The most amusing society, but also the most mixed, which Madame Felix de Vandenesse frequented, was that of the Comtesse de Montcornet, a charming little woman, who received illustrious artists, leading financial personages, distinguished writers; but only after subjecting them to so rigid an examination that the most exclusive aristocrat had nothing to fear in coming in contact with this second-class society. The loftiest pretensions were there respected.
During the winter of 1833, when society rallied after the revolution of July, some salons, notably those of Mesdames d’Espard and de Listomere, Mademoiselle des Touches, and the Duchesse de Grandlieu, had selected certain of the celebrities in art, science, literature, and politics, and received them. Society can lose nothing of its rights, and it must be amused. At a concert given by Madame de Montcornet toward the close of the winter of 1833, a man of rising fame in literature and politics appeared in her salon, brought there by one of the wittiest, but also one of the laziest writers of that epoch, Emile Blondet, celebrated behind closed doors, highly praised by journalists, but unknown beyond the barriers. Blondet himself was well aware of this; he indulged in no illusions, and, among his other witty and contemptuous sayings, he was wont to remark that fame is a poison good to take in little doses.
From the moment when the man we speak of, Raoul Nathan, after a long struggle, forced his way to the public gaze, he had put to profit the sudden infatuation for form manifested by those elegant descendants of the middle ages, jestingly called Young France. He assumed the singularities of a man of genius and enrolled himself among those adorers of art, whose intentions, let us say, were excellent; for surely nothing could be more ridiculous than the costume of Frenchmen in the nineteenth century, and nothing more courageous than an attempt to reform it. Raoul, let us do him this justice, presents in his person something fine, fantastic, and extraordinary, which needs a frame. His enemies, or his friends, they are about the same thing, agree that nothing could harmonize better with his mind than his outward form.
Raoul Nathan would, perhaps, be more singular if left to his natural self than he is with his various accompaniments. His worn and haggard face gives him an appearance of having fought with angels or devils; it bears some resemblance to that the German painters give to the dead Christ; countless signs of a constant struggle between failing human nature and the powers on high appear in it. But the lines in his hollow cheeks, the projections of his crooked, furrowed skull, the caverns around his eyes and behind his temples, show nothing weakly in his constitution. His hard membranes, his visible bones are the signs of remarkable solidity; and though his skin, discolored by excesses, clings to those bones as if dried there by inward fires, it nevertheless covers a most powerful structure. He is thin and tall. His long hair, always in disorder, is worn so for effect. This ill-combed, ill-made Byron has heron legs and stiffened knee-joints, an exaggerated stoop, hands with knotty muscles, firm as a crab’s claws, and long, thin, wiry fingers. Raoul’s eyes are Napoleonic, blue eyes, which pierce to the soul; his nose is crooked and very shrewd; his mouth charming, embellished with the whitest teeth that any woman could desire. There is fire and movement in the head, and genius on that brow. Raoul belongs to the small number of men who strike your mind as you pass them, and who, in a salon, make a luminous spot to which all eyes are attracted.
He makes himself remarked also by his “neglige,” if we may borrow from Moliere the word which Eliante uses to express the want of personal neatness. His clothes always seem to have been twisted, frayed, and crumpled intentionally, in order to harmonize with his physiognomy. He keeps one of his hands habitually in the bosom of his waistcoat in the pose which Girodet’s portrait of Monsieur de Chateaubriand has rendered famous; but less to imitate that great man (for he does not wish to resemble any one) than to rumple the over-smooth front of his shirt. His cravat is no sooner put on than it is twisted by the convulsive motions of his head, which are quick and abrupt, like those of a thoroughbred horse impatient of harness, and constantly tossing up its head to rid itself of bit and bridle. His long and pointed beard is neither combed, nor perfumed, nor brushed, nor trimmed, like those of the elegant young men of society; he lets it alone, to grow as it will. His hair, getting between the collar of his coat and his cravat, lies luxuriantly on his shoulders, and greases whatever spot it touches. His wiry, bony hands ignore a nailbrush and the luxury of lemon. Some of his cofeuilletonists declare that purifying waters seldom touch their calcined skin.
In short, the terrible Raoul is grotesque. His movements are jerky, as if produced by imperfect machinery; his gait rejects all idea of order, and proceeds by spasmodic zig-zags and sudden stoppages, which knock him violently against peaceable citizens on the streets and boulevards of Paris. His conversation, full of caustic humor, of bitter satire, follows the gait of his body; suddenly it abandons its tone of vengeance and turns sweet, poetic, consoling, gentle, without apparent reason; he falls into inexplicable silences, or turns somersets of wit, which at times are somewhat wearying. In society, he is boldly awkward, and exhibits a contempt for conventions and a critical air about things respected which makes him unpleasant to narrow minds, and also to those who strive to preserve the doctrines of old-fashioned, gentlemanly politeness; but for all that there is a sort of lawless originality about him which women do not dislike. Besides, to them, he is often most amiably courteous; he seems to take pleasure in making them forget his personal singularities, and thus obtains a victory over antipathies which flatters either his vanity, his self-love, or his pride.
“Why do you present yourself like that?” said the Marquise de Vandenesse one day.
“Pearls live in oyster-shells,” he answered, conceitedly.
To another who asked him somewhat the same question, he replied —
“If I were charming to all the world, how could I seem better still to the one woman I wish to please?”
Raoul Nathan imports this same natural disorder (which he uses as a banner) into his intellectual life; and the attribute is not misleading. His talent is very much that of the poor girls who go about in bourgeois families to work by the day. He was first a critic, and a great critic; but he felt himself cheated in that vocation. His articles were equal to books, he said. The profits of theatrical work then allured him; but, incapable of the slow and steady application required for stage arrangement, he was forced to associate with himself a vaudevillist, du Bruel, who took his ideas, worked them over, and reduced them into those productive little pieces, full of wit, which are written expressly for actors and actresses. Between them, they had invented Florine, an actress now in vogue.
Humiliated by this association, which was that of the Siamese twins, Nathan had produced alone, at the Theatre–Francais, a serious drama, which fell with all the honors of war amid salvos of thundering articles. In his youth he had once before appeared at the great and noble Theatre–Francais in a splendid romantic play of the style of “Pinto,”— a period when the classic reigned supreme. The Odeon was so violently agitated for three nights that the play was forbidden by the censor. This second piece was considered by many a masterpiece, and won him more real reputation than all his productive little pieces done with collaborators — but only among a class to whom little attention is paid, that of connoisseurs and persons of true taste.
“Make another failure like that,” said Emile Blondet, “and you’ll be immortal.”
But instead of continuing in that difficult path, Nathan had fallen, out of sheer necessity, into the powder and patches of eighteenth-century vaudeville, costume plays, and the reproduction, scenically, of successful novels.
Nevertheless, he passed for a great mind which had not said its last word. He had, moreover, attempted permanent literature, having published three novels, not to speak of several others which he kept in press like fish in a tank. One of these three books, the first (like that of many writers who can only make one real trip into literature), had obtained a very brilliant success. This work, imprudently placed in the front rank, this really artistic work he was never weary of calling the finest book of the period, the novel of the century.
Raoul complained bitterly of the exigencies of art. He was one of those who contributed most to bring all created work, pictures, statues, books, building under the single standard of Art. He had begun his career by committing a volume of verse, which won him a place in the pleiades of living poets; among these verses was a nebulous poem that was greatly admired. Forced by want of means to keep on producing, he went from the theatre to the press, and from the press to the theatre, dissipating and scattering his talent, but believing always in his vein. His fame was therefore not unpublished like that of so many great minds in extremity, who sustain themselves only by the thought of work to be done.
Nathan resembled a man of genius; and had he marched to the scaffold, as he sometimes wished he could have done, he might have struck his brow with the famous action of Andre Chenier. Seized with political ambition on seeing the rise to power of a dozen authors, professors, metaphysicians, and historians, who encrusted themselves, so to speak, upon the machine during the turmoils of 1830 and 1833, he regretted that he had not spent his time on political instead of literary articles. He thought himself superior to all those parvenus, whose success inspired him with consuming jealousy. He belonged to the class of minds ambitious of everything, capable of all things, from whom success is, as it were, stolen; who go their way dashing at a hundred luminous points, and settling upon none, exhausting at last the good-will of others.
At this particular time he was going from Saint–Simonism into republicanism, to return, very likely, to ministerialism. He looked for a bone to gnaw in all corners, searching for a safe place where he could bark secure from kicks and make himself feared. But he had the mortification of finding he was held to be of no account by de Marsay, then at the head of the government, who had no consideration whatever for authors, among whom he did not find what Richelieu called a consecutive mind, or more correctly, continuity of ideas; he counted as any minister would have done on the constant embarrassment of Raoul’s business affairs. Sooner or later, necessity would bring him to accept conditions instead of imposing them.
The real, but carefully concealed character of Raoul Nathan is of a piece with his public career. He is a comedian in good faith, selfish as if the State were himself, and a very clever orator. No one knows better how to play off sentiments, glory in false grandeurs, deck himself with moral beauty, do honor to his nature in language, and pose like Alceste while behaving like Philinte. His egotism trots along protected by this cardboard armor, and often almost reaches the end he seeks. Lazy to a superlative degree, he does nothing, however, until he is prodded by the bayonets of need. He is incapable of continued labor applied to the creation of a work; but, in a paroxysm of rage caused by wounded vanity, or in a crisis brought on by creditors, he leaps the Eurotas and attains to some great triumph of his intellect. After which, weary, and surprised at having created anything, he drops back into the marasmus of Parisian dissipation; wants become formidable; he has no strength to face them; and then he comes down from his pedestal and compromises.
Influenced by a false idea of his grandeur and of his future — the measure of which he reckons on the noble success of one of his former comrades, one of the few great talents brought to light by the revolution of July — he allows himself, in order to get out of his embarrassments, certain laxities of principle with persons who are friendly to him — laxities which never come to the surface, but are buried in private life, where no one ever mentions or complains of them. The shallowness of his heart, the impurity of his hand, which clasps that of all vices, all evils, all treacheries, all opinions, have made him as inviolable as a constitutional king. Venial sins, which excite a hue and cry against a man of high character, are thought nothing of in him; the world hastens to excuse them. Men who might otherwise be inclined to despise him shake hands with him, fearing that the day may come when they will need him. He has, in fact, so many friends that he wishes for enemies.
Judged from a literary point of view, Nathan lacks style and cultivation. Like most young men, ambitious of literary fame, he disgorges today what he acquired yesterday. He has neither the time nor the patience to write carefully; he does not observe, but he listens. Incapable of constructing a vigorously framed plot, he sometimes makes up for it by the impetuous ardor of his drawing. He “does passion,” to use a term of the literary argot; but instead of awaking ideas, his heroes are simply enlarged individualities, who excite only fugitive sympathies; they are not connected with any of the great interests of life, and consequently they represent nothing. Nevertheless, Nathan maintains his ground by the quickness of his mind, by those lucky hits which billiard-players call a “good stroke.” He is the cleverest shot at ideas on the fly in all Paris. His fecundity is not his own, but that of his epoch; he lives on chance events, and to control them he distorts their meaning. In short, he is not true; his presentation is false; in him, as Comte Felix said, is the born juggler. Moreover, his pen gets its ink in the boudoir of an actress.
Raoul Nathan is a fair type of the Parisian literary youth of the day, with its false grandeurs and its real misery. He represents that youth by his incomplete beauties and his headlong falls, by the turbulent torrent of his existence, with its sudden reverses and its unhoped-for triumphs. He is truly the child of a century consumed with envy — a century with a thousand rivalries lurking under many a system, which nourish to their own profit that hydra of anarchy which wants wealth without toil, fame without talent, success without effort, but whose vices force it, after much rebellion and many skirmishes, to accept the budget under the powers that be. When so many young ambitions, starting on foot, give one another rendezvous at the same point, there is always contention of wills, extreme wretchedness, bitter struggles. In this dreadful battle, selfishness, the most overbearing or the most adroit selfishness, gains the victory; and it is envied and applauded in spite, as Moliere said, of outcries, and we all know it.
When, in his capacity as enemy to the new dynasty, Raoul was introduced in the salon of Madame de Montcornet, his apparent grandeurs were flourishing. He was accepted as the political critic of the de Marsays, the Rastignacs, and the Roche–Hugons, who had stepped into power. Emile Blondet, the victim of incurable hesitation and of his innate repugnance to any action that concerned only himself, continued his trade of scoffer, took sides with no one, and kept well with all. He was friendly with Raoul, friendly with Rastignac, friendly with Montcornet.
“You are a political triangle,” said de Marsay, laughing, when they met at the Opera. “That geometric form, my dear fellow, belongs only to the Deity, who has nothing to do; ambitious men ought to follow curved lines, the shortest road in politics.”
Seen from a distance, Raoul Nathan was a very fine meteor. Fashion accepted his ways and his appearance. His borrowed republicanism gave him, for the time being, that Jansenist harshness assumed by the defenders of the popular cause, while they inwardly scoff at it — a quality not without charm in the eyes of women. Women like to perform prodigies, break rocks, and soften natures which seem of iron.
Raoul’s moral costume was therefore in keeping with his clothes. He was fitted to be what he became to the Eve who was bored in her paradise in the rue du Rocher — the fascinating serpent, the fine talker with magnetic eyes and harmonious motions who tempted the first woman. No sooner had the Comtesse Marie laid eyes on Raoul than she felt an inward emotion, the violence of which caused her a species of terror. The glance of that fraudulent great man exercised a physical influence upon her, which quivered in her very heart, and troubled it. But the trouble was pleasure. The purple mantle which celebrity had draped for a moment round Nathan’s shoulders dazzled the ingenuous young woman. When tea was served, she rose from her seat among a knot of talking women, where she had been striving to see and hear that extraordinary being. Her silence and absorption were noticed by her false friends.
The countess approached the divan in the centre of the room, where Raoul was perorating. She stood there with her arm in that of Madame Octave de Camp, an excellent woman, who kept the secret of the involuntary trembling by which these violent emotions betrayed themselves. Though the eyes of a captivated woman are apt to shed wonderful sweetness, Raoul was too occupied at that moment in letting off fireworks, too absorbed in his epigrams going up like rockets (in the midst of which were flaming portraits drawn in lines of fire) to notice the naive admiration of one little Eve concealed in a group of women. Marie’s curiosity — like that which would undoubtedly precipitate all Paris into the Jardin des Plantes to see a unicorn, if such an animal could be found in those mountains of the moon, still virgin of the tread of Europeans — intoxicates a secondary mind as much as it saddens great ones; but Raoul was enchanted by it; although he was then too anxious to secure all women to care very much for one alone.
“Take care, my dear,” said Marie’s kind and gracious companion in her ear, “and go home.”
The countess looked at her husband to ask for his arm with one of those glances which husbands do not always understand. Felix did so, and took her home.
“My dear friend,” said Madame d’Espard in Raoul’s ear, “you are a lucky fellow. You have made more than one conquest to-night, and among them that of the charming woman who has just left us so abruptly.”
“Do you know what the Marquise d’Espard meant by that?” said Raoul to Rastignac, when they happened to be comparatively alone between one and two o’clock in the morning.
“I am told that the Comtesse de Vandenesse has taken a violent fancy to you. You are not to be pitied!” said Rastignac.
“I did not see her,” said Raoul.
“Oh! but you will see her, you scamp!” cried Emile Blondet, who was standing by. “Lady Dudley is going to ask you to her grand ball, that you may meet the pretty countess.”
Raoul and Blondet went off with Rastignac, who offered them his carriage. All three laughed at the combination of an eclectic under-secretary of State, a ferocious republican, and a political atheist.
“Suppose we sup at the expense of the present order of things?” said Blondet, who would fain recall suppers to fashion.
Rastignac took them to Very’s, sent away his carriage, and all three sat down to table to analyze society with Rabelaisian laughs. During the supper, Rastignac and Blondet advised their provisional enemy not to neglect such a capital chance of advancement as the one now offered to him. The two “roues” gave him, in fine satirical style, the history of Madame Felix de Vandenesse; they drove the scalpel of epigram and the sharp points of much good wit into that innocent girlhood and happy marriage. Blondet congratulated Raoul on encountering a woman guilty of nothing worse so far than horrible drawings in red chalk, attenuated water-colors, slippers embroidered for a husband, sonatas executed with the best intentions — a girl tied to her mother’s apron-strings till she was eighteen, trussed for religious practices, seasoned by Vandenesse, and cooked to a point by marriage. At the third bottle of champagne, Raoul unbosomed himself as he had never done before in his life.
“My friends,” he said, “you know my relations with Florine; you also know my life, and you will not be surprised to hear me say that I am absolutely ignorant of what a countess’s love may be like. I have often felt mortified that I, a poet, could not give myself a Beatrice, a Laura, except in poetry. A pure and noble woman is like an unstained conscience — she represents us to ourselves under a noble form. Elsewhere we may soil ourselves, but with her we are always proud, lofty, and immaculate. Elsewhere we lead ill-regulated lives; with her we breathe the calm, the freshness, the verdure of an oasis —”
“Go on, go on, my dear fellow!” cried Rastignac; “twang that fourth string with the prayer in ‘Moses’ like Paganini.”
Raoul remained silent, with fixed eyes, apparently musing.
“This wretched ministerial apprentice does not understand me,” he said, after a moment’s silence.
So, while the poor Eve in the rue du Rocher went to bed in the sheets of shame, frightened at the pleasure with which she had listened to that sham great poet, these three bold minds were trampling with jests over the tender flowers of her dawning love. Ah! if women only knew the cynical tone that such men, so humble, so fawning in their presence, take behind their backs! how they sneer at what they say they adore! Fresh, pure, gracious being, how the scoffing jester disrobes and analyzes her! but, even so, the more she loses veils, the more her beauty shines.
Marie was at this moment comparing Raoul and Felix, without imagining the danger there might be for her in such comparisons. Nothing could present a greater contrast than the disorderly, vigorous Raoul to Felix de Vandenesse, who cared for his person like a dainty woman, wore well-fitting clothes, had a charming “desinvoltura,” and was a votary of English nicety, to which, in earlier days, Lady Dudley had trained him. Marie, as a good and pious woman, soon forbade herself even to think of Raoul, and considered that she was a monster of ingratitude for making the comparison.
“What do you think of Raoul Nathan?” she asked her husband the next day at breakfast.
“He is something of a charlatan,” replied Felix; “one of those volcanoes who are easily calmed down with a little gold-dust. Madame de Montcornet makes a mistake in admitting him.”
This answer annoyed Marie, all the more because Felix supported his opinion with certain facts, relating what he knew of Raoul Nathan’s life — a precarious existence mixed up with a popular actress.
“If the man has genius,” he said in conclusion, “he certainly has neither the constancy nor the patience which sanctifies it, and makes it a thing divine. He endeavors to impose on the world by placing himself on a level which he does nothing to maintain. True talent, pains-taking and honorable talent does not act thus. Men who possess such talent follow their path courageously; they accept its pains and penalties, and don’t cover them with tinsel.”
A woman’s thought is endowed with incredible elasticity. When she receives a knockdown blow, she bends, seems crushed, and then renews her natural shape in a given time.
“Felix is no doubt right,” thought she.
But three days later she was once more thinking of the serpent, recalled to him by that singular emotion, painful and yet sweet, which the first sight of Raoul had given her. The count and countess went to Lady Dudley’s grand ball, where, by the bye, de Marsay appeared in society for the last time. He died about two months later, leaving the reputation of a great statesman, because, as Blondet remarked, he was incomprehensible.
Vandenesse and his wife again met Raoul Nathan at this ball, which was remarkable for the meeting of several personages of the political drama, who were not a little astonished to find themselves together. It was one of the first solemnities of the great world. The salons presented a magnificent spectacle to the eye — flowers, diamonds, and brilliant head-dresses; all jewel-boxes emptied; all resources of the toilet put under contribution. The ball-room might be compared to one of those choice conservatories where rich horticulturists collect the most superb rarities — same brilliancy, same delicacy of texture. On all sides white or tinted gauzes like the wings of the airiest dragon-fly, crepes, laces, blondes, and tulles, varied as the fantasies of entomological nature; dentelled, waved, and scalloped; spider’s webs of gold and silver; mists of silk embroidered by fairy fingers; plumes colored by the fire of the tropics drooping from haughty heads; pearls twined in braided hair; shot or ribbed or brocaded silks, as though the genius of arabesque had presided over French manufactures — all this luxury was in harmony with the beauties collected there as if to realize a “Keepsake.” The eye received there an impression of the whitest shoulders, some amber-tinted, others so polished as to seem colandered, some dewy, some plump and satiny, as though Rubens had prepared their flesh; in short, all shades known to man in white. Here were eyes sparkling like onyx or turquoise fringed with dark lashes; faces of varied outline presenting the most graceful types of many lands; foreheads noble and majestic, or softly rounded, as if thought ruled, or flat, as if resistant will reigned there unconquered; beautiful bosoms swelling, as George IV. admired them, or widely parted after the fashion of the eighteenth century, or pressed together, as Louis XV. required; some shown boldly, without veils, others covered by those charming pleated chemisettes which Raffaelle painted. The prettiest feet pointed for the dance, the slimmest waists encircled in the waltz, stimulated the gaze of the most indifferent person present. The murmur of sweet voices, the rustle of gowns, the cadence of the dance, the whir of the waltz harmoniously accompanied the music. A fairy’s wand seemed to have commanded this dazzling revelry, this melody of perfumes, these iridescent lights glittering from crystal chandeliers or sparkling in candelabra. This assemblage of the prettiest women in their prettiest dresses stood out upon a gloomy background of men in black coats, among whom the eye remarked the elegant, delicate, and correctly drawn profile of nobles, the ruddy beards and grave faces of Englishmen, and the more gracious faces of the French aristocracy. All the orders of Europe glittered on the breasts or hung from the necks of these men.
Examining this society carefully, it was seen to present not only the brilliant tones and colors and outward adornment, but to have a soul, — it lived, it felt, it thought. Hidden passions gave it a physiognomy; mischievous or malignant looks were exchanged; fair and giddy girls betrayed desires; jealous women told each other scandals behind their fans, or paid exaggerated compliments. Society, anointed, curled, and perfumed, gave itself up to social gaiety which went to the brain like a heady liquor. It seemed as if from all foreheads, as well as from all hearts, ideas and sentiments were exhaling, which presently condensed and reacted in a volume on the coldest persons present, and excited them. At the most animated moment of this intoxicating party, in a corner of a gilded salon where certain bankers, ambassadors, and the immoral old English earl, Lord Dudley, were playing cards, Madame Felix de Vandenesse was irresistibly drawn to converse with Raoul Nathan. Possibly she yielded to that ball-intoxication which sometimes wrings avowals from the most discreet.
At sight of such a fete, and the splendors of a world in which he had never before appeared, Nathan was stirred to the soul by fresh ambition. Seeing Rastignac, whose younger brother had just been made bishop at twenty-seven years of age, and whose brother-inlaw, Martial de la Roche–Hugon, was a minister, and who himself was under-secretary of State, and about to marry, rumor said, the only daughter of the Baron de Nucingen — a girl with an illimitable “dot”; seeing, moreover, in the diplomatic body an obscure writer whom he had formerly known translating articles in foreign journals for a newspaper turned dynastic since 1830, also professors now made peers of France — he felt with anguish that he was left behind on a bad road by advocating the overthrow of this new aristocracy of lucky talent, of cleverness crowned by success, and of real merit. Even Blondet, so unfortunate, so used by others in journalism, but so welcomed here, who could, if he liked, enter a career of public service through the influence of Madame de Montcornet, seemed to Nathan’s eyes a striking example of the power of social relations. Secretly, in his heart, he resolved to play the game of political opinions, like de Marsay, Rastignac, Blondet, Talleyrand, the leader of this set of men; to rely on facts only, turn them to his own profit, regard his system as a weapon, and not interfere with a society so well constituted, so shrewd, so natural.
“My influence,” he thought, “will depend on the influence of some woman belonging to this class of society.”
With this thought in his mind, conceived by the flame of this frenzied desire, he fell upon the Comtesse de Vandenesse like a hawk on its prey. That charming young woman in her head-dress of marabouts, which produced the delightful “flou” of the paintings of Lawrence and harmonized well with her gentle nature, was penetrated through and through by the foaming vigor of this poet wild with ambition. Lady Dudley, whom nothing escaped, aided this tete-a-tete by throwing the Comte de Vandenesse with Madame de Manerville. Strong in her former ascendancy over him, Natalie de Manerville amused herself by leading Felix into the mazes of a quarrel of witty teasing, blushing half-confidences, regrets coyly flung like flowers at his feet, recriminations in which she excused herself for the sole purpose of being put in the wrong.
These former lovers were speaking to each other for the first time since their rupture; and while her husband’s former love was stirring the embers to see if a spark were yet alive, Madame Felix de Vandenesse was undergoing those violent palpitations which a woman feels at the certainty of doing wrong, and stepping on forbidden ground — emotions that are not without charm, and which awaken various dormant faculties. Women are fond of using Bluebeard’s bloody key, that fine mythological idea for which we are indebted to Perrault.
The dramatist — who knew his Shakespeare — displayed his wretchedness, related his struggle with men and things, made his hearer aware of his baseless grandeur, his unrecognized political genius, his life without noble affections. Without saying a single definite word, he contrived to suggest to this charming woman that she should play the noble part of Rebecca in Ivanhoe, and love and protect him. It was all, of course, in the ethereal regions of sentiment. Forget-me-nots are not more blue, lilies not more white than the images, thoughts, and radiantly illumined brow of this accomplished artist, who was likely to send his conversation to a publisher. He played his part of reptile to this poor Eve so cleverly, he made the fatal bloom of the apple so dazzling to her eyes, that Marie left the ball-room filled with that species of remorse which resembles hope, flattered in all her vanities, stirred to every corner of her heart, caught by her own virtues, allured by her native pity for misfortune.
Perhaps Madame de Manerville had taken Vandenesse into the salon where his wife was talking with Nathan; perhaps he had come there himself to fetch Marie, and take her home; perhaps his conversation with his former flame had awakened slumbering griefs; certain it is that when his wife took his arm to leave the ball-room, she saw that his face was sad and his look serious. The countess wondered if he was displeased with her. No sooner were they seated in the carriage than she turned to Felix and said, with a mischievous smile —
“Did not I see you talking half the evening with Madame de Manerville?”
Felix was not out of the tangled paths into which his wife had led him by this charming little quarrel, when the carriage turned into their court-yard. This was Marie’s first artifice dictated by her new emotion; and she even took pleasure in triumphing over a man who, until then, had seemed to her so superior.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05