Part 1 out of 5
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.]
By GEORGES OHNET
With a General Introduction to the Series by GASTON BOISSIER, Secretaire
Perpetuel de l'academie Francaise.
BY ROBERT ARNOT
The editor-in-chief of the Maison Mazarin--a man of letters who cherishes
an enthusiastic yet discriminating love for the literary and artistic
glories of France--formed within the last two years the great project of
collecting and presenting to the vast numbers of intelligent readers of
whom New World boasts a series of those great and undying romances which,
since 1784, have received the crown of merit awarded by the French
Academy--that coveted assurance of immortality in letters and in art.
In the presentation of this serious enterprise for the criticism and
official sanction of The Academy, 'en seance', was included a request
that, if possible, the task of writing a preface to the series should be
undertaken by me. Official sanction having been bestowed upon the plan,
I, as the accredited officer of the French Academy, convey to you its
hearty appreciation, endorsement, and sympathy with a project so nobly
artistic. It is also my duty, privilege, and pleasure to point out, at
the request of my brethren, the peculiar importance and lasting value of
this series to all who would know the inner life of a people whose
greatness no turns of fortune have been able to diminish.
In the last hundred years France has experienced the most terrible
vicissitudes, but, vanquished or victorious, triumphant or abased, never
has she lost her peculiar gift of attracting the curiosity of the world.
She interests every living being, and even those who do not love her
desire to know her. To this peculiar attraction which radiates from her,
artists and men of letters can well bear witness, since it is to
literature and to the arts, before all, that France owes such living and
lasting power. In every quarter of the civilized world there are
distinguished writers, painters, and eminent musicians, but in France
they exist in greater numbers than elsewhere. Moreover, it is
universally conceded that French writers and artists have this particular
and praiseworthy quality: they are most accessible to people of other
countries. Without losing their national characteristics, they possess
the happy gift of universality. To speak of letters alone: the books
that Frenchmen write are read, translated, dramatized, and imitated
everywhere; so it is not strange that these books give to foreigners a
desire for a nearer and more intimate acquaintance with France.
Men preserve an almost innate habit of resorting to Paris from almost
every quarter of the globe. For many years American visitors have been
more numerous than others, although the journey from the United States is
long and costly. But I am sure that when for the first time they see
Paris--its palaces, its churches, its museums--and visit Versailles,
Fontainebleau, and Chantilly, they do not regret the travail they have
undergone. Meanwhile, however, I ask myself whether such sightseeing is
all that, in coming hither, they wish to accomplish. Intelligent
travellers--and, as a rule, it is the intelligent class that feels the
need of the educative influence of travel--look at our beautiful
monuments, wander through the streets and squares among the crowds that
fill them, and, observing them, I ask myself again: Do not such people
desire to study at closer range these persons who elbow them as they
pass; do they not wish to enter the houses of which they see but the
facades; do they not wish to know how Parisians live and speak and act by
their firesides? But time, alas! is lacking for the formation of those
intimate friendships which would bring this knowledge within their grasp.
French homes are rarely open to birds of passage, and visitors leave us
with regret that they have not been able to see more than the surface of
our civilization or to recognize by experience the note of our inner home
How, then, shall this void be filled? Speaking in the first person, the
simplest means appears to be to study those whose profession it is to
describe the society of the time, and primarily, therefore, the works of
dramatic writers, who are supposed to draw a faithful picture of it. So
we go to the theatre, and usually derive keen pleasure therefrom. But is
pleasure all that we expect to find? What we should look for above
everything in a comedy or a drama is a representation, exact as possible,
of the manners and characters of the dramatis persona of the play; and
perhaps the conditions under which the play was written do not allow such
representation. The exact and studied portrayal of a character demands
from the author long preparation, and cannot be accomplished in a few
hours. From, the first scene to the last, each tale must be posed in the
author's mind exactly as it will be proved to be at the end. It is the
author's aim and mission to place completely before his audience the
souls of the "agonists" laying bare the complications of motive, and
throwing into relief the delicate shades of motive that sway them.
Often, too, the play is produced before a numerous audience--an audience
often distrait, always pressed for time, and impatient of the least
delay. Again, the public in general require that they shall be able to
understand without difficulty, and at first thought, the characters the
author seeks to present, making it necessary that these characters be
depicted from their most salient sides--which are too often vulgar and
In our comedies and dramas it is not the individual that is drawn, but
the type. Where the individual alone is real, the type is a myth of the
imagination--a pure invention. And invention is the mainspring of the
theatre, which rests purely upon illusion, and does not please us unless
it begins by deceiving us.
I believe, then, that if one seeks to know the world exactly as it is,
the theatre does not furnish the means whereby one can pursue the study.
A far better opportunity for knowing the private life of a people is
available through the medium of its great novels. The novelist deals
with each person as an individual. He speaks to his reader at an hour
when the mind is disengaged from worldly affairs, and he can add without
restraint every detail that seems needful to him to complete the rounding
of his story. He can return at will, should he choose, to the source of
the plot he is unfolding, in order that his reader may better understand
him; he can emphasize and dwell upon those details which an audience in a
theatre will not allow.
The reader, being at leisure, feels no impatience, for he knows that he
can at any time lay down or take up the book. It is the consciousness of
this privilege that gives him patience, should he encounter a dull page
here or there. He may hasten or delay his reading, according to the
interest he takes in his romance-nay, more, he can return to the earlier
pages, should he need to do so, for a better comprehension of some
obscure point. In proportion as he is attracted and interested by the
romance, and also in the degree of concentration with which he reads it,
does he grasp better the subtleties of the narrative. No shade of
character drawing escapes him. He realizes, with keener appreciation,
the most delicate of human moods, and the novelist is not compelled to
introduce the characters to him, one by one, distinguishing them only by
the most general characteristics, but can describe each of those little
individual idiosyncrasies that contribute to the sum total of a living
When I add that the dramatic author is always to a certain extent a slave
to the public, and must ever seek to please the passing taste of his
time, it will be recognized that he is often, alas! compelled to
sacrifice his artistic leanings to popular caprice-that is, if he has the
natural desire that his generation should applaud him.
As a rule, with the theatre-going masses, one person follows the fads or
fancies of others, and individual judgments are too apt to be
irresistibly swayed by current opinion. But the novelist, entirely
independent of his reader, is not compelled to conform himself to the
opinion of any person, or to submit to his caprices. He is absolutely
free to picture society as he sees it, and we therefore can have more
confidence in his descriptions of the customs and characters of the day.
It is precisely this view of the case that the editor of the series has
taken, and herein is the raison d'etre of this collection of great French
romances. The choice was not easy to make. That form of literature
called the romance abounds with us. France has always loved it, for
French writers exhibit a curiosity--and I may say an indiscretion--that
is almost charming in the study of customs and morals at large; a quality
that induces them to talk freely of themselves and of their neighbors,
and to set forth fearlessly both the good and the bad in human nature.
In this fascinating phase of literature, France never has produced
greater examples than of late years.
In the collection here presented to American readers will be found those
works especially which reveal the intimate side of French social life-
works in which are discussed the moral problems that affect most potently
the life of the world at large. If inquiring spirits seek to learn the
customs and manners of the France of any age, they must look for it among
her crowned romances. They need go back no farther than Ludovic Halevy,
who may be said to open the modern epoch. In the romantic school, on its
historic side, Alfred de Vigny must be looked upon as supreme. De Musset
and Anatole France may be taken as revealing authoritatively the moral
philosophy of nineteenth-century thought. I must not omit to mention the
Jacqueline of Th. Bentzon, and the "Attic " Philosopher of Emile
Souvestre, nor the, great names of Loti, Claretie, Coppe, Bazin, Bourget,
Malot, Droz, De Massa, and last, but not least, our French Dickens,
Alphonse Daudet. I need not add more; the very names of these
"Immortals" suffice to commend the series to readers in all countries.
One word in conclusion: America may rest assured that her students of
international literature will find in this series of 'ouvrages couronnes'
all that they may wish to know of France at her own fireside--a knowledge
that too often escapes them, knowledge that embraces not only a faithful
picture of contemporary life in the French provinces, but a living and
exact description of French society in modern times. They may feel
certain that when they have read these romances, they will have sounded
the depths and penetrated into the hidden intimacies of France, not only
as she is, but as she would be known.
SECRETAIRE PERPETUEL DE L'ACADEMIE FRANCAISE
The only French novelist whose books have a circulation approaching the
works of Daudet and of Zola is Georges Ohnet, a writer whose popularity
is as interesting as his stories, because it explains, though it does not
excuse, the contempt the Goncourts had for the favor of the great French
public, and also because it shows how the highest form of Romanticism
still ferments beneath the varnish of Naturalism in what is called genius
among the great masses of readers.
Georges Ohnet was born in Paris, April 3, 1848, the son of an architect.
He was destined for the Bar, but was early attracted by journalism and
literature. Being a lawyer it was not difficult for him to join the
editorial staff of Le Pays, and later Le Constitutionnel. This was soon
after the Franco-German War. His romances, since collected under the
title 'Batailles de la Vie', appeared first in 'Le Figaro,
L'Illustration, and Revue des Deux Mondes', and have been exceedingly
well received by the public. This relates also to his dramas, some of
his works meeting with a popular success rarely extended to any author.
For some time Georges Ohnet did not find the same favor with the critics,
who often attacked him with a passionate violence and unusual severity.
True, a high philosophical flow of thoughts cannot be detected in his
writings, but nevertheless it is certain that the characters and the
subjects of which he treats are brilliantly sketched and clearly
developed. They are likewise of perfect morality and honesty.
There was expected of him, however, an idea which was not quite realized.
Appearing upon the literary stage at a period when Naturalism was
triumphant, it was for a moment believed that he would restore Idealism
in the manner of George Sand.
In any case the hostile critics have lost. For years public opinion has
exalted him, and the reaction is the more significant when compared with
the tremendous criticism launched against his early romances and novels.
A list of his works follows:
Serge Panine (1881), crowned by the French Academy, has since gone
through one hundred and fifty French editions; Le Maitre des Forges (1882),
a prodigious success, two hundred and fifty editions being printed (1900);
La Comtesse Sarah (1882); Lise Fleuyon (1884); La Grande Maynieye
(1886); Les Dames de Croix-Mort (1886); Volonte (1888); Le Docteur
Rameau (1889); Deynier Amour (1889); Le Cure de Favieyes (1890); Dette
de Haine (1891); Nemsod et Cie. (1892); Le Lendemain des Amours (1893);
Le Droit de l'Enfant (1894.); Les Vielles Rancunes (1894); La Dame en
Gris (1895); La Fille du Depute (1896); Le Roi de Paris (1898); Au Fond
du Gouffre (1899); Gens de la Noce (1900); La Tenibreuse (1900); Le
Cyasseur d'Affaires (1901); Le Crepuscule (1901); Le Marche a l'Amour
Ohnet's novels are collected under the titles, 'Noir et Rose (1887) and
L'Ame de Pierre (1890).
The dramatic writings of Georges Ohnet, mostly taken from his novels,
have greatly contributed to his reputation. Le Maitre des Forges was
played for a full year (Gymnase, 1883); it was followed by Serge Panine
(1884); La Comtesse Sarah (1887). La Grande Mayniere (1888), met also
with a decided and prolonged success; Dernier Amour (Gymnase, 1890);
Colonel Roquebrune (Porte St. Martin, 1897). Before that he had already
written the plays Regina Sarpi (1875) and Marthe (1877), which yet hold a
prominent place upon the French stage.
I have shown in this rapid sketch that a man of the stamp of Georges
Ohnet must have immortal qualities in himself, even though flayed and
roasted alive by the critics. He is most assuredly an artist in form,
is endowed with a brilliant style, and has been named "L'Historiographe
de la bourgeoise contemporaine." Indeed, antagonism to plutocracy and
hatred of aristocracy are the fundamental theses in almost every one of
His exposition, I repeat, is startlingly neat, the development of his
plots absolutely logical, and the world has acclaimed his ingenuity in
dramatic construction. He is truly, and in all senses, of the Ages.
de l'Academie Francaise
THE HOUSE OF DESVARENNES
The firm of Desvarennes has been in an ancient mansion in the Rue Saint
Dominique since 1875; it is one of the best known and most important in
French industry. The counting-houses are in the wings of the building
looking upon the courtyard, which were occupied by the servants when the
family whose coat-of-arms has been effaced from above the gate-way were
still owners of the estate.
Madame Desvarennes inhabits the mansion which she has had magnificently
renovated. A formidable rival of the Darblays, the great millers of
France, the firm of Desvarennes is a commercial and political power.
Inquire in Paris about its solvency, and you will be told that you may
safely advance twenty millions of francs on the signature of the head of
the firm. And this head is a woman.
This woman is remarkable. Gifted with keen understanding and a firm
will, she had in former times vowed to make a large fortune, and she has
kept her word.
She was the daughter of a humble packer of the Rue Neuve-Coquenard.
Toward 1848 she married Michel Desvarennes, who was then a journeyman
baker in a large shop in the Chaussee d'Antin. With the thousand francs
which the packer managed to give his daughter by way of dowry, the young
couple boldly took a shop and started a little bakery business. The
husband kneaded and baked the bread, and the young wife, seated at the
counter, kept watch over the till. Neither on Sundays nor on holidays
was the shop shut.
Through the window, between two pyramids of pink and blue packets of
biscuits, one could always catch sight of the serious-looking Madame
Desvarennes, knitting woollen stockings for her husband while waiting for
customers. With her prominent forehead, and her eyes always bent on her
work, this woman appeared the living image of perseverance.
At the end of five years of incessant work, and possessing twenty
thousand francs, saved sou by sou, the Desvarennes left the slopes of
Montmartre, and moved to the centre of Paris. They were ambitious and
full of confidence. They set up in the Rue Vivienne, in a shop
resplendent with gilding and ornamented with looking-glasses. The
ceiling was painted in panels with bright hued pictures that caught the
eyes of the passers-by. The window-shelves were of white marble, and the
counter, where Madame Desvarennes was still enthroned, was of a width
worthy of the receipts that were taken every day. Business increased
daily; the Desvarennes continued to be hard and systematic workers. The
class of customers alone had changed; they were more numerous and richer.
The house had a specialty for making small rolls for the restaurants.
Michel had learned from the Viennese bakers how to make those golden
balls which tempt the most rebellious appetite, and which, when in an
artistically folded damask napkin, set off a dinner-table.
About this time Madame Desvarennes, while calculating how much the
millers must gain on the flour they sell to the bakers, resolved, in
order to lessen expenses, to do without middlemen and grind her own corn.
Michel, naturally timid, was frightened when his wife disclosed to him
the simple project which she had formed. Accustomed to submit to the
will of her whom he respectfully called "the mistress," and of whom he
was but the head clerk, he dared not oppose her. But, a red-tapist by
nature, and hating innovations, owing to weakness of mind, he trembled
inwardly and cried in agony:
"Wife, you'll ruin us."
The mistress calmed the poor man's alarm; she tried to impart to him some
of her confidence, to animate him with her hope, but without success, so
she went on without him. A mill was for sale at Jouy, on the banks of
the Oise; she paid ready money for it, and a few weeks later the bakery
in the Rue Vivienne was independent of every one. She ground her own
flour, and from that time business increased considerably. Feeling
capable of carrying out large undertakings, and, moreover, desirous of
giving up the meannesses of retail trade, Madame Desvarennes, one fine
day, sent in a tender for supplying bread to the military hospitals. It
was accepted, and from that time the house ranked among the most
important. On seeing the Desvarennes take their daring flight, the
leading men in the trade had said:
"They have system and activity, and if they do not upset on the way, they
will attain a high position."
But the mistress seemed to have the gift of divination. She worked
surely--if she struck out one way you might be certain that success was
there. In all her enterprises, "good luck" stood close by her; she
scented failures from afar, and the firm never made a bad debt. Still
Michel continued to tremble. The first mill had been followed by many
more; then the old system appeared insufficient to Madame Desvarennes.
As she wished to keep up with the increase of business she had steam-
mills built,--which are now grinding three hundred million francs' worth
of corn every year.
Fortune had favored the house immensely, but Michel continued to tremble.
From time to time when the mistress launched out a new business, he
timidly ventured on his usual saying:
"Wife, you're going to ruin us."
But one felt it was only for form's sake, and that he himself no longer
meant what he said. Madame Desvarennes received this plaintive
remonstrance with a calm smile, and answered, maternally, as to a child:
"There, there, don't be frightened."
Then she would set to work again, and direct with irresistible vigor the
army of clerks who peopled her counting-houses.
In fifteen years' time, by prodigious efforts of will and energy, Madame
Desvarennes had made her way from the lonely and muddy Rue Neuve-
Coquenard to the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique. Of the bakery there
was no longer question. It was some time since the business in the Rue
Vivienne had been transferred to the foreman of the shop. The flour
trade alone occupied Madame Desvarennes's attention. She ruled the
prices in the market; and great bankers came to her office and did
business with her on a footing of equality. She did not become any
prouder for it, she knew too well the strength and weakness of life to
have pride; her former plain dealing had not stiffened into self-
sufficiency. Such as one had known her when beginning business, such one
found her in the zenith of her fortune. Instead of a woollen gown she
wore a silk one, but the color was still black; her language had not
become refined; she retained the same blunt familiar accent, and at the
end of five minutes' conversation with any one of importance she could
not resist calling him "my dear," to come morally near him. Her commands
had more fulness. In giving her orders, she had the manner of a
commander-in-chief, and it was useless to haggle when she had spoken.
The best thing to do was to obey, as well and as promptly as possible.
Placed in a political sphere, this marvellously gifted woman would have
been a Madame Roland; born to the throne, she would have been a Catherine
II.; there was genius in her. Sprung from the lower ranks, her
superiority had given her wealth; had she come from the higher, the great
mind might have governed the world.
Still she was not happy; she had been married fifteen years, and her
fireside was devoid of a cradle. During the first years she had rejoiced
at not having a child. Where could she have found time to occupy herself
with a baby? Business engrossed her attention; she had no leisure to
amuse herself with trifles. Maternity seemed to her a luxury for rich
women; she had her fortune to make. In the struggle against the
difficulties attending the enterprise she had begun, she had not had time
to look around her and perceive that her home was lonely. She worked
from morning till night. Her whole life was absorbed in this work, and
when night came, overcome with fatigue, she fell asleep, her head filled
with cares which stifled all tricks of the imagination.
Michel grieved, but in silence; his feeble and dependent nature missed a
child. He, whose mind lacked occupation, thought of the future. He said
to himself that the day when the dreamt-of fortune came would be more
welcome if there were an heir to whom to leave it. What was the good of
being rich, if the money went to collateral relatives? There was his
nephew Savinien, a disagreeable urchin whom he looked on with
indifference; and he was biased regarding his brother, who had all but
failed several times in business, and to whose aid he had come to save
the honor of the name. The mistress had not hesitated to help him, and
had prevented the signature of "Desvarennes" being protested. She had
not taunted him, having as large a heart as she had a mind. But Michel
had felt humiliated to see his own folk make a gap in the financial
edifice erected so laboriously by his wife. Out of this had gradually
sprung a sense of dissatisfaction with the Desvarennes of the other
branch, which manifested itself by a marked coolness, when, by chance,
his brother came to the house, accompanied by his son Savinien.
And then the paternity of his brother made him secretly jealous.
Why should that incapable fellow, who succeeded in nothing, have a son?
It was only those ne'er-do-well sort of people who were thus favored.
He, Michel, already called the rich Desvarennes, he had not a son. Was
it just? But where is there justice in this world?
The first time that she saw him with a downcast face the mistress had
questioned him, and he had frankly expressed his regrets. But he had
been so repelled by his wife, in whose heart a great trouble, steadily
repressed, however, had been produced, that he never dared to recur to
He suffered in silence. But he no longer suffered alone. Like an
overflowing river that finds an outlet in the valley, which it inundates,
the longings for maternity, hitherto repressed by the preoccupations of
business, had suddenly seized Madame Desvarennes.
Strong and unyielding, she struggled and would not own herself conquered.
Still she became sad. Her voice sounded less sonorously in the offices
where she gave an order; her energetic nature seemed subdued. Now she
looked around her. She beheld prosperity made stable by incessant work,
respect gained by spotless honesty; she had attained the goal which she
had marked out in her ambitious dreams, as being paradise itself.
Paradise was there; but it lacked the angel. They had no child.
From that day a change came over this woman, slowly but surely; scarcely
perceptible to strangers, but easy to be seen by those around her.
She became benevolent, and gave away considerable sums of money,
especially to children's "Homes." But when the good people who governed
these establishments, lured on by her generosity, came to ask her to be
on their committee of management, she became angry, asking them if they
were joking with her? What interest could those brats have for her?
She had other fish to fry. She gave them what they needed, and what
more could they want? The fact was she felt weak and troubled before
children. But within her a powerful and unknown voice had arisen, and
the hour was not far distant when the bitter wave of her regrets was to
overflow and be made manifest.
She did not like Savinien, her nephew, and kept all her sweetness for the
son of one of their old neighbors in the Rue Neuve-Coquenard, a small
haberdasher, who had not been able to get on, but continued humbly to
sell thread and needles to the thrifty folks of the neighborhood. The
haberdasher, Mother Delarue, as she was called, had remained a widow
after one year of married life. Pierre, her boy, had grown up under the
shadow of the bakery, the cradle of the Desvarennes's fortunes.
On Sundays the mistress would give him a gingerbread or a cracknel, and
amuse herself with his baby prattle. She did not lose sight of him when
she removed to the Rue Vivienne. Pierre had entered the elementary
school of the neighborhood, and by his precocious intelligence and
exceptional application, had not been long in getting to the top of his
class. The boy had left school after gaining an exhibition admitting him
to the Chaptal College. This hard worker, who was in a fair way of
making his own position without costing his relatives anything, greatly
interested Madame Desvarennes. She found in this plucky nature a
striking analogy to herself. She formed projects for Pierre's future;
in fancy she saw him enter the Polytechnic school, and leave it with
honors. The young man had the choice of becoming a mining or civil
engineer, and of entering the government service.
He was hesitating what to do when the mistress came and offered him a
situation in her firm as junior partner; it was a golden bridge that she
placed before him. With his exceptional capacities he was not long in
giving to the house a new impulse. He perfected the machinery, and
triumphantly defied all competition. All this was a happy dream in which
Pierre was to her a real son; her home became his, and she monopolized
him completely. But suddenly a shadow came o'er the spirit of her
dreams. Pierre's mother, the little haberdasher, proud of her son, would
she consent to give him up to a stranger? Oh! if Pierre had only been an
orphan! But one could not rob a mother of her son! And Madame
Desvarennes stopped the flight of her imagination. She followed Pierre
with anxious looks; but she forbade herself to dispose of the youth: he
did not belong to her.
This woman, at the age of thirty-five, still young in heart, was
disturbed by feelings which she strove, but vainly, to rule. She hid
them especially from her husband, whose repining chattering she feared.
If she had once shown him her weakness he would have overwhelmed her
daily with the burden of his regrets. But an unforeseen circumstance
placed her at Michel's mercy.
Winter had come, bringing December and its snow. The weather this year
was exceptionally inclement, and traffic in the streets was so difficult,
business was almost suspended. The mistress left her deserted offices
and retired early to her private apartments. The husband and wife spent
their evenings alone. They sat there, facing each other, at the
fireside. A shade concentrated the light of the lamp upon the table
covered with expensive knick-knacks. The ceiling was sometimes vaguely
lighted up by a glimmer from the stove which glittered on the gilt
cornices. Ensconced in deep comfortable armchairs, the pair respectively
caressed their favorite dream without speaking of it.
Madame Desvarennes saw beside her a little pink-and-white baby girl,
toddling on the carpet. She heard her words, understood her language,
untranslatable to all others than a mother. Then bedtime came. The
child, with heavy eyelids, let her little fair-haired head fall on her
shoulders. Madame Desvarennes took her in her arms and undressed her
quietly, kissing her bare and dimpled arms. It was exquisite enjoyment
which stirred her heart deliciously. She saw the cradle, and devoured
the child with her eyes. She knew that the picture was a myth. But what
did it matter to her? She was happy. Michel's voice broke on her
"Wife," said he, "this is Christmas Eve; and as there are only us two,
suppose you put your slipper on the hearth."
Madame Desvarennes rose. Her eyes vaguely turned toward the hearth on
which the fire was dying, and beside the upright of the large sculptured
mantelpiece she beheld for a moment a tiny shoe, belonging to the child
which she loved to see in her dreams. Then the vision vanished, and
there was nothing left but the lonely hearth. A sharp pain tore her
swollen heart; a sob rose to her lips, and, slowly, two tears rolled down
her cheeks. Michel, quite pale, looked at her in silence; he held out
his hand to her, and said, in a trembling voice:
"You were thinking about it, eh?"
Madame Desvarennes bowed her head, twice, silently, and without adding
another word, the pair fell into each other's arms and wept.
From that day they hid nothing from each other, and shared their troubles
and regrets in common. The mistress unburdened her heart by making a
full confession, and Michel, for the first time in his life, learned the
depth of soul of his companion to its inmost recesses. This woman, so
energetic, so obstinate, was, as it were, broken down. The springs of
her will seemed worn out. She felt despondencies and wearinesses until
then unknown. Work tired her. She did not venture down to the offices;
she talked of giving up business, which was a bad sign. She longed for
country air. Were they not rich enough? With their simple tastes so
much money was unnecessary. In fact, they had no wants. They would go
to some pretty estate in the suburbs of Paris, live there and plant
cabbages. Why work? they had no children.
Michel agreed to these schemes. For a long time he had wished for
repose. Often he had feared that his wife's ambition would lead them too
far. But now, since she stopped of her own accord, it was all for the
At this juncture their solicitor informed them that, near to their works,
the Cernay estate was to be put up for sale. Very often, when going from
Jouy to the mills, Madame Desvarennes had noticed the chateau, the slate
roofs of the turrets of which rose gracefully from a mass of deep
verdure. The Count de Cernay, the last representative of a noble race,
had just died of consumption, brought on by reckless living, leaving
nothing behind him but debts and a little girl two years old. Her
mother, an Italian singer and his mistress, had left him one morning
without troubling herself about the child. Everything was to be sold,
by order of the Court.
Some most lamentable incidents had saddened the Count's last hours. The
bailiffs had entered the house with the doctor when he came to pay his
last call, and the notices of the sale were all but posted up before the
funeral was over. Jeanne, the orphan, scared amid the troubles of this
wretched end, seeing unknown men walking into the reception-rooms with
their hats on, hearing strangers speaking loudly and with arrogance, had
taken refuge in the laundry. It was there that Madame Desvarennes found
her, playing, plainly dressed in a little alpaca frock, her pretty hair
loose and falling on her shoulders. She looked astonished at what she
had seen; silent, not daring to run or sing as formerly in the great
desolate house whence the master had just been taken away forever.
With the vague instinct of abandoned children who seek to attach
themselves to some one or some thing, Jeanne clung to Madame Desvarennes,
who, ready to protect, and longing for maternity, took the child in her
arms. The gardener's wife acted as guide during her visit over the
property. Madame Desvarennes questioned her. She knew nothing of the
child except what she had heard from the servants when they gossiped in
the evenings about their late master. They said Jeanne was a bastard.
Of her relatives they knew nothing. The Count had an aunt in England who
was married to a rich lord; but he had not corresponded with her lately.
The little one then was reduced to beggary as the estate was to be sold.
The gardener's wife was a good woman and was willing to keep the child
until the new proprietor came; but when once affairs were settled, she
would certainly go and make a declaration to the mayor, and take her to
the workhouse. Madame Desvarennes listened in silence. One word only
had struck her while the woman was speaking. The child was without
support, without ties, and abandoned like a poor lost dog. The little
one was pretty too; and when she fixed her large deep eyes on that
improvised mother, who pressed her so tenderly to her heart, she seemed
to implore her not to put her down, and to carry her away from the
mourning that troubled her mind and the isolation that froze her heart.
Madame Desvarennes, very superstitious, like a woman of the people, began
to think that, perhaps, Providence had brought her to Cernay that day and
had placed the child in her path. It was perhaps a reparation which
heaven granted her, in giving her the little girl she so longed for.
Acting unhesitatingly, as she did in everything, she left her name with
the woman, carried Jeanne to her carriage, and took her to Paris,
promising herself to make inquiries to find her relatives.
A month later, the property of Cernay pleasing her, and the researches
for Jeanne's friends not proving successful, Madame Desvarennes took
possession of the estate and the child into the bargain.
Michel welcomed the child without enthusiasm. The little stranger was
indifferent to him; he would have preferred adopting a boy. The mistress
was delighted. Her maternal instincts, so long stifled, developed fully.
She made plans for the future. Her energy returned; she spoke loudly and
firmly. But in her appearance there was revealed an inward contentment
never remarked before, which made her sweeter and more benevolent. She
no longer spoke of retiring from business. The discouragement which had
seized her left her as if by magic. The house which had been so dull for
some months became noisy and gay. The child, like a sunbeam, had
scattered the clouds.
It was then that the most unlooked-for phenomenon, which was so
considerably to influence Madame Desvarennes's life, occurred. At the
moment when the mistress seemed provided by chance with the heiress so
much longed for, she learned with surprise that she was about to become a
mother! After sixteen years of married life, this discovery was almost a
discomfiture. What would have been delight formerly was now a cause for
fear. She, almost an old woman!
There was an incredible commotion in the business world when the news
became known. The younger branch of Desvarennes had witnessed Jeanne's
arrival with little satisfaction, and were still more gloomy when they
learned that the chances of their succeeding to great wealth were over.
Still they did not lose all hopes. At thirty-five years of age one
cannot always tell how these little affairs will come off. An accident
was possible. But none occurred; all passed off well.
Madame Desvarennes was as strong physically as she was morally, and
proved victorious by bringing into the world a little girl, who was named
Michelins in honor of her father. The mistress's heart was large enough
to hold two children; she kept the orphan she had adopted, and brought
her up as if she had been her very own. Still there was soon an enormous
difference in her manner of loving Jeanne and Michelins. This mother had
for the long-wished-for child an ardent, mad, passionate love like that
of a tigress for her cubs. She had never loved her husband. All the
tenderness which had accumulated in her heart blossomed, and it was like
This autocrat, who had never allowed contradiction, and before whom all
her dependents bowed either with or against the grain, was now led in her
turn; the bronze of her character became like wax in the little pink
hands of her daughter. The commanding woman bent before the little fair
head. There was nothing good enough for Micheline. Had the mother owned
the world she would have placed it at the little one's feet. One tear
from the child upset her. If on one of the most important subjects
Madame Desvarennes had said "No," and Micheline came and said "Yes," the
hitherto resolute will became subordinate to the caprice of a child.
They knew it in the house and acted upon it. This manoeuvre succeeded
each time, although Madame Desvarennes had seen through it from the
first. It appeared as if the mother felt a secret joy in proving under
all circumstances the unbounded adoration which she felt for her
daughter. She often said:
"Pretty as she is, and rich as I shall make her, what husband will be
worthy of Micheline? But if she believes me when it is time to choose
one, she will prefer a man remarkable for his intelligence, and will give
him her fortune as a stepping-stone to raise him as high as she chooses
him to go."
Inwardly she was thinking of Pierre Delarue, who had just taken honors at
the Polytechnic school, and who seemed to have a brilliant career before
him. This woman, humbly born, was proud of her origin, and sought a
plebeian for her son-in-law, to put into his hand a golden tool powerful
enough to move the world.
Micheline was ten years old when her father died. Alas, Michel was not a
great loss. They wore mourning for him; but they hardly noticed that he
was absent. His whole life had been a void. Madame Desvarennes, it is
sad to say, felt herself more mistress of her child when she was a widow.
She was jealous of Micheline's affections, and each kiss the child gave
her father seemed to the mother to be robbed from her. With this fierce
tenderness, she preferred solitude around this beloved being.
At this time Madame Desvarennes was really in the zenith of womanly
splendor. She seemed taller, her figure had straightened, vigorous and
powerful. Her gray hair gave her face a majestic appearance. Always
surrounded by a court of clients and friends, she seemed like a
sovereign. The fortune of the firm was not to be computed. It was said
Madame Desvarennes did not know how rich she was.
Jeanne and Micheline grew up amid this colossal prosperity. The one,
tall, brown-haired, with blue eyes changing like the sea; the other,
fragile, fair, with dark dreamy eyes. Jeanne, proud, capricious, and
inconstant; Micheline, simple, sweet, and tenacious. The brunette
inherited from her reckless father and her fanciful mother a violent and
passionate nature; the blonde was tractable and good like Michel, but
resolute and firm like Madame Desvarennes. These two opposite natures
were congenial, Micheline sincerely loving Jeanne, and Jeanne feeling the
necessity of living amicably with Micheline, her mother's idol, but
inwardly enduring with difficulty the inequalities which began to exhibit
themselves in the manner with which the intimates of the house treated
the one and the other. She found these flatteries wounding, and thought
Madame Desvarennes's preferences for Micheline unjust.
All these accumulated grievances made Jeanne conceive the wish one
morning of leaving the house where she had been brought up, and where she
now felt humiliated. Pretending to long to go to England to see that
rich relative of her father, who, knowing her to be in a brilliant
society, had taken notice of her, she asked Madame Desvarennes to allow
her to spend a few weeks from home. She wished to try the ground in
England, and see what she might expect in the future from her family.
Madame Desvarennes lent herself to this whim, not guessing the young
girl's real motive; and Jeanne, well attended, went to her aunt's home in
Madame Desvarennes, besides, had attained the summit of her hopes, and an
event had just taken place which preoccupied her. Micheline, deferring
to her mother's wishes, had decided to allow herself to be betrothed to
Pierre Delarue, who had just lost his mother, and whose business improved
daily. The young girl, accustomed to treat Pierre like a brother, had
easily consented to accept him as her future husband.
Jeanne, who had been away for six months, had returned sobered and
disillusioned about her family. She had found them kind and affable,
had received many compliments on her beauty, which was really remarkable,
but had not met with any encouragement in her desires for independence.
She came home resolved not to leave until she married. She arrived in
the Rue Saint-Dominique at the moment when Pierre Delarue, thirsting with
ambition, was leaving his betrothed, his relatives, and gay Paris to
undertake engineering work on the coasts of Algeria and Tunis that would
raise him above his rivals. In leaving, the young man did not for a
moment think that Jeanne was returning from England at the same hour with
trouble for him in the person of a very handsome cavalier, Prince Serge
Panine, who had been introduced to her at a ball during the London
season. Mademoiselle de Cernay, availing herself of English liberty, was
returning escorted only by a maid in company with the Prince. The
journey had been delightful. The tete-a-tete travelling had pleased the
young people, and on leaving the train they had promised to see each
other again. Official balls facilitated their meeting; Serge was
introduced to Madame Desvarennes as being an English friend, and soon
became the most assiduous partner of Jeanne and Micheline. It was thus,
under the most trivial pretext, that the man gained admittance to the
house where he was to play such an important part.
THE GALLEY-SLAVE OF PLEASURE
One morning in the month of May, 1879, a young man, elegantly attired,
alighted from a well-appointed carriage before the door of Madame
Desvarennes's house. The young man passed quickly before the porter in
uniform, decorated with a military medal, stationed near the door. The
visitor found himself in an anteroom which communicated with several
corridors. A messenger was seated in the depth of a large armchair,
reading the newspaper, and not even lending an inattentive ear to the
whispered conversation of a dozen canvassers, who were patiently awaiting
their turn for gaining a hearing. On seeing the young man enter by the
private door, the messenger rose, dropped his newspaper on the armchair,
hastily raised his velvet skullcap, tried to smile, and made two steps
"Good-morning, old Felix," said the young man, in a friendly tone to the
messenger. "Is my aunt within?"
"Yes, Monsieur Savinien, Madame Desvarennes is in her office; but she has
been engaged for more than an hour with the Financial Secretary of the
In uttering these words old Felix put on a mysterious and important air,
which denoted how serious the discussions going on in the adjoining room
seemed to his mind.
"You see," continued he, showing Madame Desvarennes's nephew the anteroom
full of people, "madame has kept all these waiting since this morning,
and perhaps she won't see them."
"I must see her though," murmured the young man.
He reflected a moment, then added:
"Is Monsieur Marechal in?"
"Yes, sir, certainly. If you will allow me I will announce you."
"It is unnecessary."
And, stepping forward, he entered the office adjoining that of Madame
Seated at a large table of black wood, covered with bundles of papers and
notes, a young man was working. He was thirty years of age, but appeared
much older. His prematurely bald forehead, and wrinkled brow, betokened
a life of severe struggles and privations, or a life of excesses and
pleasures. Still those clear and pure eyes were not those of a
libertine, and the straight nose solidly joined to the face was that of a
searcher. Whatever the cause, the man was old before his time.
On hearing the door of his office open, he raised his eyes, put down his
pen, and was making a movement toward his visitor, when the latter
interrupted him quickly with these words:
"Don't stir, Marechal, or I shall be off! I only came in until Aunt
Desvarennes is at liberty; but if I disturb you I will go and take a
turn, smoke a cigar, and come back in three quarters of an hour."
"You do not disturb me, Monsieur Savinien; at least not often enough,
for be it said, without reproaching you, it is more than three months
since we have seen anything of you. There, the post is finished.
I was writing the last addresses."
And taking a heavy bundle of papers off the desk, Marechal showed them to
"Gracious! It seems that business is going on well here."
"Better and better."
"You are making mountains of flour."
"Yes; high as Mont Blanc; and then, we now have a fleet."
"What! a fleet?" cried Savinien, whose face expressed doubt and
surprise at the same time.
"Yes, a steam fleet. Last year Madame Desvarennes was not satisfied with
the state in which her corn came from the East. The corn was damaged
owing to defective stowage; the firm claimed compensation from the
steamship company. The claim was only moderately satisfied, Madame
Desvarennes got vexed, and now we import our own. We have branches at
Smyrna and Odessa."
"It is fabulous! If it goes on, my aunt will have an administration as
important as that of a European state. Oh! you are happy here, you
people; you are busy. I amuse myself! And if you knew how it wearies
me! I am withering, consuming myself, I am longing for business."
And saying these words, young Monsieur Desvarennes allowed a sorrowful
moan to escape him.
"It seems to me," said Marechal, "that it only depends upon yourself to
do as much and more business than any one?"
"You know well enough that it is not so," sighed Savinien; "my aunt is
opposed to it."
"What a mistake!" cried Marechal, quickly. "I have heard Madame
Desvarennes say more than twenty times how she regretted your being
unemployed. Come into the firm, you will have a good berth in the
"In the counting-house!" cried Savinien, bitterly; "there's the sore
point. Now look here; my friend, do you think that an organization like
mine is made to bend to the trivialities of a copying clerk's work? To
follow the humdrum of every-day routine? To blacken paper? To become a
servant?--me! with what I have in my brain?"
And, rising abruptly, Savinien began to walk hurriedly up and down the
room, disdainfully shaking his little head with its low forehead on which
were plastered a few fair curls (made with curling-irons), with the
indignant air of an Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders.
"Oh, I know very well what is at the bottom of the business--my aunt is
jealous of me because I am a man of ideas. She wishes to be the only one
of the family who possesses any. She thinks of binding me down to a
besotting work," continued he, "but I won't have it. I know what I want!
It is independence of thought, bent on the solution of great problems--
that is, a wide field to apply my discoveries. But a fixed rule, common
law, I could not submit to it."
"It is like the examinations," observed Marechal, looking slyly at young
Desvarennes, who was drawing himself up to his full height; "examinations
never suited you."
"Never," said Savinien, energetically. "They wished to get me into the
Polytechnic School; impossible! Then the Central School; no better.
I astonished the examiners by the novelty of my ideas. They refused me."
"Well, you know," retorted Marechal, "if you began by overthrowing their
"That's it!" cried Savinien, triumphantly. "My mind is stronger than I;
I must let my imagination have free run, and no one will ever know what
that particular turn of mind has cost me. Even my family do not think me
serious. Aunt Desvarennes has forbidden any kind of enterprise, under
pretence that I bear her name, and that I might compromise it because I
have twice failed. My aunt paid, it is true. Do you think it is
generous of her to take advantage of my situation, and prohibit my trying
to succeed? Are inventors judged by three or four failures? If my aunt
had allowed me I should have astonished the world."
"She feared, above all," said Marechal, simply, "to see you astonishing
the Tribunal of Commerce."
"Oh! you, too," moaned Savinien, "are in league with my enemies; you
make no account of me."
And young Desvarennes sank as if crushed into an armchair and began to
lament. He was very unhappy at being misunderstood. His aunt allowed
him three thousand francs a month on condition that he would not make use
of his ten fingers. Was it moral? Then he with such exuberant vigor had
to waste it on pleasure and seeing life to the utmost. He passed his
time in theatres, at clubs, restaurants, in boudoirs. He lost his time,
his money, his hair, his illusions. He bemoaned his lot, but continued,
only to have something to do. With grim sarcasm he called himself the
galley-slave of pleasure. And notwithstanding all these consuming
excesses, he asserted that he could not render his imagination barren.
Amid the greatest follies at suppers, during the clinking of glasses; in
the excitement of the dance-inspirations came to him in flashes, he made
And as Marechal ventured a timid "Oh!" tinged with incredulity, Savinien
flew into a passion. Yes; he had invented something astonishing; he saw
fortune within reach, and he thought the bargain made with his aunt very
unjust. Therefore he had come to break it, and to regain his liberty.
Marechal looked at the young man while he was explaining with animation
his ambitious projects. He scrutinized that flat forehead within which
the dandy asserted so many good ideas were hidden. He measured that slim
form bent by wild living, and asked himself how that degenerate being
could struggle against the difficulties of business. A smile played on
his lips. He knew Savinien too well not to be aware that he was a prey
to one of those attacks of melancholy which seized on him when his funds
On these occasions, which occurred frequently, the young man had longings
for business, which Madame Desvarennes stopped by asking: "How much?"
Savinien allowed himself to be with difficulty induced to consent to
renounce the certain profits promised, as he said, by his projected
enterprise. At last he would capitulate, and with his pocket well lined,
nimble and joyful, he returned to his boudoirs, race-courses, fashionable
restaurants, and became more than ever the galley-slave of pleasure.
"And Pierre?" asked young Desvarennes, suddenly and quickly changing the
subject. "Have you any news of him?"
Marechal became serious. A cloud seemed to have come across his brow; he
gravely answered Savinien's question.
Pierre was still in the East. He was travelling toward Tunis, the coast
of which he was exploring. It was a question of the formation of an
island sea by taking the water through the desert. It would be a
colossal undertaking, the results of which would be considerable as
regarded Algeria. The climate would be completely changed, and the value
of the colony would be increased tenfold, because it would become the
most fertile country in the world. Pierre had been occupied in this
undertaking for more than a year with unequalled ardor; he was far from
his home, his betrothed, seeing only the goal to be attained; turning a
deaf ear to all that would distract his attention from the great work, to
the success of which he hoped to contribute gloriously.
"And don't people say," resumed Savinien with an evil smile, "that during
his absence a dashing young fellow is busy luring his betrothed away from
At these words Marechal made a quick movement.
"It is false," he interrupted; "and I do not understand how you, Monsieur
Desvarennes, should be the bearer of such a tale. To admit that
Mademoiselle Micheline could break her word or her engagements is to
slander her, and if any one other than you--"
"There, there, my dear friend," said Savinien, laughing, "don't get into
a rage. What I say to you I would not repeat to the first comer;
besides, I am only the echo of a rumor that has been going the round
during the last three weeks. They even give the name of him who has been
chosen for the honor and pleasure of such a brilliant conquest. I mean
Prince Serge Panine."
"As you have mentioned Prince Panine," replied Marechal, "allow me to
tell you that he has not put his foot inside Madame Desvarennes's door
for three weeks. This is not the way of a man about to marry the
daughter of the house."
"My dear fellow, I only repeat what I have heard. As for me, I don't
know any more. I have kept out of the way for more than three months.
And besides, it matters little to me whether Micheline be a commoner or a
princess, the wife of Delarue or of Panine. I shall be none the richer
or the poorer, shall I? Therefore I need not care. The dear child will
certainly have millions enough to marry easily. And her adopted sister,
the stately Mademoiselle Jeanne, what has become of her?"
"Ah! as to Mademoiselle de Cernay, that is another affair," cried
And as if wishing to divert the conversation in an opposite direction to
which Savinien had led it a moment before, he spoke readily of Madame
Desvarennes's adopted daughter. She had made a lively impression on one
of the intimate friends of the house--the banker Cayrol, who had offered
his name and his fortune to the fair Jeanne.
This was a cause of deep amazement to Savinien. What! Cayrol! The
shrewd close--fisted Auvergnat! A girl without a fortune! Cayrol Silex
as he was called in the commercial world on account of his hardness.
This living money-bag had a heart then! It was necessary to believe it
since both money-bag and heart had been placed at Mademoiselle de
Cernay's feet. This strange girl was certainly destined to millions.
She had just missed being Madame Desvarennes's heiress, and now Cayrol
had taken it into his head to marry her.
But that was not all. And when Marechal told Savinien that the fair
Jeanne flatly refused to become the wife of Cayrol, there was an outburst
of joyful exclamations. She refused! By Jove, she was mad! An
unlooked-for marriage--for she had not a penny, and had most extravagant
notions. She had been brought up as if she were to live always in velvet
and silks--to loll in carriages and think only of her pleasure. What
reason did she give for refusing him! None. Haughtily and disdainfully
she had declared that she did not love "that man," and that she would not
When Savinien heard these details his rapture increased. One thing
especially charmed him: Jeanne's saying "that man," when speaking of
Cayrol. A little girl who was called "De Cernay" just as he might call
himself "Des Batignolles" if he pleased: the natural and unacknowledged
daughter of a Count and of a shady public singer! And she refused
Cayrol, calling him "that man." It was really funny. And what did
worthy Cayrol say about it?
When Marechal declared that the banker had not been damped by this
discouraging reception, Savinien said it was human nature. The fair
Jeanne scorned Cayrol and Cayrol adored her. He had often seen those
things happen. He knew the baggages so well! Nobody knew more of women
than he did. He had known some more difficult to manage than proud
An old leaven of hatred had festered in Savinien's heart against Jeanne
since the time when the younger branch of the Desvarennes had reason to
fear that the superb heritage was going to the adopted daughter.
Savinien had lost the fear, but had kept up the animosity. And
everything that could happen to Jeanne of a vexing or painful nature
would be witnessed by him with pleasure.
He was about to encourage Marechal to continue his revelations, and had
risen and was leaning on the desk. With his face excited and eager, he
was preparing his question, when, through the door which led to Madame
Desvarennes's office, a confused murmur of voices was heard. At the same
time the door was half opened, held by a woman's hand, square, with short
fingers, a firm-willed and energetic hand. At the same time, the last
words exchanged between Madame Desvarennes and the Financial Secretary of
the War Office were distinctly audible. Madame Desvarennes was speaking,
and her voice sounded clear and plain; a little raised and vibrating.
There seemed a shade of anger in its tone.
"My dear sir, you will tell the Minister that does not suit me. It is
not the custom of the house. For thirty-five years I have conducted
business thus, and I have always found it answer. I wish you good-
The door of the office facing that which Madame Desvarennes held closed,
and a light step glided along the corridor. It was the Financial
Secretary's. The mistress appeared.
Marechal rose hastily. As to Savinien, all his resolution seemed to have
vanished at the sound of his aunt's voice, for he had rapidly gained a
corner of the room, and seated himself on a leather-covered sofa, hidden
behind an armchair, where he remained perfectly quiet.
"Do you understand that, Marechal?" said dame Desvarennes; "they want to
place a resident agent at the mill on pretext of checking things. They
say that all military contractors are obliged to submit to it. My word,
do they take us for thieves, the rascals? It is the first time that
people have seemed to doubt me. And it has enraged me. I have been
arguing for a whole hour with the man they sent me. I said to him, 'My
dear sir, you may either take it or leave it. Let us start from this
point: I can do without you and you cannot do without me. If you don't
buy my flour, somebody else will. I am not at all troubled about it.
But as to having any one here who would be as much master as myself, or
perhaps more, never! I am too old to change my customs.' Thereupon the
Financial Secretary left. There! And, besides, they change their
Ministry every fortnight. One would never know with whom one had to
deal. Thank you, no."
While talking thus with Marechal, Madame Desvarennes was walking about
the office. She was still the same woman with the broad prominent
forehead. Her hair, which she wore in smooth plaits, had become gray,
but the sparkle of her dark eyes only seemed the brighter from this. She
had preserved her splendid teeth, and her smile had remained young and
charming. She spoke with animation, as usual, and with the gestures of a
man. She placed herself before her secretary, seeming to appeal to him
as a witness of her being in the right. During the hour with the
official personage she had been obliged to contain herself. She
unburdened herself to Marechal, saying just what she thought.
But all at once she perceived Savinien, who was waiting to show himself
now that she had finished. The mistress turned sharply to the young man,
and frowned slightly:
"Hallo! you are there, eh? How is it that you could leave your fair
"But, aunt, I came to pay you my respects."
"No nonsense now; I've no time," interrupted the mistress. "What do you
Savinien, disconcerted by this rude reception, blinked his eyes, as if
seeking some form to give his request; then, making up his mind, he said:
"I came to see you on business."
"You on business?" replied Madame Desvarennes, with a shade of
astonishment and irony.
"Yes, aunt, on business," declared Savinien, looking down as if he
expected a rebuff.
"Oh, oh, oh!" said Madame Desvarennes, "you know our agreement; I give
you an allowance--"
"I renounce my income," interrupted Savinien, quickly, "I wish to take
back my independence. The transfer I made has already cost me too dear.
It's a fool's bargain. The enterprise which I am going to launch is
superb, and must realize immense profits. I shall certainly not abandon
While speaking, Savinien had become animated and had regained his self-
possession. He believed in his scheme, and was ready to pledge his
future. He argued that his aunt could not blame him for giving proof of
his energy and daring, and he discoursed in bombastic style.
"That's enough!" cried Madame Desvarennes, interrupting her nephew's
oration. "I am very fond of mills, but not word-mills. You are talking
too much about it to be sincere. So many words can only serve to
disguise the nullity of your projects. You want to embark in
speculation? With what money?"
"I contribute the scheme and some capitalists will advance the money to
start with; we shall then issue shares!"
"Never in this life! I oppose it. You! With a responsibility. You!
Directing an undertaking. You would only commit absurdities. In fact,
you want to sell an idea, eh? Well, I will buy it."
"It is not only the money I want," said Savinien, with an indignant air,
"it is confidence in my ideas, it is enthusiasm on the part of my
shareholders, it is success. You don't believe in my ideas, aunt!"
"What does it matter to you, if I buy them from you? It seems to me a
pretty good proof of confidence. Is that settled?"
"Ah, aunt, you are implacable!" groaned Savinien. "When you have laid
your hand upon any one, it is all over. Adieu, independence; one must
obey you. Nevertheless, it was a vast and beautiful conception."
"Very well. Marechal, see that my nephew has ten thousand francs. And
you, Savinien, remember that I see no more of you."
"Until the money is spent!" murmured Marechal, in the ear of Madame
And taking him by the arm he was leading him toward the safe when the
mistress turned to Savinien and said:
"By the way, what is your invention?"
"Aunt, it is a threshing machine," answered the young man, gravely.
"Rather a machine for coining money," said the incorrigible Marechal, in
"Well; bring me your plans," resumed Madame Desvarennes, after having
reflected a moment. "Perchance you may have hit upon something."
The mistress had been generous, and now the woman of business reasserted
herself and she thought of reaping the benefit.
Savinien seemed very confused at this demand, and as his aunt gave him an
interrogative look, he confessed:
"There are no drawings made as yet."
"No drawings as yet?" cried the mistress. "Where then is your
"It is here," replied Savinien, and with an inspired gesture he struck
his narrow forehead.
Madame Desvarennes and Marechal could not resist breaking out into a
"And you were already talking of issuing shares?" said the mistress.
"Do you think people would have paid their money with your brain as sole
guarantee? You! Get along; I am the only one to make bargains like
that, and you are the only one with whom I make them. Go, Marechal, give
him his money; I won't gainsay it. But you are a trickster, as usual!"
By a wave of her hand she dismissed Savinien, who, abashed, went out with
Marechal. Left alone, she seated herself at her secretary's desk, and
taking the pile of letters she signed them. The pen flew in her fingers,
and on the paper was displayed her name, written in large letters in a
She had been occupied thus for about a quarter of an hour when Marechal
reappeared. Behind him came a stout thickset man of heavy build, and
gorgeously dressed. His face, surrounded by a bristly dark brown beard,
and his eyes overhung by bushy eyebrows, gave him, at the first glance, a
harsh appearance. But his mouth promptly banished this impression. His
thick and sensual lips betrayed voluptuous tastes. A disciple of Lavater
or Gall would have found the bump of amativeness largely developed.
Marechal stepped aside to allow him to pass.
"Good-morning, mistress," said he familiarly, approaching Madame
The mistress raised her head quickly, and said:
"Ah! it's you, Cayrol! That's capital! I was just going to send for
Jean Cayrol, a native of Cantal, had been brought up amid the wild
mountains of Auvergne. His father was a small farmer in the neighborhood
of Saint-Flour, scraping a miserable pittance from the ground for the
maintenance of his family. From the age of eight years Cayrol had been a
shepherd-boy. Alone in the quiet and remote country, the child had given
way to ambitious dreams. He was very intelligent, and felt that he was
born to another sphere than that of farming.
Thus, at the first opportunity which had occurred to take him into a
town, he was found ready. He went as servant to a banker at Brioude.
There, in the service of this comparatively luxurious house, he got
smoothed down a little, and lost some of his clumsy loutishness. Strong
as an ox, he did the work of two men, and at night, when in his garret,
fell asleep learning to read. He was seized by the ambition to get on.
No pains were to be spared to gain his goal.
His master having been elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies,
Cayrol accompanied him to Paris. Life in the capital finished the
turmoil of Cayrol's brain. Seeing the prodigious activity of the great
city on whose pavements fortunes sprang up in a day like mushrooms, the
Auvergnat felt his moral strength equal to the occasion, and leaving his
master, he became clerk to a merchant in the Rue du Sentier.
There, for four years, he studied commerce, and gained much experience.
He soon learned that it was only in financial transactions that large
fortunes were to be rapidly made. He left the Rue du Sentier, and found
a place at a stock-broker's. His keen scent for speculation served him
admirably. After the lapse of a few years he had charge of the business.
His position was getting better; he was making fifteen thousand francs
per annum, but that was nothing compared to his dreams. He was then
twenty-eight years of age. He felt ready to do anything to succeed,
except something unhandsome, for this lover of money would have died
rather than enrich himself by dishonest means.
It was at this time that his lucky star threw him in Madame Desvarennes's
way. The mistress, understanding men, guessed Cayrol's worth quickly.
She was seeking a banker who would devote himself to her interests. She
watched the young man narrowly for some time; then, sure she was not
mistaken as to his capacity, she bluntly proposed to give him money to
start a business. Cayrol, who had already saved eighty thousand francs,
received twelve hundred thousand from Madame Desvarennes, and settled in
the Rue Taitbout, two steps from the house of Rothschild.
Madame Desvarennes had made a lucky hit in choosing Cayrol as her
confidential agent. This short, thickset Auvergnat was a master of
finance, and in a few years had raised the house to an unexpected degree
of prosperity. Madame Desvarennes had drawn considerable sums as
interest on the money lent, and the banker's fortune was already
estimated at several millions. Was it the happy influence of Madame
Desvarennes that changed everything she touched into gold, or were
Cayrol's capacities really extraordinary? The results were there and
that was sufficient. They did not trouble themselves over and above
The banker had naturally become one of the intimates of Madame
Desvarennes's house. For a long time he saw Jeanne without particularly
noticing her. This young girl had not struck his fancy. It was one
night at a ball, on seeing her dancing with Prince Panine, that he
perceived that she was marvellously engaging. His eyes were attracted by
an invincible power and followed her graceful figure whirling through the
waltz. He secretly envied the brilliant cavalier who was holding this
adorable creature in his arms, who was bending over her bare shoulders,
and whose breath lightly touched her hair. He longed madly for Jeanne,
and from that moment thought only of her.
The Prince was then very friendly with Mademoiselle de Cernay; he
overwhelmed her with kind attentions. Cayrol watched him to see if he
spoke to her of love, but Panine was a past master in these drawing-room
skirmishes, and the banker got nothing for his pains. That Cayrol was
tenacious has been proved. He became intimate with the Prince. He
tendered him such little services as create intimacy, and when he was
sure of not being repulsed with haughtiness, he questioned Serge. Did he
love Mademoiselle de Cernay? This question, asked in a trembling voice
and with a constrained smile, found the Prince quite calm. He answered
lightly that Mademoiselle de Cernay was a very agreeable partner, but
that he had never dreamed of offering her his homage. He had other
projects in his head. Cayrol pressed the Prince's hand violently, made a
thousand protestations of devotedness, and finally obtained his complete
Serge loved Mademoiselle Desvarennes, and it was to become intimate with
her that he had so eagerly sought her friend's company. Cayrol, in
learning the Prince's secret, resumed his usual reserved manner. He knew
that Micheline was engaged to Pierre Delarue, but still, women were so
whimsical! Who could tell? Perhaps Mademoiselle Desvarennes had looked
favorably upon the handsome Serge.
He was really admirable to view, this Panine, with his blue eyes, pure as
a maiden's, and his long fair mustache falling on each side of his rosy
mouth. He had a truly royal bearing, and was descended from an ancient
aristocratic race; he had a charming hand and an arched foot, enough to
make a woman envious. Soft and insinuating with his tender voice and
sweet Sclavonic accent, he was no ordinary man, but one usually creating
a great impression wherever he went.
His story was well known in Paris. He was born in the province of Posen,
so violently seized on by Prussia, that octopus of Europe. Serge's
father had been killed during the insurrection of 1848, and he, when a
year old, was brought by his uncle, Thaddeus Panine, to France, and was
educated at the College Rollin, where he had not acquired over much
In 1866, at the moment when war broke out between Prussia and Austria,
Serge was eighteen years old. By his uncle's orders he had left Paris,
and had entered himself for the campaign in an Austrian cavalry regiment.
All who bore the name of Panine, and had strength to hold a sword or
carry a gun, had risen to fight the oppressor of Poland. Serge, during
this short and bloody struggle, showed prodigies of valor. On the night
of Sadowa, out of seven bearing the name of Panine, who had served
against Prussia, five were dead, one was wounded; Serge alone was
untouched, though red with the blood of his uncle Thaddeus, who was
killed by the bursting of a shell. All these Panines, living or dead,
had gained honors. When they were spoken of before Austrians or Poles,
they were called heroes.
Such a man was a dangerous companion for a young, simple, and artless
girl like Micheline. His adventures were bound to please her
imagination, and his beauty sure to charm her eyes. Cayrol was a prudent
man; he watched, and it was not long before he perceived that Micheline
treated the Prince with marked favor. The quiet young girl became
animated when Serge was there. Was there love in this transformation?
Cayrol did not hesitate. He guessed at once that the future would be
Panine's, and that the maintenance of his own influence in the house of
Desvarennes depended on the attitude which he was about to take. He
passed over to the side of the newcomer with arms and baggage, and placed
himself entirely at his disposal.
It was he who three weeks before, in the name of Panine, had made
overtures to Madame Desvarennes. The errand had been difficult, and the
banker had turned his tongue several times in his mouth before speaking.
Still, Cayrol could overcome all difficulties. He was able to explain the
object of his mission without Madame flying into a passion. But, the
explanation over, there was a terrible scene. He witnessed one of the
most awful bursts of rage that it was possible to expect from a violent
woman. The mistress treated the friend of the family as one would not
have dared to treat a petty commercial traveller who came to a private
house to offer his wares. She showed him the door, and desired him not
to darken the threshold again.
But if Cayrol was resolute he was equally patient. He listened without
saying a word to the reproaches of Madame Desvarennes, who was
exasperated that a candidate should be set up in opposition to the son-
in-law of her choosing. He did not go, and when Madame Desvarennes was a
little calmed by the letting out of her indignation, he argued with her.
The mistress was too hasty about the business; it was no use deciding
without reflecting. Certainly, nobody esteemed Pierre Delarue more than
he did; but it was necessary to know whether Micheline loved him. A
childish affection was not love, and Prince Panine thought he might hope
that Mademoiselle Desvarennes----
The mistress did not allow Cayrol to finish his sentence; she rang the
bell and asked for her daughter. This time, Cayrol prudently took the
opportunity of disappearing. He had opened fire; it was for Micheline to
decide the result of the battle. The banker awaited the issue of the
interview between mother and daughter in the next room. Through the door
he heard the irritated tones of Madame Desvarennes, to which Micheline
answered softly and slowly. The mother threatened and stormed. Coldly
and quietly the daughter received the attack. The tussle lasted about an
hour, when the door reopened and Madame Desvarennes appeared, pale and
still trembling, but calmed. Micheline, wiping her beautiful eyes, still
wet with tears, regained her apartment.
"Well," said Cayrol timidly, seeing the mistress standing silent and
absorbed before him; "I see with pleasure that you are less agitated.
Did Mademoiselle Micheline give you good reasons?"
"Good reasons!" cried Madame Desvarennes with a violent gesture, last
flash of the late storm. "She cried, that's all. And you know when she
cries I no longer know what I do or say! She breaks my heart with her
tears. And she knows it. Ah! it is a great misfortune to love children
This energetic woman was conquered, and yet understood that she was wrong
to allow herself to be conquered. She fell into a deep reverie, and
forgot that Cayrol was present. She thought of the future which she had
planned for Micheline, and which the latter carelessly destroyed in an
Pierre, now an orphan, would have been a real son to the mistress.
He would have lived in her house, and have surrounded her old age with
care and affection. And then, he was so full of ability that he could
not help attaining a brilliant position. She would have helped him,
and would have rejoiced in his success. And all this scaffolding was
overturned because this Panine had crossed Micheline's path. A foreign
adventurer, prince perhaps, but who could tell? Lies are easily told
when the proofs of the lie have to be sought beyond the frontiers.
And it was her daughter who was going to fall in love with an insipid fop
who only coveted her millions. That she should see such a man enter her
family, steal Micheline's love from her, and rummage her strongbox! In a
moment she vowed mortal hatred against Panine, and resolved to do all she
could to prevent the longed-for marriage with her daughter.
She was disturbed in her meditation by Cayrol's voice. He wished to take
an answer to the Prince. What must he say to him?
"You will let him know," said Madame Desvarennes, "that he must refrain
from seeking opportunities of meeting my daughter. If he be a gentleman,
he will understand that his presence, even in Paris, is disagreeable to
me. I ask him to go away for three weeks. After that time he may come
back, and I agree to give him an answer."
"You promise me that you will not be vexed with me for having undertaken
"I promise on one condition. It is, that not a word which has passed
here this morning shall be repeated to any one. Nobody must suspect the
proposal that you have just made to me."
Cayrol swore to hold his tongue, and he kept his word. Prince Panine
left that same night for England.
Madame Desvarennes was a woman of quick resolution. She took a sheet of
paper, a pen, and in her large handwriting wrote the following lines
addressed to Pierre:
"If you do not wish to find Micheline married on your return, come back
without a moment's delay."
She sent this ominous letter to the young man, who was then in Tripoli.
That done, she returned to her business as if nothing had happened. Her
placid face did not once betray the anguish of her heart during those
The term fixed by Madame Desvarennes with the Prince had expired that
morning. And the severity with which the mistress had received the
Minister of War's Financial Secretary was a symptom of the agitation in
which the necessity of coming to a decision placed Micheline's mother.
Every morning for the last week she had expected Pierre to arrive. What
with having to give an answer to the Prince as she had promised, and the
longing to see him whom she loved as a son, she felt sick at heart and
utterly cast down. She thought of asking the Prince for a respite. It
was for that reason she was glad to see Cayrol.
The latter, therefore, had arrived opportunely. He looked as if he
brought startling news. By a glance he drew Madame Desvarennes's
attention to Marechal and seemed to say:
"I must be alone with you; send him away."
The mistress understood, and with a decided gesture said:
"You can speak before Marechal; he knows all my affairs as well as I do
"Even the matter that brings me here?" replied Cayrol, with surprise.
"Even that. It was necessary for me to have some one to whom I could
speak, or else my heart would have burst! Come, do your errand. The
"A lot it has to do with the Prince," exclaimed Cayrol, in a huff.
"Pierre has arrived!"
Madame Desvarennes rose abruptly. A rush of blood rose to her face, her
eyes brightened, and her lips opened with a smile.
"At last!" she cried. "But where is he? How did you hear of his
"Ah! faith, it was just by chance. I was shooting yesterday at
Fontainebleau, and I returned this morning by the express. On arriving
at Paris, I alighted on the platform, and there I found myself face to
face with a tall young man with a long beard, who, seeing me pass, called
out, 'Ah, Cayrol!' It was Pierre. I only recognized him by his voice.
He is much changed; with his beard, and his complexion bronzed like an
"What did he say to you?"
"Nothing. He pressed my hand. He looked at me for a moment with
glistening eyes. There was something on his lips which he longed to ask,
yet did not; but I guessed it. I was afraid of giving way to tenderness,
that might have ended in my saying something foolish, so I left him."
"How long ago is that?"
"About an hour ago. I only just ran home before coming on here. There I
found Panine waiting for me. He insisted upon accompanying me. I hope
you won't blame him?"
Madame Desvarennes frowned.
"I will not see him just now," she said, looking at Cayrol with a
resolute air. "Where did you leave him?"
"In the garden, where I found the young ladies."
As if to verify the banker's words, a merry peal of laughter was heard
through the half-open window. It was Micheline, who, with returning
gayety, was making up for the three weeks' sadness she had experienced
during Panine's absence.
Madame Desvarennes went to the window, and looked into the garden.
Seated on the lawn, in large bamboo chairs, the young girls were
listening to a story the Prince was telling. The morning was bright and
mild; the sun shining through Micheline's silk sunshade lit up her fair
head. Before her, Serge, bending his tall figure, was speaking with
animation. Micheline's eyes were softly fixed on him. Reclining in her
armchair, she allowed herself to be carried away with his conversation,
and thoroughly enjoyed his society, of which she had been deprived for
the last three weeks. Beside her, Jeanne, silently watching the Prince,
was mechanically nibbling, with her white teeth, a bunch of carnations
which she held in her hands. A painful thought contracted Mademoiselle
de Cernay's brow, and her pale lips on the red flowers seemed to be
The mistress slowly turned away from this scene. A shadow had crossed
her brow, which had, for a moment, become serene again at the
announcement of Pierre's arrival. She remained silent for a little
while, as if considering; then coming to a resolution, and turning to
Cayrol, she said:
"Where is Pierre staying?"
"At the Hotel du Louvre," replied the banker.
"Well, I'm going there."
Madame Desvarennes rang the bell violently.
"My bonnet, my cloak, and the carriage," she said, and with a friendly
nod to the two men, she went out quickly.
Micheline was still laughing in the garden. Marechal and Cayrol looked
at each other. Cayrol was the first to speak.
"The mistress told you all about the matter then? How is it you never
spoke to me about it?"
"Should I have been worthy of Madame Desvarennes's confidence had I
spoken of what she wished to keep secret?"
"Especially to you. The attitude which you have taken forbade my
speaking. You favor Prince Panine?"
"And you; you are on Pierre Delarue's side?"
"I take no side. I am only a subordinate, you know; I do not count."
"Do not attempt to deceive me. Your influence over the mistress is
great. The confidence she has in you is a conclusive proof. Important
events are about to take place here. Pierre has certainly returned to
claim his right as betrothed, and Mademoiselle Micheline loves Prince
Serge. Out of this a serious conflict will take place in the house.
There will be a battle. And as the parties in question are about equal
in strength, I am seeking adherents for my candidate. I own, in all
humility, I am on love's side. The Prince is beloved by Mademoiselle
Desvarennes, and I serve him. Micheline will be grateful, and will do me
a turn with Mademoiselle de Cernay. As to you, let me give you a little
advice. If Madame Desvarennes consults you, speak well of Panine. When
the Prince is master here, your position will be all the better for it."
Marechal had listened to Cayrol without anything betraying the impression
his words created. He looked at the banker in a peculiar manner, which
caused him to feel uncomfortable, and made him lower his eyes.
"Perhaps you do not know, Monsieur Cayrol," said the secretary, after a
moment's pause, "how I entered this firm. It is as well in that case to
inform you. Four years ago, I was most wretched. After having sought
fortune ten times without success, I felt myself giving way morally and
physically. There are some beings gifted with energy, who can surmount
all the difficulties of life. You are one of those. As for me, the
struggle exhausted my strength, and I came to grief. It would take too
long to enumerate all the ways of earning my living I tried. Few even
fed me; and I was thinking of putting an end to my miserable existence
when I met Pierre. We had been at college together. I went toward him;
he was on the quay. I dared to stop him. At first he did not recognize
me, I was so haggard, so wretched-looking! But when I spoke, he cried,
'Marechal!' and, without blushing at my tatters, put his arms round my
neck. We were opposite the Belle Jardiniere, the clothiers; he wanted to
rig me out. I remember as if it were but yesterday I said, 'No, nothing,
only find me work!'--'Work, my poor fellow,' he answered, 'but just look
at yourself; who would have confidence to give you any? You look like a
tramp, and when you accosted me a little while ago, I asked myself if you
were not about to steal my watch!' And he laughed gayly, happy at having
found me again, and thinking that he might be of use to me. Seeing that
I would not go into the shop, he took off his overcoat, and put it on my
back to cover my tattered clothes, and there and then he took me to
Madame Desvarennes. Two days later I entered the office. You see the
position I hold, and I owe it to Pierre. He has been more than a friend
to me--a brother. Come! after that, tell me what you would think of me
if I did what you have just asked me?"
Cayrol was confused; he twisted his bristly beard with his fingers.
"Faith, I do not say that your scruples are not right; but, between
ourselves, every step that is taken against the Prince will count for
naught. He will marry Mademoiselle Desvarennes."
"It is possible. In that case, I shall be here to console Pierre and
sympathize with him."
"And in the mean time you are going to do all you can in his favor?"
"I have already had the honor of telling you that I cannot do anything."
"Well, well. One knows what talking means, and you will not change my
idea of your importance. You take the weaker side then; that's superb!"
"It is but strictly honest," said Marechal. "It is true that that
quality has become very rare!"
Cayrol wheeled round on his heels. He took a few steps toward the door,
then, returning to Marechal, held out his hand:
"Without a grudge, eh?"
The secretary allowed his hand to be shaken without answering, and the
banker went out, saying to himself:
"He is without a sou and has prejudices! There's a lad without a
On reaching Paris, Pierre Delarue experienced a strange feeling. In his
feverish haste he longed for the swiftness of electricity to bring him
near Micheline. As soon as he arrived in Paris, he regretted having
travelled so fast. He longed to meet his betrothed, yet feared to know
He had a sort of presentiment that his reception would destroy his hopes.
And the more he tried to banish these thoughts, the more forcibly they
returned. The thought that Micheline had forgotten her promise made the
blood rush to his face.
Madame Desvarennes's short letter suggested it. That his betrothed was
lost to him he understood, but he would not admit it. How was it
possible that Micheline should forget him? All his childhood passed
before his mind. He remembered the sweet and artless evidences of
affection which the young girl had given him. And yet she no longer
loved him! It was her own mother who said so. After that could he still
A prey to this deep trouble, Pierre entered Paris. On finding himself
face to face with Cayrol, the young man's first idea was, as Cayrol had
guessed, to cry out, "What's going on? Is all lost to me?" A sort of
anxious modesty kept back the words on his lips. He would not admit that
he doubted. And, then, Cayrol would only have needed to answer that all
was over, and that he could put on mourning for his love. He turned
around, and went out.
The tumult of Paris surprised and stunned him. After spending a year in
the peaceful solitudes of Africa, to find himself amid the cries of
street-sellers, the rolling of carriages, and the incessant movement of
the great city, was too great a contrast to him. Pierre was overcome by
languor; his head seemed too heavy for his body to carry; he mechanically
entered a cab which conveyed him to the Hotel du Louvre. Through the
window, against the glass of which he tried to cool his heated forehead,
he saw pass in procession before his eyes, the Column of July, the church
of St. Paul, the Hotel de Ville in ruins, and the colonnade of the
An absurd idea took possession of him. He remembered that during the
Commune he was nearly killed in the Rue Saint-Antoine by the explosion of
a shell, thrown by the insurgents from the heights of Pere-Lachaise.
He thought that had he died then, Micheline would have wept for him.
Then, as in a nightmare, it seemed to him that this hypothesis was
realized. He saw the church hung with black, he heard the funeral
chants. A catafalque contained his coffin, and slowly his betrothed
came, with a trembling hand, to throw holy water on the cloth which
covered the bier. And a voice said within him:
"You are dead, since Micheline is about to marry another."
He made an effort to banish this importunate idea. He could not succeed.
Thoughts flew through his brain with fearful rapidity. He thought he was
beginning to be seized with brain fever. And this dismal ceremony kept
coming before him with the same chants, the same words repeated, and the
same faces appearing. The houses seemed to fly before his vacant eyes.
To stop this nightmare he tried to count the gas-lamps: one, two, three,
four, five--but the same thought interrupted his calculation:
"You are dead, since your betrothed is about to marry another."
He was afraid he was going mad. A sharp pain shot across his forehead
just above the right eyebrow. In the old days he had felt the same pain
when he had overworked himself in preparing for his examinations at the
Polytechnic School. With a bitter smile he asked himself if one of the
aching vessels in his brain was about to burst?
The sudden stoppage of the cab freed him from this torture. The hotel
porter opened the door. Pierre stepped out mechanically. Without
speaking a word he followed a waiter, who showed him to a room on the
second floor. Left alone, he sat down. This room, with its commonplace
furniture, chilled him. He saw in it a type of his future life: lonely
and desolate. Formerly, when he used to come to Paris, he stayed with
Madame Desvarennes, where he had the comforts of home, and every one
looked on him affectionately.
Here, at the hotel, orders were obeyed with politeness at so much a day.
Would it always be thus in future?
This painful impression dissipated his weakness as by enchantment. He so
bitterly regretted the sweets of the past, that he resolved to struggle
to secure them for the future. He dressed himself quickly, and removed
all the traces of his journey; then, his mind made up, he jumped into a
cab, and drove to Madame Desvarennes's. All indecision had left him.
His fears now seemed contemptible. He must defend himself. It was a
question of his happiness.
At the Place de la Concorde a carriage passed his cab. He recognized the
livery of Madame Desvarennes's coachman and leant forward. The mistress
did not see him. He was about to stop the cab and tell his driver to
follow her carriage when a sudden thought decided him to go on. It was
Micheline he wanted to see. His future destiny depended on her. Madame
Desvarennes had made him clearly understand that by calling for his help
in her fatal letter. He went on his way, and in a few minutes arrived at
the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique.
Micheline and Jeanne were still in the garden, seated in the same place
on the lawn. Cayrol had joined Serge. Both, profiting by the lovely
morning, were enjoying the society of their beloved ones. A quick step
on the gravel walk attracted their attention. In the sunlight a young
man, whom neither Jeanne nor Micheline recognized, was advancing. When
about two yards distant from the group he slowly raised his hat.
Seeing the constrained and astonished manner of the young girls, a sad
smile played on his lips, then he said, softly:
"Am I then so changed that I must tell you my name?"
At these words Micheline jumped up, she became as white as her collar,
and trembling, with sobs rising to her lips, stood silent and petrified
before Pierre. She could not speak, but her eyes were eagerly fixed on
the young man. It was he, the companion of her youth, so changed that
she had not recognized him; worn by hard work, perhaps by anxieties,
bronzed--and with his face hidden by a black beard which gave him a manly
and energetic appearance. It was certainly he, with a thin red ribbon at
his button-hole, which he had not when he went away, and which showed the
importance of the works he had executed and of great perils he had faced.
Pierre, trembling and motionless, was silent; the sound of his voice
choked with emotion had frightened him. He had expected a cold
reception, but this scared look, which resembled terror, was beyond all
he had pictured. Serge wondered and watched.
Jeanne broke the icy silence. She went up to Pierre, and presented her
"Well," she said, "don't you kiss your friends?"
She smiled affectionately on him. Two grateful tears sparkled in the
young man's eyes, and fell on Mademoiselle de Cernay's hair. Micheline,
led away by the example and without quite knowing what she was doing,
found herself in Pierre's arms. The situation was becoming singularly
perplexing to Serge. Cayrol, who had not lost his presence of mind,
understood it, and turning toward the Prince, said:
"Monsieur Pierre Delarue: an old friend and companion of Mademoiselle
Desvarennes's; almost a brother to her," thus explaining in one word all
that could appear unusual in such a scene of tenderness.
Then, addressing Pierre, he simply added--"Prince Panine."
The two men looked at each other. Serge, with haughty curiosity; Pierre,
with inexpressible rage. In a moment, he guessed that the tall, handsome
man beside his betrothed was his rival. If looks could kill, the Prince
would have fallen down dead. Panine did not deign to notice the hatred
which glistened in the eyes of the newcomer. He turned toward Micheline
with exquisite grace and said:
"Your mother receives her friends this evening, I think, Mademoiselle; I
shall have the honor of paying my respects to her."
And taking leave of Jeanne with a smile, and of Pierre with a courteous
bow, he left, accompanied by Cayrol.
Serge's departure was a relief to Micheline. Between these two men to
whom she belonged, to the one by a promise, to the other by an avowal,
she felt ashamed. Left alone with Pierre she recovered her self-
possession, and felt full of pity for the poor fellow threatened with
such cruel deception. She went tenderly to him, with her loving eyes of
old, and pressed his hand:
"I am very glad to see you again, my dear Pierre; and my mother will be
delighted. We were very anxious about you. You have not written to us
for some months."
Pierre tried to joke: "The post does not leave very often in the desert.
I wrote whenever I had an opportunity."
"Is it so very pleasant in Africa that you could not tear yourself away a
"I had to take another journey on the coast of Tripoli to finish my
labors. I was interested in my work, and anxious not to lose the result
of so much effort, and I think I have succeeded--at least in--the opinion
of my employers," said the young man, with a ghastly smile.
"My dear Pierre, you come in time from the land of the sphinx,"
interrupted Jeanne gravely, and glancing intently at Micheline.
"There is here, I assure you, a difficult enigma to solve."
"What is it?"
"That which is written in this heart," she replied, lightly touching her
"From childhood I have always read it as easily as a book," said Pierre,
with tremulous voice, turning toward the amazed Micheline.
Mademoiselle de Cernay tossed her head.
"Who knows? Perhaps her disposition has changed during your absence;"
and nodding pleasantly, she went toward the house.
Pierre followed her for a moment with his eyes, then, turning toward his
"Micheline, shall I tell you your secret? You no longer love me."
The young girl started. The attack was direct. She must at once give an
explanation. She had often thought of what she would say when Pierre
came back to her. The day had arrived unexpectedly. And the answers she
had prepared had fled. The truth appeared harsh and cold. She
understood that the change in her was treachery, of which Pierre was the
innocent victim; and feeling herself to blame, she waited tremblingly the
explosion of this loyal heart so cruelly wounded. She stammered, in
"Pierre, my friend, my brother."
"Your brother!" cried the young man, bitterly. "Was that the name you
were to give me on my return?"
At these words, which so completely summed up the situation, Micheline
remained silent. Still she felt that at all hazards she must defend
herself. Her mother might come in at any moment. Between Madame
Desvarennes and her betrothed, what would become of her? The hour was
decisive. Her strong love for Serge gave her fresh energy.
"Why did you go away?" she asked, with sadness.
Pierre raised with pride his head which had been bent with anguish.
"To be worthy of you," he merely said.
"You did not need to be worthy of me; you, who were already above every
one else. We were betrothed; you only had to guard me."
"Could not your heart guard itself?"
"Without help, without the support of your presence and affection?"
"Without other help or support than I had myself: Hope and Remembrance."
Micheline turned pale. Each word spoken by Pierre made her feel the
unworthiness of her conduct more completely. She endeavored to find a
"Pierre, you know I was only a child."
"No," said the young man, with choked voice, "I see that you were already
a woman; a being weak, inconstant, and cruel; who cares not for the love
she inspires, and sacrifices all to the love she feels."
So long as Pierre had only complained, Micheline felt overwhelmed and
without strength; but the young man began to accuse. In a moment the
young girl regained her presence of mind and revolted.
"Those are hard words!" she exclaimed.
"Are they not deserved?" cried Pierre, no longer restraining himself.
"You saw me arrive trembling, with eyes full of tears, and not only had
you not an affectionate word to greet me with, but you almost accuse me
of indifference. You reproach me with having gone away. Did you not
know my motive for going? I was betrothed to you; you were rich and I
was poor. To remove this inequality I resolved to make a name. I sought
one of those perilous scientific missions which bring celebrity or death
to those who undertake them. Ah! think not that I went away from you
without heart-breaking! For a year I was almost alone, crushed with
fatigue, always in danger; the thought that I was suffering for you
"When lost in the vast desert, I was sad and discouraged; I invoked you,
and your sweet face gave me fresh hope and energy. I said to myself,
'She is waiting for me. A day will come when I shall win the prize of
all my trouble.' Well, Micheline, the day has come; here I am, returned,
and I ask for my reward. Is it what I had a right to expect? While I
was running after glory, another, more practical and better advised,
stole your heart. My happiness is destroyed. You did well to forget me.
The fool who goes so far away from his betrothed does not deserve her
faithfulness. He is cold, indifferent, he does not know how to love!"
These vehement utterances troubled Micheline deeply. For the first time
she understood her betrothed, felt how much he loved her, and regretted
not having known it before. If Pierre had spoken like that before going
away, who knows? Micheline's feelings might have been quickened.
No doubt she would have loved him. It would have come naturally.
But Pierre had kept the secret of his passion for the young girl to
himself. It was only despair, and the thought of losing her, that made
him give vent to his feelings now.
"I see that I have been cruel and unjust to you," said Micheline.
"I deserve your reproaches, but I am not the only one to blame. You,
too, are at fault. What I have just heard has upset me. I am truly
sorry to cause you so much pain; but it is too late. I no longer belong
"And did you belong to yourself?"
"No! It is true, you had my word, but be generous. Do not abuse the
authority which being my betrothed gives you. That promise I would now
ask back from you."
"And if I refuse to release you from your promise? If I tried to, regain
your love?" cried Pierre, forcibly. "Have I not the right to defend
myself? And what would you think of my love if I relinquished you so
There was a moment's silence. The interview was at its highest pitch of
excitement. Micheline knew that she must put an end to it. She replied
"A girl such as I am will not break her word; mine belongs to you, but my
heart is another's. Say you insist, and I am ready to keep my promise to
become your wife. It is for you to decide."
Pierre gave the young girl a look which plunged into the depths of her
heart. He read there her resolve that she would act loyally, but that at
the same time she would never forget him who had so irresistibly gained
her heart. He made a last effort.
"Listen," he said, with ardent voice, "it is impossible that you can have
forgotten me so soon: I love you so much! Remember our affection in the
old days, Micheline. Remember!"
He no longer argued; he pleaded. Micheline felt victorious. She was
moved with pity.
"Alas! my poor Pierre, my affection was only friendship, and my heart
has not changed toward you. The love which I now feel is quite
different. If it had not come to me, I might have been your wife.