Part 2 out of 2
"If you fear, you would better go!" said the Marquise.
"I fear for you."
"You are too good, I assure you."
She took off her cap and brushed it with her glove, to remove the drops
of rain which had fallen upon it. After a slight pause, she suddenly
raised her uncovered head and cast on Camors one of those searching looks
which prepares a man for an important question.
"Cousin!" she said, "if you were sure that one of these flashes of
lightning would kill you in a quarter of an hour, what would you do?"
"Why, cousin, naturally I should take a last farewell of you."
He regarded her steadily, in his turn. "Do you know," he said, "there
are moments when I am tempted to think you a devil?"
"Truly! Well, there are times when I am tempted to think so myself--for
example, at this moment. Do you know what I should wish? I wish I could
control the lightning, and in two seconds you would cease to exist."
"For what reason?"
"Because I recollect there was a man to whom I offered myself, and who
refused me, and that this man still lives. And this displeases me a
little--a great deal--passionately."
"Are you serious, Madame?" replied Camors.
"I hope you did not think so. I am not so wicked. It was a joke--and in
bad taste, I admit. But seriously now, cousin, what is your opinion of
me? What kind of woman has time made me?"
"I swear to you I am entirely ignorant."
"Admitting I had become, as you did me the honor to suppose, a diabolical
person, do you think you had nothing to do with it? Tell me! Do you not
believe that there is in the life of a woman a decisive hour, when the
evil seed which is cast upon her soul may produce a terrible harvest?
Do you not believe this? Answer me! And should I not be excusable if I
entertained toward you the sentiment of an exterminating angel; and have
I not some merit in being what I am--a good woman, who loves you well--
with a little rancor, but not much--and who wishes you all sorts of
prosperity in this world and the next? Do not answer me: it might
embarrass you, and it would be useless."
She left her shelter, and turned her face toward the lowering sky to see
whether the storm was over.
"It has stopped raining," she said, "let us go."
She then perceived that the lower part of the nave had been transformed
into a lake of mud and water. She stopped at its brink, and uttered a
"What shall I do?" she said, looking at her light shoes. Then, turning
toward Camors, she added, laughing:
"Monsieur, will you get me a boat?"
Camors, himself, recoiled from stepping into the greasy mud and stagnant
water which filled the whole space of the nave.
"If you will wait a little," he said, "I shall find you some boots or
sabots, no matter what."
"It will be much easier," she said abruptly, "for you to carry me to the
door;" and without waiting for the young man's reply, she tucked up her
skirts carefully, and when she had finished, she said, "Carry me!"
He looked at her with astonishment, and thought for a moment she was
jesting; but soon saw she was perfectly serious.
"Of what are you afraid?" she asked.
"I am not at all afraid," he answered.
"Is it that you are not strong enough?"
"Mon Dieu! I should think I was."
He took her in his arms, as in a cradle, while she held up her skirts
with both hands. He then descended the steps and moved toward the door
with his strange burden. He was obliged to be very careful not to slip
on the wet earth, and this absorbed him during the first few steps; but
when he found his footing more sure, he felt a natural curiosity to
observe the countenance of the Marquise.
The uncovered head of the young woman rested a little on the arm with
which he held her. Her lips were slightly parted with a half-wicked
smile that showed her fine white teeth; the same expression of
ungovernable malice burned in her dark eyes, which she riveted for some
seconds on those of Camors with persistent penetration--then suddenly
veiled them under the fringe of her dark lashes. This glance sent a
thrill like lightning to his very marrow.
"Do you wish to drive me mad?" he murmured.
"Who knows?" she replied.
The same moment she disengaged herself from his arms, and placing her
foot on the ground again, left the ruin.
They reached the chateau without exchanging a word. Just before entering
the house the young Marquise turned toward Camors and said to him:
"Be sure that at heart I am very good, really."
Notwithstanding this assertion, Camors was yet more determined to leave
the next morning, as he had previously decided. He carried away the most
painful impression of the scene of that evening.
She had wounded his pride, inflamed his hopeless passion, and disquieted
"What is this woman, and what does she want of me? Is it love or
vengeance that inspires her with this fiendish coquetry?" he asked
himself. Whatever it was, Camors was not such a novice in similar
adventures as not to perceive clearly the yawning abyss under the broken
ice. He resolved sincerely to close it again between them, and forever.
The best way to succeed in this, avowedly, was to cease all intercourse
with the Marquise. But how could such conduct be explained to the
General, without awakening his suspicion and lowering his wife in his
esteem? That plan was impossible. He armed himself with all his
courage, and resigned himself to endure with resolute soul all the trials
which the love, real or pretended, of the Marquise reserved for him.
He had at this time a singular idea. He was a member of several of the
most aristocratic clubs. He organized a chosen group of men from the
elite of his companions, and formed with them a secret association, of
which the object was to fix and maintain among its members the principles
and points of honor in their strictest form. This society, which had
only been vaguely spoken of in public under the name of "Societe des
Raffines," and also as "The Templars" which latter was its true name--
had nothing in common with "The Devourers," illustrated by Balzac.
It had nothing in it of a romantic or dramatic character. Those who
composed this club did not, in any way, defy ordinary morals, nor set
themselves above the laws of their country. They did not bind themselves
by any vows of mutual aid in extremity. They bound themselves simply by
their word of honor to observe, in their reciprocal relations, the rules
of purest honor.
These rules were specified in their code. The text it is difficult to
give; but it was based entirely on the point of honor, and regulated the
affairs of the club, such as the card-table, the turf, duelling, and
gallantry. For example, any member was disqualified from belonging to
this association who either insulted or interfered with the wife or
relative of one of his colleagues. The only penalty was exclusion: but
the consequences of this exclusion were grave; for all the members ceased
thereafter to associate with, recognize, or even bow to the offender.
The Templars found in this secret society many advantages. It was a
great security in their intercourse with one another, and in the
different circumstances of daily life, where they met continually either
at the opera, in salons, or on the turf.
Camors was an exception among his companions and rivals in Parisian life
by the systematic decision of his doctrine. It was not so much an
embodiment of absolute scepticism and practical materialism; but the want
of a moral law is so natural to man, and obedience to higher laws so
sweet to him, that the chosen adepts to whom the project of Camors was
submitted accepted it with enthusiasm. They were happy in being able to
substitute a sort of positive and formal religion for restraints so
limited as their own confused and floating notions of honor. For Camors
himself, as is easily understood, it was a new barrier which he wished to
erect between himself and the passion which fascinated him. He attached
himself to this with redoubled force, as the only moral bond yet left
him. He completed his work by making the General accept the title of
President of the Association. The General, to whom Honor was a sort of
mysterious but real goddess, was delighted to preside over the worship of
his idol. He felt flattered by his young friend's selection, and
esteemed him the more.
It was the middle of winter. The Marquise Campvallon had resumed for
some time her usual course of life, which was at the same time strict but
elegant. Punctual at church every morning, at the Bois and at charity
bazaars during the day, at the opera or the theatres in the evening, she
had received M. de Camors without the shadow of apparent emotion. She
even treated him more simply and more naturally than ever, with no
recurrence to the past, no allusion to the scene in the park during the
storm; as if she had, on that day, disclosed everything that had lain
hidden in her heart. This conduct so much resembled indifference, that
Camors should have been delighted; but he was not--on the contrary he was
annoyed by it. A cruel but powerful interest, already too dear to his
blase soul, was disappearing thus from his life. He was inclined to
believe that Madame de Campvallon possessed a much less complicated
character than he had fancied; and that little by little absorbed in
daily trifles, she had become in reality what she pretended to be--a good
woman, inoffensive, and contented with her lot.
He was one evening in his orchestra-stall at the opera. They were
singing The Huguenots. The Marquise occupied her box between the
columns. The numerous acquaintances Camors met in the passages during
the first entr'acte prevented his going as soon as usual to pay his
respects to his cousin. At last, after the fourth act, he went to visit
her in her box, where he found her alone, the General having descended to
the parterre for a few moments. He was astonished, on entering, to find
traces of tears on the young woman's cheeks. Her eyes were even moist.
She seemed displeased at being surprised in the very act of
"Music always excites my nerves," she said.
"Indeed!" said Camors. "You, who always reproach me with hiding my
merits, why do you hide yours? If you are still capable of weeping, so
much the better."
"No! I claim no merit for that. Oh, heavens! If you only knew! It is
quite the contrary."
"What a mystery you are!"
"Are you very curious to fathom this mystery? Only that? Very well--be
happy! It is time to put an end to this."
She drew her chair from the front of the box out of public view, and,
turning toward Camors, continued: "You wish to know what I am, what I
feel, and what I think; or rather, you wish to know simply whether I
dream of love? Very well, I dream only of that! Have I lovers, or have
I not? I have none, and never shall have, but that will not be because
of my virtue. I believe in nothing, except my own self-esteem and my
contempt of others. The little intrigues, the petty passions, which I
see in the world, make me indignant to the bottom of my soul. It seems
to me that women who give themselves for so little must be base
creatures. As for myself, I remember having said to you one day--it is a
million years since then!--that my person is sacred to me; and to commit
a sacrilege I should wish, like the vestals of Rome, a love as great as
my crime, and as terrible as death. I wept just now during that
magnificent fourth act. It was not because I listened to the most
marvellous music ever heard on this earth; it was because I admire and
envy passionately the superb and profound love of that time. And it is
ever thus--when I read the history of the glorious sixteenth century, I
am in ecstacies. How well those people knew how to love and how to die!
One night of love--then death. That is delightful. Now, cousin, you
must leave me. We are observed. They will believe we love each other,
and as we have not that pleasure, it is useless to incur the penalties.
Since I am still in the midst of the court of Charles Tenth, I pity you,
with your black coat and round hat. Good-night."
"I thank you very much," replied Camors, taking the hand she extended to
him coldly, and left the box. He met M. de Campvallon in the passage.
"Parbleu! my dear friend," said the General, seizing him by the arm.
"I must communicate to you an idea which has been in my brain all the
"What idea, General?"
"Well, there are here this evening a number of charming young girls.
This set me to thinking of you, and I even said to my wife that we must
marry you to one of these young women!"
"Well, why not?"
"That is a very serious thing--if one makes a mistake in his choice--that
"Bah! it is not so difficult a thing. Take a wife like mine, who has a
great deal of religion, not much imagination, and no fancies. That is
the whole secret. I tell you this in confidence, my dear fellow!"
"Well, General, I will think of it."
"Do think of it," said the General, in a serious tone; and went to join
his young wife, whom he understood so well.
As to her, she thoroughly understood herself, and analyzed her own
character with surprising truth.
Madame de Campvallon was just as little what her manner indicated as was
M. de Camors on his side. Both were altogether exceptional in French
society. Equally endowed by nature with energetic souls and enlightened
minds, both carried innate depravity to a high degree. The artificial
atmosphere of high Parisian civilization destroys in women the sentiment
and the taste for duty, and leaves them, nothing but the sentiment and
the taste for pleasure. They lose in the midst of this enchanted and
false life, like theatrical fairyland, the true idea of life in general,
and Christian life in particular. And we can confidently affirm that all
those who do not make for themselves, apart from the crowd, a kind of
Thebaid--and there are such--are pagans. They are pagans, because the
pleasures of the senses and of the mind alone interest them, and they
have not once, during the year, an impression of the moral law, unless
the sentiment, which some of them detest, recalls it to them. They are
pagans, like the beautiful, worldly Catholics of the fifteenth century--
loving luxury, rich stuffs, precious furniture, literature, art,
themselves, and love. They were charming pagans, like Marie Stuart,
and capable, like her, of remaining true Catholics even under the axe.
We are speaking, let it be understood, of the best of the elite--of those
that read, and of those that dream. As to the rest, those who
participate in the Parisian life on its lighter side, in its childish
whirl, and the trifling follies it entails, who make rendezvous, waste
their time, who dress and are busy day and night doing nothing, who dance
frantically in the rays of the Parisian sun, without thought, without
passion, without virtue, and even without vice--we must own it is
impossible to imagine anything more contemptible.
The Marquise de Campvallon was then--as she truly said to the man she
resembled--a great pagan; and, as she also said to herself in one of her
serious moments when a woman's destiny is decided by the influence of
those they love, Camors had sown in her heart a seed which had
Camors dreamed little of reproaching himself for it, but struck with all
the harmony that surrounded the Marquise, he regretted more bitterly than
ever the fatality which separated them.
He felt, however, more sure of himself, since he had bound himself by the
strictest obligations of honor. He abandoned himself from this moment
with less scruple to the emotions, and to the danger against which he
believed himself invincibly protected. He did not fear to seek often the
society of his beautiful cousin, and even contracted the habit of
repairing to her house two or three times a week, after leaving the
Chamber of Deputies. Whenever he found her alone, their conversation
invariably assumed a tone of irony and of raillery, in which both
excelled. He had not forgotten her reckless confidences at the opera,
and recalled it to her, asking her whether she had yet discovered that
hero of love for whom she was looking, who should be, according to her
ideas, a villain like Bothwell, or a musician like Rizzio.
"There are," she replied, "villains who are also musicians; but that is
imagination. Sing me, then, something apropos."
It was near the close of winter. The Marquise gave a ball. Her fetes
were justly renowned for their magnificence and good taste. She did the
honors with the grace of a queen. This evening she wore a very simple
costume, as was becoming in the courteous hostess. It was a gown of dark
velvet, with a train; her arms were bare, without jewels; a necklace of
large pearls lay on her rose-tinted bosom, and the heraldic coronet
sparkled on her fair hair.
Camors caught her eye as he entered, as if she were watching for him.
He had seen her the previous evening, and they had had a more lively
skirmish than usual. He was struck by her brilliancy--her beauty
heightened, without doubt, by the secret ardor of the quarrel, as if
illuminated by an interior flame, with all the clear, soft splendor of a
transparent alabaster vase.
When he advanced to join her and salute her, yielding, against his will,
to an involuntary movement of passionate admiration, he said:
"You are truly beautiful this evening. Enough so to make one commit a
She looked fixedly in his eyes, and replied:
"I should like to see that," and then left him, with superb nonchalance.
The General approached, and tapping the Count on the shoulder, said:
"Camors! you do not dance, as usual. Let us play a game of piquet."
"Willingly, General;" and traversing two or three salons they reached the
private boudoir of the Marquise. It was a small oval room, very lofty,
hung with thick red silk tapestry, covered with black and white flowers.
As the doors were removed, two heavy curtains isolated the room
completely from the neighboring gallery. It was there that the General
usually played cards and slept during his fetes. A small card-table was
placed before a divan. Except this addition, the boudoir preserved its
every-day aspect. Woman's work, half finished, books, journals, and
reviews were strewn upon the furniture. They played two or three games,
which the General won, as Camors was very abstracted.
"I reproach myself, young man," said the former, "in having kept you so
long away from the ladies. I give you back your liberty--I shall cast my
eye on the journals."
"There is nothing new in them, I think," said Camors, rising. He took up
a newspaper himself, and placing his back against the mantelpiece, warmed
his feet, one after the other. The General threw himself on the divan,
ran his eye over the 'Moniteur de l'Armee', approving of some military
promotions, and criticising others; and, little by little, he fell into a
doze, his head resting on his chest.
But Camors was not reading. He listened vaguely to the music of the
orchestra, and fell into a reverie. Through these harmonies, through the
murmurs and warm perfume of the ball, he followed, in thought, all the
evolutions of her who was mistress and queen of all. He saw her proud
and supple step--he heard her grave and musical voice--he felt her
This young man had exhausted everything. Love and pleasure had no longer
for him secrets or temptations; but his imagination, cold and blase, had
arisen all inflamed before this beautiful, living, palpitating statue.
She was really for him more than a woman--more than a mortal.
The antique fables of amorous goddesses and drunken Bacchantes--the
superhuman voluptuousness unknown in terrestrial pleasures--were in reach
of his hand, separated from him only by the shadow of this sleeping old
man. But a shadow was ever between them--it was honor.
His eyes, as if lost in thought, were fixed straight before him on the
curtain opposite the chimney. Suddenly this curtain was noiselessly
raised, and the young Marquise appeared, her brow surmounted by her
coronet. She threw a rapid glance over the boudoir, and after a moment's
pause, let the curtain fall gently, and advanced directly toward Camors,
who stood dazzled and immovable. She took both his hands, without
speaking, looked at his steadily--throwing a rapid glance at her husband,
who still slept--and, standing on tiptoe, offered her lips to the young
Bewildered, and forgetting all else, he bent, and imprinted a kiss on her
At that very moment, the General made a sudden movement and woke up; but
the same instant the Marquise was standing before him, her hands resting
on the card-table; and smiling upon him, she said, "Good-morning, my
The General murmured a few words of apology, but she laughingly pushed
him back on his divan.
"Continue your nap," she said; "I have come in search of my cousin, for
the last cotillon." The General obeyed.
She passed out by the gallery. The young man; pale as a spectre,
Passing under the curtain, she turned toward him with a wild light
burning in her eyes. Then, before she was lost in the throng, she
whispered, in a low, thrilling voice:
"There is the crime!"
THE FIRST ACT OF THE TRAGEDY
Camors did not attempt to rejoin the Marquise, and it seemed to him that
she also avoided him. A quarter of an hour later, he left the Hotel
He returned immediately home. A lamp was burning in his chamber. When
he saw himself in the mirror, his own face terrified him. This exciting
scene had shaken his nerves.
He could no longer control himself. His pupil had become his master.
The fact itself did not surprise him. Woman is more exalted than man in
morality. There is no virtue, no devotion, no heroism in which she does
not surpass him; but once impelled to the verge of the abyss, she falls
faster and lower than man. This is attributable to two causes: she has
more passion, and she has no honor. For honor is a reality and must not
be underrated. It is a noble, delicate, and salutary quality. It
elevates manly attributes; in fact, it constitutes the modesty of man.
It is sometimes a force, and always a grace. But to think that honor is
all-sufficient; that in the face of great interests, great passions,
great trials in life, it is a support and an infallible defence; that it
can enforce the precepts which come from God--in fact that it can replace
God--this is a terrible mistake. It exposes one in a fatal moment to the
loss of one's self-esteem, and to fall suddenly and forever into that
dismal ocean of bitterness where Camors at that instant was struggling in
despair, like a drowning man in the darkness of midnight.
He abandoned himself, on this evil night, to a final conflict full of
agony; and he was beaten.
The next evening at six o'clock he was at the house of the Marquise. He
found her in her boudoir, surrounded by all her regal luxury. She was
half buried in a fauteuil in the chimney-corner, looking a little pale
and fatigued. She received him with her usual coldness and self-
"Good-day," she said. "How are you?"
"Not very well," replied Camors.
"What is the matter?"
"I fancy that you know."
She opened her large eyes wide with surprise, but did not reply.
"I entreat you, Madame," continued Camors, smiling--" no more music, the
curtain is raised, and the drama has begun."
"Ah! we shall see."
"Do you love me?" he continued; "or were you simply acting, to try me,
last night? Can you, or will you, tell me?"
"I certainly could, but I do not wish to do so."
"I had thought you more frank."
"I have my hours."
"Well, then," said Camors, "if your hours of frankness have passed, mine
"That would be compensation," she replied.
"And I will prove it to you," continued Camors.
"I shall make a fete of it," said the Marquise, throwing herself back on
the sofa, as if to make herself comfortable in order to enjoy an
"I love you, Madame; and as you wish to be loved. I love you devotedly
and unto death--enough to kill myself, or you!"
"That is well," said the Marquise, softly.
"But," he continued in a hoarse and constrained tone, "in loving you, in
telling you of it, in trying to make you share my love, I violate basely
the obligations of honor of which you know, and others of which you know
not. It is a crime, as you have said. I do not try to extenuate my
offence. I see it, I judge it, and I accept it. I break the last moral
tie that is left me; I leave the ranks of men of honor, and I leave also
the ranks of humanity. I have nothing human left except my love, nothing
sacred but you; but my crime elevates itself by its magnitude. Well, I
interpret it thus: I imagine two beings, equally free and strong, loving
and valuing each other beyond all else, having no affection, no loyalty,
no devotion, no honor, except toward each other--but possessing all for
each other in a supreme degree.
"I give and consecrate absolutely to you, my person, all that I can be,
or may become, on condition of an equal return, still preserving the same
social conventionalities, without which we should both be miserable.
"Secretly united, and secretly isolated; though in the midst of the human
herd, governing and despising it; uniting our gifts, our faculties, and
our powers, our two Parisian royalties--yours, which can not be greater,
and mine, which shall become greater if you love me and living thus, one
for the other, until death. You have dreamed, you told me, of strange
and almost sacrilegious love. Here it is; only before accepting it,
reflect well, for I assure you it is a serious thing. My love for you is
boundless. I love you enough to disdain and trample under foot that
which the meanest human being still respects. I love you enough to find
in you alone, in your single esteem, and in your sole tenderness, in the
pride and madness of being yours, oblivion and consolation for friendship
outraged, faith betrayed, and honor lost. But, Madame, this is a
sentiment which you will do well not to trifle with. You should
thoroughly understand this. If you desire my love, if you consent to
this alliance, opposed to all human laws, but grand and singular also,
deign to tell me so, and I shall fall at your feet. If you do not wish
it, if it terrifies you, if you are not prepared for the double
obligation it involves, tell me so, and fear not a word of reproach.
Whatever it might cost me--I would ruin my life, I would leave you
forever, and that which passed yesterday should be eternally forgotten."
He ceased, and remained with his eyes fixed on the young woman with a
burning anxiety. As he went on speaking her air became more grave; she
listened to him, her head a little inclined toward him in an attitude of
overpowering interest, throwing upon him at intervals a glance full of
gloomy fire. A slight but rapid palpitation of the bosom, a scarcely
perceptible quivering of the nostrils, alone betrayed the storm raging
"This," she said, after a moment's silence, "becomes really interesting;
but you do not intend to leave this evening, I suppose?"
"No," said Camors.
"Very well," she replied, inclining her head in sign of dismissal,
without offering her hand; "we shall see each other again."
"At an early day."
He thought she required time for reflection, a little terrified doubtless
by the monster she had evoked; he saluted her gravely and departed.
The next day, and on the two succeeding days, he vainly presented himself
at her door.
The Marquise was either dining out or dressing.
It was for Camors a whole century of torment. One thought which often
disquieted him revisited him with double poignancy. The Marquise did not
love him. She only wished to revenge herself for the past, and after
disgracing him would laugh at him. She had made him sign the contract,
and then had escaped him. In the midst of these tortures of his pride,
his passion, instead of weakening, increased.
The fourth day after their interview he did not go to her house. He
hoped to meet her in the evening at the Viscountess d'Oilly's, where he
usually saw her every Friday. This lady had been formerly the most
tender friend of the Count's father. It was to her the Count had thought
proper to confide the education of his son.
Camors had preserved for her a kind of affection. She was an amiable
woman, whom he liked and laughed at.
No longer young, she had been compelled to renounce gallantry, which had
been the chief occupation of her youth, and never having had much taste
for devotion, she conceived the idea of having a salon. She received
there some distinguished men, savants and artists, who piqued themselves
on being free-thinkers.
The Viscountess, in order to fit herself for her new position, resolved
to enlighten herself. She attended public lectures and conferences,
which began to be fashionable. She spoke easily about spontaneous
generation. She manifested a lively surprise when Camors, who delighted
in tormenting her, deigned to inform her that men were descended from
"Now, my friend," she said to him, "I can not really admit that. How can
you think your grandfather was a monkey, you who are so handsome?"
She reasoned on everything with the same force.
Although she boasted of being a sceptic, sometimes in the morning she
went out, concealed by a thick veil, and entered St. Sulpice, where she
confessed and put herself on good terms with God, in case He should
exist. She was rich and well connected, and in spite of the
irregularities of her youth, the best people visited her house.
Madame de Campvallon permitted herself to be introduced by M. de Camors.
Madame de la Roche-Jugan followed her there, because she followed her
everywhere, and took her son Sigismund. On this evening the reunion was
small. M. de Camors had only been there a few moments, when he had the
satisfaction of seeing the General and the Marquise enter. She
tranquilly expressed to him her regret at not having been at home the
preceding day; but it was impossible to hope for a more decided
explanation in a circle so small, and under the vigilant eye of Madame de
la Roche-Jugan. Camors interrogated vainly the face of his young cousin.
It was as beautiful and cold as usual. His anxiety increased; he would
have given his life at that moment to hear her say one word of love.
The Viscountess liked the play of wit, as she had little herself. They
played at her house such little games as were then fashionable. Those
little games are not always innocent, as we shall see.
They had distributed pencils, pens, and packages of paper--some of the
players sitting around large tables, and some in separate chairs--and
scratched mysteriously, in turn, questions and answers. During this time
the General played whist with Madame de la Roche-Jugan. Madame
Campvallon did not usually take part in these games, as they fatigued
her. Camors was therefore astonished to see her accept the pencil and
paper offered her.
This singularity awakened his attention and put him on his guard. He
himself joined in the game, contrary to his custom, and even charged
himself with collecting in the basket the small notes as they were
An hour passed without any special incident. The treasures of wit were
dispensed. The most delicate and unexpected questions--such as, "What is
love?" "Do you think that friendship can exist between the sexes?"
"Is it sweeter to love or to beloved?"--succeeded each other with
corresponding replies. All at once the Marquise gave a slight scream,
and they saw a drop of blood trickle down her forehead. She laughed, and
showed her little silver pencil-case, which had a pen at one end, with
which she had scratched her forehead in her abstraction.
The attention of Camors was redoubled from this moment--the more so from
a rapid and significant glance from the Marquise, which seemed to warn
him of an approaching event. She was sitting a little in shadow in one
corner, in order to meditate more at ease on questions and answers. An
instant later Camors was passing around the room collecting notes. She
deposited one in the basket, slipping another into his hand with the cat-
like dexterity of her sex. In the midst of these papers, which each
person amused himself with reading, Camors found no difficulty in
retaining without remark the clandestine note of the Marquise. It was
written in red ink, a little pale, but very legible, and contained these
"I belong, soul, body, honor, riches, to my best-beloved cousin,
Louis de Camors, from this moment and forever.
"Written and signed with the pure blood of my veins, March 5, 185-.
"CHARLOTTE DE LUC. D'ESTRELLES."
All the blood of Camors surged to his brain--a cloud came over his eyes
--he rested his hand on the marble table, then suddenly his face was
covered with a mortal paleness. These symptoms did not arise from
remorse or fear; his passion overshadowed all. He felt a boundless joy.
He saw the world at his feet.
It was by this act of frankness and of extraordinary audacity, seasoned
by the bloody mysticism so familiar to the sixteenth century, which she
adored, that the Marquise de Campvallon surrendered herself to her lover
and sealed their fatal union.
AN ANONYMOUS LETTER
Nearly six weeks had passed after this last episode. It was five o'clock
in the afternoon and the Marquise awaited Camors, who was to come after
the session of the Corps Legislatif. There was a sudden knock at one of
the doors of her room, which communicated with her husband's apartment.
It was the General. She remarked with surprise, and even with fear, that
his countenance was agitated.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she said. "Are you ill?"
"No," replied the General, "not at all."
He placed himself before her, and looked at her some moments before
speaking, his eyes rolling wildly.
"Charlotte!" he said at last, with a painful smile, "I must own to you
my folly. I am almost mad since morning--I have received such a singular
letter. Would you like to see it?"
"If you wish," she replied.
He took a letter from his pocket, and gave it to her. The writing was
evidently carefully disguised, and it was not signed.
"An anonymous letter?" said the Marquise, whose eyebrows were slightly
raised, with an expression of disdain; then she read the letter, which
was as follows:
"A true friend, General, feels indignant at seeing your confidence
and your loyalty abused. You are deceived by those whom you love
"A man who is covered with your favors and a woman who owes
everything to you are united by a secret intimacy which outrages
you. They are impatient for the hour when they can divide your
"He who regards it as a pious duty to warn you does not desire to
calumniate any one. He is sure that your honor is respected by her
to whom you have confided it, and that she is still worthy of your
confidence and esteem. She wrongs you in allowing herself to count
upon the future, which your best friend dates from your death. He
seeks your widow and your estate.
"The poor woman submits against her will to the fascinations of a
man too celebrated for his successful affairs of the heart. But
this man, your friend--almost your son--how can he excuse his
conduct? Every honest person must be shocked by such behavior, and
particularly he whom a chance conversation informed of the fact, and
who obeys his conscience in giving you this information."
The Marquise, after reading it, returned the letter coldly to the
"Sign it Eleanore-Jeanne de la Roche-Jugan!" she said.
"Do you think so?" asked the General.
"It is as clear as day," replied the Marquise. "These expressions betray
her--'a pious duty to warn you--'celebrated for his successful affairs of
the heart'--'every honest person.' She can disguise her writing, but not
her style. But what is still more conclusive is that which she
attributes to Monsieur de Camors--for I suppose it alludes to him--and to
his private prospects and calculations. This can not have failed to
strike you, as it has me, I suppose?"
"If I thought this vile letter was her work," cried the General, "I never
would see her again during my life."
"Why not? It is better to laugh at it!"
The General began one of his solemn promenades across the room. The
Marquise looked uneasily at the clock. Her husband, intercepting one of
these glances, suddenly stopped.
"Do you expect Camors to-day?" he inquired.
"Yes; I think he will call after the session."
"I think he will," responded the General, with a convulsive smile. "And
do you know, my dear," he added, "the absurd idea which has haunted me
since I received this infamous letter?--for I believe that infamy is
"You have conceived the idea of observing our interview?" said the
Marquise, in a tone of indolent raillery.
"Yes," said the General, "there--behind that curtain--as in a theatre;
but, thank God! I have been able to resist this base intention. If ever
I allow myself to play so mean a part, I should wish at least to do it
with your knowledge and consent."
"And do you ask me to consent to it?" asked the Marquise.
"My poor Charlotte!" said the General, in a sad and almost supplicating
tone, "I am an old fool--an overgrown child--but I feel that this
miserable letter will poison my life. I shall have no more an hour of
peace and confidence. What can you expect? I was so cruelly deceived
before. I am an honorable man, but I have been taught that all men are
not like myself. There are some things which to me seem as impossible as
walking on my head, yet I see others doing these things every day. What
can I say to you? After reading this perfidious letter, I could not help
recollecting that your intimacy with Camors has greatly increased of
"Without doubt," said the Marquise, "I am very fond of him!"
"I remembered also your tete-a-tete with him, the other night, in the
boudoir, during the ball. When I awoke you had both an air of mystery.
What mysteries could there be between you two?"
"Ah, what indeed!" said the Marquise, smiling.
"And will you not tell me?"
"You shall know it at the proper time."
"Finally, I swear to you that I suspect neither of you--I neither suspect
you of wronging me--of disgracing me--nor of soiling my name . . . God
"But if you two should love each other, even while respecting my honor:
if you love each other and confess it--if you two, even at my side, in my
heart--if you, my two children, should be calculating with impatient eyes
the progress of my old age--planning your projects for the future, and
smiling at my approaching death--postponing your happiness only for my
tomb you may think yourselves guiltless, but no, I tell you it would be
Under the empire of the passion which controlled him, the voice of the
General became louder. His common features assumed an air of sombre
dignity and imposing grandeur. A slight shade of paleness passed over
the lovely face of the young woman and a slight frown contracted her
By an effort, which in a better cause would have been sublime, she
quickly mastered her weakness, and, coldly pointing out to her husband
the draped door by which he had entered, said:
"Very well, conceal yourself there!"
"You will never forgive me?"
"You know little of women, my friend, if you do not know that jealousy is
one of the crimes they not only pardon but love."
"My God, I am not jealous!"
"Call it yourself what you will, but station yourself there!"
"And you are sincere in wishing me to do so?"
"I pray you to do so! Retire in the interval, leave the door open, and
when you hear Monsieur de Camors enter the court of the hotel, return."
"No!" said the General, after a moment's hesitation; "since I have gone
so far"--and he sighed deeply "I do not wish to leave myself the least
pretext for distrust. If I leave you before he comes, I am capable of
"That I might secretly warn him? Nothing more natural. Remain here,
then. Only take a book; for our conversation, under such circumstances,
can not be lively."
He sat down.
"But," he said, "what mystery can there be between you two?"
"You shall hear!" she said, with her sphinx-like smile.
The General mechanically took up a book. She stirred the fire, and
reflected. As she liked terror, danger, and dramatic incidents to blend
with her intrigues, she should have been content; for at that moment
shame, ruin, and death were at her door. But, to tell the truth, it was
too much for her; and when she looked, in the midst of the silence which
surrounded her, at the true character and scope of the perils which
surrounded her, she thought her brain would fail and her heart break.
She was not mistaken as to the origin of the letter. This shameful work
had indeed been planned by Madame de la Roche-Jugan. To do her justice,
she had not suspected the force of the blow she was dealing. She still
believed in the virtue of the Marquise; but during the perpetual
surveillance she had never relaxed, she could not fail to see the changed
nature of the intercourse between Camors and the Marquise. It must not
be forgotten that she dreamed of securing for her son Sigismund the
succession to her old friend; and she foresaw a dangerous rivalry--the
germ of which she sought to destroy. To awaken the distrust of the
General toward Camors, so as to cause his doors to be closed against him,
was all she meditated. But her anonymous letter, like most villainies of
this kind, was a more fatal and murderous weapon than its base author
The young Marquise, then, mused while stirring the fire, casting, from
time to time, a furtive glance at the clock.
M. de Camors would soon arrive--how could she warn him? In the present
state of their relations it was not impossible that the very first words
of. Camors might immediately divulge their secret: and once betrayed,
there was not only for her personal dishonor, a scandalous fall, poverty,
a convent--but for her husband or her lover--perhaps for both--death!
When the bell in the lower court sounded, announcing the Count's
approach, these thoughts crowded into the brain of the Marquise like a
legion of phantoms. But she rallied her courage by a desperate effort
and strained all her faculties to the execution of the plan she had
hastily conceived, which was her last hope. And one word, one gesture,
one mistake, or one carelessness of her lover, might overthrow it in a
second. A moment later the door was opened by a servant, announcing M.
de Camors. Without speaking, she signed to her husband to gain his
hiding-place. The General, who had risen at the sound of the bell,
seemed still to hesitate, but shrugging his shoulders, as if in disdain
of himself, retired behind the curtain which faced the door.
M. de Camors entered the room carelessly, and advanced toward the
fireplace where sat the Marquise; his smiling lips half opened to speak,
when he was struck by the peculiar expression on the face of the
Marquise, and the words were frozen on his lips. This look, fixed upon
him from his entrance, had a strange, weird intensity, which, without
expressing anything, made him fear everything. But he was accustomed to
trying situations, and as wary and prudent as he was intrepid. He ceased
to smile and did not speak, but waited.
She gave him her hand without ceasing to look at him with the same
"Either she is mad," he said to himself, "or there is some great peril!"
With the rapid perception of her genius and of her love, she felt he
understood her; and not leaving him time to speak and compromise her,
"It is very kind of you to keep your promise."
"Not at all," said Camors, seating himself.
"Yes! For you know you come here to be tormented." There was a pause.
"Have you at last become a convert to my fixed idea?" she added after a
"What fixed idea? It seems to me you have a great many!"
"Yes! But I speak of a good one--my best one, at least--of your
"What! again, cousin?" said Camors, who, now assured of his danger and
its nature, marched with a firmer foot over the burning soil.
"Yes, again, cousin; and I will tell you another thing--I have found the
"Ah! Then I shall run away!"
She met his smile with an imperious glance.
"Then you still adhere to that plan?" said Camors, laughing.
"Most firmly! I need not repeat to you my reasons--having preached about
it all winter--in fact so much so as to disturb the General, who suspects
some mystery between us."
"The General? Indeed!"
"Oh, nothing serious, you must understand. Well, let us resume the
subject. Miss Campbell will not do--she is too blonde--an odd objection
for me to make by the way; not Mademoiselle de Silas--too thin; not
Mademoiselle Rolet, in spite of her millions; not Mademoiselle
d'Esgrigny--too much like the Bacquieres and Van-Cuyps. All this is a
little discouraging, you will admit; but finally everything clears up.
I tell you I have discovered the right one--a marvel!"
"Her name?" said Camors.
"Marie de Tecle!"
There was silence.
"Well, you say nothing," resumed the Marquise, "because you can have
nothing to say! Because she unites everything--personal beauty, family,
fortune, everything--almost like a dream. Then, too, your properties
join. You see how I have thought of everything, my friend! I can not
imagine how we never came to think of this before!"
M. de Camors did not reply, and the Marquise began to be surprised at his
"Oh!" she exclaimed; "you may look a long time--there can not be a
single objection--you are caught this time. Come, my friend, say yes, I
implore you!" And while her lips said "I implore you," in a tone of
gracious entreaty, her look said, with terrible emphasis, "You must!"
"Will you allow me to reflect upon it, Madame?" he said at last.
"No, my friend!"
"But really," said Camors, who was very pale, "it seems to me you dispose
of the hand of Mademoiselle de Tecle very readily. Mademoiselle de Tecle
is rich and courted on all sides--also, her great-uncle has ideas of the
province, and her mother, ideas of religion, which might well--"
"I charge myself with all that," interrupted the Marquise.
"What a mania you have for marrying people!"
"Women who do not make love, cousin, always have a mania for
"But seriously, you will give me a few days for reflection?"
"To reflect about what? Have you not always told me you intended
marrying and have been only waiting the chance? Well, you never can find
a better one than this; and if you let it slip, you will repent the rest
of your life."
"But give me time to consult my family!"
"Your family--what a joke! It seems to me you have reached full age; and
then--what family? Your aunt, Madame de la Roche-Jugan?"
"Doubtless! I do not wish to offend her:"
"Ah, my dear cousin, don't be uneasy; suppress this uneasiness; I assure
you she will be delighted!"
"Why should she?"
"I have my reasons for thinking so;" and the young woman in uttering
these words was seized with a fit of sardonic laughter which came near
convulsion, so shaken were her nerves by the terrible tension.
Camors, to whom little by little the light fell stronger on the more
obscure points of the terrible enigma proposed to him, saw the necessity
of shortening a scene which had overtasked her faculties to an almost
insupportable degree. He rose:
"I am compelled to leave you," he said; "for I am not dining at home.
But I will come to-morrow, if you will permit me."
"Certainly. You authorize me to speak to the General?"
"Well, yes, for I really can see no reasonable objection."
"Very good. I adore you!" said the Marquise. She gave him her hand,
which he kissed and immediately departed.
It would have required a much keener vision than that of M. de Campvallon
to detect any break, or any discordance, in the audacious comedy which
had just been played before him by these two great artists.
The mute play of their eyes alone could have betrayed them; and that he
could not see.
As to their tranquil, easy, natural dialogue there was not in it a word
which he could seize upon, and which did not remove all his disquietude,
and confound all his suspicions. From this moment, and ever afterward,
every shadow was effaced from his mind; for the ability to imagine such
a plot as that in which his wife in her despair had sought refuge, or to
comprehend such depth of perversity, was not in the General's pure and
When he reappeared before his wife, on leaving his concealment, he was
constrained and awkward. With a gesture of confusion and humility he
took her hand, and smiled upon her with all the goodness and tenderness
of his soul beaming from his face.
At this moment the Marquise, by a new reaction of her nervous system,
broke into weeping and sobbing; and this completed the General's despair.
Out of respect to this worthy man, we shall pass over a scene the
interest of which otherwise is not sufficient to warrant the unpleasant
effect it would produce on all honest people. We shall equally pass over
without record the conversation which took place the next day between the
Marquise and M. de Camors.
Camors had experienced, as we have observed, a sentiment of repulsion at
hearing the name of Mademoiselle de Tecle appear in the midst of this
intrigue. It amounted almost to horror, and he could not control the
manifestation of it. How could he conquer this supreme revolt of his
conscience to the point of submitting to the expedient which would make
his intrigue safe? By what detestable sophistries he dared persuade
himself that he owed everything to his accomplice--even this, we shall
not attempt to explain. To explain would be to extenuate, and that we
wish not to do. We shall only say that he resigned himself to this
marriage. On the path which he had entered a man can check himself as
little as he can check a flash of lightning.
As to the Marquise, one must have formed no conception of this depraved
though haughty spirit, if astonished at her persistence, in cold blood,
and after reflection, in the perfidious plot which the imminence of her
danger had suggested to her. She saw that the suspicions of the General
might be reawakened another day in a more dangerous manner, if this
marriage proved only a farce. She loved Camors passionately; and she
loved scarcely less the dramatic mystery of their liaison. She had also
felt a frantic terror at the thought of losing the great fortune which
she regarded as her own; for the disinterestedness of her early youth had
long vanished, and the idea of sinking miserably in the Parisian world,
where she had long reigned by her luxury as well as her beauty, was
insupportable to her.
Love, mystery, fortune-she wished to preserve them all at any price; and
the more she reflected, the more the marriage of Camors appeared to her
the surest safeguard.
It was true, it would give her a sort of rival. But she had too high an
opinion of herself to fear anything; and she preferred Mademoiselle de
Tecle to any other, because she knew her, and regarded her as an inferior
About fifteen days after, the General called on Madame de Tecle one
morning, and demanded for M. de Camors her daughter's hand. It would be
painful to dwell on the joy which Madame de Tecle felt; and her only
surprise was that Camors had not come in person to press his suit. But
Camors had not the heart to do so. He had been at Reuilly since that
morning, and called on Madame de Tecle, where he learned his overture was
accepted. Once having resolved on this monstrous action, he was
determined to carry it through in the most correct manner, and we know he
was master of all social arts.
In the evening Madame de Tecle and her daughter, left alone, walked
together a long time on their dear terrace, by the soft light of the
stars--the daughter blessing her mother, and the mother thanking God--
both mingling their hearts, their dreams, their kisses, and their tears
--happier, poor women, than is permitted long to human beings. The
marriage took place the ensuing month.
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