The Immortal, by Alphonse Daudet

Chapter vi.

That night she could not sleep. Eight hundred pounds! eight hundred pounds! The words went to and fro in her head. Where were they to be found? To whom could she apply? There was so little time. Names and faces flashed before her, passing for a moment where the pale gleam of the night-light fell on the ceiling, only to disappear and be replaced by other names and other faces, which vanished as quickly in their turn. Freydet? She had just made use of him. Sammy? Had nothing till he married. Besides, did anybody do such a thing as to borrow or lend eight hundred pounds? No one but a poet from the country. In Parisian society money never appears on the scene; it is assumed that you have it and are above these details, like the people in genteel comedy. A breach of this convention would banish the transgressor from respectable company.

And while Madame Astier pursued her feverish thoughts she saw beside her the round back of her husband rising and falling peacefully. It was one of the depressing incidents of their joint life that they had lain thus side by side for thirty years, having nothing in common but the bed. But never had the isolation of her surly bedfellow so strongly aroused her indignation. What was the use of waking him, of talking to him about the boy and his desperate threat? She knew perfectly well that he would not believe her, nor so much as move the big back which protected his repose. She was inclined for a minute to fall upon him, to pummel him, and scratch him, and rouse him out of his selfish slumbers by shouting in his ear: ‘Léonard, your papers are on fire!’ And as the thought of the papers flashed madly across her mind she almost leaped out of bed. She had got her eight hundred! The drawers upstairs! How was it she had not thought of them before? There she lay, till day dawned and the night-light went out with a sputter, content and motionless, arranging what she should do, with the look of a thief in her open eyes.

Before the usual hour she was dressed, and all the morning prowled about the rooms, watching her husband. He talked of going out, but changed his mind, and went on with his sorting till breakfast. Between his study and the attic he went to and fro with armfuls of pamphlets, humming a careless tune. He had not feeling enough to perceive the constrained agitation which surcharged the air with nervous electricity and played among the furniture in the cupboards, and upon the handles of the doors. He worked on undisturbed. At table he was talkative, told idiotic stories, which she knew by heart, interminable as the process of crumbling with his knife his favourite cheese. Piece after piece of cheese he took, and still one anecdote followed another. And when the time came for going to the Institute, where the Dictionary Committee was to sit before the regular meeting, how long he took to start! and in spite of her eagerness to get him off quick, what an age he spent over every little thing!

The moment he turned the corner of the street, without waiting to shut the window, she darted to the serving-hatch, crying, ‘Corentine, call a cab, quick!’ He was gone at last, and she flew up the little staircase to the attic.

Crouching down to keep clear of the low ceiling she began to try a bunch of keys in the lock which fastened the bar of the drawers. She could not fit it. She could not wait. She would have forced away, without scruple, a side of the frame, but her fingers gave way and her nails broke. She wanted something to prise with. She opened the drawer of the card-table: and there lay three yellow scrawls. They were the very things she was looking for — the letters of Charles V.! Such miracles do happen sometimes!

She bent down to the low-arched window to make sure, and read: ‘François Rabelais, maître en toutes sciences et bonnes lettres.’ Enough! She started up, hitting her head hard as she did so, and was not aware of it till she was in the cab and on her way to the shop of the famous Bos in the Rue de l’Abbaye.

She got down at the corner of the street. It is a short quiet street, overshadowed by St. Germain des Près and by the old red brick buildings of the School of Surgery. A few of the surgeons’ carriages, professional broughams with splendid liveries, were in waiting. Scarcely anyone was about. Pigeons were feeding on the pavement, and flew away as she came to the shop opposite the school. It offers both books and curiosities, and exhibits an archaic inscription, highly appropriate to such a nook of Old Paris: ‘Bos: Antiquary and Palaeographer.’

The shop-front displayed something of all sorts: old manuscripts, ancient ledgers with mould spots on the edges, missals with damaged gilding, book-clasps and book-covers. To the upper panes were fastened assignats, old placards, plans of Paris, ballads, military franks with spots of blood, autographs of all ages, some verses by Madame Lafargue, two letters from Chateaubriand to ‘Pertuzé, Boot-maker, names of celebrities ancient and modern at the foot of an invitation to dinner, or perhaps a request for money, a complaint of poverty, a love letter, &c, enough to cure anyone of writing for ever. All the autographs were priced; and as Madame Astier paused for a moment before the window she might see next to a letter of Rachel, price 12L., a letter from Léonard Astier-Réhu to Petit Séquard, his publisher, price 2s. But this was not what she came for: she was trying to discover, behind the screen of green silk, the face of her intended customer, the master of the establishment. She was seized with a sudden fear: suppose he was not at home after all!

The thought of Paul waiting gave her determination, and she went into the dark, close, dusty room. She was taken at once into a little closet behind, and began to explain her business to M. Bos, who, with his large red face and disordered hair, looked like a speaker at a public meeting. A temporary difficulty — her husband did not like to come himself — and so —— But before she could finish her lie, M. Bos, with a ‘Pray, madame, pray,’ had produced a cheque on the Crédit Lyonnais, and was accompanying her with the utmost politeness to her cab.

‘A very genteel person,’ he said to himself, much pleased with his acquisition, while she, as she took the cheque out of the glove into which it had been slipped, and looked again at the satisfactory figure, was thinking What a delightful man!’ She had no remorse, not even the slight recoil which comes from the mere fact that the thing is done. A woman has not these feelings. She wears natural blinkers, which prevent her from, seeing anything but the thing which she desires at the moment, and keep her from the reflections which at the critical moment embarrass a man. She thought at intervals, of course, of her husband’s anger when he discovered the theft, but she saw it, as it were, dim in the distance. Nay, it was rather a satisfaction to add this to all she had gone through since yesterday, and say to herself, ‘I can bear it for my child!’

For beneath her outward calm, her external envelope as a woman of Academic fashion, lay a certain thing that exists in all women, fashionable or not, and that thing is passion. It is the pedal which works the feminine instrument, not always discovered by the husband or the lover, but always by the son. In the dull story with no love in it, which makes up the life of many a woman, the son is the hero and the principal character. To her beloved Paul, especially since he had reached manhood, Madame Astier owed the only genuine emotions of her life, the delightful anguish of the waiting, the chill in the pale cheeks and the heat in the hollow of the hand, the supernatural intuitions which, before the carriage is at the door, give the infallible warning that ‘he comes,’— things which she had never known even in the early years of her married life or in the days when people called her imprudent, and her husband used to say with simplicity, ‘It’s odd; I never smoke, and my wife’s veils smell of tobacco.’

When she reached her son’s, and the first pull of the bell was not answered, her anxiety rose to distraction. The little mansion showed no sign of life from the ground to the ornamental roof-ridge, and, in spite of its much-admired style, had to her eyes a sinister appearance, as also had the adjoining lodging-house, not less architecturally admirable, but showing bills all along the high mullioned windows of its two upper storeys, ‘To let; To let; To let.’ At the second pull, which produced a tremendous ring, Stenne, the impudent little man-servant, looking very spruce in his close-fitting sky-blue livery, appeared at last at the door, rather confused and hesitating: ‘Oh yes, M. Paul was in, but — but —’

The unhappy mother, haunted ever since yesterday by the same horrible idea, pictured her son lying in his blood, crossed at a bound the passage and three steps, and burst breathless into the study. Paul was standing at work before his desk in the bay window. One pane of the stained glass was open, to throw light upon the half-finished sketch and the box of colours, while the rest of the perfumed apartment was steeped in a soft subdued glow. Absorbed in his work he seemed not to have heard the carriage stop, the bell ring twice, and a lady’s dress flit along the passage. He had: but it was not his mother’s shabby black dress that he expected, it was not for her that he posed at his desk, nor for her that he had provided the delicate bouquets of fine irises and tulips, or the sweetmeats and elegant decanters upon the light table.

The way in which as he looked round he said, ‘Oh, it’s you,’ would have been significant to anyone but his mother. She did not notice it, lost in the delight of seeing him there, perfectly well, perfectly dressed. She said not a word, but tearing her glove open she triumphantly handed him the cheque. He did not ask her where she got it, or what she had given for it, but put his arms round her, taking care not to crumple the paper. ‘Dear old Mum’; that was all he said, but it was enough for her, though her child was not as overjoyed as she expected, but rather embarrassed. ‘Where are you going next?’ he said thoughtfully, with the cheque in his hand.

‘Where next?’ she repeated, looking at him with disappointment. Why, she had only just come, and made certain of spending a few minutes with him; but she could go if she was in the way. ‘Why, I think I shall go to the Princess’s . But I am in no hurry; she wearies me with her everlasting lamentation for Herbert. You think she has done with it, and then it takes a fresh start.’

Paul was on the point of saying something, which he did not say.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘Mammy, will you do something for me? I am expecting somebody. Go and cash this for me, and let the agent have the money in return for my drafts. You don’t mind?’

She did not indeed. If she went about his business she would seem to be with him still. While he was signing his name, the mother looked round the room. There were charming carpets and curtains, and nothing to mark the profession of the occupant except an X ruler in old walnut, and some casts from well-known friezes hung here and there. As she thought of her recent agony and looked at the elaborate bouquets and the refreshments laid by the sofa, it occurred to her that these were unusual preparations for a suicide. She smiled without any resentment. The naughty wretch! She only pointed with her parasol at the bonbons in the box and said:

‘Those are to make a hole in your — your — what do you call it?’

He began to laugh too.

‘Oh, there’s a great change since yesterday.

The business, you know, the big thing I talked to you about, is really coming off this time, I think.’

‘Really? So is mine.’

‘Eh? Ah yes, Sammy’s marriage.’

Their pretty cunning eyes, both of the same hard grey, but, the mother’s a little faded, exchanged one scrutinising glance.

‘You’ll see, we shall be rolling in riches,’ he said after a moment. ‘Now you must be going,’ and he hurried her gently to the door.

That morning Paul had had a note from the Princess to say that she should call for him at his own house to go to the usual place. The usual place was the cemetery. Lately there had been what Madame Astier called ‘a fresh start’ of Herbert. Twice a week the widow went to the cemetery with flowers, or tapers, or articles for the chapel, and urged the progress of the work; her conjugal feelings had broken out again. The fact was, that after a long and painful hesitation between her vanity and her love, the temptation of keeping her title and the fascinations of the delightful Paul — a hesitation the more painful that she confided it to no one, except in her journal every evening to ‘poor Herbert’— the appointment of Sammy had finally decided her, and she thought it proper, before taking a new husband, to complete the sepulture of the first and have done with the mausoleum and the dangerous intimacy of its seductive designer.

Paul, without understanding the flutterings of the foolish little soul, was amused by them, and thought them excellent symptoms, indicating the approach of the crisis. But the thing dragged, and he was in a hurry; it was time to hasten the conclusion and profit by Colette’s visit, which had been long proposed but long deferred, the Princess, though curious to see the young man’s lodgings, being apparently afraid to meet him in a place much more private than her own house or her carriage, where there were always the servants to see. Not that he had ever been over-bold; he only seemed to surround her with his presence. But she was afraid of herself, her opinion coinciding with that of the young man, who, being an experienced general in such matters, had classed her at once as one of the ‘open towns.’ It was his name for the sort of fashionable women who, in spite of a high and apparently unassailable position, in spite of a great apparatus of defences in every direction, are in reality to be carried by a bold attack. He did not intend now to make the regular assault, but only a smart approach or so of warm flirtation, sufficient to set a mark upon his prey without hurting her dignity, and to signify the final expropriation of the deceased. The marriage and the million would follow in due time. Such was the happy dream which Madame Astier had interrupted. He was pursuing it still, at the same desk and in the same contemplative attitude, when the whole house resounded with another ring at the bell, followed however only by conversation at the front door. ‘What is it?’ said Paul impatiently, as he came out.

The voice of a footman, whose tall black figure was conspicuous in the doorway against a background of splashing rain, answered from the steps, with respectful insolence, that my lady was waiting for him in the carriage. Paul, though choking with rage, managed to get out the words, ‘I am coming,’ But what horrid curses he muttered under his breath! The dead fellow again! Sure enough, it was the remembrance of him that had kept her away. But after a few seconds the hope of avenging himself before long in a highly amusing way enabled him so far to recover countenance, that when he joined the Princess he was as cool as ever, and showed nothing of his anger but a little extra paleness in the cheek.

It was warm in the brougham, the windows having been put up because of the shower. Huge bouquets of violets and wreaths as heavy as pies loaded the cushions round Madame de Rosen and filled her lap.

‘Are the flowers unpleasant? Shall I put the window down?’ said she, with the cajoling manner which a woman puts on when she has played you a trick and wants not to have a quarrel over it. Paul’s gesture expressed a dignified indifference. It was nothing to him whether the window was put down or put up. The Princess, whose deep veil, still worn on such occasions as the present, concealed a blooming face, felt more uncomfortable than if he had reproached her openly. Poor young man! She was treating him so cruelly — so much more cruelly than he knew! She laid her hand gently upon his, and said, ‘You are not angry with me?’

He? Not at all. Why should he be angry with her?

‘For not coming in. I did say I would, but at the last moment I— I did not think I should hurt you so much.’

‘You hurt me very much indeed.’

When a gentleman of severely correct deportment is betrayed into a word or two of emotion, oh, what an impression they make upon a woman’s heart! They upset her almost as much as the tears of an officer in uniform.

‘No, no,’ she said, ‘please, please do not distress yourself any more about me. Please say that you are not angry now.’

As she spoke she leaned quite close to him, letting her flowers slip down. She felt quite safe with two broad black backs and two black cockades visible on the box under a large umbrella.

‘Look,’ she went on; ‘I promise you to come once — at least once — before ——’ but here she stopped in dismay. Carried away by her feelings, she was on the point of telling him that they were soon to part, and that she was going to St. Petersburg. Recovering herself in a moment, she declared emphatically that she would call unannounced some afternoon when she was not going to visit the mausoleum.

‘But you go there every afternoon,’ he said, with clenched teeth and such a queer accent of suppressed indignation that a smile played beneath the widow’s veil, and to make a diversion she put down the window. The shower was over. The brougham had turned into a poor quarter, where the street in its squalid gaiety seemed to feel that the worst of the year was past, as the sun, almost hot enough for summer, lighted up the wretched shops, the barrows at the gutter’s edge, the tawdry placards, and the rags that fluttered in the windows. The Princess looked out upon it with indifference. Such trivialities are non-existent for people accustomed to see them from the cushions of their carriage at an elevation of two feet from the road. The comfort of the springs and the protection of the glass have a peculiar influence upon the eyes, which take no interest in things below their level.

Madame de Rosen was thinking, ‘How he loves me! And how nice he is!’ The other suitor was of course more dignified, but it would have been much pleasanter with this one. Oh, dear! The happiest life is but a service incomplete, and never a perfect set!

By this time they were nearing the cemetery. On both sides of the road were stonemasons’ yards, in which the hard white of slabs, images, and crosses mingled with the gold of immortelles and the black or white beads of wreaths and memorials.

‘And what about Védrine’s statue? Which way do we decide?’ he asked abruptly, in the tone of a man who means to confine himself to business.

‘Well, really —’ she began. ‘But, oh dear, oh dear, I shall hurt your feelings again?’

‘My feelings! how so?’

The day before, they had been to make a last inspection of the knight, before he was sent to the foundry. At a previous visit the Princess had received a disagreeable impression, not so much from Védrine’s work, which she scarcely looked at, as from the strange studio with trees growing in it, with lizards and wood-lice running about the walls, and all around it roofless ruins, suggesting recollections of the incendiary mob. But from the second visit the poor little woman had come back literally ill. ‘My dear, it is the horror of horrors!’ Such was her real opinion, as given the same evening to Madame Astier. But she did not dare to say so to Paul, knowing that he was a friend of the sculptor, and also because the name of Védrine is one of the two or three which the fashionable world has chosen to honour in spite of its natural and implanted tastes, and regards with an irrational admiration by way of pretending to artistic originality. That the coarse rude figure should not be put on dear Herbert’s tomb she was determined, but she was at a loss for a presentable reason.

‘Really, Monsieur Paul, between ourselves — of course it is a splendid work — a fine Védrine— but you must allow that it is a little triste!

‘Well, but for a tomb ——’ suggested Paul.

‘And then, if you will not mind, there is this.’ With much hesitation she came to the point. Really, you know, a man upon a camp bedstead with nothing on! Really she did not think it fit. It might be taken for a portrait!’ And just think of poor Herbert, the correctest of men! What would it look like?’

‘There is a good deal in that,’ said Paul gravely, and he threw his friend Védrine overboard with as little concern as a litter of kittens. ‘After all, if you do not like the figure, we can put another, or none at all. It would have a more striking effect. The tent empty; the bed ready, and no one to lie on it!’

The Princess, whose chief satisfaction was that the shirtless ruffian would not be seen there, exclaimed, ‘Oh, how glad I am! how nice of you! I don’t mind telling you now, that I cried over it all night!’

As usual, when they stopped at the entrance gate, the footman took the wreaths and followed some way behind, while Colette and Paul climbed in the heat a path made soft by the recent showers. She leaned upon his arm, and from time to time ‘hoped that she did not tire him.’ He shook his head with a sad smile. There were few people in the cemetery. A gardener and a keeper recognised the familiar figure of the Princess with a respectful bow. But when they had left the avenue and passed the upper terraces, it was all solitude and shade. Besides the birds in the trees they heard only the grinding of the saw and the metallic clink of the chisel, sounds perpetual in Père-la-Chaise, as in some city always in building and never finished.

Two or three times Madame de Rosen had seen her companion glance with displeasure at the tall lacquey in his long black overcoat and cockade, whose funereal figure now as ever formed part of the love-scene. Eager on this occasion to please him, she stopped, saying, ‘Wait a minute,’ took the flowers herself, dismissed the servant, and they went on all alone along the winding walk. But in spite of this kindness, Paul’s brow did not relax; and, as he had hung upon his free arm three or four rings of violets, immortelles, and lilac, he felt more angry with the deceased than ever. ‘You shall pay me for this,’ was his savage reflection. She, on the contrary, felt singularly happy, in that vivid consciousness of life and health which comes upon us in places of death. Perhaps it was the warmth of the day, the perfume of the flowers, mixing their fragrance with the stronger scent of the yews and the box trees and the moist earth steaming in the sun, and with another yet, an acrid, faint, and penetrating scent, which she knew well, but which, to-day, instead of revolting her senses, as usual, seemed rather to intoxicate them.

Suddenly a shiver passed over her. The hand which lay on the young man’s arm was suddenly grasped in his, grasped with force and held tight, held as it were in an embrace, and the little hand dared not take itself away. The fingers of his hand were trying to get between the delicate fingers of hers and take possession of it altogether. Hers resisted, trying to clench itself in the glove by way of refusal. All the time they went on walking, arm in arm, neither speaking nor looking, but much moved, resistance, according to the natural law, exciting the relative desire. At last came the surrender; the little hand opened, and their fingers joined in a clasp which parted their gloves, for one exquisite moment of full avowal and complete possession. The next minute the woman’s pride awoke. She wanted to speak, to show that she was mistress of herself, that she had no part in what was done, nor knowledge of it at all. Finding nothing to say, she read aloud the epitaph on a tomb lying flat among the weeds, ‘Augusta, 1847,’ and he continued, under his breath, ‘A love-story, no doubt.’ Overhead the thrushes and finches uttered their strident notes, not unlike the sounds of the stone-cutting, which were heard uninterruptedly in the distance.

They were now entering the Twentieth Division, the part of the cemetery which may be called its ‘old town,’ where the paths are narrower, the trees higher, the tombs closer together, a confused mass of ironwork, pillars, Greek temples, pyramids, angels, genii, busts, wings open and wings folded. The tombs were various as the lives now hidden beneath — commonplace, odd, original, simple, forced, pretentious, modest. In some the floor-stones were freshly cleaned and loaded with flowers, memorials, and miniature gardens of a Chinese elegance in littleness. In others the mossy slabs were mouldering or parting, and were covered with brambles and high weeds. But all bore well-known names, names distinctly Parisian, names of lawyers, judges, merchants of eminence, ranged here in rows as in the haunts of business and trade. There were even double names, standing for family partnerships in capital and connection, substantial signatures, known no more to the directory or the bank ledger, but united for ever upon the tomb. And Madame de Rosen remarked them with the same tone of surprise, almost of pleasure, with which she would have bowed to a carriage in the Park, ‘Ah! the So-and-So’s! Mario? was that the singer?’ and so forth, all by way of seeming not to know that their hands were clasped.

But presently the door of a tomb near them creaked, and there appeared a large lady in black, with a round fresh face. She carried a little watering-pot, and was putting to rights the flower-beds, oratory, and tomb generally, as calmly as if she had been in a summer-house. She nodded to them across the Enclosure with a kindly smile of unselfish good will, which seemed to say, ‘Use your time, happy lovers; life is short, and nothing good but love.’ A feeling of embarrassment unloosed their hands. The spell was broken, and the Princess, with a sort of shame, led the way across the tombs, taking the quickest and shortest line to reach the mausoleum of the Prince.

It stood on the highest ground in ‘Division 20,’ upon a large level of lawn and flowers, inclosed by a low rich rail of wrought iron in the style of the Scaliger tombs at Verona. Its general appearance was designedly rough, and fairly realised the conception of an antique tent with its coarse folds, the red of the Dalmatian granite giving the colour of the bark in which the canvas had been steeped. At the top of three broad steps of granite was the entrance, flanked with pedestals and high funereal tripods of bronze blackened with a sort of lacquer. Above were the Rosen arms upon a large scutcheon, also of bronze, the shield of the good knight who slept within the tent.

Entering the inclosure, they laid the wreaths here and there, on the pedestals and on the slanted projections, representing huge tent-pegs, at the edge of the base. The Princess went to the far end of the interior, where in the darkness before the altar shone the silver fringes of two kneeling-desks, and the old gold of a Gothic cross and massive candlesticks, and there fell upon her knees — a good place to pray in, among the cool slabs, the panels of black marble glittering with the name and full titles of the dead, and the inscriptions from Ecclesiastes or the Song of Songs. But the Princess could find only a few indistinct words, confused with profane thoughts, which made her ashamed. She rose and busied herself with the flower-stands, retiring gradually far enough to judge the effect of the sarcophagus or bed. The cushion of black bronze, with silver monogram, was already in its place, and she thought the hard couch with nothing upon it had a fine and simple effect. But she wanted the opinion of Paul, who could be heard pacing the gravel as he waited without. Mentally approving his delicacy, she was on the point of calling him in, when the interior grew dark, and on the trefoil lights of the lantern was heard the patter of another shower. Twice she called him, but he did not move from the pedestal, where he sat exposed to the rain, and without speaking declined her invitation.

‘Come in,’ she said, ‘come in.’

Still he stayed, saying rapidly and low, ‘I do not want to come. You love him so.’

‘Come,’ she still said, ‘come/ and taking his hand drew him to the entrance. Step by step the splashing of the rain made them draw back as far as the sarcophagus, and there, half sitting, half standing, they remained side by side, contemplating beneath the low clouds the ‘old town’ of the dead, which sloped away at their feet with its crowding throng of pinnacles and grey figures and humbler stones, rising like Druid architecture from the bright green. No birds were audible, no sound of tools, nothing but the water running away on all sides, and from the canvas cover of a half-finished monument the monotonous voices of two artisans discussing their worries. The rain without made it all the warmer within, and with the strong aroma of the flowers mingled still that other inseparable scent The Princess had raised her veil, feeling the same oppression and dryness of the mouth that she had felt on the way up. Speechless and motionless, the pair seemed so much a part of the tomb, that a little brown, bird came hopping in to shake its feathers and pick a worm between the slabs. ‘It’s a nightingale,’ murmured Paul in the sweet overpowering stillness. She tried to say, ‘Do they sing still in this month?’ But he had taken her in his arms, he had set her between his knees at the edge of the granite couch, and putting her head back, pressed upon her half-open lips a long, long kiss, passionately returned.

‘Because love is more strong than death,’ said the inscription from the Canticle, written above them upon the marble wall.

When the Princess reached her house, where Madame Astier was awaiting her return, she had a long cry in the arms of her friend, a refuge unhappily not more trustworthy than those of her friend’s son. It was a burst of lamentation and broken words. ‘Oh, my dear, oh, my dear, how miserable I am! If you knew,’ she said, ‘if you only knew!’ She felt with despair the hopeless difficulty of the situation, her hand solemnly promised to the Prince d’Athis, and her affections just plighted to the enchanter of the tombs, whom she cursed from the depths of her soul. And, most distressing of all, she could not confide her weakness to her affectionate friend, being sure that, the moment she opened her lips, the mother would side with her son against ‘Sammy,’ with love against prudence, and perhaps even compel her to the intolerable degradation of marrying a commoner.

‘There then, there then,’ said Madame Astier, unaffected by the torrent of grief. ‘You are come from the cemetery, I suppose, where you have been working up your feelings again. But you know, dear, there must be an end to Artemisia!‘ She understood the woman’s weak vanity, and insisted on the absurdity of this interminable mourning, ridiculous in the eyes of the world, and at all events injurious to her beauty And after all, it was not a question of a second love-match! What was proposed was no more than an alliance between two names and titles equally noble. Herbert himself, if he saw her from heaven, must be content.

‘He did understand things, certainly, poor dear,’ sighed Colette de Rosen, whose maiden name was Sauvadon. She was set on becoming ‘Madame l’Ambassadrice,’ and still more on remaining ‘Madame la Princesse.’

‘Look, dear, will you have a piece of good advice? You just run away. Sammy will start in a week. Do not wait for him. Take Lavaux. He knows St. Petersburg, and will settle you there meanwhile. And there will be this advantage, that you will escape a painful scene with the Duchess. A Corsican, you know, is capable of anything.’

‘Ye-es, perhaps I had better go,’ said Madame de Rosen, to whom the chief merit of the plan was that she would avoid any fresh attack, and put distance between her and the folly of the afternoon.

‘Is it the tomb?’ asked Madame Astier, seeing her hesitate. ‘Is that it? Why, Paul will finish it very well without you. Come, pet, no more tears. You may water your beauty, but you must not over-water it.’ As she went away in the fading light to wait for her omnibus, the good lady said to herself, ‘Oh dear, D’Athis will never know what his marriage is costing me!’ And here her feeling of weariness, her longing for a good rest after so many trials, reminded her suddenly that the most trying of all was to come, the discovery and confession at home. She had not yet had time to think about it, and now she was going fast towards it, nearer and nearer with every turn of the heavy wheels. The very anticipation made her shudder: it was not fear; but the frantic outcries of Astier-Réhu, his big rough voice, the answer that must be given, and then the inevitable reappearance of his trunk — oh, what a weariness it would be! Could it not be put off till to-morrow? She was tempted not to confess at once, but to turn suspicion upon some one else, upon Teyssèdre for instance, till the next morning. She would at least get a quiet night.

‘Ah, here is Madame! Something has happened/ cried Corentine, as she ran to the door in a fluster, excitement making more conspicuous than usual the marks of her smallpox. Madame Astier made straight for her own room; but the door of the study opened, and a peremptory ‘Adelaide!’ compelled her to go in. The rays of the lamp-globe showed her that the face of her husband had a strange expression. He took her by the two hands and drew her into the light. Then in a quivering voice he said, ‘Loi-sillon is dead,’ and he kissed her on both cheeks.

Not found out! No, not yet. He had not even gone up to his papers; but had been pacing his study for two hours, eager to see her and tell her this great news, these three words which meant a change in their whole life, ‘Loisillon is dead!’

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53