Part 2 out of 3
There are men here and there as much engrossed in the work
demanded of them by poverty or ambition, art or science, as M. de
Montriveau by war and a life of adventure--these know what it is
to be in this unusual position if they very seldom confess to it.
Every man in Paris is supposed to have been in love. No woman in
Paris cares to take what other women have passed over. The dread
of being taken for a fool is the source of the coxcomb's bragging
so common in France; for in France to have the reputation of a
fool is to be a foreigner in one's own country. Vehement desire
seized on M. de Montriveau, desire that had gathered strength
from the heat of the desert and the first stirrings of a heart
unknown as yet in its suppressed turbulence.
A strong man, and violent as he was strong, he could keep mastery
over himself; but as he talked of indifferent things, he retired
within himself, and swore to possess this woman, for through that
thought lay the only way to love for him. Desire became a solemn
compact made with himself, an oath after the manner of the Arabs
among whom he had lived; for among them a vow is a kind of
contract made with Destiny a man's whole future is solemnly
pledged to fulfil it, and everything even his own death, is
regarded simply as a means to the one end.
A younger man would have said to himself, "I should very much
like to have the Duchess for my mistress!" or, "If the Duchesse
de Langeais cared for a man, he would be a very lucky rascal!"
But the General said, "I will have Mme de Langeais for my
mistress." And if a man takes such an idea into his head when
his heart has never been touched before, and love begins to be a
kind of religion with him, he little knows in what a hell he has
set his foot.
Armand de Montriveau suddenly took flight and went home in the
first hot fever-fit of the first love that he had known. When a
man has kept all his boyish beliefs, illusions, frankness, and
impetuosity into middle age, his first impulse is, as it were, to
stretch out a hand to take the thing that he desires; a little
later he realises that there is a gulf set between them, and that
it is all but impossible to cross it. A sort of childish
impatience seizes him, he wants the thing the more, and trembles
or cries. Wherefore, the next day, after the stormiest
reflections that had yet perturbed his mind, Armand de Montriveau
discovered that he was under the yoke of the senses, and his
bondage made the heavier by his love.
The woman so cavalierly treated in his thoughts of yesterday had
become a most sacred and dreadful power. She was to be his
world, his life, from this time forth. The greatest joy, the
keenest anguish, that he had yet known grew colourless before the
bare recollection of the least sensation stirred in him by her.
The swiftest revolutions in a man's outward life only touch his
interests, while passion brings a complete revulsion of feeling.
And so in those who live by feeling, rather than by
self-interest, the doers rather than the reasoners, the sanguine
rather than the lymphatic temperaments, love works a complete
revolution. In a flash, with one single reflection, Armand de
Montriveau wiped out his whole past life.
A score of times he asked himself, like a boy, "Shall I go, or
shall I not?" and then at last he dressed, came to the Hotel de
Langeais towards eight o'clock that evening, and was admitted.
He was to see the woman--ah! not the woman--the idol that he had
seen yesterday, among lights, a fresh innocent girl in gauze and
silken lace and veiling. He burst in upon her to declare his
love, as if it were a question of firing the first shot on a
field of battle.
Poor novice! He found his ethereal sylphide shrouded in a brown
cashmere dressing-gown ingeniously befrilled, lying languidly
stretched out upon a sofa in a dimly lighted boudoir. Mme de
Langeais did not so much as rise, nothing was visible of her but
her face, her hair was loose but confined by a scarf. A hand
indicated a seat, a hand that seemed white as marble to
Montriveau by the flickering light of a single candle at the
further side of the room, and a voice as soft as the light said--
"If it had been anyone else, M. le Marquis, a friend with whom I
could dispense with ceremony, or a mere acquaintance in whom I
felt but slight interest, I should have closed my door. I am
"I will go," Armand said to himself.
"But I do not know how it is," she continued (and the simple
warrior attributed the shining of her eyes to fever), "perhaps
it was a presentiment of your kind visit (and no one can be more
sensible of the prompt attention than I), but the vapours have
left my head."
"Then may I stay?"
"Oh, I should be very sorry to allow you to go. I told myself
this morning that it was impossible that I should have made the
slightest impression on your mind, and that in all probability
you took my request for one of the commonplaces of which
Parisians are lavish on every occasion. And I forgave your
ingratitude in advance. An explorer from the deserts is not
supposed to know how exclusive we are in our friendships in the
The gracious, half-murmured words dropped one by one, as if they
had been weighted with the gladness that apparently brought them
to her lips. The Duchess meant to have the full benefit of her
headache, and her speculation was fully successful. The General,
poor man, was really distressed by the lady's simulated distress.
Like Crillon listening to the story of the Crucifixion, he was
ready to draw his sword against the vapours. How could a man
dare to speak just then to this suffering woman of the love that
she inspired? Armand had already felt that it would be absurd to
fire off a declaration of love point-blank at one so far above
other women. With a single thought came understanding of the
delicacies of feeling, of the soul's requirements. To love: what
was that but to know how to plead, to beg for alms, to wait? And
as for the love that he felt, must he not prove it? His tongue
was mute, it was frozen by the conventions of the noble Faubourg,
the majesty of a sick headache, the bashfulness of love. But no
power on earth could veil his glances; the heat and the Infinite
of the desert blazed in eyes calm as a panther's, beneath the
lids that fell so seldom. The Duchess enjoyed the steady gaze
that enveloped her in light and warmth.
"Mme la Duchesse," he answered, "I am afraid I express my
gratitude for your goodness very badly. At this moment I have
but one desire--I wish it were in my power to cure the pain."
"Permit me to throw this off, I feel too warm now," she said,
gracefully tossing aside a cushion that covered her feet.
"Madame, in Asia your feet would be worth some ten thousand
"A traveller's compliment!" smiled she.
It pleased the sprightly lady to involve a rough soldier in a
labyrinth of nonsense, commonplaces, and meaningless talk, in
which he manoeuvred, in military language, as Prince Charles
might have done at close quarters with Napoleon. She took a
mischievous amusement in reconnoitring the extent of his
infatuation by the number of foolish speeches extracted from a
novice whom she led step by step into a hopeless maze, meaning to
leave him there in confusion. She began by laughing at him, but
nevertheless it pleased her to make him forget how time went.
The length of a first visit is frequently a compliment, but
Armand was innocent of any such intent. The famous explorer
spent an hour in chat on all sorts of subjects, said nothing that
he meant to say, and was feeling that he was only an instrument
on whom this woman played, when she rose, sat upright, drew the
scarf from her hair, and wrapped it about her throat, leant her
elbow on the cushions, did him the honour of a complete cure, and
rang for lights. The most graceful movement succeeded to
complete repose. She turned to M. de Montriveau, from whom she
had just extracted a confidence which seemed to interest her
deeply, and said--
"You wish to make game of me by trying to make me believe that
you have never loved. It is a man's great pretension with us.
And we always believe it! Out of pure politeness. Do we not
know what to expect from it for ourselves? Where is the man that
has found but a single opportunity of losing his heart? But you
love to deceive us, and we submit to be deceived, poor foolish
creatures that we are; for your hypocrisy is, after all, a homage
paid to the superiority of our sentiments, which are all
The last words were spoken with a disdainful pride that made the
novice in love feel like a worthless bale flung into the deep,
while the Duchess was an angel soaring back to her particular
"Confound it!" thought Armand de Montriveau, "how am I to tell
this wild thing that I love her?"
He had told her already a score of times; or rather, the Duchess
had a score of times read his secret in his eyes; and the passion
in this unmistakably great man promised her amusement, and an
interest in her empty life. So she prepared with no little
dexterity to raise a certain number of redoubts for him to carry
by storm before he should gain an entrance into her heart.
Montriveau should overleap one difficulty after another; he
should be a plaything for her caprice, just as an insect teased
by children is made to jump from one finger to another, and in
spite of all its pains is kept in the same place by its
mischievous tormentor. And yet it gave the Duchess inexpressible
happiness to see that this strong man had told her the truth.
Armand had never loved, as he had said. He was about to go, in a
bad humour with himself, and still more out of humour with her;
but it delighted her to see a sullenness that she could conjure
away with a word, a glance, or a gesture.
"Will you come tomorrow evening?" she asked. "I am going to a
ball, but I shall stay at home for you until ten o'clock."
Montriveau spent most of the next day in smoking an indeterminate
quantity of cigars in his study window, and so got through the
hours till he could dress and go to the Hotel de Langeais. To
anyone who had known the magnificent worth of the man, it would
have been grievous to see him grown so small, so distrustful of
himself; the mind that might have shed light over undiscovered
worlds shrunk to the proportions of a she-coxcomb's boudoir.
Even he himself felt that he had fallen so low already in his
happiness that to save his life he could not have told his love
to one of his closest friends. Is there not always a trace of
shame in the lover's bashfulness, and perhaps in woman a certain
exultation over diminished masculine stature? Indeed, but for a
host of motives of this kind, how explain why women are nearly
always the first to betray the secret?--a secret of which,
perhaps, they soon weary.
"Mme la Duchesse cannot see visitors, monsieur," said the man;
"she is dressing, she begs you to wait for her here."
Armand walked up and down the drawing-room, studying her taste in
the least details. He admired Mme de Langeais herself in the
objects of her choosing; they revealed her life before he could
grasp her personality and ideas. About an hour later the Duchess
came noiselessly out of her chamber. Montriveau turned, saw her
flit like a shadow across the room, and trembled. She came up to
him, not with a bourgeoise's enquiry, "How do I look?" She was
sure of herself; her steady eyes said plainly, "I am adorned to
No one surely, save the old fairy godmother of some princess in
disguise, could have wound a cloud of gauze about the dainty
throat, so that the dazzling satin skin beneath should gleam
through the gleaming folds. The Duchess was dazzling. The pale
blue colour of her gown, repeated in the flowers in her hair,
appeared by the richness of its hue to lend substance to a
fragile form grown too wholly ethereal; for as she glided towards
Armand, the loose ends of her scarf floated about her, putting
that valiant warrior in mind of the bright damosel flies that
hover now over water, now over the flowers with which they seem
to mingle and blend.
"I have kept you waiting," she said, with the tone that a woman
can always bring into her voice for the man whom she wishes to
"I would wait patiently through an eternity," said he, "if I
were sure of finding a divinity so fair; but it is no compliment
to speak of your beauty to you; nothing save worship could touch
you. Suffer me only to kiss your scarf."
"Oh, fie!" she said, with a commanding gesture, "I esteem you
enough to give you my hand."
She held it out for his kiss. A woman's hand, still moist from
the scented bath, has a soft freshness, a velvet smoothness that
sends a tingling thrill from the lips to the soul. And if a man
is attracted to a woman, and his senses are as quick to feel
pleasure as his heart is full of love, such a kiss, though chaste
in appearance, may conjure up a terrific storm.
"Will you always give it me like this?" the General asked
humbly when he had pressed that dangerous hand respectfully to
"Yes, but there we must stop," she said, smiling. She sat
down, and seemed very slow over putting on her gloves, trying to
slip the unstretched kid over all her fingers at once, while she
watched M. de Montriveau; and he was lost in admiration of the
Duchess and those repeated graceful movements of hers.
"Ah! you were punctual," she said; "that is right. I like
punctuality. It is the courtesy of kings, His Majesty says; but
to my thinking, from you men it is the most respectful flattery
of all. Now, is it not? Just tell me."
Again she gave him a side glance to express her insidious
friendship, for he was dumb with happiness sheer happiness
through such nothings as these! Oh, the Duchess understood son
metier de femme--the art and mystery of being a woman--most
marvellously well; she knew, to admiration, how to raise a man in
his own esteem as he humbled himself to her; how to reward every
step of the descent to sentimental folly with hollow flatteries.
"You will never forget to come at nine o'clock."
"No; but are you going to a ball every night?"
"Do I know?" she answered, with a little childlike shrug of the
shoulders; the gesture was meant to say that she was nothing if
not capricious, and that a lover must take her as she
was.--"Besides," she added, "what is that to you? You shall
be my escort."
"That would be difficult tonight," he objected; "I am not
"It seems to me," she returned loftily, "that if anyone has a
right to complain of your costume, it is I. Know, therefore,
monsieur le voyageur, that if I accept a man's arm, he is
forthwith above the laws of fashion, nobody would venture to
criticise him. You do not know the world, I see; I like you the
better for it."
And even as she spoke she swept him into the pettiness of that
world by the attempt to initiate him into the vanities of a woman
"If she chooses to do a foolish thing for me, I should be a
simpleton to prevent her," said Armand to himself. "She has a
liking for me beyond a doubt; and as for the world, she cannot
despise it more than I do. So, now for the ball if she likes."
The Duchess probably thought that if the General came with her
and appeared in a ballroom in boots and a black tie, nobody would
hesitate to believe that he was violently in love with her. And
the General was well pleased that the queen of fashion should
think of compromising herself for him; hope gave him wit. He had
gained confidence, he brought out his thoughts and views; he felt
nothing of the restraint that weighed on his spirits yesterday.
His talk was interesting and animated, and full of those first
confidences so sweet to make and to receive.
Was Mme de Langeais really carried away by his talk, or had she
devised this charming piece of coquetry? At any rate, she looked
up mischievously as the clock struck twelve.
"Ah! you have made me too late for the ball!" she exclaimed,
surprised and vexed that she had forgotten how time was going.
The next moment she approved the exchange of pleasures with a
smile that made Armand's heart give a sudden leap.
"I certainly promised Mme de Beauseant," she added. "They are
all expecting me."
"No--go on. I will stay. Your Eastern adventures fascinate me.
Tell me the whole story of your life. I love to share in a brave
man's hardships, and I feel them all, indeed I do!"
She was playing with her scarf, twisting it and pulling it to
pieces, with jerky, impatient movements that seemed to tell of
inward dissatisfaction and deep reflection.
"WE are fit for nothing," she went on. "Ah! we are
contemptible, selfish, frivolous creatures. We can bore
ourselves with amusements, and that is all we can do. Not one of
us that understands that she has a part to play in life. In old
days in France, women were beneficent lights; they lived to
comfort those that mourned, to encourage high virtues, to reward
artists and stir new life with noble thoughts. If the world has
grown so petty, ours is the fault. You make me loathe the ball
and this world in which I live. No, I am not giving up much for
She had plucked her scarf to pieces, as a child plays with a
flower, pulling away all the petals one by one; and now she
crushed it into a ball, and flung it away. She could show her
She rang the bell. "I shall not go out tonight," she told the
footman. Her long, blue eyes turned timidly to Armand; and by
the look of misgiving in them, he knew that he was meant to take
the order for a confession, for a first and great favour. There
was a pause, filled with many thoughts, before she spoke with
that tenderness which is often in women's voices, and not so
often in their hearts. "You have had a hard life," she said.
"No," returned Armand. "Until today I did not know what
"Then you know it now?" she asked, looking at him with a
demure, keen glance.
"What is happiness for me henceforth but this--to see you, to
hear you? . . . Until now I have only known privation; now I
know that I can be unhappy----"
"That will do, that will do," she said. "You must go; it is
past midnight. Let us regard appearances. People must not talk
about us. I do not know quite what I shall say; but the headache
is a good-natured friend, and tells no tales."
"Is there to be a ball tomorrow night?"
"You would grow accustomed to the life, I think. Very well.
Yes, we will go again tomorrow night."
There was not a happier man in the world than Armand when he went
out from her. Every evening he came to Mme de Langeais's at the
hour kept for him by a tacit understanding.
It would be tedious, and, for the many young men who carry a
redundance of such sweet memories in their hearts, it were
superfluous to follow the story step by step--the progress of a
romance growing in those hours spent together, a romance
controlled entirely by a woman's will. If sentiment went too
fast, she would raise a quarrel over a word, or when words
flagged behind her thoughts, she appealed to the feelings.
Perhaps the only way of following such Penelope's progress is by
marking its outward and visible signs.
As, for instance, within a few days of their first meeting, the
assiduous General had won and kept the right to kiss his lady's
insatiable hands. Wherever Mme de Langeais went, M. de
Montriveau was certain to be seen, till people jokingly called
him "Her Grace's orderly." And already he had made enemies;
others were jealous, and envied him his position. Mme de
Langeais had attained her end. The Marquis de Montriveau was
among her numerous train of adorers, and a means of humiliating
those who boasted of their progress in her good graces, for she
publicly gave him preference over them all.
"Decidedly, M. de Montriveau is the man for whom the Duchess
shows a preference," pronounced Mme de Serizy.
And who in Paris does not know what it means when a woman "shows
a preference?" All went on therefore according to prescribed
rule. The anecdotes which people were pleased to circulate
concerning the General put that warrior in so formidable a light,
that the more adroit quietly dropped their pretensions to the
Duchess, and remained in her train merely to turn the position to
account, and to use her name and personality to make better terms
for themselves with certain stars of the second magnitude. And
those lesser powers were delighted to take a lover away from Mme
de Langeais. The Duchess was keen-sighted enough to see these
desertions and treaties with the enemy; and her pride would not
suffer her to be the dupe of them. As M. de Talleyrand, one of
her great admirers, said, she knew how to take a second edition
of revenge, laying the two-edged blade of a sarcasm between the
pairs in these "morganatic" unions. Her mocking disdain
contributed not a little to increase her reputation as an
extremely clever woman and a person to be feared. Her character
for virtue was consolidated while she amused herself with other
people's secrets, and kept her own to herself. Yet, after two
months of assiduities, she saw with a vague dread in the depths
of her soul that M. de Montriveau understood nothing of the
subtleties of flirtation after the manner of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain; he was taking a Parisienne's coquetry in earnest.
"You will not tame HIM, dear Duchess," the old Vidame de
Pamiers had said. " 'Tis a first cousin to the eagle; he will
carry you off to his eyrie if you do not take care."
Then Mme de Langeais felt afraid. The shrewd old noble's words
sounded like a prophecy. The next day she tried to turn love to
hate. She was harsh, exacting, irritable, unbearable; Montriveau
disarmed her with angelic sweetness. She so little knew the
great generosity of a large nature, that the kindly jests with
which her first complaints were met went to her heart. She
sought a quarrel, and found proofs of affection. She persisted.
"When a man idolises you, how can he have vexed you?" asked
"You do not vex me," she answered, suddenly grown gentle and
submissive. "But why do you wish to compromise me? For me you
ought to be nothing but a FRIEND. Do you not know it? I wish I
could see that you had the instincts, the delicacy of real
friendship, so that I might lose neither your respect nor the
pleasure that your presence gives me."
"Nothing but your FRIEND!" he cried out. The terrible word
sent an electric shock through his brain. "On the faith of
these happy hours that you grant me, I sleep and wake in your
heart. And now today, for no reason, you are pleased to destroy
all the secret hopes by which I live. You have required promises
of such constancy in me, you have said so much of your horror of
women made up of nothing but caprice; and now do you wish me to
understand that, like other women here in Paris, you have
passions, and know nothing of love? If so, why did you ask my
life of me? why did you accept it?"
"I was wrong, my friend. Oh, it is wrong of a woman to yield to
such intoxication when she must not and cannot make any return."
"I understand. You have merely been coquetting with me,
"Coquetting?" she repeated. "I detest coquetry. A coquette
Armand, makes promises to many, and gives herself to none; and a
woman who keeps such promises is a libertine. This much I
believed I had grasped of our code. But to be melancholy with
humorists, gay with the frivolous, and politic with ambitious
souls; to listen to a babbler with every appearance of
admiration, to talk of war with a soldier, wax enthusiastic with
philanthropists over the good of the nation, and to give to each
one his little dole of flattery--it seems to me that this is as
much a matter of necessity as dress, diamonds, and gloves, or
flowers in one's hair. Such talk is the moral counterpart of the
toilette. You take it up and lay it aside with the plumed
head-dress. Do you call this coquetry? Why, I have never
treated you as I treat everyone else. With you, my friend, I am
sincere. Have I not always shared your views, and when you
convinced me after a discussion, was I not always perfectly glad?
In short, I love you, but only as a devout and pure woman may
love. I have thought it over. I am a married woman, Armand. My
way of life with M. de Langeais gives me liberty to bestow my
heart; but law and custom leave me no right to dispose of my
person. If a woman loses her honour, she is an outcast in any
rank of life; and I have yet to meet with a single example of a
man that realises all that our sacrifices demand of him in such a
case. Quite otherwise. Anyone can foresee the rupture between
Mme de Beauseant and M. d'Ajuda (for he is going to marry Mlle de
Rochefide, it seems), that affair made it clear to my mind that
these very sacrifices on the woman's part are almost always the
cause of the man's desertion. If you had loved me sincerely, you
would have kept away for a time.--Now, I will lay aside all
vanity for you; is not that something? What will not people say
of a woman to whom no man attaches himself? Oh, she is
heartless, brainless, soulless; and what is more, devoid of
charm! Coquettes will not spare me. They will rob me of the
very qualities that mortify them. So long as my reputation is
safe, what do I care if my rivals deny my merits? They certainly
will not inherit them. Come, my friend; give up something for
her who sacrifices so much for you. Do not come quite so often;
I shall love you none the less."
"Ah!" said Armand, with the profound irony of a wounded heart
in his words and tone. "Love, so the scribblers say, only feeds
on illusions. Nothing could be truer, I see; I am expected to
imagine that I am loved. But, there!--there are some thoughts
like wounds, from which there is no recovery. My belief in you
was one of the last left to me, and now I see that there is
nothing left to believe in this earth."
She began to smile.
"Yes," Montriveau went on in an unsteady voice, "this Catholic
faith to which you wish to convert me is a lie that men make for
themselves; hope is a lie at the expense of the future; pride, a
lie between us and our fellows; and pity, and prudence, and
terror are cunning lies. And now my happiness is to be one more
lying delusion; I am expected to delude myself, to be willing to
give gold coin for silver to the end. If you can so easily
dispense with my visits; if you can confess me neither as your
friend nor your lover, you do not care for me! And I, poor fool
that I am, tell myself this, and know it, and love you!"
"But, dear me, poor Armand, you are flying into a passion!"
"I flying into a passion?"
"Yes. You think that the whole question is opened because I ask
you to be careful."
In her heart of hearts she was delighted with the anger that
leapt out in her lover's eyes. Even as she tortured him, she was
criticising him, watching every slightest change that passed over
his face. If the General had been so unluckily inspired as to
show himself generous without discussion (as happens occasionally
with some artless souls), he would have been a banished man
forever, accused and convicted of not knowing how to love. Most
women are not displeased to have their code of right and wrong
broken through. Do they not flatter themselves that they never
yield except to force? But Armand was not learned enough in this
kind of lore to see the snare ingeniously spread for him by the
Duchess. So much of the child was there in the strong man in
"If all you want is to preserve appearances," he began in his
simplicity, "I am willing to----"
"Simply to preserve appearances!" the lady broke in; "why,
what idea can you have of me? Have I given you the slightest
reason to suppose that I can be yours?"
"Why, what else are we talking about?" demanded Montriveau.
"Monsieur, you frighten me ! . . . No, pardon me. Thank you,"
she added, coldly; "thank you, Armand. You have given me timely
warning of imprudence; committed quite unconsciously, believe it,
my friend. You know how to endure, you say. I also know how to
endure. We will not see each other for a time; and then, when
both of us have contrived to recover calmness to some extent, we
will think about arrangements for a happiness sanctioned by the
world. I am young, Armand; a man with no delicacy might tempt a
woman of four-and-twenty to do many foolish, wild things for his
sake. But YOU! You will be my friend, promise me that you
"The woman of four-and-twenty," returned he, "knows what she
He sat down on the sofa in the boudoir, and leant his head on his
"Do you love me, madame?" he asked at length, raising his head,
and turning a face full of resolution upon her. "Say it
straight out; Yes or No!"
His direct question dismayed the Duchess more than a threat of
suicide could have done; indeed, the woman of the nineteenth
century is not to be frightened by that stale stratagem, the
sword has ceased to be part of the masculine costume. But in the
effect of eyelids and lashes, in the contraction of the gaze, in
the twitching of the lips, is there not some influence that
communicates the terror which they express with such vivid
"Ah, if I were free, if----"
"Oh! is it only your husband that stands in the way?" the
General exclaimed joyfully, as he strode to and fro in the
boudoir. "Dear Antoinette, I wield a more absolute power than
the Autocrat of all the Russias. I have a compact with Fate; I
can advance or retard destiny, so far as men are concerned, at my
fancy, as you alter the hands of a watch. If you can direct the
course of fate in our political machinery, it simply means (does
it not?) that you understand the ins and outs of it. You shall
be free before very long, and then you must remember your
"Armand!" she cried. "What do you mean? Great heavens! Can
you imagine that I am to be the prize of a crime? Do you want to
kill me? Why! you cannot have any religion in you! For my own
part, I fear God. M. de Langeais may have given me reason to
hate him, but I wish him no manner of harm."
M. de Montriveau beat a tattoo on the marble chimneypiece, and
only looked composedly at the lady.
"Dear," continued she, "respect him. He does not love me, he
is not kind to me, but I have duties to fulfil with regard to
him. What would I not do to avert the calamities with which you
threaten him?--Listen," she continued after a pause, "I will
not say another word about separation; you shall come here as in
the past, and I will still give you my forehead to kiss. If I
refused once or twice, it was pure coquetry, indeed it was. But
let us understand each other," she added as he came closer.
"You will permit me to add to the number of my satellites; to
receive even more visitors in the morning than heretofore; I mean
to be twice as frivolous; I mean to use you to all appearance
very badly; to feign a rupture; you must come not quite so often,
and then, afterwards----"
While she spoke, she had allowed him to put an arm about her
waist, Montriveau was holding her tightly to him, and she seemed
to feel the exceeding pleasure that women usually feel in that
close contact, an earnest of the bliss of a closer union. And
then, doubtless she meant to elicit some confidence, for she
raised herself on tiptoe, and laid her forehead against Armand's
"And then," Montriveau finished her sentence for her, "you
shall not speak to me of your husband. You ought not to think of
Mme de Langeais was silent awhile.
"At least," she said, after a significant pause, "at least you
will do all that I wish without grumbling, you will not be
naughty; tell me so, my friend? You wanted to frighten me, did
you not? Come, now, confess it ? . . . You are too good ever to
think of crimes. But is it possible that you can have secrets
that I do not know? How can you control Fate?"
"Now, when you confirm the gift of the heart that you have
already given me, I am far too happy to know exactly how to
answer you. I can trust you, Antoinette; I shall have no
suspicion, no unfounded jealousy of you. But if accident should
set you free, we shall be one----"
"Accident, Armand?" (With that little dainty turn of the head
that seems to say so many things, a gesture that such women as
the Duchess can use on light occasions, as a great singer can act
with her voice.) "Pure accident," she repeated. "Mind that.
If anything should happen to M. de Langeais by your fault, I
should never be yours."
And so they parted, mutually content. The Duchess had made a
pact that left her free to prove to the world by words and deeds
that M. de Montriveau was no lover of hers. And as for him, the
wily Duchess vowed to tire him out. He should have nothing of
her beyond the little concessions snatched in the course of
contests that she could stop at her pleasure. She had so pretty
an art of revoking the grant of yesterday, she was so much in
earnest in her purpose to remain technically virtuous, that she
felt that there was not the slightest danger for her in
preliminaries fraught with peril for a woman less sure of her
self-command. After all, the Duchess was practically separated
from her husband; a marriage long since annulled was no great
sacrifice to make to her love.
Montriveau on his side was quite happy to win the vaguest
promise, glad once for all to sweep aside, with all scruples of
conjugal fidelity, her stock of excuses for refusing herself to
his love. He had gained ground a little, and congratulated
himself. And so for a time he took unfair advantage of the
rights so hardly won. More a boy than he had ever been in his
life, he gave himself up to all the childishness that makes first
love the flower of life. He was a child again as he poured out
all his soul, all the thwarted forces that passion had given him,
upon her hands, upon the dazzling forehead that looked so pure to
his eyes; upon her fair hair; on the tufted curls where his lips
were pressed. And the Duchess, on whom his love was poured like
a flood, was vanquished by the magnetic influence of her lover's
warmth; she hesitated to begin the quarrel that must part them
forever. She was more a woman than she thought, this slight
creature, in her effort to reconcile the demands of religion with
the ever-new sensations of vanity, the semblance of pleasure
which turns a Parisienne's head. Every Sunday she went to Mass;
she never missed a service; then, when evening came, she was
steeped in the intoxicating bliss of repressed desire. Armand
and Mme de Langeais, like Hindoo fakirs, found the reward of
their continence in the temptations to which it gave rise.
Possibly, the Duchess had ended by resolving love into fraternal
caresses, harmless enough, as it might have seemed to the rest of
the world, while they borrowed extremes of degradation from the
licence of her thoughts. How else explain the incomprehensible
mystery of her continual fluctuations? Every morning she
proposed to herself to shut her door on the Marquis de
Montriveau; every evening, at the appointed hour, she fell under
the charm of his presence. There was a languid defence; then she
grew less unkind. Her words were sweet and soothing. They were
lovers--lovers only could have been thus. For him the Duchess
would display her most sparkling wit, her most captivating wiles;
and when at last she had wrought upon his senses and his soul,
she might submit herself passively to his fierce caresses, but
she had her nec plus ultra of passion; and when once it was
reached, she grew angry if he lost the mastery of himself and
made as though he would pass beyond. No woman on earth can brave
the consequences of refusal without some motive; nothing is more
natural than to yield to love; wherefore Mme de Langeais promptly
raised a second line of fortification, a stronghold less easy to
carry than the first. She evoked the terrors of religion. Never
did Father of the Church, however eloquent, plead the cause of
God better than the Duchess. Never was the wrath of the Most
High better justified than by her voice. She used no preacher's
commonplaces, no rhetorical amplifications. No. She had a
"pulpit-tremor" of her own. To Armand's most passionate
entreaty, she replied with a tearful gaze, and a gesture in which
a terrible plenitude of emotion found expression. She stopped
his mouth with an appeal for mercy. She would not hear another
word; if she did, she must succumb; and better death than
"Is it nothing to disobey God?" she asked him, recovering a
voice grown faint in the crises of inward struggles, through
which the fair actress appeared to find it hard to preserve her
self-control. "I would sacrifice society, I would give up the
whole world for you, gladly; but it is very selfish of you to ask
my whole after-life of me for a moment of pleasure. Come, now!
are you not happy?" she added, holding out her hand; and
certainly in her careless toilette the sight of her afforded
consolations to her lover, who made the most of them.
Sometimes from policy, to keep her hold on a man whose ardent
passion gave her emotions unknown before, sometimes in weakness,
she suffered him to snatch a swift kiss; and immediately, in
feigned terror, she flushed red and exiled Armand from the sofa
so soon as the sofa became dangerous ground.
"Your joys are sins for me to expiate, Armand; they are paid for
by penitence and remorse," she cried.
And Montriveau, now at two chairs' distance from that
aristocratic petticoat, betook himself to blasphemy and railed
against Providence. The Duchess grew angry at such times.
"My friend," she said drily, "I do not understand why you
decline to believe in God, for it is impossible to believe in
man. Hush, do not talk like that. You have too great a nature
to take up their Liberal nonsense with its pretension to abolish
Theological and political disputes acted like a cold douche on
Montriveau; he calmed down; he could not return to love when the
Duchess stirred up his wrath by suddenly setting him down a
thousand miles away from the boudoir, discussing theories of
absolute monarchy, which she defended to admiration. Few women
venture to be democrats; the attitude of democratic champion is
scarcely compatible with tyrannous feminine sway. But often, on
the other hand, the General shook out his mane, dropped politics
with a leonine growling and lashing of the flanks, and sprang
upon his prey; he was no longer capable of carrying a heart and
brain at such variance for very far; he came back, terrible with
love, to his mistress. And she, if she felt the prick of fancy
stimulated to a dangerous point, knew that it was time to leave
her boudoir; she came out of the atmosphere surcharged with
desires that she drew in with her breath, sat down to the piano,
and sang the most exquisite songs of modern music, and so baffled
the physical attraction which at times showed her no mercy,
though she was strong enough to fight it down.
At such times she was something sublime in Armand's eyes; she was
not acting, she was genuine; the unhappy lover was convinced that
she loved him. Her egoistic resistance deluded him into a belief
that she was a pure and sainted woman; he resigned himself; he
talked of Platonic love, did this artillery officer!
When Mme de Langeais had played with religion sufficiently to
suit her own purposes, she played with it again for Armand's
benefit. She wanted to bring him back to a Christian frame of
mind; she brought out her edition of Le Genie du Christianisme,
adapted for the use of military men. Montriveau chafed; his yoke
was heavy. Oh! at that, possessed by the spirit of
contradiction, she dinned religion into his ears, to see whether
God might not rid her of this suitor, for the man's persistence
was beginning to frighten her. And in any case she was glad to
prolong any quarrel, if it bade fair to keep the dispute on moral
grounds for an indefinite period; the material struggle which
followed it was more dangerous.
But if the time of her opposition on the ground of the marriage
law might be said to be the epoque civile of this sentimental
warfare, the ensuing phase which might be taken to constitute the
epoque religieuse had also its crisis and consequent decline of
Armand happening to come in very early one evening, found M.
l'Abbe Gondrand, the Duchess's spiritual director, established in
an armchair by the fireside, looking as a spiritual director
might be expected to look while digesting his dinner and the
charming sins of his penitent. In the ecclesiastic's bearing
there was a stateliness befitting a dignitary of the Church; and
the episcopal violet hue already appeared in his dress. At sight
of his fresh, well-preserved complexion, smooth forehead, and
ascetic's mouth, Montriveau's countenance grew uncommonly dark;
he said not a word under the malicious scrutiny of the other's
gaze, and greeted neither the lady nor the priest. The lover
apart, Montriveau was not wanting in tact; so a few glances
exchanged with the bishop-designate told him that here was the
real forger of the Duchess's armoury of scruples.
That an ambitious abbe should control the happiness of a man of
Montriveau's temper, and by underhand ways! The thought burst in
a furious tide over his face, clenched his fists, and set him
chafing and pacing to and fro; but when he came back to his place
intending to make a scene, a single look from the Duchess was
enough. He was quiet.
Any other woman would have been put out by her lover's gloomy
silence; it was quite otherwise with Mme de Langeais. She
continued her conversation with M. de Gondrand on the necessity
of re-establishing the Church in its ancient splendour. And she
The Church, she maintained, ought to be a temporal as well as a
spiritual power, stating her case better than the Abbe had done,
and regretting that the Chamber of Peers, unlike the English
House of Lords, had no bench of bishops. Nevertheless, the Abbe
rose, yielded his place to the General, and took his leave,
knowing that in Lent he could play a return game. As for the
Duchess, Montriveau's behaviour had excited her curiosity to such
a pitch that she scarcely rose to return her director's low bow.
"What is the matter with you, my friend?"
"Why, I cannot stomach that Abbe of yours."
"Why did you not take a book?" she asked, careless whether the
Abbe, then closing the door, heard her or no.
The General paused, for the gesture which accompanied the
Duchess's speech further increased the exceeding insolence of her
"My dear Antoinette, thank you for giving love precedence of the
Church; but, for pity's sake, allow me to ask one question."
"Oh! you are questioning me! I am quite willing. You are my
friend, are you not? I certainly can open the bottom of my heart
to you; you will see only one image there."
"Do you talk about our love to that man?"
"He is my confessor."
"Does he know that I love you?"
"M. de Montriveau, you cannot claim, I think, to penetrate the
secrets of the confessional?"
"Does that man know all about our quarrels and my love for
"That man, monsieur; say God!"
"God again! _I_ ought to be alone in your heart. But leave God
alone where He is, for the love of God and me. Madame, you SHALL
NOT go to confession again, or----"
"Or?" she repeated sweetly.
"Or I will never come back here."
"Then go, Armand. Good-bye, good-bye forever."
She rose and went to her boudoir without so much as a glance at
Armand, as he stood with his hand on the back of a chair. How
long he stood there motionless he himself never knew. The soul
within has the mysterious power of expanding as of contracting
He opened the door of the boudoir. It was dark within. A faint
voice was raised to say sharply--
"I did not ring. What made you come in without orders? Go
"Then you are ill," exclaimed Montriveau.
"Stand up, monsieur, and go out of the room for a minute at any
rate," she said, ringing the bell.
"Mme la Duchesse rang for lights?" said the footman, coming in
with the candles. When the lovers were alone together, Mme de
Langeais still lay on her couch; she was just as silent and
motionless as if Montriveau had not been there.
"Dear, I was wrong," he began, a note of pain and a sublime
kindness in his voice. "Indeed, I would not have you without
"It is fortunate that you can recognise the necessity of a
conscience," she said in a hard voice, without looking at him.
"I thank you in God's name."
The General was broken down by her harshness; this woman seemed
as if she could be at will a sister or a stranger to him. He
made one despairing stride towards the door. He would leave her
forever without another word. He was wretched; and the Duchess
was laughing within herself over mental anguish far more cruel
than the old judicial torture. But as for going away, it was not
in his power to do it. In any sort of crisis, a woman is, as it
were, bursting with a certain quantity of things to say; so long
as she has not delivered herself of them, she experiences the
sensation which we are apt to feel at the sight of something
incomplete. Mme de Langeais had not said all that was in her
mind. She took up her parable and said--
"We have not the same convictions, General, I am pained to
think. It would be dreadful if a woman could not believe in a
religion which permits us to love beyond the grave. I set
Christian sentiments aside; you cannot understand them. Let me
simply speak to you of expediency. Would you forbid a woman at
court the table of the Lord when it is customary to take the
sacrament at Easter? People must certainly do something for
their party. The Liberals, whatever they may wish to do, will
never destroy the religious instinct. Religion will always be a
political necessity. Would you undertake to govern a nation of
logic-choppers? Napoleon was afraid to try; he persecuted
ideologists. If you want to keep people from reasoning, you must
give them something to feel. So let us accept the Roman Catholic
Church with all its consequences. And if we would have France go
to mass, ought we not to begin by going ourselves? Religion, you
see, Armand, is a bond uniting all the conservative principles
which enable the rich to live in tranquillity. Religion and the
rights of property are intimately connected. It is certainly a
finer thing to lead a nation by ideas of morality than by fear of
the scaffold, as in the time of the Terror--the one method by
which your odious Revolution could enforce obedience. The priest
and the king--that means you, and me, and the Princess my
neighbour; and, in a word, the interests of all honest people
personified. There, my friend, just be so good as to belong to
your party, you that might be its Sylla if you had the slightest
ambition that way. I know nothing about politics myself; I argue
from my own feelings; but still I know enough to guess that
society would be overturned if people were always calling its
foundations in question----"
"If that is how your Court and your Government think, I am sorry
for you," broke in Montriveau. "The Restoration, madam, ought
to say, like Catherine de Medici, when she heard that the battle
of Dreux was lost, `Very well; now we will go to the
meeting-house.' Now 1815 was your battle of Dreux. Like the
royal power of those days, you won in fact, while you lost in
right. Political Protestantism has gained an ascendancy over
people's minds. If you have no mind to issue your Edict of
Nantes; or if, when it is issued, you publish a Revocation; if
you should one day be accused and convicted of repudiating the
Charter, which is simply a pledge given to maintain the interests
established under the Republic, then the Revolution will rise
again, terrible in her strength, and strike but a single blow.
It will not be the Revolution that will go into exile; she is the
very soil of France. Men die, but people's interests do not die.
. . . Eh, great Heavens! what are France and the crown and
rightful sovereigns, and the whole world besides, to us? Idle
words compared with my happiness. Let them reign or be hurled
from the throne, little do I care. Where am I now?"
"In the Duchesse de Langeais's boudoir, my friend."
"No, no. No more of the Duchess, no more of Langeais; I am with
my dear Antoinette."
"Will you do me the pleasure to stay where you are," she said,
laughing and pushing him back, gently however.
"So you have never loved me," he retorted, and anger flashed in
lightning from his eyes.
"No, dear"; but the "No" was equivalent to "Yes."
"I am a great ass," he said, kissing her hands. The terrible
queen was a woman once more.--"Antoinette," he went on, laying
his head on her feet, "you are too chastely tender to speak of
our happiness to anyone in this world."
"Oh!" she cried, rising to her feet with a swift, graceful
spring, "you are a great simpleton." And without another word
she fled into the drawing-room.
"What is it now?" wondered the General, little knowing that the
touch of his burning forehead had sent a swift electric thrill
through her from foot to head.
In hot wrath he followed her to the drawing-room, only to hear
divinely sweet chords. The Duchess was at the piano. If the man
of science or the poet can at once enjoy and comprehend, bringing
his intelligence to bear upon his enjoyment without loss of
delight, he is conscious that the alphabet and phraseology of
music are but cunning instruments for the composer, like the wood
and copper wire under the hands of the executant. For the poet
and the man of science there is a music existing apart,
underlying the double expression of this language of the spirit
and senses. Andiamo mio ben can draw tears of joy or pitying
laughter at the will of the singer; and not unfrequently one here
and there in the world, some girl unable to live and bear the
heavy burden of an unguessed pain, some man whose soul vibrates
with the throb of passion, may take up a musical theme, and lo!
heaven is opened for them, or they find a language for themselves
in some sublime melody, some song lost to the world.
The General was listening now to such a song; a mysterious music
unknown to all other ears, as the solitary plaint of some
mateless bird dying alone in a virgin forest.
"Great Heavens! what are you playing there?" he asked in an
"The prelude of a ballad, called, I believe, Fleuve du Tage."
"I did not know that there was such music in a piano," he
"Ah!" she said, and for the first time she looked at him as a
woman looks at the man she loves, "nor do you know, my friend,
that I love you, and that you cause me horrible suffering; and
that I feel that I must utter my cry of pain without putting it
too plainly into words. If I did not, I should yield----But you
"And you will not make me happy!"
"Armand, I should die of sorrow the next day."
The General turned abruptly from her and went. But out in the
street he brushed away the tears that he would not let fall.
The religious phase lasted for three months. At the end of that
time the Duchess grew weary of vain repetitions; the Deity, bound
hand and foot, was delivered up to her lover. Possibly she may
have feared that by sheer dint of talking of eternity she might
perpetuate his love in this world and the next. For her own
sake, it must be believed that no man had touched her heart, or
her conduct would be inexcusable. She was young; the time when
men and women feel that they cannot afford to lose time or to
quibble over their joys was still far off. She, no doubt, was on
the verge not of first love, but of her first experience of the
bliss of love. And from inexperience, for want of the painful
lessons which would have taught her to value the treasure poured
out at her feet, she was playing with it. Knowing nothing of the
glory and rapture of the light, she was fain to stay in the
Armand was just beginning to understand this strange situation;
he put his hope in the first word spoken by nature. Every
evening, as he came away from Mme de Langeais's, he told himself
that no woman would accept the tenderest, most delicate proofs of
a man's love during seven months, nor yield passively to the
slighter demands of passion, only to cheat love at the last. He
was waiting patiently for the sun to gain power, not doubting but
that he should receive the earliest fruits. The married woman's
hesitations and the religious scruples he could quite well
understand. He even rejoiced over those battles. He mistook the
Duchess's heartless coquetry for modesty; and he would not have
had her otherwise. So he had loved to see her devising
obstacles; was he not gradually triumphing over them? Did not
every victory won swell the meagre sum of lovers' intimacies long
denied, and at last conceded with every sign of love? Still, he
had had such leisure to taste the full sweetness of every small
successive conquest on which a lover feeds his love, that these
had come to be matters of use and wont. So far as obstacles
went, there were none now save his own awe of her; nothing else
left between him and his desire save the whims of her who allowed
him to call her Antoinette. So he made up his mind to demand
more, to demand all. Embarrassed like a young lover who cannot
dare to believe that his idol can stoop so low, he hesitated for
a long time. He passed through the experience of terrible
reactions within himself. A set purpose was annihilated by a
word, and definite resolves died within him on the threshold. He
despised himself for his weakness, and still his desire remained
Nevertheless, one evening, after sitting in gloomy melancholy, he
brought out a fierce demand for his illegally legitimate rights.
The Duchess had not to wait for her bond-slave's request to guess
his desire. When was a man's desire a secret? And have not
women an intuitive knowledge of the meaning of certain changes of
"What! you wish to be my friend no longer?" she broke in at the
first words, and a divine red surging like new blood under the
transparent skin, lent brightness to her eyes. "As a reward for
my generosity, you would dishonour me? Just reflect a little. I
myself have thought much over this; and I think always for us
BOTH. There is such a thing as a woman's loyalty, and we can no
more fail in it than you can fail in honour. _I_ cannot blind
myself. If I am yours, how, in any sense, can I be M. de
Langeais's wife? Can you require the sacrifice of my position,
my rank, my whole life in return for a doubtful love that could
not wait patiently for seven months? What! already you would rob
me of my right to dispose of myself? No, no; you must not talk
like this again. No, not another word. I will not, I cannot
listen to you."
Mme de Langeais raised both hands to her head to push back the
tufted curls from her hot forehead; she seemed very much excited.
"You come to a weak woman with your purpose definitely planned
out. You say--`For a certain length of time she will talk to me
of her husband, then of God, and then of the inevitable
consequences. But I will use and abuse the ascendancy I shall
gain over her; I will make myself indispensable; all the bonds of
habit, all the misconstructions of outsiders, will make for me;
and at length, when our liaison is taken for granted by all the
world, I shall be this woman's master.'--Now, be frank; these are
your thoughts! Oh! you calculate, and you say that you love.
Shame on you! You are enamoured? Ah! that I well believe! You
wish to possess me, to have me for your mistress, that is all!
Very well then, No! The DUCHESSE DE LANGEAIS will not descend so
far. Simple bourgeoises may be the victims of your treachery--I,
never! Nothing gives me assurance of your love. You speak of my
beauty; I may lose every trace of it in six months, like the dear
Princess, my neighbour. You are captivated by my wit, my grace.
Great Heavens! you would soon grow used to them and to the
pleasures of possession. Have not the little concessions that I
was weak enough to make come to be a matter of course in the last
few months? Some day, when ruin comes, you will give me no
reason for the change in you beyond a curt, `I have ceased to
care for you.'--Then, rank and fortune and honour and all that
was the Duchesse de Langeais will be swallowed up in one
disappointed hope. I shall have children to bear witness to my
shame, and----" With an involuntary gesture she interrupted
herself, and continued: "But I am too good-natured to explain
all this to you when you know it better than I. Come! let us
stay as we are. I am only too fortunate in that I can still
break these bonds which you think so strong. Is there anything
so very heroic in coming to the Hotel de Langeais to spend an
evening with a woman whose prattle amuses you?--a woman whom you
take for a plaything? Why, half a dozen young coxcombs come here
just as regularly every afternoon between three and five. They,
too, are very generous, I am to suppose? I make fun of them;
they stand my petulance and insolence pretty quietly, and make me
laugh; but as for you, I give all the treasures of my soul to
you, and you wish to ruin me, you try my patience in endless
ways. Hush, that will do, that will do," she continued, seeing
that he was about to speak, "you have no heart, no soul, no
delicacy. I know what you want to tell me. Very well,
then--yes. I would rather you should take me for a cold,
insensible woman, with no devotion in her composition, no heart
even, than be taken by everybody else for a vulgar person, and be
condemned to your so-called pleasures, of which you would most
certainly tire, and to everlasting punishment for it afterwards.
Your selfish love is not worth so many sacrifices. . . ."
The words give but a very inadequate idea of the discourse which
the Duchess trilled out with the quick volubility of a
bird-organ. Nor, truly, was there anything to prevent her from
talking on for some time to come, for poor Armand's only reply to
the torrent of flute notes was a silence filled with cruelly
painful thoughts. He was just beginning to see that this woman
was playing with him; he divined instinctively that a devoted
love, a responsive love, does not reason and count the
consequences in this way. Then, as he heard her reproach him
with detestable motives, he felt something like shame as he
remembered that unconsciously he had made those very
calculations. With angelic honesty of purpose, he looked within,
and self-examination found nothing but selfishness in all his
thoughts and motives, in the answers which he framed and could
not utter. He was self-convicted. In his despair he longed to
fling himself from the window. The egoism of it was intolerable.
What indeed can a man say when a woman will not believe in love?
Let me prove how much I love you.--The _I_ is always there.
The heroes of the boudoir, in such circumstances, can follow the
example of the primitive logician who preceded the Pyrrhonists
and denied movement. Montriveau was not equal to this feat.
With all his audacity, he lacked this precise kind which never
deserts an adept in the formulas of feminine algebra. If so many
women, and even the best of women, fall a prey to a kind of
expert to whom the vulgar give a grosser name, it is perhaps
because the said experts are great PROVERS, and love, in spite of
its delicious poetry of sentiment, requires a little more
geometry than people are wont to think.
Now the Duchess and Montriveau were alike in this--they were both
equally unversed in love lore. The lady's knowledge of theory
was but scanty; in practice she knew nothing whatever; she felt
nothing, and reflected over everything. Montriveau had had but
little experience, was absolutely ignorant of theory, and felt
too much to reflect at all. Both therefore were enduring the
consequences of the singular situation. At that supreme moment
the myriad thoughts in his mind might have been reduced to the
formula--"Submit to be mine ----' words which seem horribly
selfish to a woman for whom they awaken no memories, recall no
ideas. Something nevertheless he must say. And what was more,
though her barbed shafts had set his blood tingling, though the
short phrases that she discharged at him one by one were very
keen and sharp and cold, he must control himself lest he should
lose all by an outbreak of anger.
"Mme la Duchesse, I am in despair that God should have invented
no way for a woman to confirm the gift of her heart save by
adding the gift of her person. The high value which you yourself
put upon the gift teaches me that I cannot attach less importance
to it. If you have given me your inmost self and your whole
heart, as you tell me, what can the rest matter? And besides, if
my happiness means so painful a sacrifice, let us say no more
about it. But you must pardon a man of spirit if he feels
humiliated at being taken for a spaniel."
The tone in which the last remark was uttered might perhaps have
frightened another woman; but when the wearer of a petticoat has
allowed herself to be addressed as a Divinity, and thereby set
herself above all other mortals, no power on earth can be so
"M. le Marquis, I am in despair that God should not have
invented some nobler way for a man to confirm the gift of his
heart than by the manifestation of prodigiously vulgar desires.
We become bond-slaves when we give ourselves body and soul, but a
man is bound to nothing by accepting the gift. Who will assure
me that love will last? The very love that I might show for you
at every moment, the better to keep your love, might serve you as
a reason for deserting me. I have no wish to be a second edition
of Mme de Beauseant. Who can ever know what it is that keeps you
beside us? Our persistent coldness of heart is the cause of an
unfailing passion in some of you; other men ask for an untiring
devotion, to be idolised at every moment; some for gentleness,
others for tyranny. No woman in this world as yet has really
read the riddle of man's heart."
There was a pause. When she spoke again it was in a different
"After all, my friend, you cannot prevent a woman from trembling
at the question, `Will this love last always?' Hard though my
words may be, the dread of losing you puts them into my mouth.
Oh, me! it is not I who speaks, dear, it is reason; and how
should anyone so mad as I be reasonable? In truth, I am nothing
of the sort."
The poignant irony of her answer had changed before the end into
the most musical accents in which a woman could find utterance
for ingenuous love. To listen to her words was to pass in a
moment from martyrdom to heaven. Montriveau grew pale; and for
the first time in his life, he fell on his knees before a woman.
He kissed the Duchess's skirt hem, her knees, her feet; but for
the credit of the Faubourg Saint-Germain it is necessary to
respect the mysteries of its boudoirs, where many are fain to
take the utmost that Love can give without giving proof of love
The Duchess thought herself generous when she suffered herself to
be adored. But Montriveau was in a wild frenzy of joy over her
complete surrender of the position.
"Dear Antoinette," he cried. "Yes, you are right; I will not
have you doubt any longer. I too am trembling at this
moment--lest the angel of my life should leave me; I wish I could
invent some tie that might bind us to each other irrevocably."
"Ah!" she said, under her breath, "so I was right, you see."
"Let me say all that I have to say; I will scatter all your
fears with a word. Listen! if I deserted you, I should deserve
to die a thousand deaths. Be wholly mine, and I will give you
the right to kill me if I am false. I myself will write a letter
explaining certain reasons for taking my own life; I will make my
final arrangements, in short. You shall have the letter in your
keeping; in the eye of the law it will be a sufficient
explanation of my death. You can avenge yourself, and fear
nothing from God or men."
"What good would the letter be to me? What would life be if I
had lost your love? If I wished to kill you, should I not be
ready to follow? No; thank you for the thought, but I do not
want the letter. Should I not begin to dread that you were
faithful to me through fear? And if a man knows that he must
risk his life for a stolen pleasure, might it not seem more
tempting? Armand, the thing I ask of you is the one hard thing
"Then what is it that you wish?"
"Your obedience and my liberty."
"Ah, God!" cried he, "I am a child."
"A wayward, much spoilt child," she said, stroking the thick
hair, for his head still lay on her knee. "Ah! and loved far
more than he believes, and yet he is very disobedient. Why not
stay as we are? Why not sacrifice to me the desires that hurt
me? Why not take what I can give, when it is all that I can
honestly grant? Are you not happy?"
"Oh yes, I am happy when I have not a doubt left. Antoinette,
doubt in love is a kind of death, is it not?"
In a moment he showed himself as he was, as all men are under the
influence of that hot fever; he grew eloquent, insinuating. And
the Duchess tasted the pleasures which she reconciled with her
conscience by some private, Jesuitical ukase of her own; Armand's
love gave her a thrill of cerebral excitement which custom made
as necessary to her as society, or the Opera. To feel that she
was adored by this man, who rose above other men, whose character
frightened her; to treat him like a child; to play with him as
Poppaea played with Nero--many women, like the wives of King
Henry VIII, have paid for such a perilous delight with all the
blood in their veins. Grim presentiment! Even as she
surrendered the delicate, pale, gold curls to his touch, and felt
the close pressure of his hand, the little hand of a man whose
greatness she could not mistake; even as she herself played with
his dark, thick locks, in that boudoir where she reigned a queen,
the Duchess would say to herself--
"This man is capable of killing me if he once finds out that I
am playing with him."
Armand de Montriveau stayed with her till two o'clock in the
morning. From that moment this woman, whom he loved, was neither
a duchess nor a Navarreins; Antoinette, in her disguises, had
gone so far as to appear to be a woman. On that most blissful
evening, the sweetest prelude ever played by a Parisienne to what
the world calls "a slip"; in spite of all her affectations of a
coyness which she did not feel, the General saw all maidenly
beauty in her. He had some excuse for believing that so many
storms of caprice had been but clouds covering a heavenly soul;
that these must be lifted one by one like the veils that hid her
divine loveliness. The Duchess became, for him, the most simple
and girlish mistress; she was the one woman in the world for him;
and he went away quite happy in that at last he had brought her
to give him such pledges of love, that it seemed to him
impossible but that he should be but her husband henceforth in
secret, her choice sanctioned by Heaven.
Armand went slowly home, turning this thought in his mind with
the impartiality of a man who is conscious of all the
responsibilities that love lays on him while he tastes the
sweetness of its joys. He went along the Quais to see the widest
possible space of sky; his heart had grown in him; he would fain
have had the bounds of the firmament and of earth enlarged. It
seemed to him that his lungs drew an ampler breath.
In the course of his self-examination, as he walked, he vowed to
love this woman so devoutly, that every day of her life she
should find absolution for her sins against society in unfailing
happiness. Sweet stirrings of life when life is at the full!
The man that is strong enough to steep his soul in the colour of
one emotion, feels infinite joy as glimpses open out for him of
an ardent lifetime that knows no diminution of passion to the
end; even so it is permitted to certain mystics, in ecstasy, to
behold the Light of God. Love would be naught without the belief
that it would last forever; love grows great through constancy.
It was thus that, wholly absorbed by his happiness, Montriveau
"We belong to each other forever!"
The thought was like a talisman fulfilling the wishes of his
life. He did not ask whether the Duchess might not change,
whether her love might not last. No, for he had faith. Without
that virtue there is no future for Christianity, and perhaps it
is even more necessary to society. A conception of life as
feeling occurred to him for the first time; hitherto he had lived
by action, the most strenuous exertion of human energies, the
physical devotion, as it may be called, of the soldier.
Next day M. de Montriveau went early in the direction of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain. He had made an appointment at a house
not far from the Hotel de Langeais; and the business over, he
went thither as if to his own home. The General's companion
chanced to be a man for whom he felt a kind of repulsion whenever
he met him in other houses. This was the Marquis de
Ronquerolles, whose reputation had grown so great in Paris
boudoirs. He was witty, clever, and what was more--courageous;
he set the fashion to all the young men in Paris. As a man of
gallantry, his success and experience were equally matters of
envy; and neither fortune nor birth was wanting in his case,
qualifications which add such lustre in Paris to a reputation as
a leader of fashion.
"Where are you going?" asked M. de Ronquerolles.
"To Mme de Langeais's."
"Ah, true. I forgot that you had allowed her to lime you. You
are wasting your affections on her when they might be much better
employed elsewhere. I could have told you of half a score of
women in the financial world, any one of them a thousand times
better worth your while than that titled courtesan, who does with
her brains what less artificial women do with----"
"What is this, my dear fellow?" Armand broke in. "The Duchess
is an angel of innocence."
Ronquerolles began to laugh.
"Things being thus, dear boy," said he, "it is my duty to
enlighten you. Just a word; there is no harm in it between
ourselves. Has the Duchess surrendered? If so, I have nothing
more to say. Come, give me your confidence. There is no
occasion to waste your time in grafting your great nature on that
unthankful stock, when all your hopes and cultivation will come
Armand ingenuously made a kind of general report of his position,
enumerating with much minuteness the slender rights so hardly
won. Ronquerolles burst into a peal of laughter so heartless,
that it would have cost any other man his life. But from their
manner of speaking and looking at each other during that colloquy
beneath the wall, in a corner almost as remote from intrusion as
the desert itself, it was easy to imagine the friendship between
the two men knew no bounds, and that no power on earth could
"My dear Armand, why did you not tell me that the Duchess was a
puzzle to you? I would have given you a little advice which
might have brought your flirtation properly through. You must
know, to begin with, that the women of our Faubourg, like any
other women, love to steep themselves in love; but they have a
mind to possess and not to be possessed. They have made a sort
of compromise with human nature. The code of their parish gives
them a pretty wide latitude short of the last transgression. The
sweets enjoyed by this fair Duchess of yours are so many venial
sins to be washed away in the waters of penitence. But if you
had the impertinence to ask in earnest for the moral sin to which
naturally you are sure to attach the highest importance, you
would see the deep disdain with which the door of the boudoir and
the house would be incontinently shut upon you. The tender
Antoinette would dismiss everything from her memory; you would be
less than a cipher for her. She would wipe away your kisses, my
dear friend, as indifferently as she would perform her ablutions.
She would sponge love from her cheeks as she washes off rouge.
We know women of that sort--the thorough-bred Parisienne. Have
you ever noticed a grisette tripping along the street? Her face
is as good as a picture. A pretty cap, fresh cheeks, trim hair,
a guileful smile, and the rest of her almost neglected. Is not
this true to the life? Well, that is the Parisienne. She knows
that her face is all that will be seen, so she devotes all her
care, finery, and vanity to her head. The Duchess is the same;
the head is everything with her. She can only feel through her
intellect, her heart lies in her brain, she is a sort of
intellectual epicure, she has a head-voice. We call that kind of
poor creature a Lais of the intellect. You have been taken in
like a boy. If you doubt it, you can have proof of it tonight,
this morning, this instant. Go up to her, try the demand as an
experiment, insist peremptorily if it is refused. You might set
about it like the late Marechal de Richelieu, and get nothing for
Armand was dumb with amazement.
"Has your desire reached the point of infatuation?"
"I want her at any cost!" Montriveau cried out despairingly.
"Very well. Now, look here. Be as inexorable as she is
herself. Try to humiliate her, to sting her vanity. Do NOT try
to move her heart, nor her soul, but the woman's nerves and
temperament, for she is both nervous and lymphatic. If you can
once awaken desire in her, you are safe. But you must drop these
romantic boyish notions of yours. If when once you have her in
your eagle's talons you yield a point or draw back, if you so
much as stir an eyelid, if she thinks that she can regain her
ascendancy over you, she will slip out of your clutches like a
fish, and you will never catch her again. Be as inflexible as
law. Show no more charity than the headsman. Hit hard, and then
hit again. Strike and keep on striking as if you were giving her
the knout. Duchesses are made of hard stuff, my dear Armand;
there is a sort of feminine nature that is only softened by
repeated blows; and as suffering develops a heart in women of
that sort, so it is a work of charity not to spare the rod. Do
you persevere. Ah! when pain has thoroughly relaxed those nerves
and softened the fibres that you take to be so pliant and
yielding; when a shrivelled heart has learned to expand and
contract and to beat under this discipline; when the brain has
capitulated--then, perhaps, passion may enter among the steel
springs of this machinery that turns out tears and affectations
and languors and melting phrases; then you shall see a most
magnificent conflagration (always supposing that the chimney
takes fire). The steel feminine system will glow red-hot like
iron in the forge; that kind of heat lasts longer than any other,
and the glow of it may possibly turn to love.
"Still," he continued, "I have my doubts. And, after all, is
it worth while to take so much trouble with the Duchess? Between
ourselves a man of my stamp ought first to take her in hand and
break her in; I would make a charming woman of her; she is a
thoroughbred; whereas, you two left to yourselves will never get
beyond the A B C. But you are in love with her, and just now you
might not perhaps share my views on this subject----. A pleasant
time to you, my children," added Ronquerolles, after a pause.
Then with a laugh: "I have decided myself for facile beauties;
they are tender, at any rate, the natural woman appears in their
love without any of your social seasonings. A woman that haggles
over herself, my poor boy, and only means to inspire love! Well,
have her like an extra horse--for show. The match between the
sofa and confessional, black and white, queen and knight,
conscientious scruples and pleasure, is an uncommonly amusing
game of chess. And if a man knows the game, let him be never so
little of a rake, he wins in three moves. Now, if I undertook a
woman of that sort, I should start with the deliberate purpose
of----" His voice sank to a whisper over the last words in
Armand's ear, and he went before there was time to reply.
As for Montriveau, he sprang at a bound across the courtyard of
the Hotel de Langeais, went unannounced up the stairs straight to
the Duchess's bedroom.
"This is an unheard-of thing," she said, hastily wrapping her
dressing-gown about her. "Armand! this is abominable of you!
Come, leave the room, I beg. Just go out of the room, and go at
once. Wait for me in the drawing-room.--Come now!"
"Dear angel, has a plighted lover no privilege whatsoever?"
"But, monsieur, it is in the worst possible taste of a plighted
lover or a wedded husband to break in like this upon his wife."
He came up to the Duchess, took her in his arms, and held her
tightly to him.
"Forgive, dear Antoinette; but a host of horrid doubts are
fermenting in my heart."
"DOUBTS? Fie!--Oh, fie on you!"
"Doubts all but justified. If you loved me, would you make this
quarrel? Would you not be glad to see me? Would you not have
felt a something stir in your heart? For I, that am not a woman,
feel a thrill in my inmost self at the mere sound of your voice.
Often in a ballroom a longing has come upon me to spring to your
side and put my arms about your neck."
"Oh! if you have doubts of me so long as I am not ready to
spring to your arms before all the world, I shall be doubted all
my life long, I suppose. Why, Othello was a mere child compared
"Ah!" he cried despairingly, "you have no love for me----"
"Admit, at any rate, that at this moment you are not lovable."
Then I have still to find favour in your sight?"
"Oh, I should think so. Come," added she, "with a little
imperious air, go out of the room, leave me. I am not like you;
I wish always to find favour in your eyes."
Never woman better understood the art of putting charm into
insolence, and does not the charm double the effect? is it not
enough to infuriate the coolest of men? There was a sort of
untrammelled freedom about Mme de Langeais; a something in her
eyes, her voice, her attitude, which is never seen in a woman who
loves when she stands face to face with him at the mere sight of
whom her heart must needs begin to beat. The Marquis de
Ronquerolles's counsels had cured Armand of sheepishness; and
further, there came to his aid that rapid power of intuition
which passion will develop at moments in the least wise among
mortals, while a great man at such a time possesses it to the
full. He guessed the terrible truth revealed by the Duchess's
nonchalance, and his heart swelled with the storm like a lake
rising in flood.
"If you told me the truth yesterday, be mine, dear Antoinette,"
he cried; "you shall----"
"In the first place," said she composedly, thrusting him back
as he came nearer--"in the first place, you are not to
compromise me. My woman might overhear you. Respect me, I beg
of you. Your familiarity is all very well in my boudoir in an
evening; here it is quite different. Besides, what may your `you
shall' mean? `You shall.' No one as yet has ever used that word
to me. It is quite ridiculous, it seems to me, absolutely
"Will you surrender nothing to me on this point?"
"Oh! do you call a woman's right to dispose of herself a
`point?' A capital point indeed; you will permit me to be
entirely my own mistress on that `point.' "
"And how if, believing in your promises to me, I should
absolutely require it?"
"Oh! then you would prove that I made the greatest possible
mistake when I made you a promise of any kind; and I should beg
you to leave me in peace."
The General's face grew white; he was about to spring to her
side, when Mme de Langeais rang the bell, the maid appeared, and,
smiling with a mocking grace, the Duchess added, "Be so good as
to return when I am visible."
Then Montriveau felt the hardness of a woman as cold and keen as
a steel blade; she was crushing in her scorn. In one moment she
had snapped the bonds which held firm only for her lover. She
had read Armand's intention in his face, and held that the moment
had come for teaching the Imperial soldier his lesson. He was to
be made to feel that though duchesses may lend themselves to
love, they do not give themselves, and that the conquest of one
of them would prove a harder matter than the conquest of Europe.
"Madame," returned Armand, "I have not time to wait. I am a
spoilt child, as you told me yourself. When I seriously resolve
to have that of which we have been speaking, I shall have it."
"You will have it?" queried she, and there was a trace of
surprise in her loftiness.
"I shall have it."
"Oh! you would do me a great pleasure by `resolving' to have it.
For curiosity's sake, I should be delighted to know how you would
set about it----"
"I am delighted to put a new interest into your life,"
interrupted Montriveau, breaking into a laugh which dismayed the
Duchess. "Will you permit me to take you to the ball tonight?"
"A thousand thanks. M. de Marsay has been beforehand with you.
I gave him my promise."
Montriveau bowed gravely and went.
"So Ronquerolles was right," thought he, "and now for a game
Thenceforward he hid his agitation by complete composure. No man
is strong enough to bear such sudden alternations from the height
of happiness to the depths of wretchedness. So he had caught a
glimpse of happy life the better to feel the emptiness of his
previous existence? There was a terrible storm within him; but
he had learned to endure, and bore the shock of tumultuous
thoughts as a granite cliff stands out against the surge of an
"I could say nothing. When I am with her my wits desert me.
She does not know how vile and contemptible she is. Nobody has
ventured to bring her face to face with herself. She has played
with many a man, no doubt; I will avenge them all."
For the first time, it may be, in a man's heart, revenge and love
were blended so equally that Montriveau himself could not know
whether love or revenge would carry all before it. That very
evening he went to the ball at which he was sure of seeing the
Duchesse de Langeais, and almost despaired of reaching her heart.
He inclined to think that there was something diabolical about
this woman, who was gracious to him and radiant with charming
smiles; probably because she had no wish to allow the world to
think that she had compromised herself with M. de Montriveau.
Coolness on both sides is a sign of love; but so long as the
Duchess was the same as ever, while the Marquis looked sullen and
morose, was it not plain that she had conceded nothing?
Onlookers know the rejected lover by various signs and tokens;
they never mistake the genuine symptoms for a coolness such as
some women command their adorers to feign, in the hope of
concealing their love. Everyone laughed at Montriveau; and he,
having omitted to consult his cornac, was abstracted and ill at
ease. M. de Ronquerolles would very likely have bidden him
compromise the Duchess by responding to her show of friendliness
by passionate demonstrations; but as it was, Armand de Montriveau
came away from the ball, loathing human nature, and even then
scarcely ready to believe in such complete depravity.
"If there is no executioner for such crimes," he said, as he
looked up at the lighted windows of the ballroom where the most
enchanting women in Paris were dancing, laughing, and chatting,
"I will take you by the nape of the neck, Mme la Duchesse, and
make you feel something that bites more deeply than the knife in
the Place de la Greve. Steel against steel; we shall see which
heart will leave the deeper mark."
For a week or so Mme de Langeais hoped to see the Marquis de
Montriveau again; but he contented himself with sending his card
every morning to the Hotel de Langeais. The Duchess could not
help shuddering each time that the card was brought in, and a dim
foreboding crossed her mind, but the thought was vague as a
presentiment of disaster. When her eyes fell on the name, it
seemed to her that she felt the touch of the implacable man's
strong hand in her hair; sometimes the words seemed like a
prognostication of a vengeance which her lively intellect
invented in the most shocking forms. She had studied him too
well not to dread him. Would he murder her, she wondered? Would
that bull-necked man dash out her vitals by flinging her over his
head? Would he trample her body under his feet? When, where,
and how would he get her into his power? Would he make her
suffer very much, and what kind of pain would he inflict? She
repented of her conduct. There were hours when, if he had come,
she would have gone to his arms in complete self-surrender.
Every night before she slept she saw Montriveau's face; every
night it wore a different aspect. Sometimes she saw his bitter
smile, sometimes the Jovelike knitting of the brows; or his
leonine look, or some disdainful movement of the shoulders made
him terrible for her. Next day the card seemed stained with
blood. The name of Montriveau stirred her now as the presence of
the fiery, stubborn, exacting lover had never done. Her
apprehensions gathered strength in the silence. She was forced,
without aid from without, to face the thought of a hideous duel
of which she could not speak. Her proud hard nature was more
responsive to thrills of hate than it had ever been to the
caresses of love. Ah! if the General could but have seen her, as
she sat with her forehead drawn into folds between her brows;
immersed in bitter thoughts in that boudoir where he had enjoyed
such happy moments, he might perhaps have conceived high hopes.
Of all human passions, is not pride alone incapable of
engendering anything base? Mme de Langeais kept her thoughts to
herself, but is it not permissible to suppose that M. de
Montriveau was no longer indifferent to her? And has not a man
gained ground immensely when a woman thinks about him? He is
bound to make progress with her either one way or the other
Put any feminine creature under the feet of a furious horse or
other fearsome beast; she will certainly drop on her knees and
look for death; but if the brute shows a milder mood and does not
utterly slay her, she will love the horse, lion, bull, or what
not, and will speak of him quite at her ease. The Duchess felt
that she was under the lion's paws; she quaked, but she did not
The man and woman thus singularly placed with regard to each
other met three times in society during the course of that week.
Each time, in reply to coquettish questioning glances, the
Duchess received a respectful bow, and smiles tinged with such
savage irony, that all her apprehensions over the card in the
morning were revived at night. Our lives are simply such as our
feelings shape them for us; and the feelings of these two had
hollowed out a great gulf between them
The Comtesse de Serizy, the Marquis de Ronquerolles's sister,
gave a great ball at the beginning of the following week, and Mme
de Langeais was sure to go to it. Armand was the first person
whom the Duchess saw when she came into the room, and this time
Armand was looking out for her, or so she thought at least. The
two exchanged a look, and suddenly the woman felt a cold
perspiration break from every pore. She had thought all along
that Montriveau was capable of taking reprisals in some
unheard-of way proportioned to their condition, and now the
revenge had been discovered, it was ready, heated, and boiling.
Lightnings flashed from the foiled lover's eyes, his face was
radiant with exultant vengeance. And the Duchess? Her eyes were
haggard in spite of her resolution to be cool and insolent. She
went to take her place beside the Comtesse de Serizy, who could
not help exclaiming, "Dear Antoinette! what is the matter with
you? You are enough to frighten one."
"I shall be all right after a quadrille," she answered, giving
a hand to a young man who came up at that moment.
Mme de Langeais waltzed that evening with a sort of excitement
and transport which redoubled Montriveau's lowering looks. He
stood in front of the line of spectators, who were amusing
themselves by looking on. Every time that SHE came past him, his
eyes darted down upon her eddying face; he might have been a
tiger with the prey in his grasp. The waltz came to an end, Mme
de Langeais went back to her place beside the Countess, and
Montriveau never took his eyes off her, talking all the while
with a stranger.
"One of the things that struck me most on the journey," he was
saying (and the Duchess listened with all her ears), "was the
remark which the man makes at Westminster when you are shown the
axe with which a man in a mask cut off Charles the First's head,
so they tell you. The King made it first of all to some
inquisitive person, and they repeat it still in memory of him."
"What does the man say?" asked Mme de Serizy.
" `Do not touch the axe!' " replied Montriveau, and there was
menace in the sound of his voice.
"Really, my Lord Marquis," said Mme de Langeais, "you tell
this old story that everybody knows if they have been to London,
and look at my neck in such a melodramatic way that you seem to
me to have an axe in your hand."
The Duchess was in a cold sweat, but nevertheless she laughed as
she spoke the last words.
"But circumstances give the story a quite new application,"
"How so; pray tell me, for pity's sake?"
"In this way, madame--you have touched the axe," said
Montriveau, lowering his voice.
"What an enchanting prophecy!" returned she, smiling with
assumed grace. "And when is my head to fall?"
"I have no wish to see that pretty head of yours cut off. I
only fear some great misfortune for you. If your head were
clipped close, would you feel no regrets for the dainty golden
hair that you turn to such good account?"
"There are those for whom a woman would love to make such a
sacrifice; even if, as often happens, it is for the sake of a man
who cannot make allowances for an outbreak of temper."
"Quite so. Well, and if some wag were to spoil your beauty on a
sudden by some chemical process, and you, who are but eighteen
for us, were to be a hundred years old?"
"Why, the smallpox is our Battle of Waterloo, monsieur," she
interrupted. "After it is over we find out those who love us
"Would you not regret the lovely face that?"
"Oh! indeed I should, but less for my own sake than for the sake
of someone else whose delight it might have been. And, after
all, if I were loved, always loved, and truly loved, what would
my beauty matter to me?--What do you say, Clara?"
"It is a dangerous speculation," replied Mme de Serizy.
"Is it permissible to ask His Majesty the King of Sorcerers when
I made the mistake of touching the axe, since I have not been to
London as yet?----"
"NOT SO," he answered in English, with a burst of ironical
"And when will the punishment begin?"
At this Montriveau coolly took out his watch, and ascertained the
hour with a truly appalling air of conviction.
"A dreadful misfortune will befall you before this day is out."
"I am not a child to be easily frightened, or rather, I am a
child ignorant of danger," said the Duchess. "I shall dance
now without fear on the edge of the precipice."
"I am delighted to know that you have so much strength of
character," he answered, as he watched her go to take her place
in a square dance.
But the Duchess, in spite of her apparent contempt for Armand's
dark prophecies, was really frightened. Her late lover's
presence weighed upon her morally and physically with a sense of
oppression that scarcely ceased when he left the ballroom. And
yet when she had drawn freer breath, and enjoyed the relief for a
moment, she found herself regretting the sensation of dread, so
greedy of extreme sensations is the feminine nature. The regret
was not love, but it was certainly akin to other feelings which
prepare the way for love. And then--as if the impression which
Montriveau had made upon her were suddenly revived--she
recollected his air of conviction as he took out his watch, and
in a sudden spasm of dread she went out.
By this time it was about midnight. One of her servants, waiting
with her pelisse, went down to order her carriage. On her way
home she fell naturally enough to musing over M. de Montriveau's
prediction. Arrived in her own courtyard, as she supposed, she
entered a vestibule almost like that of her own hotel, and
suddenly saw that the staircase was different. She was in a
strange house. Turning to call her servants, she was attacked by
several men, who rapidly flung a handkerchief over her mouth,
bound her hand and foot, and carried her off. She shrieked
"Madame, our orders are to kill you if you scream," a voice
said in her ear.
So great was the Duchess's terror, that she could never recollect
how nor by whom she was transported. When she came to herself,
she was lying on a couch in a bachelor's lodging, her hands and
feet tied with silken cords. In spite of herself, she shrieked
aloud as she looked round and met Armand de Montriveau's eyes.
He was sitting in his dressing-gown, quietly smoking a cigar in
"Do not cry out, Mme la Duchesse," he said, coolly taking the
cigar out of his mouth; "I have a headache. Besides, I will
untie you. But listen attentively to what I have the honour to
say to you."
Very carefully he untied the knots that bound her feet.
"What would be the use of calling out? Nobody can hear your
cries. You are too well bred to make any unnecessary fuss. If
you do not stay quietly, if you insist upon a struggle with me, I
shall tie your hands and feet again. All things considered, I
think that you have self-respect enough to stay on this sofa as
if you were lying on your own at home; cold as ever, if you will.
You have made me shed many tears on this couch, tears that I hid
from all other eyes."
While Montriveau was speaking, the Duchess glanced about her; it
was a woman's glance, a stolen look that saw all things and
seemed to see nothing. She was much pleased with the room. It
was rather like a monk's cell. The man's character and thoughts
seemed to pervade it. No decoration of any kind broke the grey
painted surface of the walls. A green carpet covered the floor.
A black sofa, a table littered with papers, two big easy-chairs,
a chest of drawers with an alarum clock by way of ornament, a
very low bedstead with a coverlet flung over it--a red cloth with
a black key border--all these things made part of a whole that
told of a life reduced to its simplest terms. A triple
candle-sconce of Egyptian design on the chimney-piece recalled
the vast spaces of the desert and Montriveau's long wanderings; a
huge sphinx-claw stood out beneath the folds of stuff at the
bed-foot; and just beyond, a green curtain with a black and
scarlet border was suspended by large rings from a spear handle
above a door near one corner of the room. The other door by
which the band had entered was likewise curtained, but the
drapery hung from an ordinary curtain-rod. As the Duchess
finally noted that the pattern was the same on both, she saw that
the door at the bed-foot stood open; gleams of ruddy light from
the room beyond flickered below the fringed border. Naturally,
the ominous light roused her curiosity; she fancied she could
distinguish strange shapes in the shadows; but as it did not
occur to her at the time that danger could come from that
quarter, she tried to gratify a more ardent curiosity.
"Monsieur, if it is not indiscreet, may I ask what you mean to
do with me?" The insolence and irony of the tone stung through
the words. The Duchess quite believed that she read extravagant
love in Montriveau's speech. He had carried her off; was not
that in itself an acknowledgment of her power?
"Nothing whatever, madame," he returned, gracefully puffing the
last whiff of cigar smoke. "You will remain here for a short
time. First of all, I should like to explain to you what you
are, and what I am. I cannot put my thoughts into words whilst
you are twisting on the sofa in your boudoir; and besides, in
your own house you take offence at the slightest hint, you ring
the bell, make an outcry, and turn your lover out at the door as
if he were the basest of wretches. Here my mind is unfettered.
Here nobody can turn me out. Here you shall be my victim for a
few seconds, and you are going to be so exceedingly kind as to
listen to me. You need fear nothing. I did not carry you off to
insult you, nor yet to take by force what you refused to grant of
your own will to my unworthiness. I could not stoop so low. You
possibly think of outrage; for myself, I have no such thoughts."
He flung his cigar coolly into the fire.
"The smoke is unpleasant to you, no doubt, madame?" he said,
and rising at once, he took a chafing-dish from the hearth, burnt
perfumes, and purified the air. The Duchess's astonishment was
only equalled by her humiliation. She was in this man's power;
and he would not abuse his power. The eyes in which love had
once blazed like flame were now quiet and steady as stars. She
trembled. Her dread of Armand was increased by a nightmare
sensation of restlessness and utter inability to move; she felt
as if she were turned to stone. She lay passive in the grip of
fear. She thought she saw the light behind the curtains grow to
a blaze, as if blown up by a pair of bellows; in another moment
the gleams of flame grew brighter, and she fancied that three
masked figures suddenly flashed out; but the terrible vision
disappeared so swiftly that she took it for an optical delusion.
"Madame," Armand continued with cold contempt, "one minute,
just one minute is enough for me, and you shall feel it
afterwards at every moment throughout your lifetime, the one
eternity over which I have power. I am not God. Listen
carefully to me," he continued, pausing to add solemnity to his
words. "Love will always come at your call. You have boundless
power over men: but remember that once you called love, and love
came to you; love as pure and true-hearted as may be on earth,
and as reverent as it was passionate; fond as a devoted woman's,
as a mother's love; a love so great indeed, that it was past the
bounds of reason. You played with it, and you committed a crime.
Every woman has a right to refuse herself to love which she feels
she cannot share; and if a man loves and cannot win love in
return, he is not to be pitied, he has no right to complain. But
with a semblance of love to attract an unfortunate creature cut
off from all affection; to teach him to understand happiness to
the full, only to snatch it from him; to rob him of his future of
felicity; to slay his happiness not merely today, but as long as
his life lasts, by poisoning every hour of it and every
thought--this I call a fearful crime!"
"I cannot allow you to answer me yet. So listen to me still.
In any case I have rights over you; but I only choose to exercise
one--the right of the judge over the criminal, so that I may