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Gerfaut, entire by Charles de Bernard

Part 5 out of 6

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"To the devil with justice! You must have come from Timbuctoo to use
such old-fashioned metaphors."

"Make your deposition, witness; I require you to make your deposition,"
said the magistrate, whose increasing drunkenness appeared as dignified
and solemn as the artist was noisy.

"I have nothing to state; I saw nothing."

Here the Baron drew a long breath, as if these words were a relief.

"But I saw something!" said Gerfaut to himself, as he gazed at the
Baron's face, upon which anxiety was depicted.

"I reason by hypothesis and supposition," continued the artist. "I had a
little altercation with Lambernier a few days ago, and, but for my good
poniard, he would have put an end to me as he did to this fellow to-day."

He then related his meeting with Lambernier, but the consideration due
Mademoiselle Gobillot's honor imposed numberless circumlocutions and
concealments which ended by making his story rather unintelligible to his
auditors, and in the midst of it his head became so muddled that he was
completely put out.

"Basta!" he exclaimed, in conclusion, as he dropped heavily into his
chair. "Not another word for the 'whole empire. Give me something to
drink! Notary, you are the only man here who has any regard for me. One
thing is certain about this matter--I am in ten louis by this rascal's
adventure."

These words struck the Baron forcibly, as they brought to his mind what
the carpenter had said to him when he gave him the letter.

"Ten louis!" said he, suddenly, looking at Marillac as if he wished to
look into his very heart.

"Two hundred francs, if you like it better. A genuine bargain. But we
have talked enough, 'mio caro'; you deceive yourselves if you think you
are going to make me blab. No, indeed! I am not the one to allow myself
to become entangled. I am now as mute and silent as the grave."

Bergenheim insisted no longer, but, leaning against the back of his
chair, he let his head fall upon his breast. He remained for some time
buried in thought and vainly trying to connect the obscure words he had
just heard with Lambernier's incomplete revelations. With the exception
of Gerfaut, who did not lose one of his host's movements, the guests,
more or less absorbed by their own sensations, paid no attention to the
strange attitude of the master of the house, or, like Monsieur de
Camier, attributed it to the influence of wine. The conversation
continued its noisy course, interrupted every few moments by the
startling vagaries of some guest more animatedly excited than the rest,
for, at the end of a repast where sobriety has not reigned, each one is
disposed to impose upon others the despotism of his own intoxication, and
the idle talk of his peculiar hallucinations. Marillac bore away the
prize among the talking contingent, thanks to the vigor of his lungs and
the originality of his words, which sometimes forced the attention of his
adversaries. Finally he remained master of the field, and flashed
volleys of his drunken eloquence to the right and left.

"It is a pity," he exclaimed, in the midst of his triumph, as he glanced
disdainfully up and down the table, "it really is a pity, gentlemen, to
listen to your conversation. One could imagine nothing more commonplace-
prosaic or bourgeois. Would it not please you to indulge in a discussion
of a little higher order?

Let us join hands, and talk of poetry and art. I am thirsting for an
artistic conversation; I am thirsting for wit and intelligence."

"You must drink if you are thirsty," said the notary, filling his glass
to the brim.

The artist emptied it at one draught, and continued in a languishing
voice as he gazed with a loving look at his fat neighbor.

"I will begin our artistic conversation: 'Knowest thou the land where the
orange-flower blooms?'"

"It is warmer than ours," replied the notary, who was not familiar with
Mignon's song; and, beginning to laugh maliciously, he gave a wink at his
neighbors as if to say:

"I have settled him now."

Marillac leaned toward him with the meekness of a lamb that presents his
head to the butcher, and sympathetically pressed his hands.

"O poet!" he continued, "do you not feel, as I do at the twilight hour
and in the eventide, a vague desire for a sunny, perfumed, southern life?
Will you not bid adieu to this sterile country and sail away to a land
where the blue sky is reflected in the blue sea? Venice! the Rialto,
the Bridge of Sighs, Saint Mark! Rome! the Coliseum and Saint Peter--
But I know Italy by heart; let us go instead to Constantinople. I am
thirsting for sultanas and houris; I am thirsting--"

"Good gracious! why do you not drink if you are thirsty?"

"Gladly. I never say no to that. I scorn love in a nightcap; I adore
danger. Danger is life to me.

I dote on silken ladders as long as Jacob's, on citadels worth scaling;
on moonlight evenings, bearded husbands, and all that sort of thing--I
would love a bed composed of five hundred poniards; you understand me,
poet--"

"I beg of you, do not make him drink any more," said Gerfaut to the
notary.

"You are right not to wish to drink any more, Octave, I was about to
advise you not to. You have already drunk to excess to-day, and I am
afraid that it will make you ill; your health is so weak--you are not
a strong man like me. Fancy, gentlemen, Monsieur le Vicomte de Gerfaut,
a native of Gascony, a roue by profession, a star of the first magnitude
in literature, is afflicted by nature with a stomach which has nothing
in common with that of an ostrich; he has need to use the greatest care.
So we have him drink seltzer-water principally, and feed him on the white
meat of the chicken. Besides, we keep this precious phenomenon rolled up
between two wool blankets and over a kettle of boiling water. He is a
great poet; I myself am a very great poet."

"And I also, I hope," said the notary.

"Gentlemen, formerly there were poets who wrote only in verse; nowadays
they revel in prose. There are some even who are neither prose nor verse
writers, who have never confided their secret to anybody, and who
selfishly keep their poetry to themselves. It is a very simple thing to
be a poet, provided you feel the indescribable intoxication of the soul,
and understand the inexpressible afflatus that bubbles over in your large
brain, and your noble heart throbs under your left breast--"

"He is as drunk as a fool," said M. de Camier, loud enough for him to
hear.

"Old man," said he, "you are the one who is drunk. Besides the word
drunk is not civil; if you had said intoxicated I should not have
objected."

Loud shouts of laughter burst forth from the party. He threw a
threatening glance around him, as if he were seeking some one upon whom
to vent his anger, and, placing his hand upon his hip, assumed the pose
of a bully.

"Softly, my good fellows!" said he, "if any of you pretend that I am
drunk, I declare to him that he lies, and I call him a misantrophe, a
vagabond, an academician!" he concluded, with a loud burst of laughter;
for he thought that the jesters would be crushed by this last heavy
weapon.

"By Jove! your friend is hilariously drunk," said the notary to Gerfaut;
"while here is Bergenheim, who has not taken very much wine, and yet
looks as if he were assisting at a funeral. I thought he was more
substantial than this."

Marillac's voice burst out more loudly than ever, and Octave's reply was
not heard.

"It is simply astounding. They are all as drunk as fools, and yet they
pretend that it is I who am drunk. Very well! I defy you all; who among
you wishes to argue with me? Will you discuss art, literature, politics,
medicine, music, philosophy, archiology, jurisprudence, magnetism--"

"Jurisprudence!" exclaimed the thick voice of the public prosecutor, who
was aroused from his stupor by this magic word; "let us talk
jurisprudence."

"Would you like," said Marillac, without stopping at this interruption,
"that I should improvise a discourse upon the death penalty or upon
temperance? Would you like me to tell you a story?"

"A story, yes, a story!" they all exclaimed in unison.

"Speak out, then; order what story you like; it will cost you nothing,"
replied the artist, rubbing his hands with a radiant air. "Would you
like a tale from the Middle Ages? a fairy, an eastern, a comical, or a
private story? I warn you that the latter style is less old-fashioned
than the others."

"Let us have it, then, by all means," said all the drunken voices.

"Very well. Now would you like it to be laid in Spain, Arabia, or
France?"

"France!" exclaimed the prosecutor.

"I am French, you are French, he is French. You shall have a French
story."

Marillac leaned his forehead upon his hands, and his elbows upon the
table, as if to gather his scattered ideas. After a few moments'
reflection, he raised his head and looked first at Gerfaut, then at
Bergenheim, with a peculiar smile.

"It would be very original," said he, in a low voice as if replying to
his own thoughts.

"The story!" exclaimed one of the party, more impatient than the rest.

"Here it is," replied the artist. "You all know, gentlemen, how
difficult it always is to choose a title. In order not to make you wait,
I have chosen one which is already well known. My story is to be called
'The husband, the wife, and the lover.' We are not all single men here,
and a wise proverb says that one must never speak--"

In spite of his muddled brain, the artist did not finish his quotation.
A remnant of common-sense made him realize that he was treading upon
dangerous ground and was upon the point of committing an unpardonable
indiscretion. Fortunately, the Baron had paid no attention to his words;
but Gerfaut was frightened at his friend's jabbering, and threw him a
glance of the most threatening advice to be prudent. Marillac vaguely
understood his mistake, and was half intimidated by this glance; he
leaned before the notary and said to him, in a voice which he tried to
make confidential, but which could be heard from one end of the table to
the other:

"Be calm, Octave, I will tell it in obscure words and in such a way that
he will not see anything in it. It is a scene for a drama that I have in
my mind."

"You will make some grotesque blunder, if you go on drinking and
talking," replied Gerfaut, in an anxious voice. "Hold your tongue, or
else come away from the table with me."

"When I tell you that I will use obscure words," replied the artist;
"what do you take me for? I swear to you that I will gloss it over in
such a way that nobody will suspect anything."

"The story! the story!" exclaimed several, who were amused by the
incoherent chattering of the artist.

"Here it is," said the latter, sitting upright in his char,; and paying
no heed to his friend's warnings. "The scene takes place in a little
court in Germany--Eh!" said he, looking at Gerfaut and maliciously
winking his eye--"do you not think that is glossed over?"

"Not in a German court, you said it was to be a French story," said the
public prosecutor, disposed to play the critic toward the orator who had
reduced him to silence.

"Well, it is a French story, but the scene is laid in Germany," he
replied, coolly." Do you desire to teach me my profession? Understand
that nothing is more elastic than a German court; the story-teller can
introduce there whoever he likes; I may bring in the Shah of Persia and
the Emperor of China if I care to. However, if you prefer the court of
Italy, it is the same thing to me."

This conciliating proposal remained without response. Marillac continued
raising his eyes in such a way that nothing but the whites could be seen,
and as if he were searching for his words in the ceiling.

"The Princess Borinski was walking slowly in the mysterious alley on the
borders of the foaming torrent "

"Borinski! she is a Pole, then?" interrupted M. de Camier.

"Oh! go to the devil, old man! Do not interrupt me," exclaimed the
artist, impatiently.

"That is right. Silence now."

"You have the floor," said several voices at once.

"--She was pale, and she heaved convulsive sighs and wrung her soft, warm
hands, and a white pearl rolled from her dark lashes, and--"

"Why do you begin all your phrases with 'and?'" asked the public
prosecutor, with the captiousness of an inexorable critic.

"Because it is biblical and unaffected. Now let me alone," replied
Marillac, with superb disdain. "You are a police-officer; I am an
artist; what is there in common between you and me? I will continue:
And he saw this pensive, weeping woman pass in the distance, and he said
to the Prince: 'Borinski, a bit of root in which my foot caught has hurt
my limb, will you suffer me to return to the palace? And the Prince
Borinski said to him, 'Shall my men carry you in a palanquin?' and the
cunning Octave replied--"

"Your story has not even common-sense and you are a terrible bore,"
interrupted Gerfaut brusquely. "Gentlemen, are we going to sit at the
table all night?"

He arose, but nobody followed his example. Bergenheim, who for the last
few minutes had lent an attentive ear to the artist's story, gazed
alternately at the two friends with an observing eye.

"Let him talk," said the young magistrate, with an ironical smile.
"I like the palanquin in the court of Germany. That is probably what
novelists call local color. O Racine, poor, deserted Racine!"

Marillac was not intimidated this time by Gerfaut's withering glance,
but, with the obstinacy of drunkenness, continued in a more or less
stammering voice:

"I swore that I would gloss it over; you annoy me. I committed an error,
gentlemen, in calling the lover in this story Octave. It is as clear as
day that his name is Boleslas, Boleslas Matalowski. There is no more
connection between him and my friend Octave than there is between my
other friend Bergenheim and the prince Kolinski--Woginski--what the devil
has become of my Prince's name? A good reward to whoever will tell me
his name!"

"It is wrong to take advantage of his condition and make him talk any
more," said Gerfaut. "I beg of you, Marillac, hold your tongue and come
with me," said he, lowering his voice as he leaned toward the headstrong
story-teller and took him by the arm, trying to make him rise. This
attempt only irritated Marillac; he seized hold of the edge of the table
and clung to it with all his might, screaming:

"No! a thousand times no! I will finish my story. President, allow me
to speak. Ah! ha! you wish to prevent me from speaking because you know
that I tell a story better than you, and that I make an impression upon
my audience. You never have been able to catch my chic. Jealous!
Envious! I know you, serpent!"

"I beg of you, if you ever cared for me, listen!" replied Octave, who,
as he bent over his friend, noticed the Baron's attentive look.

"No, I say no!" shouted the artist again, and he added to this word one
of the ugliest-sounding oaths in the French language. He arose, and
pushing Octave aside, leaned upon the table, bursting into a loud laugh.
"Poets all," said he, "be reassured and rejoice. You shall have your
story, in spite of those envious serpents. But first give me something
to drink, for my throat is like a box of matches. No wine," he added, as
he saw the notary armed with a bottle. "This devilish wine has made me
thirsty instead of refreshing me; besides, I am going to be as sober as a
judge."

Gerfaut, with the desperation of a man who sees that he is about to be
ruined, seized him again by the arm and tried to fascinate him by his
steady gaze. But he obtained no response to this mute and threatening
supplication except a stupid smile and these stammering words:

"Give me something to drink, Boleslas--Marinski-Graboski--I believe that
Satan has lighted his heating apparatus within my stomach."

The persons seated near the two friends heard an angry hiss from
Gerfaut's lips. He suddenly leaned over, and taking, from among several
bottles, a little carafe he filled Marillac's glass to the brim.

"Thanks," said the latter, trying to stand erect upon his legs; "you are
an angel. Rest easy, your love affairs will run no risk. I will gloss
it all over--To your health, gentlemen!"

He emptied the glass and put it upon the table; he then smiled and waved
his hand at his auditors with true royal courtesy; but his mouth remained
half open as if his lips were petrified, his eyes grew large and assumed
a haggard expression; the hand he had stretched out fell to his side; a
second more, and he reeled and fell from his chair as if he had had a
stroke of apoplexy.

Gerfaut, whose eyes had not left him, watched these different symptoms
with unutterable anxiety; but in spite of his fright, he drew a sigh of
relief when he saw Marillac mute and speechless.

"It is singular," observed the notary, as he aided in removing his
neighbor from the table, "that glass of water had more effect upon him
than four or five bottles of wine."

"Georges," said Gerfaut to one of the servants, in an agitated voice, "
open his bed and help me carry him to it; Monsieur de Bergenheim, I
suppose there is a chemist near here, if I should need any medicine."

The greater part of the guests arose at this unexpected incident, and
some of them hastened to Marillac's side, as he remained motionless in
his chair. The repeated bathing of his temples with cold water and the
holding of salts to his nose were not able to bring him to consciousness.

Instead of going to his aid with the others, Bergenheim profited by the
general confusion to lean over the table. He plunged his finger into the
artist's glass, in which a part of the water remained, and then touched
his tongue. Only the notary noticed this movement. Thinking this rather
strange, he seized the glass in his turn and swallowed the few drops that
it contained.

"Heavens!" he exclaimed, in a low voice, to Bergenheim, "I am not
surprised that the bumper asphyxiated him on the spot. Do you know,
Baron, if this Monsieur de Gerfaut had taken anything but water during
the evening, I should say that he was the drunker of the two; or that, if
they were not such good friends, he wished to poison him in order to stop
his talk. Did you notice that he did not seem pleased to hear this
story?"

"Ah! you, too!" exclaimed the Baron angrily, "everybody will know it."

"To take a carafe of kirsch for clear water," continued the notary,
without paying any attention to the Baron's agitation. "The devil!
the safe thing to do is to give him an emetic at once; this poor fellow
has enough prussic acid in his stomach to poison a cow."

"Who is talking of prussic acid and poisoning?" exclaimed the public
prosecutor, running with an unsteady step from one extremity of the table
to the other, "who has been poisoned? I am the public prosecutor, I am
the only one here who has any power to start an investigation. Have they
had an autopsy? Where did they find it? Buried in the fields or the
woods, or floating on the river?"

"You lie! there is no dead body in the river!" exclaimed Bergenheim, in
a thundering voice, as he seized the magistrate by the collar in a
bewildered way.

The magistrate was incapable of making the least resistance when held by
such a vigorous hand and he received two or three shakings. Suddenly the
Baron stopped, and struck his forehead with a gesture common to persons
who feel that their reason has given way under a paroxysm of rage.

"I am crazy," said he, with much emotion. "Monsieur," he added, "I am
very sorry. We really have all taken too much wine. I beg your pardon,
gentlemen. I will leave you a moment--I need some fresh air."

He hurriedly left the room, almost running against the persons who were
carrying Marillac to his room. The public prosecutor, whose ideas had
been somewhat mixed before, was now completely muddled by this unheard-of
attack upon his dignity, and fell back exhausted in his chair.

"All poor drinkers!" said the notary to Monsieur de Carrier who was left
alone with him, for the prosecutor, half suffocated with indignation and
intoxication, could no longer be counted as one of them. "Here they are,
all drunk, from just a few glasses of wine."

The notary shook his head with a mysterious air.

"These things, though, are plain enough to me," said he at last; "first,
this Monsieur Marillac has not a very strong head and tells pretty
tedious stories when drunk; then his friend has a way of taking kirsch
for water which I can understand only in extreme cases; but the Baron is
the one who astonished me most. Did you notice how he shook our friend
who has just fallen on the floor? As to the Baron pretending that he was
drunk and thus excusing himself, I do not believe one word of it; he
drank nothing but water. There were times this evening when he appeared
very strange indeed! There is some deviltry underneath all this;
Monsieur de Carrier, rest assured there is some deviltry underneath it
all."

"I am the public prosecutor--they can not remove the body without me,"
stammered the weak voice of the magistrate, who, after trying in vain to
recover his equilibrium, lay flat upon the floor.

CHAPTER XXI

A STRATAGEM

Instead of joining the persons who were carrying Marillac away, Christian
went into the garden after leaving the dining-room, in quest of the fresh
air which he gave as an excuse for leaving his guests. In fact, he felt
oppressed almost to suffocation by the emotions he had undergone during
the last few hours. The dissimulation which prudence made a necessity
and honor a duty had aggravated the suffering by protracted concealment.

For some time Christian walked rapidly among the paths and trees in the
park. Bathing his burning brow in the cool night air, he sought to calm
the secret agitation and the boiling blood that were raging within him,
in the midst of which his reason struggled and fought like a ship about
to be wrecked. He used all his strength to recover his self-possession,
so as to be able to master the perils and troubles which surrounded him
with a calm if not indifferent eye; in one word, to regain that control
over himself that he had lost several times during the supper.
His efforts were not in vain. He contemplated his situation without
weakness, exaggeration, or anger, as if it concerned another. Two facts
rose foremost before him, one accomplished, the other uncertain. On one
side, murder, on the other, adultery. No human power could remedy the
first or prevent its consequences; he accepted it, then, but turn his
mind away from it he must, in the presence of this greater disaster.
So far, only presumptions existed against Clemence--grave ones, to be
sure, if one added Lambernier's revelations to Marillac's strangely
indiscreet remarks. It was his first duty to himself, as well as to
her, to know the whole truth; if innocent, he would beg her forgiveness;
if guilty, he had a chastisement to inflict.

"It is an abyss," thought he, "and I may find as much blood as mud at the
bottom of it. No matter, I will descend to its very depths."

When he returned to the chateau, his face had resumed its usual calm
expression. The most observing person would hardly have noticed any
change in his looks. The dining-room had been abandoned at last. The
victorious and the vanquished had retired to their rooms. First of all,
he went up to the artist's apartment, so that no singularity in his
conduct should attract attention, for, as master of the house, a visit to
one of his guests who had fallen dead, or nearly so, at his own table was
a positive duty. The attentions lavished upon Marillac by his friend had
removed the danger which might have resulted from his imprudent excesses
in drinking, and the sort of poisoning with which he had crowned the
whole. He lay upon his bed in the same position in which he had first
been placed, and was sleeping that heavy, painful sleep which serves as
an expiation for bacchic excesses. Gerfaut was seated a few steps from
him, at a table, writing; he seemed prepared to sit up all night, and to
fulfill, with the devotion of a friend, the duties of a nurse.

Octave arose at sight of the Baron, his face having resumed its habitual
reserved expression. The two men greeted each other with equal
composure.

"Is he sleeping?" asked Christian.

"But a few minutes only," replied the latter; "he is all right now, and I
hope," Octave added, smilingly, "that this will serve as a lesson to you,
and that hereafter you will put some limits to your princely hospitality.
Your table is a regular ambush."

"Do not throw stones at me, I pray," replied the Baron, with an
appearance of equal good-humor. "If your friend wants to ask an
explanation of anybody it is of you, for you took some kirsch of 1765 for
water."

"I really believe that I was the drunker of the two," interrupted Octave,
with a vivacity which concealed a certain embarrassment; "we must have
terribly scandalized Monsieur de Camier, who has but a poor opinion of
Parisian heads and stomachs."

After looking for a moment at the sleeping artist, Christian approached
the table where Gerfaut was seated, and threw a glance over the latter's
writing.

"You are still at work, I see?" said he, as his eyes rested upon the
paper.

"Just now I am following the modest trade of copyist. These are some
verses which Mademoiselle de Corandeuil asked me for--"

"Will you do me a favor? I am going to her room now; give me these
verses to hand to her. Since the misfortune that befell Constance, she
has been terribly angry with me, and I shall not be sorry to have some
reason for going to her room."

Octave finished the two or three lines which remained to be copied, and
handed the sheet to Bergenheim. The latter looked at it attentively,
then carefully folded it and put it in his pocket.

"I thank you, Monsieur," said he, "I will leave you to your friendly
duties."

There was something so solemn in the calm accent of these words, and the
polite bow which accompanied them, that Gerfaut felt chilled, though not
alarmed, for he did not understand.

When he reached his room, Bergenheim opened the paper which Gerfaut had
just given him and compared it with the letter he had received from
Lambernier. The suspicions which a separate examination had aroused were
confirmed upon comparing the two letters; no doubt was possible; the
letter and the poetry were written by the same hand!

After a few moments' reflection, Christian went to his wife's room.

Clemence was seated in an armchair, near the fireplace, indulging in a
revery. Although her lover was not there, she was still under the charm
of this consuming as well as intellectual passion, which responded to the
yearnings of her heart, the delicacy of her tastes, and the activity of
her imagination. At this moment, she was happy to live; there was not a
sad thought that these words, "He loves me!" could not efface.

The noise of the opening door aroused her from her meditation. Madame de
Bergenheim turned her head with a look of vexation, but instead of the
servant whom she was ready to reprimand, she saw her husband. The
expression of impatience imprinted upon her face gave way to one of
fright. She arose with a movement she could not repress, as if she had
seen a stranger, and stood leaning against the mantel in a constrained
attitude. Nothing in Christian's manner justified, however, the fear the
sight of him seemed to cause his wife. He advanced with a tranquil air,
and a smile that he had forced upon his lips.

With the presence of mind with which all women seem to be gifted,
Clemence fell back into her chair, and, assuming a languid, suffering
tone, mixed with an appearance of reproach, she said:

"I am glad to see you for a moment in order to scold you; you have not
shown your usual consideration to-night. Did you not think that the
noise from the dining-room might reach as far as here?"

"Has it troubled you?" asked Christian, looking at her attentively.

"Unless one had a head of cast-iron--It seems that these gentlemen have
abused the liberty permitted in the country. From what Justine tells me,
things have taken place which would have been more appropriate at the
Femme-sans-Tete."

"Are you suffering very much?"

"A frightful neuralgia--I only wish I could sleep."

"I was wrong not to have thought of this. You will forgive me, will you
not?"

Bergenheim leaned over the chair, passed his arm around the young woman's
shoulders, and pressed his lips to her forehead. For the first time in
his life, he was playing a part upon the marital stage, and he watched
with the closest attention the slightest expression of his wife's face.
He noticed that she shivered, and that her forehead which he had lightly
touched was as cold as marble.

He arose and took several turns about the room, avoiding even a glance at
her, for the aversion which she had just shown toward her husband seemed
to him positive proof of the very thing he dreaded, and he feared he
should not be able to contain himself.

"What is the matter with you?" she asked, as she noticed his agitation.

These words brought the Baron to his senses, and he returned to her side,
replying in a careless tone:

"I am annoyed for a very simple cause; it concerns your aunt."

"I know. She is furious against you on account of the double misfortune
to her dog and coachman. You will admit that, as far as Constance is
concerned, you are guilty."

"She is not content with being furious; she threatens a complete rupture.
Here, read this."

He handed her a large letter, folded lengthwise and sealed with the
Corandeuil crest.

Madame de Bergenheim took the letter and read its contents aloud:

"After the unheard-of and unqualifiable events of this day, the
resolution which I have formed will doubtless not surprise you in
the least, Monsieur. You will understand that I can not and will
not remain longer in a house where the lives of my servants and
other creatures which are dear to me may be exposed to the most
deplorable, wilful injury. I have seen for some time, although I
have tried to close my eyes to the light of truth, the plots that
were hatched daily against all who wore the Corandeuil livery. I
supposed that I should not be obliged to put an end to this highly
unpleasant matter myself, but that you would undertake this charge.
It seems, however, that respect and regard for women do not form
part of a gentleman's duties nowadays. I shall therefore be obliged
to make up myself for the absence of such attentions, and watch over
the safety of the persons and other creatures that belong to me. I
shall leave for Paris tomorrow. I hope that Constance's condition
will permit her to endure the journey, but Baptiste's wound is too
serious for me to dare to expose him. I am compelled, although with
deep regret, to leave him here until he is able to travel, trusting
him to the kind mercies of my niece.

"Receive, Monsieur, with my adieux, my thanks for your courteous
hospitality.

"YOLANDE DE CORANDEUIL."

"Your aunt abuses the privileges of being foolish," said the Baron, when
his wife had finished reading the letter; "she deserts the battlefield
and leaves behind her wounded."

"But I saw her, not two hours ago, and, although she was very angry, she
did not say one word of this departure."

"Jean handed me this letter but a moment ago, clad in full livery, and
with the importance of an ambassador who demands his passports. You must
go and talk with her, dear, and use all your eloquence to make her change
her mind."

"I will go at once," said Clemence, rising.

"You know that your aunt is rather obstinate when she takes a notion into
her head. If she persists in this, tell her, in order to decide her to
remain, that I am obliged to go to Epinal with Monsieur de Carrier
tomorrow morning, on account of the sale of some wood-land, and that I
shall be absent three days at least. You understand that it will be
difficult for your aunt to leave you alone during my absence, on account
of these gentlemen."

"Certainly, that could not be," said she, quickly.

"I do not see, as far as I am concerned, anything improper about it,"
said the Baron, trying to smile; "but we must obey the proprieties.
You are too young and too pretty a mistress of the house to pass for a
chaperon, and Aline, instead of being a help, would be one inconvenience
the more. So your aunt must stay here until my return."

"And by that time Constance and Baptiste will be both cured and her anger
will have passed away. You did not tell me about this trip to Epinal nor
the selling of the woodland."

"Go to your aunt's room before she retires to bed," replied Bergenheim,
without paying any attention to this remark, and seating himself in the
armchair; "I will wait for you here. We leave to-morrow morning early,
and I wish to know tonight what to depend upon."

As soon as Madame de Bergenheim had left the room, Christian arose and
ran, rather than walked, to the space between the two windows, and sought
the button in the woodwork of which Lambernier had told him. He soon
found it, and upon his first pressure the spring worked and the panel
flew open. The casket was upon the shelf; he took it and carefully
examined the letters which it contained. The greater part of them
resembled in form the one that he possessed; some of them were in
envelopes directed to Madame de Bergenheim and bore Gerfaut's crest.
There was no doubt about the identity of the handwriting; if the Baron
had had any, these proofs were enough. After glancing rapidly over a few
of the notes, he replaced them in the casket and returned the latter to
the shelf where he had found it. He then carefully closed the little
door and reseated himself beside the fireplace.

When Clemence returned, her husband seemed absorbed in reading one of the
books which he had found upon her table, while he mechanically played
with a little bronze cup that his wife used to drop her rings in when she
removed them.

"I have won my case," said the Baroness, in a gay tone; "my aunt saw
clearly the logic of the reasons which I gave her, and she defers her
departure until your return."

Christian made no reply.

"That means that she will not go at all, for her anger will have time to
cool off in three days; at heart she is really kind!--How long is it
since you have known English?" she asked, as she noticed that her
husband's attention seemed to be fixed upon a volume of Lord Byron's
poems.

Bergenheim threw the book on the table, raised his head and gazed calmly
at his wife. In spite of all his efforts, his face had assumed an
expression which would have frightened her if she had noticed it, but her
eyes were fastened upon the cup which he was twisting in his hand as if
it were made of clay.

"Mon Dieu! Christian, what is the matter with you? What are you doing to
my poor cup?" she asked, with surprise mingled with a little of that
fright which is so prompt to be aroused if one feels not above reproach.

He arose and put the misshapen bronze upon the table.

"I do not know what ails me to-night," said he, "my nerves are unstrung.
I will leave you, for I need rest myself. I shall start to-morrow
morning before you are up, and I shall return Wednesday."

"Not any later, I hope," she said, with that soft, sweet voice, from
which, in such circumstances, very few women have the loyalty to abstain.

He went out without replying, for he feared he might be no longer master
of himself; he felt, when offered this hypocritical, almost criminal,
caress, as if he would like to end it all by killing her on the spot.

CHAPTER XXII

THE CRISIS

Twenty-four hours had passed. The Baron had departed early in the
morning, and so had all his guests, with the exception of Gerfaut and the
artist. The day passed slowly and tediously. Aline had been vexed,
somewhat estranged from her sister-in-law since their conversation in the
little parlor. Mademoiselle de Corandeuil was entirely occupied in
restoring her poodle to health.

Marillac, who had been drinking tea ever since rising, dared not present
his face, which showed the effects of his debauch of the night before,
to the mistress of the house, whose exacting and aristocratic austerity
he very much feared. He pretended to be ill, in order to delay the
moment when he should be forced to make his appearance. Madame de
Bergenheim did not leave her aunt, and thus avoided being alone with
Octave--who, on account of these different complications, might have
spent a continual tete-a-tete with her had she been so inclined.
Christian's absence, instead of being a signal of deliverance for the
lovers, seemed to have created a new misunderstanding, for Clemence felt
that it would be a mean action to abuse the liberty her husband's
departure gave her. She was thus very reserved during the day, when she
felt that there were more facilities for yielding, but, in the evening,
when alone in her apartment, this fictitious prudery disappeared. She
spent the entire evening lying upon the divan in the little boudoir,
dreaming of Octave, talking to him as if he could reply, putting into
practice again that capitulation of conscience which permits our mind to
wander on the brink of guilt, provided actions are strictly correct.

After a while this exaltation fell by degrees. When struggling
earnestly, she had regarded Octave as an enemy; but, since she had gone
to him as one passes over to the enemy, and, in her heart, had taken part
with the lover against the husband, her courage failed her as she thought
of this, and she fell, weak, guilty, and vanquished before the combat.

When she had played with her passion, she had given Christian little
thought; she had felt it childish to bring her husband into an amusement
that she believed perfectly harmless; then, when she wished to break her
plaything, and found it made of iron and turning more and more into a
tyrannical yoke, she called to her aid the conjugal divinities, but in
too faint a voice to be heard. Now the situation had changed again.
Christian was no longer the insignificant ally that the virtuous wife had
condemned, through self-conceit, to ignorant neutrality; he was the
husband, in the hostile and fearful acceptation of the word. This man
whom she had wronged would always have law on his side.

Religion sometimes takes pity on a wayward wife, but society is always
ready to condemn her. She was his own, fastened to him by indissoluble
bonds. He had marked her with his name like a thing of his own; he held
the threads of her life in his hands; he was the dispenser of her
fortune, the judge of her actions, and the master of their fireside.
She had no dignity except through him. If he should withdraw his support
for a single day, she would fall from her position without any human
power being able to rescue her. Society closes its doors to the outcast
wife, and adds to the husband's sentence another penalty still more
scathing.

Having now fallen from the sphere of illusion to that of reality,
Madame de Bergenheim was wounded at every step. A bitter feeling of
discouragement overwhelmed her, as she thought of the impossibility of
happiness to which a deplorable fatality condemned her. Marriage and
love struggled for existence, both powerless to conquer, and qualified
only to cause each other's death. Marriage made love a crime; love made
marriage a torture. She could only choose between two abysses: shame in
her love, despair in her virtue.

The hours passed rapidly in these sad and gloomy meditations; the clock
marked the hour of midnight. Madame de Bergenheim thought it time to try
to sleep; but, instead of ringing for her maid, she decided to go to the
library herself and get a book, thinking that perhaps it might aid her in
going to sleep. As she opened the door leading into the closet adjoining
her parlor, she saw by the light of the candle which she held in her hand
something which shone like a precious stone lying upon the floor. At
first she thought it might be one of her rings, but as she stooped to
pick it up she saw her error. It was a ruby pin mounted in enamelled
gold. She recognized it, at the very first glance, as belonging to M. de
Gerfaut.

She picked up the pin and returned to the parlor. She exhausted in
imagination a thousand conjectures in order to explain the presence of
this object in such a place. Octave must have entered it or he could not
have left this sign of his presence; it meant that he could enter her
room at his will; what he had done once, he could certainly do again!
The terror which this thought gave her dissipated like a dash of cold
water all her former intoxicating thoughts; for, like the majority of
women, she had more courage in theory than in action. A moment before,
she had invoked Octave's image and seated it lovingly by her side.

When she believed this realization possible, all she thought of was to
prevent it. She was sure that her lover never had entered the closet
through the parlor, as he never had been in this part of the house
farther than the little drawing-room. Suddenly a thought of the little
corridor door struck her; she remembered that this door was not usually
locked because the one from the library was always closed; she knew that
Octave had a key to the latter, and she readily understood how he had
reached her apartment. Mustering up all her courage through excessive
fear, she returned to the closet, hurried down the stairs, and pushed the
bolt. She then returned to the parlor and fell upon the divan,
completely exhausted by her expedition.

Little by little her emotion passed away. Her fright appeared childish
to her, as soon as she believed herself sheltered from danger; she
promised herself to give Octave a good scolding the next morning; then
she renounced this little pleasure, when she remembered that it would
force her to admit the discovery of the pin, and of course to return it
to him, for she had resolved to keep it. She had always had a particular
fancy for this pin, but she would never have dared to ask him for it,
and besides, it was the fact that Octave usually wore it that made it
of infinite value to her. The desire to appropriate it was irresistible,
since chance had thrown it into her hands. She tied a black satin ribbon
about her white neck, and pinned it with the precious ruby. After
kissing it as devotedly as if it were a relic, she ran to her mirror to
judge of the effect of the theft.

"How pretty, and how I love it!" said she; "but how can I wear it so
that he will not see it?"

Before she could solve this problem, she heard a slight noise, which
petrified her as she stood before her glass.

"It is he!" she thought; after standing for a moment half stunned, she
dragged herself as far as the stairs, and leaning over, listened with
fear and trembling. At first she could hear nothing but the beating of
her heart; then she heard the other noise again, and more distinctly.
Somebody was turning the handle of the door, trying to open it. The
unexpected obstacle of the bolt doubtless exasperated the would-be
visitor, for the door was shaken and pushed with a violence which
threatened to break the lock or push down the door.

Madame de Bergenheim's first thought was to run into her chamber and lock
the door behind her;--the second showed her the danger that might result
if the slightest noise should reach other ears. Not a moment was to be
lost in hesitation. The young woman quickly descended the stairs and
drew the bolt. The door opened softly and closed with the same
precaution. The lamp from the parlor threw a feeble light upon the upper
steps of the staircase, but the lower ones were in complete darkness. It
was with her heart rather than her eyes that she recognized Octave; he
could distinguish Madame de Bergenheim only in an indistinct way by her
white dress, which was faintly outlined in the darkness; she stood before
him silent and trembling with emotion, for she had not yet thought of a
speech that would send him away.

He also felt the embarrassment usual in any one guilty of so foolhardy an
action. He had expected to surprise Clemence, and he found her upon her
guard; the thought of the disloyal part he was playing at this moment
made the blood mount to his cheeks and took away, for the time being, his
ordinary assurance. He sought in vain for a speech which might first
justify him and then conquer her. He had recourse to a method often
employed in the absence of eloquence. He fell on his knees before the
young woman and seized her hands; it seemed as if the violence of his
emotions rendered him incapable of expressing himself except by silent
adoration. As she felt his hands touch hers, Clemence drew back and said
in a low voice:

"You disgust me!"

"Disgust!" he repeated, drawing himself up to his full height.

"Yes, and that is not enough," she continued, indignantly, "I ought to
say scorn instead of disgust. You deceived me when you said you loved
me--you infamously deceived me!"

"But I adore you!" he exclaimed, with vehemence; "what proof do you wish
of my love?"

"Go! go away at once! A proof, did you say? I will accept only one:
go, I order it, do you understand?"

Instead of obeying her, he seized her in his arms in spite of her
resistance.

"Anything but that," he said; "order me to kill myself at your feet, I
will do it, but I will not go."

She tried for a moment to disengage herself, but although she used all
her strength, she was unable to do so.

"Oh, you are without pity," she said, feebly, "but I abhor you; rather, a
thousand times rather, kill me!"

Gerfaut was almost frightened by the agonized accent in which she spoke
these words; he released her, but as he removed his arms, she reeled and
he was obliged to support her.

"Why do you persecute me, then?" she murmured, as she fell in a faint
upon her lover's breast.

He picked her up in his arms and mounted the narrow stairs with
difficulty. Carrying her into the parlor, he placed her upon the divan.
She had completely lost consciousness; one would have believed her dead
from the pallor of her face, were, it not for a slight trembling which
agitated her form every few seconds and announced a nervous attack. The
most expert of lady's maids could not have removed the little ribbon from
her neck, which seemed to trouble her respiration, more adroitly than did
Octave. In spite of his anxiety, he could not repress a smile as he
recognized the pin which he hardly expected to find upon Clemence's neck,
considering the hostile way in which she had greeted him. He knelt
before her and bathed her temples with cold water, making her also inhale
some salts which he found upon the toilet table in the next room. Little
by little, these attentions produced an effect; the nervous convulsion
became less frequent and a slight flush suffused her pale cheeks. She
opened her eyes and then closed them, as if the light troubled them;
then, extending her arms, she passed them about Octave's neck as he
leaned over her; she remained thus for some time, breathing quietly and
to all appearances sleeping. Suddenly she said:

"You will give me your pin, will you not?"

"Is not all that I have yours?" he replied, in a low tone.

"Mine!" she continued, in a feebly loving voice; "tell me again that you
belong to me, to me alone, Octave!"

"You do not send me away any longer, then? you like me to be near you?"
he said, with a happy smile, as he kissed the young woman's brow.

"Oh! stay, I beg of you! stay with me forever!"

She folded her arms more tightly around him, as if she feared he might
leave her. Suddenly she sat up, opened her eyes, and gazed about her in
silent astonishment.

"What has happened?" said she, "and how is it that you are here? Ah!
this is dreadful indeed; you have cruelly punished me for my weakness."

This sudden severity after her delicious abandon, changed Octave's
pleasure into angry vexation.

"You are the one," he replied, "who are cruel! Why allow me so much
bliss, if you intended to take it away from me so soon? Since you love
me only in your dreams, I beg of you to go to sleep again and never
awaken. I will stay near you. Your words were so sweet, but a moment
ago, and now you deny them!"

"What did I say?" she asked, with hesitation, a deep blush suffusing.
her face and neck.

These symptoms, which he considered a bad augury, increased Octave's
irritation. He arose and said in a bitter tone:

"Fear nothing! I will not abuse the words which have escaped you,
however flattering or charming they may have been; they told me that you
loved me. I do not believe it any longer; you are agitated, I can see;
but it is from fear and not love."

Clemence drew herself up upon the divan, crossed her arms over her breast
and gazed at him for a few moments in silence.

"Do you believe these two sentiments incompatible?" she asked at last;
"you are the only one whom I fear. Others would not complain."

There was such irresistible charm in her voice and glance that Gerfaut's
ill-humor melted away like ice in the sun's rays. He fell upon his knees
before the divan, and tried to pass her arms about his neck as before;
but instead of lending herself to this project, she attempted to rise.

"I am so happy at your feet," he said, gently preventing her. "Everybody
else can sit beside you; I only have the right to kneel. Do not take
this right away from me."

Madame de Bergenheim extricated one of her hands, and, raising her finger
with a threatening gesture, she said:

"Think a little less of your rights, and more of your duties. I advise
you to obey me and to profit by my kindness, which allows you to sit by
my side for a moment. Think that I might be more severe, and that if I
treated you as you merited--if I told you to go away, would you obey me?"

Gerfaut hesitated a moment and looked at her supplicatingly.

"I would obey," said he; "but would you have the courage to order it?"

"I allow you to remain until just half past twelve," said she, as she
glanced at the clock, which she could see through the half-open door.
Gerfaut followed her glance, and saw that she accorded him only a quarter
of an hour: but he was too clever to make any observation. He knew that
the second quarter of an hour is always less difficult to obtain than the
first.

"I am sure," said she, "that you have thought me capricious to-day; you
must pardon me, it is a family fault. You know the saying: 'Caprice de
Corandeuil?"

"I wish it to be said: Amour de Gerfaut," said he, tenderly.

"You are right to be amiable and say pleasant things to me, for I need
them badly to-night. I am sad and weary; the darkest visions come before
my mind. I think it is the storm which makes me feel so. How doleful
this thunder is! It seems to me like an omen of misfortune."

"It is only the fancy of your vivid imagination. If you exerted the same
will to be happy that you do to imagine troubles, our life would be
perfect. What matters the storm? and even if you do see an omen in it,
what is there so very terrible? Clouds are vapor, thunder is a sound,
both are equally ephemeral; only the blue sky, which they can obscure but
for a moment, is eternal."

"Did you not hear something just now?" asked Madame de Bergenheim, as
she gave a sudden start and listened eagerly.

"Nothing. What did you think it was?"

"I feared it might be Justine who had taken it into her head to come down
stairs; she is so tiresome in her attentions--"

She arose and went to look in her chamber, which she carefully locked; a
moment later, she returned and seated herself again upon the divan.

"Justine is sleeping by this time," said Octave; "I should not have
ventured if I had not seen that her light was out."

Clemence took his hand and placed it over her heart.

"Now," said she, "when I tell you that I am frightened, will you believe
me?"

"Poor dear!" he exclaimed, as he felt her heart throbbing violently.

"You are the one who causes me these palpitations for the slightest
thing. I know that we do not run any danger, that everybody is in his
own room by this time, and yet, somehow, I feel terribly frightened.
There are women, so they say, who get used to this torture, and end by
being guilty and tranquil at the same time. It is an unworthy thought,
but I'll confess that, sometimes, when I suffer so, I wish I were like
them. But it is impossible; I was not made for wrong-doing. You can not
understand this, you are a man; you love boldly, you indulge in every
thought that seems sweet to you without being troubled by remorse. And
then, when you suffer, your anguish at least belongs to you, nobody has
any right to ask you what is the matter. But I, my tears even are not my
own; I have often shed them on your account--I must hide them, for he has
a right to ask: 'Why do you weep?' And what can I reply?"

She turned away her head to conceal the tears which she could not
restrain; he saw them, and, leaning over her, he kissed them away.

"Your tears are mine!" he exclaimed, passionately; "but do not distress
me by telling me that our love makes you unhappy."

"Unhappy! oh, yes! very unhappy! and yet I would not change this
sorrow for the richest joys of others. This unhappiness is my treasure!
To be loved by you! To think that there was a time when our love might
have been legitimate! What fatality weighs upon us, Octave? Why did we
know each other too late? I often dream a beautiful dream--a dream of
freedom."

"You are free if you love me--It is the rain against the windows," said
he, seeing Madame de Bergenheim anxiously listening again. They kept
silent for a moment, but could hear nothing except the monotonous
whistling of the storm.

"To be loved by you and not to blush!" said she, as she gazed at him
lovingly. "To be together always, without fearing that a stroke of
lightning might separate us! to give you my heart and still be worthy to
pray! it would be one of those heavenly delights that one grasps only in
dreams--"

"Oh! dream when I shall be far from you; but, when I am at your feet,
when our hearts beat only for each other, do not evoke, lest you destroy
our present happiness, that which is beyond our power. Do you think
there are bonds which can more strongly unite us? Am I not yours? And
you, yourself, who speak of the gift of your heart, have you not given it
to me entirely?"

"Oh! yes, entirely! And it is but right, since I owe it to you. I did
not understand life until the day I received it from your eyes; since
that minute I have lived, and I can die. I love you! I fail to find
words to tell you one-tenth of what my heart contains, but I love you--"

He received her in his arms, where she took refuge so as to conceal her
face after these words. She remained thus for an instant, then arose
with a start, seized Octave's hands and pressed them in a convulsive
manner, saying in a voice as weak as a dying woman's:

"I am lost!"

He instinctively followed Clemence's gaze, which was fastened upon the
glass door. An almost imperceptible movement of the muslin curtain was
evident. At the same moment, there was a slight noise, a step upon the
carpet, the turning of the handle of the door, and it was silently opened
as if by a ghost.

CHAPTER XXIII

THE AGREEMENT

Madame de Bergenheim tried to rise, but her strength failed her, she fell
on her knees, and then dropped at her lover's feet. The latter leaped
from the divan with out trying to assist her, stepped over the body
stretched before him, and drew his poniard out of his pocket.

Christian stood upon the threshold of the door silent and motionless.

There was a moment of terrible silence. Only the eyes of the two men
spoke; those of the husband were fixed, dull, and implacable; those of
the lover sparkled with the audacity of despair. After a moment of
mutual fascination, the Baron made a movement as if to enter.

"One step more and you are a dead man!" exclaimed Gerfaut, in a low
voice, as he clutched the handle of his poniard.

Christian extended his hand, replying to this threat only by a look; but
such an imperative one that the thrust of a lance would not have been as
fearful to the lover. Octave put his poniard in its sheath, ashamed of
his emotion in the presence of such calm, and imitated his enemy's
scornful attitude.

"Come, Monsieur," said the latter, in a low voice, as he took a step
backward.

Instead of following his example, Gerfaut cast a glance upon Clemence.
She had fallen in such a dead faint that he sought in vain for her
breath. He leaned over her, with an irresistible feeling of pity and
love; but just as he was about to take her in his arms and place her upon
the divan, Bergenheim's hand stopped him. If there is a being on earth
to whom one owes regard and respect, it is the one whom our own wrong has
rendered our enemy. Octave arose, and said, in a grave, resigned voice:

"I am at your orders, Monsieur."

Christian pointed to the door, as if to invite him to pass out first,
thus preserving, with his extraordinary composure, the politeness which a
good education makes an indelible habit, but which at this moment was
more frightful to behold than the most furious outburst of temper.
Gerfaut glanced at Clemence again, and said, as he pointed to her:

"Shall you leave her without any aid in this condition? It is cruel."

"It is not from cruelty, but out of pity," replied the Baron, coldly;
"she will awake only too soon."

Octave's heart was intensely oppressed, but he managed to conceal his
emotion. He hesitated no longer and stepped out. The husband followed,
without giving a glance at the poor woman whose own words had condemned
her so inexorably. And so she was left alone in this pretty boudoir as
if in a tomb.

The two men descended the stairs leading from the little closet. At the
library door they found themselves in absolute obscurity; Christian
opened a dark-lantern and its faint light guided their steps. They
traversed, in silence, the picture-gallery, the vestibule, and then
mounted the main staircase. They reached the Baron's apartment without
meeting anybody or betraying themselves by the slightest sound. With the
same outward self-possession which had characterized his whole conduct,
Christian, after carefully closing the doors, lighted a candelabra filled
with candles which was upon the mantel, and then turned to his companion,
who was far less composed than he.

Gerfaut had suffered tortures since leaving the little parlor. A feeling
of regret and deepest pity, at the thought of the inevitable catastrophe
which must follow, had softened his heart. He saw in the most odious of
colors the selfishness of his love. Clemence's last glance as she fell
fainting at his feet--a forgiving and a loving glance--was like a dagger
in his heart. He had ruined her! the woman he loved! the queen of his
life! the angel he adored! This idea was like hell to him. He was
almost unable to control his emotion, dizzy as he was on the brink of the
abyss opened by his hand, into which he had precipitated what he counted
as the dearest part of his own self.

Bergenheim stood, cold and sombre, like a northern sky, opposite this
pale-faced man, upon whose countenance a thousand passionate emotions
were depicted like clouds on a stormy day.

When Bergenheim's eyes met Octave's, they were so full of vengeance and
hatred that the latter trembled as if he had come in contact with a wild
beast. The lover actually realized the inferiority of his attitude in
the presence of this enraged husband. A feeling of self-pride and
indignation came to his aid. He put aside remorse and regrets until
later; these sad expiations were forbidden him now; another duty lay
before him. There is only one reparation possible for certain offences.
The course once open, one must go to its very end; pardon is to be found
only upon the tomb of the offended.

Octave knew he had to submit to this necessity. He stifled all scruples
which might have weakened his firmness, and resumed his habitual
disdainful look. His eyes returned his enemy's glance of deadly hatred,
and he began the conversation like a man who is accustomed to master the
events of his life and forbids any one to shape them for him.

"Before any explanations take place between us," he said, "I have to
declare to you, upon my honor, that there is only one guilty person in
this affair, and that I am the one. The slightest reproach addressed to
Madame de Bergenheim would be a most unjust outrage and a most deplorable
error on your part. I introduced myself into her apartment without her
knowledge and without having been authorized in any way to do so. I had
just entered it when you arrived. Necessity obliges me to admit a love
that is an outrage to you; I am ready to repair this outrage by any
satisfaction you may demand; but in putting myself at your discretion,
I earnestly insist upon exculpating Madame de Bergenheim from all that
can in any way affect her virtue or her reputation."

"As to her reputation," said Christian, "I will watch over that; as to
her virtue--"

He did not finish, but his face assumed an expression of incredulous
irony.

"I swear to you, Monsieur," said Octave, with increasing emotion,
"that she is above all seduction and should be sheltered from all insult;
I swear to you--What oath can I take that you will believe? I swear
that Madame de Bergenheim never has betrayed any of her duties toward
you; that I never have received the slightest encouragement from her;
that she is as innocent of my folly as the angels in heaven."

Christian shook his head with a scornful smile.

"This day will be the undying remorse of my life if you will not believe
me," said Gerfaut, with almost uncontrolled vehemence; "I tell you,
Monsieur, she is innocent; innocent! do you understand me? I was led
astray by my passion. I wished to profit by your absence. You know that
I have a key to the library; I used it without her suspecting it. Would
to God that you could have been a witness to our tete-a-tete! you could
then have not one doubt left. Can one prevent a man from entering a
lady's room, when he has succeeded in finding the way to it in spite of
her wishes? I repeat it, she--"

"Enough, Monsieur," replied the Baron coldly. "You are doing as I should
do in your place; but this discussion is out of place; let this woman
exculpate herself. There should be no mention of her between us now."

"When I protest that upon my honor--"

"Monsieur, under such conditions, a false oath is not dishonorable.
I have been a bachelor myself, and I know that anything is allowable
against a husband. Let us drop this, I beg of you, and return to facts.
I consider that I have been insulted by you, and you must give me
satisfaction for this insult."

Octave made a sign of acquiescence.

"One of us must die," replied Bergenheim, leaning his elbow negligently
upon the mantel. The lover bowed his head a second time.

"I have offended you," said he; "you have the right to choose the
reparation due you."

"There is only one possible, Monsieur. Blood alone can wipe away the
disgrace; you know it as well as I. You have dishonored my home, you owe
me your life for that. If Fate favors you, you will be rid of me, and I
shall be wronged in every way. There are arrangements to be made, and we
shall settle them at once, if you are willing."

He pushed an armchair toward Gerfaut, and took another himself.

They seated themselves beside a desk which stood in the middle of the
room, and, with an equal appearance of sang-froid and polite haughtiness,
they discussed this murderous combat.

"It is not necessary for me to say to you," said Octave, "that I accept
in advance whatever you may decide upon; the weapons, place, and
seconds--"

"Listen to me, then," interrupted Bergenheim; "you just now spoke in
favor of this woman in a way that made me think you did not wish her
ruined in the eyes of the world; so I trust you will accept the
proposition I am about to make to you. An ordinary duel would arouse
suspicion and inevitably lead to a discovery of the truth; people would
seek for some plausible motive for the encounter, whatever story we might
tell our seconds. You know that there is but one motive which will be
found acceptable by society for a duel between a young man who had been
received as a guest of this house and the husband. In whatever way this
duel may terminate, this woman's honor would remain on the ground with
the dead, and that is what I wish to avoid, since she bears my name."

"Will you explain to me what your plan is?" asked Octave, who could not
understand what his adversary had in mind.

"You know, Monsieur," Bergenheim continued, in his calm voice, "that I
had a perfect right to kill you a moment ago; I did not do so for two
reasons: first, a gentleman should use his sword and not a poniard,
and then your dead body would have embarrassed me."

"The river is close by!" interrupted Gerfaut, with a strange smile.

Christian looked at him fixedly for a moment, and then replied in a
slightly changed tone:

"Instead of availing myself of my right, I intend to risk my life against
yours. The danger is the same for myself, who never have insulted you,
as for you, who have offered me the deadliest insult that one man can
offer another. I am willing to spill my blood, but not to soil my
honor."

"If it is a duel without seconds that you desire, you have my consent;
I have perfect confidence in your loyalty, and I hope you can say the
same for mine."

Christian bowed his head slightly and continued:

"It is more than a duel without seconds, for the whole affair must be so
contrived as to be looked upon as an accident; it is the only way to
prevent the outbreak and scandal I dread so much. Now here is my
proposition: You know that a wild-boar hunt is to take place to-morrow in
the Mares woods. When we station ourselves we shall be placed together
at a spot I know of, where we shall be out of the sight of the other
hunters. When the boar crosses the enclosure we will fire at a signal
agreed upon. In this way, the denouement, whatever it may be, will be
looked upon as one of those accidents which so frequently happen in
shooting-parties."

"I am a dead man," thought Gerfaut, as he saw that the gun would be the
weapon chosen by his adversary, and recalled his wonderful skill, of
which he had had many and various proofs. But instead of showing the
slightest hesitation, his countenance grew still more arrogant.

"This kind of combat seems to me very wisely planned," said he;
"I accept, for I desire as much as you that this affair should remain
an eternal secret."

"Since we are to have no seconds," continued Bergenheim, "let us arrange
everything so that nothing can betray us; it is inconceivable how the
most trifling circumstances often turn out crushing evidence. I think
that I have foreseen everything. If you find that I have forgotten any
detail, please remind me of it. The place I speak of is a narrow, well-
shaded path. The ground is perfectly level; it lies from north to south,
so that at eight o'clock in the morning the sun will be on that side;
there will be no advantage in position. There is an old elm on the
borders of the wood; at fifty steps' distance in the pathway, lies the
trunk of an oak which has been felled this year. These are the two
places where we will station ourselves, if you consent to it. Is it the
proper distance?"

"Near or farther, it matters little. Breast to breast, if you like."

"Nearer would be imprudent. However, fifty steps with the gun is less
than fifteen with a pistol. This point is settled. We will remain with
heads covered, although this is not the custom. A ball might strike the
head where the cap would be, and if this should happen it would arouse
suspicion, as people do not hunt bareheaded. It only remains to decide
who shall fire first," continued Christian.

"You, of course; you are the offended one."

"You do not admit the full offence to have been committed, and, since
this is in doubt, and I can not be judge and jury together, we shall
consult chance."

"I declare to you that I will not fire first," interrupted Gerfaut.

"Remember that it is a mortal duel, and such scruples are foolish. Let
us agree that whoever has the first shot, shall place himself upon the
border of the woods and await the signal, which the other will give when
the boar crosses the enclosure."

He took a gold piece from his purse and threw it in the air.

"Heads!" said the lover, ready to acquiesce to the least of his
adversary's conditions.

"Fate is for you," said Christian, looking at the coin with marked
indifference; "but, remember, if at the signal given by me you do not
fire, or only fire in the air, I shall use my right to shoot--You know
that I rarely miss my aim."

These preliminaries ended, the Baron took two guns from his closet,
loaded them, taking particular care to show that they were of equal
length and the same calibre. He then locked them up in the closet and
offered Gerfaut the key.

"I would not do you this injustice," said the latter.

"This precaution is hardly necessary, since, tomorrow, you will take your
choice of those weapons. Now that everything is arranged," continued the
Baron, in a graver tone, "I have one request to make of you, and I think
you are too loyal to refuse it. Swear to me that whatever may be the
result, you will keep all this a profound secret. My honor is now in
your hands; speaking as a gentleman to a gentleman, I ask you to respect
it."

"If I have the sad privilege of surviving you," replied Gerfaut, no less
solemnly, "I swear to you to keep the secret inviolate. But, supposing a
contrary event, I also have a request to make to you. What are your
intentions regarding Madame de Bergenheim?"

Christian gazed at his adversary a moment, with a searching glance which
seemed to read his innermost thoughts.

"My intentions?" said he at last, in a displeased, surprised tone; "this
is a very strange question; I do not recognize your right to ask it."

"My right is certainly strange," said the lover, with a bitter smile;
"but whatever it may be, I shall make use of it. I have destroyed this
woman's happiness forever; if I can not repair this fault, at least I
ought to mitigate the effect as much as lies in my power. Will you reply
to me--if I die tomorrow, what will be her fate?"

Bergenheim kept silent, his sombre eyes lowered to the floor.

"Listen to me, Monsieur," continued Gerfaut, with great emotion; "when I
said to you, 'She is not guilty,' you did not believe me, and I despair
of ever persuading you, for I know well what your suspicions must be.
However, these are the last words addressed to you that will leave my
mouth, and you know that one has to believe a dying man's statement. If
tomorrow you avenge yourself, I earnestly beg of you, let this reparation
suffice. All my pride is gone, you see, since I beg this of you upon my
bended knees. Be humane toward her; spare her, Monsieur. It is not
pardon which I ask you to grant her--it is pity for her unsullied
innocence. Treat her kindly--honorably. Do not make her too wretched."

He stopped, for his voice failed him, and his eyes filled with tears.

"I know what I ought to do," replied the Baron, in as harsh a tone as
Gerfaut's had been tender; "I am her husband, and I do not recognize
anybody's right, yours least of all, to interpose between us."

"I can foresee the fate which you have in reserve for her," replied the
lover, indignantly; "you will not murder her, for that would be too
imprudent; what would become of your vaunted honor then? But you will
slowly kill her; you will make her die a new death every day, in order to
satisfy a blind vengeance. You are a man to meditate over each new
torture as calmly as you have regulated every detail of our duel."

Bergenheim, instead of replying, lighted a candle as if to put an end to
this discussion.

"Until to-morrow, Monsieur," said he, with a cold air.

"One moment!" exclaimed Gerfaut, as he arose; "you refuse to give me one
word which will assure me of the fate of the woman whose life I have
ruined?"

"I have nothing to say."

"Very well, then; I will protect her, and I will do it in spite of you
and against you."

"Not another word," interrupted the Baron, sternly.

Octave leaned over the table between them and looked at him for a moment,
then said in a terrible voice:

"You killed Lambernier!"

Christian bounded backward as if he had been struck.

"I was a witness of that murder," continued Gerfaut, slowly, as he
emphasized each word; "I will write my deposition and give it to a man
of whom I am as sure as of myself. If I die to-morrow, I will leave him
a mission which no effort on your part will prevent him from fulfilling.
He shall watch over your slightest actions with inexorable vigilance;
he will be Madame de Bergenheim's protector, if you forget that your
first duty is to protect her. The day upon which you abuse your position
with her, the day when she shall call out despairingly, 'Help me!' that
day shall my deposition be placed in the hands of the public prosecutor
at Nancy. He will believe its contents; of that you may be certain.
Besides, the river is an indiscreet tomb; before long it will give up the
body you have confided to it. You will be tried and condemned. You know
the punishment for murder! It is hard labor for life."

Bergenheim darted toward the mantel at these words and seized a hunting-
knife which hung there. Octave, as he saw him ready to strike, crossed
his arms upon his breast, and said, coldly:

"Remember that my body might embarrass you; one corpse is enough."

The Baron threw the weapon on the floor with such force that he broke it
in two.

"But it was you," he said, in a trembling voice, "you were Lambernier's
assassin. I--He knew this infamous secret, and his death was involuntary
on my part."

"The intention is of little account. The deed is the question. There is
not a jury that would not condemn you, and that is what I wish, for such
a sentence would bring a legal separation between you and your wife and
give her her liberty."

"You are not speaking seriously," said Christian, turning pale; "you,
a gentleman, would not denounce me! And, besides, would not my being
sentenced injure the woman in whom you take so much interest?"

"I know all that," Gerfaut replied; "I too cling to the honor of my name,
and yet I expose it. I have plenty of enemies who will be glad enough to
outrage my memory. Public opinion will condemn me, for they will see
only the action, and that is odious. There is one thing, however, more
precious and necessary to me than the world's opinion, and that is peace
for every day, the right to live; and that is the reason why, happiness
having forsaken me, I am going to bequeath it to the one whom fate has
put in your power, but whom I shall not leave to your mercy."

"I am her husband," Bergenheim replied, angrily.

"Yes, you are her husband; so the law is on your side. You have only to
call upon society for its aid; it will come but too gladly at your call
and help you crush a defenceless woman. And I, who love her as you have
never known how to love her, I can do nothing for her! Living, I must
keep silent and bow before your will; but dead, your absurd laws no
longer exist for me; dead, I can place myself between you and her, and I
will do it. Since, in order to aid her, I have no choice of arms, I will
not recoil from the one weapon which presents itself. Yes, if in order
to save her from your vengeance, I am obliged to resort to the shame of a
denunciation, I swear to you here, I will turn informer. I will sully my
name with this stain; I will pick up this stone from the mud, and I will
crush your head with it."

"These are a coward's words!" exclaimed Christian, as he fell back in
his chair.

Gerfaut looked at him with a calm, stony glance, while replying:

"No insults, please! One of us will not be living to-morrow. Remember
what I tell you: if I fall in this duel, it will be to your interest to
have this matter stop then and there. I submit to death myself; but I
exact liberty for her--liberty, with peace and respect. Think it over,
Monsieur; at the first outrage, I shall arise from my tomb to prevent a
second, and dig a trench between you and her which never can be crossed\
--the penitentiary!"

CHAPTER XXIV

A FRIEND'S ADVICE

After she came out of her faint, Madame de Bergenheim remained for a long
time in a dazed condition, and did not realize, save in a confused
manner, her real position. She saw vaguely, at her first glance, the
curtains of the bed upon which she lay, and thought that she had awakened
from an ordinary sleep. Little by little, her thoughts became clearer,
and she saw that she was fully dressed, also that her room seemed
brighter than it usually was with only her night-lamp lighted. She
noticed between the half-open curtains a gigantic form reflected almost
to the ceiling opposite her bed. She sat up and distinctly saw a man
sitting in the corner by the fireplace. Frozen with terror, she fell
back upon her pillow as she recognized her husband. Then she remembered
everything, even the slightest details of the scene in the small parlor.
She felt ready to faint again when she heard Christian's steps upon the
carpet, although he walked with great precaution.

The Baron looked at her a moment, and then, opening the bed-curtains, he
said:

"You can not pass the night thus, it is nearly three o'clock. You must
go to bed as usual."

Clemence shivered at these words, whose accent, however, was not hard.
She obeyed mechanically; but she had hardly risen when she was obliged to
recline upon the bed, for her trembling limbs would not support her.

"Do not be afraid of me," said Bergenheim, drawing back a few steps; "my
presence should not frighten you. I only wish that people should know
that I have passed the night in your chamber, for it is possible that my
return may arouse suspicion. You know that our love is only a comedy
played for the benefit of our servants."

There was such affected lightness in these remarks that the young woman
was cut to the very quick. She had expected an explosion of anger, but
not this calm contempt. Her revolted pride gave her courage.

"I do not deserve to be treated thus," said she; "do not condemn me
without a hearing."

"I ask nothing of you," replied Christian, who seated himself again
beside the mantel; "undress yourself, and go to sleep if it is possible
for you to do so. It is not necessary for Justine to make any comments
tomorrow about your day clothes not having been removed."

Instead of obeying him, she went toward him and tried to remain standing
in order to speak to him, but her emotion was so intense that it took
away her strength and she was obliged to sit down.

"You treat me too cruelly, Christian," said she, when she had succeeded
to recover her voice. "I am not guilty; at least, not so much as you
think I am--" said she, drooping her head.

He looked at her attentively for a moment, and then replied, in a voice
which did not betray the slightest emotion:

"You must know that my greatest desire is to be persuaded of this by you.
I know that too often appearances are deceitful; perhaps you will be able
to explain to me what took place last evening; I am still inclined to
believe your word. Swear to me that you do not love Monsieur de
Gerfaut."

"I swear it!" said she, in a weak voice, and without raising her eyes.

He went to the bed and took down a little silver crucifix which was
hanging above it.

"Swear it to me upon this crucifix," said he, presenting it to his wife.

She tried in vain to raise her hand, which seemed fastened to the arm of
her chair.

"I swear it!" she stammered a second time, while her face became as pale
as death.

A savage laugh escaped Christian's lips. He put the crucifix in its
place again without saying a word, then he opened the secret panel and,
taking out the casket, placed it upon the table before his wife. She
made a movement as if to seize it, but her courage failed her.

"You have perjured yourself to your husband and to God!" said Bergenheim
slowly. "Do you know what kind of woman you are?"

Clemence remained for some time powerless to reply; her respiration was
so painful that each breath seemed like suffocation; her head, after
rolling about on the back of the chair, fell upon her breast, like a
blade of grass broken and bruised by the rain.

"If you have read those letters," she murmured, when she had strength
enough to speak, "you must know that I am not as unworthy as you think.
I am very guilty--but I still have a right to be forgiven."

Christian, at this moment, had he been gifted with the intelligence which
fathoms the mysteries of the heart, might have renewed the bonds which
were so near being broken; he could at least have stopped Clemence upon a
dangerous path and saved her from a most irreparable fall. But his
nature was too unrefined for him to see the degrees which separate
weakness from vice, and the intoxication of a loving heart from the
depravity of a corrupt character. With the obstinacy of narrow-minded
people, he had been looking at the whole thing in its worst light, and
for several hours already he had decided upon his wife's guilt in his own
mind; this served now as a foundation for his stern conduct. His
features remained perfectly impassive as he listened to Clemence's words
of justification, which she uttered in a weak, broken voice.

"I know that I merit your hatred-but if you could know how much I suffer,
you would surely forgive me--You left me in Paris very young,
inexperienced; I ought to have fought against this feeling better than I
did, but I used up in this struggle all the strength that I had--You can
see how pale and changed I have become within the past year. I have aged
several years in those few months; I am not yet what you call a--a lost
woman. He ought to have told you that--"

"Oh, he has! of course he has," replied Christian with bitter irony.
"Oh, you have in him a loyal cavalier!"

"You do not believe me, then! you do not believe me!" she continued,
wringing her hands in despair; "but read these letters, the last ones.
See whether one writes like this to a woman who is entirely lost--"

She tried to take the package which her husband held; instead of giving
the letters to her, he lighted them at the candle and then threw them
into the fireplace. Clemence uttered a cry and darted forward to save
them, but Christian's iron hand seized her and pushed her back into her
chair.

"I understand how much you care for this correspondence," said he, in a
more excited tone, "but you are more loving than prudent. Let me destroy
one witness which accuses you. Do you know that I have already killed a
man on account of these letters?"

"Killed!" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, whom this word drove almost to
madness, for she could not understand its real meaning and applied it to
her lover. "Well, then, kill me too, for I lied when I said that I
repented. I do not repent! I am guilty! I deceived you! I love him
and I abhor you; I love him! kill me!"

She fell upon her knees before him and dragged herself along the floor,
striking her head upon it as if she wished to break it. Christian raised
her and seated her in the chair, in spite of her resistance. She
struggled in her husband's arms, and the only words which she uttered
were: "I love him! kill me! I love him! kill me!"

Her grief was so intense that Bergenheim really pitied her.

"You did not understand me," he said, "he is not the man I killed."

She became motionless, dumb. He left her then, from a feeling of
compassion, and returned to his seat. They remained for some time seated
in this way, one on each side of the fireplace; he, with his head leaning
against the mantel; she, crouched in her chair with her face concealed
behind her hands; only the striking of the clock interrupted this silence
and lulled their gloomy thoughts with its monotonous vibrations.

A sharp, quick sound against one of the windows interrupted this sad
scene. Clemence arose suddenly as if she had received a galvanic shock;
her frightened eyes met her husband's. He made an imperious gesture with
his hand as if to order silence, and both listened attentively and
anxiously.

The same noise was heard a second time. A rattling against the blinds
was followed by a dry, metallic sound, evidently caused by the contact of
some body against the window.

"It is some signal," said Christian in a low voice, as he looked at his
wife. "You probably know what it means."

"I do not, I swear to you," replied Clemence, her heart throbbing with a
new emotion.

"I will tell you, then; he is there and he has something to say to you.
Rise and open the window."

"Open the window?" said she, with a frightened look.

"Do what I tell you. Do you wish him to pass the night under your
window, so that the servants may see him?"

At this command, spoken in a severe tone, she arose. Noticing that their
shadows might be seen from the outside when the curtains were drawn,
Bergenheim changed the candles to another place. Clemence walked slowly
toward the window; she had hardly opened it, when a purse fell upon the
floor.

"Close it now," said the Baron. While his wife was quietly obeying, he
picked up the purse, and opening it, took the following note from it:

"I have ruined you--you for whom I would gladly have died! But of
what use are regrets and despair now? And my blood will not wipe
away your tears. Our position is so frightful that I tremble so
speak of it. I ought to tell you the truth, however, horrible as it
may be. Do not curse me, Clemence; do not impute to me this
fatality, which obliges me thus to torture you. In a few hours I
shall have expiated the wrongs of my love, or you yourself may be
free. Free! pardon me for using this word; I know it is an odious
one to you, but I am too troubled to find another. Whatever
happens, I am about to put within your reach the only aid which it
is possible for me to offer you; it will at least give you a choice
of unhappiness. If you never see me again, to live with him will be
a torture beyond your strength, perhaps, for you love me. I do not
know how to express my thoughts, and I dare not offer you advice or
entreat you. All that I feel is the necessity of telling you that
my whole life belongs to you, that I am yours until death; but I
hardly dare have the courage to lay at your feet the offering of a
destiny already so sad, and which may soon be stained with blood.
A fatal necessity sometimes imposes actions which public opinion
condemns, but the heart excuses, for it alone understands them.
Do not be angry at what you are about to read; never did words like
these come out of a more desolate heart. During the whole day a
post-chaise will wait for you at the rear of the Montigny plateau;
a fire lighted upon the rock which you can see from your room will
notify you of its presence. In a short time it can reach the Rhine.
A person devoted to you will accompany you to Munich, to the house
of one of my relatives, whose character and position will assure you
sufficient protection from all tyranny. There, at least, you will
be permitted to weep. That is all that I can do for you. My heart
is broken when I think of the powerlessness of my love. They say
that when one crushes the scorpion which has wounded him, he is
cured; even my death will not repair the wrong that I have done you;
it will only be one grief the more. Can you understand how
desperate is the feeling which I experience now? For months past,
to be loved by you has been the sole desire of my heart, and now I
must repent ever having attained it. Out of pity for you, I ought
to wish that you did love me with a love as perishable as my life,
so that a remembrance of me would leave you in peace. All this is
so sad that I have not the courage to continue. Adieu, Clemence!
Once more, one last time, I must say: I love you! and yet, I dare
not. I feel unworthy to speak to you thus, for my love has become a
disastrous gift. Did I not ruin you? The only word that seems to
be permissible is the one that even a murderer dares to address to
his God: pardon me!"

After reading this, the Baron passed the letter to his wife without
saying a word, and resumed his sombre attitude.

"You see what he asks of you?" he said, after a rather long pause, as he
observed the dazed way in which Madame de Bergenheim's eyes wandered over
this letter.

"My head is bewildered," she replied, "I do not understand what he says--
Why does he speak of death?"

Christian's lips curled disdainfully as he answered:

"It does not concern you; one does not kill women."

"They need it not to die," replied Clemence, who gazed at her husband
with wild, haggard eyes.

"Then you are going to fight?" she added, after a moment's pause.

"Really, have you divined as much?" he replied, with an ironical smile;
"it is a wonderful thing how quick is your intelligence! You have spoken
the truth. You see, each of us has his part to play. The wife deceives
her husband; the husband fights with the lover, and the lover in order to
close the comedy in a suitable manner--proposes to run away with the
wife, for that is the meaning of his letter, notwithstanding all his
oratorical precautions."

"You are going to fight!" she exclaimed, with the energy of despair.
"You are going to fight! And for me--unworthy and miserable creature
that I am! What have you done? And is he not free to love? I alone am
the guilty one, I alone have offended you, and I alone deserve
punishment. Do with me what you will; shut me up in a convent or a cell;
bring me poison, I will drink it."

The Baron burst into sardonic laughter.

"So you are afraid that I shall kill, him?" said he, gazing at her
intently, with his arms crossed upon his breast.

"I fear for you, for us all. Do you think that I can live after causing
blood to be shed? If there must be a victim, take me--or, at least,
begin with me. Have pity! tell me that you will not fight."

"But think--there is an even chance that you may be set free!" said he.

"Spare me!" she murmured, shivering with horror.

"It is a pity that blood must be shed, is it not?" said Bergenheim, in a
mocking tone; "adultery would be pleasant but for that. I am sure that
you think me coarse and brutal to look upon your honor as a serious
thing, when you do not do so yourself."

"I entreat you!"

"I am the one who has to entreat you. This astonishes you, does it not?
--While I live, I shall protect your reputation in spite of yourself; but
if I die, try to guard it yourself. Content yourself with having
betrayed me; do not outrage my memory. I am glad now that we have no
children, for I should fear for them, and should feel obliged to deprive
you of their care as much as lay in my power. That is one trouble the
less. But as you bear my name, and I can not take it away from you,
I beg of you do not drag it in the mire when I shall not be here to wash
it for you."

The young woman fell back upon her seat as if every fibre in her body had
been successively torn to pieces.

"You crush me to the earth!" she said, feebly.

"This revolts you," continued the husband, who seemed to choose the most
cutting thrust; "you are young; this is your first error, you are not
made for such adventures. But rest assured, one becomes accustomed to
everything. A lover always knows how to find the most beautiful phrases
with which to console a widow and vanquish her repugnances."

"You are killing me," she murmured, falling back almost unconscious in
her chair.

Christian leaned over her, and, taking her by the arm, said in a low
tone:

"Remember, if I die and he asks you to follow him, you will be an
infamous creature if you obey him. He is a man to glory in you; that is
easy enough to see. He is a man who would drag you after him--"

"Oh! have pity--I shall die--"

Clemence closed her eyes and her lips twitched convulsively.

The first rays of the morning sun fell upon another scene in the opposite
wing of the chateau. Marillac was quietly sleeping the sleep of the just
when he was suddenly awakened by a shaking that nearly threw him out of
his bed.

"Go to the devil!" he said, angrily, when he succeeded in half opening
his heavy eyes, and recognized Gerfaut standing beside his bed.

"Get up!" said the latter, taking him by the arm to give more force to
his command.

The artist covered himself with the clothes up to his chin.

"Are you walking in your sleep or insane?" asked Marillac, "or do you
want me to go to work?" he added, as he saw that his friend had some
papers in his hand. "You know very well I never have any ideas when
fasting, and that I am stupid until noon."

"Get up at once!" said Gerfaut, "I must have a talk with you."

There was something so serious and urgent in Gerfaut's accent as he said
these words, that the artist got up at once and hurriedly dressed
himself.

"What is the matter?" he asked, as he put on his dressing-gown, "you
look as if the affairs of the nation rested upon you."

"Put on your coat and boots," said Octave, "you must go to
La Fauconnerie. They are used to seeing you go out early in
the morning for your appointments with Reine, and therefore--"

"It is to this shepherdess you would send me!" interrupted the artist,
as he began to undress himself; "in that case I will go to bed again.
Enough of that!"

"I am to fight with Bergenheim at nine o'clock!" said Gerfaut, in a low
voice.

"Stupendous!" exclaimed Marillac, as he jumped back a few steps, and
then stood as motionless as a statue. Without wasting any time in
unnecessary explanations, his friend gave him a brief account of the
night's events.

"Now," said he, "I need you; can I count upon your friendship?"

"In life and in death!" exclaimed Marillac, and he pressed his hand with
the emotion that the bravest of men feel at the approach of a danger
which threatens one who is dear to them.

"Here," said Gerfaut, as he handed him the papers in his hand, "is a
letter for you in which you will find my instructions in full; they will
serve you as a guide, according to circumstances. This sealed paper will
be deposited by you in the office of the public prosecutor at Nancy,
under certain circumstances which my note explains. Finally, this is my
will. I have no very near relative; I have made you my heir.

"Listen to me! I do not know a more honest man than you, that is the
reason why I select you. First, this legacy is a trust. I speak to you
now in case of events which probably will never happen, but which I ought
to prepare for. I do not know what effect this may have upon Clemence's
fate; her aunt, who is very austere, may quarrel with her and deprive her
of her rights; her personal fortune is not very large, I believe, and I
know nothing about her marriage settlement. She may thus be entirely at
her husband's mercy, and that is what I will not allow. My fortune is
therefore a trust that you will hold to be placed at her disposal at any
time. I hope that she loves me enough not to refuse this service of me."

"Well and good!" said Marillac; "I will admit that the thought of
inheriting from you choked me like a noose around my neck."

"I beg of you to accept for yourself my copyrights as author. You can
not refuse that," said Gerfaut, with a half smile; "this legacy belongs
to the domain of art. To whom should I leave it if not to you, my
Patroclus, my faithful collaborator?"

The artist took several agitated turns about his room.

"To think," he exclaimed, "that I was the one who saved this Bergenheim's
life! If he kills you, I shall never forgive myself. And yet, I told
you this would end in some tragic manner."

"What business had he there? Is it not so? What can I say? We were
seeking for a drama; here it is. I am not anxious on my own account, but
on hers. Unhappy woman! A duel is a stone that might fall upon a man's
head twenty times a day; it is sufficient for a simpleton if you stare at
him, or for an awkward fellow if you tread upon his toes; but on her
account--poor angel!--I can not think of it. I need the fullest command
of my head and my heart. But it is growing lighter; there is not a
moment to lose. Go to the stable; saddle a horse yourself, if there is
no servant up; go, as I said, to La Fauconnerie; I have often seen a
post-chaise in the tavern courtyard; order it to wait all day at the back
of the Montigny plateau. You will find everything explained in detail in
the note which I have given you. Here is my purse; I need no money."

Marillac put the purse in his pocket and the papers in his memorandum-
book; he then buttoned up his redingote and put on his travelling cap.
His countenance showed a state of exaltation which belied, for the time
being, the pacific theories he had expounded a few days before.

"You can depend upon me as upon yourself," said he with energy.
"If this poor woman calls for my aid, I promise you that I will serve her
faithfully. I will take her wherever she wishes; to China, if she asks
it, and in spite of the whole police force. If Bergenheim kills you and
then follows her up, there will be another duel."

As he said these words, he took his stiletto and a pair of pistols from
the mantel and put them in his pocket, after examining the edge of the
one and the caps of the others.

"Adieu!" said Gerfaut.

"Adieu!" said the artist, whose extreme agitation contrasted strongly
with his friend's calm. "Rest easy! I will look after her--and I will
publish a complete edition--But what an idea--to accept a duel as
irregular as this! Have you ever seen him use a gun? He had no right to
exact this."

"Hurry! you must leave before the servants are up."

"Kiss me, my poor fellow!" said Marillac, with tears in his eyes; "it is
not very manly I know, but I can not help it--Oh! these women! I adore
them, of course; but just now I am like Nero, I wish that they all had
but one head. It is for these little, worthless dolls that we kill each
other!"

"You can curse them on your way," said Gerfaut, who was impatient to see

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