Part 4 out of 6
She looked fixedly in his eyes, and replied:
"I should like to see that," and then left him, with superb nonchalance.
The General approached, and tapping the Count on the shoulder, said:
"Camors! you do not dance, as usual. Let us play a game of piquet."
"Willingly, General;" and traversing two or three salons they reached the
private boudoir of the Marquise. It was a small oval room, very lofty,
hung with thick red silk tapestry, covered with black and white flowers.
As the doors were removed, two heavy curtains isolated the room
completely from the neighboring gallery. It was there that the General
usually played cards and slept during his fetes. A small card-table was
placed before a divan. Except this addition, the boudoir preserved its
every-day aspect. Woman's work, half finished, books, journals, and
reviews were strewn upon the furniture. They played two or three games,
which the General won, as Camors was very abstracted.
"I reproach myself, young man," said the former, "in having kept you so
long away from the ladies. I give you back your liberty--I shall cast my
eye on the journals."
"There is nothing new in them, I think," said Camors, rising. He took up
a newspaper himself, and placing his back against the mantelpiece, warmed
his feet, one after the other. The General threw himself on the divan,
ran his eye over the 'Moniteur de l'Armee', approving of some military
promotions, and criticising others; and, little by little, he fell into a
doze, his head resting on his chest.
But Camors was not reading. He listened vaguely to the music of the
orchestra, and fell into a reverie. Through these harmonies, through the
murmurs and warm perfume of the ball, he followed, in thought, all the
evolutions of her who was mistress and queen of all. He saw her proud
and supple step--he heard her grave and musical voice--he felt her
This young man had exhausted everything. Love and pleasure had no longer
for him secrets or temptations; but his imagination, cold and blase, had
arisen all inflamed before this beautiful, living, palpitating statue.
She was really for him more than a woman--more than a mortal.
The antique fables of amorous goddesses and drunken Bacchantes--the
superhuman voluptuousness unknown in terrestrial pleasures--were in reach
of his hand, separated from him only by the shadow of this sleeping old
man. But a shadow was ever between them--it was honor.
His eyes, as if lost in thought, were fixed straight before him on the
curtain opposite the chimney. Suddenly this curtain was noiselessly
raised, and the young Marquise appeared, her brow surmounted by her
coronet. She threw a rapid glance over the boudoir, and after a moment's
pause, let the curtain fall gently, and advanced directly toward Camors,
who stood dazzled and immovable. She took both his hands, without
speaking, looked at his steadily--throwing a rapid glance at her husband,
who still slept--and, standing on tiptoe, offered her lips to the young
Bewildered, and forgetting all else, he bent, and imprinted a kiss on her
At that very moment, the General made a sudden movement and woke up; but
the same instant the Marquise was standing before him, her hands resting
on the card-table; and smiling upon him, she said, "Good-morning, my
The General murmured a few words of apology, but she laughingly pushed
him back on his divan.
"Continue your nap," she said; "I have come in search of my cousin, for
the last cotillon." The General obeyed.
She passed out by the gallery. The young man; pale as a spectre,
Passing under the curtain, she turned toward him with a wild light
burning in her eyes. Then, before she was lost in the throng, she
whispered, in a low, thrilling voice:
"There is the crime!"
THE FIRST ACT OF THE TRAGEDY
Camors did not attempt to rejoin the Marquise, and it seemed to him that
she also avoided him. A quarter of an hour later, he left the Hotel
He returned immediately home. A lamp was burning in his chamber. When
he saw himself in the mirror, his own face terrified him. This exciting
scene had shaken his nerves.
He could no longer control himself. His pupil had become his master.
The fact itself did not surprise him. Woman is more exalted than man in
morality. There is no virtue, no devotion, no heroism in which she does
not surpass him; but once impelled to the verge of the abyss, she falls
faster and lower than man. This is attributable to two causes: she has
more passion, and she has no honor. For honor is a reality and must not
be underrated. It is a noble, delicate, and salutary quality. It
elevates manly attributes; in fact, it constitutes the modesty of man.
It is sometimes a force, and always a grace. But to think that honor is
all-sufficient; that in the face of great interests, great passions,
great trials in life, it is a support and an infallible defence; that it
can enforce the precepts which come from God--in fact that it can replace
God--this is a terrible mistake. It exposes one in a fatal moment to the
loss of one's self-esteem, and to fall suddenly and forever into that
dismal ocean of bitterness where Camors at that instant was struggling in
despair, like a drowning man in the darkness of midnight.
He abandoned himself, on this evil night, to a final conflict full of
agony; and he was beaten.
The next evening at six o'clock he was at the house of the Marquise. He
found her in her boudoir, surrounded by all her regal luxury. She was
half buried in a fauteuil in the chimney-corner, looking a little pale
and fatigued. She received him with her usual coldness and self-
"Good-day," she said. "How are you?"
"Not very well," replied Camors.
"What is the matter?"
"I fancy that you know."
She opened her large eyes wide with surprise, but did not reply.
"I entreat you, Madame," continued Camors, smiling--" no more music, the
curtain is raised, and the drama has begun."
"Ah! we shall see."
"Do you love me?" he continued; "or were you simply acting, to try me,
last night? Can you, or will you, tell me?"
"I certainly could, but I do not wish to do so."
"I had thought you more frank."
"I have my hours."
"Well, then," said Camors, "if your hours of frankness have passed, mine
"That would be compensation," she replied.
"And I will prove it to you," continued Camors.
"I shall make a fete of it," said the Marquise, throwing herself back on
the sofa, as if to make herself comfortable in order to enjoy an
"I love you, Madame; and as you wish to be loved. I love you devotedly
and unto death--enough to kill myself, or you!"
"That is well," said the Marquise, softly.
"But," he continued in a hoarse and constrained tone, "in loving you, in
telling you of it, in trying to make you share my love, I violate basely
the obligations of honor of which you know, and others of which you know
not. It is a crime, as you have said. I do not try to extenuate my
offence. I see it, I judge it, and I accept it. I break the last moral
tie that is left me; I leave the ranks of men of honor, and I leave also
the ranks of humanity. I have nothing human left except my love, nothing
sacred but you; but my crime elevates itself by its magnitude. Well, I
interpret it thus: I imagine two beings, equally free and strong, loving
and valuing each other beyond all else, having no affection, no loyalty,
no devotion, no honor, except toward each other--but possessing all for
each other in a supreme degree.
"I give and consecrate absolutely to you, my person, all that I can be,
or may become, on condition of an equal return, still preserving the same
social conventionalities, without which we should both be miserable.
"Secretly united, and secretly isolated; though in the midst of the human
herd, governing and despising it; uniting our gifts, our faculties, and
our powers, our two Parisian royalties--yours, which can not be greater,
and mine, which shall become greater if you love me and living thus, one
for the other, until death. You have dreamed, you told me, of strange
and almost sacrilegious love. Here it is; only before accepting it,
reflect well, for I assure you it is a serious thing. My love for you is
boundless. I love you enough to disdain and trample under foot that
which the meanest human being still respects. I love you enough to find
in you alone, in your single esteem, and in your sole tenderness, in the
pride and madness of being yours, oblivion and consolation for friendship
outraged, faith betrayed, and honor lost. But, Madame, this is a
sentiment which you will do well not to trifle with. You should
thoroughly understand this. If you desire my love, if you consent to
this alliance, opposed to all human laws, but grand and singular also,
deign to tell me so, and I shall fall at your feet. If you do not wish
it, if it terrifies you, if you are not prepared for the double
obligation it involves, tell me so, and fear not a word of reproach.
Whatever it might cost me--I would ruin my life, I would leave you
forever, and that which passed yesterday should be eternally forgotten."
He ceased, and remained with his eyes fixed on the young woman with a
burning anxiety. As he went on speaking her air became more grave; she
listened to him, her head a little inclined toward him in an attitude of
overpowering interest, throwing upon him at intervals a glance full of
gloomy fire. A slight but rapid palpitation of the bosom, a scarcely
perceptible quivering of the nostrils, alone betrayed the storm raging
"This," she said, after a moment's silence, "becomes really interesting;
but you do not intend to leave this evening, I suppose?"
"No," said Camors.
"Very well," she replied, inclining her head in sign of dismissal,
without offering her hand; "we shall see each other again."
"At an early day."
He thought she required time for reflection, a little terrified doubtless
by the monster she had evoked; he saluted her gravely and departed.
The next day, and on the two succeeding days, he vainly presented himself
at her door.
The Marquise was either dining out or dressing.
It was for Camors a whole century of torment. One thought which often
disquieted him revisited him with double poignancy. The Marquise did not
love him. She only wished to revenge herself for the past, and after
disgracing him would laugh at him. She had made him sign the contract,
and then had escaped him. In the midst of these tortures of his pride,
his passion, instead of weakening, increased.
The fourth day after their interview he did not go to her house. He
hoped to meet her in the evening at the Viscountess d'Oilly's, where he
usually saw her every Friday. This lady had been formerly the most
tender friend of the Count's father. It was to her the Count had thought
proper to confide the education of his son.
Camors had preserved for her a kind of affection. She was an amiable
woman, whom he liked and laughed at.
No longer young, she had been compelled to renounce gallantry, which had
been the chief occupation of her youth, and never having had much taste
for devotion, she conceived the idea of having a salon. She received
there some distinguished men, savants and artists, who piqued themselves
on being free-thinkers.
The Viscountess, in order to fit herself for her new position, resolved
to enlighten herself. She attended public lectures and conferences,
which began to be fashionable. She spoke easily about spontaneous
generation. She manifested a lively surprise when Camors, who delighted
in tormenting her, deigned to inform her that men were descended from
"Now, my friend," she said to him, "I can not really admit that. How can
you think your grandfather was a monkey, you who are so handsome?"
She reasoned on everything with the same force.
Although she boasted of being a sceptic, sometimes in the morning she
went out, concealed by a thick veil, and entered St. Sulpice, where she
confessed and put herself on good terms with God, in case He should
exist. She was rich and well connected, and in spite of the
irregularities of her youth, the best people visited her house.
Madame de Campvallon permitted herself to be introduced by M. de Camors.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan followed her there, because she followed her
everywhere, and took her son Sigismund. On this evening the reunion was
small. M. de Camors had only been there a few moments, when he had the
satisfaction of seeing the General and the Marquise enter. She
tranquilly expressed to him her regret at not having been at home the
preceding day; but it was impossible to hope for a more decided
explanation in a circle so small, and under the vigilant eye of Madame de
la Roche-Jugan. Camors interrogated vainly the face of his young cousin.
It was as beautiful and cold as usual. His anxiety increased; he would
have given his life at that moment to hear her say one word of love.
The Viscountess liked the play of wit, as she had little herself. They
played at her house such little games as were then fashionable. Those
little games are not always innocent, as we shall see.
They had distributed pencils, pens, and packages of paper--some of the
players sitting around large tables, and some in separate chairs--and
scratched mysteriously, in turn, questions and answers. During this time
the General played whist with Madame de la Roche-Jugan. Madame
Campvallon did not usually take part in these games, as they fatigued
her. Camors was therefore astonished to see her accept the pencil and
paper offered her.
This singularity awakened his attention and put him on his guard. He
himself joined in the game, contrary to his custom, and even charged
himself with collecting in the basket the small notes as they were
An hour passed without any special incident. The treasures of wit were
dispensed. The most delicate and unexpected questions--such as, "What is
love?" "Do you think that friendship can exist between the sexes?"
"Is it sweeter to love or to beloved?"--succeeded each other with
corresponding replies. All at once the Marquise gave a slight scream,
and they saw a drop of blood trickle down her forehead. She laughed, and
showed her little silver pencil-case, which had a pen at one end, with
which she had scratched her forehead in her abstraction.
The attention of Camors was redoubled from this moment--the more so from
a rapid and significant glance from the Marquise, which seemed to warn
him of an approaching event. She was sitting a little in shadow in one
corner, in order to meditate more at ease on questions and answers. An
instant later Camors was passing around the room collecting notes. She
deposited one in the basket, slipping another into his hand with the cat-
like dexterity of her sex. In the midst of these papers, which each
person amused himself with reading, Camors found no difficulty in
retaining without remark the clandestine note of the Marquise. It was
written in red ink, a little pale, but very legible, and contained these
"I belong, soul, body, honor, riches, to my best-beloved cousin,
Louis de Camors, from this moment and forever.
"Written and signed with the pure blood of my veins, March 5, 185-.
"CHARLOTTE DE LUC. D'ESTRELLES."
All the blood of Camors surged to his brain--a cloud came over his eyes
--he rested his hand on the marble table, then suddenly his face was
covered with a mortal paleness. These symptoms did not arise from
remorse or fear; his passion overshadowed all. He felt a boundless joy.
He saw the world at his feet.
It was by this act of frankness and of extraordinary audacity, seasoned
by the bloody mysticism so familiar to the sixteenth century, which she
adored, that the Marquise de Campvallon surrendered herself to her lover
and sealed their fatal union.
AN ANONYMOUS LETTER
Nearly six weeks had passed after this last episode. It was five o'clock
in the afternoon and the Marquise awaited Camors, who was to come after
the session of the Corps Legislatif. There was a sudden knock at one of
the doors of her room, which communicated with her husband's apartment.
It was the General. She remarked with surprise, and even with fear, that
his countenance was agitated.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she said. "Are you ill?"
"No," replied the General, "not at all."
He placed himself before her, and looked at her some moments before
speaking, his eyes rolling wildly.
"Charlotte!" he said at last, with a painful smile, "I must own to you
my folly. I am almost mad since morning--I have received such a singular
letter. Would you like to see it?"
"If you wish," she replied.
He took a letter from his pocket, and gave it to her. The writing was
evidently carefully disguised, and it was not signed.
"An anonymous letter?" said the Marquise, whose eyebrows were slightly
raised, with an expression of disdain; then she read the letter, which
was as follows:
"A true friend, General, feels indignant at seeing your confidence
and your loyalty abused. You are deceived by those whom you love
"A man who is covered with your favors and a woman who owes
everything to you are united by a secret intimacy which outrages
you. They are impatient for the hour when they can divide your
"He who regards it as a pious duty to warn you does not desire to
calumniate any one. He is sure that your honor is respected by her
to whom you have confided it, and that she is still worthy of your
confidence and esteem. She wrongs you in allowing herself to count
upon the future, which your best friend dates from your death. He
seeks your widow and your estate.
"The poor woman submits against her will to the fascinations of a
man too celebrated for his successful affairs of the heart. But
this man, your friend--almost your son--how can he excuse his
conduct? Every honest person must be shocked by such behavior, and
particularly he whom a chance conversation informed of the fact, and
who obeys his conscience in giving you this information."
The Marquise, after reading it, returned the letter coldly to the
"Sign it Eleanore-Jeanne de la Roche-Jugan!" she said.
"Do you think so?" asked the General.
"It is as clear as day," replied the Marquise. "These expressions betray
her--'a pious duty to warn you--'celebrated for his successful affairs of
the heart'--'every honest person.' She can disguise her writing, but not
her style. But what is still more conclusive is that which she
attributes to Monsieur de Camors--for I suppose it alludes to him--and to
his private prospects and calculations. This can not have failed to
strike you, as it has me, I suppose?"
"If I thought this vile letter was her work," cried the General, "I never
would see her again during my life."
"Why not? It is better to laugh at it!"
The General began one of his solemn promenades across the room. The
Marquise looked uneasily at the clock. Her husband, intercepting one of
these glances, suddenly stopped.
"Do you expect Camors to-day?" he inquired.
"Yes; I think he will call after the session."
"I think he will," responded the General, with a convulsive smile. "And
do you know, my dear," he added, "the absurd idea which has haunted me
since I received this infamous letter?--for I believe that infamy is
"You have conceived the idea of observing our interview?" said the
Marquise, in a tone of indolent raillery.
"Yes," said the General, "there--behind that curtain--as in a theatre;
but, thank God! I have been able to resist this base intention. If ever
I allow myself to play so mean a part, I should wish at least to do it
with your knowledge and consent."
"And do you ask me to consent to it?" asked the Marquise.
"My poor Charlotte!" said the General, in a sad and almost supplicating
tone, "I am an old fool--an overgrown child--but I feel that this
miserable letter will poison my life. I shall have no more an hour of
peace and confidence. What can you expect? I was so cruelly deceived
before. I am an honorable man, but I have been taught that all men are
not like myself. There are some things which to me seem as impossible as
walking on my head, yet I see others doing these things every day. What
can I say to you? After reading this perfidious letter, I could not help
recollecting that your intimacy with Camors has greatly increased of
"Without doubt," said the Marquise, "I am very fond of him!"
"I remembered also your tete-a-tete with him, the other night, in the
boudoir, during the ball. When I awoke you had both an air of mystery.
What mysteries could there be between you two?"
"Ah, what indeed!" said the Marquise, smiling.
"And will you not tell me?"
"You shall know it at the proper time."
"Finally, I swear to you that I suspect neither of you--I neither suspect
you of wronging me--of disgracing me--nor of soiling my name . . . God
"But if you two should love each other, even while respecting my honor:
if you love each other and confess it--if you two, even at my side, in my
heart--if you, my two children, should be calculating with impatient eyes
the progress of my old age--planning your projects for the future, and
smiling at my approaching death--postponing your happiness only for my
tomb you may think yourselves guiltless, but no, I tell you it would be
Under the empire of the passion which controlled him, the voice of the
General became louder. His common features assumed an air of sombre
dignity and imposing grandeur. A slight shade of paleness passed over
the lovely face of the young woman and a slight frown contracted her
By an effort, which in a better cause would have been sublime, she
quickly mastered her weakness, and, coldly pointing out to her husband
the draped door by which he had entered, said:
"Very well, conceal yourself there!"
"You will never forgive me?"
"You know little of women, my friend, if you do not know that jealousy is
one of the crimes they not only pardon but love."
"My God, I am not jealous!"
"Call it yourself what you will, but station yourself there!"
"And you are sincere in wishing me to do so?"
"I pray you to do so! Retire in the interval, leave the door open, and
when you hear Monsieur de Camors enter the court of the hotel, return."
"No!" said the General, after a moment's hesitation; "since I have gone
so far"--and he sighed deeply "I do not wish to leave myself the least
pretext for distrust. If I leave you before he comes, I am capable of
"That I might secretly warn him? Nothing more natural. Remain here,
then. Only take a book; for our conversation, under such circumstances,
can not be lively."
He sat down.
"But," he said, "what mystery can there be between you two?"
"You shall hear!" she said, with her sphinx-like smile.
The General mechanically took up a book. She stirred the fire, and
reflected. As she liked terror, danger, and dramatic incidents to blend
with her intrigues, she should have been content; for at that moment
shame, ruin, and death were at her door. But, to tell the truth, it was
too much for her; and when she looked, in the midst of the silence which
surrounded her, at the true character and scope of the perils which
surrounded her, she thought her brain would fail and her heart break.
She was not mistaken as to the origin of the letter. This shameful work
had indeed been planned by Madame de la Roche-Jugan. To do her justice,
she had not suspected the force of the blow she was dealing. She still
believed in the virtue of the Marquise; but during the perpetual
surveillance she had never relaxed, she could not fail to see the changed
nature of the intercourse between Camors and the Marquise. It must not
be forgotten that she dreamed of securing for her son Sigismund the
succession to her old friend; and she foresaw a dangerous rivalry--the
germ of which she sought to destroy. To awaken the distrust of the
General toward Camors, so as to cause his doors to be closed against him,
was all she meditated. But her anonymous letter, like most villainies of
this kind, was a more fatal and murderous weapon than its base author
The young Marquise, then, mused while stirring the fire, casting, from
time to time, a furtive glance at the clock.
M. de Camors would soon arrive--how could she warn him? In the present
state of their relations it was not impossible that the very first words
of. Camors might immediately divulge their secret: and once betrayed,
there was not only for her personal dishonor, a scandalous fall, poverty,
a convent--but for her husband or her lover--perhaps for both--death!
When the bell in the lower court sounded, announcing the Count's
approach, these thoughts crowded into the brain of the Marquise like a
legion of phantoms. But she rallied her courage by a desperate effort
and strained all her faculties to the execution of the plan she had
hastily conceived, which was her last hope. And one word, one gesture,
one mistake, or one carelessness of her lover, might overthrow it in a
second. A moment later the door was opened by a servant, announcing M.
de Camors. Without speaking, she signed to her husband to gain his
hiding-place. The General, who had risen at the sound of the bell,
seemed still to hesitate, but shrugging his shoulders, as if in disdain
of himself, retired behind the curtain which faced the door.
M. de Camors entered the room carelessly, and advanced toward the
fireplace where sat the Marquise; his smiling lips half opened to speak,
when he was struck by the peculiar expression on the face of the
Marquise, and the words were frozen on his lips. This look, fixed upon
him from his entrance, had a strange, weird intensity, which, without
expressing anything, made him fear everything. But he was accustomed to
trying situations, and as wary and prudent as he was intrepid. He ceased
to smile and did not speak, but waited.
She gave him her hand without ceasing to look at him with the same
"Either she is mad," he said to himself, "or there is some great peril!"
With the rapid perception of her genius and of her love, she felt he
understood her; and not leaving him time to speak and compromise her,
"It is very kind of you to keep your promise."
"Not at all," said Camors, seating himself.
"Yes! For you know you come here to be tormented." There was a pause.
"Have you at last become a convert to my fixed idea?" she added after a
"What fixed idea? It seems to me you have a great many!"
"Yes! But I speak of a good one--my best one, at least--of your
"What! again, cousin?" said Camors, who, now assured of his danger and
its nature, marched with a firmer foot over the burning soil.
"Yes, again, cousin; and I will tell you another thing--I have found the
"Ah! Then I shall run away!"
She met his smile with an imperious glance.
"Then you still adhere to that plan?" said Camors, laughing.
"Most firmly! I need not repeat to you my reasons--having preached about
it all winter--in fact so much so as to disturb the General, who suspects
some mystery between us."
"The General? Indeed!"
"Oh, nothing serious, you must understand. Well, let us resume the
subject. Miss Campbell will not do--she is too blonde--an odd objection
for me to make by the way; not Mademoiselle de Silas--too thin; not
Mademoiselle Rolet, in spite of her millions; not Mademoiselle
d'Esgrigny--too much like the Bacquieres and Van-Cuyps. All this is a
little discouraging, you will admit; but finally everything clears up.
I tell you I have discovered the right one--a marvel!"
"Her name?" said Camors.
"Marie de Tecle!"
There was silence.
"Well, you say nothing," resumed the Marquise, "because you can have
nothing to say! Because she unites everything--personal beauty, family,
fortune, everything--almost like a dream. Then, too, your properties
join. You see how I have thought of everything, my friend! I can not
imagine how we never came to think of this before!"
M. de Camors did not reply, and the Marquise began to be surprised at his
"Oh!" she exclaimed; "you may look a long time--there can not be a
single objection--you are caught this time. Come, my friend, say yes, I
implore you!" And while her lips said "I implore you," in a tone of
gracious entreaty, her look said, with terrible emphasis, "You must!"
"Will you allow me to reflect upon it, Madame?" he said at last.
"No, my friend!"
"But really," said Camors, who was very pale, "it seems to me you dispose
of the hand of Mademoiselle de Tecle very readily. Mademoiselle de Tecle
is rich and courted on all sides--also, her great-uncle has ideas of the
province, and her mother, ideas of religion, which might well--"
"I charge myself with all that," interrupted the Marquise.
"What a mania you have for marrying people!"
"Women who do not make love, cousin, always have a mania for
"But seriously, you will give me a few days for reflection?"
"To reflect about what? Have you not always told me you intended
marrying and have been only waiting the chance? Well, you never can find
a better one than this; and if you let it slip, you will repent the rest
of your life."
"But give me time to consult my family!"
"Your family--what a joke! It seems to me you have reached full age; and
then--what family? Your aunt, Madame de la Roche-Jugan?"
"Doubtless! I do not wish to offend her:"
"Ah, my dear cousin, don't be uneasy; suppress this uneasiness; I assure
you she will be delighted!"
"Why should she?"
"I have my reasons for thinking so;" and the young woman in uttering
these words was seized with a fit of sardonic laughter which came near
convulsion, so shaken were her nerves by the terrible tension.
Camors, to whom little by little the light fell stronger on the more
obscure points of the terrible enigma proposed to him, saw the necessity
of shortening a scene which had overtasked her faculties to an almost
insupportable degree. He rose:
"I am compelled to leave you," he said; "for I am not dining at home.
But I will come to-morrow, if you will permit me."
"Certainly. You authorize me to speak to the General?"
"Well, yes, for I really can see no reasonable objection."
"Very good. I adore you!" said the Marquise. She gave him her hand,
which he kissed and immediately departed.
It would have required a much keener vision than that of M. de Campvallon
to detect any break, or any discordance, in the audacious comedy which
had just been played before him by these two great artists.
The mute play of their eyes alone could have betrayed them; and that he
could not see.
As to their tranquil, easy, natural dialogue there was not in it a word
which he could seize upon, and which did not remove all his disquietude,
and confound all his suspicions. From this moment, and ever afterward,
every shadow was effaced from his mind; for the ability to imagine such
a plot as that in which his wife in her despair had sought refuge, or to
comprehend such depth of perversity, was not in the General's pure and
When he reappeared before his wife, on leaving his concealment, he was
constrained and awkward. With a gesture of confusion and humility he
took her hand, and smiled upon her with all the goodness and tenderness
of his soul beaming from his face.
At this moment the Marquise, by a new reaction of her nervous system,
broke into weeping and sobbing; and this completed the General's despair.
Out of respect to this worthy man, we shall pass over a scene the
interest of which otherwise is not sufficient to warrant the unpleasant
effect it would produce on all honest people. We shall equally pass over
without record the conversation which took place the next day between the
Marquise and M. de Camors.
Camors had experienced, as we have observed, a sentiment of repulsion at
hearing the name of Mademoiselle de Tecle appear in the midst of this
intrigue. It amounted almost to horror, and he could not control the
manifestation of it. How could he conquer this supreme revolt of his
conscience to the point of submitting to the expedient which would make
his intrigue safe? By what detestable sophistries he dared persuade
himself that he owed everything to his accomplice--even this, we shall
not attempt to explain. To explain would be to extenuate, and that we
wish not to do. We shall only say that he resigned himself to this
marriage. On the path which he had entered a man can check himself as
little as he can check a flash of lightning.
As to the Marquise, one must have formed no conception of this depraved
though haughty spirit, if astonished at her persistence, in cold blood,
and after reflection, in the perfidious plot which the imminence of her
danger had suggested to her. She saw that the suspicions of the General
might be reawakened another day in a more dangerous manner, if this
marriage proved only a farce. She loved Camors passionately; and she
loved scarcely less the dramatic mystery of their liaison. She had also
felt a frantic terror at the thought of losing the great fortune which
she regarded as her own; for the disinterestedness of her early youth had
long vanished, and the idea of sinking miserably in the Parisian world,
where she had long reigned by her luxury as well as her beauty, was
insupportable to her.
Love, mystery, fortune-she wished to preserve them all at any price; and
the more she reflected, the more the marriage of Camors appeared to her
the surest safeguard.
It was true, it would give her a sort of rival. But she had too high an
opinion of herself to fear anything; and she preferred Mademoiselle de
Tecle to any other, because she knew her, and regarded her as an inferior
About fifteen days after, the General called on Madame de Tecle one
morning, and demanded for M. de Camors her daughter's hand. It would be
painful to dwell on the joy which Madame de Tecle felt; and her only
surprise was that Camors had not come in person to press his suit. But
Camors had not the heart to do so. He had been at Reuilly since that
morning, and called on Madame de Tecle, where he learned his overture was
accepted. Once having resolved on this monstrous action, he was
determined to carry it through in the most correct manner, and we know he
was master of all social arts.
In the evening Madame de Tecle and her daughter, left alone, walked
together a long time on their dear terrace, by the soft light of the
stars--the daughter blessing her mother, and the mother thanking God--
both mingling their hearts, their dreams, their kisses, and their tears
--happier, poor women, than is permitted long to human beings. The
marriage took place the ensuing month.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A defensive attitude is never agreeable to a man
Believing that it is for virtue's sake alone such men love them
Determined to cultivate ability rather than scrupulousness
Disenchantment which follows possession
Have not that pleasure, it is useless to incur the penalties
Inconstancy of heart is the special attribute of man
Knew her danger, and, unlike most of them, she did not love it
Put herself on good terms with God, in case He should exist
Two persons who desired neither to remember nor to forget
MONSIEUR DE CAMORS
By OCTAVE FEUILLET
THE COUNTESS DE CAMORS
After passing the few weeks of the honeymoon at Reuilly, the Comte and
Comtesse de Camors returned to Paris and established themselves at their
hotel in the Rue de l'Imperatrice. From this moment, and during the
months that followed, the young wife kept up an active correspondence
with her mother; and we here transcribe some of the letters, which will
make us more intimately acquainted with the character of the young woman.
Madame de Camors to Madame de Tecle.
"Am I happy? No, my dearest mother! No--not happy! I have only
wings and soar to heaven like a bird! I feel the sunshine in my
head, in my eyes, in my heart.
"It blinds me, it enchants me, it causes me to shed delicious tears!
Happy? No, my tender mother; that is not possible, when I think
that I am his wife! The wife--understand me--of him who has reigned
in my poor thoughts since I was able to think--of him whom I should
have chosen out of the whole universe! When I remember that I am
his wife, that we are united forever, how I love life! how I love
you! how I love God!
"The Bois and the lake are within a few steps of us, as you know.
We ride thither nearly every morning, my husband and I!--I repeat,
I and my husband! We go there, my husband and I--I and my husband!
"I know not how it is, but it is always delicious weather to me,
even when it rains--as it does furiously to-day; for we have just
come in, driven home by the storm.
"During our ride to-day, I took occasion to question him quietly as
to some points of our history which puzzled me. First, why had he
"'Because you pleased me apparently, Miss Mary.' He likes to give me
this name, which recalls to him I know not what episode of my
untamed youth--untamed still to him.
"'If I pleased you, why did I see you so seldom?'
"'Because I did not wish to court you until I had decided on
"'How could I have pleased you, not being at all beautiful?'
"'You are not beautiful, it is true,' replies this cruel young man,
'but you are very pretty; and above all you are grace itself, like
"All these obscure points being cleared up to the complete
satisfaction of Miss Mary, Miss Mary took to fast galloping; not
because it was raining, but because she became suddenly--we do not
know the reason why--as red as a poppy.
"Oh, beloved mother! how sweet it is to be loved by him we adore,
and to be loved precisely as we wish--as we have dreamed--according
to the exact programme of our young, romantic hearts!
"Did you ever believe I had ideas on such a delicate subject? Yes,
dear mother, I had them. Thus, it seemed to me there were many
different styles of loving--some vulgar, some pretentious, some
foolish, and others, again, excessively comic. None of these seemed
suited to the Prince, our neighbor. I ever felt he should love,
like the Prince he is, with grace and dignity; with serious
tenderness, a little stern perhaps; with amiability, but almost with
condescension--as a lover, but as a master, too--in fine, like my
"Dear angel, who art my mother! be happy in my happiness, which was
your sole work. I kiss your hands--I kiss your wings!
"I thank you! I bless you! I adore you!
"If you were near me, it would be too much happiness! I should die,
I think. Nevertheless, come to us very soon. Your chamber awaits
you. It is as blue as the heavens in which I float. I have already
told you this, but I repeat it.
"Good-by, mother of the happiest woman in the world!
"Comtesse de Camors."
"You made me weep--I who await you every morning. I will say
nothing to you, however; I will not beg you. If the health of my
grandfather seems to you so feeble as to demand your presence, I
know no prayer would take you away from your duty. Nor would I make
the prayer, my angel mother!
"But exaggerate nothing, I pray you, and think your little Marie can
not pass by the blue chamber without feeling a swelling of the
heart. Apart from this grief which you cause her, she continues to
be as happy as even you could wish.
"Her charming Prince is ever charming and ever her Prince! He takes
her to see the monuments, the museums, the theatres, like the poor
little provincial that she is. Is it not touching on the part of so
great a personage?
"He is amused at my ecstasies--for I have ecstasies. Do not breathe
it to my Uncle Des Rameures, but Paris is superb! The days here
count double our own for thought and life.
"My husband took me to Versailles yesterday. I suspect that this,
in the eyes of the people here, is rather a ridiculous episode; for
I notice the Count did not boast of it. Versailles corresponds
entirely with the impressions you had given me of it; for there is
not the slightest change since you visited it with my grandfather.
"It is grand, solemn, and cold. There is, though, a new and very
curious museum in the upper story of the palace, consisting chiefly
of original portraits of the famous men of history. Nothing pleases
me more than to see these heroes of my memory passing before me in
grand procession--from Charles the Bold to George Washington. Those
faces my imagination has so often tried to evoke, that it seems to
me we are in the Elysian Fields, and hold converse with the dead:
"You must know, my mother, I was familiar with many things that
surprised M. de Camors very much. He was greatly struck by my
knowledge of science and my genius. I did no more, as you may
imagine, than respond to his questions; but it seemed to astonish
him that I could respond at all.
"Why should he ask me these things? If he did not know how to
distinguish the different Princesses of Conti, the answer is simple.
"But I knew, because my mother taught me. That is simple enough
"We dined afterward, at my suggestion, at a restaurant. Oh, my
mother! this was the happiest moment of my life! To dine at a
restaurant with my husband was the most delightful of all
"I have said he seemed astonished at my learning. I ought to add in
general, he seemed astonished whenever I opened my lips. Did he
imagine me a mute? I speak little, I acknowledge, however, for he
inspires me with a ceaseless fear: I am afraid of displeasing him,
of appearing silly before him, or pretentious, or pedantic. The day
when I shall be at ease with him, and when I can show him my good
sense and gratitude--if that day ever comes--I shall be relieved of
a great weight on my mind, for truly I sometimes fear he looks on me
as a child.
"The other day I stopped before a toy-shop on the Boulevard. What a
blunder! And as he saw my eye fixed on a magnificent squadron of
"'Do you wish one, Miss Mary?' he said.
"Was not this horrible, my mother--from him who knows everything
except the Princesses of Conti? He explained everything to me; but
briefly in a word, as if to a person he despaired of ever making
understand him. And I understand so well all the time, my poor
"But so much the better, say I; for if he loves me while thinking me
silly, what will it be later!
"With fond love, your
"All Paris has returned once more, my dear mother, and for fifteen
days I have been occupied with visits. The men here do not usually
visit; but my husband is obliged to present me for the first time to
the persons I ought to know. He accompanies me there, which is much
more agreeable to me than to him, I believe.
"He is more serious than usual. Is not this the only form in which
amiable men show their bad humor? The people we visit look on me
with a certain interest. The woman whom this great lord has honored
with his choice is evidently an object of great curiosity. This
flatters and intimidates me; I blush and feel constrained; I appear
awkward. When they find me awkward and insignificant, they stare.
They believe he married me for my fortune: then I wish to cry. We
reenter the carriage, he smiles upon me, and I am in heaven! Such
are our visits.
"You must know, my mother, that to me Madame Campvallon is divine.
She often takes me to her box at the Italiens, as mine will not be
vacant until January. Yesterday she gave a little fete for me in
her beautiful salon: the General opened the ball with me.
"Oh! my mother, what a wonderfully clever man the General is! And I
admire him because he admires you!
"The Marquise presented to me all the best dancers. They were young
gentlemen, with their necks so uncovered it almost gave me a chill.
I never before had seen men bare-necked and the fashion is not
becoming. It was very evident, however, that they considered
themselves indispensable and charming. Their deportment was
insolent and self-sufficient; their eyes were disdainful and all-
"Their mouths ever open to breathe freer, their coat-tails flapping
like wings, they take one by the waist--as one takes his own
property. Informing you by a look that they are about to do you the
honor of removing you, they whirl you away; then, panting for
breath, inform you by another look that they will do themselves the
pleasure of stopping--and they stop. Then they rest a moment,
panting, laughing, showing their teeth; another look--and they
repeat the same performance. They are wonderful!
"Louis waltzed with me and seemed satisfied. I saw him for the
first time waltz with the Marquise. Oh, my mother, it was the dance
of the stars!
"One thing which struck me this evening, as always, was the manifest
idolatry with which the women regard my husband. This, my tender
mother, terrifies me. Why--I ask myself--why did he choose me?
How can I please him? How can I succeed?
"Behold the result of all my meditations! A folly perhaps, but of
which the effect is to reassure me:
"Portrait of the Comtesse de Camors, drawn by herself.
"The Comtesse de Camors, formerly Marie de Tecle, is a personage
who, having reached her twentieth year, looks older. She is not
beautiful, as her husband is the first person to confess. He says
she is pretty; but she doubts even this. Let us see. She has very
long limbs, a fault which she shares with Diana, the Huntress, and
which probably gives to the gait of the Countess a lightness it
might not otherwise possess. Her body is naturally short, and on
horseback appears to best advantage. She is plump without being
"Her features are irregular; the mouth being too large and the lips
too thick, with--alas! the shade of a moustache; white teeth, a
little too small; a commonplace nose, a slightly pug; and her
mother's eyes--her best feature. She has the eyebrows of her Uncle
Des Rameures, which gives an air of severity to the face and
neutralizes the good-natured expression-a reflex from the softness
of her heart.
"She has the dark complexion of her mother, which is more becoming
to her mother than to her. Add to all this, blue-black hair in
great silky masses. On the whole, one knows not what to pronounce
"There, my mother, is my portrait! Intended to reassure me, it has
hardly done so; for it seems to me to be that of an ugly little
"I wish to be the most lively of women; I wish to be one of the most
distinguished. I wish to be one of the most captivating! But, oh,
my mother! if I please him I am still more enchanted! On the
whole, thank God! he finds me perhaps much better than I am: for
men have not the same taste in these matters that we have.
"But what I really can not comprehend, is why he has so little
admiration for the Marquise de Campvallon. His manner is very cold
to her. Were I a man, I should be wildly in love with that superb
woman! Good-night, most beloved of mothers!
"You complain of me, my cherished one! The tone of my letters
wounds you! You can not comprehend how this matter of my personal
appearance haunts me. I scrutinize it; I compare it with that of
others. There is something of levity in that which hurts you? You
ask how can I think a man attaches himself to these things, while
the merits of mind and soul go for nothing?
"But, my dearest mother, how will these merits of mind and of soul
--supposing your daughter to possess them--serve her, unless she
possesses the courage or has the opportunity to display them? And
when I summon up the courage, it seems to me the occasion never
"For I must confess to you that this delicious Paris is not perfect;
and I discover, little by little, the spots upon the sun.
"Paris is the most charming place! The only pity is that it has
inhabitants! Not but that they are agreeable, for they are only too
much so; only they are also very careless, and appear to my view to
live and die without reflecting much on what they are doing. It is
not their fault; they have no time.
"Without leaving Paris, they are incessant travellers, eternally
distracted by motion and novelty. Other travellers, when they have
visited some distant corner--forgetting for a while their families,
their duties, and their homes--return and settle down again. But
these Parisians never do. Their life is an endless voyage; they
have no home. That which elsewhere is the great aim of life is
secondary here. One has here, as elsewhere, an establishment--a
house, a private chamber. One must have. Here one is wife or
mother, husband or father, just as elsewhere; but, my poor mother,
they are these things just as little as possible. The whole
interest centres not in the homes; but in the streets, the museums,
the salons, the theatres, and the clubs. It radiates to the immense
outside life, which in all its forms night and day agitates Paris,
attracts, excites, and enervates you; steals your time, your mind,
your soul--and devours them all!
"Paris is the most delicious of places to visit--the worst of places
to live in.
"Understand well, my mother, that in seeking by what qualifies I can
best attract my husband--who is the best of men, doubtless, but of
Parisian men nevertheless--I have continually reflected on merits
which may be seen at once, which do not require time to be
"Finally, I do not deny that all this is miserable cynicism,
unworthy of you and of myself; for you know I am not at heart a bad
little woman. Certainly, if I could keep Monsieur de Camors for a
year or two at an old chateau in the midst of a solitary wood, I
should like it much. I could then see him more frequently, I could
then become familiar with his august person, and could develop my
little talents under his charmed eyes. But then this might weary
him and would be too easy. Life and happiness, I know, are not so
easily managed. All is difficulty, peril, and conflict.
"What joy, then, to conquer! And I swear to you, my mother, that I
will conquer! I will force him to know me as you know me; to love
me, not as he now does, but as you do, for many good reasons of
which he does not yet dream.
"Not that he believes me absolutely a fool; I think he has abandoned
that idea for at least two days past.
"How he came thus to think, my next letter shall explain.
THE REPTILE STRIVES TO CLIMB
"You will remember, my mother, that the Count has as secretary a man
named Vautrot. The name is a bad one; but the man himself is a good
enough creature, except that I somewhat dislike his catlike style of
looking at one.
"Well, Monsieur de Vautrot lives in the house with us. He comes
early in the morning, breakfasts at some neighboring cafe, passes
the day in the Count's study, and often remains to dine with us, if
he has work to finish in the evening.
"He is an educated man, and knows a little of everything; and he has
undertaken many occupations before he accepted the subordinate
though lucrative post he now occupies with my husband. He loves
literature; but not that of his time and of his country, perhaps
because he himself has failed in this. He prefers foreign writers
and poets, whom he quotes with some taste, though with too much
"Most probably his early education was defective; for on all
occasions, when speaking with us, he says, 'Yes, Monsieur le Comte!'
or 'Certainly, Madame la Comtesse!' as if he were a servant. Yet
withal, he has a peculiar pride, or perhaps I should say
insufferable vanity. But his great fault, in my eyes, is the
scoffing tone he adopts, when the subject is religion or morals.
"Two days ago, while we were dining, Vautrot allowed himself to
indulge in a rather violent tirade of this description. It was
certainly contrary to all good taste.
"'My dear Vautrot,' my husband said quietly to him, 'to me these
pleasantries of yours are indifferent; but pray remember, that while
you are a strong-minded man, my wife is a weak-minded woman; and
strength, you know, should respect weakness.'
"Monsieur Vautrot first grew white, then red, and finally green. He
rose, bowed awkwardly, and immediately afterward left the table.
Since that time I have remarked his manner has been more reserved.
The moment I was alone with Louis, I said:
"'You may think me indiscreet, but pray let me ask you a question.
How can you confide all your affairs and all your secrets to a man
who professes to have no principles?'
"Monsieur de Camors laughed.
"'Oh, he talks thus out of bravado,' he answered. 'He thinks to
make himself more interesting in your eyes by these Mephistophelian
airs. At bottom he is a good fellow.'
"'But,' I answered, 'he has faith in nothing.'
"'Not in much, I believe. Yet he has never deceived me. He is an
"I opened my eyes wide at this.
"'Well,' he said, with an amused look, 'what is the matter, Miss
"'What is this honor you speak of?'
"'Let me ask your definition of it, Miss Mary,' he replied.
"'Mon Dieu!' I cried, blushing deeply, 'I know but little of it, but
it seems to me that honor separated from morality is no great thing;
and morality without religion is nothing. They all constitute a
chain. Honor hangs to the last link, like a flower; but if the
chain be broken, honor falls with the rest.' He looked at me with
strange eyes, as if he were not only confounded but disquieted by my
philosophy. Then he gave a deep sigh, and rising said:
"'Very neat, that definition-very neat.'
"That night, at the opera, he plied me with bonbons and orange ices.
Madame de Campvallon accompanied us; and at parting, I begged her to
call for me next day on her way to the Bois, for she is my idol.
She is so lovely and so distinguished--and she I knows it well. I
love to be with her. On our return home, Louis remained silent,
contrary to his custom. Suddenly he said, brusquely:
"'Marie, do you go with the Marquise to the Bois to-morrow?'
"'But you see her often, it seems to me-morning and evening. You
are always with her.'
"'Heavens! I do it to be agreeable to you. Is not Madame de
Campvallon a good associate?'
"'Excellent; only in general I do not admire female friendships.
But I did wrong to speak to you on this subject. You have wit and
discretion enough to preserve the proper limits.'
"This, my mother, was what he said to me. I embrace you.
"I hope, my own mother, not to bore you this year with a catalogue
of fetes and festivals, lamps and girandoles; for Lent is coming.
To-day is Ash-Wednesday. Well, we dance to-morrow evening at Madame
d'Oilly's. I had hoped not to go, but I saw Louis was disappointed,
and I feared to offend Madame d'Oilly, who has acted a mother's part
to my husband. Lent here is only an empty name. I sigh to myself:
'Will they never stop! Great heavens! will they never cease
"I must confess to you, my darling mother, I amuse myself too much
to be happy. I depended on Lent for some time to myself, and see
how they efface the calendar!
"This dear Lent! What a sweet, honest, pious invention it is,
notwithstanding. How sensible is our religion! How well it
understands human weakness and folly! How far-seeing in its
regulations! How indulgent also! for to limit pleasure is to
"I also love pleasure--the beautiful toilets that make us resemble
flowers, the lighted salons, the music, the gay voices and the
dance. Yes, I love all these things; I experience their charming
confusion; I palpitate, I inhale their intoxication. But always--
always! at Paris in the winter--at the springs in summer--ever this
crowd, ever this whirl, this intoxication of pleasure! All become
like savages, like negroes, and--dare I say so?--bestial! Alas for
"HE foresaw it. HE told us, as the priest told me this morning:
'Remember you have a soul: Remember you have duties!--a husband
--a child--a mother--a God!'
"Then, my mother, we should retire within ourselves; should pass the
time in grave thought between the church and our homes; should
converse on solemn and serious subjects; and should dwell in the
moral world to gain a foothold in heaven! This season is intended
as a wholesome interval to prevent our running frivolity into
dissipation, and pleasure into convulsion; to prevent our winter's
mask from becoming our permanent visage. This is entirely the
opinion of Madame Jaubert.
"Who is this Madame Jaubert? you will ask. She is a little
Parisian angel whom my mother would dearly love! I met her almost
everywhere--but chiefly at St. Phillipe de Roule--for several months
without being aware that she is our neighbor, that her hotel adjoins
ours. Such is Paris!
"She is a graceful person, with a soft and tender, but decided air.
We sat near each other at church; we gave each other side-glances;
we pushed our chairs to let each other pass; and in our softest
voices would say, 'Excuse me, Madame!' 'Oh, Madame!' My glove would
fall, she would pick it up; I would offer her the holy water, and
receive a sweet smile, with 'Dear Madame!' Once at a concert at the
Tuileries we observed each other at a distance, and smiled
recognition; when any part of the music pleased us particularly we
glanced smilingly at each other. Judge of my surprise next morning
when I saw my affinity enter the little Italian house next ours--and
enter it, too, as if it were her home. On inquiry I found she was
Madame Jaubert, the wife of a tall, fair young man who is a civil
"I was seized with a desire to call upon my neighbor. I spoke of it
to Louis, blushing slightly, for I remembered he did not approve of
intimacies between women. But above all, he loves me!
"Notwithstanding he slightly shrugged his shoulders--'Permit me at
least, Miss Mary, to make some inquiries about these people.'
"A few days afterward he had made them, for he said: 'Miss Mary, you
may visit Madame Jaubert; she is a perfectly proper person.'
"I first flew to my husband's neck, and thence went to call upon
"'It is I, Madame!'
"'Oh, Madame, permit me!'
"And we embraced each other and were good friends immediately.
"Her husband is a civil engineer, as I have said. He was once
occupied with great inventions and with great industrial works; but
that was only for a short time. Having inherited a large estate, he
abandoned his studies and did nothing--at least nothing but
mischief. When he married to increase his fortune, his pretty
little wife had a sad surprise. He was never seen at home; always
at the club--always behind the scenes at the opera--always going to
the devil! He gambled, he had mistresses and shameful affairs. But
worse than all, he drank--he came to his wife drunk. One incident,
which my pen almost refuses to write, will give you an idea. Think
of it! He conceived the idea of sleeping in his boots! There, my
mother, is the pretty fellow my sweet little friend transformed,
little by little, into a decent man, a man of merit, and an
"And she did it all by gentleness, firmness, and sagacity. Now is
not this encouraging?--for, God knows, my task is less difficult.
"Their household charms me; for it proves that one may build for
one's self, even in the midst of this Paris, a little nest such as
one dreams of. These dear neighbors are inhabitants of Paris--not
its prey. They have their fireside; they own it, and it belongs to
them. Paris is at their door--so much the better. They have ever a
relish for refined amusement; 'they drink at the fountain,' but do
not drown themselves in it. Their habits are the same, passing
their evenings in conversation, reading, or music; stirring the fire
and listening to the wind and rain without, as if they were in a
"Life slips gently through their fingers, thread by thread, as in
our dear old country evenings.
"My mother, they are happy!
"Here, then, is my dream--here is my plan.
"My husband has no vices, as Monsieur Jaubert had. He has only the
habits of all the brilliant men of his Paris-world. It is
necessary, my own mother, gradually to reform him; to suggest
insensibly to him the new idea that one may pass one evening at home
in company with a beloved and loving wife, without dying suddenly of
"The rest will follow.
"What is this rest? It is the taste for a quiet life, for the
serious sweetness of the domestic hearth--the family taste--the idea
of seclusion--the recovered soul!
"Is it not so, my good angel? Then trust me. I am more than ever
full of ardor, courage, and confidence. For he loves me with all
his heart, with more levity, perhaps, than I deserve; but still--he
"He loves me; he spoils me; he heaps presents upon me. There is no
pleasure he does not offer me, except, be it understood, the
pleasure of passing one evening at home together.
"But he loves me! That is the great point--he loves me!
"Now, dearest mother, let me whisper one final word-a word that
makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It seems to me that for
some time past I have had two hearts--a large one of my own, and--
"Oh, my mother! I see you in tears. But it is a great mystery
this. It is a dream of heaven; but perhaps only a dream, which I
have not yet told even to my husband--only to my adorable mother!
Do not weep, for it is not yet quite certain.
In reply to this letter Madame de Camors received one three mornings
after, announcing to her the death of her grandfather. The Comte de
Tecle had died of apoplexy, of which his state of health had long given
warning. Madame de Tecle foresaw that the first impulse of her daughter
would be to join her to share her sad bereavement. She advised her
strongly against undertaking the fatigue of the journey, and promised to
visit her in Paris, as soon as she conveniently could. The mourning in
the family heightened in the heart of the Countess the uneasy feeling and
vague sadness her last letters had indicated.
She was much less happy than she told her mother; for the first
enthusiasm and first illusions of marriage could not long deceive a
spirit so quick and acute as hers.
A young girl who marries is easily deceived by the show of an affection
of which she is the object. It is rare that she does not adore her
husband and believe she is adored by him, simply because he has married
The young heart opens spontaneously and diffuses its delicate perfume of
love and its songs of tenderness; and enveloped in this heavenly cloud
all seems love around it. But, little by little, it frees itself; and,
too often, recognizes that this delicious harmony and intoxicating
atmosphere which charmed it came only from itself.
Thus was it with the Countess; so far as the pen can render the shadows
of a feminine soul. Such were the impressions which, day by day,
penetrated the very soul of our poor "Miss Mary."
It was nothing more than this; but this was everything to her!
The idea of being betrayed by her husband--and that, too, with cruel
premeditation--never had arisen to torture her soul. But, beyond those
delicate attentions to her which she never exaggerated in her letters to
her mother, she felt herself disdained and slighted. Marriage had not
changed Camors's habits: he dined at home, instead of at his club, that
was all. She believed herself loved, however, but with a lightness that
was almost offensive. Yet, though she was sometimes sad and nearly in
tears, she did not despair; this valiant little heart attached itself
with intrepid confidence to all the happy chances the future might have
in store for it.
M. de Camors continued very indifferent--as one may readily comprehend--
to the agitation which tormented this young heart, but which never
occurred to him for a moment. For himself, strange as it may appear,
he was happy enough. This marriage had been a painful step to take;
but, once confirmed in his sin, he became reconciled to it. But his
conscience, seared as it was, had some living fibres in it; and he would
not have failed in the duty he thought he owed to his wife. These
sentiments were composed of a sort of indifference, blended with pity.
He was vaguely sorry for this child, whose existence was absorbed and
destroyed between those of two beings of nature superior to her own;
and he hoped she would always remain ignorant of the fate to which she
was condemned. He resolved never to neglect anything that might
extenuate its rigor; but he belonged, nevertheless, more than ever solely
to the passion which was the supreme crime of his life. For his intrigue
with Madame de Campvallon, continually excited by mystery and danger--and
conducted with profound address by a woman whose cunning was equal to her
beauty--continued as strong, after years of enjoyment, as at first.
The gracious courtesy of M. de Camors, on which he piqued himself, as
regarded his wife, had its limits; as the young Countess perceived
whenever she attempted to abuse it. Thus, on several occasions she
declined receiving guests on the ground of indisposition, hoping her
husband would not abandon her to her solitude. She was in error.
The Count gave her in reality, under these circumstances, a tete-a-tete
of a few minutes after dinner; but near nine o'clock he would leave her
with perfect tranquillity. Perhaps an hour later she would receive a
little packet of bonbons, or a pretty basket of choice fruit, that would
permit her to pass the evening as she might. These little gifts she
sometimes divided with her neighbor, Madame Jaubert; sometimes with
M. de Vautrot, secretary to her husband.
This M. de Vautrot, for whom she had at first conceived an aversion, was
gradually getting into her good graces. In the absence of her husband
she always found him at hand; and referred to him for many little
details, such as addresses, invitations, the selection of books and the
purchase of furniture. From this came a certain familiarity; she began
to call him Vautrot, or "My good Vautrot," while he zealously performed
all her little commissions. He manifested for her a great deal of
respectful attention, and even refrained from indulging in the sceptical
sneers which he knew displeased her. Happy to witness this reform and to
testify her gratitude, she invited him to remain on two or three evenings
when he came to take his leave, and talked with him of books and the
When her mourning kept her at home, M. de Camors passed the two first
evenings with her until ten o'clock. But this effort fatigued him, and
the poor young woman, who had already erected an edifice for the future
on this frail basis, had the mortification of observing that on the third
evening he had resumed his bachelor habits.
This was a great blow to her, and her sadness became greater than it had
been up to that time; so much so in fact, that solitude was almost
unbearable. She had hardly been long enough in Paris to form intimacies.
Madame Jaubert came to her friend as often as she could; but in the
intervals the Countess adopted the habit of retaining Vautrot, or even of
sending for him. Camors himself, three fourths of the time, would bring
him in before going out in the evening.
"I bring you Vautrot, my dear," he would say, "and Shakespeare. You can
read him together."
Vautrot read well; and though his heavy declamatory style frequently
annoyed the Countess, she thus managed to kill many a long evening, while
waiting the expected visit of Madame de Tecle. But Vautrot, whenever he
looked at her, wore such a sympathetic air and seemed so mortified when
she did not invite him to stay, that, even when wearied of him, she
frequently did so.
About the end of the month of April, M. Vautrot was alone with the
Countess de Camors about ten o'clock in the evening. They were reading
Goethe's Faust, which she had never before heard. This reading seemed to
interest the young woman more than usual, and with her eyes fixed on the
reader, she listened to it with rapt attention. She was not alone
fascinated by the work, but--as is frequently the case-she traced her own
thoughts and her own history in the fiction of the poet.
We all know with what strange clairvoyance a mind possessed with a fixed
idea discovers resemblances and allusions in accidental description.
Madame de Camors perceived without doubt some remote connection between
her husband and Faust--between herself and Marguerite; for she could not
help showing that she was strangely agitated. She could not restrain the
violence of her emotion, when Marguerite in prison cries out, in her
agony and madness:
Who has given you, headsman, this power over me? You come to me while it
is yet midnight. Be merciful and let me live.
Is not to-morrow morning soon enough?
I am yet so young--so young! and am to die already! I was fair, too;
that was my undoing. My true love was near, now he is far away.
Torn lies my garland; scattered the flowers. Don't take hold of me so
roughly! spare me! spare me. What have I done to you? Let me not
implore you in vain! I never saw you before in all my life; you know.
Can I endure this misery?
I am now entirely in thy power. Only let me give suck to the child.
I pressed it this whole night to my heart. They took it away to vex me,
and now say I killed it, and I shall never be happy again. They sing
songs upon me! It is wicked of the people. An old tale ends so--who
bids them apply it?
A lover lies at thy feet, to unloose the bonds of wickedness.
What a blending of confused sentiments, of powerful sympathies, of vague
apprehensions, suddenly seized on the breast of the young Countess! One
can hardly imagine their force--to the very verge of distracting her.
She turned on her fauteuil and closed her beautiful eyes, as if to keep
back the tears which rolled under the fringe of the long lashes.
At this moment Vautrot ceased to read, dropped his book, sighed
profoundly, and stared a moment.
Then he knelt at the feet of the Comtesse de Camors! He took her hand;
he said, with a tragic sigh, "Poor angel!"
It will be difficult to understand this incident and the unfortunately
grave results that followed it, without having the moral and physical
portrait of its principal actor.
M. Hippolyte Vautrot was a handsome man and knew it perfectly. He even
flattered himself on a certain resemblance to his patron, the Comte de
Camors. Partly from nature and partly from continual imitation, this
idea had some foundation; for he resembled the Count as much as a vulgar
man can resemble one of the highest polish.
He was the son of a small confectioner in the provinces; had received
from his father an honestly acquired fortune, and had dissipated it in
the varied enterprises of his adventurous life. The influence of his
college, however, obtained for him a place in the Seminary. He left it
to come to Paris and study law; placed himself with an attorney;
attempted literature without success; gambled on the Bourse and lost
He had successively knocked with feverish hand at all the doors of
Fortune, and none had opened to him, because, though his ambition was
great, his capacity was limited. Subordinate positions, for which alone
he was fit, he did not want. He would have made a good tutor: he sighed
to be a poet. He would have been a respectable cure in the country: he
pined to be a bishop. Fitted for an excellent secretary, he aspired to
be a minister. In fine, he wished to be a great man, and consequently
was a failure as a little one.
But he made himself a hypocrite; and that he found much easier. He
supported himself on the one hand by the philosophic society to be met at
Madame d'Oilly's; on the other, by the orthodox reunions of Madame de la
By these influences he contrived to secure the secretaryship to the Comte
de Camors, who, in his general contempt of the human species, judged
Vautrot to be as good as any other. Now, familiarity with M. de Camors
was, morally, fearfully prejudicial to the secretary. It had, it is
true, the effect of stripping off his devout mask, which he seldom put on
before his patron; but it terribly increased in venom the depravity which
disappointment and wounded pride had secreted in his ulcerated heart.
Of course no one will imagine that M. de Camors had the bad taste to
undertake deliberately the demoralization of his secretary; but contact,
intimacy, and example sufficed fully to do this. A secretary is always
more or less a confidant. He divines that which is not revealed to him;
and Vautrot could not be long in discovering that his patron's success
did not arise, morally, from too much principle--in politics, from excess
of conviction--in business, from a mania for scruples! The intellectual
superiority of Camors, refined and insolent as it was, aided to blind
Vautrot, showing him evil which was not only prosperous, but was also
radiant in grace and prestige. For these reasons he most profoundly
admired his master--admired, imitated, and execrated him!
Camors professed for him and for his solemn airs an utter contempt, which
he did not always take the trouble to conceal; and Vautrot trembled when
some burning sarcasm fell from such a height on the old wound of his
vanity--that wound which was ever sore within him. What he hated most in
Camors was his easy and insolent triumph--his rapid and unmerited
fortune--all those enjoyments which life yielded him without pain,
without toil, without conscience--peacefully tasted! But what he hated
above all, was that this man had thus obtained these things while he had
vainly striven for them.
Assuredly, in this Vautrot was not an exception. The same example
presented to a healthier mind would not have been much more salutary,
for we must tell those who, like M. de Camors, trample under foot all
principles of right, and nevertheless imagine that their secretaries,
their servants, their wives and their children, may remain virtuous--
we must tell these that while they wrong others they deceive themselves!
And this was the case with Hippolyte Vautrot.
He was about forty years of age--a period of life when men often become
very vicious, even when they have been passably virtuous up to that time.
He affected an austere and puritanical air; was the great man of the cafe
he frequented; and there passed judgment on his contemporaries and
pronounced them all inferior. He was difficult to please--in point of
virtue demanding heroism; in talent, genius; in art, perfection.
His political opinions were those of Erostratus, with this difference--
always in favor of the ancient--that Vautrot, after setting fire to the
temple, would have robbed it also. In short, he was a fool, but a
vicious fool as well.
If M. de Camors, at the moment of leaving his luxurious study that
evening, had had the bad taste to turn and apply his eye to the keyhole,
he would have seen something greatly to astonish even him.
He would have seen this "honorable man" approach a beautiful Italian
cabinet inlaid with ivory, turn over the papers in the drawers, and
finally open in the most natural manner a very complicated lock, the
key of which the Count at that moment had in his pocket.
It was after this search that M. Vautrot repaired with his volume of
Faust to the boudoir of the young Countess, at whose feet we have already
left him too long.
LIGHTNING FROM A CLEAR SKY
Madame de Camors had closed her eyes to conceal her tears. She opened
them at the instant Vautrot seized her hand and called her "Poor angel!"
Seeing the man on his knees, she could not comprehend it, and only
"Are you mad, Vautrot?"
"Yes, I am mad!" Vautrot threw his hair back with a romantic gesture
common to him, and, as he believed, to the poets-"Yes, I am mad with love
and with pity, for I see your sufferings, pure and noble victim!"
The Countess only stared in blank astonishment.
"Repose yourself with confidence," he continued, "on a heart that will be
devoted to you until death--a heart into which your tears now penetrate
to its most sacred depths!"
The Countess did not wish her tears to penetrate to such a distance, so
she dried them.
A man on his knees before a woman he adores must appear to her either
sublime or ridiculous. Unfortunately, the attitude of Vautrot, at once
theatrical and awkward, did not seem sublime to the Countess. To her
lively imagination it was irresistibly ludicrous. A bright gleam of
amusement illumined her charming countenance; she bit her lip to conceal
it, but it shone out of her eyes nevertheless.
A man never should kneel unless sure of rising a conqueror. Otherwise,
like Vautrot, he exposes himself to be laughed at.
"Rise, my good Vautrot," the Countess said, gravely. "This book has
evidently bewildered you. Go and take some rest and we will forget this;
only you must never forget yourself again in this manner."
Vautrot rose. He was livid.
"Madame la Comtesse," he said, bitterly, "the love of a great heart never
can be an offence. Mine at least would have been sincere; mine would
have been faithful: mine would not have been an infamous snare!"
The emphasis of these words displayed so evident an intention, the
countenance of the young woman changed immediately. She moved uneasily
on her fauteuil.
"What do you mean, Monsieur Vautrot?"
"Nothing, Madame, which you do not know, I think," he replied, meaningly.
"You shall explain your meaning immediately to me, Monsieur!" she
exclaimed; "or later, to my husband."
"But your sadness, your tears," cried the secretary, in a tone of
admirable sincerity--"these made me sure you were not ignorant of it!"
"Of what? You hesitate! Speak, man!"
"I am not a wretch! I love you and pity you!--that is all;" and Vautrot
"And why do you pity me?" She spoke haughtily; and though Vautrot had
never suspected this imperiousness of manner or of language, he reflected
hurriedly on the point at which he had arrived. More sure than ever of
success, after a moment he took from his pocket a folded letter. It was
one with which he had provided himself to confirm the suspicions of the
Countess, now awakened for the first time.
In profound silence he unfolded and handed it to her. She hesitated a
moment, then seized it. A single glance recognized the writing, for she
had often exchanged notes with the Marquise de Campvallon.
Words of the most burning passion terminated thus:
"--Always a little jealous of Mary; half vexed at having given her to
you. For--she is pretty and--but I! I am beautiful, am I not, my
beloved?--and, above all, I adore you!"
At the first word the Countess became fearfully pale. Finishing, she
uttered a deep groan; then she reread the letter and returned it to
Vautrot, as if unconscious of what she was doing.
For a few seconds she remained motionless--petrified--her eyes fixed on
vacancy. A world seemed rolling down and crushing her heart.
Suddenly she turned, passed with rapid steps into her boudoir; and
Vautrot heard the sound of opening and shutting drawers. A moment after
she reappeared with bonnet and cloak, and crossed the boudoir with the
same strong and rapid step.
Vautrot, greatly terrified, rushed to stop her.
"Madame!" he cried, throwing himself before her.
She waved him aside with an imperious gesture of her hand; he trembled
and obeyed, and she left the boudoir. A moment later she was in the
Avenue des Champs Elysees, going toward Paris.
It was now near midnight; cold, damp April weather, with the rain falling
in great drops. The few pedestrians still on the broad pavement turned
to follow with their eyes this majestic young woman, whose gait seemed
hastened by some errand of life or death.
But in Paris nothing is surprising, for people witness all manner of
things there. Therefore the strange appearance of Madame de Camors did
not excite any extraordinary attention. A few men smiled and nodded;
others threw a few words of raillery at her--both were unheeded alike.
She traversed the Place de la Concorde with the same convulsive haste,
and passed toward the bridge. Arriving on it, the sound of the swollen
Seine rushing under the arches and against the pillars, caught her ear;
she stopped, leaned against the parapet, and gazed into the angry water;
then bowing her head she uttered a deep sigh, and resumed her rapid walk.
In the Rue Vanneau she stopped before a brilliantly lighted mansion,
isolated from the adjoining houses by a garden wall. It was the dwelling
of the Marquise de Campvallon: Arrived there, the unfortunate child knew
not what to do, nor even why she had come. She had some vague design of
assuring herself palpably of her misfortune; to touch it with her finger;
or perhaps to find some reason, some pretext to doubt it.
She dropped down on a stone bench against the garden wall, and hid her
face in both her hands, vainly striving to think. It was past midnight.
The streets were deserted: a shower of rain was falling over Paris, and
she was chilled to numbness.
A sergent-de-ville passed, enveloped in his cape. He turned and stared
at the young woman; then took her roughly by the arm.
"What are you doing here?" he said, brutally.
She looked up at him with wondering eyes.
"I do not know myself," she answered.
The man looked more closely at her, discovered through all her confusion
a nameless refinement and the subtle perfume of purity. He took pity on
"But, Madame, you can not stay here," he rejoined in a softer voice.
"You must have some great sorrow?"
"What is your name?"
"The Comtesse de Camors," she said, simply.
The man looked bewildered.
"Will you tell me where you live, Madame?"
She gave the address with perfect simplicity and perfect indifference.
She seemed to be thinking nothing of what she was saying. The man took a
few steps, then stopped and listened to the sound of wheels approaching.
The carriage was empty. He stopped it, opened the door, and requested
the Countess to get in. She did so quietly, and he placed himself beside
The Comte de Camors had just reached his house and heard with surprise,
from the lips of his wife's maid, the details of the Countess's
mysterious disappearance, when the bell rang violently.
He rushed out and met his wife on the stairs. She had somewhat recovered
her calmness on the road, and as he interrogated her with a searching
glance, she made a ghastly effort to smile.
"I was slightly ill and went out a little," she said. "I do not know the
streets and lost my way."
Notwithstanding the improbability of the explanation, he did not
hesitate. He murmured a few soft words of reproach and placed her in the
hands of her maid, who removed her wet garments.
During that time he called the sergent-de-ville, who remained in the
vestibule, and closely interrogated him. On learning in what street and
what precise spot he had found the Countess, her husband knew at once and
fully the whole truth.
He went directly to his wife. She had retired and was trembling in every
limb. One of her hands was resting outside the coverlet. He rushed to
take it, but she withdrew it gently, with sad and resolute dignity.
The simple gesture told him they were separated forever.
By a tacit agreement, arranged by her and as tacitly accepted by him,
Madame de Camors became virtually a widow.
He remained for some seconds immovable, his expression lost in the shadow
of the bed-hangings; then walked slowly across the chamber. The idea of
lying to defend himself never occurred to him.
His line of conduct was already arranged--calmly, methodically. But two
blue circles had sunk around his eyes, and his face wore a waxen pallor.
His hands, joined behind his back, were clenched; and the ring he wore
sparkled with their tremulous movement. At intervals he seemed to cease
breathing, as he listened to the chattering teeth of his young wife.
After half an hour he approached the bed.
"Marie!" he said in a low voice. She turned upon him her eyes gleaming
"Marie, I am ignorant of what you know, and I shall not ask," he
continued. "I have been very criminal toward you, but perhaps less so
than you think. Terrible circumstances bound me with iron bands. Fate
ruled me! But I seek no palliation. Judge me as severely as you wish;
but I beg of you to calm yourself--preserve yourself! You spoke to me
this morning of your presentiments--of your maternal hopes. Attach
yourself to those thoughts, and you will always be mistress of your life.
As for myself, I shall be whatever you will--a stranger or a friend. But
now I feel that my presence makes you ill. I would leave you for the
present, but not alone. Do you wish Madame Jaubert to come to you
"Yes!" she murmured, faintly.
"I shall go for her; but it is not necessary to tell you that there are
confidences one must reserve even from one's dearest friends."
"Except a mother?" She murmured the question with a supplicating agony
very painful to see.
He grew still paler. After an instant, "Except a mother!" he said.
"Be it so!"
She turned her face and buried it in the pillow.
"Your mother arrives to-morrow, does she not?" She made an affirmative
motion of her head. "You can make your arrangements with her. I shall
"Thank you," she replied, feebly.
He left the room and went to find Madame Jaubert, whom he awakened, and
briefly told her that his wife had been seized with a severe nervous
attack--the effect of a chill. The amiable little woman ran hastily to
her friend and spent the night with her.
But she was not the dupe of the explanation Camors had given her. Women
quickly understand one another in their grief. Nevertheless she asked no
confidences and received none; but her tenderness to her friend
redoubled. During the silence of that terrible night, the only service
she could render her was to make her weep.
Nor did those laggard hours pass less bitterly for M. de Camors. He
tried to take no rest, but walked up and down his apartment until
daylight in a sort of frenzy. The distress of this poor child wounded
him to the heart. The souvenirs of the past rose before him and passed
in sad procession. Then the morrow would show him the crushed daughter
with her mother--and such a mother! Mortally stricken in all her best
illusions, in all her dearest beliefs, in all connected with the
happiness of life!
He found that he still had in his heart lively feelings of pity; still
some remorse in his conscience.
This weakness irritated him, and he denounced it to himself. Who had
betrayed him? This question agitated him to an equal degree; but from
the first instant he had not been deceived in this matter.
The sudden grief and half-crazed conviction of his wife, her despairing
attitude and her silence, could only be explained by strong assurance and
certain revelation. After turning the matter over and over in his own
mind, he arrived at the conclusion that nothing could have thrown such
clear light into his life save the letters of Madame de Campvallon.
He never wrote the Marquise, but could not prevent her writing to him;
for to her, as to all women, love without letters was incomplete.
But the fault of the Count--inexcusable in a man of his tact--was in
preserving these letters. No one, however, is perfect, and he was an
artist. He delighted in these the 'chefs-d'oeuvre' of passionate
eloquence, was proud of inspiring them, and could not make up his mind to
burn or destroy them. He examined at once the secret drawer where he had
concealed them and, by certain signs, discovered the lock had been
tampered with. Nevertheless no letter was missing; the arrangement of
them alone had been disturbed.
His suspicions at once reverted to Vautrot, whose scruples he suspected
were slight; and in the morning they were confirmed beyond doubt by a
letter from the secretary. In fact Vautrot, after passing on his part a
most wretched night, did not feel his nerves equal in the morning to
meeting the reception the Count possibly had in waiting for him. His
letter was skilfully penned to put suspicion to sleep if it had not been
fully roused, and if the Countess had not betrayed him.
It announced his acceptance of a lucrative situation suddenly offered him
in a commercial house in London. He was obliged to decide at once, and
to sail that same morning for fear of losing an opportunity which could
not occur again. It concluded with expressions of the liveliest
gratitude and regret.
Camors could not reach his secretary to strangle him; so he resolved to
pay him. He not only sent him all arrears of salary, but a large sum in
addition as a testimonial of his sympathy and good wishes.
This, however, was a simple precaution; for the Count apprehended nothing
more from the venomous reptile so far beneath him, after he had once
shaken it off. Seeing him deprived of the only weapon he could use
against him, he felt safe. Besides, he had lost the only interest he
could desire to subserve, for he knew M. Vautrot had done him the
compliment of courting his Wife.
And he really esteemed him a little less low, after discovering this