Part 4 out of 5
of Countess Woreseff. She had furnished it in Oriental style, with low
seats and large divans, inviting one to rest and dream during the heat of
the day. In the centre of the apartment was a large ottoman, the middle
of which formed a flower-stand. Steps led down from the gallery to the
terrace whence there was a most charming view of sea and land.
On seeing his aunt enter, Savinien rushed forward and seized both her
hands. Madame Desvarennes's arrival was an element of interest in his
unoccupied life. The dandy guessed at some mysterious business and
thought it possible that he might get to know it. With open ears and
prying eyes, he sought the meaning of the least words.
"If you knew, my dear aunt, how surprised I am to see you here," he
exclaimed in his hypocritical way.
"Not more so than I am to find myself here," said she, with a smile.
"But, bah! I have slipped my traces for a week."
"And what are you going to do here?" continued Savinien.
"What everybody does. By-the-bye, what do they do?" asked Madame
Desvarennes, with vivacity.
"That depends," answered the Prince. "There are two distinct populations
here. On the one hand, those who take care of themselves; on the other,
those who enjoy themselves. For the former there is the constitutional
every morning in the sun, with slow measured steps on the Promenade des
Anglais. For the latter there are excursions, races, regattas. The
first economize their life like misers; the second waste it like
prodigals. Then night comes on, and the air grows cold. Those who take
care of themselves go home, those who amuse themselves go out. The first
put on dressing-gowns; the second put on ball-dresses. Here, the house
is quiet, lit up by a night-light; there, the rooms sparkle with light,
and resound with the noise of music and dancing. Here they cough, there
they laugh. Infusion on the one hand, punch on the other. In fact,
everywhere and always, a contrast. Nice is at once the saddest and the
gayest town. One dies of over-enjoyment, and one amuses one's self at
the risk of dying."
"A sojourn here is very dangerous, then?"
"Oh! aunt, not so dangerous, nor, above all, so amusing as the Prince
says. We are a set of jolly fellows, who kill time between the dining-
room of the hotel, pigeon-shooting, and the Cercle, which is not so very
amusing after all."
"The dining-room is bearable," said Marechal, "but pigeon-shooting must
in time become--"
"We put some interest into the game."
"Oh! It is very simple: a gentleman with a gun in his hand stands before
the boxes which contain the pigeons. You say to me: 'I bet fifty louis
that the bird will fall.' I answer, 'Done.' The gentleman calls out,
'Pull;' the box opens, the pigeon flies, the shot follows. The bird
falls or does not fall. I lose or win fifty louis."
"Most interesting!" exclaimed Mademoiselle Herzog.
"Pshaw!" said Savinien with ironical indifference, "it takes the place
of 'trente et quarante,' and is better than 'odd or even' on the numbers
of the cabs which pass."
"And what do the pigeons say to that?" asked Pierre, seriously.
"They are not consulted," said Serge, gayly.
"Then there are races and regattas," continued Savinien.
"In which case you bet on the horses?" interrupted Marechal.
"Or on the boats."
"In fact, betting is applied to all circumstances of life?"
"Exactly; and to crown all, we have the Cercle, where we go in the
evening. Baccarat triumphs there. It is not very varied either: A
hundred louis? Done--Five. I draw. There are some people who draw at
five. Nine, I show up, I win or I lose, and the game continues."
"And that amid the glare of gas and the smoke of tobacco," said Marechal,
"when the nights are so splendid and the orange-trees smell so sweetly.
What a strange existence!"
"An existence for idiots, Marechal," sighed Savinien, "that I, a man of
business, must submit to, through my aunt's domineering ways! You know
now how men of pleasure spend their lives, my friend, and you might write
a substantial resume entitled, 'The Fool's Breviary.' I am sure it would
Madame Desvarennes, who had heard the last words, was no longer
listening. She was lost in a deep reverie. She was much altered since
grief and trouble had come upon her; her face was worn, her temples
hollow, her chin was more prominent. Her eyes had sunk into her head,
and were surrounded by dark rims.
Serge, leaning against the wall near the window, was observing her. He
was wondering with secret anxiety what had brought Madame Desvarennes so
suddenly to his house after a separation of two months, during which time
she had scarcely written to Micheline. Was the question of money to be
resumed? Since the morning Madame had been smiling, calm and pleased
like a schoolgirl home for her holidays. This was the first time she had
allowed a sad expression to rest on her face. Her gayety was feigned
A look crossing his made him start. Jeanne had just turned her eyes
toward him. For a second they met his own. Serge could not help
shuddering. Jeanne was calling his attention to Madame Desvarennes; she,
too, was observing her. Was it on their account she had come to Nice?
Had their secret fallen into her hands? He resolved to find out.
Jeanne had turned away her eyes from him. He could feast his on her now.
She had become more beautiful. The tone of her complexion had become
warmer. Her figure had developed. Serge longed to call her his own.
For a moment his hands trembled; his throat was dry, his heart seemed to
He tried to shake off this attraction, and walked to the centre of the
room. At the same time visitors were announced. Le Bride, with his
inseparable friend, Du Tremblay, escorting Lady Harton, Serge's beautiful
cousin, who had caused Micheline some anxiety on the day of her marriage,
but whom she no longer feared; then the Prince and Princess Odescalchi,
Venetian nobles, followed by Monsieur Clement Souverain, a young Belgian,
starter of the Nice races, a great pigeon shot, and a mad leader of
"Oh, dear me! my lady, all in black?" said Micheline, pointing to the
tight-fitting black satin worn by the English beauty.
"Yes, my dear Princess; mourning," replied Lady Harton, with a vigorous
shake of the hands. "Ball-room mourning--one of my best partners;
gentlemen, you know Harry Tornwall?"
"Countess Alberti's cavalier?" added Serge. "Well?"
"Well! he has just killed himself."
A concert of exclamations arose in the drawing-room, and the visitors
suddenly surrounded her.
"What! did you not know? It was the sole topic of conversation at
Monaco to-day. Poor Tornwall, being completely cleared out, went during
the night to the park belonging to the villa occupied by Countess
Alberti, and blew his brains out under her window."
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Micheline.
"It was very bad taste on your countryman's part," observed Serge.
"The Countess was furious, and said that Tornwall's coming to her house
to kill himself proved clearly to her that he did not know how to
"Do you wish to prevent those who are cleared out from blowing out their
brains?" inquired Cayrol. "Compel the pawnbrokers of Monaco to lend a
louis on all pistols."
"Well," retorted young Monsieur Souverain, "when the louis is lost the
players will still be able to hang themselves."
"Yes," concluded Marechal, "then at any rate the rope will bring luck to
"Gentlemen, do you know that what you have been relating to us is very
doleful?" said Suzanne Herzog. "Suppose, to vary our impressions, you
were to ask us to waltz?"
"Yes, on the terrace," said Le Brede, warmly. "A curtain of orange-trees
will protect us from the vulgar gaze."
"Oh! Mademoiselle, what a dream!" sighed Du Tremblay, approaching
Suzanne. "Waltzing with you! By moonlight."
"Yes, friend Pierrot!" sang Suzanne, bursting into a laugh.
Already the piano, vigorously attacked by Pierre, desirous of making
himself useful since he could not be agreeable, was heard in the next
room. Serge had slowly approached Jeanne.
"Will you do me the favor of dancing with me?" he asked, softly.
The young woman started; her cheeks became pale, and in a sharp tone she
"Why don't you ask your wife?"
"You or nobody."
Jeanne raised her eyes boldly, and looking at him in the face, said,
"Well, then, nobody!"
And, rising, she took the arm of Cayrol, who was advancing toward her.
The Prince remained motionless for a moment, following them with his
eyes. Then, seeing his wife alone with Madame Desvarennes, he went out
on the terrace. Already the couples were dancing on the polished marble.
Joyful bursts of laughter rose in the perfumed air that sweet March
night. A deep sorrow came over Serge; an intense disgust with all
things. The sea sparkled, lit up by the moon. He had a mad longing to
seize Jeanne in his arms and carry her far away from the world, across
that immense calm space which seemed made expressly to rock sweetly
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Micheline intended following her husband, but Madame Desvarennes, without
rising, took hold of her hand.
"Stay with me for a little while," she said, tenderly. "We have scarcely
exchanged ten words since my arrival. Come, tell me, are you pleased to
"How can you ask me that?" answered Micheline, seating herself on the
sofa beside her mother.
"I ask you so that you may tell me so," resumed Madame Desvarennes,
softly. "I know what you think, but that is not enough." She added
"Kiss me, will you?"
Micheline threw her arms round her mother's neck, saying, "Dear mamma!"
which made tears spring to the tortured mother's eyes. She folded her-
daughter in her arms, and clasped her as a miser holds his treasure.
"It is a long time since I have heard you speak thus to me. Two months!
And I have been desolate in that large house you used to fill alone in
the days gone by."
The young wife interrupted her mother, reproachfully:
"Oh! mamma; I beg you to be reasonable."
"To be reasonable? In other words, I suppose you mean that I am to get
accustomed to living without you, after having for twenty years devoted
my life to you? Bear, without complaining, that my happiness should be
taken away, and now that I am old lead a life without aim, without joy,
without trouble even, because I know if you had any troubles you would
not tell me!"
There was a moment's pause. Then Micheline, in a constrained manner,
"What grief s could I have?"
Madame Desvarennes lost all patience, and giving vent to her feelings
"Those which your husband causes you!"
Micheline arose abruptly.
"Mother!" she cried.
But the mistress had commenced, and with unrestrained bitterness,
"That gentleman has behaved toward me in such a manner as to shake my
confidence in him! After vowing that he would never separate you from
me, he brought you here, knowing that I could not leave Paris."
"You are unjust," retorted Micheline. "You know the doctors ordered me
to go to Nice."
"Pooh! You can make doctors order you anything you like!" resumed her
mother, excitedly, and shaking her head disdainfully. "Your husband said
to our good Doctor Rigaud: 'Don't you think that a season in the South
would do my wife good?' The doctor answered: 'If it does not do her any
good it certainly won't do her any harm.' Then your husband added,
'just take a sheet of paper and write out a prescription. You
understand? It is for my mother-in-law, who will not be pleased at our
And as Micheline seemed to doubt what she was saying, the latter added:
"The doctor told me when I went to see him about it. I never had much
faith in doctors, and now--"
Micheline felt she was on delicate ground, and wanted to change the
subject. She soothed her mother as in days gone by, saying:
"Come, mamma; will you never be able to get used to your part? Must you
always be jealous? You know all wives leave their mothers to follow
their husbands. It is the law of nature. You, in your day, remember,
followed your husband, and your mother must have wept."
"Did my mother love me as I love you?" asked Madame Desvarennes,
impetuously. "I was brought up differently. We had not time to love
each other so much. We had to work. The happiness of spoiling one's
child is a privilege of the rich. For you there was no down warm enough
or silk soft enough to line your cradle. You have been petted and
worshipped for twenty years. Yet, it only needed a man, whom you
scarcely knew six months ago, to make you forget everything."
"I have not forgotten anything," replied Micheline, moved by these
passionate expressions. "And in my heart you still hold the same place."
The mistress looked at the young wife, then, in a sad tone, said:
"It is no longer the first place."
This simple, selfish view made Micheline smile.
"It is just like you, you tyrant!" she exclaimed. "You must be first.
Come, be satisfied with equality! Remember that you were first in the
field, and that for twenty years I have loved you, while he has to make
up for lost time. Don't try to make a comparison between my love for him
and my affection for you. Be kind: instead of looking black at him, try
to love him. I should be so happy to see you united, and to be able,
without reservation, to think of you both with the same tenderness!"
"Ah! how you talk me over. How charming and caressing you can be when
you like. And how happy Serge ought to be with a wife like you! It is
always the way; men like him always get the best wives."
"I don't suppose, mamma, you came all the way from Paris to run down my
husband to me."
Madame Desvarennes became serious again.
"No; I came to defend you."
Micheline looked surprised.
"It is time for me to speak. You are seriously menaced," continued the
"In my love?" asked the young wife, in an altered tone.
"No; in your fortune."
Micheline smiled superbly.
"If that be all!"
This indifference made her mother positively jump.
"You speak very coolly about it! At the rate your husband is spending,
there will be nothing left of your dowry in six months."
"Well!" said the Princess, gayly, "you will give us another."
Madame Desvarennes assumed her cold businesslike manner.
"Ta! ta! ta! Do you think there is no limit to my resources? I gave
you four millions when you were married, represented by fifteen hundred
thousand francs, in good stock, a house in the Rue de Rivoli, and eight
hundred thousand francs which I prudently kept in the business, and for
which I pay you interest. The fifteen hundred thousand francs have
vanished. My lawyer came to tell me that the house in the Rue de Rivoli
had been sold without a reinvestment taking place."
The mistress stopped. She had spoken in that frank, determined, way of
hers that was part of her strength. She looked fixedly at Micheline, and
"Did you know this, my girl?"
The Princess, deeply troubled, because now it was not a question of
sentiment, but of serious moment, answered, in a low tone:
"How is that possible?" Madame Desvarennes demanded, hotly. "Nothing
can be done without your signature."
"I gave it," murmured Micheline.
"You gave it!" repeated the mistress in a tone of anger. "When?"
"The day after my marriage."
"Your husband had the impudence to ask for it the day after your
"He did not ask for it, mamma," she replied, with sweetness; "I offered
it to him. You had settled all on me."
"Prudently! With a fellow like your husband!"
"Your mistrust must have been humiliating to him. I was ashamed of it.
I said nothing to you, because I knew you would rather prevent the
marriage, and I loved Serge. I, therefore, signed the contract which you
had had prepared. Only the next day I gave a general power of attorney
to my husband."
Madame Desvarennes's anger was over. She was observing Micheline, and
wished to find out the depth of the abyss into which her daughter had
thrown herself with blind confidence.
"And what did he say then?" she inquired.
"Nothing," answered Micheline, simply. "Tears came to his eyes, and he
kissed me. I saw that this delicacy touched his heart and I was happy.
There, mamma," she added with eyes sparkling at the remembrance of the
pleasure she had experienced, "he may spend as much as he likes; I am
amply repaid beforehand."
Madame Desvarennes shrugged her shoulders, and said:
"My dear child, you are mad enough to be locked up. What is there about
the fellow to turn every woman's brain?"
"Every woman's?" exclaimed Micheline, anxiously, looking at her mother.
"That is a manner of speaking. But, my dear, you must understand that I
cannot be satisfied with what you have just told me. A tear and a kiss!
Bah! That is not worth your dowry."
"Come, mamma, do let me be happy."
"You can be happy without committing follies. You do not need a racing-
"Oh, he has chosen such pretty colors," interrupted Micheline, with a
smile. "Pearl-gray and silver, and pink cap. It is charming!"
"You think so? Well, you are not difficult to please. And the club?
What do you say to his gambling?"
Micheline turned pale, and with a constraint which hurt her mother, said:
"Is it necessary to make a fuss about a few games at bouillotte?"
This continual defense of Serge exasperated Madame Desvarennes.
"Don't talk to me," she continued, violently. "I am well informed on
that subject. He leaves you alone every evening to go and play with
gentlemen who turn up the king with a dexterity the Legitimists must
envy. My dear, shall I tell you his fortune? He commenced with cards;
he continues with horses; he will finish with worthless women!"
"Mamma!" cried Micheline, wounded to the heart.
"And your money will pay the piper! But, happily, I am here to put your
household matters right. I am going to keep your gentleman so well under
that in future he will walk straight, I'll warrant you!"
Micheline rose and stood before her mother, looking so pale that the
latter was frightened.
"Mother," she said, in trembling tones, "if ever you say one word to my
husband, take care! I shall never see you again!"
Madame Desvarennes flinched before her daughter. It was no longer the
weak Micheline who trusted to her tears, but a vehement woman ready to
defend him whom she loved. And as she remained silent, not daring to
"Mother," continued Micheline, with sadness, yet firmly, "this
explanation was inevitable; I have suffered beforehand, knowing that I
should have to choose between my affection for my husband and my respect
"Between the one and the other," said the mistress, bitterly, "you don't
hesitate, I see."
"It is my duty; and if I failed in it, you yourself, with your good
sense, would see it."
"Oh! Micheline, could I have expected to find you thus?" cried the
mother, in despair. "What a change! It is not you who are speaking;
it is not my daughter. Fool that you are! Don't you see whither you
are being led? You, yourself, are preparing your own misfortune.
Don't think that my words are inspired by jealousy. A higher sentiment
dictates them, and at this moment my maternal love gives me, I fear, a
foresight of the future. There is only just time to rescue you from the
danger into which you are running. You hope to retain your husband by
your generosity? There where you think you are giving proofs of love he
will only see proofs of weakness. If you make yourself cheap he will
count you as nothing. If you throw yourself at his feet he will trample
The Princess shook her head haughtily, and smiled.
"You don't know him, mamma. He is a gentleman; he understands all these
delicacies, and there is more to be gained by submitting one's self to
his discretion, than by trying to resist his will. You blame his manner
of existence, but you don't understand him. I know him. He belongs to a
different race than you and I. He needs refinements of luxury which
would be useless to us, but the deprivation of which would be hard to
him. He suffered much when he was poor, he is making up for it now.
We are guilty of some extravagances, 'tis true; but what does it matter?
For whom have you made a fortune? For me! For what object? My
happiness! Well, I am happy to surround my Prince with the glory and
pomp which suits him so well. He is grateful to me; he loves me, and I
hold his love dearer than all else in the world; for if ever he ceases to
love me I shall die!"
"Micheline!" cried Madame Desvarennes, beside herself, and seizing her
daughter with nervous strength.
The young wife quietly allowed her fair head to fall on her mother's
shoulder, and whispered faintly in her ear:
"You don't want to wreck my life. I understand your displeasure. It is
natural; I feel it. You cannot think otherwise than you do, being a
simple, hardworking woman; but I beg of you to banish all hatred, and
confine these ideas within yourself. Say nothing more about them for
love of me!"
The mother was vanquished. She had never been able to resist that
"Ah! cruel child," she moaned, "what pain you are causing me!"
"You consent, don't you, dear mother?" murmured Micheline, falling into
the arms of her by whom she knew she was adored.
"I will do as you wish," said Madame Desvarennes, kissing her daughter's
hair--that golden hair which, in former days, she loved to stroke.
The strains of the piano sounded on the terrace. In the shade, groups of
merry dancers were enjoying themselves. Happy voices were heard
approaching, and Savinien, followed by Marechal and Suzanne, came briskly
up the steps.
"Oh, aunt, it is not fair," said the dandy. "If you have come here to
monopolize Micheline, you will be sent back to Paris. We want a vis-a
-vis for a quadrille. Come, Princess, it is delightfully cool outside,
and I am sure you will enjoy it."
"Monsieur Le Brede has gathered some oranges, and is trying to play at
cup and ball with them on his nose, while his friend, Monsieur du
Tremblay, jealous of his success, talks of illuminating the trees with
bowls of punch," said Marechal.
"And what is Serge doing?" inquired Micheline, smiling.
"He is talking to my wife on the terrace," said Cayrol, appearing in the
The young people went off and were lost in the darkness. Madame
Desvarennes looked at Cayrol. He was happy and calm. There was no trace
of his former jealousy. During the six months which had elapsed since
his marriage, the banker had observed his wife closely, her actions, her
words: nothing had escaped him. He had never found her at fault. Thus,
reassured, he had given her his confidence and this time forever. Jeanne
was adorable; he loved her more than ever. She seemed very much changed
to him. Her disposition, formerly somewhat harsh, had softened, and the
haughty, capricious girl had become a mild, demure, and somewhat serious
woman. Unable to read his companion's thoughts, Cayrol sincerely
believed that he had been unnecessarily anxious, and that Jeanne's
troubles had only been passing fancies. He took credit of the change in
his wife to himself, and was proud of it.
"Cayrol, oblige me by removing that lamp; it hurts my eyes," said Madame
Desvarennes, anxious that the traces on her face, caused by her late
discussion with her daughter, should not be visible. "Then ask Jeanne to
come here for a few minutes. I have something to say to her."
"Certainly," said Cayrol, taking the lamp off the table and carrying it
into the adjoining room.
Darkness did Madame Desvarennes good. It refreshed her mind and calmed
her brow. The noise of dancing reached her. She commenced thinking.
So it had vainly tried to prove to her that a life of immoderate pleasure
was not conducive to happiness. The young wife had stopped her ears so
that she might not hear, and closed her eyes that she might not see.
Her mother asked herself if she did not exaggerate the evil. Alas! no.
She saw that she was not mistaken. Examining the society around her, men
and women: everywhere was feverish excitement, dissipation, and nullity.
You might rummage through their brains without finding one practical
idea; in all their hearts, there was not one lofty aspiration. These
people, in their daily life were like squirrels in a cage, and because
they moved, they thought they were progressing. In them scepticism had
killed belief; religion, family, country, were, as they phrased it, all
humbug. They had only one aim, one passion--to enjoy themselves. Their
watchword was "pleasure." All those who did not perish of consumption
would die in lunatic asylums.
What was she doing in the midst of this rottenness? She, the woman of
business? Could she hope to regenerate these poor wretches by her
example? No! She could not teach them to be good, and they excelled in
teaching others harm. She must leave this gilded vice, taking with her
those she loved, and leave the idle and incompetent to consume and
She felt disgusted, and resolved to do all to tear Micheline away from
the contagion. In the meantime she must question Jeanne. A shadow
appeared on the threshold: it was hers. In the darkness of the gallery
Serge crept behind her without being seen. He had been watching Jeanne,
and seeing her go away alone, had followed her. In the angle of the
large bay-window, opening into the garden, he waited with palpitating
heart. Madame Desvarennes's voice was heard in the silence of the
drawing-room; he listened.
"Sit down, Jeanne; our interview will be short, and it could not be
delayed, for to-morrow I shall not be here."
"You are leaving so soon?"
"Yes; I only left Paris on my daughter's account, and on yours. My
daughter knows what I had to tell her; now it is your turn! Why did you
come to Nice?"
"I could not do otherwise."
"Because my husband wished it."
"You ought to have made him wish something else. Your power over him is
There was a moment's pause. Then Jeanne answered:
"I feared to insist lest I should awaken his suspicions."
"Good! But admitting that you came to Nice, why accept hospitality in
"Micheline offered it to us," said Jeanne.
"And even that did not make you refuse. What part do you purpose playing
here? After six months of honesty, are you going to change your mind?"
Serge, behind his shelter, shuddered. Madame Desvarennes's words were
clear. She knew all.
Jeanne's voice was indignant when she replied:
"By what right do you insult me by such a suspicion?"
"By the right which you have given me in not keeping to your bargain.
You ought to have kept out of the way, and I find you here, seeking
danger and already trying those flirtations which are the forerunners of
sin, and familiarizing yourself with evil before wholly giving yourself
up to it."
"Madame!" cried Jeanne, passionately.
"Answer! Have you kept the promise you made me?"
"Have the hopes which you held out to me been realized?" replied Jeanne,
with despair. "For six months I have been away, and have I found peace
of mind and heart? The duty which you pointed out to me as a remedy for
the pain which tortured me I have fruitlessly followed. I have wept,
hoping that the trouble within me would be washed away with my tears.
I have prayed to Heaven, and asked that I might love my husband.
But, no! That man is as odious to me as ever. Now I have lost all my
illusions, and find myself joined to him for the rest of my days! I have
to tell lies, to wear a mask, to smile! It is revolting, and I suffer!
Now that you know what is passing within me, judge, and say whether your
reproaches are not a useless cruelty."
On hearing Jeanne, Madame Desvarennes felt herself moved with deep pity.
She asked herself whether it was not unjust for that poor child to suffer
so much. She had never done anything wrong, and her conduct was worthy
"Unhappy woman!" she said.
"Yes, unhappy, indeed," resumed Jeanne, "because I have nothing to cling
to, nothing to sustain me. My mind is afflicted with feverish thoughts,
my heart made desolate with bitter regrets. My will alone protects me,
and in a moment of weakness it may betray me."
"You still love him?" asked Madame Desvarennes, in a deep voice which
made Serge quiver.
"Do I know? There are times when I think I hate him. What I have
endured since I have been here is incredible! Everything galls me,
irritates me. My husband is blind, Micheline unsuspicious, and Serge
smiles quietly, as if he were preparing some treachery. Jealousy, anger,
contempt, are all conflicting within me. I feel that I ought to go away,
and still I feel a, horrible delight in remaining."
"Poor child!" said Madame Desvarennes. "I pity you from my soul.
Forgive my unjust words; you have done all in your power. You have had
momentary weaknesses like all human beings. You must be helped, and may
rely on me. I will speak to your husband to-morrow; he shall take you
away. Lacking happiness, you must have peace. Go you are a brave heart,
and if Heaven be just, you will be rewarded."
Serge heard the sound of a kiss. In an embrace, the mother had blessed
her adopted daughter. Then the Prince saw Madame Desvarennes go slowly
past him. And the silence was broken only by the sobs of Jeanne who was
half lying on the sofa in the darkness.
THE TELLTALE KISS
Serge slipped from his hiding-place and came toward Jeanne. The carpet
deadened the sound of his steps. The young woman was gazing into vacancy
and breathing with difficulty. He looked at her for a moment without
speaking; then, leaning over her shoulder.
"Is it true, Jeanne," he murmured, softly, "that you hate me?"
Jeanne arose, bewildered, exclaiming,
"Yes, Serge," answered the Prince, "who has never ceased to love you."
A deep blush spread over the young woman's face.
"Leave me," she said. "Your language is unworthy of a man. I will not
listen to you."
And with a quick step she walked toward the gallery. Serge threw himself
in her way, saying:
"You must stop; you cannot escape me."
"But this is madness," exclaimed Jeanne, moving away. "Do you forget
where we are?"
"Do you forget what you have just been saying?" retorted Serge. "I was
there; I did not miss a word."
"If you heard me," said Jeanne, "you know that everything separates us.
My duty, yours, and my will."
"A will which is enforced, and against which your heart rebels. A will
to which I will not submit."
As he spoke, Serge advanced toward her, trying to seize her in his arms.
"Take care!" replied Jeanne. "Micheline and my husband are there. You
must be mad to forget it. If you come a step farther I shall call out."
"Call, then!" cried Serge, clasping her in his arms.
Jeanne tried to free herself from him, but could not.
"Serge," she said, paling with mingled anguish and rapture in the arms of
him whom she adored, "what you are doing is cowardly and base!"
A kiss stopped the words on her lips. Jeanne felt herself giving way.
She made a supreme effort.
"I won't, Serge!" she stammered. "Have mercy!"
Tears of shame rolled down her face.
"No! you belong to me. The other, your husband, stole you from me.
I take you back. I love you!"
The young woman fell on a seat.
"I love you! I love you! I love you!"
A fearful longing took possession of Jeanne. She no longer pushed away
the arms which clasped her. She placed her hands on Serge's shoulder,
and with a deep sigh gave herself up.
A profound silence reigned around. Suddenly a sound of approaching
voices roused them, and at the same moment the heavy curtain which
separated the room from the adjoining drawing-room was lifted. A shadow
appeared on the threshold, as they were still in each other's arms. The
stifled exclamation, "O God!" followed by a sob of agony, resounded.
The door curtain fell, surrounding with its folds the unknown witness of
that terrible scene.
Jeanne had risen, trying to collect her ideas. A sudden light dawned on
her mind; she realized in a moment the extent of her crime, and uttering
a cry of horror and despair, she escaped, followed by Serge, through the
Then the heavy curtain was lifted again, and tottering, livid, almost
dead, Micheline entered the room. Pierre, serious and cold, walked
behind her. The Princess, feeling tired, had come into the house.
Chance had led her there to witness this proof of misfortune and treason.
Both she and Delarue looked at each other, silent and overwhelmed. Their
thoughts whirled through their brains with fearful rapidity. In a moment
they looked back on their existence. He saw the pale betrothed of whom
he had dreamed as a wife, who had willingly given herself to another,
and who now found herself so cruelly punished. She measured the distance
which separated these two men: the one good, loyal, generous; the other
selfish, base, and unworthy. And seeing him whom she adored, so vile and
base compared to him whom she had disdained, Micheline burst into bitter
Pierre tremblingly hastened toward her. The Princess made a movement to
check him, but she saw on the face of her childhood's friend such sincere
grief and honest indignation, that she felt as safe, with him as if he
had really been her brother. Overcome, she let her head fall on his
shoulder, and wept.
The sound of approaching footsteps made Micheline arise. She recognized
her husband's step, and hastily seizing Pierre's hand, said:
"Never breathe a word; forget what you have seen."
Then, with deep grief, she added:
"If Serge knew that I had seen him unawares he would never forgive me!"
Drying her tears, and still tottering from the shock, she left the room.
Pierre remained alone, quite stunned; pitying, yet blaming the poor
woman, who, in her outraged love, still had the absurd courage to hold
her tongue and to resign herself. Anger seized on him, and the more
timid Micheline seemed herself, the more violent and passionate he felt.
Serge came back to the room. After the first moment of excitement, he
had reflected, and wanted to know by whom he had been observed. Was it
Madame Desvarennes, Micheline, or Cayrol, who had come in? At this idea
he trembled, measuring the possible results of the imprudence he had been
guilty of. He resolved to face the difficulty if it were either of these
three interested parties, and to impose silence if he had to deal with an
indifferent person. He took the lamp which Madame Desvarennes had a
short time before asked Cayrol to remove and went into the room. Pierre
was there alone.
The two men measured each other with their looks. Delarue guessed the
anxiety of Serge, and the Prince understood the hostility of Pierre. He
"It was you who came in?" he asked, boldly.
"Yes," replied Pierre, with severity.
The Prince hesitated for a second. He was evidently seeking a polite
form to express his request. He did not find one, and in a threatening
manner, he resumed:
"You must hold your tongue, otherwise--"
"Otherwise?" inquired Pierce, aggressively.
"What is the use of threats?" replied Serge, already calmed. "Excuse
me; I know that you will not tell; if not for my sake at least for that
"Yes, for others," said Pierre, passionately; "for others whom you have
basely sacrificed, and who deserve all your respect and love; for Madame
Desvarennes, whose high intelligence you have not been able to
understand; for Micheline, whose tender heart you have not been able to
appreciate. Yes, for their sakes I will hold my peace, not out of regard
for you, because you neither deserve consideration nor esteem."
The Prince advanced a step, and exclaimed:
Pierre did not move, and looking Serge in the face, continued:
"The truth is unpleasant to you, still you must hear it. You act
according to your fancies. Principles and morals, to which all men
submit, are dead letters to you. Your own pleasure above all things,
and always! That is your rule, eh? and so much the worse if ruin and
trouble to others are the consequences? You only have to deal with two
women, and you profit by it. But I warn you that if you continue to
crush them I will be their defender."
Serge had listened to all this with disdainful impassibility, and when
Pierre had finished, he smiled, snapped his fingers, and turning toward
the young man:
"My dear fellow," said he, "allow me to tell you that I think you are
very impertinent. You come here meddling with my affairs. What
authority have you? Are you a relative? A connection? By what right do
you preach this sermon?"
As he concluded, Serge seated himself and laughed with a careless air.
Pierre answered, gravely:
"I was betrothed to Micheline when she saw and loved you: that is my
right! I could have married her, but sacrificed my love to hers: that
is my authority! And it is in the name of my shattered hopes and lost
happiness that I call you to account for her future peace."
Serge had risen, he was deeply embittered at what Delarue had just told
him, and was trying to recover his calmness. Pierre, trembling with
emotion and anger, was also striving to check their influence.
"It seems to me," said the Prince, mockingly, "that in your claim there
is more than the outcry of an irritated conscience; it is the complaint
of a heart that still loves."
"And if that were so?" retorted Pierre. "Yes, I love her, but with a
pious love, from the depth of my soul, as one would love a saint; and I
only suffer the more to see her suffering."
Somewhat irritated the Prince exclaimed, impatiently:
"Oh, don't let us have a lyric recitation; let us be brief and clear.
What do you want? Explain yourself. I don't suppose that you have
addressed this rebuke to me solely for the purpose of telling me that
you are in love with my wife!"
Pierre disregarded what was insulting in the Prince's answer, and calming
himself, by force of will, replied:
"I desire, since you ask me, that you forget the folly and error of a
moment, and that you swear to me on your honor never to see Madame Cayrol
Pierre's moderation wounded the Prince more than his rage had affected
him. He felt petty beside this devoted friend, who only thought of the
happiness of her whom he loved without hope. His temper increased.
"And what if I refuse to lend myself to those whims which you express so
"Then," said Pierre, resolutely, "I shall remember that, when renouncing
Micheline, I promised to be a brother to her, and if you compel me I will
"You are threatening me, I think," cried Serge, beside himself.
"No! I warn you."
"Enough," said the Prince, scarcely able to command himself. "For any
little service you have rendered me, from henceforth we are quits. Don't
think that I am one of those who yield to violence. Keep out of my path;
it will be prudent."
"Listen, then, to this. I am not one of those who shirk a duty,
whatever the peril be in accomplishing it. You know what price I put on
Micheline's happiness; you are responsible for it, and I shall oblige you
to respect it."
And leaving Serge dumb with suppressed rage, Pierre went out on the
On the high road the sound of the carriages bearing away Savinien, Herzog
and his daughter, resounded in the calm starry night. In the villa
everything was quiet. Pierre breathed with delight; he instinctively
turned his eyes toward the brilliant sky, and in the far-off firmament,
the star which he appropriated to himself long ago, and which he had so
desperately looked for when he was unhappy, suddenly appeared bright and
twinkling. He sighed and moved on.
The Prince spent a part of the night at the club; he was excessively
nervous, and after alternate losses and gains, he retired, carrying off a
goodly sum from his opponents. It was a long time since he had been so
lucky, and on his way home he smiled when he thought how false was the
proverb, "Lucky at play, unlucky in love." He thought of that adorable
Jeanne whom he had held in his arms a few hours before, and who had so
eagerly clung to him. He understood that she had never ceased to belong
to him. The image of Cayrol, self-confident man, happy in his love,
coming to his mind, caused Serge to laugh.
There was no thought for Micheline; she had been the stepping-stone to
fortune for him; he knew that she was gentle and thought her not very
discerning. He could easily deceive her; with a few caresses and a
little consideration he could maintain the illusion of his love for her.
Madame Desvarennes alone inconvenienced him in his arrangements. She was
sagacious, and on several occasions he had seen her unveil plots which he
thought were well contrived. He must really beware of her. He had often
noticed in her voice and look an alarming hardness. She was not a woman
to be afraid of a scandal. On the contrary, she would hail it with joy,
and be happy to get rid of him whom she hated with all her might.
In spite of himself, Serge remembered the night of his union to
Micheline, when he had said to Madame Desvarennes: "Take my life; it is
yours!" She had replied seriously, and almost threateningly: "Very well;
I accept it!" These words now resounded in his ears like a verdict.
He promised himself to play a sure game with Madame Desvarennes. As to
Cayrol, he was out of the question; he had only been created as a
plaything for princes such as Serge; his destiny was written on his
forehead, and he could not escape. If it had not been Panine, some one
else would have done the same thing for him. Besides, how could that
ex-cowherd expect to keep such a woman as Jeanne was to himself. It
would have been manifestly unfair.
The Prince found his valet asleep in the hall. He went quickly to his
bedroom, and slept soundly without remorse, without dreams, until noon.
Coming down to breakfast, he found the family assembled. Savinien had
come to see his aunt, before whom he wanted to place a "colossal idea."
This time, he said, it was worth a fortune. He hoped to draw six
thousand francs from the mistress who, according to her usual custom,
could not fail to buy from him what he called his idea.
The dandy was thoughtful; he was preparing his batteries. Micheline,
pale, and her eyes red for want of rest, was seated near the gallery,
silently watching the sea, on which were passing, in the distance,
fishing-smacks with their sails looking like white-winged birds. Madame
Desvarennes was serious, and was giving Marechal instructions respecting
her correspondence, while at the same time watching her daughter out of
the corner of her eye. Micheline's depressed manner caused her some
anxiety; she guessed some mystery. Still the young wife's trouble might
be the result of last evening's serious interview. But the sagacity of
the mistress guessed a new incident. Perhaps some scene between Serge
and Micheline in regard to the club. She was on the watch.
Cayrol and Jeanne had gone for a drive to Mentone. With a single glance
the Prince took in the attitude of one and all, and after a polite
exchange of words and a careless kiss on Micheline's brow, he seated
himself at table. The repast was silent. Each one seemed preoccupied.
Serge anxiously asked himself whether Pierre had spoken. Marechal,
deeply interested in his plate, answered briefly, when addressed by
Madame Desvarennes. All the guests seemed constrained. It was a relief
when they rose from the table.
Micheline took her husband's arm and leading him into the garden, under
the shade of the magnolias, said to him:
"My mother leaves us to-night. She has received a letter recalling her
to Paris. Her journey here was, you no doubt know, on our account. Our
absence made her sad, and she could no longer refrain from seeing me, so
she came. On her return to Paris she will feel very lonely, and as I am
so often alone--"
"Micheline!" interrupted Serge, with astonishment.
"It is not a reproach, dear," continued the young wife, sweetly. "You
have your engagements. There are necessities to which one must submit;
you do what you think is expected of you, and it must be right. Only
grant me a favor."
"A favor? To you?" replied Serge, troubled at the unexpected turn the
interview was taking. "Speak, dear one; are you not at liberty to do as
"Well," said Micheline, with a faint smile, "as you are so kindly
disposed, promise that we shall leave for Paris this week. The season is
far advancing. All your friends will have returned. It will not be such
a great sacrifice which I ask from you."
"Willingly," said Serge, surprised at Micheline's sudden resolution.
"But, admit," added he, gravely, "that your mother has worried you a
little on the subject."
"My mother knows nothing of my project," returned the Princess, coldly.
"I did not care to say anything about it to her until I had your consent.
A refusal on your part would have seemed too cruel. Already, you are not
the best of friends, and it is one of my regrets. You must be good to my
mother, Serge; she is getting old, and we owe her much gratitude and
Panine remained silent. Could such a sudden change have come over
Micheline in one day? She who lately sacrificed her mother for her
husband now came and pleaded in favor of Madame Desvarennes. What had
He promptly decided on his course of action.
"All that you ask me shall be religiously fulfilled. No concession will
be too difficult for me to make if it please you. You wish to return to
Paris, we will go as soon as our arrangements have been made. Tell
Madame Desvarennes, then, and let her see in our going a proof that I
wish to live on good terms with her."
Micheline simply said: "Thank you." And Serge having gallantly kissed
her hand, she regained the terrace.
Left alone, Serge asked himself the meaning of the transformation in his
wife. For the first time she had shown signs of taking the initiative.
Had the question of money been raised by Madame Desvarennes, and was
Micheline taking him back to Paris in the hope of inducing a change in
his habits? They would see. The idea that Micheline had seen him with
Jeanne never occurred to him. He did not think his wife capable of so
much self-control. Loving as she was, she could not have controlled her
feelings, and would have made a disturbance. Therefore he had no
As to their leaving for Paris he was delighted at the idea. Jeanne and
Cayrol were leaving Nice at the end of the week. Lost in the vastness of
the capital, the lovers would be more secure. They could see each other
at leisure. Serge would hire a small house in the neighborhood of the
Bois de Boulogne, and there they could enjoy each other's society without
CAYROL IS BLIND
Micheline, on her return to Paris, was a cause of anxiety to all her
friends. Morally and physically she was changed. Her former gayety had
disappeared. In a few weeks she became thin and seemed to be wasting
away. Madame Desvarennes, deeply troubled, questioned her daughter,
who answered, evasively, that she was perfectly well and had nothing to
trouble her. The mother called in Doctor Rigaud, although she did not
believe in the profession, and, after a long conference, took him to see
Micheline. The doctor examined her, and declared it was nothing but
debility. Madame Desvarennes was assailed with gloomy forebodings.
She spent sleepless nights, during which she thought her daughter was
dead; she heard the funeral dirges around her coffin. This strong woman
wept, not daring to show her anxiety, and trembling lest Micheline should
suspect her fears.
Serge was careless and happy, treating the apprehensions of those
surrounding him with perfect indifference. He did not think his wife was
ill--a little tired perhaps, or it might be change of climate, nothing
serious. He had quite fallen into his old ways, spending every night at
the club, and a part of the day in a little house in the Avenue Maillot,
near the Bois de Boulogne. He had found one charmingly furnished, and
there he sheltered his guilty happiness.
It was here that Jeanne came, thickly veiled, since her return from Nice.
They each had a latchkey belonging to the door opening upon the Bois.
The one who arrived first waited for the other, within the house, whose
shutters remained closed to deceive passers-by. Then the hour of
departure came; the hope of meeting again did not lessen their sadness at
Jeanne seldom went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. The welcome that
Micheline gave her was the same as usual, but Jeanne thought she
discovered a coldness which made her feel uncomfortable; and she did not
care to meet her lover's wife, so she made her visits scarce.
Cayrol came every morning to talk on business matters with Madame
Desvarennes. He had resumed the direction of his banking establishment.
The great scheme of the European Credit Company had been launched by
Herzog, and promised great results. Still Herzog caused Cayrol
considerable anxiety. Although a man of remarkable intelligence,
he had a great failing, and by trying to grasp too much often ended by
accomplishing nothing. Scarcely was one scheme launched when another
idea occurred to him, to which he sacrificed the former.
Thus, Herzog was projecting a still grander scheme to be based on the
European Credit. Cayrol, less sanguine, and more practical, was afraid
of the new scheme, and when Herzog spoke to him about it, said that
things were well enough for him as they were, and that he would not be
implicated in any fresh financial venture however promising.
Cayrol's refusal had vexed Herzog. The German knew what opinion he was
held in by the public, and that without the prestige of Cayrol's name,
and behind that, the house of Desvarennes, he would never have been able
to float the European Credit as it had been. He was too cunning not to
know this, and Cayrol having declined to join him, he looked round in
search of a suitable person to inspire the shareholders with confidence.
His daughter often went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. Madame Desvarennes
and Micheline had taken a fancy to her, as she was serious, natural, and
homelike. They liked to see her, although her father was not congenial
to their taste. Herzog had not succeeded in making friends with the
mistress; she disliked and instinctively mistrusted him.
One day it was rumored that Suzanne Herzog had gone in for an examination
at the Hotel de Ville, and had gained a certificate: People thought it
was very ridiculous. What was the good of so much learning for a girl
who would have such a large fortune, and who would never know want.
Savinien thought it was affectation and most laughable! Madame
Desvarennes thought it was most interesting; she liked workers, and
considered that the richer people were, the more reason they had to work.
Herzog had allowed his daughter to please herself and said nothing.
Springtime had come, and fine weather, yet Micheline's health did not
improve. She did not suffer, but a sort of languor had come over her.
For days she never quitted her reclining-chair. She was very
affectionate toward her mother, and seemed to be making up for the lack
of affection shown during the first months of her marriage.
She never questioned Serge as to his manner of spending his time, though
she seldom saw him, except at meal hours. Every week she wrote to
Pierre, who was buried in his mines, and after every despatch her mother
noticed that she seemed sadder and paler.
Serge and Jeanne grew bolder. They felt that they were not watched.
The little house seemed too small for them, and they longed to go beyond
the garden, as the air of the Bois was so sweet and scented with violets.
A feeling of bravado came over them, and they did not mind being seen
together. People would think they were a newly-married couple.
One afternoon they sallied forth, Jeanne wearing a thick veil, and
trembling at the risk she was running, yet secretly delighted at going.
They chose the most unfrequented paths and solitary nooks. Then, after
an hour's stroll, they returned briskly, frightened at the sounds of
carriages rolling in the distance. They often went out after that,
and chose in preference the paths near the pond of Madrid where, behind
sheltering shrubs, they sat talking and listening to the busy hum of
Parisian life, seemingly so far away.
One day, about four o'clock, Madame Desvarennes was going to Saint-Cloud
on business, and was crossing the Bois de Boulogne. Her coachman had
chosen the most unfrequented paths to save time. She had opened the
carriage-window, and was enjoying the lovely scent from the shrubs.
Suddenly a watering-cart stopped the way. Madame Desvarennes looked
through the window to see what was the matter, and remained stupefied.
At the turning of a path she espied Serge, with a woman on his arm. She
uttered a cry that caused the couple to turn round. Seeing that pale
face, they sought to hide themselves.
In a moment Madame Desvarennes was out of the carriage. The guilty
couple fled down a path. Without caring what might be said of her,
and goaded on by a fearful rage, she tried to follow them.
She especially wished to see the woman who was closely veiled.
She guessed her to be Jeanne. But the younger woman, terrified,
fled like a deer down a side walk. Madame Desvarennes, quite out of
breath, was obliged to stop. She heard the slamming of a carriage-door,
and a hired brougham that had been waiting at the end of the path swept
by her bearing the lovers toward the town.
The mistress hesitated a moment, then said to her coachman:
"Drive home." And, abandoning her business, she arrived in the Rue
Saint-Dominique a few minutes after the Prince.
With a bound, without going through the offices, without even taking off
her bonnet and cloak, she went up to Serge's apartments. Without
hesitating, she entered the smoking-room.
Panine was there. Evidently he was expecting her. On seeing Madame
Desvarennes he rose, with a smile:
"One can see that you are at home," said he, ironically; "you come in
"No nonsense; the moment is ill-chosen," briefly retorted the mistress.
"Why did you run away when you saw me a little while ago?"
"You have such a singular way of accosting people," he answered, lightly.
"You come on like a charge of cavalry. The person with whom I was
talking was frightened, she ran away and I followed her."
"She was doing wrong then if she was frightened. Does she know me?"
"Who does not know you? You are almost notorious--in the corn-market!"
Madame Desvarennes allowed the insult to pass without remark, and
advancing toward Serge, said:
"Who is this woman?"
"Shall I introduce her to you?" inquired the Prince, quietly. "She is
one of my countrywomen, a Polish--"
"You are a liar!" cried Madame Desvarennes, unable to control her temper
any longer. "You are lying most impudently!"
And she was going to add, "That woman was Jeanne!" but prudence checked
the sentence on her lips.
Serge turned pale.
"You forget yourself strangely, Madame," he said, in a dry tone.
"I forgot myself a year ago, not now! It was when I was weak that I
forgot myself. When Micheline was between you and me I neither dared to
speak nor act.
"But now, since after almost ruining my poor daughter, you deceive her, I
have no longer any consideration for you. To make her come over to my
side I have only to speak one word."
"Well, speak it! She is there. I will call her!"
Madame Desvarennes, in that supreme moment, was assailed by a doubt.
What if Micheline, in her blind love, did not believe her?
She raised her hand to stop Serge.
"Will not the fear of killing my daughter by this revelation stay you?"
asked she, bitterly. "What manner of man are you to have so little heart
Panine burst into laughter.
"You see what your threats are worth, and what value I place on them.
Spare them in the future. You ask me what manner of man I am? I will
tell you. I have not much patience, I hate to have my liberty interfered
with, and I have a horror of family jars. I expect to be master of my
Madame Desvarennes was roused at these words. Her rage had abated on her
daughter's account, but now it rose to a higher pitch.
"Ah! so this is it, is it?" she said. "You would like perfect liberty,
I see! You make such very good use of it. You don't like to hear
remarks upon it. It is more convenient, in fact! You wish to be master
in your own house? In your own house! But, in truth, what are you here
to put on airs toward me? Scarcely more than a servant. A husband
receiving wages from me!"
Serge, with flashing eyes, made a terrible movement. He tried to speak,
but his lips trembled, and he could not utter a sound. By a sign he
showed Madame Desvarennes the door. The latter looked resolutely at the
Prince, and with energy which nothing could henceforth soften, added:
"You will have to deal with me in future! Good-day!"
And, leaving the room with as much calmness as she felt rage when
entering it, she went down to the countinghouse.
Cayrol was sitting chatting with Marechal in his room. He was telling
him that Herzog's rashness caused him much anxiety. Marechal did not
encourage his confidence. The secretary's opinion on the want of
morality on the part of the financier had strengthened. The good feeling
he entertained toward the daughter had not counterbalanced the bad
impression he had of the father, and he warmly advised Cayrol to break
off all financial connection with such a man. Cayrol, indeed, had now
very little to do with the European Credit. The office was still at his
banking house, and the payments for shares were still made into his bank,
but as soon as the new scheme which Herzog was preparing was launched,
the financier intended settling in splendid offices which were being
rapidly completed in the neighborhood of the Opera. Herzog might
therefore commit all the follies which entered his head. Cayrol would be
out of it.
Madame Desvarennes entered. At the first glance, the men noticed the
traces of the emotion she had just experienced. They rose and waited in
silence. When the mistress was in a bad humor everybody gave way to her.
It was the custom. She nodded to Cayrol, and walked up and down the
office, absorbed in her own thoughts. Suddenly stopping, she said:
"Marechal, prepare Prince Panine's account."
The secretary looked up amazed, and did not seem to understand.
"Well! The Prince has had an overdraft; you will give me a statement;
that's all! I wish to see how we two stand."
The two men, astonished to hear Madame Desvarennes speak of her son-in-
law as she would of a customer, exchanged looks.
"You have lent my son-in-law money, Cayrol?"
And as the banker remained silent, still looking at the secretary, Madame
"Does the presence of Marechal make you hesitate in answering me? Speak
before him; I have told you more than a hundred times that he knows my
business as well as I do."
"I have, indeed, advanced some money to the Prince," replied Cayrol.
"How much?" inquired Madame Desvarennes.
"I don't remember the exact amount. I was happy to oblige your son-in-
"You were wrong, and have acted unwisely in not acquainting me of the
fact. It is thus that his follies have been encouraged by obliging
friends. At all events, I ask you now not to lend him any more."
Cayrol seemed put out, and, with his hands in his pockets and his
shoulders up, replied:
"This is a delicate matter which you ask of me. You will cause a quarrel
between the Prince and myself--"
"Do you prefer quarreling with me?" asked the mistress.
"Zounds! No!" replied the banker. "But you place me in an embarrassing
position! I have just promised to lend Serge a considerable sum
"Well! you will not give it to him."
"That is an act which he will scarcely forgive," sighed Cayrol.
Madame Desvarennes placed her hand on the shoulder of the banker, and
looking seriously at him, said:
"You would not have forgiven me if I had allowed you to render him this
A vague uneasiness filled Cayrol's heart, a shadow seemed to pass before
his eyes, and in a troubled voice he said to the mistress:
"Because he would have repaid you badly."
Cayrol thought the mistress was alluding to the money he had already
lent, and his fears vanished. Madame Desvarennes would surely repay it.
"So you are cutting off his resources?" he asked.
"Completely," answered the mistress. "He takes too much liberty, that
young gentleman. He was wrong to forget that I hold the purse-strings.
I don't mind paying, but I want a little deference shown me for my money.
Good-by! Cayrol, remember my instructions."
And, shaking hands with the banker, Madame Desvarennes entered her own
office, leaving the two men together.
There was a moment's pause: Cayrol was the first to break the silence.
"What do you think of the Prince's position?"
"His financial position?" asked Marechal.
"Oh, no! I know all about that! I mean his relation to Madame
"Zounds! If we were in Venice in the days of the Aqua-Toffana, the
sbirri and the bravi--"
"What rubbish!" interrupted Cayrol, shrugging his shoulders.
"Let me continue," said the secretary, "and you can shrug your shoulders
afterward if you like. If we had been in Venice, knowing Madame
Desvarennes as I do, it would not have been surprising to me to have had
Master Serge found at the bottom of the canal some fine morning."
"You are not in earnest," muttered the banker.
"Much more so than you think. Only you know we live in the nineteenth
century, and we cannot make Providence interpose in the form of a dagger
or poison so easily as in former days. Arsenic and verdigris are
sometimes used, but it does not answer. Scientific people have had the
meanness to invent tests by which poison can be detected even when there
"You are making fun of me," said Cayrol, laughing.
"I! No. Come, do you wish to do a good stroke of business? Find a man
who will consent to rid Madame Desvarennes of her son-in-law. If he
succeed, ask Madame Desvarennes for a million francs. I will pay it at
only twenty-five francs' discount, if you like!"
Cayrol was thoughtful. Marechal continued:
"You have known the house a long time, how is it you don't understand
the mistress better? I tell you, and remember this: between Madame
Desvarennes and the Prince there is a mortal hatred. One of the two
will destroy the other. Which? Betting is open."
"But what must I do? The Prince relies on me--"
"Go and tell him not to do so any longer."
"Faith, no! I would rather he came to my office. I should be more at
ease. Adieu, Marechal."
"Adieu, Monsieur Cayrol. But on whom will you bet?"
"Before I venture I should like to know on whose side the Princess is."
"Ah, dangler! You think too much of the women! Some day you will be let
in through that failing of yours!"
Cayrol smiled conceitedly, and went away. Marechal sat down at his desk,
and took out a sheet of paper.
"I must tell Pierre that everything is going on well here," he murmured.
"If he knew what was taking place he would soon be back, and might be
guilty of some foolery or other." So he commenced writing.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Because they moved, they thought they were progressing
Everywhere was feverish excitement, dissipation, and nullity
It was a relief when they rose from the table
Money troubles are not mortal
One amuses one's self at the risk of dying
Scarcely was one scheme launched when another idea occurred
Talk with me sometimes. You will not chatter trivialities
They had only one aim, one passion--to enjoy themselves
Without a care or a cross, he grew weary like a prisoner
By GEORGES OHNET
THE UNIVERSAL CREDIT COMPANY
The banking-house of Cayrol had not a very imposing appearance. It was
a narrow two-storied building, the front blackened by time. There was a
carriage gateway, on the right-hand side of which was the entrance to the
offices. The stairs leading to the first floor were covered by a well-
worn carpet. Here was a long corridor into which the different offices
opened. On their glass doors might be read: "Payments of dividends."
"Accounts." "Foreign correspondence." "General office." Cayrol's own
room was quite at the end, and communicated with his private apartments.
Everything breathed of simplicity and honesty. Cayrol had never tried to
throw dust into people's eyes. He had started modestly when opening the
bank; his business had increased, but his habits had remained the same.
It was not a difficult matter to obtain an interview, even by people not
known to him. They sent in their cards, and were admitted to his
It was amid the coming and going of customers and clerks that Prince
Panine came the following day to find Cayrol. For the first time Serge
had put himself out for the banker. He was introduced with marks of the
most profound respect. The great name of Desvarennes seemed to cast a
kind of halo round his head in the eyes of the clerks.
Cayrol, a little embarrassed, but still resolute, went toward him. Serge
seemed nervous and somewhat abrupt in manner. He foresaw some
"Well! my dear fellow," he said, without sitting down. "What are you up
to? I have waited since yesterday for the money you promised me."
Cayrol scratched his ear, and felt taken aback by this plain speaking.
"The fact is--" stammered he.
"Have you forgotten your engagement?" asked Serge, frowning.
"No," replied Cayrol, speaking slowly, "but I met Madame Desvarennes
"And what had that to do with your intentions?"
"Zounds! It had everything to do with them. Your mother-in-law made a
scene, and forbade my lending you any money. You must understand, my
dear Prince, that my relations with Madame Desvarennes are important.
I hold a great deal of money of hers in my bank. She first gave me a
start. I cannot, without appearing ungrateful, act contrary to her will.
Place yourself in my position, and judge impartially of the terrible
alternative between obliging you and displeasing my benefactress."
"Don't cry; it is useless," said Serge, with a scornful laugh. "I
sympathize with your troubles. You side with the money-bags. It remains
to be seen whether you will gain by it."
"My dear Prince, I swear to you that I am in despair," cried Cayrol,
annoyed at the turn the interview was taking. "Listen; be reasonable!
I don't know what you have done to your mother-in-law, but she seems much
vexed with you. In your place I would rather make a few advances than
remain hostile toward Madame Desvarennes. That would mend matters, you
see. Flies are not to be caught with vinegar."
Serge looked contemptuously at Cayrol, and put on his hat with supreme
"Pardon me, my dear fellow; as a banker you are excellent when you have
any money to spare, but as a moralist you are highly ridiculous."
And, turning on his heel, he quitted the office, leaving Cayrol quite
abashed. He passed along the corridor switching his cane with suppressed
rage. Madame Desvarennes had, with one word, dried up the source from
which he had been drawing most of the money which he had spent during the
last three months. He had to pay a large sum that evening at the club,
and he did not care to apply to the money-lenders of Paris.
He went down the stairs wondering how he would get out of this scrape!
Go to Madame Desvarennes and humble himself as Cayrol advised? Never!
He regretted, for a moment, the follies which had led him into this
difficulty. He ought to have been able to live on two hundred thousand
francs a year! He had squandered money foolishly, and now the
inexhaustible well from which he had drawn his treasure was closed
by an invincible will.
He was crossing the gateway, when a well-known voice struck his ear, and
he turned round. Herzog, smiling in his enigmatical manner, was before
him. Serge bowed, and wanted to pass on, but the financier put his hand
on his arm, saying:
"What a hurry you are in, Prince. I suppose your pocketbook is full of
notes, and you are afraid of being plundered."
And with his finger, Herzog touched the silver mounted pocketbook, the
corner of which was peeping out of the Prince's pocket. Panine could not
control a gesture of vexation, which made the financier smile.
"Am I wrong?" asked Herzog. "Can our friend Cayrol have refused your
request? By-the-bye, did you not quarrel with Madame Desvarennes
yesterday? Whoever was it told me that? Your mother-in-law spoke of
cutting off all your credit, and from your downcast look I guess that
fool Cayrol has obeyed the orders he has received."
Serge, exasperated and stamping with rage, wanted to speak, but it was no
easy matter interrupting Herzog. Besides, there was something in the
latter's look which annoyed Serge. His glance seemed to be fathoming the
depths of Panine's pockets, and the latter instinctively tightened his
arms across his chest, so that Herzog might not see that his pocketbook
"What are you talking about?" asked Serge, at last, with a constrained
"About things which must greatly interest you," said Herzog, familiarly.
"Come, be sincere. Cayrol has just refused you a sum of money. He's a
simpleton! How much do you want? Will a hundred thousand francs do just
And writing a few words on a check, the financier handed it to Serge,
"A man of your position should not be in any difficulty for such a paltry
"But, sir," said Serge, astonished, and pushing away Herzog's hand.
"Accept it, and don't feel indebted to me. It is hardly worth while
between you and me."
And taking Panine's arm Herzog walked on with him.
"Your carriage is there? all right, mine will follow. I want to talk to
you. Your troubles cannot last. I will show you the means of
extricating yourself and that without delay, my dear sir."
And without consulting Panine he seated himself beside him in the
"I told you once, if you remember," continued the financier, "that I
might prove useful to you. You were haughty, and I did not insist; yet
you see the day has come. Let me speak frankly with you. It is my usual
manner, and there is some good in it."
"Speak," answered Serge, rather puzzled.
"You find yourself at this moment, vulgarly speaking, left in the lurch.
Your wants are many and your resources few."
"At least--" protested Serge.
"Good! There you are refractory," said the financier, laughingly, "and I
have not finished. The day after your marriage you formed your household
on a lavish footing; you gave splendid receptions; you bought race-
horses; in short, you went the pace like a great lord. Undoubtedly it
costs a lot of money to keep up such an establishment. As you spent
without counting the cost, you confounded the capital with the interest,
so that at this moment you are three parts ruined. I don't think you
would care to change your mode of living, and it is too late in the day
to cut down expenses and exist on what remains? No. Well, to keep up
your present style you need at least a million francs every year."
"You calculate like Cocker," remarked Serge, smiling with some
"That is my business," answered Herzog. "There are two ways by which you
can obtain that million. The first is by making it up with your mother-
in-law, and consenting, for money, to live under her dominion. I know
her, she will agree to this."
"But," said Serge, "I refuse to submit."
"In that case you must get out of your difficulties alone."
"And how?" inquired the Prince, with astonishment.
Herzog looked at him seriously.
"By entering on the path which I am ready to open up to you," replied
Herzog, "and in which I will guide you. By going in for business."
Serge returned Herzog's glance and tried to read his face, but found him
"To go into business one needs experience, and I have none."
"Mine will suffice," retorted the financier.
"Or money," continued the Prince," and I have none, either."
"I don't ask money from you. I offer you some."
"What, then, do I bring into the concern?"
"The prestige of your name, and your relations with Madame Desvarennes."
The Prince answered, haughtily:
"My relations are personal, and I doubt whether they will serve you. My
mother-in-law is hostile, and will do nothing for me. As to my name, it
does not belong to me, it belongs to those who bore it nobly before me."
"Your relations will serve me," said Herzog. "I am satisfied. Your
mother-in-law cannot get out of your being her daughter's husband, and
for that you are worth your weight in gold. As to your name, it is just
because it has been nobly borne that it is valuable. Thank your
ancestors, therefore, and make the best of the only heritage they left
you. Besides, if you care to examine things closely, your ancestors will
not have reason to tremble in their graves. What did they do formerly?
They imposed taxes on their vassals and extorted money from the
vanquished. We financiers do the same. Our vanquished are the
speculators; our vassals the shareholders. And what a superiority there
is about our proceedings! There is no violence. We persuade; we
fascinate; and the money flows into our coffers. What do I say? They
beseech us to take it. We reign without contest. We are princes, too
princes of finance. We have founded an aristocracy as proud and as
powerful as the old one. Feudality of nobility no longer exists; it has
given way to that of money."
Serge laughed. He saw what Herzog was driving at.
"Your great barons of finance are sometimes subject to executions," said
"Were not Chalais, Cinq-Mars, Biron, and Montmorency executed?" asked
Herzog, with irony.
"That was on a scaffold," replied Panine.
"Well! the speculator's scaffold is the Bourse! But only small dabblers
in money succumb; the great ones are safe from danger. They are
supported in their undertakings by such powerful and numerous interests
that they cannot fail without involving public credit; even governments
are forced to come to their aid. One of these powerful and
indestructible enterprises I have dreamed of grafting on to the European
Credit Company, the Universal Credit Company. Its very name is a
programme in itself. To stretch over the four quarters of the globe like
an immense net, and draw into its meshes all financial speculators: such
is its aim. Nobody will be able to withstand us. I am offering you
great things, but I dream of still greater. I have ideas. You will see
them developed, and will profit by them, if you join my fortunes. You
are ambitious, Prince. I guessed it; but your ambition hitherto has been
satisfied with small things--luxurious indulgences and triumphs of
elegance! What are these worth to what I can give you? The sphere in
which you move is narrow. I will make it immense. You will no longer
reign over a small social circle, you will rule a world."
Serge, more affected than he cared to show, tried to banter.
"Are you repeating the prologue to Faust?" asked he. "Where is your
magical compact? Must I sign it?"
"Not at all. Your consent is sufficient. Look into the business, study
it at your leisure, and measure the results; and then if it suit you, you
can sign a deed of partnership. Then in a few years you may possess a
fortune surpassing all that you have dreamed of."
The financier remained silent. Serge was weighing the question. Herzog
was happy; he had shown himself to all Paris in company with Madame
Desvarennes's son-in-law. He had already realized one of his projects.
The carriage was just passing down the Champs Elysees. The weather was
lovely, and in the distance could be seen the trees of the Tuileries and
the different monuments of the Place de la Concorde bathed in blue mist.
Groups of horsemen were cantering along the side avenues. Long files of
carriages were rolling rapidly by with well-dressed ladies. The capital
displayed at that hour all the splendor of its luxury. It was Paris in
all its strength and gayety.
Herzog stretched out his hand, and calling the Prince's attention to the
"There's your empire!"
Then, looking at him earnestly, he asked:
"Is it agreed?"
Serge hesitated for a moment, and then bowed his head, saying:
"It is agreed."
Herzog pulled the check-string communicating with the coachman and
"Good-by," said he to Panine.
He slipped into his own carriage, which had followed closely behind, and
From that day, even Jeanne had a rival. The fever of speculation had
seized on Serge; he had placed his little finger within the wheels and he
must follow--body, name, and soul. The power which this new game
exercised over him was incredible. It was quite different to the stupid
games at the club, always the same. On the Bourse, everything was new,
unexpected, sudden, and formidable. The intensity of the feelings were
increased a hundredfold, owing to the importance of the sums risked.
It was really a splendid sight to see Herzog manipulating matters,
maneuvering with a miraculous dexterity millions of francs. And then the
field for operations was large. Politics, the interests of nations, were
the mainsprings which impelled the play, and the game assumed diplomatic
vastness and financial grandeur.
From his private office Herzog issued orders, and whether his ability was
really extraordinary, or whether fortune exceptionally favored him,
success was certain. Serge, from the first week, realized considerable
sums. This brilliant success threw him in a state of great excitement.
He believed everything that Herzog said to him as if it were gospel. He
saw the world bending under the yoke which he was about to impose upon
it. People working and toiling every day were doing so for him alone,
and like one of those kings who had conquered the world, he pictured all
the treasures of the earth laid at his feet. From that time he lost the
sense of right and wrong. He admitted the unlikely, and found the
impossible quite natural. He was a docile tool in the hands of Herzog.
The rumor of this unforeseen change in Panine's circumstances soon
reached Madame Desvarennes's ears. The mistress was frightened, and sent
for Cayrol, begging him to remain a director of the European Credit, in
order to watch the progress of the new affair. With her practical common
sense, she foresaw disasters, and even regretted that Serge had not
confined himself to cards and reckless living.
Cayrol was most uneasy, and made a confidant of his wife, who, deeply
troubled, told Panine the fears his friends entertained on his account.
The Prince smiled disdainfully, saying these fears were the effect of
plebeian timidity. The mistress understood nothing of great
speculations, and Cayrol was a narrow-minded banker! He knew what he was
doing. The results of his speculations were mathematical. So far they
had not disappointed his hopes. The great Universal Credit Company, of
which he was going to be a director, would bring him in such an immense
fortune that he would be independent of Madame Desvarennes.
Jeanne, terrified at this blind confidence, tried to persuade him. Serge
took her in his arms, kissed her, and banished her fears.
Madame Desvarennes had forbidden her people to tell Micheline anything of
what was going on, as she wished her to remain in perfect ignorance. By
a word, the mistress, if she could not have prevented the follies of
which Serge was guilty, could, at least, have spared herself and her
daughter. It would have only been necessary to reveal his behavior and
betrayal to Micheline, and to provoke a separation. If the house of
Desvarennes were no longer security for Panine, his credit would fall.
Disowned by his mother-in-law, and publicly given up by her, he would be
of no use to Herzog, and would be promptly thrown over by him. The
mistress did not wish her daughter to know the heartrending truth. She
would not willingly cause her to shed tears, and therefore preferred
Micheline, too, tried to hide her troubles from her mother. She knew too
well that Serge would have the worst of it if he got into her black
books. With the incredible persistence of a loving heart, she hoped to
win back Serge. Thus a terrible misunderstanding caused these two women
to remain inactive and silent, when, by united efforts, they might,
perhaps, have prevented dangers.
The great speculation was already being talked about. Herzog was boldly
placing his foot on the summit whereon the five or six demigods, who
ruled the stock market, were firmly placed. The audacious encroachments
of this newcomer had vexed these formidable potentates, and already they
had decided secretly his downfall because he would not let them share in
One morning, the Parisians, on awakening, found the walls placarded with
notices advertising the issue of shares in the Universal Credit Company,
and announcing the names of the directors, among which appeared that of
the Prince. Some were members of the Legion d'Honneur; others recent
members of the Cabinet Council, and Prefets retired into private life.
A list of names to dazzle the public, but all having a weak point.
This created a great sensation in the business world. Madame
Desvarennes's son-in-law was on the board. It was a good speculation,
then? People consulted the mistress, who found herself somewhat in a
dilemma; either she must disown her son-in-law, or speak well of the
affair. Still she did not hesitate, for she was loyal and honest above
all things. She declared the speculation was a poor one, and did all she
could to prevent any of her friends becoming shareholders.
The issue of shares was disastrous. The great banks remained hostile,
and capitalists were mistrustful. Herzog landed a few million francs.
Doorkeepers and cooks brought him their savings. He covered expenses.
But it was no use advertising and puffing in the newspapers, as a word
had gone forth which paralyzed the speculation. Ugly rumors were afloat.
Herzog's German origin was made use of by the bankers, who whispered that
the aim of the Universal Credit Company was exclusively political. It
was to establish branch banks in every part of the world to further the
interests of German industry. Further, at a given moment, Germany might
have need of a loan in case of war, and the Universal Credit Company
would be there to supply the necessary aid to the great military nation.
Herzog was not a man to be put down without resisting, and he made
supreme efforts to float his undertaking. He caused a number of unissued
shares to be sold on 'Change, and had them bought up by his own men, thus
creating a fictitious interest in the company. In a few days the shares
rose and were at a premium, simply through the jobbery to which Herzog
Panine was little disposed to seek for explanations, and, besides, had
such unbounded faith in his partner that he suspected nothing. He
remained in perfect tranquillity. He had increased his expenditure, and
his household was on a royal footing. Micheline's sweetness emboldened
him; he no longer took the trouble of dissimulating, and treated his
young wife with perfect indifference.
Jeanne and Serge met every day at the little house in the Avenue Maillot.
Cayrol was too much engaged with the new anxieties which Herzog caused
him, to look after his wife, and left her quite free to amuse herself.
Besides, he had not the least suspicion. Jeanne, like all guilty women,
overwhelmed him with kind attentions, which the good man mistook for
proofs of love. The fatal passion was growing daily stronger in the
young woman's heart, and she would have found it impossible to have given
up her dishonorable happiness with Panine. She felt herself capable of
doing anything to preserve her lover.
Jeanne had already said, "Oh! if we were but free!" And they formed
projects. They would go away to Lake Lugano, and, in a villa hidden by
trees and shrubs, would enjoy the pleasures of being indissolubly united.
The woman was more eager than the man in giving way to these visions of
happiness. She sometimes said, "What hinders us now? Let us go." But
Serge, prudent and discreet, even in the most affectionate moments, led
Jeanne to take a more sensible view. What was the use of a scandal? Did
they not belong to each other?
Then the young woman reproached him for not loving her as much as she
loved him. She was tired of dissimulating; her husband was an object of
horror to her, and she had to tell him untruths and submit to his
caresses which were revolting to her. Serge calmed her with a kiss, and
bade her wait awhile.
Pierre, rendered anxious on hearing that Serge had joined Herzog in his
dangerous financial speculations, had left his mines and had just
arrived. The letters which Micheline addressed to the friend of her
youth, her enforced confidant in trouble, were calm and resigned. Full
of pride, she had carefully hidden from Pierre the cause of her troubles.
He was the last person by whom she would like to be pitied, and her
letters had represented Serge as repentant and full of good feeling.
Marechal, for similar reasons, had kept his friend in the dark. He
feared Pierre's interference, and he wished to spare Madame Desvarennes
the grief of seeing her adopted son quarreling with her son-in-law.
But the placards announcing the establishment of the Universal Credit
Company made their way into the provinces, and one morning Pierre found
some stuck on the walls of his establishment. Seeing the name of Panine,
and not that of Cayrol, Pierre shuddered. The unpleasant ideas which he
experienced formerly when Herzog was introduced to the Desvarennes
recurred to his mind. He wrote to the mistress to ask what was going on,
and not receiving an answer, he started off without hesitation for Paris.
He found Madame Desvarennes in a terrible state of excitement. The
shares had just fallen a hundred and twenty francs. A panic had ensued.
The affair was considered as absolutely lost, and the shareholders were
aggravating matters by wanting to sell out at once.
Savinien was just coming away from the mistress's room. He wanted to see
the downfall of the Prince, whom he had always hated, looking upon him as
a usurper of his own rights upon the fortune of the Desvarennes.
He began lamenting to his aunt, when she turned upon him with unusual
harshness, and he felt bound as he said, laughing, to leave the "funereal
Cayrol, as much interested in the affairs of the Prince as if they were
his own, went backward and forward between the Rue Saint-Dominique and
the Rue Taitbout, pale and troubled, but without losing his head. He had
already saved the European Credit Company by separating it six weeks
before from the Universal Credit Company, notwithstanding Madame
Desvarennes's supplications to keep them together, in the hope that the
one would save the other. But Cayrol, practical, clear, and implacable,
had refused, for the first time, to obey Madame Desvarennes. He acted
with the resolution of a captain of a vessel, who throws overboard a
portion of the cargo to save the ship, the crew, and the rest of the
merchandise. He did well, and the European Credit was safe. The shares
had fallen a little, but a favorable reaction was already showing itself.
The name of Cayrol, and his presence at the head of affairs, had
reassured the public, and the shareholders gathered round him, passing a
vote of confidence.
The banker, devoted to his task, next sought to save Panine, who was at
that very moment robbing him of his honor and happiness in the house of
the Avenue Maillot.
Pierre, Cayrol, and Madame Desvarennes met in Marechal's private office.
Pierre declared that it was imperative to take strong measures and to
speak to the Prince. It was the duty of the mistress to enlighten
Panine, who was no doubt Herzog's dupe.
Madame Desvarennes shook her head sadly. She feared that Serge was not a
dupe but an accomplice. And what could she tell him? Let him ruin
himself! He would not believe her. She knew how he received her advice
and bore her remonstrances.
An explanation between her and Serge was impossible, and her interference
would only hurry him into the abyss.
"Well, then, I will speak to him," said Pierre, resolutely.
"No," said Madame Desvarennes, "not you! Only one here can tell him
efficaciously what he must hear, and that is Cayrol. Let us above all
things keep guard over our words and our behavior. On no account must
Micheline suspect anything."
Thus, at the most solemn moments, when fortune and honor, perhaps, were
compromised, the mother thought of her daughter's welfare and happiness.
Cayrol went up to the Prince's rooms. He had just come in, and was
opening his letters, while having a cigarette in the smoking-room. A
door, covered by curtains, led to a back stair which opened into the
courtyard. Cayrol had gone up that way, feeling sure that by so doing he
would not meet Micheline.
On seeing Jeanne's husband, Serge rose quickly. He feared that Cayrol
had discovered everything, and instinctively stepped backward. The
banker's manner soon undeceived him. He was serious, but not in a rage.
He had evidently come on business.
"Well, my dear Cayrol," said the Prince, gayly, "what good fortune has
brought you here?"
"If it is fortune, it is certainly not good fortune," answered the
banker, gravely. "I wish to have some talk with you, and I shall be
grateful if you will listen patiently."