Part 2 out of 5
And I esteemed you so much, that I should have been happy. But now I
understand the difference. You, whom I had accepted, would never have
been more to me than a tender companion; he whom I have chosen will be
Pierre uttered a cry at this cruel and frank avowal.
"Ah! how you hurt me!"
And bitter tears rolled down his face to the relief of his overburdened
heart. He sank on to a seat, and for a moment gave way to violent grief.
Micheline, more touched by his despair than she had been by his
reproaches, went to him and wiped his face with her lace handkerchief.
Her white hand was close to the young man's mouth,--and he kissed it
eagerly. Then, as if roused by the action, he rose with a changed look
in his eyes, and seized the young girl in his arms. Micheline did not
utter a word. She looked coldly and resolutely at Pierre, and threw back
her head to avoid the contact of his eager lips. That look was enough.
The arms which held her were unloosed, and Pierre moved away, murmuring:
"I beg your pardon. You see I am not in my right mind."
Then passing his hand across his forehead as if to chase away a wicked
thought, he added:
"So it is irrevocable? You love him?"
"Enough to give you so much pain; enough to be nobody's unless I belong
Pierre reflected a moment, then, coming to a decision:
"Go, you are free," said he; "I give you back your promise."
Micheline uttered a cry of triumph, which made him who had been her
betrothed turn pale. She regretted not having hidden her joy better.
She approached Pierre and said:
"Tell me that you forgive me!"
"I forgive you."
"You still weep?"
"Yes; I am weeping over my lost happiness. I thought the best means of
being loved were to deserve it. I was mistaken. I will courageously
atone for my error. Excuse my weakness, and believe that you will never
have a more faithful and devoted friend than I."
Micheline gave him her hand, and, smiling, bowed her forehead to his
lips. He slowly impressed a brotherly kiss, which effaced the burning
trace of the one which he had stolen a moment before.
At the same time a deep voice was heard in the distance, calling Pierre.
"'Tis my mother," she said. "She is seeking you. I will leave you.
Adieu, and a thousand thanks from my very heart."
And nimbly springing behind a clump of lilac-trees in flower, Micheline
Pierre mechanically went toward the house. He ascended the marble steps
and entered the drawing-room. As he shut the door, Madame Desvarennes
A CRITICAL INTERVIEW
Madame Desvarennes had been driven to the Hotel du Louvre without losing
a minute. She most wanted to know in what state of mind her daughter's
betrothed had arrived in Paris. Had the letter, which brutally told him
the truth, roused him and tightened the springs of his will? Was he
ready for the struggle?
If she found him confident and bold, she had only to settle with him as
to the common plan of action which must bring about the eviction of the
audacious candidate who wished to marry Micheline. If she found him
discouraged and doubtful of himself, she had decided to animate him with
her ardor against Serge Panine.
She prepared these arguments on the way, and, boiling with impatience,
outstripped in thought the fleet horse which was drawing her past the
long railings of the Tuileries toward the Hotel du Louvre. Wrapped in
her meditations she did not see Pierre. She was saying to herself:
"This fair-haired Polish dandy does not know with whom he has to deal.
He will see what sort of a woman I am. He has not risen early enough in
the morning to hoodwink me. If Pierre is only of the same opinion as I,
we shall soon spoil this fortune-hunter's work."
The carriage stopped.
"Monsieur Pierre Delarue?" inquired the mistress.
"Madame, he went out a quarter of an hour ago."
"To go where?"
"He did not say."
"Do you know whether he will be absent long?"
"I don't know."
Madame Desvarennes, quite discomfited by this mischance, reflected.
Where could Pierre have gone? Probably to her house. Without losing a
minute, she reentered the carriage, and gave orders to return to the Rue
Saint-Dominique. If he had gone at once to her house, it was plain that
he was ready to do anything to keep Micheline. The coachman who had
received the order drove furiously. She said to herself:
"Pierre is in a cab. Allowing that he is driving moderately quick he
will only have half-an-hour's start of me. He will pass through the
office, will see Marechal, and however eager he be, will lose a quarter
of an hour in chatting to him. It would be most vexing if he did
anything foolish in the remaining fifteen minutes! The fault is mine:
I ought to have sent him a letter at Marseilles, to tell him what line of
conduct to adopt on his arrival. So long as he does not meet Micheline
on entering the house!"
At that idea Madame Desvarennes felt the blood rushing to her face. She
put her head out of the carriage window, and called to the coachman:
He drove more furiously still, and in a few minutes reached the Rue
She tore into the house like a hurricane, questioned the hall-porter, and
learned that Delarue had arrived. She hastened to Marechal, and asked
him in such a strange manner, "Have you seen Pierre?" that he thought
some accident had happened.
On seeing her secretary's scared look, she understood that what she most
dreaded had come to pass. She hurried to the drawing-room, calling
Pierre in a loud voice. The French window opened, and she found herself
face to face with the young man. A glance at her adopted son's face
increased her fears. She opened her arms and clasped Pierre to her
After the first emotions were over, she longed to know what had happened
during her absence, and inquired of Pierre:
"By whom were you received on arriving here?"
"That is what I feared! What did she tell you?"
In three sentences these two strong beings had summed up all that had
taken place. Madame Desvarennes remained silent for a moment, then,
with sudden tenderness, and as if to make up for her daughter's
"Come, let me kiss you again, my poor boy. You suffer, eh? and I too!
I am quite overcome. For ten years I have cherished the idea of your
marrying Micheline. You are a man of merit, and you have no relatives.
You would not take my daughter away from me; on the contrary I think you
like me, and would willingly live with me. In arranging this marriage
I realized the dream of my life. I was not taking a son-in-law-I was
gaining a new child."
"Believe me," said Pierre, sadly, "it is not my fault that your wish is
not carried out."
"That, my boy, is another question!" cried Madame Desvarennes, whose
voice was at once raised two tones. "And that is where we do not agree.
You are responsible for what has occurred. I know what you are going,
to tell me. You wished to bring laurels to Micheline as a dower. That
is all nonsense! When one leaves the Polytechnic School with honors, and
with a future open to you like yours, it is not necessary to scour the
deserts to dazzle a young girl. One begins by marrying her, and
celebrity comes afterward, at the same time as the children. And then
there was no need to risk all at such a cost. What, are we then so
grand? Ex-bakers! Millionaires, certainly, which does not alter the
fact that poor Desvarennes carried out the bread, and that I gave change
across the counter when folks came to buy sou-cakes! But you wanted to
be a knight-errant, and, during that time, a handsome fellow. Did
Micheline tell you the gentleman's name?"
"I met him when I came here; he was with her in the garden. We were
introduced to each other."
"That was good taste," said Madame Desvarennes with irony. "Oh, he is a
youth who is not easily disturbed, and in his most passionate transports
will not disarrange a fold of his cravat. You know he is a Prince?
That is most flattering to the Desvarennes! We shall use his coat-of-
arms as our trade-mark. The fortune hunter, ugh! No doubt he said to
himself, 'The baker has money--and her daughter is agreeable.' And he is
making a business of it."
"He is only following the example of many of his equals. Marriage is
to-day the sole pursuit of the nobility."
"The nobility! That of our country might be tolerated, but foreign
noblemen are mere adventurers."
"It is well known that the Panines come from Posen--the papers have
mentioned them more than twenty times."
"Why is he not in his own country?"
"He is exiled."
"He has done something wrong, then!"
"He has, like all his family, fought for independence."
"Then he is a revolutionist!"
"You are very kind to tell me all that."
"I may hate Prince Panine," said Pierre, simply, "but that is no reason
why I should not be just to him."
"So be it; he is an exceptional being, a great citizen, a hero, if you
like. But that does not prove that he will make my daughter happy. And
if you take my advice, we shall send him about his business in a very
Madame Desvarennes was excited and paced hurriedly up and down the room.
The idea of resuming the offensive after she had been forced to act on
the defensive for months past pleased her. She thought Pierre argued too
much. A woman of action, she did not understand why Pierre had not yet
come to a resolution. She felt that she must gain his confidence.
"You are master of the situation," she said. "The Prince does not suit
"Micheline loves him," interrupted Pierre.
"She fancies so," replied Madame Desvarennes. "She has got it into her
head, but it will wear off. You thoroughly understand that I did not bid
you to come from Africa to be present at my daughter's wedding. If you
are a man, we shall see some fun. Micheline is your betrothed. You have
our word, and the word of a Desvarennes is as good as the signature.
--It has never been dishonored. Well, refuse to give us back our
promise. Gain time, make love, and take my daughter away from that
Pierre remained silent for a few minutes. In a moment he measured the
extent of the mischief done, by seeing Micheline before consulting Madame
Desvarennes. With the help of this energetic woman he might have
struggled, whereas left to his own strength, he had at the outset been
vanquished and forced to lay down his arms. Not only had he yielded, but
he had drawn his ally into his defeat.
"Your encouragements come too late," said he. "Micheline asked me to
give her back her promise, and I gave it to her."
"You were so weak as that!" cried Madame Desvarennes. "And she had so
much boldness? Does she dote on him so? I suspected her plans, and I
hastened to warn you. But all is not lost. You have given Micheline
back her promise. So be it. But I have not given you back yours. You
are pledged to me. I will not countenance the marriage which my daughter
has arranged without my consent! Help me to break it off. And, faith,
you could easily find another woman worth Micheline, but where shall I
find a son-in-law worth you? Come, the happiness of us all is in peril;
"Why continue the struggle? I am beaten beforehand."
"But if you forsake me, what can I do single-handed with Micheline?"
"Do what she wishes, as usual. You are surprised at my giving you this
advice? It is no merit on my part. Until now you have refused your
daughter's request; but if she comes again beseeching and crying, you who
are so strong and can say so well 'I will,' will be weak and will not be
able to refuse her her Prince. Believe me; consent willingly. Who
knows? Your son'-in-law may be grateful to you for it by-and-by."
Madame Desvarennes had listened to Pierre with amazement.
"Really, you are incredible," she said; "you discuss all this so calmly.
Have you no grief?"
"Yes," replied Pierre, solemnly, "it is almost killing me."
"Nonsense! You are boasting!" cried Madame Desvarennes, vehemently.
"Ah, scholar! figures have dried up your heart!"
"No," replied the young man, with melancholy, "but work has destroyed in
me the seductions of youth. It has made me thoughtful, and a little sad.
I frightened Micheline, instead of attracting her. The worst is that we
live in such a state of high pressure, it is quite impossible to grasp
all that is offered to us in this life-work and pleasure. It is
necessary to make a choice, to economize one's time and strength, and to
work with either the heart or the brain alone. The result is that the
neglected organ wastes away, and that men of pleasure remain all their
lives mediocre workers, while hard workers are pitiful lovers. The
former sacrifice the dignity of existence, the latter that which is the
charm of existence. So that, in decisive moments, when the man of
pleasure appeals to his intelligence, he finds he is unfit for duty, and
when the man of toil appeals to his heart, he finds that he is
unqualified for happiness."
"Well, my boy, so much the worse for the women who cannot appreciate men
of work, and who allow themselves to be wheedled by men of pleasure.
I never was one of those; and serious as you are, thirty years ago I
would have jumped at you. But as you know your ailment so well, why
don't you cure yourself? The remedy is at hand."
"What is it?"
"Strong will. Marry Micheline. I'll answer for everything."
"She does not love me."
"A woman always ends by loving her husband."
"I love Micheline too much to accept her hand without her heart."
Madame Desvarennes saw that she would gain nothing, and that the game was
irrevocably lost. A great sorrow stole over her. She foresaw a dark
future, and had a presentiment that trouble had entered the house with
Serge Panine. What could she do? Combat the infatuation of her
daughter! She knew that life would be odious for her if Micheline ceased
to laugh and to sing. Her daughter's tears would conquer her will.
Pierre had told her truly. Where was the use of fighting when defeat was
certain? She, too, felt that she was powerless, and with heartfelt
sorrow came to a decision.
"Come, I see that I must make up my mind to be grandmother to little
princes. It pleases me but little on the father's account. My daughter
will have a sad lot with a fellow of that kind. Well, he had better keep
in the right path; for I shall be there to call him to order. Micheline
must be happy. When my husband was alive, I was already more of a mother
than a wife; now my whole life is wrapped up in my daughter."
Then raising her vigorous arms with grim energy, she added:
"Do you know, if my daughter were made miserable through her husband, I
should be capable of killing him."
These were the last words of the interview which decided the destiny of
Micheline, of the Prince, of Madame Desvarennes, and of Pierre. The
mistress stretched out her hand and rang the bell. A servant appeared,
to whom she gave instructions to tell Marechal to come down. She thought
it would be pleasant for Pierre to pour out his griefs into the heart of
his friend. A man weeps with difficulty before a woman, and she guessed
that the young man's heart was swollen with tears. Marechal was not far
off. He arrived in a moment, and springing toward Pierre put his arms
round his neck. When Madame Desvarennes saw the two friends fully
engrossed with each other, she said to Marechal:
"I give you leave until this evening. Then bring Pierre back with you;
I wish to see him after dinner."
And with a firm step she went toward Micheline's room, where the latter
was waiting in fear to know the result of the interview.
A SIGNIFICANT MEETING
The mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique is certainly one of the finest to
be seen. Sovereigns alone have more sumptuous palaces. The wide
staircase, of carved oak, is bordered by a bronze balustrade, made by
Ghirlandajo, and brought from Florence by Sommervieux, the great dealer
in curiosities. Baron Rothschild would consent to give only a hundred
thousand francs for it. Madame Desvarennes bought it. The large panels
of the staircase are hung with splendid tapestry, from designs by
Boucher, representing the different metamorphoses of Jupiter. At each
landing-place stands a massive Japanese vase of 'claisonne' enamel,
supported by a tripod of Chinese bronze, representing chimeras. On the
first floor, tall columns of red granite, crowned by gilt capitals,
divide the staircase from a gallery, serving as a conservatory. Plaited
blinds of crimson silk hang before the Gothic windows, filled with
marvellous stained glass.
In the vestibule-the hangings of which are of Cordova-leather, with gold
ground-seemingly awaiting the good pleasure of some grand lady, is a
sedan-chair, decorated with paintings by Fragonard. Farther on, there is
one of those superb carved mother-of-pearl coffers, in which Oriental
women lay by their finery and jewellery. A splendid Venetian mirror,
its frame embellished with tiny figure subjects, and measuring two metres
in width and three in height, fills a whole panel of the vestibule.
Portieres of Chinese satin, ornamented with striking embroidery, such as
figures on a priest's chasuble, fall in sumptuous folds at the drawing-
room and dining-room doors.
The drawing-room contains a splendid set of Louis Quatorze furniture,
of gilt wood, upholstered in fine tapestry, in an extraordinary state of
preservation. Three crystal lustres, hanging at intervals along the
room, sparkle like diamonds. The hangings, of woven silk and gold, are
those which were sent as a present by Louis Quatorze to Monsieur de
Pimentel, the Spanish Ambassador, to reward him for the part he had taken
in the conclusion of the Treaty of the Pyrenees. These hangings are
unique, and were brought back from Spain in 1814, in the baggage-train of
Soult's army, and sold to an inhabitant of Toulouse for ten thousand
francs. It was there that Madame Desvarennes discovered them in a garret
in 1864, neglected by the grandchildren of the buyer, who were ignorant
of the immense value of such unrivalled work. Cleverly mended, they are
to-day the pride of the great trader's drawing-room. On the mantelpiece
there is a large clock in Chinese lacquer, ornamented with gilt bronze,
made on a model sent out from Paris in the reign of Louis Quatorze, and
representing the Flight of the Hours pursued by Time.
Adjoining the great drawing-room is a boudoir upholstered in light gray
silk damask, with bouquets of flowers. This is Madame Desvarennes's
favorite room. A splendid Erard piano occupies one side of the
apartment. Facing it is a sideboard in sculptured ebony, enriched with
bronze, by Gouthieres. There are only two pictures on the walls: "The
Departure of the Newly Married Couple," exquisitely painted by Lancret;
and "The Prediction," an adorable work by Watteau, bought at an
incredible price at the Pourtales sale. Over the chimney-piece is a
miniature by Pommayrac, representing Micheline as a little child--a
treasure which Madame Desvarennes cannot behold without tears coming to
her eyes. A door, hidden by curtains, opens on to a staircase leading
directly to the courtyard.
The dining-room is in the purest Renaissance style austere woodwork;
immense chests of caned pearwood, on which stand precious ewers in Urbino
ware, and dishes by Bernard Palissy. The high stone fireplace is
surmounted by a portrait of Diana of Poitiers, with a crescent on her
brow, and is furnished with firedogs of elaborately worked iron. The
centre panel bears the arms of Admiral Bonnivet. Stained-glass windows
admit a softly-tinted light. From the magnificently painted ceiling, a
chandelier of brass repousse work hangs from the claws of a hovering
The billiard-room is in the Indian style. Magnificent panoplies unite
Rajpoot shields, Mahratta scimitars, helmets with curtains of steel,
rings belonging to Afghan chiefs, and long lances ornamented with white
mares' tails, wielded by the horsemen of Cabul. The walls are painted
from designs brought from Lahore. The panels of the doors were decorated
by Gerome. The great artist has painted Nautch girls twisting their
floating scarves, and jugglers throwing poignards into the air. Around
the room are low divans, covered with soft and brilliant Oriental cloth.
The chandelier is quite original in form, being the exact representation
of the god Vishnu. From the centre of the body hangs a lotus leaf of
emeralds, and from each of the four arms is suspended a lamp shaped like
a Hindu pagoda, which throws out a mellow light.
Madame Desvarennes was entertaining her visitors in these celebrated
apartments that evening. Marechal and Pierre had just come in, and were
talking together near the fireplace. A few steps from them was a group,
consisting of Cayrol, Madame Desvarennes, and a third person, who had
never until then put his foot in the house, in spite of intercessions in
his favor made by the banker to Madame Desvarennes. He was a tall, pale,
thin man, whose skin seemed stretched on his bones, with a strongly
developed under-jaw, like that of a ravenous animal, and eyes of
indefinable color, always changing, and veiled behind golden-rimmed
spectacles. His hands were soft and smooth, with moist palms and closely
cut nails--vicious hands, made to take cunningly what they coveted. He
had scanty hair, of a pale yellow, parted just above the ear, so as to
enable him to brush it over the top of his head. This personage, clad in
a double-breasted surtout, over a white waistcoat, and wearing a many-
colored rosette, was called Hermann Herzog.
A daring financier, he had come from Luxembourg, preceded by a great
reputation; and, in a few months, he had launched in Paris such a series
of important affairs that the big-wigs on the Exchange felt bound to
treat with him. There were many rumors current about him. Some said he
was the most intelligent, most active, and most scrupulous of men that it
was possible to meet. Others said that no greater scoundrel had ever
dared the vengeance of the law, after plundering honest people. Of
German nationality, those who cried him down said he was born at Mayence.
Those who treated the rumors as legends said he was born at Frankfort,
the most Gallic town beyond the river Rhine.
He had just completed an important line of railway from Morocco to the
centre of our colony in Algeria, and now he was promoting a company for
exporting grain and flour from America. Several times Cayrol had tried
to bring Herzog and Madame Desvarennes together. The banker had an
interest in the grain and flour speculation, but he asserted that it
would not succeed unless the mistress had a hand in it. Cayrol had a
blind faith in the mistress's luck.
Madame Desvarennes, suspicious of everything foreign, and perfectly
acquainted with the rumors circulated respecting Herzog, had always
refused to receive him. But Cayrol had been so importunate that, being
quite tired of refusing, and, besides, being willing to favor Cayrol for
having so discreetly managed the negotiations of Micheline's marriage,
she had consented.
Herzog had just arrived. He was expressing to Madame Desvarennes his
delight at being admitted to her house. He had so often heard her highly
spoken of that he had formed a high idea of her, but one which was,
however, far below the reality; he understood now that it was an honor to
be acquainted with her. He wheedled her with German grace, and with a
German-Jewish accent, which reminds one of the itinerant merchants, who
offer you with persistence "a goot pargain."
The mistress had been rather cold at first, but Herzog's amiability had
thawed her. This man, with his slow speech and queer eyes, produced a
fascinating effect on one like a serpent. He was repugnant, and yet, in
spite of one's self one was led on. He, had at once introduced the grain
question, but in this he found himself face to face with the real Madame
Desvarennes; and no politeness held good on her part when it was a
question of business. From his first words, she had found a weak point
in the plan, and had attacked him with such plainness that the financier,
seeing his enterprise collapse at the sound of the mistress's voice-like
the walls of Jericho at the sound of the Jewish trumpets--had beaten a
retreat, and had changed the subject.
He was about to float a credit and discount company superior to any in
the world. He would come back and talk with Madame Desvarennes about it,
because she ought to participate in the large profits which the matter
promised. There was no risk. The novelty of the undertaking consisted
in the concurrence of the largest banking-houses of France and abroad,
which would hinder all competition, and prevent hostility on the part of
the great money-handlers. It was very curious, and Madame Desvarennes
would feel great satisfaction in knowing the mechanism of this company,
destined to become, from the first, the most important in the world, and
yet most easy to understand.
Madame Desvarennes neither said "Yes" nor "No." Moved by the soft and
insinuating talkativeness of Herzog, she felt herself treading on
dangerous ground. It seemed to her that her foot was sinking, as in
those dangerous peat-mosses of which the surface is covered with green
grass, tempting one to run on it. Cayrol was under the charm. He drank
in the German's words. This clever man, who had never till then been
duped, had found his master in Herzog.
Pierre and Marechal had come nearer, and Madame Desvarennes, profiting by
this mingling of groups, introduced the men to each other. On hearing
the name of Pierre Delarue, Herzog looked thoughtful, and asked if the
young man was the renowned engineer whose works on the coast of Africa
had caused so much talk in Europe? On Madame Desvarennes replying in the
affirmative, he showered well-chosen compliments on Pierre. He had had
the pleasure of meeting Delarue in Algeria, when he had gone over to
finish the railroad in Morocco.
But Pierre had stepped back on learning that the constructor of that
important line was before him.
"Ah! is it you, sir, who carried out that job?" said he. "Faith! you
treated those poor Moors rather hardly!"
He remembered the misery of the poor natives employed by Europeans who
superintended the work. Old men, women, and children were placed at the
disposal of the contractors by the native authorities, to dig up and
remove the soil; and these poor wretches, crushed with hard work, and
driven with the lash by drunken overseers--who commanded them with a
pistol in hand--under a burning sun, inhaled the noxious vapors arising
from the upturned soil, and died like flies. It was a terrible sight,
and one that Pierre could not forget.
But Herzog, with his cajoling sweetness, protested against this
exaggerated picture. Delarue had arrived during the dog-days--a bad
time. And then, it was necessary for the work to be carried on without
delay. Besides, a few Moors, more or less--what did it matter? Negroes,
all but monkeys!
Marechal, who had listened silently until then, interrupted the
conversation, to defend the monkeys in the name of Littre. He had framed
a theory, founded on Darwin, and tending to prove that men who despised
monkeys despised themselves. Herzog, a little taken aback by this
unexpected reply, had looked at Marechal slyly, asking himself if it was
a joke. But, seeing Madame Desvarennes laugh, he recovered his self-
possession. Business could not be carried on in the East as in Europe.
And then, had it not always been thus? Had not all the great discoverers
worked the countries which they discovered? Christopher Columbus,
Cortez--had they not taken riches from the Indians, in exchange for the
civilization which they brought them? He (Herzog) had, in making a
railway in Morocco, given the natives the means of civilizing themselves.
It was only fair that it should cost them something.
Herzog uttered his tirade with all the charm of which he was capable;
he looked to the right and to the left to notice the effect. He saw
nothing but constrained faces. It seemed as if they were expecting some
one or something. Time was passing; ten o'clock had just struck.
From the little boudoir sounds of music were occasionally heard, when
Micheline's nervous hand struck a louder chord on her piano. She was
there, anxiously awaiting some one or something. Jeanne de Cernay,
stretched in an easy-chair, her head leaning on her hand, was dreaming.
During the past three weeks the young girl had changed. Her bright wit
no longer enlivened Micheline's indolent calmness; her brilliant eyes
were surrounded by blue rings, which denoted nights passed without sleep.
The change coincided strangely with Prince Panine's departure for
England, and the sending of the letter which recalled Pierre to Paris.
Had the inhabitants of the mansion been less occupied with their own
troubles, they would no doubt have noticed this sudden change, and have
sought to know the reason. But the attention of all was concentrated on
the events which had already troubled them, and which would no doubt be
yet more serious to the house, until lately so quiet.
The visitors' bell sounded, and caused Micheline to rise. The blood
rushed to her cheeks. She whispered, "It is he!" and, hesitating, she
remained a moment leaning on the piano, listening vaguely to the sounds
in the drawing-room. The footman's voice announcing the visitor reached
the young girls:
Jeanne also rose then, and if Micheline had turned round she would have
been frightened at the pallor of her companion. But Mademoiselle
Desvarennes was not thinking of Mademoiselle de Cernay; she had just
raised the heavy door curtain, and calling to Jeanne, "Are you coming?"
passed into the drawing-room:
It was indeed Prince Serge, who was expected by Cayrol with impatience,
by Madame Desvarennes with silent irritation, by Pierre with deep
anguish. The handsome prince, calm and smiling, with white cravat and
elegantly fitting dress-coat which showed off his fine figure, advanced
toward Madame Desvarennes before whom he bowed. He seemed only to have
seen Micheline's mother. Not a look for the two young girls or the men
who were around him. The rest of the universe did not seem to count.
He bent as if before a queen, with a dash of respectful adoration.
He seemed to be saying:
"Here I am at your feet; my life depends on you; make a sign and I shall
be the happiest of men or the most miserable."
Micheline followed him with eyes full of pride; she admired his haughty
grace and his caressing humility. It was by these contrasts that Serge
had attracted the young girl's notice. She felt herself face to face
with a strange nature, different from men around her, and had become
interested in him. Then he had spoken to her, and his sweet penetrating
voice had touched her heart.
What he had achieved with Micheline he longed to achieve with her mother.
After placing himself at the feet of the mother of her whom he loved,
he sought the road to her heart. He took his place beside the mistress
and spoke. He hoped that Madame Desvarennes would excuse the haste of
his visit. The obedience which he had shown in going away must be a
proof to her of his submission to her wishes. He was her most devoted
and respectful servant. He resigned himself to anything she might exact
Madame Desvarennes listened to that sweet voice; she had never heard it
so full of charm. She understood what influence this sweetness had
exercised over Micheline; she repented not having watched over her more
carefully, and cursed the hour that had brought all this evil upon them.
She was obliged, however, to answer him. The mistress went straight to
the point. She was not one to beat about the bush when once her mind was
"You come, no doubt, sir, to receive an answer to the request you
addressed to me before your departure for England!"
The Prince turned slightly pale. The words which Madame Desvarennes was
about to pronounce were of such importance to him that he could not help
feeling moved. He answered, in a suppressed tone:
"I would not have dared to speak to you on the subject, Madame,
especially in public; but since you anticipate my desire, I admit I am
waiting with deep anxiety for one word from you which will decide my
He continued bent before Madame Desvarennes like a culprit before his
judge. The mistress was silent for a moment, as if hesitating before
answering, and then said, gravely:
"That word I hesitated to pronounce, but some one in whom I have great
confidence has advised me to receive you favorably."
"He, Madame, whoever he may be, has gained my everlasting gratitude."
"Show it to him," said Madame Desvarennes; "he is the companion of
Micheline's young days, almost a son to me."
And turning toward Pierre, she pointed him out to Panine.
Serge took three rapid strides toward Pierre, but quick as he had been
Micheline was before him. Each of the lovers seized a hand of Pierre,
and pressed it with tender effusion. Panine, with his Polish
impetuosity, was making the most ardent protestations to Pierre--he would
be indebted to him for life.
Micheline's late betrothed, with despair in his heart, allowed his hands
to be pressed and wrung in silence. The voice of her whom he loved
brought tears to his eyes.
"How generous and good you are!" said the young girl, "how nobly you
have sacrificed yourself!"
"Don't thank me," replied Pierre; "I have no merit in accomplishing what
you admire. I am weak, you see, and I could not bear to see you suffer."
There was a great commotion in the drawing-room. Cayrol was explaining
to Herzog, who was listening with great attention, what was taking place.
Serge Panine was to be Madame Desvarennes's son-in-law. It was a great
"Certainly," said the German; "Madame Desvarennes's son-in-law will
become a financial power. And a Prince, too. What a fine name for a
board of directors!"
The two financiers looked at each other for a moment; the same thought
had struck them.
"Yes, but," replied Cayrol, "Madame Desvarennes will never allow Panine
to take part in business."
"Who knows?" said Herzog. "We shall see how the marriage settlements
are drawn up."
"But," cried Cayrol, "I would not have it said that I was leading Madame
Desvarennes's son-in-law into speculations."
"Who is speaking of that?" replied Herzog, coldly. "Am I seeking
shareholders? I have more money than I want; I refuse millions every
"Oh, I know capitalists run after you," said Cayrol, laughingly; "and to
welcome them you affect the scruples of a pretty woman. But let us go
and congratulate the Prince."
While Cayrol and Herzog were exchanging those few words which had such a
considerable influence on the future of Serge Panine--a scene, terrible
in its simplicity, was going on without being noticed. Micheline had
thrown herself with a burst of tenderness into her mother's arms.
Serge was deeply affected by the young girl's affection for him, when a
trembling hand touched his arm. He turned round. Jeanne de Cernay was
before him, pale and wan; her eyes sunken into her head like two black
nails, and her lips tightened by a violent contraction. The Prince stood
thunderstruck at the sight of her. He looked around him. Nobody was
observing him. Pierre was beside Marechal, who was whispering those
words which only true friends can find in the sad hours of life. Madame
Desvarennes was holding Micheline in her arms. Serge approached
Mademoiselle de Cernay. Jeanne still fixed on him the same menacing
look. He was afraid.
"Take care!" he said.
"Of what?" asked the young girl, with a troubled voice. "What have I to
"What do you wish?" resumed Panine, with old firmness, and with a
gesture of impatience.
"I wish to speak with you immediately."
"You see that is impossible."
Cayrol and Herzog approached. Serge smiled at Jeanne with a sign of the
head which meant "Yes." The young girl turned away in silence, awaiting
the fulfilment of the promise made.
Cayrol took her by the hand with tender familiarity.
"What were you saying to the happy man who has gained the object of his
dreams, Mademoiselle? It is not to him you must speak, but to me, to
give me hope. The moment is propitious; it is the day for betrothals.
You know how much I love you; do me the favor of no longer repulsing me
as you have done hitherto! If you would be kind, how charming it would
be to celebrate the two weddings on the same day. One church, one
ceremony, one splendid feast would unite two happy couples. Is there
nothing in this picture to entice you?"
"I am not easily enticed, as you know," said Jeanne, in a firm voice,
trying to smile.
Micheline and Madame Desvarennes had drawn near.
"Come, Cayrol," said Serge, in a tone of command; "I am happy to-day;
perhaps I may succeed in your behalf as I have done in my own. Let me
plead your cause with Mademoiselle de Cernay?"
"With all my heart. I need an eloquent pleader," sighed the banker,
shaking his head sadly.
"And you, Mademoiselle, will you submit to the trial?" asked the Prince,
turning toward Jeanne. "We have always been good friends, and I shall be
almost a brother to you. This gives me some right over your mind and
heart, it seems to me. Do you authorize me to exercise it?"
"As you like, sir," answered Jeanne, coldly. "The attempt is novel. Who
knows? Perhaps it will succeed!"
"May Heaven grant it," said Cayrol. Then, approaching Panine:
"Ah! dear Prince, what gratitude I shall owe you! You know," added he
in a whisper, "if you need a few thousand louis for wedding presents--"
"Go, go, corrupter!" replied Serge, with the same forced gayety; "you
are flashing your money in front of us. You see it is not invincible,
as you are obliged to have recourse to my feeble talents. But know that
I am working for glory."
And turning toward Madame Desvarennes he added: "I only ask a quarter of
"Don't defend yourself too much," said Micheline in her companion's ear,
and giving her a tender kiss which the latter did not return.
"Come with me," said Micheline to Pierre, offering him her arm; "I want
to belong to you alone while Serge is pleading with Jeanne. I will be
your sister as formerly. If you only knew how I love you!"
The large French window which led to the garden had just been opened by
Marechal, and the mild odors of a lovely spring night perfumed the
drawing-room. They all went out on the lawn. Thousands of stars were
twinkling in the sky, and the eyes of Micheline and Pierre were lifted
toward the dark blue heavens seeking vaguely for the star which presided
over their destiny. She, to know whether her life would be the long poem
of love of which she dreamed; he, to ask whether glory, that exacting
mistress for whom he had made so many sacrifices, would at least comfort
him for his lost love.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A man weeps with difficulty before a woman
Antagonism to plutocracy and hatred of aristocrats
Enough to be nobody's unless I belong to him
Even those who do not love her desire to know her
Flayed and roasted alive by the critics
Hard workers are pitiful lovers
He lost his time, his money, his hair, his illusions
He was very unhappy at being misunderstood
I thought the best means of being loved were to deserve it
Men of pleasure remain all their lives mediocre workers
My aunt is jealous of me because I am a man of ideas
Negroes, all but monkeys!
Patience, should he encounter a dull page here or there
Romanticism still ferments beneath the varnish of Naturalism
Sacrifice his artistic leanings to popular caprice
Unqualified for happiness
You are talking too much about it to be sincere
By GEORGES OHNET
In the drawing-room Jeanne and Serge remained standing, facing each
other. The mask had fallen from their faces; the forced smile had
disappeared. They looked at each other attentively, like two duellists
seeking to read each other's game, so that they may ward off the fatal
stroke and prepare the decisive parry.
"Why did you leave for England three weeks ago, without seeing me and
without speaking to me?"
"What could I have said to you?" replied the Prince, with an air of
fatigue and dejection.
Jeanne flashed a glance brilliant as lightning:
"You could have told me that you had just asked for Micheline's hand!"
"That would have been brutal!"
"It would have been honest! But it would have necessitated an
explanation, and you don't like explaining. You have preferred leaving
me to guess this news from the acts of those around me, and the talk of
All these words had been spoken by Jeanne with feverish vivacity. The
sentences were as cutting as strokes from a whip. The young girl's
agitation was violent; her cheeks were red, and her breathing was hard
and stifled with emotion. She stopped for a moment; then, turning toward
the Prince, and looking him full in the face, she said:
"And so, this marriage is decided?"
It was fainter than a whisper. As if she could not believe it, Jeanne
"You are going to marry Micheline?"
And as Panine in a firmer voice answered again, "Yes!" the young girl
took two rapid steps and brought her flushed face close to him.
"And I, then?" she cried with a violence she could no longer restrain.
Serge made a sign. The drawing-room window was still open, and from
outside they could be heard.
"Jeanne, in mercy calm yourself," replied he. "You are in a state of
"Which makes you uncomfortable?" interrupted the young girl mockingly.
"Yes, but for your sake only," said he, coldly.
"Certainly. I fear your committing an imprudence which might harm you."
"Yes; but you with me! And it is that only which makes you afraid."
The Prince looked at Mademoiselle de Cernay, smilingly. Changing his
tone, he took her hand in his.
"How naughty you are to-night! And what temper you are showing toward
poor Serge! What an opinion he will have of himself after your
displaying such a flattering scene of jealousy!"
Jeanne drew away her hand.
"Ah, don't try to joke. This is not the moment, I assure you. You don't
exactly realize your situation. Don't you understand that I am prepared
to tell Madame Desvarennes everything--"
"Everything!" said the Prince. "In truth, it would not amount to much.
You would tell her that I met you in England; that I courted you, and
that you found my attentions agreeable. And then? It pleases you to
think too seriously of that midsummer night's dream under the great trees
of Churchill Castle, and you reproach me for my errors! But what are
they? Seriously, I do not see them! We lived in a noisy world; where we
enjoyed the liberty which English manners allow to young people. Your
aunt found no fault with the charming chatter which the English call
flirtation. I told you I loved you; you allowed me to think that I was
not displeasing to you. We, thanks to that delightful agreement, spent a
most agreeable summer, and now you do not wish to put an end to that
pleasant little excursion made beyond the limits drawn by our Parisian
world, so severe, whatever people say about it. It is not reasonable,
and it is imprudent. If you carry out your menacing propositions, and if
you take my future mother-in-law as judge of the rights which you claim,
don't you understand that you would be condemned beforehand? Her
interests are directly opposed to yours. Could she hesitate between her
daughter and you?"
"Oh! your calculations are clever and your measures were well taken,"
replied Jeanne. "Still, if Madame Desvarennes were not the woman you
think her--" Then, hesitating:
"If she took my part, and thinking that he who was an unloyal lover would
be an unfaithful husband--she would augur of the future of her daughter
by my experience; and what would happen?"
"Simply this," returned Serge. "Weary of the precarious and hazardous
life which I lead, I would leave for Austria, and rejoin the service.
A uniform is the only garb which can hide poverty honorably."
Jeanne looked at him with anguish; and making an effort said:
"Then, in any case, for me it is abandonment?" And falling upon a seat,
she hid her face in her hands. Panine remained silent for a moment. The
young girl's, grief, which he knew to be sincere, troubled him more than
he wished to show. He had loved Mademoiselle de Cernay, and he loved her
still. But he felt that a sign of weakness on his part would place him
at Jeanne's mercy, and that an avowal from his lips at this grave moment
meant a breaking-off of his marriage with Micheline. He hardened himself
against his impressions, and replied, with insinuating sweetness:
"Why do you speak of desertion, when a good man who loves you fondly, and
who possesses a handsome fortune, wishes to marry you?"
Mademoiselle de Cernay raised her head, hastily.
"So, it is you who advise me to marry Monsieur Cayrol? Is there nothing
revolting to you in the idea that I should follow your advice? But then,
you deceived me from the first moment you spoke to me. You have never
loved me even for a day! Not an hour!"
Serge smiled, and resuming his light, caressing tone, replied:
"My dear Jeanne, if I had a hundred thousand francs a year, I give you my
word of honor that I would not marry another woman but you, for you would
make an adorable Princess."
Mademoiselle de Cernay made a gesture of perfect indifference.
"Ah! what does the title matter to me?" she exclaimed, with passion.
"What I want is you! Nothing but you!"
"You do not know what you ask. I love you far too much to associate you
with my destiny. If you knew that gilded misery, that white kid-gloved
poverty, which is my lot, you would be frightened, and you would
understand that in my resolution to give you up there is much of
tenderness and generosity. Do you think it is such an easy matter to
give up a woman so adorable as you are? I resign myself to it, though.
"What could I do with my beautiful Jeanne in the three rooms in the Rue
de Madame where I live? Could I, with the ten or twelve thousand francs
which I receive through the liberality of the Russian Panines, provide a
home? I can hardly make it do for myself. I live at the club, where I
dine cheaply. I ride my friends' horses! I never touch a card, although
I love play. I go much in society; I shine there, and walk home to save
the cost of a carriage. My door-keeper cleans my rooms and keeps my
linen in order. My private life is sad, dull, and humiliating. It is
the black chrysalis of the bright butterfly which you know. That is what
Prince Panine is, my dear Jeanne. A gentleman of good appearance, who
lives as carefully as an old maid. The world sees him elegant and happy,
and its envies his luxury; but this luxury is as deluding as watch-chains
made of pinchbeck. You understand now that I cannot seriously ask you to
share such an existence."
But if, with this sketch of his life, correctly described, Panine thought
to turn the young girl against him, he was mistaken. He had counted
without considering Jeanne's sanguine temperament, which would lead her
to make any sacrifices to keep the man she adored.
"If you were rich, Serge," she said, "I would not have made an effort to
bring you back to me. But you are poor and I have a right to tell you
that I love you. Life with you would be all devotedness and self-denial.
Each pain endured would be a proof of love, and that is why I wish to
suffer. Your life with mine would be neither sad nor humiliated; I would
make it sweet by my tenderness, and bright by my happiness. And we
should be so happy that you would say, 'How could I ever have dreamed of
"Alas! Jeanne," replied the Prince; "it is a charming and poetic idyl
which you present to me. We should flee far from the world, eh? We
should go to an unknown spot and try to regain paradise lost. How long
would that happiness last? A season during the springtime of our youth.
Then autumn would come, sad and harsh. Our illusions would vanish like
the swallows in romances, and we should find, with alarm, that we had
taken the dream of a day for eternal happiness! Forgive my speaking
plain words of disenchantment," added Serge, seeing Jeanne rising
abruptly, "but our life is being settled at this moment. Reason alone
should guide us."
"And I beseech you to be guided only by your heart," cried Mademoiselle
de Cernay, seizing the hands of the Prince, and pressing them with her
trembling fingers. "Remember that you loved me. Say that you love me
Jeanne had drawn near to Serge. Her burning face almost touched his.
Her eyes, bright with excitement, pleaded passionately for a tender look.
She was most fascinating, and Panine, usually master of himself, lost his
presence of mind for a moment. His arms encircled the shoulders of the
adorable pleader, and his lips were buried in the masses of her dark
"Serge!" cried Mademoiselle de Cernay, clinging to him whom she loved so
But the Prince was as quickly calmed as he had been carried away. He
gently put Jeanne aside.
"You see," he said with a smile, "how unreasonable we are and how easily
we might commit an irreparable folly. And yet our means will not allow
"In mercy do not leave me!" pleaded Jeanne, in a tone of despair. "You
love me! I feel it; everything tells me so! And you would desert me
because you are poor and I am not rich. Is a man ever poor when he has
two arms? Work."
The word was uttered by Jeanne with admirable energy. She possessed the
courage to overcome every difficulty.
Serge trembled. For the second time he felt touched to the very soul by
this strange girl. He understood that he must not leave her with the
slightest hope of encouragement, but throw ice on the fire which was
"My dear Jeanne," he said, with affectionate sweetness, "you are talking
nonsense. Remember this, that for Prince Panine there are only three
social'conditions possible: to be rich, a soldier, or a priest. I have
the choice. It is for you to decide."
This put an end to Mademoiselle de Cernay's resistance. She felt how
useless was further argument, and falling on a sofa, crushed with grief,
"Ah! this time it is finished; I am lost!"
Panine, then, approaching her, insinuating and supple, like the serpent
with the first woman, murmured in her ear, as if afraid lest his words,
in being spoken aloud, would lose their subtle venom:
"No, you are not lost. On the contrary, you are saved, if you will only
listen to and understand me. What are we, you and I? You, a child
adopted by a generous woman; I, a ruined nobleman. You live in luxury,
thanks to Madame Desvarennes's liberality. I can scarcely manage to keep
myself with the help of my family. Our present is precarious, our future
hazardous. And, suddenly, fortune is within our grasp. We have only to
stretch out our hands, and with one stroke we gain the uncontested power
which money brings!
"Riches, that aim of humanity! Do you understand? We, the weak and
disdained, become strong and powerful. And what is necessary to gain
them? A flash of sense; a minute of wisdom; forget a dream and accept a
Jeanne waited till he had finished. A bitter smile played on her lips.
Henceforth she would believe in no one. After listening to what Serge
had just said, she could listen to anything.
"So," said she, "the dream is love; the reality is interest. And is it
you who speak thus to me? You, for whom I was prepared to endure any
sacrifice! You, whom I would have served on my knees! And what reason
do you give to justify your conduct? Money! Indispensable and stupid
money! Nothing but money! But it is odious, infamous, low!"
Serge received this terrible broadside of abuse without flinching. He
had armed himself against contempt, and was deaf to all insults. Jeanne
went on with increasing rage:
"Micheline has everything: family, fortune, and friends, and she is
taking away my one possession--your love. Tell me that you love her!
It will be more cruel but less vile! But no, it is not possible!
You gave way to temptation at seeing her so rich; you had a feeling of
covetousness, but you will become yourself again and will act like an
honest man. Think, that in my eyes you are dishonoring yourself!
Serge, answer me!"
She clung to him again, and tried to regain him by her ardor, to warm him
with her passion. He remained unmoved, silent, and cold. Her conscience
"Well, then," said she, "marry her."
She remained silent and sullen, seeming to forget he was there. She was
thinking deeply. Then she walked wildly up and down the room, saying:
"So, it is that implacable self-interest with which I have just come in
contact, which is the law of the world, the watchword of society! So,
in refusing to share the common folly, I risk remaining in isolation,
and I must be strong to make others stand in awe of me. Very well, then,
I shall henceforth act in such a manner as to be neither dupe nor victim.
In future, everything will be: self, and woe to him who hinders me. That
is the morality of the age, is it not?"
And she laughed nervously.
"Was I not stupid? Come, Prince, you have made me clever. Many thanks
for the lesson; it was difficult, but I shall profit by it."
The Prince, astonished at the sudden change, listened to Jeanne with
stupor. He did not yet quite understand.
"What do you intend to do?" asked he.
Jeanne looked at him with a fiendish expression. Her eyes sparkled like
stars; her white teeth shone between her lips.
"I intend," replied she, "to lay the foundation of my power, and to
follow your advice, by marrying a millionaire!"
She ran to the window, and, looking out toward the shady garden, called:
Serge, full of surprise, and seized by a sudden fit of jealousy, went
toward her as if to recall her.
"Jeanne," said he, vaguely holding out his arms.
"Well! what is it?" she asked, with crushing haughtiness. "Are you
frightened at having gained your cause so quickly?"
And as Serge did not speak:
"Come," added she, "you will have a handsome fee; Micheline's dower will
be worth the trouble you have had."
They heard Cayrol's hurried steps ascending the stairs.
"You have done me the honor to call me, Mademoiselle," said he, remaining
on the threshold of the drawing-room. "Am I fortunate enough at length
to have found favor in your eyes?"
"Here is my hand," said Mademoiselle de Cernay, simply tendering him her
white taper fingers, which he covered with kisses.
Madame Desvarennes had come in behind the banker. She uttered a joyous
"Cayrol, you shall not marry Jeanne for her beauty alone. I will give
her a dower."
Micheline fell on her companion's neck. It was a concert of
congratulations. But Jeanne, with a serious air, led Cayrol aside:
"I wish to act honestly toward you, sir; I yield to the pleading of which
I am the object. But you must know that my sentiments do not change so
quickly. It is my hand only which I give you today."
"I have not the conceitedness to think that you love me, Mademoiselle,"
said Cayrol, humbly. "You give me your hand; it will be for me to gain
your heart, and with time and sincere affection I do not despair of
winning it. I am truly happy, believe me, for the favor you do me, and
all my life long shall be spent in proving my gratitude to you."
Jeanne was moved; she glanced at Cayrol, and did not think him so common-
looking as usual. She resolved to do all in her power to like this good
Serge, in taking leave of Madame Desvarennes, said:
"In exchange for all the happiness which you give me, I have only my life
to offer; accept it, Madame, it is yours."
The mistress looked at the Prince deeply; then, in a singular tone, said:
"I accept it; from to-day you belong to me."
Marechal took Pierre by the arm and led him outside.
"The Prince has just uttered words which remind me of Antonio saying to
the Jew in 'The Merchant of Venice': 'Thy ducats in exchange for a pound
of my flesh.' Madame Desvarennes loves her daughter with a more
formidable love than Shylock had for his gold. The Prince will do well
to be exact in his payments of the happiness which he has promised."
A PLEASANT UNDERSTANDING
The day following this memorable evening, Pierre left for Algeria,
notwithstanding the prayers of Madame Desvarennes who wished to keep him
near her. He was going to finish his labors. He promised to return in
time for the wedding. The mistress, wishing to give him some
compensation, offered him the management of the mills at Jouy, saying:
"So that if you are not my son, you will be at least my partner. And if
I do not leave you all my money at my death, I can enrich you during my
Pierre would not accept. He would not have it said that in wishing to
marry Micheline he had tried to make a speculation. He wished to leave
that house where he had hoped to spend his life, empty-handed, so that no
one could doubt that it was the woman he loved in Micheline and not the
heiress. He had been offered a splendid appointment in Savoy as manager
of some mines; he would find there at the same time profit and happiness,
because there were interesting scientific studies to be made in order to
enable him to carry on the work creditably. He resolved to throw himself
heart and soul into the work and seek forgetfulness in study.
In the mansion of the Rue Saint-Dominique the marriage preparations were
carried on with great despatch. On the one side the Prince, and on the
other Cayrol, were eager for the day: the one because he saw the
realization of his ambitious dreams, the other because he loved so madly.
Serge, gracious and attentive, allowed himself to be adored by Micheline,
who was never weary of listening to and looking at him whom she loved.
It was a sort of delirium that had taken possession of the young girl.
Madame Desvarennes looked on the metamorphosis in her child with
amazement. The old Micheline, naturally indolent and cold, just living
with the indolence of an odalisque stretched on silk cushions, had
changed into a lively, loving sweetheart, with sparkling eyes and
cheerful lips. Like those lowers which the sun causes to bloom and be
fragrant, so Micheline under a look from Serge became animated and grown
The mother looked on with bitterness; she spoke of this transformation in
her child with ironical disdain, She was sure Micheline was not in
earnest; only a doll was capable of falling in love so foolishly with a
man for his personal beauty. For to her mind the Prince was as regards
mental power painfully deficient. No sense, dumb as soon as the
conversation took a serious turn, only able to talk dress like a woman,
or about horses like a jockey. And it was such a person upon whom
Micheline literally doted! The mistress felt humiliated; she dared not
say anything to her daughter, but she relieved herself in company of
Marechal, whose discretion she could trust, and whom she willingly called
the tomb of her secrets.
Marechal listened patiently to the confidences of Madame Desvarennes,
and he tried to fight against the growing animosity of the mistress
toward her future son-in-law. Not that he liked the Prince--he was too
much on Pierre's side to be well disposed toward Panine; but with his
good sense he saw that Madame Desvarennes would find it advantageous to
overcome her feeling of dislike. And when the mistress, so formidable
toward everybody except her daughter, cried with rage:
"That Micheline! I have just seen her again in the garden, hanging on
the arm of that great lanky fellow, her eyes fixed on his like a lark
fascinated by a looking-glass. What on earth has happened to her that
she should be in such a state?"
Marechal interrupted her gently.
"All fair people are like that," he affirmed with ironical gayety. "You
cannot understand it, Madame; you are dark."
Then Madame Desvarennes became angry.
"Be quiet," she said, "you are stupid! She ought to have a shower-bath!
She is mad!"
As for Cayrol he lived in ecstasy, like an Italian kneeling before a
madonna. He had never been so happy; he was overwhelmed with joy. Until
then, he had only thought of business matters. To be rich was the aim of
his life; and now he was going to work for happiness. It was all
pleasure for him. He was not blase; he amused himself like a child,
adorning the rooms which were to be occupied by Jeanne. To his mind
nothing was too expensive for the temple of his goddess, as he said, with
a loud laugh which lighted up his whole face. And when he spoke of his
love's future nest, he exclaimed, with a voluptuous shiver:
"It is charming; a veritable little paradise!" Then the financier shone
through all, and he added:
"And I know what it costs!"
But he did not grudge his money. He knew he would get the interest of it
back. On one subject he was anxious--Mademoiselle de Cernay's health.
Since the day of their engagement, Jeanne had become more serious and
dull. She had grown thin and her eyes were sunken as if she wept in
secret. When he spoke of his fears to Madame Desvarennes, the latter
"These young girls are so senseless. The notion of marriage puts them in
such an incomprehensible state! Look at my daughter. She chatters like
a magpie and skips about like a kid. She has two glow-worms under her
eyelids! As to Jeanne, that's another affair; she has the matrimonial
melancholy, and has the air of a young victim. Leave them alone; it will
all come right. But you must admit that the gayety of the one is at
least as irritating as the languor of the other!"
Cayrol, somewhat reassured by this explanation, and thinking, like her,
that it was the uncertainties of marriage which were troubling Jeanne,
no longer attached any importance to her sad appearance. Micheline and
Serge isolated themselves completely. They fled to the garden as soon as
any one ventured into the drawing room, to interrupt their tete-a-tete.
If visitors came to the garden they took refuge in the conservatory.
This manoeuvre pleased Serge, because he always felt uncomfortable in
Jeanne's presence. Mademoiselle de Cernay had a peculiar wrinkle on her
brow whenever she saw Micheline passing before her hanging on the arm of
the Prince, which tormented him. They were obliged to meet at table in
the evening, for Serge and Cayrol dined at the Rue Saint-Dominique.
The Prince talked in whispers to Micheline, but every now and then he was
obliged to speak to Jeanne. These were painful moments to Serge. He was
always in dread of some outburst, knowing her ardent and passionate
nature. Thus, before Jeanne, he made Micheline behave in a less
demonstrative manner. Mademoiselle Desvarennes was proud of this
reserve, and thought it was tact and good breeding on the part of the
Prince, without doubting that what she thought reserve in the man of the
world was the prudence of an anxious lover.
Jeanne endured the tortures of Hades. Too proud to say anything after
the explanation she had had with Serge, too much smitten to bear calmly
the sight of her rival's happiness, she saw draw near with deep horror
the moment when she would belong to the man whom she had determined to
marry although she did not love him. She once thought of breaking off
the engagement; as she could not belong to the man whom she adored,
at least she could belong to herself. But the thought of the struggle
she would have to sustain with those who surrounded her, stopped her.
What would she do at Madame Desvarennes's? She would have to witness
the happiness of Micheline and Serge. She would rather leave the house.
With Cayrol at least she could go away; she would be free, and perhaps
the esteem which she would surely have for her husband would do instead
of love. Sisterly or filial love, in fact the least affection, would
satisfy the poor man, who was willing to accept anything from Jeanne.
And she would not have that group of Serge and Micheline before her eyes,
always walking round the lawn and disappearing arm in arm down the narrow
walks. She would not have the continual murmur of their love-making in
her ears, a murmur broken by the sound of kisses when they reached shady
One evening, when Serge appeared in the little drawing-room of the Rue
Saint-Dominique, he found Madame Desvarennes alone. She looked serious,
as if same important business were pending. She stood before the
fireplace; her hands crossed behind her back like a man. Apparently,
she had sought to be alone. Cayrol, Jeanne, and Micheline were in the
garden. Serge felt uneasy. He had a presentiment of trouble.
But determined to make the best of it, whatever it might be, he looked
pleasant and bowed to Madame Desvarennes, without his face betraying his
"Good-day, Prince; you are early this evening, though not so early as
Cayrol; but then he does not quite know what he is doing now. Sit down,
I want to talk to you. You know that a young lady like Mademoiselle
Desvarennes cannot get married without her engagement being much talked
about. Tongues have been very busy, and pens too. I have heard a lot of
scandal and have received heaps of anonymous letters about you."
Serge gave a start of indignation.
"Don't be uneasy," continued the mistress. "I did not heed the tales,
and I burned the letters. Some said you were a dissolute man, capable of
anything to gain your object. Others insinuated that you were not a
Prince, that you were not a Pole, but the son of a Russian coachman and a
little dressmaker of Les Ternes; that you had lived at the expense of
Mademoiselle Anna Monplaisir, the star of the Varietes Theatre, and that
you were bent on marrying to pay your debts with my daughter's money."
Panine, pale as death, rose up and said, in a stifled voice:
"Sit down, my dear child," interrupted the mistress. "If I tell you
these things, it is because I have the proofs that they are untrue.
Otherwise, I would not have given myself the trouble to talk to you about
them. I would have shown you the door and there would have been an end
of it. Certainly, you are not an angel; but the peccadillos which you
have been guilty of are those which one forgives in a son, and which in a
son-in-law makes some mothers smile. You are a Prince, you are handsome,
and you have been loved. You were then a bachelor; and it was your own
affair. But now, you are going to be, in about ten days, the husband of
my daughter, and it is necessary for us to make certain arrangements.
Therefore, I waited to see you, to speak of your wife, of yourself, and
What Madame Desvarennes had just said relieved Serge of a great weight.
He felt so happy that he resolved to do everything in his power to please
the mother of his betrothed.
"Speak, Madame," he exclaimed. "I am listening to you with attention and
confidence. I am sure that from you I can only expect goodness and
The mistress smiled.
"Oh, I know you have a gilt tongue, my handsome friend, but I don't pay
myself with words, and I, am not easy to be wheedled."
"Faith," said Serge, "I won't deceive you. I will try to please you with
all my heart."
Madame Desvarennes's face brightened as suddenly at these words as a
landscape, wrapped in a fog, which is suddenly lighted up by the sun.
"Then we shall understand each other," she said. "For the last fortnight
we have been busy with marriage preparations, and have not been able to
think or reason. Everybody is rambling about here. Still, we are
commencing a new life, and I think it is as well to lay the foundation.
I seem to be drawing up a contract, eh? What can I do? It is an old
business habit. I like to know how I stand."
"I think it is quite right. I think, too, that you have acted with great
delicacy in not imposing your conditions upon me before giving your
"Has that made you feel better disposed toward me? So much the better!"
said the mistress. "Because you know that I depend on my daughter, who
will henceforth depend on you, and it is to my interest that I should be
in your good graces."
In pronouncing these words with forced cheerfulness, Madame Desvarennes's
voice trembled slightly. She knew what an important game she was
playing, and wished to win it at any price.
"You see," continued she, "I am not an easy woman to deal with. I am a
little despotic, I know. I have been in the habit of commanding during
the last thirty-five years. Business was heavy, and required a strong
will. I had it, and the habit is formed. But this strong will, which
has served me so well in business will, I am afraid, with you, play me
some trick. Those who have lived with me a long time know that if I am
hot-headed I have a good heart. They submit to my tyranny; but you who
are a newcomer, how will you like it?"
"I shall do as the others do," said Serge, simply. "I shall be led,
and with pleasure. Think that I have lived for years without kindred,
without ties--at random; and, believe me, any chain will be light and
sweet which holds me to any one or anything. And then," frankly added
he, changing his tone and looking at Madame Desvarennes with tenderness,
"if I did not do everything to please you I should be ungrateful."
"Oh!" cried Madame Desvarennes, "unfortunately that is not a reason."
"Would you have a better one?" said the young man, in his most charming
accent. "If I had not married your daughter for her own sake, I believe
that I should have married her for yours." Madame Desvarennes was quite
pleased, and shaking her finger threateningly at Serge, said:
"Ah, you Pole, you boaster of the North!"
"Seriously," continued Serge, "before I knew I was to be your son-in-law,
I thought you a matchless woman. Add to the admiration I had for your
great qualities the affection which your goodness has inspired, and you
will understand that I am both proud and happy to have such a mother as
Madame Desvarennes looked at Panine attentively; she saw he was sincere.
Then, taking courage, she touched the topic of greatest interest to her.
"If that is the case, you will have no objections to live with me?" She
stopped; then emphasized the words, "With me."
"But was not that understood?" asked Serge, gayly' "I thought so. You
must have seen that I have not been seeking a dwelling for my wife and
myself. If you had not made the offer to me, I should have asked you to
let me stay with you."
Madame Desvarennes broke into such an outburst of joy that she astonished
Panine. It was then only that in that pallor, in that sudden trembling,
in that changed voice, he understood, the immensity of the mother's love
for her daughter.
"I have everything to gain by that arrangement," continued he. "My wife
will be happy at not leaving you, and you will be pleased at my not
having taken away your daughter. You will both like me better, and that
is all I wish."
"How good you are in deciding thus, and how I thank you for it," resumed
Madame Desvarennes. "I feared you would have ideas of independence."
"I should have been happy to sacrifice them to you, but I have not even
All that Serge had said had been so open and plain, and expressed with
such sweetness that, little by little, Madame Desvarennes's prejudices
disappeared. He took possession of her as he had done of Micheline,
and as he did of every one whom he wished to conquer. His charm was
irresistible. He seized on one by the eyes and the ears. Naturally
fascinating, moving, captivating, bold, he always preserved his artless
and tender ways, which made him resemble a young girl.
"I am going to tell you how we shall manage," said the mistress.
"Foreseeing my daughter's marriage, I have had my house divided into two
distinct establishments. They say that life in common with a mother-in-
law is objectionable to a son-in-law, therefore I wish you to have a home
of your own. I know that an old face like mine frightens young lovers.
I will come to you when you invite me. But even when I am shut up in my
own apartments I shall be with my daughter; I shall breathe the same air;
I shall hear her going and coming, singing, laughing, and I shall say to
myself, 'It is all right, she is happy.' That is all I ask. A little
corner, whence I can share her life."
Serge took her hand with effusion.
"Don't be afraid; your daughter will not leave you."
Madame Desvarennes, unable to contain her feelings, opened her arms, and
Serge fell on her breast, like a true son.
"Do you know, I am going to adore you!" cried Madame Desvarennes,
showing Panine a face beaming with happiness.
"I hope so," said the young man, gayly.
Madame Desvarennes became thoughtful.
"What a strange thing life is!" resumed she. "I did not want you for a
son-in-law, and now you are behaving so well toward me that I am full of
remorse. Oh, I see now what a dangerous man you are, if you captivate
other women's hearts as you have caught mine."
She looked at the Prince fixedly, and added, in her clear commanding
voice, with a shade of gayety:
"Now, I hope you will reserve all your powers of charming for my
daughter. No more flirting, eh? She loves you; she would be jealous,
and you would get into hot water with me! Let Micheline's life be happy,
without a cloud-blue, always blue sky!"
"That will be easy," said Serge. "To be unhappy I should have to seek
misfortune; and I certainly shall not do that."
He began to laugh.
"Besides, your good friends who criticised so when you gave me
Micheline's hand would be only too pleased. I will not give them the
pleasure of posing as prophets and saying, 'We knew it would be so!'"
"You must forgive them," replied Madame Desvarennes. "You have made
enemies. Without speaking of projects which I had formed, I may say that
my daughter has had offers from the best folks in Paris; from first-rate
firms! Our circle was rather indignant.
"People said: 'Oh, Madame Desvarennes wanted her daughter to be a
Princess. We shall see how it will turn out. Her son-in-law will spend
her money and spurn her.' The gossip of disappointed people. Give them
the lie; manage that we shall all live together, and we shall be right
against the world."
"Do you hope it will be so?"
"I am sure of it," answered the mistress, affectionately pressing the
hand of her future son-in-law.
Micheline entered, anxious at the long interview between Serge and her
mother. She saw them hand in hand. She uttered a joyful cry, and threw
her arms caressingly round her mother's neck.
"Well! you are agreed?" she said, making a gracious sign to Serge.
"He has been charming," replied Madame Desvarennes, whispering in her
daughter's ear. "He agrees to live in this house, and that quite
gracefully. There, child, this is the happiest moment I've had since
your engagement. I admit that I regret nothing."
Then, resuming aloud:
"We will leave to-morrow for Cernay, where the marriage shall take place.
I shall have to order the workmen in here to get ready for your
reception. Besides the wedding will be more brilliant in the country.
We shall have all the work-people there. We will throw the park open to
the countryside; it will be a grand fete. For we are lords of the manor
there," added she, with pride.
"You are right, mamma; it will be far better," exclaimed Micheline.
And taking Serge by the hand:
"Come, let us go," said she, and led him into the garden.
And amid the sweet-smelling shrubs they resumed their walk, always the
same yet ever new, their arms twined round each other, the young girl
clinging to him whom she loved, and he looking fondly at her, and with
caressing voice telling her the oft-told tale of love which she was never
tired of hearing, and which always filled her with thrills of joy.
THE DOUBLE MARRIAGE
The Chateau of Cernay is a vast and beautiful structure of the time of
Louis XIII. A walled park of a hundred acres surrounds it, with trees
centuries old. A white painted gate separates the avenue from the road
leading to Pontoise by way of Conflans. A carpet of grass, on which
carriages roll as if on velvet, leads up to the park gates. Before
reaching, it there is a stone bridge which spans the moat of running
water. A lodge of stone, faced with brick, with large windows, rises at
each corner of this space.
The chateau, surrounded by cleverly arranged trees, stands in the centre,
on a solid foundation of red granite from the Jura. A splendid double
staircase leads to the ground floor as high as an 'entresol'. A spacious
hall, rising to the roof of the building, lighted by a window filled with
old stained glass, first offers itself to the visitor. A large organ, by
Cavallie-Col, rears its long brilliant pipes at one end of the hall to a
level with the gallery of sculptured wood running round and forming a
balcony on the first floor. At each corner is a knight in armor, helmet
on head, and lance in hand, mounted on a charger, and covered with the
heavy trappings of war. Cases full of objects of art of great value,
bookshelves containing all the new books, are placed along the walls.
A billiard-table and all sorts of games are lodged under the vast
staircase. The broad bays which give admission to the reception-rooms
and grand staircase are closed by tapestry of the fifteenth century,
representing hunting scenes. Long cords of silk and gold loop back these
marvellous hangings in the Italian style. Thick carpets, into which the
feet sink, deaden the sound of footsteps. Spacious divans, covered with
Oriental materials, are placed round the room.
Over the chimney-piece, which is splendidly carved in woodwork, is a
looking-glass in the Renaissance style, with a bronze and silver frame,
representing grinning fawns and dishevelled nymphs. Benches are placed
round the hearth, which is large enough to hold six people. Above the
divans, on the walls, are large oilpaintings by old masters. An
"Assumption," by Jordaens, which is a masterpiece; "The Gamesters," by
Valentin; "A Spanish Family on Horseback," painted by Velasquez; and the
marvel of the collection--a "Holy Family," by Francia, bought in Russia.
Then, lower down, "A Young Girl with a Canary," by Metzu; a "Kermesse,"
by Braurver, a perfect treasure, glitter, like the gems they are, in the
midst of panoplies, between the high branches of palm-trees planted in
enormous delft vases. A mysterious light filters into that fresh and
picturesque apartment through the stained-glass windows.
From the hall the left wing is reached, where the reception-rooms are,
and one's eyes are dazzled by the brightness which reigns there. It is
like coming out from a cathedral into broad daylight. The furniture, of
gilt wood and Genoese velvet, looks very bright. The walls are white and
gold; and flowers are everywhere. At the end is Madame Desvarennes's
bedroom, because she does not like mounting stairs, and lives on the
ground floor. Adjoining it is a conservatory, furnished as a drawing-
room, and serving as a boudoir for the mistress of the house.
The dining-room, the gun-room, and the smoking-room are in the right
wing. The gun-room deserves a particular description. Four glass cases
contain guns of every description and size of the best English and French
manufacture. All the furniture is made of stags' horns, covered with
fox-skins and wolf-skins. A large rug, formed by four bears' skins, with
menacing snouts, showing their white teeth at the four corners, is in the
centre of the room. On the walls are four paintings by Princeteau,
admirably executed, and representing hunting scenes. Low couches, wide
as beds, covered with gray cloth, invite the sportsmen to rest. Large
dressing-rooms, fitted up with hot and cold water, invite them to refresh
themselves with a bath. Everything has been done to suit the most
fastidious taste. The kitchens are underground.
On the first story are the principal rooms. Twelve bedrooms, with
dressing-rooms, upholstered in chintz of charming design. From these, a
splendid view of the park and country beyond may be obtained. In the
foreground is a piece of water, bathing, with its rapid current, the
grassy banks which border the wood, while the low-lying branches of the
trees dip into the flood, on which swans, dazzlingly white, swim in
stately fashion. Beneath an old willow, whose drooping boughs form quite
a vault of pale verdure, a squadron of multicolored boats remain fastened
to the balustrade of a landing stage. Through an opening in the trees
you see in the distance fields of yellow corn, and in the near
background, behind a row of poplars, ever moving like a flash of silver
lightning, the Oise flows on between its low banks.
This sumptuous dwelling, on the evening of the 14th of July, was in its
greatest splendor. The trees of the park were lit up by brilliant
Venetian lanterns; little boats glided on the water of the lake carrying
musicians whose notes echoed through the air. Under a marquee, placed
midway in the large avenue, the country lads and lasses were dancing with
spirit, while the old people, more calm, were seated under the large
trees enjoying the ample fare provided. A tremendous uproar of gayety
reechoed through the night, and the sound of the cornet attracted the
people to the ball.
It was nine o'clock. Carriages were fast arriving with guests for the
mansion. In the centre of the handsome hall, illuminated with electric
light, stood Madame Desvarennes in full dress, having put off black for
one day, doing honor to the arrivals. Behind her stood Marechal and
Savinien, like two aides-de-camp, ready, at a sign, to offer their arms
to the ladies, to conduct them to the drawing-rooms. The gathering was
numerous. Merchant-princes came for Madame Desvarennes's sake; bankers
for Cayrol's; and the aristocrats and foreign nobility for the Prince's.
An assemblage as opposed in ideas as in manners: some valuing only money,
others high birth; all proud and elbowing each other with haughty
assurance, speaking ill of each other and secretly jealous.
There were heirs of dethroned kings; princes without portions, who were
called Highness, and who had not the income of their fathers' former
chamberlains; millionaires sprung from nothing, who made a great show and
who would have given half of their possessions for a single quartering of
the arms of these great lords whom they affected to despise.
Serge and Cayrol went from group to group; the one with his graceful and
delicate elegance; the other with his good-humor, radiant and elated by
the consciousness of his triumphs. Herzog had just arrived, accompanied
by his daughter, a charming girl of sixteen, to whim Marechal had offered
his arm. A whispering was heard when Herzog passed. He was accustomed
to the effect which he produced in public, and quite calmly congratulated
Serge had just introduced Micheline to Count Soutzko, a gray-haired old
gentleman of military appearance, whose right sleeve was empty. He was a
veteran of the Polish wars, and an old friend of Prince Panine's, at
whose side he had received the wounds which had so frightfully mutilated
him. Micheline, smiling, was listening to flattering tales which the old
soldier was relating about Serge. Cayrol, who had got rid of Herzog,
was looking for Jeanne, who had just disappeared in the direction of the
The rooms were uncomfortably warm, and many of the visitors had found
their way to the terraces. Along the marble veranda, overlooking the
lake, chairs had been placed. The ladies, wrapped in their lace scarfs,
had formed into groups and were enjoying the delights of the beautiful
evening. Bursts of subdued laughter came from behind fans, while the
gentlemen talked in whispers. Above all this whispering was heard the
distant sound of the cornet at the peasants' ball.
Leaning over the balustrade, in a shady corner, far from the noise which
troubled him and far from the fete which hurt him, Pierre was dreaming.
His eyes were fixed on the illuminations in the park, but he did not see
them. He thought of his vanished hopes. Another was beloved by
Micheline, and in a few hours he would take her away, triumphant and
happy. A great sadness stole over the young man's spirit; he was
disgusted with life and hated humanity. What was to become of him now?
His life was shattered; a heart like his could not love twice, and
Micheline's image was too deeply engraven on it for it ever to be
effaced. Of what use was all the trouble he had taken to raise himself
above others? A worthless fellow had passed that way and Micheline had
yielded to him. Now it was all over!
And Pierre asked himself if he had not taken a wrong view of things, and
if it was not the idle and good-for-nothing fellows who were more prudent
than he. To waste his life in superhuman works, to tire his mind in
seeking to solve great problems, and to attain old age without other
satisfaction than unproductive honors and mercenary rewards. Those who
only sought happiness and joy--epicureans who drive away all care, all
pain, and only seek to soften their existence, and brighten their
horizon--were they not true sages? Death comes so quickly! And it is
with astonishment that one perceives when the hour is at hand, that one
has not lived! Then the voice of pride spoke to him: what is a man who
remains useless, and does not leave one trace of his passage through the
world by works or discoveries? And, in a state of fever, Pierre said to
"I will throw myself heart and soul into science; I will make my name
famous, and I will make that ungrateful child regret me. She will see
the difference between me and him whom she has chosen. She will
understand that he is nobody, except by her money, whereas she would
have been all by me."
A hand was placed on his shoulder; and Marechal's affectionate voice said
"Well! what are you doing here, gesticulating like that?"
Pierre turned round.
Lost in his thoughts he had not heard his friend approaching.
"All our guests have arrived," continued Marechal. "I have only just
been able to leave them and to come to you. I have been seeking you for
more than a quarter of an hour. You are wrong to hide yourself; people
will make remarks. Come toward the house; it is as well to show yourself
a little; people might imagine things which they must not imagine."
"Eh! let them think what they like; what does it matter to me?" said
Pierre, sadly. "My life is a blank."
"Your life may be a blank; but it is your duty not to let any one
perceive it. Imitate the young Spartan, who smiled although the fox,
hidden under his cloak, was gnawing his vitals. Let us avoid ridicule,
my friend. In society there is nothing that provokes laughter more than
a disappointed lover, who rolls his eyes about and looks woe-begone.
And, then, you-see, suffering is a human law; the world is an arena, life
is a conflict. Material obstacles, moral griefs, all hinder and
overwhelm us. We must go on, though, all the same, and fight. Those who
give in are trodden down! Come, pull yourself together!"
"And for whom should I fight now? A moment ago I was making projects,
but I was a fool! All hope and ambition are dead in me."
"Ambition will return, you may be sure! At present you are suffering
from weariness of mind; but your strength will return. As to hope, one
must never despair."
"What can I expect in the future?"
"What? Why, everything! In this world all sorts of things happen!"
said Marechal, gayly. "Who is to prove that the Princess will not be a
Pierre could not help laughing and said,
"Come, don't talk such nonsense!"
"My dear fellow," concluded Marechal, "in life it is only nonsense that
is common-sense. Come and smoke a cigar."
They traversed several groups of people and bent their steps in the
direction of the chateau. The Prince was advancing toward the terrace,
with an elegantly dressed and beautiful woman on his arm. Savinien, in
the midst of a circle of dandies, was picking the passers-by to pieces in
his easy-going way. Pierre and Marechal came behind these young men
without being noticed.
"Who is that hanging on the arm of our dear Prince?" asked a little fat
man, girt in a white satin waistcoat, and a spray of white lilac in his
"Eh! Why, Le Brede, my boy, you don't know anything!" cried Savinien in
a bantering, jocose tone.
"Because I don't know that lovely fair woman?" said Le Brede, in a
piqued voice. "I don't profess to know the names of all the pretty women
"In Paris? That woman from Paris? You have not looked at her. Come,
open your eyes. Pure English style, my friend."
The dandies roared with laughter. They had at once recognized the pure
English style. They were not men to be deceived. One of them, a tall,
dark fellow, named Du Tremblays, affected an aggrieved air, and said:
"Le Brede, my dear fellow, you make us blush for you!"
The Prince passed, smiling and speaking in a low voice to the beautiful
Englishwoman, who was resting the tips of her white gloved fingers on her
"Who is she?" inquired Le Brede, impatiently.
"Eh, my dear fellow, it is Lady Harton, a cousin of the Prince. She is
extremely rich, and owns a district in London."
"They say that a year ago she was very kind to Serge Panine," added Du
"Why did he not marry her, then, since she is so rich? He has been quite
a year in the market, the dear Prince."
"She is married."
"Oh, that is a good reason. But where is her husband?"
"Shut up in a castle in Scotland. Nobody ever sees him. He is out of
his mind; and is surrounded by every attention."
"And a strait-waistcoat! Then why does not this pretty woman get a
"The money belongs to the husband."
Pierre and Marechal had listened, in silence, to this cool and yet
terrible conversation. The group of young men dispersed. The two
friends looked at each other. Thus, then, Serge Panine was judged by his
companions in pleasure, by the frequenters of the clubs in which he had
spent a part of his existence. The Prince being "in the market" was
obliged to marry a rich woman. He could not marry Lady Harton, so he
had sought Micheline. And the sweet child was the wife of such a man!
And what could be done? She loved him!
Madame Desvarennes and Micheline appeared on the terrace. Lady Harton
pointed to the bride with her fan. The Prince, leaving his companion,
advanced toward Micheline.
"One of my English relatives, a Polish lady, married to Lord Harton,
wishes to be introduced to you," said Serge. "Are you agreeable?"
"With all my heart," replied the young wife, looking lovingly at her
husband. "All who belong to you are dear to me, you know."
The beautiful Englishwoman approached slowly.
"The Princess Panine!" said Serge, gravely, introducing Micheline, who
bowed gracefully. Then, with a shade of familiarity: "Lady Harton!"
continued he, introducing his relative.
"I am very fond of your husband, Madame," said the Englishwoman. "I hope
you will allow me to love you also; and I beg you to grant me the favor
of accepting this small remembrance."
While speaking, she unfastened from her wrist a splendid bracelet with
the inscription, Semper.
Serge frowned and looked stern. Micheline, lowering her eyes, and awed
by the Englishwoman's grandeur, timidly said:
"I accept it, Madame, as a token of friendship."
"I think I recognize this bracelet, Madame," observed Serge.
"Yes; you gave it to me," replied Lady Harton, quietly. "Semper--I beg
your pardon, Madame, we Poles all speak Latin--Semper means 'Always!'
It is a great word. On your wife's arm this bracelet will be well
placed. Au revoir, dear Prince. I wish you every happiness."
And bowing to Micheline with a regal bow, Lady Harton took the arm of a
tall young man whom she had beckoned, and walked away.
Micheline, amazed, looked at the bracelet sparkling on her white wrist.
Without uttering a word Serge unfastened it, took it off his wife's arm,
and advancing on the terrace, with a rapid movement flung it in the
water. The bracelet gleamed in the night-air and made a brilliant
splash; then the water resumed its tranquillity. Micheline, astonished,
looked at Serge, who came toward her, and very humbly said:
"I beg your pardon."
The young wife did not answer, but her eyes filled with tears; a smile
brightened her lips, and hurriedly taking his arm, she led him into the
Dancing was going on there. The young ladies of Pontoise, and the cream
of Creil, had come to the fete, bent on not losing such an opportunity of
enjoying themselves. Under the watchful eyes of their mothers, who,
decked out in grand array, were seated along the walls, they were
gamboling, in spite of the stifling heat, with all the impetuosity of
young provincials habitually deprived of the pleasures of the ballroom.
Crossing the room, Micheline and Serge reached Madame Desvarennes's
It was delightfully cool in there. Cayrol had taken refuge there with
Jeanne, and Mademoiselle Susanne Herzog. This young girl felt
uncomfortable at being a third party with the newly-married couple, and
welcomed the arrival of the Prince and Micheline with pleasure. Her
father had left her for a moment in Cayrol's care; but she had not seen
him for more than an hour.
"Mademoiselle," said the Prince, gayly, "a little while ago, when I was
passing through the rooms, I heard these words: 'Loan, discount,
liquidation.' Your father must have been there. Shall I go and seek
"I should be very grateful," said the young girl.
"I will go."
And turning lightly on his heels, happy to escape Jeanne's looks, Serge
reentered the furnace. At once he saw Herzog seated in the corner of a
bay-window with one of the principal stock-brokers of Paris. He was
speaking. The Prince went straight up to him.
"Sorry to draw you away from the sweets of conversation," said he,
smiling; "but your daughter is waiting for you, and is anxious at your
"Faith! My daughter, yes. I will come and see you tomorrow," said he to
his companion. "We will talk over this association: there is much to be
gained by it."
The other, a man with a bloated face, and fair Dundreary whiskers, was
eager to do business with him. Certainly the affair was good.
"Oh, my dear Prince, I am happy to be alone with you for a moment!" said
Herzog, with that familiarity which was one of his means of becoming
intimate with people. "I was going to compliment you! What a splendid
position you have reached."
"Yes; I have married a charming woman," replied the Prince, coldly.
"And what a fortune!" insisted the financier. "Ah, it is worthy of the
lot of a great lord such as you are! Oh, you are like those masterpieces