Part 1 out of 6
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
MONSIEUR DE CAMORS
By OCTAVE FEUILLET
With a Preface by MAXIME DU CAMP, of the French Academy
OCTAVE FEUILLET'S works abound with rare qualities, forming a harmonious
ensemble; they also exhibit great observation and knowledge of humanity,
and through all of them runs an incomparable and distinctive charm. He
will always be considered the leader of the idealistic school in the
nineteenth century. It is now fifteen years since his death, and the
judgment of posterity is that he had a great imagination, linked to great
analytical power and insight; that his style is neat, pure, and fine, and
at the same time brilliant and concise. He unites suppleness with force,
he combines grace with vigor.
Octave Feuillet was born at Saint-Lo (Manche), August 11, 1821, his
father occupying the post of Secretary-General of the Prefecture de la
Manche. Pupil at the Lycee Louis le Grand, he received many prizes, and
was entered for the law. But he became early attracted to literature,
and like many of the writers at that period attached himself to the
"romantic school." He collaborated with Alexander Dumas pere and with
Paul Bocage. It can not now be ascertained what share Feuillet may have
had in any of the countless tales of the elder Dumas. Under his own name
he published the novels 'Onesta' and 'Alix', in 1846, his first romances.
He then commenced writing for the stage. We mention 'Echec et Mat'
(Odeon, 1846); 'Palma, ou la Nuit du Vendredi-Saint' (Porte St. Martin,
1847); 'La Vieillesse de Richelieu' (Theatre Francais, 1848); 'York'
(Palais Royal, 1852). Some of them are written in collaboration with
Paul Bocage. They are dramas of the Dumas type, conventional, not
without cleverness, but making no lasting mark.
Realizing this, Feuillet halted, pondered, abruptly changed front, and
began to follow in the footsteps of Alfred de Musset. 'La Grise' (1854),
'Le Village' (1856), 'Dalila' (1857), 'Le Cheveu Blanc', and other plays
obtained great success, partly in the Gymnase, partly in the Comedie
Francaise. In these works Feuillet revealed himself as an analyst of
feminine character, as one who had spied out all their secrets, and could
pour balm on all their wounds. 'Le Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre'
(Vaudeville, 1858) is probably the best known of all his later dramas;
it was, of course, adapted for the stage from his romance, and is well
known to the American public through Lester Wallack and Pierrepont
Edwards. 'Tentation' was produced in the year 1860, also well known in
this country under the title 'Led Astray'; then followed 'Montjoye'
(1863), etc. The influence of Alfred de Musset is henceforth less
perceptible. Feuillet now became a follower of Dumas fils, especially so
in 'La Belle au Bois Dormant' (Vaudeville, 1865); 'Le Cas de Conscience
(Theatre Francais, 1867); 'Julie' (Theatre Francais 1869). These met
with success, and are still in the repertoire of the Comedie Francaise.
As a romancer, Feuillet occupies a high place. For thirty years he was
the representative of a noble and tender genre, and was preeminently the
favorite novelist of the brilliant society of the Second Empire. Women
literally devoured him, and his feminine public has always remained
faithful to him. He is the advocate of morality and of the aristocracy
of birth and feeling, though under this disguise he involves his heroes
and heroines in highly romantic complications, whose outcome is often for
a time in doubt. Yet as the accredited painter of the Faubourg Saint-
Germain he contributed an essential element to the development of
realistic fiction. No one has rendered so well as he the high-strung,
neuropathic women of the upper class, who neither understand themselves
nor are wholly comprehensible to others. In 'Monsieur de Camors',
crowned by the Academy, he has yielded to the demands of a stricter
realism. Especially after the fall of the Empire had removed a powerful
motive for gilding the vices of aristocratic society, he painted its hard
and selfish qualities as none of his contemporaries could have done.
Octave Feuillet was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1862 to succeed
Scribe. He died December 29, 1890.
MAXIME DU CAMP
de l'Acadamie Francaise.
MONSIEUR DE CAMORS
"THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH"
Near eleven o'clock, one evening in the month of May, a man about fifty
years of age, well formed, and of noble carriage, stepped from a coupe in
the courtyard of a small hotel in the Rue Barbet-de-Jouy. He ascended,
with the walk of a master, the steps leading to the entrance, to the hall
where several servants awaited him. One of them followed him into an
elegant study on the first floor, which communicated with a handsome
bedroom, separated from it by a curtained arch. The valet arranged the
fire, raised the lamps in both rooms, and was about to retire, when his
"Has my son returned home?"
"No, Monsieur le Comte. Monsieur is not ill?"
"Because Monsieur le Comte is so pale."
"Ah! It is only a slight cold I have taken this evening on the banks of
"Will Monsieur require anything?"
"Nothing," replied the Count briefly, and the servant retired. Left
alone, his master approached a cabinet curiously carved in the Italian
style, and took from it a long flat ebony box.
This contained two pistols. He loaded them with great care, adjusting
the caps by pressing them lightly to the nipple with his thumb. That
done, he lighted a cigar, and for half an hour the muffled beat of his
regular tread sounded on the carpet of the gallery. He finished his
cigar, paused a moment in deep thought, and then entered the adjoining
room, taking the pistols with him.
This room, like the other, was furnished in a style of severe elegance,
relieved by tasteful ornament. It showed some pictures by famous
masters, statues, bronzes, and rare carvings in ivory. The Count threw a
glance of singular interest round the interior of this chamber, which was
his own--on the familiar objects--on the sombre hangings--on the bed,
prepared for sleep. Then he turned toward a table, placed in a recess of
the window, laid the pistols upon it, and dropping his head in his hands,
meditated deeply many minutes. Suddenly he raised his head, and wrote
rapidly as follows:
"TO MY SON:
"Life wearies me, my son, and I shall relinquish it. The true
superiority of man over the inert or passive creatures that surround
him, lies in his power to free himself, at will, from those,
pernicious servitudes which are termed the laws of nature. Man,
if he will it, need not grow old: the lion must. Reflect, my son,
upon this text, for all human power lies in it.
"Science asserts and demonstrates it. Man, intelligent and free,
is an animal wholly unpremeditated upon this planet. Produced by
unexpected combinations and haphazard transformations, in the midst
of a general subordination of matter, he figures as a dissonance and
"Nature has engendered without having conceived him. The result is
as if a turkey-hen had unconsciously hatched the egg of an eagle.
Terrified at the monster, she has sought to control it, and has
overloaded it with instincts, commonly called duties, and police
regulations known as religion. Each one of these shackles broken,
each one of these servitudes overthrown, marks a step toward the
thorough emancipation of humanity.
"I must say to you, however, that I die in the faith of my century,
believing in matter uncreated, all-powerful, and eternal--the Nature
of the ancients. There have been in all ages philosophers who have
had conceptions of the truth. But ripe to-day, it has become the
common property of all who are strong enough to stand it--for, in
sooth, this latest religion of humanity is food fit only for the
strong. It carries sadness with it, for it isolates man; but it
also involves grandeur, making man absolutely free, or, as it were,
a very god. It leaves him no actual duties except to himself, and
it opens a superb field to one of brain and courage.
"The masses still remain, and must ever remain, submissive under the
yoke of old, dead religions, and under the tyranny of instincts.
There will still be seen very much the same condition of things as
at present in Paris; a society the brain of which is atheistic, and
the heart religious. And at bottom there will be no more belief in
Christ than in Jupiter; nevertheless, churches will continue to be
built mechanically. There are no longer even Deists; for the old
chimera of a personal, moral God-witness, sanction, and judge,--is
virtually extinct; and yet hardly a word is said, or a line written,
or a gesture made, in public or private life, which does not ever
affirm that chimera. This may have its uses perchance, but it is
nevertheless despicable. Slip forth from the common herd, my son,
think for yourself, and write your own catechism upon a virgin page.
"As for myself, my life has been a failure, because I was born many
years too soon. As yet the earth and the heavens were heaped up and
cumbered with ruins, and people did not see. Science, moreover, was
relatively still in its infancy. And, besides, I retained the
prejudices and the repugnance to the doctrines of the new world that
belonged to my name. I was unable to comprehend that there was
anything better to be done than childishly to pout at the conqueror;
that is, I could not recognize that his weapons were good, and that
I should seize and destroy him with them. In short, for want of a
definite principle of action I have drifted at random, my life
without plan--I have been a mere trivial man of pleasure.
"Your life shall be more complete, if you will only follow my
"What, indeed, may not a man of this age become if he have the good
sense and energy to conform his life rigidly to his belief!
"I merely state the question, you must solve it; I can leave you
only some cursory ideas, which I am satisfied are just, and upon
which you may meditate at your leisure. Only for fools or the weak
does materialism become a debasing dogma; assuredly, in its code
there are none of those precepts of ordinary morals which our
fathers entitled virtue; but I do find there a grand word which may
well counterbalance many others, that is to say, Honor, self-esteem!
Unquestionably a materialist may not be a saint; but he can be a
gentleman, which is something. You have happy gifts, my son, and I
know of but one duty that you have in the world--that of developing
those gifts to the utmost, and through them to enjoy life
unsparingly. Therefore, without scruple, use woman for your
pleasure, man for your advancement; but under no circumstances do
"In order that ennui shall not drive you, like myself, prematurely
from the world so soon as the season for pleasure shall have ended,
you should leave the emotions of ambition and of public life for the
gratification of your riper age. Do not enter into any engagements
with the reigning government, and reserve for yourself to hear its
eulogium made by those who will have subverted it. That is the
French fashion. Each generation must have its own prey. You will
soon feel the impulse of the coming generation. Prepare yourself,
from afar, to take the lead in it.
"In politics, my son, you are not ignorant that we all take our
principles from our temperament. The bilious are demagogues, the
sanguine, democrats, the nervous, aristocrats. You are both
sanguine and nervous, an excellent constitution, for it gives you a
choice. You may, for example, be an aristocrat in regard to
yourself personally, and, at the same time, a democrat in relation
to others; and in that you will not be exceptional.
"Make yourself master of every question likely to interest your
contemporaries, but do not become absorbed in any yourself. In
reality, all principles are indifferent--true or false according to
the hour and circumstance. Ideas are mere instruments with which
you should learn to play seasonably, so as to sway men. In that
path, likewise, you will have associates.
"Know, my son, that having attained my age, weary of all else, you
will have need of strong sensations. The sanguinary diversions of
revolution will then be for you the same as a love-affair at twenty.
"But I am fatigued, my son, and shall recapitulate. To be loved by
women, to be feared by men, to be as impassive and as imperturbable
as a god before the tears of the one and the blood of the other, and
to end in a whirlwind--such has been the lot in which I have failed,
but which, nevertheless, I bequeath to you. With your great
faculties you, however, are capable of accomplishing it, unless
indeed you should fail through some ingrained weakness of the heart
that I have noticed in you, and which, doubtless, you have imbibed
with your mother's milk.
"So long as man shall be born of woman, there will be something
faulty and incomplete in his character. In fine, strive to relieve
yourself from all thraldom, from all natural instincts, affections,
and sympathies as from so many fetters upon your liberty, your
"Do not marry unless some superior interest shall impel you to do
so. In that event, have no children.
"Have no intimate friends. Caesar having grown old, had a friend.
It was Brutus!
"Contempt for men is the beginning of wisdom.
"Change somewhat your style of fencing, it is altogether too open,
my son. Do not get angry. Rarely laugh, and never weep. Adieu.
The feeble rays of dawn had passed through the slats of the blinds.
The matin birds began their song in the chestnut-tree near the window.
M. de Camors raised his head and listened in an absent mood to the sound
which astonished him. Seeing that it was daybreak, he folded in some
haste the pages he had just finished, pressed his seal upon the envelope,
and addressed it, "For the Comte Louis de Camors." Then he rose.
M. de Camors was a great lover of art, and had carefully preserved a
magnificent ivory carving of the sixteenth century, which had belonged to
his wife. It was a Christ the pallid white relieved by a medallion of
His eye, meeting this pale, sad image, was attracted to it for a moment
with strange fascination. Then he smiled bitterly, seized one of the
pistols with a firm hand and pressed it to his temple.
A shot resounded through the house; the fall of a heavy body shook the
floor-fragments of brains strewed the carpet. The Comte de Camors had
plunged into eternity!
His last will was clenched in his hand.
To whom was this document addressed? Upon what kind of soil will these
At this time Louis de Camors was twenty-seven years old. His mother had
died young. It did not appear that she had been particularly happy with
her husband; and her son barely remembered her as a young woman, pretty
and pale, and frequently weeping, who used to sing him to sleep in a low,
sweet voice. He had been brought up chiefly by his father's mistress,
who was known as the Vicomtesse d'Oilly, a widow, and a rather good sort
of woman. Her natural sensibility, and the laxity of morals then
reigning at Paris, permitted her to occupy herself at the same time with
the happiness of the father and the education of the son. When the
father deserted her after a time, he left her the child, to comfort her
somewhat by this mark of confidence and affection. She took him out
three times a week; she dressed him and combed him; she fondled him and
took him with her to church, and made him play with a handsome Spaniard,
who had been for some time her secretary. Besides, she neglected no
opportunity of inculcating precepts of sound morality. Thus the child,
being surprised at seeing her one evening press a kiss upon the forehead
of her secretary, cried out, with the blunt candor of his age:
"Why, Madame, do you kiss a gentleman who is not your husband?"
"Because, my dear," replied the Countess, "our good Lord commands us to
be charitable and affectionate to the poor, the infirm, and the exile;
and Monsieur Perez is an exile."
Louis de Camors merited better care, for he was a generous-hearted child;
and his comrades of the college of Louis-le-Grand always remembered the
warm-heartedness and natural grace which made them forgive his successes
during the week, and his varnished boots and lilac gloves on Sunday.
Toward the close of his college course, he became particularly attached
to a poor bursar, by name Lescande, who excelled in mathematics,
but who was very ungraceful, awkwardly shy and timid, with a painful
sensitiveness to the peculiarities of his person. He was nicknamed
"Wolfhead," from the refractory nature of his hair; but the elegant
Camors stopped the scoffers by protecting the young man with his
friendship. Lescande felt this deeply, and adored his friend, to whom he
opened the inmost recesses of his heart, letting out some important
He loved a very young girl who was his cousin, but was as poor as
himself. Still it was a providential thing for him that she was poor,
otherwise he never should have dared to aspire to her. It was a sad
occurrence that had first thrown Lescande with his cousin--the loss of
her father, who was chief of one of the Departments of State.
After his death she lived with her mother in very straitened
circumstances; and Lescande, on occasion of his last visit, found her
with soiled cuffs. Immediately after he received the following note:
"Pardon me, dear cousin! Pardon my not wearing white cuffs. But I
must tell you that we can change our cuffs--my mother and I--only
three times a week. As to her, one would never discover it. She is
neat as a bird. I also try to be; but, alas! when I practise the
piano, my cuffs rub. After this explanation, my good Theodore, I
hope you will love me as before.
Lescande wept over this note. Luckily he had his prospects as an
architect; and Juliette had promised to wait for him ten years, by which
time he would either be dead, or living deliciously in a humble house
with his cousin. He showed the note, and unfolded his plans to Camors.
"This is the only ambition I have, or which I can have," added Lescande.
"You are different. You are born for great things."
"Listen, my old Lescande," replied Camors, who had just passed his
rhetoric examination in triumph. "I do not know but that my destiny
may be ordinary; but I am sure my heart can never be. There I feel
transports--passions, which give me sometimes great joy, sometimes
inexpressible suffering. I burn to discover a world--to save a nation--
to love a queen! I understand nothing but great ambitions and noble
alliances, and as for sentimental love, it troubles me but little. My
activity pants for a nobler and a wider field!
"I intend to attach myself to one of the great social parties, political
or religious, that agitate the world at this era. Which one I know not
yet, for my opinions are not very fixed. But as soon as I leave college
I shall devote myself to seeking the truth. And truth is easily found.
I shall read all the newspapers.
"Besides, Paris is an intellectual highway, so brilliantly lighted it is
only necessary to open one's eyes and have good faith and independence,
to find the true road.
"And I am in excellent case for this, for though born a gentleman, I have
no prejudices. My father, who is himself very enlightened and very
liberal, leaves me free. I have an uncle who is a Republican; an aunt
who is a Legitimist--and what is still more, a saint; and another uncle
who is a Conservative. It is not vanity that leads me to speak of these
things; but only a desire to show you that, having a foot in all parties,
I am quite willing to compare them dispassionately and make a good
choice. Once master of the holy truth, you may be sure, dear old
Lescande, I shall serve it unto death--with my tongue, with my pen, and
with my sword!"
Such sentiments as these, pronounced with sincere emotion and accompanied
by a warm clasp of the hand, drew tears from the old Lescande, otherwise
FRUIT FROM THE HOTBED OF PARIS
Early one morning, about eight years after these high resolves, Louis de
Camors rode out from the 'porte-cochere' of the small hotel he had
occupied with his father.
Nothing could be gayer than Paris was that morning, at that charming
golden hour of the day when the world seems peopled only with good and
generous spirits who love one another. Paris does not pique herself on
her generosity; but she still takes to herself at this charming hour an
air of innocence, cheerfulness, and amiable cordiality.
The little carts with bells, that pass one another rapidly, make one
believe the country is covered with roses. The cries of old Paris cut
with their sharp notes the deep murmur of a great city just awaking.
You see the jolly concierges sweeping the white footpaths; half-dressed
merchants taking down their shutters with great noise; and groups of
ostlers, in Scotch caps, smoking and fraternizing on the hotel steps.
You hear the questions of the sociable neighborhood; the news proper to
awakening; speculations on the weather bandied across from door to door,
with much interest.
Young milliners, a little late, walk briskly toward town with elastic
step, making now a short pause before a shop just opened; again taking
wing like a bee just scenting a flower.
Even the dead in this gay Paris morning seem to go gayly to the cemetery,
with their jovial coachmen grinning and nodding as they pass.
Superbly aloof from these agreeable impressions, Louis de Camors,
a little pale, with half-closed eyes and a cigar between his teeth,
rode into the Rue de Bourgogne at a walk, broke into a canter on the
Champs Elysees, and galloped thence to the Bois. After a brisk run, he
returned by chance through the Porte Maillot, then not nearly so thickly
inhabited as it is to-day. Already, however, a few pretty houses, with
green lawns in front, peeped out from the bushes of lilac and clematis.
Before the green railings of one of these a gentleman played hoop with a
very young, blond-haired child. His age belonged in that uncertain area
which may range from twenty-five to forty. He wore a white cravat,
spotless as snow; and two triangles of short, thick beard, cut like the
boxwood at Versailles, ornamented his cheeks. If Camors saw this
personage he did not honor him with the slightest notice. He was,
notwithstanding, his former comrade Lescande, who had been lost sight of
for several years by his warmest college friend. Lescande, however,
whose memory seemed better, felt his heart leap with joy at the majestic
appearance of the young cavalier who approached him. He made a movement
to rush forward; a smile covered his good-natured face, but it ended in
a grimace. Evidently he had been forgotten. Camors, now not more than
a couple of feet from him, was passing on, and his handsome countenance
gave not the slightest sign of emotion. Suddenly, without changing
a single line of his face, he drew rein, took the cigar from his lips,
and said, in a tranquil voice:
"Hello! You have no longer a wolf head!"
"Ha! Then you know me?" cried Lescande.
"Know you? Why not?"
"I thought--I was afraid--on account of my beard--"
"Bah! your beard does not change you--except that it becomes you.
But what are you doing here?"
"Doing here! Why, my dear friend, I am at home here. Dismount, I pray
you, and come into my house."
"Well, why not?" replied Camors, with the same voice and manner of
supreme indifference; and, throwing his bridle to the servant who
followed him, he passed through the gardengate, led, supported, caressed
by the trembling hand of Lescande.
The garden was small, but beautifully tended and full of rare plants.
At the end, a small villa, in the Italian style, showed its graceful
"Ah, that is pretty!" exclaimed Camors, at last.
"And you recognize my plan, Number Three, do you not?" asked Lescande,
"Your plan Number Three? Ah, yes, perfectly," replied Camors, absently.
"And your pretty little cousin--is she within?"
"She is there, my dear friend," answered Lescande, in a low voice--and he
pointed to the closed shutters of a large window of a balcony surmounting
the veranda. "She is there; and this is our son."
Camors let his hand pass listlessly over the child's hair. "The deuce!"
he said; "but you have not wasted time. And you are happy, my good
"So happy, my dear friend, that I am sometimes uneasy, for the good God
is too kind to me. It is true, though, I had to work very hard. For
instance, I passed two years in Spain--in the mountains of that infernal
country. There I built a fairy palace for the Marquis of Buena-Vista,
a great nobleman, who had seen my plan at the Exhibition and was
delighted with it. This was the beginning of my fortune; but you must
not imagine that my profession alone has enriched me so quickly. I made
some successful speculations--some unheard of chances in lands; and, I
beg you to believe, honestly, too. Still, I am not a millionaire; but
you know I had nothing, and my wife less; now, my house paid for, we have
ten thousand francs' income left. It is not a fortune for us, living in
this style; but I still work and keep good courage, and my Juliette is
happy in her paradise!"
"She wears no more soiled cuffs, then?" said Camors.
"I warrant she does not! Indeed, she has a slight tendency to luxury--
like all women, you know. But I am delighted to see you remember so well
our college follies. I also, through all my distractions, never forgot
you a moment. I even had a foolish idea of asking you to my wedding,
only I did not dare. You are so brilliant, so petted, with your
establishment and your racers. My wife knows you very well; in fact, we
have talked of you a hundred thousand times. Since she patronizes the
turf and subscribes for 'The Sport', she says to me, 'Your friend's horse
has won again'; and in our family circle we rejoice over your triumphs."
A flush tinged the cheek of Camors as he answered, quietly, "You are
really too good."
They walked a moment in silence over the gravel path bordered by grass,
before Lescande spoke again.
"And yourself, dear friend, I hope that you also are happy."
"I--happy!" Camors seemed a little astonished. "My happiness is simple
enough, but I believe it is unclouded. I rise in the morning, ride to
the Bois, thence to the club, go to the Bois again, and then back to the
club. If there is a first representation at any theatre, I wish to see
it. Thus, last evening they gave a new piece which was really exquisite.
There was a song in it, beginning:
'He was a woodpecker,
A little woodpecker,
A young woodpecker--'
and the chorus imitated the cry of the woodpecker! Well, it was
charming, and the whole of Paris will sing that song with delight for a
year. I also shall do like the whole of Paris, and I shall be happy."
"Good heavens! my friend," laughed Lescande, "and that suffices you for
"That and--the principles of 'eighty-nine," replied Camors, lighting a
fresh cigar from the old one.
Here their dialogue was broken by the fresh voice of a woman calling from
the blinds of the balcony--
"Is that you, Theodore?"
Camors raised his eyes and saw a white hand, resting on the slats of the
blind, bathed in sunlight.
"That is my wife. Conceal yourself!" cried Lescande, briskly; and he
pushed Camors behind a clump of catalpas, as he turned to the balcony and
"Yes, my dear; do you wish anything?"
"Maxime is with you?"
"Yes, mother. I am here," cried the child. "It is a beautiful morning.
Are you quite well?"
"I hardly know. I have slept too long, I believe." She opened the
shutters, and, shading her eyes from the glare with her hand, appeared on
She was in the flower of youth, slight, supple, and graceful, and
appeared, in her ample morning-gown of blue cashmere, plumper and taller
than she really was. Bands of the same color interlaced, in the Greek
fashion, her chestnut hair--which nature, art, and the night had
dishevelled--waved and curled to admiration on her small head.
She rested her elbows on the railing, yawned, showing her white teeth,
and looking at her husband, asked:
"Why do you look so stupid?"
At the instant she observed Camors--whom the interest of the moment had
withdrawn from his concealment--gave a startled cry, gathered up her
skirts, and retired within the room.
Since leaving college up to this hour, Louis de Camors had never formed
any great opinion of the Juliet who had taken Lescande as her Romeo. He
experienced a flash of agreeable surprise on discovering that his friend
was more happy in that respect than he had supposed.
"I am about to be scolded, my friend," said Lescande, with a hearty
laugh, "and you also must stay for your share. You will stay and
breakfast with us?"
Camors hesitated; then said, hastily, "No, no! Impossible! I have an
engagement which I must keep."
Notwithstanding Camors's unwillingness, Lescande detained him until he
had extorted a promise to come and dine with them--that is, with him,
his wife, and his mother-in-law, Madame Mursois--on the following
Tuesday. This acceptance left a cloud on the spirit of Camors until the
appointed day. Besides abhorring family dinners, he objected to being
reminded of the scene of the balcony. The indiscreet kindness of
Lescande both touched and irritated him; for he knew he should play but a
silly part near this pretty woman. He felt sure she was a coquette,
notwithstanding which, the recollections of his youth and the character
of her husband should make her sacred to him. So he was not in the most
agreeable frame of mind when he stepped out of his dog-cart, that Tuesday
evening, before the little villa of the Avenue Maillot.
At his reception by Madame Lescande and her mother he took heart a
little. They appeared to him what they were, two honest-hearted women,
surrounded by luxury and elegance. The mother--an ex-beauty--had been
left a widow when very young, and to this time had avoided any stain on
her character. With them, innate delicacy held the place of those solid
principles so little tolerated by French society. Like a few other women
of society, Madame had the quality of virtue just as ermine has the
quality of whiteness. Vice was not so repugnant to her as an evil as it
was as a blemish. Her daughter had received from her those instincts of
chastity which are oftener than we imagine hidden under the appearance of
pride. But these amiable women had one unfortunate caprice, not uncommon
at this day among Parisians of their position. Although rather clever,
they bowed down, with the adoration of bourgeoises, before that
aristocracy, more or less pure, that paraded up and down the Champs
Elysees, in the theatres, at the race-course, and on the most frequented
promenades, its frivolous affairs and rival vanities.
Virtuous themselves, they read with interest the daintiest bits of
scandal and the most equivocal adventures that took place among the
elite. It was their happiness and their glory to learn the smallest
details of the high life of Paris; to follow its feasts, speak in its
slang, copy its toilets, and read its favorite books. So that if not the
rose, they could at least be near the rose and become impregnated with
her colors and her perfumes. Such apparent familiarity heightened them
singularly in their own estimation and in that of their associates.
Now, although Camors did not yet occupy that bright spot in the heaven of
fashion which was surely to be his one day, still he could here pass for
a demigod, and as such inspire Madame Lescande and her mother with a
sentiment of most violent curiosity. His early intimacy with Lescande
had always connected a peculiar interest with his name: and they knew the
names of his horses--most likely knew the names of his mistresses.
So it required all their natural tact to conceal from their guest the
flutter of their nerves caused by his sacred presence; but they did
succeed, and so well that Camors was slightly piqued. If not a coxcomb,
he was at least young: he was accustomed to please: he knew the Princess
de Clam-Goritz had lately applied to him her learned definition of an
agreeable man--"He is charming, for one always feels in danger near him!"
Consequently, it seemed a little strange to him that the simple mother of
the simple wife of simple Lescande should be able to bear his radiance
with such calmness; and this brought him out of his premeditated reserve.
He took the trouble to be irresistible--not to Madame Lescande, to whom
he was studiously respectful--but to Madame Mursois. The whole evening
he scattered around the mother the social epigrams intended to dazzle the
daughter; Lescande meanwhile sitting with his mouth open, delighted with
the success of his old schoolfellow.
Next afternoon, Camors, returning from his ride in the Bois, by chance
passed the Avenue Maillot. Madame Lescande was embroidering on the
balcony, by chance, and returned his salute over her tapestry. He
remarked, too, that she saluted very gracefully, by a slight inclination
of the head, followed by a slight movement of her symmetrical, sloping
When he called upon her two or three days after--as was only his duty--
Camors reflected on a strong resolution he had made to keep very cool,
and to expatiate to Madame Lescande only on her husband's virtues. This
pious resolve had an unfortunate effect; for Madame, whose virtue had
been piqued, had also reflected; and while an obtrusive devotion had not
failed to frighten her, this course only reassured her. So she gave up
without restraint to the pleasure of receiving in her boudoir one of the
brightest stars from the heaven of her dreams.
It was now May, and at the races of La Marche--to take place the
following Sunday--Camors was to be one of the riders. Madame Mursois and
her daughter prevailed upon Lescande to take them, while Camors completed
their happiness by admitting them to the weighing-stand. Further, when
they walked past the judge's stand, Madame Mursois, to whom he gave his
arm, had the delight of being escorted in public by a cavalier in an
orange jacket and topboots. Lescande and his wife followed in the wake
of the radiant mother-in-law, partaking of her ecstasy.
These agreeable relations continued for several weeks, without seeming to
change their character. One day Camors would seat himself by the lady,
before the palace of the Exhibition, and initiate her into the mysteries
of all the fashionables who passed before them. Another time he would
drop into their box at the opera, deign to remain there during an act or
two, and correct their as yet incomplete views of the morals of the
ballet. But in all these interviews he held toward Madame Lescande the
language and manner of a brother: perhaps because he secretly persisted
in his delicate resolve; perhaps because he was not ignorant that every
road leads to Rome--and one as surely as another.
Madame Lescande reassured herself more and more; and feeling it
unnecessary to be on her guard, as at first, thought she might permit
herself a little levity. No woman is flattered at being loved only as
Camors, a little disquieted by the course things were taking, made some
slight effort to divert it. But, although men in fencing wish to spare
their adversaries, sometimes they find habit too strong for them, and
lunge home in spite of themselves. Besides, he began to be really
interested in Madame Lescande--in her coquettish ways, at once artful and
simple, provoking and timid, suggestive and reticent--in short, charming.
The same evening that M. de Camors, the elder, returned to his home bent
on suicide, his son, passing up the Avenue Maillot, was stopped by
Lescande on the threshold of his villa.
"My friend," said the latter, "as you are here you can do me a great
favor. A telegram calls me suddenly to Melun--I must go on the instant.
The ladies will be so lonely, pray stay and dine with them! I can't tell
what the deuce ails my wife. She has been weeping all day over her
tapestry; my mother-in-law has a headache. Your presence will cheer
them. So stay, I beg you."
Camors refused, hesitated, made objections, and consented. He sent back
his horse, and his friend presented him to the ladies, whom the presence
of the unexpected guest seemed to cheer a little. Lescande stepped into
his carriage and departed, after receiving from his wife an embrace more
fervent than usual.
The dinner was gay. In the atmosphere was that subtle suggestion of
coming danger of which both Camors and Madame Lescande felt the
exhilarating influence. Their excitement, as yet innocent, employed
itself in those lively sallies--those brilliant combats at the barriers
--that ever precede the more serious conflict. About nine o'clock the
headache of Madame Mursois--perhaps owing to the cigar they had allowed
Camors--became more violent. She declared she could endure it no longer,
and must retire to her chamber. Camors wished to withdraw, but his
carriage had not yet arrived and Madame Mursois insisted that he should
wait for it.
"Let my daughter amuse you with a little music until then," she added.
Left alone with her guest, the younger lady seemed embarrassed. "What
shall I play for you?" she asked, in a constrained voice, taking her
seat at the piano.
"Oh! anything--play a waltz," answered Camors, absently.
The waltz finished, an awkward silence ensued. To break it she arose
hesitatingly; then clasping her hands together exclaimed, "It seems to me
there is a storm. Do you not think so?" She approached the window,
opened it, and stepped out on the balcony. In a second Camors was at her
The night was beautifully clear. Before them stretched the sombre shadow
of the wood, while nearer trembling rays of moonlight slept upon the
How still all was! Their trembling hands met and for a moment did not
"Juliette!" whispered the young man, in a low, broken voice. She
shuddered, repelled the arm that Camors passed round her, and hastily
reentered the room.
"Leave me, I pray you!" she cried, with an impetuous gesture of her
hand, as she sank upon the sofa, and buried her face in her hands.
Of course Camors did not obey. He seated himself by her.
In a little while Juliette awoke from her trance; but she awoke a lost
How bitter was that awakening! She measured at a first glance the depth
of the awful abyss into which she had suddenly plunged. Her husband, her
mother, her infant, whirled like spectres in the mad chaos of her brain.
Sensible of the anguish of an irreparable wrong, she rose, passed her
hand vacantly across her brow, and muttering, "Oh, God! oh, God!" peered
vainly into the dark for light--hope--refuge! There was none!
Her tortured soul cast herself utterly on that of her lover. She turned
her swimming eyes on him and said:
"How you must despise me!"
Camors, half kneeling on the carpet near her, kissed her hand
indifferently and half raised his shoulders in sign of denial. "Is it
not so?" she repeated. "Answer me, Louis."
His face wore a strange, cruel smile--"Do not insist on an answer, I pray
you," he said.
"Then I am right? You do despise me?"
Camors turned himself abruptly full toward her, looked straight in her
face, and said, in a cold, hard voice, "I do!"
To this cruel speech the poor child replied by a wild cry that seemed to
rend her, while her eyes dilated as if under the influence of strong
poison. Camors strode across the room, then returned and stood by her as
he said, in a quick, violent tone:
"You think I am brutal? Perhaps I am, but that can matter little now.
After the irreparable wrong I have done you, there is one service--and
only one which I can now render you. I do it now, and tell you the
truth. Understand me clearly; women who fall do not judge themselves
more harshly than their accomplices judge them. For myself, what would
you have me think of you?
"To his misfortune and my shame, I have known your husband since his
boyhood. There is not a drop of blood in his veins that does not throb
for you; there is not a thought of his day nor a dream of his night that
is not yours; your every comfort comes from his sacrifices--your every
joy from his exertion! See what he is to you!
"You have only seen my name in the journals; you have seen me ride by
your window; I have talked a few times with you, and you yield to me in
one moment the whole of his life with your own--the whole of his
happiness with your own.
"I tell you, woman, every man like me, who abuses your vanity and your
weakness and afterward tells you he esteems you--lies! And if after all
you still believe he loves you, you do yourself fresh injury. No: we
soon learn to hate those irksome ties that become duties where we only
sought pleasures; and the first effort after they are formed is to
"As for the rest: women like you are not made for unholy love like ours.
Their charm is their purity, and losing that, they lose everything. But
it is a blessing to them to encounter one wretch, like myself, who cares
to say--Forget me, forever! Farewell!"
He left her, passed from the room with rapid strides, and, slamming the
door behind him, disappeared. Madame Lescande, who had listened,
motionless, and pale as marble, remained in the same lifeless attitude,
her eyes fixed, her hands clenched--yearning from the depths of her heart
that death would summon her. Suddenly a singular noise, seeming to come
from the next room, struck her ear. It was only a convulsive sob, or
violent and smothered laughter. The wildest and most terrible ideas
crowded to the mind of the unhappy woman; the foremost of them, that her
husband had secretly returned, that he knew all--that his brain had given
way, and that the laughter was the gibbering of his madness.
Feeling her own brain begin to reel, she sprang from the sofa, and
rushing to the door, threw it open. The next apartment was the dining-
room, dimly lighted by a hanging lamp. There she saw Camors, crouched
upon the floor, sobbing furiously and beating his forehead against a
chair which he strained in a convulsive embrace. Her tongue refused its
office; she could find no word, but seating herself near him, gave way to
her emotion, and wept silently. He dragged himself nearer, seized the
hem of her dress and covered it with kisses; his breast heaved
tumultuously, his lips trembled and he gasped the almost inarticulate
words, "Pardon! Oh, pardon me!"
This was all. Then he rose suddenly, rushed from the house, and the
instant after she heard the rolling of the wheels as his carriage whirled
If there were no morals and no remorse, French people would perhaps be
happier. But unfortunately it happens that a young woman, who believes
in little, like Madame Lescande, and a young man who believes in nothing,
like M. de Camors, can not have the pleasures of an independent code of
morals without suffering cruelly afterward.
A thousand old prejudices, which they think long since buried, start up
suddenly in their consciences; and these revived scruples are nearly
fatal to them.
Camors rushed toward Paris at the greatest speed of his thoroughbred,
Fitz-Aymon, awakening along the route, by his elegance and style,
sentiments of envy which would have changed to pity were the wounds of
the heart visible. Bitter weariness, disgust of life and disgust for
himself, were no new sensations to this young man; but he never had
experienced them in such poignant intensity as at this cursed hour,
when flying from the dishonored hearth of the friend of his boyhood.
No action of his life had ever thrown such a flood of light on the depths
of his infamy in doing such gross outrage to the friend of his purer
days, to the dear confidant of the generous thoughts and proud
aspirations of his youth. He knew he had trampled all these under foot.
Like Macbeth, he had not only murdered one asleep, but had murdered sleep
His reflections became insupportable. He thought successively of
becoming a monk, of enlisting as a soldier, and of getting drunk--ere he
reached the corner of the Rue Royale and the Boulevard. Chance favored
his last design, for as he alighted in front of his club, he found
himself face to face with a pale young man, who smiled as he extended his
hand. Camors recognized the Prince d'Errol.
"The deuce! You here, my Prince! I thought you in Cairo."
"I arrived only this morning."
"Ah, then you are better?--Your chest?"
"Bah! you look perfectly well. And isn't Cairo a strange place?"
"Rather; but I really believe Providence has sent you to me."
"You really think so, my Prince? But why?"
"Because--pshaw! I'll tell you by-and-bye; but first I want to hear all
about your quarrel."
"Your duel for Sarah."
"That is to say, against Sarah!"
"Well, tell me all that passed; I heard of it only vaguely while abroad."
"Well, I only strove to do a good action, and, according to custom, I was
punished for it. I heard it said that that little imbecile La Brede
borrowed money from his little sister to lavish it upon that Sarah.
This was so unnatural that you may believe it first disgusted, and then
irritated me. One day at the club I could not resist saying, 'You are an
ass, La Bride, to ruin yourself--worse than that, to ruin your sister,
for the sake of a snail, as little sympathetic as Sarah, a girl who
always has a cold in her head, and who has already deceived you.'
'Deceived me!' cried La Brede, waving his long arms. 'Deceived me!
and with whom?'--'With me.' As he knew I never lied, he panted for my
life. Luckily my life is a tough one."
"You put him in bed for three months, I hear."
"Almost as long as that, yes. And now, my friend, do me a service. I am
a bear, a savage, a ghost! Assist me to return to life. Let us go and
sup with some sprightly people whose virtue is extraordinary."
"Agreed! That is recommended by my physician."
"From Cairo? Nothing could be better, my Prince."
Half an hour later Louis de Camors, the Prince d'Errol, and a half-dozen
guests of both sexes, took possession of an apartment, the closed doors
of which we must respect.
Next morning, at gray dawn, the party was about to disperse; and at the
moment a ragpicker, with a gray beard, was wandering up and down before
the restaurant, raking with his hook in the refuse that awaited the
public sweepers. In closing his purse, with an unsteady hand, Camors let
fall a shining louis d'or, which rolled into the mud on the sidewalk.
The ragpicker looked up with a timid smile.
"Ah! Monsieur," he said, "what falls into the trench should belong to
"Pick it up with your teeth, then," answered Camors, laughing, "and it is
The man hesitated, flushed under his sunburned cheeks, and threw a look
of deadly hatred upon the laughing group round him. Then he knelt,
buried his chest in the mire, and sprang up next moment with the coin
clenched between his sharp white teeth. The spectators applauded. The
chiffonnier smiled a dark smile, and turned away.
"Hello, my friend!" cried Camors, touching his arm, "would you like to
earn five Louis? If so, give me a knock-down blow. That will give you
pleasure and do me good."
The man turned, looked him steadily in the eye, then suddenly dealt him
such a blow in the face that he reeled against the opposite wall. The
young men standing by made a movement to fall upon the graybeard.
"Let no one harm him!" cried Camors. "Here, my man, are your hundred
"Keep them," replied the other, "I am paid;" and walked away.
"Bravo, Belisarius!" laughed Camors. "Faith, gentlemen, I do not know
whether you agree with me, but I am really charmed with this little
episode. I must go dream upon it. By-bye, young ladies! Good-day,
An early cab was passing, he jumped in, and was driven rapidly to his
hotel, on the Rue Babet-de-Jouy.
The door of the courtyard was open, but being still under the influence
of the wine he had drunk, he failed to notice a confused group of
servants and neighbors standing before the stable-doors. Upon seeing
him, these people became suddenly silent, and exchanged looks of sympathy
and compassion. Camors occupied the second floor of the hotel; and
ascending the stairs, found himself suddenly facing his father's valet.
The man was very pale, and held a sealed paper, which he extended with a
"What is it, Joseph?" asked Camors.
"A letter which--which Monsieur le Comte wrote for you before he left."
"Before he left! my father is gone, then? But--where--how? What, the
devil! why do you weep?"
Unable to speak, the servant handed him the paper. Camors seized it and
tore it open.
"Good God! there is blood! what is this!" He read the first words--
"My son, life is a burden to me. I leave it--" and fell fainting to the
The poor lad loved his father, notwithstanding the past.
They carried him to his chamber.
DEBRIS FROM THE REVOLUTION
De Camors, on leaving college had entered upon life with a heart swelling
with the virtues of youth--confidence, enthusiasm, sympathy. The
horrible neglect of his early education had not corrupted in his veins
those germs of weakness which, as his father declared, his mother's milk
had deposited there; for that father, by shutting him up in a college to
get rid of him for twelve years, had rendered him the greatest service in
Those classic prisons surely do good. The healthy discipline of the
school; the daily contact of young, fresh hearts; the long familiarity
with the best works, powerful intellects, and great souls of the
ancients--all these perhaps may not inspire a very rigid morality, but
they do inspire a certain sentimental ideal of life and of duty which has
The vague heroism which Camors first conceived he brought away with him.
He demanded nothing, as you may remember, but the practical formula for
the time and country in which he was destined to live. He found,
doubtless, that the task he set himself was more difficult than he had
imagined; that the truth to which he would devote himself--but which he
must first draw from the bottom of its well--did not stand upon many
compliments. But he failed no preparation to serve her valiantly as a
man might, as soon as she answered his appeal. He had the advantage of
several years of opposing to the excitements of his age and of an opulent
life the austere meditations of the poor student.
During that period of ardent, laborious youth, he faithfully shut himself
up in libraries, attended public lectures, and gave himself a solid
foundation of learning, which sometimes awakened surprise when discovered
under the elegant frivolity of the gay turfman. But while arming himself
for the battle of life, he lost, little by little, what was more
essential than the best weapons-true courage.
In proportion as he followed Truth day by day, she flew before and eluded
him, taking, like an unpleasant vision, the form of the thousand-headed
About the middle of the last century, Paris was so covered with political
and religious ruins, that the most piercing vision could scarcely
distinguish the outlines of the fresh structures of the future.
One could, see that everything was overthrown; but one could not see any
power that was to raise the ruins. Over the confused wrecks and remains
of the Past, the powerful intellectual life of the Present-Progress--the
collision of ideas--the flame of French wit, criticism and the sciences--
threw a brilliant light, which, like the sun of earlier ages, illuminated
the chaos without making it productive. The phenomena of Life and of
Death were commingled in one huge fermentation, in which everything
decomposed and whence nothing seemed to spring up again.
At no period of history, perhaps, has Truth been less simple, more
enveloped in complications; for it seemed that all essential notions of
humanity had been fused in a great furnace, and none had come out whole.
The spectacle is grand; but it troubles profoundly all souls--or at least
those that interest and curiosity do not suffice to fill; which is to
say, nearly all. To disengage from this bubbling chaos one pure
religious moral, one positive social idea, one fixed political creed,
were an enterprise worthy of the most sincere. This should not be beyond
the strength of a man of good intentions; and Louis de Camors might have
accomplished the task had he been aided by better instruction and
It is the common misfortune of those just entering life to find in it
less than their ideal. But in this respect Camors was born under a
particularly unfortunate star, for he found in his surroundings--in his
own family even--only the worst side of human nature; and, in some
respects, of those very opinions to which he was tempted to adhere.
The Camors were originally from Brittany, where they had held, in the
eighteenth century, large possessions, particularly some extensive
forests, which still bear their name. The grandfather of Louis, the
Comte Herve de Camors, had, on his return from the emigration, bought
back a small part of the hereditary demesne. There he established
himself in the old-fashioned style, and nourished until his death
incurable prejudices against the French Revolution and against Louis
Count Herve had four children, two boys and two girls, and, feeling it
his duty to protest against the levelling influences of the Civil Code,
he established during his life, by a legal subterfuge, a sort of entail
in favor of his eldest son, Charles-Henri, to the prejudice of Robert-
Sosthene, Eleanore-Jeanne and Louise-Elizabeth, his other heirs.
Eleanore-Jeanne and Louise-Elizabeth accepted with apparent willingness
the act that benefited their brother at their expense--notwithstanding
which they never forgave him. But Robert-Sosthene, who, in his position
as representative of the younger branch, affected Liberal leanings and
was besides loaded with debt, rebelled against the paternal procedure.
He burned his visiting-cards, ornamented with the family crest and his
name "Chevalier Lange d'Ardennes"--and had others printed, simply
"Dardennes, junior (du Morbihan)."
Of these he sent a specimen to his father, and from that hour became a
There are people who attach themselves to a party by their virtues;
others, again, by their vices. No recognized political party exists
which does not contain some true principle; which does not respond to
some legitimate aspiration of human society. At the same time, there is
not one which can not serve as a pretext, as a refuge, and as a hope, for
the basest passions of our nature.
The most advanced portion of the Liberal party of France is composed of
generous spirits, ardent and absolute, who torture a really elevated
ideal; that of a society of manhood, constituted with a sort of
philosophic perfection; her own mistress each day and each hour;
delegating few of her powers, and yielding none; living, not without
laws, but without rulers; and, in short, developing her activity, her
well-being, her genius, with that fulness of justice, of independence,
and of dignity, which republicanism alone gives to all and to each one.
Every other system appears to them to preserve some of the slaveries and
iniquities of former ages; and it also appears open to the suspicion of
generating diverse interests--and often hostile ones--between the
governors and the governed. They claim for all that political system
which, without doubt, holds humanity in the most esteem; and however one
may despise the practical working of their theory, the grandeur of its
principles can not be despised.
They are in reality a proud race, great-hearted and high-spirited. They
have had in their age their heroes and their martyrs; but they have had,
on the other hand, their hypocrites, their adventurers, and their
radicals--their greatest enemies.
Young Dardennes, to obtain grace for the equivocal origin of his
convictions, placed himself in the front rank of these last.
Until he left college Louis de Camors never knew his uncle, who had
remained on bad terms with his father; but he entertained for him, in
secret; an enthusiastic admiration, attributing to him all the virtues of
that principle of which he seemed the exponent.
The Republic of '48 soon died: his uncle was among the vanquished; and
this, to the young man, had but an additional attraction. Without his
father's knowledge, he went to see him, as if on a pilgrimage to a holy
shrine; and he was well received.
He found his uncle exasperated--not so much against his enemies as
against his own party, to which he attributed all the disasters of the
"They never can make revolutions with gloves on," he said in a solemn,
dogmatic tone. "The men of 'ninety-three did not wear them. You can not
make an omelette without first breaking the eggs.
"The pioneers of the future should march on, axe in hand!
"The chrysalis of the people is not hatched upon roses!
"Liberty is a goddess who demands great holocausts. Had they made a
Reign of Terror in 'forty-eight, they would now be masters!"
These high-flown maxims astonished Louis de Camors. In his youthful
simplicity he had an infinite respect for the men who had governed his
country in her darkest hour; not more that they had given up power as
poor as when they assumed it, than that they left it with their hands
unstained with blood: To this praise--which will be accorded them in
history, which redresses many contemporary injustices--he added a
reproach which he could not reconcile with the strange regrets of his
uncle. He reproached them with not having more boldly separated the New
Republic, in its management and minor details, from the memories of the
old one. Far from agreeing with his uncle that a revival of the horrors
of 'ninety-three would have assured the triumph of the New Republic, he
believed it had sunk under the bloody shadow of its predecessor. He
believed that, owing to this boasted Terror, France had been for
centuries the only country in which the dangers of liberty outweighed its
It is useless to dwell longer on the relations of Louis de Camors with
his uncle Dardennes. It is enough that he was doubtful and discouraged,
and made the error of holding the cause responsible for the violence of
its lesser apostles, and that he adopted the fatal error, too common in
France at that period, of confounding progress with discord, liberty with
license, and revolution with terrorism!
The natural result of irritation and disenchantment on this ardent spirit
was to swing it rapidly around to the opposite pole of opinion. After
all, Camors argued, his birth, his name, his family ties all pointed out
his true course, which was to combat the cruel and despotic doctrines
which he believed he detected under these democratic theories. Another
thing in the habitual language of his uncle also shocked and repelled
him--the profession of an absolute atheism. He had within him, in
default of a formal creed, a fund of general belief and respect for holy
things--that kind of religious sensibility which was shocked by impious
cynicism. Further he could not comprehend then, or ever afterward, how
principles alone, without faith in some higher sanction, could sustain
themselves by their own strength in the human conscience.
God--or no principles! This was the dilemma from which no German
philosophy could rescue him.
This reaction in his mind drew him closer to those other branches of his
family which he had hitherto neglected. His two aunts, living at Paris,
had been compelled, in consequence of their small fortunes, to make some
sacrifices to enter into the blessed state of matrimony. The elder,
Eleanore-Jeanne, had married, during her father's life, the Comte de la
Roche-Jugan--a man long past fifty, but still well worthy of being loved.
Nevertheless, his wife did not love him. Their views on many essential
points differed widely. M. de la Roche-Jugan was one of those who had
served the Government of the Restoration with an unshaken but hopeless
devotion. In his youth he had been attached to the person and to the
ministry of the Duc de Richelieu; and he had preserved the memory of that
illustrious man--of the elevated moderation of his sentiments--of the
warmth of his patriotism and of his constancy. He saw the pitfalls
ahead, pointed them out to his prince--displeased him by so doing, but
still followed his fortunes. Once more retired to private life with but
small means, he guarded his political principles rather like a religion
than a hope. His hopes, his vivacity, his love of right--all these he
turned toward God.
His piety, as enlightened as profound, ranked him among the choicest
spirits who then endeavored to reconcile the national faith of the past
with the inexorable liberty of thought of the present. Like his
colaborers in this work, he experienced only a mortal sadness under which
he sank. True, his wife contributed no little to hasten his end by the
intemperance of her zeal and the acrimony of her bigotry.
She had little heart and great pride, and made her God subserve her
passions, as Dardennes made liberty subserve his malice.
No sooner had she become a widow than she purified her salons.
Thenceforth figured there only parishioners more orthodox than their
bishops, French priests who denied Bossuet; consequently she believed
that religion was saved in France. Louis de Camors, admitted to this
choice circle by title both of relative and convert, found there the
devotion of Louis XI and the charity of Catherine de Medicis; and he
there lost very soon the little faith that remained to him.
He asked himself sadly whether there was no middle ground between Terror
and Inquisition; whether in this world one must be a fanatic or nothing.
He sought a middle course, possessing the force and cohesion of a party;
but he sought in vain. It seemed to him that the whole world of politics
and religion rushed to extremes; and that what was not extreme was inert
and indifferent--dragging out, day by day, an existence without faith and
Thus at least appeared to him those whom the sad changes of his life
showed him as types of modern politics.
His younger aunt, Louise-Elizabeth, who enjoyed to the full all the
pleasures of modern life, had already profited by her father's death to
make a rich misalliance. She married the Baron Tonnelier, whose father,
although the son of a miller, had shown ability and honesty enough to
fill high positions under the First Empire.
The Baron Tonnelier had a large fortune, increasing every day by
successful speculation. In his youth he had been a good horseman,
a Voltairian, and a Liberal.
In time--though he remained a Voltairian--he renounced horsemanship,
and Liberalism. Although he was a simple deputy, he had a twinge of
democracy now and then; but after he was invested with the peerage, he
felt sure from that moment that the human species had no more progress to
The French Revolution was ended; its giddiest height attained. No longer
could any one walk, talk, write, or rise. That perplexed him. Had he
been sincere, he would have avowed that he could not comprehend that
there could be storms, or thunder-clouds in the heavens--that the world
was not perfectly happy and tranquil, while he himself was so. When his
nephew was old enough to comprehend him, Baron Tonnelier was no longer
peer of France; but being one who does himself no hurt--and sometimes
much good by a fall, he filled a high office under the new government.
He endeavored to discharge its duties conscientiously, as he had those of
the preceding reign.
He spoke with peculiar ease of suppressing this or that journal--such an
orator, such a book; of suppressing everything, in short, except himself.
In his view, France had been in the wrong road since 1789, and he sought
to lead her back from that fatal date.
Nevertheless, he never spoke of returning, in his proper person, to his
grandfather's mill; which, to say the least, was inconsistent. Had
Liberty been mother to this old gentleman, and had he met her in a clump
of woods, he would have strangled her. We regret to add that he had the
habit of terming "old duffers" such ministers as he suspected of liberal
views, and especially such as were in favor of popular education. A more
hurtful counsellor never approached a throne; but luckily, while near it
in office, he was far from it in influence.
He was still a charming man, gallant and fresh--more gallant, however,
than fresh. Consequently his habits were not too good, and he haunted
the greenroom of the opera. He had two daughters, recently married,
before whom he repeated the most piquant witticisms of Voltaire, and the
most improper stories of Tallemant de Reaux; and consequently both
promised to afford the scandalmongers a series of racy anecdotes, as
their mother had before them.
While Louis de Camors was learning rapidly, by the association and
example of the collateral branches of his family, to defy equally all
principles and all convictions, his terrible father finished the task.
Worldling to the last extreme, depraved to his very core; past-master in
the art of Parisian high life; an unbridled egotist, thinking himself
superior to everything because he abased everything to himself; and,
finally, flattering himself for despising all duties, which he had all
his life prided himself on dispensing with--such was his father. But for
all this, he was the pride of his circle, with a pleasing presence and an
indefinable charm of manner.
The father and son saw little of each other. M. de Camors was too proud
to entangle his son in his own debaucheries; but the course of every-day
life sometimes brought them together at meal-time. He would then listen
with cool mockery to the enthusiastic or despondent speeches of the
youth. He never deigned to argue seriously, but responded in a few
bitter words, that fell like drops of sleet on the few sparks still
glowing in the son's heart.
Becoming gradually discouraged, the latter lost all taste for work, and
gave himself up, more and more, to the idle pleasures of his position.
Abandoning himself wholly to these, he threw into them all the seductions
of his person, all the generosity of his character--but at the same time
a sadness always gloomy, sometimes desperate.
The bitter malice he displayed, however, did not prevent his being loved
by women and renowned among men. And the latter imitated him.
He aided materially in founding a charming school of youth without
smiles. His air of ennui and lassitude, which with him at least had the
excuse of a serious foundation, was servilely copied by the youth around
him, who never knew any greater distress than an overloaded stomach, but
whom it pleased, nevertheless, to appear faded in their flower and
contemptuous of human nature.
We have seen Camors in this phase of his existence. But in reality
nothing was more foreign to him than the mask of careless disdain that
the young man assumed. Upon falling into the common ditch, he, perhaps,
had one advantage over his fellows: he did not make his bed with base
resignation; he tried persistently to raise himself from it by a violent
struggle, only to be hurled upon it once more.
Strong souls do not sleep easily: indifference weighs them down.
They demand a mission--a motive for action--and faith.
Louis de Camors was yet to find his.
A NEW ACTRESS IN A NOVEL ROLE
Louis de Camor's father had not I told him all in that last letter.
Instead of leaving him a fortune, he left him only embarrassments, for he
was three fourths ruined. The disorder of his affairs had begun a long
time before, and it was to repair them that he had married; a process
that had not proved successful. A large inheritance on which he had
relied as coming to his wife went elsewhere--to endow a charity hospital.
The Comte de Camors began a suit to recover it before the tribunal of the
Council of State, but compromised it for an annuity of thirty thousand
francs. This stopped at his death. He enjoyed, besides, several fat
sinecures, which his name, his social rank, and his personal address
secured him from some of the great insurance companies. But these
resources did not survive him; he only rented the house he had occupied;
and the young Comte de Camors found himself suddenly reduced to the
provision of his mother's dowry--a bare pittance to a man of his habits
His father had often assured him he could leave him nothing, so the son
was accustomed to look forward to this situation. Therefore, when he
realized it, he was neither surprised nor revolted by the improvident
egotism of which he was the victim. His reverence for his father
continued unabated, and he did not read with the less respect or
confidence the singular missive which figures at the beginning of this
story. The moral theories which this letter advanced were not new to
him. They were a part of the very atmosphere around him; he had often
revolved them in his feverish brain; yet, never before had they appeared
to him in the condensed form of a dogma, with the clear precision of a
practical code; nor as now, with the authorization of such a voice and of
such an example.
One incident gave powerful aid in confirming the impression of these last
pages on his mind. Eight days after his father's death, he was reclining
on the lounge in his smoking-room, his face dark as night and as his
thoughts, when a servant entered and handed him a card. He took it
listlessly, and read" Lescande, architect." Two red spots rose to his
pale cheeks--"I do not see any one," he said.
"So I told this gentleman," replied the servant, "but he insists in such
an extraordinary manner--"
"In an extraordinary manner?"
"Yes, sir; as if he had something very serious to communicate."
"Something serious--aha! Then let him in." Camors rose and paced the
chamber, a smile of bitter mockery wreathing his lips. "And must I now
kill him?" he muttered between his teeth.
Lescande entered, and his first act dissipated the apprehension his
conduct had caused. He rushed to the young Count and seized him by both
hands, while Camors remarked that his face was troubled and his lips
trembled. "Sit down and be calm," he said.
"My friend," said the other, after a pause, "I come late to see you, for
which I crave pardon; but--I am myself so miserable! See, I am in
Camors felt a chill run to his very marrow. "In mourning! and why?" he
"Juliette is dead!" sobbed Lescande, and covered his eyes with his great
"Great God!" cried Camors in a hollow voice. He listened a moment to
Lescande's bitter sobs, then made a movement to take his hand, but dared
not do it. "Great God! is it possible?" he repeated.
"It was so sudden!" sobbed Lescande, brokenly. "It seems like a dream--
a frightful dream! You know the last time you visited us she was not
well. You remember I told you she had wept all day. Poor child! The
morning of my return she was seized with congestion--of the lungs--of the
brain--I don't know!--but she is dead! And so good!--so gentle, so
loving! to the last moment! Oh, my friend! my friend! A few moments
before she died, she called me to her side. 'Oh, I love you so! I love
you so!' she said. 'I never loved any but you--you only! Pardon me!--
oh, pardon me!' Pardon her, poor child! My God, for what? for dying?
--for she never gave me a moment's grief before in this world. Oh, God
"I beseech you, my friend--"
"Yes, yes, I do wrong. You also have your griefs.
"But we are all selfish, you know. However, it was not of that that I
came to speak. Tell me--I know not whether a report I hear is correct.
Pardon me if I mistake, for you know I never would dream of offending
you; but they say that you have been left in very bad circumstances. If
this is indeed so, my friend--"
"It is not," interrupted Camors, abruptly.
"Well, if it were--I do not intend keeping my little house. Why should
I, now? My little son can wait while I work for him. Then, after
selling my house, I shall have two hundred thousand francs. Half of this
is yours--return it when you can!"
"I thank you, my unselfish friend," replied Camors, much moved, "but I
need nothing. My affairs are disordered, it is true; but I shall still
remain richer than you."
"Yes, but with your tastes--"
"At all events, you know where to find me. I may count upon you--may I
"Adieu, my friend! I can do you no good now; but I shall see you again
--shall I not?"
Lescande departed, and the young Count remained immovable, with his
features convulsed and his eyes fixed on vacancy.
This moment decided his whole future.
Sometimes a man feels a sudden, unaccountable impulse to smother in
himself all human love and sympathy.
In the presence of this unhappy man, so unworthily treated, so broken-
spirited, so confiding, Camors--if there be any truth in old spiritual
laws--should have seen himself guilty of an atrocious act, which should
have condemned him to a remorse almost unbearable.
But if it were true that the human herd was but the product of material
forces in nature, producing, haphazard, strong beings and weak ones--
lambs and lions--he had played only the lion's part in destroying his
companion. He said to himself, with his father's letter beneath his
eyes, that this was the fact; and the reflection calmed him.
The more he thought, that day and the next, in depth of the retreat in
which he had buried himself, the more was he persuaded that this doctrine
was that very truth which he had sought, and which his father had
bequeathed to him as the whole rule of his life. His cold and barren
heart opened with a voluptuous pleasure under this new flame that filled
and warmed it.
From this moment he possessed a faith--a principle of action--a plan of
life--all that he needed; and was no longer oppressed by doubts,
agitation, and remorse. This doctrine, if not the most elevated, was at
least above the level of the most of mankind. It satisfied his pride and
justified his scorn.
To preserve his self-esteem, it was only necessary for him to preserve
his honor, to do nothing low, as his father had said; and he determined
never to do anything which, in his eyes, partook of that character.
Moreover, were there not men he himself had met thoroughly steeped in
materialism, who were yet regarded as the most honorable men of their
Perhaps he might have asked himself whether this incontestable fact might
not, in part, have been attributed rather to the individual than to the
doctrine; and whether men's beliefs did not always influence their
actions. However that might have been, from the date of this crisis
Louis de Camors made his father's will the rule of his life.
To develop in all their strength the physical and intellectual gifts
which he possessed; to make of himself the polished type of the
civilization of the times; to charm women and control men; to revel in
all the joys of intellect, of the senses, and of rank; to subdue as
servile instincts all natural sentiments; to scorn, as chimeras and
hypocrisies, all vulgar beliefs; to love nothing, fear nothing, respect
nothing, save honor--such, in fine, were the duties which he recognized,
and the rights which he arrogated to himself.
It was with these redoubtable weapons, and strengthened by a keen
intelligence and vigorous will, that he would return to the world--his
brow calm and grave, his eye caressing while unyielding, a smile upon his
lips, as men had known him.
From this moment there was no cloud either upon his mind or upon his
face, which wore the aspect of perpetual youth. He determined, above
all, not to retrench, but to preserve, despite the narrowness of his
present fortune, those habits of elegant luxury in which he still might
indulge for several years, by the expenditure of his principal.
Both pride and policy gave him this council in an equal degree. He was
not ignorant that the world is as cold toward the needy as it is warm to
those not needing its countenance. Had he been thus ignorant, the
attitude of his family, just after the death of his father, would have
opened his eyes to the fact.
His aunt de la Roche-Jugan and his uncle Tonnelier manifested toward him
the cold circumspection of people who suspected they were dealing with a
ruined man. They had even, for greater security, left Paris, and
neglected to notify the young Count in what retreat they had chosen to
hide their grief. Nevertheless he was soon to learn it, for while he was
busied in settling his father's affairs and organizing his own projects
of fortune and ambition, one fine morning in August he met with a lively
He counted among his relatives one of the richest landed proprietors of
France, General the Marquis de Campvallon d'Armignes, celebrated for his
fearful outbursts in the Corps Legislatif. He had a voice of thunder,
and when he rolled out, "Bah! Enough! Stop this order of the day!" the
senate trembled, and the government commissioners bounced on their
chairs. Yet he was the best fellow in the world, although he had killed
two fellow-creatures in duels--but then he had his reasons for that.
Camors knew him but slightly, paid him the necessary respect that
politeness demanded toward a relative; met him sometimes at the club,
over a game of whist, and that was all.
Two years before, the General had lost a nephew, the direct heir to his
name and fortune. Consequently he was hunted by an eager pack of cousins
and relatives; and Madame de la Roche-Jugan and the Baroness Tonnelier
gave tongue in their foremost rank.
Camors was indifferent, and had, since that event, been particularly
reserved in his intercourse with the General. Therefore he was
considerably astonished when he received the following letter:
"Your two aunts and their families are with me in the country.
When it is agreeable to you to join them, I shall always feel happy
to give a cordial greeting to the son of an old friend and
"I presented myself at your house before leaving Paris, but you were
"Believe me, I comprehend your grief: that you have experienced an
irreparable loss, in which I sympathize with you most sincerely.
"Receive, my dear kinsman, the best wishes of
GENERAL, THE MARQUIS DE CAMPVALLON D'ARMIGNES.
"CHATEAU DE CAMPVALLON, Voie de l'ouest.
"P.S.--It is probable, my young cousin, that I may have something of
interest to communicate to you!"
This last sentence, and the exclamation mark that followed it, failed
not to shake slightly the impassive calm that Camors was at that moment
cultivating. He could not help seeing, as in a mirror, under the veil
of the mysterious postscript, the reflection of seven hundred thousand
francs of ground-rent which made the splendid income of the General.
He recalled that his father, who had served some time in Africa, had been
attached to the staff of M. de Campvallon as aide-de-camp, and that he
had besides rendered him a great service of a different nature.
Notwithstanding that he felt the absurdity of these dreams, and wished to
keep his heart free from them, he left the next day for Campvallon.
After enjoying for seven or eight hours all the comforts and luxuries the
Western line is reputed to afford its guests, Camors arrived in the
evening at the station, where the General's carriage awaited him. The
seignorial pile of the Chateau Campvallon soon appeared to him on a
height, of which the sides were covered with magnificent woods, sloping
down nearly to the plain, there spreading out widely.
It was almost the dinner-hour; and the young man, after arranging his
toilet, immediately descended to the drawing-room, where his presence
seemed to throw a wet blanket over the assembled circle. To make up for
this, the General gave him the warmest welcome; only--as he had a short
memory or little imagination--he found nothing better to say than to
repeat the expressions of his letter, while squeezing his hand almost to
the point of fracture.
"The son of my old friend and companion-in-arms," he cried; and the words
rang out in such a sonorous voice they seemed to impress even himself--
for it was noticeable that after a remark, the General always seemed
astonished, as if startled by the words that came out of his mouth--and
that seemed suddenly to expand the compass of his ideas and the depth of
To complete his portrait: he was of medium size, square, and stout;
panting when he ascended stairs, or even walking on level ground; a face
massive and broad as a mask, and reminding one of those fabled beings who
blew fire from their nostrils; a huge moustache, white and grizzly; small
gray eyes, always fixed, like those of a doll, but still terrible. He
marched toward a man slowly, imposingly, with eyes fixed, as if beginning
a duel to the death, and demanded of him imperatively--the time of day!
Camors well knew this innocent weakness of his host, but,
notwithstanding, was its dupe for one instant during the evening.
They had left the dining-table, and he was standing carelessly in the
alcove of a window, holding a cup of coffee, when the General approached
him from the extreme end of the room with a severe yet confidential
expression, which seemed to preface an announcement of the greatest
The postscript rose before him. He felt he was to have an immediate
The General approached, seized him by the buttonhole, and withdrawing him
from the depth of the recess, looked into his eyes as if he wished to
penetrate his very soul. Suddenly he spoke, in his thunderous voice.
"What do you take in the morning, young man?"
"Aha! Then give your orders to Pierre--just as if you were at home;"
and, turning on his heel and joining the ladies, he left Camors to digest
his little comedy as he might.
Eight days passed. Twice the General made his guest the object of his
formidable advance. The first time, having put him out of countenance,
he contented himself with exclaiming:
"Well, young man!" and turned on his heel.
The next time he bore down upon Camors, he said not a word, and retired
Evidently the General had not the slightest recollection of the
postscript. Camors tried to be contented, but would continually ask
himself why he had come to Campvallon, in the midst of his family,
of whom he was not overfond, and in the depths of the country, which he
execrated. Luckily, the castle boasted a library well stocked with works
on civil and international law, jurisprudence, and political economy.
He took advantage of it; and, resuming the thread of those serious
studies which had been broken off during his period of hopelessness,
plunged into those recondite themes that pleased his active intelligence
and his awakened ambition. Thus he waited patiently until politeness
would permit him to bring to an explanation the former friend and
companion-in-arms of his father. In the morning he rode on horseback;
gave a lesson in fencing to his cousin Sigismund, the son of Madame de la
Roche-Jugan; then shut himself up in the library until the evening, which
he passed at bezique with the General. Meantime he viewed with the eye
of a philosopher the strife of the covetous relatives who hovered around
their rich prey.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan had invented an original way of making herself
agreeable to the General, which was to persuade him he had disease of the
heart. She continually felt his pulse with her plump hand, sometimes
reassuring him, and at others inspiring him with a salutary terror,
although he denied it.
"Good heavens! my dear cousin!" he would exclaim, "let me alone. I
know I am mortal like everybody else. What of that? But I see your aim-
it is to convert me! Ta-ta!"
She not only wished to convert him, but to marry him, and bury him
She based her hopes in this respect chiefly on her son Sigismund; knowing
that the General bitterly regretted having no one to inherit his name.
He had but to marry Madame de la Roche-Jugan and adopt her son to banish
this care. Without a single allusion to this fact, the Countess failed
not to turn the thoughts of the General toward it with all the tact of an
accomplished intrigante, with all the ardor of a mother, and with all the
piety of an unctuous devotee.
Her sister, the Baroness Tonnelier, bitterly confessed her own
disadvantage. She was not a widow. And she had no son. But she had two
daughters, both of them graceful, very elegant and sparkling. One was
Madame Bacquiere, the wife of a broker; the other, Madame Van-Cuyp, wife
of a young Hollander, doing business at Paris.
Both interpreted life and marriage gayly; both floated from one year into
another dancing, riding, hunting, coquetting, and singing recklessly the
most risque songs of the minor theatres. Formerly, Camors, in his
pensive mood, had taken an aversion to these little examples of modern
feminine frivolity. Since he had changed his views of life he did them
more justice. He said, calmly:
"They are pretty little animals that follow their instincts."
Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, instigated by their mother, applied
themselves assiduously to making the General feel all the sacred joys
that cluster round the domestic hearth. They enlivened his household,
exercised his horses, killed his game, and tortured his piano. They
seemed to think that the General, once accustomed to their sweetness and
animation, could not do without it, and that their society would become
indispensable to him. They mingled, too, with their adroit manoeuvres,
familiar and delicate attentions, likely to touch an old man. They sat
on his knees like children, played gently with his moustache, and
arranged in the latest style the military knot of his cravat.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan never ceased to deplore confidentially to the
General the unfortunate education of her nieces; while the Baroness, on
her side, lost no opportunity of holding up in bold relief the emptiness,
impertinence, and sulkiness of young Count Sigismund.
In the midst of these honorable conflicts one person, who took no part in
them, attracted the greatest share of Camors's interest; first for her
beauty and afterward for her qualities. This was an orphan of excellent
family, but very poor, of whom Madame de la Roche-Jugan and Madame
Tonnelier had taken joint charge. Mademoiselle Charlotte de Luc
d'Estrelles passed six months of each year with the Countess and six with
the Baroness. She was twenty-five years of age, tall and blonde, with
deep-set eyes under the shadow of sweeping, black lashes. Thick masses
of hair framed her sad but splendid brow; and she was badly, or rather
poorly dressed, never condescending to wear the cast-off clothes of her
relatives, but preferring gowns of simplest material made by her own
hands. These draperies gave her the appearance of an antique statue.
Her Tonnelier cousins nicknamed her "the goddess." They hated her; she
despised them. The name they gave her, however, was marvellously
When she walked, you would have imagined she had descended from a
pedestal; the pose of her head was like that of the Greek Venus; her
delicate, dilating nostrils seemed carved by a cunning chisel from
transparent ivory. She had a startled, wild air, such as one sees in
pictures of huntress nymphs. She used a naturally fine voice with great
effect; and had already cultivated, so far as she could, a taste for art.
She was naturally so taciturn one was compelled to guess her thoughts;
and long since Camors had reflected as to what was passing in that self-
centred soul. Inspired by his innate generosity, as well as his secret
admiration, he took pleasure in heaping upon this poor cousin the
attentions he might have paid a queen; but she always seemed as
indifferent to them as she was to the opposite course of her involuntary
benefactress. Her position at Campvallon was very odd. After Camors's
arrival, she was more taciturn than ever; absorbed, estranged, as if
meditating some deep design, she would suddenly raise the long lashes of
her blue eyes, dart a rapid glance here and there, and finally fix it on
Camors, who would feel himself tremble under it.
One afternoon, when he was seated in the library, he heard a gentle tap
at the door, and Mademoiselle entered, looking very pale. Somewhat
astonished, he rose and saluted her.
"I wish to speak with you, cousin," she said. The accent was pure and
grave, but slightly touched with evident emotion. Camors stared at her,
showed her to a divan, and took a chair facing her.
"You know very little of me, cousin," she continued, "but I am frank and
courageous. I will come at once to the object that brings me here. Is
it true that you are ruined?"
"Why do you ask, Mademoiselle?"
"You always have been very good to me--you only. I am very grateful to
you; and I also--" She stopped, dropped her eyes, and a bright flush
suffused her cheeks. Then she bent her head, smiling like one who has
regained courage under difficulty. "Well, then," she resumed, "I am
ready to devote my life to you. You will deem me very romantic, but I
have wrought out of our united poverty a very charming picture, I
believe. I am sure I should make an excellent wife for the husband I
loved. If you must leave France, as they tell me you must, I will follow
you--I will be your brave and faithful helpmate. Pardon me, one word
more, Monsieur de Camors. My proposition would be immodest if it
concealed any afterthought. It conceals none. I am poor. I have but
fifteen hundred francs' income. If you are richer than I, consider I
have said nothing; for nothing in the world would then induce me to marry
She paused; and with a manner of mingled yearning, candor, and anguish,
fixed on him her large eyes full of fire.
There was a solemn pause. Between these strange natures, both high and
noble, a terrible destiny seemed pending at this moment, and both felt
At length Camors responded in a grave, calm voice: "It is impossible,
Mademoiselle, that you can appreciate the trial to which you expose me;
but I have searched my heart, and I there find nothing worthy of you.
Do me the justice to believe that my decision is based neither upon your
fortune nor upon my own: but I am resolved never to marry." She sighed
deeply, and rose. "Adieu, cousin," she said.
"I beg--I pray you to remain one moment," cried the young man, reseating
her with gentle force upon the sofa. He walked half across the room to
repress his agitation; then leaning on a table near the young girl, said:
"Mademoiselle Charlotte, you are unhappy; are you not?"
"A little, perhaps," she answered.
"I do not mean at this moment, but always?"
"Aunt de la Roche-Jugan treats you harshly?"
"Undoubtedly; she dreads that I may entrap her son. Good heavens!"
"The little Tonneliers are jealous of you, and Uncle Tonnelier torments
"Basely!" she said; and two tears swam on her eyelashes, then glistened
like diamonds on her cheek.
"And what do you believe of the religion of our aunt?"
"What would you have me believe of religion that bestows no virtue--
restrains no vice?"
"Then you are a non-believer?"
"One may believe in God and the Gospel without believing in the religion
of our aunt."
"But she will drive you into a convent. Why, then, do you not enter
"I love life," the girl said.
He looked at her silently a moment, then continued "Yes, you love life--
the sunlight, the thoughts, the arts, the luxuries--everything that is
beautiful, like yourself. Then, Mademoiselle Charlotte, all these are in
your hands; why do you not grasp them?"
"How?" she queried, surprised and somewhat startled.
"If you have, as I believe you have, as much strength of soul as
intelligence and beauty, you can escape at once and forever the miserable
servitude fate has imposed upon you. Richly endowed as you are, you
might become to-morrow a great artiste, independent, feted, rich, adored
--the mistress of Paris and of the world!"
"And yours also?--No!" said this strange girl.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle Charlotte. I did not suspect you of any improper
idea, when you offered to share my uncertain fortunes. Render me, I pray
you, the same justice at this moment. My moral principles are very lax,
it is true, but I am as proud as yourself. I never shall reach my aim by
any subterfuge. No; strive to study art. I find you beautiful and
seductive, but I am governed by sentiments superior to personal
interests. I was profoundly touched by your sympathetic leaning toward
me, and have sought to testify my gratitude by friendly counsel. Since,
however, you now suspect me of striving to corrupt you for my own ends, I
am silent, Mademoiselle, and permit you to depart."
"Pray proceed, Monsieur de Camors."
"You will then listen to me with confidence?"
"I will do so."
"Well, then, Mademoiselle, you have seen little of the world, but you
have seen enough to judge and to be certain of the value of its esteem.
The world! That is your family and mine: Monsieur and Madame Tonnelier,
Monsieur and Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and the little Sigismund!"
"Well, then, Mademoiselle Charlotte, the day that you become a great
artiste, rich, triumphant, idolized, wealthy--drinking, in deep draughts,
all the joys of life--that day Uncle Tonnelier will invoke outraged
morals, our aunt will swoon with prudery in the arms of her old lovers,
and Madame de la Roche-Jugan will groan and turn her yellow eyes to
heaven! But what will all that matter to you?"
"Then, Monsieur, you advise me to lead an immoral life."
"By no manner of means. I only urge you, in defiance of public opinion,
to become an actress, as the only sure road to independence, fame, and
fortune. And besides, there is no law preventing an actress marrying and
being 'honorable,' as the world understands the word. You have heard of
more than one example of this."
"Without mother, family, or protector, it would be an extraordinary thing
for me to do! I can not fail to see that sooner or later I should be a
Camors remained silent. "Why do you not answer?" she asked.
"Heavens! Mademoiselle, because this is so delicate a subject, and our
ideas are so different about it. I can not change mine; I must leave you
yours. As for me, I am a very pagan."
"How? Are good and bad indifferent to you?"
"No; but to me it seems bad to fear the opinion of people one despises,
to practise what one does not believe, and to yield before prejudices and
phantoms of which one knows the unreality. It is bad to be a slave or a
hypocrite, as are three fourths of the world. Evil is ugliness,
ignorance, folly, and baseness. Good is beauty, talent, ability, and
courage! That is all."
"And God?" the girl cried. He did not reply. She looked fixedly at him
a moment without catching the eyes he kept turned from her. Her head
drooped heavily; then raising it suddenly, she said: "There are
sentiments men can not understand. In my bitter hours I have often
dreamed of this free life you now advise; but I have always recoiled
before one thought--only one."
"Perhaps the sentiment is not peculiar to me--perhaps it is excessive
pride, but I have a great regard for myself--my person is sacred to me.
Should I come to believe in nothing, like you--and I am far from that
yet, thank God!--I should even then remain honest and true--faithful to
one love, simply from pride. I should prefer," she added, in a voice
deep and sustained, but somewhat strained, "I should prefer to desecrate
an altar rather than myself!"
Saying these words, she rose, made a haughty movement of the head in sign
of an adieu, and left the room.
THE COUNT LOSES A LADY AND FINDS A MISSION
Camors sat for some time plunged in thought.
He was astonished at the depths he had discovered in her character; he
was displeased with himself without well knowing why; and, above all, he
was much struck by his cousin.
However, as he had but a slight opinion of the sincerity of women, he
persuaded himself that Mademoiselle de Luc d'Estrelles, when she came to
offer him her heart and hand, nevertheless knew he was not altogether a
despicable match for her. He said to himself that a few years back he
might have been duped by her apparent sincerity, and congratulated
himself on not having fallen into this attractive snare--on not having
listened to the first promptings of credulity and sincere emotion.
He might have spared himself these compliments. Mademoiselle de Luc
d'Estrelles, as he was soon to discover, had been in that perfectly
frank, generous, and disinterested state of mind in which women sometimes
Only, would it happen to him to find her so in the future? That was
doubtful, thanks to M. de Camors. It often happens that by despising men
too much, we degrade them; in suspecting women too much, we lose them.
About an hour passed; there was another rap at the library door. Camors
felt a slight palpitation and a secret wish that it should prove