Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
MONSIEUR DE CAMORS
By OCTAVE FEUILLET
THE COUNTESS DE CAMORS
After passing the few weeks of the honeymoon at Reuilly, the Comte and
Comtesse de Camors returned to Paris and established themselves at their
hotel in the Rue de l'Imperatrice. From this moment, and during the
months that followed, the young wife kept up an active correspondence
with her mother; and we here transcribe some of the letters, which will
make us more intimately acquainted with the character of the young woman.
Madame de Camors to Madame de Tecle.
"Am I happy? No, my dearest mother! No--not happy! I have only
wings and soar to heaven like a bird! I feel the sunshine in my
head, in my eyes, in my heart.
"It blinds me, it enchants me, it causes me to shed delicious tears!
Happy? No, my tender mother; that is not possible, when I think
that I am his wife! The wife--understand me--of him who has reigned
in my poor thoughts since I was able to think--of him whom I should
have chosen out of the whole universe! When I remember that I am
his wife, that we are united forever, how I love life! how I love
you! how I love God!
"The Bois and the lake are within a few steps of us, as you know.
We ride thither nearly every morning, my husband and I!--I repeat,
I and my husband! We go there, my husband and I--I and my husband!
"I know not how it is, but it is always delicious weather to me,
even when it rains--as it does furiously to-day; for we have just
come in, driven home by the storm.
"During our ride to-day, I took occasion to question him quietly as
to some points of our history which puzzled me. First, why had he
"'Because you pleased me apparently, Miss Mary.' He likes to give me
this name, which recalls to him I know not what episode of my
untamed youth--untamed still to him.
"'If I pleased you, why did I see you so seldom?'
"'Because I did not wish to court you until I had decided on
"'How could I have pleased you, not being at all beautiful?'
"'You are not beautiful, it is true,' replies this cruel young man,
'but you are very pretty; and above all you are grace itself, like
"All these obscure points being cleared up to the complete
satisfaction of Miss Mary, Miss Mary took to fast galloping; not
because it was raining, but because she became suddenly--we do not
know the reason why--as red as a poppy.
"Oh, beloved mother! how sweet it is to be loved by him we adore,
and to be loved precisely as we wish--as we have dreamed--according
to the exact programme of our young, romantic hearts!
"Did you ever believe I had ideas on such a delicate subject? Yes,
dear mother, I had them. Thus, it seemed to me there were many
different styles of loving--some vulgar, some pretentious, some
foolish, and others, again, excessively comic. None of these seemed
suited to the Prince, our neighbor. I ever felt he should love,
like the Prince he is, with grace and dignity; with serious
tenderness, a little stern perhaps; with amiability, but almost with
condescension--as a lover, but as a master, too--in fine, like my
"Dear angel, who art my mother! be happy in my happiness, which was
your sole work. I kiss your hands--I kiss your wings!
"I thank you! I bless you! I adore you!
"If you were near me, it would be too much happiness! I should die,
I think. Nevertheless, come to us very soon. Your chamber awaits
you. It is as blue as the heavens in which I float. I have already
told you this, but I repeat it.
"Good-by, mother of the happiest woman in the world!
"Comtesse de Camors."
"You made me weep--I who await you every morning. I will say
nothing to you, however; I will not beg you. If the health of my
grandfather seems to you so feeble as to demand your presence, I
know no prayer would take you away from your duty. Nor would I make
the prayer, my angel mother!
"But exaggerate nothing, I pray you, and think your little Marie can
not pass by the blue chamber without feeling a swelling of the
heart. Apart from this grief which you cause her, she continues to
be as happy as even you could wish.
"Her charming Prince is ever charming and ever her Prince! He takes
her to see the monuments, the museums, the theatres, like the poor
little provincial that she is. Is it not touching on the part of so
great a personage?
"He is amused at my ecstasies--for I have ecstasies. Do not breathe
it to my Uncle Des Rameures, but Paris is superb! The days here
count double our own for thought and life.
"My husband took me to Versailles yesterday. I suspect that this,
in the eyes of the people here, is rather a ridiculous episode; for
I notice the Count did not boast of it. Versailles corresponds
entirely with the impressions you had given me of it; for there is
not the slightest change since you visited it with my grandfather.
"It is grand, solemn, and cold. There is, though, a new and very
curious museum in the upper story of the palace, consisting chiefly
of original portraits of the famous men of history. Nothing pleases
me more than to see these heroes of my memory passing before me in
grand procession--from Charles the Bold to George Washington. Those
faces my imagination has so often tried to evoke, that it seems to
me we are in the Elysian Fields, and hold converse with the dead:
"You must know, my mother, I was familiar with many things that
surprised M. de Camors very much. He was greatly struck by my
knowledge of science and my genius. I did no more, as you may
imagine, than respond to his questions; but it seemed to astonish
him that I could respond at all.
"Why should he ask me these things? If he did not know how to
distinguish the different Princesses of Conti, the answer is simple.
"But I knew, because my mother taught me. That is simple enough
"We dined afterward, at my suggestion, at a restaurant. Oh, my
mother! this was the happiest moment of my life! To dine at a
restaurant with my husband was the most delightful of all
"I have said he seemed astonished at my learning. I ought to add in
general, he seemed astonished whenever I opened my lips. Did he
imagine me a mute? I speak little, I acknowledge, however, for he
inspires me with a ceaseless fear: I am afraid of displeasing him,
of appearing silly before him, or pretentious, or pedantic. The day
when I shall be at ease with him, and when I can show him my good
sense and gratitude--if that day ever comes--I shall be relieved of
a great weight on my mind, for truly I sometimes fear he looks on me
as a child.
"The other day I stopped before a toy-shop on the Boulevard. What a
blunder! And as he saw my eye fixed on a magnificent squadron of
"'Do you wish one, Miss Mary?' he said.
"Was not this horrible, my mother--from him who knows everything
except the Princesses of Conti? He explained everything to me; but
briefly in a word, as if to a person he despaired of ever making
understand him. And I understand so well all the time, my poor
"But so much the better, say I; for if he loves me while thinking me
silly, what will it be later!
"With fond love, your
"All Paris has returned once more, my dear mother, and for fifteen
days I have been occupied with visits. The men here do not usually
visit; but my husband is obliged to present me for the first time to
the persons I ought to know. He accompanies me there, which is much
more agreeable to me than to him, I believe.
"He is more serious than usual. Is not this the only form in which
amiable men show their bad humor? The people we visit look on me
with a certain interest. The woman whom this great lord has honored
with his choice is evidently an object of great curiosity. This
flatters and intimidates me; I blush and feel constrained; I appear
awkward. When they find me awkward and insignificant, they stare.
They believe he married me for my fortune: then I wish to cry. We
reenter the carriage, he smiles upon me, and I am in heaven! Such
are our visits.
"You must know, my mother, that to me Madame Campvallon is divine.
She often takes me to her box at the Italiens, as mine will not be
vacant until January. Yesterday she gave a little fete for me in
her beautiful salon: the General opened the ball with me.
"Oh! my mother, what a wonderfully clever man the General is! And I
admire him because he admires you!
"The Marquise presented to me all the best dancers. They were young
gentlemen, with their necks so uncovered it almost gave me a chill.
I never before had seen men bare-necked and the fashion is not
becoming. It was very evident, however, that they considered
themselves indispensable and charming. Their deportment was
insolent and self-sufficient; their eyes were disdainful and all-
"Their mouths ever open to breathe freer, their coat-tails flapping
like wings, they take one by the waist--as one takes his own
property. Informing you by a look that they are about to do you the
honor of removing you, they whirl you away; then, panting for
breath, inform you by another look that they will do themselves the
pleasure of stopping--and they stop. Then they rest a moment,
panting, laughing, showing their teeth; another look--and they
repeat the same performance. They are wonderful!
"Louis waltzed with me and seemed satisfied. I saw him for the
first time waltz with the Marquise. Oh, my mother, it was the dance
of the stars!
"One thing which struck me this evening, as always, was the manifest
idolatry with which the women regard my husband. This, my tender
mother, terrifies me. Why--I ask myself--why did he choose me?
How can I please him? How can I succeed?
"Behold the result of all my meditations! A folly perhaps, but of
which the effect is to reassure me:
"Portrait of the Comtesse de Camors, drawn by herself.
"The Comtesse de Camors, formerly Marie de Tecle, is a personage
who, having reached her twentieth year, looks older. She is not
beautiful, as her husband is the first person to confess. He says
she is pretty; but she doubts even this. Let us see. She has very
long limbs, a fault which she shares with Diana, the Huntress, and
which probably gives to the gait of the Countess a lightness it
might not otherwise possess. Her body is naturally short, and on
horseback appears to best advantage. She is plump without being
"Her features are irregular; the mouth being too large and the lips
too thick, with--alas! the shade of a moustache; white teeth, a
little too small; a commonplace nose, a slightly pug; and her
mother's eyes--her best feature. She has the eyebrows of her Uncle
Des Rameures, which gives an air of severity to the face and
neutralizes the good-natured expression-a reflex from the softness
of her heart.
"She has the dark complexion of her mother, which is more becoming
to her mother than to her. Add to all this, blue-black hair in
great silky masses. On the whole, one knows not what to pronounce
"There, my mother, is my portrait! Intended to reassure me, it has
hardly done so; for it seems to me to be that of an ugly little
"I wish to be the most lively of women; I wish to be one of the most
distinguished. I wish to be one of the most captivating! But, oh,
my mother! if I please him I am still more enchanted! On the
whole, thank God! he finds me perhaps much better than I am: for
men have not the same taste in these matters that we have.
"But what I really can not comprehend, is why he has so little
admiration for the Marquise de Campvallon. His manner is very cold
to her. Were I a man, I should be wildly in love with that superb
woman! Good-night, most beloved of mothers!
"You complain of me, my cherished one! The tone of my letters
wounds you! You can not comprehend how this matter of my personal
appearance haunts me. I scrutinize it; I compare it with that of
others. There is something of levity in that which hurts you? You
ask how can I think a man attaches himself to these things, while
the merits of mind and soul go for nothing?
"But, my dearest mother, how will these merits of mind and of soul
--supposing your daughter to possess them--serve her, unless she
possesses the courage or has the opportunity to display them? And
when I summon up the courage, it seems to me the occasion never
"For I must confess to you that this delicious Paris is not perfect;
and I discover, little by little, the spots upon the sun.
"Paris is the most charming place! The only pity is that it has
inhabitants! Not but that they are agreeable, for they are only too
much so; only they are also very careless, and appear to my view to
live and die without reflecting much on what they are doing. It is
not their fault; they have no time.
"Without leaving Paris, they are incessant travellers, eternally
distracted by motion and novelty. Other travellers, when they have
visited some distant corner--forgetting for a while their families,
their duties, and their homes--return and settle down again. But
these Parisians never do. Their life is an endless voyage; they
have no home. That which elsewhere is the great aim of life is
secondary here. One has here, as elsewhere, an establishment--a
house, a private chamber. One must have. Here one is wife or
mother, husband or father, just as elsewhere; but, my poor mother,
they are these things just as little as possible. The whole
interest centres not in the homes; but in the streets, the museums,
the salons, the theatres, and the clubs. It radiates to the immense
outside life, which in all its forms night and day agitates Paris,
attracts, excites, and enervates you; steals your time, your mind,
your soul--and devours them all!
"Paris is the most delicious of places to visit--the worst of places
to live in.
"Understand well, my mother, that in seeking by what qualifies I can
best attract my husband--who is the best of men, doubtless, but of
Parisian men nevertheless--I have continually reflected on merits
which may be seen at once, which do not require time to be
"Finally, I do not deny that all this is miserable cynicism,
unworthy of you and of myself; for you know I am not at heart a bad
little woman. Certainly, if I could keep Monsieur de Camors for a
year or two at an old chateau in the midst of a solitary wood, I
should like it much. I could then see him more frequently, I could
then become familiar with his august person, and could develop my
little talents under his charmed eyes. But then this might weary
him and would be too easy. Life and happiness, I know, are not so
easily managed. All is difficulty, peril, and conflict.
"What joy, then, to conquer! And I swear to you, my mother, that I
will conquer! I will force him to know me as you know me; to love
me, not as he now does, but as you do, for many good reasons of
which he does not yet dream.
"Not that he believes me absolutely a fool; I think he has abandoned
that idea for at least two days past.
"How he came thus to think, my next letter shall explain.
THE REPTILE STRIVES TO CLIMB
"You will remember, my mother, that the Count has as secretary a man
named Vautrot. The name is a bad one; but the man himself is a good
enough creature, except that I somewhat dislike his catlike style of
looking at one.
"Well, Monsieur de Vautrot lives in the house with us. He comes
early in the morning, breakfasts at some neighboring cafe, passes
the day in the Count's study, and often remains to dine with us, if
he has work to finish in the evening.
"He is an educated man, and knows a little of everything; and he has
undertaken many occupations before he accepted the subordinate
though lucrative post he now occupies with my husband. He loves
literature; but not that of his time and of his country, perhaps
because he himself has failed in this. He prefers foreign writers
and poets, whom he quotes with some taste, though with too much
"Most probably his early education was defective; for on all
occasions, when speaking with us, he says, 'Yes, Monsieur le Comte!'
or 'Certainly, Madame la Comtesse!' as if he were a servant. Yet
withal, he has a peculiar pride, or perhaps I should say
insufferable vanity. But his great fault, in my eyes, is the
scoffing tone he adopts, when the subject is religion or morals.
"Two days ago, while we were dining, Vautrot allowed himself to
indulge in a rather violent tirade of this description. It was
certainly contrary to all good taste.
"'My dear Vautrot,' my husband said quietly to him, 'to me these
pleasantries of yours are indifferent; but pray remember, that while
you are a strong-minded man, my wife is a weak-minded woman; and
strength, you know, should respect weakness.'
"Monsieur Vautrot first grew white, then red, and finally green. He
rose, bowed awkwardly, and immediately afterward left the table.
Since that time I have remarked his manner has been more reserved.
The moment I was alone with Louis, I said:
"'You may think me indiscreet, but pray let me ask you a question.
How can you confide all your affairs and all your secrets to a man
who professes to have no principles?'
"Monsieur de Camors laughed.
"'Oh, he talks thus out of bravado,' he answered. 'He thinks to
make himself more interesting in your eyes by these Mephistophelian
airs. At bottom he is a good fellow.'
"'But,' I answered, 'he has faith in nothing.'
"'Not in much, I believe. Yet he has never deceived me. He is an
"I opened my eyes wide at this.
"'Well,' he said, with an amused look, 'what is the matter, Miss
"'What is this honor you speak of?'
"'Let me ask your definition of it, Miss Mary,' he replied.
"'Mon Dieu!' I cried, blushing deeply, 'I know but little of it, but
it seems to me that honor separated from morality is no great thing;
and morality without religion is nothing. They all constitute a
chain. Honor hangs to the last link, like a flower; but if the
chain be broken, honor falls with the rest.' He looked at me with
strange eyes, as if he were not only confounded but disquieted by my
philosophy. Then he gave a deep sigh, and rising said:
"'Very neat, that definition-very neat.'
"That night, at the opera, he plied me with bonbons and orange ices.
Madame de Campvallon accompanied us; and at parting, I begged her to
call for me next day on her way to the Bois, for she is my idol.
She is so lovely and so distinguished--and she I knows it well. I
love to be with her. On our return home, Louis remained silent,
contrary to his custom. Suddenly he said, brusquely:
"'Marie, do you go with the Marquise to the Bois to-morrow?'
"'But you see her often, it seems to me-morning and evening. You
are always with her.'
"'Heavens! I do it to be agreeable to you. Is not Madame de
Campvallon a good associate?'
"'Excellent; only in general I do not admire female friendships.
But I did wrong to speak to you on this subject. You have wit and
discretion enough to preserve the proper limits.'
"This, my mother, was what he said to me. I embrace you.
"I hope, my own mother, not to bore you this year with a catalogue
of fetes and festivals, lamps and girandoles; for Lent is coming.
To-day is Ash-Wednesday. Well, we dance to-morrow evening at Madame
d'Oilly's. I had hoped not to go, but I saw Louis was disappointed,
and I feared to offend Madame d'Oilly, who has acted a mother's part
to my husband. Lent here is only an empty name. I sigh to myself:
'Will they never stop! Great heavens! will they never cease
"I must confess to you, my darling mother, I amuse myself too much
to be happy. I depended on Lent for some time to myself, and see
how they efface the calendar!
"This dear Lent! What a sweet, honest, pious invention it is,
notwithstanding. How sensible is our religion! How well it
understands human weakness and folly! How far-seeing in its
regulations! How indulgent also! for to limit pleasure is to
"I also love pleasure--the beautiful toilets that make us resemble
flowers, the lighted salons, the music, the gay voices and the
dance. Yes, I love all these things; I experience their charming
confusion; I palpitate, I inhale their intoxication. But always--
always! at Paris in the winter--at the springs in summer--ever this
crowd, ever this whirl, this intoxication of pleasure! All become
like savages, like negroes, and--dare I say so?--bestial! Alas for
"HE foresaw it. HE told us, as the priest told me this morning:
'Remember you have a soul: Remember you have duties!--a husband
--a child--a mother--a God!'
"Then, my mother, we should retire within ourselves; should pass the
time in grave thought between the church and our homes; should
converse on solemn and serious subjects; and should dwell in the
moral world to gain a foothold in heaven! This season is intended
as a wholesome interval to prevent our running frivolity into
dissipation, and pleasure into convulsion; to prevent our winter's
mask from becoming our permanent visage. This is entirely the
opinion of Madame Jaubert.
"Who is this Madame Jaubert? you will ask. She is a little
Parisian angel whom my mother would dearly love! I met her almost
everywhere--but chiefly at St. Phillipe de Roule--for several months
without being aware that she is our neighbor, that her hotel adjoins
ours. Such is Paris!
"She is a graceful person, with a soft and tender, but decided air.
We sat near each other at church; we gave each other side-glances;
we pushed our chairs to let each other pass; and in our softest
voices would say, 'Excuse me, Madame!' 'Oh, Madame!' My glove would
fall, she would pick it up; I would offer her the holy water, and
receive a sweet smile, with 'Dear Madame!' Once at a concert at the
Tuileries we observed each other at a distance, and smiled
recognition; when any part of the music pleased us particularly we
glanced smilingly at each other. Judge of my surprise next morning
when I saw my affinity enter the little Italian house next ours--and
enter it, too, as if it were her home. On inquiry I found she was
Madame Jaubert, the wife of a tall, fair young man who is a civil
"I was seized with a desire to call upon my neighbor. I spoke of it
to Louis, blushing slightly, for I remembered he did not approve of
intimacies between women. But above all, he loves me!
"Notwithstanding he slightly shrugged his shoulders--'Permit me at
least, Miss Mary, to make some inquiries about these people.'
"A few days afterward he had made them, for he said: 'Miss Mary, you
may visit Madame Jaubert; she is a perfectly proper person.'
"I first flew to my husband's neck, and thence went to call upon
"'It is I, Madame!'
"'Oh, Madame, permit me!'
"And we embraced each other and were good friends immediately.
"Her husband is a civil engineer, as I have said. He was once
occupied with great inventions and with great industrial works; but
that was only for a short time. Having inherited a large estate, he
abandoned his studies and did nothing--at least nothing but
mischief. When he married to increase his fortune, his pretty
little wife had a sad surprise. He was never seen at home; always
at the club--always behind the scenes at the opera--always going to
the devil! He gambled, he had mistresses and shameful affairs. But
worse than all, he drank--he came to his wife drunk. One incident,
which my pen almost refuses to write, will give you an idea. Think
of it! He conceived the idea of sleeping in his boots! There, my
mother, is the pretty fellow my sweet little friend transformed,
little by little, into a decent man, a man of merit, and an
"And she did it all by gentleness, firmness, and sagacity. Now is
not this encouraging?--for, God knows, my task is less difficult.
"Their household charms me; for it proves that one may build for
one's self, even in the midst of this Paris, a little nest such as
one dreams of. These dear neighbors are inhabitants of Paris--not
its prey. They have their fireside; they own it, and it belongs to
them. Paris is at their door--so much the better. They have ever a
relish for refined amusement; 'they drink at the fountain,' but do
not drown themselves in it. Their habits are the same, passing
their evenings in conversation, reading, or music; stirring the fire
and listening to the wind and rain without, as if they were in a
"Life slips gently through their fingers, thread by thread, as in
our dear old country evenings.
"My mother, they are happy!
"Here, then, is my dream--here is my plan.
"My husband has no vices, as Monsieur Jaubert had. He has only the
habits of all the brilliant men of his Paris-world. It is
necessary, my own mother, gradually to reform him; to suggest
insensibly to him the new idea that one may pass one evening at home
in company with a beloved and loving wife, without dying suddenly of
"The rest will follow.
"What is this rest? It is the taste for a quiet life, for the
serious sweetness of the domestic hearth--the family taste--the idea
of seclusion--the recovered soul!
"Is it not so, my good angel? Then trust me. I am more than ever
full of ardor, courage, and confidence. For he loves me with all
his heart, with more levity, perhaps, than I deserve; but still--he
"He loves me; he spoils me; he heaps presents upon me. There is no
pleasure he does not offer me, except, be it understood, the
pleasure of passing one evening at home together.
"But he loves me! That is the great point--he loves me!
"Now, dearest mother, let me whisper one final word-a word that
makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It seems to me that for
some time past I have had two hearts--a large one of my own, and--
"Oh, my mother! I see you in tears. But it is a great mystery
this. It is a dream of heaven; but perhaps only a dream, which I
have not yet told even to my husband--only to my adorable mother!
Do not weep, for it is not yet quite certain.
In reply to this letter Madame de Camors received one three mornings
after, announcing to her the death of her grandfather. The Comte de
Tecle had died of apoplexy, of which his state of health had long given
warning. Madame de Tecle foresaw that the first impulse of her daughter
would be to join her to share her sad bereavement. She advised her
strongly against undertaking the fatigue of the journey, and promised to
visit her in Paris, as soon as she conveniently could. The mourning in
the family heightened in the heart of the Countess the uneasy feeling and
vague sadness her last letters had indicated.
She was much less happy than she told her mother; for the first
enthusiasm and first illusions of marriage could not long deceive a
spirit so quick and acute as hers.
A young girl who marries is easily deceived by the show of an affection
of which she is the object. It is rare that she does not adore her
husband and believe she is adored by him, simply because he has married
The young heart opens spontaneously and diffuses its delicate perfume of
love and its songs of tenderness; and enveloped in this heavenly cloud
all seems love around it. But, little by little, it frees itself; and,
too often, recognizes that this delicious harmony and intoxicating
atmosphere which charmed it came only from itself.
Thus was it with the Countess; so far as the pen can render the shadows
of a feminine soul. Such were the impressions which, day by day,
penetrated the very soul of our poor "Miss Mary."
It was nothing more than this; but this was everything to her!
The idea of being betrayed by her husband--and that, too, with cruel
premeditation--never had arisen to torture her soul. But, beyond those
delicate attentions to her which she never exaggerated in her letters to
her mother, she felt herself disdained and slighted. Marriage had not
changed Camors's habits: he dined at home, instead of at his club, that
was all. She believed herself loved, however, but with a lightness that
was almost offensive. Yet, though she was sometimes sad and nearly in
tears, she did not despair; this valiant little heart attached itself
with intrepid confidence to all the happy chances the future might have
in store for it.
M. de Camors continued very indifferent--as one may readily comprehend--
to the agitation which tormented this young heart, but which never
occurred to him for a moment. For himself, strange as it may appear,
he was happy enough. This marriage had been a painful step to take;
but, once confirmed in his sin, he became reconciled to it. But his
conscience, seared as it was, had some living fibres in it; and he would
not have failed in the duty he thought he owed to his wife. These
sentiments were composed of a sort of indifference, blended with pity.
He was vaguely sorry for this child, whose existence was absorbed and
destroyed between those of two beings of nature superior to her own;
and he hoped she would always remain ignorant of the fate to which she
was condemned. He resolved never to neglect anything that might
extenuate its rigor; but he belonged, nevertheless, more than ever solely
to the passion which was the supreme crime of his life. For his intrigue
with Madame de Campvallon, continually excited by mystery and danger--and
conducted with profound address by a woman whose cunning was equal to her
beauty--continued as strong, after years of enjoyment, as at first.
The gracious courtesy of M. de Camors, on which he piqued himself, as
regarded his wife, had its limits; as the young Countess perceived
whenever she attempted to abuse it. Thus, on several occasions she
declined receiving guests on the ground of indisposition, hoping her
husband would not abandon her to her solitude. She was in error.
The Count gave her in reality, under these circumstances, a tete-a-tete
of a few minutes after dinner; but near nine o'clock he would leave her
with perfect tranquillity. Perhaps an hour later she would receive a
little packet of bonbons, or a pretty basket of choice fruit, that would
permit her to pass the evening as she might. These little gifts she
sometimes divided with her neighbor, Madame Jaubert; sometimes with
M. de Vautrot, secretary to her husband.
This M. de Vautrot, for whom she had at first conceived an aversion, was
gradually getting into her good graces. In the absence of her husband
she always found him at hand; and referred to him for many little
details, such as addresses, invitations, the selection of books and the
purchase of furniture. From this came a certain familiarity; she began
to call him Vautrot, or "My good Vautrot," while he zealously performed
all her little commissions. He manifested for her a great deal of
respectful attention, and even refrained from indulging in the sceptical
sneers which he knew displeased her. Happy to witness this reform and to
testify her gratitude, she invited him to remain on two or three evenings
when he came to take his leave, and talked with him of books and the
When her mourning kept her at home, M. de Camors passed the two first
evenings with her until ten o'clock. But this effort fatigued him, and
the poor young woman, who had already erected an edifice for the future
on this frail basis, had the mortification of observing that on the third
evening he had resumed his bachelor habits.
This was a great blow to her, and her sadness became greater than it had
been up to that time; so much so in fact, that solitude was almost
unbearable. She had hardly been long enough in Paris to form intimacies.
Madame Jaubert came to her friend as often as she could; but in the
intervals the Countess adopted the habit of retaining Vautrot, or even of
sending for him. Camors himself, three fourths of the time, would bring
him in before going out in the evening.
"I bring you Vautrot, my dear," he would say, "and Shakespeare. You can
read him together."
Vautrot read well; and though his heavy declamatory style frequently
annoyed the Countess, she thus managed to kill many a long evening, while
waiting the expected visit of Madame de Tecle. But Vautrot, whenever he
looked at her, wore such a sympathetic air and seemed so mortified when
she did not invite him to stay, that, even when wearied of him, she
frequently did so.
About the end of the month of April, M. Vautrot was alone with the
Countess de Camors about ten o'clock in the evening. They were reading
Goethe's Faust, which she had never before heard. This reading seemed to
interest the young woman more than usual, and with her eyes fixed on the
reader, she listened to it with rapt attention. She was not alone
fascinated by the work, but--as is frequently the case-she traced her own
thoughts and her own history in the fiction of the poet.
We all know with what strange clairvoyance a mind possessed with a fixed
idea discovers resemblances and allusions in accidental description.
Madame de Camors perceived without doubt some remote connection between
her husband and Faust--between herself and Marguerite; for she could not
help showing that she was strangely agitated. She could not restrain the
violence of her emotion, when Marguerite in prison cries out, in her
agony and madness:
Who has given you, headsman, this power over me? You come to me while it
is yet midnight. Be merciful and let me live.
Is not to-morrow morning soon enough?
I am yet so young--so young! and am to die already! I was fair, too;
that was my undoing. My true love was near, now he is far away.
Torn lies my garland; scattered the flowers. Don't take hold of me so
roughly! spare me! spare me. What have I done to you? Let me not
implore you in vain! I never saw you before in all my life; you know.
Can I endure this misery?
I am now entirely in thy power. Only let me give suck to the child.
I pressed it this whole night to my heart. They took it away to vex me,
and now say I killed it, and I shall never be happy again. They sing
songs upon me! It is wicked of the people. An old tale ends so--who
bids them apply it?
A lover lies at thy feet, to unloose the bonds of wickedness.
What a blending of confused sentiments, of powerful sympathies, of vague
apprehensions, suddenly seized on the breast of the young Countess! One
can hardly imagine their force--to the very verge of distracting her.
She turned on her fauteuil and closed her beautiful eyes, as if to keep
back the tears which rolled under the fringe of the long lashes.
At this moment Vautrot ceased to read, dropped his book, sighed
profoundly, and stared a moment.
Then he knelt at the feet of the Comtesse de Camors! He took her hand;
he said, with a tragic sigh, "Poor angel!"
It will be difficult to understand this incident and the unfortunately
grave results that followed it, without having the moral and physical
portrait of its principal actor.
M. Hippolyte Vautrot was a handsome man and knew it perfectly. He even
flattered himself on a certain resemblance to his patron, the Comte de
Camors. Partly from nature and partly from continual imitation, this
idea had some foundation; for he resembled the Count as much as a vulgar
man can resemble one of the highest polish.
He was the son of a small confectioner in the provinces; had received
from his father an honestly acquired fortune, and had dissipated it in
the varied enterprises of his adventurous life. The influence of his
college, however, obtained for him a place in the Seminary. He left it
to come to Paris and study law; placed himself with an attorney;
attempted literature without success; gambled on the Bourse and lost
He had successively knocked with feverish hand at all the doors of
Fortune, and none had opened to him, because, though his ambition was
great, his capacity was limited. Subordinate positions, for which alone
he was fit, he did not want. He would have made a good tutor: he sighed
to be a poet. He would have been a respectable cure in the country: he
pined to be a bishop. Fitted for an excellent secretary, he aspired to
be a minister. In fine, he wished to be a great man, and consequently
was a failure as a little one.
But he made himself a hypocrite; and that he found much easier. He
supported himself on the one hand by the philosophic society to be met at
Madame d'Oilly's; on the other, by the orthodox reunions of Madame de la
By these influences he contrived to secure the secretaryship to the Comte
de Camors, who, in his general contempt of the human species, judged
Vautrot to be as good as any other. Now, familiarity with M. de Camors
was, morally, fearfully prejudicial to the secretary. It had, it is
true, the effect of stripping off his devout mask, which he seldom put on
before his patron; but it terribly increased in venom the depravity which
disappointment and wounded pride had secreted in his ulcerated heart.
Of course no one will imagine that M. de Camors had the bad taste to
undertake deliberately the demoralization of his secretary; but contact,
intimacy, and example sufficed fully to do this. A secretary is always
more or less a confidant. He divines that which is not revealed to him;
and Vautrot could not be long in discovering that his patron's success
did not arise, morally, from too much principle--in politics, from excess
of conviction--in business, from a mania for scruples! The intellectual
superiority of Camors, refined and insolent as it was, aided to blind
Vautrot, showing him evil which was not only prosperous, but was also
radiant in grace and prestige. For these reasons he most profoundly
admired his master--admired, imitated, and execrated him!
Camors professed for him and for his solemn airs an utter contempt, which
he did not always take the trouble to conceal; and Vautrot trembled when
some burning sarcasm fell from such a height on the old wound of his
vanity--that wound which was ever sore within him. What he hated most in
Camors was his easy and insolent triumph--his rapid and unmerited
fortune--all those enjoyments which life yielded him without pain,
without toil, without conscience--peacefully tasted! But what he hated
above all, was that this man had thus obtained these things while he had
vainly striven for them.
Assuredly, in this Vautrot was not an exception. The same example
presented to a healthier mind would not have been much more salutary,
for we must tell those who, like M. de Camors, trample under foot all
principles of right, and nevertheless imagine that their secretaries,
their servants, their wives and their children, may remain virtuous--
we must tell these that while they wrong others they deceive themselves!
And this was the case with Hippolyte Vautrot.
He was about forty years of age--a period of life when men often become
very vicious, even when they have been passably virtuous up to that time.
He affected an austere and puritanical air; was the great man of the cafe
he frequented; and there passed judgment on his contemporaries and
pronounced them all inferior. He was difficult to please--in point of
virtue demanding heroism; in talent, genius; in art, perfection.
His political opinions were those of Erostratus, with this difference--
always in favor of the ancient--that Vautrot, after setting fire to the
temple, would have robbed it also. In short, he was a fool, but a
vicious fool as well.
If M. de Camors, at the moment of leaving his luxurious study that
evening, had had the bad taste to turn and apply his eye to the keyhole,
he would have seen something greatly to astonish even him.
He would have seen this "honorable man" approach a beautiful Italian
cabinet inlaid with ivory, turn over the papers in the drawers, and
finally open in the most natural manner a very complicated lock, the
key of which the Count at that moment had in his pocket.
It was after this search that M. Vautrot repaired with his volume of
Faust to the boudoir of the young Countess, at whose feet we have already
left him too long.
LIGHTNING FROM A CLEAR SKY
Madame de Camors had closed her eyes to conceal her tears. She opened
them at the instant Vautrot seized her hand and called her "Poor angel!"
Seeing the man on his knees, she could not comprehend it, and only
"Are you mad, Vautrot?"
"Yes, I am mad!" Vautrot threw his hair back with a romantic gesture
common to him, and, as he believed, to the poets-"Yes, I am mad with love
and with pity, for I see your sufferings, pure and noble victim!"
The Countess only stared in blank astonishment.
"Repose yourself with confidence," he continued, "on a heart that will be
devoted to you until death--a heart into which your tears now penetrate
to its most sacred depths!"
The Countess did not wish her tears to penetrate to such a distance, so
she dried them.
A man on his knees before a woman he adores must appear to her either
sublime or ridiculous. Unfortunately, the attitude of Vautrot, at once
theatrical and awkward, did not seem sublime to the Countess. To her
lively imagination it was irresistibly ludicrous. A bright gleam of
amusement illumined her charming countenance; she bit her lip to conceal
it, but it shone out of her eyes nevertheless.
A man never should kneel unless sure of rising a conqueror. Otherwise,
like Vautrot, he exposes himself to be laughed at.
"Rise, my good Vautrot," the Countess said, gravely. "This book has
evidently bewildered you. Go and take some rest and we will forget this;
only you must never forget yourself again in this manner."
Vautrot rose. He was livid.
"Madame la Comtesse," he said, bitterly, "the love of a great heart never
can be an offence. Mine at least would have been sincere; mine would
have been faithful: mine would not have been an infamous snare!"
The emphasis of these words displayed so evident an intention, the
countenance of the young woman changed immediately. She moved uneasily
on her fauteuil.
"What do you mean, Monsieur Vautrot?"
"Nothing, Madame, which you do not know, I think," he replied, meaningly.
"You shall explain your meaning immediately to me, Monsieur!" she
exclaimed; "or later, to my husband."
"But your sadness, your tears," cried the secretary, in a tone of
admirable sincerity--"these made me sure you were not ignorant of it!"
"Of what? You hesitate! Speak, man!"
"I am not a wretch! I love you and pity you!--that is all;" and Vautrot
"And why do you pity me?" She spoke haughtily; and though Vautrot had
never suspected this imperiousness of manner or of language, he reflected
hurriedly on the point at which he had arrived. More sure than ever of
success, after a moment he took from his pocket a folded letter. It was
one with which he had provided himself to confirm the suspicions of the
Countess, now awakened for the first time.
In profound silence he unfolded and handed it to her. She hesitated a
moment, then seized it. A single glance recognized the writing, for she
had often exchanged notes with the Marquise de Campvallon.
Words of the most burning passion terminated thus:
"--Always a little jealous of Mary; half vexed at having given her to
you. For--she is pretty and--but I! I am beautiful, am I not, my
beloved?--and, above all, I adore you!"
At the first word the Countess became fearfully pale. Finishing, she
uttered a deep groan; then she reread the letter and returned it to
Vautrot, as if unconscious of what she was doing.
For a few seconds she remained motionless--petrified--her eyes fixed on
vacancy. A world seemed rolling down and crushing her heart.
Suddenly she turned, passed with rapid steps into her boudoir; and
Vautrot heard the sound of opening and shutting drawers. A moment after
she reappeared with bonnet and cloak, and crossed the boudoir with the
same strong and rapid step.
Vautrot, greatly terrified, rushed to stop her.
"Madame!" he cried, throwing himself before her.
She waved him aside with an imperious gesture of her hand; he trembled
and obeyed, and she left the boudoir. A moment later she was in the
Avenue des Champs Elysees, going toward Paris.
It was now near midnight; cold, damp April weather, with the rain falling
in great drops. The few pedestrians still on the broad pavement turned
to follow with their eyes this majestic young woman, whose gait seemed
hastened by some errand of life or death.
But in Paris nothing is surprising, for people witness all manner of
things there. Therefore the strange appearance of Madame de Camors did
not excite any extraordinary attention. A few men smiled and nodded;
others threw a few words of raillery at her--both were unheeded alike.
She traversed the Place de la Concorde with the same convulsive haste,
and passed toward the bridge. Arriving on it, the sound of the swollen
Seine rushing under the arches and against the pillars, caught her ear;
she stopped, leaned against the parapet, and gazed into the angry water;
then bowing her head she uttered a deep sigh, and resumed her rapid walk.
In the Rue Vanneau she stopped before a brilliantly lighted mansion,
isolated from the adjoining houses by a garden wall. It was the dwelling
of the Marquise de Campvallon: Arrived there, the unfortunate child knew
not what to do, nor even why she had come. She had some vague design of
assuring herself palpably of her misfortune; to touch it with her finger;
or perhaps to find some reason, some pretext to doubt it.
She dropped down on a stone bench against the garden wall, and hid her
face in both her hands, vainly striving to think. It was past midnight.
The streets were deserted: a shower of rain was falling over Paris, and
she was chilled to numbness.
A sergent-de-ville passed, enveloped in his cape. He turned and stared
at the young woman; then took her roughly by the arm.
"What are you doing here?" he said, brutally.
She looked up at him with wondering eyes.
"I do not know myself," she answered.
The man looked more closely at her, discovered through all her confusion
a nameless refinement and the subtle perfume of purity. He took pity on
"But, Madame, you can not stay here," he rejoined in a softer voice.
"You must have some great sorrow?"
"What is your name?"
"The Comtesse de Camors," she said, simply.
The man looked bewildered.
"Will you tell me where you live, Madame?"
She gave the address with perfect simplicity and perfect indifference.
She seemed to be thinking nothing of what she was saying. The man took a
few steps, then stopped and listened to the sound of wheels approaching.
The carriage was empty. He stopped it, opened the door, and requested
the Countess to get in. She did so quietly, and he placed himself beside
The Comte de Camors had just reached his house and heard with surprise,
from the lips of his wife's maid, the details of the Countess's
mysterious disappearance, when the bell rang violently.
He rushed out and met his wife on the stairs. She had somewhat recovered
her calmness on the road, and as he interrogated her with a searching
glance, she made a ghastly effort to smile.
"I was slightly ill and went out a little," she said. "I do not know the
streets and lost my way."
Notwithstanding the improbability of the explanation, he did not
hesitate. He murmured a few soft words of reproach and placed her in the
hands of her maid, who removed her wet garments.
During that time he called the sergent-de-ville, who remained in the
vestibule, and closely interrogated him. On learning in what street and
what precise spot he had found the Countess, her husband knew at once and
fully the whole truth.
He went directly to his wife. She had retired and was trembling in every
limb. One of her hands was resting outside the coverlet. He rushed to
take it, but she withdrew it gently, with sad and resolute dignity.
The simple gesture told him they were separated forever.
By a tacit agreement, arranged by her and as tacitly accepted by him,
Madame de Camors became virtually a widow.
He remained for some seconds immovable, his expression lost in the shadow
of the bed-hangings; then walked slowly across the chamber. The idea of
lying to defend himself never occurred to him.
His line of conduct was already arranged--calmly, methodically. But two
blue circles had sunk around his eyes, and his face wore a waxen pallor.
His hands, joined behind his back, were clenched; and the ring he wore
sparkled with their tremulous movement. At intervals he seemed to cease
breathing, as he listened to the chattering teeth of his young wife.
After half an hour he approached the bed.
"Marie!" he said in a low voice. She turned upon him her eyes gleaming
"Marie, I am ignorant of what you know, and I shall not ask," he
continued. "I have been very criminal toward you, but perhaps less so
than you think. Terrible circumstances bound me with iron bands. Fate
ruled me! But I seek no palliation. Judge me as severely as you wish;
but I beg of you to calm yourself--preserve yourself! You spoke to me
this morning of your presentiments--of your maternal hopes. Attach
yourself to those thoughts, and you will always be mistress of your life.
As for myself, I shall be whatever you will--a stranger or a friend. But
now I feel that my presence makes you ill. I would leave you for the
present, but not alone. Do you wish Madame Jaubert to come to you
"Yes!" she murmured, faintly.
"I shall go for her; but it is not necessary to tell you that there are
confidences one must reserve even from one's dearest friends."
"Except a mother?" She murmured the question with a supplicating agony
very painful to see.
He grew still paler. After an instant, "Except a mother!" he said.
"Be it so!"
She turned her face and buried it in the pillow.
"Your mother arrives to-morrow, does she not?" She made an affirmative
motion of her head. "You can make your arrangements with her. I shall
"Thank you," she replied, feebly.
He left the room and went to find Madame Jaubert, whom he awakened, and
briefly told her that his wife had been seized with a severe nervous
attack--the effect of a chill. The amiable little woman ran hastily to
her friend and spent the night with her.
But she was not the dupe of the explanation Camors had given her. Women
quickly understand one another in their grief. Nevertheless she asked no
confidences and received none; but her tenderness to her friend
redoubled. During the silence of that terrible night, the only service
she could render her was to make her weep.
Nor did those laggard hours pass less bitterly for M. de Camors. He
tried to take no rest, but walked up and down his apartment until
daylight in a sort of frenzy. The distress of this poor child wounded
him to the heart. The souvenirs of the past rose before him and passed
in sad procession. Then the morrow would show him the crushed daughter
with her mother--and such a mother! Mortally stricken in all her best
illusions, in all her dearest beliefs, in all connected with the
happiness of life!
He found that he still had in his heart lively feelings of pity; still
some remorse in his conscience.
This weakness irritated him, and he denounced it to himself. Who had
betrayed him? This question agitated him to an equal degree; but from
the first instant he had not been deceived in this matter.
The sudden grief and half-crazed conviction of his wife, her despairing
attitude and her silence, could only be explained by strong assurance and
certain revelation. After turning the matter over and over in his own
mind, he arrived at the conclusion that nothing could have thrown such
clear light into his life save the letters of Madame de Campvallon.
He never wrote the Marquise, but could not prevent her writing to him;
for to her, as to all women, love without letters was incomplete.
But the fault of the Count--inexcusable in a man of his tact--was in
preserving these letters. No one, however, is perfect, and he was an
artist. He delighted in these the 'chefs-d'oeuvre' of passionate
eloquence, was proud of inspiring them, and could not make up his mind to
burn or destroy them. He examined at once the secret drawer where he had
concealed them and, by certain signs, discovered the lock had been
tampered with. Nevertheless no letter was missing; the arrangement of
them alone had been disturbed.
His suspicions at once reverted to Vautrot, whose scruples he suspected
were slight; and in the morning they were confirmed beyond doubt by a
letter from the secretary. In fact Vautrot, after passing on his part a
most wretched night, did not feel his nerves equal in the morning to
meeting the reception the Count possibly had in waiting for him. His
letter was skilfully penned to put suspicion to sleep if it had not been
fully roused, and if the Countess had not betrayed him.
It announced his acceptance of a lucrative situation suddenly offered him
in a commercial house in London. He was obliged to decide at once, and
to sail that same morning for fear of losing an opportunity which could
not occur again. It concluded with expressions of the liveliest
gratitude and regret.
Camors could not reach his secretary to strangle him; so he resolved to
pay him. He not only sent him all arrears of salary, but a large sum in
addition as a testimonial of his sympathy and good wishes.
This, however, was a simple precaution; for the Count apprehended nothing
more from the venomous reptile so far beneath him, after he had once
shaken it off. Seeing him deprived of the only weapon he could use
against him, he felt safe. Besides, he had lost the only interest he
could desire to subserve, for he knew M. Vautrot had done him the
compliment of courting his Wife.
And he really esteemed him a little less low, after discovering this
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!"