This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
By GEORGES OHNET
THE FIRST BREAK
The first two months of this union were truly enchanting. Serge and
Micheline never left each other. After an absence of eight days they had
returned to Paris with Madame Desvarennes, and the hitherto dull mansion
in the Rue Saint-Dominique was filled with joyful bustle. The splendid
stables, formerly too large for the mistress's three horses, were now
insufficient for the service of the Prince. There were eight splendid
carriage-horses, a pair of charming ponies--bought especially for
Micheline's use, but which the young wife had not been able to make up
her mind to drive herself--four saddle-horses, upon which every morning
about eight o'clock, when the freshness of night had perfumed the Bois de
Boulogne, the young people took their ride round the lake.
A bright sun made the sheet of water sparkle between its borders of dark
fir-trees; the flesh air played in Micheline's veil, and the tawny
leather of the saddles creaked. Those were happy days for Micheline, who
was delighted at having Serge near her, attentive to her every want, and
controlling his thoroughbred English horse to her gentle pace. Every now
and then his mount would wheel about and rear in revolt, she following
him with fond looks, proud of the elegant cavalier who could subdue
without apparent effort, by the mere pressure of his thighs, that
Then she would give her horse a touch with the whip, and off she would go
at a gallop, feeling happy with the wind blowing in her face, and he whom
she loved by her side to smile on and encourage her. Then they would
scamper along; the dog with his thin body almost touching the ground,
racing and frightening the rabbits, which shot across the road swift as
bullets. Out of breath by the violent ride, Micheline would stop, and
pat the neck of her lovely chestnut horse. Slowly the young people would
return to the Rue Saint-Dominique, and, on arriving in the courtyard,
there was such a pawing of feet as brought the clerks to the windows,
hiding behind the curtains. Tired with healthy exercise, Micheline would
go smiling to the office where her mother was hard at work, and say:
"Here we are, mamma!"
The mistress would rise and kiss her daughter beaming with freshness.
Then they would go up to breakfast.
Madame Desvarennes's doubts were lulled to rest. She saw her daughter
happy. Her son-in-law was in every respect cordial and charming toward
her. Cayrol and his wife had scarcely been in Paris since their
marriage. The banker had joined Herzog in his great scheme of the
"Credit," and was travelling all over Europe establishing offices and
securing openings. Jeanne accompanied him. They were then in Greece.
The young wife's letters to her adopted mother breathed calmness and
satisfaction. She highly praised her husband's kindness to her, and said
it was unequalled.
No allusion was made to that evening of their marriage, when, escaping
from Cayrol's wrath, she had thrown herself in Madame Desvarennes's arms,
and had allowed her secret to be found out. The mistress might well
think then that the thought which at times still troubled her mind was a
remembrance of a bad dream.
What contributed especially to make her feel secure was Jeanne's absence.
If the young woman had been near Serge, Madame Desvarennes might have
trembled. But Micheline's beautiful rival was far away, and Serge seemed
very much in love with his wife.
Everything was for the best. The formidable projects which Madame
Desvarennes had formed in the heat of her passion had not been earned
out. Serge had as yet not given Madame Desvarennes cause for real
displeasure. Certainly he was spending money foolishly, but then his
wife was so rich!
He had put his household on an extraordinary footing. Everything that
most refined luxury had invented he had introduced as a matter of course,
and for everyday use. He entertained magnificently several times a week.
And Madame Desvarennes, from her apartments, for she would never appear
at these grand receptions, heard the noise of these doings. This woman,
modest and simple in her ideas, whose luxury had always been artistic,
wondered that they could spend so much on frivolous entertainments. But
Micheline was queen of these sumptuous ceremonies. She came in full
dress to be admired by her mother, before going down to receive her
guests, and the mistress had not courage to offer any remonstrances as to
expense when she saw her daughter so brilliant and contented.
They played cards very much. The great colony of foreigners who came
every week to Panine's receptions brought with them their immoderate
passion for cards, and he was only too willing to give way to it. These
gentlemen, among them all, almost without taking off their white kid
gloves, would win or lose between forty and fifty thousand francs at
bouillotte, just to give them an appetite before going to the club to
finish the night at baccarat.
Meanwhile the ladies, with their graceful toilettes displayed on the low
soft chairs, talked of dress behind their fans, or listened to the songs
of a professional singer, while young men whispered soft nothings in
It was rumored that the Prince lost heavily. It was not to be wondered
at; he was so happy in love! Madame Desvarennes, who used every means of
gaining information on the subject, even to the gossip of the servants,
heard that the sums were enormous. No doubt they were exaggerated, but
the fact remained the same. The Prince was losing.
Madame Desvarennes could not resist the inclination of finding out
whether Micheline knew what was going on, and one morning when the young
wife came down to see her mother, dressed in a lovely pink gown, the
mistress, while teasing her daughter, said, carelessly:
"It seems your husband lost heavily last night."
Micheline looked astonished at Madame Desvarennes, and in a quiet voice
"A good host may not win from his guests; it would look as if he invited
them to rob them. Losses at cards are included in the costs of a
Madame Desvarennes thought that her daughter had become a very grand
lady, and had soon acquired expanded ideas. But she dared not say
anything more. She dreaded a quarrel with her daughter, and would have
sacrificed everything to retain her cajoling ways.
She threw herself into her work with renewed vigor.
"If the Prince spends large sums," she said to herself, "I will earn
larger ones. There can be no hole dug deep enough by him that I shall
not be able, to fill up."
And she made the money come in at the door so that her son-in-law might
throw it out of the window.
One fine day these great people who visited at the mansion in the Rue
Saint-Dominique hastened away to the country. September had arrived,
bringing with it the shooting season. The Prince and Micheline settled
themselves at Cernay, not as in the first days of their marriage as
lovers who sought quietude, but as people sure of their happiness, who
wished to make a great show. They took all the carriages with them, and
there was nothing but bustle and movement. The four keepers, dressed in
the Prince's livery, came daily for orders as to shooting arrangements.
And every week shoals of visitors arrived, brought from the station in
large breaks drawn by four horses.
The princely dwelling was in its full splendor. There was a continual
going and coming of fashionable worldlings. From top to bottom of the
castle was a constant rustling of silk dresses; groups of pretty women,
coming downstairs with peals of merry laughter and singing snatches from
the last opera. In the spacious hall they played billiards and other
games, while one of the gentlemen performed on the large organ. There
was a strange mixture of freedom and strictness. The smoke of Russian
cigarettes mingled with the scent of opoponax. An elegant confusion
which ended about six o'clock in a general flight, when the sportsmen
came home, and the guests went to their rooms. An hour afterward all
these people met in the large drawing-room; the ladies in low-bodied
evening dresses; the gentlemen in dress-coats and white satin waistcoats,
with a sprig of mignonette and a white rose in their buttonholes. After
dinner, they danced in the drawing-rooms, where a mad waltz would even
restore energy to the gentlemen tired out by six hours spent in the
Madame Desvarennes did not join in that wild existence. She had remained
in Paris, attentive to business. On Saturdays she came down by the five
o'clock train and regularly returned on the Monday morning. Her presence
checked their wild gayety a little. Her black dress was like a blot
among the brocades and satins. Her severe gravity, that of a woman who
pays and sees the money going too fast, was like a reproach, silent but
explicit, to that gay and thoughtless throng of idlers, solely taken up
by their pleasure.
The servants made fun of her. One day the Prince's valet, who thought
himself a clever fellow, said before all the other servants that Mother
Damper had arrived. Of course they all roared with laughter and
"Bother the old woman! Why does she come and worry us? She had far
better stop in the office and earn money; that's all she's good for!"
The disdain which the servants learned from their master grew rapidly.
So much so that one Monday morning, toward nine o'clock, Madame
Desvarennes came down to the courtyard, expecting to find the carriage
which generally took her to the station. It was the second coachman's
duty to drive her, and she did not see him. Thinking that he was a
little late, she walked to the stable-yard. There, instead of the
victoria which usually took her, she saw a large mail-coach to which two
grooms were harnessing the Prince's four bays. The head coachman, an
Englishman, dressed like a gentleman, with a stand-up collar, and a rose
in his buttonhole, stood watching the operations with an air of
Madame Desvarennes went straight to him. He had seen her coming, out of
the, corner of his eye, without disturbing himself.
"How is it that the carriage is not ready to take me to the station?"
asked the mistress.
"I don't know, Madame," answered this personage, condescendingly, without
taking his hat off.
"But where is the coachman who generally drives me?"
"I don't know. If Madame would like to see in the stables--"
And with a careless gesture, the Englishman pointed out to Madame
Desvarennes the magnificent buildings at the end of the courtyard.
The blood rose to the mistress's cheeks; she gave the coachman such a
look that he moved away a little. Then glancing at her watch, she said,
"I have only a quarter of an hour before the train leaves, but here are
horses that ought to go well. Jump on the box, my man, you shall drive
The Englishman shook his head.
"Those horses are not for service; they are only for pleasure," he
answered. "I drive the Prince. I don't mind driving the Princess, but I
am not here to drive you, Madame."
And with an insolent gesture, setting his hat firmly on his head, he
turned his back upon the mistress. At the same moment, a sharp stroke
from a light cane made his hat roll on the pavement. And as the
Englishman turned round, red with rage, he found himself face to face
with the Prince, whose approach neither Madame Desvarennes nor he had
Serge, in an elegant morning suit, was going round his stables when he
had been attracted by this discussion. The Englishman, uneasy, sought to
frame an excuse.
"Hold your tongue!" exclaimed the Prince, sharply, "and go and wait my
And turning toward the mistress:
"Since this man refuses to drive you, I shall have the pleasure of taking
you to the station myself," he said, with a charming smile.
And as Madame Desvarennes remonstrated,
"Oh! I can drive four-in-hand," he added. "For once in my life that
talent will have been of some use to me. Pray jump in."
And opening the door of the mail-coach he handed her into the vast
carriage. Then, climbing with one bound to the box, he gathered the
reins and, cigar in mouth, with all the coolness of an old coachman, he
started the horses in the presence of all the grooms, and made a perfect
semicircle on the gravel of the courtyard.
The incident was repeated favorably for Serge. It was agreed that he had
behaved like a true nobleman. Micheline was proud of it, and saw in this
act of deference to her mother a proof of his love for her. As to the
mistress, she understood the advantage this clever manoeuvre gave to the
Prince. At the same time she felt the great distance which henceforth
separated her from the world in which her daughter lived.
The insolence of that servant was a revelation to her. They despised
her. The Prince's coachman would not condescend to drive a plebeian like
her. She paid the wages of these servants to no purpose. Her plebeian
origin and business habits were a vice. They submitted to her; they did
not respect her.
Although her son-in-law and daughter were perfect toward her in their
behavior, she became gloomy and dull, and but seldom went now to Cernay.
She felt in the way, and uncomfortable. The smiling and superficial
politeness of the visitors irritated her nerves. These people were too
well bred to be rude toward Panine's mother-in-law, but she felt that
their politeness was forced. Under their affected nicety she detected
irony. She began to hate them all.
Serge, sovereign lord of Cernay, was really happy. Every moment he
experienced new pleasure in gratifying his taste for luxury. His love
for horses grew more and more. He gave orders to have a model stud-house
erected in the park amid the splendid meadows watered by the Oise; and
bought stallions and breeding mares from celebrated English breeders. He
contemplated starting a racing stable.
One day when Madame Desvarennes arrived at Cernay, she was surprised to
see the greensward bordering the woods marked out with white stakes. She
asked inquiringly what these stakes meant? Micheline answered in an easy
"Ah! you saw them? That is the track for training. We made
Mademoiselle de Cernay gallop there to-day. She's a level-going filly
with which Serge hopes to win the next Poule des Produits."
The mistress was amazed. A child who had been brought up so simply, in
spite of her large fortune, a little commoner, speaking of level-going
fillies and the Poule des Produits! What a change had come over her and
what incredible influence this frivolous, vain Panine had over that young
and right-minded girl! And that in a few months! What would it be
later? He would succeed in imparting to her his tastes and would mould
her to his whims, and the young modest girl whom he had received from the
mother would become a horsey and fast woman.
Was it possible that Micheline could be happy in that hollow and empty
life? The love of her husband satisfied her. His love was all she asked
for, all else was indifferent to her. Thus of her mother, the
impassioned toiler, was born the passionate lover! All the fervency
which the mother had given to business, Micheline had given to love.
Moreover, Serge behaved irreproachably. One must do him that justice.
Not even an appearance accused him. He was faithful, unlikely as that
may seem in a man of his kind; he never left his wife. He had hardly
ever gone out without her; they were a couple of turtle-doves. They were
"The Princess has tied a string round Serge's foot," was said by some of
Serge's former woman friends!
It was something to be sure of her daughter's happiness. That happiness
was dearly, bought; but as the proverb says:
"Money troubles are not mortal!"
And, besides, it was evident that the Prince did not keep account of his
money; his hand was always open. And never did a great lord do more
honor to his fortune. Panine, in marrying Micheline, had found the
mistress's cash-box at his disposal.
This prodigious cash-box had seemed to him inexhaustible, and he had
drawn on it like a Prince in the Arabian Nights on the treasure of the
Perhaps it would suffice to let him see that he was spending the capital
as well as the income to make him alter his line of conduct. At all
events, the moment was not yet opportune, and, besides, the amount was
not yet large enough. Cry out about some hundred thousand francs!
Madame Desvarennes would be thought a miser and would be covered with
shame. She must wait.
And, shut up in her office in the Rue Saint-Dominique with Marechal, who
acted as her confidant, she worked with heart and soul full of passion
and anger, making money. It was fine to witness the duel between these
two beings: the one useful, the other useless; one sacrificing everything
to work, the other everything to pleasure.
Toward the end of October, the weather at Cernay became unsettled, and
Micheline complained of the cold. Country life so pleased Serge that he
turned a deaf ear to her complaints. But lost in that large house, the
autumn winds rustling through the trees, whose leaves were tinted with
yellow, Micheline became sad, and the Prince understood that it was time
to go back to Paris.
The town seemed deserted to Serge. Still, returning to his splendid
apartments was a great satisfaction and pleasure to him. Everything
appeared new. He reviewed the hangings, the expensive furniture, the
paintings and rare objects. He was charmed. It was really of wonderful
beauty, and the cage seemed worthy of the bird. For several evenings he
remained quietly at home with Micheline, in the little silver-gray
drawing-room that was his favorite room. He looked through albums, too,
while his wife played at her piano quietly or sang.
They retired early and came down late. Then he had become a gourmand.
He spent hours in arranging menus and inventing unknown dishes about
which he consulted his chef, a cook of note.
He rode in the Bois in the course of the day, but did not meet any one
there; for of every two carriages one was a hackney coach with a worn-out
sleepy horse, his head hanging between his knees, going the round of the
lake. He ceased going to the Bois, and went out on foot in the Champs-
Elysees. He crossed the Pont de la Concorde, and walked up and down the
avenues near the Cirque.
He was wearied. Life had never appeared so monotonous to him. Formerly
he had at least the preoccupations of the future. He asked himself how
he could alter the sad condition in which he vegetated! Shut up in this
happy existence, without a care or a cross, he grew weary like a prisoner
in his cell. He longed for the unforeseen; his wife irritated him, she
was of too equable a temperament. She always met him with the same smile
on her lips. And then happiness agreed with her too well; she was
One day, on the Boulevard des Italiens, Serge met an old friend, the
Baron de Prefont, a hardened 'roue'. He had not seen him since his
marriage. It was a pleasure to him. They had a thousand things to say
to each other. And walking along, they came to the Rue Royale.
"Come to the club," said Prefont, taking Serge by the arm.
The Prince, having nothing else to do, allowed himself to be led away,
and went. He felt a strange pleasure in those large rooms of the club,
the Grand Cercle, with their glaring furniture. The common easy-chairs,
covered with dark leather, seemed delightful. He did not notice the
well-worn carpets burned here and there by the hot cigar-ash; the strong
smell of tobacco, impregnated in the curtains, did not make him feel
qualmish. He was away from home, and was satisfied with anything for a
change. He had been domesticated long enough.
One morning, taking up the newspaper, a name caught Madame Desvarennes's
eye-that of the Prince. She read:
"The golden book of the Grand Cercle has just had another illustrious
name inscribed in it. The Prince Panine was admitted yesterday, proposed
by the Baron de Prefont and the Duc de Bligny."
These few lines made Madame Desvarennes's blood boil. Her ears tingled
as if all the bells of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont had been rung together. In
a rapid vision, she saw misfortune coming. Her son-in-law, that born
gambler, at the Grand Cercle! No more smiles for Micheline; henceforth
she had a terrible rival--the devouring love of play.
Then Madame Desvarennes reflected. The husband's deserting his fireside
would be salvation for herself. The door by which he went out, would
serve as an entrance for her. The plan which she had conceived at Cernay
that terrible night of the marriage when Jeanne had confided in her,
remained for her to execute. By opening her purse widely to the Prince,
she would help him in his vice. And she would infallibly succeed in
separating Serge and Micheline.
But the mistress checked herself. Lend her hands to the destruction of
her son-in-law in a fit of fierce maternal egoism? Was it not unworthy
of her? How many tears would the Prince's errors cost her whom she
wished to regain at all price? And then would she always be there to
compensate by her devoted affection the bitterly regretted estrangement
from the husband? She would, in dying, leave the household disunited.
She was horrified at what she had for an instant dreamed of doing. And
instead of helping the Prince on to destruction, she determined to do all
in her power to keep him in the path of honor. That resolution formed,
Madame Desvarennes was satisfied. She felt superior to Serge, and to a
mind like hers the thought was strengthening.
The admission to the Grand Cercle gave Serge a powerful element of
interest in life: He had to manoeuvre to obtain his liberty. His first
evenings spent from home troubled Micheline deeply. The young wife was
jealous when she saw her husband going out. She feared a rival, and
trembled for her love. Serge's mysterious conduct caused her intolerable
torture. She dared not say anything to her mother, and remained
perfectly quiet on the subject before her husband. She sought
discreetly, listened to the least word that might throw any light on the
One day she found an ivory counter, bearing the stamp of the Grand
Cercle, in her husband's dressing-room. It was in the Rue Royale then
that her husband spent his evenings. This discovery was a great relief
to her. It was not very wrong to go there, and if the Prince did go and
smoke a few cigars and have a game at bouillotte, it was not a very great
crime. The return of his usual friends to Paris and the resumption of
their receptions would bring him home again.
Serge now left Micheline about ten o'clock in the evening regularly and
arrived at the club about eleven. High play did not commence until after
midnight. Then he seated himself at the gaming-table with all the ardor
of a professional gambler. His face changed its expression. When
winning, it was animated with an expression of awful joy; when losing,
he looked as hard as a stone, his features contracted, and his eyes were
full of gloomy fire. He bit his mustache convulsively. Moreover, always
silent, winning or losing with superb indifference.
He lost. His bad luck had followed him. At the club his losses were no
longer limited. There was always some one willing to take a hand, and
until dawn he played, wasting his life and energies to satisfy his insane
love of gambling.
One morning, Marechal entered Madame Desvarennes's private office,
holding a little square piece of paper. Without speaking a word, he
placed it on the desk. The mistress took it, read what was written upon
it in shaky handwriting, and suddenly becoming purple, rose. The paper
bore these simple words:
"Received from Monsieur Salignon the sum of one hundred thousand francs.
"Who brought this paper?" asked Madame Desvarennes, crushing it between
"The waiter who attends the card-room at the club."
"The waiter?" cried Madame Desvarennes, astonished.
"Oh, he is a sort of banker," said Marechal. "These gentlemen apply to
him when they run short of money. The Prince must have found himself in
that predicament. Still he has just received the rents for the property
in the Rue de Rivoli."
"The rents!" grumbled Madame Desvarennes, with an energetic movement.
"The rents! A drop of water in a river! You don't know that he is a man
to lose the hundred thousand francs which they claim, in one night."
The mistress paced up and down the room. She suddenly came to a
standstill. "If I don't stop him, the rogue will sell the feather-bed
from under my daughter! But he shall have a little of my mind! He has
provoked me long enough. Pay it! I'll take my money's worth out of
And in a second, Madame Desvarennes was in the Prince's room.
Serge, after a delicate breakfast, was smoking and dozing on the smoking-
room sofa. The night had been a heavy one for him. He had won two
hundred and fifty thousand francs from Ibrahim Bey, then he had lost all,
besides five thousand louis advanced by the obliging Salignon. He had
told the waiter to come to the Rue Saint-Dominique, and by mistake the
man had gone to the office.
The sudden opening of the smoking-room door roused Serge. He unclosed
his eyes and looked very much astonished at seeing Madame Desvarennes
appear. Pale, frowning, and holding the accusing paper in her hand, she
"Do you recognize that?" and placed the receipt which he had signed,
before him, as he slowly rose.
Serge seized it quickly, and then looking coldly at his mother-in-law,
"How did this paper come into your hands?"
"It has just been brought to my cashier. A hundred thousand francs!
Faith! You are going ahead! Do you know how many bushels of corn must
be ground to earn that?"
"I beg your pardon, Madame," said the Prince, interrupting Madame
Desvarennes. "I don't suppose you came here to give me a lesson in
commercial statistics. This paper was presented to your cashier by
mistake. I was expecting it, and here is the money ready to pay it.
As you have been good enough to do so, pray refund yourself."
And taking a bundle of bank-notes from a cabinet, the Prince handed them
to the astonished mistress.
"But," she sought to say, very much put out by this unexpected answer,
"where did you get this money from? You must have inconvenienced
"I beg your pardon," said the Prince, quietly, "that only concerns
myself. Be good enough to see whether the amount is there," added he
with a smile. "I reckon so badly that it is possible I may have made a
mistake to your disadvantage."
Madame Desvarennes pushed away the hand which presented the bank-notes,
and shook her head gravely:
"Keep this money," she said; "unfortunately you will need it. You have
entered on a very dangerous path, which grieves me very much. I would
willingly give ten times the amount, at once, to be sure that you would
never touch another card."
"Madame!" said the Prince with impatience.
"Oh! I know what I am risking by speaking thus. It weighs so heavily
on my heart. I must give vent to it or I shall choke. You are spending
money like a man who does not know what it is to earn it. And if you
Madame Desvarennes raised her eyes and looked at the Prince. She saw him
so pale with suppressed rage that she dared not say another word. She
read deadly hatred in the young man's look. Frightened at what she had
just been saying, she stepped back, and went quickly toward the door.
"Take this money, Madame," said Serge, in a trembling voice. "Take it,
or all is over between us forever."
And, seizing the notes, he put them by force in Madame Desvarennes's
hands. Then tearing up with rage the paper that had been the cause of
this painful scene, he threw the pieces in the fireplace.
Deeply affected, Madame Desvarennes descended the stairs which she had a
few minutes before gone up with so much resolution. She had a
presentiment that an irreparable rupture had just taken place between
herself and her son-in-law. She had ruffled Panine's pride. She felt
that he would never forgive her. She went to her room sad and
thoughtful. Life was becoming gloomy for this poor woman. Her
confidence in herself had disappeared. She hesitated now, and was
irresolute when she had to take a decision. She no longer went straight
to the point by the shortest road. Her sonorous voice was softened. She
was no longer the same willing energetic woman who feared no obstacles.
She had known defeat.
The attitude of her daughter had changed toward her. It seemed as if
Micheline wished to absolve herself of all complicity with Madame
Desvarennes. She kept away to prove to her husband that if her mother
had displeased him in any way, she had nothing to do with it. This
behavior grieved her mother, who felt that Serge was working secretly to
turn Micheline against her. And the mad passion of the young wife for
him whom she recognized as her master did not allow the mother to doubt
which side she would take if ever she had to choose between husband and
One day Micheline came down to see her mother. It was more than a month
since she had visited her. In a moment Madame Desvarennes saw that she
had something of an embarrassing nature to speak of. To begin with she
was more affectionate than usual, seeming to wish with the honey of her
kisses to sweeten the bitter cross which the mistress was doomed to bear.
Then she hesitated. She fidgeted about the room humming. At last she
said that the doctor had come at the request of Serge, who was most
anxious about his wife's health. And that excellent Doctor Rigaud, who
had known her from a child, had found her suffering from great weakness.
He had ordered change of air.
At these words Madame Desvarennes raised her head and gave her daughter a
"Come, no nonsense! Speak the truth! He is taking you away!"
"But, mamma," said Micheline, disconcerted at this interruption, "I
assure you, you are mistaken. Anxiety for my health alone guides my
"Your husband!" broke forth Madame Desvarennes. "Your husband! Ah,
there; go away! Because if you stop here, I shall not be able to control
myself, and shall say things about him that you will not forgive in a
hurry! As you are ill, you are right to have change of air. I shall
remain here, without you, fastened to my chain, earning money for you
while you are far, away. Go along!"
And seizing her daughter by the arm with convulsive strength, she pushed
her roughly; for the first time in her life, repeating, in a low tone:
"Go away! Leave me alone!"
Micheline suffered herself to be put outside the room, and went to her
own apartments astonished and frightened. The young wife had hardly left
the room when Madame Desvarennes suffered the reaction of the emotion she
had just felt. Her nerves were unstrung, and falling on a chair she
remained immovable and humbled. Was it possible that her daughter, her
adored child, would abandon her to obey the grudges of her husband? No,
Micheline, when back in her room, would remember that she was carrying
away all the joy of the house, and that it was cruel to deprive her
mother of her only happiness in life.
Slightly reassured, she went down to the office. As she reached the
landing, she saw the Prince's servants carrying up trunks belonging to
their master to be packed. She felt sick at heart. She understood that
this project had been discussed and settled beforehand. It seemed to her
that all was over; that her daughter was going away forever, and that she
would never see her again. She thought of going to beseech Serge and ask
him what sum he would take in exchange for Micheline's liberty; but the
haughty and sarcastic face of the Prince forcibly putting the bank-notes
in her hands, passed before her, and she guessed that she would not
obtain anything. Cast down and despairing, she entered her office and
set to work.
The next day, by the evening express, the Prince and Princess left for
Nice with all their household, and the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique
remained silent and deserted.
A SUDDEN JOURNEY
At the end of the Promenade des Anglais, on the pleasant road bordered
with tamarind-trees, stands, amid a grove of cork-oaks and eucalypti, a
charming white villa with pink shutters. A Russian lady, the Countess
Woreseff, had it built five years ago, and occupied it one winter. Then,
tired of the monotonous noise of the waves beating on the terrace and the
brightness of the calm blue sky, she longed for the mists of her native
country, and suddenly started for St. Petersburg, leaving that charming
residence to be let.
It was there, amid rhododendrons and strawberry-trees in full bloom,
that Micheline and Serge had taken up their abode. Until that day the
Princess had scarcely travelled. Her mother, always occupied in
commercial pursuits, had never left Paris. Micheline had remained with
her. During this long journey, accomplished in most luxurious style,
she had behaved like a child astonished at everything, and pleased at the
least thing. With her face close to the window she saw through the
transparent darkness of a lovely winter's night, villages and forests
gliding past like phantoms. Afar off, in the depths of the country, she
caught sight of a light glimmering, and she loved to picture a family
gathered by the fire, the children asleep and the mother working in the
Children! She often thought of them, and never without a sigh of regret
rising to her lips. She had been married for some months, and her dreams
of becoming a mother had not been realized. How happy she would have
been to have a baby, with fair hair, to fondle and kiss! Then the idea
of a child reminded her of her own mother. She thought of the deep love
one must feel for a child. And the image of the mistress, sad and alone,
in the large house of the Rue Saint-Dominique, came to her mind. A vague
remorse seized her heart. She felt she had behaved badly. She said to
herself: "If, to punish me, Heaven will not grant me a child!" She wept,
and soon her grief and trouble vanished with her tears. Sleep
overpowered her, and when she awoke it was broad daylight and they were
From that moment everything was dazzling. The arrival at Marseilles; the
journey along the coast, the approach to Nice, were all matters of
ecstacy to Micheline. But it was when the carriage, which was waiting
for them at the railway station, stopped at the gates of the villa, that
she broke into raptures. She could not feast her eyes enough on the
scene which was before her. The blue sea, the sky without a cloud, the
white houses rising on the hill amid the dark foliage, and in the
distance the mountaintops covered with snow, and tinged with pink under
the brilliant rays of the sun. All this vigorous and slightly wild
nature surprised the Parisienne. It was a new experience. Dazzled by
the light and intoxicated with the perfumes, a sort of languor came over
her. She soon recovered and became quite strong--something altogether
new for her, and she felt thoroughly happy.
The life of the Prince and the Princess became at Nice what it had been
in Paris during the early days of their marriage. Visitors flocked to
their house. All that the colony could reckon of well-known Parisians
and foreigners of high repute presented themselves at the villa. The
fetes recommenced. They gave receptions three times a week; the other
evenings Serge went to the Cercle.
This absorbing life had gone on for two months. It was the beginning of
February, and already nature was assuming a new appearance under the
influence of spring. One evening, three people--two gentlemen and a
lady--stepped out of a carriage at the villa gates, and found themselves
face to face with a traveller who had come on foot. Two exclamations
broke out simultaneously.
"Marechal!" "Monsieur Savinien!"
"You! at Nice? And by what miracle?"
"A miracle which makes you travel fifteen leagues an hour in exchange for
a hundred and thirty-three francs first-class, and is called the
"I beg your pardon, my dear friend. I have not introduced you to
Monsieur and Mademoiselle Herzog."
"I have already had the honor of meeting Mademoiselle Herzog at Madame
Desvarennes's," said Marechal, bowing to the young girl, without
appearing to notice the father.
"You were going to the villa?" asked Savinien. "We, too, were going.
But how is my aunt? When did you leave her?"
"I have not left her."
"What's that you say?"
"I say that she is here."
Savinien let his arms drop in profound consternation to show how
difficult it was for him to believe what was going on. Then, in a faint
treble voice, he said:
"My aunt! At Nice! Promenade des Anglais! That's something more
wonderful than the telephone and phonograph! If you had told me that the
Pantheon had landed one fine night on the banks of the Paillon, I should
not be more astonished. I thought Madame Desvarennes was as deeply
rooted in Paris as the Colonne Vendome! But tell me, what is the object
of this journey?"
"Which manifested itself--"
"Yesterday morning at breakfast. Pierre Delarue, who is going to finish
his business in Algeria, and then settle in France, came to say 'Good-by'
to Madame Desvarennes. A letter arrived from the Princess. She
commenced reading it, then all at once she exclaimed 'Cayrol and his wife
arrived at Nice two days ago!' Pierre and I were astonished at the tone
in which she uttered these words. She was lost in thought for a few
moments, then she said to Pierre: 'You are leaving tonight for
Marseilles? Well, I shall go with you. You will accompany me to Nice.'
And turning toward me, she added: 'Marechal, pack up your portmanteau.
I shall take you with me."'
While speaking, they had walked across the garden, and reached the steps
leading to the villa.
"Nothing is easier than to explain this sudden journey," remarked
Mademoiselle Herzog. "On learning that Monsieur and Madame Cayrol were
at Nice with the Princess, Madame Desvarennes must have felt how very
lonely she was in Paris. She had a longing to be near them, and
Herzog listened attentively, and seemed to be seeking the connection
which should exist between the arrival of the Cayrols and the departure
of Madame Desvarennes.
"The funniest thing to me is Marechal taking a holiday," observed
Savinien. "They are still at dinner," he added, entering the drawing-
room, through the great doors of which sounds of voices and rattling of
plates were heard.
"Well, let us wait for them; we are in agreeable company," said Herzog,
turning toward Marechal, who only answered by a cold bow.
"What are you going to do here, Marechal?" inquired Savinien. "You will
be awfully bored."
"Why? Once in a way I am going to enjoy myself and be a swell. You will
teach me, Monsieur Savinien. It cannot be very difficult. It is only
necessary to wear a dove-colored coat like you, a gardenia in my
buttonhole like Monsieur Le Bride, frizzled hair like Monsieur du
Tremblay, and to assail the bank at Monaco."
"Like all these gentlemen," said Suzanne, gayly, "you are a gambler
"I have never touched a card."
"But then you ought to have great good luck," said the young girl.
Herzog had come up to them.
"Will you go partners?" he asked of Marechal. "We will divide the
"You are too kind," replied Marechal, dryly, turning away.
He could not get used to Herzog's familiarity, and there was something in
the man which displeased him greatly. There was, he thought, a police-
court atmosphere about him.
Suzanne, on the contrary, interested him. The simple, lively, and frank
young girl attracted him, and he liked to talk with her. On several
occasions, at Madame Desvarennes's, he had been her partner. There was
through this a certain intimacy between them which he could not extend to
Herzog had that faculty, fortunately for him, of never appearing offended
at what was said to him. He took Savinien's arm in a familiar manner and
asked: "Have you noticed that the Prince has looked very preoccupied for
the last few days?"
"I don't wonder at it," replied Savinien. "He has been very unlucky at
cards. It is all very well for his wife, my charming cousin, to be rich,
but if he is going on like that it won't last long!"
The two men withdrew to the window.
Suzanne went up to Marechal. She had resumed her thoughtful air. He saw
her advancing, and, guessing what she was going to say, felt
uncomfortable at having to tell an untruth if he did not wish to hurt her
feelings by brutal frankness.
"Monsieur Marechal," she began, "how is it that you are always so cold
and formal with my father?"
"My dear young lady, there is a great difference between your father and
me. I keep my place, that's all."
The young girl shook her head sadly.
"It is not that; you are amiable and ever friendly with me--"
"You are a woman, and the least politeness--"
"No! My father must have hurt your feelings unwittingly; for he is very
good. I have asked him, and he did not seem to understand what I meant.
But my questions drew his attention to you. He thinks highly of you and
would like to see you filling a position more in harmony with your merit.
You know that Monsieur Cayrol and my father have just launched a
"The 'Credit European'?"
"Yes. They will have offices in all the commercial centres of European
commerce. Would you like the management of one of these branches?"
"I, Mademoiselle?" cried Marechal, astonished, and already asking himself
what interest Herzog could have in making him leave the house of
"The enterprise is colossal," continued Suzanne, "and frightens me at
times. Is it necessary to be so rich? I would like my father to retire
from these enormous speculations into which he has thrown himself, body
and soul. I have simple tastes. My father wishes to make a tremendous
fortune for me, he says. All he undertakes is for me, I know. It seems
to me that he runs a great risk. That is why I am talking to you. I am
very superstitious, and I fancy if you were with us it would bring us
Suzanne, while speaking, had leaned toward Marechal. Her face reflected
the seriousness of her thoughts. Her lovely eyes implored. The young
man asked himself how this charming girl could belong to that horrible
"Believe me that I am deeply touched, Mademoiselle, by the favor you have
done me," said he, with emotion. "I owe it solely to your kindness, I
know; but I do not belong to myself. I am bound to Madame Desvarennes by
stronger ties than those of interest--those of gratitude."
"You refuse?" she cried, painfully.
"The position you fill is humble."
"I was very glad to accept it at a time when my daily bread was not
"You have been reduced," said the young girl, with trembling voice, "to
"Wretchedness. Yes, Mademoiselle, my outset in life was hard. I am
without relations. Mother Marechal, a kind fruiterer of the Rue Pavee au
Marais, found me one morning by the curbstone, rolled in a number of the
Constitutionnel, like an old pair of boots. The good woman took me home,
brought me up and sent me to college. I must tell you that I was very
successful and gained a scholarship. I won all the prizes. Yes, and I
had to sell my gilt-edged books from the Lycee Charlemagne in the days of
distress. I was eighteen when my benefactress, Mother Marechal, died.
I was without help or succor. I tried to get along by myself. After ten
years of struggling and privations I felt physical and moral vigor giving
way. I looked around me and saw those who overcame obstacles were
stronger than I. I felt that I was doomed not to make way in the world,
not being one of those who could command, so I resigned myself to obey.
I fill a humble position as you know, but one which satisfies my wants.
I am without ambition. A little philosophical, I observe all that goes
on around me. I live happily like Diogenes in his tub."
"You are a wise man," resumed Suzanne. "I, too, am a philosopher, and I
live amid surroundings which do not please me. I, unfortunately, lost my
mother when I was very young, and although my father is very kind, he has
been obliged to neglect me a little. I see around me people who are
millionaires or who aspire to be. I am doomed to receive the attentions
of such men as Le Bride and Du Tremblay--empty-headed coxcombs, who court
my money, and to whom I am not a woman, but a sack of ducats trimmed with
"These gentlemen are the modern Argonauts. They are in search of the
Golden Fleece," observed Marechal.
"The Argonauts!" cried Suzanne, laughing. "You are right. I shall
never call them anything else."
"Oh, they will not understand you!" said Marechal, gayly. "I don't
think they know much of mythology."
"Well, you see I am not very happy in the bosom of riches," continued the
young girl. "Do not abandon me. Come and talk with me sometimes. You
will not chatter trivialities. It will be a change from the others."
And, nodding pleasantly to Marechal, Mademoiselle Herzog joined her
father, who was gleaning details about the house of Desvarennes from
The secretary remained silent for a moment.
"Strange girl!" he murmured. "What a pity she has such a father."
The door of the room in which Monsieur and Mademoiselle Herzog, Marechal
and Savinien were, opened, and Madame Desvarennes entered, followed by
her daughter, Cayrol, Serge and Pierre. The room, at the extreme end of
the villa, was square, surrounded on three sides by a gallery shut in by
glass and stocked with greenhouse plants. Lofty archways, half veiled
with draperies, led to the gallery. This room had been the favorite one
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