On a certain cool, rainy evening in autumn, in a small château in Brie, three pensive individuals were gravely occupied in watching the wood burn on the hearth and the hands of the clock move slowly around the dial. Two of these silent guests seemed to give way unreservedly to the vague ennui that weighed upon them; but the third gave signs of open rebellion: he fidgeted about on his seat, stifled half audibly divers melancholy yawns, and tapped the snapping sticks with tongs, with a manifest intention of resisting the common enemy.
This person, who was much older than the other two, was the master of the house, Colonel Delmare, an old warrior on half-pay, once a very handsome man, now over-corpulent, with a bald head, gray moustache and awe-inspiring eye; an excellent master before whom everybody trembled, wife, servants, horses and dogs.
At last he left his chair, evidently vexed because he did not know how to break the silence, and began to walk heavily up and down the whole length of the salon, without laying aside for an instant the rigidity which characterizes all the movements of an ex-soldier, resting his weight on his loins and turning the whole body at once, with the unfailing self-satisfaction peculiar to the man of show and the model officer.
But the glorious days had passed, when Lieutenant Delmare inhaled triumph with the air of the camps; the retired officer, forgotten now by an ungrateful country, was condemned to undergo all the consequences of marriage. He was the husband of a young and pretty wife, the proprietor of a commodious manor with its appurtenances, and, furthermore, a manufacturer who had been fortunate in his undertakings; in consequence whereof the colonel was ill-humored, especially on the evening in question; for it was very damp, and the colonel had rheumatism.
He paced gravely up and down his old salon, furnished in the style of Louis XV., halting sometimes before a door surmounted by nude Cupids in fresco, who led in chains of flowers well-bred fawns and good-natured wild boars; sometimes before a panel overladen with paltry, over-elaborated sculpture, whose tortuous vagaries and endless intertwining the eye would have wearied itself to no purpose in attempting to follow. But these vague and fleeting distractions did not prevent the colonel, whenever he turned about, from casting a keen and searching glance at the two companions of his silent vigil, resting upon them alternately that watchful eye which for three years past had been standing guard over a fragile and priceless treasure, his wife.
For his wife was nineteen years of age; and if you had seen her buried under the mantel of that huge fire-place of white marble inlaid with burnished copper; if you had seen her, slender, pale, depressed, with her elbow resting on her knee, a mere child in that ancient household, beside that old husband, like a flower of yesterday that had bloomed in a gothic vase, you would have pitied Colonel Delmare’s wife, and the colonel even more perhaps than his wife.
The third occupant of this lonely house was also sitting under the same mantel, at the other end of the burning log. He was a man in all the strength and all the bloom of youth, whose glowing cheeks, abundant golden hair and full whiskers presented a striking contrast to the grizzly hair, weather-beaten complexion and harsh countenance of the master of the house; but the least artistic of men would none the less have preferred Monsieur Delmare’s harsh and stern expression to the younger man’s regular but insipid features. The bloated face carved in relief on the sheet of iron that formed the back of the fire-place, with its eye fixed constantly on the burning logs, was less monotonous perhaps than the pink and white fair-haired character in this narrative, absorbed in like contemplation. However, his strong and supple figue, the clean-cut outline of his brown eyebrows, the polished whiteness of his forehead, the tranquil expression of his limpid eyes, the beauty of his hands, and even the rigorously correct elegance of his hunting costume, would have caused him to be considered a very comely cavalier in the eyes of any woman who had conceived a passion for the so-called philosophic tastes of another century. But perhaps Monsieur Delmare’s young and timid wife had never as yet examined a man with her eyes; perhaps there was an entire absence of sympathy between that pale and unhappy woman and that sound sleeper and hearty eater. Certain it is that the conjugal Argus wearied his hawklike eye without detecting a glance, a breath, a palpitation, between these two very dissimilar beings. Thereupon, being assured that he had not the slightest pretext for jealousy to occupy his mind, he relapsed into a state of depression more profound than before, and abruptly plunged his hands into his pockets.
The only cheerful and attractive face in the group was that of a beautiful hunting dog, of the large breed of pointers, whose head was resting on the knees of the younger man. She was remarkable by reason of her long body, her powerful hairy legs, her muzzle, slender as a fox’s, and her intelligent face, covered with disheveled hair, through which two great tawny eyes shone like topazes. Those dog’s eyes, so fierce and threatening during the chase, had at that moment an indefinable expression of affectionate melancholy; and when her master, the object of that instinctive love, sometimes so superior to the deliberate affection of man, ran his fingers through the beautiful creature’s silky silver locks, her eyes sparkled with pleasure, while her long tail swept the hearth in regular cadence, and scattered the ashes over the inlaid floor.
It was a fitting subject for Rembrandt’s brush, that interior, dimly lighted by the fire on the hearth. At intervals fugitive white gleams lighted up the room and the faces, then, changing to the red tint of the embers, gradually died away; the gloom of the salon varying as the fitful gleams grew more or less dull. Each time that Monsieur Delmare passed in front of the fire, he suddenly appeared, like a ghost, then vanished in the mysterious depths of the salon. Strips of gilding stood forth in the light now and then on the oval frames, adorned with wreaths and medallions and fillets of wood, on furniture, inlaid with ebony and copper, and even on the jagged cornices of the wainscoting. But when a brand went out, resigning its brilliancy to some other blazing point, the objects which had been in the light a moment before withdrew into the shadow, and other projections stood forth from the obscurity. Thus one could have grasped in due time all the details of the picture, from the console supported by three huge gilded tritons, to the frescoed ceiling, representing a sky studded with stars and clouds, and to the heavy hangings of crimson damask, with long tassels, which shimmered like satin, their ample folds seeming to sway back and forth as they reflected the flickering light.
One would have said, from the immobility of the two figures in bold relief before the fire, that they feared to disturb the immobility of the scene; that they had been turned to stone where they sat, like the heroes of a fairy tale, and that the slightest word or movement would bring the walls of an imaginary city crumbling about their ears. And the dark-browed master, who alone broke the silence and the shadow with his regular tread, seemed a magician who held them under a spell.
At last the dog, having obtained a smile from her master, yielded to the magnetic power which the eye of man exerts over that of the lower animals. She uttered a low whine of timid affection and placed her fore paws on her beloved’s shoulders with inimitable ease and grace of movement.
“Down, Ophelia, down!”
And the young man reproved the docile creature sternly in English, whereupon she crawled toward Madame Delmare, shamefaced and repentant, as if to implore her protection. But Madame Delmare did not emerge from her reverie, and allowed Ophelia’s head to rest on her two white hands, as they lay clasped on her knee, without bestowing a caress upon her.
“Has that dog taken up her quarters in the salon for good?” said the colonel, secretly well-pleased to find a pretext for an outburst of ill-humor, to pass the time. “Be off to your kennel, Ophelia! Come, out with you, you stupid beast!”
If anyone had been watching Madame Delmare closely he could have divined, in that trivial and commonplace incident of her private life, the painful secret of her whole existence. An imperceptible shudder ran over her body, and her hands, in which she unconsciously held the favorite animal’s head, closed nervously around her rough, hairy neck, as if to detain her and protect her. Whereupon Monsieur Delmare, drawing his hunting-crop from the pocket of his jacket, walked with a threatening air toward poor Ophelia, who crouched at his feet, closing her eyes, and whining with grief and fear in anticipation. Madame Delmare became even paler than usual; her bosom heaved convulsively, and, turning her great blue eyes upon her husband with an indescribable expression of terror, she said:
“In pity’s name, monsieur, do not kill her!”
These few words gave the colonel a shock. A feeling of chagrin took the place of his angry impulse.
“That, madame, is a reproof which I understand very well,” he said, “and which you have never spared me since that day that I killed your spaniel in a moment of passion while hunting. He was a great loss, was he not? A dog that was forever forcing the hunting and rushing after the game! Whose patience would he not have exhausted? Indeed, you were not nearly so fond of him until he was dead; before that you paid little attention to him; but now that he gives you a pretext for blaming me–”
“Have I ever reproached you?” said Madame Delmare in the gentle tone which we adopt from a generous impulse with those we love, and from self-esteem with those whom we do not love.
“I did not say that you had,” rejoined the colonel in a half-paternal, half-conjugal tone; “but the tears of some women contain bitterer reproaches than the fiercest imprecations of others. Morbleu! madame, you know perfectly well that I hate to see people weeping about me.”
“I do not think that you ever see me weep.”
“Even so! don’t I constantly see you with red eyes? On my word, that’s even worse!”
During this conjugal colloquy the young man had risen and put Ophelia out of the room with the greatest tranquillity; then he returned to his seat opposite Madame Delmare after lighting a candle and placing it on the chimney-piece.
This act, dictated purely by chance, exerted a sudden influence upon Monsieur Delmare’s frame of mind. As soon as the light of the candle, which was more uniform and steadier than that of the fire, fell upon his wife, he observed the symptoms of suffering and general prostration which were manifest that evening in her whole person: in her weary attitude, in the long brown hair falling over her emaciated cheeks and in the purple rings beneath her dull, inflamed eyes. He took several turns up and down the room, then returned to his wife and, suddenly changing his tone:
“How do you feel to-day, Indiana?” he said, with the stupidity of a man whose heart and temperament are rarely in accord.
“About as usual, thank you,” she replied, with no sign of surprise or displeasure.
“‘As usual’ is no answer at all, or rather it’s a woman’s answer; a Norman answer, that means neither yes nor no, neither well nor ill.”
“Very good; I am neither well nor ill.”
“I say that you lie,” he retorted with renewed roughness; “I know that you are not well; you have told Sir Ralph here that you are not. Tell me, isn’t that the truth? Did she not tell you so, Monsieur Ralph?”
“She did,” replied the phlegmatic individual addressed, paying no heed to the reproachful glance which Indiana bestowed upon him.
At that moment, a fourth person entered the room: it was the factotum of the household, formerly a sergeant in Monsieur Delmare’s regiment.
He explained briefly to Monsieur Delmare that he had his reasons for believing that charcoal thieves had been in the park the last few nights at the same hour, and that he had come to ask for a gun to take with him in making his nightly round before locking the gates. Monsieur Delmare, scenting powder in the adventure, at once took down his fowling-piece, gave Lelièvre another, and started to leave the room.
“What!” said Madame Delmare in dismay, “you would kill a poor peasant on account of a few bags of charcoal?”
“I will shoot down like a dog,” retorted Delmare, irritated by this remonstrance, “any man whom I find prowling around my premises at night. If you knew the law, madame, you would know that it authorizes me to do it.”
“It is a horrible law,” said Indiana, warmly. But she quickly repressed this impulse and added in a lower tone: “But your rheumatism? You forget that it rains, and that you will suffer for it to-morrow if you go out tonight.”
“You are terribly afraid that you will have to nurse your old husband,” replied Delmare, impatiently opening the door.
And he left the room, still muttering about his age and his wife.
The two personages whom we have mentioned, Indiana Delmare and Sir Ralph, or, if you prefer, Monsieur Rodolphe Brown, continued to face each other, as calm and cold as if the husband were standing between them. The Englishman had no idea of justifying himelf, and Madame Delmare realized that she had no serious grounds for reproaching him, for he had spoken with no evil intention. At last, making an effort, she broke the silence and upbraided him mildly.
“That was not well done of you, my dear Ralph,” she said. “I had forbidden you to repeat the words that I let slip in a moment of pain, and Monsieur Delmare is the last person in the world whom I should want told of my trouble.”
“I can’t understand you, my dear,” Sir Ralph replied; “you are ill and you refuse to take care of yourself. I had to choose between the chance of losing you and the necessity of letting your husband know.”
“Yes,” said Madame Delmare, with a sad smile, “and you decided to notify the authorities.”
“You are wrong, you are wrong, on my word, to allow yourself to inveigh so against the colonel; he is a man of honor, a worthy man.”
“And who says that he’s not, Sir Ralph?”
“Why, you do, without meaning to. Your depression, your ailing condition, and, as he himself observes, your red eyes, tell everybody every hour in the day that you are not happy.”
“Hush, Sir Ralph, you go too far. I have never given you permission to find out so much.”
“I anger you, I see; but what would you have! I am not clever; I am not acquainted with the subtle distinctions of your language, and then, too, I resemble your husband in many ways. Like him I am utterly in the dark as to what a man must say to a woman, either in English or in French, to console her. Another man would have conveyed to your mind, without putting it in words, the idea that I have just expressed so awkwardly; he would have had the art to insinuate himself into your confidence without allowing you to detect his progress, and perhaps he would have succeeded in affording some relief to your heart, which puts fetters on itself and locks itself up before me. This is not the first time that I have noticed how much more influence words have upon women than ideas, especially in France. Women more than–”
“Oh! you have a profound contempt for women, my dear Ralph. I am alone here against two of you, so I must make up my mind never to be right.”
“Put us in the wrong, my dear cousin, by recovering your health, your good spirits, your bloom, your animation of the old days; remember Ile Bourbon and that delightful retreat of ours, Bernica, and our happy childhood, and our friendship, which is as old as you are yourself.”
“I remember my father, too,” said Indiana, dwelling sadly upon the words and placing her hand in Sir Ralph’s.
They relapsed into profound silence.
“Indiana,” said Ralph, after a pause, “happiness is always within our reach. Often one has only to put out his hand to grasp it. What do you lack? You have modest competence, which is preferable to great wealth, an excellent husband, who loves you with all his heart, and, I dare to assert, a sincere and devoted friend.”
Madame Delmare pressed Sir Ralph’s hand faintly; but she did not change her attitude; her head still hung forward on her breast and her tear-dimmed eyes were fixed on the magic effects produced by the embers.
“Your depression, my dear friend,” continued Sir Ralph, “is due purely to physical causes; which one of us can escape disappointment, vexation? Look below you and you will see people who envy you, and with good reason. Man is so constituted that he always aspires to what he has not.”
I spare you a multitude of other commonplaces which the excellent Sir Ralph put forth in a tone as monotonous and sluggish as his thoughts. It was not that Sir Ralph was a fool, but he was altogether out of his element. He lacked neither common sense nor shrewdness; but the role of consoler of women was, as he himself acknowledged, beyond his capacity. And this man had so little comprehension of another’s grief, that with the best possible disposition to furnish a remedy, he could not touch it without inflaming it. He was so conscious of his awkwardness that he rarely ventured to take notice of his friend’s sorrows; and on this occasion he made superhuman efforts to perform what he considered the most painful duty of friendship.
When he saw that Madame Delmare was obliged to make an effort to listen to him, he held his peace, and naught could be heard save the innumerable little voices whispering in the burning wood, the plaintive song of the log as it becomes heated and swells, the crackling of the bark as it curls before breaking, and the faint phosphorescent explosions of the alburnum, which emits a bluish flame. From time to time the baying of a dog mingled with the whistling of the wind through the cracks of the door and the beating of the rain against the window-panes. That evening was one of the saddest that Madame Delmare had yet passed in her little manor-house in Brie.
“Moreover, an indefinable vague feeling of suspense weighed upon that impressionable soul and its delicate fibres. Weak creatures live on alarms and presentiments. Madame Delmare had all the superstitions of a nervous, sickly Creole; certain nocturnal sounds, certain phases of the moon were to her unfailing presages of specific events, of impending misfortunes, and the night spoke to that dreamy, melancholy creature a language full of mysteries and phantoms which she alone could understand and translate according to her fears and her sufferings.
“You will say again that I am mad,” she said, withdrawing her hand, which Sir Ralph still held, “but some disaster, I don’t know what, is preparing to fall upon us. Some danger is impending over someone-myself, no doubt-but, look you, Ralph, I feel intensely agitated, as at the approach of a great crisis in my destiny. I am afraid,” she added, with a shudder, “I feel faint.”
And her lips became as white as her cheeks. Sir Ralph, terrified, not by Madame Delmare’s presentiments, which he looked upon as symptoms of extreme mental exhaustion, but by her deathly pallor, pulled the bell-rope violently to summon assistance. No one came, and as Indiana grew weaker and weaker, Sir Ralph, more alarmed in proportion, moved her away from the fire, deposited her in a reclining chair, and ran through the house at random, calling the servants, looking for water or salts, finding nothing, breaking all the bell-ropes, losing his way in the labyrinth of dark rooms, and wringing his hands with impatience and anger against himself.
At last it occurred to him to open the glass door that lead into the park, and to call alternately Lelièvre and Noun, Madame Delmare’s Creole maid.
A few moments later Noun appeared from one of the dark paths in the park, and hastily inquired if Madame Delmare were worse than usual.
“She is really ill,” replied Sir Ralph.
They returned to the salon and devoted themselves to the task of restoring the unconscious Madame Delmare, one with all the ardor of useless and awkward zeal, the other with the skill and efficacy of womanly affection.
Noun was Madame Delmare’s foster-sister; the two young women had been brought up together and loved each other dearly. Noun was tall and strong, glowing with health, active, alert, overflowing with ardent, passionate creole blood; and she far outshone with her resplendent beauty the frail and pallid charms of Madame Delmare; but the tenderness of their hearts and the strength of their attachment killed every feeling of feminine rivalry.
When Madame Delmare recovered consciousness, the first thing that she observed was the unusual expression of her maid’s features, the damp and disordered condition of her hair and the excitement which was manifest in her every movement.
“Courage, my poor child,” she said kindly; “my illness is more disastrous to you than to myself. Why, Noun, you are the one to take care of yourself; you are growing thin and weeping as if it were not your destiny to live; dear Noun, live is so bright and fair before you!”
Noun pressed Madame Delmare’s hand to her lips effusively, and said, in a sort of frenzy, glancing wildly about the room:
“Mon Dieu! madame, do you know why Monsieur Delmare is in the park?”
“Why?” echoed Indiana, losing instantly the faint flush that had reappeared on her cheeks. “Wait a moment–I don’t know–You frighten me! What is the matter, pray?”
“Monsieur Delmare declares that there are thieves in the park,” replied Noun in a broken voice. “He is making the rounds with Lelièvre, both armed with guns.”
“Well?” said Indiana, apparently expecting some shocking news.
“Why, madame,” rejoined Noun, clasping her hands frantically, “isn’t it horrible to think that they are going to kill a man?”
“Kill a man!” cried Madame Delmare, springing to her feet with the terrified credulity of a child frightened by it’s nurse’s tales.
“Ah! yes, they will kill him,” said Noun, stifling her sobs.
“These two women are mad,” thought Sir Ralph, who was watching this strange scene with a bewildered air. “Indeed,” he added mentally, “all women are.”
“But why do you say that, Noun,” continued Madame Delmare; “do you believe that there are any thieves there?”
“Oh! if they were really thieves! but some poor peasant perhaps, who has come to pick up a handful of wood for his family!”
“Yes, that would be ghastly, as you say! But it is not probable; right at the entrance to Fontainebleau forest, when it is so easy to steal wood there, nobody would take the risk of a park enclosed by walls. Bah! Monsieur Delmare won’t find anybody in the park, so don’t you be afraid.”
But Noun was not listening; she walked from the window to her mistress’s chair, her ears strained to catch the slightest sound; she seemed torn between the longing to run after Monsieur Delmare and the desire to remain with the invalid.
Her anxiety seemed so strange, so uncalled-for to Monsieur Brown, that he laid aside his customary mildness of manner, and said, grasping her arm roughly:
“Have you lost your wits altogether? don’t you see that you frighten your mistress and that your absurd alarms have a disastrous effect upon her?”
Noun did not hear him; she had turned her eyes upon her mistress, who had just started on her chair as if the concussion of the air had imparted an electric shock to her senses. Almost at the same instant the report of a gun shook the windows of the salon, and Noun fell upon her knees.
“What miserable woman’s terrors!” cried Sir Ralph, worn out by their emotion; “in a moment a dead rabbit will be brought to you in triumph, and you will laugh at yourselves.”
“No, Ralph,” said Madame Delmare, walking with a firm step toward the door, “I tell you that human blood has been shed.”
Noun uttered a piercing shriek and fell upon her face.
The next moment they heard Lelièvre’s voice in the park: “He’s there! he’s there! Well aimed, my colonel! the brigand is down!”
Sir Ralph began to be excited. He followed Madame Delmare. A few moments later a man covered with blood and giving no sign of life was brought under the peristyle.
“Not so much noise! less shrieking!” said the colonel with rough gayety to the terrified servants who crowded around the wounded man; “this is only a joke; my gun was loaded with nothing but salt. Indeed I don’t think I touched him; he fell from fright.”
“But what about this blood, monsieur?” said Madame Delmare in a profoundly reproachful tone, “was it fear that caused it to flow?”
“Why are you here, madame?” cried Monsieur Delmare, “what are you doing here?”
“I have come to repair the harm that you have done, as it is my duty to do,” replied Madame Delmare coldly.
She walked up to the wounded man with a courage of which no one of the persons present had as yet felt capable, and held a light to his face. Thereupon, instead of the plebeian features and garments which they expected to see, they discovered a young man with noble features and fashionably dressed, albeit in hunting costume. He had a trifling wound on one hand, but his torn clothes and his swoon indicated a serious fall.
“I should say as much!” said Lelièvre; “he fell from a height of twenty feet. He was just putting his leg over the wall when the colonel fired, and a few grains of small shot or salt in the right hand prevented his getting a hold. The fact is, I saw him fall, and when he got to the bottom he wasn’t thinking much about running away, poor devil!”
“Would any one believe,” said one of the female servants, “that a man so nicely dressed would amuse himself by stealing?”
“And his pockets are full money!” said another, who had unbuttoned the supposed thief’s waistcoat.
“It is very strange,” said the colonel, gazing, not without emotion, at the man stretched out before him. “If the man is dead it’s not my fault; examine his hand, madame, and see if you can find a particle of lead in it.”
“I prefer to believe you, monsieur,” replied Madame Delmare, who, with a self-possession and moral courage of which no one would have deemed her capable, was closely scrutinizing his pulse and the arteries of his neck. “Certainly,” she added, “he is not dead, and he requires speedy attention. The man hasn’t the appearance of a thief and perhaps he deserves our care; even if he does not deserve it, our duty calls upon us women to care for him none the less.”
Thereupon Madame Delmare ordered the wounded man to be carried to the billiard room, which was nearest. A mattress was placed on several chairs, and Indiana, assisted by her women, busied herself in dressing the wounded hand, while Sir Ralph, who had some surgical knowledge, drew a large quantity of blood from him.
Madame Delmare dresses de Ramière’s wounds
Meanwhile, the colonel, much embarrassed, found himself in the position of a man who has shown more ill-temper than he intended to show. He felt the necessity of justifying himself in the eyes of the others, or rather of making them justify him in his own eyes. So he had remained under the peristyle, surrounded by his servants, and indulging with them in the excited, prolix and perfectly useless disquisitions which are always forthcoming after the event. Lelièvre had already explained twenty times, with the most minute details, the shot, the fall and its results, while the colonel, who had recovered his good nature among his own people, according to his custom after giving way to his anger, impeached the purposes of a man who entered private property in the night-time over a wall. Every one agreed with the master, when the gardener, quietly leading him aside, assured him that the thief was the living image of a young land-owner who had recently settled in the neighborhood, and whom he had seen talking with Mademoiselle Noun three days before at the rustic fête at Rubelles.
This information gave a different turn to Monsieur Delmare’s ideas; on his ample forehead, bald and glistening, appeared a huge swollen vein, which was always the precursor of the tempest.
“Morbleu!” he said, clenching his fists, “Madame Delmare takes a deal of interest in this puppy, who sneaks into my park over the wall!”
And he entered the billiard room, pale and trembling with wrath.
“You may be reassured, monsieur,” said Indiana; “the man you killed will be quite well in a few days; at least we hope so, although he is not yet able to talk.”
“That’s not the question, madame,” said the colonel, in a voice that trembled with suppressed passion; “I insist upon knowing the name of this interesting patient of yours, and how it came about that he mistook the wall of my park for the avenue to my house.”
“I have absolutely no idea,” replied Madame Delmare with such a cold and haughty air that her redoubtable spouse was bewildered for an instant.
But his jealous suspicions soon regained the upper hand.
“I shall find out, madame,” he said in an undertone; “you may be sure that I shall find out.”
Thereupon, as Madame Delmare pretended not to notice his rage and continued her attentions to the wounded man, he left the room, in order not to explode before the women, and recalled the gardener.
“What is the name of the man who, you say, resembles our prowler?”
“Monsieur de Ramière. It is he who has just bought Monsieur de Cercy’s little English house.”
“What sort of man is he? a nobleman, a fop, a fine gentleman?”
“A fine gentleman, monsieur; noble, I think.”
“Undoubtedly,” rejoined the colonel with emphasis. “Monsieur de Ramière! Tell me Louis,” he added, lowering his voice, “have you ever seen this fop prowling about here?”
“Last night, monsieur,” Louis replied, with an embarrassed air, “I certainly saw-as to its being a fop, I can’t say, but it was a man, sure enough.”
“And you saw him?”
“As plainly as I see you, under the windows of the orangery.”
“And you didn’t fall upon him with the handle of your shovel?”
“I was just going to do it, monsieur; but I saw a woman meet him. At that moment I said to myself: ‘Perhaps it’s monsieur and madame, who have taken a fancy to walk a bit before daybreak;’ and I went back to bed. But this morning I heard Lelièvre talking about a thief whose tracks he had seen in the park, and I said to myself: ‘There’s something under this.’ ”
“And why didn’t you tell me immediately, stupid?”
“Dame! monsieur, there are some things in life that are so delicate! ”
“I understand-you presume to have doubts. You are a fool; if you ever have another insolent idea of this sort I’ll cut off your ears. I know very well who the thief is and why he came into the garden. I have put all these questions to you simply to find out what care you take of your orangery. Remember that I have some rare plants there that madame sets great store by, and that there are collectors who are insane enough to rob their neighbors’ hothouses; it was I whom you saw last night with Madame Delmare.”
And the poor colonel walked away, more tormented, more exasperated than before, leaving his gardener far from convinced that there are horticulturists fanatical enough to risk a bullet in order to purloin a shoot or a cutting.
Monsieur Delmare returned to the billiard-room and, paying no heed to the symptoms of returning consciousness which the wounded man displayed at last, he was preparing to search the pockets of his jacket which lay on a chair, when he put out his hand and said in a faint voice:
“You wish to know who I am, monsieur, but it is useless. I will tell you when we are alone. Until then spare me the embarrassment of making myself known in my present disagreeable and absurd position.”
“It is a great pity in truth!” retorted the colonel sourly; “but I confess that I hardly appreciate it. However, as I trust that we shall meet again, and alone, I consent to defer an acquaintance until then. Meanwhile will you kindly tell me where I shall have you taken.”
“To the public house in the nearest village, if you please.”
“But monsieur is no condition to be moved, is he, Ralph?” said Madame Delmare hastily.
“Monsieur’s condition affects you far too much, madame,” said the colonel. “Leave the room, all of you,” he said to the women in attendance. “Monsieur feels better, and he will find strength now to explain his presence on my premises.”
“Yes, monsieur,” rejoined the wounded man, “and I beg all those who have been kind enough to bestow any care upon me to listen to my acknowledgement of my misconduct. I feel that is of much importance that there should be no misunderstanding here of my motives, and it is of importance to myself that I should not be deemed what I am not. Let me tell you than what rascally scheme brought me to your park. You have installed, monsieur, by methods of extreme simplicity, known to you alone, a factory which is immeasurably superior to all similar factories in the province, both in respect to its processes and its product. My brother owns a very similar establishment in the south of France, but the cost of running it is enormous. His business was approaching shipwreck when I learned of the success of your venture; whereupon I determined to come and ask you to give me advice on certain points,-a generous service which could not possibly injure your own interests, as my brother’s output is of an entirely different nature from yours. But the gate of your English garden was rigorously closed to me; and when I asked for an interview with you, I was told that you would not even allow me to look over your establishment. Repelled by these discourteous refusals, I determined to save my brother’s life and honor even at the peril of my own; I entered your premises at night by scaling the wall, and tried to obtain entrance to the factory in order to determine the machinery. I had determined to hide in a corner; to bribe your workmen, to steal your secret,-in a word, to enable an honest man to profit by it without injuring you. Such was my crime. Now, monsieur, if you demand any other reparation than that which you have just taken, I am ready to offer it to you as soon as I am strong enough; indeed, I may perhaps demand it.”
“I think that we should cry quits, monsieur,” replied the colonel, half relieved form great anxiety. “Take notice, all of you, of the explanation monsieur has given me. I am over-avenged, assuming that I require any revenge. Go now and leave us to discuss my profitable business operations.”
The servants left the room; but they alone were deceived by this reconciliation. The wounded man, weakened by his long speech, was not capable of appreciating the tone of the colonel’s last words. He fell back into Madame Delmare’s arms and lost consciousness a second time. She leaned over him, not deigning to raise her eyes to her angry husband, and the two strikingly contrasted faces of Monsieur Delmare and Monsieur Brown, the one pale and distorted by anger, the other calm and expressionless as usual, questioned each other in silence.
Monsieur Delmare did not need to say a word to make himself understood; however he drew Sir Ralph aside and said, crushing his fingers in his grasp:
“This is an admirably woven intrigue, my friend. I am delighted, perfectly delighted with this young fellow’s quick wit, which enabled him to save my honor in the eyes of my servants. But, mordieu! he shall pay dear for the insult, which I feel in the depths of my heart. And that woman nursing him, who pretends not to know him! Ah! how true it is that cunning is inborn in those creatures!”
Sir Ralph, utterly nonplussed, walked methodically up and down the room three times. At his first turn he drew the conclusion: improbable; at the second: impossible; at the third: proven. Then, returning with his impassive face to the colonel, he pointed to Noun, who was standing behind the wounded man, wringing her hands, with haggard eyes and livid cheeks, in the immobility of despair, terror and misery.
A real discovery carries with it such a power of swift and overwhelming conviction, that the colonel was more impressed by Sir Ralph’s emphatic gesture than he would have been by the most persuasive eloquence. Doubtless Sir Ralph had more than one means of striking the right scent; he recalled the fact that Noun was in the park when he called her, her wet hair, her damp, muddy shoes, which testified to a strange fancy for walking abroad in the rain-trivial details which had made but slight impression on him at the time that Madame Delmare fainted, but which recurred to his memory now. Then, too, the extraordinary terror she had manifested, her convulsive agitation, and the cry she had uttered when she heard the shot.
Monsieur Delmare did not require all this evidence; being more penetrating because he had more interest in the matter, he had only to look at the girl’s face to see that she alone was guilty. But his wife’s assiduity in ministering to the hero of this amorous adventure became more and more distasteful to him.
“Leave us, Indiana,” he said. “It is late and you are not well. Noun will remain with monsieur to take care of him during the night, and to-morrow, if he is better, we will see about having him taken home.”
There was nothing to say in reply to this unexpected complaisance. Madame Delmare, who was so determined in her resistance to her husband’s violence, always yielded to his milder moods. She requested Sir Ralph to remain a little longer with the patient, and withdrew to her bedroom.
Not without ulterior motives had the colonel arranged things thus. An hour later, when everybody had gone to bed and the house was still, he stole softly into the room where Monsieur de Ramière lay, and, hiding behind a curtain, was speedily convinced, by the young man’s conversation with the lady’s-maid, that an amorous intrigue between the two was in progress. The young creole’s unusual beauty had created a sensation at the rustic balls in the neighborhood. She had not lacked offers of homage, even from members of some of the finest families of the province. More than one handsome officer of lancers, in garrison at Melun, had put himself out to please her; but Noun was still to have her first love affair, and only one of her suitors had succeed in pleasing her: Monsieur de Ramière.
Colonel Delmare was by no means desirous of following the development of their liaison; so he retired as soon as he had made sure that his wife had not for an instant occupied the thoughts of the Almaviva of this adventure. He heard enough of it, however, to realize the difference between the love of poor Noun, who threw herself into the affair with all the vehemence of her passionate nature, and that of the well-born youth, who yielded to the impulse of a day without abjuring the right to resume his reason on the morrow.
When Madame Delmare awoke she found Noun beside her bed, embarrassed and downcast. But she had ingenuously given credence to Monsieur de Ramière’s explanation, the more readily as persons interested in Monsieur Delmare’s line of trade had previously tried to surprise the secrets of the Delmare factory, by stratagem or by fraud. She attributed her companion’s embarrassment therefore to the excitement and fatigue of the night, and Noun took courage when she saw the colonel calmly enter his wife’s room and discuss the affair of the previous evening with her as a perfectly natural occurrence.
In the morning Sir Ralph had satisfied himself as to the patient’s condition. The fall, although a severe one, had had no serious result; the wound in the hand had already closed; Monsieur de Ramière had expressed a desire to be taken to Melun, and he had distributed the contents of his purse among the servants to induce them to keep quiet concerning his adventure, in order, he said, that his mother, who lived within a few leagues, might not be alarmed. Thus the story became known very slowly, and in several different versions. Certain information concerning the English factory of Monsieur de Ramière, the brother, added weight to the fiction the intruder had happily improvised. The colonel and Sir Ralph had the delicacy to keep Noun’s secret, without even letting her know that they knew it; and the Delmare family soon ceased to give any thought to the incident.
You will find it difficult to believe perhaps that Monsieur de Ramière, a young man of brilliant intellect, considerable talents and many estimable qualities, accustomed to salon triumphs and to adventures in perfumed boudoirs, had conceived a very durable passion for the housekeeper in the household of a small manufacturer in Brie. And yet Monsieur de Ramière was neither fop nor libertine. We have said that he was intelligent-that is to say, he appreciated the advantages of birth at their real value. He was a man of high principle when he argued with himself; but vehement passions often carried him beyond the bounds of his theories. At such times he was incapable of reflection, or he avoided appearing before the tribunal of his conscience: he went astray, as if without his own knowledge, and the man of yesterday strove to deceive him of to-morrow. Unfortunately the most salient feature in his character was not his principles, which he possessed in common with many other white-gloved philosophers and which no more preserved him from inconsistency than they preserve them; but his passions, which no principles could stifle, and which made of him a man apart in that degenerate society where it is so difficult to depart from the beaten path without appearing ridiculous. Raymon had the art of being often culpable without arousing hatred, often eccentric without being offensive; indeed he sometimes succeeded in arousing the pity of people who had the most reason to complain of him. There are men who are humored thus by every one who approaches them. Sometimes an attractive face and animated speech make up the sum total of their sensibility. We do not presume to judge Monsieur Raymon de Ramière so harshly, nor to draw his portrait before exhibiting him in action. We are examining him now at a distance, like the multitude who pass him in the street.
Monsieur de Ramière was in love with the young creole with the great black eyes, who had aroused the admiration of the whole province at the fête of Rubelles; but he was in love and nothing more. He had made her acquaintance because he had nothing else to do, perhaps, and success had kindled his desires; he had obtained more than he asked, and on the day that he triumphed over that easily vanquished heart he returned home dismayed by his victory, and said to himself, striking his forehead:
“God grant that she doesn’t love me!”
Thus it was not until after he had accepted all the proofs of her love that he began to suspect the existence of that love. Then he repented, but it was too late; he must either resign himself to what the future might have in store, or retreat like a coward toward the past. Raymon did not hesitate; he allowed himself to be loved, he loved in return for gratitude; he scaled the walls of the Delmare estate from the love of danger; he had a terrible fall from awkwardness; and he was so touched by his lovely mistress’s grief that he deemed himself justified thenceforth in his own eyes in continuing to dig the pit into which she was destined to fall.
When he had recovered, winter had no storms, darkness no perils, remorse no stings which could deter him from passing through the corner of the forest to meet the young creole and swear to her that he had never loved any other woman; that he preferred her to the queens of society, and a thousand other exaggerations which will always be fashionable with poor and credulous maidens. In January Madame Delmare went to Paris with her husband; Sir Ralph Brown, their excellent neighbor, betook himself to his own estate, and Noun, being left in charge of her master’s country house, was able to absent herself on various pretexts. It was unfortunate for her, and this facility of intercourse with her lover greatly abridged the ephemeral happiness which she was destined to enjoy. The forest with its poetic shadows, its arabesques of hoar-frost, its moonlight effects, the mysterious going and coming by the little gate, the furtive departure in the morning when Noun’s little feet, as she accompanied him to the gate, left their prints on the snow in the park-all these accessories of an amorous intrigue served to prolong Monsieur de Ramière’s intoxication. Noun, in white déshablilé, with her long black hair for ornament, was a lady, a queen, a fairy; when he saw her come forth from that red brick castle, a heavy, square structure of the time of the Regency, with a semi-feudal aspect, he could easily fancy her a châtelaine of the Middle Ages, and in the summer-house filled with rare flowers, where she made him drunk with the seductions of youth and passion, he readily forgot all that he was destined to remember later.
But when Noun, disdaining precautions and defying danger in her turn, came to him at his home, with her white apron and neckerchief coquettishly arranged according to the fashion of her country, she was nothing more than a maid and a maid in the service of a pretty woman-a circumstance that always makes a soubrette seem like a makeshift. And yet Noun was very lovely, it was in that dress that he had first seen her at that village fête where he had forced his way through the crowd of curious bystanders, and had enjoyed the petty triumph of carrying her off from a score of rivals. Noun would lovingly remind him of that day; she did not know, poor child, that Raymon’s love did not date back so far, and that her day of pride had been only a day of vanity to him. And then the courage with which she sacrificed her reputation to him-that courage which should have made him love her all the more-displeased Monsieur de Ramière. The wife of a peer of France who should sacrifice herself so recklessly would be a priceless conquest; but a lady’s maid! That which is heroism in the one becomes brazen-faced effrontery in the other. With the one a world of jealous rivals envies you; with the other a rabble of scandalized flunkeys condemns you. The lady of quality sacrifices twenty previous lovers to you; the lady’s maid sacrifices only a husband that she might have had.
What can you expect? Raymon was a man of fashionable morals, of elegant manners, of poetic passion. In his eyes a grisette was not a woman, and Noun, by virtue of a beauty of the first order, had taken him by surprise on a day of popular merrymaking. All this was not Raymon’s fault; he had been reared to shine in society, all his thoughts had been directed toward an exalted goal, all his faculties had been moulded to enjoy princely good fortune, and the ardor of his blood had led him into bourgeois amours against his will. He had done all that he possibly could do to prolong his enjoyment, but he had failed; what could he do now? Ideas extravagant in generosity had passed through his brain; on the days when he was most in love with his mistress he had thought seriously of raising her to his level, of legitimizing their union. Yes, upon my honor, he had thought of it; but love, which legitimizes everything, was growing weaker now; it was passing away with the perils of the intrigue and the piquant charm of mystery. Marriage was no longer possible; and note this: Raymon reasoned very cogently and altogether in his mistress’s favor.
If he had really loved her, he could, by sacrificing to her his future, his family and his reputation, still have found happiness, and, consequently, have made her happy; for love is a contract no less than marriage. But, his ardor having cooled as he felt that it had, what future could he create for her? Should he marry her and display day after day a gloomy face, a cold heart, a comfortless home? Should he marry her and make her odious to her family, contemptible in the eyes of her equals, and a laughing-stock to her servants; take the risk of introducing her in a social circle where she would feel that she was out of place; where humiliation would kill her; and, lastly, overwhelm her with remorse by forcing her to realize all the trials she had brought upon her lover?
No, you will agree with him that it was impossible, that it would not have been generous, that a man cannot contend thus with society, and that such heroic virtue resembles Don Quixote breaking his lance against a windmill; an iron courage which a breath of wind scatters; the chivalry of another age which arouses the pitying contempt of this age.
Having thus weighed all the arguments, Monsieur de Ramière concluded that it would be better to break that unfortunate bond. Noun’s visits were beginning to be painful to him. His mother, who had gone to Paris for the winter, would not fail to hear of the little scandal before long. Even now she was surprised at his frequent visits to Cercy, their country estate, and at his passing whole weeks there. He had, to be sure, alleged as a pretext, an important piece of work which he was finishing away from the noise of the city; but that pretext was beginning to be worn out. It grieved Raymon to deceive so kind a mother, to deprive her for so long a time of his filial attentions; and-how shall I tell you?-he left Cercy and did not return.
Noun wept and waited, and as the days and weeks passed, unhappy creature that she was, she ventured so far as to write. Poor girl! that was the last stroke. A letter from a lady’s maid! Yet she had taken satin-finished paper and perfumed wax from Madame Delmare’s desk, and her style from her heart. But the spelling! Do you know how much energy a syllable more or less adds to or detracts from the sentiments? Alas! the poor half-civilized girl from Ile Bourbon did not know even that there were rules for the use of the language. She believed that she wrote and spoke as correctly as her mistress, and when she found that Raymon did not return she said to herself:
“And yet my letter was well adapted to bring him.”
That letter Raymon lacked the courage to read to the end. It was a masterpiece of ingenious and graceful passion; it is doubtful if Virginia wrote Paul a more charming one after she left her native land. But Monsieur de Ramière made haste to throw it in the fire, fearful lest he should blush for himself. Once more, what do you expect? This is a prejudice of education, and self-love is a part of love just as self-interest is a part of friendship.
Monsieur de Ramière’s absence had been noticed in society; that is much to say of a man, in respect to this society of ours where all men resemble another. One may be a man of intelligence and still care for society, just as one may be a fool and despise it. Raymon liked it, and he was justified in his liking, for he was a favorite and was much sought after; and that multitude of indifferent or sneering masks assumed for him attentive and interested smiles. Unfortunate men may be misanthropes, but those persons of whom one is fond are rarely ungrateful; at least so Raymon thought. He was grateful for the slightest manifestations of attachment, desirous of universal esteem, proud of having a large number of friends.
In this society, whose prejudices are absolute, everything had succeeded in his case, even his faults; and when he sought the cause of this universal affection which had always encompassed him, he found it in himself, in his longing to obtain it, in the joy it caused him, in the hearty kindliness which he dealt out lavishly without exhausting it.
He owed it in some measure to his mother too, whose superior intelligence, sparkling conversation and private virtues made her an exceptional woman. It was from her that he inherited those excellent principles which always led him back to the right path and prevented him, despite the impetuosity of his twenty-five years, from ever forfeiting his claim to public esteem. Moreover, people were more indulgent to him than to others because his mother had the knack of apologizing for him while blaming him, of commanding indulgence when she seemed to implore it. She was one of those women who had lived through different epochs so utterly dissimilar that their minds become as flexible as their destinies; who have grown rich on experience of misfortune; who have escaped the scaffolds of ‘93, the vices of the Directory, the vanities of the Empire and the enmities of the Restoration; rare women, whose kind is dying out.
It was at a ball at the Spanish ambassador’s that Raymon reappeared in society.
“Monsieur de Ramière, if I am not mistaken,” said a pretty woman to her neighbor.
“He is a comet who appears at irregular intervals,” was the reply. “It is centuries since any one heard of the pretty fellow.”
The lady who spoke thus was a middle-aged foreigner. Her companion blushed slightly.
“He’s very good-looking, is he not, madame?” she said.
“Charming, on my word,” replied the old Sicilian.
“You are talking about the hero of the eclectic salons, the dark-eyed Raymon, I’ll be bound,” said a dashing colonel of the guard.
“He has a fine head to study,” rejoined the younger woman.
“And what pleases you even more, I dare say,” said the colonel, “a wicked head.”
The young woman was his wife.
“Why a wicked head?” queried the Sicilian.
“Full of genuine Southern passions, madame, worthy of the bright sunlight of Palermo.”
Two or three young women put forward their flower-laden heads to hear what the colonel was saying.
“He made ravages in the garrison last year, I promise you,” he continued. “We fellows shall be obliged to pick a quarrel with him, in order to get rid of him.”
“If he’s a Lovelace, so much the worse for him,” said a young lady with a satirical cast of countenance; “I can’t endure men whom everybody loves.”
The ultramontane countess waited until the colonel had walked away, when she tapped Mademoiselle de Nangy’s fingers lightly with her fan and said:
“Don’t speak so; you don’t know here what to think of a man who wants to be liked.”
“Do you think, pray, that all they have to do is to want it?” said the damsel with the long sardonic eyes.
“Mademoiselle,” said the colonel, coming up again to invite her to dance; “take care that the charming Raymon does not overhear you.”
Mademoiselle de Nangy laughed; but during the rest of the evening the pretty group of which she was one dared not mention Monsieur de Ramière’s name again.
Monsieur de Ramière wandered amid the undulating waves of that gayly-dressed crowd without distaste and without ennui.
Nevertheless, he was fighting against a feeling of chagrin. On returning to his own sphere he had a species of remorse, of shame for all the wild ideas which a misplaced attachment had suggested to him. He looked at the women so brilliantly beautiful in the bright light; he listened to their refined and clever conversation; he heard their talents highly praised; and in those marvellous specimens of their sex, those almost royal costumes, those exquisitely appropriate remarks, he found on all sides an implied reproach for having been untrue to his destiny. But, despite this species of mental bewilderment, Raymon suffered from more genuine remorse; for his intentions were always kind and considerate to the last degree, and a woman’s tears broke his heart, hardened as it was.
The honors of the evening were universally accorded to a young woman whose name no one knew, and who enjoyed the privilege of monopolizing attention because her appearance in society was a novelty. The simplicity of her costume alone would have sufficed to make her a distinguished figure amid the diamonds, feathers and flowers in which the other women were arrayed. Strings of pearls woven into her black hair were her only jewels. The lustreless white of her necklace, her crêpe dress and her bare shoulders blended at a little distance, and the heated atmosphere of the apartments had barely succeeded in bringing to her cheeks a faint flush of as delicate a shade as that of a Bengal rose blooming on the snow. She was a tiny, dainty, slender creature; a salon type of beauty to which the bright light of the candles gave a fairylike touch, and which a sunbeam would have dimmed. When she danced she was so light that a breath would have whisked her away; but in her lightness there was no animation, no pleasure. When she was seated she bent forward as if her too flexible body lacked strength to support itself, and when she spoke she smiled sadly. Fantastic tales were at the very height of their vogue at this period. Accordingly, those who were learned in that line compared this young woman to a fascinating apparition evoked by sorcery, which would fade away and vanish like a dream when the first flush of dawn appeared on the horizon.
Meanwhile they crowded about her to invite her to dance.
“Make haste,” said a dandy of a romantic turn to one of his friends; “the cock will crow soon, and even now your partner’s feet have ceased to touch the floor. I’ll wager that you can’t feel her hand in yours.”
“Pray look at Monsieur de Ramière’s dark, strongly-marked face,” said an artistic lady to her neighbor. “Contrast him with that pale, slender young woman, and see if the solid tone of the one doesn’t make an admirable foil for the delicate tone of the other.”
“That young woman,” said a woman who knew everybody and who played the part of an almanac at social functions, “is the daughter of that old fool, De Carvajal, who tried to play Joséphin, and who died ruined at Ile Bourbon. This lovely exotic flower has made a foolish marriage, I believe; but her aunt stands well at court.”
Raymon had drawn near the fair Indian. A peculiar emotion seized him every time that he looked at her; he had seen that pale, sad face; perhaps in some dream, but at all events he had seen it, and his eyes rested upon it with the delight we all feel on seeing once more a charming vision which we thought that we had lost forever.
Raymon’s gaze disturbed her who was the object of it; she was awkward and shy, like a person unaccustomed to society, and the sensation that she caused seemed to embarrass rather than to please her. Raymon made the circuit of the salon, succeeded finally in learning that her name was Madame Delmare, and went and asked her to dance.
“You do not remember me,” he said, when they were alone in the midst of the crowd; “but I have not been able to forget you, madame. And yet I saw you for an instant only, through a cloud; but in that instant you seemed so kind, so compassionate.”
Madame Delmare started.
“Oh! yes, monsieur,” she said, quickly, “it is you! I recognized you, too.”
Then she blushed and seemed to fear that she had offended the proprieties. She looked around as if to see whether anyone had heard her. Her timidity enhanced her natural charm, and Raymon was touched to the heart by the tone of that creole voice, slightly husky, but so sweet that it seemed made to pray or to bless.
“I was afraid,” he said, “that I should never have an opportunity to thank you. I could not call upon you and I knew that you went but little into society. I feared, also, that if I made your acquaintance I should come in contact with Monsieur Delmare, and our previous relations could not fail to make that contact disagreeable. How glad I am for this moment, which enables me to pay the debt of my heart!”
“It would be much pleasanter for me,” said she, “if Monsieur Delmare also could enjoy it; and if you knew him better you would know that he is as kind as he is brusque. You would forgive him for having been your involuntary assailant, for his heart certainly bled more freely than your wound.”
“Let us not talk of Monsieur Delmare, madame; I forgive him with all my heart. I injured him and he took the law into his own hands. I have nothing more to do but to forget; but as to you, madame, who lavished such delicate and generous attentions upon me, I choose to remember all my life your treatment of me, your pure features, your angelic gentleness, and these hands which poured balm upon my wounds and which I dared not kiss.”
While he spoke Raymon held Madame Delmare’s hand, to be prepared to walk through their figure in the contra-dance. He pressed that hand gently in his, and all the young woman’s blood rushed to her heart.
When he led Madame Delmare back to her seat, her aunt, Madame de Carvajal, had gone; the crowd was thinning. Raymon sat down beside her. He had that ease of manner which a wide experience of affairs of the heart imparts; it is the violence of our desires, the precipitate haste of our love, that makes us stupid when we are with women. The man who has rubbed the edge off his emotions a little is more anxious to please than to love. Nevertheless Monsieur de Ramière felt more deeply moved in the presence of that simple, unspoiled woman than he had ever been. Perhaps this swift impression was due to his memory of the night he had passed at her house; but it is certain that, while he talked to her with animation, his heart did not lead his mouth astray. However, the habit he had acquired with other women gave to his words a power of persuasion to which the untutored Indiana yielded, not understanding that it had not all been invented expressly for her.
In general-and women are well aware of it-a man who talks wittily of love is only moderately in love. Raymon was an exception; he expressed passion artistically and felt it ardently. But it was not passion that rendered him eloquent, it was eloquence that made him passionate. He knew that he had a weakness for women, and he would become eloquent in order to seduce a woman and fall in love with her while seducing her. It was sentiment of the sort dealt in by advocates and preachers, who weep hot tears when they perspire freely. He sometimes fell in with women who were shrewd enough to distrust these heated improvisations; but he had committed what are called follies for love’s sake: he had run away with a girl of noble birth; he had compromised women of very high station; he had had three sensational duels; he had displayed to a crowded evening party, to a whole theatre full of spectators, the bewilderment of his heart and the disarray of his thoughts. A man who does all this without fear of ridicule or of curses, and who succeeds in avoiding both, is safe from all assault; he can take any risk and hope for anything. Thus the most skilfully constructed defences yielded to the consideration that Raymon was madly in love when he meddled with love at all. A man capable of making a fool of himself for love is a rare prodigy in society, and one that women do not disdain.
I do not know how it happened, but when he escorted Madame de Carvajal and Madame Delmare to their carriage he succeeded in putting Indiana’s little hand to his lips. Never before had a man’s furtive, burning kiss breathed upon that woman’s fingers, although she was born in a fiery climate and was nineteen years old; nineteen years of Ile Bourbon, which are equivalent to twenty-five in our country.
Ill and nervous as she was, that kiss almost extorted a shriek from her, and she had to be assisted into the carriage. Raymon had never come in contact with such a delicate organization. Noun, the creole, was in robust health, and Parisian women do not faint when their hands are kissed.
“If I should see her twice,” he said to himself as he walked away, “I should lose my head over her.”
The next morning he had completely forgotten Noun.
All that he knew about her was that she belonged to Madame Delmare. The pale-faced Indiana engrossed all his thoughts, filled all his dreams. When Raymon began to feel the shafts of love he was in the habit of seeking to distract his thoughts, not in order to stifle the budding passion, but, on the contrary, to drive away the reasoning power that urged him to weigh its consequences. Of an ardent temperament, he pursued his object hotly. He had not the power to quell the tempests which arose in his bosom, nor to rekindle them when he felt that they were dying away and vanishing.
He succeeded the next day in learning that Monsieur Delmare had gone to Brussels on a business trip, and had left his wife in charge of Madame de Carvajal, of whom he was not at all fond, but who was Madame Delmare’s only relative. He, an upstart soldier, belonged to a poor and obscure family, of which he seemed to be ashamed, simply because he repeated so often that he was not ashamed of it. But, although he passed his life reproaching his wife for alleged scorn of him which she did not entertain, he was conscious that he ought not to compel her to live on terms of intimacy with his uneducated kindred. Moreover, despite his dislike for Madame de Carvajal, he could not refuse to treat her with great deference for these reasons.
Madame de Carvajal, who was descended from a noble Spanish family, was one of those women who cannot make up their minds to be of no account in the world. In the days when Napoleon ruled Europe she had burned incense to the glory of Napoleon, and with her husband and brother-in-law had joined the party of the Joséphinos; but her husband had lost his life at the fall of the conqueror’s short-lived dynasty, and Indiana’s father had taken refuge in the French colonies. Thereupon Madame Carvajal, being a clever and active person, had repaired to Paris, and there, by some fortunate speculations on the Bourse, had built up for herself a new competence on the ruins of her past splendors. By dint of shrewd wit, intrigues and piety she had also obtained some favor at Court, and her establishment, while it was no means brilliant, was one of the most respectable of all those presided over by protégés of the Civil List.
When Indiana arrived in France after her father’s death, as the bride of Colonel Delmare, Madame de Carvajal was but moderately pleased by so paltry an alliance. Nevertheless she saw that Monsieur Delmare, whose good sense and activity in business were worth a dowry, prospered with his slender capital; and she purchased for Indiana the little château of Lagny and the factory connected with it. In two years, thanks to Monsieur Delmare’s technical knowledge and certain funds advanced by Sir Rodolphe Brown, his wife’s cousin by marriage, the colonel’s affairs took a fortunate turn; he began to pay off his debts, and Madame de Carvajal, in whose eyes fortune was the first recommendation, manifested much affection for her niece and promised her the remnant of her wealth. Indiana, who was devoid of ambition, was devotedly kind and attentive to her aunt from gratitude, not from self-interest; but there was at least as much of one as of the other in the colonel’s manoeuvres. He was a man of iron in the matter of his political opinions; he would listen to no argument concerning the unassailable glory of his great emperor, and he upheld that glory with the blind obstinacy of a child of sixty years. He was obliged therefore to put forth all his patience to refrain from breaking out again and again in Madame de Carvajal’s salon, where the Restoration was lauded to the skies. What Delmare suffered at the hands of five or six pious old women is beyond description. His vexation on this account was in part the cause of his frequent ill-humor against his wife.
So much for Madame de Carvajal; we return now to Monsieur de Ramière. At the end of three days he had learned all these domestic details, so actively had he followed up everything likely to put him in the way of an intimate acquaintance with the Delmare family. He learned that by acquiring Madame de Carvajal’s favor he could obtain opportunities of meeting Indiana. On the evening of the third day he procured an introduction to the aunt.
In her salon there were four or five barbarians solemnly playing reversi, and two or three young men of family, as utterly vapid as it is allowable for a man to be who has sixteen quarterings of nobility. Indiana was at work patiently filling in the background of a piece of embroidery on her aunt’s frame. She was leaning over her work, apparently absorbed by that mechanical operation, and, it may be, well pleased to escape in this way the dull chatter of her neighbors. For aught I know, behind the long black hair that fell over the flowers of her embroidery, she was reviewing in her mind the emotions of that fleeting instant which had opened the door of a new life to her, when the servant’s voice, announcing several new arrivals, made it necessary for her to rise. She did so mechanically, for she had paid no heed to the names, and barely lifted her eyes from her embroidery; but a voice at her side made her start as if she had received an electric shock, and she was obliged to lean on her worktable to avoid falling.
Raymon was not prepared for that silent salon, peopled only by a few taciturn guests. It was impossible to utter a word which was not heard in every corner of the room. The dowagers who were playing cards seemed to be there for the sole purpose of embarrassing the conversation of the younger guests, and Raymon fancied that he could read on their stern features the secret satisfaction which old age takes in avenging itself by blocking other people’s pleasure. He had counted upon a less constrained, tenderer interview than that of the ball, and it was just the opposite. This unexpected difficulty gave greater intensity to his desires, more fire to his glances, more animation and vivacity to the roundabout remarks he addressed to Madame Delmare. The poor child was altogether unused to this style of attack. She could not possibly defend herself, because nothing was asked of her; but she was forced to listen to the proffer of an ardent heart, to learn how dearly she was loved, and to allow herself to be encompassed by all the perils of seduction without making any resistance. Her embarrassment increased with Raymon’s boldness. Madame de Carvajal, who made some reasonably well-founded claims to wit, and to whom Monsieur de Ramière’s wit had been highly praised, left the card-table to challenge him to a refined discussion concerning love, into which she introduced much Spanish heat and German metaphysics. Raymon eagerly accepted the challenge, and, on the pretext of answering the aunt, said to the niece all that she would have refused to hear. The poor young wife, without a protector and exposed to so lively and skilful an assault on all sides, could not muster strength to take part in that thorny discussion. In vain did her aunt, who was anxious to exhibit her to advantage, call upon her to testify to the truth of certain subtle theories of sentiment; she confessed blushingly that she knew nothing about such things, and Raymon, intoxicated with joy to see her cheeks flush and her bosom heave, swore inwardly that he would teach her.
Indiana slept less that night than she had done for the last two or three nights; as we have said, she had never been in love, and her heart had long been ripe for a sentiment which none of the men she had met hitherto had succeeded in arousing. She had been brought up by a father of an eccentric and violent character, and had never known the happiness which is derived from the affection of another person. Monsieur de Carvajal, drunk with political passions, consumed by ambitious regrets, had become the most cruel planter and the most disagreeable neighbor in the colonies; his daughter had suffered keenly from his detestable humor. But, by dint of watching the constant tableau of the evils of slavery, of enduring the weariness of solitude and dependence, she had acquired a superficial patience, proof against every trial, an adorable kindliness toward her inferiors, but also an iron will and an incalculable power of resistance to everything that that tended to oppress her. By marrying Delmare she simply changed masters; by coming to live at Lagny, she changed her prison and the locus of her solitude. She did not love her husband, perhaps for the very reason that she was told that it was her duty to love him, and that it had become with her a sort of second nature, a principle of conduct, a law of conscience, to resist mentally every sort of moral constraint. No one had attempted to point out to her any other law than that of blind obedience.
Brought up in the desert, neglected by her father, surrounded by slaves, to whom she could offer no other assistance or encouragement than her compassion and her tears, she had accustomed herself to say: “A day will come when everything in my life will be changed, when I shall do good to others, when some one will love me, when I shall give my whole heart to the man who gives me his; meanwhile, I will suffer in silence and keep my love as a reward for him who shall set me free.” This liberator, this Messiah had not come; Indiana was still awaiting him. She no longer dared, it is true, to confess to herself her whole thought. She had realized under the clipped hedge-rows of Lagny that thought itself was more fettered there than under the wild palms of Ile Bourbon; and when she caught herself saying, as she used to say: “A day will come-a man will come”-she forced that rash longing back to the depths of her heart, and said to herself; “Death alone will bring that day!”
And so she was dying. A strange malady was consuming her youth. She was without strength and unable to sleep. The doctors looked in vain for any discoverable disorder, for none existed; all her faculties were failing away in equal degree, all her organs were gradually degenerating; her heart was burning at a slow fire, her eyes were losing their lustre, the circulation of her blood was governed entirely by excitement and fever; a few months more and the poor captive bird would surely die. But, whatever the extent of her resignation and her discouragement, the need remained the same. That silent, broken heart was still calling involuntarily to some generous youthful heart to revivify it. The being whom she had loved most dearly hitherto was Noun, the cheery and brave companion of her tedious solitude; and the man who had manifested the greatest liking for her was her phlegmatic cousin Sir Ralph. What food for the all-consuming activity of her thoughts-a poor girl, ignorant and neglected like herself, and an Englishman whose only passion was fox-hunting!
Madame Delmare was genuinely unhappy, and the first time that she felt the burning breath of a young and passionate man enter her frigid atmosphere, the first time that a tender and caressing word delighted her ear, and quivering lips left a mark as of a red-hot iron on her hand, she thought neither of the duties that had been laid upon her, nor of the prudence that had been enjoined upon her, nor of the future that had been predicted for her; she remembered only the hateful past, her long suffering, her despotic masters. Nor did it occur to her that the man before her might be false or fickle. She saw him as she wished him to be, as she had dreamed of him, and Raymon could easily have deceived her if he had not been sincere.
But how could he fail to be sincere with so lovely and loving a woman? What other had ever laid bare her heart to him with such candor and ingenuousness? With what other had he been able to look forward to a future so captivating and so secure? Was she not born to love him, this slave who simply awaited a sign to break her chains, a word to follow him? Evidently heaven had made for Raymon this melancholy child of Ile Bourbon, whom no one had ever loved, and who but for him must have died.
Nevertheless a feeling of terror succeeded this all-pervading, feverish joy in Madame Delmare’s heart. She thought of her quick-tempered, keen-eyed, vindictive husband, and she was afraid,-not for herself, for she was inured to threats, but for the man who was about to undertake a battle to the death with her tyrant. She knew so little of society that she transformed her life into a tragic romance; a timid creature, who dared not love for fear of endangering her lover’s life, she gave no thought to the danger of destroying herself.
This then was the secret of her resistance, the motive of her virtue. She made up her mind on the following day to avoid Monsieur de Ramière. That very evening there was a ball at the house of one of the leading bankers of Paris. Madame de Carvajal, who, being an old woman with no ties of affection, was very fond of society, proposed to attend with Indiana; but Raymon was to be there and Indiana determined not to go. To avoid her aunt’s persecution, Madame Delmare, who was never able to resist except in action, pretended to assent to the plan; she allowed herself to be dressed and waited until Madame de Carvajal was ready; then she changed her ball dress for a robe de chambre, seated herself in front of the fire and resolutely awaited the conflict. When the old Spaniard, as rigid and gorgeous as a portrait by Van Dyck, came to call her, Indiana declared that she was not well and did not feel that she could go out. In vain did her aunt urge her to make an effort.
“I would be only too glad to go,” she said, “but you see that I can hardly stand. I should be only a trouble to you to-night. Go to the ball without me, dear aunt; I shall enjoy the thought of your pleasure.”
“Go without you!” said Madame de Carvajal, who was sorely distressed at the idea of having made an elaborate toilet to no purpose, and who shrank from the horrors of a solitary evening. “Why, what business have I in society, an old woman whom no one speaks to except to be near you? What will become of me without my niece’s lovely eyes to give me value?”
“Your wit will fill the gap, my dear aunt,” said Indiana.
The Marquise de Carvajal, who only wanted to be urged, set off at last. Whereupon, Indiana hid her face in her hands and began to weep; for she had made a great sacrifice and believed that she had already blasted the attractive prospect of the day before.
But Raymon would not have it so. The first thing that he saw at the ball was the old marchioness’s haughty aigrette. In vain did he look for Indiana’s white dress and black hair in her vicinity. He drew near and heard her say in an undertone to another lady:
“My niece is ill; or rather,” she added, to justify her own presence at the ball, “it’s a mere girlish whim. She wanted to be left alone in the salon with a book in her hand, like a sentimental beauty.”
“Can it be that she is avoiding me?” thought Raymon.
He left the ball at once. He hurried to the marchioness’s house, entered without speaking to the concierge, and asked the first servant that he saw, who was half asleep in the antechamber, for Madame Delmare.
“Madame Delmare is ill.”
“I know it. I have come at Madame de Carvajal’s request to see how she is.”
“I will tell madame.”
“It is not necessary. Madame Delmare will receive me.”
And Raymon entered the salon unannounced. All the other servants had retired. A melancholy silence reigned in the deserted apartments. A single lamp, covered with its green silk shade, lighted the main salon dimly. Indiana’s back was turned to the door; she was completely hidden in the depths of a huge easy-chair, sadly watching the burning logs, as on the evening when Raymon entered the park of Lagny over the wall; sadder now, for her former undefined sufferings, aimless desires had given place to a fleeting joy, a gleam of happiness that was not for her.
Raymon, his feet encased in dancing shoes, approached noiselessly over the soft, heavy carpet. He saw that she was weeping, and, when she turned her head, she found him at her feet, taking forcible possession of her hands, which she struggled in vain to withdraw from his clasp. Then, I agree, she was overjoyed beyond words to find that her scheme of resistance had failed. She felt that she passionately loved this man who paid no heed to obstacles and who had brought happiness to her in spite of her efforts. She blessed heaven for rejecting her sacrifice, and, instead of scolding Raymon, she was very near thanking him.
As for him, he knew already that she loved him. He needed not to see the joy that shone through her tears to realize that he was master, and that he could venture. He gave her no time to question him, but, changing rôles with her, vouchsafing no explanation of his unlooked-for presence, and no apology intended to make him seem less guilty than he was, he said:
“You are weeping, Indiana. Why do you weep? I insist upon knowing.”
She started when he called her by her name; but there was additional joy in the surprise which that audacity caused her.
“Why do you ask?” she said. “I must not tell you.”
“Well, I know, Indiana. I know your whole history, your whole life. Nothing that concerns you is unknown to me, because nothing that concerns you is indifferent to me. I resolved to know everything about you, and I have learned nothing that was not revealed to me during the brief moment that I passed under your roof, when I was brought, all crushed and bleeding, to your feet, and your husband was angry to see you, so lovely and so kind, support me with your soft arms and pour balm upon my wounds with your sweet breath. He was jealous? oh! I can readily understand it; I should have been, in his place, Indiana; or rather in his place, I would kill myself; for to be your husband, madame, to possess you, to hold you in his arms, and not to deserve you, not to win your heart, is to be the most miserable or the most dastardly of men!”
“O heaven! hush,” she cried, putting her hand over his mouth; “hush! for you make me guilty. Why do you speak to me of him? why seek to teach me to curse him? If he should hear you! But I have said no evil of him; I have not authorized you to commit this crime! I do not hate him; I esteem him, I love him!”
“Say rather that you are horribly afraid of him; for the despot has broken your spirit, and fear has sat at your bedside ever since you became that man’s prey. You, Indiana, profaned by the touch of that boor, whose iron hand has bowed your head and ruined your life! Poor child! so young and so lovely, to have suffered so horribly! for you cannot deceive me, Indiana, who look at you with other eyes than those of the common herd; I know all the secrets of your destiny, and you cannot hope to hide the truth from me. Let those who look at you because you are lovely say, when they notice your pallor and your melancholy: ‘She is ill;’-well and good; but I, who follow you with my heart, whose whole soul encompasses you with solicitude and love, I am well aware what your disease is. I know that if God willed it so, if he had given you to me, unlucky wretch that I am, who deserve to have my head broken for having come so late, you would not be ill. On my life I swear, Indiana, I would have loved you so that you would have loved me the same and that you would have blessed the chain that bound us. I would have carried you in my arms to prevent your feet from being wounded; I would have warmed them with my breath. I would have held you against my breast to save you from suffering. I would have given all my blood to make up your lack of it, and if you had lost sleep with me, I would have passed the night saying soft words to you, smiling on you to restore your courage, weeping the while to see you suffer. When sleep had breathed upon your silken eyelids, I would have brushed them with my lips to close them more softly, and I would have watched over you, kneeling by your bed. I would have forced the air to caress you gently, golden dreams to throw flowers to you. I would have kissed noiselessly your lovely tresses, I would have counted with ecstatic joy the palpitations of your breast, and, at your awakening, Indiana, you would have found me at your feet, guarding you like a jealous master, waiting upon you as a slave, watching for your first smile, seizing upon your first thought, your first glance, your first kiss.”
“Enough! enough!” said Indiana, agitated and quivering with emotion, “you make me faint.”
And yet, if people died of happiness, Indiana would have died at that moment.
“Do not speak so to me,” she said–“to me who am destined never to be happy; do not depict heaven upon earth to me who am doomed to die.”
“To die!” cried Raymon vehemently, seizing her in his arms; “you, die! Indiana! die before you have lived-before you have loved! No, you shall not die; I will not let you die, for my life is bound to yours henceforth. You are the woman of whom I dreamed, the purity that I adored, the chimera that always fled from me, the bright star that shone before me and said to me: ‘Go forward in this life of wretchedness and heaven will send one of its angels to bear you company.’ You were always destined for me; your soul was always betrothed to mine, Indiana! Men and their iron laws have disposed of you; they have snatched from me the mate God would have chosen for me, if God did not sometimes forget his promises. But what do we care for men and laws if I love you still in another’s arms, if you can still love me, accursed and unhappy as I am in having lost you! I tell you, Indiana, you belong to me; you are the half of my heart, which has long been struggling to join the other half. When you dreamed of a friend on Ile Bourbon, you dreamed of me; when, at the word husband, a sweet thrill of fear and hope passed through your heart, it was because I was destined to be your husband. Do you not recognize me? Does not it seem to you that we must have met twenty years ago? Did I not recognize you, my angel, when you stanched my blood with your veil, when you placed your hand on my dying heart to bring back its heat and its life? Ah! I remember distinctly enough. When I opened my eyes I said to myself: ‘There she is! she has been like that in all my dreams-pale, melancholy and kind-hearted. She is my own; it is she who is destined to fill my cup with unknown joys.’ And the physical life which returned to me then was your work. For we were brought together by no commonplace circumstances, you see; it was neither chance nor caprice, but fatality, death, which opened the gates of this new life to me. It was your husband-your master-who, guided by his destiny, brought me all bleeding in his arms and threw me at your feet, saying: ‘Here is something for you!’ And now nothing can part us.”
“Yes, he can part us!” hastily interposed Madame Delmare, who, carried away by her lover’s transports, had listened to him in ecstasy. “Alas! alas! you do not know him; he is a man who knows nothing of pardon-a man who cannot be deceived; He will kill you, Raymon!”
She hid her face in his bosom, sobbing. Raymon embraced her passionately.
“Let him come!” he cried; “let him come and snatch this moment of happiness from me! I defy him! Stay here, Indiana-here against my heart; let it be your refuge and your protection. Love me and I shall be invulnerable. You know that it is not in that man’s power to kill me; I have already been exposed defenceless to his blows. But you, my good angel, were hovering over me, and your wings protected me. Have no fear, I say, we shall find a way to turn aside his wrath; and now I am not even afraid for you, for I shall be at hand. And when this master of yours attempts to oppress you, I will protect you against him. I will rescue you, if necessary, from his cruel laws. Would you like me to kill him? Tell me that you love me, and I will be his executioner if you sentence him to death.”
“Hush! hush! you make me shudder! If you wish to kill some one, kill me; for I have lived one whole day and I ask nothing more.”
“Die, then, but let it be of happiness!” cried Raymon, pressing his lips to Indiana’s.
But the storm was too severe for so fragile a plant; she turned pale, put her hand to her heart and swooned.
At first Raymon thought that his caresses would call her blood back into her icy veins; but in vain did he cover her hand with kisses; in vain did he call her by the sweetest names. It was not a premeditated swoon of the sort we so often see. Madame Delmare had been seriously ill for a long time, and was subject to nervous paroxysms which sometimes lasted whole hours. Raymon, in desperation, was reduced to the necessity of calling for help. He rang; a maid appeared; but the phial that she held escaped from her hands, and a cry from her throat, when she recognized Raymon. He, recovering instantly all his self-possession, put his mouth to her ear.
“Hush, Noun! I knew that you were here and I came to see you. I did not expect to see your mistress, who was, as I supposed, at the ball. When I came in I frightened her and she fainted. Be prudent; I am going away.”
Raymon fled, leaving each of the two women in possession of a secret which was destined to carry despair to the heart of the other.
The next morning Raymon, on waking, received a second letter from Noun. He did not toss this one disdainfully aside; on the contrary, he opened it eagerly: it might have something to say of Madame Delmare. So, in fact, it did; but in what an embarrassing position this complication of intrigues placed Raymon! It had become impossible to conceal the girl’s secret. Already suffering and terror had thinned her cheeks. Madame Delmare observed her ailing condition, but was unable to discover its cause. Noun dreaded the colonel’s severity, but she dreaded her mistress’s gentleness even more. She was very sure that she would obtain forgiveness, but she would die of shame and grief in being forced to make the confession. What would become of her if Raymon were not careful to protect her from the humiliations that were certain to overwhelm her! He must give some thought to her, or she would throw herself at Madame Delmare’s feet and tell her the whole story.
The fear of this result had a powerful effect upon Monsieur de Ramière. His first thought was to separate Noun from her mistress.
“Be very careful not to speak without my consent,” he wrote in reply. “Try and be in Lagny this evening. I will be there.”
On his way thither he reflected as to the course he had better pursue. Noun had common sense enough not to expect a reparation-that was out of the question. She had never dared to utter the word marriage, and because she was discreet and generous, Raymon deemed himself less guilty. He said to himself that he had not deceived her, and that Noun must have foreseen what her fate must be. The cause of Raymon’s embarrassment was not any hesitation about offering the poor girl half of his fortune; he was ready to enrich her, to take all the care her that the most sensitive delicacy could suggest. What made his position so painful was the necessity of telling her that he no longer loved her; for he did not know how to dissemble. Although his conduct at this crisis seems two-faced and treacherous, his heart was sincere, and had always been. He had loved Noun with his senses; he loved Madame Delmare with all his heart. Thus far he had lied to neither. His aim now was to avoid beginning to lie, and Raymon felt equally incapable of deceiving Noun and of dealing her the fatal blow. He must make a choice between a cowardly and a barbarous act. Raymon was very unhappy. He had come to no decision when he reached the gate of Lagny park.
Noun, for her part, had not expected so prompt a reply, and had recovered a little hope.
“He still loves me,” she said to herself, “he doesn’t mean to abandon me. He had forgotten me a little, that’s not to be wondered at; in Paris, in the midst of merry-making, with all the women in love with him, as they are sure to be, he has allowed himself to be led away from the poor creole for a few moments. Alas! who am I that he should sacrifice to me all those great ladies who are much lovelier and richer than I am? Who knows,” she said to herself artlessly, “perhaps the Queen of France is in love with him!”
By dint of meditating upon the seductions which luxurious surroundings probably exerted on her lover, Noun thought of a scheme for making herself more agreeable to him. She arrayed herself in her mistress’s clothes, lighted a great fire in the room that Madame Delmare occupied at Lagny, decorated the mantel with the loveliest flowers she could find in the greenhouse, prepared a collation of fruit and choice wines, in a word resorted to all the dainty devices of the boudoir, of which she had never thought before; and when she looked at herself in a great mirror, she did herself no more than justice in deciding that she was fairer than the flowers with which she had sought to embellish her charms.
“He has often told me,” she said to herself, “that I needed no ornaments to make me lovely, and that no woman at court, in all the splendor of her diamonds, was worth one of my smiles. And yet those same women that he used to despise fill thoughts now. Come, I must be cheerful, I must seem lively and happy; perhaps I shall reconquer to-night all the love I once aroused in him.”
Raymon, having left his horse at a charcoal-burner’s cabin in the forest, entered the park, to which he had a key. This time he did not run the risk of being taken for a thief; for almost all the servants had gone with their masters, he had taken the gardener into his confidence, and he knew all the approaches to Lagney as well as those to his own estate.
It was a cold night; the trees in the park were enveloped in a dense mist, and Raymon could hardly distinguish their black trunks through the white mist which swathed them in diaphanous robes. He wandered some time through the winding paths before he found the door of the summer-house where Noun awaited him. She was wrapped in a pelisse with the hood thrown over her head.
“We cannot stay here,” she said, “it is too cold. Follow me and do not speak.”
Raymon felt an extreme reluctance to enter Madame Delmare’s house as the lover of her maid. However, he could not but comply; Noun was walking lightly away in front of him, and this interview was to be the last.
She led him across the courtyard, quieted the dogs, opened the doors noiselessly, and, taking his hand, guided him in silence through the dark corridors; at last she ushered him into a circular room, furnished simply but with refinement, where flowering orange-bushes exhaled their sweet perfume; transparent wax candles were burning in the candelabra.
Noun had strewn the floor with the petals of Bengal roses, the divan was covered with violets, a subtle warmth entered at every pore, and the glasses gleamed on the table amid the fruit, whose ruddy cheeks were daintily blended with green moss.
Dazzled by the sudden transition from darkness to brilliant light, Raymon stood for a moment bewildered; but it was not long ere he realized where he was. The exquisite taste and chaste simplicity which characterized the furniture; the love stories and books of travel scattered over the mahogany shelves; the embroidery frame covered with a bright, pretty piece of work, the diversion of hours of patient melancholy; the harp whose strings seemed still to quiver with strains of love and longing; the engravings representing the pastoral attachment of Paul and Virginie, the peaks of Ile Bourbon and the blue shores of Saint-Paul; and, above all, the little bed half-hidden behind its muslin curtains, as white and modest as a maiden’s bed, and over the headboard, by way of consecrated boxwood, a bit of palm, taken perhaps from some tree in her native island, on the day of her departure;-all these revealed the presence of Madame Delmare, and Raymon was seized with a strange thrill as he thought that the cloak-enveloped woman who had led him thither might be Indiana herself. This extravagant supposition seemed to be confirmed when he saw, in the mirror opposite, a white figure, the phantom of a woman entering a ball-room and laying aside her cloak, to appear, radiant and half-nude, in the dazzling light. But it was only a momentary error–Indiana would have concealed her charms more carefully; her modest bosom would have been visible only through the triple gauze veil of her corsage; she would perhaps have dressed her hair with natural camellias, but they would not have frisked about on her head in such seductive disorder; she might have encased her feet in satin shoes, but her chaste gown would not have betrayed thus shamelessly the mysteries of her shapely legs.
Taller and more powerfully built than her mistress, Noun was dressed, not clothed in her finery. She was graceful but lacked nobility of bearing; she was lovely with the loveliness of women, not of fairies; she invited pleasure and gave no promise of sublime bliss.
Raymon, after scrutinizing her in the mirror without turning his head, turned his eyes upon everything that was calculated to give forth a purer reflection of Indiana-the musical instruments, the paintings, the narrow, maidenly bed. He was intoxicated by the vague perfume her presence had left behind in that sanctuary; he shuddered with desire as he thought of the day when Indiana herself should throw open its delights to him; and Noun, standing behind him with her arms folded, gazed ecstatically at him, fancying that he was overwhelmed with delight at the sight of all the pains she had taken to please him.
But he broke the silence at last.
“I thank you,” he said, “for all the preparations you have made for me; I thank you especially for bringing me here, but I have enjoyed this pleasant surprise long enough. Let us leave this room; we are not in our proper place here, and I must have some respect for Madame Delmare, even in her absence.”
“That is very cruel,” said Noun, who did not understand him, but remarked his cold and displeased manner; “it is very hard to have had such hopes of pleasing you and to see that you spurn me.”
“No, dear Noun, I shall never spurn you; I came here to have a serious talk with you and to show you the deep affection that I owe you. I am grateful for your desire to please me; but I loved you better adorned by your youth and your natural charms than in this borrowed finery.”
Noun half understood and wept.
“I am a miserable creature,” she said; “I hate myself, for I no longer please you. I should have foreseen that you would not love me long, being, as I am, a poor, uneducated girl. I do not reproach you for anything. I knew well enough that you would not marry me; but if you would have kept on loving me, I would have sacrificed everything without a regret, endured everything without complaining. Alas! I am ruined! I am dishonored! perhaps I shall be turned out-of-doors. I am going to give life to a creature who will be even more unfortunate than I am, and no one will pity me. Everyone will feel that he has a right to trample on me. But I would joyfully submit to all that, if you still loved me.”
Noun talked thus a long while. Perhaps she did not repeat the same words, but she said the same things, and said them a hundred times more eloquently than I can say them. Where are we to look for the secret of eloquence which suddenly reveals itself to an ignorant, inexperienced mind in the crisis of a genuine passion and a profound sorrow? At such times words have a greater value than in all the other scenes of life; at such times trivial words become sublime by reason of the sentiment that dictates them and the accent with which they are spoken. At such times the woman of the lowest rank, abandoning herself to the frenzy of her emotions, becomes more pathetic and more convincing than her to whom education has taught moderation and reserve.
Raymon was flattered to find that he had inspired so generous an attachment, and gratitude, compassion, perhaps a little vanity, rekindled love for a moment.
Noun was suffocated by her tears; she had torn the flowers from her hair which fell in disorder over her broad and dazzling shoulders. If Madame Delmare had not had her slavery and her sufferings to heighten her charms, Noun would have surpassed her immeasurably in beauty at that moment; she was resplendent with grief and love. Raymon was vanquished; he drew her into his arms, made her sit beside him on the sofa, moved the little decanter-laden table nearer to them, and poured a few drops of orange-flower water in a silver cup for her. Comforted by this mark of interest far more than by the calming potion, Noun wiped away her tears and threw herself at Raymon’s feet.
“Do love me,” she said, passionately embracing his knees; “tell me that you still love me and I shall be cured, I shall be saved. Kiss me as you used to, and I will not regret having ruined myself to give you a few days of pleasure.”
She threw her cool, brown arms about him, she covered him with her long hair; her great black eyes emitted a burning languor and betrayed that ardor of the blood, that purely oriental lust which is capable of triumphing over all the efforts of the will, all the chaste delicacy of the thought. Raymon forgot everything-his resolutions, his new love and his surroundings. He returned Noun’s delirious caresses. He moistened his lips at the same cup, and the heady wines which were close at hand completed the dethronement of their reason.
Little by little a vague and shadowy memory of Indiana was blended with Raymon’s drunkenness. The two glass panels which repeated Noun’s image ad infinitum seemed to be peopled by a thousand phantoms. He gazed into the depths of that multiple reflection, looking for a slenderer figure there, and it seemed to him that he could distinguish, in the last hazy and confused shadow of Noun’s image the graceful and willowy form of Madame Delmare.
Noun, herself bewildered by the strong liquors which she knew not how to use, no longer noticed her lover’s strange remarks. If she had not been as drunk as he, she would have understood that in his wildest flights Raymon was thinking of another woman. She would have seen him kiss the scarf and the ribbons Indiana had worn, inhale the perfume which reminded him of her, crumple in his burning hands the tissue that had covered her breast; but Noun appropriated all these transports to herself, when Raymon saw naught of her but Indiana’s dress. If he kissed her black hair, he fancied that he was kissing Indiana’s black hair. It was Indiana whom he saw in the fumes of the punch which Noun’s hand had lighted; it was she who smiled upon him and beckoned him from behind those white muslin curtains; and it was she of whom he dreamed upon that chaste and spotless bed, when, yielding to the influence of love and wine, he led thither his dishevelled creole.
When Raymon woke, a sort of half light was shining through the cracks of the shutters, and he lay a long while without moving, absorbed by a vague feeling of surprise and gazing at the room in which he was and the bed in which he had slept, as if they were a vision of his slumber. Everything in Madame Delmare’s chamber had been put in order. Noun, who had fallen asleep the sovereign mistress of that place, had waked in the morning a lady’s -maid once more. She had taken away the flowers and put the remains of the collation out of sight; the furniture was all in place, nothing suggested the amorous debauch of the night, and Indiana’s chamber had resumed its innocent and virtuous aspect.
Overwhelmed with shame, he rose and attempted to leave the room, but he was locked in; the window was thirty feet from the ground, and he must needs remain in that remorse-laden atmosphere, like Ixion on his wheel. Thereupon he fell on his knees with his face toward that disarranged, tumbled bed which made him blush.
“O Indiana!” he cried, wringing his hands, “how I have outraged you! Can you ever forgive me for such infamous conduct? Even if you should forgive me, I can never forgive myself. Resist me now, my gentle, trustful Indiana; for you do not know the baseness and brutality of the man to whom you would surrender the treasures of your innocence! Repulse me, trample on me, for I have not respected the sanctuary of your sacred modesty; I have befuddled myself with your wine like a footman, sitting beside your maid; I have sullied your spotless robe with my accursed breath, and your chaste girdle with my infamous kisses on another’s breast; I have not shrunk from poisoning the repose of your lonely nights, and from shedding, even upon this bed, which your husband himself respected, the influences of seduction and adultery! What safety will you find henceforth behind these curtains whose mysteries I have not shrunk from profaning? What impure dreams, what bitter and consuming thoughts will cling fast to your brain and wither it! What phantoms of vice and shamelessness will crawl upon the virginal linen of your couch! And your sleep, pure as a child’s -what chaste divinity will care to protect it now? Have I not put to flight the angel who guarded your pillow? Have I not thrown your alcove open to the demon of lust? Have I not sold him your soul? And will not the insane passion which consumes the vitals of this lascivious creole cling to yours, like Dejanira’s robe and gnaw at them! Oh! miserable wretch! miserable, guilty wretch that I am! if only I could wash away with my blood the stain I have left on this couch!”
And Raymon sprinkled it with his tears.
At that moment Noun returned, in her neckerchief and apron; she fancied, when she saw Raymon kneeling, that he was praying. She did not know that society people do not pray. She stood waiting in silence, until he should deign to notice her presence.
Raymon, when he saw her, had a feeling of embarrassment and irritation, but without the courage to scold her, without the strength to say a friendly word to her.
“Why did you lock me in this room?” he said at last. “Do you forget that it is broad daylight and that I cannot go out without compromising you openly?”
“So you’re not to go out,” said Noun caressingly. “The house is deserted and no one can see you; the gardener never comes to this part of the building to which I alone have the keys. You must stay with me all day; you are my prisoner.”
This arrangement drove Raymon to despair; he had no other feeling for his mistress than a sort of aversion. However, he could do nothing but submit, and it may be that, notwithstanding what he suffered in that room, an invincible attraction detained him there.
When Noun left him to go and find something for breakfast, he set about examining by daylight all those dumb witnesses of Indiana’s solitude. He opened her books, turned the leaves of her albums, then closed them precipitately; for he still shrank from committing a profanation and violating some feminine mystery. At last he began to pace the room and noticed, on the wooden panel opposite Madame Delmare’s bed, a large picture, richly framed and covered with a double thickness of gauze.
Perhaps it was Indiana’s portrait. Raymon, in his eagerness to see it, forgot his scruples, stepped on a chair, removed the pins, and was amazed to see a full-length portrait of a handsome young man.
“It seems to me that I know that face,” he said to Noun, struggling to assume an indifferent attitude.
“Fi! monsieur,” said the girl, as she placed on a table the tray that she brought containing the breakfast; “it is not right to try and find out my mistress’s secrets.”
This remark made Raymon turn pale.
“Secrets!” he said. “If this is a secret, it has been confided to you, Noun, and you were doubly guilty in bringing me to this room.”
“Oh! no, it’s not a secret,” said Noun with a smile; “for Monsieur Delmare himself assisted in hanging Sir Ralph’s portrait on that panel. As if madame could have any secrets with a husband so jealous!”
“Sir Ralph, you say? Who is Sir Ralph?”
“Sir Rodolphe Brown, madame’s cousin, her playmate in childhood, and my own, too, I might say; he is such a good man!”
Raymon scrutinized the picture with surprise and some uneasiness.
We have said that Sir Ralph was an extremely comely person, physically; with a red and white complexion and abundant hair, a tall figure, always perfectly dressed, and capable, if not of turning a romantic brain, of satisfying the vanity of an unromantic one. The peaceable baronet was represented in hunting costume, about as we saw him in the first chapter of this narrative, and surrounded by his dogs, the beautiful pointer Ophelia in the foreground, because of the fine silver-gray tone of her silky coat and the purity of her Scotch blood. Sir Ralph had a hunting-horn in one hand and in the other the rein of a superb, dapple-gray English hunter, who filled almost the whole background of the picture. It was an admirably executed portrait, a genuine family picture with all its perfection of detail, all its puerile niceties of resemblance, all its bourgeois minutiæ a picture to make a nurse weep, dogs bark and a tailor faint with joy. There was but one thing on earth more insignificant than the portrait, and that was the original.
Nevertheless it kindled a violent flame of wrath in Raymon.
“Upon my word!” he said to himself, “this dapper young Englishman enjoys the privilege of being admitted to Madame Delmare’s most secret apartment! His vapid face is always here, looking coldly on at the most private acts of her life! He watches her, guards her, follows her every movement, possesses her every hour in the day! At night he watches her asleep and surprises the secret of her dreams; in the morning, when she comes forth, all white and quivering, from her bed, he sees the dainty bare foot that steps lightly on the carpet; and when she dresses with all precaution-when she believes that she is quite alone, hidden from every eye-that insolent face is there, feasting on her charms! That man, all booted and spurred, presides over her toilet. Is this gauze usually spread over the picture?” he asked the maid.
“Always,” she replied, “when madame is absent. But don’t take the trouble to replace it, for madame is coming in a few days.”
“In that case, Noun, you would do well to tell her that the expression of the face is very impertinent. If I had been in Monsieur Delmare’s place I wouldn’t have consented to leave it here unless I had cut out the eyes. But that’s just like the stupid jealousy of the ordinary husband! They imagine everything and understand nothing.”
“For heaven’s sake, what have you against good Monsieur Brown’s face?” said Noun, as she made her mistress’s bed; “he is such an excellent master! I used not to care much for him, because I always heard madame say that he was selfish; but ever since the day that he took care of you–”
“True,” Raymon interrupted her, “it was he who helped me that day; I remember him perfectly now. But I owe his interest only to Madame Delmare’s prayers.”
“Because she is so kind-hearted,” said poor Noun. “Who could help being kind-hearted after living with her?”
When Noun spoke of Madame Delmare, Raymon listened with an interest of which she had no suspicion.
The day passed quietly enough, but Noun dared not lead the conversation to her real object. At last, toward evening, she made an effort and compelled him to declare his intentions.
Raymon had no other intention than to rid himself of a dangerous witness and of a woman whom he no longer loved. But he proposed to assure her future, and in fear and trembling he made her the most liberal offers.
It was a bitter affront to the poor girl; she tore her hair, and would have beaten her head against the wall if Raymon had not put forth all his strength to hold her. Thereupon, employing all the resources of language and intellect with which nature had endowed him, he made her understand that it was not for her, but for the child she was to bring into the world, that he desired to make provision.
“It is my duty,” he said; “I hand the funds over to you as the child’s heritage, and you would fail in your duty to him if a false sense of delicacy should lead you to reject them.”
Noun became calmer and wiped her eyes.
“Very well,” she said, “I will accept the money if you will promise to keep on loving me; for, just by doing your duty to the child, you will not do it to the mother. Your gift will keep him alive, but your indifference will kill me. Can’t you take me into your service? I am not exacting; I don’t aspire to all that another woman in my place might have had the skill to obtain. But let me be your servant. Obtain a place for me in your mother’s family. She will be satisfied with me, I give you my word; and, even if you don’t love me, I shall at least see you.”
“What you ask is impossible, my dear Noun. In your present condition you cannot think of entering anyone’s service; and to deceive my mother-to play upon her confidence in me-would be a base act to which I shall never consent. Go to Lyon or Bordeaux; I will undertake to see to it that you want for nothing until such time as you can show yourself again. Then I will obtain a place for you with some one of my acquaintances-at Paris, if you wish, if you insist upon being near me-but as to living under the same roof, that is impossible.”
“Impossible!” echoed Noun, wringing her hands in a passion of grief. “I see that you despise me-that you blush for me. But no, I will not go away, alone and degraded, to die abandoned in some distant city where you will forget me. What do I care for my reputation? Your love is what I wanted to retain.”
“Noun, if you fear that I am deceiving you, come with me. The same carriage shall take us to whatever place you choose. I will go with you anywhere, except to Paris or to my mother’s, and I will bestow upon you all the care and attention that I owe you.”
“Yes, to abandon me on the day after you have put me down, a useless burden, in some foreign land!” she rejoined, smiling bitterly. “No, monsieur, no, I will stay here; I do not choose to lose everything at once. I should sacrifice, by following you, the person whom I loved best in the world before I knew you; but I am not anxious enough to conceal my dishonor to sacrifice both my love and my friendship. I will go and throw myself at Madame Delmare’s feet; I will tell her all, and she will forgive me, I know, for she is kind and she loves me. We were born on almost the same day, and she is my foster-sister. We have never been separated, and she will not want me to leave her. She will weep with me; she will take care of me, and she will love my child-my poor child! Who knows! she has not the good fortune to be a mother; perhaps she will bring it up as her own! Ah! I was mad to think of leaving her, for she is the only person on earth who will take pity on me!”
This determination plunged Raymon in horrible perplexity; but suddenly the rumbling of a carriage was heard in the courtyard. Noun, in dismay, ran to the window.
“It’s Madame Delmare!” she cried; “go instantly!”
In that moment of excitement the key to the secret staircase could not be found. Noun took Raymon’s arm and hurriedly pulled him into the hall; but they were not half way to the stairs when they heard footsteps in the same passage; they heard Madame Delmare’s voice ten steps in front of them, and a candle carried by a servant who attended her cast its flickering light almost on their terrified faces. Noun had barely time to retrace her steps, still pulling Raymon after her, and to return with him to the bedroom.
A dressing room, with a glass door, might afford a place of refuge for a few moments; but there was no way of locking the door, and it was possible that Madame Delmare might go to the dressing-room at once. To avoid being detected instantly, Raymon was obliged to rush into the alcove and hide behind the curtains. It was not probable that Madame Delmare would retire at once, and meanwhile Noun might find an opportunity to help him to escape.
Indiana busted into the room tossed her hat on the bed and kissed Noun with the familiarity of a sister. There was so little light in the room that she did not notice her companion’s emotion.
“You expected me, did you?” she said, going to the fire; “how did you know I was coming?–Monsieur Delmare,” she added, not waiting for a reply, “will be here to-morrow. I started at once on receiving his letter. I have certain reasons for receiving him here and not in Paris. I will tell you what they are. But, in heaven’s name, why don’t you speak to me? you don’t seem so glad to see me as usual.”
“I am low-spirited,” said Noun, kneeling by her mistress to remove her shoes. “I have something to tell you, too, but later; come to the salon now.”
“God forbid! what an idea! it’s deathly cold there!”
“No, there’s a good fire.”
“You are dreaming! I just came through it.”
“But your supper is waiting for you.”
“I don’t want any supper; besides, there is nothing ready. Go and get my boa, I left it in the carriage.”
“In a moment.”
“Why not now? Go, I say, go!”
As she spoke, she pushed Noun toward the door with a playful air; and the maid, seeing that she must be bold and self-possessed, went out for a few moments. But she had no sooner left the room than Madame Delmare threw the bolt and removed her cloak, placing it on the bed beside her hat. As she did it, she went so near to Raymon, that he instinctively stepped back, and the bed, which apparently rested on well-oiled castors, moved with a slight noise. Madame Delmare was surprised but not frightened, for it was quite possible that she had herself moved the bed; she stretched forth her neck, drew the curtain aside and revealed a man’s head outlined against the wall in the half-light cast by the fire on the hearth.
In her terror she uttered a shriek and rushed to the mantel to seize the bell-cord and summon help. Raymon would have preferred to be taken for a thief again than to be recognized in that situation. But if he did not make himself known, Madame Delmare would call her servants and compromise her own reputation. He place his trust in the love he had inspired in her, and, rushing to her, tried to stop her shrieks and to keep her away from the bell-cord, saying to her in an undertone, for fear of being heard by Noun, who was probably not far away:
“It is I, Indiana; look at me and forgive me! Indiana! forgive an unhappy wretch whose reason you have led astray, and who could not make up his mind to give you back to your husband until he had seen you once more.”
And while he held Indiana in his arms, no less in the hope of moving her than to keep her from ringing, Noun was knocking at the door in an agony of apprehension. Madame Delmare, extricating herself from Raymon’s arms, ran and opened the door, then sank into a chair.
Pale as death and almost fainting, Noun threw herself against the door to prevent the servants, who were running hither and thither, from interrupting this strange scene; paler than her mistress, with trembling knees and her back glued to the door, she awaited her fate.
Raymon felt that with due address he might still deceive both women at once.
“Madame,” he said, falling on his knees before Indiana, “my presence here must seem to you an outrageous insult; here at your feet I implore your forgiveness. Grant me an interview of a few moments and I will explain–”
“Hush, monsieur, and leave this house,” cried Madame Delmare, recovering all the dignity befitting her situation; “leave this house openly. Open the door, Noun, and allow monsieur to go, so that all my servants may see him and that the disgrace of such a proceeding may fall upon him.”
Noun, believing that she was detected, threw herself on her knees by Raymon’s side. Madame Delmare looked at her in amazement, but said nothing.
Raymon tried to take her hand; but she indignantly withdrew it. Flushed with anger, she rose and pointed to the door.
“Go, I tell you!” she said; “go, for your conduct is despicable. So these are the means you chose to employ! you, monsieur, hiding in my bedroom, like a thief! It seems that it is a habit of yours to introduce yourself into families in this way! and this is the pure attachment that you offered me the night before last! This is the way you were to protect me, respect me and defend me! This is the way you worship me! You see a woman who has nursed you with her hands, who, to restore you to life, defied her husband’s anger; you deceive her by a pretence of gratitude, you promise her a love worthy of her, and as a reward for her attentions, as the price of her credulity, you seek to surprise her in her sleep and to hasten your triumph by indescribable infamy! You bribe her maid, you almost creep into her bed, like a lover already favored; you do not shrink from admitting her servants to the secret of an intimacy that does not exist. Go, monsieur; you have taken pains to undeceive me very quickly! Go, I say! do not remain another moment under my roof! And you, wretched girl, who have so little regard for your mistress’s honor-you deserve to be dismissed. Stand away from that door, I tell you!”
Noun, half dead with surprise and despair, gazed fixedly at Raymon as if to ask him for an explanation of this incredible mystery. Then, with a wild gleam in her eyes, hardly able to stand, she dragged herself to Indiana and seized her arm fiercely.
“What was that you said?” she cried, her teeth clenched with rage; “this man loved you?”
““Eh! you must have known that he did!” said Madame Delmare, pushing her away contemptuously and with all her strength; “you must have known what reasons a man has for hiding behind a woman’s curtains. Ah! Noun,” she added, noticing the girl’s evident despair, “it was a dastardly thing, and one of which I would never have believed you to be capable; you consented to sell her honor who had such perfect faith in yours!”
Madame Delmare was shedding tears, tears of indignation as well as of grief. Raymon had never seen her so lovely; but he hardly dared look at her, for her haughty air, the air of an insulted woman, forced him to lower his eyes. He was terror-stricken, too, petrified by Noun’s presence. If he had been alone with Madame Delmare, he might perhaps have been able to soften her. But Noun’s expression was terrifying; her features were distorted by rage and hatred.
A knock at the door startled them all three. Noun rushed forward once more to keep out intruders; but Madame Delmare, pushing her aside imperatively, motioned to Raymon to withdraw to the corner of the room. Then, with the self-possession which made her so remarkable at critical moments, she wrapped herself in a shawl, partly opened the door herself, and asked the servant who had knocked what he had to say to her.
“Monsieur Rodolphe Brown is here,” was the reply; “he wishes to know if madame will receive him.”
“Say to Monsieur Rodolphe Brown that I am delighted that he has come and that I will join him at once. Make a fire in the salon and bid them prepare some supper. One moment! Go and get the key to the small park.”
The servant retired. Madame Delmare remained at the door, holding it open, not deigning to listen to Noun and imperiously enjoining silence on Raymon.
The servant returned in a few moments. Madame Delmare, still holding the door open between him and Monsieur de Ramière, took the key from him, bade him hurry up the supper, and, as soon as he had gone, turned to Raymon.
“The arrival of my cousin, Sir Rodolphe Brown,” she said, “saves you from the public scandal which I intended to inflict on you; he is a man of honor, who would eagerly assume the duty of defending me; but as I should be very sorry to expose a man like him to danger at the hands of such a man as you, I will allow you to go without scandal. Noun, who admitted you, will find a way to let you out. Go!”
“We shall meet again, madame,” replied Raymon with an attempt at self-assurance; “and although I am culpable, you will perhaps regret the harshness with which you treat me now.”
“I trust, monsieur, that we shall never meet again,” she rejoined.
And still standing at the door, not deigning to bow, she watched him depart with his miserable and trembling accomplice.
When he was alone with Noun in the obscurity of the park, Raymon expected reproaches from her; but she did not speak to him. She led him to the gate of the small park, and, when he tried to take her hand, she had already vanished. He called her in a low voice, for he was anxious to learn his fate; but she did not reply, and the gardener, suddenly appearing, said to him:
“Come, monsieur, you must be off; madame is here and you may be discovered.”
Raymon took his departure with death in his heart; but in his despair at having offended Madame Delmare he almost forgot Noun and thought of nothing but possible methods of appeasing her mistress; for it was a part of his nature to be irritated by obstacles and never to cling passionately except to things that were well-nigh desperate.
At night, when Madame Delmare, after supping silently with Sir Ralph, withdrew to her own apartments, Noun did not come, as usual, to undress her; she rang for her to no purpose, and when she had concluded that the girl was resolved not to obey, she locked her door and went to bed. But she passed a horrible night, and, as soon as the day broke, went down into the park. She was feverish and agitated; she longed to feel the cold enter her body and allay the fire that consumed her breast. The day before, at that hour, she was happy, abandoning herself to the novel sensations of that intoxicating love. What a ghastly disillusionment in twenty-four hours! First of all, the news of her husband’s return several days earlier than she expected; those four or five days which she had hoped to pass in Paris were to her a whole lifetime of never-ending bliss, a dream of love never to be interrupted by awakening; but in the morning she had to abandon the hope, to resume the yoke, and to go to meet her master in order that he might not meet Raymon at Madame de Carvajal’s; for Indiana thought that it would be impossible for her to deceive her husband if he should see her in Raymon’s presence. And then this Raymon, whom she loved as a god-it was by him of all men that she was thus basely insulted! And lastly, her life-long companion, the young creole whom she loved so dearly, suddenly proved to be unworthy of her confidence and her esteem!
Madame Delmare had wept all night long. She sank upon the turf, still whitened by the morning rime, on the bank of the little stream that flowed through the park. It was late in March and nature was beginning to awake; the morning, although cold, was not devoid of beauty; patches of mist still rested on the water like a floating scarf, and the birds were trying their first songs of love and springtime.
Indiana felt as if relieved of a heavy weight, and a wave of religious feeling overflowed her soul.
“God willed it so,” she said to herself; “in His providence he has given me a harsh lesson, but it is fortunate for me. That man would perhaps have led me into vice, he would have ruined me; whereas now the vileness of his sentiments is revealed to me, and I shall be on my guard against the tempestuous and detestable passion that fermented in his breast. I will love my husband! I will try to love him! At all events I will be submissive to him, I will make him happy by never annoying him, I will avoid whatever can possibly arouse his jealousy; for now I know what to think of the false eloquence that men know how to lavish on us. I shall be fortunate, perhaps, if God will take pity on my sorrows and send death to me soon.”
The clatter of the mill-wheel that started the machinery in Monsieur Delmare’s factory made itself heard behind the willows on the other bank. The river, rushing through the newly opened gates, began to boil and bubble on the surface; and, as Madame Delmare followed with a melancholy eye the swift rush of the stream, she saw floating among the reeds something like a bundle of cloth which the current strove to hurry along in its train. She rose, leaned over the bank and distinctly saw a woman’s clothes,-clothes that she knew too well. Terror nailed her to the spot; but the stream flowed on, slowly drawing a body from the reeds among which it had caught, and bringing it toward Madame Delmare.
Madame Delmare discovers Noun’s body
A piercing shriek attracted the workmen from the factory to the spot; Madame Delmare had fainted on the bank, and Noun’s body was floating in the water at her feet.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54