Works, by Guy de Maupassant

Delila

In a former reminiscence,1 we made the acquaintance of a lady, who had done the police many services in former years, and whom we called Wanda von Chabert. It is no exaggeration, if we say that she was at the same time the cleverest, the most charming and the most selfish woman whom one could possibly meet. She was certainly not exactly what is called beautiful, for neither her face nor her figure were symmetrical enough for that, but if her head was not beautiful in the style of the antique, neither like the Venus of Milo nor Ludoirsi’s Juno, it was, on the other hand, in the highest sense delightful like the ladies whom Wateau and Mignard painted. Everything in her little face, and in its frame of soft brown hair was attractive and seductive, her low, Grecian forehead, her bright, almond shaped eyes, her small nose, and her full, voluptuous lips, her middling height and her small waist with its, perhaps, almost too full bust, and above all her walk, that half indolent, half coquettish swaying of her broad hips, were all maddeningly alluring.

1 An Exotic Prince.]

And this woman, who was born for love, was as eager for pleasure and as amorous as few other women have even been, but for that very reason she never ran any danger of allowing her victims to escape her from pity; on the contrary, she soon grew tired of each of her favorites, and her connection with the police was then extremely useful to her, in order to get rid of an inconvenient, or jealous lover.

Before the war between Austria and Italy in 1859, Frau von Chabert was in London, where she lived alone in a small, one-storied house with her servants, and was in constant communication with emigrants from all countries.

She herself was thought to be a Polish refugee, and the luxury by which she was surrounded, and a fondness for sport, and above all for horses, which was remarkable even in England, made people give her the title of Countess. At that period Count T—— was one of the most prominent members of the Hungarian propaganda, and Frau von Chabert was commissioned to pay particular attention to all he said and did; but in spite of all the trouble she took, she had not hitherto even succeeded in making his acquaintance. He lived the life of a misanthrope, quite apart from the great social stream of London, and he was not believed to be either gallant, or ardent in love. Fellow-countrymen of his, who had known him formerly, during the Magyar revolution, described him as very cautious, cold and silent, so that if any man possessed a charm against the toils, which she set for him, it was he.

Just then it happened that as Wanda was riding in Hyde Park quite early one morning before there were many people about, her thoroughbred English mare took fright, and threatened to throw the plucky rider, who did not for a moment lose her presence of mind, from the saddle. Before her groom had time to come to her assistance, a man in a Hungarian braided coat rushed from the path, and caught hold of the animal’s reins. When the mare had grown quite quiet, he was about to go away with a slight bow, but Frau von Chabert detained him, so that she might thank him, and so had leisure to examine him more closely. He was neither young nor handsome, but was well-made, like all Hungarians are, and had an interesting and very expressive face. He had a sallow complexion, which was set off by a short, black full beard, and he looked as if he were suffering, while he fixed two, great, black fanatical eyes on the beautiful young woman, who was smiling at him so amiably, and it was the strange look in those large eyes which aroused in the soul of the woman who was so excitable, that violent, but passing feeling which she called love. She turned her horse and accompanied the stranger on his side, and he seemed to be even more charmed by her chatter than by her appearance, for his grave face grew more and more animated, and at last he himself became quite friendly and talkative. When he took leave of her, Wanda gave him her card, on the back of which her address was written, and he immediately gave her his in return.

She thanked him and rode off, looking at his name as she did so; it was Count T—— .

She felt inclined to give a shout of pleasure when she found that the noble quarry, which she had been hunting so long, had at last come into her preserves, but she did not even turn her head round to look at him, such was the command which that woman had over herself and her movements.

Count T—— called upon her the very next day, soon he came every day, and in less than a month after that innocent adventure in Hyde Park, he was at her feet; for when Frau von Chabert made up her mind to be loved, nobody was able to withstand her. She became the Count’s confidante almost as speedily as she had become his mistress, and every day, and almost every hour, she, with the most delicate coquetry, laid fresh fetters on the Hungarian Samson. Did she love him?

Certainly she did, after her own fashion, and at first she had not the remotest idea of betraying him; she even succeeded in completely concealing her connection with him, not only in London but also in Vienna.

Then the war of 1859 broke out, and like most Hungarian and Polish refugees, Count T—— hurried off to Italy, in order to place himself at the disposal of that great and patriotic Piedmontese statesman, Cavour.

Wanda went with him, and took the greatest interest in his revolutionary intrigues in Turin; for some time she seemed to be his right hand, and it looked as if she had become unfaithful to her present patrons. Through his means, she soon became on intimate terms with Piedmontese government circles, and that was his destruction.

A young Italian diplomatist, who frequently negotiated with Count T— — or in his absence, with Wanda, fell madly in love with the charming Polish woman, and she, who was never cruel, more especially when she herself had caught fire, allowed herself to be conquered by the handsome, intellectual, daring man. In measure as her passion for the Italian increased, so her feelings for Count T—— declined, and at last she felt that her connection with him was nothing but a hindrance and a burden, and as soon as Wanda had reached that point, her adorer was as good as lost.

Count T—— was not a man whom she could just coolly dismiss, or with whom she might venture to trifle, and that she knew perfectly well; so in order to avoid a catastrophe, the consequences of which might be incalculable for her, she did not let him notice the change in her feelings towards him at first, and kept the Italian, who belonged to her, at a proper distance.

When peace had been concluded, and the great, peaceful revolution, which found its provisional settlement in the Constitution of February and in the Hungarian agreement, began in Austria, the Hungarian refugees determined to send Count T—— to Hungary, that he might assume the direction of affairs there. But as he was still an outlaw, and as the death sentence of Arab hung over his head like the sword of Damocles, he consulted with Wanda about the ways and means of reaching his fatherland unharmed and of remaining there undiscovered. Although that clever woman thought of a plan immediately, yet she told Count T—— that she would think the matter over, and she did not bring forward her proposition for a few days, which was then, however, received by the Count and his friends with the highest approval, and was immediately carried into execution. Frau von Chabert went to Vienna as Marchioness Spinola, and T—— accompanied her as her footman; he had cut his hair short, and shaved off his beard; so that in his livery, he was quite unrecognizable. They passed the frontier in safety, and reached Vienna without any interference from the authorities; and there they first of all went to a small hotel, but soon took a small, handsome flat in the center of the town. Count T—— immediately hunted up some members of his party, who had been in constant communication with the emigrants, since Vilagos, and the conspiracy was soon in excellent train, while Wanda whiled away her time with a hussar officer, without, however, losing sight of her lover and of his dangerous activity, for a moment, on that account.

And at last, when the fruit was ripe for falling into her lap, she was sitting in the private room of the Minister of Police, opposite to the man with whom she was going to make the evil compact.

“The emigrants must be very uneasy and disheartened at an agreement with, and reconciliation to, Hungary,” he began.

“Do not deceive yourself,” Frau von Chabert replied; “nothing is more dangerous in politics than optimism, and the influence of the revolutionary propaganda was never greater than it is at present. Do not hope to conciliate the Magyars by half concessions, and, above all things, do not underestimate the movement, which is being organized openly, in broad daylight.”

“You are afraid of a revolution?”

“I know that they are preparing for one, and that they expect everything from that alone.”

The skeptical man smiled.

“Give me something besides views and opinions, and then I will believe . . . ”

“I will give you the proof,” Wanda said, “but before I do you the greatest service that lies in my power, I must be sure that I shall be rewarded for all my skill and trouble.”

“Can you doubt it?”

“I will be open with you,” Wanda continued.

“During the insurrectionary war in Transylvania, Urban had excellent spies, but they have not been paid to this day. I want money. . . . ”

“How much?”

With inimitable ease, the beautiful woman mentioned a very considerable sum. The skeptical man got up to give a few orders, and a short time afterwards the money was in Wanda’s hands.

“Well?”

“The emigrants have sent one of their most influential and talented members to organize the revolution in Hungary.”

“Have they sent him already?”

“More than that, for Count T—— is in Vienna at this moment.”

“Do you know where he is hiding?”

“Yes.”

“And you are sure that you are not mistaken?”

“I am most assuredly not mistaken,” she replied with a frivolous laugh; “Count T— — who was my admirer in London and Turin, is here in my house, as my footman.”

An hour later, the Count was arrested. But Wanda only wished to get rid of her tiresome adorer, and not to destroy him. She had been on the most intimate terms with him long enough, and had taken part in his political plans and intrigues, to be able to give the most reliable information about him personally, as well as about his intentions, and that information was such that, in spite of the past, and of the Count’s revolutionary standpoint, they thought they had discovered in him the man who was capable of bringing about a real reconciliation between the monarch and his people. In consequence of this, T——, who thought that he had incurred the gallows, stood in the Emperor’s presence, and the manner in which the latter expressed his generous intentions with regard to Hungary, carried the old rebel away, and he gave him his word of honor that he would bring the nation back to him, reconciled. And he kept his word, although, perhaps, not exactly in the sense in which he gave it.

He was allowed full liberty in going to Hungary, and Wanda accompanied him. He had no suspicion that even in his mistress’s arms he was under police supervision, and from the moment when he made his appearance in his native land officially, as the intermediary between the crown and the people, she had a fresh interest in binding a man of such importance, whom everybody regarded as Hungary’s future Minister–President, to herself.

He began to negotiate, and at first everything went well, but soon the yielding temper of the government gave rise continually to fresh demands, and before long, what one side offered and the other side demanded, was so far apart, that no immediate agreement could be thought of. The Count’s position grew more painful every day; he had pledged himself too deeply to both sides, and in vain he sought for a way out of the difficulty.

Then one day the Minister of Police unexpectedly received a letter from Wanda, in which she told him that T— — urged on by his fellow-countrymen, and branded as a traitor by the emigrants, was on the point of heading a fresh conspiracy.

Thereupon, the government energetically reminded that thoroughly honest and noble man of his word of honor, and T— — who saw that he was unable to keep it, ended his life by a pistol bullet.

Frau von Chabert left Hungary immediately after the sad catastrophe, and went to Turin, where new lovers, new splendors and new laurels awaited her.

We may, perhaps, hear more of her.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09