Part 5 out of 6
ONE GLEAM OF HOPE
It required on the part of M. de Camors, this morning, an exertion of all
his courage to perform his duty as a gentleman in going to receive Madame
de Tecle at the station. But courage had been for some time past his
sole remaining virtue; and this at least he sought never to lose. He
received, then, most gracefully his mother-in-law, robed in her mourning
attire. She was surprised at not seeing her daughter with him. He
informed her that she had been a little indisposed since the preceding
evening. Notwithstanding the precautions he took in his language and by
his smile, he could not prevent Madame de Tecle from feeling a lively
He did not pretend, however, entirely to reassure her. Under his
reserved and measured replies, she felt the presentiment of some
disaster. After first pressing him with many questions, she kept silent
during the rest of the drive.
The young Countess, to spare her mother the first shock, had quitted her
bed; and the poor child had even put a little rouge on her pale cheeks.
M. de Camors himself opened for Madame de Tecle the door of her
daughter's chamber, and then withdrew.
The young woman raised herself with difficulty from her couch, and her
mother took her in her arms.
All that passed between them at first was a silent interchange of mutual
caresses. Then the mother seated herself near her daughter, drew her
head on her bosom, and looked into the depths of her eyes.
"What is the matter?" she said, sadly.
"Oh, nothing--nothing hopeless! only you must love your little Mary more
than ever. Will you not?"
"Yes; but why?"
"I must not worry you; and I must not wrong myself either--you know why!"
"Yes; but I implore you, my darling, to tell me."
"Very well; I will tell you everything; but, mother, you must be brave as
She buried her head lower still on her mother's breast, and recounted to
her, in a low voice, without looking up once, the terrible revelation
which had been made to her, and which her husband's avowal had confirmed.
Madame de Tecle did not once interrupt her during this cruel recital.
She only imprinted a kiss on her hair from time to time. The young
Countess, who did not dare to raise her eyes to her, as if she were
ashamed of another's crime, might have imagined that she had exaggerated
the gravity of her misfortune, since her mother had received the
confidence with so much calmness. But the calmness of Madame de Tecle at
this terrible moment was that of the martyrs; for all that could have
been suffered by the Christians under the claws of the tiger, or on the
rack of the torturer, this mother was suffering at the hands of her best-
beloved daughter. Her beautiful pale face--her large eyes upturned to
heaven, like those that artists give to the pure victims kneeling in the
Roman circus--seemed to ask God whether He really had any consolation for
When she had heard all, she summoned strength to smile at her daughter,
who at last looked up to her with an expression of timid uncertainty--
embracing her more tightly still.
"Well, my darling," said she, at last, "it is a great affliction, it is
true. You are right, notwithstanding; there is nothing to despair of."
"Do you really believe so?"
"Certainly. There is some inconceivable mystery under all this; but be
assured that the evil is not so terrible as it appears."
"My poor mother! but he has acknowledged it?"
"I am better pleased that he has acknowledged it. That proves he has yet
some pride, and that some good is left in his soul. Then, too, he feels
very much afflicted--he suffers as much as we. Think of that. Let us
think of the future, my darling."
They clasped each other's hands, and smiled at each other to restrain the
tears which filled the eyes of both. After a few minutes--"I wish much,
my child," said Madame de Tecle, "to repose for half an hour; and then
also I wish to arrange my toilet."
"I will conduct you to your chamber. Oh, I can walk! I feel a great
Madame de Camors took her mother's arm and conducted her as far as the
door of the chamber prepared for her. On the threshold she left her.
"Be sensible," said Madame de Tecle, turning and giving her another
"And you also," said the young woman, whose voice failed her.
Madame de Tecle, as soon as the door was closed, raised her clasped hands
toward heaven; then, falling on her knees before the bed, she buried her
head in it, and wept despairingly.
The library of M. de Camors was contiguous to this chamber. He had been
walking with long strides up and down this corridor, expecting every
moment to see Madame de Tecle enter. As the time passed, he sat himself
down and tried to read, but his thoughts wandered. His ear eagerly
caught, against his will, the slightest sounds in the house. If a foot
seemed approaching him, he rose suddenly and tried to compose his
countenance. When the door of the neighboring chamber was opened, his
agony was redoubled. He distinguished the whispering of the two voices;
then, an instant after, the dull fall of Madame de Tecle upon the carpet;
then her despairing sobs. M. de Camors threw from him violently the book
which he was forcing himself to read, and, placing his elbows on the
bureau which was before him, held, for a long time, his pale brow
tightened in his contracted hands. When the sound of sobs abated little
by little, and then ceased, he breathed freer. About midday he received
"If you will permit me to take my daughter to the country for a few
days, I shall be grateful to you.
"ELISE DE TECLE."
He returned immediately this simple reply:
"You can do nothing of which I do not approve to-day and always.
Madame de Tecle, in fact, having consulted the inclination and the
strength of her daughter, had determined to remove her without delay,
if possible, from the impressions of the spot where she had suffered so
severely from the presence of her husband, and from the unfortunate
embarrassment of their situation. She desired also to meditate in
solitude, in order to decide what course to take under such unexampled
circumstances. Finally, she had not the courage to see M. de Camors
again--if she ever could see him again--until some time had elapsed.
It was not without anxiety that she awaited the reply of the Count to the
request she had addressed him.
In the midst of the troubled confusion of her ideas, she believed him
capable of almost anything; and she feared everything from him. The
Count's note reassured her. She hastened to read it to her daughter;
and both of them, like two poor lost creatures who cling to the smallest
twig, remarked with pleasure the tone of respectful abandonment with
which he had reposed their destinies in their own hands. He spent his
whole day at the session of the Corps Legislatif; and when he returned,
they had departed.
Madame de Camors woke up the next morning in the chamber where her
girlhood had passed. The birds of spring were singing under her windows
in the old ancestral gardens. As she recognized these friendly voices,
so familiar to her infancy, her heart melted; but several hours' sleep
had restored to her her natural courage. She banished the thoughts which
had weakened her, rose, and went to surprise her mother at her first
waking. Soon after, both of them were walking together on the terrace of
lime-trees. It was near the end of April; the young, scented verdure
spread itself out beneath the sunbeams; buzzing flies already swarmed in
the half-opened roses, in the blue pyramids of lilacs, and in the
clusters of pink clover. After a few turns made in silence in the midst
of this fresh and enchanting scene, the young Countess, seeing her mother
absorbed in reverie, took her hand.
"Mother," she said, "do not be sad. Here we are as formerly--both of us
in our little nook. We shall be happy."
The mother looked at her, took her head and kissed her fervently on the
"You are an angel!" she said.
It must be confessed that their uncle, Des Rameures, notwithstanding the
tender affection he showed them, was rather in the way. He never had
liked Camors; he had accepted him as a nephew as he had accepted him for
a deputy--with more of resignation than enthusiasm. His antipathy was
only too well justified by the event; but it was necessary to keep him in
ignorance of it. He was an excellent man; but rough and blunt. The
conduct of Camors, if he had but suspected it, would surely have urged
him to some irreparable quarrel. Therefore Madame de Tecle and her
daughter, in his presence, were compelled to make only half utterances,
and maintain great reserve--as much as if he had been a stranger. This
painful restraint would have become insupportable had not the young
Countess's health, day by day, assumed a less doubtful character, and
furnished them with excuses for their preoccupation, their disquiet, and
their retired life.
Madame de Tecle, who reproached herself with the misfortunes of her
daughter, as her own work, and who condemned herself with an unspeakable
bitterness, did not cease to search, in the midst of those ruins of the
past and of the present, some reparation, some refuge for the future.
The first idea which presented itself to her imagination had been to
separate absolutely, and at any cost, the Countess from her husband.
Under the first shock of fright which the duplicity of Camors had
inflicted upon her, she could not dwell without horror on the thought of
replacing her child at the side of such a man. But this separation-
supposing they could obtain it, through the consent of M. de Camors, or
the authority of the law--would give to the public a secret scandal, and
might entail redoubled catastrophes. Were it not for these consequences
she would, at least, have dug between Madame de Camors and her husband an
eternal abyss. Madame de Tecle did not desire this. By force of
reflection she had finally seen through the character of M. de Camors in
one day--not probably more favorably, but more truly. Madame de Tecle,
although a stranger to all wickedness, knew the world and knew life, and
her penetrating intelligence divined yet more than she knew certainly.
She then very nearly understood what species of moral monster M. de
Camors was. Such as she understood him, she hoped something from him
still. However, the condition of the Countess offered her some
consolation in the future, which she ought not to risk depriving herself
of; and God might permit that this pledge of this unfortunate union might
some day reunite the severed ties.
Madame de Tecle, in communicating her reflections, her hopes, and her
fears to her daughter, added: "My poor child, I have almost lost the
right to give you counsel; but I tell you, were it myself I should act
"Very well, mother, I shall do so," replied the young woman.
"Reflect well on it first, for the situation which you are about to
accept will have much bitterness in it; but we have only a choice of
At the close of this conversation, and eight days after their arrival in
the country, Madame de Tecle wrote M. de Camors a letter, which she read
to her daughter, who approved it.
"I understood you to say, that you would restore to your wife her
liberty if she wished to resume it. She neither wishes, nor could
she accept it. Her first duty is to the child which will bear your
name. It does not depend on her to keep this name stainless. She
prays you, then, to reserve for her a place in your house. You need
not fear any trouble or any reproach from her. She and I know how
to suffer in silence. Nevertheless, I supplicate you to be true to
her--to spare her. Will you leave her yet a few days in peace, then
recall, or come for her?"
This letter touched M. de Camors deeply. Impassive as he was, it can
easily be imagined that after the departure of his wife he had not
enjoyed perfect ease of mind. Uncertainty is the worst of all evils,
because everything may be apprehended. Deprived entirely of all news for
eight days, there was no possible catastrophe he did not fancy floating
over his head. He had the haughty courage to conceal from Madame de
Campvallon the event that had occurred in his house, and to leave her
undisturbed while he himself was sleepless for many nights. It was by
such efforts of energy and of indomitable pride that this strange man
preserved within his own consciousness a proud self-esteem. The letter
of Madame de Tecle came to him like a deliverance. He sent the following
"I accept your decision with gratitude and respect. The resolution
of your daughter is generous. I have yet enough of generosity left
myself to comprehend this. I am forever, whether you wish it or
not, her friend and yours.
A week later, having taken the precaution of announcing his intention, he
arrived one evening at Madame de Tecle's.
His young wife kept her chamber. They had taken care to have no
witnesses, but their meeting was less painful and less embarrassing than
Madame de Tecle and her daughter found in his courteous reply a gleam of
nobleness which inspired them with a shadow of confidence. Above all,
they were proud, and more averse to noisy scenes than women usually are.
They received him coldly, then, but calmly. On his part, he displayed
toward them in his looks and language a subdued seriousness and sadness,
which did not lack either dignity or grace.
The conversation having dwelt for some time on the health of the
Countess, turned on current news, on local incidents, and took, little by
little, an easy and ordinary tone. M. de Camors, under the pretext of
slight fatigue, retired as he had entered--saluting both the ladies, but
without attempting to take their hands. Thus was inaugurated, between
Madame de Camors and her husband, the new, singular relation which should
hereafter be the only tie in their common life.
The world might easily be silenced, because M. de Camors never had been
very demonstrative in public toward his wife, and his courteous but
reserved manner toward her did not vary from his habitual demeanor. He
remained two days at Reuilly.
Madame de Tecle vainly waited for these two days for a slight
explanation, which she did not wish to demand, but which she hoped for.
What were the terrible circumstances which had overruled the will of M.
de Camors, to the point of making him forget the most sacred sentiments?
When her thoughts plunged into this dread mystery, they never approached
the truth. M. de Camors might have committed this base action under the
menace of some great danger to save the fortune, the honor, probably the
life of Madame de Campvallon. This, though a poor excuse in the mother's
eyes, still was an extenuation. Probably also he had in his heart, while
marrying her daughter, the resolution to break off this fatal liaison,
which he had again resumed against his will, as often happens. On all
these painful points she dwelt after the departure of M. de Camors, as
she had previous to his arrival; confined to her own conjectures, when
she suggested to her daughter the most consolatory appearances. It was
agreed upon that Madame de Camors should remain in the country until her
health was reestablished: only her husband expressed the desire that she
should reside ordinarily on his estate at Reuilly, the chateau on which
had recently been restored with the greatest taste.
Madame de Tecle felt the propriety of this arrangement. She herself
abandoned the old habitation of the Comte de Tecle, to install herself
near her daughter in the modest chateau which belonged to the maternal
ancestors of M. de Camors, and which we have already described in another
place, with its solemn avenue, its balustrades of granite, its labyrinths
of hornbeams and the black fishpond, shaded with poplars.
Both dwelt there in the midst of their sweetest and most pleasant
souvenirs; for this little chateau, so long deserted--the neglected woods
which surrounded it the melancholy piece of water--the solitary nymph all
this had been their particular domain, the favorite framework of their
reveries, the legend of their infancy, the poetry of their youth. It was
doubtless a great grief to revisit again, with tearful eyes and wounded
hearts and heads bowed by the storms of life, the familiar paths where
they once knew happiness and peace. But, nevertheless, all these dear
confidants of past joys, of blasted hopes, of vanished dreams--if they
are mournful witnesses they are also friends. We love them; and they
seem to love us. Thus these two poor women, straying amid these woods,
these waters, these solitudes, bearing with them their incurable wounds,
fancied they heard voices which pitied them and breathed a healing
sympathy. The most cruel trial reserved to Madame de Camors in the life
which she had the courage and judgment to adopt, was assuredly the duty
of again seeing the Marquise de Campvallon, and preserving with her such
relations as might blind the eyes of the General and of the world.
She resigned herself even to this; but she desired to defer as long as
possible the pain of such a meeting. Her health supplied her with a
natural excuse for not going, during that summer, to Campvallon, and also
for keeping herself confined to her own room the day the Marquise visited
Reuilly, accompanied by the General.
Madame de Tecle received her with her usual kindness. Madame de
Campvallon, whom M. de Camors had already warned, did not trouble herself
much; for the best women, like the worst, excel in comedy, and everything
passed off without the General having conceived the shadow of a
The fine season had passed. M. de Camors had visited the country several
times, strengthening at every interview the new tone of his relations
with his wife. He remained at Reuilly, as was his custom, during the
month of August; and under the pretext of the health of the Countess, did
not multiply his visits that year to Campvallon. On his return to Paris,
he resumed his old habits, and also his careless egotism, for he
recovered little by little from the blow he had received. He began to
forget his sufferings and those of his wife; and even to felicitate
himself secretly on the turn that chance had given to her situation. He
had obtained the advantage and had no longer any annoyance. His wife had
been enlightened, and he no longer deceived her--which was a comfortable
thing for him. As for her, she would soon be a mother, she would have a
plaything, a consolation; and he designed redoubling his attentions and
regards to her.
She would be happy, or nearly so; as much so as two thirds of the women
in the world.
Everything was for the best. He gave anew the reins to his car and
launched himself afresh on his brilliant career-proud of his royal
mistress, and foreseeing in the distance, to crown his life, the triumphs
of ambition and power. Pleading various doubtful engagements, he went to
Reuilly only once during the autumn; but he wrote frequently, and Madame
de Tecle sent him in return brief accounts of his wife's health.
One morning toward the close of November, he received a despatch which
made him understand, in telegraphic style, that his presence was
immediately required at Reuilly, if he wished to be present at the birth
of his son.
Whenever social duties or courtesy were required of M. de Camors, he
never hesitated. Seeing he had not a moment to spare if he wished to
catch the train which left that morning, he jumped into a cab and drove
to the station. His servant would join him the next morning.
The station at Reuilly was several miles distant from the house.
In the confusion no arrangement had been made to receive him on his
arrival, and he was obliged to content himself with making the
intermediate journey in a heavy country-wagon. The bad condition of the
roads was a new obstacle, and it was three o'clock in the morning when
the Count, impatient and travel-worn, jumped out of the little cart
before the railings of his avenue. He strode toward the house under the
dark and silent dome of the tufted elms. He was in the middle of the
avenue when a sharp cry rent the air. His heart bounded in his breast:
he suddenly stopped and listened attentively. The cry echoed through the
stillness of the night. One would have deemed it the despairing shriek
of a human being under the knife of a murderer.
These dolorous sounds gradually ceasing, he continued his walk with
greater haste, and only heard the hollow and muffled sound of his own
beating heart. At the moment he saw the lights of the chateau, another
agonized cry, more shrill and alarming than the first, arose.
This time Camors stopped. Notwithstanding that the natural explanation
of these agonized cries presented itself to his mind, he was troubled.
It is not unusual that men like him, accustomed to a purely artificial
life, feel a strange surprise when one of the simplest laws of nature
presents itself all at once before them with a violence as imperious and
irresistible as a divine law. Camors soon reached the house, and
receiving some information from the servants, notified Madame de Tecle of
his arrival. Madame de Tecle immediately descended from her daughter's
room. On seeing her convulsed features and streaming eyes, "Are you
alarmed?" Camors asked, quickly.
"Alarmed? No," she replied; "but she suffers much, and it is very long."
"Can I see her?"
There was a moment's silence.
Madame de Tecle, whose forehead was contracted, lowered her eyes, then
raised them. "If you insist on it," she said.
"I insist on nothing! If you believe my presence would do her harm--"
The voice of Camors was not as steady as usual.
"I am afraid," replied Madame de Tecle, "that it would agitate her
greatly; and if you will have confidence in me, I shall be much obliged
"But at least," said Camors, "she might probably be glad to know that I
have come, and that I am here--that I have not abandoned her."
"I shall tell her."
"It is well." He saluted Madame de Tecle with a slight movement of his
head, and turned away immediately.
He entered the garden at the back of the house, and walked abstractedly
from alley to alley. We know that generally the role of men in the
situation in which M. de Camors at this moment was placed is not very
easy or very glorious; but the common annoyance of this position was
particularly aggravated to him by painful reflections. Not only was his
assistance not needed, but it was repelled; not only was he far from a
support on the contrary, he was but an additional danger and sorrow.
In this thought was a bitterness which he keenly felt. His native
generosity, his humanity, shuddered as he heard the terrible cries and
accents of distress which succeeded each other without intermission.
He passed some heavy hours in the damp garden this cold night, and the
chilly morning which succeeded it. Madame de Tecle came frequently to
give him the news. Near eight o'clock he saw her approach him with a
grave and tranquil air.
"Monsieur," she said, "it is a boy."
"I thank you. How is she?"
"Well. I shall request you to go and see her shortly."
Half an hour later she reappeared on the threshold of the vestibule, and
"Monsieur de Camors!" and when he approached her, she added, with an
emotion which made her lips tremble:
"She has been uneasy for some time past. She is afraid that you have
kept terms with her in order to take the child. If ever you have such a
thought--not now, Monsieur. Have you?"
"You are severe, Madame," he replied in a hoarse voice.
She breathed a sigh.
"Come!" she said, and led the way upstairs. She opened the door of the
chamber and permitted him to enter it alone.
His first glance caught the eyes of his young wife fixed upon him. She
was half sitting up in bed, supported by pillows, and whiter than the
curtains whose shadow enveloped her. She held clasped to her breast her
sleeping infant, which was already covered, like its mother, with lace
and pink ribbons. From the depths of this nest she fixed on her husband
her large eyes, sparkling with a kind of savage light--an expression in
which the sentiment of triumph was blended with one of profound terror.
He stopped within a few feet of the bed, and saluted her with his most
"I have pitied you very much, Marie," he said.
"I thank you!" she replied, in a voice as feeble as a sigh.
She continued to regard him with the same suppliant and affrighted air.
"Are you a little happier now?" he continued.
The glittering eye of the young woman was fastened on the calm face of
her infant. Then turning toward Camors:
"You will not take him from me?"
"Never!" he replied.
As he pronounced these words his eyes were suddenly dimmed, and he was
astonished himself to feel a tear trickling down his cheek. He
experienced a singular feeling, he bent over, seized the folds of the
sheet, raised them to his lips, rose immediately and left the room.
In this terrible struggle, too often victorious against nature and truth,
the man was for once vanquished. But it would be idle to imagine that a
character of this temperament and of this obduracy could transform
itself, or could be materially modified under the stroke of a few
transitory emotions, or of a few nervous shocks. M. de Camors rallied
quickly from his weakness, if even he did not repent it. He spent eight
days at Reuilly, remarking in the countenance of Madame de Tecle and in
her manner toward him, more ease than formerly.
On his return to Paris, with thoughtful care he made some changes in the
interior arrangement of his mansion. This was to prepare for the
Countess and her son, who were to join him a few weeks later, larger and
more comfortable apartments, in which they were to be installed.
THE REPTILE TURNS TO STING
When Madame de Camors came to Paris and entered the home of her husband,
she there experienced the painful impressions of the past, and the sombre
preoccupations of the future; but she brought with her, although in a
fragile form, a powerful consolation.
Assailed by grief, and ever menaced by new emotion she was obliged to
renounce the nursing of her child; but, nevertheless, she never left him,
for she was jealous even of his nurse. She at least wished to be loved
by him. She loved him with an infinite passion. She loved him because
he was her own son and of her blood. He was the price of her misfortune
--of her pain. She loved him because he was her only hope of human
happiness hereafter. She loved him because she found him as beautiful as
the day. And it was true he was so; for he resembled his father--and she
loved him also on that account. She tried to concentrate her heart and
all her thoughts on this dear creature, and at first she thought she had
succeeded. She was surprised at herself, at her own tranquillity, when
she saw Madame de Campvallon; for her lively imagination had exhausted,
in advance, all the sadness which her new existence could contain; but
when she had lost the kind of torpor into which excessive suffering had
plunged her--when her maternal sensations were a little quieted by
custom, her woman's heart recovered itself in the mother's. She could
not prevent herself from renewing her passionate interest in her graceful
though terrible husband.
Madame de Tecle went to pass two months with her daughter in Paris, and
then returned to the country.
Madame de Camors wrote to her, in the beginning of the following spring,
a letter which gave her an exact idea of the sentiments of the young
woman at the time, and of the turn her domestic life had taken. After a
long and touching detail of the health and beauty of her son Robert, she
"His father is always to me what you have seen him. He spares me
everything he can spare me, but evidently the fatality he has obeyed
continues under the same form. Notwithstanding, I do not despair of
the future, my beloved mother. Since I saw that tear in his eye,
confidence has entered my poor heart. Be assured, my adored mother,
that he will love me one day, if it is only through our child, whom
he begins quietly to love without himself perceiving it. At first,
as you remember, this infant was no more to him than I was. When he
surprised him on my knee, he would give him a cold kiss, say, '
Good-morning, Monsieur,' and withdraw. It is just one month--I have
forgotten the date--it was, 'Good-morning, my son--how pretty you
are!' You see the progress; and do you know, finally, what passed
yesterday? I entered Robert's room noiselessly; the door was open--
what did I behold, my mother! Monsieur de Camors, with his head
resting on the pillow of the cradle, and laughing at this little
creature, who smiled back at him! I assure you, he blushed and
excused himself: 'The door was open,' he said, 'and I came in.'
I assured him that he had done nothing wrong.
"Monsieur de Camors is very odd sometimes. He occasionally passes
the limits which were agreed upon as necessary. He is not only
polite, but takes great trouble. Alas! once these courtesies would
have fallen upon my heart like roses from heaven--now they annoy me
a little. Last evening, for example, I sat down, as is my custom,
at my piano after dinner, he reading a journal at the chimney-
corner--his usual hour for going out passed. Behold me, much
surprised. I threw a furtive glance, between two bars of music,
at him: he was not reading, he was not sleeping--he was dreaming.
'Is there anything new in the Journal?'--'No, no; nothing at all.'
Another two or three bars of music, and I entered my son's room.
He was in bed and asleep. I devoured him with kisses and returned--
Monsieur de Camors was still there. And now, surprise after
surprise: 'Have you heard from your mother? What does she say?
Have you seen Madame Jaubert? Have you read this review?' Just
like one who sought to open a conversation. Once I would willingly
have paid with my blood for one of these evenings, and now he offers
them to me, when I know not what to do with them. Notwithstanding I
remember the advice of my mother, I do not wish to discourage these
symptoms. I adopt a festive manner. I light four extra waxlights.
I try to be amiable without being coquettish; for coquetry here
would be shameful--would it not, my dear mother? Finally, we
chatted together; he sang two airs to the piano; I played two
others; he painted the design of a little Russian costume for Robert
to wear next year; then talked politics to me. This enchanted me.
He explained to me his situation in the Chamber. Midnight arrived;
I became remarkably silent; he rose: 'May I press your hand in
friendship?'--' Mon Dieu! yes.'--'Good-night, Marie.'--'
Goodnight.' Yes, my mother, I read your thoughts. There is danger
here! but you have shown it to me; and I believe also, I should
have perceived it by myself. Do not fear, then. I shall be happy
at his good inclinations, and shall encourage them to the best of my
power; but I shall not be in haste to perceive a return, on his
part, toward virtue and myself. I see here in society arrangements
which revolt me. In the midst of my misfortune I remain pure and
proud; but I should fall into the deepest contempt of myself if I
should ever permit myself to be a plaything for Monsieur de Camors.
A man so fallen does not raise himself in a day. If ever he really
returns to me, it will be necessary for me to have much proof. I
never have ceased to love him, and probably he doubts it: but he
will learn that if this sad love can break my heart it can never
abase it; and it is unnecessary to tell my mother that I shall live
and die courageously in my widow's robe.
"There are other symptoms which also strike me. He is more
attentive to me when she is present. This may probably be arranged
between them, but I doubt it. The other evening we were at the
General's. She was waltzing, and Monsieur de Camors, as a rare
favor, came and seated himself at your daughter's side. In passing
before us she threw him a look--a flash. I felt the flame. Her
blue eyes glared ferociously. He perceived it. I have not
assuredly much tenderness for her. She is my most cruel enemy; but
if ever she suffers what she has made me suffer-yes, I believe I
shall pity her. My mother, I embrace you. I embrace our dear lime-
trees. I taste their young leaves as in olden times. Scold me as
in old times, and love, above all things, as in old times, your
This wise young woman, matured by misfortune, observed everything saw
everything--and exaggerated nothing. She touched, in this letter, on the
most delicate points in the household of M. de Camors--and even of his
secret thoughts--with accurate justice. For Camors was not at all
converted, nor near being so; but it would be belying human nature to
attribute to his heart, or that of any other human being, a supernatural
impassibility. If the dark and implacable theories which M. de Camors
had made the law of his existence could triumph absolutely, this would be
true. The trials he had passed through did not reform him, they only
staggered him. He did not pursue his paths with the same firmness; he
strayed from his programme. He pitied one of his victims, and, as one
wrong always entails another, after pitying his wife, he came near loving
his child. These two weaknesses had glided into his petrified soul as
into a marble fount, and there took root-two imperceptible roots,
however. The child occupied him not more than a few moments every day.
He thought of him, however, and would return home a little earlier than
usual each day than was his habit, secretly attracted by the smile of
that fresh face. The mother was for him something more. Her sufferings,
her youthful heroism had touched him. She became somebody in his eyes.
He discovered many merits in her. He perceived she was remarkably well-
informed for a woman, and prodigiously so for a French woman. She
understood half a word--knew a great deal--and guessed at the remainder.
She had, in short, that blending of grace and solidity which gives to the
conversation of a woman of cultivated mind an incomparable charm.
Habituated from infancy to her mental superiority as to her pretty face,
she carried the one as unconsciously as the other. She devoted herself
to the care of his household as if she had no idea beyond it. There were
domestic details which she would not confide to servants. She followed
them into her salons, into her boudoirs, a blue feather-brush in hand,
lightly dusting the 'etageres', the 'jardinieres', the 'consoles'. She
arranged one piece of furniture and removed another, put flowers in a
vase-gliding about and singing like a bird in a cage.
Her husband sometimes amused himself in following her with his eye in
these household occupations. She reminded him of the princesses one sees
in the ballet of the opera, reduced by some change of fortune to a
temporary servitude, who dance while putting the house in order.
"How you love order, Marie!" said he to her one day.
"Order" she said, gravely, "is the moral beauty of things."
She emphasized the word things--and, fearing she might be considered
pretentious, she blushed.
She was a lovable creature, and it can be understood that she might have
many attractions, even for her husband. Yet though he had not for one
instant the idea of sacrificing to her the passion that ruled his life,
it is certain, however, that his wife pleased him as a charming friend,
which she was, and probably as a charming forbidden fruit, which she also
was. Two or three years passed without making any sensible change in the
relations of the different persons in this history. This was the most
brilliant phase and probably the happiest in the life of M. de Camors.
His marriage had doubled his fortune, and his clever speculations
augmented it every day. He had increased the retinue of his house in
proportion to his new resources. In the region of elegant high life he
decidedly held the sceptre. His horses, his equipages, his artistic
tastes, even his toilet, set the law.
His liaison with Madame de Campvallon, without being proclaimed, was
suspected, and completed his prestige. At the same time his capacity as
a political man began to be acknowledged. He had spoken in some recent
debate, and his maiden speech was a triumph. His prosperity was great.
It was nevertheless true that M. de Camors did not enjoy it without
trouble. Two black spots darkened the sky above his head, and might
contain destroying thunder. His life was eternally suspended on a
Any day General Campvallon might be informed of the intrigue which
dishonored him, either through some selfish treason, or through some
public rumor, which might begin to spread. Should this ever happen, he
knew the General never would submit to it; and he had determined never to
defend his life against his outraged friend.
This resolve, firmly decided upon in his secret soul, gave him the last
solace to his conscience. All his future destiny was thus at the mercy
of an accident most likely to happen. The second cause of his
disquietude was the jealous hatred of Madame Campvallon toward the young
rival she had herself selected. After jesting freely on this subject at
first, the Marquise had, little by little, ceased even to allude to it.
M. de Camors could not misunderstand certain mute symptoms, and was
sometimes alarmed at this silent jealousy. Fearing to exasperate this
most violent feminine sentiment in so strong a soul, he was compelled day
by day to resort to tricks which wounded his pride, and probably his
heart also; for his wife, to whom his new conduct was inexplicable,
suffered intensely, and he saw it.
One evening in the month of May, 1860, there was a reception at the Hotel
Campvallon. The Marquise, before leaving for the country, was making her
adieus to a choice group of her friends. Although this fete professed to
be but an informal gathering, she had organized it with her usual
elegance and taste. A kind of gallery, composed of verdure and of
flowers, connected the salon with the conservatory at the other end of
This evening proved a very painful one to the Comtesse de Camors. Her
husband's neglect of her was so marked, his assiduities to the Marquise
so persistent, their mutual understanding so apparent, that the young
wife felt the pain of her desertion to an almost insupportable degree.
She took refuge in the conservatory, and finding herself alone there, she
A few moments later, M. de Camors, not seeing her in the salon, became
uneasy. She saw him, as he entered the conservatory, in one of those
instantaneous glances by which women contrive to see without looking.
She pretended to be examining the flowers, and by a strong effort of will
dried her tears. Her husband advanced slowly toward her.
"What a magnificent camellia!" he said to her. "Do you know this
"Very well," she replied; "this is the camellia that weeps."
He broke off the flowers.
"Marie," he said, "I never have been much addicted to sentimentality, but
this flower I shall keep."
She turned upon him her astonished eyes.
"Because I love it," he added.
The noise of a step made them both turn. It was Madame de Campvallon,
who was crossing the conservatory on the arm of a foreign diplomat.
"Pardon me," she said, smiling; "I have disturbed you! How awkward of
me!" and she passed out.
Madame de Camors suddenly grew very red, and her husband very pale. The
diplomat alone did not change color, for he comprehended nothing. The
young Countess, under pretext of a headache, which her face did not
belie, returned home immediately, promising her husband to send back the
carriage for him. Shortly after, the Marquise de Campvallon, obeying a
secret sign from M. de Camors, rejoined him in the retired boudoir, which
recalled to them both the most culpable incident of their lives. She sat
down beside him on the divan with a haughty nonchalance.
"What is it?" she said.
"Why do you watch me?" asked Camors. "It is unworthy of you!"
"Ah! an explanation? a disagreeable thing. It is the first between us--
at least let us be quick and complete."
She spoke in a voice of restrained passion--her eyes fixed on her foot,
which she twisted in her satin shoe.
"Well, tell the truth," she said. "You are in love with your wife."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Unworthy of you, I repeat."
"What, then, mean these delicate attentions to her?"
"You ordered me to marry her, but not to kill her, I suppose?"
She made a strange movement of her eyebrows, which he did not see, for
neither of them looked at the other. After a pause she said:
"She has her son! She has her mother! I have no one but you. Hear me,
my friend; do not make me jealous, for when I am so, ideas torment me
which terrify even myself. Wait an instant. Since we are on this
subject, if you love her, tell me so. You know me--you know I am not
fond of petty artifices. Well, I fear so much the sufferings and
humiliations of which I have a presentiment, I am so much afraid of
myself, that I offer you, and give you, your liberty. I prefer this
horrible grief, for it is at least open and noble! It is no snare that I
set for you, believe me! Look at me. I seldom weep." The dark blue of
her eyes was bathed in tears. "Yes, I am sincere; and I beg of you, if
it is so, profit by this moment, for if you let it escape, you never will
find it again."
M. de Camors was little prepared for this decided proposal. The idea of
breaking off his liaison with the Marquise never had entered his mind.
This liaison seemed to him very reconcilable with the sentiments with
which his wife could inspire him.
It was at the same time the greatest wickedness and the perpetual danger
of his life, but it was also the excitement, the pride, and the
magnificent voluptuousness of it. He shuddered. The idea of losing the
love which had cost him so dear exasperated him. He cast a burning
glance on this beautiful face, refined and exalted as that of a warring
"My life is yours," he said. "How could you have dreamed of breaking
ties like ours? How could you have alarmed yourself, or even thought of
my feelings toward another? I do what honor and humanity command me--
nothing more. As for you--I love you--understand that."
"Is it true?" she asked. "It is true! I believe you!"
She took his hand, and gazed at him a moment without speaking--her eye
dimmed, her bosom palpitating; then suddenly rising, she said, "My
friend, you know I have guests!" and saluting him with a smile, left the
This scene, however, left a disagreeable impression on the mind of
Camors. He thought of it impatiently the next morning, while trying a
horse on the Champs Elysees--when he suddenly found himself face to face
with his former secretary, Vautrot. He had never seen this person since
the day he had thought proper to give himself his own dismissal.
The Champs Elysees was deserted at this hour. Vautrot could not avoid,
as he had probably done more than once, encountering Camors.
Seeing himself recognized he saluted him and stopped, with an uneasy
smile on his lips. His worn black coat and doubtful linen showed a
poverty unacknowledged but profound. M. de Camors did not notice these
details, or his natural generosity would have awakened, and curbed the
sudden indignation that took possession of him.
He reined in his horse sharply.
"Ah, is it you, Monsieur Vautrot?" he said. "You have left England
then! What are you doing now?"
"I am looking for a situation, Monsieur de Camors," said Vautrot, humbly,
who knew his old patron too well not to read clearly in the curl of his
moustache the warning of a storm.
"And why," said Camors, "do you not return to your trade of locksmith?
You were so skilful at it! The most complicated locks had no secrets for
"I do not understand your meaning," murmured Vautrot.
"Droll fellow!" and throwing out these words with an accent of withering
scorn, M. de Camors struck Vautrot's shoulder lightly with the end of his
riding-whip, and tranquilly passed on at a walk.
Vautrot was truly in search of a place, had he consented to accept one
fitted to his talents; but he was, as will be remembered, one of those
whose vanity was greater than his merit, and one who loved an office
better than work.
THE SECOND ACT OF THE TRAGEDY
Vautrot had at this time fallen into the depth of want and distress,
which, if aggravated, would prompt him to evil and even to crime. There
are many examples of the extremes to which this kind of intelligence, at
once ambitious, grasping, yet impotent, can transport its possessor.
Vautrot, in awaiting better times, had relapsed into his old role of
hypocrite, in which he had formerly succeeded so well. Only the evening
before he had returned to the house of Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and made
honorable amends for his philosophical heresies; for he was like the
Saxons in the time of Charlemagne, who asked to be baptized every time
they wanted new tunics. Madame de la Roche-Jugan had given a kind
reception to this sad prodigal son, but she chilled perceptibly on seeing
him more discreet than she desired on certain subjects, the mystery of
which she had set her heart upon unravelling.
She was now more preoccupied than ever about the relations which she
suspected to exist between M. de Camors and Madame de Campvallon. These
relations could not but prove fatal to the hopes she had so long founded
on the widowhood of the Marquise and the heritage of the General. The
marriage of M. de Camors had for the moment deceived her, but she was one
of those pious persons who always think evil, and whose suspicions are
soon reawakened. She tried to obtain from Vautrot, who had so long been
intimate with her nephew, some explanation of the mystery; but as Vautrot
was too prudent to enlighten her, she turned him out of doors.
After his encounter with M. de Camors, he immediately turned his steps
toward the Rue St. Dominique, and an hour later Madame de la Roche-Jugan
had the pleasure of knowing all that he knew of the liaison between the
Count and the Marquise. But we remember that he knew everything. These
revelations, though not unexpected, terrified Madame de la Roche-Jugan,
who saw her maternal projects destroyed forever. To her bitter feeling
at this deception was immediately joined, in this base soul, a sudden
thirst for revenge. It was true she had been badly recompensed for her
anonymous letter, by which she had previously attempted to open the eyes
of the unfortunate General; for from that moment the General, the
Marquise, and M. de Camors himself, without an open rupture, let her feel
their marks of contempt, which embittered her heart. She never would
again expose herself to a similar slight of this kind; but she must
assuredly, in the cause of good morals, at once confront the blind with
the culpable, and this time with such proofs as would make the blow
irresistible. By the mere thought, Madame de la Roche-Jugan had
persuaded herself that the new turn events were taking might become
favorable to the expectations which had become the fixed idea of her
Madame de Campvallon destroyed, M. de Camors set aside, the General would
be alone in the world; and it was natural to suppose he would turn to his
young relative Sigismund, if only to recognize the far-sighted affection
and wounded heart of Madame de la Roche-Jugan.
The General, in fact, had by his marriage contract settled all his
property on his wife; but Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who had consulted a
lawyer on this question, knew that he had the power of alienating his
fortune during life, and of stripping his unworthy wife and transferring
it to Sigismund.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan did not shrink from the probability--which was
most likely--of an encounter between the General and Camors. Every one
knows the disdainful intrepidity of women in the matter of duels. She
had no scruple, therefore, in engaging Vautrot in the meritorious work
she meditated. She secured him by some immediate advantages and by
promises; she made him believe the General would recompense him largely.
Vautrot, smarting still from the cut of Camors's whip on his shoulder,
and ready to kill him with his own hand had he dared, hardly required the
additional stimulus of gain to aid his protectress in her vengeance by
acting as her instrument.
He resolved, however, since he had the opportunity, to put himself, once
for all, beyond misery and want, by cleverly speculating, through the
secret he held, on the great fortune of the General. This secret he had
already given to Madame de Camors under the inspiration of another
sentiment, but he had then in his hands the proofs, which he now was
It was necessary, then, for him to arm himself with new and infallible
proofs; but if the intrigue he was required to unmask still existed, he
did not despair of detecting something certain, aided by the general
knowledge he had of the private habits and ways of Camors. This was the
task to which he applied himself from this moment, day and night, with an
evil ardor of hate and jealousy. The absolute confidence which the
General reposed in his wife and Camors after the latter's marriage with
Marie de Tecle, had doubtless allowed them to dispense with much of the
mystery and adventure of their intrigue; but that which was ardent,
poetic, and theatrical to the Marquise's imagination had not been lost.
Love alone was not sufficient for her. She needed danger, scenic effect,
and pleasure heightened by terror. Once or twice, in the early time, she
was reckless enough to leave her house during the night and to return
before day. But she was obliged to renounce these audacious flights,
finding them too perilous.
These nocturnal interviews with M. de Camors were rare, and she had
usually received him at home. This was their arrangement: An open space,
sometimes used as a woodyard, was next the garden of the Hotel
Campvallon. The General had purchased a portion of it and had had a
cottage erected in the midst of a kitchen-garden, and had placed in it,
with his usual kind-heartedness, an old 'sous-officier', named Mesnil,
who had served under him in the artillery. This Mesnil enjoyed his
master's confidence. He was a kind of forester on the property; he lived
in Paris in the winter, but occasionally passed two or three days in the
country whenever the General wished to obtain information about the
crops. Madame de Campvallon and M. de Camors chose the time of these
absences for their dangerous interviews at night. Camors, apprised from
within by some understood signal, entered the enclosure surrounding the
cottage of Mesnil, and thence proceeded to the garden belonging to the
house. Madame de Campvallon always charged herself with the peril that
charmed her--with keeping open one of the windows on the ground floor.
The Parisian custom of lodging the domestics in the attics gave to this
hardihood a sort of security, notwithstanding its being always hazardous.
Near the end of May, one of these occasions, always impatiently awaited
on both sides, presented itself, and M. de Camors at midnight penetrated
into the little garden of the old 'sous-officier'. At the moment when he
turned the key in the gate of the enclosure, he thought he heard a slight
sound behind him. He turned, cast a rapid glance over the dark space
that surrounded him, and thinking himself mistaken, entered. An instant
after, the shadow of a man appeared at the angle of a pile of lumber,
which was scattered over the carpenter's yard. This shadow remained for
some time immovable in front of the windows of the hotel and then plunged
again into the darkness.
The following week M. de Camors was at the club one evening, playing
whist with the General. He remarked that the General was not playing his
usual game, and saw also imprinted on his features a painful
"Are you in pain, General?" said he, after they had finished their game.
"No, no!" said the General; "I am only annoyed--a tiresome affair
between two of my people in the country. I sent Mesnil away this morning
to examine into it."
The General took a few steps, then returned to Camors and took him aside:
"My friend," he said, "I deceived you, just now; I have something on my
mind--something very serious. I am even very unhappy!"
"What is the matter?" said Camors, whose heart sank.
"I shall tell you that probably to-morrow. Come, in any case, to see me
to-morrow morning. Won't you?"
"Thanks! Now I shall go--for I am really not well."
He clasped his hand more affectionately than usual.
"Adieu, my dear child," he added, and turned around brusquely to hide the
tears which suddenly filled his eyes. M. de Camors experienced for some
moments a lively disquietude, but the friendly and tender adieus of the
General reassured him that it did not relate to himself. Still he
continued astonished and even affected by the emotion of the old man.
Was it not strange? If there was one man in the world whom he loved, or
to whom he would have devoted himself, it was this one whom he had
He had, however, good reason to be uneasy; and was wrong in reassuring
himself; for the General in the course of that evening had been informed
of the treachery of his wife--at least he had been prepared for it. Only
he was still ignorant of the name of her accomplice.
Those who informed him were afraid of encountering the blind and
obstinate faith of the General, had they named Camors.
It was probable, also, after what had already occurred, that had they
again pronounced that name, the General would have repelled the suspicion
as a monstrous impossibility, regretting even the thought.
M. de Camors remained until one o'clock at the club and then went to the
Rue Vanneau. He was introduced into the Hotel Campvallon with the
customary precautions; and this time we shall follow him there. In
traversing the garden, he raised his eyes to the General's window, and
saw the soft light of the night-lamp burning behind the blinds.
The Marquise awaited him at the door of her boudoir, which opened on a
rotunda at an elevation of a few feet. He kissed her hand, and told her
in few words of the General's sadness.
She replied that she had been very uneasy about his health for some days.
This explanation seemed natural to M. de Camors, and he followed the
Marquise through the dark and silent salon. She held in her hand a
candle, the feeble light of which threw on her delicate features a
strange pallor. When they passed up the long, echoing staircase, the
rustling of her skirt on the steps was the only sound that betrayed her
She stopped from time to time, shivering--as if better to taste the
dramatic solemnity that surrounded them--turned her blonde head a little
to look at Camors; then cast on him her inspiring smile, placed her hand
on her heart, as if to say, "I am fearful," and went on. They reached
her chamber, where a dim lamp faintly illumined the sombre magnificence,
the sculptured wainscotings, and the heavy draperies.
The flame on the hearth which flickered up at intervals, threw a bright
gleam on two or three pictures of the Spanish school, which were the only
decorations of this sumptuous, but stern-looking apartment.
The Marquise sank as if terrified on a divan near the chimney, and pushed
with her feet two cushions before her, on which Camors half reclined; she
then thrust back the thick braids of her hair, and leaned toward her
"Do you love me to-day?" she asked.
The soft breath of her voice was passing over the face of Camors, when
the door suddenly opened before them. The General entered. The Marquise
and Camors instantly rose to their feet, and standing side by side,
motionless, gazed upon him. The General paused near the door. As he saw
them a shudder passed over his frame, and his face assumed a livid
pallor. For an instant his eye rested on Camors with a stupefied
surprise and almost bewilderment; then he raised his arms over his head,
and his hands struck together with a sharp sound. At this terrible
moment Madame de Campvallon seized the arm of Camors, and threw him a
look so profound, supplicating, and tragic, that it alarmed him.
He roughly pushed her from him, crossed his arms, and waited the result.
The General walked slowly toward him. Suddenly his face became inflamed
with a purple hue; his lips half opened, as if about to deliver some
deadly insult. He advanced rapidly, his hand raised; but after a few
steps the old man suddenly stopped, beat the air with both hands, as if
seeking some support, then staggered and fell forward, striking his head
against the marble mantelpiece, rolled on the carpet, and remained
motionless. There was an ominous silence. A stifled cry from M. de
Camors broke it. At the same time he threw himself on his knees by the
side of the motionless old man, touched first his hand, then his heart.
He saw that he was dead. A thin thread of blood trickled down his pale
forehead where it had struck the marble; but this was only a slight
wound. It was not that which had killed him. It was the treachery of
those two beings whom he had loved, and who, he believed, loved him. His
heart had been broken by the violence of the surprise, the grief, and the
One look of Camors told Madame de Campvallon she was a widow. She threw
herself on the divan, buried her face in the cushions and sobbed aloud.
Camors still stood, his back against the mantelpiece, his eyes fixed,
wrapped in his own thoughts. He wished in all sincerity of heart that he
could have awakened the dead and restored him to life. He had sworn to
deliver himself up to him without defence, if ever the old man demanded
it of him for forgotten favors, betrayed friendship, and violated honor.
Now he had killed him. If he had not slain him with his own hand, the
crime was still there, in its most hideous form. He saw it before him,
he inhaled its odor--he breathed its blood. An uneasy glance of the
Marquise recalled him to himself and he approached her. They then
conversed together in whispers, and he hastily explained to her the line
of conduct she should adopt.
She must summon the servants, say the General had been taken suddenly
ill, and that on entering her room he had been seized by an apoplectic
It was with some effort that she understood she was to wait long enough
before giving the alarm to give Camors sufficient time to escape; and
until then she was to remain in this frightful tete-a-tete, alone with
He pitied her, and decided on leaving the hotel by the apartment of M. de
Campvallon, which had a private entrance on the street.
The Marquise immediately rang violently several times, and Camors did not
retire till he heard the sound of hastening feet on the stairs. The
apartment of the General communicated with that of his wife by a short
gallery. There was a suite of apartments--first a study, then his
sleeping-room. M. de Camors traversed this room with feelings we shall
not attempt to describe and gained the street. The surgeon testified
that the General had died from the rupture of a vessel in the heart.
Two days after the interment took place, at which M. de Camors attended.
The same evening he left Paris to join his wife, who had gone to Reuilly
the preceding week.
THE FEATHER IN THE BALANCE
One of the sweetest sensations in the world is that of a man who has just
escaped the fantastic terrors of night mare; and who, awaking, his fore
head bathed with icy sweat, says to himself, "It was only a dream!" This
was, in some degree, the impression which Camors felt on awaking, the
morning after his arrival at Reuilly, when his first glance fell on the
sunlight streaming over the foliage, and when he heard beneath his window
the joyous laugh of his little son. He, however, was not dreaming; but
his soul, crushed by the horrible tension of recent emotions, had a
moment's respite, and drank in, almost without alloy, the new calm that
surrounded him. He hastily dressed himself and descended to the garden,
where his son ran to meet him.
M. de Camors embraced the child with tenderness; and leaning toward him,
spoke to him in a low voice, and asked after his mother and about his
amusements, with a singularly soft and sad manner. Then he let him go,
and walked with a slow step, breathing the fresh morning air, examining
the leaves and the flowers with extraordinary interest. From time to
time a deep, sad sigh broke from his oppressed chest; he passed his hand
over his brow as if to efface the importunate images. He sat down amid
the quaintly clipped boxwood which ornamented the garden in the antique
fashion, called his son again to him, held him between his knees,
interrogating him again, in a low voice, as he had done before; then drew
him toward him and clasped him tightly for a long time, as if to draw
into his own heart the innocence and peace of the child's. Madame de
Camors surprised him in this gush of feeling, and remained mute with
astonishment. He rose immediately and took her hand.
"How well you bring him up!" he said. "I thank you for it. He will be
worthy of you and of your mother."
She was so surprised at the soft, sad tone of his voice, that she
replied, stammering with embarrassment, "And worthy of you also, I hope."
"Of me?" said Camors, whose lips were slightly tremulous. "Poor child,
I hope not!" and rapidly withdrew.
Madame de Camors and Madame de Tecle had learned, the previous morning,
of the death of the General. The evening of the Count's arrival they did
not speak to him on the subject, and were cautious not to make any
allusion to it. The next day, and the succeeding ones, they practised
the same reserve, though very far from suspecting the fatal circumstances
which rendered this souvenir so painful to M. de Camors. They thought it
only natural he should be pained at so sudden a catastrophe, and that his
conscience should be disturbed; but they were astonished when this
impression prolonged itself from day to day, until it took the appearance
of a lasting sentiment.
They began to believe that there had arisen between Madame de Campvallon
and himself, probably occasioned by the General's death, some quarrel
which had weakened the tie between them.
A journey of twenty-four hours, which he made fifteen days after his
arrival, was to them a confirmation of the truth they before suspected;
but his prompt return, his new tastes, which kept him at Reuilly during
the summer, seemed to them favorable symptoms.
He was singularly sad, pensive, and more inactive than usual in his
habits. He took long walks alone. Sometimes he took his son with him,
as if by chance. He sometimes attempted a little timid tenderness with
his wife; and this awkwardness, on his part, was quite touching.
"Marie," he said to her one day, "you, who are a fairy, wave your wand
over Reuilly and make of it an island in mid-ocean."
"You say that because you know how to swim," said she, laughing and
shaking her head; but the heart of the young woman was joyful.
"You embrace me now every moment, my little one," said Madame de Tecle to
her. "Is this really all intended for me?"
"My adorable mother," while embracing her again, "I assure you he is
really courting me again. Why, I am ignorant; but he is courting me and
you also, my mother. Observe it!"
Madame de Tecle did observe it. In his conversation with her, M. de
Camors sought, under every pretext, to recall the souvenirs of the past,
common to them both. It seemed he wished to link the past with his new
life; to forget the rest, and pray of them to forget it also.
It was not without fear that these two charming women abandoned
themselves to their hopes. They remembered they were in the presence of
an uncertain person; they little trusted a change so sudden, the reason
of which they could not comprehend. They feared it was some passing
caprice, which would return to them, if they were its dupes, all their
misfortunes, without the dignity which had hitherto attended them.
They were not the only ones struck by this transformation. M. des
Rameures remarked it to them. The neighboring country people felt in the
Count's language something new--as it were, a tender humility; they said
that in other years he had been polite, but this year he was angelic.
Even the inanimate things, the woods, the trees, the heavens, should have
borne the same testimony, for he looked at and studied them with a
benevolent curiosity with which he had never before honored them.
In truth, a profound trouble had invaded him and would not leave him.
More than once, before this epoch, his soul, his philosophy, his pride,
had received a rude shock, but he had no less pursued his path, rising
after every blow, like a lion wounded, but unconquered. In trampling
under his feet all moral belief which binds the vulgar, he had reserved
honor as an inviolable limit. Then, under the empire of his passions,
he said to himself that, after all, honor, like all the rest, was
conventional. Then he encountered crime--he touched it with his hand--
horror seized him--and he recoiled. He rejected with disgust the
principle which had conducted him there--asked himself what would become
of human society if it had no other.
The simple truths which he had misunderstood now appeared to him in their
tranquil splendor. He could not yet distinguish them clearly; he did not
try to give them a name, but he plunged with a secret delight into their
shadows and their peace. He sought them in the pure heart of his child,
in the pure love of his young wife, in the daily miracles of nature, in
the harmonies of the heavens, and probably already in the depths of his
thoughts--in God. In the midst of this approach toward a new life he
hesitated. Madame de Campvallon was there. He still loved her vaguely.
Above all, he could not abandon her without being guilty of a kind of
baseness. Terrible struggles agitated him. Having done so much evil,
would he now be permitted to do good, and gracefully partake of the joys
he foresaw? These ties with the past, his fortune dishonestly acquired,
his fatal mistress--the spectre of that old man would they permit it?
And we may add, would Providence suffer it? Not that we should lightly
use this word Providence, and suspend over M. de Camors a menace of
supernatural chastisement. Providence does not intervene in human events
except through the logic of her eternal laws. She has only the sanction
of these laws; and it is for this reason she is feared. At the end of
August M. de Camors repaired to the principal town in the district, to
perform his duties in the Council-General. The session finished, he paid
a visit to Madame de Campvallon before returning to Reuilly. He had
neglected her a little in the course of the summer, and had only visited
Campvallon at long intervals, as politeness compelled him. The Marquise
wished to keep him for dinner, as she had no guests with her. She
pressed him so warmly that, reproaching himself all the time, he
consented. He never saw her without pain. She always brought back to
him those terrible memories, but also that terrible intoxication. She
had never been more beautiful. Her deep mourning embellished yet more
her languishing and regal grace; it made her pale complexion yet more
fair, and it heightened the brilliancy of her look. She had the air of a
young tragic queen, or of an allegory of Night. In the evening an hour
arrived when the reserve which for some time had marked their relations
was forgotten. M. de Camors found himself, as in olden time, at the feet
of the young Marquise--his eyes gazing into hers, and covering with
kisses her lovely hands. She was strange that evening. She looked at
him with a wild tenderness, instilling, at pleasure, into his veins the
poison of burning passion then escaping him, the tears gathering in her
eyes. Suddenly, by one of those magical movements of hers, she enveloped
with her hands the head of her lover, and spoke to him quite low beneath
the shadow of this perfumed veil.
"We might be so happy!" she said.
"Are we not so?" said Camors.
"No! I at least am not, for you are not all mine, as I am yours. This
appears harder, now that I am free. If you had remained free--when I
think of it! or if you could become so, it would be heaven!"
"You know that I am not so! Why speak of it?"
She drew nearer to him, and with her breath, more than with her voice,
"Is it impossible? Tell me!"
"How?" he demanded.
She did not reply, but her fixed look, caressing and cruel, answered him.
"Speak, then, I beg of you!" murmured Camors.
"Have you not told me--I have not forgotten it--that we are united by
ties stronger than all others; that the world and its laws exist no
longer for us; that there is no other good, no other bad for us, but our
happiness or our unhappiness? Well, we are not happy, and if we could be
so--listen, I have thought well over it!"
Her lips touched the cheek of Camors, and the murmur of her last words
was lost in her kisses.
Camors roughly repelled her, sprang up, and stood before her.
"Charlotte," he said, sternly, "this is only a trial, I hope; but, trial
or no, never repeat it--never! Remember!"
She also quickly drew herself up.
"Ah! how you love her!" she cried. "Yes, you love her, it is she you
love-I know it, I feel it, and I-I am only the wretched object of your
pity, or of your caprice. Very well, go back to her--go and protect her,
for I swear to you she is in peril!"
He smiled with his haughty irony.
"Let us see your plot," he said. "So you intend to kill her?"
"If I can!" she said; and her superb arm was stretched out as if to
seize a weapon.
"What! with your own hand?"
"The hand shall be found."
"You are so beautiful at this moment!" said Camors; "I am dying with the
desire to fall at your feet. Acknowledge only that you wished to try me,
or that you were mad for a moment."
She gave a savage smile.
"Oh! you fear, my friend," she said, coldly; then raising again her
voice, which assumed a malignant tone, "You are right, I am not mad, I
did not wish to try you; I am jealous, I am betrayed, and I shall revenge
myself--no matter what it costs me--for I care for nothing more in this
world!--Go, and guard her!"
"Be it so; I go," said Camors. He immediately left the salon and the
chateau; he reached the railway station on foot, and that evening arrived
Something terrible there awaited him.
During his absence, Madame de Camors, accompanied by her mother, had gone
to Paris to make some purchases. She remained there three days. She had
returned only that morning. He himself arrived late in the evening. He
thought he observed some constraint in their reception of him, but he did
not dwell upon it in the state of mind in which he was.
This is what had occurred: Madame de Camors, during her stay in Paris,
had gone, as was her custom, to visit her aunt, Madame de la Roche-Jugan.
Their intercourse had always been very constrained. Neither their
characters nor their religion coincided. Madame de Camors contented
herself with not liking her aunt, but Madame de la Roche-Jugan hated her
niece. She found a good occasion to prove this, and did not lose it.
They had not seen each other since the General's death. This event,
which should have caused Madame de la Roche-Jugan to reproach herself,
had simply exasperated her. Her bad action had recoiled upon herself.
The death of M. Campvallon had finally destroyed her last hopes, which
she had believed she could have founded on the anger and desperation of
the old man. Since that time she was animated against her nephew and the
Marquise with the rage of one of the Furies. She learned through Vautrot
that M. de Camors had been in the chamber of Madame de Campvallon the
night of the General's death. On this foundation of truth she did not
fear to frame the most odious suspicions; and Vautrot, baffled like her
in his vengeance and in his envy, had aided her. A few sinister rumors,
escaping apparently from this source, had even crept at this time into
M. de Camors and Madame de Campvallon, suspecting that they had been
betrayed a second time by Madame de la Roche-Jugan, had broken with her;
and she could presume that, should she present herself at the door of the
Marquise, orders would have been given not to admit her. This affront
made her angrier still. She was still a prey to the violence of her
wrath when she received a visit from Madame de Camors. She affected to
make the General's death the theme of conversation, shed a few tears over
her old friend, and kissed the hand of her niece with a burst of
"My poor little thing!" she said to her; "it is for you also I weep--for
you will yet be more unhappy than heretofore, if that can be possible."
"I do not understand you, Madame," answered the young woman, coldly.
"If you do not understand me, so much the better," replied Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, with a shade of bitterness; then, after a moment's pause--"
Listen, my dear! this is a duty of conscience which I comply with. You
see, an honest creature like you merits a better fate; and your mother
too, who is also a dupe. That man would deceive the good God. In the
name of my family, I feel bound to ask your pardon for both of them."
"I repeat, Madame, that I do not understand you."
"But it is impossible, my child--come!--it is impossible that all this
time you have suspected nothing."
"I suspect nothing, Madame," said Madame de Camors, "because I know all."
"Ah!" continued Madame de la Roche-Jugan, dryly; "if this be so, I have
nothing to say. But there are persons, in that case, who can accommodate
their consciences to very strange things."
"That is what I thought a moment ago, Madame," said the young woman,
"As you wish, my dear; but I speak in your own interest, and I shall
reproach myself for not having spoken to you more clearly. I know my
nephew better than you will ever know him; and the other also.
Notwithstanding you say so, you do not know all; let me tell you. The
General died very suddenly; and after him, it is your turn! Be very
careful, my poor child!"
"Oh, Madame!" cried the young woman, becoming ghastly pale; "I shall
never see you again while I live!" She left on the instant-ran home, and
there found her mother. She repeated to her the terrible words she had
just heard, and her mother tried to calm her; but she herself was
disturbed. She went immediately to Madame de la Roche-Jugan, and
supplicated her to have pity on them and to retract the abominable
innuendo she had thrown out, or to explain it more fully. She made her
understand that she would inform M. de Camors of the affair in case of
need, and that he would hold his cousin Sigismund responsible. Terrified
in her turn, Madame de la Roche-Jugan judged the best method was to
destroy M. de Camors in the estimation of Madame de Tecle. She related
what had been told her by Vautrot, being careful not to compromise
herself in the recital. She informed her of the presence of M. de Camors
at the General's house the night of his death. She told her of the
reports that were circulated, and mingling calumny with truth, redoubling
at the same time her affection, her caresses, and her tears, she
succeeded in giving Madame de Tecle such an estimate of the character of
M. de Camors, that there were no suspicions or apprehensions which the
poor woman, from that moment, did not consider legitimate as connected
Madame de la Roche-Jugan finally offered to send Vautrot to her, that she
might herself interrogate him. Madame de Tecle, affecting an incredulity
and a tranquillity she did not feel, refused and withdrew.
On her returning to her daughter, she forced herself to deceive her as
to the impressions she had received, but she did not succeed; for her
anxious face belied her reassuring words. They separated the following
night, mutually concealing the trouble and distress of their souls; but
accustomed so long to think, feel, and suffer together, they met, so to
speak, in the same reflections, the same reasonings, and in the same
terrors. They went over, in their memories, all the incidents of the
life of Camors--all his faults; and, under the shadow of the monstrous
action imputed to him, his faults took a criminal character which they
were surprised they had not seen before. They discovered a series and a
sequence in his designs, all of which were imputed to him as crimes--even
his good actions. Thus his conduct during the last few months, his
strange ways, his fancy for his child and for his wife, his assiduous
tenderness toward her, were nothing more than the hypocritical meditation
of a new crime--a mask which he was preparing in advance.
What was to be done? What kind of life was it possible to live in
common, under the weight of such thoughts? What present--what future?
These thoughts bewildered them. Next day Camors could not fail remarking
the singular change in their countenances in his presence; but he knew
that his servant, without thinking of harm, had spoken of his visit to
Madame de Campvallon, and he attributed the coldness and embarrassment of
the two women to this fact. He was less disquieted at this, because he
was resolved to keep them entirely safe. As a result of his reflections
during the night, he had determined to break off forever his intrigue
with Madame de Campvallon. For this rupture, which he had made it a
point of honor not to provoke, Madame de Campvallon had herself furnished
him a sufficient pretext.
The criminal thought she had suggested was, he knew, only a feint to test
him, but it was enough to justify his abandonment of her. As to the
violent and menacing words the Marquise had used, he held them of little
value, though at times the remembrance of them troubled him.
Nevertheless, for many years he had not felt his heart so light. This
wicked tie once broken, it seemed as if he had resumed, with his liberty,
his youth and virtue. He walked and played a part of the day with his
little son. After dinner, just as night fell, clear and pure, he
proposed to Madame de Camors a tete-a-tete excursion in the woods. He
spoke to her of a view which had struck him shortly before on such a
night, and which would please, he said laughingly, her romantic taste.
He would not permit himself to be surprised at the disinclination she
manifested, at the disquietude which her face indicated, or at the rapid
glance she exchanged with her mother.
The same thought, and that a most fearful one; entered the minds of both
these unfortunate women at the same moment.
They were still under the impression of the shock which had so weakened
their nerves, and the brusque proposition of M. de Camors, so contrary to
his usual habits-the hour, the night, and the solitary walk--had suddenly
awakened in their brains the sinister images which Madame de la Roche-
Jugan had laid there. Madame de Camors, however, with an air of
resolution the circumstances did not seem entitled to demand, prepared
immediately to go out, then followed her husband from the house, leaving
her little son in charge of her mother. They had only to cross the
garden to find themselves on the edge of the wood which almost touched
their dwelling, and which stretched to the old fields inherited from the
Comte de Tecle. The intention of Camors in seeking this tete-a-tete was
to confide to his wife the decisive determination he had taken of
delivering up to her absolutely and without reserve his heart and life,
and to enjoy in these solitudes his first taste of true happiness.
Surprised at the cold distraction with which his young wife replied to
the affectionate gayety of his language, he redoubled his efforts to
bring their conversation to a tone of more intimacy and confidence.
While stopping at intervals to point out to her some effects of light and
shadow in their walk, he began to question her on her recent trip to
Paris, and on the persons she had seen there. She named Madame Jaubert
and a few others; then, lowering her voice against her will, mentioned
Madame de la Roche-Jugan.
"That one," said Camors, "you could very well have dispensed with. I
forgot to warn you that I no longer recognize her."
"Why?" asked she, timidly.
"Because she is a bad woman," said Camors. "When we are a little more
intimate with each other, you and I," he added, laughing, "I shall edify
you on this character, I shall tell you all--all, understand."
There was so much of nature, and even of goodness in the accent with
which he pronounced these words, that the Countess felt her heart half
comforted from the oppression which had weighed it down. She gave
herself up with more abandon to the gracious advances of her husband and
to the slight incidents of her walk.
The phantoms disappeared little by little from her mind, and she began to
say to herself that she had been the sport of a bad dream, and of a true
madness, when a singular change in her husband's face renewed all her
terrors. M. de Camors, in his turn, had become absent and visibly
preoccupied with some grave care. He spoke with an effort, made half
replies, meditated; then stopped quickly to look around him, like a
frightened child. These strange ways, so different from his former
temper, alarmed the young woman, the more so as she just then found
herself in the most distant part of the wood.
There was an extraordinary similarity in the thoughts which occupied them
both. At the moment when Madame Camors was trembling for fear near her
husband, he was trembling for her.
He thought he detected that they were followed; at different times he
thought he heard in the thicket the cracking of branches, rattling of
leaves, and finally the sound of stealthy steps. These noises always
ceased on his stopping, and began again the moment he resumed his walk.
He thought, a moment later, he saw the shadow of a man pass rapidly among
the underwood behind them. The idea of some woodman came first to his
mind, but he could not reconcile this with the persistence with which
they were followed.
He finally had no doubt that they were dogged--but by whom? The repeated
menaces of Madame de Campvallon against the life of Madame de Camors, the
passionate and unbridled character of this woman, soon presented itself
to his thoughts, suggested this mysterious pursuit, and awakened these
He did not imagine for a moment that the Marquise would charge herself
personally with the infliction of her vengeance; but she had said--he
then remembered--that the hand would be found. She was rich enough to
find it, and this hand might now be here.
He did not wish to alarm his wife by calling her attention to this
spectre, which he believed at her side, but he could not hide from her
his agitation, which every movement of his caused her to construe as
falsely as cruelly.
"Marie," he said, "let us walk a little faster, I beg of you! I am
He quickened his steps, resolved to return to the chateau by the public
road, which was bordered with houses.
When he reached the border of the woods, although he thought he still
heard at intervals the sound which had alarmed him, he reassured himself
and resumed his flow of spirits as if a little ashamed even of his panic.
He stopped the Countess to look at the pretext of this excursion. This
was the rocky wall of the deep excavation of a marl-pit, long since
abandoned. The arbutus-trees of fantastic shape which covered the summit
of these rocks, the pendant vines, the sombre ivy which carpeted the
cliffs, the gleaming white stones, the vague reflections in the stagnant
pool at the bottom of the pit, the mysterious light of the moon, made a
scene of wild beauty.
The ground in the neighborhood of the marl-pit was so irregular, and the
thorny underbrush so thick, that when pedestrians wished to reach the
nearest highway they, were compelled either to make a long detour or to
cross the deepest part of the excavation by means of the trunks of two
great trees, which had been cut in half, lashed together, and thrown
across the chasm. Thus they formed a crude bridge, affording a passage
across the deep hollow and adding to the picturesque aspect of this
Madame de Camors never had seen anything like this peculiar bridge, which
had been laid recently at her husband's orders. After they had gazed in
silence a moment into the depths of the marl-pit, Camors called his
wife's attention to the unique construction.
"Do you intend to cross that?" she asked, briefly.
"Yes, if you are not afraid," said Camors; "I shall be close beside you,
He saw that she hesitated, and, looking at her closely in the moonlight,
he thought her face was strangely pale, and could not refrain from
"I believed that you had more courage."
She hesitated no longer, but stepped upon the dangerous bridge. In spite
of herself, she turned her head half around, in a backward glance, and
her steady step faltered. Suddenly she tottered. M. de Camors sprang
forward, and, in the agitation of the moment, seized her in an almost
violent grasp. The unhappy woman uttered a piercing shriek, made a
gesture as if to defend herself, repelling his touch; then, running
wildly across the bridge, she rushed into the woods. M. de Camors,
astounded, alarmed, not knowing how to interpret his wife's strange
conduct, immediately followed her. He found her a short distance beyond
the bridge, leaning against the first tree she had been able to reach.
She turned to face. him, with an expression of mingled terror and
menace, and as he approached, she shot forth the single word:
He stared at her in sheer amazement. At that moment there was a sound of
hurried footsteps; a shadowy form glided toward them from the depth of
the thicket, and the next instant Camors recognized Madame de Tecle. She
ran, dishevelled and breathless, toward her daughter, seized her by the
hand and, drawing herself up, said to Camors:
"If you kill one of us, kill both!"
He understood the mystery in a flash. A stifled cry escaped him; for an
instant he buried his face in his hands; then; flinging out his arms in a
gesture of despair, he said:
"So you took me for a murderer!"
There was a moment of dead silence.
"Well!" he cried, stamping his foot with sudden violence, "why do you
stay here, then? Run! Fly! Save yourselves from me!"
Overcome with terror, the two women fled, the mother dragging her
daughter. The next moment they had disappeared in the darkness of the
Camors remained in that lonely spot many hours, without being aware of
the passage of time. At intervals he paced feverishly to and fro along
the narrow strip of land between the woods and the bridge; then, stopping
short, with fixed eyes, he became lost in thought, and stood as
motionless as the trunk of the tree against which he leaned. If, as we
hope, there is a Divine hand which measures justly our sorrows according
to our sins, the unhappy man, in this dark hour, must have rendered his
THE CURTAIN FALLS
The next morning the Marquise de Campvallon was strolling beside a large
circular sheet of water which ornamented the lower part of her park, the
metallic gleam of the rippling waves being discernible from afar through
the branches of the surrounding trees.
She walked slowly along the bank of the lake, her head bowed, and the
long skirt of her mourning-robe sweeping the grass. Two large and
dazzlingly white swans, watching their mistress eagerly, in expectation
of receiving their usual titbits from her hands, swam close to the bank,
following her steps as if escorting her.
Suddenly the Comte de Camors appeared before her. She had believed that
she never should see him again. She raised her head quickly and pressed
one hand to her heart.
"Yes, it is I!" said Camors. "Give me your hand."
She gave it to him.
"You were right, Charlotte," he said, after a moment of silence. "Ties
like ours can not be broken. I have reflected on everything. I was
seized with a momentary cowardice, for which I have reproached myself
bitterly, and for which, moreover, I have been sufficiently punished.
But I come to you to ask your forgiveness."
The Marquise led him tenderly into the deep shadow of the great plane-
trees that surrounded the lake; she knelt before him with theatric grace,
and fixed on him her swimming eyes. She covered his head with kisses.
He raised her and pressed her to his heart.
"But you do not wish that crime to be committed?" he said in a low
She bent her head with mournful indecision.
"For that matter," he added, bitterly, "it would only make us worthier of
each other; for, as to myself, they have already believed me capable of
He took her arm and recounted to her briefly the scene of the night
He told her he had not returned home, and never should. This was the
result of his mournful meditations. To attempt an explanation with those
who had so mortally outraged him--to open to them the depth of his heart
--to allude to the criminal thought they had accused him of--he had
repelled with horror, the evening before, when proposed by another. He
thought of all this; but this humiliation--if he could have so abased
himself--would have been useless. How could he hope to conquer by these
words the distrust capable of creating such suspicions?
He confusedly divined the origin, and understood that this distrust,
envenomed by remembrance of the past, was incurable.
The sentiment of the irreparable, of revolted pride, indignation, and
even injustice, had shown him but one refuge, and it was this to which he
The Comtesse de Camors and Madame de Tecle learned only through their
servants and the public of the removal of the Count to a country-house he
had rented near the Chateau Campvallon. After writing ten letters--all
of which he had burned--he had decided to maintain an absolute silence.
They sometimes trembled at the thought he might take away his son. He
thought of it; but it was a kind of vengeance that he disdained.
This move, which publicly proclaimed the relations existing between M. de
Camors and the Marquise, made a sensation in the Parisian world, where it
was soon known. It revived again the strange recollections and rumors
that all remembered. Camors heard of them, but despised them.
His pride, which was then exasperated by a savage irritation, was
gratified at defying public opinion, which had been so easily duped
before. He knew there was no situation one could not impose upon the
world providing one had wealth and audacity. From this day he resumed
energetically the love of his life, his habits, his labors, and his
thoughts for the future. Madame de Campvallon was the confidante of all
his projects, and added her own care to them; and both occupied
themselves in organizing in advance their mutual existence, hereafter
blended forever. The personal fortune of M. de Camors, united to that of
the Marquise, left no limits to the fancies which their imagination could
devise. They arranged to live separately at Paris, though the Marquise's
salon should be common to both; but their double influence would shine at
the same time, and they would be the social centre of a sovereign
influence. The Marquise would reign by the splendor of her person over
the society of letters, art, and politics. Camors would there find the
means of action which could not fail to accomplish the high destiny to
which his talent and his ambition called him.
This was the life that had appeared to them in the origin of their
liaison as a sort of ideal of human happiness--that of two superior
beings, who proudly shared, above the masses, all the pleasures of earth,
the intoxication of passion, the enjoyment of intellectual strength, the
satisfaction of pride, and the emotions of power. The eclat of such a
life would constitute the vengeance of Camors, and force to repent
bitterly those who had dared to misunderstand him. The recent mourning
of the Marquise commanded them, notwithstanding, to adjourn the
realization of their dream, if they did not wish to wound the conscience
of the public. They felt it, and resolved to travel for a few months
before settling in Paris. The time that passed in their preparations for
the future, and in arrangements for this voyage, was to Madame de
Campvallon the sweetest period of her life. She finally tasted to the
full an intimacy, so long troubled, of which the charm, in truth, was
very great; for her lover, as if to make her forget his momentary
desertion, was prodigal in the effusion of his tenderness. He brought to
private studies, as well as to their common schemes, an ardor, a fire,
which displayed itself in his face, in his eyes, and which seemed yet
more to heighten his manly beauty. It often happened, after quitting the
Marquise in the evening, that he worked very late at home, sometimes
until morning. One night, shortly before the day fixed for their
departure, a private servant of the Count, who slept in the room above
his master's, heard a noise which alarmed him.
He went down in great haste, and found M. de Camors stretched apparently
lifeless on the floor at the foot of his desk. The servant, whose name
was Daniel, had all his master's confidence, and he loved him with that
singular affection which strong natures often inspire in their inferiors.
He sent for Madame de Campvallon, who soon came. M. de Camors,
recovering from his fainting-fit, was very pale, and was walking across
the room when she entered. He seemed irritated at seeing her, and
rebuked his servant sharply for his ill-advised zeal.
He said he had only had a touch of vertigo, to which he was subject.
Madame de Campvallon soon retired, having first supplicated him not to
overwork himself again. When he came to her next day, she could not help
being surprised at the dejection stamped on his face, which she
attributed to the attack he had had the night before. But when she spoke
of their approaching departure, she was astonished, and even alarmed by
"Let us defer it a little, I beg of you," he said. "I do not feel in a
state fit for travelling."
Days passed; he made no further allusion to the voyage. He was serious,
silent, and cold. The active ardor, almost feverish, which had animated
until then his life, his speech, his eyes, was suddenly quenched. One
symptom which disquieted the Marquise above all was the absolute idleness
to which he now abandoned himself.
He left her in the evening at an early hour. Daniel told the Marquise
that the Count worked no longer; that he heard him pacing up and down the
greater part of the night. At the same time his health failed visibly.
The Marquise ventured once to interrogate him. As they were both walking
one day in the park, she said:
"You are hiding something from me. You suffer, my friend. What is the
"There is nothing."
"I pray you tell me!"
"Nothing is the matter with me," he replied, petulantly.
"Is it your son that you regret?"
"I regret nothing." After a few steps taken in silence--" When I think,"
he said, quickly, "that there is one person in the world who considers me
a coward--for I hear always that word in my ear--and who treated me like
a coward, and who believed it when it was said, and believes it still!
If it had been a man, it would be easy, but it was a woman."
After this sudden explosion he was silent.
"Very well; what do you desire?" said the Marquise, with vexation. "Do
you wish that I should go and tell her the truth--tell her that you were
ready to defend her against me--that you love her, and hate me? If it be
that you wish, say so. I believe if this life continues I shall be
capable of doing anything!"
"Do not you also outrage me! Dismiss me, if that will give you pleasure;
but I love you only. My pride bleeds, that is all; and I give you my
word of honor that if you ever affront me by going to justify me, I shall
never in my life see you or her. Embrace me!" and he pressed her to his
She was calm for a few hours.
The house he occupied was about to be taken again by its proprietor. The
middle of September approached, and it was the time when the Marquise was
in the habit of returning to Paris. She proposed to M. de Camors to
occupy the chateau during the few days he purposed passing in the
country. He accepted; but whenever she spoke of returning to Paris:
"Why so soon?" he would say; "are we not very well here?"
A little later she reminded him that the session of the Chamber was about
to open. He made his health a pretext for delay, saying that he felt
weak and wished to send in his resignation as deputy. She induced him
only by her urgent prayer to content himself with asking leave of
"But you, my beloved!" he said, "I am condemning you to a sad
"With you," she replied, "I am happy everywhere and always!"
It was not true that she was happy, but it was true that she loved him
and was devoted to him. There was no suffering she would not have
resigned herself to, no sacrifice she would not make, were it for him.
From this moment the prospect of worldly sovereignty, which she thought
she had touched with her hand, escaped her. She had a presentiment of a
melancholy future of solitude, of renunciation, of secret tears; but near
him grief became a fete. One knows with what rapidity life passes with
those who busy themselves without distraction in some profound grief--the
days themselves are long, but the succession of them is rapid and
imperceptible. It was thus that the months and then the seasons
succeeded one another, for Camors and the Marquise, with a monotony that
left hardly any trace on their thoughts. Their daily relations were
marked, on the part of the Count with an invariably cold and distant
courtesy, and very often silence; on the part of the Marquise by an
attentive tenderness and a constrained grief. Every day they rode out on
horseback, both clad in black, sympathetic by their beauty and their
sadness, and surrounded in the country by distant respect. About the
beginning of the ensuing winter Madame de Campvallon experienced a
serious disquietude. Although M. de Camors never complained, it was
evident his health was gradually failing. A dark and almost clayey tint
covered his thin cheeks, and spread nearly to the whites of his eyes.
The Marquise showed some emotion on perceiving it, and persuaded him to
consult a physician. The physician perceived symptoms of chronic
debility. He did not think it dangerous, but recommended a season at
Vichy, a few hygienic precautions, and absolute repose of mind and body.
When the Marquise proposed to Camors this visit to Vichy, he only
shrugged his shoulders without reply.
A few days after, Madame de Campvallon on entering the stable one
morning, saw Medjid, the favorite mare of Camors, white with foam,
panting and exhausted. The groom explained, with some awkwardness,
the condition of the animal, by a ride the Count had taken that morning.
The Marquise had recourse to Daniel, of whom she made a confidant,
and having questioned him, drew out the acknowledgment that for some time
his master had been in the habit of going out in the evening and not
returning until morning. Daniel was in despair with these nightly
wanderings, which he said greatly fatigued his master. He ended by
confessing to Madame de Campvallon the goal of his excursions.
The Comtesse de Camors, yielding to considerations the details of which
would not be interesting, had continued to live at Reuilly since her
husband had abandoned her. Reuilly was distant twelve leagues from
Campvallon, which could be made shorter by a crosscut. M. de Camors did
not hesitate to pass over this distance twice in the same night, to give
himself the emotion of breathing for a few minutes the same air with his
wife and child.
Daniel had accompanied him two or three times, but the Count generally
went alone. He left his horse in the wood, and approached as near as he
could without risking discovery; and, hiding himself like a malefactor
behind the shadows of the trees, he watched the windows, the lights, the
house, the least signs of those dear beings, from whom an eternal abyss
had divided him.
The Marquise, half frightened, half irritated, by an oddity which seemed
to border on madness, pretended to be ignorant of it. But these two
spirits were too accustomed to each other, day by day, to be able to hide
anything. He knew she was aware of his weakness, and seemed no longer to
care to make a mystery of it.
One evening in the month of July, he left on horseback in the afternoon,
and did not return for dinner. He arrived at the woods of Reuilly at the
close of the day, as he had premeditated. He entered the garden with his
usual precaution, and, thanks to his knowledge of the habits of the
household, he could approach, without being noticed, the pavilion where
the Countess's chamber was situated, and which was also that of his son.
This chamber, by a particular arrangement of the house, was elevated at
the side of the court by the height of an entresol, but was level with
the garden. One of the windows was open, owing to the heat of the
evening. Camors hid himself behind the shutters, which were half closed,
and gazed eagerly into the chamber.
He had not seen for two years either his wife, his child, or Madame de
Tecle. He now saw all three there. Madame de Tecle was working near the
chimney. Her face was unchanged. She had the same youthful look, but
her hair was as white, as snow. Madame de Camors was sitting on a couch
nearly in front of the window and undressing her son, at the same time
talking to and caressing him.
The child, at a sign, knelt down at his mother's feet in his light night-
garments, and while she held his joined hands in her own, he began in a
loud voice his evening prayers. She whispered him from time to time a
word that escaped him. This prayer, composed of a number of phrases
adapted to a youthful mind, terminated with these words: "O God! be good
and merciful to my mother, my grandmother, to me--and above all, O God,
to my unfortunate father." He pronounced these words with childish
haste, but under a serious look from his mother, he repeated them
immediately, with some emotion, as a child who repeats the inflection of
a voice which has been taught him.
Camors turned suddenly and retired noiselessly, leaving the garden by the
nearest gate. A fixed idea tortured him. He wished to see his son--to
speak to him--to embrace him, and to press him to his heart. After that,
he cared for little.
He remembered they had formerly the habit of taking the child to the
dairy every morning to give him a cup of milk. He hoped they had
continued this custom. Morning arrived, and soon came the hour for which
he waited. He hid himself in the walk which led to the farm. He heard
the noise of feet, of laughter, and of joyous cries, and his son suddenly
appeared running in advance. He was a charming little boy of five or six
years, of a graceful and proud mien. On perceiving M. de Camors in the
middle of the walk he stopped, he hesitated at this unknown or half-
forgotten face; but the tender and half-supplicating smile of Camors
"Monsieur!" he said, doubtfully.
Camors opened his arms and bent as if to kneel before him.
"Come and embrace me, I beg of you," he murmured.
The child had already advanced smiling, when the woman who was following
him, who was his old nurse, suddenly appeared. 'She made a gesture of
"Your father!" she said, in a stifled voice.