Part 5 out of 5
appear as a victim of any of these misfortunes which her brain was
conjecturing up so busily.
Lunch was a bit disorganized. The Duke avoided looking at Esperance.
The sight of that child who loved him filled him with such emotion
that he was afraid of betraying himself. The Countess de Morgueil,
annoyed at seeing the two men she had sought to embroil talking
together in the most courteous fashion, started to sharpen her claws
"What a beautiful collar, Mlle. Darbois; this is the first time that
you have worn it, isn't it? Count, I compliment you!"
"Mme. Styvens has just given it to me." The Duke understood the
embarrassment the child felt--not yet eighteen, and forced to
extricate herself from nets set by such expert hands as best she
At half-past two the great hall was crowded by women vying with each
other in their beauty. It was a magnificent sight! Xavier Flamand went
to his stand to conduct the orchestra.
He was heartily applauded and the spectacle commenced. More than two
thousand people had come together for the fête. The hall could only
accommodate eight hundred. Other chairs had been placed on the
terrace. The tableaux began. The society assembled, appreciated a form
of art which is pleasing and not fatiguing, which charms without
The tableau of Andromeda was frantically applauded. The men could not
admire enough the suppleness of Esperance's lovely body, the whiteness
of her bare feet with their pink arches, the gold of her hair floating
like a nimbus around the head of Andromeda, waved by the breeze as the
stage turned. The women admired the Duke, so very beautiful in his
gold and silver armour.
"How splendid the Duke is," remarked the Countess to Albert. "No one
could have a prouder bearing. If I were in your place, my son, I
should be jealous."
"Perhaps I am," said the Count, smiling.
The "Judgment of Paris" had the same success. Everyone waited for
"Europa," and many were really disappointed. A hundred reasons were
given for its withdrawal, and none of them the true one.
The philosopher and his wife were sitting with Genevieve behind the
Styvens. Sometimes the Countess would turn around to compliment
François, and the unfortunate man, so frank, whose whole life had
never known deceit, suffered cruelly. There was an intermission to set
the stage for the concert. The guests pressed around the Styvens's to
express their admiration for Esperance, in the most dithyrambic, the
most superlative terms. The concert began. Albert had to go upon the
stage to play the Liszt duet with Esperance. He begged François
Darbois to take his place beside his mother.
When the curtain went up after the quartette of "Rigoletto," Esperance
and Albert were seated on the long piano stool. Loud applause greeted
them. The Duke was talking to Maurice in the wings and seemed a little
nervous. He envied Albert at that moment for his superiority as a
musician. When they finished, a great tumult demanded an encore, but
Esperance had come to the end of her strength.
As the public continued to applaud, Maurice and the Duke came forward
to see why they did not raise the curtain. Esperance looked at the
"Oh! no, please do not raise the curtain; my heart is beating so
Albert and the Duke supported her gently and she leaned upon them, her
pretty head bending towards the Duke.
"I feel confused."
And she closed her eyes, afraid of giving herself away. Once more in
the air and she began to feel better. She breathed the little flask of
ether that the Doctor held under her nose.
"This poor heart is always making scenes. Ah! dear Count, you will
have to set that in order."
The Duke had moved away. Annoyed by the insistence of the public, he
told Jean Perliez to announce that Mlle. Darbois needed a little rest,
and presented her compliments to the audience and excused herself from
replying to the encoring. This was a real disappointment. There had
been such enthusiasm for the two fiancés, an enthusiasm well-earned by
the inspired execution of "Orpheus," that the attitude of this elite
audience was a little indifferent to the artists who concluded the
concert. The hall was half empty and several artists were too offended
Esperance went to her room with her mother and Genevieve, begging the
Count to return to his mother.
"Your mother will be anxious, and my father can not reassure her,
because he does not himself know the symptoms of this slight illness.
Tell them that I will rest for a quarter of an hour and then join you
at my flower booth."
When she was left alone with Genevieve she drew her friend to her.
"My dear little sister, I cannot tell you the joy that pervades every
part of my being. In an hour it will be over! My father will talk with
Albert and I shall be free! free!"
"Poor boy," sighed Genevieve.
"Oh! yes, I am ungrateful to his great devotion, but I should be false
to myself and to you, Genevieve, if I told you that the idea of his
despair greatly troubles me. I know that every one about me regrets
the breaking off of this marriage, and still I don't care. You all
admire the Duke, but you blame him a little. I know that, but that is
all submerged and forgotten in my great love. When I reason as I do
now, I recognize at once the horrible storm I am causing, and yet I
cannot feel sad. I find all sorts of excuses for myself, and cast back
all the responsibility on Fate."
She was silent an instant.
"Do you think it will take vengeance?"
Mlle. Frahender came in.
"What will take vengeance?"
"My dear child, what is called Fate is simply the law of God."
"Then if God is just he will not avenge himself, for what has happened
is not my fault."
The old lady looked at the young girl very tenderly.
"My dear child, do not get into the habit of throwing the
responsibility of your actions upon others. Certainly we are not
responsible for events, but we can almost always choose the way to
meet them. Only, some flatter their passions and refuse to assert
themselves against them! This weakness opens the door to all other
concessions, and then it becomes difficult to make a loyal examination
of our conscience."
"Is that my case?" asked the young girl with some anxiety.
"Perhaps," replied Mlle. Frahender, frankly.
"Oh! little lady, be kinder to me, I am so happy that I cannot believe
such happiness comes from troubled waters.... And I swear to you that
my heart is loyal."
The old lady kissed her charge, but her smile was sad. Esperance was
now ready to go to her flower stall. A pretty dress, toned like a
pigeon's breast, a round neck with a tulle collar, a wide girdle
fastened with a bunch of primroses, a flapping hat of Italian straw
tied with two narrow ribbons under her chin, created a delightful
effect and a ravishing frame for her lovely face. When she passed
lightly on her way to her booth, she caused quite a sensation. The
Duke, Count Albert, Maurice and Jean Perliez were waiting for her. A
crowd followed in her wake.
The Duke and Count had the same longing to see her, to be with her up
to the last moment! They understood each other at that instant, and
each outdid the other in courtesy. Albert was the first customer,
passing a thousand francs for a primrose from her belt. The Duke made
the same bargain. The girl's fingers trembled as she handed him the
flower. Albert felt a choking feeling in his throat. The crowd pressed
round. A German offered ten thousand francs for a flower which the
young girl had put to her lips. At last Albert could work off some of
his emotion. He repulsed the German.
"There is nothing more for sale, sir. I have just bought everything
for fifty thousand francs."
The German would have protested, but he was pushed back by the crowd
and landed at a distance.
"That was well done!"
"I did not know that he could be so impulsive."
"He was quite right."
"The poor people of the Duchess will become landholders!"
And the crowd scattered, making many comments on the way. Albert was
soon surrounded, as everybody wanted to shake hands with him. The Duke
had stepped back behind the booth. Esperance came out with Genevieve
and Mlle. Frahender. He stopped beside her a moment.
"I love you."
"Oh, thank you."
"Forever, I hope!"
Then, as he saw that the Count was still surrounded and that Esperance
would not be able to make her way to him, he offered her his arm.
"Let me take you to Count Styvens, who cannot extricate himself!"
With the help of Jean and Maurice, he dispersed the guests and led
Esperance to her fiancée. At that moment anyone who had suspected the
Duke of intentions to flirt with the plighted girl, must have
abandoned their idea; and the motive of the duel, which was to bring
one of these two perfect gentlemen to his death, became more and more
Count Styvens saw the girl coming to him on the Duke's arm, and he did
not suffer from the sight; his suffering for the last two days had
been too extreme to feel upset by any increase. He took Esperance to
the door of the Tower.
"You were lovelier than ever before."
He kissed her fingers devotedly. The young girl felt a tiny tear fall
like a terrible weight on her hand. He lifted his head quickly, looked
fixedly at Esperance with a look of such goodness and faith, that she
felt suddenly guilty and bent her head. The Count shook hands
cordially with the philosopher.
"Do not forget," the elder man said to him, "that I want to have a
little talk with you; it is more than a wish, it is a duty."
"I also have a serious duty to attend to," replied the young Count.
"Excuse me if I have to keep you waiting."
Albert went immediately to his mother, who was taking tea with the
Princess. He embraced her with such tenderness that she was astonished
at his ardour. The Princess held out her hand.
"Do not wait too long to realize your happiness, Albert. You know how
all your friends will rejoice with you."
He kissed her hand again, and went to join his two seconds at the gate
of the kitchen garden.
The crowd had all dispersed to catch the last train.
The meeting at the "Three Roads" was for seven. They saw the Duke de
Castel-Montjoie from a distance. He had had some difficulty in making
his escape, having had to help his mother, the Duchess, with the last
farewells. He bowed to the Count and led the way by a little door to
the inn stable. He was carrying two sets of swords, done up in two
cases of green cloth.
The Duke and his seconds were already there. Only the Doctor had not
arrived. Morlay-La-Branche and Albert bowed to each other and got
The little bowers, where the _habitues_ of the inn often ate
their midday meals, served them as dressing-rooms. The Doctor arrived
out of breath, with the information that he had not been able to get a
_confrere_ and would have to serve both sides. The umpire, in
company with the seconds, chose an alley of proper dimensions.
The adversaries were placed opposite, sword in hand. The Duke de
Castel-Montjoie touched the points of their swords and said, "Go!"
The conditions of the duel were very strict. The first round should
last three minutes, should neither of the adversaries be touched.
"Halt!" cried the Duke de Castel-Montjoie.
One minute was allowed them to breathe.
"Go," said the umpire, again joining the sword tips.
This time Albert made a furious drive against the Duke. There was a
moment of suspense. The Duke did not give way. His arm shot out and
the unfortunate Count turned completely round and fell. Charles de
Morlay's sword had pierced beneath the right arm pit, entering the
lung. The blood streamed from the wounded man's mouth. The Doctor and
the seconds carried him into the room which Jeanette had prepared. The
Duke, sorely moved, followed them. Albert saw him and held out a hand
which the Duke pressed gently, bending his head. The Count signed to
the seconds to withdraw.
"I was wrong, Duke," he murmured. "My love had blinded my wisdom with
the heavy mask of egoism. On the threshold of eternity the truth seems
clearer. Forgive me, De Morlay, as I forgive you."
He choked. The Doctor came forward. The Duke, as pale as the dying
man, pressed that loyal hand for the last time, and withdrew.
In her own room Esperance had just waked with an anguished cry.
"What is the matter with you?"
"I ... I ... I do not know ... a catastrophe ... where is my father?"
"In his room, and...."
At that very moment Maurice knocked at the door, and before they had
time to answer him, he entered. His face was distorted with grief.
"A catastrophe, a catastrophe!" repeated Esperance, at sight of him.
"Get up, put on a wrap, put something on your head, and come, come
quickly! A carriage is waiting for us!"
"A catastrophe, a catastrophe! Albert? the Duke?..."
"Albert!" he answered brusquely. "Come quickly! He wants to see you
The words died in his throat.
He helped his cousin and led her rapidly to the carriage. Esperance
was gasping with anguish.
"Tell me, Maurice, tell me."
But the young man could not answer. He knew only that Albert was
mortally wounded. He had been waiting a few paces from the Inn to
see the duellers come out. The Duke de Morlay-La-Branche and
Castel-Montjoie appeared first, and as they were talking to the
young man, the Marquis de Montagnac came out precipitately.
"I beg you," he said to Maurice, "to fetch the Count's fiancée. He
wants to see her before his mother knows."
And Maurice had departed in hot haste.
As soon as they reached the Inn, Esperance jumped to the ground.
Jeanette, who had kept a constant watch, ran along ahead of her and
without a word showed her the door of the room where Count Albert lay
dying. The Doctor stopped her.
"Very gently," he said.
But Albert had felt the presence of his dearly loved. He raised
himself a little, holding out his great arms to the young girl.
"Come to me, my love, do not be afraid. I will never hold you again in
these arms that frighten you. Listen carefully. I have only a few
minutes to live! No one knows the real reason of my quarrel with the
Duke.... You may have thought that it was about you. I swear to you,"
he laid stress on the word, "I swear to you that it was nothing to do
His glazing eyes cleared for an instant, illuminated by the beauty of
"Marry the Duke, he is charming ... he ... he is loyal ... but do not
abandon my mother; she will have only you!"
Two red streams trickled from the corners of his mouth. Esperance on
her knees with her hands crossed on the bed, watched the blood run
down on the face that had grown paler than the pillow. Her tears
blinded her, and she shook as with an ague. Albert ceased breathing
for an instant. The Doctor, who was watching closely from the end of
the room, came near and gave him a dose of chlorate of calcium to stop
the hemorrhage; then at a sign from Albert, withdrew again.
"Promise me," said the young man, "that you will always keep this
"Albert, don't die! I will love you! I do love you! Have pity! I will
always wear the necklace. You shall unfasten it every evening and
clasp it every morning! Do not die! Do not die! I am your fiancée,
to-morrow I will be your wife! You must life for your mother, for me!"
The door opened and the Countess, suddenly awakened, entered with the
Baron van Berger and the Duke de Castel-Montjoie.
"Mother, dear mother, forgive me.... I leave you Esperance, who will
take my place with you. Forgive the Duke de Morlay the pain he has
caused you. Our quarrel was so deep, we could only settle it by arms.
It was I, I, who precipitated matters. The Duke acted like an
honourable gentleman. Oh! do not weep, mother, do not weep!"
He raised his hand painfully to wipe with trembling fingers the tears
burning the beautiful eyes that had already wept so much.
The Chaplain from the Château entered the room, bearing the Holy
Sacrament. He was accompanied by the Dowager Duchess, the Prince and
Princess of Bernecourt. A solemn hush quieted the sobs of the two
women. The priest bent over the couch of the dying man. The Count
summoned all his strength to receive the extreme unction, then,
transfigured by his faith, he sat up, extending his arms. The two
women threw themselves trembling into the open arms, which closed upon
them in the last struggle of life. They remained there, imprisoned,
not knowing that the soul had fled.
A terrible cry shook these souls sunk down in grief. Esperance
shrieked, "These arms, these arms, loosen these arms which are
strangling me ... Deliver me, deliver me from these arms ... I am
They had some difficulty in freeing her. Her pupils dilated by terror,
she was hardly able to breathe. The Doctor did not disguise his
"Save her, Doctor," said the Countess Styvens, "save my daughter. My
son is now with God; he sees me, he waits for me, but I must obey his
They carried Esperance away unconscious, without tears, without
movement, almost without life. François, who had just arrived with his
wife, learned of the frightful tragedy and received in his arms the
poor unconscious cause of the drama. Mme. Darbois did not wish to
leave her daughter, but the philosopher insisted, until she could not
refuse, that she should go back to the Countess Styvens.
When the professor arrived at the Château he found the Duke de Morlay
at the gate waiting for tidings. At sight of Esperance unconscious,
her head fallen back on her father's breast, he jumped on the step of
"What more has happened?" he asked panting.
"The Doctor will be here in a few minutes. He will tell you...."
The carriage drove on to the Tower of Saint Genevieve. The Duke took
the poor figure in his arms and carried her up to her room, followed
by François Darbois, broken by sorrow. Genevieve was waiting
feverishly for the return of Maurice and Esperance. She showed the
Duke where to lay Esperance. He stretched the slender creature on her
bed. Her eyes were open, but she recognized no one. The rigidity of
her expression frightened the Duke, and he bent in terror to listen to
her breathing. A faint burning breath touched his face.
The Doctor declared that he could give no decision at that moment, and
ordered them to leave her to sleep.
"She must not be left for a second," he said. "Two people must watch
so that she need never be left alone."
The Duke kissed the limp little hand, and recoiled--his lips touched
her engagement ring. As he went out he met the Countess Styvens and
hardly recognized her, so terribly was she changed. She stopped him.
"Do not leave. I know from my son that it was he who provoked you. The
cause of your duel is a secret that I shall never seek to know. May
God pardon my son and free you from all remorse. I go to my daughter,
all I have left to love and protect."
It was evident that the noble woman was making a great effort; the
last words of her son were still ringing in her brain.
De Morlay knelt and watched the Countess disappear into the room.
The Doctor declared that evening that Esperance had congestion of the
brain, and that specialists who were sent for from Paris confirmed the
diagnosis. The Dowager would not hear of having her taken away. The
Tower of Saint Genevieve was put entirely at the Darbois's disposal.
Twos sister were sent for, and Jeanette volunteered to do the heavy
work. All the other servants were forbidden to approach the Tower.
The Countess Styvens, accompanied by the Duke de Castel-Montjoie, the
Prince and Princess de Bernecourt, and the Baron van Berger, had taken
the body of her son to be buried in the great family mausoleum which
she had raised to the memory of her husband at her country place of
Maurice and Genevieve were greatly relieved when they learned that the
Countess had not remained. In her crises of delirium Esperance talked
"Albert, no, no, I do not love him ... I love the Duke.... Yes, he
saved my life, but my father is going to tell him.... I cannot keep
this collar.... It is cold, cold, it strangles me, I am stifling.... I
am going to die.... Yes, Albert, you shall clasp the chain every
morning ... and every evening.... No, my head is not too low, I can see
the beauty of Perseus better. He is coming?... He is coming to cut off
the long arms that hold me.... The blood, there, the blood running
slowly!... No, Albert, do not die, I will love you, the Duke will
In spite of her trusting confidence, the poor mother must have come to
wonder and perhaps to understand.
When Esperance regained consciousness the worst danger was over. Only
Genevieve and Mlle. Frahender had heard the complete revelation.
Jeanette knew too, but Genevieve, who understood that she was there to
keep the Duke informed, found her very docile and repentant and did
not send her away. The Countess, to whom they had sent a daily
bulletin for three weeks, found that Esperance, if not cured, was at
least on the way to convalescence. She would still pass many hours
when she failed to recognize people. A kind of coma took possession of
her every now and then and kept her for days together in a kind of
The season was getting late, and all the house guests had left. The
Dowager Duchess did not wish to return to Paris, although her son, who
had become a deputy as she wished, invited her to come and stay with
him. The Prince de Bernecourt had had to once more take up his post,
but his wife had stayed to keep her friend company, and because she
loved the "little Darbois," as she called her. The Duke de Morlay was
visiting friends whose Château was about an hour's journey away. He
came every day for news from the Duchess, and from his goddaughter
A month went by. The young girl, now convalescent, was strong enough
to be moved.
"We will take her to Penhouet for a month," said François Darbois's
note to the Countess, "and when she is quite cured we will send her to
you in Brussels."
The Duke was in despair at the idea of hearing that Esperance was to
go away. He complained to Maurice whom he saw every day, "Can I not
"Yes, but only for a few seconds," said the young painter. "I believe
that you will have to wait several months before you can renew your
love. She is convalescent, but not cured. Here is a proposal for you:
I am going to marry Mlle. Hardouin in two months. Come to our wedding.
Your presence will seem quite natural, for you have treated me as a
friend. I am very much attached to you and I am sure that my cousin
will be very happy with you when you are married."
"But will she be well in two months?"
"The Doctor assures us that she will be quite herself, and it is by
his advice that we have set that date for our marriage."
"Do you think Mlle. Hardouin would accept me as a witness?"
She will be delighted, and I thank you. Genevieve has no relations
except her elder sister, who brought her up."
"I hope that this marriage will recall Esperance's promise to her.
Meantime I shall go to Italy for about the two months. Will you see if
I may say good-bye to her?"
"I will go now."
He was soon back again.
"My cousin expects you."
It was more than a month since the Duke had seen Esperance. He was
painfully shocked by the change in her pretty face. She looked hardly
real. Her eyes were enormous. Genevieve and Mlle. Frahender were with
"Here is the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche who has come to say good-bye to
Esperance turned her eyes towards the Duke.
"It is a long time since I have seen you," she said simply.
And her voice sounded like the tone of a distant harp.
"You have been very ill!"
"I have been very ill, I believe, but I cannot remember very well. I
feel as if I had had heavy blows in my brain; sometimes I hear
dreadful calls and then everything is quiet again. And then sometimes
I see a piece of a picture, no beginning, no end, sometimes horrible,
sometimes lovely. Why, now I remember," she spoke gently with a
charming smile, "that you are part of all my visions, but I do not
know any more how, or why.... And Albert, where is he? Why does he not
come? He must come and undo the collar.... Ah! my God, my God, I am
wandering you see, nothing is clear yet."
She raised her arms.
"My God, my God, have pity on me or take me at once. I do not want to
lose my mind!"
She took the Duke's hand.
"Say you are not sorry that you loved me?"
"I love you always!"
She clapped her hands with a silvery laugh, "Genevieve, Genevieve, he
loves me still."
And she hid her head on the young girl's arm. Maurice led the Duke
away, overcome. He looked questioningly at the painter.
"No, she will not be light-headed long, the Doctors all agree about
that, but her memory will have to come back by degrees a little at a
time. She recognized you. She remembered her love and yours. That is a
great step. Her youth, her love, and time will be, I believe, certain
The Duke left soon after they had taken Esperance away.
In Belgium the Countess had prepared for her beloved daughter. This
beautiful woman of forty, so charming, so handsome in her mauve
mourning, had already become an old woman whose movements were ever
slow and sad. Her back was bent, from constantly kneeling beside her
son's grave. Her black clothes reflected the deeper gloom of her
expression. And to those who had seen her a few months before, she was
Poor little Esperance regained her health very slowly. Her mind seemed
entirely clear only on one subject, the theatre. Little by little she
remembered everything connected with her art. She repeated with
Genevieve and Jean Perliez the scenes they had given at the
Competition. She worked hard on Musset's _On ne badine pas avec
l'amour_; then busied herself with preparations for her friend's
marriage. She did not know that the Duke was to be a witness.
"But," she would often object, "you must have two witnesses, and you
have only one."
"I have two," said Genevieve, "but you must guess the name of the
The wedding, solemnized in the little church of Sauzen, at
Belle-Isle-en-Mer, was very private. Maurice had for witnesses
his uncle, François Darbois, and the Marquis de Montagnac, with
whom he had become great friends. Doctor Potain and the Duke de
Morlay-La-Branche were witnesses for Genevieve. The Dowager Duchess
and the Princess de Bernecourt were present. The Countess Styvens
had been ill for a month and could not leave Brussels. She sent a
magnificent present of diamonds and pearls to Genevieve, who was
filled with joy. The Duchess gave the young bride a splendid silver
service, and the Princess brought with her some beautiful lace.
Genevieve had attached herself very strongly to the first of these
sweet women, and Maurice had made a conquest of the Princess by
painting her an admirable portrait.
The sight of the Duke made the invalid exuberant with joy. She
constantly forgot her duties as maid of honour to draw near the loved
Doctor Potain watched her closely, and made a thorough examination. He
knew nothing of her love for the Duke, but when the latter questioned
him about her health, he said, "There is only one chance of restoring
her health. She must go back on the stage."
The Duke jumped. "Impossible!" he said.
"Why impossible? Her fiancé is dead."
The Duke spoke to the man of science. "Listen to me, Doctor, I am
passionately in love with this girl who loved me, but only remembers
that at intervals.... I cannot, indeed...."
"Approve of her going on the stage? Urge her yourself, and you will
save her. When she is cured if she loves you, as you believe, she will
leave everything to follow you; but now neurasthenia or madness await
her. She must be roused to work outside herself. Do as I tell you and
you will invite me to your wedding."
The Duke went straight to find François Darbois. Maurice would have
retired. "No," said the Duke to him, "I want you to stay," and he told
them word for word what the Doctor had said.
"Well, what do you think?" François Darbois asked him.
"I think that the most important thing in all the world is to save
her! I will wait...."
François pressed his hand, and there was taken between these two men,
who were so different in every way, a silent pledge that both were
determined to keep at all costs.
From that instant each one strained every nerve to revive in Esperance
her dearest desire.
Several days after this visit, Esperance received a letter from the
Comedie-Française, asking her to come to the office. She turned pink.
Her lovely forehead brightened for the first time in many months. She
handed the letter to her father, who knew what it contained, and had
been watching his child's surprise very closely.
"We must go back to Paris, father, I feel entirely well."
"Good, Mademoiselle, we will obey your orders," he said tenderly.
She kissed her father as she used to do, and began to tease him a
"How nice it is to have such an agreeable papa! You have plenty of
cause to be severe, for I give you endless trouble."
"So you are to make your début at the Comedie-Française?"
"My God!" said the young girl, starting up, "that might cost you your
François Darbois began to laugh, for his joy returned to him when his
daughter's memory came back to her.
"Leave my election alone. They won't even nominate me, and I shall not
Mme. Darbois came in and François pretended to disclose the news to
her. She assumed surprise. To hide her emotion, she took her daughter
in a long embrace.
Maurice had taken his young wife to Italy, to show her in its most
harmonious setting the most beautiful aspirations of art towards the
ideal. The Duke de Morlay travelled there with them, adoring Italy as
does every devotee of art. There was not a corner of this rare country
that he did not know.
The sojourn of the young couple in Italy was pure enchantment. Maurice
was constantly surprised by the intellectual strength of his
companion. Like most artists he had an indulgent scorn for what so
many call and think the worldly class. When he originally met the Duke
he had recognized his cultivation, and found that his eclecticism was
exact, profound, and not the superficial veneer he had at first
supposed. He realized that men of the world do not vaunt their
knowledge, though it is often far deeper than that of certain artists
who never go below the depths of but one art: their own.
Almost every day Maurice received a letter or telegram giving him news
of his cousin. The advice of Doctor Potain seemed to be justifying
itself. Every day Esperance began to recover her health and spirits.
She was rehearsing at the Comedie, and her début in _On ne badine
pas avec l'amour_ was announced for the next month.
The travellers had intended to spend another ten days in Italy. But a
letter to Genevieve alarmed them. She read it aloud.
"My darling, I am just now the happiest girl in the world. First
because my dear cousin is seeing so many beautiful things that shine
through her letters and show her so enchanted with life that I feel
the stimulus myself, and long to live to go myself to breathe the
divine air of Italy, and admire the masterpieces there. Tell the Duke
de Morlay that no day passes without my thoughts flying to him. Only
one thing worries me. I can confide it to you, Genevieve, you who are
so perfectly happy. Why does the theatre draw me so that I am willing
to sacrifice for it even those I love? I see the Countess Styvens
every day. She seems a light ready to flicker out. Sometimes she looks
at me as if she saw me far, very far away, and murmurs, 'Poor little
thing, it is not her fault!' Then I shiver. What is not my fault?
Albert's death. Dear Albert, who frightened me so much sometimes, that
I felt my teeth chattering! Do you know how he died? Nobody seems to
know! Genevieve dear, the pearl collar strangles me sometimes. I
promised not to take it off, but I must take it off to play
'_Camille_' in Musset's play. Mustn't I? She cannot wear pearls
at the convent? When I promised that, I did not expect ever to appear
on the stage any more; but now! Besides, when I am on the stage I am
not myself at all. Esperance stays behind in the dressing-room and
'_Camille_' comes forth. Then the collar? Ask the Duke, without
telling him that I asked you, what I should do. This collar seems to
me such a heavy chain, so heavy and sometimes so cold. I must stop
this letter, for you see the confusion is coming back again. I am a
little frightened! I must be trembling, does it not show in my
writing? It is little Mademoiselle's pen. I embrace you with all the
strength of my joy in your happiness.--Esperance."
The writing changed.
"I must make Esperance stop. She has been wandering again as she
writes. Her pulse is very quick. I must tell her father. _Au
revoir,_ dear girl, and come back soon; for you are the brightness
and peace she longs for. My regards to your husband.--Eleanore
This letter made Maurice, his wife and the Duke very anxious.
"She must in some way be prevented from seeing the Countess Styvens,"
said Genevieve, "but how are we to manage that?"
They decided to shorten their stay in Italy by five days.
Esperance was to appear on the twentieth of December, about fifteen
days after her letter reached them. All the elegant world of Paris,
artistic, sensation-hunting, was waiting with delight for the
appearance of the little heroine, the idol of the public. Count
Styvens's death in a duel, slain by a well-known admirer of Esperance,
had caused a great deal of ink to be spilled. But the devotion of the
Countess towards the girl who would have been her daughter, the
denials of the witnesses to the most intimate friends, asking if ...
really ... between ourselves ... was not there something? ... deceived
the most suspicious. All these "fors" and "againsts" had kindled the
curiosity of the public, and the general sympathy was strongly in
favour of the unconscious cause of the great modern mystery. The
notice, announcing the first appearance of Esperance Darbois in _On
ne badine pas avec l'amour_ drew an enormous crowd. The house was
entirely sold out several days in advance. Many who could not get
admission waited outside the theatre to get news during the intervals.
The corridors were full of French and foreign reporters.
Behind the scenes Esperance stood looking at herself in the mirror. It
was almost time for the curtain to go up. Dressed in the convent robe,
the strings of pearls was still about her neck. Should she unclasp it,
should she not? If they went with her on the stage would she not be
betraying her art; would they not clutch and strangle her, strangle
"_Camille_," until Esperance had to come back in her place? And
if she cast it aside, her loyalty, her promise? Must she wear fetters
to keep faith? Oh, Albert, Albert! Oh, these dark shadows, these
groping dark confusions where she so often strayed. Where was rest? Or
peace? And joy, the joy of the theatre, would that, too, be taken
away? She swayed a little and longed with all her strength for a force
not her own to enter in. She was too weak to fight against her own
She found it. A hint of it came first in the scent of gardenia
flowers, sweet and strong and penetrating, compelling and agreeable to
the senses. Then the Duke's strong arms were about her, and she sank
gladly back as if she were falling into a flood of light.
But his swift words brought her back.
"Esperance, my darling, we have no time to lose. Come with me. The
Countess Styvens is dying. She would not send for you, she would not
spoil your triumph. But she can absolve you. She can loose the pearls.
You can remember the other request Albert made you then, his dying
wish, my living one. Come with me, be her daughter to the last, and
then, my love, to Italy, where we will find you health and strength,
and give you new life for your future as my wife."