This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author’s ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
MONSIEUR DE CAMORS
By OCTAVE FEUILLET
THE COUNTESS DE CAMORS
After passing the few weeks of the honeymoon at Reuilly, the Comte and Comtesse de Camors returned to Paris and established themselves at their hotel in the Rue de l’Imperatrice. From this moment, and during the months that followed, the young wife kept up an active correspondence with her mother; and we here transcribe some of the letters, which will make us more intimately acquainted with the character of the young woman.
Madame de Camors to Madame de Tecle. “October.
“Am I happy? No, my dearest mother! No–not happy! I have only wings and soar to heaven like a bird! I feel the sunshine in my head, in my eyes, in my heart.
“It blinds me, it enchants me, it causes me to shed delicious tears! Happy? No, my tender mother; that is not possible, when I think that I am his wife! The wife–understand me–of him who has reigned in my poor thoughts since I was able to think–of him whom I should have chosen out of the whole universe! When I remember that I am his wife, that we are united forever, how I love life! how I love you! how I love God!
“The Bois and the lake are within a few steps of us, as you know. We ride thither nearly every morning, my husband and I!–I repeat, I and my husband! We go there, my husband and I–I and my husband!
“I know not how it is, but it is always delicious weather to me, even when it rains–as it does furiously to-day; for we have just come in, driven home by the storm.
“During our ride to-day, I took occasion to question him quietly as to some points of our history which puzzled me. First, why had he married me?
“‘Because you pleased me apparently, Miss Mary.’ He likes to give me this name, which recalls to him I know not what episode of my untamed youth–untamed still to him.
“‘If I pleased you, why did I see you so seldom?’
“‘Because I did not wish to court you until I had decided on marrying.’
“‘How could I have pleased you, not being at all beautiful?’
“‘You are not beautiful, it is true,’ replies this cruel young man, ‘but you are very pretty; and above all you are grace itself, like your mother.’
“All these obscure points being cleared up to the complete satisfaction of Miss Mary, Miss Mary took to fast galloping; not because it was raining, but because she became suddenly–we do not know the reason why–as red as a poppy.
“Oh, beloved mother! how sweet it is to be loved by him we adore, and to be loved precisely as we wish–as we have dreamed–according to the exact programme of our young, romantic hearts!
“Did you ever believe I had ideas on such a delicate subject? Yes, dear mother, I had them. Thus, it seemed to me there were many different styles of loving–some vulgar, some pretentious, some foolish, and others, again, excessively comic. None of these seemed suited to the Prince, our neighbor. I ever felt he should love, like the Prince he is, with grace and dignity; with serious tenderness, a little stern perhaps; with amiability, but almost with condescension–as a lover, but as a master, too–in fine, like my husband!
“Dear angel, who art my mother! be happy in my happiness, which was your sole work. I kiss your hands–I kiss your wings!
“I thank you! I bless you! I adore you!
“If you were near me, it would be too much happiness! I should die, I think. Nevertheless, come to us very soon. Your chamber awaits you. It is as blue as the heavens in which I float. I have already told you this, but I repeat it.
“Good-by, mother of the happiest woman in the world!
“Comtesse de Camors.”
“You made me weep–I who await you every morning. I will say nothing to you, however; I will not beg you. If the health of my grandfather seems to you so feeble as to demand your presence, I know no prayer would take you away from your duty. Nor would I make the prayer, my angel mother!
“But exaggerate nothing, I pray you, and think your little Marie can not pass by the blue chamber without feeling a swelling of the heart. Apart from this grief which you cause her, she continues to be as happy as even you could wish.
“Her charming Prince is ever charming and ever her Prince! He takes her to see the monuments, the museums, the theatres, like the poor little provincial that she is. Is it not touching on the part of so great a personage?
“He is amused at my ecstasies–for I have ecstasies. Do not breathe it to my Uncle Des Rameures, but Paris is superb! The days here count double our own for thought and life.
“My husband took me to Versailles yesterday. I suspect that this, in the eyes of the people here, is rather a ridiculous episode; for I notice the Count did not boast of it. Versailles corresponds entirely with the impressions you had given me of it; for there is not the slightest change since you visited it with my grandfather.
“It is grand, solemn, and cold. There is, though, a new and very curious museum in the upper story of the palace, consisting chiefly of original portraits of the famous men of history. Nothing pleases me more than to see these heroes of my memory passing before me in grand procession–from Charles the Bold to George Washington. Those faces my imagination has so often tried to evoke, that it seems to me we are in the Elysian Fields, and hold converse with the dead:
“You must know, my mother, I was familiar with many things that surprised M. de Camors very much. He was greatly struck by my knowledge of science and my genius. I did no more, as you may imagine, than respond to his questions; but it seemed to astonish him that I could respond at all.
“Why should he ask me these things? If he did not know how to distinguish the different Princesses of Conti, the answer is simple.
“But I knew, because my mother taught me. That is simple enough too.
“We dined afterward, at my suggestion, at a restaurant. Oh, my mother! this was the happiest moment of my life! To dine at a restaurant with my husband was the most delightful of all dissipations!
“I have said he seemed astonished at my learning. I ought to add in general, he seemed astonished whenever I opened my lips. Did he imagine me a mute? I speak little, I acknowledge, however, for he inspires me with a ceaseless fear: I am afraid of displeasing him, of appearing silly before him, or pretentious, or pedantic. The day when I shall be at ease with him, and when I can show him my good sense and gratitude–if that day ever comes–I shall be relieved of a great weight on my mind, for truly I sometimes fear he looks on me as a child.
“The other day I stopped before a toy-shop on the Boulevard. What a blunder! And as he saw my eye fixed on a magnificent squadron of dolls–
“‘Do you wish one, Miss Mary?’ he said.
“Was not this horrible, my mother–from him who knows everything except the Princesses of Conti? He explained everything to me; but briefly in a word, as if to a person he despaired of ever making understand him. And I understand so well all the time, my poor little mother!
“But so much the better, say I; for if he loves me while thinking me silly, what will it be later!
“With fond love, your
“All Paris has returned once more, my dear mother, and for fifteen days I have been occupied with visits. The men here do not usually visit; but my husband is obliged to present me for the first time to the persons I ought to know. He accompanies me there, which is much more agreeable to me than to him, I believe.
“He is more serious than usual. Is not this the only form in which amiable men show their bad humor? The people we visit look on me with a certain interest. The woman whom this great lord has honored with his choice is evidently an object of great curiosity. This flatters and intimidates me; I blush and feel constrained; I appear awkward. When they find me awkward and insignificant, they stare. They believe he married me for my fortune: then I wish to cry. We reenter the carriage, he smiles upon me, and I am in heaven! Such are our visits.
“You must know, my mother, that to me Madame Campvallon is divine. She often takes me to her box at the Italiens, as mine will not be vacant until January. Yesterday she gave a little fete for me in her beautiful salon: the General opened the ball with me.
“Oh! my mother, what a wonderfully clever man the General is! And I admire him because he admires you!
“The Marquise presented to me all the best dancers. They were young gentlemen, with their necks so uncovered it almost gave me a chill. I never before had seen men bare-necked and the fashion is not becoming. It was very evident, however, that they considered themselves indispensable and charming. Their deportment was insolent and self-sufficient; their eyes were disdainful and all- conquering.
“Their mouths ever open to breathe freer, their coat-tails flapping like wings, they take one by the waist–as one takes his own property. Informing you by a look that they are about to do you the honor of removing you, they whirl you away; then, panting for breath, inform you by another look that they will do themselves the pleasure of stopping–and they stop. Then they rest a moment, panting, laughing, showing their teeth; another look–and they repeat the same performance. They are wonderful!
“Louis waltzed with me and seemed satisfied. I saw him for the first time waltz with the Marquise. Oh, my mother, it was the dance of the stars!
“One thing which struck me this evening, as always, was the manifest idolatry with which the women regard my husband. This, my tender mother, terrifies me. Why–I ask myself–why did he choose me? How can I please him? How can I succeed?
“Behold the result of all my meditations! A folly perhaps, but of which the effect is to reassure me:
“Portrait of the Comtesse de Camors, drawn by herself.
“The Comtesse de Camors, formerly Marie de Tecle, is a personage who, having reached her twentieth year, looks older. She is not beautiful, as her husband is the first person to confess. He says she is pretty; but she doubts even this. Let us see. She has very long limbs, a fault which she shares with Diana, the Huntress, and which probably gives to the gait of the Countess a lightness it might not otherwise possess. Her body is naturally short, and on horseback appears to best advantage. She is plump without being gross.
“Her features are irregular; the mouth being too large and the lips too thick, with–alas! the shade of a moustache; white teeth, a little too small; a commonplace nose, a slightly pug; and her mother’s eyes–her best feature. She has the eyebrows of her Uncle Des Rameures, which gives an air of severity to the face and neutralizes the good-natured expression-a reflex from the softness of her heart.
“She has the dark complexion of her mother, which is more becoming to her mother than to her. Add to all this, blue-black hair in great silky masses. On the whole, one knows not what to pronounce her.
“There, my mother, is my portrait! Intended to reassure me, it has hardly done so; for it seems to me to be that of an ugly little woman!
“I wish to be the most lively of women; I wish to be one of the most distinguished. I wish to be one of the most captivating! But, oh, my mother! if I please him I am still more enchanted! On the whole, thank God! he finds me perhaps much better than I am: for men have not the same taste in these matters that we have.
“But what I really can not comprehend, is why he has so little admiration for the Marquise de Campvallon. His manner is very cold to her. Were I a man, I should be wildly in love with that superb woman! Good-night, most beloved of mothers!
“You complain of me, my cherished one! The tone of my letters wounds you! You can not comprehend how this matter of my personal appearance haunts me. I scrutinize it; I compare it with that of others. There is something of levity in that which hurts you? You ask how can I think a man attaches himself to these things, while the merits of mind and soul go for nothing?
“But, my dearest mother, how will these merits of mind and of soul –supposing your daughter to possess them–serve her, unless she possesses the courage or has the opportunity to display them? And when I summon up the courage, it seems to me the occasion never comes.
“For I must confess to you that this delicious Paris is not perfect; and I discover, little by little, the spots upon the sun.
“Paris is the most charming place! The only pity is that it has inhabitants! Not but that they are agreeable, for they are only too much so; only they are also very careless, and appear to my view to live and die without reflecting much on what they are doing. It is not their fault; they have no time.
“Without leaving Paris, they are incessant travellers, eternally distracted by motion and novelty. Other travellers, when they have visited some distant corner–forgetting for a while their families, their duties, and their homes–return and settle down again. But these Parisians never do. Their life is an endless voyage; they have no home. That which elsewhere is the great aim of life is secondary here. One has here, as elsewhere, an establishment–a house, a private chamber. One must have. Here one is wife or mother, husband or father, just as elsewhere; but, my poor mother, they are these things just as little as possible. The whole interest centres not in the homes; but in the streets, the museums, the salons, the theatres, and the clubs. It radiates to the immense outside life, which in all its forms night and day agitates Paris, attracts, excites, and enervates you; steals your time, your mind, your soul–and devours them all!
“Paris is the most delicious of places to visit–the worst of places to live in.
“Understand well, my mother, that in seeking by what qualifies I can best attract my husband–who is the best of men, doubtless, but of Parisian men nevertheless–I have continually reflected on merits which may be seen at once, which do not require time to be appreciated.
“Finally, I do not deny that all this is miserable cynicism, unworthy of you and of myself; for you know I am not at heart a bad little woman. Certainly, if I could keep Monsieur de Camors for a year or two at an old chateau in the midst of a solitary wood, I should like it much. I could then see him more frequently, I could then become familiar with his august person, and could develop my little talents under his charmed eyes. But then this might weary him and would be too easy. Life and happiness, I know, are not so easily managed. All is difficulty, peril, and conflict.
“What joy, then, to conquer! And I swear to you, my mother, that I will conquer! I will force him to know me as you know me; to love me, not as he now does, but as you do, for many good reasons of which he does not yet dream.
“Not that he believes me absolutely a fool; I think he has abandoned that idea for at least two days past.
“How he came thus to think, my next letter shall explain.
THE REPTILE STRIVES TO CLIMB
“You will remember, my mother, that the Count has as secretary a man named Vautrot. The name is a bad one; but the man himself is a good enough creature, except that I somewhat dislike his catlike style of looking at one.
“Well, Monsieur de Vautrot lives in the house with us. He comes early in the morning, breakfasts at some neighboring cafe, passes the day in the Count’s study, and often remains to dine with us, if he has work to finish in the evening.
“He is an educated man, and knows a little of everything; and he has undertaken many occupations before he accepted the subordinate though lucrative post he now occupies with my husband. He loves literature; but not that of his time and of his country, perhaps because he himself has failed in this. He prefers foreign writers and poets, whom he quotes with some taste, though with too much declamation.
“Most probably his early education was defective; for on all occasions, when speaking with us, he says, ‘Yes, Monsieur le Comte!’ or ‘Certainly, Madame la Comtesse!’ as if he were a servant. Yet withal, he has a peculiar pride, or perhaps I should say insufferable vanity. But his great fault, in my eyes, is the scoffing tone he adopts, when the subject is religion or morals.
“Two days ago, while we were dining, Vautrot allowed himself to indulge in a rather violent tirade of this description. It was certainly contrary to all good taste.
“‘My dear Vautrot,’ my husband said quietly to him, ‘to me these pleasantries of yours are indifferent; but pray remember, that while you are a strong-minded man, my wife is a weak-minded woman; and strength, you know, should respect weakness.’
“Monsieur Vautrot first grew white, then red, and finally green. He rose, bowed awkwardly, and immediately afterward left the table. Since that time I have remarked his manner has been more reserved. The moment I was alone with Louis, I said:
“‘You may think me indiscreet, but pray let me ask you a question. How can you confide all your affairs and all your secrets to a man who professes to have no principles?’
“Monsieur de Camors laughed.
“‘Oh, he talks thus out of bravado,’ he answered. ‘He thinks to make himself more interesting in your eyes by these Mephistophelian airs. At bottom he is a good fellow.’
“‘But,’ I answered, ‘he has faith in nothing.’
“‘Not in much, I believe. Yet he has never deceived me. He is an honorable man.’
“I opened my eyes wide at this.
“‘Well,’ he said, with an amused look, ‘what is the matter, Miss Mary?’
“‘What is this honor you speak of?’
“‘Let me ask your definition of it, Miss Mary,’ he replied.
“‘Mon Dieu!’ I cried, blushing deeply, ‘I know but little of it, but it seems to me that honor separated from morality is no great thing; and morality without religion is nothing. They all constitute a chain. Honor hangs to the last link, like a flower; but if the chain be broken, honor falls with the rest.’ He looked at me with strange eyes, as if he were not only confounded but disquieted by my philosophy. Then he gave a deep sigh, and rising said:
“‘Very neat, that definition-very neat.’
“That night, at the opera, he plied me with bonbons and orange ices. Madame de Campvallon accompanied us; and at parting, I begged her to call for me next day on her way to the Bois, for she is my idol. She is so lovely and so distinguished–and she I knows it well. I love to be with her. On our return home, Louis remained silent, contrary to his custom. Suddenly he said, brusquely:
“‘Marie, do you go with the Marquise to the Bois to-morrow?’
“‘But you see her often, it seems to me-morning and evening. You are always with her.’
“‘Heavens! I do it to be agreeable to you. Is not Madame de Campvallon a good associate?’
“‘Excellent; only in general I do not admire female friendships. But I did wrong to speak to you on this subject. You have wit and discretion enough to preserve the proper limits.’
“This, my mother, was what he said to me. I embrace you.
“I hope, my own mother, not to bore you this year with a catalogue of fetes and festivals, lamps and girandoles; for Lent is coming. To-day is Ash-Wednesday. Well, we dance to-morrow evening at Madame d’Oilly’s. I had hoped not to go, but I saw Louis was disappointed, and I feared to offend Madame d’Oilly, who has acted a mother’s part to my husband. Lent here is only an empty name. I sigh to myself: ‘Will they never stop! Great heavens! will they never cease amusing themselves?’
“I must confess to you, my darling mother, I amuse myself too much to be happy. I depended on Lent for some time to myself, and see how they efface the calendar!
“This dear Lent! What a sweet, honest, pious invention it is, notwithstanding. How sensible is our religion! How well it understands human weakness and folly! How far-seeing in its regulations! How indulgent also! for to limit pleasure is to pardon it.
“I also love pleasure–the beautiful toilets that make us resemble flowers, the lighted salons, the music, the gay voices and the dance. Yes, I love all these things; I experience their charming confusion; I palpitate, I inhale their intoxication. But always– always! at Paris in the winter–at the springs in summer–ever this crowd, ever this whirl, this intoxication of pleasure! All become like savages, like negroes, and–dare I say so?–bestial! Alas for Lent!
“HE foresaw it. HE told us, as the priest told me this morning: ‘Remember you have a soul: Remember you have duties!–a husband –a child–a mother–a God!’
“Then, my mother, we should retire within ourselves; should pass the time in grave thought between the church and our homes; should converse on solemn and serious subjects; and should dwell in the moral world to gain a foothold in heaven! This season is intended as a wholesome interval to prevent our running frivolity into dissipation, and pleasure into convulsion; to prevent our winter’s mask from becoming our permanent visage. This is entirely the opinion of Madame Jaubert.
“Who is this Madame Jaubert? you will ask. She is a little Parisian angel whom my mother would dearly love! I met her almost everywhere–but chiefly at St. Phillipe de Roule–for several months without being aware that she is our neighbor, that her hotel adjoins ours. Such is Paris!
“She is a graceful person, with a soft and tender, but decided air. We sat near each other at church; we gave each other side-glances; we pushed our chairs to let each other pass; and in our softest voices would say, ‘Excuse me, Madame!’ ‘Oh, Madame!’ My glove would fall, she would pick it up; I would offer her the holy water, and receive a sweet smile, with ‘Dear Madame!’ Once at a concert at the Tuileries we observed each other at a distance, and smiled recognition; when any part of the music pleased us particularly we glanced smilingly at each other. Judge of my surprise next morning when I saw my affinity enter the little Italian house next ours–and enter it, too, as if it were her home. On inquiry I found she was Madame Jaubert, the wife of a tall, fair young man who is a civil engineer.
“I was seized with a desire to call upon my neighbor. I spoke of it to Louis, blushing slightly, for I remembered he did not approve of intimacies between women. But above all, he loves me!
“Notwithstanding he slightly shrugged his shoulders–‘Permit me at least, Miss Mary, to make some inquiries about these people.’
“A few days afterward he had made them, for he said: ‘Miss Mary, you may visit Madame Jaubert; she is a perfectly proper person.’
“I first flew to my husband’s neck, and thence went to call upon Madame Jaubert.
“‘It is I, Madame!’
“‘Oh, Madame, permit me!’
“And we embraced each other and were good friends immediately.
“Her husband is a civil engineer, as I have said. He was once occupied with great inventions and with great industrial works; but that was only for a short time. Having inherited a large estate, he abandoned his studies and did nothing–at least nothing but mischief. When he married to increase his fortune, his pretty little wife had a sad surprise. He was never seen at home; always at the club–always behind the scenes at the opera–always going to the devil! He gambled, he had mistresses and shameful affairs. But worse than all, he drank–he came to his wife drunk. One incident, which my pen almost refuses to write, will give you an idea. Think of it! He conceived the idea of sleeping in his boots! There, my mother, is the pretty fellow my sweet little friend transformed, little by little, into a decent man, a man of merit, and an excellent husband!
“And she did it all by gentleness, firmness, and sagacity. Now is not this encouraging?–for, God knows, my task is less difficult.
“Their household charms me; for it proves that one may build for one’s self, even in the midst of this Paris, a little nest such as one dreams of. These dear neighbors are inhabitants of Paris–not its prey. They have their fireside; they own it, and it belongs to them. Paris is at their door–so much the better. They have ever a relish for refined amusement; ‘they drink at the fountain,’ but do not drown themselves in it. Their habits are the same, passing their evenings in conversation, reading, or music; stirring the fire and listening to the wind and rain without, as if they were in a forest.
“Life slips gently through their fingers, thread by thread, as in our dear old country evenings.
“My mother, they are happy!
“Here, then, is my dream–here is my plan.
“My husband has no vices, as Monsieur Jaubert had. He has only the habits of all the brilliant men of his Paris-world. It is necessary, my own mother, gradually to reform him; to suggest insensibly to him the new idea that one may pass one evening at home in company with a beloved and loving wife, without dying suddenly of consumption.
“The rest will follow.
“What is this rest? It is the taste for a quiet life, for the serious sweetness of the domestic hearth–the family taste–the idea of seclusion–the recovered soul!
“Is it not so, my good angel? Then trust me. I am more than ever full of ardor, courage, and confidence. For he loves me with all his heart, with more levity, perhaps, than I deserve; but still–he loves me!
“He loves me; he spoils me; he heaps presents upon me. There is no pleasure he does not offer me, except, be it understood, the pleasure of passing one evening at home together.
“But he loves me! That is the great point–he loves me!
“Now, dearest mother, let me whisper one final word-a word that makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It seems to me that for some time past I have had two hearts–a large one of my own, and– another–smaller!
“Oh, my mother! I see you in tears. But it is a great mystery this. It is a dream of heaven; but perhaps only a dream, which I have not yet told even to my husband–only to my adorable mother! Do not weep, for it is not yet quite certain.
In reply to this letter Madame de Camors received one three mornings after, announcing to her the death of her grandfather. The Comte de Tecle had died of apoplexy, of which his state of health had long given warning. Madame de Tecle foresaw that the first impulse of her daughter would be to join her to share her sad bereavement. She advised her strongly against undertaking the fatigue of the journey, and promised to visit her in Paris, as soon as she conveniently could. The mourning in the family heightened in the heart of the Countess the uneasy feeling and vague sadness her last letters had indicated.
She was much less happy than she told her mother; for the first enthusiasm and first illusions of marriage could not long deceive a spirit so quick and acute as hers.
A young girl who marries is easily deceived by the show of an affection of which she is the object. It is rare that she does not adore her husband and believe she is adored by him, simply because he has married her.
The young heart opens spontaneously and diffuses its delicate perfume of love and its songs of tenderness; and enveloped in this heavenly cloud all seems love around it. But, little by little, it frees itself; and, too often, recognizes that this delicious harmony and intoxicating atmosphere which charmed it came only from itself.
Thus was it with the Countess; so far as the pen can render the shadows of a feminine soul. Such were the impressions which, day by day, penetrated the very soul of our poor “Miss Mary.”
It was nothing more than this; but this was everything to her!
The idea of being betrayed by her husband–and that, too, with cruel premeditation–never had arisen to torture her soul. But, beyond those delicate attentions to her which she never exaggerated in her letters to her mother, she felt herself disdained and slighted. Marriage had not changed Camors’s habits: he dined at home, instead of at his club, that was all. She believed herself loved, however, but with a lightness that was almost offensive. Yet, though she was sometimes sad and nearly in tears, she did not despair; this valiant little heart attached itself with intrepid confidence to all the happy chances the future might have in store for it.
M. de Camors continued very indifferent–as one may readily comprehend– to the agitation which tormented this young heart, but which never occurred to him for a moment. For himself, strange as it may appear, he was happy enough. This marriage had been a painful step to take; but, once confirmed in his sin, he became reconciled to it. But his conscience, seared as it was, had some living fibres in it; and he would not have failed in the duty he thought he owed to his wife. These sentiments were composed of a sort of indifference, blended with pity. He was vaguely sorry for this child, whose existence was absorbed and destroyed between those of two beings of nature superior to her own; and he hoped she would always remain ignorant of the fate to which she was condemned. He resolved never to neglect anything that might extenuate its rigor; but he belonged, nevertheless, more than ever solely to the passion which was the supreme crime of his life. For his intrigue with Madame de Campvallon, continually excited by mystery and danger–and conducted with profound address by a woman whose cunning was equal to her beauty–continued as strong, after years of enjoyment, as at first.
The gracious courtesy of M. de Camors, on which he piqued himself, as regarded his wife, had its limits; as the young Countess perceived whenever she attempted to abuse it. Thus, on several occasions she declined receiving guests on the ground of indisposition, hoping her husband would not abandon her to her solitude. She was in error.
The Count gave her in reality, under these circumstances, a tete-a-tete of a few minutes after dinner; but near nine o’clock he would leave her with perfect tranquillity. Perhaps an hour later she would receive a little packet of bonbons, or a pretty basket of choice fruit, that would permit her to pass the evening as she might. These little gifts she sometimes divided with her neighbor, Madame Jaubert; sometimes with M. de Vautrot, secretary to her husband.
This M. de Vautrot, for whom she had at first conceived an aversion, was gradually getting into her good graces. In the absence of her husband she always found him at hand; and referred to him for many little details, such as addresses, invitations, the selection of books and the purchase of furniture. From this came a certain familiarity; she began to call him Vautrot, or “My good Vautrot,” while he zealously performed all her little commissions. He manifested for her a great deal of respectful attention, and even refrained from indulging in the sceptical sneers which he knew displeased her. Happy to witness this reform and to testify her gratitude, she invited him to remain on two or three evenings when he came to take his leave, and talked with him of books and the theatres.
When her mourning kept her at home, M. de Camors passed the two first evenings with her until ten o’clock. But this effort fatigued him, and the poor young woman, who had already erected an edifice for the future on this frail basis, had the mortification of observing that on the third evening he had resumed his bachelor habits.
This was a great blow to her, and her sadness became greater than it had been up to that time; so much so in fact, that solitude was almost unbearable. She had hardly been long enough in Paris to form intimacies. Madame Jaubert came to her friend as often as she could; but in the intervals the Countess adopted the habit of retaining Vautrot, or even of sending for him. Camors himself, three fourths of the time, would bring him in before going out in the evening.
“I bring you Vautrot, my dear,” he would say, “and Shakespeare. You can read him together.”
Vautrot read well; and though his heavy declamatory style frequently annoyed the Countess, she thus managed to kill many a long evening, while waiting the expected visit of Madame de Tecle. But Vautrot, whenever he looked at her, wore such a sympathetic air and seemed so mortified when she did not invite him to stay, that, even when wearied of him, she frequently did so.
About the end of the month of April, M. Vautrot was alone with the Countess de Camors about ten o’clock in the evening. They were reading Goethe’s Faust, which she had never before heard. This reading seemed to interest the young woman more than usual, and with her eyes fixed on the reader, she listened to it with rapt attention. She was not alone fascinated by the work, but–as is frequently the case-she traced her own thoughts and her own history in the fiction of the poet.
We all know with what strange clairvoyance a mind possessed with a fixed idea discovers resemblances and allusions in accidental description. Madame de Camors perceived without doubt some remote connection between her husband and Faust–between herself and Marguerite; for she could not help showing that she was strangely agitated. She could not restrain the violence of her emotion, when Marguerite in prison cries out, in her agony and madness:
Who has given you, headsman, this power over me? You come to me while it is yet midnight. Be merciful and let me live.
Is not to-morrow morning soon enough?
I am yet so young–so young! and am to die already! I was fair, too; that was my undoing. My true love was near, now he is far away.
Torn lies my garland; scattered the flowers. Don’t take hold of me so roughly! spare me! spare me. What have I done to you? Let me not implore you in vain! I never saw you before in all my life; you know.
Can I endure this misery?
I am now entirely in thy power. Only let me give suck to the child. I pressed it this whole night to my heart. They took it away to vex me, and now say I killed it, and I shall never be happy again. They sing songs upon me! It is wicked of the people. An old tale ends so–who bids them apply it?
A lover lies at thy feet, to unloose the bonds of wickedness.
What a blending of confused sentiments, of powerful sympathies, of vague apprehensions, suddenly seized on the breast of the young Countess! One can hardly imagine their force–to the very verge of distracting her. She turned on her fauteuil and closed her beautiful eyes, as if to keep back the tears which rolled under the fringe of the long lashes.
At this moment Vautrot ceased to read, dropped his book, sighed profoundly, and stared a moment.
Then he knelt at the feet of the Comtesse de Camors! He took her hand; he said, with a tragic sigh, “Poor angel!”
It will be difficult to understand this incident and the unfortunately grave results that followed it, without having the moral and physical portrait of its principal actor.
M. Hippolyte Vautrot was a handsome man and knew it perfectly. He even flattered himself on a certain resemblance to his patron, the Comte de Camors. Partly from nature and partly from continual imitation, this idea had some foundation; for he resembled the Count as much as a vulgar man can resemble one of the highest polish.
He was the son of a small confectioner in the provinces; had received from his father an honestly acquired fortune, and had dissipated it in the varied enterprises of his adventurous life. The influence of his college, however, obtained for him a place in the Seminary. He left it to come to Paris and study law; placed himself with an attorney; attempted literature without success; gambled on the Bourse and lost there.
He had successively knocked with feverish hand at all the doors of Fortune, and none had opened to him, because, though his ambition was great, his capacity was limited. Subordinate positions, for which alone he was fit, he did not want. He would have made a good tutor: he sighed to be a poet. He would have been a respectable cure in the country: he pined to be a bishop. Fitted for an excellent secretary, he aspired to be a minister. In fine, he wished to be a great man, and consequently was a failure as a little one.
But he made himself a hypocrite; and that he found much easier. He supported himself on the one hand by the philosophic society to be met at Madame d’Oilly’s; on the other, by the orthodox reunions of Madame de la Roche-Jugan.
By these influences he contrived to secure the secretaryship to the Comte de Camors, who, in his general contempt of the human species, judged Vautrot to be as good as any other. Now, familiarity with M. de Camors was, morally, fearfully prejudicial to the secretary. It had, it is true, the effect of stripping off his devout mask, which he seldom put on before his patron; but it terribly increased in venom the depravity which disappointment and wounded pride had secreted in his ulcerated heart.
Of course no one will imagine that M. de Camors had the bad taste to undertake deliberately the demoralization of his secretary; but contact, intimacy, and example sufficed fully to do this. A secretary is always more or less a confidant. He divines that which is not revealed to him; and Vautrot could not be long in discovering that his patron’s success did not arise, morally, from too much principle–in politics, from excess of conviction–in business, from a mania for scruples! The intellectual superiority of Camors, refined and insolent as it was, aided to blind Vautrot, showing him evil which was not only prosperous, but was also radiant in grace and prestige. For these reasons he most profoundly admired his master–admired, imitated, and execrated him!
Camors professed for him and for his solemn airs an utter contempt, which he did not always take the trouble to conceal; and Vautrot trembled when some burning sarcasm fell from such a height on the old wound of his vanity–that wound which was ever sore within him. What he hated most in Camors was his easy and insolent triumph–his rapid and unmerited fortune–all those enjoyments which life yielded him without pain, without toil, without conscience–peacefully tasted! But what he hated above all, was that this man had thus obtained these things while he had vainly striven for them.
Assuredly, in this Vautrot was not an exception. The same example presented to a healthier mind would not have been much more salutary, for we must tell those who, like M. de Camors, trample under foot all principles of right, and nevertheless imagine that their secretaries, their servants, their wives and their children, may remain virtuous– we must tell these that while they wrong others they deceive themselves! And this was the case with Hippolyte Vautrot.
He was about forty years of age–a period of life when men often become very vicious, even when they have been passably virtuous up to that time. He affected an austere and puritanical air; was the great man of the cafe he frequented; and there passed judgment on his contemporaries and pronounced them all inferior. He was difficult to please–in point of virtue demanding heroism; in talent, genius; in art, perfection.
His political opinions were those of Erostratus, with this difference– always in favor of the ancient–that Vautrot, after setting fire to the temple, would have robbed it also. In short, he was a fool, but a vicious fool as well.
If M. de Camors, at the moment of leaving his luxurious study that evening, had had the bad taste to turn and apply his eye to the keyhole, he would have seen something greatly to astonish even him.
He would have seen this “honorable man” approach a beautiful Italian cabinet inlaid with ivory, turn over the papers in the drawers, and finally open in the most natural manner a very complicated lock, the key of which the Count at that moment had in his pocket.
It was after this search that M. Vautrot repaired with his volume of Faust to the boudoir of the young Countess, at whose feet we have already left him too long.
LIGHTNING FROM A CLEAR SKY
Madame de Camors had closed her eyes to conceal her tears. She opened them at the instant Vautrot seized her hand and called her “Poor angel!”
Seeing the man on his knees, she could not comprehend it, and only exclaimed, simply:
“Are you mad, Vautrot?”
“Yes, I am mad!” Vautrot threw his hair back with a romantic gesture common to him, and, as he believed, to the poets-“Yes, I am mad with love and with pity, for I see your sufferings, pure and noble victim!”
The Countess only stared in blank astonishment.
“Repose yourself with confidence,” he continued, “on a heart that will be devoted to you until death–a heart into which your tears now penetrate to its most sacred depths!”
The Countess did not wish her tears to penetrate to such a distance, so she dried them.
A man on his knees before a woman he adores must appear to her either sublime or ridiculous. Unfortunately, the attitude of Vautrot, at once theatrical and awkward, did not seem sublime to the Countess. To her lively imagination it was irresistibly ludicrous. A bright gleam of amusement illumined her charming countenance; she bit her lip to conceal it, but it shone out of her eyes nevertheless.
A man never should kneel unless sure of rising a conqueror. Otherwise, like Vautrot, he exposes himself to be laughed at.
“Rise, my good Vautrot,” the Countess said, gravely. “This book has evidently bewildered you. Go and take some rest and we will forget this; only you must never forget yourself again in this manner.”
Vautrot rose. He was livid.
“Madame la Comtesse,” he said, bitterly, “the love of a great heart never can be an offence. Mine at least would have been sincere; mine would have been faithful: mine would not have been an infamous snare!”
The emphasis of these words displayed so evident an intention, the countenance of the young woman changed immediately. She moved uneasily on her fauteuil.
“What do you mean, Monsieur Vautrot?”
“Nothing, Madame, which you do not know, I think,” he replied, meaningly.
“You shall explain your meaning immediately to me, Monsieur!” she exclaimed; “or later, to my husband.”
“But your sadness, your tears,” cried the secretary, in a tone of admirable sincerity–“these made me sure you were not ignorant of it!”
“Of what? You hesitate! Speak, man!”
“I am not a wretch! I love you and pity you!–that is all;” and Vautrot sighed deeply.
“And why do you pity me?” She spoke haughtily; and though Vautrot had never suspected this imperiousness of manner or of language, he reflected hurriedly on the point at which he had arrived. More sure than ever of success, after a moment he took from his pocket a folded letter. It was one with which he had provided himself to confirm the suspicions of the Countess, now awakened for the first time.
In profound silence he unfolded and handed it to her. She hesitated a moment, then seized it. A single glance recognized the writing, for she had often exchanged notes with the Marquise de Campvallon.
Words of the most burning passion terminated thus:
“–Always a little jealous of Mary; half vexed at having given her to you. For–she is pretty and–but I! I am beautiful, am I not, my beloved?–and, above all, I adore you!”
At the first word the Countess became fearfully pale. Finishing, she uttered a deep groan; then she reread the letter and returned it to Vautrot, as if unconscious of what she was doing.
For a few seconds she remained motionless–petrified–her eyes fixed on vacancy. A world seemed rolling down and crushing her heart.
Suddenly she turned, passed with rapid steps into her boudoir; and Vautrot heard the sound of opening and shutting drawers. A moment after she reappeared with bonnet and cloak, and crossed the boudoir with the same strong and rapid step.
Vautrot, greatly terrified, rushed to stop her.
“Madame!” he cried, throwing himself before her.
She waved him aside with an imperious gesture of her hand; he trembled and obeyed, and she left the boudoir. A moment later she was in the Avenue des Champs Elysees, going toward Paris.
It was now near midnight; cold, damp April weather, with the rain falling in great drops. The few pedestrians still on the broad pavement turned to follow with their eyes this majestic young woman, whose gait seemed hastened by some errand of life or death.
But in Paris nothing is surprising, for people witness all manner of things there. Therefore the strange appearance of Madame de Camors did not excite any extraordinary attention. A few men smiled and nodded; others threw a few words of raillery at her–both were unheeded alike. She traversed the Place de la Concorde with the same convulsive haste, and passed toward the bridge. Arriving on it, the sound of the swollen Seine rushing under the arches and against the pillars, caught her ear; she stopped, leaned against the parapet, and gazed into the angry water; then bowing her head she uttered a deep sigh, and resumed her rapid walk.
In the Rue Vanneau she stopped before a brilliantly lighted mansion, isolated from the adjoining houses by a garden wall. It was the dwelling of the Marquise de Campvallon: Arrived there, the unfortunate child knew not what to do, nor even why she had come. She had some vague design of assuring herself palpably of her misfortune; to touch it with her finger; or perhaps to find some reason, some pretext to doubt it.
She dropped down on a stone bench against the garden wall, and hid her face in both her hands, vainly striving to think. It was past midnight. The streets were deserted: a shower of rain was falling over Paris, and she was chilled to numbness.
A sergent-de-ville passed, enveloped in his cape. He turned and stared at the young woman; then took her roughly by the arm.
“What are you doing here?” he said, brutally.
She looked up at him with wondering eyes.
“I do not know myself,” she answered.
The man looked more closely at her, discovered through all her confusion a nameless refinement and the subtle perfume of purity. He took pity on her.
“But, Madame, you can not stay here,” he rejoined in a softer voice.
“You must have some great sorrow?”
“What is your name?”
“The Comtesse de Camors,” she said, simply.
The man looked bewildered.
“Will you tell me where you live, Madame?”
She gave the address with perfect simplicity and perfect indifference. She seemed to be thinking nothing of what she was saying. The man took a few steps, then stopped and listened to the sound of wheels approaching. The carriage was empty. He stopped it, opened the door, and requested the Countess to get in. She did so quietly, and he placed himself beside the driver.
The Comte de Camors had just reached his house and heard with surprise, from the lips of his wife’s maid, the details of the Countess’s mysterious disappearance, when the bell rang violently.
He rushed out and met his wife on the stairs. She had somewhat recovered her calmness on the road, and as he interrogated her with a searching glance, she made a ghastly effort to smile.
“I was slightly ill and went out a little,” she said. “I do not know the streets and lost my way.”
Notwithstanding the improbability of the explanation, he did not hesitate. He murmured a few soft words of reproach and placed her in the hands of her maid, who removed her wet garments.
During that time he called the sergent-de-ville, who remained in the vestibule, and closely interrogated him. On learning in what street and what precise spot he had found the Countess, her husband knew at once and fully the whole truth.
He went directly to his wife. She had retired and was trembling in every limb. One of her hands was resting outside the coverlet. He rushed to take it, but she withdrew it gently, with sad and resolute dignity.
The simple gesture told him they were separated forever.
By a tacit agreement, arranged by her and as tacitly accepted by him, Madame de Camors became virtually a widow.
He remained for some seconds immovable, his expression lost in the shadow of the bed-hangings; then walked slowly across the chamber. The idea of lying to defend himself never occurred to him.
His line of conduct was already arranged–calmly, methodically. But two blue circles had sunk around his eyes, and his face wore a waxen pallor. His hands, joined behind his back, were clenched; and the ring he wore sparkled with their tremulous movement. At intervals he seemed to cease breathing, as he listened to the chattering teeth of his young wife.
After half an hour he approached the bed.
“Marie!” he said in a low voice. She turned upon him her eyes gleaming with fever.
“Marie, I am ignorant of what you know, and I shall not ask,” he continued. “I have been very criminal toward you, but perhaps less so than you think. Terrible circumstances bound me with iron bands. Fate ruled me! But I seek no palliation. Judge me as severely as you wish; but I beg of you to calm yourself–preserve yourself! You spoke to me this morning of your presentiments–of your maternal hopes. Attach yourself to those thoughts, and you will always be mistress of your life. As for myself, I shall be whatever you will–a stranger or a friend. But now I feel that my presence makes you ill. I would leave you for the present, but not alone. Do you wish Madame Jaubert to come to you tonight?”
“Yes!” she murmured, faintly.
“I shall go for her; but it is not necessary to tell you that there are confidences one must reserve even from one’s dearest friends.”
“Except a mother?” She murmured the question with a supplicating agony very painful to see.
He grew still paler. After an instant, “Except a mother!” he said. “Be it so!”
She turned her face and buried it in the pillow.
“Your mother arrives to-morrow, does she not?” She made an affirmative motion of her head. “You can make your arrangements with her. I shall accept everything.”
“Thank you,” she replied, feebly.
He left the room and went to find Madame Jaubert, whom he awakened, and briefly told her that his wife had been seized with a severe nervous attack–the effect of a chill. The amiable little woman ran hastily to her friend and spent the night with her.
But she was not the dupe of the explanation Camors had given her. Women quickly understand one another in their grief. Nevertheless she asked no confidences and received none; but her tenderness to her friend redoubled. During the silence of that terrible night, the only service she could render her was to make her weep.
Nor did those laggard hours pass less bitterly for M. de Camors. He tried to take no rest, but walked up and down his apartment until daylight in a sort of frenzy. The distress of this poor child wounded him to the heart. The souvenirs of the past rose before him and passed in sad procession. Then the morrow would show him the crushed daughter with her mother–and such a mother! Mortally stricken in all her best illusions, in all her dearest beliefs, in all connected with the happiness of life!
He found that he still had in his heart lively feelings of pity; still some remorse in his conscience.
This weakness irritated him, and he denounced it to himself. Who had betrayed him? This question agitated him to an equal degree; but from the first instant he had not been deceived in this matter.
The sudden grief and half-crazed conviction of his wife, her despairing attitude and her silence, could only be explained by strong assurance and certain revelation. After turning the matter over and over in his own mind, he arrived at the conclusion that nothing could have thrown such clear light into his life save the letters of Madame de Campvallon.
He never wrote the Marquise, but could not prevent her writing to him; for to her, as to all women, love without letters was incomplete.
But the fault of the Count–inexcusable in a man of his tact–was in preserving these letters. No one, however, is perfect, and he was an artist. He delighted in these the ‘chefs-d’oeuvre’ of passionate eloquence, was proud of inspiring them, and could not make up his mind to burn or destroy them. He examined at once the secret drawer where he had concealed them and, by certain signs, discovered the lock had been tampered with. Nevertheless no letter was missing; the arrangement of them alone had been disturbed.
His suspicions at once reverted to Vautrot, whose scruples he suspected were slight; and in the morning they were confirmed beyond doubt by a letter from the secretary. In fact Vautrot, after passing on his part a most wretched night, did not feel his nerves equal in the morning to meeting the reception the Count possibly had in waiting for him. His letter was skilfully penned to put suspicion to sleep if it had not been fully roused, and if the Countess had not betrayed him.
It announced his acceptance of a lucrative situation suddenly offered him in a commercial house in London. He was obliged to decide at once, and to sail that same morning for fear of losing an opportunity which could not occur again. It concluded with expressions of the liveliest gratitude and regret.
Camors could not reach his secretary to strangle him; so he resolved to pay him. He not only sent him all arrears of salary, but a large sum in addition as a testimonial of his sympathy and good wishes.
This, however, was a simple precaution; for the Count apprehended nothing more from the venomous reptile so far beneath him, after he had once shaken it off. Seeing him deprived of the only weapon he could use against him, he felt safe. Besides, he had lost the only interest he could desire to subserve, for he knew M. Vautrot had done him the compliment of courting his Wife.
And he really esteemed him a little less low, after discovering this gentlemanly taste!
ONE GLEAM OF HOPE
It required on the part of M. de Camors, this morning, an exertion of all his courage to perform his duty as a gentleman in going to receive Madame de Tecle at the station. But courage had been for some time past his sole remaining virtue; and this at least he sought never to lose. He received, then, most gracefully his mother-in-law, robed in her mourning attire. She was surprised at not seeing her daughter with him. He informed her that she had been a little indisposed since the preceding evening. Notwithstanding the precautions he took in his language and by his smile, he could not prevent Madame de Tecle from feeling a lively alarm.
He did not pretend, however, entirely to reassure her. Under his reserved and measured replies, she felt the presentiment of some disaster. After first pressing him with many questions, she kept silent during the rest of the drive.
The young Countess, to spare her mother the first shock, had quitted her bed; and the poor child had even put a little rouge on her pale cheeks. M. de Camors himself opened for Madame de Tecle the door of her daughter’s chamber, and then withdrew.
The young woman raised herself with difficulty from her couch, and her mother took her in her arms.
All that passed between them at first was a silent interchange of mutual caresses. Then the mother seated herself near her daughter, drew her head on her bosom, and looked into the depths of her eyes.
“What is the matter?” she said, sadly.
“Oh, nothing–nothing hopeless! only you must love your little Mary more than ever. Will you not?”
“Yes; but why?”
“I must not worry you; and I must not wrong myself either–you know why!”
“Yes; but I implore you, my darling, to tell me.”
“Very well; I will tell you everything; but, mother, you must be brave as I am.”
She buried her head lower still on her mother’s breast, and recounted to her, in a low voice, without looking up once, the terrible revelation which had been made to her, and which her husband’s avowal had confirmed.
Madame de Tecle did not once interrupt her during this cruel recital. She only imprinted a kiss on her hair from time to time. The young Countess, who did not dare to raise her eyes to her, as if she were ashamed of another’s crime, might have imagined that she had exaggerated the gravity of her misfortune, since her mother had received the confidence with so much calmness. But the calmness of Madame de Tecle at this terrible moment was that of the martyrs; for all that could have been suffered by the Christians under the claws of the tiger, or on the rack of the torturer, this mother was suffering at the hands of her best- beloved daughter. Her beautiful pale face–her large eyes upturned to heaven, like those that artists give to the pure victims kneeling in the Roman circus–seemed to ask God whether He really had any consolation for such torture.
When she had heard all, she summoned strength to smile at her daughter, who at last looked up to her with an expression of timid uncertainty– embracing her more tightly still.
“Well, my darling,” said she, at last, “it is a great affliction, it is true. You are right, notwithstanding; there is nothing to despair of.”
“Do you really believe so?”
“Certainly. There is some inconceivable mystery under all this; but be assured that the evil is not so terrible as it appears.”
“My poor mother! but he has acknowledged it?”
“I am better pleased that he has acknowledged it. That proves he has yet some pride, and that some good is left in his soul. Then, too, he feels very much afflicted–he suffers as much as we. Think of that. Let us think of the future, my darling.”
They clasped each other’s hands, and smiled at each other to restrain the tears which filled the eyes of both. After a few minutes–“I wish much, my child,” said Madame de Tecle, “to repose for half an hour; and then also I wish to arrange my toilet.”
“I will conduct you to your chamber. Oh, I can walk! I feel a great deal better.”
Madame de Camors took her mother’s arm and conducted her as far as the door of the chamber prepared for her. On the threshold she left her.
“Be sensible,” said Madame de Tecle, turning and giving her another smile.
“And you also,” said the young woman, whose voice failed her.
Madame de Tecle, as soon as the door was closed, raised her clasped hands toward heaven; then, falling on her knees before the bed, she buried her head in it, and wept despairingly.
The library of M. de Camors was contiguous to this chamber. He had been walking with long strides up and down this corridor, expecting every moment to see Madame de Tecle enter. As the time passed, he sat himself down and tried to read, but his thoughts wandered. His ear eagerly caught, against his will, the slightest sounds in the house. If a foot seemed approaching him, he rose suddenly and tried to compose his countenance. When the door of the neighboring chamber was opened, his agony was redoubled. He distinguished the whispering of the two voices; then, an instant after, the dull fall of Madame de Tecle upon the carpet; then her despairing sobs. M. de Camors threw from him violently the book which he was forcing himself to read, and, placing his elbows on the bureau which was before him, held, for a long time, his pale brow tightened in his contracted hands. When the sound of sobs abated little by little, and then ceased, he breathed freer. About midday he received this note:
“If you will permit me to take my daughter to the country for a few days, I shall be grateful to you.
“ELISE DE TECLE.”
He returned immediately this simple reply:
“You can do nothing of which I do not approve to-day and always. CAMORS.”
Madame de Tecle, in fact, having consulted the inclination and the strength of her daughter, had determined to remove her without delay, if possible, from the impressions of the spot where she had suffered so severely from the presence of her husband, and from the unfortunate embarrassment of their situation. She desired also to meditate in solitude, in order to decide what course to take under such unexampled circumstances. Finally, she had not the courage to see M. de Camors again–if she ever could see him again–until some time had elapsed. It was not without anxiety that she awaited the reply of the Count to the request she had addressed him.
In the midst of the troubled confusion of her ideas, she believed him capable of almost anything; and she feared everything from him. The Count’s note reassured her. She hastened to read it to her daughter; and both of them, like two poor lost creatures who cling to the smallest twig, remarked with pleasure the tone of respectful abandonment with which he had reposed their destinies in their own hands. He spent his whole day at the session of the Corps Legislatif; and when he returned, they had departed.
Madame de Camors woke up the next morning in the chamber where her girlhood had passed. The birds of spring were singing under her windows in the old ancestral gardens. As she recognized these friendly voices, so familiar to her infancy, her heart melted; but several hours’ sleep had restored to her her natural courage. She banished the thoughts which had weakened her, rose, and went to surprise her mother at her first waking. Soon after, both of them were walking together on the terrace of lime-trees. It was near the end of April; the young, scented verdure spread itself out beneath the sunbeams; buzzing flies already swarmed in the half-opened roses, in the blue pyramids of lilacs, and in the clusters of pink clover. After a few turns made in silence in the midst of this fresh and enchanting scene, the young Countess, seeing her mother absorbed in reverie, took her hand.
“Mother,” she said, “do not be sad. Here we are as formerly–both of us in our little nook. We shall be happy.”
The mother looked at her, took her head and kissed her fervently on the forehead.
“You are an angel!” she said.
It must be confessed that their uncle, Des Rameures, notwithstanding the tender affection he showed them, was rather in the way. He never had liked Camors; he had accepted him as a nephew as he had accepted him for a deputy–with more of resignation than enthusiasm. His antipathy was only too well justified by the event; but it was necessary to keep him in ignorance of it. He was an excellent man; but rough and blunt. The conduct of Camors, if he had but suspected it, would surely have urged him to some irreparable quarrel. Therefore Madame de Tecle and her daughter, in his presence, were compelled to make only half utterances, and maintain great reserve–as much as if he had been a stranger. This painful restraint would have become insupportable had not the young Countess’s health, day by day, assumed a less doubtful character, and furnished them with excuses for their preoccupation, their disquiet, and their retired life.
Madame de Tecle, who reproached herself with the misfortunes of her daughter, as her own work, and who condemned herself with an unspeakable bitterness, did not cease to search, in the midst of those ruins of the past and of the present, some reparation, some refuge for the future. The first idea which presented itself to her imagination had been to separate absolutely, and at any cost, the Countess from her husband. Under the first shock of fright which the duplicity of Camors had inflicted upon her, she could not dwell without horror on the thought of replacing her child at the side of such a man. But this separation- supposing they could obtain it, through the consent of M. de Camors, or the authority of the law–would give to the public a secret scandal, and might entail redoubled catastrophes. Were it not for these consequences she would, at least, have dug between Madame de Camors and her husband an eternal abyss. Madame de Tecle did not desire this. By force of reflection she had finally seen through the character of M. de Camors in one day–not probably more favorably, but more truly. Madame de Tecle, although a stranger to all wickedness, knew the world and knew life, and her penetrating intelligence divined yet more than she knew certainly. She then very nearly understood what species of moral monster M. de Camors was. Such as she understood him, she hoped something from him still. However, the condition of the Countess offered her some consolation in the future, which she ought not to risk depriving herself of; and God might permit that this pledge of this unfortunate union might some day reunite the severed ties.
Madame de Tecle, in communicating her reflections, her hopes, and her fears to her daughter, added: “My poor child, I have almost lost the right to give you counsel; but I tell you, were it myself I should act thus.”
“Very well, mother, I shall do so,” replied the young woman.
“Reflect well on it first, for the situation which you are about to accept will have much bitterness in it; but we have only a choice of evils.”
At the close of this conversation, and eight days after their arrival in the country, Madame de Tecle wrote M. de Camors a letter, which she read to her daughter, who approved it.
“I understood you to say, that you would restore to your wife her liberty if she wished to resume it. She neither wishes, nor could she accept it. Her first duty is to the child which will bear your name. It does not depend on her to keep this name stainless. She prays you, then, to reserve for her a place in your house. You need not fear any trouble or any reproach from her. She and I know how to suffer in silence. Nevertheless, I supplicate you to be true to her–to spare her. Will you leave her yet a few days in peace, then recall, or come for her?”
This letter touched M. de Camors deeply. Impassive as he was, it can easily be imagined that after the departure of his wife he had not enjoyed perfect ease of mind. Uncertainty is the worst of all evils, because everything may be apprehended. Deprived entirely of all news for eight days, there was no possible catastrophe he did not fancy floating over his head. He had the haughty courage to conceal from Madame de Campvallon the event that had occurred in his house, and to leave her undisturbed while he himself was sleepless for many nights. It was by such efforts of energy and of indomitable pride that this strange man preserved within his own consciousness a proud self-esteem. The letter of Madame de Tecle came to him like a deliverance. He sent the following brief reply:
“I accept your decision with gratitude and respect. The resolution of your daughter is generous. I have yet enough of generosity left myself to comprehend this. I am forever, whether you wish it or not, her friend and yours.
A week later, having taken the precaution of announcing his intention, he arrived one evening at Madame de Tecle’s.
His young wife kept her chamber. They had taken care to have no witnesses, but their meeting was less painful and less embarrassing than they apprehended.
Madame de Tecle and her daughter found in his courteous reply a gleam of nobleness which inspired them with a shadow of confidence. Above all, they were proud, and more averse to noisy scenes than women usually are. They received him coldly, then, but calmly. On his part, he displayed toward them in his looks and language a subdued seriousness and sadness, which did not lack either dignity or grace.
The conversation having dwelt for some time on the health of the Countess, turned on current news, on local incidents, and took, little by little, an easy and ordinary tone. M. de Camors, under the pretext of slight fatigue, retired as he had entered–saluting both the ladies, but without attempting to take their hands. Thus was inaugurated, between Madame de Camors and her husband, the new, singular relation which should hereafter be the only tie in their common life.
The world might easily be silenced, because M. de Camors never had been very demonstrative in public toward his wife, and his courteous but reserved manner toward her did not vary from his habitual demeanor. He remained two days at Reuilly.
Madame de Tecle vainly waited for these two days for a slight explanation, which she did not wish to demand, but which she hoped for.
What were the terrible circumstances which had overruled the will of M. de Camors, to the point of making him forget the most sacred sentiments? When her thoughts plunged into this dread mystery, they never approached the truth. M. de Camors might have committed this base action under the menace of some great danger to save the fortune, the honor, probably the life of Madame de Campvallon. This, though a poor excuse in the mother’s eyes, still was an extenuation. Probably also he had in his heart, while marrying her daughter, the resolution to break off this fatal liaison, which he had again resumed against his will, as often happens. On all these painful points she dwelt after the departure of M. de Camors, as she had previous to his arrival; confined to her own conjectures, when she suggested to her daughter the most consolatory appearances. It was agreed upon that Madame de Camors should remain in the country until her health was reestablished: only her husband expressed the desire that she should reside ordinarily on his estate at Reuilly, the chateau on which had recently been restored with the greatest taste.
Madame de Tecle felt the propriety of this arrangement. She herself abandoned the old habitation of the Comte de Tecle, to install herself near her daughter in the modest chateau which belonged to the maternal ancestors of M. de Camors, and which we have already described in another place, with its solemn avenue, its balustrades of granite, its labyrinths of hornbeams and the black fishpond, shaded with poplars.
Both dwelt there in the midst of their sweetest and most pleasant souvenirs; for this little chateau, so long deserted–the neglected woods which surrounded it the melancholy piece of water–the solitary nymph all this had been their particular domain, the favorite framework of their reveries, the legend of their infancy, the poetry of their youth. It was doubtless a great grief to revisit again, with tearful eyes and wounded hearts and heads bowed by the storms of life, the familiar paths where they once knew happiness and peace. But, nevertheless, all these dear confidants of past joys, of blasted hopes, of vanished dreams–if they are mournful witnesses they are also friends. We love them; and they seem to love us. Thus these two poor women, straying amid these woods, these waters, these solitudes, bearing with them their incurable wounds, fancied they heard voices which pitied them and breathed a healing sympathy. The most cruel trial reserved to Madame de Camors in the life which she had the courage and judgment to adopt, was assuredly the duty of again seeing the Marquise de Campvallon, and preserving with her such relations as might blind the eyes of the General and of the world.
She resigned herself even to this; but she desired to defer as long as possible the pain of such a meeting. Her health supplied her with a natural excuse for not going, during that summer, to Campvallon, and also for keeping herself confined to her own room the day the Marquise visited Reuilly, accompanied by the General.
Madame de Tecle received her with her usual kindness. Madame de Campvallon, whom M. de Camors had already warned, did not trouble herself much; for the best women, like the worst, excel in comedy, and everything passed off without the General having conceived the shadow of a suspicion.
The fine season had passed. M. de Camors had visited the country several times, strengthening at every interview the new tone of his relations with his wife. He remained at Reuilly, as was his custom, during the month of August; and under the pretext of the health of the Countess, did not multiply his visits that year to Campvallon. On his return to Paris, he resumed his old habits, and also his careless egotism, for he recovered little by little from the blow he had received. He began to forget his sufferings and those of his wife; and even to felicitate himself secretly on the turn that chance had given to her situation. He had obtained the advantage and had no longer any annoyance. His wife had been enlightened, and he no longer deceived her–which was a comfortable thing for him. As for her, she would soon be a mother, she would have a plaything, a consolation; and he designed redoubling his attentions and regards to her.
She would be happy, or nearly so; as much so as two thirds of the women in the world.
Everything was for the best. He gave anew the reins to his car and launched himself afresh on his brilliant career-proud of his royal mistress, and foreseeing in the distance, to crown his life, the triumphs of ambition and power. Pleading various doubtful engagements, he went to Reuilly only once during the autumn; but he wrote frequently, and Madame de Tecle sent him in return brief accounts of his wife’s health.
One morning toward the close of November, he received a despatch which made him understand, in telegraphic style, that his presence was immediately required at Reuilly, if he wished to be present at the birth of his son.
Whenever social duties or courtesy were required of M. de Camors, he never hesitated. Seeing he had not a moment to spare if he wished to catch the train which left that morning, he jumped into a cab and drove to the station. His servant would join him the next morning.
The station at Reuilly was several miles distant from the house. In the confusion no arrangement had been made to receive him on his arrival, and he was obliged to content himself with making the intermediate journey in a heavy country-wagon. The bad condition of the roads was a new obstacle, and it was three o’clock in the morning when the Count, impatient and travel-worn, jumped out of the little cart before the railings of his avenue. He strode toward the house under the dark and silent dome of the tufted elms. He was in the middle of the avenue when a sharp cry rent the air. His heart bounded in his breast: he suddenly stopped and listened attentively. The cry echoed through the stillness of the night. One would have deemed it the despairing shriek of a human being under the knife of a murderer.
These dolorous sounds gradually ceasing, he continued his walk with greater haste, and only heard the hollow and muffled sound of his own beating heart. At the moment he saw the lights of the chateau, another agonized cry, more shrill and alarming than the first, arose.
This time Camors stopped. Notwithstanding that the natural explanation of these agonized cries presented itself to his mind, he was troubled.
It is not unusual that men like him, accustomed to a purely artificial life, feel a strange surprise when one of the simplest laws of nature presents itself all at once before them with a violence as imperious and irresistible as a divine law. Camors soon reached the house, and receiving some information from the servants, notified Madame de Tecle of his arrival. Madame de Tecle immediately descended from her daughter’s room. On seeing her convulsed features and streaming eyes, “Are you alarmed?” Camors asked, quickly.
“Alarmed? No,” she replied; “but she suffers much, and it is very long.”
“Can I see her?”
There was a moment’s silence.
Madame de Tecle, whose forehead was contracted, lowered her eyes, then raised them. “If you insist on it,” she said.
“I insist on nothing! If you believe my presence would do her harm–” The voice of Camors was not as steady as usual.
“I am afraid,” replied Madame de Tecle, “that it would agitate her greatly; and if you will have confidence in me, I shall be much obliged to you.”
“But at least,” said Camors, “she might probably be glad to know that I have come, and that I am here–that I have not abandoned her.”
“I shall tell her.”
“It is well.” He saluted Madame de Tecle with a slight movement of his head, and turned away immediately.
He entered the garden at the back of the house, and walked abstractedly from alley to alley. We know that generally the role of men in the situation in which M. de Camors at this moment was placed is not very easy or very glorious; but the common annoyance of this position was particularly aggravated to him by painful reflections. Not only was his assistance not needed, but it was repelled; not only was he far from a support on the contrary, he was but an additional danger and sorrow. In this thought was a bitterness which he keenly felt. His native generosity, his humanity, shuddered as he heard the terrible cries and accents of distress which succeeded each other without intermission. He passed some heavy hours in the damp garden this cold night, and the chilly morning which succeeded it. Madame de Tecle came frequently to give him the news. Near eight o’clock he saw her approach him with a grave and tranquil air.
“Monsieur,” she said, “it is a boy.”
“I thank you. How is she?”
“Well. I shall request you to go and see her shortly.”
Half an hour later she reappeared on the threshold of the vestibule, and called:
“Monsieur de Camors!” and when he approached her, she added, with an emotion which made her lips tremble:
“She has been uneasy for some time past. She is afraid that you have kept terms with her in order to take the child. If ever you have such a thought–not now, Monsieur. Have you?”
“You are severe, Madame,” he replied in a hoarse voice.
She breathed a sigh.
“Come!” she said, and led the way upstairs. She opened the door of the chamber and permitted him to enter it alone.
His first glance caught the eyes of his young wife fixed upon him. She was half sitting up in bed, supported by pillows, and whiter than the curtains whose shadow enveloped her. She held clasped to her breast her sleeping infant, which was already covered, like its mother, with lace and pink ribbons. From the depths of this nest she fixed on her husband her large eyes, sparkling with a kind of savage light–an expression in which the sentiment of triumph was blended with one of profound terror. He stopped within a few feet of the bed, and saluted her with his most winning smile.
“I have pitied you very much, Marie,” he said.
“I thank you!” she replied, in a voice as feeble as a sigh.
She continued to regard him with the same suppliant and affrighted air.
“Are you a little happier now?” he continued.
The glittering eye of the young woman was fastened on the calm face of her infant. Then turning toward Camors:
“You will not take him from me?”
“Never!” he replied.
As he pronounced these words his eyes were suddenly dimmed, and he was astonished himself to feel a tear trickling down his cheek. He experienced a singular feeling, he bent over, seized the folds of the sheet, raised them to his lips, rose immediately and left the room.
In this terrible struggle, too often victorious against nature and truth, the man was for once vanquished. But it would be idle to imagine that a character of this temperament and of this obduracy could transform itself, or could be materially modified under the stroke of a few transitory emotions, or of a few nervous shocks. M. de Camors rallied quickly from his weakness, if even he did not repent it. He spent eight days at Reuilly, remarking in the countenance of Madame de Tecle and in her manner toward him, more ease than formerly.
On his return to Paris, with thoughtful care he made some changes in the interior arrangement of his mansion. This was to prepare for the Countess and her son, who were to join him a few weeks later, larger and more comfortable apartments, in which they were to be installed.
THE REPTILE TURNS TO STING
When Madame de Camors came to Paris and entered the home of her husband, she there experienced the painful impressions of the past, and the sombre preoccupations of the future; but she brought with her, although in a fragile form, a powerful consolation.
Assailed by grief, and ever menaced by new emotion she was obliged to renounce the nursing of her child; but, nevertheless, she never left him, for she was jealous even of his nurse. She at least wished to be loved by him. She loved him with an infinite passion. She loved him because he was her own son and of her blood. He was the price of her misfortune –of her pain. She loved him because he was her only hope of human happiness hereafter. She loved him because she found him as beautiful as the day. And it was true he was so; for he resembled his father–and she loved him also on that account. She tried to concentrate her heart and all her thoughts on this dear creature, and at first she thought she had succeeded. She was surprised at herself, at her own tranquillity, when she saw Madame de Campvallon; for her lively imagination had exhausted, in advance, all the sadness which her new existence could contain; but when she had lost the kind of torpor into which excessive suffering had plunged her–when her maternal sensations were a little quieted by custom, her woman’s heart recovered itself in the mother’s. She could not prevent herself from renewing her passionate interest in her graceful though terrible husband.
Madame de Tecle went to pass two months with her daughter in Paris, and then returned to the country.
Madame de Camors wrote to her, in the beginning of the following spring, a letter which gave her an exact idea of the sentiments of the young woman at the time, and of the turn her domestic life had taken. After a long and touching detail of the health and beauty of her son Robert, she added:
“His father is always to me what you have seen him. He spares me everything he can spare me, but evidently the fatality he has obeyed continues under the same form. Notwithstanding, I do not despair of the future, my beloved mother. Since I saw that tear in his eye, confidence has entered my poor heart. Be assured, my adored mother, that he will love me one day, if it is only through our child, whom he begins quietly to love without himself perceiving it. At first, as you remember, this infant was no more to him than I was. When he surprised him on my knee, he would give him a cold kiss, say, ‘ Good-morning, Monsieur,’ and withdraw. It is just one month–I have forgotten the date–it was, ‘Good-morning, my son–how pretty you are!’ You see the progress; and do you know, finally, what passed yesterday? I entered Robert’s room noiselessly; the door was open– what did I behold, my mother! Monsieur de Camors, with his head resting on the pillow of the cradle, and laughing at this little creature, who smiled back at him! I assure you, he blushed and excused himself: ‘The door was open,’ he said, ‘and I came in.’ I assured him that he had done nothing wrong.
“Monsieur de Camors is very odd sometimes. He occasionally passes the limits which were agreed upon as necessary. He is not only polite, but takes great trouble. Alas! once these courtesies would have fallen upon my heart like roses from heaven–now they annoy me a little. Last evening, for example, I sat down, as is my custom, at my piano after dinner, he reading a journal at the chimney- corner–his usual hour for going out passed. Behold me, much surprised. I threw a furtive glance, between two bars of music, at him: he was not reading, he was not sleeping–he was dreaming. ‘Is there anything new in the Journal?’–‘No, no; nothing at all.’ Another two or three bars of music, and I entered my son’s room. He was in bed and asleep. I devoured him with kisses and returned– Monsieur de Camors was still there. And now, surprise after surprise: ‘Have you heard from your mother? What does she say? Have you seen Madame Jaubert? Have you read this review?’ Just like one who sought to open a conversation. Once I would willingly have paid with my blood for one of these evenings, and now he offers them to me, when I know not what to do with them. Notwithstanding I remember the advice of my mother, I do not wish to discourage these symptoms. I adopt a festive manner. I light four extra waxlights. I try to be amiable without being coquettish; for coquetry here would be shameful–would it not, my dear mother? Finally, we chatted together; he sang two airs to the piano; I played two others; he painted the design of a little Russian costume for Robert to wear next year; then talked politics to me. This enchanted me. He explained to me his situation in the Chamber. Midnight arrived; I became remarkably silent; he rose: ‘May I press your hand in friendship?’–‘ Mon Dieu! yes.’–‘Good-night, Marie.’–‘ Goodnight.’ Yes, my mother, I read your thoughts. There is danger here! but you have shown it to me; and I believe also, I should have perceived it by myself. Do not fear, then. I shall be happy at his good inclinations, and shall encourage them to the best of my power; but I shall not be in haste to perceive a return, on his part, toward virtue and myself. I see here in society arrangements which revolt me. In the midst of my misfortune I remain pure and proud; but I should fall into the deepest contempt of myself if I should ever permit myself to be a plaything for Monsieur de Camors. A man so fallen does not raise himself in a day. If ever he really returns to me, it will be necessary for me to have much proof. I never have ceased to love him, and probably he doubts it: but he will learn that if this sad love can break my heart it can never abase it; and it is unnecessary to tell my mother that I shall live and die courageously in my widow’s robe.
“There are other symptoms which also strike me. He is more attentive to me when she is present. This may probably be arranged between them, but I doubt it. The other evening we were at the General’s. She was waltzing, and Monsieur de Camors, as a rare favor, came and seated himself at your daughter’s side. In passing before us she threw him a look–a flash. I felt the flame. Her blue eyes glared ferociously. He perceived it. I have not assuredly much tenderness for her. She is my most cruel enemy; but if ever she suffers what she has made me suffer-yes, I believe I shall pity her. My mother, I embrace you. I embrace our dear lime- trees. I taste their young leaves as in olden times. Scold me as in old times, and love, above all things, as in old times, your MARIE.”
This wise young woman, matured by misfortune, observed everything saw everything–and exaggerated nothing. She touched, in this letter, on the most delicate points in the household of M. de Camors–and even of his secret thoughts–with accurate justice. For Camors was not at all converted, nor near being so; but it would be belying human nature to attribute to his heart, or that of any other human being, a supernatural impassibility. If the dark and implacable theories which M. de Camors had made the law of his existence could triumph absolutely, this would be true. The trials he had passed through did not reform him, they only staggered him. He did not pursue his paths with the same firmness; he strayed from his programme. He pitied one of his victims, and, as one wrong always entails another, after pitying his wife, he came near loving his child. These two weaknesses had glided into his petrified soul as into a marble fount, and there took root-two imperceptible roots, however. The child occupied him not more than a few moments every day. He thought of him, however, and would return home a little earlier than usual each day than was his habit, secretly attracted by the smile of that fresh face. The mother was for him something more. Her sufferings, her youthful heroism had touched him. She became somebody in his eyes. He discovered many merits in her. He perceived she was remarkably well- informed for a woman, and prodigiously so for a French woman. She understood half a word–knew a great deal–and guessed at the remainder. She had, in short, that blending of grace and solidity which gives to the conversation of a woman of cultivated mind an incomparable charm. Habituated from infancy to her mental superiority as to her pretty face, she carried the one as unconsciously as the other. She devoted herself to the care of his household as if she had no idea beyond it. There were domestic details which she would not confide to servants. She followed them into her salons, into her boudoirs, a blue feather-brush in hand, lightly dusting the ‘etageres’, the ‘jardinieres’, the ‘consoles’. She arranged one piece of furniture and removed another, put flowers in a vase-gliding about and singing like a bird in a cage.
Her husband sometimes amused himself in following her with his eye in these household occupations. She reminded him of the princesses one sees in the ballet of the opera, reduced by some change of fortune to a temporary servitude, who dance while putting the house in order.
“How you love order, Marie!” said he to her one day.
“Order” she said, gravely, “is the moral beauty of things.”
She emphasized the word things–and, fearing she might be considered pretentious, she blushed.
She was a lovable creature, and it can be understood that she might have many attractions, even for her husband. Yet though he had not for one instant the idea of sacrificing to her the passion that ruled his life, it is certain, however, that his wife pleased him as a charming friend, which she was, and probably as a charming forbidden fruit, which she also was. Two or three years passed without making any sensible change in the relations of the different persons in this history. This was the most brilliant phase and probably the happiest in the life of M. de Camors.
His marriage had doubled his fortune, and his clever speculations augmented it every day. He had increased the retinue of his house in proportion to his new resources. In the region of elegant high life he decidedly held the sceptre. His horses, his equipages, his artistic tastes, even his toilet, set the law.
His liaison with Madame de Campvallon, without being proclaimed, was suspected, and completed his prestige. At the same time his capacity as a political man began to be acknowledged. He had spoken in some recent debate, and his maiden speech was a triumph. His prosperity was great. It was nevertheless true that M. de Camors did not enjoy it without trouble. Two black spots darkened the sky above his head, and might contain destroying thunder. His life was eternally suspended on a thread.
Any day General Campvallon might be informed of the intrigue which dishonored him, either through some selfish treason, or through some public rumor, which might begin to spread. Should this ever happen, he knew the General never would submit to it; and he had determined never to defend his life against his outraged friend.
This resolve, firmly decided upon in his secret soul, gave him the last solace to his conscience. All his future destiny was thus at the mercy of an accident most likely to happen. The second cause of his disquietude was the jealous hatred of Madame Campvallon toward the young rival she had herself selected. After jesting freely on this subject at first, the Marquise had, little by little, ceased even to allude to it.
M. de Camors could not misunderstand certain mute symptoms, and was sometimes alarmed at this silent jealousy. Fearing to exasperate this most violent feminine sentiment in so strong a soul, he was compelled day by day to resort to tricks which wounded his pride, and probably his heart also; for his wife, to whom his new conduct was inexplicable, suffered intensely, and he saw it.
One evening in the month of May, 1860, there was a reception at the Hotel Campvallon. The Marquise, before leaving for the country, was making her adieus to a choice group of her friends. Although this fete professed to be but an informal gathering, she had organized it with her usual elegance and taste. A kind of gallery, composed of verdure and of flowers, connected the salon with the conservatory at the other end of the garden.
This evening proved a very painful one to the Comtesse de Camors. Her husband’s neglect of her was so marked, his assiduities to the Marquise so persistent, their mutual understanding so apparent, that the young wife felt the pain of her desertion to an almost insupportable degree. She took refuge in the conservatory, and finding herself alone there, she wept.
A few moments later, M. de Camors, not seeing her in the salon, became uneasy. She saw him, as he entered the conservatory, in one of those instantaneous glances by which women contrive to see without looking. She pretended to be examining the flowers, and by a strong effort of will dried her tears. Her husband advanced slowly toward her.
“What a magnificent camellia!” he said to her. “Do you know this variety?”
“Very well,” she replied; “this is the camellia that weeps.”
He broke off the flowers.
“Marie,” he said, “I never have been much addicted to sentimentality, but this flower I shall keep.”
She turned upon him her astonished eyes.
“Because I love it,” he added.
The noise of a step made them both turn. It was Madame de Campvallon, who was crossing the conservatory on the arm of a foreign diplomat.
“Pardon me,” she said, smiling; “I have disturbed you! How awkward of me!” and she passed out.
Madame de Camors suddenly grew very red, and her husband very pale. The diplomat alone did not change color, for he comprehended nothing. The young Countess, under pretext of a headache, which her face did not belie, returned home immediately, promising her husband to send back the carriage for him. Shortly after, the Marquise de Campvallon, obeying a secret sign from M. de Camors, rejoined him in the retired boudoir, which recalled to them both the most culpable incident of their lives. She sat down beside him on the divan with a haughty nonchalance.
“What is it?” she said.
“Why do you watch me?” asked Camors. “It is unworthy of you!”