Part 4 out of 5
"You have written to your father?"
"Not yet. I must first of all talk to Genevieve."
"You are not afraid of what she will say? Of her answer?"
"I want first to tell her of my future plans, and to have a
confidential chat with her about everything."
"You will be my best man, old fellow," he went on, clapping Jean on
the shoulder. "You have chosen the role of actor, with the temperament
of a spectator; strange lover!"
"Like any other man I follow my Destiny. You were born for happiness,
Maurice, one has only to look at you to be convinced of it. You
breathe forth life, you love, you conquer. Youth radiates from you. I
have asked myself a hundred times why I have chosen this career, and I
am persuaded that I must live, if at all, the life of others."
"Are you very upset--unhappy?" asked Maurice.
"No, oh no; I don't suffer much, but of course I am a little
disturbed. I am like a reflection. Esperance's happiness elates, her
sorrow depresses me. I love her purely as an idealist. I would like
Count Albert to look like the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche, and still
keep the noble soul that we know he possesses. If your cousin should
die, I truly believe that I would die. My life would be without aim,
without soul; bereft of light, the reflection would vanish."
They walked slowly down to the beach to join Albert and the girls. The
night had broken soft and limpid, full of stars, full of dreams. They
sat down on the sand, silently admiring the prospect. The waves broke
regularly as if scanning the poem of silence. A fresh scent rose from
the rocks which were clothed with sea moss. Far away a dog was
barking. The young people were silent, united in a mood of wonder
before the depths and lights of the night.
PART IV. THE CHÂTEAU
On the fifteenth of September the girls had to tear themselves away
from their quiet retreat at Belle-Isle, and leave Penhouet and all
else to travel with Mlle. Frahender, Jean and Maurice to the Château
de Montjoie. When they arrived there, at ten in the evening, Esperance
recognised the Duke in the distance as soon as the carriage stopped.
He was looking out of one of the great windows above the terrace. He
was, in fact, awaiting the coming of Esperance. But he pretended not
to have seen the carriage and continued to gaze up at the stars.
Esperance trembled and her lips were icy cold. Albert had also seen
the Duke, and was not deceived by his attitude. He had resolved to be
calm, but a sullen, unbidden anger arose within him.
When the housekeeper had installed the two girls in a tower of the
Château, she left with them a little Breton peasant girl.
"She will be devoted to your service," she said. "Her name is
Jeanette. Her room is above yours and, when you ring this bell, she
will wait upon you at once."
Esperance threw herself on her bed, still dressed, for her heart was
"Ah! why, why is Albert so trusting? Why did he let me come here?
Would it not have been better to have run the risk of offending the
And when Genevieve tried to reason with her, "I am suffering, little
sister," she replied, "I am so unhappy; for the sight of the Duke at
the window distressed me. I tremble at the idea of seeing him again,
and yet I long for the time when I can give him my hand."
"But this is serious," said Genevieve. "I thought you had recovered
from all that nonsense, or rather, I thought you would be less
She helped Esperance to undress. The poor child let her do so without
She slept badly, haunted by dreams and troubled with nightmare. At six
o'clock in the morning she woke up feverishly, and rang for the maid.
The little Breton appeared five minutes later, her eyes still full of
sleep, her cap crooked.
"Will you get me a little warm water?" asked Esperance. "It is cold
from the tap."
"It is too early, I am afraid. Mademoiselle must please to wait a
"Well, be as quick as you can, please. I want to go for a walk in the
park while there is no one about."
The little Breton laughed. "You won't run any danger of finding anyone
at this hour. What will the ladies take for breakfast?"
"Two cups of chocolate, please," said Genevieve, beginning to get up.
"Be so good as to make haste, Jeanette, get us our hot water and our
chocolate, like a good girl and say nothing to anyone."
Jeanette looked in the mirror, adjusted her cap, put back a stray lock
of hair, and opened the door. But she stopped, looking at the girls
"Which way were you going, Mademoiselle?"
"That all depends. Which way is the prettiest?"
"When you leave the Château you must turn to your right and walk to
the first thicket. About ten minutes through the thicket and you will
come out on the big terrace. That is where they always take the guests
and say how beautiful it is!"
"Thank you," said Genevieve, "to the right, then the thicket and the
terrace. We aren't likely to meet anyone?"
"Nobody is abroad but the cats at this hour, and...."
Outside the door she made a face like a mischievous child who had just
played a trick. Running rapidly across the long corridors, she mounted
to the second storey, opened an ante-chamber which led to another room
and knocked lightly. The Duke opened the door.
"You here, Jeanette! What is it?"
"My godfather," she said very low, "the young ladies are getting up
now, and I think they are going to walk in the grove to the right of
"They are going ... alone?"
"Certainly. No one else is awake, but they may be going to meet their
"Why did you come to tell me yourself, instead of sending my man?"
"Because he is a lazy fellow who would have taken an hour to dress and
then would have told a lie and said I told him too late."
"Very well, run along now, and don't get caught."
So Jeanette sped quickly towards the kitchen to get the hot water in a
great copper can, which she half emptied on the way to ease the
As soon as they were dressed, Esperance and Genevieve made quick work
of their chocolate, and started out. It was very still.
"It is the Sleeping Beauty's wood," said Esperance.
They went towards the grove they saw on their right. At the entrance
to it Esperance closed her parasol and stopped suddenly, pressing
"Some one has been here already."
They both stopped motionless, listening. Not a sound. They slowly
continued on their way, but the thicket did not lead to the terrace,
and ended in a little enclosed dell. On a pedestal a figure of _Love
in Chains_ overlooked a stone bench.
"We have lost our way," said Genevieve. "Let us go back."
"No it is charming here. Let us go on to the bench. I am a little
tired and my heart is beating so.... What was that?"
She put her companion's hand above her heart.
"Why what is the matter with you. Why are you so nervous?"
"Ah!" replied Esperance, with great apprehension of she knew not what,
"I feel as if I could not struggle.... The presence in this house of
the Duke de Morlay overcomes me. I don't know whether that is love;
but at least it tells me that I do not love Albert. Come dear, let us
rest a moment."
Just then a man stepped out from the thicket and barred their way.
The Duke stood before them.
Esperance uttered one cry and fell in a faint.
The Duke started forward to catch her, but Genevieve repulsed him.
"It is a cowardly trick you have played on us, sir. I understand now
that we did not lose our way but were duped by your orders."
As she spoke, she was trying to support Esperance, but almost falling
herself under the weight of the inert body. She cried at her own
impotence, but she was obliged to accept the Duke's help to get
Esperance as far as the marble bench.
"Try," she said holding out Esperance's tiny handkerchief, "to get me
a little water."
"Instantly, Mademoiselle ... there is a fountain near at hand."
When he came back Genevieve moistened the poor child's temples. The
Duke was very pale.
"Mademoiselle, believe me that I am greatly upset at what has
happened. I had no idea...!"
"I shall be very glad to excuse you. Esperance looks a little better,
had you not better go away?"
"But I cannot leave you all alone like this."
He took Esperance's hand, and it seemed to him that warmth came back
Esperance opened her eyes. Still half unconscious, she looked at him
curiously, then she cried sharply out, "Have mercy, go away, go away!"
And she gave way to hysterical sobs.
The Duke said humbly, "I will leave you."
And then kneeling before her, "Forgive me, I am going; I am leaving
you ... but I entreat you to forgive me."
He was sincere in what he said. Both girls felt it.
Esperance had risen gently.
"I am betrothed to Count Styvens," she said. "You know that. I know
that my emotion just now was foolish, but I am sick at heart and I am
not always able to control myself. You are good, I see that. Please
help me to cure myself. I will be grateful to you all my life."
"I give you my word...." his voice trembled. "I will make myself...."
and he went away.
As soon as they were left alone the two girls took counsel as to what
course they should pursue. Esperance, in despair, threw herself on
Genevieve's judgment, and Genevieve asked permission to consult
"Could we not keep it as a secret?"
"I am afraid, darling, that that would not be right. We are sure of
Maurice's discretion, and we need advice as well as help."
Esperance looked at her companion.
"How could the Duke have known? Oh! I suppose the little Breton girl
who waits on us was the culprit. We must get rid of her. We have only
three days to spend here, and then, too, I am sure that the Duke will
keep his word. I was struck by his pallor, and his eyes when he looked
at you were full of tears, but I believe he was sincere; there is less
to fear from staying than fleeing perhaps, since we know that. Let us
She helped her dear little friend to get up and they returned to the
house as they had come. Mademoiselle Frahender was just coming out to
look for them.
"Here we are, little lady, don't scold," said Esperance playfully.
The little old lady shook her head chidingly.
"You do not look well, my child. You are up too early. Six o'clock,
that pert little Breton told me, when I found her fumbling in our
trunks. When I told her that I was going to complain of her she said,
'Oh! don't do that, Madame, my godfather, the Duke de Morlay, would
never forgive me!"
The girls looked at each other.
"I promise to say nothing, but you must watch her carefully."
They were just going in when Maurice joined them, out of breath.
"Hello! cousin. Where do you spring from?"
"I have been looking for you for half an hour to give you the
programme, edited by Jean and enlivened by your humble servant. Here
you are, and here you are, naughty lady, who gives no word of warning
to her lover of early morning escapades."
"Oh! Maurice, it was I who led Genevieve astray, and I am doubly
repentant. She will tell you why."
Maurice grew serious.
"What means that haggard face, cousin, and the collar of your dress is
all wet? Come, come, Genevieve herself seems ill at ease. I would like
to know what you two have been up to."
"Well! take her into that grove, you will find a bench there, and she
will tell you all about it. I am going to rest," replied Esperance.
Genevieve and Maurice sat down in the grove. After she had told him
what had happened, she added, "What seems to me to make it really
serious is that I believe the Duke to be in earnest."
"Love and flirtation often look alike," said the young man shrugging
"I don't think so," said the girl with conviction, and continued
sadly, "Esperance is fighting against this infatuation with all her
strength, but I am very uneasy. And if the Duke should love her enough
to offer to marry her!"
"You think that likely?"
"What can resist love? Tell me that."
And her beautiful eyes, swimming with tears, looked anxiously,
trustingly into the young man's face.
"I tell you what I truly believe. And that is, that Esperance loves
The young painter meditated for a long time.
"Come on, we must go back," he said finally. "We must get ready for
the rehearsal." He left the girl with exhortations to reason with his
"What the deuce is our will for if we can't exercise it?"
"Maurice, I am brave and determined, you know that. My sister and I
have struggled unaided, she since she was thirteen! I since I was
eight. I thought that she was enough to fill all my life, and now...."
"And now," he asked tenderly, taking her hand.
"All my life is yours! I should not tell you this, but you can judge
by my doing so the impotence of will against...."
She drew away her hand hastily, ran to the staircase and disappeared.
He heard the door open and his cousin's voice saying, "How pale you
"What are you dreaming about, Cousin Maurice?" said Albert, putting
his hand gently on his shoulder.
That hand felt to Maurice as heavy as remorse.
"Let us go and see what is going on," said the young painter. "There
is Jean coming to look for us now."
In the great hall of the Château a charming theatre had been built.
Everything was ready for the rehearsal. An enormous revolving platform
held three wooden squares which would serve as frames for the tableaux
vivants. The mechanism had been arranged by an eminent Parisian
engineer. A curtain decorated by Maurice served as background. There
were eleven little dressing rooms, seven for the women, four for the
Maurice saw the Duke seated straddlewise on a chair, and smoking a
cigarette. The three men went up to him before he was aware of their
presence. At sound of Albert's voice he sprang to his feet, almost as
if expecting an attack. His nostrils were dilated, his face set. In an
instant he resumed his usual manner, and shook hands with the young
"You were asleep?" suggested the Count.
"No, I was dreaming, and I think you must have figured in my dream."
"Let us hear of the dream."
"Oh! no, dreams ought not to be told!"
And he pretended to busy himself with some orders.
The guests who were to take part in the tableaux vivants began slowly
to stream in. Maurice took Jean aside and told him what had happened
"You must keep watch too. I am not going to leave the Duke."
When Esperance and Genevieve came in, Maurice caught the Duke's
expression in a mirror. He saw him move away and join a distant group
where he lingered chatting. Jean thought Esperance looked uneasy.
Albert came up to her and kissed her hand. She smiled sadly. She was
looking for some one. The Duke had disappeared before she had seen
After a long discussion it was decided to have a dress rehearsal.
Esperance was not in the first picture so she would have had ample
time to have dressed at leisure, but nevertheless she put her things
on quite feverishly. Her costume consisted only, it is true, of a
light peplum over a flesh-coloured foundation. Genevieve helped her to
dress. In each dressing-room was one of Maurice's designs illustrating
just how the dress, hair, etc., were to be arranged. For Andromeda,
Esperance was to have bare feet, and wear on her hair a garland of
The three first tableaux revolved before the Duke and his staff,
composed of Albert, Jean, Maurice and some of the distinguished
guests; and the order was given to summon the artists for the second
set, which was composed of the next three pictures.
The first tableaux of the second group represented Circe with the
companions of Ulysses changed into swine. The marvellous Lady Rupper
was to represent Circe. She entered dramatically, half nude, her tunic
open to her waist, caught at intervals by diamond clasps, her peplum
held in place by a garland of bay leaves. She was very beautiful. Her
husband, a wealthy American, laughed at sight of her, a coarse laugh,
the laugh of all Germans, even when Americanized.
The second picture represented Judith and Holofernes. The beautiful
brunette, the Marquise de Chaussey, in a daring costume designed by
Maurice, held in her hand a magnificent scimitar, the property of
Morlay-La-Branche. She was to pose, raising the curtain, as in the
picture of Regnault.
The third picture was the deliverance of Andromeda. When Esperance
appeared, so slender, so fragile, her long hair waving in floods of
pale gold almost to the floor, a murmur of almost sacred admiration
rang through the hall. Lady Rupper approached her, and taking the
child's hair in her hands, cried out, "Oh! my dear, it is more
beautiful than the American gold."
The Duke came up to Esperance.
"I should have preferred enchaining you to delivering you,
"I can speak now in the person of Andromeda and thank you for that
deliverance ... which you promised," she answered with a little smile.
She had spoken so low that only the Duke could hear the ending which
he alone understood. He had promised to deliver her from his love, but
at that instant he revolted against the thought and the admonition.
"Why not?" he muttered to himself. "She must be happier with me than
with that insufferable bore! I will keep my word until she herself
absolves me from it."
They had to arrange her pose against the rock. Maurice and Albert
helped her, while the Duke watched from a distance, and criticized the
effect. All at once he cried out, "That is perfect. Don't move. Now
the mechanician must mark the place to set the fetters for the hands
Maurice stepped back by the Duke to judge of the effect.
"It is excellent," he said, looking only, thinking only as an artist.
"That child has a beauty of proportion, a dazzling grace, and the most
lovely face imaginable."
As the Duke did not speak, Maurice looked at him. He was standing
upright, leaning against a table, pale as death.
"Are you ill?" asked Maurice.
"No ... no...."
He passed his hand across his forehead and said in an unnatural voice,
"Will you see to it please, that they do not leave her suspended that
way too long? Tell Albert to raise her head, it seems to me that she
is going to faint."
He started forward.
"I will go," said Maurice, stopping him.
When the machinist finished screwing the rings in the rock Maurice
asked whether it would not be better to repeat this tableaux at once.
The Duke approved. The terrifying dragon was properly arranged on the
ground--the wonderful dragon which was the design of a renowned
sculptor and perfectly executed by Gerard in papier maché. Perseus
(the Duke) with one foot on the head of the vanquished monster, bent
towards Andromeda. The breath of her half-opened mouth was hot on his
lips, and he could hear the wild beating of her little heart. He felt
an infinite tenderness steal over him, and when a tear trembled on the
young girl's eyelashes he forgot everything, wiped the tear away
tenderly with the end of his finger and kissed it lovingly. Happily
the turning stage was almost out of sight and nobody except Genevieve
had caught sight of the incident.
Esperance breathed, "God, my God!"
The Duke raised the poor child, and said to her very low, "I love you,
She murmured, "You must not ... you must not."
While he was loosing her chains he continued, "I love you and I will
do anything to win your love."
She strengthened herself desperately.
"You do not need to do anything for it, alas!"
And she fled.
When the Count came to find her, there was only the Duke talking to
the stage hands.
"Where is Esperance?"
"I have no idea," replied Charles de Morlay dryly.
Albert turned on his heel, delighted to see the Duke out of humour.
Genevieve caught up with Andromeda who was running away out of breath,
seeing nothing, hearing nothing. Genevieve saw her enter the grove
leading to the clearing and there she joined her.
"Esperance, my darling, my little sister, stop, I beg you."
Her voice calmed the girl. She caught hold of one of the branches and
clung to it, gasping.
"Genevieve, Genevieve, why am I here?"
Her eyes shone with a wild light. She seemed to be absolutely exalted.
"He loves me, he loves me...."
"And I love him." And she threw herself in her friend's arms. "I am as
happy as you now, for I love.... The thick cloud that hung over
everything is gone. Everything is bright and beautiful. This dark
grove is sparkling with sunlight and...?"
Genevieve stopped her.
"Little sister, you are raving. Your pulse is racing with fever. We
must go back. Think of poor Albert."
Esperance drew herself up proudly, replying, "I will never betray him,
I will tell the truth, and I will become the wife of the Duke."
"You are talking wildly, dearest, the Duke will not marry you."
"He will marry me, I swear it!"
"Albert will enter the Chartist Monastery and the Countess Styvens
will die of sorrow."
"The Countess Styvens," said Esperance slowly.
As the sweet face of the mother came before her mind's eye she began
to tremble all over.
Maurice had followed the girls into the grove, and he found them now
in each other's arms.
"Genevieve," said Esperance, "not a word of what I have said!"
"Have you both gone crazy? They are looking everywhere for Esperance
for the 'Judgment of Paris,' and here you are congratulating and
kissing each other!"
"Cousin, I needed the air, don't scold. Genevieve looked for me and
found me before anybody else, and I kissed her because I love her
She spoke fast and laughed nervously.
"Who freed you from your chains?"
"Perseus, it was his duty!"
"And now he is going to give you an apple."
"Then," she said very prettily, "I must try to deserve it. Come help
me to make myself beautiful."
She led Genevieve away by the hand.
Maurice remained rooted to the spot. Somehow he guessed what sudden
change had operated upon his cousin's spirit. Something must have
taken place in the corridor between these two! He murmured sadly,
"Poor Albert, poor little cousin!"
The young Count appeared before him in his most radiant humour.
"I have just met Esperance," he said. "She was joyous, brilliant, I
have never before seen her so happy!"
Maurice gnawed his moustache, and moved rather angrily.
"We should never have come here," he said, "success has turned her
"She was born for success," said the Count. "I often ask myself
whether I have a right to accept the sacrifice she is making for me."
"My dear friend, when things are well you should leave them alone."
"When you love as I love, you desire above everything the happiness of
the one you love."
"Unless the one you love should prefer someone else to you?"
"You are wrong, Maurice. I would sacrifice myself for Esperance's
happiness if I knew she wanted to marry another man."
Maurice shrugged his shoulders.
"We are not of the same race. Your blood runs colder in your veins
than mine, for mine boils. But, perhaps you have a better
understanding of these things?"
And he left the Count to go and help the Duke prepare the "Judgment of
Three young girls had been chosen for this tableau. Mlle. de Berneuve,
a beautiful brunette (Hera); Mlle. Lebrun, with flaming hair (Athene);
and Esperance, delicately blonde, was to represent Aphrodite, to whom
the shepherd Paris would award the prize for beauty.
To personify Aphrodite the girl wore a long pink tunic, with a peplum
of the same colour heavily embroidered. Her hair was piled high on her
head, leaving the lovely nape of her neck half covered by her
draperies, her exquisitely delicate arms emerging from a sleeveless
tunic. To represent the shepherd Paris, the Duke was wearing a short
tunic embroidered with agate beads to hold the stuff down, and a sheep
skin. A red cap was on his head. He was magnificent to look upon.
The stage began to revolve. Paris held out his apple to Aphrodite, who
went crimson at his glance. The girl's blushes did not escape the
audience, where the comments varied according to the person who made
Maurice, Genevieve, and Jean understood what Esperance read in Paris's
eyes. A sad smile gave a melancholy grace to the lovely Aphrodite.
Both the actors had forgotten that they were not alone. Hypnotized
under the gaze of Paris, the young girl made a gesture towards him. A
sharp, "Don't move" from the prompter brought her back to herself. She
turned her head, saw the audience, with the eyes and glasses of
everyone focussed upon her. It seemed to her that they must all know
her secret. She tottered; and supported herself upon Athene. She must
have fallen from the frame and been badly hurt, if the Duke had not
caught her just in time. A cry escaped from the audience. The Marquis
de Montagnac gave a sign to the stage hands to stop revolving the
Albert climbed up on the stage at once. He thrust Paris quickly aside,
picked up the girl and carried her out on to the terrace. Maurice and
Jean followed him. She was not unconscious, but she could not speak
and she recognized no one. Genevieve knelt beside her. At first
delicacy--discretion--held the spectators back, but curiosity soon
drove them forward. But the Duke did not appear. He had seemingly
The Doctor of the Château was called from playing croquet. He began by
ordering the crowd away. Esperance was stretched out on an easy chair
on the terrace. The Doctor looked at her for a moment, amazed at her
beauty, then sat beside her, feeling her pulse. Genevieve described
what had happened. He listened attentively.
"There is nothing serious," he said, "only a little exhaustion and
collapse. I will go and mix a soothing drink for her."
Esperance, still unconscious, was carried by her fiancé to her room,
where Genevieve and Mlle. Frahender put her to bed. Albert went back
to wait for the Doctor. Maurice went in search of Charles de Morlay.
He met a forester, who told him that the Duke had gone for a ride in
the forest, and had sent word to the Duchess that he might not be back
Maurice returned disturbed and thoughtful. Genevieve was waiting for
him with the news that the Doctor had himself administered a sleeping
draught to Esperance which he said should make her sleep at least five
"So much the better! That will give us a little time to consider and
to decide what is to be done. The truth is that we ought to clear out
this very day! Love is a miscreant!"
"Not always, fortunately," murmured Genevieve.
"You, Genevieve, have a balanced mind, calm, just. If only my cousin
had your equilibrium!"
"Oh! Maurice, Maurice...."
A tear ran down Genevieve's eyelashes. She closed her eyes. He took
the lovely head in his hands and his lips rested on her pure forehead.
They remained so for one marvellous, never-to-be-forgotten second.
When he left her Maurice met Albert Styvens. They walked side by side
towards the woods.
"I am very much alarmed," said the Count, "not about Esperance's health,
but about her state of mind. I am a poor psychologist, but my love for
your cousin has sharpened my wits. It seems to me that the Duke is
trying to make Esperance love him."
"Possibly; I had not noticed."
"Yes, Maurice, you have noticed and you have no right to deny it. I
want to ask your advice. The Duke and I both love your cousin. One of
us must lose. Just now I repulsed the Duke so rudely that he could
have demanded satisfaction, but I foresee that he will let it pass.
That attitude, so unusual to his temperament, proves that he wants to
avoid scandal. Why? What is his object?"
"I don't know," said Maurice. "He has gone riding in the forest,
probably to calm his nerves with solitude. He loves your fiancée, but
his honour forces him to respect her."
"Perhaps," said Albert.
"I think," said Maurice, "that we should all leave this evening or
to-morrow morning at the latest. Esperance is not ill, only worn out.
She is easily exhausted."
"And if she loves the Duke?" pursued the Count.
"Then it is my place to ask you what you are going to do about it?"
Albert was silent a minute, then raising his pale face, answered
slowly: "If she loves the Duke, I shall have to ask him what are his
intentions; and if, as I believe, he wishes to marry her, I shall die
The third gong vibrated, announcing lunch.
After lunch, Albert, Maurice, Jean, and Genevieve settled themselves
under a great oak, which was said to have been planted by a delightful
little Duchess of Castel-Montjoie, who had been celebrated at Court
during the Regency. A marble table and a heavy circular bench made
this wild corner quite cosy, and sheltered from the sun and from the
curious. The tree was just opposite the tower where Esperance was
sleeping so deeply, and Mlle. Frahender was to give a signal from the
window when she awoke. Neither of them felt much inclined for
conversation, for their eyes were fixed on the window opposite. About
half-past four Mlle. Frahender appeared, and Genevieve hastened to the
Esperance was sitting up in bed, remembering nothing.
"Albert, Maurice, and Jean are over there. Do you wish to see them?"
Esperance rose up quickly, wrapping a robe of blue Japanese crêpe
embroidered in pink wisterias about her, and gracefully fastened up
"Let them come, if you please, now."
The young men entered and stopped in amazement at the change that had
already taken place in her. Instead of finding her a wreck they
discovered her pink, gay and laughing.
"What happened to me?" she asked. "My little Mademoiselle does not
know, she was not well herself. There is my Aphrodite costume. What
happened to me?"
"It was very simple," explained Maurice. "You stayed too long with
your head hanging down during the rehearsal, and as you were tired it
made you ill. Albert brought you here and you have been asleep for
five hours. Now you are your charming self again. We will leave you so
that you can dress, and then if you feel like it we will take you for
"I will be very quick; in ten minutes I will be with you."
The young people did not know what to think. It would now be very
difficult to suggest that Esperance should withdraw from the fête, as
apparently every trace of her indisposition had disappeared.
Then Albert spoke:
"I am going to ask Esperance to give up appearing at this performance
as a favour to me," he said. "I shall contribute largely to the
charitable fund, and we can go back to Penhouet."
He had hardly finished speaking when Esperance came into the little
"Here I am you see and the ten minutes is not yet up!"
A discreet tap at the door made them all turn round. The Dowager
"Ah! my dear child, what a joy to see you so restored."
"I must apologize, Madame, for the trouble I gave you. It is all over,
all over," she said, shaking her pretty head; "and I am as well as
"I am more than delighted," said the Duchess, sitting down. "You have no
idea, my dear Albert, of the perfect disaster Esperance's absence would
have caused. She is the star of our bill, as they say, and on whom we
all rely. You know that my son wants to be elected Deputy, and this
fête will secure him the votes of the whole community. More than
fifteen hundred people have taken tickets. The local livery stable men
count on making a fortune. All the villagers are getting their rooms
ready to let. If that adorable child had failed us nothing could have
made it up to them, and my son would have been ruined."
She rose up.
"But," she added, with the sweet smile that won all hearts, "you see
me so happy, so reassured, that you must all be joyful with me."
The young people led her to the foot of the stair. The carriage was
waiting to take them for their drive.
The visit from the amiable Duchess rather disconcerted Albert, and
Jean, and Maurice and Genevieve. Everything seemed like the warring of
an implacable destiny. All four felt absolutely impotent.
The drive was stimulating. Esperance drew life at every breath. They
could watch the colour coming back into her cheeks.
As the carriage came out into a clearing, the Duke de Morlay rode
wildly by. His horse was covered with sweat and trembling so that he
had some difficulty in mastering it. The Duke inquired for Esperance's
health and decided that it must be excellent from her looks.
"But my dear Albert," he said, laughing, "you almost knocked me over
this morning, however, I do not blame you, I would have done as much
myself in your place. However, I must be off, my horse is fagged. I
shall see you later."
And he was gone.
"How pale the Duke looked," exclaimed Esperance.
"He is fatigued, he has been riding since this morning."
"Did he not lunch with you, cousin?"
"Why did he go away in such haste?"
"You are too curious."
Then, looking hard at her, "Perhaps he thought, like the good Duchess,
that your weakness was serious, and that all his little arrangements
were going to fall through."
"I understand that the Duchess cared, since the election of her son is
at stake, but the Duke, how would it affect him?"
Albert sitting opposite her in the carriage, looked her full in the
"Perhaps he will never find another opportunity to pay his court to
"Whew, that is straightforward bluntness for you!" thought Maurice.
Esperance grew red. The recollection of what had happened began to
come back little by little. She closed her eyes to be able to think
more clearly. Albert left her in her silence a minute, then he said,
"We had planned to carry you away to-day, but you heard what the
Duchess said just now. I feel bound by the confidence of that old
friend to remain. My fate is in your pretty hands. Be circumspect with
the Duke. Frank, and loyal with your fiancé."
And he took her hands, in a long kiss.
The coachman was told to turn around, for it was getting late. The
horses set off at a trot.
Nothing more was said between them, about the Duke.
After dinner, the Duke arose, and announced, "The fête will be the day
after to-morrow. We have only rehearsed once, and then, not in full. I
feel somewhat responsible for the exhaustion of our little star. Her
head, hanging down, was so beautiful, that I thought only of the pose,
without realizing how painful it must have become to the artist. I ask
Mile. Darbois' pardon. Also, I should like another stage director. I
propose M. Maurice Renaud, our ingenious collaborator, to whom we owe
our magnificent costumes, and originality of our decorations."
Everyone applauded, and Maurice was proclaimed director of the fête.
"I thank you, and accept", he said simply.
He thought, "That is his way of getting rid of me."
"I hope, my dear Director," continued the Duke, "that you will make us
rehearse hard to-morrow. If anything goes wrong we shall still have
the morning of the following day, for the fête does not begin until
Maurice rose, and in a comical tone announced, "Ladies, gentlemen, and
artists, I beg you to be prompt for a rehearsal of the tableaux
vivants to-morrow at ten o'clock. Any artist who is late, will pay a
fine of a hundred francs, to the poor of the Duchess." And as they
laughingly protested, "There is a quarter of an hour's grace accorded
as in the theatres, but not one instant more. My stage-manager is
empowered to collect the fines."
They followed the action of the Duchess and rose from their seats. The
Duke went over to Maurice.
"I would like to talk over some of the details with you. They must
interest us, but they mean nothing to the others. A cigarette?"
They strolled to the end of the terrace. A pretty Chinese umbrella
sheltered a delightful nook. The Duke and Maurice dropped into easy
"Will you give me your word that what I am going to say to you will be
for you alone; that you will not repeat it?"
The young man refused, "How can I give my word without even knowing
the subject of your confidences?"
"It concerns your cousin."
"Then it concerns Count Styvens."
Maurice got up.
"I would rather not listen to you, for my duty as a man of honour
would compel me to speak, should it be necessary."
The Duke sat still and reflected for a minute.
"Very well, you shall judge when you have heard me, what you think you
had better do. I leave you free. I love your cousin Esperance: she is
the fiancée of Count Albert, but she is not in love with him."
Maurice had thrown away his cigarette and leaning forward, his hands
clasped, his eyes on the ground, listened intently.
"I have paid her in a way attentions for a year; I admit it was wrong
for I had no definite intentions. A visit to Penhouet, however,
completely changed my opinion of this little maiden. The atmosphere of
beauty, of calm in which she lived, the liking and respect I felt for
M. and Madame Darbois, and the free play of intelligence and taste I
there discovered, made a deep impression on me and I could not forget.
The ordinary life of society, so artificial, so devoid of real
interest, this life that eats up hours and weeks and months in
futilities, in nothings that come to nothing, all this became suddenly
quite burdensome to me. I continuously thought of the adorable child I
had seen at Penhouet, brighter than all else in that radiant place. I
was travelling, and did not learn of the accident to your cousin and
Count Styvens until I returned to Paris. Then I wrote for news."
"I came back here to my old aunt's, my nearest relative. I wanted to
ask her to invite the whole of the Darbois family to spend a month
here at Montjoie. A letter from Count Albert, announcing his
engagement to Esperance, was a terrible blow to me. I conceived the
detestable idea of revenging myself on Albert, but every scheme went
against me. I have been beaten without ever having fought." Then he
"Since you have done me the honour to make me your confidant, permit
me to say that the little ambush you laid for Esperance this
The Duke interrupted, "That ambush was a vulgar trick, theatrical and
cheap. I spare you the trouble of having to tell me so. I was about to
disclose myself to the young ladies when I heard your cousin speak my
name. Then I kept still, hoping to learn something. What man could
have resisted? I heard these words spoken to Mlle. Hardouin, 'Yes, the
presence of the Duke of Morlay disturbs me; I do not know if that is
love, but I do know that I do not love Albert.' They went on towards
the clearing; I was compelled to leave my hiding place. You know the
rest. The cry the child gave, and her look of reproach unmanned me. I
understood at that moment that I loved in deadly earnest; that my
intention of avenging myself on Albert was nothing but a vain
manifestation of pride, that the ambush was a cowardly concession to
my reputation as a--well, deceiver of women. You know what I mean."
He shrugged his shoulders scornfully.
"The man I was trying to be has left the man I am, and now, Renaud,
here is what I want you to know. Esperance Darbois loves me, I was
convinced of that at the rehearsal. I love her ardently in return. She
will not be happy with Albert, and I want to marry her. I will employ
no 'illicit means,' as the lawyers say. On other scores I shall feel
no remorse to have broken your cousin's engagement. My fortune is
twice Albert's; he is a Count, I a Duke, and what is more, a
Maurice stood up nervously.
"You are a very gallant man, Duke, and my sympathy was yours from your
first visit to Penhouet, but I am greatly distressed that you should
have made me your confidant, for I must in honour bound support
"I do not see why! It seems to me that the happiness of your cousin
might count before any friendship for Albert Styvens."
"But where is her real happiness, I might say her lasting happiness?"
The moon had risen radiantly pure. From their elevation on the
terrace, they could overlook all the garden and park sloping gently to
the lake. In a boat two young girls were rowing. They were alone.
"You leave me free to act?"
"Till to-morrow," said Maurice pressing his hands.
The Duke remained alone on the terrace. He saw the young man go
rapidly towards the lake. He heard him hail the girls and saw him
climb into the boat with them, then disappear after he had waved with
Genevieve's handkerchief a signal of adieu.
When Maurice and Esperance and Genevieve landed, the Duke was still
pacing up and down on the terrace. Maurice had jumped lightly on to
the shore, and had helped the young girls out, and having taken them
to the Château, rejoined the Duke who was waiting for him.
"You are right. Esperance loves you. My uncle comes to-morrow evening.
He is a man of such uprightness that he will find, no doubt, the best
solution of this most complicated situation. Only I beg you to spare
The Duke replied instantly, "I will make every effort to be generous;
but this morning he thrust me away from your cousin in a deliberate
attempt to insult me. I pretended to blame it on his anxiety, but I
may not be able to control myself again, if he drives me so far."
"Alas! I am afraid that you are both of you at the mercy of the first
thing that happens. For the love of God, keep cool. And don't forget
to come to-morrow at ten for the rehearsal."
And they parted.
Maurice did not sleep a wink. Esperance and Genevieve went to bed very
late, after talking for a long time of the future.
"Poor Albert," murmured the little star still as she closed her eyes
in the very moment of gliding into the unreal life of dreams.
Mlle. Frahender had some difficulty next morning in waking the two
young girls. Another maid waited on them, for the Duke had sent his
goddaughter back to her family.
"Let us all three take our chocolate together on this little table.
The sun is so gentle this morning, to-day ought to have a beautiful
life ahead of it. My parents come at six and we must go to meet them."
She chattered on all through the breakfast, and kissed Genevieve in
"I love to see you so, Esperance," said the old Mademoiselle. "You
have scarcely seemed yourself lately, even at Penhouet. Now you are
truly yourself, you are radiant with your seventeen years. It is a
pleasure to look at you and to listen to you."
When the two girls came into the hall the Director, Maurice Renaud,
the Marquis Assistant, and the stage-manager, Louis de Marset, were
the only others who had arrived. The manufacturer of the paper models
was arranging the rock, the dragon, and the headless horse in the
middle of the room. He held a brush red with dragon's blood, gave it a
touch, and recoiled to admire the effect; then taking the sea weed he
had gathered from real rocks, began placing it in little bunches on
his pasteboard rock.
"In regard to the half white horse, a magnificent cardboard mount,"
said Maurice, flatteringly, "we shall not use it. Another tableau has
been substituted for that one."
The Assistant came up to Maurice. "Can you tell me, sir, why they will
not give the 'Europa and the Bull'?"
"Because Mlle. Darbois has been far from well, and the Duchess has
requested that she shall not appear in more than two tableaux. She is
to play a very difficult duet, as well, you know, and afterwards she
will have to talk to all the people who crowd around her to buy
Jean was charged with excluding all those who were not in the
tableaux. Albert was included in those not admitted, and he certainly
would have held it against the Duke, had he still been Director; but
Jean explained to him that Maurice had taken this means of making the
rehearsal go more quickly. Genevieve, who was also excluded, kept the
Count company, and tried to distract him; but he was in a very
despondent humour. When he saw the Duke arrive so late, he said,
somewhat crossly, "He is delaying the rehearsal."
"Oh! no," said Genevieve, "he does not come on until the second group,
and there is no need for him to appear in costume."
When Andromeda was extended upon her rock the Duke took his position.
They were alone in their wooden frame.
"Won't you trust yourself to me?" he breathed.
"I love you with all my soul."
"My life is yours," she replied.
The scene had turned very quickly, the curtain, had fallen. Maurice
came up and helped the Duke to unfasten the girl. She was radiant. He
was transformed. Maurice guessed that they had spoken together, but he
The second tableau was given immediately. Paris was not in costume. He
held the apple to the glorious Aphrodite, the picture turned, the
rehearsal was over for Esperance. The Duke still had to take part in
two other scenes.
When Esperance was dressed she followed Maurice's advice to go join
Genevieve and Albert.
"What a relief," he exclaimed at sight of her, "I began to think it
would never be over."
"Yet we did not lose any time."
"Oh, no! but now it will go more slowly. The Countess de Morgueil will
have to make several repetitions of her tableau of the enchantress
It was the little de Marset who had spoken. Esperance started. For a
long time it had been rumoured that the very pretty Countess de
Morgueil, widowed two years ago, was violently infatuated with the
Duke de Morlay, who was said not to be indifferent to her affection.
Afraid apparently that his meaning had not been plain, Marset
insisted, "she is always circling about the Duke."
"But does he care for her?" asked a young woman with a hard face, who
was just going to give herself a dose of morphine, and who was never
seen without a cigarette between her lips.
"Who knows?" queried Marset, with a knowing air.
Esperance had grown very pale. Albert was controlling himself with
difficulty. He observed Genevieve's constraint, and the trouble of his
"Shall we walk a little?"
They walked towards the woods and Maurice, in some excitement, soon
joined them. He was greatly troubled, and longed to be able to tell
Albert how things were going. He was very fond of this fine fellow,
and at the same time felt great sympathy for the Duke. He understood
perfectly well why Esperance should prefer him to the Count, but at
the same time he blamed her a little for causing so many
complications. When he saw her so fresh and charming beside Albert, he
grew more disturbed. Genevieve quietly drew him aside.
"You are getting excited, Maurice, and I see clearly that you are
blaming Esperance, but let me tell you, dear love, that you are
unjust. At this moment Esperance is walking in a dream. Nothing real
exists for her. For three months she has suffered very much, struggled
very much, and felt so much. Events have come very quickly. She finds
herself all of a sudden at the fount of the realization of all her
fondest hopes; to be loved by the one she loves!... Be patient,
Maurice, she is so young and so sensitive...."
"Your heart, dearest Genevieve, is an admirable accountant. It adds
the reasons, multiplies the excuses, subtracts the errors, and divides
the responsibility. You are adorable and I love you with all my heart.
Come with me, it is time for the concert. You go on immediately after
Delaunay. The Duchess is unable to contain herself at the idea of
hearing you recite her poem."
The Duke passed by, accompanied by the pretty Countess de Morgueil, at
whose conversation he was smiling politely and replying vaguely. He
seemed not to have seen the others. Like Esperance, he was living in a
world of dreams, happy in a realm where there was neither impatience
nor jealousy. He knew that he was loved.
After lunch Esperance said that she was going to rest, so as to be
fresh for next day. Her father and mother were to come on the
Princess's little yacht. She and Mlle. Frahender were to go alone to
meet them. That gave her several hours of solitude to think of him,
only of him.
Maurice repeated his last orders for the engrossing fête, against
which he railed ceaselessly, in spite of Genevieve's constant efforts
to calm him.
"Oh! of course, it is perfectly evident that I am unreasonable, I know
it; but if I break my leg slipping on an orange peel, you would not
prevent me from swearing at the person who had peeled the fruit there,
Genevieve laughed in spite of herself. "Be a good boy, tell your uncle
everything as soon as he comes; but say nothing against Esperance, for
that would not be right."
Her lovely face was very sad. Maurice looked at her with a world of
tenderness, "My darling, forgive me; the truth is that I am so
worried. Albert's face is hard and set. He knows nothing, cannot know
anything, but he is gifted with the intuition that simple souls often
possess. I am very uneasy, I can tell you. Say nothing to Esperance.
Come now, let us stroll into this thicket and talk just by ourselves
They entered the thicket, holding each other close, in silence. When
they came to the clearing they stopped short. The Duke was there,
stretched out upon the bench, smoking, dreaming.
He got up, surprised, and apologized.
"I had just come back here to live over an unforgettable moment."
"This corner must be the rendezvous for the slaves of the little god,"
said Maurice, bowing to the statuette of _Love Enchained_. "We
will leave you."
"No," said the Duke quickly, "Please stay. Your happiness shows me the
vision of which I dreamed. Art is the inspiration of the beautiful,
and I believe, that artists have a more delicate sense of love than
"I believe, in truth," said Maurice, "that artists, move in a much
larger world than that which is inhabited by either the bourgeoisie or
They talked for a long time, and returned to the Château together.
Albert was beneath the green oak, talking to the Dowager Duchess, who
was telling him how much she admired Genevieve. She had repeated her
poem so wonderfully to her alone that morning! They did not see the
trio emerge from the thicket, and Maurice was glad of it. He felt more
and more constrained. The complicity against the poor fellow's
happiness seemed to him a form of treason. He looked at his watch. It
was only five o'clock.
"That is impossible. This watch must have stopped."
The Duke went to his room. His man gave him an elegant little note,
and as his master threw it down on the table, "They await an answer."
"Very well, I will send one."
The servant withdrew. On the stair he met an English maid waiting the
"Monsieur will send an answer."
"The Countess will be displeased. These French gentlemen are more
gallant but less polite than our English lords. She is as much in love
as Love itself."
"He also is in love."
"Then it ought to be easy enough, for Madame is a widow."
"But it is not your mistress that he loves."
"Ah! who then?"
"Ah! nothing for nothing." And he held out his hands.
"Very well," and he started, as if to return to his master.
She stopped him.
"Monsieur, Gustave you know very well that I am promised."
"Nothing for nothing."
Again he held out his hands. She hesitated a moment, looking up and
down, and then let him have her finger tips. With a brutal gesture he
caught her to him and kissed her furiously. The little English maid,
blushing and rumpled, drew back and announced coldly, "You French are
brutes. Now, the information I paid for in advance."
"Very well. He is in love with little Esperance Darbois."
"The actress? But she is engaged to Count Styvens."
"It is the truth I have told you," replied the valet, proud of his own
importance, "and if you will meet me in the grove, during dinner, I
will tell you some more."
"Thanks, I know enough now," said the maid dryly, leaving him.
She disappeared, but Gustave preened himself, certain of success. As
he went downstairs he saw Count Albert, helping the old Mademoiselle
and her charge into the carriage. Instinctively, he looked up to see
his master's silhouette at the window. Albert was asking to be allowed
to go with them, but Esperance had promised herself a quiet and
"No, Albert, we shall be four with my father and mother, and this is a
"But I will sit with the coachman."
"Look," said the young girl, laughing, "at the size of the seat, and
remember that there will be two large bags and a hat box, a very big
hat box, to hold a hat for mama, one for Genevieve, and one for me."
Albert sighed sadly and closed the carriage door, after he had kissed
his fiancée's hand. As the carriage drove away he went up to the room
his mother was to occupy when she arrived next day, and looked to see
if all was ready.
He took a book and tried to read, but after a couple of minutes he
threw it aside and went out of doors again. He stopped a moment on the
terrace, considering where to go. A young lady stopped him as he was
preparing to go down the steps.
"All alone, Count, and dreaming! Ah! you are thinking of her. Come,
let us stroll along together."
And the young Countess de Morgueil took his arm before he had time to
"You were not at the rehearsal this morning. You know that they have
given up the tableaux of 'Europa.' Did you insist upon it?"
"No, why should I have made myself so ridiculous?"
"But the Duke pretended...."
"Dear Madame, the Duke could not have pretended anything except that he
did not wish to appear without any clothes on, a decision that I heartily
"They say that he tries to fascinate every woman he meets. What do you
"And what do you?" said the Count, looking her straight in the eye.
"Oh! he would never cause me great palpitation," she returned
"Are you making any allusion to Mlle. Darbois?" he asked, stopping
"I am engaged to Mlle. Darbois, I believe you know, Madame. You are
piqued because you love the Duke de Morlay and he seems to be
deserting you to hover near my fiancée. Do as I do; have a little
patience; to-morrow by this time the fête will be over and I shall
have left with Mlle. Darbois. Don't be either too nervous or too
malicious, it does not agree with your type of beauty. I kiss your
He went towards the Château, and took up his vigil in the little salon
adjoining Esperance's room.
The Countess of Morgueil was confused and mortified. "He is not so
stupid as he looks," she thought.
Albert was reading, but listening all the time. Finally a carriage
stopped before the Château. He went down quickly and caught Esperance
in his arms so tightly that the young girl gave a little scream.
"Oh! pardon, pardon. It is so long since I have seen you."
He kissed Mme. Darbois's hand and almost crushed the professor's
fingers in his nervous grasp. He asked anxiously concerning Penhouet,
and expressed his desire to return there immediately. Maurice and
Genevieve came running up.
"How happy every one looks here," said Mme. Darbois.
"Don't believe it, my dear aunt; we are standing on a volcano."
"Ah! the cares of the fête weigh upon you. It always seems as if
everything were going wrong at the last moment."
She laughed, proud of her penetrations. Genevieve tugged at Maurice's
vest as he was about to set the dear lady right.
"Ah! well, I leave you to dress. This evening, uncle, I want to have a
chat with you as I have something serious to say to you."
The philosopher and his wife looked at each other understandingly.
"Very well, my boy, I shall be entirely at your disposal for as long
as you like, for I can guess...."
And he looked at Genevieve. Maurice despaired of ever making him
Everyone greeted the philosopher with delight when he appeared in the
ante-chamber where the guests were assembled before dinner. The Duke
came to present his greetings to Mme. Darbois and stayed talking to
her for some time. He saw that she liked him, but foresaw at the same
time that it would be very painful for the good woman to have to
accept another son-in-law. During dinner the Duchess steered the
conversation towards philosophy, wishing to please François, who was
placed on her right--art and science being to her the highest titles
"Ah! I am no philosopher," protested the Marquis de Montagnac. "I
accept old age only as a chastisement, and not having committed any
criminal act, I revolt against the injustice of it."
And Louis de Marset, bending towards his neighbour, who had had a
great reputation for beauty before age and illness had pulled her
down, remarked, "One cannot be and have been, is not that true,
"You are mistaken, my dear sir. There are some poor people who are
born fools and never change."
A smile of delight appeared on every face.
The Duke found himself in an argument with Lord Glerey, a phlegmatic
Englishman, whose marital misfortunes had made both London and Paris
"You seem," said the Duke, "to confuse indifference with philosophy."
"I do not confuse them, my dear sir. My apparent indifference is
simply scorn for the sarcasms, the cruelty of the people of society
who are always ready to rejoice when anyone attacks the honour or love
The Duke murmured slowly, "Certainly what they call 'the world'
deserves scorn. And all the same, taken separately, every individual
of this collectivity is a man or woman like any other, a suffering
being, who laughs just the same, like an eternal Figaro, for fear of
being compelled to weep."
Count Albert was talking to an old sceptic.
"But," the Countess de Morgueil addressed him suddenly, "What would
you do, if on the eve of attaining the longed-for happiness, you found
yourself suddenly confronted by an insurmountable obstacle."
"Everything would depend on the quality of the happiness in prospect,
Madame. Some happiness easily abandoned, and some happiness is to be
struggled for until death itself."
Maurice had guessed the point of this sudden attack. He was none the
less surprised by Albert's answer.
"Decidedly, it is going to be even more difficult than I feared," he
Indeed, Count Albert had evidently assumed a change of attitude. Love
and jealousy had transformed this simple and generous heart into a
being of metal; he had not lost any of his goodness, but he had put
his soul in a state of defence and prepared himself for the struggle.
He did not know anything, but his presentiments filled him with
anguish. He was not unaware that his austerity provoked irony, but now
it seemed to him that the irony was taking a form of pity which
Dinner was over, the great hall filled with groups gathered together
as their tastes dictated. Bridge and poker tables were produced, and
some of the young people gathered about a table where liqueurs were
being served. Maurice took his uncle by the arm and led him away.
"Let us go to your room, for no one must hear what I have to say to
"Not even your aunt?"
"No, uncle, not even aunt."
François was astonished, for he had supposed that it was of his own
future that Maurice wished to speak. They went towards the Tower of
"Uncle, what I have to say to you is very grave."
"What a lot of preamble! Well, I am listening."
"The Duke de Morlay-La-Branche loves Esperance passionately."
"Well, that is a pity for the Duke, but he will console himself easily
Maurice was silent before he continued, "Esperance is madly in love
with the Duke!"
François started violently.
"You are raving, Maurice; she is engaged to Count Styvens and has no
right to forget him."
"She has never been in love with the Count, and can hardly endure him
since she has foreseen another future."
"The Duke wants to marry Esperance."
"But it is impossible, impossible," said the philosopher violently. "A
word that has been given cannot be taken back so lightly."
"Calm yourself, uncle, if you please. For three days I have been
wandering about in this untenable situation. We must make a decision.
Every instant I fear an outbreak either from Albert or from the Duke."
"How have Esperance and the Duke contrived to see each other?"
"I will tell you all that uncle, later, but the how and the why are
not very important at this moment. I want you to send for Albert.
Esperance does not wish to marry him. She has loved the Duke a long
time, but did not know that he loved her, and did not suppose an
alliance possible between our families, even though you have made the
name illustrious. For that matter I should never have supposed myself
that the Duke would consent to make what would generally be considered
"It all seems unbelievable," murmured François.
And with his head in his hands he groaned despairingly, "How can we
sacrifice that noble and unfortunate Albert?"
"One of the three must suffer, uncle. It would be a crime to sacrifice
Esperance who has the right to love whom she pleases and to choose her
own life. The Duke Morlay is loved, Count Albert is not and never has
been. He knows it as you know it now. Esperance consented to marry him
through gratitude to you."
"Ah! I feared as much," said the professor prostrated.
François Darbois remained a long time in thought, then he got up, his
face lined with sadness.
"Tell your cousin to come to me, I will wait for her here."
"I will send her to you at once. Forgive me for having so distressed
you, dear uncle."
"It was your duty!"
François pressed his hand affectionately. Left alone he felt
despairing. The futility of the precautions he had taken, the inanity
of all reasoning, of all logic, plunged him into the scepticism he had
been combatting for so many years.
Maurice found his cousin talking to Albert, the Marquis of Montagnac,
"Your father is feeling a little indisposed and is going to bed. Would
not you like to say good-night to him?"
Esperance rose immediately. Albert wanted to go with her, but Maurice
held him back, and began asking under what conditions he proposed to
play the duet with Esperance next day.
"It is all one to me," replied the Count wearily. "I am in a hurry to
get away from here. I find myself too much disturbed by my nerves, and
you know, cousin, how unusual it is for me to be nervous."
At this term of family familiarity, Maurice shivered. He thought of
the interview now taking place in his uncle's room. Genevieve joined
them and they strolled up and down, but Albert made them return
continually near the tower.
When Esperance opened the door of the little salon where her father
was waiting, she saw him in such an attitude of distress that she
threw herself at his knees.
"Father, darling father, I ask your pardon. I am ruining your life
just as you begin to reap the harvest of so many noble efforts. You
have been so good to me," she sobbed, "and I must seem to you so
ungrateful. Do not suffer so, I beg you. Take me away with you, let us
go and I will do my best to forget; let us go!"
"But," said the Professor, hesitatingly, "Albert would follow."
The girl rose.
"Oh! no, not that. I wish I could marry Albert without loving him; I
have tried, but I cannot go on to the end, I cannot!"
"You really love the Duke?"
"Father, for a whole year I have struggled against that love."
"Why have you never told me?"
"Because I saw nothing in the Duke's attentions except the agitation
they caused me; and I was too ashamed to speak of it to you. I
thought, considering the position of the Duke, that I was an aspiring
fool. He overheard me talking to Genevieve. When he appeared before
us, I so little expected to see him there at such an hour--six o'clock
in the morning, in the grove--that my heart could not bear the shock,
and I fainted. From that instant I understood how much I loved him. I
had no idea before of the power of love, but now I feel it the master
of my life. I will sacrifice that to your will, father; but I will not
sacrifice the immense happiness of loving. Even if the Duke did not
love me, I should still be uplifted by my own love."
She sat down beside her father.
"Who knows what unhappiness may not be lurking for me, ready to spring
at any moment?"
She drew near him shivering.
François took her charming head in his hands. He looked at her
tenderly, but with an expression almost of terror in his face.
"Alas! all happiness built upon the unhappiness of others always risks
"Dear father, my life has been bathed in such sunlight for the last
three days, that I shall keep that glow of warmth for the rest of my
"I only ask, you little daughter, to do nothing, to say nothing,
before the end of this fête. We have no right, however grave our
personal troubles and responsibilities are, to betray the hospitality
of the Duchess. To-morrow, after the fête, I will talk to Albert. Go,
my darling, go back to that poor boy. I hate to send you to practice a
dissimulation that I abhor, but we are in a situation of such delicacy
and difficulty.... God keep you!"
He kissed her tenderly. She went back to her fiancé, to find to her
surprise that the Countess de Morgueil had just passed by with him.
Maurice pointed them out where they were walking slowly in the
"Oh! so much the better," said Esperance. "That gives me an excuse to
go to my room."
Maurice urged her to wait. "I am convinced that that woman is meddling
in our affairs. It is plain enough that we have upset her."
"How? What do you mean, cousin?"
"Did you not know that the Countess is madly in love with the Duke,
and that she had hoped to marry him this winter?"
"Poor woman," sighed Esperance, sincerely.
The Duke came by, and seeing them alone, he joined them.
"The three of you alone?" he cried. "Then you will allow me to join
you for a moment?"
"Look," said Maurice, indicating Albert and the Countess de Morgueil.
"There is a dangerous woman who is making mischief at this moment!...
And, nevertheless, I owe her the happiness this moment brings me."
"My father," said Esperance, "has been as indulgent to me as always."
"Thanks for these tidings," said the Duke. "Do you think he will
receive me to-morrow, if I go to him?"
"Oh! certainly, after the fête; a little while after, for first he
wished to speak to Count Styvens," she said timidly.
"Will you," the Duke asked Maurice, "make an appointment for me, and
tell me as soon as you have an answer?"
The Duke bowed to the girls and withdrew. He took Maurice's hand, "I
am happy, my friend, everything is going as I wish. I seem to hear
laughter coming out of the shadows."
And he disappeared.
The young people waited for Albert a little while longer, but as he
did not appear, Maurice advised the girls to retire, and he returned
to sit down anxiously under the oak.
He had been there hardly a quarter of an hour when he saw the Countess
de Morgueil go by. She was alone and walked nervously. On the doorstep
she stopped and looked back into the distance. He saw her tremble,
then go in quickly. He stood up on his bench to see what she had been
looking at, but he almost fell, and had to steady himself by holding
on to a branch. Albert and the Duke were together. Albert had put his
hand on the Duke's shoulder, and the Duke had removed that great hand.
They were walking side by side towards the extensive terrace that
commanded the countryside.
"Oh! the wretched woman! What can she have said? And to be able to do
nothing, nothing," he thought.
He lighted a cigarette, waiting, he did not know for what. But he
could not go back to his room.
As he put his hand on the Duke's shoulder Albert had said, "I wish to
talk to you."
"Very well. I am listening."
"I want you to answer me with perfect truth."
"Your request would be offensive, Albert, if it were not for your
"Is it true that you love Esperance Darbois?"
"It is true."
"Is it true that you want to marry her?"
"It is true."
"My God! My God!" muttered Albert, and he stopped for a minute. He was
choking. The Duke felt a profound pity for this man who was suffering
at this moment the most terrible pain.
"Do you believe that she loves you?" Albert still went on.
"I have answered you with perfect frankness concerning myself, but do
not ask me to answer for Mlle. Darbois."
"Yes; you are right, you cannot answer for her. I know that she does
not love me, but I hoped to make her love me. I wanted to make her so
happy!... That love has made a different man of me. What I regarded
yesterday as a crime seems to me now the will of destiny. One of us
two must disappear. If you kill me, I know her soul, she will not
marry you; she would die rather. If I kill you, the tender compassion
she feels for me will be changed into hatred. What I am doing now is a
brutal act, an animal act, but I cannot do otherwise! My religious
education had restrained my passions! At least I thought so," he said,
passing his great hand across his stubborn forehead. "But no! My youth
denied of love takes a terrible revenge upon me now, and I have to
exert a horrible effort now not to strangle you."
The Duke had not stirred.
"I am at your orders, Albert; only I think you will have to arm
yourself with patience for several hours longer. This fête, given by
the Duchess, cannot be prevented by our quarrel. I suggest that you
postpone our meeting until to-morrow evening. Our witnesses can meet
if you like at one o'clock at the little Inn of the 'Three Roads.' It
is only ten minutes distance from here. The innkeeper is loyal to me,
I am his daughter's godfather. The garden is cut by a long alley which
can serve as the field of honour. I will go at once to warn De
Montagnac and his brother; then I will go to the 'Three Roads.'"
"Good," said Albert.
"Naturally, we leave Maurice Renaud out of our quarrel."
"Certainly," said Charles de Morlay bowing.
They parted. From a distance the young painter saw the Duke enter the
great hall. Several minutes later Albert's tall form barred the
horizon for a moment. He looked at the Tower of Saint Genevieve, then
he also entered the hall. Then Maurice decided to go in himself. He
sat down by a little table littered with magazines and periodicals,
and picked up one, without ceasing for an instant to watch the two
men. The Duke de Morlay was standing behind the Marquis, who was still
at the whist table. Albert Styvens had sat down beside a diplomat from
Italy, Cesar Gabrielli, a serious young man, a clever diplomat, and a
renowned fencer. When Montagnac finished his hand, the Duke offered
him a cigar.
"Will you help me with some arrangements for the performance
He was about to refuse, but the Duke said briefly, "It is important,
The two of them went out, only lingering a little on the way for a
joke with the men and a compliment to the ladies. Then Maurice watched
the diplomat, who rose at the same time, and invited Albert to admire
the moon from the terrace. Maurice saw them disappearing towards the
corner by the Chinese umbrella. That was the end of the terrace, and
was out of sight from all the windows.
"It is all plain enough," thought the young man, "but when, where?"
He understood that neither of the two adversaries could take him
either for confidant or for second.
"However," he said, as he went to his room. "I want to know. I must
know. I will know."
The next day, the day of the fête, all the Château, from early in the
morning, was in a violent tumult. Maurice, the Marquis Assistant, and
Jean Perliez were busy to the point of distraction; fortunately for
Maurice, who had been unable to sleep and had called Jean at six to
share the secret which had not been confided to him. He could not
think of telling Genevieve, and Jean should be able to help keep
"You try," he directed, "to watch Montagnac; I shall not leave the
The Duke came in search of Maurice to ask for Esperance. He looked a
little pale but showed much interest in the fête.
"Our dear Duchess must be rewarded for all the excitement we have
caused her house."
"There is no reason to suppose," said Maurice, "that all the
excitement will cease after the fête!"
The Duke would not show that he had understood. Maurice went to smoke
a cigarette in the garden and was hardly surprised to see the doctor,
who had been attached to the service of the Duchess for twenty years,
and attended all the guests in the Château, talking animatedly with
the diplomat. The doctor raised his arms in a horrified gesture,
letting them fall again tragically. He gave every evidence of a
violent struggle with himself. The diplomat remained calm, determined,
and even authoritative. The poor doctor finally yielded. The diplomat
shook his hand and left him.
The doctor with an expression of great distress, walking feebly,
passed by Maurice, who would have stopped him.
"No, no. What? It is impossible.... You are not ill.... Leave me, dear
sir.... I ... I must..."
He stammered unintelligible phrases, hastening his steps. Maurice
re-entered the hall. He met the musician Xavier Flamand, who said,
"I just saw the Count Styvens go out."
"At this hour?" exclaimed Montagnac, looking at the Duke.
"He has gone to meet his mother at the station. She arrives at eight
o'clock. It is only seven, he will arrive half an hour too soon."
"He is a dutiful son," said Montagnac. "I am surprised that he has not
taken his fiancée."
Maurice raised his head. "Then the Marquis knows nothing!" he said to
He reflected, "How dense I am growing. Evidently neither the Duke nor
Albert has told anyone the motive of their quarrel."
Jean came up and cut short his monologue.
"I think that the two other seconds are Count Alfred Montagnac, the
Marquis's brother, and Captain Frederic Chevalier. Here they come
Indeed the three seconds had just come up to the Marquis, who asked
Maurice to excuse him. "I will be back in a few moments, dear M.
The Duke dropped down by Maurice.
"I believe the fête will be a great success, but I wonder if you long
to have it over as heartily as I do."
"I regret," replied Maurice, "that our hostess ever thought of it, and
that we ever had anything to do with it."
"Would you also regret having me for your cousin?"
"No, you know very well that I would not, but...."
"Yes, I know."
"Who has told you?"
The Duke's face grew stern.
"No one, I give you my word, but I have guessed; it was not very
"Then, my dear Maurice, I must ask you to remain absolutely silent.
None of our seconds know the real reason of our meeting. None of them
will ever know. This duel will be to the death, by the wish of Count
Styvens, who has found himself justifiably offended."
"Where will you meet?"
"At the Inn of the 'Three Roads.'"
"To-morrow, immediately after the fête. The Inn has been closed since
this morning so as to receive no one except ourselves and our
witnesses. Now, my dear Maurice, since you know, I want to ask you a
favour. Here are some papers that I wrote last night. I am afraid my
servant is on intimate terms with Mme. de Morgueil's English maid, and
I dare not leave them in my room. I put them in your care. If luck is
against me you will give these to the proper persons. If Count Albert
is unfortunate, you will give me back the envelope. I'll see you
He pressed the young man's hand in a close grasp.
The Duke de Castel-Montjoie, the Dowager's only son, had been chosen
by the seconds as umpire. De Morlay and Styvens approved the choice.
The great hall had been invaded by a score of servants who arranged
the chairs, placed the palms, and hung silver chains to separate the
musicians from the audience. The curtain of the little stage was
lowered, but a murmur could be heard through the pretty drop painted
by Maurice. Among the servants set to finish the costumes was the
Duke's sly goddaughter. Every time the Duke passed she gazed at him
and her lips trembled. She who was usually so pert and smiling worked
with set lips.
"Ha, ha!" said one of the maids, "you must be in love, eh, Jeanette?"
"Let me alone, stupid, to do my work," said the young girl with tears
in her eyes.
She had been waked the night before by the noise of opening doors, she
had got up and seen her godfather talking to her father. The Duke
said, "You must close your Inn early as possible, you must refuse
everybody, except the Doctor from the Château, Count Styvens and four
gentlemen with the Duke of Castel-Montjoie. I shall probably get here
"Ah! my God," the Innkeeper had murmured, "the Duke is going to fight,
I know that.... If only nothing happens to you, sir."
"I need not say that I count on your discretion as on your devotion.
Have your best bedroom ready to receive one or the other of the
adversaries and put yourself at the absolute command of the Duke de
Castel-Montjoie. _Au revoir_. Try not to let your daughter know
anything about this, and say nothing to her; but I know that even if
she discovered she would not give us away. _Au revoir_!"
As soon as the door closed Jeanette ran to her father, bare-footed,
her hair flying, just as she had jumped out of bed.
"Great Heavens!" said the Innkeeper, "you were listening."
"Yes, I was listening, I heard; I will prepare the room, but it shall
be for the other!"
"Do you know who the other is?"
"No," she said quickly.
"Do you know why they are fighting?"
"How should I know?" she demanded.
She did know, however. However she sat mute under the gibes of the
Albert had returned with his mother, who seemed gayer, happier than
usual. Esperance went at once to speak to her and was enthusiastically
congratulated on her superb bearing.
The Countess kissed Esperance whose eyes were filling with tears, and
she kissed the Countess's hands with so much emotion that the lady
raised the blonde head, saying tenderly, "No, no, you must not cry! We
must love each other joyfully. I have never seen my son so happy, I
should be jealous if I loved him less. See, dear, I want to give you
these jewels myself; I believe that they are going to suit you very
She clasped a magnificent collar of pearls around the young girl's
neck. Esperance could not refuse them. She thanked the lovely lady
"My father will tell me what to do," she thought.
Lunch was an hour earlier as the fête was to begin at half-past two.
"Heavens," said Mme. Styvens with perturbation, "I shall never be
Esperance left her, happy to escape from her torturing thoughts.
"Deceit, deceit to this good woman!" Albert was waiting to lead her
back. He admired his mother's gift, and spoke to her gently.
"It is just the tint of your skin," he said, "that gives these pearls
their beautiful lustre. They ought not to flatter themselves that it
is they who embellish you!"
All this was added anguish for the girl, his mother's kindness,
Albert's gay confidence, and this fête which was, soon to begin, this
fête where she must show herself publicly with him whom she loved so
that she would die for him, with him who loved her more than life! She
repulsed with horror the ideas that came crowding into her brain. If
the Château should burn. If she should fall down the staircase and
break a leg; if Albert should be taken ill and die within the hour....
If ... if ... and a million visions raced through her brain as she went
back to the Tower of Saint Genevieve. But never once did the Duke