Although she had her bonnet and jacket on, with a black veil over her face, and another in her pocket, which she would put on over the +other as soon as she had got into the cab, she was beating +the top of her little boot with the point of her parasol, and remained sitting in her room, without being able to make up her mind to keep this appointment.
And yet, how many times within the last two years had she dressed herself thus, when she knew that her husband would be on the Stock Exchange, in order to go to the bachelor chambers of her lover, the handsome Viscount de Martelet.
The clock behind her was ticking loudly, a book which she had half read through was lying open on a little rosewood writing-table between the windows, and a strong, sweet smell of violets from two bunches which were in a couple of Dresden china vases, mingled with a vague smell of verbena which came through the half-open door of her dressing-room.
The clock struck three, she rose up from her chair, she turned round to look at herself in the glass and smiled. “He is already waiting for me, and will be getting tired.”
Then she left the room, told her footman that she would be back in an hour, at the latest — which was a lie; went downstairs and ventured into the street on foot.
It was towards the end of May, that delightful time of the year, when the spring seems to be besieging Paris, and to conquer it over its roofs, invading the houses through their walls, and making it look gay, shedding brightness over its stone façades, the asphalt of its pavements, the stones on the roads, bathing it and intoxicating it with sap, like a forest putting on its spring verdure.
Madame Haggan went a few steps to the right, intending, as usual, to go along the Parade Provence, where she would hail a cab; but the soft air, that feeling of summer which penetrates our breast on some days, now took possession of her so suddenly that she changed her mind, and went down the Rue de la Chausée d’Antin, without knowing why, but vaguely attracted by a desire to see the trees in the Square de la Trinité.
“He may just wait ten minutes longer for me,” she said to herself. And that idea pleased her also as she walked slowly through the crowd. She fancied that she saw him growing impatient, looking at the clock, opening the window, listening at the door, sitting down for a few moments, getting up again, and not daring to smoke, as she had forbidden him to do so when she was coming to him, and throwing despairing looks at his box of cigarettes.
She walked slowly, interested in what she saw, the shops and the people she met, walking slower and slower, and so little eager to get to her destination that she only sought for some pretext for stopping, and at the end of the street, in the little square, the verdure attracted her so much, that she went in, took a chair, and, sitting down, watched the hands of the clock as they moved.
Just then, the half hour struck, and her heart beat with pleasure when she heard the chimes. She had gained half-an-hour; then it would take her a quarter of an hour to reach the Rue Miromesnil, and a few minutes more in strolling along — an hour! a whole hour saved from her rendez-vous! She would not stop three-quarters of an hour, and that business would be finished once more.
Oh! she disliked going there! Just like a patient going to the dentist, so she had the intolerable recollection of all their past meetings, one a week on an average, for the last two years; and the thought that another was going to take place immediately made her shiver with misery from head to foot. Not that it was exactly painful, like a visit to the dentist, but it was wearisome, so wearisome, so complicated, so long, so unpleasant, that anything, even a visit to the dentist would have seemed preferable to her. She went on, however, but very slowly, stopping, sitting down, going hither and thither, but she went. Oh! how she would have liked to miss this meeting, but she had left the unhappy viscount in the lurch, twice following, during the last month, and she did not dare to do it again so soon. Why did she go to see him? Oh! why? Because she had acquired the habit of doing it, and had no reason to give poor Martelet when he wanted to know the why! Why had she begun it? Why? She did not know herself, any longer. Had she been in love with him? Very possibly! Not very much, but a little, a long time ago! He was very nice, sought after, perfectly dressed, most courteous, and after the first glance, he was a perfect lover for a fashionable woman. He had courted her for three months — the normal period, an honorable strife and sufficient resistances — and then she had consented, and with what emotion, what nervousness, what terrible, delightful fear, and that first meeting in his small, ground-floor bachelor rooms, in the Rue de Miromesnil. Her heart? What did her little heart of a woman who had been seduced, vanquished, conquered, feel when she for the first time entered the door of that house which was her nightmare? She really did not know! She had quite forgotten. One remembers a fact, a date, a thing, but one hardly remembers, after the lapse of two years, what an emotion, which soon vanished, because it was very slight, was like. But, oh! she had certainly not forgotten the others, that rosary of meetings, that road to the cross of love, and those stations, which were so monotonous, so fatiguing, so similar to each other, that she felt a nauseating taste in her mouth at what was going to happen so soon.
And the very cabs were not like the other cabs which one makes use of for ordinary purposes! Certainly, the cabmen guessed. She felt sure of it, by the very way they looked at her, and the eyes of these Paris cabmen are terrible! When one remembers they are constantly remembering, in the Courts of Justices, after a lapse of several years, faces of criminals whom they have only driven once, in the middle of the night, from some street or other to a railway station, and that they have to do with almost as many passengers as there are hours in the day, and that their memory is good enough for them to declare: “That is the man whom I took up in the Rues des Martyrs, and put down at the Lyons Railway Station, at 12 o’clock at night, on July 10, last year!” Is it not terrible when one risks what a young woman risks when she is going to meet her lover, and has to trust her reputation to the first cabman she meets? In two years she had employed at least a hundred to a hundred and twenty in that drive to the Rue Miromesnil, reckoning only one a week, and they were so many witnesses, who might appear against her at a critical moment.
As soon as she was in the cab, she took another veil, which was as thick and dark as a domino mask, out of her pocket, and put it on. That hid her face, but what about the rest, her dress, her bonnet, and her parasol? They might be remarked; they might, in fact, have been seen already. Oh! I What misery she endured in this Rue de Miromesnil! She thought that she recognized all the foot-passengers, the servants, everybody, and almost before the cab had stopped, she jumped out and ran past the porter who was standing outside his lodge. He must know everything, everything! — her address, her name, her husband’s profession — everything, for those porters are the most cunning of policemen! For two years she had intended to bribe him, to give him (to throw at him one day as she passed him) a hundred-franc bank-note, but she had never once dared to do it. She was frightened! What of? She did not know! Of his calling her back, if he did not understand? Of a scandal? Of a crowd on the stairs? Of being arrested, perhaps? To reach the Viscount’s door, she had only to ascend a half a flight of stairs, and it seemed to her as high as the tower of Saint Jacques’ Church.
As soon as she had reached the vestibule, she felt as if she were caught in a trap, and the slightest noise before or behind her, nearly made her faint. It was impossible for her to go back, because of that porter who barred her retreat; and if anyone came down at that moment she would not dare to ring at Martelet’s door, but would pass it as if she had been going elsewhere! She would have gone up, and up, and up! She would have mounted forty flights of stairs! Then, when everything would seem quiet again down below, she would run down, feeling terribly frightened, lest she would not recognize the lobby.
He was there in a velvet coat lined with silk, very stylish, but rather ridiculous, and for two years he had never altered his manner of receiving her, not in a single movement! As soon as he had shut the door, he used to say this: “Let me kiss your hands, my dear, dear friend!” Then he followed her into the room, when with closed shutters and lighted candles, out of refinement, no doubt, he knelt down before her and looked at her from head to foot with an air of adoration. On the first occasion that had been very nice and very successful; but now it seemed to her as if she saw Monsieur Delauney acting the last scene of a successful piece for the hundred and twentieth time. He might really change his manner of acting. But no, he never altered his manner of acting, poor fellow. What a good fellow he was, but very commonplace!
And how difficult it was to undress and dress without a lady’s maid! Perhaps that was the moment when she began to take a dislike to him. When he said: “Do you want me to help you?” she could have killed him. Certainly there were not many men as awkward as he was, or as uninteresting. Certainly, little Baron de Isombal would never have asked her in such a manner: “Do you want me to help you?” He would have helped her, he was so witty, so funny, so active. But there! He was a diplomatist, he had been about in the world, and had roamed everywhere, and, no doubt, dressed and undressed women who were arrayed in every possible fashion! . . .
The church clock struck the three-quarters, and she looked at the dial, and said: “Oh, how agitated he will be!” and then she quickly left the square; but she had not taken a dozen steps outside, when she found herself face to face with a gentleman who bowed profoundly to her.
“Why! Is that you, Baron?” she said, in surprise. She had just been thinking of him.
“Yes, Madame.” And then, after asking how she was, and a few vague words, he continued: “Do you know that you are the only one — you will allow me to say of my lady friends, I hope? who has not yet seen my Japanese collection.”
“But my dear Baron, a lady cannot go to a bachelor’s room like this.”
“What do you mean? That is a great mistake, when it is a question of seeing a rare collection!”
“At any rate, she cannot go alone.”
“And why not? I have received a number of ladies alone, only for the sake of seeing my collection! They come every day. Shall I tell you their names? No — I will not do that; one must be discreet, even when one it not guilty; as a matter of fact, there is nothing improper in going to the house of a well-known serious man who holds a certain position, unless one goes for an unavoidable reason!”
“Well, what you have said is certainly correct, at bottom.”
“So you will come and see my collection?”
“Well, now, immediately.”
“Impossible; I am in a hurry.”
“Nonsense, you have been sitting in the square for this last half hour.”
“You were watching me?”
“I was looking at you.”
“But I am sadly in a hurry.”
“I am sure you are not. Confess that you are in no particular hurry.”
Madame Haggan began to laugh, and said: “Well, . . . no . . . not . . . very. . . . ”
A cab passed close to them, and the little Baron called out: “Cabman!” and the vehicle stopped, and opening the door, he said: “Get in, Madame.”
“But, Baron! no, it is impossible today; I really cannot.”
“Madame, you are acting very imprudently; get in! people are beginning to look at us, and you will collect a crowd; they will think I am trying to carry you off, and we shall both be arrested; please get in!”
She got in, frightened and bewildered, and he sat down by her side, saying to the cabman: “Rue de Provence.”
But suddenly she exclaimed: “Good heavens! I have forgotten a very important telegram; please drive to the nearest telegraph office first of all.”
The cab stopped a little farther on, in the Rue de Châteaudun, and she said to the Baron: “Would you kindly get me a fifty centimes telegraph form? I promised my husband to invite Martelet to dinner tomorrow, and had quite forgotten it.”
When the Baron returned and gave her the blue telegraph form, she wrote in pencil:
“My Dear Friend: I am not at all well. I am suffering terribly from
neuralgia, which keeps me in bed. Impossible to go out. Come and
dine tomorrow night, so that I may obtain my pardon.
She wetted the gum, fastened it carefully, and addressed it to: “Viscount de Martelet, 240 Rue Miromesnil,” and then, giving it back to the Baron, she said: “Now, will you be kind enough to throw this into the telegram box.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58