Part 3 out of 6
dream, like the reckless Epicureans of the Bible, of mingling, in a new
intoxication, the earth with heaven. To these sombre instincts of
depravity were soon united in the feelings of Camors a sentiment more
worthy of her. Seeing her every day with that childlike intimacy which
the country encourages--enhancing the graceful movements of this
accomplished person, ever self-possessed and equally prepared for duty or
for pleasure--as animated as passion, yet as severe as virtue--he
conceived for her a genuine worship. It was not respect, for that
requires the effort of believing in such merits, and he did not wish to
believe. He thought Madame de Tecle was born so. He admired her as he
would admire a rare plant, a beautiful object, an exquisite work, in
which nature had combined physical and moral grace with perfect
proportion and harmony. His deportment as her slave when near her was
not long a mere bit of acting. Our fair readers have doubtless remarked
an odd fact: that where a reciprocal sentiment of two feeble human beings
has reached a certain point of maturity, chance never fails to furnish a
fatal occasion which betrays the secret of the two hearts, and suddenly
launches the thunderbolt which has been gradually gathering in the
clouds. This is the crisis of all love. This occasion presented itself
to Madame de Tecle and M. de Camors in the form of an unpoetic incident.
It occurred at the end of October. Camors had gone out after dinner to
take a ride in the neighborhood. Night had already fallen, clear and
cold; but as the Count could not see Madame de Tecle that evening, he
began only to think of being near her, and felt that unwillingness to
work common to lovers--striving, if possible, to kill time, which hung
heavy on his hands.
He hoped also that violent exercise might calm his spirit, which never
had been more profoundly agitated. Still young and unpractised in his
pitiless system, he was troubled at the thought of a victim so pure as
Madame de Tecle. To trample on the life, the repose, and the heart of
such a woman, as the horse tramples on the grass of the road, with as
little care or pity, was hard for a novice.
Strange as it may appear, the idea of marrying her had occurred to him.
Then he said to himself that this weakness was in direct contradiction to
his principles, and that she would cause him to lose forever his mastery
over himself, and throw him back into the nothingness of his past life.
Yet with the corrupt inspirations of his depraved soul he foresaw that
the moment he touched her hands with the lips of a lover a new sentiment
would spring up in her soul. As he abandoned himself to these passionate
imaginings, the recollection of young Madame Lescande came back suddenly
to his memory. He grew pale in the darkness. At this moment he was
passing the edge of a little wood belonging to the Comte de Tecle, of
which a portion had recently been cleared. It was not chance alone that
had directed the Count's ride to this point. Madame de Tecle loved this
spot, and had frequently taken him there, and on the preceding evening,
accompanied by her daughter and her father-in-law, had visited it with
The site was a peculiar one. Although not far from houses, the wood was
very wild, as if a thousand miles distant from any inhabited place.
You would have said it was a virgin forest, untouched by the axe of the
pioneer. Enormous stumps without bark, trunks of gigantic trees, covered
the declivity of the hill, and barricaded, here and there, in a
picturesque manner, the current of the brook which ran into the valley.
A little farther up the dense wood of tufted trees contributed to diffuse
that religious light half over the rocks, the brushwood and the fertile
soil, and on the limpid water, which is at once the charm and the horror
of old neglected woods. In this solitude, and on a space of cleared
ground, rose a sort of rude hut, constructed by a poor devil who was a
sabot-maker by trade, and who had been allowed to establish himself there
by the Comte de Tecle, and to use the beech-trees to gain his humble
living. This Bohemian interested Madame de Tecle, probably because, like
M. de Camors, he had a bad reputation. He lived in his cabin with a
woman who was still pretty under her rags, and with two little boys with
He was a stranger in the neighborhood, and the woman was said not to be
his wife. He was very taciturn, and his features seemed fine and
determined under his thick, black beard.
Madame de Tecle amused herself seeing him make his sabots. She loved the
children, who, though dirty, were beautiful as angels; and she pitied the
woman. She had a secret project to marry her to the man, in case she had
not yet been married, which seemed probable.
Camors walked his horse slowly over the rocky and winding path on the
slope of the hillock. This was the moment when the ghost of Madame
Lescande had risen before him, and he believed he could almost hear her
weep. Suddenly this illusion gave place to a strange reality. The voice
of a woman plainly called him by name, in accents of distress--"Monsieur
Stopping his horse on the instant, he felt an icy shudder pass through
his frame. The same voice rose higher and called him again. He
recognized it as the voice of Madame de Tecle. Looking around him in the
obscure light with a rapid glance, he saw a light shining through the
foliage in the direction of the cottage of the sabot-maker. Guided by
this, he put spurs to his horse, crossed the cleared ground up the
hillside, and found himself face to face with Madame de Tecle. She was
standing at the threshold of the hut, her head bare, and her beautiful
hair dishevelled under a long, black lace veil. She was giving a servant
some hasty orders. When she saw Camors approach, she came toward him.
"Pardon me," she said, "but I thought I recognized you, and I called you.
I am so much distressed--so distressed! The two children of this man are
dying! What is to be done? Come in--come in, I beg of you!"
He leaped to the ground, threw the reins to his servant, and followed
Madame de Tekle into the interior of the cabin.
The two children with the golden hair were lying side by side on a little
bed, immovable, rigid, their eyes open and the pupils strangely dilated--
their faces red, and agitated by slight convulsions. They seemed to be
in the agony of death. The old doctor, Du Rocher, was leaning over them,
looking at them with a fixed, anxious, and despairing eye. The mother
was on her knees, her head clasped in her hands, and weeping bitterly.
At the foot of the bed stood the father, with his savage mien--his arms
crossed, and his eyes dry. He shuddered at intervals, and murmured, in a
hoarse, hollow voice: "Both of them! Both of them!" Then he relapsed
into his mournful attitude. M. Durocher, approached Camors quickly.
"Monsieur," said he, "what can this be? I believe it to be poisoning,
but can detect no definite symptoms: otherwise, the parents should know--
but they know nothing! A sunstroke, perhaps; but as both were struck at
the same time--and then at this season--ah! our profession is quite
Camors made rapid inquiries. They had sought M. Durocher, who was dining
with Madame de Tecle an hour before. He had hastened, and found the
children already speechless, in a state of fearful congestion. It
appeared they had fallen into this state when first attacked, and had
Camors conceived an idea. He asked to see the clothes the children had
worn during the day. The mother gave them to him. He examined them with
care, and pointed out to the doctor several red stains on the poor rags.
The doctor touched his forehead, and turned over with a feverish hand the
small linen--the rough waistcoat--searched the pockets, and found dozens
of a small fruit-like cherries, half crushed. "Belladonna!" he
exclaimed. "That idea struck me several times, but how could I be sure?
You can not find it within twenty miles of this place, except in this
cursed wood--of that I am sure."
"Do you think there is yet time?" asked the young Count, in a low voice.
"The children seem to me to be very ill."
"Lost, I fear; but everything depends on the time that has passed, the
quantity they have taken, and the remedies I can procure."
The old man consulted quickly with Madame de Tecle, who found she had not
in her country pharmacy the necessary remedies, or counter-irritants,
which the urgency of the case demanded. The doctor was obliged to
content himself with the essence of coffee, which the servant was ordered
to prepare in haste, and to send to the village for the other things
"To the village!" cried Madame de Tecle. "Good heavens! it is four
leagues--it is night, and we shall have to wait probably three or four
Camors heard this: "Doctor, write your prescription," he said: "Trilby is
at the door, and with him I can do the four leagues in an hour--in one
hour I promise to return here."
"Oh! thank you, Monsieur!" said Madame de Tecle.
He took the prescription which Dr. Durocher had rapidly traced on a leaf
of his pocketbook, mounted his horse, and departed.
The highroad was fortunately not far distant. When he reached it he rode
like the phantom horseman.
It was nine o'clock when Madame de Tecle witnessed his departure--it was
a few moments after ten when she heard the tramp of his horse at the foot
of the hill and ran to the door of the hut. The condition of the two
children seemed to have grown worse in the interval, but the old doctor
had great hopes in the remedies which Camors was to bring. She waited
with impatience, and received him like the dawn of the last hope. She
contented herself with pressing his hand, when, breathless, he descended
from his horse. But this adorable creature threw herself on Trilby, who
was covered with foam and steaming like a furnace.
"Poor Trilby," she said, embracing him in her two arms, "dear Trilby--
good Trilby! you are half dead, are you not? But I love you well. Go
quickly, Monsieur de Camors, I will attend to Trilby"--and while the
young man entered the cabin, she confided Trilby to the charge of her
servant, with orders to take him to the stable, and a thousand minute
directions to take good care of him after his noble conduct.
Dr. Durocher had to obtain the aid of Camors to pass the new medicine
through the clenched teeth of the unfortunate children. While both were
engaged in this work, Madame de Tecle was sitting on a stool with her
head resting against the cabin wall. Durocher suddenly raised his eyes
and fixed them on her.
"My dear Madame," he said, "you are ill. You have had too much
excitement, and the odors here are insupportable. You must go home."
"I really do not feel very well," she murmured.
"You must go at once. We shall send you the news. One of your servants
will take you home."
She raised herself, trembling; but one look from the young wife of the
sabot-maker arrested her. To this poor woman, it seemed that Providence
deserted her with Madame de Tecle.
"No!" she said with a divine sweetness; "I will not go. I shall only
breathe a little fresh air. I will remain until they are safe, I promise
you;" and she left the room smiling upon the poor woman. After a few
minutes, Durocher said to M. de Camors:
"My dear sir, I thank you--but I really have no further need of your
services; so you too may go and rest yourself, for you also are growing
Camors, exhausted by his long ride, felt suffocated by the atmosphere of
the hut, and consented to the suggestion of the old man, saying that he
would not go far.
As he put his foot outside of the cottage, Madame de Tecle, who was
sitting before the door, quickly rose and threw over his shoulders a
cloak which they had brought for her. She then reseated herself without
"But you can not remain here all night," he said.
"I should be too uneasy at home."
"But the night is very cold--shall I make you a fire?"
"If you wish," she said.
"Let us see where we can make this little fire. In the midst of this
wood it is impossible--we should have a conflagration to finish the
picture. Can you walk?
"Then take my arm, and we shall go and search for a place for our
She leaned lightly on his arm, and took a few steps with him toward the
"Do you think they are saved?" she asked.
"I hope so," he replied. "The face of Doctor Durocher is more cheerful."
"Oh! how glad I am!"
Both of them stumbled over a root, and laughed like two children for
"We shall soon be in the woods," said Madame de Tecle, "and I declare I
can go no farther: good or bad, I choose this spot."
They were still quite close to the hut, but the branches of the old trees
which had been spared by the axe spread like a sombre dome over their
heads. Near by was a large rock, slightly covered with moss, and a
number of old trunks of trees, on which Madame de Tecle took her seat.
"Nothing could be better," said Camors, gayly. "I must collect my
A moment after he reappeared, bringing in his arms brushwood, and also a
travelling-rug which his servant had brought him.
He got on his knees in front of the rock, prepared the fagots, and
lighted them with a match. When the flame began to flicker on the rustic
hearth Madame de Tecle trembled with joy, and held out both hands to the
"Ah! how nice that is!" she said; "and then it is so amusing; one would
say we had been shipwrecked.
"Now, Monsieur, if you would be perfect go and see what Durocher reports."
He ran to the hut. When he returned he could not avoid stopping half way
to admire the elegant and simple silhouette of the young woman, defined
sharply against the blackness of the wood, her fine countenance slightly.
illuminated by the firelight. The moment she saw him:
"Well!" she cried.
"A great deal of hope."
"Oh! what happiness, Monsieur!" She pressed his hand.
"Sit down there," she said.
He sat down on a rock contiguous to hers, and replied to her eager
questions. He repeated, in detail, his conversation with the doctor, and
explained at length the properties of belladonna. She listened at first
with interest, but little by little, with her head wrapped in her veil
and resting on the boughs interlaced behind her, she seemed to be
uncomfortably resting from fatigue.
"You are likely to fall asleep there," he said, laughing.
"Perhaps!" she murmured--smiled, and went to sleep.
Her sleep resembled death, it was so profound, and so calm was the
beating of her heart, so light her breathing.
Camors knelt down again by the fire, to listen breathlessly and to gaze
upon her. From time to time he seemed to meditate, and the solitude was
disturbed only by the rustling of the leaves. His eyes followed the
flickering of the flame, sometimes resting on the white cheek, sometimes
on the grove, sometimes on the arches of the high trees, as if he wished
to fix in his memory all the details of this sweet scene. Then his gaze
rested again on the young woman, clothed in her beauty, grace, and
What heavenly thoughts descended at that moment on this sombre soul--what
hesitation, what doubt assailed it! What images of peace, truth, virtue,
and happiness passed into that brain full of storm, and chased away the
phantoms of the sophistries he cherished! He himself knew, but never
The brisk crackling of the wood awakened her. She opened her eyes in
surprise, and as soon as she saw the young man kneeling before her,
"How are they now, Monsieur?"
He did not know how to tell her that for the last hour he had had but one
thought, and that was of her. Durocher appeared suddenly before them.
"They are saved, Madame," said the old man, brusquely; "come quickly,
embrace them, and return home, or we shall have to treat you to-morrow.
You are very imprudent to have remained in this damp wood, and it was
absurd of Monsieur to let you do so."
She took the arm of the old doctor, smiling, and reentered the hut. The
two children, now roused from the dangerous torpor, but who seemed still
terrified by the threatened death, raised their little round heads. She
made them a sign to keep quiet, and leaned over their pillow smiling upon
them, and imprinted two kisses on their golden curls.
"To-morrow, my angels," she said. But the mother, half laughing, half
crying, followed Madame de Tecle step by step, speaking to her, and
kissing her garments.
"Let her alone," cried the old doctor, querulously. "Go home, Madame.
Monsieur de Camors, take her home."
She was going out, when the man, who had not before spoken, and who was
sitting in the corner of his but as if stupefied, rose suddenly, seized
the arm of Madame de Tecle, who, slightly terrified, turned round, for
the gesture of the man was so violent as to seem menacing; his eyes, hard
and dry, were fixed upon her, and he continued to press her arm with a
"My friend!" she said, although rather uncertain.
"Yes, your friend," muttered the man with a hollow voice; "yes, your
He could not continue, his mouth worked as if in a convulsion, suppressed
weeping shook his frame; he then threw himself on his knees, and they saw
a shower of tears force themselves through the hands clasped over his
"Take her away, Monsieur," said the old doctor.
Camors gently pushed her out of the but and followed her. She took his
arm and descended the rugged path which led to her home.
It was a walk of twenty minutes from the wood. Half the distance was
passed without interchanging a word. Once or twice, when the rays of the
moon pierced through the clouds, Camors thought he saw her wipe away a
tear with the end of her glove. He guided her cautiously in the
darkness, although the light step of the young woman was little slower in
the obscurity. Her springy step pressed noiselessly the fallen leaves--
avoided without assistance the ruts and marshes, as if she had been
endowed with a magical clairvoyance. When they reached a crossroad, and
Camors seemed uncertain, she indicated the way by a slight pressure of
the arm. Both were no doubt embarrassed by the long silence--it was
Madame de Tecle who first broke it.
"You have been very good this evening, Monsieur," she said in a low and
slightly agitated voice.
"I love you so much!" said the young man.
He pronounced these simple words in such a deep impassioned tone that
Madame de Tecle trembled and stood still in the road.
"Monsieur de Camors!"
"What, Madame?" he demanded, in a strange tone.
"Heavens!--in fact-nothing!" said she, "for this is a declaration of
friendship, I suppose--and your friendship gives me much pleasure."
He let go her arm at once, and in a hoarse and angry voice said--
"I am not your friend!"
"What are you then, Monsieur?"
Her voice was calm, but she recoiled a few steps, and leaned against one
of the trees which bordered the road. The explosion so long pent up
burst forth, and a flood of words poured from the young man's lips with
"What I am I know not! I no longer know whether I am myself--if I am
dead or alive--if I am good or bad--whether I am dreaming or waking. Oh,
Madame, what I wish is that the day may never rise again--that this night
would never finish--that I should wish to feel always--always--in my
head, my heart, my entire being--that which I now feel, near you--of you
--for you! I should wish to be stricken with some sudden illness,
without hope, in order to be watched and wept for by you, like those
children--and to be embalmed in your tears; and to see you bowed down in
terror before me is horrible to me! By the name of your God, whom you
have made me respect, I swear you are sacred to me--the child in the arms
of its mother is not more so!"
"I have no fear," she murmured.
"Oh, no!--have no fear!" he repeated in a tone of voice infinitely
softened and tender. "It is I who am afraid--it is I who tremble--you
see it; for since I have spoken, all is finished. I expect nothing more
--I hope for nothing--this night has no possible tomorrow. I know it.
Your husband I dare not be--your lover I should not wish to be. I ask
nothing of you--understand well! I should like to burn my heart at your
feet, as on an altar--this is all. Do you believe me? Answer! Are you
tranquil? Are you confident? Will you hear me? May I tell you what
image I carry of you in the secret recesses of my heart? Dear creature
that you are, you do not--ah, you do not know how great is your worth;
and I fear to tell you; so much am I afraid of stripping you of your
charms, or of one of your virtues. If you had been proud of yourself,
as you have a right to be, you would be less perfect, and I should love
you less. But I wish to tell you how lovable and how charming you are.
You alone do not know it. You alone do not see the soft flame of your
large eyes--the reflection of your heroic soul on your young but serene
brow. Your charm is over everything you do--your slightest gesture is
engraven on my heart. Into the most ordinary duties of every-day life
you carry a peculiar grace, like a young priestess who recites her daily
devotions. Your hand, your touch, your breath purifies everything--even
the most humble and the most wicked beings--and myself first of all!
"I am astonished at the words which I dare to pronounce, and the
sentiments which animate me, to whom you have made clear new truths.
Yes, all the rhapsodies of the poets, all the loves of the martyrs,
I comprehend in your presence. This is truth itself. I understand those
who died for their faith by the torture--because I should like to suffer
for you--because I believe in you--because I respect you--I cherish you--
I adore you!"
He stopped, shivering, and half prostrating himself before her, seized
the end of her veil and kissed it.
"Now," he continued, with a kind of grave sadness, "go, Madame, I have
forgotten too long that you require repose. Pardon me--proceed. I shall
follow you at a distance, until you reach your home, to protect you--but
fear nothing from me."
Madame de Tecle had listened, without once interrupting him even by a
sigh. Words would only excite the young man more. Probably she
understood, for the first time in her life, one of those songs of love--
one of those hymns alive with passion, which every woman wishes to hear
before she dies. Should she die because she had heard it? She remained
without speaking, as if just awakening from a dream, and said quite
simply, in a voice as soft and feeble as a sigh, "My God!" After another
pause she advanced a few steps on the road.
"Give me your arm as far as my house, Monsieur," she said.
He obeyed her, and they continued their walk toward the house, the lights
of which they soon saw. They did not exchange a word--only as they
reached the gate, Madame de Tecle turned and made him a slight gesture
with her hand, in sign of adieu. In return, M. de Camors bowed low, and
THE PROLOGUE TO THE TRAGEDY
The Comte de Camors had been sincere. When true passion surprises the
human soul, it breaks down all resolves, sweeps away all logic, and
crushes all calculations.
In this lies its grandeur, and also its danger. It suddenly seizes on
you, as the ancient god inspired the priestess on her tripod--speaks
through your lips, utters words you hardly comprehend, falsifies your
thoughts, confounds your reason, and betrays your secrets. When this
sublime madness possesses you, it elevates you--it transfigures you.
It can suddenly convert a common man into a poet, a coward into a hero,
an egotist into a martyr, and Don Juan himself into an angel of purity.
With women--and it is to their honor--this metamorphosis can be durable,
but it is rarely so with men. Once transported to this stormy sky, women
frankly accept it as their proper home, and the vicinity of the thunder
does not disquiet them.
Passion is their element--they feel at home there. There are few women
worthy of the name who are not ready to put in action all the words which
passion has caused to bubble from their lips. If they speak of flight,
they are ready for exile. If they talk of dying, they are ready for
death. Men are far less consistent with their ideas.
It was not until late the next morning that Camors regretted his outbreak
of sincerity; for, during the remainder of the night, still filled with
his excitement, agitated and shaken by the passage of the god, sunk into
a confused and feverish reverie, he was incapable of reflection. But
when, on awakening, he surveyed the situation calmly and by the plain
light of day, and thought over the preceding evening and its events, he
could not fail to recognize the fact that he had been cruelly duped by
his own nervous system. To love Madame de Tecle was perfectly proper,
and he loved her still--for she was a person to be loved and desired--
but to elevate that love or any other as the master of his life, instead
of its plaything, was one of those weaknesses interdicted by his system
more than any other. In fact, he felt that he had spoken and acted like
a school-boy on a holiday. He had uttered words, made promises, and
taken engagements on himself which no one demanded of him. No conduct
could have been more ridiculous. Happily, nothing was lost. He had yet
time to give his love that subordinate place which this sort of fantasy
should occupy in the life of man. He had been imprudent; but this very
imprudence might finally prove of service to him. All that remained of
this scene was a declaration--gracefully made, spontaneous, natural--
which subjected Madame de Tecle to the double charm of a mystic idolatry
which pleased her sex, and to a manly ardor which could not displease
He had, therefore, nothing to regret--although he certainly would have
preferred, from the point of view of his principles, to have displayed a
somewhat less childish weakness.
But what course should he now adopt? Nothing could be more simple. He
would go to Madame de Tecle--implore her forgiveness--throw himself again
at her feet, promising eternal respect, and succeed. Consequently, about
ten o'clock, M. de Camors wrote the following note:
"I can not leave without bidding you adieu, and once more demanding
"Will you permit me?
This letter he was about despatching, when he received one containing the
"I shall be happy, Monsieur, if you will call upon me to-day, about
"ELISE DE TECLE."
Upon which M. de Camors threw his own note in the fire, as entirely
No matter what interpretation he put upon this note, it was an evident
sign that love had triumphed and that virtue was defeated; for, after
what had passed the previous evening between Madame de Tecle and himself,
there was only one course for a virtuous woman to take; and that was
never to see him again. To see him was to pardon him; to pardon him was
to surrender herself to him, with or without circumlocution. Camors did
not allow himself to deplore any further an adventure which had so
suddenly lost its gravity. He soliloquized on the weakness of women.
He thought it bad taste in Madame de Tecle not to have maintained longer
the high ideal his innocence had created for her. Anticipating the
disenchantment which follows possession, he already saw her deprived of
all her prestige, and ticketed in the museum of his amorous souvenirs.
Nevertheless, when he approached her house, and had the feeling of her
near presence, he was troubled. Doubt--and anxiety assailed him. When
he saw through the trees the window of her room, his heart throbbed so
violently that he had to sit down on the root of a tree for a moment.
"I love her like a madman!" he murmured; then leaping up suddenly he
exclaimed, "But she is only a woman, after all--I shall go on!"
For the first time Madame de Tecle received him in her own apartment.
This room M. de Camors had never seen. It was a large and lofty
apartment, draped and furnished in sombre tints.
It contained gilded mirrors, bronzes, engravings, and old family jewelry
lying on tables--the whole presenting the appearance of the ornamentation
of a church.
In this severe and almost religious interior, however rich, reigned a
vague odor of flowers; and there were also to be seen boxes of lace,
drawers of perfumed linen, and that dainty atmosphere which ever
accompanies refined women.
But every one has her personal individuality, and forms her own
atmosphere which fascinates her lover. Madame de Tecle, finding herself
almost lost in this very large room, had so arranged some pieces of
furniture as to make herself a little private nook near the chimneypiece,
which her daughter called, "My mother's chapel." It was there Camors now
perceived her, by the soft light of a lamp, sitting in an armchair, and,
contrary to her custom, having no work in her hands. She appeared calm,
though two dark circles surrounded her eyes. She had evidently suffered
much, and wept much.
On seeing that dear face, worn and haggard with grief, Camors forgot the
neat phrases he had prepared for his entrance. He forgot all except that
he really adored her.
He advanced hastily toward her, seized in his two hands those of the
young woman and, without speaking, interrogated her eyes with tenderness
and profound pity.
"It is nothing," she said, withdrawing her hand and bending her pale face
gently; "I am better; I may even be very happy, if you wish it."
There was in the smile, the look, and the accent of Madame de Tecle
something indefinable, which froze the blood of Camors.
He felt confusedly that she loved him, and yet was lost to him; that he
had before him a species of being he did not understand, and that this
woman, saddened, broken, and lost by love, yet loved something else in
this world better even than that love.
She made him a slight sign, which he obeyed like a child, and he sat down
"Monsieur," she said to him, in a voice tremulous at first, but which
grew stronger as she proceeded, "I heard you last night perhaps with a
little too much patience. I shall now, in return, ask from you the same
kindness. You have told me that you love me, Monsieur; and I avow
frankly that I entertain a lively affection for you. Such being the
case, we must either separate forever, or unite ourselves by the only tie
worthy of us both. To part:--that will afflict me much, and I also
believe it would occasion much grief to you. To unite ourselves:--for my
own part, Monsieur, I should be willing to give you my life; but I can
not do it, I can not wed you without manifest folly. You are younger
than I; and as good and generous as I believe you to be, simple reason
tells me that by so doing I should bring bitter repentance on myself.
But there is yet another reason. I do not belong to myself, I belong to
my daughter, to my family, to my past. In giving up my name for yours I
should wound, I should cruelly afflict, all the friends who surround me,
and, I believe, some who exist no longer. Well, Monsieur," she
continued, with a smile of celestial grace and resignation, "I have
discovered a way by which we yet can avoid breaking off an intimacy so
sweet to both of us--in fact, to make it closer and more dear. My
proposal may surprise you, but have the kindness to think over it,
and do not say no, at once."
She glanced at him, and was terrified at the pallor which overspread his
face. She gently took his hand, and said:
"Speak on!" he muttered, hoarsely.
"Monsieur," she continued, with her smile of angelic charity, "God be
praised, you are quite young; in our society men situated as you are do
not marry early, and I think they are right. Well, then, this is what I
wish to do, if you will allow me to tell you. I wish to blend in one
affection the two strongest sentiments of my heart! I wish to
concentrate all my care, all my tenderness, all my joy on forming a wife
worthy of you--a young soul who will make you happy, a cultivated
intellect of which you can be proud. I will promise you, Monsieur, I
will swear to you, to consecrate to you this sweet duty, and to
consecrate to it all that is best in myself. I shall devote to it all my
time, every instant of my life, as to the holy work of a saint. I swear
to you that I shall be very happy if you will only tell me that you will
consent to this."
His answer was an impatient exclamation of irony and anger: then he
"You will pardon me, Madame," he said, "if so sudden a change in my
sentiments can not be as prompt as you wish."
She blushed slightly.
"Yes," she said, with a faint smile; "I can understand that the idea of
my being your mother-in-law may seem strange to you; but in some years,
even in a very few years' time, I shall be an old woman, and then it will
seem to you very natural."
To consummate her mournful sacrifice, the poor woman did not shrink from
covering herself, even in the presence of the man she loved, with the
mantle of old age.
The soul of Camors was perverted, but not base, and it was suddenly
touched at this simple heroism. He rendered it the greatest homage he
could pay, for his eyes suddenly filled with tears. She observed it,
for she watched with an anxious eye the slightest impression she produced
upon him. So she continued more cheerfully:
"And see, Monsieur, how this will settle everything. In this way we can
continue to see each other without danger, because your little affianced
wife will be always between us. Our sentiments will soon be in harmony
with our new thoughts. Even your future prospects, which are now also
mine, will encounter fewer obstacles, because I shall push them more
openly, without revealing to my uncle what ought to remain a secret
between us two. I can let him suspect my hopes, and that will enlist him
in your service. Above all, I repeat to you that this will insure my
happiness. Will you thus accept my maternal affection?"
M. de Camors, by a powerful effort of will, had recovered his self-
"Pardon me, Madame," he said, with a faint smile, "but I should wish at
least to preserve honor. What do you ask of me? Do you yourself fully
comprehend? Have you reflected well on this? Can either of us contract,
without imprudence, an engagement of so delicate a nature for so long a
"I demand no engagement of you," she replied, "for I feel that would be
unreasonable. I only pledge myself as far as I can, without compromising
the future fate of my daughter. I shall educate her for you. I shall,
in my secret heart, destine her for you, and it is in this light I shall
think of you for the future. Grant me this. Accept it like an honest
man, and remain single. This is probably a folly, but I risk my repose
upon it. I will run all the risk, because I shall have all the joy.
I have already had a thousand thoughts on this subject, which I can not
yet tell you, but which I shall confess to God this night. I believe--
I am convinced that my daughter, when I have done all that I can for her,
will make an excellent wife for you. She will benefit you, and be an
honor to you, and will, I hope, one day thank me with all her heart; for
I perceive already what she wishes, and what she loves. You can not
know, you can not even suspect--but I--I know it. There is already a
woman in that child, and a very charming woman--much more charming than
her mother, Monsieur, I assure you."
Madame de Tecle stopped suddenly, the door opened, and Mademoiselle Marie
entered the room brusquely, holding in each hand a gigantic doll.
M. Camors rose, bowed gravely to her, and bit his lip to avoid smiling,
which did not altogether escape Madame de Tecle.
"Marie!" she cried out, "really you are absurd with your dolls!"
"My dolls! I adore them!" replied Mademoiselle Marie.
"You are absurd! Go away with your dolls," said her mother.
"Not without embracing you," said the child.
She laid her dolls on the carpet, sprang on her mother's neck, and kissed
her on both cheeks passionately, after which she took up her dolls,
saying to them:
"Come, my little dears!" and left the room.
"Good heavens!" said Madame de Tecle, laughing, "this is an unfortunate
incident; but I still insist, and I implore you to take my word. She
will have sense, courage, and goodness. Now," she continued in a more
serious tone, "take time to think over it, and return to give me your
decision, should it be favorable. If not, we must bid each other adieu."
"Madame," said Camors, rising and standing before her, "I will promise
never to address a word to you which a son might not utter to his mother.
Is it not this which you demand?"
Madame de Tecle fixed upon him for an instant her beautiful eyes, full of
joy and gratitude, then suddenly covered her face with her two hands.
"I thank you!" she murmured, "I am very happy!" She extended her hand,
wet with her tears, which he took and pressed to his lips, bowed low, and
left the room.
If there ever was a moment in his fatal career when the young man was
really worthy of admiration, it was this. His love for Madame de Tecle,
however unworthy of her it might be, was nevertheless great. It was the
only true passion he had ever felt. At the moment when he saw this love,
the triumph of which he thought certain, escape him forever, he was not
only wounded in his pride but was crushed in his heart.
Yet he took the stroke like a gentleman. His agony was well borne. His
first bitter words, checked at once, alone betrayed what he suffered.
He was as pitiless for his own sorrows as he sought to be for those of
others. He indulged in none of the common injustice habitual to
He recognized the decision of Madame de Tecle as true and final, and was
not tempted for a moment to mistake it for one of those equivocal
arrangements by which women sometimes deceive themselves, and of which
men always take advantage. He realized that the refuge she had sought
was inviolable. He neither argued nor protested against her resolve.
He submitted to it, and nobly kissed the noble hand which smote him.
As to the miracle of courage, chastity, and faith by which Madame de
Tecle had transformed and purified her love, he cared not to dwell upon
it. This example, which opened to his view a divine soul, naked, so to
speak, destroyed his theories. One word which escaped him, while passing
to his own house, proved the judgment which he passed upon it, from his
own point of view. "Very childish," he muttered, "but sublime!"
On returning home Camors found a letter from General Campvallon,
notifying him that his marriage with Mademoiselle d'Estrelles would take
place in a few days, and inviting him to be present. The marriage was to
be strictly private, with only the family to assist at it.
Camors did not regret this invitation, as it gave him the excuse for some
diversion in his thoughts, of which he felt the need. He was greatly
tempted to go away at once to diminish his sufferings, but conquered this
weakness. The next evening he passed at the chateau of M. des Rameures;
and though his heart was bleeding, he piqued himself on presenting an
unclouded brow and an inscrutable smile to Madame de Tecle. He announced
the brief absence he intended, and explained the reason.
"You will present my best wishes to the General," said M. des Rameures.
"I hope he may be happy, but I confess I doubt it devilishly."
"I shall bear your good wishes to the General, Monsieur."
"The deuce you will! 'Exceptis excipiendis', I hope," responded the old
As for Madame de Tecle, to tell of all the tender attentions and
exquisite delicacies, that a sweet womanly nature knows so well how to
apply to heal the wounds it has inflicted--how graciously she glided into
her maternal relation with Camors--to tell all this would require a pen
wielded by her own soft hands.
Two days later M. de Camors left Reuilly for Paris. The morning after
his arrival, he repaired at an early hour to the General's house, a
magnificent hotel in the Rue Vanneau. The marriage contract was to be
signed that evening, and the civil and religious ceremonies were to take
place next morning.
Camors found the General in a state of extraordinary agitation, pacing up
and down the three salons which formed the ground floor of the hotel.
The moment he perceived the young man entering--" Ah, it is you!" he
cried, darting a ferocious glance upon him. "By my faith, your arrival
"Well, what! Why do you not embrace me?"
"Very well! It is for to-morrow, you know!"
"Sacrebleu! You are very cool! Have you seen her?"
"Not yet, General. I have just arrived."
"You must go and see her this morning. You owe her this mark of
interest; and if you discover anything, you must tell me."
"But what should I discover, General?"
"How do I know? But you understand women much better than I! Does she
love me, or does she not love me? You understand, I make no pretensions
of turning her head, but still I do not wish to be an object of repulsion
to her. Nothing has given me reason to suppose so, but the girl is so
reserved, so impenetrable."
"Mademoiselle d'Estrelles is naturally cold," said Camors.
"Yes," responded the General. "Yes, and in some respects I--but really
now, should you discover anything, I rely on your communicating it to me.
And stop!--when you have seen her, have the kindness to return here, for
a few moments--will you? You will greatly oblige me!"
"Certainly, General, I shall do so."
"For my part, I love her like a fool."
"That is only right, General!"
"Hum--and what of Des Rameures?"
"I think we shall agree, General!"
"Bravo! we shall talk more of this later. Go and see her, my dear
Camors proceeded to the Rue St. Dominique, where Madame de la Roche-Jugan
"Is my aunt in, Joseph?" he inquired of the servant whom he found in the
antechamber, very busy in the preparations which the occasion demanded.
"Yes, Monsieur le Comte, Madame la Comtesse is in and will see you."
"Very well," said Camors; and directed his steps toward his aunt's
chamber. But this chamber was no longer hers. This worthy woman had
insisted on giving it up to Mademoiselle Charlotte, for whom she
manifested, since she had become the betrothed of the seven hundred
thousand francs' income of the General, the most humble deference.
Mademoiselle d'Estrelles had accepted this change with a disdainful
indifference. Camors, who was ignorant of this change, knocked therefore
most innocently at the door. Obtaining no answer, he entered without
hesitation, lifted the curtain which hung in the doorway, and was
immediately arrested by a strange spectacle. At the other extremity of
the room, facing him, was a large mirror, before which stood Mademoiselle
d'Estrelles. Her back was turned to him.
She was dressed, or rather draped, in a sort of dressing-gown of white
cashmere, without sleeves, which left her arms and shoulders bare. Her
auburn hair was unbound and floating, and fell in heavy masses almost to
her feet. One hand rested lightly on the toilet-table, the other held
together, over her bust, the folds of her dressing-gown.
She was gazing at herself in the glass, and weeping bitterly.
The tears fell drop by drop on her white, fresh bosom, and glittered
there like the drops of dew which one sees shining in the morning on the
shoulders of the marble nymphs in the gardens.
Then Camors noiselessly dropped the portiere and noiselessly retired,
taking with him, nevertheless, an eternal souvenir of this stolen visit.
He made inquiries; and finally received the embraces of his aunt, who had
taken refuge in the chamber of her son, whom she had put in the little
chamber formerly occupied by Mademoiselle d'Estrelles. His aunt, after
the first greetings, introduced her nephew into the salon, where were
displayed all the pomps of the trousseau. Cashmeres, laces, velvets,
silks of the finest quality, covered the chairs. On the chimneypiece,
the tables, and the consoles, were strewn the jewel-cases.
While Madame de la Roche-Jugan was exhibiting to Camors these magnificent
things--of which she failed not to give him the prices--Charlotte,
who had been notified of the Count's presence, entered the salon.
Her face was not only serene--it was joyous. "Good morning, cousin!"
she said gayly, extending her hand to Camors. "How very kind of you to
come! Well, you see how the General spoils me?"
"This is the trousseau of a princess, Mademoiselle!"
"And if you knew, Louis," said Madame de la Roche, "how well all this
suits her! Dear child! you would suppose she had been born to a throne.
However, you know she is descended from the kings of Spain."
"Dear aunt!" said Mademoiselle, kissing her on the forehead.
"You know, Louis, that I wish her to call me aunt now?" said the
Countess, affecting the plaintive tone, which she thought the highest
expression of human tenderness.
"Ah, indeed!" said Camors.
"Let us see, little one! Only try on your coronet before your cousin."
"I should like to see it on your brow," said Camors.
"Your slightest wishes are commands," replied Charlotte, in a voice
harmonious and grave, but not untouched with irony.
In the midst of the jewelry which encumbered the salon was a full
marquise's coronet set in precious stones and pearls. The young girl
adjusted it on her head before the glass, and then stood near Camors with
"Look!" she said; and he gazed at her bewildered, for she looked
wonderfully beautiful and proud under her coronet.
Suddenly she darted a glance full into the eyes of the young man, and
lowering her voice to a tone of inexpressible bitterness, said:
"At least I sell myself dearly, do I not?" Then turning her back to him
she laughed, and took off her coronet.
After some further conversation Camors left, saying to himself that this
adorable person promised to become very dangerous; but not admitting that
he might profit by it.
In conformity with his promise he returned immediately to the General,
who continued to pace the three rooms, and cried out as he saw him:
"Very well indeed, General, perfect--everything goes well."
"You have seen her?"
"And she said to you--"
"Not much; but she seemed enchanted."
"Seriously, you did not remark anything strange?"
"I remarked she was very lovely!"
"Parbleu! and you think she loves me a little?"
"Assuredly, after her way--as much as she can love, for she has naturally
a very cold disposition."
"Ah! as to that I console myself. All that I demand is not to be
disagreeable to her. Is it not so? Very well, you give me great
pleasure. Now, go where you please, my dear boy, until this evening."
"Adieu until this evening, General!"
The signing of the contract was marked by no special incident; only when
the notary, with a low, modest voice read the clause by which the General
made Mademoiselle d'Estrelles heiress to all his fortune, Camors was
amused to remark the superb indifference of Mademoiselle Charlotte, the
smiling exasperation of Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, and the amorous
regard which Madame de la Roche-Jugan threw at the same time on
Charlotte, her son, and the notary. Then the eye of the Countess rested
with a lively interest on the General, and seemed to say that it detected
with pleasure in him an unhealthy appearance.
The next morning, on leaving the Church of St. Thomas daikon, the young
Marquise only exchanged her wedding-gown for a travelling-costume, and
departed with her husband for Campvallon, bathed in the tears of Madame
de la Roche-Jugan, whose lacrimal glands were remarkably tender.
Eight days later M. de Camors returned to Reuilly. Paris had revived
him, his nerves were strong again.
As a practical man he took a more healthy view of his adventure with
Madame de Tecle, and began to congratulate himself on its denouement.
Had things taken a different turn, his future destiny would have been
compromised and deranged for him. His political future especially would
have been lost, or indefinitely postponed, for his liaison with Madame de
Tecle would have been discovered some day, and would have forever
alienated the friendly feelings of M. des Rameures.
On this point he did not deceive himself. Madame de Tecle, in the first
conversation she had with him, confided to him that her uncle seemed much
pleased when she laughingly let him see her idea of marrying her daughter
some day to M. de Camors.
Camors seized this occasion to remind Madame de Tecle, that while
respecting her projects for the future, which she did him the honor to
form, he had not pledged himself to their realization; and that both
reason and honor compelled him in this matter to preserve his absolute
She assented to this with her habitual sweetness. From this moment,
without ceasing to exhibit toward him every mark of affectionate
preference, she never allowed herself the slightest allusion to the dear
dream she cherished. Only her tenderness for her daughter seemed to
increase, and she devoted herself to the care of her education with
redoubled fervor. All this would have touched the heart of M. de Camors,
if the heart of M. de Camors had not lost, in its last effort at virtue,
the last trace of humanity.
His honor set at rest by his frank avowals to Madame de Tecle, he did not
hesitate to profit by the advantages of the situation. He allowed her to
serve him as much as she desired, and she desired it passionately.
Little by little she had persuaded her uncle that M. de Camors was
destined by his character and talents for a great future, and that he
would, one day, be an excellent match for Marie; that he was becoming
daily more attached to agriculture, which turned toward decentralization,
and that he should be attached by firmer bonds to a province which he
would honor. While this was going on General Campvallon brought the
Marquise to present her to Madame de Tecle; and in a confidential
interview with M. des Rameures unmasked his batteries. He was going to
Italy to remain some time, but desired first to tender his resignation,
and to recommend Camors to his faithful electors.
M. des Rameures, gained over beforehand, promised his aid; and that aid
was equivalent to success. Camors had only to make some personal visits
to the more influential electors; but his appearance was as seductive as
it was striking, and he was one of those fortunate men who can win a
heart or a vote by a smile. Finally, to comply with the requisitions,
he established himself for several weeks in the chief town of the
department. He made his court to the wife of the prefect, sufficiently
to flatter the functionary without disquieting the husband. The prefect
informed the minister that the claims of the Comte de Camors were pressed
upon the department by an irresistible influence; that the politics of
the young Count appeared undecided and a little suspicious, but that the
administration, finding it useless to oppose, thought it more politic to
The minister, not less politic than the prefect, was of the same opinion.
In consequence of this combination of circumstances, M. de Camors, toward
the end of his twenty-eighth year, was elected, at intervals of a few
days, member of the Council-General, and deputy to the Corps Legislatif.
"You have desired it, my dear Elise," said M. des Rameures, on learning
this double result "you have desired it, and I have supported this young
Parisian with all my influence. But I must say, he does not possess my
confidence. May we never regret our triumph. May we never have to say
with the poet: 'Vita Dais oxidated Malians.'"--[The evil gods have heard
NEW MAN OF THE NEW EMPIRE
It was now five years since the electors of Reuilly had sent the Comte de
Camors to the Corps Legislatif, and they had seen no cause to regret
their choice. He understood marvellously well their little local
interests, and neglected no occasion of forwarding them. Furthermore,
if any of his constituents, passing through Paris, presented themselves
at his small hotel on the Rue de l'Imperatrice--it had been built by an
architect named Lescande, as a compliment from the deputy to his old
friend--they were received with a winning affability that sent them back
to the province with softened hearts. M. de Camors would condescend to
inquire whether their wives or their daughters had borne them company;
he would place at their disposal tickets for the theatres and passes into
the Legislative Chamber; and would show them his pictures and his
stables. He also trotted out his horses in the court under their eyes.
They found him much improved in personal appearance, and even reported
affectionately that his face was fuller and had lost the melancholy cast
it used to wear. His manner, once reserved, was now warmer, without any
loss of dignity; his expression, once morose, was now marked by a
serenity at once pleasing and grave. His politeness was almost a royal
grace; for he showed to women--young or old, rich or poor, virtuous or
otherwise--the famous suavity of Louis the Fourteenth.
To his equals, as to his inferiors, his urbanity was perfection; for he
cultivated in the depths of his soul--for women, for his inferiors, for
his equals, and for his constituents--the same contempt.
He loved, esteemed, and respected only himself; but that self he loved,
esteemed, and respected as a god! In fact, he had now, realized as
completely as possible, in his own person, that almost superhuman ideal
he had conceived in the most critical hour of his life.
When he surveyed himself from head to foot in the mental mirror before
him, he was content! He was truly that which he wished to be. The
programme of his life, as he had laid it down, was faithfully carried
By a powerful effort of his mighty will, he succeeded in himself
adopting, rather than disdaining in others, all those animal instincts
that govern the vulgar. These he believed fetters which bound the
feeble, but which the strong could use. He applied himself ceaselessly
to the development and perfection of his rare physical and intellectual
gifts, only that he might, during the short passage from the cradle to
the tomb, extract from them the greatest amount of pleasure. Fully
convinced that a thorough knowledge of the world, delicacy of taste and
elegance, refinement and the point of honor constituted a sort of moral
whole which formed the true gentleman, he strove to adorn his person with
the graver as well as the lighter graces. He was like a conscientious
artist, who would leave no smallest detail incomplete. The result of his
labor was so satisfactory, that M. de Camors, at the moment we rejoin
him, was not perhaps one of the best men in the world, but he was beyond
doubt one of the happiest and most amiable. Like all men who have
determined to cultivate ability rather than scrupulousness, he saw all
things developing to his satisfaction. Confident of his future, he
discounted it boldly, and lived as if very opulent. His rapid elevation
was explained by his unfailing audacity, by his cool judgment and neat
finesse, by his great connection and by his moral independence. He had a
hard theory, which he continually expounded with all imaginable grace:
"Humanity," he would say, "is composed of speculators!"
Thoroughly imbued with this axiom, he had taken his degree in the grand
lodge of financiers. There he at once made himself an authority by his
manner and address; and he knew well how to use his name, his political
influence, and his reputation for integrity. Employing all these, yet
never compromising one of them, he influenced men by their virtues, or
their vices, with equal indifference. He was incapable of meanness; he
never wilfully entrapped a friend, or even an enemy, into a disastrous
speculation; only, if the venture proved unsuccessful, he happened to get
out and leave the others in it. But in financial speculations, as in
battles, there must be what is called "food for powder;" and if one be
too solicitous about this worthless pabulum, nothing great can be
accomplished. So Camors passed as one of the most scrupulous of this
goodly company; and his word was as potential in the region of "the
rings," as it was in the more elevated sphere of the clubs and of the
Nor was he less esteemed in the Corps Legislatif, where he assumed the
curious role of a working member until committees fought for him. It
surprised his colleagues to see this elegant young man, with such fine
abilities, so modest and so laborious--to see him ready on the dryest
subjects and with the most tedious reports. Ponderous laws of local
interest neither frightened nor mystified him. He seldom spoke in the
public debates, except as a reporter; but in the committee he spoke
often, and there his manner was noted for its grave precision, tinged
with irony. No one doubted that he was one of the statesmen of the
future; but it could be seen he was biding his time.
The exact shade of his politics was entirely unknown. He sat in the
"centre left;" polite to every one, but reserved with all. Persuaded,
like his father, that the rising generation was preparing, after a time,
to pass from theories to revolution--and calculating with pleasure that
the development of this periodical catastrophe would probably coincide
with his fortieth year, and open to his blase maturity a source of new
emotions--he determined to wait and mold his political opinions according
His life, nevertheless, had sufficient of the agreeable to permit him to
wait the hour of ambition. Men respected, feared, and envied him. Women
His presence, of which he was not prodigal, adorned an entertainment: his
intrigues could not be gossiped about, being at the same time choice,
numerous, and most discreetly conducted.
Passions purely animal never endure long, and his were most ephemeral;
but he thought it due to himself to pay the last honors to his victims,
and to inter them delicately under the flowers of his friendship. He had
in this way made many friends among the Parisian women--a few only of
whom detested him. As for the husbands--they were universally fond of
To these elegant pleasures he sometimes added a furious debauch, when his
imagination was for the moment maddened by champagne. But low company
disgusted him, and he shunned it; he was not a man for frequent orgies,
and economized his health, his energies, and his strength. His tastes
were as thoroughly elevated as could be those of a being who strove to
repress his soul. Refined intrigues, luxury in music, paintings, books,
and horses--these constituted all the joy of his soul, of his sense, and
of his pride. He hovered over the flowers of Parisian elegance; as a bee
in the bosom of a rose, he drank in its essence and revelled in its
It is easy to understand that M. de Camors, relishing this prosperity,
attached himself more and more to the moral and religious creed that
assured it to him; that he became each day more and more confirmed in the
belief that the testament of his father and his own reflection had
revealed to him the true evangel of men superior to their species. He
was less and less tempted to violate the rules of the game of life; but
among all the useless cards, to hold which might disturb his system, the
first he discarded was the thought of marriage. He pitied himself too
tenderly at the idea of losing the liberty of which he made such
agreeable use; at the idea of taking on himself gratuitously the
restraints, the tedium, the ridicule, and even the danger of a household.
He shuddered at the bare thought of a community of goods and interest;
and of possible paternity.
With such views he was therefore but little disposed to encourage the
natural hopes in which Madame de Tecle had entombed her love. He
determined so to conduct himself toward her as to leave no ground for the
growth of her illusion. He ceased to visit Reuilly, remaining there but
two or three weeks in each year, as such time as the session of the
Council-General summoned him to the province.
It is true that during these rare visits Camors piqued himself on
rendering Madame de Tecle and M. des Rameures all the duties of
respectful gratitude. Yet avoiding all allusion to the past, guarding
himself scrupulously from confidential converse, and observing a frigid
politeness to Mademoiselle Marie, there remained doubt in his mind that,
the fickleness of the fair sex aiding him, the young mother of the girl
would renounce her chimerical project. His error was great: and it may
be here remarked that a hard and scornful scepticism may in this world
engender as many false judgments and erroneous calculations as candor or
even inexperience can. He believed too much in what had been written of
female fickleness; in deceived lovers, who truly deserved to be such;
and in what disappointed men had judged of them.
The truth is, women are generally remarkable for the tenacity of their
ideas and for fidelity to their sentiments. Inconstancy of heart is the
special attribute of man; but he deems it his privilege as well, and when
woman disputes the palm with him on this ground, he cries aloud as if the
victim of a robber.
Rest assured this theory is no paradox; as proven by the prodigies of
patient devotion--tenacious, inviolable--every day displayed by women of
the lower classes, whose natures, if gross, retain their primitive
sincerity. Even with women of the world, depraved though they be by the
temptations that assail them, nature asserts herself; and it is no rarity
to see them devote an entire life to one idea, one thought, or one
affection! Their lives do not know the thousand distractions which at
once disturb and console men; and any idea that takes hold upon them
easily becomes fixed. They dwell upon it in the crowd and in solitude;
when they read and while they sew; in their dreams and in their prayers.
In it they live--for it they die.
It was thus that Madame de Tecle had dwelt year after year on the project
of this alliance with unalterable fervor, and had blended the two pure
affections that shared her heart in this union of her daughter with
Camors, and in thus securing the happiness of both. Ever since she had
conceived this desire--which could only have had its birth in a soul as
pure as it was tender--the education of her child had become the sweet
romance of her life. She dreamed of it always, and of nothing else.
Without knowing or even suspecting the evil traits lurking in the
character of Camors, she still understood that, like the great majority
of the young men of his day, the young Count was not overburdened with
principle. But she held that one of the privileges of woman, in our
social system, was the elevation of their husbands by connection with a
pure soul, by family affections, and by the sweet religion of the heart.
Seeking, therefore, by making her daughter an amiable and lovable woman,
to prepare her for the high mission for which she was destined, she
omitted nothing which could improve her. What success rewarded her care
the sequel of this narrative will show. It will suffice, for the
present, to inform the reader that Mademoiselle de Tecle was a young girl
of pleasing countenance, whose short neck was placed on shoulders a
little too high. She was not beautiful, but extremely pretty, well
educated, and much more vivacious than her mother.
Mademoiselle Marie was so quick-witted that her mother often suspected
she knew the secret which concerned herself. Sometimes she talked too
much of M. de Camors; sometimes she talked too little, and assumed a
mysterious air when others spoke of him.
Madame de Tecle was a little disturbed by these eccentricities. The
conduct of M. de Camors, and his more than reserved bearing, annoyed her
occasionally; but when we love any one we are likely to interpret
favorably all that he does, or all that he omits to do. Madame de Tecle
readily attributed the equivocal conduct of the Count to the inspiration
of a chivalric loyalty. As she believed she knew him thoroughly, she
thought he wished to avoid committing himself, or awakening public
observation, before he had made up his mind.
He acted thus to avoid disturbing the repose of both mother and daughter.
Perhaps also the large fortune which seemed destined for Mademoiselle de
Tecle might add to his scruples by rousing his pride.
His not marrying was in itself a good augury, and his little fiancee was
reaching a marriageable age. She therefore did not despair that some day
M. de Camors would throw himself at her feet, and say, "Give her to met!"
If God did not intend that this delicious page should ever be written in
the book of her destiny, and she was forced to marry her daughter to
another, the poor woman consoled herself with the thought that all the
cares she lavished upon her would not be lost, and that her dear child
would thus be rendered better and happier.
The long months which intervened between the annual apparition of Camors
at Reuilly, filled up by Madame de Tecle with a single idea and by the
sweet monotony of a regular life, passed more rapidly than the Count
could have imagined. His own life, so active and so occupied, placed
ages and abysses between each of his periodical voyages. But Madame de
Tecle, after five years, was always only a day removed from the cherished
and fatal night on which her dream had begun. Since that period there
had been no break in her thoughts, no void in her heart, no wrinkle on
her forehead. Her dream continued young, like herself. But in spite of
the peaceful and rapid succession of her days, it was not without anxiety
that she saw the approach of the season which always heralded the return
As her daughter matured, she preoccupied herself with the impression she
would make on the mind of the Count, and felt more sensibly the solemnity
of the matter.
Mademoiselle Marie, as we have already stated, was a cunning little puss,
and had not failed to perceive that her tender mother chose habitually
the season of the convocation of the Councils-General to try a new style
of hair-dressing for her. The same year on which we have resumed our
recital there passed, on one occasion, a little scene which rather
annoyed Madame de Tecle. She was trying a new coiffure on Mademoiselle
Marie, whose hair was very pretty and very black; some stray and
rebellious portions had frustrated her mother's efforts.
There was one lock in particular, which in spite of all combing and
brushing would break away from the rest, and fall in careless curls.
Madame de Tecle finally, by the aid of some ribbons, fastened down the
"Now I think it will do," she said sighing, and stepping back to admire
the effect of her work.
"Don't believe it," said Marie, who was laughing and mocking. "I do not
think so. I see exactly what will happen: the bell rings--I run out--
my net gives way--Monsieur de Camors walks in--my mother is annoyed--
"I should like to know what Monsieur de Camors has to do with it?" said
Madame de Tecle.
Her daughter threw her arms around her neck--"Nothing!" she said.
Another time Madame de Tecle detected her speaking of M. de Camors in a
tone of bitter irony. He was "the great man"--"the mysterious
personage"--"the star of the neighborhood"--"the phoenix of guests in
their woods"--or simply "the Prince!"
Such symptoms were of so serious a nature as not to escape Madame de
In presence of "the Prince," it is true, the young girl lost her gayety;
but this was another cross. Her mother found her cold, awkward, and
silent--brief, and slightly caustic in her replies. She feared M. de
Camors would misjudge her from such appearances.
But Camors formed no judgment, good or bad; Mademoiselle de Tecle was for
him only an insignificant little girl, whom he never thought of for a
moment in the year.
There was, however, at this time in society a person who did interest him
very much, and the more because against his will. This was the Marquise
de Campvallon, nee de Luc d'Estrelles.
The General, after making the tour of Europe with his young wife, had
taken possession of his hotel in the Rue Vanneau, where he lived in great
splendor. They resided at Paris during the winter and spring, but in
July returned to their chateau at Campvallon, where they entertained in
great state until the autumn. The General invited Madame de Tecle and
her daughter, every year, to pass some weeks at Campvallon, rightly
judging that he could not give his young wife better companions. Madame
de Tecle accepted these invitations cheerfully, because it gave her an
opportunity of seeing the elite of the Parisian world, from whom the
whims of her uncle had always isolated her. For her own part, she did
not much enjoy it; but her daughter, by moving in the midst of such
fashion and elegance could thus efface some provincialisms of toilet or
of language; perfect her taste in the delicate and fleeting changes of
the prevailing modes, and acquire some additional graces. The young
Marquise, who reigned and scintillated like a bright star in these high
regions of social life, lent herself to the designs of her neighbor.
She seemed to take a kind of maternal interest in Mademoiselle de Tecle,
and frequently added her advice to her example. She assisted at her
toilet and gave the final touches with her own dainty hands; and the
young girl, in return, loved, admired, and confided in her.
Camors also enjoyed the hospitalities of the General once every season,
but was not his guest as often as he wished. He seldom remained at
Campvallon longer than a week. Since the return of the Marquise to
France he had resumed the relations of a kinsman and friend with her
husband and herself; but, while trying to adopt the most natural manner,
he treated them both with a certain reserve, which astonished the
General. It will not surprise the reader, who recollects the secret and
powerful reasons which justified this circumspection.
For Camors, in renouncing the greater part of the restraints which
control and bind men in their relations with one another, had religiously
intended to preserve one--the sentiment of honor. Many times, in the
course of this life, he had felt himself embarrassed to limit and fix
with certainty the boundaries of the only moral law he wished to respect.
It is easy to know exactly what is in the Bible; it is not easy to know
exactly what the code of honor commands.
But there exists, nevertheless, in this code one article, as to which M.
de Camors could not deceive himself, and it was that which forbade his
attempting to assail the honor of the General under penalty of being in
his own eyes, as a gentleman, a felon and foresworn. He had accepted
from this old man confidence, affection, services, benefits--everything
which could bind one man inviolably to another man--if there be beneath
the heavens anything called honor. He felt this profoundly.
His conduct toward Madame de Campvallon had been irreproachable; and all
the more so, because the only woman he was interdicted from loving was
the only woman in Paris, or in the universe, who naturally pleased him
most. He entertained for her, at once, the interest which attaches to
forbidden fruit, to the attraction of strange beauty, and to the mystery
of an impenetrable sphinx. She was, at this time, more goddess-like than
ever. The immense fortune of her husband, and the adulation which it
brought her, had placed her on a golden car. On this she seated herself
with a gracious and native majesty, as if in her proper place.
The luxury of her toilet, of her jewels, of her house and of her
equipages, was of regal magnificence. She blended the taste of an artist
with that of a patrician. Her person appeared really to be made divine
by the rays of this splendor. Large, blonde, graceful, the eyes blue and
unfathomable, the forehead grave, the mouth pure and proud it was
impossible to see her enter a salon with her light, gliding step, or to
see her reclining in her carriage, her hands folded serenely, without
dreaming of the young immortals whose love brought death.
She had even those traits of physiognomy, stern and wild, which the
antique sculptors doubtless had surprised in supernatural visitations,
and which they have stamped on the eyes and the lips of their marble
gods. Her arms and shoulders, perfect in form, seemed models, in the
midst of the rosy and virgin snow which covered the neighboring
mountains. She was truly superb and bewitching. The Parisian world
respected as much as it admired her, for she played her difficult part of
young bride to an old man so perfectly as to avoid scandal. Without any
pretence of extraordinary devotion, she knew how to join to her worldly
pomps the exercise of charity, and all the other practices of an elegant
piety. Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who watched her closely, as one
watching a prey, testified, herself, in her favor; and judged her more
and more worthy of her son. And Camors, who observed her, in spite of
himself, with an eager curiosity, was finally induced to believe, as did
his aunt and all the world, that she conscientiously performed her
difficult duties, and that she found in the eclat of her life and the
gratification of her pride a sufficient compensation for the sacrifice of
her youth, her heart, and her beauty; but certain souvenirs of the past,
joined to certain peculiarities, which he fancied he remarked in the
Marquise, induced him to distrust.
There were times, when recalling all that he had once witnessed--the
abysses and the flame at the bottom of that heart--he was tempted to
suspect the existence of many storms under all this calm exterior, and
perhaps some wickedness. It is true she never was with him precisely as
she was before the world. The character of their relations was marked by
a peculiar tone. It was precisely that tone of covert irony adopted by
two persons who desired neither to remember nor to forget. This tone,
softened in the language of Camors by his worldly tact and his respect,
was much more pointed, and had much more of bitterness on the side of the
He even fancied, at times, that he discovered a shade of coquetry under
this treatment; and this provocation, vague as it was, coming from this
beautiful, cold, and inscrutable creature, seemed to him a game fearfully
mysterious, that at once attracted and disturbed him.
This was the state of things when the Count came, according to custom,
to pass the first days of September at the chateau of Campvallon, and met
there Madame de Tecle and her daughter. The visit was a painful one,
this year, for Madame de Tecle. Her confidence deserted her, and serious
concern took its place. She had, it is true, fixed in her mind, as the
last point of her hopes, the moment when her daughter should have reached
twenty years of age; and Marie was only eighteen.
But she already had had several offers, and several times public rumor
had already declared her to be betrothed.
Now, Camors could not have been ignorant of the rumors circulating in the
neighborhood, and yet he did not speak. His countenance did not change.
He was coldly affectionate to Madame de Tecle, but toward Marie, in spite
of her beautiful blue eyes, like her mother's, and her curly hair,
he preserved a frozen indifference. For Camors had other anxieties,
of which Madame de Tecle knew nothing. The manner of Madame Campvallon
toward him had assumed a more marked character of aggressive raillery.
A defensive attitude is never agreeable to a man, and Camors felt it more
disagreeable than most men--being so little accustomed to it.
He resolved promptly to shorten his visit at Campvallon.
On the eve of his departure, about five o'clock in the afternoon, he was
standing at his window, looking beyond the trees at the great black
clouds sailing over the valley, when he heard the sound of a voice that
had power to move him deeply--"Monsieur de Camors!" He saw the Marquise
standing under his window.
"Will you walk with me?" she added.
He bowed and descended immediately. At the moment he reached her:
"It is suffocating," she said. "I wish to walk round the park and will
take you with me."
He muttered a few polite phrases, and they began walking, side by side,
through the alleys of the park.
She moved at a rapid pace, with her majestic motion, her body swaying,
her head erect. One would have looked for a page behind her, but she had
none, and her long blue robe--she rarely wore short skirts--trailed on
the sand and over the dry leaves with the soft rustle of silk.
"I have disturbed you, probably?" she said, after a moment's pause.
"What were you dreaming of up there?"
"Nothing--only watching the coming storm."
"Are you becoming poetical, cousin?"
"There is no necessity for becoming, for I already am infinitely so!"
"I do not think so. Shall you leave to-morrow?"
"Why so soon?"
"I have business elsewhere."
"Very well. But Vau--Vautrot--is he not there?"
Vautrot was the secretary of M. de Camors.
"Vautrot can not do everything," he replied.
"By the way, I do not like your Vautrot."
"Nor I. But he was recommended to me by my old friend, Madame d'Oilly,
as a freethinker, and at the same time by my aunt, Madame de la Roche-
Jugan, as a religious man!"
"Nevertheless," said Camors, "he is intelligent and witty, and writes a
"How? What of me?"
"Do you also write a good hand?"
"I will show you, whenever you wish!"
"Ah! and will you write to me?"
It is difficult to imagine the tone of supreme indifference and haughty
persiflage with which the Marquise sustained this dialogue, without once
slackening her pace, or glancing at her companion, or changing the proud
and erect pose of her head.
"I will write you either prose or verse, as you wish," said Camors.
"Ah! you know how to compose verses?"
"When I am inspired!"
"And when are you inspired?"
"Usually in the morning."
"And we are now in the evening. That is not complimentary to me."
"But you, Madame, had no desire to inspire me, I think."
"Why not, then? I should be happy and proud to do so. Do you know what
I should like to put there?" and she stopped suddenly before a rustic
bridge, which spanned a murmuring rivulet.
"I do not know!"
"You can not even guess? I should like to put an artificial rock there."
"Why not a natural one? In your place I should put a natural one!"
"That is an idea," said the Marquise, and walking on she crossed the
"But it really thunders. I like to hear thunder in the country. Do
"I prefer to hear it thunder at Paris."
"Because then I should not hear it."
"You have no imagination."
"I have; but I smother it."
"Possibly. I have suspected you of hiding your merits, and particularly
"Why should I conceal my merits from you?"
"'Why should I conceal my merits' is good!" said the Marquise,
ironically. "Why? Out of charity, Monsieur, not to dazzle me, and in
regard for my repose! You are really too good, I assure you. Here comes
Large drops of rain began to fall on the dry leaves, and on the yellow
sand of the alley. The day was dying, and the sudden shower bent the
boughs of the trees.
"We must return," said the young woman; "this begins to get serious."
She took, in haste, the path which led to the chateau; but after a few
steps a bright flash broke over her head, the noise of the thunder
resounded, and a deluge of rain fell upon the fields.
There was fortunately, near by, a shelter in which the Marquise and her
companion could take refuge. It was a ruin, preserved as an ornament to
the park, which had formerly been the chapel of the ancient chateau.
It was almost as large as the village chapel--the broken walls half
concealed under a thick mantle of ivy. Its branches had pushed through
the roof and mingled with the boughs of the old trees which surrounded
and shaded it. The timbers had disappeared. The extremity of the choir,
and the spot formerly occupied by the altar, were alone covered by the
remains of the roof. Wheelbarrows, rakes, spades, and other garden tools
were piled there.
The Marquise had to take refuge in the midst of this rubbish, in the
narrow space, and her companion followed her.
The storm, in the mean time, increased in violence. The rain fell in
torrents through the old walls, inundating the soil in the ancient nave.
The lightning flashed incessantly. Every now and then fragments of earth
and stone detached themselves from the roof, and fell into the choir.
"I find this magnificent!" said Madame de Campvallon.
"I also," said Camors, raising his eyes to the crumbling roof which half
protected them; "but I do not know whether we are safe here!"
"If you fear, you would better go!" said the Marquise.
"I fear for you."
"You are too good, I assure you."
She took off her cap and brushed it with her glove, to remove the drops
of rain which had fallen upon it. After a slight pause, she suddenly
raised her uncovered head and cast on Camors one of those searching looks
which prepares a man for an important question.
"Cousin!" she said, "if you were sure that one of these flashes of
lightning would kill you in a quarter of an hour, what would you do?"
"Why, cousin, naturally I should take a last farewell of you."
He regarded her steadily, in his turn. "Do you know," he said, "there
are moments when I am tempted to think you a devil?"
"Truly! Well, there are times when I am tempted to think so myself--for
example, at this moment. Do you know what I should wish? I wish I could
control the lightning, and in two seconds you would cease to exist."
"For what reason?"
"Because I recollect there was a man to whom I offered myself, and who
refused me, and that this man still lives. And this displeases me a
little--a great deal--passionately."
"Are you serious, Madame?" replied Camors.
"I hope you did not think so. I am not so wicked. It was a joke--and in
bad taste, I admit. But seriously now, cousin, what is your opinion of
me? What kind of woman has time made me?"
"I swear to you I am entirely ignorant."
"Admitting I had become, as you did me the honor to suppose, a diabolical
person, do you think you had nothing to do with it? Tell me! Do you not
believe that there is in the life of a woman a decisive hour, when the
evil seed which is cast upon her soul may produce a terrible harvest?
Do you not believe this? Answer me! And should I not be excusable if I
entertained toward you the sentiment of an exterminating angel; and have
I not some merit in being what I am--a good woman, who loves you well--
with a little rancor, but not much--and who wishes you all sorts of
prosperity in this world and the next? Do not answer me: it might
embarrass you, and it would be useless."
She left her shelter, and turned her face toward the lowering sky to see
whether the storm was over.
"It has stopped raining," she said, "let us go."
She then perceived that the lower part of the nave had been transformed
into a lake of mud and water. She stopped at its brink, and uttered a
"What shall I do?" she said, looking at her light shoes. Then, turning
toward Camors, she added, laughing:
"Monsieur, will you get me a boat?"
Camors, himself, recoiled from stepping into the greasy mud and stagnant
water which filled the whole space of the nave.
"If you will wait a little," he said, "I shall find you some boots or
sabots, no matter what."
"It will be much easier," she said abruptly, "for you to carry me to the
door;" and without waiting for the young man's reply, she tucked up her
skirts carefully, and when she had finished, she said, "Carry me!"
He looked at her with astonishment, and thought for a moment she was
jesting; but soon saw she was perfectly serious.
"Of what are you afraid?" she asked.
"I am not at all afraid," he answered.
"Is it that you are not strong enough?"
"Mon Dieu! I should think I was."
He took her in his arms, as in a cradle, while she held up her skirts
with both hands. He then descended the steps and moved toward the door
with his strange burden. He was obliged to be very careful not to slip
on the wet earth, and this absorbed him during the first few steps; but
when he found his footing more sure, he felt a natural curiosity to
observe the countenance of the Marquise.
The uncovered head of the young woman rested a little on the arm with
which he held her. Her lips were slightly parted with a half-wicked
smile that showed her fine white teeth; the same expression of
ungovernable malice burned in her dark eyes, which she riveted for some
seconds on those of Camors with persistent penetration--then suddenly
veiled them under the fringe of her dark lashes. This glance sent a
thrill like lightning to his very marrow.
"Do you wish to drive me mad?" he murmured.
"Who knows?" she replied.
The same moment she disengaged herself from his arms, and placing her
foot on the ground again, left the ruin.
They reached the chateau without exchanging a word. Just before entering
the house the young Marquise turned toward Camors and said to him:
"Be sure that at heart I am very good, really."
Notwithstanding this assertion, Camors was yet more determined to leave
the next morning, as he had previously decided. He carried away the most
painful impression of the scene of that evening.
She had wounded his pride, inflamed his hopeless passion, and disquieted
"What is this woman, and what does she want of me? Is it love or
vengeance that inspires her with this fiendish coquetry?" he asked
himself. Whatever it was, Camors was not such a novice in similar
adventures as not to perceive clearly the yawning abyss under the broken
ice. He resolved sincerely to close it again between them, and forever.
The best way to succeed in this, avowedly, was to cease all intercourse
with the Marquise. But how could such conduct be explained to the
General, without awakening his suspicion and lowering his wife in his
esteem? That plan was impossible. He armed himself with all his
courage, and resigned himself to endure with resolute soul all the trials
which the love, real or pretended, of the Marquise reserved for him.
He had at this time a singular idea. He was a member of several of the
most aristocratic clubs. He organized a chosen group of men from the
elite of his companions, and formed with them a secret association, of
which the object was to fix and maintain among its members the principles
and points of honor in their strictest form. This society, which had
only been vaguely spoken of in public under the name of "Societe des
Raffines," and also as "The Templars" which latter was its true name--
had nothing in common with "The Devourers," illustrated by Balzac.
It had nothing in it of a romantic or dramatic character. Those who
composed this club did not, in any way, defy ordinary morals, nor set
themselves above the laws of their country. They did not bind themselves
by any vows of mutual aid in extremity. They bound themselves simply by
their word of honor to observe, in their reciprocal relations, the rules
of purest honor.
These rules were specified in their code. The text it is difficult to
give; but it was based entirely on the point of honor, and regulated the
affairs of the club, such as the card-table, the turf, duelling, and
gallantry. For example, any member was disqualified from belonging to
this association who either insulted or interfered with the wife or
relative of one of his colleagues. The only penalty was exclusion: but
the consequences of this exclusion were grave; for all the members ceased
thereafter to associate with, recognize, or even bow to the offender.
The Templars found in this secret society many advantages. It was a
great security in their intercourse with one another, and in the
different circumstances of daily life, where they met continually either
at the opera, in salons, or on the turf.
Camors was an exception among his companions and rivals in Parisian life
by the systematic decision of his doctrine. It was not so much an
embodiment of absolute scepticism and practical materialism; but the want
of a moral law is so natural to man, and obedience to higher laws so
sweet to him, that the chosen adepts to whom the project of Camors was
submitted accepted it with enthusiasm. They were happy in being able to
substitute a sort of positive and formal religion for restraints so
limited as their own confused and floating notions of honor. For Camors
himself, as is easily understood, it was a new barrier which he wished to
erect between himself and the passion which fascinated him. He attached
himself to this with redoubled force, as the only moral bond yet left
him. He completed his work by making the General accept the title of
President of the Association. The General, to whom Honor was a sort of
mysterious but real goddess, was delighted to preside over the worship of
his idol. He felt flattered by his young friend's selection, and
esteemed him the more.
It was the middle of winter. The Marquise Campvallon had resumed for
some time her usual course of life, which was at the same time strict but
elegant. Punctual at church every morning, at the Bois and at charity
bazaars during the day, at the opera or the theatres in the evening, she
had received M. de Camors without the shadow of apparent emotion. She
even treated him more simply and more naturally than ever, with no
recurrence to the past, no allusion to the scene in the park during the
storm; as if she had, on that day, disclosed everything that had lain
hidden in her heart. This conduct so much resembled indifference, that
Camors should have been delighted; but he was not--on the contrary he was
annoyed by it. A cruel but powerful interest, already too dear to his
blase soul, was disappearing thus from his life. He was inclined to
believe that Madame de Campvallon possessed a much less complicated
character than he had fancied; and that little by little absorbed in
daily trifles, she had become in reality what she pretended to be--a good
woman, inoffensive, and contented with her lot.
He was one evening in his orchestra-stall at the opera. They were
singing The Huguenots. The Marquise occupied her box between the
columns. The numerous acquaintances Camors met in the passages during
the first entr'acte prevented his going as soon as usual to pay his
respects to his cousin. At last, after the fourth act, he went to visit
her in her box, where he found her alone, the General having descended to
the parterre for a few moments. He was astonished, on entering, to find
traces of tears on the young woman's cheeks. Her eyes were even moist.
She seemed displeased at being surprised in the very act of
"Music always excites my nerves," she said.
"Indeed!" said Camors. "You, who always reproach me with hiding my
merits, why do you hide yours? If you are still capable of weeping, so
much the better."
"No! I claim no merit for that. Oh, heavens! If you only knew! It is
quite the contrary."
"What a mystery you are!"
"Are you very curious to fathom this mystery? Only that? Very well--be
happy! It is time to put an end to this."
She drew her chair from the front of the box out of public view, and,
turning toward Camors, continued: "You wish to know what I am, what I
feel, and what I think; or rather, you wish to know simply whether I
dream of love? Very well, I dream only of that! Have I lovers, or have
I not? I have none, and never shall have, but that will not be because
of my virtue. I believe in nothing, except my own self-esteem and my
contempt of others. The little intrigues, the petty passions, which I
see in the world, make me indignant to the bottom of my soul. It seems
to me that women who give themselves for so little must be base
creatures. As for myself, I remember having said to you one day--it is a
million years since then!--that my person is sacred to me; and to commit
a sacrilege I should wish, like the vestals of Rome, a love as great as
my crime, and as terrible as death. I wept just now during that
magnificent fourth act. It was not because I listened to the most
marvellous music ever heard on this earth; it was because I admire and
envy passionately the superb and profound love of that time. And it is
ever thus--when I read the history of the glorious sixteenth century, I
am in ecstacies. How well those people knew how to love and how to die!
One night of love--then death. That is delightful. Now, cousin, you
must leave me. We are observed. They will believe we love each other,
and as we have not that pleasure, it is useless to incur the penalties.
Since I am still in the midst of the court of Charles Tenth, I pity you,
with your black coat and round hat. Good-night."
"I thank you very much," replied Camors, taking the hand she extended to
him coldly, and left the box. He met M. de Campvallon in the passage.
"Parbleu! my dear friend," said the General, seizing him by the arm.
"I must communicate to you an idea which has been in my brain all the
"What idea, General?"
"Well, there are here this evening a number of charming young girls.
This set me to thinking of you, and I even said to my wife that we must
marry you to one of these young women!"
"Well, why not?"
"That is a very serious thing--if one makes a mistake in his choice--that
"Bah! it is not so difficult a thing. Take a wife like mine, who has a
great deal of religion, not much imagination, and no fancies. That is
the whole secret. I tell you this in confidence, my dear fellow!"
"Well, General, I will think of it."
"Do think of it," said the General, in a serious tone; and went to join
his young wife, whom he understood so well.
As to her, she thoroughly understood herself, and analyzed her own
character with surprising truth.
Madame de Campvallon was just as little what her manner indicated as was
M. de Camors on his side. Both were altogether exceptional in French
society. Equally endowed by nature with energetic souls and enlightened
minds, both carried innate depravity to a high degree. The artificial
atmosphere of high Parisian civilization destroys in women the sentiment
and the taste for duty, and leaves them, nothing but the sentiment and
the taste for pleasure. They lose in the midst of this enchanted and
false life, like theatrical fairyland, the true idea of life in general,
and Christian life in particular. And we can confidently affirm that all
those who do not make for themselves, apart from the crowd, a kind of
Thebaid--and there are such--are pagans. They are pagans, because the
pleasures of the senses and of the mind alone interest them, and they
have not once, during the year, an impression of the moral law, unless
the sentiment, which some of them detest, recalls it to them. They are
pagans, like the beautiful, worldly Catholics of the fifteenth century--
loving luxury, rich stuffs, precious furniture, literature, art,
themselves, and love. They were charming pagans, like Marie Stuart,
and capable, like her, of remaining true Catholics even under the axe.
We are speaking, let it be understood, of the best of the elite--of those
that read, and of those that dream. As to the rest, those who
participate in the Parisian life on its lighter side, in its childish
whirl, and the trifling follies it entails, who make rendezvous, waste
their time, who dress and are busy day and night doing nothing, who dance
frantically in the rays of the Parisian sun, without thought, without
passion, without virtue, and even without vice--we must own it is
impossible to imagine anything more contemptible.
The Marquise de Campvallon was then--as she truly said to the man she
resembled--a great pagan; and, as she also said to herself in one of her
serious moments when a woman's destiny is decided by the influence of
those they love, Camors had sown in her heart a seed which had
Camors dreamed little of reproaching himself for it, but struck with all
the harmony that surrounded the Marquise, he regretted more bitterly than
ever the fatality which separated them.
He felt, however, more sure of himself, since he had bound himself by the
strictest obligations of honor. He abandoned himself from this moment
with less scruple to the emotions, and to the danger against which he
believed himself invincibly protected. He did not fear to seek often the
society of his beautiful cousin, and even contracted the habit of
repairing to her house two or three times a week, after leaving the
Chamber of Deputies. Whenever he found her alone, their conversation
invariably assumed a tone of irony and of raillery, in which both
excelled. He had not forgotten her reckless confidences at the opera,
and recalled it to her, asking her whether she had yet discovered that
hero of love for whom she was looking, who should be, according to her
ideas, a villain like Bothwell, or a musician like Rizzio.
"There are," she replied, "villains who are also musicians; but that is
imagination. Sing me, then, something apropos."
It was near the close of winter. The Marquise gave a ball. Her fetes
were justly renowned for their magnificence and good taste. She did the
honors with the grace of a queen. This evening she wore a very simple
costume, as was becoming in the courteous hostess. It was a gown of dark
velvet, with a train; her arms were bare, without jewels; a necklace of
large pearls lay on her rose-tinted bosom, and the heraldic coronet
sparkled on her fair hair.
Camors caught her eye as he entered, as if she were watching for him.
He had seen her the previous evening, and they had had a more lively
skirmish than usual. He was struck by her brilliancy--her beauty
heightened, without doubt, by the secret ardor of the quarrel, as if
illuminated by an interior flame, with all the clear, soft splendor of a
transparent alabaster vase.
When he advanced to join her and salute her, yielding, against his will,
to an involuntary movement of passionate admiration, he said:
"You are truly beautiful this evening. Enough so to make one commit a