Two months have passed. Nothing is changed at Lagny, in that house to which I introduced you one winter evening, except that all about its red brick walls with their frame of gray stone and its slated roofs yellowed by venerable moss, the springtime is in its bloom. The family is scattered here and there, enjoying the mild and fragrant evening air; the setting sun gilds the windowpanes and the roar of the factory mingles with the various noises of the farm. Monsieur Delmare is seated on the steps, gun in hand, practising at shooting swallows on the wing. Indiana, at her embroidery frame near the window of the salon, leans forward now and then to watch with a sad face the colonel’s cruel amusement in the courtyard. Ophelia leaps about and barks, indignant at a style of hunting so contrary to her habits; and Sir Ralph, astride the stone railing, is smoking a cigar and, as usual, looking on impassively at other people’s pleasure or vexation.
“Indiana,” cried the colonel, laying aside his gun, “do for heaven’s sake put your work away; you tire yourself out as if you were paid so much an hour.”
“It is still broad daylight,” Madame Delmare replied.
“No matter; come to the window, I have something to tell you.”
Indiana obeyed, and the colonel, drawing near the window, which was almost on a level with the ground, said to her with as near an approach to playfulness of manner as an old and jealous husband can manage:
“As you have worked hard to-day and as you are very good, I am going to tell you something that will please you.”
Madame Delmare struggled hard to smile; her smile would have driven a more sensitive man than the colonel to despair.
“You will be pleased to know,” he continued, “that I have invited one of your humble adorers to breakfast with you to-morrow, to divert you. You will ask me which one; for you have a very pretty collection of them, you flirt!”
“Perhaps it’s our dear old curé?” said Madame Delmare, whose melancholy was enhanced by her husband’s gayety.
“Oh! no, indeed!”
“Then it must be the mayor of Chailly or the old notary from Fontainebleau.”
“Oh! the craft of women! You know very well that it would be none of those people. Come, Ralph, tell madame the name she has on the tip of her tongue but doesn’t choose to pronounce herself.”
“You need not go through so much preparation to announce a visit from Monsieur de Ramière,” said Sir Ralph, tranquilly, as he threw away his cigar; “I suppose that it’s a matter of perfect indifference to her.”
Madame Delmare felt the blood rush to her cheeks; she made a pretence of looking for something in the salon, then returned to the window with as calm a manner as she could command.
“I fancy that this is a jest,” she said, trembling in every limb.
“On the contrary I am perfectly serious; you will see him here at eleven o’clock to-morrow.”
“What! the man who stole into your premises to obtain unfair possession of your invention, and whom you almost killed as a criminal! You must both be very pacific to forget such grievances!”
“You set me the example, dearest, by receiving him very graciously at your aunt’s, where he called on you.”
Indiana turned pale.
“I do not by any means appropriate that call,” she said earnestly, “and I am so little flattered by it that, if I were in your place, I would not receive him.”
“You women are all false and cunning just for the pleasure of being so. You danced with him during one whole ball, I was told.”
“You were misinformed.”
“Why, it was your aunt herself who told me! However, you need not defend yourself so warmly; I have no fault to find, as your aunt desired and assisted to bring about this reconciliation between us. Monsieur de Ramière has been seeking it for a long while. He has rendered me some very valuable services with respect to my business, and he has done it without ostentation and almost without my knowledge; so, as I am not so savage as you say, and also as I do not choose to be under obligations to a stranger, I determined to make myself square with him.”
“By making a friend of him; by going to Cercy this morning with Sir Ralph. We found his mother there, who seems a delightful woman; and the house is furnished with refinement and comfort, but without ostentation and without a trace of the pride that attaches to venerable names. After all, this Ramière’s a good fellow, and I have invited him to come and breakfast with us and inspect the factory. I hear favorable accounts of his brother, and I have made sure that he cannot injure me by adopting the same methods that I use; so I prefer that that family should profit by them rather than any other. You see no secrets are kept very long, and mine will soon be like a stage secret if progress in manufacturing continues at the present rate.”
“For my part,” said Sir Ralph, “I have always disapproved of this secrecy, as you know; a good citizen’s discovery belongs to his country as much as to himself, and if I–”
“Parbleu! that is just like you, Sir Ralph, with your practical philanthropy! You will make me think that your fortune doesn’t belong to you, and that, if the nation takes a fancy to it to-morrow, you are ready to exchange your fifty thousand francs a year for a wallet and staff! It looks well for a buck like you, who are as fond of the comforts of life as a sultan, to preach contempt of wealth!”
“What I say,” rejoined Sir Ralph, “is not meant to be philanthropic at all; my point is that selfishness properly understood leads us to do good to others to prevent them injuring us. I am selfish myself, as everybody knows. I have accustomed myself not to blush for it, and, after analyzing all the virtues, I find personal interest at the foundation of them all. Love and devotion, which are two apparently generous passions, are perhaps the most selfish passions that exist; nor is patriotism less so, my word for it. I care little for men; but not for anything in the world would I undertake to prove it to them, my fear of them is inversely proportional to my esteem for them. We are both selfish therefore but I admit it, whereas you deny it.”
A discussion arose between them wherein each sought by all the arguments of selfishness to demonstrate the selfishness of the others. Madame Delmare took advantage of it to retire to her room and to abandon herself to all the reflections to which news so entirely unexpected naturally gave birth.
It will be well not only to admit you to the secret of her thoughts, but also to enlighten you as to the situation of the various persons whom Noun’s death had affected in greater or less degree.
It is almost proven, so far as the reader and I myself are concerned, that that unfortunate creature threw herself into the stream through despair, in one of those moments of frenzy when extreme resolutions are most easily formed. But, as she evidently did not return to the house after leaving Raymon-as no one had met her and had an opportunity to divine her purpose-there was no indication of suicide to throw light upon the mystery of her death.
Two persons were in a position to attribute it with moral certainty to her own act–Monsieur de Ramière and the gardener of Lagny. The grief of the former was concealed beneath a pretence of illness; the terror and remorse of the other enjoined silence upon him. This man who, from cupidity, had connived at the intercourse of the lovers throughout the winter, was the only person who had been in a position to remark the young creole’s secret misery. Justly fearing the reproaches of his employers and the criticisms of his equals, he held his peace in his own interest; and when Monsieur Delmare, who had some suspicions after the discovery of this intrigue, questioned him as to the lengths to which it had been carried during his absence, he boldly denied that it had continued at all. Some people in the neighborhood-a very lonely neighborhood, by the way-had noticed Noun walking toward Crecy at unreasonable hours; but apparently there had been no relations between her and Monsieur de Ramière since the end of January, and her death occurred on the 28th of March. So far as appeared, her death was attributable to chance; as she was walking through the park at nightfall, she might have been deceived by the dense fog that had prevailed for several days, have lost her way and missed the English bridge over the stream, which was quite narrow but had very steep banks and was swollen by recent rains.
Although Sir Ralph, who was more observant than his reflections indicated, had found in his private thoughts grounds for strong suspicion of Monsieur de Ramière, he communicated them to no one, regarding as useless and cruel any reproachful words addressed to a man who was so unfortunate as to have such a source of remorse in his life. He even succeeded in convincing the colonel, who expressed in his presence some suspicions in that regard, that it was most urgent, in Madame Delmare’s delicate condition, to continue to conceal from her the possible causes of her old playmate’s suicide. So it was with the poor girl’s death as with her love affair. There was a tacit agreement never to mention it before Indiana, and ere long it ceased to be talked about at all.
But these precautions were of no avail, for Madame Delmare had her own reasons for suspecting a part of the truth; the bitter reproaches she had heaped on the unhappy girl on that fatal evening seemed to her a sufficient explanation of her sudden resolution. So it was that, at the ghastly moment when she discovered the dead body floating in the water, Indiana’s repose, already so disturbed, and her heart, already so sad, had received the final blow; her lingering disease was progressing actively; and this woman, young and perhaps strong, refusing to be cured, concealing her sufferings from her husband’s undiscerning and far from delicate affection, sank voluntarily beneath the burden of sorrow and discouragement.
“Woe is me!” she cried as she entered her room, after learning of Raymon’s impending visit. “A curse on that man, who has entered this house only to bring despair and death! O God! why dost Thou permit him to come between Thee and me, to take command of my destiny at his pleasure, so that he has only to put out his hand and say: ‘She is mine! I will derange her reason, I will bring desolation into her life; and if she resists me I will spread mourning around her, I will encompass her with remorse, regrets and alarms!’ O God! it is not fair that a poor woman should be so persecuted!”
She wept bitterly; for the thought of Raymon revived the memory of Noun, more vivid and heartrending than ever.
“Poor Noun! my poor playmate! my countrywoman, my only friend!” she exclaimed sorrowfully; “that man is your murderer. Unhappy child! his influence was fatal to you as to me! You loved me so dearly, you were the only one who could divine my sorrows and mitigate them by your artless gayety! Woe to me who have lost you! Was it for this that I brought you from so far away! By what wiles did that man surprise your good faith and induce you to do such a despicable thing? Ah! he must have deceived you shamefully, and you did not realize your error until you saw my indignation! I was too harsh, Noun; I was so harsh that I was downright cruel; I drove you to despair, I killed you! Poor girl! why did you not wait a few hours until the wind had blown away my resentment like a wisp of straw! Why did you not come and weep on my bosom and say: ‘I was deceived; I acted without knowing what I was doing, but you know well enough that I respect you and love you!’–I would have taken you in my arms, we would have wept together, and you would not be dead. Dead! dead so young and so lovely and so full of life! Dead at nineteen and such a ghastly death!”
While thus weeping for her companion, Indiana, unknown to herself, wept also for her three days of illusion, the loveliest days of her life, the only days when she had really lived; for during those three days she had loved with a passion which Raymon, had he been the most presumptuous of men, could never have imagined. But the blinder and more violent that love had been, the more keenly had she felt the insult she had received; the first love of a heart like hers contains so much modesty and sensitive delicacy!
And yet Indiana had yielded to a burst of shame and anger rather than to a well-matured determination. I have no doubt that Raymon would have obtained his pardon had he been allowed a few more minutes in which to plead for it. But fate had defeated his love and his address, and Madame Delmare honestly believed now that she hated him.
For his part, it was neither in a spirit of bravado nor because of the injury to his self-esteem that he aspired more ardently than ever to Madame Delmare’s love and forgiveness. He believed that they were unattainable, and no other woman’s love, no other earthly joy seemed to him their equivalent. Such was his nature. An insatiable craving for action and excitement consumed his life. He loved society with its laws and its fetters, because it offered him material for combat and resistance; and if he had a horror of license and debauchery, it was because they promised insipid and easily obtained pleasure.
Do not believe, however, that he was insensible to Noun’s ruin. In the first impulse, he conceived a horror of himself and loaded his pistols with a very real purpose of blowing out his brains; but a praiseworthy feeling stayed his hand. What would become of his mother, his aged, feeble mother, the poor woman whose life had been so agitated and so sorrowful, who lived only for him, her only treasure, her only hope? Must he break her heart, shorten the few years that still remained to her? No, surely not. The best way to redeem his wrongdoing was to devote himself thenceforth solely to his mother, and it was with that purpose in mind that he returned to her at Paris, and put forth all his energies to make her forget his desertion of her during a large part of the winter.
Raymon exerted an incredible influence over everybody about him; for, take him for all in all, with his faults and his youthful escapades, he was above the average of society men. We have not as yet told you upon what his reputation for wit and talent was based, because it was aside from the events we had to describe; but it is time to inform you that this Raymon, whose weaknesses you have followed and whose frivolity you have censured, is one of the men who have had the most control and influence over your thoughts, whatever your opinions to-day may be. You have devoured his political pamphlets, and, while reading the newspapers of the period, you have often been captivated by the irresistible charm of his style and the grace of his courteous and worldly logic.
I am speaking of a time already far away, in these days when time is no longer reckoned by centuries, nor even by reigns, but by ministries. I am speaking of the Martignac year, of that epoch of repose and doubt, interjected in the middle of a political era, not like a treaty of peace, but like an armistice; of those fifteen months of the reign of doctrines, which had such a strange influence on principles and on morals, and which may perhaps have paved the way for the extraordinary result of our latest revolution.
It was in those days that men saw the blooming of certain youthful talents, unfortunate in that they were born in a period of transition and of compromise; for they paid their tribute to the conciliatory and wavering tendencies of the time. Never, so far as I know, was knowledge of mere words and ignorance, or pretended ignorance, of things carried so far. It was the reign of restrictions, and it is beyond my power to say who made the fullest use of them, short-gowned Jesuits or long-gowned lawyers. Political moderation had become a part of the national character, like courteous manners, and it was the same with the first variety of courtesy as with the second: it served as a mask for secret antipathies, and taught them how to fight without scandal and publicity. We must say, however, in defence of the young men of that period, that they were often towed like light skiffs in the wake of great ships, with no very clear idea of where they were being taken, proud and happy to be cleaving the waves and swelling out their new sails.
Placed by his birth and his wealth among the partisans of absolute royalty, Raymon made a sacrifice to the youthful ideas of his time by clinging religiously to the Charter; at all events that was what he thought that he was doing and what he exerted himself to prove. But conventions that have fallen into desuetude are subject to interpretation, and the Charter of Louis XVIII was already in the same plight as the Gospel of Jesus Christ; it was simply a text upon which everybody practised his powers of eloquence, and a speech thereon created a precedent no more than a sermon. A period of luxurious living and indolence, when civilization lay sleeping on the brink of a bottomless abyss, eager to enjoy its last pleasures.
Raymon had taken his stand upon the line between abuse of power and abuse of licence, a shifting ground upon which good men still sought, but in vain, a shelter from the tempest that was brewing. To him, as to many other experienced minds, the rôle of conscientious statesman still seemed possible. A manifest error at a time when people pretended to defer to the voice of reason only to stifle it the more surely on every side. Being without political passions, Raymon fancied that he was without interests to promote; but he was mistaken, for society, constituted as it then was, was agreeable and advantageous to him; it could not be disturbed without a diminution in the sum total of his well-being, and that perfect contentment with one’s social position, which communicates itself to the thought, is a wonderful promoter of moderation. Who is so ungrateful to Providence as to reproach it for the misfortunes of other people, if it has only smiles and benefactions for him? How was it possible to persuade those young supporters of the constitutional monarchy that the constitution was already antiquated, that it weighed heavily on the social body and fatigued it, while they found its burdens light and reaped only its advantages?
Nothing is so easy and so common as to deceive one’s self when one does not lack wit and is familiar with all the niceties of the language. Language is a prostitute queen who descends and rises to all rôles, disguises herself, arrays herself in fine apparel, hides her head and effaces herself; an advocate who has an answer for everything, who has always foreseen everything, and who assumes a thousand forms in order to be right. The most honorable of men is he who thinks best and acts best, but the most powerful is he who is best able to talk and write.
As his wealth relieved him from the necessity of writing for money, Raymon wrote from a liking for it, and-he said it with perfect good faith-from a sense of duty. The rare faculty that he possessed, of refuting positive truth by sheer talent, had made him an invaluable man to the ministry, whom he served much better by his impartial criticism than did its creatures by their blind devotion; and even more invaluable to that fashionable young society which was quite willing to abjure the absurdities of its former privileges, but wished at the same time to retain the benefit of its present advantageous position.
They were in very truth men of great talent who still supported society, tottering on the brink of the precipice, and who, being themselves suspended between two reefs, struggled calmly and with perfect self-possession against the harsh reality that was on the point of engulfing them. To succeed in such wise as to create a conviction against every sort of probability and to keep that conviction alive for some time among men of no convictions, is the art which most impresses and surpasses the understanding of an uncultivated, vulgar mind which has studied none but commonplace truths.
Thus Raymon had no sooner returned to that society, which was his element and his home, than he felt its vital and exciting influences. The petty love affairs that had engrossed him vanished for a moment in the face of broader and more brilliant interests. He carried into these the same boldness of attack, the same ardor; and when he saw that he was more eagerly sought than ever by all the most distinguished people in Paris, he felt that he loved life more than ever. Was he to be blamed for forgetting a secret remorse while reaping the reward he had merited for services rendered his country? He felt life overflowing through every pore of his young heart, his active brain, his whole vigorous and buoyant being, he felt that destiny was making him happy in spite of himself; and he would crave forgiveness of an indignant ghost that came sometimes and bewailed her fate in his dreams, for having sought in the affection of the living a protection against the terrors of the grave.
But he had no sooner returned to life, as it were, than he felt, as in the past, the need of mingling thoughts of love and plans of intrigue with his political meditations, his dreams of ambition and philosophy. I say ambition, not meaning ambition for honor and wealth, for which he had no use, but for reputation and aristocratic popularity.
He had at first despaired of ever seeing Madame Delmare again after the tragic ending of his double intrigue. But, as he measured the extent of his loss, as he brooded over the thought of the treasure that had escaped him, he conceived the hope of grasping it once more, and, at the same time he regained determination and confidence. He calculated the obstacles he should encounter, and realized that the most difficult to overcome at the outset would come from Indiana herself; therefore he must use the husband to protect him from the attack. This was not a new idea, but it was sure; jealous husbands are particularly well adapted to this service.
A fortnight after he had conceived this idea, Raymon was on the way to Lagny, where he was expected to breakfast. You will not require me to describe to you in detail the shrewdly proffered services by which he had succeeded in making himself agreeable to Monsieur Delmare; I prefer, as I am describing the features of the characters in this tale, to draw a hasty sketch of the colonel for you.
Do you know what they call an honest man in the provinces? He is a man who does not encroach on his neighbor’s field; who does not demand from his debtors a sou more than they owe him; who raises his hat to every person who bows to him; who does not ravish maidens in the public roads; who sets fire to no other man’s barn; who does not rob wayfarers at the corner of his park. Provided that he religiously respects the lives and purses of his fellow-citizens, nothing more is demanded of him. He may beat his wife, maltreat his servants, ruin his children, and it is nobody’s business. Society punishes only those acts which are injurious to it; private life is beyond its jurisdiction.
Such was Monsieur Delmare’s theory of morals. He had never studied any other social contract than this: Every man is master in his own house. He treated all affairs of the heart as feminine puerilities, sentimental subtleties. Being a man devoid of wit, of tact and of education, he enjoyed greater consideration than a man obtains by dint of talent and amiability. He had broad shoulders and a strong wrist; he handled the sword and the sabre perfectly, and was exceedingly quick to take offence. As he did not always understand a joke, he was constantly haunted by the idea that people were making fun of him. Being incapable of suitable repartee, he had but one way of defending himself: to enforce silence by threats. His favorite epigrams always turned upon cow-hidings to be administered and affairs of honor to be settled; wherefore the province always prefixed to his name the epithet brave, because military valor apparently consists in having broad shoulders and long moustaches, in swearing fiercely, and in putting one’s hand to the sword on the slightest pretext.
God forbid that I should believe that camp life makes all men brutes! but I may be permitted to believe that one must have a large stock of tact and discretion to resist the habit of passive and brutal domination. If you have served in the army, you are familiar with what the troops call skin-breeches, and will agree that there are large numbers of them among the remains of the old imperial cohorts. Those men who, when brought together and urged forward by a powerful hand, performed such magnificent exploits, towered like giants amid the smoke of the battle-field; but, having returned to civil life, the heroes became mere soldiers once more, bold, vulgar fellows who reasoned like machines; and it was fortunate if they did not behave in society as in conquered territory. It was the fault of the age rather than theirs. Ingenuous minds, they had faith in the adulation of victory, and allowed themselves to be persuaded that they were great patriots because they defended their country-some against their will, others for money and honors. But how did they defend it, those tens of thousands of men who blindly embraced the error of a single man, and who, after saving their country, basely destroyed it? And again, if a soldier’s devotion to his captain seems to you a great and noble thing, well and good, so it does to me; but I call that fidelity, not patriotism. I congratulate the conquerors of Spain, I do not thank them. As for the honor of the French name, I by no means understand that method of safeguarding it among neighbors, and I find it difficult to believe that the Emperor’s generals were very deeply engrossed by it at that deplorable stage of our glory; but I know that we are forbidden to discuss these matters impartially; I hold my peace, posterity will pass judgment on them.
Monsieur Delmare had all the good qualities and all the failings of these men. He was innocent to childishness concerning certain refinements of the point of honor, yet he was very well able to conduct his affairs to the best possible end without disturbing himself as to the good or evil which might result therefrom to others. His whole conscience was the law; his whole moral code was his rights under the law. His was one of those rigid, unbending probities which never borrow for fear of not returning, and never lend for fear of not recovering. He was the honest man who neither takes nor gives aught; who would rather die than steal a bundle of sticks in the king’s forest, but would kill you without ceremony for picking up a twig in his. He was useful to himself alone, harmful to nobody. He took part in nothing that was going on about him, lest he might be compelled to do somebody a favor. But, when he deemed himself in honor bound to do it, no one could go about it with more energy and zeal and a more chivalrous spirit. At once trustful as a child and suspicious as a despot, he would believe a false oath and distrust a sincere promise. As in the military profession, form was everything with him. Public opinion governed him so exclusively that common sense and argument counted for nothing in his decisions, and when he said: “Such things are done,” he thought that he had stated an irrefutable argument.
Thus it will be seen that his nature was most antipathetic to his wife’s, his heart entirely unfitted to understand her, his mind entirely incapable of appreciating her. And yet it is certain that slavery had engendered in her woman’s heart a sort of virtuous and unspoken aversion which was not always just. Madame Delmare doubted her husband’s heart overmuch; he was only harsh and she deemed him cruel. There was more roughness than anger in his outbreaks, more vulgarity than impertinence in his manners. Nature had not made him evil-minded: he had moments of compassion which led him to repentance, and in his repentance he was almost sensitive. It was camp life that had raised brutality to a principle in him. With a less refined, less gentle wife he would have been as gentle as a tame wolf; but this woman was disheartened with her fate; she did not take the trouble to try to make it happier.
As he alighted from his tilbury in the courtyard at Lagny, Raymon’s heart failed him. So he was once more to enter that house which recalled such awful memories! His arguments, being in accord with his passions, might enable him to overcome the impulses of his heart, but not to stifle them, and at that moment the sensation of remorse was as keen as that of desire.
The first person who came forward to meet him was Sir Ralph Brown, and when he spied him in his everlasting hunting costume, flanked by his hounds and sober as a Scotch laird, he fancied that the portrait he had seen in Madame Delmare’s chamber was walking before his eyes. A few moments later the colonel appeared, and the breakfast was served without Indiana. As he passed through the vestibule, by the door of the billiard room, and recognized the places he had previously seen under such different circumstances, Raymon was so distressed that he could hardly remember why he had come there now.
“Is Madame Delmare really not coming down?” the colonel asked his factotum Lelièvre, with some asperity.
“Madame slept badly,” replied Lelièvre, “and Mademoiselle Noun-that devil of a name keeps coming to my tongue!–Mademoiselle Fanny, I mean, just told me that madame is lying down now.”
“How does it happen then that I just saw her at her window? Fanny is mistaken. Go and tell madame that breakfast is served; or stay–Sir Ralph, my dear kinsman, be pleased to go up and see for yourself if your cousin is really ill.”
While the unfortunate name that the servant had mentioned from habit caused Raymon’s nerves a painful thrill, the colonel’s expedient caused him a strange sensation of jealous anger.
“In her bedroom!” he thought. “He doesn’t confine himself to hanging the man’s portrait there, but sends him there in person. This Englishman has privileges here which the husband himself seems to be afraid to claim.”
“Don’t let that surprise you,” said Monsieur Delmare, as if he had divined Raymon’s reflections; “Monsieur Brown is the family physician; and then he’s our cousin too, a fine fellow whom we love with all our hearts.”
Ralph remained absent ten minutes. Raymon was distraught, ill at ease. He did not eat and kept looking at the door. At last the Englishman reappeared.
“Indiana is really ill,” he said, “I told her to go back to bed.”
He took his seat tranquilly and ate with a robust appetite. The colonel did likewise.
“This is evidently a pretext to avoid seeing me,” thought Raymon. “These two men don’t suspect it, and the husband is more displeased than worried about his wife’s condition. Good! my affairs are progressing more favorably than I hoped.”
This resistance rearoused his determination and Noun’s image vanished from the dismal hangings, which, at the beginning, had congealed his blood with terror. Soon he saw nothing but Madame Delmare’s slender form. In the salon he sat at her embroidery frame, examined the flowers she was making-talking all the while and feigning deep interest-handled all the silks, inhaled the perfume her tiny fingers had left upon them. He had seen the same piece of work before, in Indiana’s bedroom; then it was hardly begun, now it was covered with flowers that had bloomed beneath the breath of fever, watered by her daily tears. Raymon felt the tears coming to his own eyes, and, by virtue of some unexplained sympathy, sadly raising his eyes to the horizon, at which Indiana was in the habit of gazing in melancholy mood, he saw in the distance the white walls of Cercy standing out against a background of dark hills.
The colonel’s voice roused him with a start.
“Well, my excellent neighbor,” he said, “it is time for me to pay my debt to you and keep my promises. The factory is in full swing and the hands are all at work. Here are paper and pencils, so that you can take notes.”
Raymon followed the colonel, inspected the factory with an eager, interested air, made comments which proved that chemistry and mechanics were equally familiar to him, listened with incredible patience to Monsieur Delmare’s endless dissertations, coincided with some of his ideas, combated some others, and in every respect so conducted himself as to persuade his guide that he took an absorbing interest in these things, whereas he was hardly thinking of them and all his thoughts were directed toward Madame Delmare.
It was a fact that he was familiar with every branch of knowledge, that no invention was without interest for him; moreover he was forwarding the interests of his brother, who had really embarked his whole fortune in a similar enterprise, although of much greater extent. Monsieur Delmare’s technical knowledge, his only claim to superiority, pointed out to him at that moment the best method of taking advantage of this interview.
Sir Ralph, who was a poor business man but a very shrewd politician, suggested during the inspection of the factory some economical considerations of considerable importance. The workmen, being anxious to display their skill to an expert, surpassed themselves in deftness and activity. Raymon looked at everything, heard everything, answered everything, and thought of nothing but the love affair that brought him to that place.
When they had exhausted the subject of machinery the discussion fell upon the volume and force of the stream. They went out and climbed upon the dam, bidding the overseer raise the gates and mark the different depths.
“Monsieur,” said the man, addressing Monsieur Delmare, who fixed the maximum at fifteen feet, “I beg pardon, but we had it seventeen once this year.”
“When was that? You are mistaken,” said the colonel.
“Excuse me, monsieur, it was on the eve of your return from Belgium, the very night Mademoiselle Noun was found drowned; what I say is proved by the fact that the body passed over that dike yonder and did not stop until it got here, just where monsieur is standing.”
Speaking thus, with much animation, the man pointed to where Raymon stood. The unhappy young man turned pale as death; he cast a horrified glance at the water flowing at his feet; it seemed to him that the livid face was reflected in it, that the body was still floating there; he had an attack of vertigo and would have fallen into the river had not Monsieur Brown caught his arm and pulled him away.
“Very good,” said the colonel, who noticed nothing, and who gave so little thought to Noun that he did not suspect Raymon’s emotion; “but that was an extraordinary instance, and the average depth of the water is– But what the devil’s the matter with you two?” he inquired, suddenly interrupting himself.
“Nothing,” replied Sir Ralph; “as I turned I trod on monsieur’s foot; I am distressed, for I must have hurt him terribly.”
Sir Ralph made this reply in so calm and natural a tone that Raymon was convinced that he thought he was telling the truth. A few courteous words were exchanged and the conversation resumed its course.
Raymon left Lagny a few hours later without seeing Madame Delmare. It was better than he hoped; he had feared that he should find her calm and indifferent.
However he repeated his visit with no better success. That time the colonel was alone; Raymon put forth all the resources of his wit to captivate him, and shrewdly descended to innumerable little acts of condescension-praised Napoléon, whom he did not like, deplored the indifference of the government, which left the illustrious remnant of the Grande Armée in oblivion and something like contempt, carried opposition tenets as far as his opinions would permit him to go, and selected from his various beliefs those which were likely to flatter Monsieur Delmare’s. He even provided himself with a character different from his real one, in order to attract his confidence. He transformed himself into a bon vivant, a “hail fellow well met,” a careless good-for-naught.
“What if that fellow should ever make a conquest of my wife!” said the colonel to himself as he watched him drive away.
Then he began to chuckle inwardly and to think that Raymon was a charming fellow.
Madame de Ramière was at Cercy at this time: Raymon extolled Madame Delmare’s charms and wit to her, and without urging her to call upon her, had the art to suggest the thought.
“I believe she is the only one of my neighbors whom I do not know,” she said; “and as I am a new arrival in the neighborhood it is my place to begin. We will go to Lagny together next week.”
The appointed day arrived.
“She cannot avoid me now,” thought Raymon.
In truth Madame Delmare could not escape the necessity of receiving him, for when she saw an elderly woman she did not know step from the carriage, she went out on the stoop herself to meet her. At the same moment she recognized Raymon in the man who accompanied her; but she realized that he must have deceived his mother to induce her to take that step, and her displeasure on that account gave her strength to be dignified and calm. She received Madame de Ramière with a mixture of respect and affability; but her coldness to Raymon was so absolutely glacial that he felt that he could not long endure it. He was not accustomed to disdain and his pride took fire at being unable to conquer with a glance those who were prepossessed against him. Thereupon, deciding upon his course like a man who cared nothing for a woman’s whim, he asked permission to join Monsieur Delmare in the park and left the two women together.
Little by little, vanquished by the charm which a superior intellect, combined with a noble and generous heart, is capable of exerting even in its least intimate relations, Indiana became affable, affectionate and almost playful with Madame de Ramière. She had never known her mother, and Madame de Carvajal, despite her presents and her words of praise, was far from being a mother to her; so she felt a sort of fascination of the heart with Raymon’s mother.
When he joined her as she was stepping into her carriage he saw Indiana put to her lips the hand that Madame de Ramière offered her. Poor Indiana felt the need of having some one to cling to. Everything that offered a prospect of interest and of companionship in her lonely and unhappy life was welcomed by her with the keenest delight; and then she said to herself that Madame de Ramière would preserve her from the snare into which Raymon sought to lure her.
“I will throw myself into this good woman’s arms,” she was thinking already, “and, if necessary, I will tell her everything. I will implore her to save me from her son, and her prudence will stand guard over him and over me.”
Such was not Raymon’s reasoning.
“Dear mother!” he said to himself, as he drove back with her to Cercy, “her charm and her goodness of heart perform miracles. What do I not owe to them already! my education, my success in life, my standing in society. I lacked nothing but the happiness of owing to her the heart of such a woman as Indiana.”
Raymon, as we see, loved his mother because of his need of her and of the well-being he owed to her; so do all children love their mothers.
A few days later Raymon received an invitation to pass three days at Bellerive, a beautiful country seat owned by Sir Ralph Brown, between Cercy and Lagny, where it was proposed, in concert with the best hunters of the neighborhood, to destroy a part of the game that was devouring the owner’s woods and gardens. Raymon liked neither Sir Ralph nor hunting, but Madame Delmare did the honors of her cousin’s house on great occasions, and the hope of meeting her soon decided Raymon to accept the invitation.
The fact was that Sir Ralph did not expect Madame Delmare on this occasion; she had excused herself on the ground of her wretched health. But the colonel, who took umbrage when his wife sought diversion on her own account, took still greater umbrage when she declined such diversions as he chose to allow her.
“Do you want to make the whole province think that I keep you under lock and key?” he said to her. “You make me appear like a jealous husband; it’s an absurd role and one that I do not propose to play any longer. Besides, what does this lack of courtesy to your cousin mean? Does it become you, when we owe to his friendship the establishment and prosperity of our business, to refuse him such a service? You are necessary to him and you hesitate! I cannot understand your whims. All the people whom I don’t like are sure of a hearty welcome from you; but those whom I esteem are unfortunate enough not to please you.”
“That reproach has very little application to the present case, I should say,” replied Madame Delmare. “I love my cousin like a brother, and my affection for him was of long standing when yours began.”
“Oh! yes, yes, more of your fine words; but I know that you don’t find him sentimental enough, the poor devil! you call him selfish because he doesn’t like novels and doesn’t cry over the death of a dog. However, he’s not the only one. How did you receive Monsieur de Ramière? a charming young fellow, on my word! Madame de Carvajal introduces him to you and you receive him with the greatest affability; but I have the ill-luck to think well of him and you pronounce him unendurable, and when he calls upon you, you go to bed! Are you trying to make me appear a perfect boor? It is time for this to come to an end and for you to begin to live like other people.”
Raymon deemed it inadvisable, in view of his plans, to show too much eagerness; threats of indifference are successful with almost all women who think that they are loved. But the hunting had been in progress since morning when he reached Sir Ralph’s, and Madame Delmare was not expected until dinner time. He employed the interval in preparing a plan of action.
It occurred to him that he must find some method of justifying his conduct, for the critical moment was at hand. He had two days before him and he determined to apportion the time thus: the rest of the day that was nearly ended to make an impression, the next day to persuade and the following day to be happy. He even consulted his watch and calculated almost to an hour the time when his enterprise would succeed or fail.
He had been two hours in the salon when he heard Madame Delmare’s sweet and slightly husky voice in the adjoining room. By dint of reflecting on his scheme of seduction he had become as passionately interested as an author in his subject or a lawyer in his cause, and the emotion that he felt at the sight of Indiana may be compared to that of an actor thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his role who finds himself in the presence of the principal character of the drama and can no longer distinguish artificial stage effects from reality.
She was so changed that a feeling of sincere compassion found its way into Raymon’s being, amid the nervous tremors of his brain. Unhappiness and illness had left such deep traces on her face that she was hardly pretty, and that he felt that there was more glory than pleasure to be gained by the conquest. But he owed it to himself to restore this woman to life and happiness.
Seeing how pale and sad she was, he judged that he had no very strong will to contend against. Was it possible that such a frail envelope could conceal great power of moral resistance?
He reflected that it was necessary first of all to interest her in herself, to frighten her concerning her depression and her failing health, in order the more easily to open her mind to the desire and the hope of a better destiny.
“Indiana!” he began, with secret assurance perfectly concealed beneath an air of profound melancholy, “to think that I should find you in such a condition as this! I did not dream that this moment to which I have looked forward so long, which I have sought so eagerly, would cause me such horrible pain!”
Madame Delmare hardly anticipated this language; she expected to surprise Raymon in the attitude of a confused and shrinking culprit; and lo! instead of accusing himself-of telling her of his grief and repentance-his sorrow and pity were all for her! She must be sorely cast down and broken in spirit to inspire compassion in a man who should have implored hers!
A French woman-a woman of the world-would not have lost her head at such a delicate juncture; but Indiana had no tact; possessed neither the skill nor the power of dissimulation necessary to preserve the advantage of her position. His words brought before her eyes the whole picture of her sufferings and tears glistened on the edge of her eyelids.
“I am ill, in truth,” she said, as she seated herself, feebly and wearily, in the chair Raymon offered her; “I feel that I am very ill, and, in your presence, monsieur, I have the right to complain.”
Raymon had not hoped to progress so fast. He seized the opportunity by the hair, as the saying is, and, taking possession of a hand which felt cold and dry in his, he replied:
“Indiana! do not say that; do not say that I am the cause of your illness, for you make me mad with grief and joy.”
“And joy!” she repeated, fixing upon him her great blue eyes overflowing with melancholy and amazement.
“I should have said hope; for, if I have caused you unhappiness, madame, I can perhaps bring it to an end. Say a word,” he added, kneeling beside her on a cushion that had fallen from the divan, “ask me for my blood, my life!”
“Oh! hush!” said Indiana bitterly, withdrawing her hand; “you made a shameful misuse of promises before; try to repair the evil you have done!”
“I intend to do it; I will do it!” he cried, trying to take her hand again.
“It is too late,” she said. “Give me back my companion, my sister; give me back Noun, my only friend!”
A cold shiver ran through Raymon’s veins. This time he had no need to encourage her emotion; there are emotions which awake unbidden, mighty and terrible, without the aid of art.
“She knows all,” he thought, “and she has judged me.”
Nothing could be more humiliating to him than to be reproached for his crime by the woman who had been his innocent accomplice; nothing more bitter than to see Noun’s rival lamenting her death.
“Yes, monsieur,” said Indiana, raising her face, down which the tears were streaming, “you were the cause–”
But she paused when she observed Raymon’s pallor. It must have been most alarming, for he had never suffered so keenly.
Thereupon all the kindness of her heart and all the involuntary emotion which he aroused in her resumed their sway over Madame Delmare.
“Forgive me!” she said in dismay; “I hurt you terribly; I have suffered so myself! Sit down and let us talk of something else.”
This sudden manifestation of her sweet and generous nature rendered Raymon’s emotion deeper than ever. He sobbed aloud; he put Indiana’s hand to his lips and covered it with tears and kisses. It was the first time that he had been able to weep since Noun’s death, and it was Indiana who relieved his breast of that terrible weight.
“Oh! since you, who never knew her, weep for her so freely,” she said; “since you regret so bitterly the injury you have done me, I dare not reproach you any more. Let us weep for her together, monsieur, so that, from her place in heaven, she may see us and forgive us.”
Raymon’s forehead was wet with cold perspiration. If the words you who never knew her had delivered him from painful anxiety, this appeal to his victim’s memory, in Indiana’s innocent mouth, terrified him with a superstitious terror. Sorely distressed, he rose and walked feverishly to a window and leaned on the sill to breathe the fresh air. Indiana remained in her chair, silent and deeply moved. She felt a sort of secret joy on seeing Raymon weep like a child and display the weakness of a woman.
“He is naturally kind,” she murmured to herself; “he is fond of me; his heart is warm and generous. He did wrong, but his repentance expiates his fault, and I ought to have forgiven him sooner.”
She gazed at him with a softened expression; her confidence in him had returned. She mistook the remorse of the guilty man for the repentance of love.
“Do not weep any more,” she said, rising and walking up to him; “it was I who killed her; I alone am guilty. This remorse will sadden my whole life. I gave way to an impulse of suspicion and anger; I humiliated her, wounded her to the heart. I vented upon her all my spleen against you; it was you alone who had offended me, and I punished my poor friend for it. I was very hard to her!”
“And to me,” said Raymon, suddenly forgetting the past to think only of the present.
Madame Delmare blushed.
“I should not perhaps have reproached you for the cruel loss I sustained on that awful night,” she said; “but I cannot forget the imprudence of your conduct toward me. The lack of delicacy in your romantic and culpable project wounded me very deeply. I believed then that you loved me!-and you did not even respect me!”
Raymon recovered his strength, his determination, his love, his hopes; the sinister presentiment, which had made his blood run cold, vanished like a nightmare. He awoke once more, young, ardent, overflowing with desire, with passion, and with hopes for the future.
“I am guilty if you hate me,” he said, vehemently, throwing himself at her feet; “but, if you love me, I am not guilty–I never have been. Tell me, Indiana, do you love me?”
“Do you deserve it?” she asked.
“If, in order to deserve it,” said Raymon, “I must love you to adoration–”
“Listen to me,” she said, abandoning her hands to him and fastening upon him her great eyes, swimming in tears, wherein a sombre flame gleamed at intervals. “Do you know what it is to love a woman like me? No, you do not know. You thought that it was merely a matter of gratifying the caprice of a day. You judged my heart by all the surfeited hearts over which you have hitherto exerted your ephemeral domination. You do not know that I have never loved as yet and that I will not give my untouched virgin heart in exchange for a ruined, withered heart, my enthusiastic love for a lukewarm love, my whole life for one brief day!”
“Madame, I love you passionately; my heart too is young and ardent, and, if it is not worthy of yours, no man’s heart will ever be. I know how you must be loved; I have not waited until this day to find out. Do I not know your life? did I not describe it to you at the ball, the first time that I ever had the privilege of speaking to you? Did I not read the whole history of your heart in the first one of your glances that ever fell upon me? And with what did I fall in love, think you? with your beauty alone? Ah! that is surely enough to drive an older and less passionate man to frenzy; but for my part, if I adore that gracious and charming envelope, it is because it encloses a pure and divine soul, it is because a celestial fire quickens it, and because I see in you not a woman simply, but an angel.”
“I know that you possess the art of praising; but do not hope to move my vanity. I have no need of homage, but of affection. I must be loved without a rival, without reserve and forever; you must be ready to sacrifice everything to me, fortune, reputation, duty, business, principles, family-everything, monsieur, because I shall place the same absolute devotion in my scale, and I wish them to balance. You see that you cannot love me like that!”
It was not the first time that Raymon had seen a woman take love seriously, although such cases are rare, luckily for society; but he knew that promises of love do not bind the honor, again luckily for society. Sometimes too the women who had demanded from him these solemn pledges had been the first to break them. He did not take fright therefore at Madame Delmare’s demands, or rather he gave no thought either to the past or the future. He was borne along by the irresistible fascination of that frail, passionate woman, so weak in body, so resolute in heart and mind. She was so beautiful, so animated, so imposing as she dictated her laws to him, that he remained as if fascinated at her knees.
“I swear,” he said, “that I will be yours body and soul; I devote my life, I consecrate my blood to you, I place my will at your service; take everything, do as you will with my fortune, my honor, my conscience, my thoughts, my whole being.”
“Hush! “said Indiana hastily, “here is my cousin.”
As she spoke the phlegmatic Sir Ralph Brown entered the room with his usual tranquil air, expressing great surprise and pleasure to see his cousin, whom he had not hoped to see. Then he asked permission to kiss her by way of manifesting his gratitude, and, leaning over her with methodical moderation, he kissed her on the lips, according to the custom among children in his country.
Raymon turned pale with anger and Ralph had no sooner left the room to give some order, than he went to Indiana and tried to remove all trace of that impertinent kiss. But Madame Delmare calmly pushed him away.
“Remember,” she said, “that you owe much reparation if you wish me to believe in you.”
Raymon did not understand the delicacy of this rebuff; he saw in it nothing but a rebuff and he was angry with Sir Ralph. Shortly after he noticed that, when Sir Ralph spoke to Indiana in an undertone, he used the more familiar form of address, and he was on the verge of mistaking the reserve which custom imposed upon Sir Ralph at other times, for the precaution of a favored lover. But he blushed for his insulting suspicions as soon as he met the young woman’s pure glance.
That evening Raymon displayed his intellectual powers. There was a large company and people listened to him; he could not escape the prominence which his talents gave him. He talked, and if Indiana had been vain she would have had her first taste of happiness in listening to him. But on the contrary her simple, straightforward mind took fright at Raymon’s superiority; she struggled against the magic power which he exerted over all about him, a sort of magnetic influence which heaven, or hell, accords to certain men-a partial and ephemeral royalty, so real that no mediocre mind can escape its ascendancy, so fleeting that no trace of it remains after them, and that when they die we are amazed at the sensation they made during their lives.
There were many times when Indiana was fascinated by such a brilliant display; but she at once said to herself sadly that she was eager for happiness, not for glory. She asked herself in dismay if this man, for whom life had so many different aspects, so many absorbing interests, could devote his whole mind to her, sacrifice all his ambitions to her. And while he defended step by step, with such courage and skill, such ardor and self-possession, doctrines purely speculative and interests entirely foreign to their love, she was terrified to see that she was of so little account in his life while he was everything in hers. She said to herself in terror that she was to him a three days’ fancy and that he had been to her the dream of a whole life.
When he offered her his arm as they were leaving the salon, he whispered a few words of love in her ear; but she answered sadly:
“You have a great mind!”
Raymon understood the reproof and passed the whole of the following day at Madame Delmare’s feet. The other guests, being engrossed by their hunting, left them entirely to themselves.
Raymon was eloquent; Indiana had such a craving to believe, that half of his eloquence was wasted. Women of France, you do not know what a creole is; you would undoubtedly have yielded less readily to conviction, for you are not the ones to be deceived or betrayed!
When Sir Ralph returned from hunting and as usual felt Madame Delmare’s pulse, Raymon, who was watching him closely, detected an almost imperceptible expression of surprise and pleasure on his placid features. And then, in obedience to some mysterious secret impulse, the two men looked at each other, and Sir Ralph’s light eyes, fastened like an owl’s upon Raymon’s black ones, forced them to look down. During the rest of the day the baronet’s manner toward Madame Delmare, beneath his apparent imperturbability, was keenly observant, indicative of something which might be called interest or solicitude if his face had been capable of reflecting a decided sentiment. But Raymon exerted himself in vain to discover if fear or hope were uppermost in his thoughts; Ralph was impenetrable.
Suddenly, as he stood a few steps behind Madame Delmare’s chair, he heard her cousin say to her in an undertone:
“You would do well, cousin, to go out in the saddle to-morrow.”
“Why, I have no horse just now, as you know,” she said.
“We will find one for you. Will you hunt with us?”
Madame Delmare resorted to various pretexts to escape. Raymon understood that she preferred to remain with him, but he thought at the same time that her cousin seemed to display extraordinary persistence in preventing her from doing so. So he left the persons with whom he was talking, walked up to her and joined Sir Ralph in urging her to go. He had a feeling of bitter resentment against this importunate chaperon, and determined to tire out his watchfulness.
“If you will agree to follow the hunt,” he said to Indiana, “you will embolden me to follow your example, Madame. I care little for hunting; but to have the privilege of being your esquire–”
“In that case I will go,” replied Indiana, heedlessly.
She exchanged a meaning glance with Raymon; but, swift as it was, Sir Ralph caught it on the wing, and Raymon was unable, during the rest of the evening, to glance at her or address her without encountering Monsieur Brown’s eyes or ears.
A feeling of aversion, almost of jealousy, arose in his heart. By what right did this cousin, this friend of the family, assume to act as a school-master with the woman whom he loved! He swore that Sir Ralph should repent, and he sought an opportunity to insult him without compromising Madame Delmare; but that was impossible. Sir Ralph did the honors of his establishment with a cold and dignified courtesy which offered no handle for an epigram or a contradiction.
The next morning, before the rising-bell had rung, Raymon was surprised to see his host’s solemn face enter his room. There was something even stiffer than usual in his manner, and Raymon felt his heart beat fast with longing and impatience at the prospect of a challenge. But he came simply to talk about a horse which Raymon had brought to Bellerive and had expressed a desire to sell. The bargain was concluded in five minutes; Sir Ralph made no objection to the price but produced a rouleau of gold from his pocket and counted down the amount on the mantel with a coolness of manner that was altogether extraordinary, not deigning to pay any heed to Raymon’s remonstrances concerning such scrupulous promptness. As he was leaving the room, he turned back to say:
“Monsieur, the horse belongs to me from this morning!”
At that Raymon fancied that he could detect a purpose to prevent him from hunting, and he observed dryly that he did not propose to follow the hunt on foot.
“Monsieur,” replied Sir Ralph, with a slight trace of affectation, “I am too well versed in the laws of hospitality.”
And he withdrew.
On going down into the courtyard Raymon saw Madame Delmare in her riding-habit, playing merrily with Ophelia, who was tearing her handkerchief. Her cheeks had taken on a faint rosy tinge, her eyes shone with a brilliancy that had long been absent from them. She had already recovered her beauty; her curly black hair escaped from beneath her little hat, in which she was charming; and the cloth habit buttoned to the chin outlined her slender, graceful figure. The principal charm of the Creoles, to my mind, consists in the fact that the excessive delicacy of their features and their proportions enables them to retain for a long while the daintiness of childhood. Indiana, in her gay and laughing mood, seemed to be no more than fourteen.
Raymon, impressed by her charms, felt a thrill of triumph and paid her the least insipid compliment he could invent upon her beauty.
“You were anxious about my health,” she said to him in an undertone; “do you not see that I long to live?”
He could not reply otherwise than by a happy, grateful glance. Sir Ralph himself brought his cousin her horse; Raymon recognized the one he had just sold.
“What!” said Madame Delmare in amazement, for she had seen him trying the animal the day before in the courtyard, “is Monsieur de Ramière so polite as to lend me his horse?”
“Did you not admire the creature’s beauty and docility yesterday?” said Sir Ralph; “he is yours from this moment. I am sorry, my dear, that I couldn’t have given him to you sooner.”
“You are growing facetious, cousin,” said Madame Delmare; “I do not understand this joke at all. Whom am I to thank–Monsieur de Ramière, who consents to lend me his horse, or you, who perhaps asked him for it?”
“You must thank your cousin,” said Monsieur Delmare, “who bought this horse for you and makes you a present of him.”
“Is it really true, my dear Ralph?” said Madame Delmare, patting the pretty creature with the delight of a girl at receiving her first jewels.
“Didn’t we agree that I should give you a horse in exchange for the piece of embroidery you are doing for me? Come, mount him, have no fear. I have studied his disposition, and I tried him only this morning.”
Indiana threw her arms around Sir Ralph’s neck, then leaped upon Raymon’s horse and fearlessly made him prance.
This whole domestic scene took place in a corner of the courtyard before Raymon’s eyes. He was conscious of a paroxysm of violent anger when the simple and trustful affection of those two displayed itself before him; passionately in love as he was and with less than a whole day in which to have Indiana to himself.
“How happy I am!” she said, calling him to her side on the avenue. “It seems my dear Ralph divined what gift would be most precious to me. And aren’t you happy too, Raymon, to see the horse you have ridden pass into my hands? Oh I how I will love him and care for him! What do you call him? Tell me; for I prefer not to take away the name you gave him.”
“If there is a happy man here,” rejoined Raymon, “it should be your cousin, who gives you presents and whom you kiss so heartily.”
“Are you really jealous of our friendship and of those loud smacks?” she said with a laugh.
“Jealous? perhaps so, Indiana; I am not sure. But when that red-cheeked young cousin puts his lips to yours, when he takes you in his arms to seat you on the horse that he gives you and I sell you, I confess that I suffer. No, madame, I am not happy to see you the mistress of the horse I loved. I can understand that one might be happy in giving him to you; but to play the tradesman in order to provide another with the means of making himself agreeable to you, is a very cleverly managed humiliation on Sir Ralph’s part. If I did not believe that all this cunning was quite involuntary, I would like to be revenged on him.”
“Oh! fie! this jealousy is not becoming to you! How can our commonplace intimacy arouse any feeling in you, in you who should be, so far as I am concerned, outside of the common life of mankind and should create for me a world of enchantment-in you of all men! I am displeased with you already, Raymon; I perceive that there is something like wounded self-esteem in this angry feeling displayed toward this poor cousin. It seems to me that you are more jealous of the lukewarm preference which I display for him in public than of the exclusive affection which I might secretly entertain for another.”
“Forgive me, forgive me, Indiana, I am wrong! I am not worthy of you, angel of goodness and gentleness! but I confess that I have suffered cruelly because of the right that man has seemed to assume.”
“He assume rights, Raymon! Do you not know what sacred gratitude binds us to him? do you not know that his mother was my mother’s sister? that we were born in the same valley; that in our early years he was my protector; that he was my mainstay, my only teacher, my only companion at Ile Bourbon; that he has followed me everywhere; that he left the country which I left, to come and live where I lived; in a word, that he is the only being who loves me and who takes any interest in my life?”
“Curse him! all that you tell me, Indiana, inflames the wound. So he loves you very dearly, does this Englishman, eh? Do you know how I love you?”
“Oh! let us not compare the two. If an attachment of the same nature made you rivals, I should owe the preference to the one of longer standing. But have no fear, Raymon, that I shall ever ask you to love me as Ralph loves me.”
“Tell me about the man, I beg you; for who can penetrate his stone mask?”
“Must I do the honors for my cousin?” she said with a smile. “I confess that I do not altogether like the idea of describing him; I love him so dearly that I would like to flatter him; as he is, I am afraid that you will not find him a very noble figure. Do try to help me; come, how does he seem to you?”
“His face-forgive me if I wound you-indicates absolute nonentity; but there are signs of good sense and education in his conversation when he deigns to speak; but he speaks so hesitatingly, so coldly, that no one profits by his knowledge, his delivery is so depressing and tiresome. And then there is something commonplace and dull in his thoughts which is not redeemed by measured purity of expression. I think that his is a mind imbued with all the ideas that have been suggested to him, but too apathetic and too mediocre to have any of his own. He is just the sort of man that one must be to be looked upon in society as a serious-minded person. His gravity forms three-fourths of his merit, his indifference the rest.”
“There is some truth in your portrait,” said Indiana, “but there is prejudice too. You boldly solve doubts which I should not dare to solve, although I have known Ralph ever since I was born. It is true that his great defect consists in looking frequently through the eyes of others; but that is not the fault of his mind but of his education. You think that, without education, he would have been an absolute nonentity; I think that he would have been less so than he is. I must tell you one fact in his life which will help to explain his character. He was unfortunate to have a brother whom his parents openly preferred to him; this brother had all the brilliant qualities that he lacks. He learned easily, he had a taste for all the arts, he fairly sparkled with wit; his face, while less regular than Ralph’s, was more expressive. He was affectionate, zealous, active, in a word, he was lovable. Ralph, on the contrary, was awkward, melancholy, undemonstrative; he loved solitude, learned slowly and did not make a display of what little knowledge he posessed. When his parents saw how different he was from his older brother, they maltreated him; they did worse than that: they humiliated him. Thereupon, child as he was, his character became gloomy and pensive and an unconquerable timidity paralyzed all his faculties. They had succeeded in inspiring in him self-aversion and self-contempt; he became discouraged with life, and, at the age of fifteen, he was attacked by the spleen, a malady that is wholly physical under the foggy sky of England, wholly mental under the revivifying sky of Ile Bourbon. He has often told me that one day he left the house with a determination to throw himself into the sea; but as he sat on the shore collecting his thoughts, as he was on the point of carrying out his plan, he saw me coming toward him in the arms of the negress who had been my nurse. I was then five years old. I was pretty, they say, and I manifested a predilection for my taciturn cousin which nobody shared. To be sure, he was attentive and kind to me in a way I was not accustomed to in my father’s house. As we were both unhappy, we understood each other even then. He taught me his father’s language, and I lisped mine to him. This blending of Spanish and English may be said to express Ralph’s character. When I threw my arms around his neck, I saw that he was weeping, and, without knowing why, I began to weep too. Thereupon he pressed me to his heart and, so he told me afterward, made a vow to live for me, a neglected if not hated child, to whom his friendship would at all events be a kindness and his life of some benefit. Thus I was the first and only tie in his sad life. After that day we were hardly ever apart; we passed our days leading a free and healthy life in the solitude of the mountains. But perhaps these tales of our childhood bore you, and you would prefer to join the hunt and have a gallop.”
“Foolish girl,” said Raymon, seizing the bridle of Madame Delmare’s horse.
“Very well, I will go on,” said she. “Edmond Brown, Ralph’s older brother, died at the age of twenty; his mother also died of grief, and his father was inconsolable. Ralph would have been glad to mitigate his sorrow, but the coldness with which Monsieur Brown greeted his first attempts increased his natural timidity. He passed whole hours in melancholy silence beside that heartbroken old man, not daring to proffer a word or a caress, he was so afraid that his consolation would seem misplaced or trivial. His father accused him of lack of feeling, and Edmond’s death left Ralph more wretched and more misunderstood than ever. I was his only consolation.”
“I cannot pity him, whatever you may do,” Raymon interrupted; “but there is one thing in his life and yours that I cannot understand: it is that you never married.”
“I can give you a very good reason for that,” she replied. “When I reached a marriageable age, Ralph, who was ten years older than I-an enormous difference in our climate, where the childhood of girls is so brief–Ralph, I say, was already married.”
“Is Sir Ralph a widower? I never heard anyone mention his wife.”
“Never mention her to him. She was young and rich and lovely, but she had been in love with Edmond-she had been betrothed to him; and when, in order to serve family interests and family sentiment, she was made to marry Ralph, she did not so much as try to conceal her aversion for him. He was obliged to go to England with her, and when he returned to Ile Bourbon after his wife’s death, I was married to Monsieur Delmare and just about to start for Europe. Ralph tried to live alone, but solitude aggravated his misery. Although he has never mentioned Mistress Ralph Brown to me, I have every reason to believe that he was even more unhappy in his married life than he had been in his father’s house, and that his natural melancholy was increased by recent and painful memories. He was attacked with the spleen again; whereupon he sold his coffee plantation and came to France to settle down. His manner of introducing himself to my husband was original, and would have made me laugh if my good Ralph’s attachment had not touched me deeply. ‘Monsieur,’ he said, ‘I love your wife; it was I who brought her up; I look upon her as my sister and even more as my daughter. She is my only remaining relative and the only person to whom I am attached. Allow me to establish myself near you and let us three pass our lives together. They say that you are a little jealous of your wife, but they say also that you are a man of honor and uprightness. When I tell you that I have never had any other than brotherly love for her, and that I shall never have, you can regard me with as little anxiety as if I were really your brother-in-law. Isn’t it so, monsieur?’ Monsieur Delmare, who is very proud of his reputation for soldierly frankness, greeted this outspoken declaration with a sort of ostentatious confidence. But several months of careful watching were necessary before that confidence became as genuine as he boasted that it was. Now it is as impregnable as Ralph’s steadfast and pacific heart.”
“Are you perfectly sure, Indiana,” said Raymon, “that Sir Ralph is not deceiving himself the least bit in the world when he swears that he never loved you?”
“1 was twelve years old when he left Ile Bourbon to go with his wife to England; I was sixteen when he returned to find me married, and he manifested more joy than sorrow. Now, Ralph is really an old man.”
“Don’t laugh at what I say. His face is young, but his heart is worn out by suffering, and he no longer loves anybody, in order to avoid suffering.”
“Not even you?”
“Not even me. His friendship is simply a matter of habit; it was generous in the old days when he took upon himself to protect and educate my childhood, and then I loved him as he loves me to-day because of the need I had of him. To-day my whole heart is bent upon paying my debt to him, and my life is passed in trying to beautify and enliven his. But, when I was a child, I loved him with the instinct rather than with the heart, and he, now that he is a man, loves me less with the heart than with the instinct. I am necessary to him because I am almost alone in loving him; and to-day, as Monsieur Delmare manifests some attachment to him, he is almost as fond of him as of me. His protection, formerly so fearless in face of my father’s despotism, has become lukewarm and cautious in face of my husband’s. He never reproaches himself because I suffer, provided that I am near him. He does not ask himself if I am unhappy; it is enough for him to see that I am alive. He does not choose to lend me a support, which, while it would make my lot less cruel, would disturb his serenity by making trouble between him and Monsieur Delmare. By dint of hearing himself say again and again that his heart is dry, he has persuaded himself that it is true, and his heart has withered in the inaction in which he has allowed it to fall asleep from distrust. He is a man whom the affection of another person might have developed; but it was withdrawn from him and he shrivelled up. Now he asserts that happiness consists in repose, pleasure, in the comforts of life. He asks no questions about cares that he has not. I must say the word: Ralph is selfish.”
“Very good, so much the better,” said Raymon; “I am no longer afraid of him; indeed I will love him if you wish.”
“Yes, love him, Raymon,” she replied; “he will appreciate it; and, so far as we are concerned, let us never trouble ourselves to explain why people love us, but how they love us. Happy the man who can be loved, no matter for what reason!”
“What you say, Indiana,” replied Raymon, grasping her slender, willowy form, “is the lament of a sad and solitary heart; but, in my case, I want you to know both why and how, especially why.”
“To give me happiness, is it not?” she said, with a sad but passionate glance.
“To give you my life,” said Raymon, brushing Indiana’s floating hair with his lips.
A blast upon the horn near by warned them to be on their guard; it was Sir Ralph, who saw them or did not see them.
Raymon was amazed at what seemed to take place in Indiana’s being as soon as the hounds were away. Her eyes gleamed, her cheeks flushed, the dilation of her nostrils betrayed an indefinable thrill of fear or pleasure, and suddenly, driving her spurs into her horse’s side, she left him and galloped after Ralph. Raymon did not know that hunting was the only passion that Ralph and Indiana had in common. Nor did he suspect that in that frail and apparently timid woman there abode a more than masculine courage, that sort of delirious intrepidity which sometimes manifests itself like a nervous paroxysm in the feeblest creatures. Women rarely have the physical courage which consists in offering the resistance of inertia to pain or danger; but they often have the moral courage which attains its climax in peril or suffering. Indiana’s delicate fibres delighted above all things in the tumult, the rapid movement and the excitement of the chase, that miniature image of war with its fatigues, its stratagems, its calculations, its hazards and its battles. Her dull, ennui-laden life needed this excitement; at such times she seemed to wake from a lethargy and to expend in one day all the energy that she had left to ferment uselessly in her blood for a whole year.
Raymon was terrified to see her ride away so fast, abandoning herself fearlessly to the impetuous spirit of a horse that she hardly knew, rushing him through the thickets, avoiding with amazing skill the branches that lashed at her face as they sprang back, leaping ditches without hesitation, venturing confidently on clayey, slippery ground, heedless of the risk of breaking her slender limbs, but eager to be first on the smoking scent of the boar. So much determination alarmed him and nearly disgusted him with Madame Delmare. Men, especially lovers, are addicted to the innocent fatuity of preferring to protect weakness rather than to admire courage in womankind. Shall I confess it? Raymon was terrified at the promise of high spirit and tenacity in love which such intrepidity seemed to afford. It was not like the resignation of poor Noun,who preferred to drown herself rather than to contend against her misfortunes.
The Boar Hunt
“If there’s as much vigor and excitement in her tenderness as there is in her diversions,” he thought; “if her will clings to me, fierce and palpitating, as her caprice clings to that boar’s quarters, why society will impose no fetters on her, the law will have no force; my destiny will have to succumb and I shall have to sacrifice my future to her present.”
Cries of terror and distress, among which he could distinguish Madame Delmare’s voice, roused Raymon from these reflections. He anxiously urged his horse forward and was soon overtaken by Ralph, who asked him if he had heard the outcries.
At that moment several terrified whippers-in rode up to them, crying out confusedly that the boar had charged and overthrown Madame Delmare. Other huntsmen, in still greater dismay, appeared, calling for Sir Ralph whose surgical skill was required by the injured person.
“It’s of no use,” said a late arrival. “There is no hope, your help will be too late.”
In that moment of horror, Raymon’s eyes fell upon the pale, gloomy features of Monsieur Brown. He did not cry out, he did not foam at the mouth, he did not wring his hands; he simply took out his hunting-knife and with a sang-froid truly English was preparing to cut his own throat, when Raymon snatched the weapon from him and hurried him in the direction from which the cries came.
Ralph felt as if he were waking from a dream when he saw Madame Delmare rush to meet him and urge him forward to the assistance of her husband, who lay on the ground, apparently lifeless. Sir Ralph made haste to bleed him; for he had speedily satisfied himself that he was not dead; but his leg was broken and he was taken to the château.
As for Madame Delmare, in the confusion her name had been substituted by accident for that of her husband, or perhaps Ralph and Raymon had erroneously thought that they heard the name in which they were most interested.
Indiana was uninjured, but her fright and consternation had almost taken away her power of locomotion. Raymon supported her in his arms and was reconciled to her womanly heart when he saw how deeply affected she was by the misfortune of a husband whom she had much to forgive before pitying him.
Sir Ralph had already recovered his accustomed tranquillity; but an extraordinary pallor revealed the violent shock he had experienced; he had nearly lost one of the two human beings whom he loved.
Raymon, who alone, in that moment of confusion and excitement, had retained sufficient presence of mind to understand what he saw, had been able to judge of Ralph’s affection for his cousin, and how little it was balanced by his feeling for the colonel. This observation, which positively contradicted Indiana’s opinion, did not depart from Raymon’s memory as it did from that of the other witnesses of the scene
However Raymon never mentioned to Madame Delmare the attempted suicide of which he had been a witness. In this ungenerous reserve there was a suggestion of selfishness and bad temper which you will forgive perhaps in view of the amorous jealousy which was responsible for it.
After six weeks the colonel was with much difficulty removed to Lagny; but it was more than six months thereafter before he could walk; for before the fractured femur was fairly reduced he had an acute attack of rheumatism in the injured leg, which condemned him to excruciating pain and absolute immobility. His wife lavished the most loving attentions upon him; she never left his bedside and endured without a complaint his bitter fault-finding humor, his soldier-like testiness and his invalid’s injustice.
Despite the ennui of such a depressing life, her health became robust and flourishing once more and happiness took up its abode in her heart. Raymon loved her, he really loved her. He came every day; he was discouraged by no difficulty in the way of seeing her, he bore with the infirmities of her husband, her cousin’s coldness, the constraint of their interviews. A glance from him filled Indiana’s heart with joy for a whole day. She no longer thought of complaining of life; her heart was full, her youthful nature had ample employment, her moral force had something to feed upon.
The colonel gradually came to feel very friendly to Raymon. He was simple enough to believe that his neighbor’s assiduity in calling upon him was a proof of the interest he took in his health. Madame de Ramière also came occasionally, to sanction the liaison by her presence, and Indiana became warmly and passionately attached to Raymon’s mother. At last the wife’s lover became the husband’s friend.
As a result of being thus constantly thrown together, Raymon and Ralph perforce became intimate in a certain sense; they called each other “my dear fellow,” they shook hands morning and night. If either of them desired to ask a slight favor of the other, the regular form was this: “I count upon your friendship,” etc. And when they spoke of each other they said: “He is a friend of mine.
But, although they were both as frank and outspoken as a man can be in the world, they were not at all fond of each other. They differed essentially in their opinions on every subject; they had no likes or dislikes in common; and, although they both loved Madame Delmare, they loved her in such a different way that that sentiment divided them instead of bringing them together. They found a singular pleasure in contradicting each other and in disturbing each other’s equanimity as much as possible by reproaches which were none the less sharp and bitter because they took the form of generalities.
Their principal and most frequent controversies began with politics and ended with morals. It was in the evening, when they were all assembled around Monsieur Delmare’s easy-chair, that discussions arose on the most trivial pretexts. They always maintained the external courtesy which philosophy imposed on the one and social custom on the other: but they sometimes said to each other, under the thin veil of allusions, some very harsh things, which amused the colonel; for he was naturally bellicose and quarrelsome and loved disputes in default of battles.
For my part, I believe that a man’s political opinion is the whole man. Tell me what your heart and your head are and I will tell you your political opinions. In whatever rank or political party chance may have placed us at our birth, our character prevails sooner or later over the prejudice or artificial beliefs of education. You will call that a very sweeping statement perhaps; but how could I persuade myself to augur well of a mind that clings to certain theories which a generous spirit rejects? Show me a man who maintains the usefulness of capital punishment, and, however conscientious and enlightened he may be, I defy you ever to establish any sympathetic connection between him and me. If such a man attempts to instruct me as to facts which I do not know, he will never succeed; for it will not be in my power to give him my confidence.
Ralph and Raymon differed on all points, and, yet, before they knew each other, they had no clearly defined opinions. But, as soon as they were at odds, each of them maintained the contrary of what the other advanced, and in that way they would form for themselves an absolute, unassailable conviction. Raymon was on all occasions the champion of existing society, Ralph attacked its structure at every point.
The explanation was simple: Raymon was happy and treated with the utmost consideration, Ralph had known nothing of life but its evils and its bitterness; one found everything very satisfactory, the other was dissatisfied with everything. Men and things had maltreated Ralph and heaped benefits upon Raymon; and, like two children, they referred everything to themselves, setting themselves up as a court of last resort in regard to the great questions of social order, although they were equally incompetent.
Thus Ralph always upheld his visionary scheme of a republic from which he proposed to exclude all abuses, all prejudices, all injustice; a scheme founded entirely upon the hope of a new race of men. Raymon upheld his doctrine of an hereditary monarchy, preferring, he said, to endure abuses, prejudice and injustice, to seeing scaffolds erected and innocent blood shed.
The colonel was almost always on Ralph’s side at the beginning of the discussion. He hated the Bourbons and imparted to all his opinions all the animosity of his sentiments. But soon Raymon would adroitly bring him over to his side by proving to him that the monarchy was in principle much nearer the Empire than the Republic. Ralph was so lacking in the power of persuasion, he was so sincere, so bungling, the poor baronet! his frankness was so unpolished, his logic so dull, his principles so rigid! He spared no one, he softened no harsh truth.
“Parbleu! “ he would say to the colonel, when that worthy cursed England’s intervention, “what in heaven’s name have you, a man of some common sense and reasoning power, I suppose, to complain of because a whole nation fought fairly against you?”
“Fairly?” Delmare would repeat the word, grinding his teeth together and brandishing his crutch.
“Let us leave political questions to be decided by the powers concerned,” Sir Ralph would say, “as we have adopted a form of government which forbids us to discuss our interests ourselves. If a nation is responsible for the faults of its legislature, what one can you find that is guiltier than yours?”
“And so I say, monsieur, shame upon France, which abandoned Napoléon and submitted to a king proclaimed by the bayonets of foreigners!” the colonel would exclaim.
“For my part, I do not say shame upon France,” Sir Ralph would rejoin, “but woe to her! I pity her because she was so weak and so diseased, on the day she was purged of her tyrant, that she was compelled to accept your rag of a constitutional Charter, a mere shred of liberty which you are beginning to respect now that you must throw it aside and conquer your liberty over again.”
Thereupon Raymon would pick up the gauntlet that Sir Ralph threw down. A knight of the Charter, he chose to be a knight of liberty as well, and he proved to Ralph with marvelous skill that one was the expression of the other; that, if he shattered the Charter he overturned his own idol. In vain would the baronet struggle in the unsound arguments in which Monsieur de Ramière entangled him; with admirable force he would argue that a greater extension of the suffrage would infallibly lead to the excesses of ‘93, and that the nation was not yet ripe for liberty, which is not the same as license. And when Sir Ralph declared that it was absurd to attempt to confine a constitution within a certain number of articles, that what was sufficient at first would eventually become insufficient, supporting his argument by the example of the convalescent, whose needs increased every day, Raymon would reply to all these commonplaces expressed with difficulty by Monsieur Brown that the Charter was not an immovable circle, that it would stretch with the necessities of France, attributing to it an elasticity which, he said, would afford later a means of satisfying the demands of the nation, but which in fact satisfied only those of the crown.
As to Delmare, he had not advanced a step since 1815. He was a stationary mortal, as full of prejudices and as obstinate as the émigrés at Coblentz, the never-failing subjects of his implacable irony. He was like an old child and had failed utterly to comprehend the great drama of the downfall of Napoléon. He had seen naught but the fortune of war in that crisis when the power of public opinion triumphed. He was forever talking of treason and of selling the country, as if a whole nation could betray a single man, as if France would have allowed herself to be sold by a few generals! He accused the Bourbons of tyranny and sighed for the glorious days of the Empire, when arms were lacking to till the soil and families were without bread. He declaimed against Franchet’s police and extolled Fouché‘s. He was still at the day after Waterloo.
It was really a curious thing to listen to the sentimental idiocies of Delmare and Monsieur de Ramière, philanthropic dreamers both, one under the sword of Napoléon, the other under the sceptre of Saint-Louis; Monsieur Delmare planted at the foot of the Pyramids, Raymon seated under the monarchic shadow of the oak of Vincennes. Their Utopias, which clashed at first, became reconciled in due time: Raymon limed the colonel with his chivalrous sentiments; for one concession he exacted ten, and he accustomed him little by little to the spectacle of twenty-five years of victory ascending in a spiral column under the folds of the white flag. If Ralph had not constantly cast his abrupt, rough observations into the centre of Monsieur de Ramierè’s flowery rhetoric, he would infallibly have won Delmare over to the throne of 1815; but Ralph irritated his self-esteem, and the bungling outspokenness with which the Englishman strove to shake his convictions served only to anchor him more firmly in his imperialism. Thus all Monsieur de Ramière’s efforts were wasted; Ralph trod heavily upon the flowers of his eloquence and the colonel returned with renewed enthusiasm to his tri-color. He swore that he would shake off the dust from it some fine day, that he would spit on the lilies and restore the Duc de Reichstadt to the throne of his fathers; he would begin anew the conquest of the world; and he always concluded by lamenting the disgrace that rested upon France, the rheumatism that glued him to his chair and the ingratitude of the Bourbons to the old moustaches whom the sun of the desert had burned and who had swarmed over the ice-floes of the Moskowa.
“My poor fellow!” Ralph would say, “for heaven’s sake be fair; you complain because the Restoration did not pay for services rendered the Empire and because it did reimburse its émigrés. Tell me, if Napoléon could come to life again to-morrow in all his power, would you like it if he should withdraw his favor from you and bestow it on the partisans of legitimacy? Every one for himself and his own; these are business discussions, disputes concerning private interests, which have little interest for France, now that you are almost all as incapacitated as the voltigeurs of the emigration, and that, whether gouty, married or sulking, you are all equally useless to her. However, she must support you all, and you see who can complain the loudest of her. When the day of the Republic dawns, she will clear her skirts of all your demands, and it will be no more than justice.”
These trivial but self-evident observations offended the colonel like so many personal affronts; and Ralph who, with all his good sense, did not realize that the pettiness of spirit of a man whom he esteemed could go so far, fell into the habit of irritating him without mercy.
Before Raymon’s arrival there had been a tacit agreement between the two to avoid every subject of controversy in which there might be some clashing and wounding of delicate sensibilities. But Raymon brought into their conversation all the subtleties of the language, all the petty artifices of civilization. He taught them that people can say anything to one another, indulge in all sorts of reproaches and shield themselves behind the pretext of legitimate discussion. He introduced among them the habit of disputation, then tolerated in the salons, because the vindictive passions of the Hundred Days had finally become appeased, had assumed divers milder shades. But the colonel had retained all the vehemence of his passions, and Ralph made a sad mistake in thinking that it was possible for him to listen to reason. Monsieur Delmare became daily more sour toward him and drew nearer to Raymon, who, without making too extensive concessions, knew how to assume an appearance of graciousness in order to spare the other’s self-esteem.
It is a great imprudence to introduce politics as a pastime in the domestic circle. If there exist to-day any peaceful and happy families, I advise them to subscribe to no newspaper; not to read a single line of the budget, to bury themselves in the depth of their country estates as in an oasis, and to draw between themselves and the rest of society a line that none may pass; for, if they allow the echoes of our disputes to meet their ears, it is all over with their union and their repose. It is hard to imagine how much gall and bitterness political differences cause between near kindred. Most of the time they simply afford them an opportunity for reproaching one another for defects of character, mental obliquities and vices of the heart.
They would not dare to call one another knave, imbecile, ambitious villain or poltroon. They express the same idea by such names as jesuit, royalist, revolutionist and trimmer. These are different words, but the insult is the same, and all the more stinging because they may pursue and attack one another in this fashion without restraint, without mercy. There is an end to all mutual toleration of failings, all charitable spirit, all generous and delicate reserve; nothing is overlooked, everything is attributed to political feeling, and beneath that mask hatred and vengeance are freely exhaled. O ye blessed dwellers in the country, if there still be any country in France, shun, shun politics, and read the Peau d’Ane by your firesides! But the contagion is so great that there is no retreat obscure enough, no solitude profound enough to hide and shelter the man who would find a refuge for his amiable heart from the tempests of our civil dissensions.
In vain had the little château in Brie defended itself for years against this ill-omened invasion; it lost in time its heedlessness, its active domestic life, its long evenings of silence and meditation. Noisy disputes awoke its slumbering echoes; bitter and threatening words terrified the faded cherubs who had smiled amid the dust of the hangings for a hundred years past. The excitements of present-day life found their way into that ancient dwelling, and all those old-fashioned splendors, all those relics of a period of pleasure and frivolity saw with dismay the advent of an epoch of doubt and declamation, represented by three men who shut themselves up together every day to quarrel from morning till night.
Despite these never-ending dissensions, Madame Delmare clung with the confidence of her years to the hope of a happy future. It was her first happiness; and her ardent imagination, her rich young heart, were able to supply it with all that it lacked. She was ingenious in creating keen and pure joys for herself-in bestowing upon herself the complement of the precarious favors of her destiny. Raymon loved her. In truth he did not lie when he told her that she was the only love of his life; he had never loved so innocently nor so long. With her he forgot everything but her. The world and politics were blotted out by the thought of her; he enjoyed the domestic life, the being treated like one of the family, as she treated him. He admired her patience and her strength of will; he wondered at the contrast between her mind and her character; he wondered especially that, after importing so much solemnity into their first compact, she was so unexacting, satisfied with such furtive and infrequent joys, and that she trusted him so blindly and so absolutely. But love was a novel and generous passion in her heart, and a thousand noble and delicate sentiments were included in it and gave it a force which Raymon could not understand.
For his own part, he was annoyed at first by the constant presence of the husband or the cousin. He had intended that this love should be like all his previous loves, but Indiana soon compelled him to rise to her level. The resignation with which she endured the constant surveillance, the happy air with which she glanced at him by stealth, her eyes which spoke to him in eloquent though silent language, her sublime smile when a sudden allusion in conversation brought their hearts nearer together-these soon became keen pleasures which Raymon craved and appreciated, thanks to the refinement of his mind and the culture of education.
What a difference between that chaste creature who seemed not to contemplate the possibility of a dénoûment to her love and all those other women who were intent only upon hastening it while pretending to shun it! When Raymon happened to be alone with her, Indiana’s cheeks did not turn a deeper red, nor did she avert her eyes in confusion. No, her tranquil, limpid eyes were always fixed upon him in ecstasy; an angelic smile played always about her lips, as ruddy as a little girl’s who has known no kisses but her mother’s. When he saw her so trustful, so passionate, so pure, living solely with the heart and not realizing that her lover’s heart was in torment when he was at her feet, Raymon dared not be a man, lest he should seem to her inferior to her dreams of him, and, through self-love, he became as virtuous as she.
Madame Delmare, ignorant as a genuine creole, had never dreamed hitherto of considering the momentous questions that were now discussed before her every day. She had been brought up by Sir Ralph, who had a poor opinion of the intelligence and reasoning power of womankind, and who had confined himself to imparting some positive information likely to be of immediate use. Thus she had a very shadowy idea of the world’s history, and any serious discussion bored her to death. But when she heard Raymon apply to those dry subjects all the charm of his wit, all the poesy of his language, she listened and tried to understand; then she ventured timidly to ask ingenuous questions which a girl of ten brought up according to worldly ideas would readily have answered. Raymon took pleasure in enlightening that virgin mind which seemed destined to open to receive his principles; but, despite the power he exerted over her untrained, artless mind, his sophisms sometimes encountered resistance from her.
Indiana opposed to the interests of civilization, when raised to the dignity of principles of action, the straightforward ideas and simple laws of good sense and humanity; her arguments were characterized by an unpolished freedom which sometimes embarrassed Raymon and always charmed him by its childlike originality. He applied himself as to a task of serious importance to the attempt to bring her around gradually to his principles, to his beliefs. He would have been proud to dominate her conscientious and naturally enlightened convictions but he had some difficulty in attaining his end. Ralph’s generous theories, his unbending hatred of the vices of society, his keen impatience for the reign of other laws and other morals were sentiments to which Indiana’s unhappy memories responded. But Raymon suddenly unhorsed his adversary by demonstrating that this aversion for the present was the work of selfishness; he described with much warmth his own attachments, his devotion to the royal family, which he had the art to clothe with all the heroism of a perilous loyalty, his respect for the persecuted faith of his fathers, his religious sentiments, which were not the fruit of reasoning, he said, but to which he clung by instinct and from necessity. And the joy of loving one’s fellow-creatures, of being bound to the present generation by all the ties of honor and philanthropy; the pleasure of serving one’s country by repelling dangerous innovations, by maintaining domestic peace, by giving, if need be, all one’s blood to save the shedding of one drop of that of the lowest of one’s countrymen! he depicted all these attractive Utopian visions with so much art and charm that Indiana submitted to be led on to the feeling that she must love and respect all that Raymon loved and respected. It was fairly proved that Ralph was an egotist; when he maintained a generous idea, they smiled; it was clear that at such times his heart and his mind were in contradiction. Was it not better to believe Raymon, who had such a big, warm, expansive heart?
There were moments, however, when Raymon almost forgot his love to think only of his antipathy. When he was with Madame Delmare, he could see nobody but Sir Ralph, who presumed, with his rough, cool common sense, to attack him, a man of superior talents, who had overthrown such doughty adversaries! He was humiliated to find himself engaged with so paltry an adversary, and thereupon would overwhelm him with the weight of his eloquence; he would bring into play all the resources of his talent, and Ralph, bewildered, slow in collecting his ideas, slower still in expressing them, would be made painfully conscious of his weakness.
At such moments it seemed to Indiana that Raymon’s thoughts were altogether diverted from her; she had spasms of anxiety and terror as she reflected that perhaps all those noble and high-sounding sentiments so eloquently declaimed were simply the pompous scaffolding of words, the ironical harangue of the lawyer, listening to himself and practising the comedy which is to take by surprise the good-nature of the tribunal. She was especially fearful when, as her eyes met his, she fancied that she saw gleaming in them, not the pleasure of having been understood by her, but the triumphant self-satisfaction of having made a fine argument. She was afraid at such times, and her thoughts turned to Ralph, the egotist, to whom they had perhaps been unjust; but Ralph was not tactful enough to say anything to prolong this uncertainty, and Raymon was very skilful in removing it.
Thus there was but one really perturbed existence, but one really ruined happiness in that domestic circle: the existence and happiness of Sir Ralph Brown, a man born to misfortune, for whom life had displayed no brilliant aspects, no intense, heart-filling joys; a victim of great but secret unhappiness, who complained to no one and whom no one pitied; a truly accursed destiny, in the poetic sense without thrilling adventures; a commonplace, bourgeois, melancholy destiny, which no friendship had sweetened, no love charmed, which was endured in silence, with the heroism which the love of life and the need of hoping give; a lonely mortal who had had a father and mother like everybody else, a brother, a wife, a son, a friend, and who had reaped no benefit, retained nothing of all those ties; a stranger in life who went his way melancholy and indifferent, having not even that exalted consciousness of his misfortune which enables one to find some fascination in sorrow.
Despite his strength of character, he sometimes felt discouraged with virtue. He hated Raymon, and it was in his power to drive him from Lagny with a word; but he did not say it, because he had one belief, a single one, which was stronger than Raymon’s countless beliefs. It was neither the church, nor the monarchy, nor society, nor reputation, nor the law, which dictated his sacrifices and his courage-it was his conscience.
He had lived so alone that he had not accustomed himself to rely upon others; but he had learned, in his isolation, to know himself. He had made a friend of his own heart; by dint of self-communion, of asking himself the cause of the unjust acts of others, he had assured himself that he had not earned them by any vice; he had ceased to be irritated by them, because he set little store by his own personality, which he knew to be insipid and commonplace. He understood the indifference of which he was the object, and he had chosen his course with regard to it; but his heart told him that he was capable of feeling all that he did not inspire, and, while he was disposed to forgive everything in others, he had decided to tolerate nothing in himself. This wholly inward life, these wholly private sensations gave him all the outward appearance of a selfish man; indeed nothing resembles selfishness more closely than self-respect.
However, as it often happens that, because we attempt to do too much good, we do much less than enough, it happened that Sir Ralph made a great mistake from over-scrupulousness and caused Madame Delmare an irreparable injury from dread of burdening his own conscience with a cause of reproach. That mistake was his failure to enlighten her as to the real reasons of Noun’s death. Had he done so she would doubtless have reflected on the perils of her love for Raymon; but we shall see later why Monsieur Brown dared not inform his cousin and what painful scruples led him to keep silence on so momentous a question. When he decided to break his silence it was too late; Raymon had had time to establish his empire.
An unforeseen event occurred to cloud the future prospects of the colonel and his wife; a business house in Belgium, upon which all the prosperity of the Delmare establishment depended, had suddenly failed, and the colonel, who had hardly recovered his health, started in hot haste for Antwerp.
He was still so weak and ill that his wife wished to accompany him; but Monsieur Delmare, being threatened with complete ruin and resolved to honor all his obligations, feared that his journey would then seem too much like a flight; so he determined to leave his wife at Lagny as a pledge of his return. He even declined the company of Sir Ralph and begged him to remain and stand by Madame Delmare in case of any trouble on the part of anxious or over-eager creditors.
At this painful crisis Indiana was alarmed at nothing save the possibility of having to leave Lagny and be separated from Raymon; but he comforted her by convincing her that the colonel would surely go to Paris. Moreover he gave her his word that he would follow her, on some pretext or other, wherever she might go, and the credulous creature deemed herself almost happy in a misfortune which enabled her to put Raymon’s love to the test. As for him, a vague hope, a persistent, importunate thought had absorbed his mind ever since he had heard of this event: he was to be alone with Indiana at last, the first time for six months. She had never seemed to attempt to avoid a tête-à-tête, and although he was in no haste to triumph over a love whose ingenuous chastity had for him the attraction of novelty, he was beginning to feel that his honor was involved in bringing it to some conclusion. He honorably repelled any malicious insinuation concerning his relations with Madame Delmare; he declared very modestly that there was nothing more than a placid and pleasant friendship between them; but not for anything in the world would he have admitted, even to his best friend, that he had been passionately in love for six months and had as yet obtained no fruit of that love.
He was somewhat disappointed in his anticipations when he saw that Sir Ralph seemed determined to replace Monsieur Delmare so far as surveillance was concerned, that he appeared at Lagny in the morning and did not return to Bellerive until night; indeed, as their road was the same for some distance, Ralph, with an intolerable affectation of courtesy, insisted upon timing his departure by Raymon’s. This constraint soon became intensely disagreeable to Monsieur de Ramière, and Madame Delmare fancied that she could detect in it not only a suspicion insulting to herself, but a purpose to assume despotic control over her conduct.
Raymon dared not request a secret interview; whenever he had made the attempt, Madame Delmare had reminded him of certain conditions agreed upon between them. Meanwhile a week had passed since the colonel’s departure; he might return very soon; the present opportunity must be turned to advantage. To allow Sir Ralph the victory would be a disgrace to Raymon. One morning he slipped this letter into Madame Delmare’s hand:
“Indiana! do you not love me as I love you? My angel! I am unhappy and you do not see it. I am sad, anxious concerning your future, not my own; for, wherever you may be, there I shall live and die. But the thought of poverty alarms me on your account; ill and frail as you are, my poor child, how will you endure privation? You have a rich and generous cousin: your husband will perhaps accept at his hands what he will refuse at mine. Ralph will ameliorate your lot, and I shall be able to do nothing for you!
“Be sure, be sure, my dear love, that I have reason to be depressed and disappointed. You are heroic, you laugh at everything, you insist that I must not grieve. Ah! how I crave your gentle words, your sweet glances, to sustain my courage! But, by a monstrous fatality, these days that I hoped to pass freely at your feet, have brought me nothing but a constraint that grows ever more galling.
“Say a word, Indiana, so that we may be alone at least an hour, that I may weep upon your white hands and tell you all that I suffer, and that a word from you may console and comfort me.
“And then, Indiana, I have a childish caprice, a genuine lover’s caprice. I would like to enter your room. Oh! don’t be frightened, my gentle creole! It is my bounden duty not only to respect you, but to fear you; that is the very reason why I would like to enter your room, to kneel in that place where you were so angry with me, and where, bold as I am, I dared not look at you. I would like to prostrate myself there, to pass a meditative, happy hour there; I would crave no other favor, Indiana, than that you should place your hand on my heart and cleanse it of its crime, pacify it if it beats too rapidly, and give it your confidence once more if you find me worthy of you at last. Yes! I would like to prove to you that now I am worthy, that I know you through and through, that I worship you with an adoration as pure and holy as ever maiden conceived for her Madonna! I would like to be sure that you no longer fear me, that you esteem me as much as I revere you; I would like to live an hour as angels live, with my head upon your heart. Tell me, Indiana, may I? One hour-the first, perhaps the last!
“It is time to forgive me, Indiana, to give me back your confidence, so cruelly snatched from me, so dearly redeemed. Are you not satisfied with me? Have I not passed six months behind your chair, confining my desires to a glance at your snow-white neck through the curls of your black hair, as you leaned over your work, to a breath of the perfume which emanates from you and which the air from the window at which you sit brings faintly to my nostrils? Does not such submission deserve the reward of a kiss? a sister’s kiss, if you will, a kiss on the forehead? I will remain true to our agreements, I swear it. I will ask for nothing. But, cruel one, will you grant me nothing? Are you afraid of yourself?”
Madame Delmare went to her room to read this letter; she replied to it instantly, and handed him the reply with a key to the park-gate, which he knew too well.
“I afraid of you, Raymon? Oh! no, not now. I know too well that you love me, I am too blissfully happy in the belief that you love me. Come then, for I am not afraid of myself either; if I loved you less, perhaps I should be less calm; but I love you with a love of which you yourself have no idea. Go away early, so that Ralph may suspect nothing. Return at midnight; you are familiar with the park and the house; here is the key of the small gate; lock it after you.”
This ingenuous, generous confidence made Raymon blush. He had tried to inspire it, with the purpose of abusing it; he had counted on the darkness, the opportunity, the danger. If Indiana had shown any fear, she was lost; but she was perfectly calm; she placed her trust in his good faith; he swore that he would give her no cause to repent. But the important point was to pass a night in her bedroom, in order not to be a fool in his own eyes, in order to defeat Ralph’s prudence, and to be able to laugh at him in his sleeve. That was a personal gratification which he craved.
But Ralph was really intolerable on this particular evening; he had never been more stupid and dull and tiresome. He could say nothing apropos, and, to cap the climax of his loutishness, he gave no sign of taking his leave even when the evening was far advanced. Madame Delmare began to be ill at ease; she glanced alternately at the clock, which had struck eleven-at the door, which had creaked in the wind-and at the expressionless face of her cousin, who sat opposite her in front of the fire, placidly watching the blaze without seeming to suspect that his presence was distasteful.
But Sir Ralph’s tranquil mask, his petrified features, concealed at that moment a profound and painful mental agitation. He was a man whom nothing escaped because he observed everything with perfect self-possession. He had not been deceived by Raymon’s pretended departure; he perceived very plainly Madame Delmare’s anxiety at that moment. He suffered more than she did herself, and he moved irresolutely between the impulse to give her a salutary warning and the fear of giving way to feelings which he disavowed; at last his cousin’s interest carried the day, and he summoned all his moral courage in order to break the silence.
“That reminds me,” he said abruptly, following out the line of thought with which his mind was busy, “that it was just a year ago to-day that you and I sat in this chimney-corner as we are sitting now. The clock marked almost the same hour; the weather was cold and threatening as it is to-night. You were ill, and were disturbed by melancholy ideas; a fact that almost makes me believe in the truth of presentiments.”
“What can he be coming to?” thought Madame Delmare, gazing at her cousin with mingled surprise and uneasiness.
“Do you remember, Indiana,” he continued, “that you felt even less well than usual that night? Why, I can remember your words as if I had just heard them. ‘You will call me insane,’ you said, ‘but some danger is hovering about us and threatening some one of us-threatening me, I have no doubt,’ you added; ‘I feel intensely agitated, as if some great crisis in my destiny were at hand–I am afraid!’ Those are your very words.”
“I am no longer ill,” said Indiana, who had suddenly turned as pale as at the time of which Sir Ralph spoke; “I no longer believe in such foolish terrors.”
“But I believe in them,” he rejoined, “for you were a true prophet that night, Indiana; a great danger did threaten us-a disastrous influence surrounded this peaceful abode.”
“Mon Dieu! I do not understand you!”
“You soon will understand me, my poor girl. That was the evening that Raymon de Ramière was brought here. Do you remember in what condition?”
Ralph paused a few seconds, but dared not look at his cousin. As she made no reply, he continued:
“I was told to bring him back to life and I did so, as much to satisfy you as to obey the instincts of humanity; but, in truth, Indiana, it was a great misfortune that I saved that man’s life! It was I who did all the harm.”
“I don’t know what you mean by harm!” rejoined Indiana, dryly.
She was deeply moved in advance by the explanation which she foresaw.
“I mean that unfortunate creature’s death,” said Ralph. “But for him she would still be alive; but for his fatal love the lovely, honest girl who loved you so dearly would still be at your side.”
Thus far Madame Delmare did not understand. She was exasperated beyond measure by the strange and cruel method which her cousin adopted to reproach her for her attachment to Monsieur de Ramière.
“Enough of this,” she said, rising.
But Ralph apparently took no notice of her remark.
“What always astonished me,” he continued, “was that you never guessed the real motive that led Monsieur de Ramière to scale the walls.”
A suspicion darted through Indiana’s mind; her legs trembled under her, and she resumed her seat.
Ralph had buried the knife in her breast and made a ghastly wound. He no sooner saw the effect of his work than he hated himself for it; he thought only of the injury he had inflicted on the person whom he loved best in all the world; he felt that his heart was breaking. He would have wept bitterly if he could have wept; but the poor fellow had not the gift of tears; he had naught of that which eloquently translates the language of the heart. The external coolness with which he performed the cruel operation gave him the air of an executioner in Indiana’s eyes.
“This is the first time,” she said bitterly, “that I have known your antipathy for Monsieur de Ramière to lead you to employ weapons that are unworthy of you; but I do not see how it assists your vengeance to stain the memory of a person who was dear to me, and whom her melancholy end should have made sacred to us. I have asked you no questions, Sir Ralph; I do not know what you refer to. With your permission I will listen to no more.”
She rose and left Monsieur Brown bewildered and crushed.
He had foreseen that he could not enlighten Madame Delmare except at his own expense. His conscience had told him that he must speak, whatever the result might be, and he had done it with all the abruptness of method, all the awkwardness of execution of which he was capable. What he had not fully appreciated was the violence of a remedy so long delayed.
He left Lagny in despair and wandered through the forest in a sort of frenzy.
It was midnight; Raymon was at the park gate. He opened it, but as he opened it he felt his brow grow chill. For what purpose had he come to this rendezvous? He had made divers virtuous resolutions, but would he be amply rewarded by a chaste interview, by a sisterly kiss, for the torture he was undergoing at that moment? For, if you remember under what circumstances he had previously passed through those garden paths, stealthily, at night, you will understand that it required a certain degree of moral courage to go in search of pleasure along such a road and amid such memories.
Late in October the climate of the suburbs of Paris becomes damp and foggy, especially at night and in the neighborhood of streams. Chance decreed that the fog should be as dense on this night as on certain other nights in the preceding spring. Raymon felt his way along the mist-enveloped trees. He passed a summerhouse which contained a fine collection of geraniums in winter. He glanced at the door, and his heart beat fast at the extravagant idea that it might open and give egress to a woman wrapped in a pelisse. Raymon smiled at this superstitious weakness and went his way. Nevertheless the cold seized him, and he felt an unpleasant tightness at his throat as he approached the stream.
He had to cross it to reach the flower-garden, and the only means of crossing in that vicinity was a narrow wooden bridge. The fog became more dismal than ever over the river-bed, and Raymon clung to the railing of the bridge in order not to go astray among the reeds that grew along the banks. The moon was just rising, and, as it strove to pierce the vapors, cast an uncertain light on the plants which the wind and the current moved to and fro. In the breeze which rustled the leaves and ruffled the surface of the water there was a sort of wailing sound like human words half-spoken. There was a faint sob close beside Raymon and a sudden movement among the reeds; it was a curlew flying away at his approach. The cry of that shore-bird closely resembles the moaning of an abandoned child; and when it comes up from among the reeds you would say that it was the last effort of a drowning man. Perhaps you will consider that Raymon was very weak and cowardly; his teeth chattered and he nearly fell; but he soon realized the absurdity of his terror and crossed the bridge.
He was half-way across when a human figure appeared in front of him, at the end of the rail, as if waiting for him to approach. Raymon’s ideas became confused; his bewildered brain had not the strength to reason. He retraced his steps and hid among the trees, gazing with a fixed, terrified stare at that ill-defined apparition which remained in the same place, as vague and uncertain as the river mist and the trembling rays of the moon. He was beginning to believe that in his mental preoccupation he had been deceived, and that what he took for a human form was only a tree-trunk or the stalk of a shrub, when he distinctly saw it move and walk toward him.
At that moment, had not his legs absolutely refused to act, he would have fled in as great a panic as the child who passes a cemetery at night and fancies that he hears mysterious steps running after him on the tips of the blades of grass. But he felt as if he were paralyzed, and, to support himself, threw his arms around the trunk of the willow behind which he was hidden. The next moment Sir Ralph, wrapped in a light cloak which gave him the aspect of a phantom at three yards, passed very close to him and took the path by which he had just come.
“Bungling spy!” thought Raymon, as he saw him looking for his footprints. “I will escape your cowardly surveillance, and while you are mounting guard here I will be enjoying myself yonder.”
He crossed the bridge as lightly as a bird, and with the confidence of a lover. His terrors were at an end; Noun had never existed; real life was awakening all about him; Indiana awaited him yonder; and Ralph was on sentry-go to keep him from entering.
“Watch closely,” said Raymon, gayly, as he saw him in the distance going in the opposite direction. “Watch for me, dear Sir Rodolphe Brown; protect my good fortune, O my officious friend; and, if the dogs are restless, if the servants wake, pacify them, keep them quiet by saying: ‘It is I who am watching, sleep in peace.’”
Scruples, remorse, virtue were at an end for Raymon; he had paid dearly enough for the hour that was striking. His blood that had frozen in his veins flowed now toward his brain with maddening violence. A moment ago the pallid terrors of death, dismal visions of the tomb; now the impetuous realities of love, the keen joys of life. Raymon felt as bold and full of animation as in the morning, when an ugly dream has enveloped us in its shroud and suddenly a merry sunbeam awakens and revivifies us.
“Poor Ralph!” he thought as he ascended the secret staircase with a bold, light step, “you would have it so!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59