him, without ever growing angry. He is the
only celebrated author who is so simple.... But he is better than an
author; he is a veritable man-of-the-world."
"Is not the Countess here?" asked Dorsenne, addressing Alba Steno,
and without replying any more to the action, so involuntarily insulting,
of the Baron than he had to his sly malice or to the Prince's facetious
offer. Madame Steno's absence had again inspired him with an
apprehension which the young girl dissipated by replying:
"My mother is on the terrace.... We were afraid it was too cool for
Fanny.".... It was a very simple phrase, which the Contessina uttered
very simply, as she fanned herself with a large fan of white feathers.
Each wave of it stirred the meshes of her fair hair, which she wore
curled upon her rather high forehead. Julien understood her too well not
to perceive that her voice, her gestures, her eyes, her entire being,
betrayed a nervousness at that moment almost upon the verge of sadness.
Was she still reserved from the day before, or was she a prey to one of
those inexplicable transactions, which had led Dorsenne in his
meditations of the night to such strange suspicions? Those suspicions
returned to him with the feeling that, of all the persons present, Alba
was the only one who seemed to be aware of the drama which undoubtedly
was brewing. He resolved to seek once more for the solution of the
living enigma which that singular girl was. How lovely she appeared to
him that evening with, those two expressions which gave her an almost
tragical look! The corners of her mouth drooped somewhat; her upper lip,
almost too short, disclosed her teeth, and in the lower part of her pale
face was a bitterness so prematurely sad! Why? It was not the time to
ask the question. First of all, it was necessary for the young man to go
in search of Madame Steno on the terrace, which terminated in a paradise
of Italian voluptuousness, the salon furnished in imitation of Paris.
Shrubs blossomed in large terra-cotta vases. Statuettes were to be seen
on the balustrade, and, beyond, the pines of the Villa Bonaparte outlined
their black umbrellas against a sky of blue velvet, strewn with large
stars. A vague aroma of acacias, from a garden near by, floated in the
air, which was light, caressing, and warm. The soft atmosphere sufficed
to convict of falsehood the Contessina, who had evidently wished to
justify the tete-a-tete of her mother and of Maitland. The two lovers
were indeed together in the perfume, the mystery and the solitude of the
obscure and quiet terrace.
It took Dorsenne, who came from the bright glare of the salon, a moment
to distinguish in the darkness the features of the Countess who, dressed
all in white, was lying upon a willow couch with soft cushions of silk.
She was smoking a cigarette, the lighted end of which, at each breath she
drew, gave sufficient light to show that, notwithstanding the coolness of
the night, her lovely neck, so long and flexible, about which was clasped
a collar of pearls, was bare, as well as her fair shoulders and her
perfect arms, laden with bracelets, which were visible through her wide,
flowing sleeves. On advancing, Julien recognized, through the vegetable
odors of that spring night, the strong scent of the Virginian tobacco
which Madame Steno had used since she had fallen in love with Maitland,
instead of the Russian "papyrus" to which Gorka had accustomed her.
It is by such insignificant traits that amorous women recognize a love
profoundly, insatiably sensual, the only one of which the Venetian was
capable. Their passionate desire to give themselves up still more leads
them to espouse, so to speak, the slightest habits of the men whom they
love in that way. Thus are explained those metamorphoses of tastes, of
thoughts, even of appearance, so complete, that in six months, in three
months of separation they become like different people. By the side of
that graceful and supple vision, Lincoln Maitland was seated on a low
chair. But his broad shoulders, which his evening coat set off in their
amplitude, attested that before having studied "Art"--and even while
studying it--he had not ceased to practise the athletic sports of his
English education. As soon as he was mentioned, the term "large" was
evoked. Indeed, above the large frame was a large face, somewhat red,
with a large, red moustache, which disclosed, in broad smiles, his large,
Large rings glistened on his large fingers. He presented a type exactly
opposite to that of Boleslas Gorka. If the grandson of the Polish
Castellan recalled the dangerous finesse of a feline, of a slender and
beautiful panther, Maitland could be compared to one of those mastiffs in
the legends, with a jaw and muscles strong enough to strangle lions. The
painter in him was only in the eye and in the hand, in consequence of a
gift as physical as the voice to a tenor. But that instinct, almost
abnormal, had been developed, cultivated to excess, by the energy of will
in refinement, a trait so marked in the Anglo-Saxons of the New World
when they like Europe, instead of detesting it. For the time being, the
longing for refinement seemed reduced to the passionate inhalations of
that divine, fair rose of love which was Madame Steno, a rose almost too
full-blown, and which the autumn of forty years had begun to fade. But
she was still charming. And how little Maitland heeded the fact that his
wife was in the room near by, the windows of which cast forth a light
which caused to stand out more prominently the shadow of the voluptuous
terrace! He held his mistress's hand within his own, but abandoned it
when he perceived Dorsenne, who took particular pains to move a chair
noisily on approaching the couple, and to say, in a loud voice, with a
"I should have made a poor gallant abbe of the last century, for at night
I can really see nothing. If your cigarette had not served me as a
beacon-light I should have run against the balustrade."
"Ah, it is you, Dorsenne," replied Madame Steno, with a sharpness
contrary to her habitual amiability, which proved to the novelist that
first of all he was the "inconvenient third" of the classical comedies,
then that Hafner had reported his imprudent remarks of the day before.
"So much the better," thought he, "I shall have forewarned her. On
reflection she will be pleased. It is true that at this moment there is
no question of reflection." As he said those words to himself, he talked
aloud of the temperature of the day, of the probabilities of the weather
for the morrow, of Ardea's good-humor. He made, indeed, twenty trifling
remarks, in order to manage to leave the terrace and to leave the lovers
to their tete-a-tete, without causing his withdrawal to become noticeable
by indiscreet haste, as disagreeable as suggestive.
"When may we come to your atelier to see the portrait finished,
Maitland?" he asked, still standing, in order the better to manage his
"Finished?" exclaimed the Countess, who added, employing a diminutive
which she had used for several weeks: "Do you then not know that Linco
has again effaced the head?"
"Not the entire head," said the painter, "but the face is to be done
over. You remember, Dorsenne, those two canvases by Pier delta
Francesca, which are at Florence, Duc Federigo d'Urbino and his wife
Battista Sforza. Did you not see them in the same room with La Calomnie
by Botticelli, with a landscape in the background? It is drawn like
this," and he made a gesture with his thumb, "and that is what I am
trying to obtain, the necessary curve on which all faces depend. There
is no better painter in Italy."
"And Titian and Raphael?" interrupted Madame Steno.
"And the Sienese and the Lorenzetti, of whom you once raved? You wrote
to me of them, with regard to my article on your exposition of 'eighty-
six; do you remember?" inquired the writer.
"Raphael?" replied Maitland.... "Do you wish me to tell you what
Raphael really was? A sublime builder. And Titian? A sublime
upholsterer. It is true, I admired the Sienese very much," he added,
turning toward Dorsenne. "I spent three months in copying the Simone
Martini of the municipality, the Guido Riccio, who rides between two
strongholds on a gray heath, where there is not a sign of a tree or a
house, but only lances and towers. Do I remember Lorenzetti? Above all,
the fresco at San Francesco, in which Saint Francois presents his order
to the Pope, that was his best work.... Then, there is a cardinal, with
his fingers on his lips, thus!" another gesture. "Well, I remember it,
you see, because there is an anecdote. It is portrayed on a wall--oh,
a grand portrayal, but without the subject, flutt!".... and he made a
hissing sound with his lips, "while Pier della Francesca, Carnevale,
Melozzo,".... he paused to find a word which would express the very
complicated thought in his head, and he concluded: "That is painting."
"But the Assumption by Titian, and the Transfiguration by Raphael,"
resumed the Countess, who added in Italian, with an accent of enthusiasm:
"Ah, the bellezza!"
"Do not worry, Countess," said Dorsenne, laughing heartily, "those are an
artist's opinions. Ten years ago, I said that Victor Hugo was an amateur
and Alfred de Musset a bourgeois. But," he added, "as I am not descended
from the Doges nor the Pilgrim Fathers, I, a poor, degenerate Gallo-
Roman, fear the dampness on account of my rheumatism, and ask your
permission to reenter the house." Then, as he passed through the door of
the salon: "Raphael, a builder! Titian, an upholsterer! Lorenzetti, a
reproducer!" he repeated to himself. "And the descendant of the Doges,
who listened seriously to those speeches, her ideal should be a madonna
en chromo! Of the first order! As for Gorka, if he had not made me lose
my entire day yesterday, I should think I had been dreaming, so little is
there any question of him.... And Ardea, who continues to laugh at his
ruin. He is not bad for an Italian. But he talks too much about his
affairs, and it is in bad taste!".... Indeed, as he turned toward the
group assembled in a corner of the salon, he heard the Prince relating a
story about Cavalier Fossati, to whom was entrusted the charge of the
"How much do you think will be realized on all?" I asked him, finally.
"Oh," he replied, "very little.... But a little and a little more end by
making a great deal. With what an air he added: 'E gia il moschino e
conte'--Already the gnat is a count.' The gnat was himself. 'A few more
sales like yours, my Prince, and my son, the Count of Fossati, will have
half a million. He will enter the club and address you with the familiar
'thou' when playing 'goffo' against you. That is what there is in this
gia (already).... On my honor, I have not been happier than since I
have, not a sou."
"You are an optimist, Prince," said Hafner, "and whatsoever our friend
Dorsenne here present may claim, it is necessary to be optimistic."
"You are attacking him again, father," interrupted Fanny, in a tone of
"Not the man," returned the Baron, "but his ideas--yes, and above all
those of his school.... Yes, yes," he continued, either wishing to
change the conversation, which Ardea persisted in turning upon his ruin,
or finding very well organized a world in which strokes like that of the
Credit Austro-Dalmate are possible, he really felt a deep aversion to the
melancholy and pessimism with which Julien's works were tinged. And he
continued: "On listening to you, Ardea, just now, and on seeing this
great writer enter, I am reminded by contrast of the fashion now in vogue
of seeing life in a gloomy light."
"Do you find it very gay?" asked Alba, brusquely.
"Good," said Hafner; "I was sure that, in talking against pessimism,
I should make the Contessina talk.... Very gay?" he continued. "No.
But when I think of the misfortunes which might have come to all of us
here, for instance, I find it very tolerable. Better than living in
another epoch, for example. One hundred and fifty years ago, Contessina,
in Venice, you would have been liable to arrest any day under a warrant
of the Council of Ten.... And you, Dorsenne, would have been exposed to
the cudgel like Monsieur de Voltaire, by some jealous lord.... And
Prince d'Ardea would have run the risk of being assassinated or beheaded
at each change of Pope. And I, in my quality of Protestant, should have
been driven from France, persecuted in Austria, molested in Italy, burned
As can be seen, he took care to choose between his two inheritances. He
had done so with an enigmatical good-nature which was almost ironical.
He paused, in order not to mention what might have come to Madame
Maitland before the suppression of slavery. He knew that the very pretty
and elegant young lady shared the prejudices of her American compatriots
against negro blood, and that she made every effort to hide the blemish
upon her birth to the point of never removing her gloves. It may,
however, in justice be added, that the slightly olive tinge in her
complexion, her wavy hair, and a vague bluish reflection in the whites of
her eyes would scarcely have betrayed the mixture of race. She did not
seem to have heeded the Baron's pause, but she arranged, with an absent
air, the folds of her mauve gown, while Dorsenne replied: "It is a fine
and specious argument.... Its only fault is that it has no foundation.
For I defy you to imagine yourself what you would have been in the epoch
of which you speak. We say frequently, 'If I had lived a hundred years
ago.' We forget that a hundred years ago we should not have been the
same; that we should not have had the same ideas, the same tastes, nor
the same requirements. It is almost the same as imagining that you could
think like a bird or a serpent."
"One could very well imagine what it would be never to have been born,"
interrupted. Alba Steno.
She uttered the sentence in so peculiar a manner that the discussion
begun by Hafner was nipped in the bud.
The words produced their effect upon the chatter of the idlers who only
partly believed in the ideas they put forth. Although there is always a
paradox in condemning life amid a scene of luxury when one is not more
than twenty, the Contessina was evidently sincere. Whence came that
sincerity? From what corner of her youthful heart, wounded almost to
death? Dorsenne was the only person who asked himself the question, for
the conversation turned at once, Lydia Maitland having touched with her
fan the sleeve of Alba, who was two seats from her, to ask her this
question with an irony as charming, after the young girl's words, as it
"It is silk muslin, is it not?"
"Yes," replied the Contessina, who rose and leaned over, to offer to the
curious gaze of her pretty neighbor her arm, which gleamed frail,
nervous, and softly fair through the transparent red material, with a bow
of ribbon of the same color tied at her slender shoulder and her graceful
wrist, while Ardea, by the side of Fanny, could be heard saying to the
daughter of Baron Justus, more beautiful than ever that evening, in her
pallor slightly tinged with pink by some secret agitation:
"You visited my palace yesterday, Mademoiselle?"
"No," she replied.
"Ask her why not, Prince," said Hafner.
"Father!" cried Fanny, with a supplication in her black eyes which Ardea
had the delicacy to obey, as he resumed:
"It is a pity. Everything there is very ordinary. But you would have
been interested in the chapel. Indeed, I regret that the most, those
objects before which my ancestors have prayed so long and which end by
being listed in a catalogue.... They even took the reliquary from me,
because it was by Ugolina da Siena. I will buy it back as soon as I can.
Your father applauds my courage. I could not part from those objects
without real sorrow."
"But it is the feeling she has for the entire palace," said the Baron.
"Father!" again implored Fanny.
"Come, compose yourself, I will not betray you," said Hafner, while Alba,
taking advantage of having risen, left the group. She walked toward a
table at the other extremity of the room, set in the style of an English
table, with tea and iced drinks, saying to Julien, who followed her:
"Shall I prepare your brandy and soda, Dorsenne?"
"What ails you, Contessina?" asked the young man, in a whisper, when
they were alone near the plateau of crystal and the collection of silver,
which gleamed so brightly in the dimly lighted part of the room.
"Yes," he persisted, "what ails you? Are you still vexed with me?"
"With you?" said she. "I have never been. Why should I be?" she
repeated. "You have done nothing to me."
"Some one has wounded you?" asked Julien.
He saw that she was sincere, and that she scarcely remembered the ill-
humor of the preceding day. "You can not deceive a friend such as I am,"
he continued. "On seeing you fan yourself, I knew that you had some
annoyance. I know you so well."
"I have no annoyance," she replied, with an impatient frown. "I can not
bear to hear lies of a certain kind. That is all!"
"And who has lied?" resumed Dorsenne.
"Did you not hear Ardea speak of his chapel just now, he who believes in
God as little as Hafner, of whom no one knows whether he is a Jew or a
Gentile!.... Did you not see poor Fanny look at him the while? And did
you not remark with what tact the Baron made the allusion to the delicacy
which had prevented his daughter from visiting the Palais Castagna with
us? And did that comedy enacted between the two men give you no food for
"Is that why Peppino is here?" asked Julien. "Is there a plan on foot
for the marriage of the heiress of Papa Hafner's millions and the grand-
nephew of Pope Urban VII? That will furnish me with a fine subject of
conversation with some one of my acquaintance!".... And the mere thought
of Montfanon learning such news caused him to laugh heartily, while he
continued, "Do not look at me so indignantly, dear Contessina.
But I see nothing so sad in the story. Fanny to marry Peppino? Why not?
You yourself have told me that she is partly Catholic, and that her
father is only awaiting her marriage to have her baptized. She will be
happy then. Ardea will keep the magnificent palace we saw yesterday, and
the Baron will crown his career in giving to a man ruined on the Bourse,
in the form of a dowry, that which he has taken from others."
"Be silent," said the young girl, in a very grave voice, "you inspire me
with horror. That Ardea should have lost all scruples, and that he
should wish to sell his title of a Roman prince at as high a price as
possible, to no matter what bidder, is so much the more a matter of
indifference, for we Venetians do not allow ourselves to be imposed upon
by the Roman nobility. We all had Doges in our families when the fathers
of these people were bandits in the country, waiting for some poor monk
of their name to become Pope. That Baron Hafner sells his daughter as he
once sold her jewels is also a matter of indifference to me. But you do
not know her. You do not know what a creature, charming and
enthusiastic, simple and sincere, she is, and who will never, never
mistrust that, first of all, her father is a thief, and, then, that he is
selling her like a trinket in order to have grand-children who shall be
at the same time grandnephews of the Pope, and, finally, that Peppino
does not love her, that he wants her dowry, and that he will have for her
as little feeling as they have for her." She glanced at Madame Maitland.
"It is worse than I can tell you," she said, enigmatically, as if vexed
by her own words, and almost frightened by them.
"Yes," said Julien, "it would be very sad; but are you sure that you do
not exaggerate the situation? There is not so much calculation in life.
It is more mediocre and more facile. Perhaps the Prince and the Baron
have a vague project."
"A vague project?" interrupted Alba, shrugging her shoulders. "There is
never anything vague with a Hafner, you may depend. What if I were to
tell you that I am positive--do you hear--positive that it is he who
holds between his fingers the largest part of the Prince's debts, and
that he caused the sale by Ancona to obtain the bargain?"
"It is impossible!" exclaimed Dorsenne. "You saw him yourself yesterday
thinking of buying this and that object."
"Do not make me say any more," said Alba, passing over her brow and her
eyes two or three times her hand, upon which no ring sparkled--that hand,
very supple and white, whose movements betrayed extreme nervousness.
"I have already said too much. It is not my business, and poor Fanny
is only to me a recent friend, although I think her very attractive and
affectionate.... When I think that she is on the point of pledging
herself for life, and that there is no one, that there can be no one,
to cry: They lie to you! I am filled with compassion. That is all.
It is childish!"
It is always painful to observe in a young person the exact perception of
the sinister dealings of life, which, once entered into the mind, never
allows of the carelessness so natural at the age of twenty.
The impression of premature disenchantment Alba Steno had many times
given to Dorsenne, and it had indeed been the principal attraction to the
curious observer of the feminine character, who still was struck by the
terrible absence of illusion which such a view of the projects of Fanny's
father revealed. Whence did she know them? Evidently from Madame Steno
herself. Either the Baron and the Countess had talked of them before the
young girl too openly to leave her in any doubt, or she had divined what
they did not tell her, through their conversation. On seeing her thus,
with her bitter mouth, her bright eyes, so visibly a prey to the fever of
suppressed loathing, Dorsenne again was impressed by the thought of her
perfect perspicacity. It was probable that she had applied the same
force of thought to her mother's conduct. It seemed to him that on
raising, as she was doing, the wick of the silver lamp beneath the large
teakettle, that she was glancing sidewise at the terrace, where the end
of the Countess's white robe could be seen through the shadow. Suddenly
the mad thoughts which had so greatly agitated him on the previous day
possessed him again, and the plan he had formed of imitating his model,
Hamlet, in playing in Madame Steno's salon the role of the Danish prince
before his uncle occurred to him. Absently, with his customary air of
indifference, he continued:
"Rest assured, Ardea does not lack enemies. Hafner, too, has plenty of
them. Some one will be found to denounce their plot, if there is a plot,
to lovely Fanny. An anonymous letter is so quickly written."
He had no sooner uttered those words than he interrupted himself with the
start of a man who handles a weapon which he thinks unloaded and which
It was, really, to discharge a duty in the face of his own scepticism
that he had spoken thus, and he did not expect to see another shade of
sadness flit across Alba's mobile and proud face.
There was in the corners of her mouth more disgust, her eyes expressed
more scorn, while her hands, busy preparing the tea, trembled as she
said, with an accent so agitated that her friend regretted his cruel
"Ah! Do not speak of it! It would be still worse than her present
ignorance. At least, now she knows nothing, and if some miserable person
were to do as you say she would know in part without being sure....
How could you smile at such a supposition?.... No! Poor, gentle Fanny!
I hope she will receive no anonymous letters. They are so cowardly and
make so much trouble!"
"I ask your pardon if I have wounded you," replied Dorsenne. He had
touched, he felt it, a tender spot in that heart, and perceived with
grief that not only had Alba Steno not written the anonymous letters
addressed to Gorka, but that, on the contrary, she had received some
herself. From whom? Who was the mysterious denunciator who had warned
in that abominable manner the daughter of Madame Steno after the lover?
Julien shuddered as he continued: "If I smiled, it was because I believe
Mademoiselle Hafner, in case the misfortune should come to her, sensible
enough to treat such advice as it merits. An anonymous letter does not
deserve to be read. Any one infamous enough to make use of weapons of
that sort does not deserve that one should do him the honor even to
glance at what he has written."
"Is it not so?" said the girl. There was in her eyes, the pupils of
which suddenly dilated, a gleam of genuine gratitude which convinced her
companion that he had seen correctly. He had uttered just the words of
which she had need. In the face of that proof, he was suddenly
overwhelmed by an access of shame and of pity--of shame, because in his
thoughts he had insulted the unhappy girl--of pity, because she had to
suffer a blow so cruel, if, indeed, her mother had been exposed to her.
It must have been on the preceding afternoon or that very morning that
she had received the horrible letter, for, during the visit to the Palais
Castagna, she had been, by turns, gay and quiet, but so childish, while
on that particular evening it was no longer the child who suffered, but
the woman. Dorsenne resumed:
"You see, we writers are exposed to those abominations. A book which
succeeds, a piece which pleases, an article which is extolled, calls
forth from the envious unsigned letters which wound us or those whom we
love. In such cases, I repeat, I burn them unread, and if ever in your
life such come to you, listen to me, little Countess, and follow the
advice of your friend, Dorsenne, for he is your friend; you know it, do
you not, your true friend?"
"Why should I receive anonymous letters?" asked the girl, quickly. "I
have neither fame, beauty, nor wealth, and am not to be envied."
As Dorsenne looked at her, regretting that he had said so much, she
forced her sad lips to smile, and added: "If you are really my friend,
instead of making me lose time by your advice, of which I shall probably
never have need, for I shall never become a great authoress, help me to
serve the tea, will you? It should be ready." And with her slender
fingers she raised the lid of the kettle, saying: "Go and ask Madame
Maitland if she will take some tea this evening, and Fanny, too....
Ardea takes whiskey and the Baron mineral water.... You can ring for his
glass of vichy.... There.... You have delayed me.... There are more
callers and nothing is ready.... Ah," she cried, "it is Maud!"--then,
with surprise, "and her husband!"
Indeed, the folding doors of the hall opened to admit Maud Gorka, a
robust British beauty, radiant with happiness, attired in a gown of black
crepe de Chine with orange ribbons, which set off to advantage her fresh
color. Behind her came Boleslas. But he was no longer the traveller
who, thirty-six hours before, had arrived at the Place de la Trinite-des-
Monts, mad with anxiety, wild with jealousy, soiled by the dust of
travel, his hair disordered, his hands and face dirty. It was, though
somewhat thinner, the elegant Gorka whom Dorsenne had known--tall,
slender, and perfumed, in full dress, a bouquet in his buttonhole, his
lips smiling. To the novelist, knowing what he knew, the smile and the
composure had something in them more terrible than the frenzy of the day
before. He comprehended it by the manner in which the Pole gave him his
hand. One night and a day of reflection had undermined his work, and if
Boleslas had enacted the comedy to the point of lulling his wife's
suspicions and of deciding on the visit of that evening, it was because
he had resolved not to consult any one and to lead his own inquiry.
He was succeeding in the beginning; he had certainly perceived Madame
Steno's white gown upon the terrace, while radiant Maud explained his
unexpected return with her usual ingenuousness.
"This is what comes of sending to a doting father accounts of our boy's
health.... I wrote him the other day that Luc had a little fever. He
wrote to ask about its progress. I did not receive his letter. He
became uneasy, and here he is."
"I will tell mamma," said Alba, passing out upon the terrace, but her
haste seemed too slow to Dorsenne. He had such a presentiment of danger
that he did not think of smiling, as he would have done on any other
occasion, at the absolute success of the deception which he and Boleslas
had planned on the preceding day, and of which the Count had said, with a
fatuity now proven: "Maud will be so happy to see me that she will
It was a scene both simple and tragical--of that order in which in
society the most horrible incidents occur without a sound, without a
gesture, amid phrases of conventionality and in a festal framework! Two
of the spectators, at least, besides Julien, understood its importance-
Ardea and Hafner. For neither the one nor the other had failed to notice
the relations between Madame Steno and Maitland, much less her position
with regard to Gorka. The writer, the grand seigneur, and the business
man had, notwithstanding the differences of age and of position, a large
experience of analogous circumstances.
They knew of what presence of mind a courageous woman was capable, when
surprised, as was the Venetian. All these have declared since that they
had never imagined more admirable self-possession, a composure more
superbly audacious, than that displayed by Madame Steno, at that decisive
moment. She appeared on the threshold of the French window, surprised
and delighted, just in the measure she conformably should be. Her fair
complexion, which the slightest emotion tinged with carmine, was
bewitchingly pink. Not a quiver of her long lashes veiled her deep blue
eyes, which gleamed brightly. With her smile, which exhibited her lovely
teeth, the color of the large pearls which were twined about her neck,
with the emeralds in her fair hair, with her fine shoulders displayed by
the slope of her white corsage, with her delicate waist, with the
splendor of her arms from which she had removed the gloves to yield them
to the caresses of Maitland, and which gleamed with more emeralds, with
her carriage marked by a certain haughtiness, she was truly a woman of
another age, the sister of those radiant princesses whom the painters of
Venice evoke beneath the marble porticoes, among apostles and martyrs.
She advanced to Maud Gorka, whom she embraced affectionately, then,
pressing Boleslas's hand, she said in a voice so warm, in which at times
there were deep tones, softened by the habitual use of the caressing
dialect of the lagoon:
"What a surprise! And you could not come to dine with us? Well, sit
down, both of you, and relate to me the Odyssey of the traveller," and,
turning toward Maitland, who had followed her into the salon with the
insolent composure of a giant and of a lover:
"Be kind, my little Linco, and fetch me my fan and my gloves, which I
left on the couch."
At that moment Dorsenne, who had only one fear, that of meeting Gorka's
eyes--he could not have borne their glance--was again by the side of Alba
Steno. The young girl's face, just now so troubled, was radiant. It
seemed as if a great weight had been lifted from the pretty Contessina's
"Poor child," thought the writer, "she would not think her mother could
be so calm were she guilty. The Countess's manner is the reply to the
anonymous letter. Have they written all to her? My God! Who can it be?"
And he fell into a deep revery, interrupted only by the hum of the
conversation, in which he did not participate. It would have satisfied
him had he observed, instead of meditated, that the truth with regard to
the author of the anonymous letters might have become clear to him, as
clear as the courage of Madame Steno in meeting danger--as the blind
confidence of Madame Gorka--as the disdainful imperturbability of
Maitland before his rival and the suppressed rage of that rival--as the
finesse of Hafner in sustaining the general conversation--as the
assiduous attentions of Ardea to Fanny--as the emotion of the latter--
as clear as Alba's sense of relief. All those faces, on Boleslas's
entrance, had expressed different feelings. Only one had, for several
minutes, expressed the joy of crime and the avidity of ultimately
satisfied hatred. But as it was that of little Madame Maitland, the
silent creature, considered so constantly by him as stupid and
insignificant, Dorsenne had not paid more attention to it than had the
other witnesses the surprising reappearance of the betrayed lover.
Every country has a metaphor to express the idea that there is no worse
water than that which is stagnant. Still waters run deep, say the
English, and the Italians, Still waters ruin bridges.
These adages would not be accurate if one did not forget them in
practise, and the professional analyst of the feminine heart had entirely
forgotten them on that evening.
A woman less courageous than the Countess, less capable of looking a
situation in the face and of advancing to it, such an evening would have
marked the prelude to one of those nights of insomnia when the mind
exhausts in advance all the agonies of probable danger. Countess Steno
did not know what weakness and fear were.
A creature of energy and of action, who felt herself to be above all
danger, she attached no meaning to the word uneasiness. So she slept,
on the night which followed that soiree, a sleep as profound,
as refreshing, as if Gorka had never returned with vengeance in his
heart, with threats in his eyes. Toward ten o'clock the following
morning, she was in the tiny salon, or rather, the office adjoining her
bedroom, examining several accounts brought by one of her men of
business. Rising at seven o'clock, according to her custom, she had
taken the cold bath in which, in summer as well as winter, she daily
quickened her blood. She had breakfasted, 'a l'anglaise', following the
rule to which she claimed to owe the preservation of her digestion, upon
eggs, cold meat, and tea. She had made her complicated toilette, had
visited her daughter to ascertain how she had slept, had written five
letters, for her cosmopolitan salon compelled her to carry on an immense
correspondence, which radiated between Cairo and New York,
St. Petersburg and Bombay, taking in Munich, London, and Madeira,
and she was as faithful in friendship as she was inconstant in love.
Her large handwriting, so elegant in its composition, had covered pages
and pages before she said: "I have a rendezvous at eleven o'clock with
Maitland. Ardea will be here at ten to talk of his marriage. I have
accounts from Finoli to examine. I hope that Gorka will not come, too,
this morning.".... Persons in whom the feeling of love is very complete,
but very physical, are thus. They give themselves and take themselves
back altogether. The Countess experienced no more pity than fear in
thinking of her betrayed lover. She had determined to say to him, "I no
longer love you," frankly, openly, and to offer him his choice between a
final rupture or a firm friendship.
The only annoyance depended upon the word of explanation, which she
desired to see postponed until afternoon, when she would be free,
an annoyance which, however, did not prevent her from examining with her
usual accuracy the additions and multiplications of her intendant,
who stood near her with a face such as Bonifagio gave to his Pharisees.
He managed the seven hundred hectares of Piove, near Padua, Madame
Steno's favorite estate. She had increased the revenue from it tenfold,
by the draining of a sterile and often malignant lagoon, which, situated
a metre below the water-level, had proved of surprising fertility; and
she calculated the probable operations for weeks in advance with the
detailed and precise knowledge of rural cultivation which is the
characteristic of the Italian aristocracy and the permanent cause of its
"Then you estimate the gain from the silkworms at about fifty kilos of
cocoons to an ounce?"
"Yes, Excellency," replied the intendant.
"One hundred ounces of yellow; one hundred times fifty makes five
thousand," resumed the Countess. "At four francs fifty?"
"Perhaps five, Excellency," said the intendant.
"Let us say twenty-two thousand five hundred," said the Countess, "and as
much for the Japanese.... That will bring us in our outlay for
"Yes, Excellency. And about the wine?"
"I am of the opinion, after what you have told me of the vineyard, that
you should sell as quickly as possible to Kauffmann's agent all that
remains of the last crop, but not at less than six francs. You know it
is necessary that our casks be emptied and cleaned after the month of
August.... If we were to fail this time, for the first year that we
manufacture our wine with the new machine, it would be too bad."
"Yes, Excellency. And the horses?"
"I think that is an opportunity we should not let escape. My advice is
that you take the express to Florence to-day at two o'clock. You will
reach Verona to-morrow morning. You will conclude the bargain. The
horses will be sent to Piove the same evening....
We have finished just in time," she continued, arranging the intendant's
papers. She put them herself in their envelope, which she gave him.
She had an extremely delicate sense of hearing, and she knew that the
door of the antechamber opened. It seemed that the administrator took
away in his portfolio all the preoccupation of this extraordinary woman.
For, after concluding that dry conversation, or rather that monologue,
she had her clearest and brightest smile with which to receive the new
arrival, who was, fortunately, Prince d'Ardea. She said to the servant:
"I wish to speak with the Prince. If any one asks for me, do not admit
him and do not send any one hither. Bring me the card." Then, turning
toward the young man, "Well, Simpaticone," it was the nickname she gave
him, "how did you finish your evening?"
"You would not believe me," replied Peppino Ardea, laughing; "I, who no
longer have anything, not even my bed. I went to the club and I
played.... For the first time in my life I won."
He was so gay in relating his childish prank, he jested so merrily about
his ruin, that the Countess looked at him in surprise, as he had looked
at her on entering.... We understand ourselves so little, and we know so
little about our own singularities of character, that each one was
surprised at finding the other so calm. Ardea could not comprehend that
Madame Steno should not be at least uneasy about Gorka's return and the
consequences which might result therefrom. She, on the other hand,
admired the strange youth who, in his misfortune, could find such
joviality at his command. He had evidently expended as much care upon
his toilette as if he had not to take some immediate steps to assure his
future, and his waistcoat, the color of his shirt, his cravat, his yellow
shoes, the flower in his buttonhole, all united to make of him an amiable
and incorrigibly frivolous dandy. She felt the need which strong
characters have in the presence of weak ones; that of acting for the
youth, of aiding him in spite of himself, and she attacked at once the
question of marriage with Fanny Hafner. With her usual common-sense,
and with her instinct of arranging everything, Madame Steno perceived in
the union so many advantages for every one that she was in haste to
conclude it as quickly as if it involved a personal affair.
The marriage was earnestly desired by the Baron, who had spoken of it to
her for months. It suited Fanny, who would be converted to Catholicism
with the consent of her father. It suited the Prince, who at one stroke
would be freed from his embarrassment. Finally, it suited the name of
Castagna. Although Peppino was its only representative at that time,
and as, by an old family tradition, he bore a title different from the
patronymic title of Pope Urban VII, the sale of the celebrated palace had
called forth a scandal to which it was essential to put an end. The
Countess had forgotten that she had assisted, without a protestation,
in that sale. Had she not known through Hafner that he had bought at a
low price an enormous heap of the Prince's bills of exchange? Did she
not know the Baron well enough to be sure that M. Noe Ancona, the
implacable creditor who sold the palace, was only the catspaw of this
terrible friend? In a fit of ill-humor at the Baron, had she not herself
accused him in Alba's presence of this very simple plan, to bring Ardea
to a final catastrophe in order to offer him salvation in the form of the
union with Fanny, and to execute at the same time an excellent operation?
For, once freed from the mortgages which burdened them, the Prince's
lands and buildings would regain their true value, and the imprudent
speculator would find himself again as rich, perhaps richer.
"Come," said Madame Steno to the Prince, after a moment's silence and
without any preamble, "it is now time to talk business. You dined by the
side of my little friend yesterday; you had the entire evening in which
to study her. Answer me frankly, would she not make the prettiest little
Roman princess who could kneel in her wedding-gown at the tomb of the
apostles? Can you not see her in her white gown, under her veil,
alighting at the staircase of Saint Peter's from the carriage with the
superb horses which her father has given her? Close your eyes and see
her in your thoughts. Would she not be pretty? Would she not?"
"Very pretty," replied Ardea, smiling at the tempting vision Madame
Steno had conjured up, "but she is not fair. And you know, to me, a
woman who is not fair--ah, Countess! What a pity that in Venice, five
years ago, on a certain evening--do you remember?"
"How much like you that is!" interrupted she, laughing her deep, clear
laugh. "You came to see me this morning to talk to me of a marriage,
unhoped for with your reputation of gamester, of supper-giver,
of 'mauvais sujet'; of a marriage which fulfils conditions most
improbable, so perfect are they--beauty, youth, intelligence, fortune,
and even, if I have read my little friend aright, the beginning of an
interest, of a very deep interest. And, for a little, you would make a
declaration to me. Come, come!" and she extended to him for a kiss her
beautiful hand, on which gleamed large emeralds. "You are forgiven. But
answer--yes or no. Shall I make the proposal? If it is yes, I will go
to the Palace Savorelli at two o'clock. I will speak to my friend
Hafner. He will speak to his daughter, and it will not depend upon me
if you have not their reply this evening or to-morrow morning. Is it
yes? Is it no?"
"This evening? To-morrow?" exclaimed the Prince, shaking his head with
a most comical gesture. "I can not decide like that. It is an ambush!
I come to talk, to consult you."
"And on what?" asked Madame Steno, with a vivacity almost impatient.
"Can I tell you anything you do not already know? In twenty-four hours,
in forty-eight, in six months, what difference will there be, I pray you?
We must look at things as they are, however. To-morrow, the day after,
the following days, will you be less embarrassed?"
"No," said the Prince, "but--"
"There is no but," she resumed, allowing him to say no more than she had
allowed her intendant. The despotism natural to puissant personalities
scorned to be disguised in her, when there were practical decisions in
which she was to take part. "The only serious objection you made to me
when I spoke to you of this marriage six months ago was that Fanny was
not a Catholic. I know today that she has only to be asked to be
converted. So do not let us speak of that."
"No," said the Prince, "but--"
"As for Hafner," continued the Countess, "you will say he is my friend
and that I am partial, but that partiality even is an opinion. He is
precisely the father-in-law you need. Do not shake your head. He will
repair all that needs repairing in your fortune. You have been robbed,
my poor Peppino. You told me so yourself.... Become the Baron's son-in-
law, and you will have news of your robbers. I know.... There is the
Baron's origin and the suit of ten years ago with all the 'pettogolezzi'
to which it gave rise. All that has not the common meaning. The Baron
began life in a small way. He was from a family of Jewish origin--you
see, I do not deceive you--but converted two generations back, so that
the story of his change of religion since his stay in Italy is a calumny,
like the rest. He had a suit in which he was acquitted. You would not
require more than the law, would you?"
"For what are you waiting, then?" concluded Madame Steno. "That it may
be too late? How about your lands?"
"Ah! let me breathe, let me fan myself," said Ardea, who, indeed, took
one of the Countess's fans from the desk. "I, who have never known in
the morning what I would do in the evening, I, who have always lived
according to my pleasure, you ask me to take in five minutes the
resolution to bind myself forever!"
"I ask you to decide what you wish to do," returned the Countess. "It is
very amusing to travel at one's pleasure. But when it is a question of
arranging one's life, this childishness is too absurd. I know of only
one way: to see one's aim and to march directly to it. Yours is very
clear--to get out of this dilemma. The way is not less clear; it is
marriage with a girl who has five millions dowry. Yes or no, will you
have her?.... Ah," said she, suddenly interrupting herself, "I shall not
have a moment to myself this morning, and I have an appointment at eleven
o'clock!".... She looked at the timepiece on her table, which indicated
twenty-five minutes past ten. She had heard the door open. The footman
was already before her and presented to her a card upon a salver. She
took the card, looked at it, frowned, glanced again at the clock, seemed
to hesitate, then: "Let him wait in the small salon, and say that I will
be there immediately," said she, and turning again toward Ardea: "You
think you have escaped. You have not. I do not give you permission to
go before I return. I shall return in fifteen minutes. Would you like
some newspapers? There are some. Books? There are some. Tobacco?
This box is filled with cigars.... In a quarter of an hour I shall be
here and I will have your reply. I wish it, do you hear? I wish it"....
And on the threshold with another smile, using that time a term of patois
common in Northern Italy and which is only a corruption of 'schiavo' or
servant: 'Ciao Simpaticone.'
"What a woman!" said Peppino Ardea, when the door was closed upon the
Countess. "Yes, what a pity that five years ago in Venice I was not
free! Who knows? If I had dared, when she took me to my hotel in her
gondola. She was about to leave San Giobbe. She had not yet accepted
Boleslas. She would have advised--have directed me. I should have
speculated on the Bourse, as she did, with Hafner's counsel. But not in
the quality of son-in-law. I should not have been obliged to marry. And
she would not now have such bad tobacco.".... He was on the point of
lighting one of the Virginian cigarettes, a present from Maitland. He
threw it away, making a grimace with his air of a spoiled child, at the
risk of scorching the rug which lay upon the marble floor; and he passed
into the antechamber in order to fetch his own case in the pocket of the
light overcoat he had prudently taken on coming out after eight o'clock.
As he lighted one of the cigarettes in that case, filled with so-called
Egyptian tobacco, mixed with opium and saltpetre, which he preferred to
the tobacco of the American, he mechanically glanced at the card which
the servant had left on going from the room-the card of the unknown
visitor for whom Madame Steno had left him.
Ardea read upon it, with astonishment, these words:
Count Boleslas Gorka.
"She is better than I thought her," said he, on reentering the deserted
office. "She had no need to bid me not to go. I think I should wait to
see her return from that conversation."
It was indeed Boleslas whom the Countess found in the salon, which she
had chosen as the room the most convenient for the stormy explanation
she anticipated. It was isolated at the end of the hall, and was like
a pendant to the terrace. It formed, with the dining-room, the entire
ground-floor, or, rather, the entresol of the house. Madame Steno's
apartments, as well as the other small salon in which Peppino was, were
on the first floor, together with the rooms set apart for the Contessina
and her German governess, Fraulein Weber, for the time being on a
The Countess had not been mistaken. At the first glance exchanged on the
preceding day with Gorka, she had divined that he knew all. She would
have suspected it, nevertheless, since Hafner had told her the few words
indiscreetly uttered by Dorsenne on the clandestine return of the Pole to
Rome. She had not at that time been mistaken in Boleslas's intentions,
and she had no sooner looked in his face than she felt herself to be in
peril. When a man has been the lover of a woman as that man had been
hers, with the vibrating communion of a voluptuousness unbroken for two
years, that woman maintains a sort of physiological, quasi-animal
instinct. A gesture, the accent of a word, a sigh, a blush, a pallor,
are signs for her that her intuition interprets with infallible
certainty. How and why is that instinct accompanied by absolute oblivion
of former caresses? It is a particular case of that insoluble and
melancholy problem of the birth and death of love. Madame Steno had no
taste for reflection of that order. Like all vigorous and simple
creatures, she acknowledged and accepted it. As on the previous day,
she became aware that the presence of her former lover no longer touched
in her being the chord which had rendered her so weak to him during
twenty-five months, so indulgent to his slightest caprices. It left her
as cold as the marble of the bas-relief by Mino da Fiesole fitted into
the wall just above the high chair upon which he leaned.
Boleslas, notwithstanding the paroxysm of lucid fury which he suffered at
that moment, and which rendered him capable of the worst violence, had on
his part a knowledge of the complete insensibility in which his presence
left her. He had seen her so often, in the course of their long liaison,
arrive at their morning rendezvous at that hour, in similar toilettes,
so fresh, so supple, so youthful in her maturity, so eager for kisses,
tender and ardent. She had now in her blue eyes, in her smile, in her
entire person, some thing at once so gracious and so inaccessible, which
gives to an abandoned lover the mad longing to strike, to murder, a woman
who smiles at him with such a smile. At the same time she was so
beautiful in the morning light, subdued by the lowered blinds, that she
inspired him with an equal desire to clasp her in his arms whether she
would or no. He had recognized, when she entered the room, the aroma of
a preparation which she had used in her bath, and that trifle alone had
aroused his passion far more than when the servant told him Madame Steno
was engaged, and he wondered whether she was not alone with Maitland.
Those impassioned, but suppressed, feelings trembled in the accent of the
very simple phrase with which he greeted her. At certain moments, words
are nothing; it is the tone in which they are uttered. And to the
Countess that of the young man was terrible.
"I am disturbing you?" he asked, bowing and barely touching with the
tips of his fingers the hand she had extended to him on entering.
"Excuse me, I thought you alone. Will you be pleased to name another
time for the conversation which I take the liberty of demanding?"
"No, no," she replied, not permitting him to finish his sentence. "I was
with Peppino Ardea, who will await me," said she, gently. "Moreover, you
know I am in all things for the immediate. When one has something to
say, it should be said, one, two, three?.... First, there is not much to
say, and then it is better said.... There is nothing that will sooner
render difficult easy explanations and embroil the best of friends than
delay and maintaining silence."
"I am very happy to find you in such a mind," replied Boleslas, with a
sarcasm which distorted his handsome face into a smile of atrocious
hatred. The good-nature displayed by her cut him to the heart, and he
continued, already less self-possessed: "It is indeed an explanation
which I think I have the right to ask of you, and which I have come to
"To claim, my dear?" said the Countess, looking him fixedly in the face
without lowering her proud eyes, in which those imperative words had
kindled a flame.
If she had been admirable the preceding evening in facing as she had done
the return of her discarded lover, on coming direct from the tete-a-tete
with her new one, perhaps, at that moment, she was doubly so, when she
did not have her group of intimate friends to support her. She was not
sure that the madman who confronted her was not armed, and she believed
him perfectly capable of killing her, while she could not defend herself.
But a part had to be played sooner or later, and she played it without
flinching. She had not spoken an untruth in saying to Peppino Ardea:
"I know only one way: to see one's aim and to march directly to it." She
wanted a definitive rupture with Boleslas. Why should she hesitate as to
She was silent, seeking for words. He continued:
"Will you permit me to go back three months, although that is, it seems,
a long space of time for a woman's memory? I do not know whether you
recall our last meeting? Pardon, I meant to say the last but one, since
we met last night. Do you concede that the manner in which we parted
then did not presage the manner in which we met?"
"I concede it," said the Countess, with a gleam of angry pride in her
eyes, "although I do not very much like your style of expression. It is
the second time you have addressed me as an accuser, and if you assume
that attitude it will be useless to continue."
"Catherine!".... That cry of the young man, whose anger was increasing,
decided her whom he thus addressed to precipitate the issue of a
conversation in which each reply was to be a fresh burst of rancor.
"Well?" she inquired, crossing her arms in a manner so imperious that
he paused in his menace, and she continued: "Listen, Boleslas, we have
talked ten minutes without saying anything, because neither of us has the
courage to put the question such as we know and feel it to be. Instead
of writing to me, as you did, letters which rendered replies impossible
to me; instead of returning to Rome and hiding yourself like a
malefactor; instead of coming to my home last night with that threatening
face; instead of approaching me this morning with the solemnity of a
judge, why did you not question me simply, frankly, as one who knows that
I have loved him very, very much?.... Having been lovers, is that a
reason for detesting each other when we cease those relations?"
"'When we cease those relations!'" replied Gorka. "So you no longer love
me? Ah, I knew it; I guessed it after the first week of that fatal
absence! But to think that you should tell it to me some day like that,
in that calm voice which is a horrible blasphemy for our entire past.
No, I do not believe it. I do not yet believe it. Ah, it is too
"Why?" interrupted the Countess, raising her head with still more
haughtiness.... "There is only one thing infamous in love, and that is
a falsehood. Ah, I know it. You men are not accustomed to meeting true
women, who have the respect, the religion of their sentiment. I have
that respect; I practise that religion. I repeat that I loved you a
great deal, Boleslas. I did not hide it from you formerly. I was as
loyal to you as truth itself. I have the consciousness of being so
still, in offering you, as I do, a firm friendship, the friendship of man
for man, who only asks to prove to you the sincerity of his devotion."
"I, a friendship with you, I--I--I?" exclaimed Boleslas. "Have I had
enough patience in listening to you as I have listened? I heard you lie
to me and scented the lie in the same breath. Why do you not ask me as
well to form a friendship for him with whom you have replaced me? Ah, so
you think I am blind, and you fancy I did not see that Maitland near you,
and that I did not know at the first glance what part he was playing in
your life? You did not think I might have good reasons for returning as
I did? You did not know that one does not dally with one whom one loves
as I love you?.... It is not true.... You have not been loyal to me,
since you took this man for a lover while you were still my mistress.
You had not the right, no, no, no, you had not the right!.... And what
a man!.... If it had been Ardea, Dorsenne, no matter whom, that I might
not blush for you.... But that brute, that idiot, who has nothing in his
favor, neither good looks, birth, elegance, mind nor talent, for he has
none--he has nothing but his neck and shoulders of a bull.... It is as
if you had deceived me with a lackey.... No..... it is too terrible....
Ah, Catherine, swear to me that it is not true. Tell me that you no
longer love me, I will submit, I will go away, I will accept all,
provided that you swear to me you do not love that man--swear, swear!"...
he added, grasping her hands with such violence that she uttered a slight
exclamation, and, disengaging herself, said to him:
"Cease; you pain me. You are mad, Gorka; that can be your sole
excuse.... I have nothing to swear to you. What I feel, what I think,
what I do no longer concerns you after what I have told you.... Believe
what it pleases you to believe.... But," and the irritation of an
enamored woman, wounded in the man she adores, possessed her, "you shall
not speak twice of one of my friends as you have just spoken. You have
deeply offended me, and I will not pardon you. In place of the
friendship I offered you so honestly, we will have no further connections
excepting those of society. That is what you desired.... Try not to
render them impossible to yourself. Be correct at least in form.
Remember you have a wife, I have a daughter, and that we owe it to them
to spare them the knowledge of this unhappy rupture.... God is my
witness, I wished to have it otherwise."
"My wife! Your daughter!" cried Boleslas with bitterness. "This is
indeed the hour to remember them and to put them between you and my just
vengeance! They never troubled you formerly, the two poor creatures,
when you began to win my love?.... It was convenient for you that they
should be friends! And I lent myself to it!.... I accepted such
baseness--that to-day you might take shelter behind the two innocents!...
No, it shall not be.... you shall not escape me thus. Since it is the
only point on which I can strike you, I will strike you there. I hold
you by that means, do you hear, and I will keep you. Either you dismiss
that man, or I will no longer respect anything. My wife shall know all!
Her! So much the better! For some time I have been stifled by my
lies.... Your daughter, too, shall know all. She shall judge you now as
she would judge you one day."
As he spoke he advanced to her with a manner so cruel that she recoiled.
A few more moments and the man would have carried out his threat.
He was about to strike her, to break objects around him, to call forth
a terrible scandal. She had the presence of mind of an audacity more
courageous still. An electric bell was near at hand. She pressed it,
while Gorka said to her, with a scornful laugh, "That was the only
affront left you to offer me--to summon your servants to defend you."
"You are mistaken," she replied. "I am not afraid. I repeat you are
mad, and I simply wish to prove it to you by recalling you to the reality
of your situation.... Bid Mademoiselle Alba come down," said she to the
footman whom her ring had summoned. That phrase was the drop of cold
water which suddenly broke the furious jet of vapor. She had found the
only means of putting an end to the terrible scene. For, notwithstanding
his menace, she knew that Maud's husband always recoiled before the young
girl, the friend of his wife, of whose delicacy and sensibility he was
Gorka was capable of the most dangerous and most cruel deeds, in an
excess of passion augmented by vanity.
He had in him a chivalrous element which would paralyze his frenzy before
Alba. As for the immorality of that combination of defence which
involved her daughter in her rupture with a vindictive lover, the
Countess did not think of that. She often said: "She is my comrade, she
is my friend.".... And she thought so. To lean upon her in that
critical moment was only natural to her. In the tempest of indignation
which shook Gorka, the sudden appeal to innocent Alba appeared to him the
last degree of cynicism. During the short space of time which elapsed
between the departure of the footman and the arrival of the young girl,
he only uttered these words, repeating them as he paced the floor, while
his former mistress defied him with her bold gaze:
"I scorn you, I scorn you; ah, how I scorn you!" Then, when he heard the
door open: "We will resume our conversation, Madame."
"When you wish," replied Countess Steno, and to her daughter, who
entered, she said: "You know the carriage is to come at ten minutes to
eleven, and it is now the quarter. Are you ready?"
"You can see," replied the young girl, displaying her pearl-gray gloves,
which she was just buttoning, while on her head a large hat of black
tulle made a dark and transparent aureole around her fair head. Her
delicate bust was displayed to advantage in the corsage Maitland had
chosen for her portrait, a sort of cuirass of a dark-blue material,
finished at the neck and wrists with bands of velvet of a darker shade.
The fine lines of cuffs and a collar gave to that pure face a grace of
youth younger than her age.
She had evidently come at her mother's call, with the haste and the smile
of that age. Then, to see Gorka's expression and the feverish brilliance
of the Countess's eyes had given her what she called, in an odd but very
appropriate way, the sensation of "a needle in the heart," of a sharp,
fine point, which entered her breast to the left. She had slept a sleep
so profound, after the soiree of the day before, on which she had thought
she perceived in her mother's attitude between the Polish count and the
American painter a proof of certain innocence.
She admired her mother so much, she thought her so intelligent, so
beautiful, so good, that to doubt her was a thought not to be borne!
There were times when she doubted her. A terrible conversation about the
Countess, overheard in a ballroom, a conversation between two men, who
did not know Alba to be behind them, had formed the principal part of the
doubt, which, by turns, had increased and diminished, which had abandoned
and tortured her, according to the signs, as little decisive as Madame
Steno's tranquillity of the preceding day or her confusion that morning.
It was only an impression, very rapid, instantaneous, the prick of a
needle, which merely leaves after it a drop of blood, and yet she had a
smile with which to say to Boleslas:
"How did Maud rest? How is she this morning? And my little friend Luc?"
"They are very well," replied Gorka. The last stage of his fury,
suddenly arrested by the presence of the young girl, was manifested, but
only to the Countess, by the simple phrase to which his eyes and his
voice lent an extreme bitterness: "I found them as I left them.... Ah!
They love me dearly.... I leave you to Peppino, Countess," added he,
walking toward the door. "Mademoiselle, I will bear your love to Maud."
....He had regained all the courtesy which a long line of savage 'grands
seigneurs', but 'grands seigneurs' nevertheless, had instilled in him.
If his bow to Madame Steno was very ceremonious, he put a special grace
in the low bow with which he took leave of the Contessina. It was merely
a trifle, but the Countess was keen enough to perceive it. She was
touched by it, she whom despair, fury, and threats had found so
impassive. For an instant she was vaguely humiliated by the success
which she had gained over the man whom she would, voluntarily, five
minutes before, have had cast out of doors by her servants. She was
silent, oblivious even of her daughter's presence, until the latter
recalled her to herself by saying:
"Shall I put on my veil and fetch my parasol?"
"You can join me in the office, whither I am going to talk with Ardea,"
replied her mother; adding, "I shall perhaps have some news to tell you
in the carriage which will give you pleasure!".... She had again her
bright smile, and she did not mistrust while she resumed her conversation
with Peppino that poor Alba, on reentering her chamber, wiped from her